The Cemetery In The Forest!
I was one of 37 high school teenagers from a private Christian school spending ten days at a summer camp in the Olympic Mountains of Washington State. This was my first time camping and I was nervous. But the bus filled with chattering friends and teachers kept my mind off of my insecurity. Though it was a large bus, it was packed with everything but the kitchen sink, as it made its way up the winding steep sloped narrow country road.
Jokingly we yelled up to the driver asking him if he wanted us to get out and push. Also on the bus was a private nurse, Mrs. Beasley and four teachers. Mr. Delgo, a tall bearded black haired man, Mr. Strand, short in height with long black hair. Hair so black it shined and we nudged each other, wondering if he waxed it to make it shiny. Then there was Ms. Sinclair. She was the snooty one and we knew if anyone would ruin our fun it would be her.
Lastly, there was a red heavy set teacher we actually found no faults with. Mr. Clark gave respect, listened and showed we weren’t expected to be perfect. We actually believed that he had been a teenager once. When we weren't shouting over each other's voice to tell someone something, we were looking out the bus windows hoping to catch a glimpse of wildlife. I was the first to see a doe and her two fawns bedded down in the grass, beside a small mountain waterfall!
They held perfectly still as if to make believe we hadn't seen them, but I did. After that, it was a game to watch the forest on both sides of the road as we climbed higher and higher into the mountains, to see who could see wildlife first. I guess it took away some of the tension I was feeling. Though I was excited to some extent about this camping trip, I already missed much of what I had left behind in town. I missed seeing the city, houses and of course I missed my cell-phone.
None were allowed and I knew many of my friend’s bags and back packs had been searched too, before we had boarded the bus. It seemed, at least to me that we had been riding the bus for hours and hadn't even stopped once to eat or use a bathroom. But something more foreboding was prodding me in the back of my mind! As much as I tried to shake the foolish thought, I felt we were on a collision course with danger.
The more I tried to focus on what it was in my mind that made me feel shivers up and down my neck, the less I could make it clear. So I tried to distract myself by watching the scenery and wildlife. I had the feeling that something horrible was going to happen at summer camp. Perhaps it was just my paranoia of being so deep in the woods and away from city life. My instincts were pretty good and later I would remember this moment.
Little did I know at that moment that the bus was being watched. Something was watching us from the forest as intently as we too watched. Suddenly, we passed a desolate and lonely dirt road and the bus came to a stop. Everyone was thrown forward, off balance as we griped. But Sam the driver took it all in stride and I felt the bus backing up slowly.
When he reached the entrance to the dirt road, he stopped, looked at the map in his hand and then back at the road. Surely I thought to myself, this can't be the road we are going to drive down. It doesn't even look wide enough for our bus. The road looked like it hadn't been driven down for months and there wasn't even a sign saying Summer Camp.
"I'll bet Sam's lost." I whispered to Mellissa with a smirk and a wink. The bus was filled with quiet whispers as the teachers tried to calm and reassure us. Sam opened the door and got off the bus and walked over to the road. He was staring intently at the brush on both sides of the road. Then we watched Sam begin to walk into the brush, pushing limbs away as if he was searching for the camp sign.
Suddenly, the bus was filled with screams as about a dozen quail flew away in every direction. I don't know who was more scared, Sam or us kids. Finally the bus was filled with laughter realizing it had been just a bunch of birds. Sam was holding his chest as if he had a heart attack, but the grin on his face told us he had just been startled. We watched Sam continue to push and pull limbs this way and that until we too got a glimpse of the summer camp sign.
One limb at a time, he bent back and broke, until we clearly saw the sign. This was the road we were looking for. But the rains and nice weather had made the limbs grow and hide not just the sign but almost the road too. When Sam returned, he cautioned us to slide up our windows and keep all hands in because the limbs were gonna slap the sides of the bus.
He wasn't wrong. Even though he drove slowly, the tree branches slapped at the sides of the bus. Though he drove for only about 10 minutes, it seemed twice that long. Then the narrow road opened into a clearing and we could see about a dozen small buildings clustered around a grove of trees in the middle. Sam turned the bus around and parked, got off the bus and so did the other five adults.
They all huddled together talking, but we couldn't hear what was said. But in the end all of them nodded and Mr. Clark got back on the bus and told us to get off and meet at the back of the bus to unload things. At that moment the bus was filled with moans and groans. Slowly we got off the bus and did as we were told. Mr. Clark opened the large door at the back of the bus and in doing so supplies and bags fell to the ground.
We burst out laughing, but I didn't see him smiling. "Find your belongings and stand in two groups, one for guys and one for gals. That means all girls in one group and all boys in the other. Sorry to disappoint anyone Mr. Clark said, but these are not co-ed cabins." Laughter echoed through the mass of teens looking lost. As Mr. Clark watched us unload everything, the other adults made their way to the group of cabins and tried key after key until each door had been unlocked.
As luck would have it, by the time we had unloaded everything, we saw all the grownups returning to the bus. The snide voice of Ms. Sinclair pierced the silence with the comment, "Each adult has a list of names for each cabin. Those are where you will be staying for the next seven days. Please don't ask if you can switch cabins. We have a lot to do before the sun sets and it gets darker earlier in the mountains so please don't whine, just work together."
The word ‘whine’ really wasn't necessary and every expression on my friend’s faces told me they too felt the same way. The grownups formed a line about 10 feet apart from each other and began calling out names. Suddenly the hair stood up on the back of my neck. Someone or something was watching us from the woods. I could feel it clear to my soul. A cold and menacing stare. Something evil and hateful.
I couldn't shake the feeling no matter how hard I tried. Nervously, I turned around and looked at the trees and brush, but I saw nothing. I asked Jenny my best friend who stood next to me if she felt anything unusual and she smiled and nudged me hard. “Sure I do silly. I want to be in the same cabin as Benny." she said and she burst out laughing. That wasn't the answer I had hoped for and I continued to stare at the woods.
Suddenly I felt myself off balance, about to fall and realized Jenny had nudged me again. "Unless ya want to be the first on Ms. Sinclair's pissed off list, ya better answer, they called your name silly." she said and I answered up, feeling myself blush with embarrassment as everyone started laughing at me. "Let's go, we don't have all day." Ms. Sinclair shouted. Numbly I made my way to Ms. Sinclair and stood in line with the others. When everyone was accounted for, we were led to the cabin we were assigned to.
"Pick out your bed and set out your sleeping bag, then I need each cabin swept out. Those not sweeping can open the windows and air out the musty smell. Anyone left can pick up a rake from outside the cabin door and rake the area." she said. None of us here wanted to hear the word, work. That was when Debbie, a tall slender red haired girl blurted out, “I thought we were here to camp out and have fun?" Many of us girls echoed the same words.
But Ms. Sinclair drowned us out with her narrow, harsh and stubborn do it my way or else attitude and said, "Get to it everyone." Ms. Sinclair reminded me of what a drill instructor in the military would be like. Eventually we had raked and re-raked the area around the cabins good enough that we were told to stop. "There are a few rules that we’re setting down before everyone can check out the camp and the lake. First, don’t wander off.
There are coyotes, black bear and cougar in these woods. We are in their home and if you see one don’t run. Keep facing them but back away from them slowly the entire time. All of the teachers have a whistle and if they blow their whistle that is the signal there is danger. Whatever you’re doing you’re to return to where you are standing now. Most animals are more scared of us then we are of them.
Most important, don't try to pet any skunks." She said in a serious voice. We all burst out laughing at that comment. "We’ll be making lunch in about an hour so go ahead and look around, but don't wander away from camp please." she told us. Suddenly, everyone was headed in different directions with their friends, talking excitedly. As for me, I didn't immediately run off. I turned around in a circle slowly trying to sense and pin point what I had felt earlier. There was danger nearby and it wasn't any coyote, black bear or cougar.
It was something much worse. I should have followed my instincts and said something to someone, but I knew they would have just laughed at me. So I caught up to Mellissa as we walked down to the dock. Mellissa quickly caught on to my mood change and she stopped mid-way on the dock and turned to me. “Hey. What’s up? Something is bothering you; I can see it in your eyes. Tell me what it is please?” she asked. I tried to pretend that everything was just fine, but Mellissa persisted.
Finally, I gave in. “We’re being watched, I can feel it.” I said nervously. There, I had said it. Quickly Mellissa’s smile vanished and she looked behind me and then left to right before she turned to face me with a giggle. “Who’s watching us? I don’t see anyone. Show me who’s watching us.” Mellissa dared me. Slowly I turned around and with hesitation in my eyes, I looked at the woods. Not at the entire forest, just one specific part, a place where there lay a huge dead redwood cedar stump next to a large boulder.
I don’t know why or what made me look at the stump but whatever had been watching me earlier, was behind the stump, staring directly into my frightened eyes. I was held in a trance I couldn’t break. I was lost. I could feel his deathly sneer. I could feel him mocking me. He saw me as no threat. He was neither human nor animal. Mellissa pushed my shoulder to get my attention as she saw a tear begin to roll down my cheek, but I didn’t feel it.
Then she pushed me harder. Still, I stared. By now I was shaking and Mellissa began to become frightened. When she shouted my name, it was as if I had been held in a grip by something unseen and suddenly had broken free. I turned to Mellissa and hugged her as I trembled. “We’ve got to tell the counselor’s Mellissa, we have to warn them.” I said. As I looked at Mellissa for support, I saw that deer in the head lights look.