[Editor's note - Jon is a prolific writer and a talented poet]
Back in the days when I loved camping and would sacrifice anything to spend a night under the stars, I decided one day that it was time for my eldest daughter and I to venture into the mountains of Pennsylvania together.
August in Maryland is an oppressive month, with temperatures often climbing into the upper nineties. So, I considered it a wise choice to get away from the humidity, and hustle and bustle, for some father/daughter time.
My eldest daughter was about to turn the ripe old age of twelve the following month, so she was definitely mature enough to spend quality time with her old man and learn the art of building fires, hunting for sticks and chasing away bugs, etc.
For safety, I picked a well known camp site which I thought to be heavily populated. We had often camped there before when my children were much younger and the memories of swimming in the large outdoor pool, playing ping-pong in the camp communal hall, plus the Pennsylvania Ice Cream at the camp store, reassured me that my daughter and I would not have time to get bored.
It was late August and to my surprise, I discovered that the camping season at this particular park was almost over. With summer still in full swing at ocean resorts a couple of hundred miles east, I was kind of shocked when the camp site staff let me pick any location that I wanted.
We drove up the rocky path to the tent area and started to scour the park for somewhere to pitch our six-man tent. Now this tent hadn't been used for about a year, so I knew I was in for some head-scratching quality moments.
With about twenty different color-coded tent poles, most of which were missing those color-coded stickers - and the fact that dusk was just around the corner, I knew that I had better find my thinking cap and at the same time, not let my daughter see the chink in my rusty armor.
After about an hour the tent was finally erected and, thanks to some nearby rocks, I had managed to get all the tent pegs into the hard flat ground before nightfall. I must say that necessity is the mother of invention, and it also pays to carry a hammer.
As night's rapidly falling dark blanket engulfed us, it became more noticeable that we were in fact the only human beings in the area. The locusts, however, up in the large tree that towered above us, were in full harmonious swing!
The fire was comforting for me. The branches that we had gathered were crackling joyously, but the chant of the locusts grew louder and louder. My daughter kept looking at me with cow eyes and an innocent smile. Little did she realize that her old man was starting to get freaked out.
For me, it was sort of like taking a boat ride when, all of a sudden, the engine gives out, the oars fall overboard and a storm starts to loom on the horizon. In this instance, the storm was the long night ahead and the locusts were the huge waves, lapping up against the hull of our little boat.
My daughter seemed to find our adventure amusing. She played with sticks, poked the fire and basked in the secure glow of her father. (Little did she know!) Eventually, the fire died away, the late hour tapped upon our eye lids and we retired to our tent for the night.
Somehow, I managed to find comfort and rhythm in the sound of our relentless, nocturnal locust friends; and I fell asleep shortly after my daughter hit the proverbial hay.
It was still dark when my daughter and I were awakened by an unearthly sound! I checked my watch and it was around four o'clock in the morning. I had to go to the bathroom really badly and so did my daughter, but I was too afraid to open the tent flaps.
Maybe it was because I had watched too many science fiction movies? Perhaps it was because my daughter had also been subjected to bad Sci-Fi on the television?..... We both looked at each other via the illumination of florescent light emanating from my wrist watch. The sound that we heard sounded exactly like a space ship hovering outside of our tent.
I felt absolutely sure that an alien life force had scoped out a couple of lonely campers in the Pennsylvania Hills. 'There were to be no witnesses as to our disappearance and when we returned, no one would believe our story!' Perfect Alien Abduction!!....I thought.
The sound did not stop! Our bladders were talking furiously, so I broke down and unzipped one of the tent flaps. I looked, but could see nothing! As I stuck my foot out, the sound stopped. I climbed all the way out and stood up. The sound started again, but farther away.
My daughter grabbed our one and only flashlight and joined me. We both stood for a while surveying the immediate area. The sound stopped again! Just as we drew a sighed breath, the strange noise began again; but this time it was even further in the distance. We looked at each other and giggled nervously. I made a comment about Martians and my daughter made one about Star Trek.
We both made our way to the bathrooms, which were a few hundred yards away, then we returned to continue with our sleep in the best way that we could.
Luckily, the sun rose and so did we. I was not only thankful that we were still alive, but I was also thankful that the locusts had stopped. However, I did wonder if we had actually been abducted and if our memories had been erased? But I decided that it wasn't worth considering, seeing that there was no memory to make me any the wiser.
We had slept in our clothes, (this is the beauty of camping in my opinion), so we simply got up and made our way to the camp store. There were two people there, one drinking coffee and another waiting to serve us at the store counter.
I gathered some eggs, bread, bacon and a cup of Joe. I couldn't help thinking about the 'ungodly' noises we had heard just a few hours prior, so I opened my mouth and mentioned something about our almost third encounter.
The store manager asked me what the noise sounded like. So I took a sip of coffee, wet my whistle and proceeded to impersonate the best that I could. "Scroooooooooooooooobleewooooooble!"
The other person in the camp store turned their head. "Why, that's the mating call of a raccoon!" he knowingly exclaimed.
I often wonder if my daughter ever realized that her dear 39 year-old father, at that time, was scared out of his wits? But I guess I'll never know.
copyright 2008 - Jon Coe, for Just Camping Out, all rights reserved
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How about you? Do you have a camping story you'd like to share? We love the scary ones best of all! If you'd like to submit your story for posting, you can reach me via Comments or by using the link at the top of this page. [~Jim]