Red Moley

 

By Andrew Lawrence Crown

 

April, 2017

 

Copyright © Andrew Lawrence Crown, 2017. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

             Seth Hanks crouched down on all fours, stuck his face close to the coals, and then he blew until grey became red and red became white and orange. Soon orange and yellow flames made the campsite wake up and dance even though it was the middle of the night. He crawled backwards, away from the heat, until he could feel his feet touch the tent. There it was, the two-man tent, behind him. There she was too, Tina Brown, behind him. She was crawling out to meet him, warm from being recently sleeping in one of the two sleeping bags. Seth felt her hand grab his foot. She pulled off his shoe and threw it into the woods. She threw the shoe past the point where the campfire made everything seem alive. Where the shoe was now it was all pitch black. Tonight no moon, no stars, no fire-flies; only the bright but confined campfire, the dark Tina Brown, and Seth who was tired, worried, and now missing one of his shoes.

 

             “Tina,” Seth complained, trying hard to sound angry, “Look. Now look what you’ve done to me. My shoe’s lost forever. That’s just wonderful. That’s just great. That’s terrific.”

 

             “Oh stop catastrophizing,” Tina Brown said. “Just go get it and then hurry back and keep me company in the tent even if you can’t fall asleep again tonight.”

 

             “I’m not going out there past the campsite. It’s too dark behind those trees,” said Seth.

 

             “Sissy,” Tina Brown taunted him. “Don’t you want to find your shoe and then come right back in a hurry to be with me?”

 

             Seth did not answer. Instead he reached behind him and tried to grab his favorite parts of Tina Brown. She was too quick for him. She ducked sideways and did an awkward kind of somersault, and then she ran away from Seth into the pitch black woods to find the shoe. Seth silently watched, amazed again by his fiancé’s fearlessness. She was strong. She did not care about the second looks. She did not care about the whispers or the threats. At least she never catastrophized about them. Tina Brown never catastrophized about the rest of them who were everyone else, all of those people who were not Tina Brown and Seth Hanks and what they were, the two of them together. She was beautiful and fearless and Seth was amazed.

 

             “I’m back and I’m black,” she laughed, springing out from behind the darkness like a panther with the shoe dangling by the laces from her hand like some vanquished prey carried proudly by a forest beast. Playfully now she tackled Seth as he crouched in front of the tent. “Don’t you want me now?” she asked before kissing him. “Here’s your stupid shoe, Sissy. Which do you prefer, me or it?”

 

             Seth pretended to think about it for a few long silent moments.

 

             “You, of course,” he answered.

 

             “Of course,” she proclaimed proudly. “But first, tell me a story.”

 

             “What kind of a story?”

 

             “A horror story.”

 

             “No.”

 

             “Why not?”

 

             “Because I hate horror stories. I absolutely loathe them.”

 

             “Sissy.”

 

             Seth left her embrace to stand up and walk closer to the fire, pretending to be angrier then he really was. He tried to look pensive and hurt. Actually, he and she both knew he was just putting on another performance in order to give himself the time to dream up another story for Tina Brown. He knew he had to be careful about the stories he told her, particularly careful at night, deep in the woods, with no light but the light of a campfire. He knew no story of his would ever really scare her. But if he was not careful, she might not understand him. That would be another catastrophe. She must always understand him and all of those terrible things he said like, “What about our children? What if everyone rejects them instead of just half of everyone?” He was ashamed to be so ambiguous when she was so decided. “Our children will be beautiful,” she always said. “Screw everyone else.” Seth felt an urge to explain. He hoped she would understand him. Tina Brown encouraged him to get it all out. She would understand. She promised she would. If she could find a shoe in the middle of the pitch black woods and manage to survive and continue hold her own around all of those cerebral types in Hyde Park like her beau Seth Hanks, then surely she could find the meaning of his sometimes ambiguous but always captivating ramblings.

 

             “Go ahead now. I’ll listen to you Seth. Just tell it to me like you always do, like you wrote it all down and you’re reading it to me because you love me.”

 

             “Alright Tina,” Seth said, giving in finally and completely. He backed away from the fire and sat down again next to the fearless one and began his tale. “I’ll tell you a story you might mistake as a story for kids even though I want it to be more than that. I think you will like it because you want to see the world like a kid sees it.”

 

             “You see, I was out of breath from trying to play forward, guard, and goalie all at once. My guys, my campers, they were loving every second of it. Gary was showing off. He was showing me up real fine and all the kids were getting a real kick out of it. My campers had turned against me, telling me to stop dorking around, warning me that if I lost they’d get Gary and the other counselors to throw me into Green Lake after supper. I tried to score, tried to defend, but it was useless against a guy like Gary from a country where everyone played soccer like he did. My bare chest was wet with sweat and dirty, the dust sticking to me and turning into mud right on my skin. My legs felt like rubber and my eyes felt like open wounds, like they did that time when I was ten and went swimming in the ocean. I was ten years old again when my father took me to the ocean for the first time and I ran down the beach like a crazy little stupid kid when I saw the waves crashing along the shore. You see, I dove into the warm salty surf screaming like mad with my eyes wide open and they turned into open wounds just like that. My guys were yelling at me like Dad yelled at me. All of them were shouting that I was playing like a real girl from Missouri Cabin.

 

             My guys, and me their counselor, we were Chippewa. We stayed in Chippewa Cabin. Whenever my guys stayed up late talking past lights-out, I used to tell them to stop gabbing like a bunch of girls or else I would send them all to Missouri Cabin where they could stay up all night and talk with the girls if they wanted to. That always shut them up because they were only eight and nine year-olds and said they hated girls worse than even mandatory swim time early in the morning in cold Green Lake. Back there on the A-filed (the athletic field) I knew that it would not be easy to get them to shut up. They told me they would only shut up if I scored a goal. But that was impossible because Gary was against me, and he grew up where everyone played soccer in the streets and barefoot on the dirt pitch, and I grew up where everyone played night baseball on freshly mown green fields with brilliant lights shining down upon us from high above the fences, all of us loving every minute of our time under the lights, in the limelight so to speak, we with our sharp uniforms and expensive cleated shoes.

 

             Mr. Ted, the founder of Camp Everwood, used to wear cleated shoes. Everyone at camp knew about them. There was, and I think there still is today, a spotty old black and white photograph in a rustic oak picture frame which tells the story of Mr. Ted’s cleated shoes. When I was nine and spending my first summer at Camp Everwood, I saw the photograph of the big happy man standing on one leg on a log floating on Green Lake. I remember seeing the picture hanging on a nail driven into the wall above the stone fireplace in Eagle Lodge. Actually, Mr. Ted was not standing on the log. It only looked like he was standing because it was a picture frozen in time. In reality he was running in place on the log as it spun on top of the water. His shoes kept him from falling off the log. I knew it was his shoes that made him great on the log because my counselor told me all about them. They had great big sharp pointed metal spikes on the bottom of them. They were like baseball cleats made for running on floating logs.

 

             Camp legend has it that Mr. Ted was a man of phenomenal strength. The onetime Canadian lumberjack created the A-field when he chopped down a football field sized clearing in the pine forest in 1903, the year when the camp first opened. He tried until 1957 to plant grass in the clearing, but it never took root in the sandy Michigan soil because each summer hundreds of little city feet trampled up and down the A-field running after footballs and counselors, and even after Mr. Ted himself. Following Mr. Ted’s tragic death from excessive jubilation (seventy-nine years old, he died of a heart attack on the A-field while sliding through the dirty sand and safely under a tag during a game of running bases in the late August of the year 1957) the YMCA purchased Everwood, and the plans to seed or sod the A-field for the next spring were discontinued indefinitely due to lack of funds.

 

             My guys booed when I lost the soccer game and crawled out through the hot sand and off of the A-field. I lay down under the pine trees bordering it. Out of the sun up there in northern Michigan in the dark shade, I cooled off fast. Flat on my back, I stared up at the tall pines surrounding the A-field. The sun was almost gone. I could not see where it was through the trees, but I knew it would be gone soon because dusk was settling in under the canopy and one of my guys was saying something about how it was time to get ready for twilight supper. The tough little city kid from Detroit was saying. “Hurry up, come on, let’s go Seth. We gonna be late and be the last cabin to the lodge. Then we gonna have to do clean up duty again.” That riled up the rest of my guys into a rebellious little mob. “We ain’t doing no kitchen duty again. You hurry up Seth, cause we ain’t doing it.” Gary told them to be quiet. He told them to stop dorkin’ around and to get themselves ready for supper.

 

             “You guys are filthy mon,” said the Jamaican. “Go on there now to the bathroom and clean yourselves up and be acting civilized like you’re meant to be now. And don’t you be coming late yourselves neither mon. Because I’ma tell all you guys, I’ma trow any guy who’s not at the lodge before me and Seth get there into Green Lake after supper, and all you hear me good now because there hain’t nobody whose joking about it. I’m serious mon.”

 

             I heard all my guys yelling and tearing off down a path through the woods to our cabin like their lives depended on it. Gary laughed at them, shouting through the pines about how cold Green Lake was supposed to be after supper that night, shouting off into the trees after my guys about how far he could throw one of them, how he might even “trow” one of them all the way across the lake and into the forbidden area on the other side. I was flat on my back trying to breathe with dry pine needles sticking into my bare skin, listening to Gary laughing and all of my guys running down the path like a tribe of wild men and yelling at one another to hurry up. I could hear the campers screaming and having a ball, giggling and laughing, yelling and shouting, each one telling the next to quit dorking around.

 

             Gary came over to me with my shirt. He dribbled the soccer ball as he made his way. He floated over the ball and smiled and kicked it with every part of his foot and never once lost control. He toed the ball up into the air so high that it disappeared momentarily into the cool evergreens above and then came crashing down through the branches and bounced right next to my ear on the forest floor. Gary drop-kicked my shirt up into the air and it floated down onto my face. I let the shirt sit there a moment and soak up the cooling muddy sweat. Gary laughed and snatched the shirt away. I looked up and saw his dark black face staring down at me. The dark Jamaican was twenty-three that summer, only a few years older than I was at the time, but he seemed to me to be much older. Gary looked down at me. He smiled his confident, mature smile, and I understood why my guys liked the black man better.

 

             “Eh mon,” he said. “Wey don’ you stop dorkin’ around now and play it like you mean to. It’s no fun against such a lazy boy now.”

 

             “Just give me my shirt Gary,” I said, sitting up and trying to peel off the pine needles stuck to my back. The pine needles were rusty brown. Gary said the needles left rusty brown needle shaped imprints on my white skin.

 

             “I’ma tell you what we are to do Seth. I’ma put these pine needles in your food at supper and freak out all the guys with a voodoo chant. Then I know they are going to think you wake up the next day blacker then all of them. Oh, I know they are going to think that because they so crazy those guys are mon.”

 

             I stood up and used my shirt to wipe off the sweat from my legs and chest. Gary started to wipe the remaining pine needles off my back with his own shirt. He started talking about his home in Kingston. He told me all about the kids in his neighborhood and the way they played soccer until the streets got dark and too dangerous for games unless you grew up tough and smart like Gary said he did. He finished brushing the last of the pine needles off of my back with his shirt. He put his shirt on and joked that it smelled like the shorts of a clean white boy in the wrong neighborhood. I said that we were in a forest, not a neighborhood, and that he should shut up and stop smoking so much grass around the kids. He got angry because he was really straight and never touched the stuff. “Mon,” he said, “I don’ even drink coffee because I don’ believe in caffeine. It’s a drug you know Seth” I told him I knew all about caffeine. Then I apologized and said I was sorry if he had taken my joke as an insult.

 

             I picked up the soccer ball and we started to walk down the path from the A-field to where all the boys’ cabins were. We could still hear my guys crashing and shouting their way through the woods to the cabin. Gary was staying in Chippewa cabin with me and my guys. The camp director put him in my cabin because he was a new international staff member. I was supposed to orient him to the camp. For some strange reason the director had decided that in this forest, a counselor from Kingston, Jamaica needed a clean white boy who grew up in Chicago’s south suburbs to orient him to our cabin full of tough black city kids from Detroit. I was pondering the ridiculous nature of the arrangement while Gary continued to denounce the untold evils of caffeine.

 

             “Can give you a heart attack you know Seth. Can make you impotent I think. No, I’m sure can make you impotent. You see why me no take them drugs? That’s what I’ma say to you.”

 

             Gary put one of his strong hands firmly on my shoulder and squeezed it hard. I stopped walking and looked him in the eye.

 

             “What?” I asked.

 

             “You promise me some’ting Seth,” he said.

 

             “What?” I repeated.

 

             “Don’ you go and take it personally if those kids like me better. It’s only natural you know.”

 

             Gary let go of my shoulder. I picked up a rock and threw it at a tree somewhere deep off the path. It was dark under the trees where I threw the rock.

 

             “You’re right Gary,” I said. “They’re just kids.”

 

             “That’s what I’m saying Seth.”

 

             “Alright. I hear you.”

 

             Gary looked at me. I saw his face start to smile. He smiled and then he laughed. When Gary Daley laughed everyone knew about it. His voice was deep enough and strong enough to impress you in conversation. In laughter that voice of his was intimidating. You could be out in the middle of Green Lake in a canoe with your campers and you would still know if the Jamaican was laughing up on the A-field. From behind the high wall of pine and oak surrounding the lake the mellow thunder of that voice would come at you in your canoe alone with your campers in the middle of the lake and floating on the deep still water. Over and through you it would come from out of the trees on one side of the lake until it hit the high wall of the forest on the other side and echoed back at you. In this way Gary Daley surrounded you.

 

 

             Lights out was at ten for the Chippewa. Because my guys were young, I never had to worry like some of the counselors in the older guys’ cabins about campers running off in the middle of the night to meet the girls. The teens were genuinely interested in being with the girls in the woods by themselves in the middle of the night. The pre-teens likewise were interested in meeting up with the girls after lights-out. However, the pre-teens’ goals were as undeveloped as the objects of their curiosity.

 

Since I was employed as a camp counselor during my summer breaks during my college years, I often wondered how the political science professors I encountered during my studies as an undergrad in Urbana-Champaign, and later in graduate school in Hyde Park, would have described the escapades of the youths under our command at Camp Everwood. I imagined they would have said something like the following. The pre-teens were at heart no more than crude terrorists, although their tactical competence amazed everyone, particularly their counselors who routinely remained sound asleep in their bunks while their campers wrought havoc and mayhem on the girls’ side of camp. Shaving cream and toothpaste were the extremely effective, portable, and easily concealed weapons of choice. Able to cross what their counselors warned them was the “line of death” (that imaginary line drawn by the camp director which separated the boys’ side of camp from the girls’ side) with consistent success, they often returned from their night-time forays to find these very same counselors still snoring in their warm bunks. The pure savagery of their unprovoked and unrelenting hit and run campaigns revealed their primitive conception of guerrilla warfare. Unlike their older and more diplomatically minded role models, the pre-teens were unconditionally hawks, strictly of the preemptive, first strike, take no prisoners school.

 

My guys dreamed of joining the pre-teen horde, but the complete darkness of Everwood at night and the limitlessness of the eight and nine year-old imagination under conditions of complete darkness confined their nighttime activities to small group expeditions to the bathroom twenty yards down a path from our cabin. These limited adventures were usually quick, quiet, and successful, thanks to the cabin’s flashlight pool. Upon my suggestion, the entire cabin, Gary and I included, agreed to leave our flashlights near the cabin door. Then, when anyone had to use the can in the middle of the night, all he had to do was to wake up four or five of his buddies, arm them with two or three flashlights apiece, and his safety from giant red man-bears, one-eyed axe killers, and other camp legends was virtually guaranteed.

 

When I was a camper, I used to keep all the guys in my cabin up all night long with the telling of my stories and camp legends. When we were old enough to get to go on long hikes and sleep out in the open without tents and around a campfire, I always told the same story. Red Moley, the Legend of the Man-bear, was the story I knew the best. It was by far Camp Everwood’s greatest and oldest legend. Camp Everwood had gone through a lot of changes in the years since I was a camper there (a different racial mix of kids, and perhaps new rowboats) but the Legend of the Man-bear remained unalterable. No one really knows who first told the story of the Red Moley. I always believed that it must have been the camp’s founder, Mr. Ted. Each summer, when I told my terrified cabin mates the Legend of the Man-bear, I would picture Mr. Ted telling the very same story for the first time to a bunch of guys just like us. The picture in my mind was of the great Canadian lumberjack revealing the legend to his horror-stricken campers. Since I imagined it was 1903, the year the camp was founded, everything I saw so clearly in my mind was in black and white, just like the picture of Mr. Ted and his spiked shoes hanging in the lodge. I would think of Mr. Ted, safe and strong in his great shoes, and I saw in my mind him sitting before a campfire and telling the story for the first time in black and white, while I would repeat what I imagined were Mr. Ted’s exact words.

 

“On the other side of Green Lake,” Mr. Ted and I used to say, “There used to be old farmer Brown’s makeshift camp. The camp isn’t there anymore. In fact there’s nothing over there on the other side of Green Lake anymore, nothing except for woods and poison mushrooms. Now people often ask me, ‘How come there’s nothing over there on the other side of Green Lake but woods and poison mushrooms?’ Well, all I can tell people is that there’s a good reason for everything, and that sometimes it’s better to just see things as they are and not ask questions. I tell people that when you ask questions you have to prepare yourself for any type of answer, because the fact is, most people simply aren’t prepared for answers of any type. Of course, people usually aren’t satisfied and they ask me again, “What can be so terrible about those woods over there on the other side of this beautiful lake? Why, just look around. Can’t you see the sunlight streaming down out of the sky and through the cool pines like warm rain from heaven? Just look at those magnificent rays and how they shine like gold when they hit the water, and everyone so happy to be alive on such a wonderful day.’

 

Well, when people start talking like that I get this feeling down somewhere deep inside of me, the same feeling I feel coming on presently, and there’s nothing anyone can do to keep me from telling people what they’d rather not be told. Now, I’ve been to school like everyone else, and I’ve also been to the museum in the city. I know all about science. I’m not crazy and I always tell the truth when I know it. So don’t call me superstitious and a believer in ghosts after you hear me out, because everything you’ll hear from me is true. If you don’t believe me you can go over to the other side of the lake and see it for yourselves. Go ahead. I’ll even take you in my canoe and paddle you over to the other side of Green Lake myself. You can have my lantern, my sleeping bag, and my tent if you like. But you’ll have to pitch the tent on our own, because I ain’t never setting foot on that side of the lake as long as I live.

 

Upon hearing this, most people get as curious as you are right now and start asking questions that they needn’t ask, because I’ve already made up my mind to tell them everything I know. I’m an honest man, and what I know is what you’ll hear if you listen good. Listen closely because some day your very happiness, your very life itself, might depend upon what I’m about to tell you. Most people who have heard me out are still with us. The inattentive few, like some people I’ve met recently, simply can’t get themselves able to really listen – well, I don’t want to talk about them now because it gives me nightmares to think what their faces look like when we find them.

 

It all started with that farmer. All that’s left of him is a single gold tooth. Well, that’s only partly true. It lived here in these forests long before that old farmer Brown came to this part of the country to build a home for himself and his family deep in these woods, only no one knew about It until old farmer Brown made his mistake and came here where It considered these lands to belong to It and It alone. It of course was and is the Red Moley, the great man-bear of the northern woods. What’s a man-bear, you want to ask? Well, if you think you’re ready to hear, I’ll tell you. But you better swear on your life not to tell anyone I told you anything about anything, because I don’t want to be blamed when anyone turns into a life-long insomniac on account of my tale.

 

Neither man nor beast, Red Moley is both a man-beast and a beast-man at the same time. He hates like only a man can hate, but he’s strong like a bear. He’ll growl at you because he’s proud of his strength, and he’ll come after you because he’s ashamed of his ugliness. He thrives on the human heart, and if he senses yours he’ll find you and rip you to shreds with his razor sharp claws and tremendous fangs just to taste it…..”

 

When my guys were all in their bunks after lights out on the night of the day that Gary Daley beat me at soccer, every single one of my guys were still talking about the game. Gary told them to quiet down. He told them to be quiet because I was trying to think about my story. For the past week I had been telling my campers an ongoing tale about a French soldier who was sent on a mission to assassinate an Indian princess. I tried as hard as I could to make sure the story was not anything like the Legend of the Red Moley. I did not want it to sound so real to them. I made it up as I went along during each night of the week.

 

On Monday night the soldier received his orders from the French Continental High Command and left Fort French in Canada for the Indian camp many many many miles away. On Tuesday night he fought off a pack of hungry wolves in the Upper Peninsula. Wednesday night he rode a canoe across Lake Superior, braving fierce and stormy seas. Thursday night he disguised himself as an Indian, and wearing eagle feathers and a pair of moccasins, he snuck undetected into the Indian camp. Friday night, he managed to find the Princess walking alone among the pines, among pines just like the pines in the forest outside of our Chippewa cabin. Just as he was about to stab a fishing spear through the Princess’s back, she turned around. The French soldier caught a brief glimpse of the Princess’s sad dark eyes, and she so reminded him of himself that one instant before he was about to thrust the spear forward and into her heart, he fell in love with his enemy. His arms grew weak and the spear fell harmlessly onto the soft sandy ground all covered in layers of pine needles. On Saturday night an Indian brave, who just happened to be the Princess’s older brother and the favorite of her father the Chief, who also had been perched atop a tree directly above the place in the forest where the French soldier had stood as he was about to stab the Princess in the heart with the fishing spear, made a secret pact with the forest spirits to kill the Frenchman, a secret pact because the Chief was very old and would probably have died from a heart attack had he discovered that an intruder had almost murdered his daughter the Princess.

 

I made the story sound too real when I told my guys that the Indian camp had stood in the very same place where Camp Everwood stands today. So far the story was six nights long, and I had promised the night before that I would finish it up on that particular night, which was Sunday night. I was trying to think of a great ending. I had to be careful about what I told my guys. They were very young. They believed things older people would never admit to believing.

 

“Eh guys,” Gary shouted over their vivid accounts of the soccer game which they would not let go of, “Don’ you see Seth’s trying to think. Don’ you be dorkin’ around now. You all better be quiet now or you know he won’t be able to finish his story.”

 

“We’re sick of it. You tell us a story Gary,” said a tough little city kid.

 

“But Terrence,” Gary said, “Last night you wouldn’t go to sleep because you wanted to “ear the end of it. You know everyone wants to ‘ear the end of it. I can’t wait myself now.”

 

“It’s stupid,” said another tough little kid.

 

“It’s boring,” said another.

 

“It’s dumb,” said one more.

 

“We want you to tell us a story Gary,” said a whole gang of those little city kids from Detroit.

 

“Tell us a story about soccer,” they said.

 

“Tell us one about the brothers in Jamaica.”

 

“Tell us about how the brothers play soccer in Jamaica.”

 

Gary gave me a questioning look which was hard to see in the cabin with the lights out.

 

“O.K. guys,” I said. “I’ve got to go use the can. Gary, you tell a story tonight.”

 

I grabbed a flashlight from our cabin’s flashlight pool and quietly made my way out the cabin door. As I walked out I heard Gary trying to calm his guys down.

 

“Quiet down you guys. Now if you don’ stop your dorkin’ around I’ll not be tellen you a story. You want to ‘ear it, don’ ya?”

 

I stepped out of the cabin and out into the dark woods. The night air felt cool on my face. In the darkness I could hear the campers in my cabin telling one another to be quiet. I stood alone on the path and listened to them frantically whispering to one another to stop dorking around. I did not really have to go to the bathroom. I only said as much to the campers to get out of Gary’s hair for a while so he could spend some time alone with his kids.

 

What happened next Tina, I can describe but not explain. You’ve been very good to me to listen so closely for so long. If what follows seems strange, I can only apologize for myself and my imagination. Perhaps I caught a chill and passed out. Probably nothing of what I believe I remember ever actually occurred. I saw myself transformed even though I am sure I stayed the same. For a brief instant I looked within, and seeing the whole world, I grew melancholy and weak. There was nothing supernatural about any of it. I was alone, it was dark. The bad karma of being in a place of my childhood when I was no longer a child gave a false life to my random thoughts.

 

You see, the flashlight I had taken from the pool barely worked. I put the worthless flashlight in my pocket. Branches I could not see reached out at my face like arms with long threatening claws. I shielded my face and eyes with one hand and reached outward into the darkness with the other at the dangerous twigs. Wet moss brushed against my calves as I crawled over and through a mint and mold smelling maze of living sassafras intertwined within a thicket of rotting fallen maple branches blocking my way. I crawled and ducked and breathed in the thick forest air and I was an escaped POW fleeing a hostile village. I stood silent with my eyes closed and I was a Frenchman disguised as an Indian. A beautiful princess kneeled in pain before me on the path. A spear through her heart, she cried out to me in an Indian language I could not understand. Looking into her eyes I saw nothing but pure fear. In my moccasins, I started to run. Instantly the image vanished, disappearing back into the depths of my mind as quickly as it had escaped from it.

 

Directly up ahead was small hole of night which appeared less dark than all of the darkness surrounding me. There was the end of the path. I climbed through the hole and stepped out onto the A-field. I could feel my feet standing in the sandy clearing. I took off my shoes and walked barefoot through the cool sand. I thought about Gary and boys without shoes playing soccer in the dirt streets. I wanted to run barefoot through the sand and chase a soccer ball, wanted to kick it and float with it to the goalpost at the end of the field. The air was cool and the cabins very quiet far away. I closed my eyes and lay down on my back in the cool sand and I thought I heard Mr. Ted warning me not to wander too far away from camp.

 

“Old farmer Brown had sold almost everything he owned, his land, his livestock, even the shoes on his feet. He had to in order to gather up the money he needed to buy seeds and supplies, and to move his family. He came with his wife and his two plain daughters from back east. Things had gone terribly wrong back there. For years the harvest was minuscule on his tiny rocky plot of land. Then there were the dry spells. Three summers in a row he had to buy his seed from Hank Jones, the meanest and angriest, but also the richest farmer in that part of the country. Jones owned eight times the land Brown owned before the dry spells. After the third dry spell, Jones refused to sell Brown any more seed. He knew Brown was in dire straits and he wanted his land. Why did Jones take advantage of Brown’s misfortune? Because, Jones, well, he was just that mean and angry Jones was. After the third dry spell, Jones owned nine times the land Brown used to own.

 

After packing up everything he owned, Brown made the trip up here. His family suffered many hardships along the way – hunger, sickness, exhaustion, and sore feet. Happening upon Green Lake, old farmer Brown spent a few days fixing up a sort of makeshift camp and scouting out the area to make certain it was safe for settling on and for farming. Back then this area was still considered to be frontier land. There were Indians and bears and all sorts of dangerous creatures running wild everywhere. It was a real wilderness back in the olden days, not really that safe at all for anyone, especially for just a single lone poor farmer, his wife, and his two plain daughters. Well, anyhow, Brown, he decided he would try to clear some land. He figured he could plant some cherry trees and live off of God’s plenty, feeding his family wild berries, fish and game he would gather, catch, and shoot himself while he waited for his cherry trees to grow.

 

Oh, I almost forgot to tell you. Brown, when he was back east, he sold his axe in order to pay off the last of his debts to Hank Jones. It was either sell the axe or sell his gold tooth, and it would have been far more painful to him to get that gold tooth pulled in order to sell it than it was to sell the axe. So he sold it, the axe, for enough money to keep Hank Jones from threatening to follow him all the way to the frontier to collect the remaining debt payments. Now Brown needed a new axe in order to clear his land for the cherry trees and to build a log cabin for him and his family to live in. The nearest trading post was four days walk away. Brown didn’t want to leave his wife and his two plain daughters alone in the woods with no one to protect them from any sort of creature who might be waiting for a chance to do whatever it was he was created to do to helpless human beings. But Brown needed that axe, so he started making preparations for his trip to the trading post.

 

He spent five days preparing for the trip. Three days he hunted. Two days he help gather kindling and worried about leaving his family alone while his wife and his two plain daughters made quick jerky out of the game by slicing it thin with sharp rocks and burning it over hot coals. He also gathered some tall sticks and used a sharp stone to remove the bark. These sticks he intended to use to mark his trail so he would be able to find his way back from the trading post. Early morning on the sixth day, old farmer Brown kissed his wife, and his two plain daughters, good-bye. Then he took his wife’s finest dress (which was really no finer than an old rag) and his daughters’ shoes (which were better for making foot sores than for walking in) and he headed off for the trading post. 

 

Ten days after he had departed from it, Brown returned to a muddy camp. He was shocked and dismayed by what he found there. During Brown’s return trip back to Green Lake, it had rained three of the first four days, and while he was making his way alone through the forest, carrying his new axe and thinking about the family he had left behind, he was careless and got lost. Mainly it was the rain and his inability to concentrate as he worried about his family that delayed him for two days on the way back from the trading post. The trail markings he had carefully laid in place were washed away by rain water running downhill and into a creek, and the anxious old husband and father, failing to notice because he had too many things on his mind and no one to talk to about any of it all, well, he twice wandered off track.

 

When finally he returned to the makeshift camp, everything looked like a tribe of wild Indians had made war upon it. Pots and pans laid strewn about the ground in a circle, like they had been thrown at someone or something making a hectic and threatening war dance around the fire pit. The tent was flattened and soaked by rain. The meager supplies were all spilled out of their sacks and bundles, and now they were all waterlogged like the tent. The camp was deserted.

 

Brown walked around in the mud for a long time, trying to figure out what had happened. Where was his family? He despaired. He prayed to God. He wept. He squeezed his shoeless feet and the mud oozed through his toes. His eyes scanned the ground for anything out of the ordinary that might help him to piece together what had happened there in the camp while he was gone. What he saw when he looked carefully was horrendous.

 

There were dozens and dozens of small footprints around the fire. Many of them, he could tell, were his wife’s, because they had the shape of shoes. The others, by far the greatest majority he thought, were his daughters’ he could tell because they were made by bare feet. Brown was holding the axe, the new one he had traded his two daughters’ shoes for, he was holding it in his hand tightly. Looking closer at his daughters’ footprints, he could see how their toes had sunk deep into the mud. The strange and horrendous thing about those footprints – well, they looked confused. They were deep, and appeared to veer off in every possible direction, yet they hung close to the fire pit. It looked as if his wife and his daughters had prepared to run away from the fire a hundred times or more, but something had kept them from running away. Instead they performed some kind of frantic dance around the fire, jumping up and down, calling for help, screaming in terror. There were even deep footprints in the fire pit itself, as if his barefoot daughters had tried to take refuge in the fire from whatever it was that had found them unprotected in the woods near the shores of Green Lake.

 

Then there were those other footprints. They were big, twice as long and six times as wide as Brown’s left foot which he hesitatingly placed inside one of the large prints for comparisons sake. They came in fours, like bear tracks, only they were much bigger than any bear tracks he had ever seen before. Brown realized that while he was away, things had gone terribly wrong at Green Lake. Someone or something had killed and eaten his family. That’s one of the worst things that can happen to a man, to have someone or something dine on his family – bit into, torn to pieces, and then swallowed whole in large chunks…eaten alive by some monster.

 

Anyhow, that’s what happened. Believe me because I would not lie to you. Old farmer Brown managed to escape, at least for a while. He tried to swim clear across to the other side of Green Lake, axe in hand so full of fear he was. Some Indians in a canoe found him floundering near the shore. Since he had dropped the axe somewhere in the middle of the lake and was weak from the swim and the entire ordeal with his family, you know, them being eaten alive and all, he looked completely harmless to the Indians. So the Indians pulled him into the canoe and took him back to their village. There after resting some days and regaining his strength, farmer Brown told the Indians everything that had happened to him and his family.

 

He told them about mean, angry Hank Jones and the dry spells back east. He described his horror at discovering from the sight of those disordered footprints and those ghastly bear-looking tracks, how his family had been eaten alive by a monster. The Indians, they remembered everything he said. I mean, they memorized the words and all, but since they really only just barely understood English, they decided farmer Brown was crazy and possessed by evil spirits. So they forced him to eat poison mushrooms in order to kill him and add flavoring, and they cooked him over a giant bonfire and ate him. Those Indians ate every last bit of old farmer Brown, bones and all, except of course for that single gold tooth which their descendants have to this very day kept buried in a secret location in Camp Everwood, a location known only to them, and of course, to me.

 

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that none of this could be true. Because how could anyone eat anyone else who had just eaten poison mushrooms and still expect to live? Well, if you think about, that’s really no problem at all. You see, cooked poison mushrooms ain’t deadly like uncooked poison mushrooms is. Those Indians knew all about that. They were real smart about those kind of natural poison mushroom-like things those Indians were, even though they barely knew a word of English. That’s why they cooked old farmer Brown before they ate him. Because they were smart. Because they liked to barbecue over an open flame, to have picnics, to play games and tell jokes and stories about crazy people to their children, and then to eat round a fire, just like everyone else does.

 

Now, don’t you see the real cause of all of this? He’s a ghastly red beast of a man, that’s what he is, born to kill and eat every warm blooded thing he sees. He stands fifteen feet tall on his hind legs, and he’s covered from head to toe with long red hair. His claws are long and razor sharp, and his head looks more like a bear’s than man’s. He’s the Red Moley, and he can pick up your scent from a hundred miles away. If you listen sometimes at night when you’re down by the shore of Green Lake, you might be able to imagine you hear his victims’ muffled screams off in the woods on the other side of Green Lake. I tell you it’s all true, he’s neither fully man nor beast and he walks those woods alone. But you are safe here with us, so long as you don’t go to the other side of the lake you’re safe. That old farmer Brown, he tried to make his home where he wasn’t wanted. All they left of his remains was a single gold tooth. That side of Green Lake is the Red Moley’s. This side is ours. Ever since that old farmer tried to settle in the man-bear’s forest we’ve known the truth. If you’re smart you won’t end up like that old farmer. If you’re smart you’ll leave the Red Moley alone.”

 

“I opened my eyes Tina, and guess what I saw,” said Seth Hanks to Tina Brown.

 

“The Red Moley?” asked Tina as she stood up and walked away from Seth. She went to the now dying flames of the campfire. Tina kicked out the last flicker of flames that was once the campfire. She used her feet to separate the coals and cover them with dirt.

 

“No.” answered Seth. He remained seated on the ground, watching Tina until she finished putting out the fire with her feet. Then he looked up through the clearing of the campsite for stars, but he saw no stars in the dark night sky above. “I looked up towards the sky. I saw a million bright stars, stars you can only see at Camp Everwood on the A-field at night when there’s no moon and nothing between you and everything you see but countless miles of empty black space. It was so amazing Tina, because before there were no stars out at all, like now, like tonight. Gary was probably back at the cabin waiting for me to return. Probably he was trying to figure out where I was. He was a good guy Gary was, better with those city kids than I was. Maybe he was worried. There was no rush. There was a camp full of children sleeping and dreaming a thousand different dreams. There was a cool breeze blowing a thousand different grains of sand against my cheek. There was an endlessly brilliant sky sitting high above a football field of sand and me lying flat on my back in the center of it all feeling the awful presence of the Red Moley.”

 

Seth got up. He helped Tina smother the last of the coals in the fire pit. After they finished stomping around in the fire pit until everything was dead and black again, they were both of them very quiet for an uncomfortably long time. They just stood there, the two of them all by themselves, standing in the fire pit and breathing in that dusty burnt wood smell that always goes together with putting out a campfire. Seth hoped Tina had understood his purpose in telling her his tale.

 

“Is he with you right now Seth?” asked Tina finally breaking the long silence and barely visible in the darkness of the night with the light from the fire gone away. But Seth did not answer her. He crawled alone back into the tent, took off his shoes, climbed into his sleeping bag, where he hoped he would be able to disappear for at least a short while into a deep and mind-deadening sleep.