A father-son camping trip goes off the rails
| "I think that's the last of the hummingbirds," My 12-year-old son, Taylor said looking through huge binoculars at our backyard. He's taken an interest in birds, specifically hummingbirds and owls. Don't ask, as I have no idea, but there are far worse things he could be into.
"That's too bad. Ready for camping?"
Taylor eyed the reusable cloth bag from Trader Joe's in my hand.
"We aren't making smores again, are we?" He asked.
"No, I learned my lesson the last time. I can't believe you almost set that bird on fire flinging that marshmallow around."
"Almost, Dad, almost." Taylor corrected.
He may be my son, but he's also the coolest kid I know, and we've been through a lot together. Just a bit of backstory before getting on with it. It was rush week my junior year of college. I got an invitation to a frat-sorority party. I was gay and trying really hard not to be and, to be honest, I was curious what all the hubbub was about. Three months later, I get a phone call. Bingo-bango, six months later, I have a kid and she's off to New York to become a French and German language interpreter for the United Nations. My roommate, Kenny, could not have been better about it. He took it in stride, and we essentially co-parented Taylor the first year of his life from a college dorm room. I don't think the administration caught on, or they turned a blind eye if they did.
Our student resident assistant said, "If he cries, just turn up the stereo and no one will know the difference."
To this day, death metal and a screaming baby sound the same to me.
"Uncle Kenny" remains a key part of our lives as he's still my best friend and lives three blocks away. He's straight and married...darn the luck.
"Before we can go camping and watch for owls, I need you to rake the leaves."
"I thought you were going to hire someone to rake the leaves," Taylor replied, making a note in his journal about the birds he'd seen.
"I was going to, but Pikachu, I choose you. I spent that money on a surprise."
"Daaad." He drew out the word to make his annoyance known, "What did you do?"
"Since the smores were a bust, I went for an early morning walk to the farmer's market."
"You went out this morning? I didn't hear you."
"Taylor, the house could collapse in an earthquake, and you'd be asleep inside the rubble."
"What did you get?" his curiosity was piqued.
"Burgers and corn. And I have ramekins with chocolate brownie batter in them."
"We're going to use the campfire as a grill."
His eyes lit up. Burgers and chocolate were two of his favorite things. He could die happy if he could figure out a way to make a chocolate hamburger.
I couldn't figure out how to make fries like this, so we'll have to skip those and do Tater Tots instead."
"That sounds great!"
"Those leaves aren't going to rake themselves." I said.
He rolled his eyes, closed his journal, and set about his task. I set about making sure we had everything we'd need for the trip. There was a cold front coming through, so there would be cooling temperatures, thus jackets were a must.
We arrived at the campsite. Taylor set about gathering sticks to build a fire. I love the woodsy smell of a campfire. The campsite was heavily wooded, so not much for stargazing, but hopefully ideal for encountering owls. I unpacked our gear and got things ready for cooking.
"Is this good, Dad?" Taylor asked. The fire was still small but looked sturdy.
"Build it up a little and put this grate with legs over it to serve as the grill.
After a sumptuous meal prepared entirely by elemental fire, my son and I sat next to each other and gazed into the fire. Eventually we leaned back a little to get comfortable in the folding camp chairs I brought.
"Do you believe in ghosts?" Taylor asked.
"Why not? You've never seen one?" He asked.
"Do you know about the Bellwood Demon?"
"How do you know about that?" I asked.
"It lives in a cave not far from here. They say it hunts at night like a vampire." He said, trying to sound spooky.
"I know." I replied, not taking the bait, "But that's just a scary bedtime story for kids."
We were quiet for a few moments, when Taylor sat forward and stared into the darkness beyond the edge of our campfire's light.
"I thought I saw something," he responded.
"I'm sure it was just an opossum or something." I replied.
"It was humanoid."
"Ha, ha, Taylor, knock it off."
"No, Dad, I'm serious." His voice had a panicked edge.
I sat up, "What?"
"I saw something in the woods over there." He said, pointing.
Taylor and I watch scary movies together all the time, so neither of us is susceptible to a jump scare, but that's known fiction. We're alone, far out in the woods in real life.
There was a rustling sound. I heard it too. I scooted my chair closer to Taylor.
"Are you scared, Dad?"
"No, but I'm going to keep you safe."
"That's sweet," he said drolly.
I roll my eyes.
Something stands up. The hair on my neck is at full attention. Taylor is right, there is some humanoid shape out there in the woods near the Bellwood Demon's supposed lair. I stand up, knocking my chair over.
I can't leave the fire going in the woods, so I throw the ice chest and some water on it.
"Run!" I yelled as I was doing that and tossing him a flashlight. Taylor took a few steps back, and clicked the flashlight on.
"Run!" I scream at him.
He turns and takes off. The humanoid figure runs toward us and grabs Taylor's arm, spinning him around.
Before I can kill it, it takes off its mask. I walk over and shove him.
"Kenny, I'm going to kill you."
"Hey! It was Taylor's idea." Kenny said, putting his hands up, "We planned the whole thing last week when he was over at my house watching Evil Dead Rising.
Taylor nearly fell over; he was laughing so hard at having gotten one over on his old man.
I'm a horror movie aficionado. These two are going to get their comeuppance for scaring the hell out of me.