Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Twenty Years Ago Me And My Son Went On A Camping Trip, Now I Wonder If He Ever Came Back

I remember it really clearly, it was about 20 years ago, back when we lived in Washington. My wife was never the outdoorsy type so when my son, Brandon, wanted to go camping it was always just me and him. That wasn’t bad though, it was good father-son time.

It was a nice scenic drive on the way to the campsite. I remember Brandon asked me about the music on the radio and I spent an embarrassingly long time reminiscing about my high school days and what bands I was obsessed with back then. Eventually we reached our site and I got to work pitching our tent. Brandon waited patiently, he wasn’t the type to go running off or anything, and when it was all set up me and him went for a hike to take in the nature.

It was really peaceful. The woods surrounding the campground were calm and serene, there wasn’t any animals out and about but every once in a while I would stop and point out a deer track or some droppings. It reminded me of when I was a kid spending time with my dad. I suppose I was about nine years old when I learned about the marvels of deer poop myself. As I looked at him I couldn’t help but see a younger version of myself. We had the same eyes, the same hair, and like most of the people in my family we had the same birthmark on our upper right arm.

It was hard spending time with Brandon sometimes, I worked so often and sure, it was putting food on the table, but whenever I saw how fast he was growing without me around the guilt would start to well up inside me. Seeing him smile and laugh that day really uplifted my spirits though. I was here now, and that’s what mattered, is what I’d tell myself whenever the conversation lulled.

As we were walking we suddenly found the trail leading out of the woods and into a beautiful view of the river. I was telling Brandon about erosion and how you could see the effects of the previous years floods on the riverbank when his expression suddenly changed. He pointed up to the sky and said “What’s that dad?” I looked up myself and found that I was just as confused as he was. There was, off in the distance, a dark, triangular, looking object. It hung in the sky perfectly still and then suddenly vanished. Not wanting to lose my reputation as a know it all dad I desperately searched for an explanation, before deciding that it must have been a helicopter and telling Brandon as such. He obviously didn’t believe me, and frankly, I didn’t believe myself either.

By the time we got back to our tent the sun had already started to set. I got Brandon to help me collect some firewood and start up a fire. We roasted some hotdogs and marshmallows. We didn’t get to the scary stories, however, as Brandon started nodding off and I decided it was time for bed. I got Brandon into his sleeping bag and I crawled into mine right beside him.

It was the shaking that woke me at first. I had been in an earthquake before but this was different, it was hard to describe. It was almost like someone was picking up the earth and the earth was trying to pull it back. I was still groggy, I reached out to see if Brandon was awake and I found his sleeping back empty. I wasn’t too panicked yet, like I said, he wasn’t the type to run off, and I always try to keep a level head. I stumbled out of the tent and walked towards where the flashlights were. Confident that I would find him near the fire trying to cope with the shaking. Then the lights happened. The whole campground was bathed in a bright, sickly, white light. It was blinding at first, and when my vision adjusted I realized that Brandon was nowhere to be found. That was when I started to panic.

I grabbed a flashlight and started shouting his name. As I ran to the edge of the woods surrounding the campsite I tried looking for a source for the light, but I couldn’t see one. As I ran to the edge of the woods my pounding heart skipped a beat when I heard Brandon’s voice. He called out to me, “Dad! I’m over here!”. I rushed over, my happiness quickly abated when he started crying “Help! Somethings wrong!”

I ran to the other side of the campsite and found him crouched away from me in a little ditch. The shaking had mostly subsided and I rushed over to him. He was facing away from the light and I put my hand on his back. “What’s the matter? Are you hurt?” I could hear him struggling for air. “Dad!” he finally cried, “something’s wrong… everything’s wrong…” his voice was weak. I reached to his hand and when I touched it alarm bells rang in my head. His skin was rubbery and wrinkly, like a halloween mask. I turned my flashlight on and his whole skin looked a horrid purple. “Brandon,” I muttered in shock. I turned him to face me and screamed. His face was emaciated, his eyes so sunken they looked like a skulls empty sockets. His jaw hanged open like the muscles that held it were worn and worthless. My whole body shook in terror. The shaking started back up again. This time even more violently. It seemed as if the ground was going to get ripped up and thrown into the sky. I didn’t know what to do. I grabbed Brandon and held him as close to me as I could. I found myself praying to a god I was never sure actually existed. Through gurgles and moans Brandon started to talk, “It hurts Dad… why does it hurt so much… help me Dad…” As I squeezed him I could feel him get thinner and thinner, like his insides were being sucked out. It felt like there was nothing left of him. Tears started rolling down my face and the last thing I heard him say, faint as a whisper, haunted me. “Why won’t you help me Dad?”

A nudge caused me to bolt up in my sleeping bag. Brandon was prodding me, “Wake up Dad, I’m hungry.” I got up, more than a little confused. As my heart stopped racing and I came back to reality I realized that I had just had a crazy nightmare. I chuckled to myself. After Brandon was fed I walked over to the ditch from the previous night. There was nothing weird or out of the ordinary. Brandon too, seemed just like he always was, and didn’t mention anything about the previous night. When I walked back to Brandon and asked if he felt the ground shake he said he hadn’t felt a thing. When we got back to civilization I asked other people the same thing and they all agreed with Brandon.

For a week then, my mind was at ease. I worked a lot again that week and when I finally had a day off me and the wife took Brandon to the pool. It was only there that memories of that night came flooding back and the horror with it. When Brandon took his shirt off I looked at his arm, and noticed the family birthmark was missing.

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