It’s late afternoon and Tony and I are in a borrowed pick-up truck an hour east of the city, driving to meet Fingers for the last camping trip of summer. The woods were free and close by, someplace we could shoot and drink 40s.
We hit Snohomish County and turned off the freeway, down an empty arterial, onto a bumpy logging road. It’s rough and dusty and barely as wide as the truck. The forrest is thick with fir trees to the sky on both sides. It’s been a hot August day, and it’s a relief to be in the shade. We’ve been drinking beers since the city, and cans are piling up on the floor and stink from the sun.
The road runs straight down into a deep valley. The woods get thicker and darker as we go, until the only light is a thin strip of sky overhead. We’re probably 20 miles from anything, and it’s dead silent except for the idling engine and our gear being tossed around in back as we hit bumps.
It’s a long drive, and Tony takes it slow, worried about blowing a tire. Fingers is supposed to be 10 miles in.
Halfway there, the road changes and gets very rough, a sea of softball-sized rocks. The truck sounds like hell, rattling and shaking, and we’re both tired and drunk by now. With the sun almost down, Tony says “fuck this, we’ll find that mutherfucker tomorrow,” and he turns back and we look for a place to camp for the night.
We stop at the first opening, a place we’ve camped before. It’s a regular spot where the youngsters from the city come shoot the big guns and drink on weekends, including some rival crews. It’s empty tonight, so we pull in.
The sun’s setting fast. Tony leaves the headlights on and gets out to pitch the tent before dark. I get out, put my shirt and pistol on the hood, and grab the hatchet to cut some kindling.
Tony gets the tent up, and comes over to help me hack through a log about 50 feet from camp. We take turns hitting it, and it’s hard work. The sun is completely down now, and the headlights in the distance are the only light.
The darkness here is the kind that makes you understand how people can be afraid of the dark. Forest so thick it blocks even starlight, and your eyes never adjust. I remember one time a flashlight going out on one of the girls here, and her completely panicing, screaming like hell in the dark.
The wood is green and damp and we spend what seems like hours blowing on coals trying to get the stuff to light. After a long time it finally takes off, and I’m dirty and lightheaded and tired and ready for another beer. Tony cracks a couple from the cooler and I walk over to get lawn chairs from the truck. On the way back I pick up my shirt from the hood. But there’s no pistol in it.
“Where the fuck is my strap?” I say, bending over to look under under the truck.
“Right fucking there,” he says, “in your pants mutherfucker.”
I grab a flashlight and keep looking on the ground. Tony walks over, watches me for a minute, and then starts looking through the truck.
“Sure it’s not on you?”
“Yeah I’m fucking sure, asshole.”
Tony searches the truck, and then goes to check the tent. I’m retracing my steps to the log we cut. Then we’re both back at the truck on our hands and knees, checking and rechecking.
The fire is getting low now, and it’s very, very quiet. Suddenly, way off to the left, we hear a branch crack, and we both sit up and look at each other.
And for this one second, there is this moment of extreme clarity—this realization that it’s pitch black in the middle of a soundproof wilderness and we’re completely unarmed and drunk—and this shot of terror goes blazing through me.
“Somebody’s fucking here. They got the strap. We’re getting fucking jacked.”
And suddenly we’re up and scrambling away from camp into the woods, away from the light of the fire. I can feel my pulse in my neck, my ears are ringing.
Tony keeps wispering “No fucking way, no way,” and we’re crouched down behind a stump watching the forest with huge eyes. Tony’s got out a shitty little folding knife, and we sit there listening for movement, watching for anything.
What the fuck was that noise? Squirrels? Or was it those mutherfuckers we saw here last month with the AK-47, coming back for our stereo? We sit there, heart beating in the perfect darkness, for maybe a half hour, talking out strategy if they rush us, trying to convince ourselves this is real.
“This is fucking crazy shit,” Tony says, “no fucking way. No fucking way.”
“Then where the fuck is my strap?”
“I don’t fucking know,” he says. “Then maybe we gotta go find those mutherfuckers before they find us.”
“They got one strap,” I say, “but they don’t know if we got others. Maybe we gotta get the fuck out, and come back with one.”
I’m starting to feel insane now, like I’ve seen this in some movie before. I’m looking for any piece of evidence to show this is nuts. But there’s nothing. It all makes sense. Even those noises. I’m absolutely sure if we stay, we’re going to get jacked by some rival crew. And probably shot too, given that no one’s around to hear it, and wouldn’t find us for weeks out here.
“OK, muthafucker, let’s bounce,” he says, “right now.”
And we rip the tent out of the ground, throw it in the truck stakes and all, and peel out of the campsite and gun it up the trail. I’m down in my seat waiting for shots to pop off any second.
We get away from the campsite, and the unreality of this whole thing sets in. Tony is chain smoking and keeps mumbling “no fucking way. no fucking way.” I can’t tell if this is a dream anymore, and can’t fucking believe I just lost my strap.
Where the fuck were they? Must’ve seen us drive in and taken it off the hood when we were cutting that log. That’s a pretty balsy move. Can this be for real?
Forty minutes of bumpy road later, we make it to the freeway and pull in a gas station. We’re both completely sober now.
“I gotta do one last check,” I say. Tony gets out and I tear the cab apart in the bright light under the pumps. I push all those beer cans out from under the drivers seat. And there’s my goddamn pistol.
I point it at Tony, and suddenly, everything disappears. All in our heads. Turns out Tony was drunker than I thought, and put it under the seat for safekeeping and forgot, somehow missing it searching in the dark. Let’s just say it was a long drive home, pissed at each other, feeling like paranoid asses.
Thinking about this later, I realized that if we hadn’t had the pistol, we would’ve had a perfectly good trip, like any of a million other camping trips. In some sense having that gun made us less safe, rather than more—which was usually the case whenever we packed heat, it turned out.
But what struck me most was that the whole episode took place in our heads, the product of our own paranoid delusions. And that really makes me wonder how much more of the anger and conflict and injustice in our world was due to the same sort of imagined bullshit.