Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Camping (07/11/05)
TITLE: Anonymous Fear
By Kyle Chezum
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Empty. Everyone else had left.
He stepped into the clearing marked by a leaning signpost that showed the number 1348. Jenni had the radio on in the truck and was standing nearby with the door open, seemingly listening for something, though Shane could hear only static. The cab light cast a pallid yellow glow out across the picnic table and the rusted firepit where the charred remnants of last night’s burning lay in the silent ash. He strode past the wreckage and slumped down at the table. Waiting.
Jenni reached into the truck and shut off the receiver, then turned to face him. “What did you find out?”
Shane didn’t answer; he nodded toward the cab. “Nothing on the radio?”
Jenni shook her head. “Not anymore. I got the news station for a few minutes while you were gone.” She looked away, then back again, the fading sky and black limbs above glinting in her eyes. “They said it’s headed this way.”
Shane nodded absently, and ran his hand along the splintered edge of the table. The wood was gouged with numerous initials and names and philosophies of people who had been there before. In the light from the truck, the rough scratches stood out like gaping wounds. NATE + SARA. ANSON IS A PYRO. PAUL WAS HERE. It was everything left over from all the lives that had wandered in and out of that campsite.
Somewhere a cricket stopped chirping.
Several frayed paper bags stood in the weeds nearby, bulging with boxes of food and supplies. Shane dug through one and found a flashlight. And a knife. He grabbed it on an afterthought, then set them both on the table. “How long do we have?”
“No clue.” Jenni shrugged. “What did they say at the rangers’ station?”
Shane sighed. “Nothing. There was no one there.”
Jenni folded her arms across her chest and leaned against the hood. “What do you think, then? Do we stay here and try to wait it out?”
“Yeah. Actually, it’s probably reached the town by now.” He was reading the carvings on the table. H. & J. LOVE. BURN THE TREES. JARED’S PLACE. Who had written all these, and when? What had been going through the minds of the writers? Had they known that their markings would last countless years in the surface of that picnic table?
Static drifted out onto the night air as Jenni flipped through the radio stations again. “We’re better off out here, anyway. Not so much chance of it finding us.”
“That, or we’ll make an easy target. It won’t matter, in the end.” He looked up and glanced over his shoulder into the dusk. Nothing but dry darkness, broken here and there as an insect darted between the shadows. He could make out the other numbered signposts standing like dead things in the gloom, each marking a vacant site along the darkening road. The huge campground stretched into empty stillness all around them.
Jenni sat on the bench across from him and picked up the flashlight. She turned it on, shined it upward toward the leering branches. A hot, ruckus wind was rising, moving between the trees. Shadows leapt and flapped in the gusts like clothes on a line. “You really think we’ll be safe here?”
Shane shook his head. Not a chance. He wondered why he had chosen to stay. “Jenni. You understand we could die out here tonight.”
She hesitated, looked at him, her eyes reflecting the last of the dying twilight. Then she nodded. “I know.”
Shane dropped his gaze. PAUL WAS HERE. JARED’S PLACE.
The table. So many people had come through that campsite, each with their own hidden battles and forgotten loves and anonymous fears. The table held a piece of each one, keeping it alive. It was everything left over. Lives engraved in the wood.
Jenni held the flashlight steady into the darkness, alert, watching. The crickets had grown disturbingly quiet, as though they had fled in terror of what was coming.
Shane took the knife and began to carve in the wood. Waiting.
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