Stacy brushed her hand over her bare calf to swat away whatever tickled her skin. They swished through knee-high grasses encroaching on the skinny dirt trail leading to the “perfect camping spot.” Those were her boyfriend’s words- not hers.
At that moment, Kenny turned and smiled. “Keeping up okay?”
She glared, even though he couldn’t get the full effect through her dark sunglasses. “Are we almost there?”
“Another half mile, I think.” He turned and continued on the path.
Stacy shifted the pack and winced when she moved the strap that had been digging into her hip for the last two hours. Her friends thought she was nuts for agreeing to go on this trip, but she had a feeling he planned to propose. After dating for three years, she didn’t want to miss it. Still, she couldn’t figure out what gave him the impression she would enjoy this.
Nearly an hour later they stopped and peered down an embankment.
“I’ll help you down,” he said, offering his left hand.
She shook her head. “It’s too steep. Can’t we just set up the tent here?”
“On the trail?” He laughed. “You can do this.”
“I don’t think my shoes are grippy en-“
He tugged her down the slope before she could finish her protest.
A few feet from flat ground, she lost her footing. Kenny’s body broke her fall. “Sorry,” she muttered before rolling to the side. The momentum flipped her onto her back.
He gasped a few breaths. “There. We made it.” He pointed to the left, toward a thicket of scrub oak trees. “We can camp there.”
Stacy felt like a turtle overturned on its shell since her abdominal muscles couldn’t right her while strapped to a thirty-pound pack. Grateful, she accepted his extended hand and ignored the barely-stifled snicker.
After they pitched the tent, he cooked pork and beans over a campfire. As he cleaned the dishes, she paused to listen to the creek. She watched the water rush over rocks, creating mini whitecaps. She had to admit; it was pretty here. She turned toward a scraping noise behind her and saw Kenny hoisting their packs into a tree with a rope he’d thrown over a sturdy branch. “What are you doing?”
He paused. “Stowing our packs.”
“Why not put them in the tent?”
“Bears.” He grunted as he threw his weight into a pull.
“Bears?” Panic edged into her voice.
“Sure. We have food in the packs and we don’t want the bears to follow the scent right to where we sleep.” He secured the rope by wrapping it around the tree several times before knotting it.
“No. Uh-uh. I want to go home. You didn’t tell me we could be eaten.”
“Settle down, Stace. They hardly come around… it’s more of a precaution.”
“Then as a precaution, take me home.”
“We’d never make it out before dark. Besides, I came prepared.”
Stacy watched as he unfolded a tripod and anchored his camera to it. “So you’re going to make a video of the bear mauling us?” Her jaw hung slack after the words tumbled out.
He laughed. “Of course not.” He gestured to the tripod. “This is to capture the chupacabra.” He pulled a Ruger LCP from the side pocket of his cargo pants. “This is to protect us from bears.”
“Chupacabra? You brought me here to hunt chupacabra.” She ran her fingers through her hair, flicking out twigs and leaves as she went. “You mean that wasn’t just a phase?”
“No way! I’ve wanted to see for myself ever since I heard of the first sighting around here when I was nine.”
“Lord, I’m an idiot.” She muttered to herself as she turned back to the creek, uneasiness creeping over her.
“I thought we could make this a romantic weekend.” He sat on the flat rock behind her and rested his chin on her shoulder. “It’ll be fun.”
She snorted. “Sure, being bait for things that want to eat us is fun.” She smacked her thigh, killing a large mosquito.
“Let’s go in the tent. The insects are worst just after sunset.”
Although angry, Stacy agreed and went with him. Inside, she slipped into her lightweight sleeping bag and turned her back to him. Without looking, she knew he was changing out of his hiking clothes into pajamas. She thought about following suit, but the idea of exposing her skin out here prompted her to stay fully clothed. She stared at the shadows of tree branches illuminated by the full moon as they shifted over the nylon tent until her eyelids grew heavy and she drifted off to sleep.
A twig snapped outside jolting her from a light sleep. She rolled over to find Kenny’s sleeping bag empty. “Not funny, Kenny,” she called out.
When he didn’t respond, her heart pounded a little faster. Her eyes focused on the shadows that played on the tent’s roof. The shadows moved differently than they had when she fell asleep. She flicked the flashlight on just long enough to check the time. 2:54. Maybe he had to go to the bathroom, she thought.
The shadow grew thicker, blotting out more of the moonlight. The form loomed over the tent. Stacy felt around the floor and found Kenny’s pants. She patted them until she found the bulky pocket and curled her fingers around the gun’s grip.
“Kenny, I have your gun. Say something.” To her own ears, her voice sounded small. It betrayed her terror and revealed her weakness. Her sweaty finger rested on the trigger.
Senses amplified, her focus rotated from rustling of dried grass, to the subtle shift of shadows, to her quick, shallow breaths, to the pounding of her own heart. When the figure loomed over the tent, completely obscuring the moon’s light, she closed her eyes and pulled the trigger.
The bullet ripped through the nylon and her eyes widened when the shadow poured in through the jagged hole. Thousands of long-legged spiders squeezed through the opening. They dropped from the roof on thin threads and stretched across the walls in a pulsing mass.
She knocked spiders away from the door’s zipper and she tugged it until the opening became big enough for her to squeeze through. Her body halfway out, she looked up and saw Kenny encased in layers of gauzy web. She brushed spiders from her face, but threads had already been spun, clinging to her eyelashes and tiny hairs on her skin.
She reached into her right pocket and pulled out a lighter. After several presses with her thumb, the flame lit. She eased it over to the tent fabric. It took several seconds for the nylon to ignite. Rather than bursting into flames, it melted and twisted. Stacy smiled when the burned circle widened and spiders shriveled and dropped to the ground.
Of all the dangers she feared, spiders never came to mind.
Inspiration: During a hike last year, my older son told me that daddy long leg spiders hid in the tall grasses and at sunset they came out where they would be all over the ground. That mental image was enough to give me the creeps (obviously, this fear has stayed nestled in the back of my mind for nearly a year!) Chupacabra hunting was also compliments of my older son, who is fascinated with urban myths. (Or is it a myth? Bwahahahaha!)
The location inspiration is Oak Creek in Arizona. I’ve hiked along several portions of it, and while it is gorgeous, you should never, ever camp next to a creek. Flash floods are common and unpredictable. If you are adventurous and feel lucky, then by all means- tempt fate 🙂