Posted 26 December 2014 - 12:51 PM
It had to be the aroma of coffee brewing and the need to take a leak that plucked me out from topaz hued dreams. Having little trouble getting myself into a sitting position in spite of a sore hip from sleeping on a small but sharp rock we had missed while clearing a tenting space, otherwise I was well rested with a somewhat clear head and a good outlook.
Across the tent, Flip's sleeping bag lay empty. Putting on my watch I saw it was only 6:00 AM, then caught a whiff of bacon frying. Nothing else to do but pull on my boots and greet the morning. Crawling out of the tent I said: "Coffee smells damn good, guess Bear didn't make it" Flip turning bacon with a fork bowed and took credit. Passing Bear perched upon his camping chair I bade a 'Good Morning' to my hulking friend but was greeted by a bloodshot glare and low grunt. I chuckled then made my way to the thicker growth. Relieving myself and returning to camp, I poured a good measure of the rich dark steaming liquid into a mug that still had about a quarter shot of last night's rum and cigarette ash laying in the bottom.
I almost dropped the coffee as something struck upon my cheek causing a bit of a stinging sensation. "What the fuck?" I shouted, my words cut short as something else hit hard upon my ear. Eyes darting about attempting to find the source of this assault I caught the blur of a small white object whizzing by, striking our camp coffee pot and exploding into powder. "One lump or two, motherfucker?" Bear was pelting me with sugar cubes then quoted me."Guess Bear didn't make it." He continued, "I'm getting a little sick of all you fucking coffee critics."
"Get bent, Bear!" I returned threatening to splash him with hot java. "You're one hell of a meat griller and cook, but face it man, you suck at making coffee." Then I put forth a question. "How can you fuck up something so simple? Shit man even Charlie can brew a better pot, but Flip here knows what he's doing."
"It's the urine." Flip said with a twisted grin.
"Fuck you, I've never seen you make coffee!" The Bear growled at me as I ducked another incoming sugar cube that struck Flip square on his proboscis.
"You could at least put one in my cup you oaf." I requested with a middle finger raised and flying. It was quite obvious Bear had awoke in the wrong end of his sleeping bag with a bit of a ugly hangover this morning. "Flip, hurry up and get some breakfast to this beast before he takes to gnawing at tree bark!" I demanded.
"Or your skulls!" The Bear snarled.
The bacon now ready and draining on a thick bed of paper towels, Flip went through the motions of hacking up a hocker then asked Bear how he would like his eggs.
Laughing I inquired: "Nasal oysters already in season?"
The Bear bluntly told Flip that he'd be frying his own eggs.
After a hearty breakfast and second cup of coffee Flip and I made ready for today's hike. The small pack was stuffed with snacks, cord and first-aid kit. Our canteens filled with cold clear mountain well water. The medicine pouch was full as we may have a need to catch up with the altitude at some point. We took a look around trying to figure if there was anything else left to do before hitting the paths.
With the exception of Bear, Flip and myself everyone else was still sacked out. No big surprise there. As I said my good nights before turning in, both Dibbles were 'fall down drunk' and had to help each other to their tent. Claudia and Charlie grabbed some bedding then staggered over to Bear's truck taking shelter under the camper shell. From what I gathered Patti and Flip stayed up a bit longer smoking weed while talking about old times.
"Any other sign of those dwarf albinos?" I inquired while loading a good morning bowl.
"Nope." he returned offering me a spark up with his lighter. "No albinos, but some other campers walked by after we finished smoking and told us there were bears down by the dumpsters, so I locked up all the grub before calling it a night."
Hearing the racket of Bear's camper shell opening up we turned to see Claudia in disarray pouring herself out of the truck bed. "Are we still going for a hike?" She asked, wobbling over towards the coffee pot. Flip’s beady eyes gave her a good up and down gander then he asked our neighbor: "Sure you are up for it?"
"Sure I am." she replied, "Just let me get some coffee, a little food and take a trip to the ladies room." Flip and I used this time to finish our pipe while looking over the map. Finishing her morning repast Claudia arose from the bench. Now somewhat more surefooted she walked over to Guy's pop-up before heading for the restroom.
"Damn, what the hell is taking her so long?" I asked looking at my watch seeing it was already 8:45. Eager to get on the trail we both agreed to give Claudia fifteen more minutes before splitting without her. Within ten of those minutes Claudia strolled into our camp showered, scented and combed out. Clad in khaki shorts with a lot of pockets and a rust colored pullover. Her feet were shod in top dollar hiking boots. Atop her head was a wide brimmed straw gardening hat. She appeared ready. We noticed the large bulging backpack hanging from her shoulders.
"We're only hiking several miles." Flip stated, lightly tapping Claudia's pack.
"Some up hill trekking" I informed her, adding: "Maybe you might want to lighten your load." She found wisdom in our words of advice and removed five of the six Audubon field guides, a radio, and large bottle of chardonnay along with a meshed plastic framed container for collecting insects. Placing her wine in one of our many coolers I said: "Time enough for sipping wine later good woman, now we make for the wilds." I also suggested to Bear that somebody really needed to make a run for either Luray or Elkton as we could use more liquor. If it got down to the nit and grit, I had my personal emergency stash of hard spirits hidden away from these sots.Leaving Bear to his hangover healing we set out at an easy pace and in no time found ourselves entering the vast openness of Big Meadows where wild grasses predominated, yet other plant life thrived beneath the sun in rich damp soil. Here and there were clumps of brush and blueberry shrubs. A truly scenic place any time of the year, but especially Spring when the meadows are alive with a riot of wildflower colors.
After spending an hour or so wandering about under the morning sky we made our way into the upland forest upon an overgrown path winding through a tangle of underbrush. More than once we had to carefully pick our way around and sometimes through brambles choking up sections of this old path. Some of this bramble had been hacked away recently which led me to think of other secret gardens. Flip was already scanning the ground and undergrowth for more human spoor. A bit further on the path opened a bit making going a bit more easy. On a bare patch of red clay, I was quite happy to find a nice lump of banded slate for future carving . We continued on in hopes of other fine vistas and finds. In a small glade beside a trickling stream we rested, sipped water and burned another bowl. For a good while the three of us enjoyed this nice bit of upland scenery and nature's wild music.
Suddenly all fell silent and small birds flitted forth into the tangled shadows. Several tense minutes passed then I heard faint footfalls coming from further up the trail.
"Somebody is coming down this way." I whispered.
"I hear em." Flip returned with a slight nod.
There were two of them carefully walking down the path while keeping their eyes upon us. Both of them were clad alike in military style camouflage and shod likewise in combat boots. Packing side arms and utility belts one could rightly figure these fellows were not out for a nature walk. The smaller one was bare headed wearing yellow tinted shooting glasses held in place by a pair of small protruding ears and pug nose. Sporting a very neat and very narrow mustache along with a very large semi-automatic peacemaker, he seemed no one to be trifled with. The larger one had the brutal visage of a loyal, yet vicious guard and attack dog. A small black ball cap adorned his even smaller head. More massive than Bear, yet lacking the fat, this boy looked like he could chew his way through a cinder block wall then ask for his pie and ice cream once on the other side. His eyes lacked any dreamy imagination, only a cold steady watchful stare. Ready to rush forth at command. Both were close cropped in GI fashion. I took them to be law enforcement or backwoods militants of some sort.
And here we were with a head full of whacky weed sitting cross legged on the ground. A fine little covey of quail we've become with them looking down on us from higher ground. As they drew near I whispered under my breath: "Stay calm. Don't panic or make any sudden movements. Smile." Thinking that it may be more hard on somebody when it comes to killing people who have drooling idiotic grins on their faces, I displayed such. A play upon their good human nature and moral sense, if there was any such emotion existing within those brute-like shells of well conditioned flesh and bone. Needless to say my companions and I sat still at this small stream side glade, watching them as they were watching us during their slow, but steady descending approach.
I managed a slow upwards wave and a "Howdy" as they were now only yards away, yet plodding on.
"Good Morning." The smaller one returned as my companions offered up a quick wave and "Hi" the idiotic smiles never leaving their faces.
After a strange few words of initial small talk concerning the weather the smaller one took a tooth pick from his maw, then asked while scratching a sandpaper-like pate - "Kinda off the main trails ain't y'all?" His accent was southern but by the twang was not that of a Virginian from this region.
"Yeah" I responded, still smiling, still watching them watch us. "We crossed over the Skyline Drive a little while back, from Big Meadows. Just out exploring."
The smaller one turned to the larger one, smirked, then quoted: "Just out exploring."
The hulking brute issued three low barks of laughter as if cued by his partner's hand signaling gesture. It was then Claudia grabbed her pack in a motion too swift for this precarious situation and whipped out a Audubon Field Guide of North American Birds. I looked on in horror as these armed men went for their shooting irons, but then relaxed somewhat after seeing it was only a book. Flip's eyes were tightly shut then bugged open as he heard Claudia speak in a calm, but friendly voice. "Bird watching, hoping to see some scarlet tanagers and warblers." Then surprised us even more by asking - "Who are you guys?"
"Federal Law Enforcement ma'am, looking for poachers, not bird watchers." answered the smaller one who seemed to do all the talking. He went on to tell us this area was not safe for hikers then asked to do him a favor - "If you don't mind, stick to the main trails or Big Meadows area."
We would not stand atop Spitler Hill today. Denied access to our lofty destination there was nothing else to do but turn back. Behind us about 30 yards back the whole way until breaking off when we re-crossed the Skyline Drive.
"Poachers, this time of year?" Claudia asked as we took a break back at Meadow's edge. I informed her: "Some local yokels are poaching black bears and selling their organs to Chinese buyers."
"That sucks." she said, “Wonder what the Chinese are doing with bear organs?”
"Guess they dry and pound them into a powder to be taken for LDS." I returned.
"Yeah LDS, limp dick syndrome." Flip added drooping his index finger in a curious downward motion. My thoughts however were of those two armed mutants and secret gardens like the one we found Saturday. There was a rash of illegal weed gardening going on at state and federal park lands in western Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky here of late. The quality of weed Flip and I had clipped would probably fetch three or more hundred dollars an ounce.
We made the best of our return hike back over the meadows. Finding a turkey feather I stuck it into a knothole in memory of my good buzz being molested awhile back across the road by two no-neck, short cropped products of deep dish southern fried animal husbandry-like inbreeding. More and more these types were replacing the friendly public serving and protecting flatfoots we knew and had grown up with. Lately it wasn't at all uncommon for these new and younger militaristic, borderline psychotic warrior cops to pick up some drunk or silly pothead, handcuff and take this poor unfortunate sap down a lonely back road to be dry gulched before being hauled to the clink where they would explain any visible injuries as the result of resisting arrest. Might makes right, no matter if it's wrong. It was the way such situations were handled on this late summer morning of 1986. Just another passing day in an age of change, a time of weirdly bad political theatre and dismal disenchantment. An idealism drunken with desire for empire, yet already giving off the foul stench of stagnation.
Blessings abounded as it could of been worse, Those two could of prodded further or even wasted us back at that lonely glade, leaving our soon to be bloating carcasses. A buffet for the flies, vultures and possums.
The Great Bear was sitting in the same place as we had left him hours ago. In a slow, slurring manner befitting a drunken Saxon, he let us know that Patti and Whitey got showers then went down into Luray for more supplies. He also stated that both Dibbles were still sleeping it off.
"And Charlie?" Claudia inquired while I popped open an ale to cut the dust.
"Up at the shower house." Bear answered with a jerk of the thumb, adding: "I thought y'all to be gone all day."
I trailed my reply close behind a soft drink belch: "So did we, but were turned back by a couple of GI Joe looking kats ranging the paths."
The Bear gave me a serious look. "You weren't out foraging reefer again?" Knowing just what he was talking about I offered him an explanation in so many words and hand gestures. "We never made it to Spitler Hill." Flip said with a mouth full of stale potato chip crumbs. Claudia pulled a bottle of wine from our cooler swiftly applied a corkscrew then poured half of the bottle into a large red plastic cup. Chugging down a good measure she then commented in a humorous granny voice: "Oh they were just a couple of nice boys playing army out in the woods."
The Great Bear quaffed deeply and tapped his horn upon an armrest - "Sounds like feds or DEA to me." Who ever they were the experience was enough to keep me on the main trails and away from paths unbeaten.
Wanting to get back 'up there', but now fearful of doing it outside in broad daylight, I invited every one into Flip’s tent for a smoke. Claudia declined, she wanted to catch a nap in the pop-up since Guy and Mildred were out sight seeing. She took her wine, ambled away and said something about returning this evening. Bear also turned down the offer then called me a - "Fucking pothead."
"Face it Bear, if it wasn't for that piss testing job of yours you'd be smoking like a Smithfield ham instead of swilling beer all damn day." Throwing a bit of temptation out I added in a seemingly helpful informative manner: "You know, there's ways of beating those tests."
"Really how?" Bear arched a bushy brow while pouring himself another beer, adding - "Because I tried that golden seal shit before and it tied my lower vitals into knots."
I lit up a cigarette and said: "First of all you can't be smoking weed every day and expect this proven method to save your ass. Second, cut down on your eating, THC builds up in fat. Third, drink about 12 or 16 ounces of dill pickle juice, straight out of the jar or on the rocks then chase that down with a gallon or so of water. Flushes that dope right out of you. Of course it's best to fast the day of this procedure"
"Fast?" the Bear snarled: "As in not eating?"
"Yep fasting, no food, beer or soda."
"Yep, no beer, soda, food or anything sugary."
"Let me get this straight" Bear growled: "Gotta drink pickle juice and consume nothing but water for a whole day just so I can smoke a joint or two?"
"Fuck that shit!" he blasted,"Besides I hate dill pickles." Then with a long rumbling sigh he told us he'd have to wait it out until legalization and carry on without him.
Although I frowned down upon such personal testing, Bear could not but help but looking out for himself by keeping a decent job in these times. How many other places in the mid 1980s would hire a guy who looked like Wolfgar the Berserk in denim.
"You may have a long wait Bear."
While Flip and I were getting high inside the tent Bear got the grill ready for lunch. Through open window flaps came the smell of burning charcoal.
Just as we finished our pipe the sound of talking filtered in and jerked us out of a general goofiness which this weed produced, especially during daylight hours. I heard Bear say: "They're in there with Miss Mary Jane Jones."
Seconds later the door flap flew open. "Damn man! You fucking bogarts couldn't wait for me?" Looking up at my cousin, I replied: "Don't like to do much waiting around on vacation Charlie, but Flip here can pack you a bowl." I passed our empty pipe to the Birdman -"Time to break into that stash you been hording."
With a small tight frown and knit brows he removed his large zip-lock plastic bag from a bright red travel bag, then proceeded to knock out spent ashes and refilled our pipe with the weedy wonder. Before passing it to Charlie, Flip first offered it upwards in a westward direction. With a flick of my Bic I soon had the lad sparked up and puffing away. Flip and I took one more apiece leaving the rest for Charlie's head. Sticking around while he got cooked we cracked a few funnies and enjoyed our lofty headed condition. Charlie told us during his visit to the shower house he asked a few people if they had seen a couple of small albino humanoids.
This sparked my interest. "What did they say?"
"This one guy with his son told me to leave them alone then hurried out."
"Oh fucking great Charlie! Now you've got people associating this camp with your crazy ass." Flip hissed.
"It was an honest enough question for fellow campers" I protested. "You saw those two summertime snowflakes just as we all did. It wasn't like we were all seeing the same glow in the dark pink elephants out there on the loop road."
Changing the subject, which some stoners often do, Charlie surprised us both by coming out of the hazy blue and asking: "So anybody else tag Claudia today?"
Humored a bit, I looked at Charlie and laughed: "Should we've?"
He gave me a glassy-eyed stare and replied: "You should of" then went on to give a kiss and tell account of his last passionate night with Claudia despite our not asking.
From what we gathered from his substance altered story, Claudia during the heat of drunken passion had slightly berated Charlie for the intoxicated condition of his sexual prowess or lack of last night while holed up under Bear's camper shell. "She said all that drinking turned me into a one shot target shooter who missed the bull's eye."
"Ha!" Flip cackled, "You need target practice!"
Charlie said: "She told me if I get smashed tonight, I could just forget about it."
"Damn!" I blurted out, "You've only known her two nights and she's already getting on you about drinking and making rules? Now that's a romance with a future."
"Hard to believe that she has all that gumption in her." Flip added.
Charlie waved our ribbing aside and stated: "She claims to be taking some sort of herb."
"Herb, what kind of herb?" Flip wanted to know.
"I can't remember what she said it was" Charlie answered scratching his head then went on to give account of what he could recall. Claudia informed Charlie she had always been sexually active, but that slowed down somewhat until a friend told her about some herbal concoction. "She said it allowed her to have that feeling again."
“Wonder if she’s talking about the weed?” I laughed.
"Well I'm not gonna asked her what it is." Charlie said before drawing in the last hit.
"Why don't you tell Claudia to slack off the juice herself?" Flip suggested to Charlie, adding: "Hell, she's been hitting the sauce since we first met her, and damn heavy last night." Then Flip tossed an unopened roll of toilet paper at Charlie and said: "She's your campground romance so handle it." Charlie exhaled a wispy jet of smoke, then proclaimed: "I'll get as fucked up as I so please, let her bed down tonight back at the pop-up or with the Dibbles. Besides, while sleeping, she moves her feet like a seal's flippers in the water. It kind of creeps me out."
"I'll bet." I chuckled, then ceased thinking of such feet flapping freakishness.
Indeed Claudia was a frisky one for her age. Hell, I caught myself looking at her in a somewhat fond light. Aside from the graying hair which mysteriously seemed less gray than we first met, she appeared to be a healthy fine figure of a woman. Although in her early 60s she had the vigor of someone our age. She kept up with Flip and I during today's hike. The cads we were, Flip and I had no problem letting her take the lead several times earlier, allowing us to cop a view of Claudia’s well turned tanned legs and the gentle swaying motion which was her still shapely rump. It was as refreshing and enjoyable as the first cool late summer breezes. Packing our gear away before exiting the tent Flip commented: "Bet she was a knockout back in her day."
"Still is, just as the day has become a beautiful evening." I added while crawling out through the door flap.
Upon falling out of the tent Charlie held true to his word. He walked over to our cooler grabbed an ale, chugged the frothy contents down, then chased it with the last swallow of rum. I slapped his back. "Starting off early eh?"
All the while Bear gingerly poured one of the last beers into his drinking horn.
Hopefully supplies would arrive long before our situation became critical.
The wind had picked up and grey clouds rolled in blotting out all that was blue sky above less than an hour earlier. Flip was already up and about spraying scotch guard all over the tents. Bear pointed at his shell covered truck bed and briefly went on about wet weather sleeping arrangements. "Sorry Charlie, but I'll be sleeping high and dry in my truck, so you and your lady friend ought to look elsewhere tonight for lodging."
"At least we don't have to hear you snore tonight." Flip said only after removing himself from Bear's striking range. Then doing the same, I dared a gentle jab. "Shit Flip, do you think mere fiberglass can contain such fury?"
With that said, Flip and I went to work securing our broad tarp over camp table and surrounding area.
As the day grew evermore grey I could smell an approaching storm front upon the wind. The rumbling sound of distant thunder had us all looking ominously skyward. No doubt it was on the other side of Massanutten Mountain, perhaps over Harrisonburg. Hopefully all of it would go northward up the Shenandoah Valley into West Virginia and Maryland thus missing us all together. "Didn't you say rain on Tuesday?" I asked the Birdman as thunder boomed from afar. Lashing the last cord upon a tree he replied: "Rain ending Tuesday, but arriving in the way of heavy showers Monday afternoon."
Bear cast Flip a glare and growled: "What kind of fucked up weather reporting is that?" He quaffed deeply, pondered for several seconds and asked with a smirk: "So this storm can't move on without getting here first?"
"Makes sense to me." I returned with a crossed eyed nod.
Flip grabbing a hot dog off the grill and dressing it up on a bun informed us: "Hey that's what the weather report out of Roanoke called for, I'll see if I can raise that station on the radio."
“What, to get another fucked up weather report?” Bear growled, beer soaking his beard and dripping down on his denim shirt.
Often during these upland thunder boomers the radio air waves go astray. We managed to pick up an AM station out of Blacksburg which right before the weather wrap up shifted over to some weird call in talk show broadcasting from Tennessee. Some poor sap blithering away for long minutes about his overbearing wife and crazy live in mother-n-law, then asked the host: "What would you do?" getting no answer he started screaming over the phone. "Hello! Hello! Are you there?" Nothing on the other line. "Hellooooow! are you there?" The caller's screams became more frantic, then following thirty or so seconds of heavy breathing and low groans the host said: "Okay, well thanks for your call Harold, now we have to break for our sponsor." We all cracked up listening to a Compound-W wart removal commercial when Bear roared:
“Put a big gob of Compound -W on your crazy mother-n-law, Harold and watch that fucking wart disappear!" Bear chuckled at his own crack then quaffed deeply. He pulled upon his beard and swiftly his mood changed.
Scowling heavily at the camp road, he shook his shaggy head from side to side after once again looking at his watch then towards the last beer in front of him, no doubt in anticipation of Whitey pulling up any second with much needed supplies. Waiting always seemed to ruffle Bear somewhat and already deep in the drink he disliked this wait as much as he detested the thought of an empty horn. Lame, drunk and restricted by drug testing Bear was probably suffering in his desire to burn one with the rest of us and light out in his usual long stride on a long scenic hike. But this trip he could not do so. Though by far the biggest and strongest of our band, Bear was often the leader of such excursions into the Appalachians or a night out at the bar. He had never been restricted thus. Bear, although not the most book smart of our band was quite frank and a man of action. Never overly seeking complete evidence, or full wisdom as deep pondering either made him drowsy depending upon company and situation. Like him we were often reckless and improvident, but found ourselves slowly growing beyond such behavior. For awhile I watched his facial expressions attempting to make out where his mental workings would take him next as he nursed that last beer. I could break out my homemade brandy stash, but not yet. Drinking horn now empty, Bear issued a long groaning "Ahaaaaarrrrrrrhaaaaaaaaaa!" then rose from his chair and began to open cooler lids searching through remaining ice and cold water for a bottle of brew, if any were indeed left. He looked like his namesake flipping over rotten logs to get at the worms and grubs. Charlie who was drinking my last ale backed away, all the while keeping a guarding two hand grasp upon his bottle.
Bear was on a drunk and out of beer. Truly a precarious situation.
Charlie now standing with Flip's truck between himself and Bear, guzzled down his remaining ale then swiftly trashed the bottle. Perhaps it was time to pull out the brandy. My plans were to save the bottle for any ailments or conditions of heavy weather, but after casting a glance up at the dark and swirling sky, then chancing eye contact with Bear in his present state of being, I calmly said - “Heavy weather and painful ailments.
Hey there Bear."
"What?" Now he was standing near the table, tapping fingers upon it's stained rough surface.
"If you're thirsty, I've got a bottle of some good Brandy."
"I don't like brandy." then he growled: "What else are ye sandbagging?"
"Got some Crown Royal."
"What about ale?"
"No more ale, you fuckers have been swilling it all down since supplies came in yesterday."
Bear informed me with a snarl -" I really don't want to drink any hard liquor."
"Oh well, more for me." I laughed.
Charlie now edging his way back to the table with a wide grin asked: "You got Crown and brandy?"
"Yep, but you can get your mind off that right now, it's my emergency stock"
"Wouldn't you say this is an emergency?" Charlie asked while holding out an empty cup he had whisked off the table.
"Maybe for you Charlie."
Bear, now smacking his lips, pulling upon chin hairs while hobbling back and forth the length of our camp stopped just short of the table and asked: "Did you say Crown?"
"Why yes I did, but you don't want any of that. It's hard liquor."
"But oh so smooth going down." Charlie added now smacking his own lips, cup extended almost in my face.
"Look man, you better get that fucking cup out of my face before,," I had to pause upon seeing Bear holding his horn aloft and meekly requested: "If you don't mind sharing your wares with a friend, I'll have me a good slug, thank you."
Not really being overly fond of watching my personal stash getting guzzled down to empty glass bottles, I entered our tent and pulled forth the purple cloth bag covered elixir from a camping pack. ‘Oh well’ I mused, ‘It was a cat that had to be let out of the bag.’
Perhaps these top shelf spirits would lay that big critter low until tomorrow.
Pulling open the cloth bag’s gold drawstring, then cracking the seal, I poured Bear a good measure. He lifted to his nose, sniffed a bit, his face contorted. He closed his eyes and threw the whole amount down, then issued a "Whaaaaaaaw!"
Being charitable, I poured Charlie about a jigger, and said: "Well shit, might as well" then set myself up with one as well. "Flip you better get in on some of this before the Dibbles catch a whiff of it in their sodden dreams." I offered throwing back a second cup full. "No thanks, I'll pass. Someone has to be able to make storm medicine."
Reflecting upon Flip's storm medicine and recalling past experiences I told him: "Useless at this point, under present conditions."
"Yes sir!" I returned, "Do you really think the powers that be or any great spirit of the storms are beholding to sots like us? If you feel something must be done, think about it first and don't piss anything off in the process. Remember we have friends and supplies either down in the valley or driving upon a winding mountain road."
"I'll make it quick." Flip said entering the tent, probably for his medicine bundle. At that we all washed away our doubts with the smooth amber liquid. Popping out of the tent with his bundle, Flipping Bird took off for places unknown. I didn't realize just how blasted he was on that high grade weed or never really considered his altered mindset, while trying to deal with my own. Hearing coughing and a bit of fumbling about, we knew the Dibbles were coming to life. Bear, now feeling a lot better about things grinned and commented: "This brings back memories. Pretty decent booze, man, I could really get down with this hooch.”
Sadly looking at that big bottle now half empty I advised Bear and Charlie: "Better drink up fast boys." So Bear took the liberty of pouring us all a good slug.
"Oh what a sad pair of wear and tear" I raised my cup to the brothers.
"Any coffee left?" R.W. asked picking spider web from his face and wavy locks. His brother however grabbed a cold soda from our cooler, then chugged it down in attempt to wet the dry. Denny wanted to know where everyone else was.
Charlie pointed towards the woods. "Flippy is out making juju."
"Don't joke about that." I warned while looking up at the sky.
The Dibbles lit our propane camp stove and heated up morning's brew and once again we were casting worried glances at the darkening sky.
The weather conditions were rapidly changing.
It started with a breeze then ceased to a dead stillness and ominous dark clouds slowly began to move in. At first only a few large heavy drops struck the ground knocking up dust, or splattering upon vehicles, tents and tarps. I could feel the temperature rise and humidity thicken. Raising his horn to the heavens Bear said: "Look now."
The grey swirling sky now had a greenish tint to it. Knowing something of Flip's past attempts at storm diverting, Charlie shook his head and commented: "He's pissed them off again." Aside from fog, light dew and a few rare, short lived thunder boomer downpours, the highlands and valley had been experiencing a dry spell. Perhaps it was not such a wise choice to ward off or divert much needed rain water, the giver of life.
Luck was with us though, Patti and Whitey backed into the encampment with our much needed supplies. We inquired about weather conditions down in the valley and Whitey warned us: "It's coming this way boys. We stayed ahead of it, but it was closing in."
With that we hurried to unload our goods and had enough time to get up a couple of extra tarps as to have more shelter. As these last precautions were put into place the storm struck in a most savage manner. Howling high winds rivaled the rumbling thunder. Like the fearful flickering flames of witch fire, incessant flashes of lightning illuminated our camp and just as heavy rain along with marble-sized hail started to rake us Flip dashed in under the tarps. He carried a couple of large pine knots.
"Tinkering novice! What the fuck have you done?" I asked the Birdman in no friendly tone.
"Nothing." he replied.
"What about your bundle?"
"Protection." he returned dropping the pine knots, then wiping dry his glasses with a paper towel. "I figured we would need some knots for the fire, that is if this hard weather quits us any time soon."
Looking over at our fire pit I saw it had become a pool of soggy black and grey muck. At least our wood remained dry enough under both table and tarps.
The hail had stopped, but the torrential downpour of rain continued, at times blowing in upon us from under our tarps. Again and again white blades of lightning slashed across the dark angry sky. The wind was strong but our tent stakes and tarp lashings held fast thus far. We had applied the third tarp in such a manner as to block wind driven rain.
Legend has it among some of the nearly forgotten hill tribes that thunder and lightening is caused by a giant snake’s rattling tail. Upon it's scaly back rides a supernatural being. Other tribes associate these terrible storms with thunderbirds and dwarf-like twins.
For another hour we endured this savage weather.
Yet just as it arrived and then raged for awhile this savage storm as far as we could tell departed leaving only a gentle misty sprinkle and following wave of heat along with sticky, stifling humidity which soon had some of us changing into shorts. Bear suffered the most as he would not part with his usual attire of Levi jeans and denim shirt. Bear's shaggy lion-like mane began to frizz, then mat up while sweat ran in rivulets down his face. After guzzling a horn of his newly arrived favorite German beer he rose then snarled: "Fuck this!" He hobbled over to his truck, climbed in and took off for parts unknown. I looked over at the Dibbles and stated: "He doesn't do all that well in the heat."
"No damn wonder." R.W. said,"Wearing all that thick shit in summer, it's a wonder he hasn't had heat stroke."
In all the years I had known Bear, never was he without a long sleeve shirt, nor did he wear shorts, but would often go barefoot, sometimes up until winter.
As Patti enlisted Charlie to go with her over to Guy's pop-up and check in on Claudia's well being after that savage storm.
"Bear's probably cooling-out in his truck’s air conditioning." Denny said while lightly patting his face with a folded paper towel. It was most uncomfortable and by now we were pulling off our shirts. As hot as it was, the sky was still dark and uncertain. Patti and Charlie returned from the pop-up, letting us know that Claudia was safe, yet out like a light, but there was no sign of Mildred and Guy. Hopefully they too were safe and in a cool place. "Stripped down to your shorts, eh boys?" Patti laughed, then grabbing the bottom of her Tshirt, peeling it off upwards in a slow, practiced, deliberate manner which commanded all of our attention. Up over her head and off, we were only slightly disappointed seeing she had a skimpy bikini top underneath barely containing her bouncing bosomy bounty. Still it brightened our position somewhat on this hot and muggy late summer afternoon. We could not help but ogle this scantily clad beautiful dancing girl especially after she emerged from the storage tent in a pair of high cut off jeans shorts. We ogled her over the rims of our drinking cups as she hung her other garments over a line.
"Oh what a treat in the heat." Charlie chuckled while pouring himself a cold ale.
No sooner than she turned to us and made mentioned The Bear's sudden departure we again heard the crunching sound of tires turning gravel. It was Bear pulling in. Slowly exiting his truck and without so much as a word, he began to gather up various items, loading them up in the vehicle. Three six packs of beer, a change of clothing, a carton of cigarettes and bath supplies.
"Just where in hell's heat are you making for?" I demanded. He bared his teeth in a broad mirthless smile and stated: "Until this bloody heat passes, I'll bivouac within the luxury of an air conditioned suite up at the lodge." Bear then pulled out a large brass key which he proceeded to wave in our faces long enough for me to get a number from it. "If you all get tired of steaming like a pot of crabs then perhaps you'll join me for refreshments" and jeeringly added: "That is if you can behave yourselves."
He then left us in the sweltering heat of our encampment.
A steamy mist hung over us as we made the best of these changing weather conditions. From the pleasant cool breezes of this morning to a violent storm and now a brutal heat wave liken to an Indonesian rain forest. We took turns with Flip's turkey tail feather fan which provided little relief.
"Hear that? " Denny asked us while munching upon one of the deli-style subs that Patti had kindly picked up for us in town. Again we all heard the distant rumbling of thunder coming out of the South. "Oh hell." Whitey grimaced, "Here comes another one."
With that Whitey grabbed a case of beer, tucked it under one arm and grabbed Patti's hand. Pulling her towards his truck he shouted out to us: "That's it for me boys, I'm heading to the high and dry of Bear's new lair."
"Oh fuck, not you guys too?" I growled in disgust.
"Gotta do it man." he returned.
They jumped into the truck then drove off.
Now we were reduced to just five of us sweltering in between storms. "Fast flying wimps they are." Flip sneered before tearing into a cold submarine sandwich. "If you can't stand the heat, keep your ass out of the kitchen!" Charlie slurred, obviously addled by booze, dope and heat,"Well it gets like this sometimes when at camp." Some relief came in the way of a decent breeze coming out of the southwest carrying away much of the humidity. We were comforted by the light wind knowing full well it was but a messenger of what was to come.
"Might as well get some rain gear ready boys." Flip advised.
As the sky turned to darker shades of grayish blue I mentioned that now would be a good time to shit, shower and shave as we had built up a bit of the funk during the course of this day. The Dibbles and Charlie remained behind as Flip and I made for the campground's facilities. Hot, humid weather conditions combined with the usual muggy air of this campground rest room and shower house tinged foully with a reeking clogged toilet lent speed to our personal hygienic maintenance.
Finishing up I emerged from that fetid building and waited outside while Flip took a number two. "I wouldn't breath a whole lot if I were you." was my parting remark to the Birdman as he ducked into a stall. Tilting my head up, I looked at the dark and threatening sky. After smoking a cigarette and several more long minutes Flip finally emerged moving in a swift, but teetering gate appearing rather green in the face.
"Methane buzz, eh?"
"Damn, it's twice as nasty in there now." He returned then deeply inhaled.
The air was cooling fast as winds shifted moving southeast instead of from the southwest. Just as we ambled into camp the sky opened up, thus providing Big Meadows and surrounding areas with a hard, cool steady rain. Seeing Charlie sitting alone at our camp table and puffing on a large bone, no doubt purloined from our stash, I asked: "Where's the Dibbles?"
Not waiting for a reply Flip entered his tent probably to inspect his supply.
"They booked off to Bear's suite shortly after you two split for the showers."
"Yep, they grabbed some of their stuff and a bottle of vodka. They wanted to raid the stash, but I convinced them of otherwise, so they booked it on out of here leaving me with a message for you."
"Yeah they said come on up and bring some weed."
"Fuck that!" I snapped then added: "So you waited until they departed and raided the stash yourself?”
"I snagged it from Flip's bag." He mirthfully confessed in a whisper.
"In that case, give me a hit."
As he was passing the bone my way Flip emerged from the tent and informed me that after inspecting his supply: "My shit is alright."
Not detecting any acts of theft on Charlie's part he bluntly added: "He must of took it from your stash."
Holding back an outburst of laughter I pretended to scold Charlie soundly: "Stay the fuck out of my shit,,, or else motherfucker!"
Flip then added for his own good measure: "You're damn lucky it wasn't my stash you pilfered from!”
Passing the burning bone to Flip I said: "Here man, have a toke on me, but you're rolling the next one." I winked at my cousin. While others had fled from our camp, I could always count on Charlie sticking close to the dope supply.
Despite the cool steady rain, we stayed somewhat dry and warm. Even more so after changing out of hot weather attire and into warmer clothing. Flip in all his weather knowledge repositioned the tarps as to block any rain blowing in from the northwest
Charlie appeared oddly out of place wearing his dad's London Fog rain coat and crowned atop with one of those shiny bright yellow New England style fisherman's hat while Flip looked rather smart in his army surplus poncho and pith helmet. I preferred my Beaver felt Stetson as it well shed the rain. Taking a gander at Charlie, Flip stated - "You look like a smacked out Gortons fisherman."
"Trust me." Charlie countered: "You look like you should be in Mongolia digging up petrified Dinosaur shit."
I cut the goofing short. "Didn't figure on the Dibbles bailing out on us."
"Poodle and the Flake couldn't hang." Charlie stated after chasing a toke with a shot of whisky. "Perhaps the allure of high and dry partying was more temptation than they could resist." I returned. Even so, comfortable lodging such as Bear had was no cheap affair. A bit more pricey than a nice roadside motel. We were either too proud or not drunk enough to consider joining our well sheltered companions.
As this rainy day turned swiftly into a rainy night the three of us had naught to do but get slammed and play cards. With a length of carefully twisted wire coat hanger and a bow shaped piece of foil skillfully attached to the boom box antenna, Flip had managed to pick up an FM oldies station. We grooved to the sounds of the early Beatles, Rolling Stones, Dave Clark Five and even some Yard Birds. We drank, smoked, gambled and snacked upon a pot of beans-n-weenies Charlie had warmed up. This to me, was what the whole camping experience is suppose to be. Reveling in the fair and roughing out the fearful. We had no fire, yet Flip's Coleman lantern along with the whisky kept spirits high and souls warm.
Hearing not a footfall
Only her enchanting incoming call
There was always room for one more
And with her arrival she made us four
The woman under a bright red umbrella
The whisky enhanced her shapely form
Had me rather tight against the seams
It's hard to be a holdout while giving into
Claudia closed her umbrella and seated herself next to me.
In jest Flip bade her: "Well good morning."
"What are the chances of a girl getting a hot cup of coffee here?"
Flip said he would put on a pot. "Here let me." Claudia offered.
"Naw I got it" Flip assured her then started the brewing process with our rather tricky camping percolator, while I put the beans on the burner of our propane stove. She yawned, rubbed her eyes and asked: "What is the time?"
Looking at the Birdman’s digital watch, I told her: "It is 7:28 here in the encampment of Flipping Bird, acting chief of this camp."
"Why do I have to be chief when the Bear is away?" Flip asked while adding a pinch of salt to the coffee. Laughing I returned: "Because my chief, I'm on vacation."
In short time the coffee and beans were ready. Flip poured then passed her a steaming cup along with a plastic spoon, sugar and powdered creamer. Handing her a plate of beans-n-weenies I said: "Coarse fare for a lady of culture, but it'll stave off belly growling." Sniffing the dish she took in it's aroma and rewarded our good hospitality with a "Mmmmmmmmm" then fell upon them with gusto. In between mouthfuls she inquired: "Where is everyone?"
"Up at the lodge in one of the suites" Charlie slurred, now obviously snockered to the gills. "A suite?" she returned after sip hot coffee.
"That's right." I replied,"Seems the Great Bear could find no comfort in these weather conditions and found remedy in a bit of luxury lodging. All the others were soon to follow. This is what's left of us. We are the home guard."
Flip inquired about Mildred and Guy. She informed him: "Have not seen them since last night, guess they're up there with the Bear too."
"Nope." Flip said, "Saw them splitting early this morning and they ain't been back since." Seemingly this caused Claudia to overly fret, but Flip comforted her: "Oh I'm sure they're fine, probably taking shelter down in Luray or the valley somewhere, as we've had some weather through here earlier."
With that she requested a drop of whisky to go in her coffee, which proved earlier remarks true, Claudia wasted little time when it came to getting into the drink, but of course neither did we and after all this was a festive occasion.
"Might as well." Flip said before pouring himself a good measure of whisky to sip while ignoring Charlie's empty extended cup.
"Damn boy ain't you had enough?" The Birdman hissed as Charlie helped himself then answered while coldly looking straight at Claudia: "I'll be the judge of that."
Seemingly she pretended not to grasp his meaning.
For some odd reason I was becoming more interested in this woman and now pondering other possibilities, but somewhere inside my booze soaked head, another primal sense was attempting to sound warning.
This would be a good night to quaff hard spirits, get reeling drunk and experience the cheer of a rainy night cold camp. Loaded up with supplies, we were well provisioned to carry on for a good while. And what stores we had, plenty of ice, more meat, eggs and soda, coffee, snacks, five brand new butane lighters, five bottles of vodka, four bottles of good rum, a few cases of imported ale, German beer and Whitey's swill of St. Louis along with a good supply of weed some of which Flip was now twisting up into a bone.
Blessing it with butane flame he drew in a long deep toke then passed it to Charlie who already had his hand out to receive. I could tell by the way Flip's beady eyes darted about he was on the verge of a brain fart. Looking up at our thin plastic shelter he came upon an idea. "You know if I take that last tarp out of the truck, lash it high over the pit as rain cover, we could scoop out that wet shit and get a small fire going."
"Sounds like you're just the man for the job Flip, I'll sit here and keep watch." Was all that I could offer while passing the doobie to Claudia.
"Vehicle coming." Flip brought to our attention the moving flashes of distant headlights flickering through the shadows of dark trees. Soon we heard the sound of tires turning wet gravel.
It was Bear's truck which was now backing in and as far as we could tell driving it was R.W. with Denny as passenger. After putting it in park and cutting off it's engine the brothers remained inside for a short while no doubt plotting some type of scheme. Finally both doors opened and closed at once, then without so much as a call in both Dibbles entered our camp. They both offered short shallow greetings then with all the finesse of a foppish court messenger on a fool's errand, R.W. shook the rain drops from his hair and spoke - "We came to get some more drink and was wondering if you guys could lay some smoke on us "
Not responding I poured myself a drink as R.W. continued. "The Bear wants a cooler filled with ice and beer."
"Oh he does, does he?" I snarled, "Well now, you can tell Bear if he wants some beer, then he needs to haul his big oafish ass over here and get it himself, but only after a formal request to reenter the camp he left. You all split the scene, we didn't and that's the rules!"
"What about some rum and weed?" R.W. persisted, "We have none."
"You'll have less than that if you don't get ye gone, varlet. We'll parley only with Bear from here on out." To convince them we meant business I took up my walking stick and waved it at his floofy head in a menacing manner. Both took my meaning and promptly departed spinning tires on their way out. Flip had a trenching tool over his shoulder, while Charlie guzzled liquor.
"If I have to ask." Claudia chuckled.
"Go right ahead." I returned watching tail lights disappear into the damp dreary darkness.
"Why were you so mean to them?"
"Custom." I replied.
"Custom? Don't make me laugh" Claudia was now somewhat buzzed-up herself.
"That's right, custom.” I replied, “Bear along with the others passed between our banners on their way out and now they have took up merriment and lodging elsewhere without proper council and if I might add, in a most rude manner assuming there would be at least a few poor damp saps left behind to stand watch over our encampment and stores. Mean? No, they have to be made aware of their rude actions before reentering this camp."
Perhaps in my substance altered state, I was over reacting to all of this.
"They'll be back" Flip said, already up and starting his project. In little time he had his tarp shelter up and all the wet ashes shoveled out of our fire pit. He stood upon two stacked coolers to lash high the tarp as to not have it heat scorch or catch flame, hopefully. The pit now clear of most of the wet ash and coals I gave credit where it was due with a raised cup, a hurrah and a drunken, yet sincere compliment: "You're doing a fine job Flip."
"Fuck you" He barked: "Fetch me some kindling and charcoal starter before I exile your lazy ass over to Bear's hootenanny."
I downed my drink and swiftly obliged the quartermaster. We soon had ourselves a small but cheerful fire blazing and lifting our spirits a bit more. Even the dreary drizzle had tapered into a light mist.
Somewhere out on the edge of our camp light a toad sang happily, oddly enough in time with the Troggs song Wild Thing playing on the radio.
"I'd thought they'd be coming sooner than this." Flip calmly alerted us again of distant headlight beams cutting through darkness and the mist.
"I see em." I said, taking up my stick. Charlie grasped a large onion as if it was a weapon and again we heard tires upon the wet road.
It was Bear's truck again, slowly rolling a few yards past our parking area then carefully backing in. No mistaking that shaggy head in the passenger seat. The Great Lame Drunken Bear. It looked to be Patti behind the wheel from what we could see through swirling misty gloom. Now parked they both exited the truck, but did not advance.
Keeping within tradition Charlie, Flip and I paid them no heed, continuing our quaffing and small talk.
"Haaalooooow camp!" It was Bear's rumbling voice, but we ignored him at present.
Then we heard another bellow - "Haaaaloooow to camp!"
This time Charlie shouted - "Whooooo the hell is out there?"
"You know damn full well who it is!" Bear abruptly paused, grumbled something into his beard and then started anew in a more kinder tone. "It's your old friend Bear. I offer apologies for any rudeness on my part and most humbly request permission to enter camp."
I welcomed him. "Well don't just stand out there in the weather,, come on in."
With Patti following behind attempting to hide her mirth, Bear limped in with whiskers bristled and his chest stuck out obviously ruffled from all the customary formalities. Casting me a glare as I was now seated in his folding camping throne, he plopped down upon the bench. "Could I get you anything?" I asked politely matching the hard look he gave me.Blunt and to the point the Bear responded - "I'm here for some drinking supplies to take back."
"Yeah, to my suite."
"Anything else?" I inquired with a pleasant smile.
"What the hell do you mean, anything else?"
Standing beside Bear, Patti brought him back to cordiality with a knee to his good leg. He cut his eyes at Patti and carried on in a more pleasant manner "What else? Why to invite you all up to my suite for all the comfortable good cheer you can stand."
Standing beside Bear like a beautiful raven haired shield maiden, Patti issued a -"Yaaay!"
I rose, shook his paw and proclaimed - "We shall provide you with provisions and accept your invitations."
Flip and I even packed and loaded up his beer.
"I could use a decent shower. Those campground showers up there suck eggs" Claudia requested.
"Done!" The Bear happily informed us: "The suite has a rather nice bathroom."
"Wait there's more." I added. Now the liquor was talking. "We shall depart a little later, after securing the camp, and expect to be treated in a friendly manner heaped with appreciation and treated like heroes for staying with the camp through bouts of heavy weather."
"Do what?" Bear growled, but was kneed in the thigh again by Patti.
"Woman are you trying to cripple my other leg?"
She responded with a giggle.
“Alright, we'll have a big cheer and hurrah for you.” Bear said with a snarl.
Claudia got up, opened her umbrella, grabbed a flashlight, excused herself and pranced off the pop-up for a few things.
"See that she goes unmolested." I told Bear.
"You have my word, brother." He assured me and then extended his paw for another drunken handshake.
By the time Bear gathered some more items he thought could be utilized up at his luxury lair and wolfed down the last of our beans-n-weenies, Claudia had returned and told us she would be back after a bath, then reached down planting a big wet kiss upon my cheek. "Thank you for making peace with Bear." She then whispered in my ear: "You guys are something else."
"Yeah, but it's hard to tell what that something else is." I returned while twirling a lock of her hair in my fingers.
Bear had his brew, however the others had to go through this same ritual before anymore supplies left our encampment. Patti, Claudia and Bear drove off into the misty gloom. Once again there were three of us left at our heathen encampment with enough booze and high quality grass to keep us going.
There was damp deck of cards and no one willing to throw dice.
Charlie got up from the table, wobbled around a bit, lit up a cigarette and slurred: "Hope she stays up there with them."
"Who?" Flip asked, knowing full well the answer.
"Claudia, that's who. I don't need a lush telling me to cut back on my drinking, besides she's weird in the sack."
Perking Flip's interest he inquired: "What do you mean by weird?"
"Do tell." I insisted.
Charlie reached into the cooler, grabbed a bottle, popped it open and drained an ale before going in some detail of Claudia's passionate bedtime weirdness - " When we were fooling around last night in Bear's truck bed she kept on trying to play with and lick my belly button."
"That's not weird, that's not even kinky." Flip chuckled.
"Go on Charlie." I prodded.
"Well it started with her tracing circles around my belly button clockwise, the changing to counterclockwise, all the while humming some strange tune I never heard before"
"She stuck her mouth over my navel and started poking in with her tongue."
"Foreplay." Flip grunted.
"Her pointed tongue was jabbing so hard, it creeped me out, made me kind of dizzy."
“You were already dizzy.” Flip hissed.
Curious, I bade him to - “Go on Charlie."
"I tried to direct her head and mouth to somewhere else, but the woman has neck muscles like steel cables, couldn't budge it at all."
Snickering, Flip asked: "Are you sure you wanted her mouth somewhere else?"
"She then jabbed her tongue even harder into my belly button, that's when I broke free. I had to take a piss after all that tongue jabbing. I crawled out of the truck bed, but could barely walk. I felt drained. When I got back Claudia was riled up and starting in about my drinking, then without so much as a kiss or goodnight she rolled over and went to sleep or just laid there. I couldn't tell."
"Dizzy and weak." Flip hissed, "Sure it wasn't all that booze and grass you consumed half of yesterday and most of last night?"
Charlie rarely snapped at anyone, but with his upper curled barked: "No it wasn’t all the booze! I could drink you under the table any two nights of the week, without any sleep!" Then added in a more softer yet serious tone: "Something ain’t quite right with that woman. Something strange."
Flip still not taking him in a serious manner stated: "Ah you both were just too fucked up for a good roll in the hay."
"Something else." Charlie added, "For an old woman she has the body of someone much younger. Not so much as a wrinkle or sag anywhere and man is she strong"
"Strong enough to hold my arms and legs down with her hands and feet. I could only break away when she let up on her grip after I cut a big fart."
"Beans-n-weenies!" Flip laughed, but Charlie was not so mirthful.
"Young body." Flip said - "Maybe she works out, takes good care of herself." adding , "Maybe she's had plastic surgery."
"Maybe something else." I grimly added as strange thoughts bounced about in my skull perhaps knocking loose some ancestral memories.
As Flip was attempting to press Charlie to give up other details of his two nights of romping with Claudia, I excused myself, grabbed a flashlight and slightly staggered over to a bare spot on the ground I noticed earlier further down beside the loop road. Shining down the light beam I found what I was looking for a patch of exposed yellowish hued clay, common throughout the area. Taking out my knife I dug up a walnut sized hunk which was moist and pliable from the wet weather. While walking back I heard Flip mumble something, followed by Charlie saying rather loudly: "Fuck you Flippy! That's none of your damned business, you sick pervert!"
Returning I entered the tent and pulled a few items from my medicine bag, then
rejoined my companions at our table.
"What ya got there?" Flip inquired, but I did not respond and proceeded to grind up other secret ingredients in my possession, with a small amount of dried spice rack garlic powder between flat stream smoothed stones. After adding a little cooking oil to the clay, I tinged in the dried ground mixture all the while hoping any protecting spirits moving about this location would be understanding of our addled conditions thus keeping us from harm's way.
Using my knife I smeared a small gob for each of them on our table. "Here rub this into your navels."
"You got to be kidding me!" Flip laughed.
"No, I'm serious, rub this into your belly buttons." I advised, while rubbing a good portion into my navel. "Flip's mouth dropped open. "Are you saying she is some kind of,,,"
"I don't know. Could be." I then reminded them: "Holding down Charlie with an iron grip. A sharp tongue jabbing in his navel. Feet that move like flippers in bed. A sixty something year old woman who's built like a thirty year old, hitting on the likes of us?"
"Hey speak for yourself!" Charlie said.
"It smacks of the weird." I stated, "Shit, I can still feel a tingling where she kissed me."
"Yeah I bet you feel a tingling." Flip added with a wink.
After prodding Charlie for information, Flip at least agreed there was something odd about Claudia and smeared a gob of my mixture into his navel. Charlie did the same. I carefully put the remaining mixture in an empty cigarette pack then it went into my pocket and I cleared all traces of it's blending. "What if this stuff doesn't work?" Charlie asked with a worried look in his eyes.
"If nobody gets overly intimate with her, then we should be fine during waking hours."
"What if she bewitches us, or comes upon us in our sleep? And what if your concoction doesn't work, what then?"
"Then you can always pound a sharp wooden stake into her heart, or else lop off her head." I replied, realizing this could all be the product of substance induced imaginations. Yet it is always a good idea to play it safe especially far from home, in our altered conditions. Already we had lost some of our own to similar creatures. The last one bewitched by an exotic dusky hued beauty that appeared from nowhere. Over the course of only two months, she had drained him of almost all of his essence. Shortly after she departed, he hung himself in his parent's garage while they were at church. His brother later told me of his wilted appearance after he was cut down.
She later hooked up with a friend of Bear's out in Oklahoma. He was reduced to a mindless mess and is now doing time in prison. Wilted and old before his time, a mere wisp of the man he once was. The last I heard this soul eater was slain by a biker chick with a baseball bat down in Texas.
For a short while Flip complained about the "itchy crud" in his navel, but in time we fell back into our routine of getting tight with the night. The whisky was finished, so I broke out a bottle of rum. We as pickled party people would make no savory meal for any night feeders. Charlie and I chased quaffs with pineapple juice, while Flip mixed his with Dr. Pepper. We saw the flickering of headlights through the trees. It was Whitey's truck and he came alone. He threw open the door and swaggered right into camp forgoing any formalities. His route was straight to the beer until I halted him. "Get your drunk ass back and ask in a meek tone to reenter this encampment. You know the drill!"
Swearing under his breath he backed up to the edge of our camp light. The words poured out in a rapid slurring of speech. "Ho Camp, This here is Whitey, an old friend. I'm sorry for booking off and have no worthy explanation to justify my actions other than I'm a drunk. Can I come into camp?"
"Come the fuck in!" Flip shouted. Having none of his swill on ice, Whitey begged an ale from me. "Help yourself." I offered, then inquired - "Don't tell me you've guzzled down a case of Bud already, you sot."
"Hell no!" he replied, "There's a little motel-sized fridge in that place and I couldn't get a whole lot of beer in it, but I managed to get a few in that cooler you sent up."
"So what brings here now?" I asked.
"Bear and the rest of them told me to tell you three to come on up."
"Two." said Flip nodding his narrow head over at Charlie who was now passed out, face down on the table.
"Damn!" I swore, "I'd never thought to see this fucker with two hollow legs go out like this so early."
"Maybe he's cooked." Whitey implied.
"Maybe something else." I said, "Let's get him into a tent before he gets splinters in his face." Flip and I pulled Charlie off the bench and rolled him into Bear's tent. He hit the floor like a dead man. After throwing a sleeping bag over him and zipping up the door flap Flip asked Whitey how things were up at Bear's suite.
"Well the Bear is in a better mood since he got more beer." Whitey replied smacking his lips after a good quaff of quality brew.
"Damn he left with a shit load of his beer." Flip reminded.
"Yeah, but the Dibbles helped him drink that up."
"Fuck!" I growled, "They had a whole bottle of booze!"
Yeah, but R.W. tried to do some of that fancy bartender bottle juggling shit and dropped the bottle." Whitey added, "It was almost full when it broke."
"Stupid drunken bastard."
"Showing off for Patti." Whitey stated.
"What about Claudia?"
"She's still in the bathroom."
Looking him dead in the eyes I said: "Before any more beer leaves this camp and we go off to join in this new party I want you to do something for me."
"I'm not gonna blow you." Whitey laughed.
Pulling out the cigarette pack I handed it to him and requested: "I want you to dip your finger into this and rub some in your navel."
"What the fuck?" Opening the makeshift container he asked "What the hell is this shit?"
"Protection from what?"
"It's vampire repellent." Flip informed him.
"Do it, humor me Whitey, it's for your own good."
"What is it, bat poop?"
I lifted my shirt and motioned Flip to do the same, showing Whitey the yellowish gunk in our navels. "Vampire repellent of sorts." and to serve as a reminder I added: "Remember when Scotty's folks found him dangling in their garage?" He knew then what I spoke of, but replied: "Man you guys are smoking way too much of that shit, but I'll rub some of this slime in anyway, if y'all will come up and smoke some weed with us."
Scooping a fair amount of the mixture with his finger he smeared it inside his navel.
"Speaking of which!" I handed him what was left of our earlier bone. "Say nothing about this to the others, I'll hip the rest of the band at a chosen time and place."
We finished the joint, and had a few more drinks while waiting for the fire to die down which gave me time to roll up another lunker to take along. Whitey inquired: "So where's this vampire of yours?" But before I could get it out Flip answered - "We think it's Claudia."
"Could be, not sure, but it's leaning in that direction." I said, draining the cup and securing it to me by running my belt through it's handle. Making sure the fire was low enough not to catch anything else, we piled into Whitey's truck and drove up to Bear's temporary lodgings.
"I rapped upon the door with my walking stick and after a few seconds Patti, now wearing one of Bear's large denim shirts opened up for us with her usual cheerfulness then hugged and greeted us. Oh it was a grand abode, for those who couldn't hack tenting. Two king sized beds one on which The Great Bear laid sprawled out upon his back, head propped up by a mound of pillows, kicked back and sipping on a cold one. Over by a corner sitting at a well crafted table the Dibbles were drinking beer and playing backgammon. Denny didn't travel without his board. Patti seated herself on the edge of a bed and bounced. "Welcome to high and dry partying my heroic friends!" Bear roared, raising his bottle aloft.
"Nice pad you've got yourself here Bear, how many bucks did it set you back?" Flip inquired.
"Don't worry about it Flipper, I put it on plastic."
Patti then bounced off the bed, taking our cups and bottle of rum over to the dresser and proceeded to pour everybody one. Denny pulling away from the game said: "Fire up a bone, Skid!"
"Here in a bit, Denny." I returned.
Right then a door opened and out sashayed Claudia, clad in a long slit up the side, low-cut, thin cotton fabric, wine colored, gown-like garment. A burnished mass of half dry rich chestnut hair without a trace of silver fell over her shoulders and down her back. She was lithe and shaped like a goddess. Her beautiful hazel eyes were complemented by lovely long lashes. Those eyes were strange and full of sensuous mystery. I had to catch my breath as all others stared as in a trance. Claudia appeared as a beautiful, well turned woman less than half her given age. She repaid my ogling with a heart jolting smile and greeted us. "Well hello holdouts." She spoke in a rich sultry voice. "Where's Charlie?" Taking my eyes off her ample braless bosom straining against the thin wine hued fabric, I replied: "Passed out drunk."
With that bit of news She had the disappointed look of a hunter whose prey just bolted out of range. "Wow! Look at you!" Patti exclaimed while eyeing Claudia up and down. All were amazed and marveled at her transformation. My first thought was that she had colored her hair. Claudia beamed within all this attention. Patti served Flip and I with refreshment then went on to shower Claudia with compliments. Both sat on the edge of the other bed and engaged themselves in cheerful girlish conversation. I couldn’t keep my eyes off this stunning beauty.
Bear was set up good for one who could not stand the least desirable rigors of camp life, having a decent mattress and box-springs under his massive frame along with Patti or anyone else handy fetching him beers and tossing away his empties. With Claudia out of the bathroom I watched the big man pull himself up and limp in for a piss. Claudia, Patti, Whitey, the Dibbles and even Flip seem to have settled well into this comfort. Downing my measure of rum I knew it would not be long before it would be time for me to book out, back down to camp. After a few days of outdoor living, I felt boxed in within these walls. Whitey plopped down on the edge of Bear's bed across from the ladies whom he now ogled, with a slight drooling smile, while the Dibbles were in a heated game. Heated that is for Backgammon. Bear limped out of the bathroom away from the whirl pooling sound of a flushing toilet, grabbed himself a cold one, then plopped down upon the bed. "Drink up folks, it's on the house!" He slurred, spittle flying out of his maw. Flip and I leaned our walking sticks in a corner than copped a squat on the floor. Everybody had something going on. Claudia and Patti were jabbering away, Whitey continued ogling the ladies over the rim of his 12oz can while The Dibbles playing a board game. Bear was blathering away about how he fucked up his garage door at home. It appeared that the prescription pain killers and enough beer to bath in had rendered the large one to a near senseless mass of flesh, fat and bone. I took in the scene and engaged in a little small talk with whoever was responsive. Seeing that everyone was off on their own little set of playground swings, I motioned for Flip to draw closer and whispered to him. "Look man, I'm splitting this affair, I want you to get the others to apply the repellent." Swiftly pulling out the cigarette pack, I handed it to Flip advising him to catch them away from Claudia and tell them nothing more, until I'm more certain. I then pulled out the bone rolled earlier and tossed it upon the Backgammon board. The Birdman's eyes darted about in a worried manner and then he said: "Come on man, don't book off yet, besides that's a bit of a hike back to camp."
"Yeah, don't split man, you just got here." R.W. begged while lighting up the bone.
"Bear was now rambling in the unintelligible gibberish liken to a dementia patient. While Claudia and Patti jabbered on.
"Well someone has to stay with the camp." I dryly stated.
"Charlie's there." Flip reminded me.
"What's left of him" I returned before swiftly bidding farewells and slipping out the door...