Work Header

Crystal Lake is Not and Should Not be a Teenage Getaway

Work Text:

I can at least say that things are going objectively better for me than I thought they would. I didn’t fall asleep on any of the roads, I didn’t get hate crimed my whole way here, and a stray lightning bolt hasn’t come down to split me in half down the middle.

Can lighting actually do that? I know it can strip the bark off a tree but there’re plenty of people who’ve survived lightning with sweet scars to show for it. Could I survive it? I don’t think my body’s as sturdy as a tree. The scars may not compliment my resting bitch face in a way that makes me seem approachable so that’s not a train of thought worth humoring.

Anyway, things have been pretty decent so far, if a little boring. I was never really the outdoorsy type growing up but I do really love being alone and the plants and stars are cool. But there’s being alone and there’s being a loner, which I believe is way worse.

I love my family, but it’s just so nice to be home alone and wander around saying weird shit or screaming or doing a little dance. I like it when I don’t actually feel like I’m being anything at all. I can’t really be anything if nobody knows what I’m doing, right? I fucking love that.

But If I’m alone in public there’s no easy way to enjoy it. All I can think about is how everyone else around me has a girlfriend or boyfriend or friend group to share inside jokes with and how out of place and creepy I must seem. What the hell kind of college aged kid just goes where real people are to wander around, look mean, and leave?

I either come off as sketchy or like a sad weirdo and I don’t know which title I prefer. No matter what new conversation techniques I try, no matter how much I reach out or stay in, no matter how hard I try to act and feel like a person, it doesn’t usually take.

I’m not saying it sucks to be alive or that it always sucks to be around other people. It does kind of suck to have to exist all the time though, if that makes sense.

So I drove into the woods to be alone with the dirt and bugs and raccoons where I didn’t have to exist in a way that mattered, just for a couple of days. But then, not long after I set up my tent, I hear party music blaring from the direction of the main road. At first I think it’s just my imagination but then I recognize the song and realize that I don’t know the lyrics.

I look over to the edge of the clearing and, after a minute, I see the outline of a truck pull up and park right next to where my Beatle is. And all my hopes for the weekend are dashed to shit.

“Ohhh, fuck.” I say, while I can still talk like this.

The music shuts off with the car’s engine and I hear the unmistakable sound of at least three frat boys whooping while a couple of girls cheer in answer. I can’t make out what they’re saying until they come bounding into the clearing with an energy that makes me exhausted and scared shitless all at once.

“Oh! Shit.” One of the guys says when he spots me and slows down. He’s wearing board shorts and sunscreen. His gang follows suite and, well. There’s a group of strangers my age who I wasn’t expecting to meet and they all turn their attention to me at the same time. It might make me cry if crying was something I could do in front of others.

“Howdy.” I say, waving a little. I hope they can’t hear how terrified I am through the monotone of my voice.

“Jesus, you scared me.” The guy said. I do have a tendency to accidentally sneak up on people and spook them by virtue of being quiet. But it’s me, my supplies, and my tent taking up a decent space so I’m not sure how he could’ve missed me.

“Oh, sorry.” I say anyway.

“You’re fine.” Says the pretty redhead girl who comes forward and leans into him. “We just didn’t think anyone else would be here. They told us this place was completely abandoned.” She seems nice but that sentence throws me a little.

“The… woods?” I ask, wincing a little at the end. A couple of them laugh but the girl who said it doesn’t seem like she’s doing it in a mean way.

“No, the camp.” She says. I blink.

“I didn’t know this was a camp. I just thought I got lucky and found an unclaimed bit of forest to lay low for a few days.” I joke. Board shorts raises a brow at me.

“What do you need to lay low for?” He has this weird little smile like he knows the worst thing I’ve ever done was steal a family sized bag of cheetos.

“Actually, I’m not sure if I need to at all. They’re probably gonna think it was my brother, since he’s the one who’s already got a record. I used his stuff to do it, anyway.” I turn back to my supplies and unpack some more to make it seem like I’m describing some mundane topic. “They won’t know I was in town. They still think I’m in school.”

Silence falls over the group and I can hear them shifting a little while I keep setting up. It’s probably mean or petty or something but it does feel a little nice, sometimes, to make other people squirm for a change.

I look back over my shoulder and from the way I’m wearing my hat and my hair, I don’t think they can see my eyes. I don’t want to draw this out, though.

“I’m just fucking with you.” I say. It takes a moment or two for the words to set in and a few of them laugh and the group drops their guard a little. Not completely. They’re probably not all sure I was joking.

Ah, well. That’s not a bad thing. It might mean they’ll keep their distance.

“No, but, yeah I just kinda drove until I found the lake my friend told me about.” I don’t know if I could call her my friend. She’d probably think that was weird. I haven’t really made friends since the move. “Where’s the cabins, then? Or did they just clear them all away?”

“They should be somewhere over there.” The redhead girl points over to a little dock on the lake a decent walk from where we are. “If they didn’t tear them down, they’ve probably just rotted to pieces.” She doesn’t seem fazed at all by my shitty joke. Or maybe she’s just trying to be polite. It’s nice, anyway.

“Why would they close it? It’s so pretty here.” She smiles and opens her mouth as if to agree, but one of the other guys, this one with a tank top, butts in.

“Some little deformed kid drowned in, like, the sixty’s, I think.” He answers, but he’s looking at the redhead girl and not me. Another girl, this one in the middle of posing for a selfie in front of a well-lit tree, scrunches her nose.

“Wasn’t it the fifty’s?” she asks. Board shorts sidles up to the redhead, who’s probably his girlfriend if she’s not just tolerating his proximity, and scoffs.

“Whenever it was, people around here say that that kid never really stayed down there. Supposedly, he went back up and hunted down all the kids at camp that let him drown.” He grins at the redhead and she bats at him playfully.

“It wasn’t even the other kids,” says selfie girl, “it was the camp counselors.”

“Whatever.” Board shorts rolls his eyes. “Pretty stupid not to renovate and reopen, though. They’d get decent business.”

“Maybe as a tourist site for Halloween,” I muse, “but that would be pretty disrespectful to the kid, wouldn’t it?”

“Stuff like that doesn’t usually stop people.” Tank top shrugs. “Maybe that kid really did stick around.” He laughs when the last girl, this one wearing wide round glasses, smacks his arm.

“Why are we talking about creepy shit when we came here to unwind?” She complained.

“So I guess you’re not coming with us to check out the camp tonight?” He teases.

“I’m staying with Melody.” Glasses glares at him.

“Sorry,” the redhead, Melody, grins, “I’m going, too.” Glasses’ face falls.

“Fine!” she crosses. “I’ll stay in the tent while you guys get your asses torn up by a bear. Or tetanus!”

“Yeah, the tent’s safe.” The third guy, shorter than the rest and with curly hair, pipes up. “Nothing could ever penetrate nylon.”

“Well, have fun, then.” I say, probably a little more loud than necessary. They can’t do this somewhere else? Preferably in a different area code? “Be careful with spiders and tetanus, or whatever.” A few of them look at me like they forgot I was there. Again, I realize I’m easy to forget, but what about the entire tent I have behind me? And my parents say I’m the one who should be more aware of my surroundings.

Tank top takes off his tank top and tosses it to selfie girl, who doesn’t catch it, and runs toward the lake.

“Come on!” he shouts, “No more creepy shit until later! Get your asses in the water!” The other boys run after him while sefie girl and glasses jog at their own pace. Redhead starts to walk, then turns back to me. She hesitates and, before she can decide what she’s gonna say, if anything at all, her friends call her to hurry up. She gives me a quick smile and runs to join them.

I sit there for a moment and I want to scream. Complete isolation isn’t such a tall order, is it? God.

“Okay.” I sigh and get back to setting up. It doesn’t take long and, unfortunately, by the time I’m done, I still hear them splashing around in the water. I walk over just enough to see what they’re doing and clamp my hands over my face.

Four of them are playing chicken and one of them, seflie girl, is topless for some reason. Honestly I hate my reaction because I’m not a kid or a puritan, but they probably don’t see me and I don’t want to watch them do this. It feels skeevy.

I turn myself back around to my tent and dig into my backpack for my novel. I dig and dig and turn it inside out but I can’t find it. Almost frantically, I pace over to my car and dig around in there, too. Nothing.

I suppress the urge to whine out loud. The plan was to swim around until I tired myself out, read, eat, and go to sleep. No using my phone if I could avoid it. Which won’t be a problem, since the service here is so shitty.

“God.” I crawl into my tent and roll out my sleeping bag a few hours earlier than intended. “God damn it.”

I haven’t gone swimming in front of others since I was a kid, which means I haven’t gone swimming at all in about a decade. It was one of the things I’d been looking forward to most. I even bought my first pair of trunks for the occasion!

I also haven’t been properly bullied since high school, but I don’t want to risk making my day worse. I don’t want to relive the experience of getting into a body of water and watching all the other kids scream and hop out because they don’t want to be in it with me. Fuck that.

Fuck this! These kids wouldn’t do that, this isn’t middle school. I’m just working myself up into a panic over shit that hasn’t even happened in years. I’m such a pussy.

Even if they wouldn’t do that or say anything to my face, they’d talk and make jokes about it later when they got out. Imagine you’re having fun with your friends and this suspicious little weirdo just walks into the water and swims next to you like it’s normal.

I feel sick. And pissed for no good reason, and then I feel more pissed for overreacting. How can I expect to enjoy myself if I can’t stop being paranoid around people for two minutes?

Nothing bad happened to me, why do I always get like this? I just came here, set up, talked to some people my age, and freaked out. Everything’s going fine. I’m the only thing that’s wrong.

I groan and lie back on my sleeping bag, jeans and all, and fall asleep to avoid dissecting this shit any further.

I have a weird dream that somehow feels like it lasts a few minutes and an eternity. I’m back in high school, I think, and there’s lots of faces I haven’t seen in years including the kids I met today. They’re all looking at me and saying things that I can’t hear, but the looks they’re giving me aren’t flattering.

It’s a pretty standard dream with a few alterations each time I have it, but somehow it feels like it’ll never end. Like I’ll be there, in the center of it, always.

Something that seems stranger than the rest, though, is that this time at the edge of the crowd I see a little kid with some kind of growth on his head, soaking wet and shivering. He looks right at me and then everything’s black.

I wake up with a few aches in my back from my sleeping position, but the worst ache is in my belly. I feel groggy and greasy as hell, too, so I get myself up, change my clothes, and go to make myself a late night snack.

Except when I get out of my tent, it’s still way too dark. I check my phone and see that it’s 4:36 in the morning. I passed out for eleven hours. Jesus.

I go out to the edge of the clearing and see that the lake is still and quiet. No sign of those kids anywhere that I can see. It’s enough to get my shoulders to sag a bit.

Breakfast consists of four eggs and a piece of mostly-burnt bread. With a sheet as a makeshift curtain, a basin, and some toiletries from my car, I wash the sleep stench off of me. I get to watch the sunrise through the trees and it’s still cool enough out here to appreciate it.

Honestly, it’s almost suspicious how calm and nice things are right now. Physically, I feel pretty good. Fresh, even. My mind is clear and I can’t even remember what exactly had me in such a fit yesterday.

If there’s one thing I could appreciate about myself, it’s my ability to forget the source of my fear when it’s not right in front of me. I’m honestly starting to get a little excited again.

The novel I brought was under a seat, behind the basin, so that keeps me occupied for a while longer than I planned. By the time I look up, the sun is higher in the sky and the air’s gotten much warmer.

There’s still no one in the lake and that’s the deciding factor when I throw on my trunks and t-shirt and sprint over there.

The cold water is a rush when I dip my feet in and, after checking to see if the coast is clear, I take a running start and dive in. It’s not too deep and so I can stand with my head above the water and laugh.

The next few hours are a blur. I forgot how much I loved this. Even when I tire out from splashing and spinning and jumping, I just float on my back and close my eyes. Even with the sun so bright and the sounds of the forest, I can slip away from here entirely.

I feel like I’m nowhere at all and it’s wonderful. I don’t even register my own breathing. It’s so nice.

Eventually, my senses come back to me when I get hungry again and I wade back to shore. I have a quick peanut butter sandwich and then run for the tackle box in my trunk.

What are the chances I’ll be able to catch and cook my own dinner? Slim to none. But that won’t stop me and my inexperienced ass from trying.

The walk over to the dock is nice. There’s ripples in the water that make me feel hopeful, and two ducks grooming themselves close by. Without noticing, I’ve started to smile again. I feel downright peppy!

Ugh, this is so weird! And really cool at the same time! I haven’t felt this kind of simple joy in so long, I don’t know what to do about it.

There’s no one around, who gives a shit? I do a little dance on my way to the edge of the dock and I don’t even check to make sure I don’t look like an idiot. I know I do and it’s fantastic.

My good mood carries me through the next hour and a half or so of no action. A little bored but still cheery, I turn to look behind me. I don’t see any cabins from where I’m sitting. But, then, the trees are a little too thick to see past.

I kind of hope the camp still exists and those kids found it. Maybe it’ll be enough of an adventure for them that they won’t even bother coming back to their car until the weekend’s over.

After another hour I cut my losses and make my way back to my tent. I don’t even mind the fact that dinner tonight will be cup noodles and hot dogs. For some reason, even that sounds like the perfect feast to end this day with.

Noodles eaten and tackle box tucked away, I take my roasted weenies to the edge of the clearing so I can watch the lake some more while I eat.

The sun is closer to setting than before but there’s still enough light that I could swim before bed.

“Watch me pass out in the water and wake up when it’s too dark to see the shore.” I snort. A rustling through the forest by the dock nearly causes me to choke. I thump on my chest a few times and when my throat is cleared, I look up to see someone emerging from the trees and it’s enough to send me coughing again.

Even from this distance I can tell it isn’t one of the kids from yesterday. My memory may be shitty but I know for a fact none of them were built like a brick shithouse the way this guy is. His outfit doesn’t really fit the wardrobe of a college guy on vacation, either. The clothes look a bit tattered and the hockey mask is more confusing than anything.

I rule out the possibility that one of them is wearing a costume from the way this guy is lumbering to the dock. He doesn’t have the stride of a college kid without a care in the world. Something about the way he walks, and that’s all he’s doing, really, gives the impression that he can’t be moved any way he doesn’t want to go.

Finally, I notice the fishing pole he’s got in his hands. It looks like he pulls something out of his pocket and ties it to the hook before casting his line. I watch, astonished, as he reels in a decent looking fish in under two minutes.

He keeps doing that: tying his mystery bait to the hook and pulling his line back almost as quickly until he has five thrashing fish with their mouths attached to a separate line. He slings them over his shoulder and walks straight back into the trees, the water a little more still than before he arrived.

“Holy shit.” I mutter. I don’t even have it in me to be jealous, that was fucking cool. Any fear that was triggered by the sight of a huge stranger in the woods is dispelled right away. I stick around for a few minutes to see if he’ll come back to catch a whole school, but I get the feeling that five might be just enough for a guy that size.

About two hours later, when the sun’s almost done setting, I’m still fixated on mask guy. I can’t quite place why. Maybe it’s just a lack of other things to think about out here.

“God, who does that?” I ask the lizard who settled onto a rock near my campfire forty five minutes ago. “Just walks right up to the water, catches five fat fish in ten minutes, and leaves like it was nothing? Fucking legend.”

The lizard does a quick push-up, so I know he’s engaged.

“Maybe he’s homeless? He didn’t seem like a drifter, though, he’s probably been posted here for a while. What if he lives in one of the abandoned cabins over there?” I poke a marshmallow through my stick and let it catch fire.

“Oh, shit, then I guess I’m trespassing.” The lizard sticks its tongue out. “Yeah, I mean, it probably won’t be an issue if I just stick to my spot. Man, but I do want to ask what he used for bait.

“I wonder if those kids saw him on their little hunt. Probably would’ve scared the shit out them. Or maybe they scared the shit out of HIM. A bunch of rowdy kids trampling through his home. Oh no, I hope they don’t call the cops on him. Hopefully not, they didn’t seem snobby. Shouldn’t be an issue, anyway, him being out here if he’s just keeping to himself and living off the land.”

The lizard flattens himself a little more onto the rock, as if to agree.

I pass him a marshmallow and burn another one for myself. Watching him lick at it quickly without making a dent in it makes my evening. Once I’ve gotten ready for bed, though, he’s gone.

I douse the fire and put all my food away before crawling back into the tent. I text my parents good night and send a picture of the lizard eating his marshmallow. I don’t want them to worry about me this whole weekend, but I know they will, anyway.

When I first mentioned a solo camping trip as casually as I could, they did that thing where they look at me like I’m speaking another language. They didn’t like me going alone and they kept asking why I wanted to, all suspicious. They didn’t say it out right but I think they thought I was gonna go out of town to kill myself. They hugged me really tight before I left. Or maybe they were worried that I would get mugged or attacked by a bear.

We’re Catholic, so they probably wouldn’t want to admit to themselves they’re worried about the former, for fear of jinxing it.

I made sure to let them know too soon for them to try to get a day off to tag along with me. They’re great and I love them, but I feel like I really needed this.

The ground is hard compared to my bed back home but with the coziness of the sleeping bag and the good, fuzzy feelings still floating around, I’m out like a light.

It feels like only minutes have passed when I’m woken up. It’s not peaceful like yesterday morning, though. There’s the sound of rustling outside my tent, too heavy to be wind.

“Ah, shit.” That’s when it hits me that I forgot to put the marshmallows away like I had the rest of my food. And now I’ve probably got a greedy raccoon helping itself to the only sweets I brought. I know from experience that raccoons are not easily intimidated, so I mourn the loss of a good night’s rest.

Flashlight and stick in hand, I leave my tent with my weapon poised, ready to swipe. Imagine how quickly my heart fell out of my ass when, instead of a cat-sized thief, I am met with the sight of a 6 foot something man hunched over the remnants of my campfire, with his back turned to me.

It’s the mask guy from earlier and from this angle I can see the back of his head. It might be a trick of the light, but I could swear his skin is gray and a little bloated from the way the straps of his mask dig into his flesh.

‘Huh’ I think to myself, ‘I guess that’s why he’s covered himself up so much.’ Then the ability to think flies out the window when this guy moves hastily to adjust his mask back over his mouth. The quick flash of his face confirms that he wears the mask for a very good reason. And then he slowly stands to his full height, which does nothing to help my poor old heart.

I drop the flashlight and take a half-step back. He just stands there, looking down on me with eyes that seem to reflect what little light is still on his face.

Now, I should mention that I am not an overly clever man. I have a sense of self preservation that varies in accuracy, but usually sends me the same message regardless of the severity of the situation: YOU ARE GOING TO FUCKING DIE HERE.

I can only blame my skewed instincts on my lack of sleep when, instead of running away as quickly as my shitty legs will take me, I stay rooted to the ground.

He hasn’t lunged for my throat yet and if I didn’t know any better, I’d think he wasn’t breathing. I don’t want to be the one to shatter the stillness, but I also don’t want to wait for his patience to run out.

Just then, I jolt when I hear plastic crinkle onto the ground. I can barely make out the shape, but sure enough, that’s my bag of marshmallows on the dirt. And it looks like it fell from mask guy’s hand.

If this all weren’t quite so terrifying, I’d think he was staying quiet out of embarrassment, like a kid with his hand caught in a cookie jar. The mental image is enough to make me calm down, weirdly.

“Hey, man.” I say. Idiot. He’s still looking down, through me, and I feel a shiver run down my spine. I breathe past it. “Uh,” I drop the stick from where I’ve had it raised this whole time. It’s probably not making the situation less tense and I get the feeling it would’ve been pretty useless, anyway.

He follows the motion with his eyes and doesn’t move.

“I’m alone out here.” I blurt out like a good little victim. I suppress a wince at the crack in my voice. He doesn’t react, so I decide to finish the half-baked thought.

“I brought the whole bag with me because I didn’t want to just bring a few in a baggie because I thought that would be kinda ghetto. Even though no one else would’ve known about it and even if they did, it wouldn’t matter. And, like, I lived in Pacoima most of my life so I know that’s not exactly, uh, peak poor behavior, but. Y’know. I ended up thinking about it too long to make my own decision so I just grabbed the whole bag at the last minute.” I babble.

He still hasn’t moved and I’ve got no idea what he’s thinking, but I’m sure he’s not impressed.

“I, I wasn’t planning on finishing them, is what I’m trying to say. Like, you could’ve asked me for some in the morning and I wouldn’t’ve said no. You don’t gotta wait until I’m out to sneak some.” He shifts a little and Christ he’s so fucking wide he could snap me like a twig and he probably doesn’t appreciate what I may or may not have insinuated. I hold up my hands, placating.

“I don’t mind, man! It’s – honestly you’d be doing me a favor because I would’ve just taken them home where my little brother would’ve eaten them and lord knows his teeth don’t need to get any worse.”

He just keeps fucking staring and I usually feel shitty and terrible and scared when people stare at me in a normal setting. I have no fucking clue what exactly I’m feeling or how to operate.

This guy hasn’t done anything more than sneak a few marshmallows and startle me. Maybe I’m just being an asshole. I don’t know what his deal is. What if he’s less of a people person than I am?

I live out in the city surrounded by countless people and still have trouble asking for directions. This guy lives alone in the woods for god knows how long. Who knows what his thought process for asking an intruder for treats was?

I feel real shitty, at that moment. Pretty ironic for me of all people to interpret someone else’s less-than-stellar social etiquette as scary.

He’s most likely not as scared of me as I am of him, though. I swallow down as much of my nerves as I can and look him properly in the eyes.

“Not – It’s not a big deal. But, while I got you here, wouldn’t you rather have a full s’more? If you don’t, that’s fine, I get it. Sometime you gotta lean into your base instincts and just eat cold marshmallows from the bag!

“I’m like that with canned baby corn. I can eat that shit all day. It’s a natural emotion, I think. But baby corn is so much better in lo mein, and marshmallows are so much better when they’re melted between some chocolate and graham crackers. Know what I mean?”

The mask makes it very difficult to tell if he knows what I mean. It crosses my mind that maybe he can’t hear me and, oh god, what if I’ve just been performing my weird nervous little one-man show to an audience that would have no idea what I’m doing.

I just have to hope that he does, in fact, know what weird thing I am going to do next.

“I could get the fire started pretty quickly, I’d just need to get the stuff from my bag…” Finally, I take a slow step towards my tent.

He still hasn’t budged, so I relax a few degrees. Getting the chocolate and graham crackers, setting up the fire, and finding some good sticks for us feels very surreal. I used to really like making food for my friends, back when I had people to eat what I made. This is very much a different occasion, but it’s still a little nice. Plucking the marshmallow bag off from the ground by his feet feels like stepping too close to a bear trap, so it keeps me on my toes.

There’s a bit more fumbling over what the next move is. Do I hand him the marshmallow so he can roast it to his liking? No, shouldn’t I be the one to make it for him since he’s a guest at my little camp. He wasn’t invited, though. But then I’m also still trespassing in what is most likely his home.

After some aborted movements and sentences. I decide to make the s’more for him. His watching over me makes me feel like I’m in the middle of the most high-stakes test of my life. I look at the fire and the marshmallow and silently pray that they each cooperate with me.

With shaking hands, I assemble it for him with minimal mess. I stare at it and hope to god this is at least close to what I’m supposed to do in this situation. I extend it to him and wait. His eyes flicker from the s’more to me and stay on me and for a few moments, there are no other sounds in these woods besides the gentle crackle of the fire. He takes it in his hand and I feel all the air I’d been holding in leave me.

He holds it and brings his hand to his side, making no move to eat it. I go ahead and make my own s’more because social queues went down the drain a while ago.

I take a bite and don’t attempt to wipe away any chocolate or crumbs from my mouth. The taste settles my nerves more than anything else tonight, which is funny, if a little concerning. I think that if I tried to go a day without sugar, I’d experience symptoms of withdrawal.

After all this time, he finally moves to face me directly. It’s weird, his chest hasn’t been moving this entire time to indicate that he’s been taking in air. Even when his eyes are so sharp, he feels a lot like a corpse.

It’s the proximity and that leads me to notice that he kinda smells like the lake. Mossy, fishy.

I only look back at him and continue to chew. What else is there to do?

He lifts his own s’more up to inspect it and his eyes flick back to me. It feels like a question.

“Oh, it’s fine if you don’t want it.” I say. “You don’t have to eat it right now, either. I could still give you the whole bag, if you’d rather-”

Without acknowledging my rambling, he turns around and walks to the edge of the clearing. The sound of his footsteps grows further and further, but even when he’s closest, they’re almost silent.

A violent shiver runs through me and I finally let my knees give out and now I’m on the ground. I sit there, eating my s’more, watching the fire, listening in my ninja turtle pajamas for what feels like forever. I douse the flames for the second time that night and crawl back into my tent.

I lay on my back and I don’t think I could go to sleep for at least a couple more days. I am proved wrong when I blink a few times and suddenly I can feel the morning sun heating my tent through the material.

I eat my last breakfast and take my last bath in these woods before I take my tent down and pack everything into my car on autopilot.

I feel weirder this morning than I did yesterday morning. I’m not as tired and it feels like my eyes are more open, physically, than they usually are.

There is no talking to myself in a nonsensical stream of consciousness and my only thoughts are observations.

My back is a little sore. It’s especially warm today. Those kids’ truck is still here and there’s been no sign of them since the day before yesterday. There’s no sign of mask guy, either. There’s a blue jay sitting on my windshield wiper.

With my area completely cleared, I find myself walking back towards the lake one last time.

I feel the same about this place as I did when I got here, for the most part. It’s really very pretty here.

Minutes later, I’m headed back to the main road with a few extra pinecones in my trunk for my brothers.

Not a whole lot happened to me. I read, swam, ate, and shared dessert with a masked man from the woods. But I don’t think I’m freaking out.

For once in my life there’s too much I can’t name and it leaves me with nothing to say.

I’m really glad, for my sake and for the sake of that guy in the mask, who fishes like a pro and carries himself like a force of nature, that Crystal Lake is not a popular tourist attraction.

Despite having experienced one of the strangest and most poignant moments of camaraderie in my life there, I don’t think I’ll ever be going back again.