The last week of October is upon us. People are planning their festivities for Halloween, children are getting their costumes ready, and the air waves are filthy with creepy Halloween specials and horror movie marathons. In honor of the season, then, let's have a scary story. This one comes courtesy of my husband, John, who grew up with what I would consider to be a lack of adequate supervision -- a key component for almost every good scary story.
When John was a young man, his parents allowed him to go all sorts of places at all times of day and night. He ran with a whole passel of other farm boys whose parents were equally trusting, and one of their favorite activities as young teens was to go out gadding about at night in the wide open countryside. They would dress in camouflage and play soldier, heedless of the serial killers, the warring drug cartels, the alien space craft looking for abductees and all the other reasons normal parents demand their children stay inside after dark. Even though the hills near my husband's childhood home were undoubtedly crawling with rabid wolves, cannibals, homicidal maniacs, and dope fiends, John and his buddies would camp out for days at a time without running into so much as a chain smoker.
One night, however, they did nearly get sacrificed by Satanists.
The night was dark. The stars were pale and distant. School was two entire days away. John and his friend Mike were out camping by the river, living off the land (by which they meant naturally occurring Doritos and Chef BoyArDee from the fertile backpack habitat). The moon was high and the two boys were having a manly good time at playing reconnaissance, creeping along the hills and bluffs without a care in the world.
As they popped their head over one rise, they were thrilled to see that they were not alone in the wilds by the river. Not terribly far away was a large bonfire with a bunch of people gathered about it. Suspecting a keg party (but discussing Russian spies), John and Mike were quite pleased with the chance to test their junior Recon Ranger savvy. They slithered forward from shrub to shrub, using the land as cover, giggling to themselves, until they were finally close enough to take a better look.
What kind of teenagers throw a keg party dressed in long robes?
Several disturbing observations were starting to unsettle the two boys. First: the creepy robes. Second: the orderly arrangement of creepy robed people around the steepled bonfire. Third: did those robed guys walking around the perimeter have ...shotguns?
It was about this time that one of the perimeter guards pointed up into the bluffs in the general direction of the two boys. A belated sense of self-preservation kicked in (could there be a reason that sane, law abiding people stay safely indoors at night?) and the boys took off running as fast as humanly possible.
Was that shouting behind them? Neither John nor Mike waited to hear. Back over the hill they went and down along the river bank, heading for a safe place to cross. Turning back around after glancing over his shoulder, John saw that they had been cut off. A figure with a shotgun stood directly in their path and Mike had already dived for cover, without so much as shouting a warning for his buddy. That jerk. Running too fast on a downhill slope to stop anyway, John gritted his teeth and went for what he figured was his only shot. Jumping over Mike's prone body so as not to trip on him, John launched himself straight for the midsection of the guy with the gun.
It was a tree stump. (Did ya see that one coming?)
Contrary to diving for cover, Mike had tripped over a tree root and gone flying, spraining his ankle fairly badly in the process (Mike: 0, Tree stump: 1). John's face, hand and shoulder were not in any better shape. (John: 0, Tree stump: 2). Scraping each other up off the ground, the two boys continued their flight across the river and back to John's farm, where they wisely crawled inside and locked the doors behind them to spend the rest of the night in safety, counting how many teeth they both had left after knocking themselves senseless on the old dead tree. (Two boys, twenty-eight teeth. Tree stump wins!)
Were the people out on the bluffs that night really Satanists? Who knows. Thinking back on that night with a more mature perspective, my husband is still fairly certain that there were robed figures around a well set-up bonfire. He says there is no doubt that the ones walking the perimeter were carrying rifles. The weekend following the incident, he and Mike went back during daylight, fortified with several more friends, and did indeed find the remnants of a bonfire -- with bones in it, even. But whether it was Satanists who held a bonfire that fateful evening, or Klansmen, or a combination drug deal-barbeque, he couldn't honestly say. He could say. however, that after that night, he and his friends were a lot more careful when they went camping by the river.
The trees out there could be mighty dangerous.
This article first appeared in the Manteca (Calif.) Bulletin.
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