SINISTER SUMMER CAMP CHALLENGE HONORABLE MENTION
“Come ‘mere. Lemme hug you,” I say.
But the two guys with fancy hiking boots and backpacks stuffed with necessities for the deep woods run from me, screaming off trail. One of them falls down a ravine, neck broken by the rocky floor. The other made it further. I track him to the river, where I’m sure he must have slipped in. No body. No tracks on the other bank. Why he tried to swim in class five rapids, I’ll never know. We all gotta live with the choices we make.
Maybe my voice is too gruff. I’ll have to work on it.
I’m out of practice talking… to people.
I gather up the first hiker–because waste not, want not–and bring him back to my cave. I’ll bury the leftovers respectfully. I still remember some of the praying words my mama taught.
“Art in heaven. Hollow thy mane. On dirt as in Kevin. Give Bread. Forgive us bus passes. Not temptation. Deliver us weevils.”
It didn’t make sense when she taught it to me all those years ago, but saying it makes me feel close to her.
I put rocks on the bones. You know, for later. Marrow stew.
Walking the paths is lonely. In my range, there aren’t any other like me. That’s because when I came here, I wore boots and jeans and carried a nylon tent and metal tools to help me. I came because it was fun. A break from the everyday. A week in the wilderness.
Hiking away from the trail, leaving markers tied to trees to lead me back, I saw the most beautiful things. Untouched stands of ancient trees. Herds of deer who’d never seen something on two legs and didn’t know to run from me until my boots crunched on the litter of old branches. They ran before I could catch one. That’s when I realized I didn’t need my shoes anymore.
Or my tent.
I stayed an extra week.
I took off my jeans because I was too hot.
My pack had all these things I didn’t really need anymore. Not when the bright, green woods held all the life I’d ever require. I got good at being quiet and finding what I needed. My teeth got sharp and that was enough.
I stayed a month.
My hair grew in thicker all over me and I stopped wearing anything at all.
Then I stopped counting days.
I remember some of the words I knew when I’d left. High school. ACT. College. Real life.
Even back then, those words were knives in my mind. Pressures that I carried on my back every day. Mama told me about the real world every night when she’d come home from serving people in those places that make fancy food… I can’t remember what they call them, but she came home angry and exhausted every night.
“You have it so easy now,” she’d say. “Some homework. Some pimples. Silly girlfriends and locked braces from making out between classes.”
“Mama!” I’d been so embarrassed.
“Just wait, after high school, the real world is waiting.”
Like a monster with teeth stalking my steps. Sometimes when I thought about what was coming I couldn’t sleep. I’d lay there with my eyes wide thinking about all the things I had to do to be “well off.” Those were Mama’s words. Like magic talismans, achieving those words would keep the real world from grinding me up. I didn’t want to be like Mama. Not at all.
So, on my… what was it called? Jamboree? Boy Scout trip. The last campout with other kids before the real world got me. That’s when I left the trail. I wound around the mountain, sun on my left, and used all the things they’d taught me about the woods. Learned more as I went and I realized that the monster couldn’t get me in the bright, green woods. Well off didn’t mean anything to a rabbit or a coyote. The only test is not getting eaten.
I understood how to pass that test quickly.
It’s not easy though. There are challenges and worries. Nothing like college entrance exams or student loan debt, but I have plenty of things to adjust to.
Sometimes it’s cold.
I can’t hibernate but if I store up enough meat, I make it through the season. A bear’s meat goes pretty far if you use the organs too.
Sometimes it’s so hot I lay in my cave panting, dreaming about the machine that used to keep me cool.
I’m never really hungry, though. There’s too much to eat in the bright, green woods when you have quiet feet and know how to trap. And there’s always the hikers with their loud boots and their smoke plumes to lead men straight to them.
It gets lonely sometimes when the moon is bright and I can hear the wolves calling to each other. The fireflies light up the canopies of the trees and night birds and bats dance between them against the whispering under canopy. I talk to myself when I get lonely. I don’t remember my name, but I sometimes talk to Mama. I tell her I wish she was with me. I’d take care of her. She’d never have to give food to nasty people again.
But I don’t know that she’d like going naked. She never liked camping when I was younger. She let me go with the other boys and their families, coming to get me at the end of the trip, nose wrinkling from the smell.
Oh, if she could smell me now!
No, I think I’d like to befriend another hiker like me. Someone in the woods, trying to get away from the real world. Someone willing to change like I did.
If they’d let me hug them and lead them to my cave, I’d keep them safe. We would be forest buddies striding together on two legs through the woods. I’d protect them from the brambles and the poisonous mushrooms until their skin thickened and got shaggy and their big feet muffled with fur. I’d teach them all the things I’ve learned in all the seasons I’ve lived here. We’d walk the woods together, daring real life to try to find us in the bright, green woods.
And if they don’t want to come with me?
There’s always marrow stew.
Donna J. W. Munro’s pieces are published in Nothing’s Sacred Magazine IV and V, Corvid Queen, Hazard Yet Forward (2012), Enter the Apocalypse (2017), Beautiful Lies, Painful Truths II (2018), Terror Politico (2019), It Calls from the Forest (2020), Gray Sisters Vol 1 (2020), Pseudopod 752 (2021), and others. Check out her novel, Revelation: Poppet Cycle Book 1. Contact her at https://www.donnajwmunro.com