I've never really liked camping. Something about sleeping on the ground for fun seems... I don't know... counterintuitive to me. But I do love the people I go camping with. They make the trip worthwhile. Oscar has been my best friend since we were both toddlers. His younger brother, Oliver, is just as much my brother as his at this point. The three of us have been inseparable for years. Hope only moved here a few years ago but she has fit perfectly into our group and quickly became a great friend, maybe more.
"Paul you alright?" Mark asks.
"Uh... Yeah. Sorry. Just spaced out a little," I reply. "Hope, I finished your tent. Now I just have to set mine up."
"Always putting others before yourself," she responds. "Thanks Paul."
She was right. Well, mostly right. I don’t put all others before myself. But these three? Sure. I would do anything for them. I definitely put them ahead of myself.
"Oliver, lets go get some firewood before it gets too dark," Oscar says to his brother. "We'll be right back guys."
This was our sixth straight year camping at Hundred Acre Wood. Wait, maybe the seventh. Anyway, it didn’t matter how many times we would go, those woods were still creepy. One year we scared the crap out of Oscar by walking out there with him and then leaving him. He still wont go out there alone.
And I don’t blame him. Its not that there was anything particularly scary about these woods specifically. Its more just the idea of a dense forest in the dark. Ive seen enough horror movies to know that is not a place you want to be.
"Did you bring everything for smores?" Hope asks.
I hold up a bag of marshmallows and some chocolate bars in one hand and a box of graham crackers in the other.
"You always get those honey flavored graham crackers," Hope says jokingly. "As if normal ones aren’t sweet enough"
"It was all they had," I laugh back.
She smiles. It was no secret that there was something between us. Oscar pointed it out to me within hours of us meeting here. But somehow nothing has happened yet. I think we're both just scared that it wont work out.
We hear a sound coming from the woods and we both whip our heads around. Oliver comes sprinting out from the trees, a huge smile on his face and a pile of sticks in his hands. Oscar follows by a few steps, a frightened look on his face and nothing in his hands. They both stop to catch their breath.
"What happened?" I ask.
"We saw a bear," Oliver says, still with a smile on his face. "This one took off and dropped all of his fire wood."
"It wasnt a bear!" Oscar screams, still clearly out of breath. "I dont know what it was, but it definitely wasnt a bear,"
Oliver turns to me and Hope, nods his head and mouths the words "it was a bear."
Hope and I look at each other and laugh. I toss Oscar a water bottle.
"Whatever it was, it wont bother us if we leave it alone," I say to Oscar. "Let's just get set up for the night."
Oscar nods. He gets shaken up pretty easily, so im used to it. He'll get over it in no time.
"Suns going in," Oliver says. "Let's get this fire going."
The fire never really got to be as big as we wanted, probably could have used more wood, but it did the job. My favorite part of this trip has always been just sitting around the fire and talking. We never really needed anything to entertain us. Just us.
"Oli toss me a marshmallow," Hope says.
Oliver holds up an empty bag.
"Mmm," Oliver mumbles, pointing to his mouthful of marshmallows.
"You're the worst," she replies, half joking. "It looks like the fire is about to burn out anyway."
The flame has almost completely dwindled at this point. Almost time to call it a night.
"Hey Oscar, why dont you go get some more wood," Oliver teases.
"Not gonna' happen," he replies.
"Leave your brother alone Oli," i say jokingly. "Its mot everyday you come across some sort of alien bear creature in the woods."
"I told you, it didnt look anything like a bear," he replies. "It was more like an ele-... Nevermind. I'm going to sleep. Make sure you put the fire completely out."
Oscar retreats to his tent, followed by Oliver not long after.
"Well I guess i'll call it a night too," Hope says. "We have a long day full of... camping-stuff tomorrow."
"Yeah," I laugh. "Good night."
She goes back to her tent as I grab a bucket of water to throw on the fire. Smoke fills our campsite as the water hits the embers. I cough as i step towards my tent. As I pull the zipper up i hear a branch crack in the woods. I look out into the trees but i cant see anything. I open my tent, slide into my sleeping bag and within minutes I'm asleep.
A scream. Heavy breathing and a scream. A nearly deafening scream, followed by a dragging sound headed toward the woods. I jump up and spring out of my tent. Hope is already standing outside of hers with her hand over her mouth. I realize that the second scream was hers. Then I see what caused the scream. Oscar's tent had been ripped to shreds and Oliver's had collapsed.
"What the hell is going on!" Hope screams at me. "I swear if this is some kind of joke I-"
She's interrupted by a moaning sound. Oliver's tent starts to move. Hope jumps behind me as we both stare at the moving fabric. We're both about ready to run when we see Oliver emerge from under the mess.
"What the," Oliver mumbles holding his head and clearly in pain. "What happened?"
I rush to the remains of Oscar's tent and start feeling around. He's not there. Where is he? What is going on? I want to cry. I feel like I should be crying but for some reason I'm not. My body isn't letting me.
"Paul, what is going on," Oliver asks again. "Where is Oscar?"
I look up and see a path of matted down grass headed toward the trees. Something dragged him out there. A branch cracks in the woods. Close. Too close. I turn and start to tell the others to run but realize that they are way ahead of me. Oliver is limping so I catch up to him quickly. We see Hope not too far ahead of us, and then she’s gone. She just disappears. My instincts tell me something is wrong but my legs wont let me stop running.
Then, gravity forces me too. We had run right off the edge of a pretty large hill. Oliver and I tumble all the way to the bottom where Hope is just getting up.
"Is everyone ok?" I ask.
"No!" Oliver yells. "No Paul we're not ok! Something took Oscar! Something ran right through our tents and it took Oscar! And now it's coming for us!"
"We don't know that," I reply, trying to stay calm. "Tell me what happened. Did anyone see anything?"
"I saw a shadow," Hope says. "That was all I could see. A shadow moving from where Oscar's tent was into the woods."
I can tell she is shaken but shes ok. Oliver is hurt though.
"Oli what did you see," i ask.
"Nothing," he replies instantly. "I was asleep and something hit my tent. I got clubbed in the head and might have blacked put for a minute."
Still no tears. I feel like I should have broken down by now but I haven’t. And it's a good thing because Hope and Oliver are clearly losing it and we need to find a way out of these woods. Of course that's going to be harder now that we have this impossibly steep hill at our backs and nothing but trees in front of us.
"Ok. Look, we need to get out of the woods," I say, trying to take control. "If we move quickly in one direction we should be able to get out before anything can catch up with us."
"Get out?" Oliver asks. "Are you serious? It's called the Hundred Acre Wood for a reason. It's a hundred acres of woods!"
"What would you suggest we do?" I snap back at him. "We clearly can't get back up this hill and we're not going to just sit here with our backs literally up against a wall."
"Paul's right,” Hope joined in. “We have to get moving.”
We all know we’re hurting, both physically and emotionally, but adrenaline and instinct keep us going. Once we’re out of this I’m sure the grief of losing my best friend will fully sink in, but for now I’m just thinking about how we can survive. These two are everything to me now, and I’m not going to lose them too.
A branch cracks. Our heads whip around and for a second we stop moving. We all slowly turn to each other and I whisper one word.
We take off. Hope and Oliver are both ahead of me and the woods are so dense and so dark that I quickly lose both of them. I’m still running but I’m looking for them at the same time. I’m turning my head to the left, completely unable to see anything. I whip my head to the right. Still nothing. Then it hits me. A blow to the chest that feels like I just got hit by a truck and all of a sudden I’m on my back. I’m trying to catch my breath but it feels like my lungs got flattened in my chest. Adrenaline and fear allow me to get up to my knees and in front of me I see.... a tree.
I must have run directly into it while I was looking for Hope and Oliver. Then I hear another branch snap. I try to get up but my body won’t let me. Whatever was coming was going to get me, and there was nothing I could do about it. I just hope that Oliver and Hope got away safely.
Rustling leaves, another branch, it’s closing in. I see a shadow of an arm reach out from behind a bush and push it out of the way and a figure emerges toward me. I close my eyes and wait for the worst.
“Paul! Are you okay?”
It was Hope. The rush of relief paired with the air slowly filling my lungs back up is a feeling unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in my life. I’ve been happy to see her walk into a room before, but never this happy.
She grabs my arm and helps me up.
“Where’s Oliver?” she asks.
“We-,” I start to say before realizing I’m not making a sound. I take a deep breath and start again.
“We all got separated. I lost both of you.”
I start to brush myself off when we hear it. A scream, at least a couple hundred feet away. We know immediately that it’s Oliver, and that there’s nothing we can do.
“Oliver!” Hope screams.
I grab her arm and start moving in the opposite direction. The only thing that matters to me now is getting her out of these woods that have already taken so much from us. We move as quickly as we can without actually breaking out into a full sprint. If we get separated again it will all be over.
After what feels like an entire night of walking, we see a cabin in the distance.
“We might be able to wait out the night in there,” I say to Hope.
“It doesn’t look like there’s anyone in there,” she whispers. “We’ll have to find a way in.”
For a moment everything seems ok. As I look at her it feels like everything is right and were not stuck in this terrible situation. But the feeling only lasts a second and the rush of fear takes over again when we hear another branch crack. Without hesitation, we sprint for the cabin. I keep Hope in my sight. I’m not going to let us get separated again.
We’re almost there. Maybe a couple hundred feet away from this all being over. But all of a sudden I feel an excruciating pain in my leg. A burning sensation shoots from my foot to my hip. I call for Hope and I drop to the ground. When I grab at my leg I feel a metal contraption clamped on my leg. I stepped into a bear trap.
Hope reaches out her hand to help me up before she realizes what has happened. He hand drops and she immediately starts to try to get the trap off. I wince in pain before telling her to stop.
“Hope, AH... Hope no,” I struggle to get out. “Just go. You have to go.”
“No,” she replies. “No, I’m not leaving you!”
“If you stay here it’s going to get both of us,” I explain. “You can’t get this open without something to pry it open. You have to go. Wait out the night and if I’m still here in the morning try to find something to pry it open with.”
She pulls her hand away from the trap and looks me in the eyes.
“I’m going to get something now,” she says. “I’m not leaving you out here for the night. I’m going to get you out of this and then we’re both going to get to that cabin and get out of these woods.”
“Hope I-,” I start to say before she takes off for the cabin. “I love you.”
She didn’t hear me. I’m not even sure I wanted her to hear me. I see her shadow getting close to the cabin. Me leg has gone completely numb. Even if we get the trap off, I don’t think I can move. I hope she doesn’t come back for me. I can come to terms with it ending for me tonight. I can’t come to terms with losing everyone I care about in one night.
As I finish that thought, I see the huge shadow rush past me, maybe 20 feet away. It heads for the cabin. I look for Hope and see her trying to get the door open. She’s struggling. She’s not going to get inside before it gets to her. I yell out to her... but it’s too late. The hulking shadow rushes through her, and she’s gone.
The pain shoots through my body again. But this is so much worse. So much worse than any physical pain I’ve ever felt. I’m alone. Everyone is gone now, and it’s just me. Everything I had in the world has been taken from me. I’m all I have now.
Another branch snaps. I don’t even care. What more can it take from me. The shadow appears again, moving slowly toward me. Only when it was a few feet away did I finally recognize what it was. The thing that had ruined everything for me has finally revealed itself. It was a Heffalump, and it had guzzled up the things I prized.