Don and Eric and I were up around Twain Hart , California , one weekend when I was in college . I think that was the name of the place . We were hiking in the woods instead of studying . Don’s a radiologist now and Eric works up in Silicon Valley on satellite technology , so I suppose they managed to sneak some studying in somewhere . Anyway………
We were sort of last minute campers . Someone would get back from class and suggest that we all climb into Don’s VW bus and head up to the mountains for the weekend . We would scour the kitchen of the apartment and collect whatever food we could carry that might sustain us in the far off woods for a couple of days . Real backpackers coming down the mountain would sometimes strike up conversations with us , ask us about our provisions , feel sorry for us when they saw our pathetic rations and give us the remains of their food supplies . That happened more than once . Anyway……..
We hiked past a campsite once . Three sleeping bags , mess kits , firewood set and ready for a campfire , but no one around . We stopped , just for a minute , to look , and just at that moment a forest ranger popped out from behind a tree .
” Can’t camp here ,” he said . ” No open fires allowed anywhere .” We informed him that the three sleeping bags , etc. did not belong to the three of us . You can imagine the look we got . So we trudged on along the trail as he stood there watching .
We had a good hike . We swam in a cold pool beneath a huge boulder further up the mountain . My foot hit something odd and I pulled up an ice cold sixpack of beer . Some poor slob had evidently left it there to cool and lost it . Finders keepers losers weepers ? We might have waited awhile to see if anyone would show up . I can’t remember . It was a fabulous surprise and pleasure to drink cool beer on a hot day up there on that mountain , though . I remember that . Anyway……..
On the way down the trail we came upon the three-person campsite again . The late afternoon sun was waning a bit . The Park Service guy was still there , or there again . He had his hand on his sidearm this time . You should have seen the look on his face now . Well , it did look suspicious ,being three of everything and three of us there . Again .
” What’s under the blanket ? ” he said . There was a blanket spread over a tree stump . It was one of those small olive-colored coarse army blankets . We told him we didn’t know . Wasn’t our stuff . We had no idea .
He walked over to the blanket , took hold of it , and with one swift hand movement flung the blanket up and away . And he jumped . I think he jumped three feet . His hand gripped his weapon as he turned toward the three of us . We slowly put our arms into the evening air to show him that we didn’t deserve to be shot right then and there .
Oh , I didn’t mention the axe that was lying against the tree stump near the blanket . There was an axe there leaning against the stump . It seemed to fit with the camping gear until the ranger flung the blanket away . On the top of the stump was a bloody head , wild hair , blood dripping from the severed neck , wild opened frightened eyes . It was a rubber Halloween mask , but it took a few panicky seconds for this realization to sink in .
We didn’t get shot , which , as Eric might have said , is one good thing . The ranger has probably told this story a few times over the years , too , I imagine . I wonder if those other three guys ever showed up .
Happy Halloween !