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Trafford Publishing (Paperback, 52 Pages)
ISBN (E-Book): 978-1-49074-219-9
ISBN (Softcover): 978-1-49074-220-5
Start of story
Late Friday afternoon, Mr. Simpson and a van full of campers have almost arrived to Houston Woods campground, the excitement is climbing and noise level is increasing inside the van. First time campers can barely wait to start their camping experience. A few miles away, his oldest child Reena sees a sign “Wood for Sale” and suggested stopping to get wood for the evening. The stop for wood rekindled horrible memories from Mr. Simpson first camping trip, at Houston Woods -- two decades prior.
Driving up Oxford College Corner Road (Highway 27), I turned on the right signal. “We are almost to the campsite now, to start the families’ annual camping trip, marking the end of another school year. We are about two miles away.” I turned right onto Todd Road. The noise level rose in the van, with all the passengers yelling with excitement. Driving down Todd Road, on the left there was a sign coming up, Wood for Sale.
“Dad, are we going to get wood now? It’ll be more expensive at the camp store,” said Reena.
You have a point, I thought. Slowing down, I turned on the left signal, a slow roll off the street into the driveway. Good, there is a man by the piles of wood.
The van doors opened; my children and their friends fell out. After grabbing a few dollars from the envelope in the cup holder, I stepped out of the van. Immediately I saw a familiar face from the past. How do I know this guy, sitting by the entrance of a yard with piles of wood? I too must have looked familiar to him since his long, unblinking gaze was also on me. We made eye contact, and immediately I blurted out, “Ranger Washington!”
“Did you work at Houston Woods in security back in early ’90s?” Immediately he recalled my face as we both went back to a terrifying weekend in May of 1992. I remembered vividly the night his face became disfigured.
He smiled from a scarred face and said, “No, I am not a ranger.”
The children respectfully waited quietly to find out to whom I was talking.
With soft smiles, we exchanged pleasantries. “It has been a minute,” I said.
“Yes, it has been a few years since the last time we spoke,” Mr. Washington said. “How is your wife doing?”
The children wondered how he knew their mother. “She is doing well. We have three children now.” I introduced each from oldest to youngest. “My daughter Reena; son, LJ; and youngest daughter, Naya.”
“The missus is not with y’all?” Mr. Washington asked.
“No, she does not enjoy camping and has not been camping for years.” Actually, she had not been camping since the last time he saw her. “How about you? How are you doing? Are you married?”
“The missus and I have one child. She is in college, in the army’s ROTC program. My lawn care business is keeping the lights on.”
“It is good seeing you. I pass this way whenever I go camping. In the future, I will blow the car horn if I see you sitting out.”
“You do that.”
“Do you have any hardwood? I need a few pieces of soft- and hardwood for a campfire tonight. We got off to a very late start due to a parent having last-minute car troubles and some campers getting dropped off later than expected. We will not have time to cook anything over the fire tonight. We just left the superstore a few miles back to pick up dinner for tonight.”
“Yes, I have the wood you need, but where are you going to put them? Surely not on top of the pizza. Your van is full,” Mr. Washington asked, looking amused.
We laughed. “Each person will have to hold a piece of wood, and a log or two will need to be put on the floor behind their feet . . . Are you still working at Houston Woods?”
“No, I quit a few years after the hand incident.”
After Mr. Washington helped to strategically place the wood into the van and I paid him, we prepared to part ways. Mr. Washington handed me one more piece of oak wood through my window for me to hold on my lap. “Thanks, Mr. Washington.”
“Please, call me Keef.”
“Well again, thanks, Keef, for the wood. Have a great day.”
“You too. Give my best to your wife.”
Keef waved us off. “Make sure you keep a strong fire going, and keep your tents zipped from the floor to the roof!” he reminded.
“Will do!” I replied.
The sun was about to touch the treetops; we really needed to get to our campsite and start putting up tents.
I backed the van up and prepared to pull away, then asked, “What time will you be out tomorrow, in case we need to buy more wood and maybe we can get caught up?”
Keef said, “Around the same time, around sunset. If I am not sitting out here, just blow the horn.” A look passed between us—we both knew that I would be returning alone tomorrow.
A half mile down the road, as I turned right onto Jones/Butler Israel Road, questions came from all directions: “What is the hand incident?”
“What did he mean, ‘Make sure you keep a strong fire going’?”
“Yeah, what did he mean, ‘Keep your tents zipped from the floor to the roof’?”
“Why hasn’t Mom been camping since 1992?”
To delay further questions, I said, “Y’all quiet down. We’re getting ready to make a sharp turn down to the main loop. I need to focus.” Once the turn was completed, the questions were asked again. “We have arrived.”
Some first-timers started reading the signs. “There is a beach here?” one asked as we passed sailboats on the right.
We could see Acton Lake ahead. The street ended, and I made a left turn then drove over a stream, passing basketball courts and cookout areas.
The kids started to spout out the variety of things to do: “There is a hotel here!”
“There is a nature center here?”
“I want to go horseback riding.”
“Will we go to the Indian mound?”
“This place must be huge.”
“They have cabins here. Are we staying in cabins?”
Everyone yelled, “No!” Not after all the tents we packed! Excitement started to build with the many different things each would get to do this weekend.
At the second stream, folks were putting up their fishing poles because it was getting late. I turned left toward the camp store. In a few minutes, we were on our way. At the fork in the road, one arrowed sign pointed right to primitive camping and the other arrowed sign pointed left to non-primitive camping. We proceeded to the left.
“What is the difference between the primitive and non-primitive campsites?” asked an excited camper.
I smiled. “The big difference is the non-primitive have showers, toilets, running water, and electric.”
The natural next questions followed: “Where do the primitive campers use the bathroom? How do they wash their hands?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “It is getting dark fast. Let’s get the campsite set up quickly. We can talk about your questions around the campfire.” We unloaded the van, started setup. I assigned each teen a task.
When I thought all was going well, Naya asked, “Who is Mr. Washington?”
“For now, I will say Mr. Keef was in charge of security the first time your mother and I camped at Houston Woods.” I answered, “We need to keep it moving and finish setting up the camp.”
We had to use the van’s headlights to finish getting the girls’ tent set up. I managed to get the food tent set up and a fire going while the boys were setting up our tent. The tents were all up but not tied down properly. Debris was hanging out the tents and lying around on the ground. We would tidy up in the morning; everyone was tired by now.
Most were sitting around the campfire, some were in the food tent getting a drink or eating pizza from a local restaurant, while others returned from the shower house toilets. The fire felt nice as the evening began to cool down. The cracking and popping sounds of the burning wood were soothing. We could hear the campground quiet down; we began to hear nearby fires along with the sounds of voices and animals. The lack of a breeze allowed the smoke to rise straight up. Even my children and their friends spoke in soft tones to not disturb the night or our neighbors.
“I am so tired, but I do not want to leave the warm fire,” some commented.
Another started talking about the first thing they were going to do the next morning.
One was going Putt-Putting; another was going to the beach.
Then a few chimed in, “I am going with you!”
“Dad, what is the hand incident?” asked Naya, driving a pause in the conversation.
“Baby girl, many years have passed. My details may be a little fuzzy. This is some of your friends’ first time camping. I do not want to disturb them.”
Their friends seemed confident they would not be bothered. “Go ahead, Mr. Simpson, it is okay—we’ll be fine.”
I went around to each child and asked them individually; they all said they would be okay. While they were answering, I put another log of oak and a log of pine into the fire.
“Okay, where should I start?”
“Wait, wait a minute!” The girls grabbed a blanket out of their tent and put it across their shoulders and backs. The boys pulled their arms inside their shirts. A few minutes later, everyone said, “Go ahead, we’re ready now!” The girls giggled. The boys sighed.
“Again, where should I start? Keep in mind the hand incident is disturbing for me as well. There may be things too troubling for me to talk about.”
The unsympathetic voices of my children said, “Go ahead, Dad!”
“You already know the last time your mother went camping was in May 1992. That was when your mother and I met Mr. Keef, the first and last time before today. He was Ranger Washington then. To answer a question from earlier, ‘Why does Mom not go camping?’ I think the hand incident is the key reason that she does not go camping. She was there when Ranger Washington and I relived the events of the evening and compared notes from each other’s perspective.
“For her, the hand incident starts with caution. But can be experienced through the sounds in the night, the feeling that moves through the woods as the sun sets and trees begin to fall asleep, the sightings imagined that some contribute to the trickery of the campfire light. Ultimately, the experience culminates with taking precaution. Your mother does not like the fact that so many tears could have been saved if precaution was practiced.
“Even now, I get goose bumps the closer the hour gets to midnight and the campground prepares to transition from today into tomorrow.”
“What is the hand incident?” LJ asked impatiently.