Estimated reading time — 12 minutes
This is based off a true story experienced by my mother.
When my mother was younger, a teenager specifically, she was quite mischievous. She was a rebel, a non-conformist. She smoked, drank, and went out all hours of the night with her misfit friends. She often teases me saying she and I would have never been friends had I been alive when she was young. She was the flirty badass, and I am a studious nerd who would rather stay home reading a book than go to a party. I often muse on the path my mother was on and how she miraculously strayed and changed her life completely. She went to college, graduated with a degree in child psychology, married her soul mate, and had me, my brother, and my sister. We lived in the same town my mother grew up in. It was a special town, nothing exciting really happened, but beautiful nonetheless located in sunny Southern California. However, there are some wooded regions scattered near the mountains that my mother had always warned my siblings and me never to go near. I had always wondered why, until the night my mother told me what had happened there when she was sixteen, when she and her friends sought out a place to create an impromptu outdoors kickback.
As I mentioned before, my mother was quite the delinquent when she was a teenager. Life in the 70’s, with lax parental and legal control, made it easy for her friends and her to sneak out most nights to go smoke weed or drink. One night in particular, she collaborated with her friends to meet her at midnight at the local park, their usual hangout place, to rendezvous. Everything seemed to be going well. Her friends all confirmed, and my mom snuck out of her one story home with ease. Having no cell phone, the only items she brought with her were a pack of cigarettes and a flashlight. Her friends, Tony and Matt, planned to bring the rest of the drug paraphernalia. She wore high-waisted jeans, a plaid long sleeve shirt, and a light windbreaker. As she began her five minute walk to the park down the street, she paid special attention to the path her Converse were making as she jumped and skipped over the fallen leaves on the sidewalk. It was a breezy October night, and the wind was blowing slightly. She felt no need to turn on her flashlight just yet. Although it was dark, the streetlights were dimly shinning, and the moon was full and bright. The clear and comfortable night, the excitement of meeting with friends, and the worries my mother lacked, made her unusually confident that night. She had an approaching desire to do something dangerous. She wanted to have a different kind of fun that night.
“Hey guys,” my mother called to her friends who were almost all there, “Where’s Barb and Shelley?” “On their way,” Tony said as he began to light up. My mother watched him light his piece, then impulsively took it out of his mouth. “Not yet,” my mother smiled mischievously. “What the hell dude!?” Tony yelled as he snatched his piece back from my mother. Matt was watching her intently, picking up on the subtle undertone of her statement. “What’s up Chris?” Matt said, ignoring Tony walking to the corner of the park to smoke in peace. “I thought we could do something different tonight, ya know, go somewhere we’ve never been. It’s the perfect night to try something new” she replied then shrugged. Matt just stared at her in silence, then whirled around when he heard a something snap behind him. “Hey guys!” Barb smiled brightly with Shelley behind her. “Ready to fuck shit up tonight?” she laughed and Shelley rolled her eyes. “All right, the gang’s all here. Tony come over here! Chris has something she wants to share with us,” Matt stepped aside to let my mother have the center of the basketball court they were all standing in to give her proposition. Tony returned to the group and they all stood in a semi-circle around my mother. She looked around, making sure no one else could listen to what she had to say. A certain wave of paranoia suddenly washed over her, and she took one more look at the bushes and trees that surrounded the perimeter of the park. Nothing was there, so she began.
“Okay,” she said quietly, causing the group to lean in to hear better, “I think we should go to…the Campground.” Silence followed the last word of her sentence. For anyone else, what she said would’ve been completely bathetic. What’s so special about a campground? But, if you lived in my mother’s town during the 70’s and you weren’t a total homebody, you would definitely know exactly what the Campground was. Matt was the first one to speak. “I…I dunno you guys. I just thought we were gonna light up and drink a little. I’m not in the mood to get arrested or nothin’.” “We won’t get arrested!” my mother replied, almost pleadingly. “Come on, we can get a little tipsy and faded first, then go. It’s not like we have to stay long neither. It’ll be quick. Don’t you guys wanna see what’s up there?” Her friends looked at each other and smiled, bringing relief to my mother. “All right,” Tony said, and the rest agreed, “We’ll go… later.”
The gang took their time lighting up and drinking before beginning their voyage to the Campground. Admittedly, the drugs did ease any tension or worry they initially felt when my mother suggested what they do that night. It was apparent that they had at all first felt uneasy just at the name of the Campground. It used to be a Girl Scouts camp. It was only a little way into the woods which stretched far beyond the park, but it was completely dark with all the lights either burnt out or smashed in. A few teenagers went there on occasion to find a private place to have sex or do drugs, but for the most part, it was completely abandoned. The only thing the Campground still had was a very long log cabin, around 30 feet in length, the remains of a campfire that would sometimes be relit into a bonfire by the local teens, and a 6 foot teepee that was halfway burnt down. The teepee was fake of course, part of a past segment to teach the Girl Scouts about the Native Americans, but a sudden wildfire had burn part of it down. The cause of the fire was unknown, and although the damage it did to the log cabin was repaired, the Campground closed down soon after. Sometimes the police patrolled up there in hopes to catch kids doing illegal activities, but that was rare. Whenever someone went up there, there was always this feeling of being watched. The air seemed more toxic. The teepee and log cabin seemed more menacing. There also was this one instance, back in a two month period in ’68 where two teens traveled up there and never came back. Since they were known troublemakers, they were labeled as runaways and never spoke of again. My grandpa was a part of the major police force at the time and knew more stories of missing children than the public was allowed to know or report on. He would sometimes let these stories slip to my mother, who willingly told them to her friends. As far as anyone was concerned, the Campground was trouble. Whether it was tales of supernatural occurrences, rapists and murderers hiding in the surrounding trees waiting for unruly teens to show up, or spontaneous fires that would combust in order to draw out intruders, teens had no problem spreading these stories around. But, it only took the courageous, or high, to actually travel up there at night. If it weren’t for the calming effects the drugs were having on my mother and her friends, they would’ve turned back and never gone up.
As they made their way into the woods, a dark shadow was cast over the moon. This called for my mother, Shelley, and Barbara to turn on their flashlights. Tony held a small lantern and walked in front of the group leading the way. The path, not well traveled, was hard to follow in the darkness. Leaves and branches cluttered the way, and it took longer than expected to reach the Campground. Every now and then my mother would stop and look in the woods after hearing an eerie noise or a twig snap. She mostly blew it off as some forest animal scampering in the woods, but she could never quite convince herself that was the case. She hoped more than anything that the natural light of the moon would return. The woods were getting harder and harder to see through. The path to the Campground began to be more and more unfamiliar to the group and Tony stopped to recoup. “Are we going the right way, guys?” Tony asked apparently frightened. The whole group had pretty much sobered up at this point and fear was beginning to take control over their minds and bodies. “I think so,” my mother said calmly. She took Tony’s place at the head of the group and kept walking. She was scared, terrified even, but there was an overwhelming compulsion that radiated through her bones to keep going. This wasn’t so bad, she thought to herself. She clutched her windbreaker tighter around her body. She looked around the trees for what must’ve been the millionth time. Each time she saw nothing, just a darker abyss of blackness. She shivered, although the wind had stopped blowing. She looked around at the faces of her friends, each more terrified than the next. She was about to suggest to go back when all of a sudden Shelley’s shriek awakened her from her thoughts. “Oh…my…god.”
My mother whipped around to see what Shelley was staring with her mouth wide open. Up ahead to there was a faint orange light glowing at the end of the path about 20 yards from where they were. Shelley began to hyperventilate and my mother quickly covered Shelley’s mouth to prevent whatever was up there from hearing her. “Be quiet,” my mother harshly commanded. “Let’s go back…Please Chris,” Matt pleaded as he tried to take his eyes off the orange glow. “What the fuck is that?” Tony wondered aloud. Like the rest of the group, the orange light to him seemed to be hauntingly hypnotic. “You guys shut up please!” my mother whispered frantically. “It’s probably nothing, maybe just a small forest fire that broke out. Maybe a wire fell down and ignited a branch or something…or maybe…” my mother’s voice tapered of as she realized none of her friends were listening to her. Tony, Matt, and Shelley were still staring at the orange light. Wait, my mother thought, Tony, Matt, Shelley…where’s Barb!? “Oh my god you guys, where’s Barb!?” my mother hysterically whispered. The rest of the gang snapped out of there hypnosis and devolved into total panic. “She, she was just here!” Shelley whispered as tears gathered in her eyes. “Barb! Barbara!” the teens went off slightly in different directions in hopes to catch a glimpse of the missing girl. “Barbara, please come out!” my mother pleaded. “This isn’t funny!” Panicked thoughts raced through my mother’s head. Shit, shit shit. Where could’ve she have gone? She was right he- umph! My mother had tripped on a fallen tree branch and to catch her balance, stumbled backward into the trunk of a rather large tree. Her back had slammed so hard into the bark that the wind was temporarily knocked out of her small frame. In order to prevent herself from falling to the floor, she grabbed on above her to clutch some bark. Instead, she felt something wet and gooey. She quickly retreated her hand and a flash of Shelley’s flashlight exposed what was on her hand. She gasped as she saw the substance- red, sticky, and oozing between her fingers and dripping down her wrist. She grabbed her own flashlight which she had dropped on the floor and quickly turned to shine some light on the bark where she had grabbed on. “Holy fuck!” Tony gasped as he saw the insignia on the tree. My mother’s heart jumped, not realizing Tony was behind her, but was even more terrified at what she was looking at. A burnt, upside down cross was marked into the tree. And blood, fresh blood, was spread as a glaze atop the burnt markings. My mother quickly rubbed the blood off on her pants and stumbled backwards away from the tree. “Guys, we can’t find her anywhere,” Matt panted as him and Shelley, who had clearly been sobbing, returned to the group. “I think we should-…”
All of a sudden, the shrillest scream my mother had ever heard pierced her ears. All four friends stood in terror as they realized it was Barbara’s voice. It was nothing that they had ever heard, and the source of her painful howls was coming from the direction of the orange light. My mother was paralyzed in fear as Barb’s screams penetrated every bone and vessel in her body. It sounded as if Barbara’s limbs were being ripped off, or she was being boiled alive. It shook her to her core as the screaming never ceased, but seemed to be getting louder. My mother began to shake and sob hysterically, not knowing what to do or where to run. The screaming was getting louder and more high-pitched. It was also getting shakier, as if Barbara was running. The friends looked at each other in total hopelessness. Where was she? Why was she screaming? Where could they go? My mother felt defeated. Whatever was torturing Barbara was definitely coming for them next. All of a sudden, my mother’s attention was drawn back to the orange light. It was getting brighter, bigger. My mother kept staring in the distance, the light getting painfully bright, the screams getting painfully louder. Then, the orange light did something unusual. As it was getting bigger, it seemed to be breaking up into several smaller lights. The mass of light was being separated by some unknown force. My mother was transfixed at this phenomenon until she heard the footsteps coming toward her. Louder, faster. My mother and her friends grasped each other tightly and closed their eyes. They couldn’t run. The screams were almost unbearable. Whatever it was, it was coming toward them. The screaming was getting louder and louder and the footsteps nearer and nearer until my mother gathered the courage to lift her head at the last possible second. What she saw was terrifying. Barbara was running full speed towards the group, screaming her head off, with a large knife wound running from the bottom of her eye to right above her jugular. Her face was bleeding and a mess. Her hair was unruly and her clothes were somewhat ripped. My mother was relieved to see her, but Barbara ran right past the group. My mother was confused until she heard more footsteps. Twenty, thirty, forty of them, all coming towards the group. Whatever was chasing Barbara was going for them next! My mother detached herself from the group and screamed, “RUN!”
In times of survival like these, it was every man for themselves. My mother ran as fast as she could, dodging branches and jumping over rocks and other obstacles. She could feel her friends running behind her but she never ceased. She tried to keep her eye on Barbara who was quite ahead of the group. Once or twice my mother looked back, and every time she did, she wanted to throw up in fear. Fifty or so men, wearing black cloaks with ghoulish silver beams of lights radiating from their eyes sockets, were running after her and her friends carrying torches of gleaming orange fire. My mother had never seen eyes that color, or cloaks that frightening. These men ran faster and faster, blood dripping out of their mouths, and grunting and howling towards the children. My mother’s chest felt as if it was going to explode and fire seemed to erupt inside of her lungs. No matter what, my mother promised herself to not stop running. Not until she was safe. She could see the edge of the woods approaching, and relief immediately washed over her as she saw the familiar flashing blue, white, and red lights of police cars gathered in the park. My mother sprinted full force out of the woods and into the arms of the nearest police officer, sobbing and very much disheveled. She couldn’t breathe, and couldn’t stop hysterically crying. After a few moments of sobbing into the arms of this unknown police officer she looked up and saw Barb being taken away in a police car with bandages on her face. Tony, Matt, and Shelley were crying and talking with police officers about their experience. The men with the black cloaks and silver eyes were nowhere to be seen. The orange glow had disappeared. For the first time in what felt like hours, my mom was able to relax. Unfortunately, Barbara was not to fair as well.
As my mother, Tony, Matt, and Shelley returned to their normal lives after this incident, Barbara spent most of her adolescent and adult life in a mental institution. She was so traumatized she could barely speak of what happened. When she did, all the pieces seemed to connect. A traveling cult has been residing in the cabin at the Campground for a few days or so. They were the type of cult that was notorious for their upside down cross insignia, but were never caught or detained because of their nomadic tendencies. When the group was walking to the Campground, one of the cult members, walking over to a tree to mark their infamous symbol, saw the group of teens, and decided to pick one out to be the perfect human sacrifice. Barbara was this unfortunate pick. While the rest of the teens were caught up in their own paranoia and scared thoughts, he snatched Barb and covered her mouth to keep her from screaming. He slashed her face and finalized the mark he made on the tree by smearing it with her blood. He almost thought one of the teens had seen him, for she (my mother) had looked directly into the woods, but did not see him. He took Barb back to the campsite. Barb still has not revealed exactly what they did to her, or how she escaped. When she did escape, along with the rest of the group, the police were conveniently at the park due to a call by one of the neighbors for the overwhelming odor of weed seeping through their windows. When the police investigated the Campground, the only thing remaining was the remnants of a campfire, dead animals surrounding the fire, and thirty or so burnt out torches scattered along the grounds. It is unknown how the cult members seem to disappear so fast, but one thing is for certain, my mother never returned back to the Campground.
After my mother told me her experience, I promised her I would never do what she had.
Now excuse me, I must go for I’m about to meet some friends at the local park. It seems like the perfect night to try something new. To have a more… dangerous… type of fun. I have my cell phone, a flashlight, and some weed as promised. As I walk out the door, I almost forget the most important item of the night. I quickly grab my black cloak and sneak silently out the door.