Lost Witch Chapter


       “Camping?”

       Charlie nodded like a pez dispenser on overdrive. He said, “I like to go camping each year.”

       “All weekend?”

       “We’ll leave Friday after I get out of work, and you get out of school. We’ll pack up before dusk on Sunday.”

       Ashley looked him in his face. He was a few years older than her and had high, wide eye brows. He stared back at her with a twinkle in his eyes and a toothy smile. She said, “Is this some rite of passage you make your girlfriends go through before you sleep with them?”

       “I met your parents, didn’t I?”

       “And that didn’t kill you, did it?”

       Charlie, who had been standing mostly in the doorway of Ashley’s apartment, stepped inside and grabbed her by the waist pulling her in close. He said, “Camping isn’t going to kill you.”

       Ashley slipped her hands around his back enjoying the twinkle in his deep brown eyes before planting a kiss directly on his lips. She said, “I sure hope camping isn’t going to kill me. Will there be showers?”

       For a second, the twinkle in his eyes died into a wince. “Well, no.” Ashley began to pull away. He said, “We’ll cook everything over an open fire. You’ve never really had eggs until you’ve had eggs cooked over hickory. I’ll make pancakes in the mornings. I might try my hand at some fishing. I’m going to take my sketch book. I was going to draw some pictures of you. I have to draw up a few proposals for a new medical building, too, and being in the woods alone with you will surely inspire me to genius.”

       Ashley showed off her best quirky grin, “Genius, you say?”

       “Your beauty alone inspires me. Put that together with the quiet solitude of the outdoors, and I’ll work wonders.”

       “No showers. Everything burned over an open fire, rain, snakes, bugs, and possums getting into the food.”

       “There’s a creek, a waterfall, and a pond. You can bring a swimsuit if you want.”

       “Is this one of those campsites where tourists go and park on square lots of grass like compartments?”

       “No, we’ll be the only ones around for miles and miles: no electricity or gas line hookups, no running water, just wilderness, and no people. It’ll be a chance for us to really spend some quality time together.”

       Ashley sighed, “What do I have to bring?”

       “It’ll be warm enough for shorts during the day, but you’ll want long pants at night when the sun goes down and the bugs come out. Towels, blankets, and bug spray, if you want, are good to bring. I’ll handle all the gear and food.”

       Ashley pushed herself away from her boyfriend of three weeks and said, “Will we share a tent?”

       Charlie nodded, “I have three tents. I could bring two along.”

       “Do you have one really big tent that has multiple rooms and a latrine already dug?”

       Charlie smiled, “Sure, and we’ll bring a power generator, so you can use your hairdryer.”

       “Perfect!”

       Charlie said, “So, you’re ok with it? This weekend is ok?”

       “Yes. Are we still having dinner?”

       “I planned on it.”

       “Were you hoping I would cook, or did you have something in mind?”

       “What would you cook?”

       “Spaghetti or peanut butter and jelly.”

       “Italian sounds good, but I’d rather go for a pizza than have spaghetti.”

       Ashley scowled, “Is there something wrong with my spaghetti?”

       Charlie smiled, “No, I love your spaghetti.”

       “And the peanut butter and jelly?”

       “I live for your peanut butter and jelly.”

       She pecked him once on the cheek and said, “I need food, brown eyes.”

       They went for pizza. Afterwards, they stood outside Ashley’s apartment embraced in a kiss. Ashley broke the kiss off and said, “Are you sure you don’t want to come in?”

       Charlie shook his head and said, “I have work early tomorrow. I’ll see you on Friday?”

       “I’ll be packed, and I’ll come straight home from school.”

       Charlie wandered home. Ashley studied for a while and then went to sleep. The next morning she called her mom, Alice, and said, “Hi.”

       Alice replied, “How are you?”

       “Good. I just wanted to tell you that Charlie and I are going away for the weekend. He wants to go camping.”

       “Go to a casino or a spa or something instead. Don’t go camping.”

       “Mom, he wants to go camping.”

       “He’s part of some Satan worshipping cult, and he wants to take you out in the woods, so it’ll be more convenient to hide your body. No sane man goes camping.”

       “He’s a little on the odd side. He’s an architect; what do you expect?”

       “Have you two even slept together?”

       “No. We’re sharing a tent this weekend, so I expect we’ll take care of all that.”

       Alice said, “Maybe the outdoors will bring out the animal in him, and he’ll be like a wild beast under the cover of the moon and stars.”

       Ashley thought back to her childhood and the countless times her mom would lock herself in her room with a new book, “You’ve been reading romance novels again, haven’t you?”

       “I was at the airport and had a four hour layover. What was I supposed to do? Take up smoking?”

       “You know it doesn’t matter to me as much as it matters to dad.”

       “No, he and I worked out a deal. I don’t read the silly things while I’m cooking his dinner.”

       “What’s his end of the deal?”

       “He lets me read them in peace.”

       “Well, I just wanted to let you know I’d be out of town this weekend.”

       “I’ll keep my fingers crossed that Charlie isn’t some crazed murdering psychopath.”

       Ashley paused, “Dad didn’t notice anything strange about him…”

       “Your father has been wrong many times.”

       “Bye, mom.”

       The phone clicked off, and Ashley went about her schoolwork.

       Charlie arrived about four in the afternoon knocking cheerfully on Ashley’s door with his trademark knock. She grabbed her bag and opened the door. Charlie wore a red and black flannel shirt, blue jeans, a knife on his belt, steel-toed work boots, and a fishing hat which would have fit perfectly on Captain Ahab. Ashley laughed.

       Charlie said, “Come on, I look good.”

       “Where did you get the hat?”

       “I paid a dollar twenty-five for it at a thrift store when I was seventeen!”

       “What was that, two decades ago?”

       “No, it was only seven years ago.”

       Ashley gave him a quick kiss on the lips and said, “Let’s go.”

       She locked up her apartment, and they made their way to Charlie’s truck. She went to put her bag in the back, and a tarp covered the cargo bay of the truck. Charlie said, “We might be able to squeeze it in back there, but I’d rather you just put it up front with us.”

       “If it’s between us, we can’t snuggle!”

       “We can’t snuggle and wear our seat belts either.”

       Ashley glared, “Fine.”

       They hit the road. Once they reached a country road and wilderness, Ashley started watching for a gas station or fast food joint. She made Charlie stop, so she could use a civilized bathroom one last time for the weekend.

       Charlie turned the truck down a dirt road past a state park sign nailed to a tree. He seemed to know where he was going and didn’t drive overly fast on the bumpy trail. They passed a rusty, old, bullet hole ridden sign saying, “Campsite,” and they drove into a clearing. Charlie pulled to a stop and said, “We have arrived, my lady.”

       “Splendid. What do we do first?”

       “Pitch our tent and look for firewood. Dig a latrine. We’ve got about two hours of daylight left.”

       Ashley smiled, “You’re digging the latrine. I’ll look for deadwood. I better not see any snakes.”

       “I’ll pitch the tent, too. I can do it on my own. If you see a snake just back away slowly, it’s more afraid of you than you are of it.”

       Ashley nodded. She climbed out of the truck and headed into the woods. She picked up branch after branch until her hands were full. She dropped the load off by the tent and went for more. After her fourth trip for wood, she stopped and just took in her surroundings. The sun slowly set and a full moon sat a third way up in the heavens. The latrine was dug, and the tent was pitched. Charlie was unloading things from the truck.

       Charlie said, “Some friends of mine might join us. They like to play games in these woods.”

       Ashley said, “What kind of games? I thought you said this was our weekend together, alone, away from people.”

       “It’s just a few buddies of mine. They used to play paintball. These days they use Nerf guns and run around in the woods.”

       “Arrooo!” echoed through the woods.

       She jumped a bit and looked at Charlie. He said, “Probably just a coyote.”

       “Great, a hungry, likely rabid, coyote and it sounded close.”

       Ashley started walking back into the woods in the twilight when she heard an animal howl. Out of instinct, she turned towards the sound. A canine head poked its way past a shrubbery, and Ashley stared in awe. The beast of a wolf stood taller than any dog she’d ever seen with huge paws and a vicious mouth. She looked at Charlie and called out his name.

       Charlie turned and looked. Then he scrambled to the truck and pulled out a rifle. The wolf dodged back into the woods on seeing the rifle. Ashley sighed and started walking back to Charlie when he said, “Wait!”

       Ashley froze and turned to look back at the woods. A pack of wolves eyed her with malicious intent. Charlie’s rifle went “KRACK!” and one of the wolves went down. Charlie worked the lever on the rifle, but instead of the wolves running away from the sound of the rifle, they ran towards it. Charlie gunned down another one of them as it tried to leap on him. He shouted, “Run, Ashley, run!”

       A wolf tackled Charlie and, as Ashley watched, ripped into his stomach with his brutish jaws. On seeing all that blood, Ashley’s vision tightened, and she had but one primal thought. She darted like the wind across the clearing away from the wolves.

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