Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Halloween Camping Tale

Duffy and Mike on the national forest trail

Dear George,
I always think of Halloween as marking the end of the camping season.  Years ago I read on the Internet that you shouldn’t take your dogs camping if the temperature falls below thirty-five degrees, and I follow that advice faithfully.  Our nighttime temperatures in November usually dip into the low thirties or below, so I store away my gear for the duration.  All those things were on my mind on a recent Halloween when I decided to take the sheepdogs on an overnight outing to the national forest campground.  We arrived just before noon.  By late October practically nobody’s there on weekdays, so we had our choice of campsites.  I picked my favorite spot which is at the end of the loop, set back from the road, spacious, and separated from other sites.  I needn’t have worried.  There were only two RVs at the campground when we arrived, and both had left by the time I’d set up my tent.  I normally prefer to have at least a few other people on the campground, but it was exciting to be by ourselves – like really being out in the wilderness.

Mike, Duffy, and I enjoyed a relaxing afternoon.  We went for a hike, and I took some photos of the autumn foliage.  The dogs napped in their playpen while I turned on the radio and listened to country music.  I wrote a couple of drafts for my blog and read some chapters from a Lewis Grizzard book that I’d bought at the library used book sale.  For dinner I had cheeseburgers and spinach and topped it off with two glasses of Charles Shaw merlot.  It gets dark very early, of course.  I’d just barely washed the dishes as the sun finished setting.  I made a rousing campfire in the fire pit.  The damp pine branches spit off lots of sparks.  The minute it gets dark Mike and Duffy are eager to go in the tent, and so after half an hour I took a sleeping pill and we retired.  I’d brought along a queen-sized air mattress for the dogs, and I got into my own down sleeping bag.  I put on a wool knit cap to help keep warm in the chilly night air.

It took a while to get to sleep, but I finally managed. It must have been about midnight when I was wakened by a loud roaring noise that seemed to be getting closer to us.  At first it sounded like jet airplanes, but then I realized it was motorcycle engines.  I slipped on my shoes, got out of the tent, and zipped the door shut with the dogs inside.  There were three guys on Harley Davidsons, apparently out cruising around on Halloween night.  They’d gotten off their cycles right in front of my campsite.  They wore black leather jackets and had long greasy hair and beards.  One sported an ugly tattoo on his neck.  They’d definitely been drinking.  The most heavyset guy, who I took to be the leader, said something in a surly voice, but I couldn’t make out what he was saying.  “What?” I asked.  He stepped forward and shoved me in the chest.  It dawned on me that they wanted money.  My wallet was in the tent, and frankly I was scared out of my wits for the dogs and for myself.  I told the guy I would get my wallet.

Just as I was going back to the tent, I saw out of the corner of my eye a cluster of blurry figures walking slowly toward us on the road.  The motorcycle guys saw them too, and, as the figures got closer, it became clear that it was a group of women.  They were all dressed in identical black ankle-length costumes of some sort.  One of the women, taller than the others, said something to the motorcycle gang leader.  I couldn’t hear what she said, but the motorcycle guy looked intimidated.  He beckoned to his companions, and, within seconds, they’d gotten back on their bikes and were heading out of the campground.

I didn’t know it at that moment, but it turns out that a coven of witches from the surrounding rural area hold their annual sacred rites in the national forest every Halloween eve.  They’d just completed a ritual in which they’d used ancient incantations to call forth dead corpses from the old cemetery outside the park.  A troop of zombies and ghouls had been following them on the campground road, and now this horde of monsters had caught up with the witches at my campsite.  Dozens and dozens.  They were dressed in tattered, bedraggled clothing, with flesh hanging off their faces and limbs and their tongues hanging out the sides of their mouths.  The zombies were awkwardly shuffling along in unison, holding their arms out in front of them.  The ones in front were looking straight at me.  It dawned on me that they were searching for flesh to eat, probably human flesh, maybe humans and dogs.  The first zombies were only yards away when I got a sudden, desperate idea.  I took a few steps to my campground table and flicked on my radio.  Reba McEntire was singing “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia.”  I stared the zombies in the eye, then launched into my best Electric Slide line dance routine.   It was just intuition on my part, but it turned out to be inspired.  In no time at all, the zombies started following my lead and doing the Electric Slide.  They did it perfectly.  I don’t know whether they’d learned it during their previous human lives, or whether it’s just something that comes naturally to zombies.  After the Electric Slide, we went on and on. We did Swamp Thang, the Watermelon Crawl,  Cajun Cross, Tush Push, the Mambo Shuffle, Booty Call, Cotton Eyed Joe, and a host of other dances.  The witches joined in too, and everyone seemed to be having the time of their lives.  The hours passed quickly until the first glimmer of sunrise appeared on the horizon.  All of the zombies abruptly turned around and began shuffling back to the cemetery.  We’d made it through the long dark night. 

Zombies doing the Electric Slide

By then the witches and I were on a first name basis.  My impression is they’d had their most enjoyable satanic get-together of the new millenium.  In fact, they invited me to be an honorary member and line-dancing captain in their coven.  I said I was honored and that I would be back again next Halloween. Then the witches melted away into the forest.  I went back to the tent.  Mike and Duffy had slept through everything.  I didn’t mention anything about the night’s events.  I made some breakfast, packed up our gear, and we headed back for the city.  I couldn’t wait to tell Katja about our amazing Halloween adventure.  She would be happy that we’d gotten back safely. 
P.S.  You might be wondering if this is a true story.  It’s definitely true in some number of the details, and I found that, in the process of revising it, it got truer and truer as I went along.  What I know for sure is that it’s also what popped into mind when I thought about taking the dogs camping by myself this very Halloween night.  

1 comment:

  1. You used to be pretty good at beach bonfire ghost stories as well. Remember "The Man with the Golden Arm?"