©2004 Cheryl Kaye Tardif
I always hated camping—the strange lurking noises in the woods, the bloodsucking mosquitoes that voraciously drilled for blood…the thin canvas of a tent that could be so easily slashed by a bear. Then there were the shadows, pervasive and malignant, hovering in every corner. Of course, peeing in the woods wasn’t my idea of a good time either.
When Justin, my husband, decided we were going on a camping trip with three other couples, I groaned and whined like an errant child. But I knew that I couldn’t escape fate. So reluctantly I packed up our tents, sleeping bags and Coleman coolers stoked with more beer than food. Then we headed for the mountains and Lac de Rëverie.
Justin told me that meant Lake of Dreaming.
During the monotonous drive our newest friends, Margie and Burton, were ensnared in a deadly lip-lock. After ten minutes I avoided glancing over my shoulder and decided that they just weren’t interested in the antique store we passed. Or the three elk grazing in the ditch. And Margie and Burton certainly didn’t give a hoot about the dead skunk lying in the middle of the road.
For a fraction of a second I thought about interrupting their spit-swapping contest.
Instead, I slept.
It was pitch black when we arrived at Lac de Rëverie. Carol, my dearest friend who was already on to her third husband, Philippe, had arrived an hour ahead of us. Philippe, the Italian Stallion with long black hair, was busy chopping wood. I caught a glimmer of his axe illuminated by the light of five lanterns. A small fire crackled and sputtered off to one side where Carol had arranged some folding chairs.
I confiscated one and sat down.
“Wanna beer, Lexie?” Justin asked me, his new sapphire earring sparkling in the left ear.
I shook my head. I was feeling fuzzy enough without any alcohol.
“We’ll be back in half an hour,” Burton said with a wink. “Gonna test the temperature of the water.” His grinning mouth returned to suck the air out of Margie. Strangely, she didn’t seem to mind.
I suddenly pictured them skinny-dipping in the mist-shrouded lake.
Yuck! So much for spending the weekend swimming!
A van lurched to a stop by our car. Dylan Hunt and his girlfriend, Blond-Bimbo, got out. Okay, I’ll admit that’s not her real name, but that’s what we called her. The woman’s name kept changing along with her face but Dylan, my husband’s boss, always managed to find a replacement that was unbelievably dumber than the last.
“Blond-Bimbo’s going to break her ankle,” Carol snorted in my ear.
We stared at the woman who thought three-inch spiked heels were a trendy fashion statement in the B.C. mountains.
“Dyl, honey, can you get me some wine?” Blond-Bimbo simpered. She stumbled toward a padded chair. “I’m parched.”
Dyl Honey immediately stopped setting up their tent and pulled out a bottle of wine from a cooler. He passed the woman the wine and a corkscrew, and Carol and I had to look away for fear we’d burst out laughing when the woman stared, uncomprehending, at the alien metal object. When we glanced back, Blond-Bimbo was trying to hammer the corkscrew through the metal wrapper.
Carol nudged me with her elbow. “Now isn’t she a keeper?”
Snickering quietly, I grabbed two flashlights and whispered, “I have to pee.”
When Carol looked at me with that ‘why are you telling me’ look, I shoved a flashlight into her hand. “You’re coming with me. I’m not going into these spooky old woods alone. God only knows what’s lurking out there.”
“Whooooooo,” Carol moaned, doing an Academy Award-winning ghost impression.
It freaked the hell out of me.
Peering behind us as we followed a trail, I watched Joseph toss a log on the fire and then sit down next to Blond-Bimbo. He was laughing at something the woman had said. My fingers curled reflexively as the wildcat in me scratched to the surface.
“Oh, Lexie,” my best friend said, patting my shoulder. “Don’t worry about her. Justin isn’t interested in airheads.”
Swallowing hard, I realized Carol was right. Justin and I had been married for six years. Our marriage was strong.
“Go pee.” Carol pointed to a tall cedar. Then she sat down on a wood stump.
I disappeared around the wide trunk of the tree, wedged my flashlight between some branches and squatted, praying to God that I wouldn’t topple over. Although my bladder was full, I couldn’t seem to relax enough to do anything.
Come on. Pee, damnit!
“So tell me more about Margie and Ben,” Carol hollered after a minute.
“Burton,” I corrected.
“So?” she prodded.
“Margie and Burton moved in down the road. Two months ago. They’re nice enough people.”
I heard Carol grunt. “Yeah, for a couple of leeches.”
I laughed. “You should have been in the car for the ride up here. You wouldn’t have been able to pry them apart with a crowbar. They were stuck together like Crazy Glue. I haven’t seen anything like it since high school. And when they did come up for air―which was maybe once―they whispered stuff to each other like, ‘you’re the one, baby’ and ‘it’s all for you, lover’. Oh my God! You should have been there, Carol.”
“Why do men feel that they have to impress the boss?” I muttered, on a rampage. “I mean, Justin is a great employee. He works late, fills in when they call him and then invites the big boss to come camping with us. And he makes me find two other unfortunate couples to beg to come with us.” I paused for a moment. “Sorry.”
When my friend didn’t answer, I realized she was probably miffed at me. I had led her to believe that the camping trip was more for the four of us―that Dylan, Blond-Bimbo, Margie and Burton were just last minute add-ons.
I stopped talking as a sudden rush of hot liquid poured onto the ground. When it veered off and began trickling down my right leg, I swore. “Oh, shit! I just peed on myself, Carol. Now I’m going to have to change my jeans. Who the hell decided to go camping anyway?” Without waiting for her answer, I snorted. “Oh, yeah. It was my darling husband.”
Justin, I’m gonna kill ya!
“I mean, it was Justin’s bright idea to come out here. I personally can’t wait until the weekend is over. No offense, Carol. I really would have loved to have done something with just you and Philippe. You’ve been married for two weeks and I haven’t exchanged two paragraphs with Philippe. In fact, let’s make plans to do something next weekend—just the four of us.”
Silence greeted me.
“What do you think?” I called out. The only response I got was the nervous chattering from invisible night birds that perched somewhere overhead.
Digging into my pocket for some tissue, I came up empty. Some kind of camper I was! Embarrassed, I hung my head, even though no one could see me.
“Carol? I need some toilet paper. Did you bring some?”
My best friend didn’t answer me. Was she pissed off?
“Okay, this isn’t funny,” I whined. “I need some paper―Kleenex―anything.”
Something crackled in the bushes to my left. When I turned sharply I lost my balance and one hand slid into the soil. The ground was damp and warm. Fresh pee does that.
“Shit!” Well, technically it was urine, but shit is what I muttered. “Carol?”
My friend was gone. She had left me stranded, alone in the heart-gripping darkness. I hastily pulled up my jeans, feeling a cold patch on the inside left thigh. Cursing under my breath, I stepped out onto the path.
In the dead calm of night it sounded like a gunshot, although I realized it was probably just a tree branch. I moved cautiously along the path.
Abruptly, the night birds stopped twittering.
That’s when I knew that something was coming for me. I could feel it.
A golden glimmer of light trickled through the trees and wound its way between and around the thick dense brush. As the light sinuously surrounded thick tree trunks and lush branches, every leaf and flower fell to the forest ground.
My heart pounded as the light moved closer, caressing the tree behind me. Frozen with fear, I held my breath and waited for the light to disintegrate my skin, but the eerie glow vanished as quickly as it had appeared. It was maybe fifteen minutes before I could make my legs stop trembling and force them to move forward.
Carol wasn’t going to be forgiven for leaving me behind. Not for a long while. And if I ever found out that it had been Justin or one of the others out there with a flashlight…
When I reached the campsite, I stared in disbelief. The vehicles were parked by the side, the tents were pitched a few yards from the fire, and the chairs were empty. Philippe’s axe glistened when my flashlight cut a path across its blade. It lay abandoned in the grass—an unusual thing for Philippe to do. Justin’s beer can was jammed into the chair’s cup holder. The tab hadn’t even been pulled. Carol’s sweater lay on the ground, trampled with dirt, moss and wine.
My stomach heaved and I struggled for air.
Everyone was gone.
Nobody answered me. The only sound I heard was the oversized cooking pot boiling over. Philippe had been making stew. I peeked under the lid, partly from curiosity and partly to let the steam vent.
That’s when I saw it.
At the surface of the meaty stew, a sapphire earring sparkled―still attached to Justin’s ear.
“Juuuuustiiiiin!” I shrieked, feeling the air rush from my lungs. I fainted and hit the ground, hard.
I awoke abruptly as the air around me lurched to a stop.
Opening my eyes I saw that I was in the car. And Justin was driving.
“Sweet dreams?” he whispered with a smile, his earring dancing in the moonlight.
I smiled. They are now.
Relieved, I closed my eyes again. It had all been a nasty dream. My heart settled into a happy pitter-patter.
“We’re here,” he said a moment later.
It was pitch black but a light flickered over a sign. Lac de Rëverie.
Carol, my dearest friend, greeted me at the campsite. When I saw Philippe, the Italian Stallion with long black hair, busily chopping wood, I gasped. I caught a glimmer of his axe, illuminated by the light of five lanterns. A small fire crackled and sputtered off to one side where Carol had arranged some folding chairs.
My heart dropped into the pit of my stomach. Confused and disoriented, I confiscated a chair and sat down.
What the fu―?
“Wanna beer?” Justin asked, interrupting my thoughts.
I shook my head. I was feeling fuzzy enough without any alcohol.
“Gonna test the temperature of the water,” Burton said with a wink. His grinning mouth returned to suck the air out of Margie. Strangely, she didn’t seem to mind.
Philippe’s eyes narrowed as he watched them, and he licked his lips. “I’ll get some meat for a stew.” He walked off toward Lac de Rëverie, the axe slicing through the air with each step.
“We’ll be back in half an hour,” Margie called out.
Catching a glimmer of golden light swirling around Philippe’s axe, I shivered.
“To sleep, perchance to dream,” I whispered, awaiting my inescapable fate…my destiny.