I tossed my duffle bag into the truck. I couldn’t contain the excitement but tried to blame it on the extra Dew I finished before my grandpa was finally ready to leave. Buckled into the passenger seat, I watched in the side mirror while Pop kissed his wife of thirty-eight years.
“Gross.” I smiled and couldn’t tear my eyes off the mirror. “Enough already. Let’s get the show on the road,” I hollered out the window.
Nana walked up to my side and kissed me on the cheek. “Take good care of him,” she whispered. “Old men and young boys… ” She shook her head, slapped the hood of the truck and waved us off.
“Who was that woman and what did she do with my Nana?”
Pop ruffled my hair. “That’s the woman I married, right there.”
All my life Grandpa fed me stories of his encounter in the woods. Dad would shake his head and later tell me Pop was making it all up. But the stories never changed. Consistency begged me to be a believer.
For my tenth birthday, Pop invited me on a week long camping trip. Dad called it the “Pop-n-Punk” trip. Everyone knew the purpose of this Pop-N-Punk adventure, but no one spoke of it.
“Coffee…check.” Pop held up his thermos and pointed to his old fashioned percolator on the campfire.
“Dew…check.” I grabbed a cold, dripping wet can and kicked the lid of my loaded cooler shut.
Our tent was erected, wood piled, camp chairs positioned, but the real setup was yet to be done. Pop grabbed a bag of gear and nodded towards the woods. I grinned and reached for my duffle. We hiked up to the ridge line he always talked about. Below, we could make out the bright orange of our tent through the brush.
Pop busied himself with one of the night vision trail cams he got for Christmas to ‘add to his hunting gear’. He’s not a hunter. I remembered Dad snickered, but Nana winked at me.
I climbed up on Pop’s shoulders and placed the trail cam at least 10 feet up the tree of choice. We worked in silence. After all, this was a serious reconnaissance mission.
We hiked to another special spot. Pop pointed out some markings on a tree. “Tree knocks,” he searched the ground for other evidence. “Those marks are made by whacking a stick on the trunk. Let’s put the trail cam here.”
I know ten-year-old boys don’t hold hands with their grandfathers much, but I didn’t care. On the way back to camp, I slipped my smooth hand into Pop’s liver-spotted wrinkled one. He squeezed it three times. I responded with four of my own, mentally counting off each one. I. Love. You. Too.
We spent the evening roasting hot dogs, smooshing nearly burnt marshmallows between graham crackers and chocolate. I sipped on my Dew and Pops enjoyed his cowboy coffee. At dusk, the wood critters began to rustle. Pop cupped his hands and made a perfect owl sound, to which one responded.
“Game on, Buddy.” Pop handed me night-vision goggles. “Nocturnal animals are on the move.”
My skin crawled with goosebumps. “Should I wood knock?”
I walked over to the tree on the far side of our campsite and picked up a stick. Thud, thud, thud. My hands ached from the vibration. Immediately we heard two thuds up towards the ridge line.
“He wants to play, Pop.” I whispered and motioned for him to make a call.
Off in the opposite direction of the ridge line we heard a shrieking howl like I’ve never heard. Pop motioned me to hit the tree again. Thud-thud.
After a minute of silence, Pop picked up two rocks and clacked them together twice.
“Did you hear that?” Pops pointed up to the ridge-line. “Douse the fire. Time to crawl into the tent.”
We zipped up the tent and lay flat on our backs, determined to not fall asleep. We heard another screech-howl and a faint wood thump sound. Pop clacked his rocks. For the next half-hour we listened to the bizarre forms of communication through the deep forested mountains.
“Do you think we’ll hear them tomorrow?”
Pop rolled to face me. “Hear…or see?”
“I can’t wait to be a grandpa.”
Pop snickered. “So you can have achy knees and silver hair?”
“Nope. So I can tell stories to my grandkids about the time we played with Sasquatch."
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