Today, is Friday the thirteenth. I had never really put much sand into the superstition pot of the day. I love horror movies; when I was young I would stay up all of New Year’s Eve to watch Hellraiser. Nightmares afterward of pinhead and a dog with no jaw skin, snapping his teeth. For such a big tough guy, James never watched horror movies with me. James never enjoyed horror movies, if I wanted to watch them the volume would have to be nearly mute. Apparently, watching horror movies is similar to pastry making; once you stop the skill, you will lose it. I suck at pastry making, and now scary movies give me heart palpitations.
I have my laptop open and am stalled on typing my next chapter. A steady camp fire at work to boil water for my morning coffee. The cursor on the blank page in front of me is blinking dangerously close to me closing the laptop. Yet my eyes keep being drawn to the right-hand corner where the date is. How many years that date held such importance to me, how many years all dates held such importance to me.
A birthday, for example, a day I recall in another life it seemed. I had been working in customer service when an older lady came in. It was near closing time. Her hair was perfect curls framing her round face. Not a wrinkle but for some reason her face was sunk. Her brows set low, a smile that turned into a grimace as if she couldn’t recall how to smile. I felt sad for her, she must have endured some travesty today. I put on my kindest service face and greeted her, “good evening.”
“Oh, hi,” the words fell from her mouth rather than presented. She drug herself to stand at the counter but made no motion as to what she actually came in for. I did my best to not push her, her thick mascara brimmed eyes threatened emotional tears. Her request came, I asked for ID to ensure it was she and noticed the date.
“Mrs. Gardner, happy birthday!” I exclaimed, always eager to share on someone’s special day. The threatened tears became real and rolled down the deep crevasse that her nose created. As a puppy where his tears stained his face, hers knew all too well the path of least resistance.
“Thanks,” she wiped the murky tears away and grabbed the product she came to purchase. She turned on her heel to leave instantly, as if I had insulted her. Something must have happened on this day many years ago to make her birthday so horrible, I had thought to myself. To turn a simple gesture into a bruise. I’d froze into a trance, devastated that she was so deeply hurt. I gasped as she turned back to me suddenly, I feared she were about to yell at me. Her kitten heels clanked as she took the steps back to the counter, bringing the storm with her.
“What’s your name?”
“Rebecca, when’s your birthday?”
“Um, oh, um September 26th,” the question caught me off guard.
“Okay, Rebecca. I’m going to tell you something, and I want you to listen very closely.” She had positioned herself over the counter. I recalled her breath and it wasn’t minty. The memory brought the smell of stale coffee and aged cigarettes once more to my nose.
“It’s my birthday today, as you so kindly pointed out. I hadn’t told anyone.Not a soul! All the girls at my office, that I’ve have worked with for over two decades didn’t know. My husband of thirty years, didn’t remember. My grown children, you’d think they remember?” She shook her head, her voice had risen so that others in the store had stopped to watch, “Nope. I didn’t remind anyone, no weekly reminders and why? Because I am a cynical old bag that is fed up with trying to spoon feed everyone’s lives. If you can’t keep your shit together enough to know your friend, wife or mother’s birthday then you don’t deserve the gratification of wishing her a happy birthday!” Her eyes yelled anger as she ranted but softened soon after. The white brimmed once more with tears, a true deep sorrow.
“It’s day end now,” she had continued with a new affirmation, “but you know that. You’ve been stuck here working for the man all day, slaving for a nickel. Now at day end, you know what I’ve accomplished? Nothing. Not even a simple recognition of my birthday. Only one hurting from my life lesson today is me, only me.”
Her makeup smudged to her mouth, she failed at the attempt to clean her face. The hair line has shifted an inch and I see her bald scalp under the wig.
“I have suffered today on my own accord, a day of celebration, turned to muck.”
She had turned and left on that note. That day stuck with me, I always remembered to ensure my birthday was special. I made a note of celebrating every holiday, no matter how insignificant. Groundhog Day I would wish others a happy rodent day. Anything to make a day more special, to make others feel welcome and warm. Life was too short to bury your head if your old or tired.
Friday the Thirteenth was different, it was a day that you nearly expected things to go wrong. more so than April Fools. If they weren’t going wrong for you yet, you felt the need to break a plate to prevent the whole cabinet from breaking. Choosing the leaser of two evils voluntarily.
An ominous feeling had grown in me, everything had been too easy up to this point. I glanced back at my tent and wondered if I should burn it to avoid the butterfly effect of what may happen.
We had left Parksville beach the day after the moose. One sighting of glowing eyeballs was enough for me. I had tried to reassure Sadie the whole night through and the next morning but I was the one that was truly shook. After seeing the size of the moose tracks in the rocky sand, I pictured a more carnivorous animal the next time around. I threw in the towel as well. I can admit when I’m scared and I had nothing to protect us if it had been a wolf, or human. The Hills Have Eyes always crept into your thoughts at the most silent of moments.
We packed up and called a cab. Unfortunately, it was not the same easy-going driver we had initially. I had asked the dispatcher to request the driver to go down the gravel path to the forest entrance. Sadie and I had begun moving our articles up to the forest when I got a call back from the dispatcher saying the cab arrived and no one was there. I then asked if they drove all the way down and was responded with, ‘no mame, that is not a road.’
It took us nearly three hours hiking the gear out, or I should say: me. After just three trips, Sadie gave up and it took me several more by myself. She actually had the gull to sit down and glare at me as I left to pack more items up. Yelling as I walked back into the trees that I didn’t do this trip for her and I was being selfish pulling her from her friends. I guess she was getting bored. I had bought her an iPad to play with. She didn’t enjoy bird watching and reading like I did. She had gone from three siblings to none, no friends, no school, no structure whatsoever.
When the taxi had refused to drive down the ‘non-road’, I had to spend an extra hundred bucks to bribe the guy to pick up my belongings. It would have been impossible for me to move it all. Then we drove for nearly two hours to search for a new campsite. I had passed the three-month mark and spent over 13% of my money with only 25% of my ‘hidecation’ time spent. Realistically that meant I would glide through no problem.
Except for the fact I have to pay for a provincial camp site now. With the cabbie costing me a good chunk of money, extra activities for Sadie to immerse herself in and now having to pay $25 per night plus purchase drinking water. I might have to keep a better watch on the funds.
For now, I was back to staring at the thirteenth on my laptop. I couldn’t even recall what time I woke at, by now the time above the date boasted a solid 9 am. The water was spitting over the coals and sizzling dangerously, threatening to empty my small saucepan to just steam.
The camp site is small but bolstered with dark greens that make it feel grand. It brings me close to nature yet we are still close to other people. Much closer than we were at Parksville Beach, which makes us more comfortable. No more scary animal sightings in the dead of night. The sites are only 10 feet by 10 feet, enough space for the tent, the supplied picnic table, a pile of purchased fire wood and fire pit. Our grounds keep walks around each night to ensure we are abiding by the camp ground rules. We are good compared to the loud unruly sites. Yelling, laughing and drinking, our neighbors appear to not sleep.
Sadie and I would put our own fire out just after dark most nights. Our tent blocked the entrance to the site and tall spruce trees block the back side. Unfortunately, on either side of us, is our neighbors. Just a short step across the walking path is more neighbors. Not the solitude I was looking for. The trees have bark darker than black and thick branches whichleave me little to no sun.
I knelt on the bark mulch to ready my mug for coffee. The pot of boiled water, with the black bottom and floating leaves brew instant with the french vanilla grinds. My NaNoWriMo mug holds about a cup and a half. Perfect. A smudge of space left for Kahlua.
“Mom?” Sadie stuck her head out the tent, I never even heard the zipper pull down.
“Good morning booberry,” I sing song to her, and hold up a second mug. “you want a coffee this morning?”
“Sure,” She pulls herself from the tent. Her blonde ombre locks had been chopped off a few days ago when she got bored and decided to cut them herself. Mine, were long as well but I had begun twisting them into dread locks. Subconsciously missing the café girl possibly but I had always wanted dread locks and it seemed the easiest out for now. Minimal washing, no styling and it entertained my hands while I would lounge to watch sun rise, sun move and sun set.
“What do you want to do today?” I asked, turning back to the fire and fresh coffee. I heard her moving behind me, a commotion as she clambered out of the tent. Feet slapped onto the cold bark mulch, more comfortable to sleep on than the stones anyway.
“Let’s go hiking.”
“Can I bring my laptop?”
“No,” Sadie likes me living in the moment, what she doesn’t realize is that I am living more in that moment by rewriting it into a story. I am turning those images, colors and smells into words that will live forever on pages.
Not only to remind me of that time we sat at the boat launch and pulled weeds out of the water but the words would tell me what I smelt, how I squinted in the sun, how I was mad that day for something so silly as the fact that James wouldn’t join us at the lake. It was still a beautiful memory made by my daughter and me, one that should have been duplicated into a novel. Sadie, however, preferred my eyes open, as she says. When I am taking notes, scribbling furiously into my notebook or notes page on my phone or smacking the keys of my laptop so fast my daughter can’t hear the waves, she gets mad. I have learnt to divide my days, I can be writing while she entertains herself and a mother while she wants to adventure.
The hike down to the waterfall was easy. The steep path clearly marked for tourists, with hand hold banisters to stop from falling. Which is essentially how you climb down, you fall gracefully. The way up is never fun. There are people everywhere, young children running up through the trees. Cutting in front of us and nearly tripping us. Causing me to curse out loud a few times when I grab tighter to the banister. I scold thinking their mothers should keep them in check until we reach the entrance to the waterfall and I realize they are by themselves. Suddenly, I am commending the parents for being so bold to let the children run off and play on their own. I recall playing like that in my own childhood, surely, they are no more than 8 years old. I recall the only rule was to be home before nightfall. Now, kids play games called Nightfall and never leave their homes.
The top of the waterfall was off to the right of the path. The wooden slabs of the path turned into a bridge, encased in fence over our heads. A sign states no jumping, I see no way you could jump but surely bold teens find a way still. The rain forest floor thick with foliage. Ferns taller than myself, trees ancient and leaning over precariously without falling. Vines grow up and sprout bright orange flowers. The water crested through the break of the green, ran impossible clear clear and crashed through the black crevasse in the forest floor to disappear below the bridge we walked across.
A mystical place, renewing the soul and Sadie even had a grin painted on her face. Her steps became lighter and in no time we were at the bottom of the trail, and the waterfall.
It was a simple fall, only thirty feet, no white mist at the bottom but the pool it splashed into was pristine. An angelic piece of heaven placed for us alone. The children had remained up top near the trees. Sadie grabbed my hand to admire the falls in awe, in silence. Large white boulders adorned the pool, flowers of impossible colors and the water looked as those sparkling emeralds made the heaven space.
The color perfectly planted between blue and yellow. Too soft to be blue, too bold to be yellow. It promised the love of a jade stone and the rejuvenation of an amethyst.
“Shall we?” She broke my memorization with the pool, the soft movement of the ripples as the fall fell into place.
“Let’s swim,” she replied and let go of my hand to step to the water edge. The boulder
“I don’t have a swim suit here…”
“Your underwear is the same size as a bikini, isn’t it?” Sadie lifted my shirt to expose my belly button, I laughed and she poked my fat spot.
Oh, sweet naive daughter. Keep the innocence as long as possible, I think to myself.
We shed our clothing and swim in the crisp lower pool of the waterfall. The sun is at high noon and it keeps the top layer of cyan shaded water warm. There are no fish, no bugs, no algae. Nothing. I have a sudden overwhelming feeling that everything I had endured so far was to be here, in this healing pool, under the July sun. It is calming, re-energizing and mystical. I remind myself to return every day.
As the hours pedal on, more tourist appear at the waterfall. The teenagers pile in with beer and mini boom boxes.
Sadie and I drag ourselves into our dry clothing and abandon the pool. As we make our way up the exhausting uphill climb, a new group of children appear. Playing tag through the trees. They appear the same age as Sadie, two boys and three girls. I cringe at the feel of Children of the Corn when they all have stark blonde hair but they are laughing, climbing and swinging in the trees.
As the outside child that is forced to watch the games of fun and wishes only for an invite, I can see Sadie is pining to be with them. She never asked me, although she didn’t have to. It would be a huge leap of faith for her to even approach them to self invite. The group laughed and made their way closer as a snake searching out prey. A taller girl waved to Sadie as if they are old friends.
Her eyes trained on the group as they jump over the fence ahead and dash into the forest.
A boy lingered on the path, he had his head down. Palms down and against the wood grain. We can hear the faint counting. “TEN!” He popped his head up and nearly crashed into Sadie. He looks shocked for a moment but then yells, “You’re it!”
Sadie didn’t hesitate a beat.
“You better run then!” she yelled then looked to me for approval. I smiled and nodded.
“Back by dark!” I called reluctant but happy to see she is having fun.
“Okay, love you Mom!” and she was gone.
The hike back was vicious and I could see why people didn’t venture down there often. It was exhausting, took twice as long uphill and even when you thought you would take a short cut over the hand rail and through the trees straight up the hill. It was no short cut at all, the steepness of that hill between the winding path was enough to wipe you. I had stopped numerous times to lean against a tree and catch my breath. Not realizing I had been so poorly out of shape.
Upon arriving back to our camp site, I started a fire to make some late lunch and sat in the lounge camp chair with my laptop on my lap to write about the stunning waterfall.
I woke, my laptop screen was black, the sky was black and the charcoals in the fire were black. There wasn’t any heat coming from my dead fire. I opened the laptop and the time boasted a late 10 pm. Apparently, that hike took more out of me than I realized.
“Sadie?” I call out. Looking back to the tent there is no movement and her shoes are not out front as we had been keeping them. The picnic table is empty, no jacket of hers. I stand, I’m sore from not only the hike home but also the awkward long sleep in a camp chair. I stretch and groan at the realization she is still running with the other kids. It’s too late for her to be out still, the sun is asleep and the neighbors sites are growing loud with drinks and music.
There’s no stars and no moon, the only light is the ominous glow of nearby fire pits. Illuminated by my growing concern of her not being here.
I forget my shoes and head toward the out house. She must be there, there is no way she would be out in the forest still with so little light, I think to myself. Or at least, I convince myself. With the lack of moonlight, it seemed strange how bright the sky was. Unnerving, an unsettled feeling crawls up my throat as I quicken my feet toward the outhouse.
As I turn the bend in the well beaten foot path, I see that the single outhouse door is positioned wide open. My breath hitches in my throat, there’s no one in there. Not my daughter. A haze fell over my eyes, a desperation that turned my skin cold and the green landscape a musky evil brown. There was no chance the children were still running through the forest, it was much too late. Pitch black just behind the pathway. The glow of separate fire pits illuminated where to walk but that was it. I stood panicked in my space, unsure which direction to look next.
In all directions of me, were faces glowing in fire light. Their faces grew as I watched, they appeared to turn and frown at me. Laughter and stories being told and my muscles seized. They were taunting my loss. My daughter gone somewhere in the forest, or worse.
The heads turned and grew, frowning at me. Happiness faded into a threat and my feet began to move. Pumping my arms, I ran. Finger tips crawled up my spine, threatened to choke me completely as I ran lost, looking for my daughter.
“Sadie!” I heard a voice scream, it was heart wrenching the sound of that voice. It was my own. A smack to my face and I feel with a thud into the stoned pathway. Tiny pebbles dug deep under the sensitive skin of my knee caps. My lips escaped a sob, options failed me and the tree branch that knocked me over laughed at me.
Ker clank. Ker clank.
I dreaded to look but the sound of the heavy chain smacking against a pavement slab compelled me to glance. The interlinked chains shattered any remaining courage I had. The camp site was larger than my own but blocked by dark tarps hung from the trees. The camp fire once more sent an eerie outline and bile rose in my throat as I imagined a man being hung up and tortured by those chains. A low groan emitted from behind the tarp and jolted me back to my feet.
My knees stung, my eyes tears and my heart threatened to stop but I refused my feet to stop. I had run far from my camp site already, quite possibly more than half way around the circle of sites. I had to complete the circle, return to my site and call for help. Sadie was gone, I need help.
I ran frantically, crying and calling Sadie’s name. An old woman stepped in front of me and her position demanded I stop in place.
“Are you okay?” She asked, her face hidden behind white straggle hair. Her scalp brighter than the eerie lit sky and her frame was no larger than a skeleton itself. I opened my mouth to answer but only a rasping cry exited. She placed a reassuring hand on my arm and directed me to follow.
“Oh dear, do you want a cup of tea?”
“No,” the word sounded desperate even for me, “my daughter…” I felt faint, all the muscles drained of oxygen and my head spun. I had no choice but to follow the old woman into her campsite. My breathing was erratic and I wanted so desperately to wake from this nightmare.
“We’ll brew you a nice cup of tea, that will calm your nerves.” She spoke with a defined lisp, no front teeth remaining to enunciate the letters with. She grinned and her lower jaw stuck out further than the top, her nose created a witch shadow down her chin and I cringed.
“No, my daughter. She’s missing.” I stutter as I collapse into a camp chair. I’m exhausted and my head is spinning too fast. Her lips are stained red and a napkin in her hand is used to wipe the crimson off. She placed her own cup of steaming tea on a cut lumber and it appears red rooibos. Dark, nearly too dark…
I rubbed the anxiety from my eyes but my palms stalled on the bridge of my nose. As the veil seemingly was pulled back from the haze I had been running with, I stumbled back to my feet. They stung immediately but the site of her camp space compelled me backward. She bent over a brewing pot, her back to me, I was free to examine with my mouth gaped open. An unknown cold breeze came in and chilled my breath and it solidified before me, encasing the thousands of miniature straw people.
Tiny bodies held together with twine, their arms bent at unnatural angles. Heads too big with black stones pushed in for eyes. They stuck to sticks in the ground, hung from trees around and ghosted precariously in the air above her tent. Nooses adorned the straw people and my chair clattered over as I turned from the space.
“Don’t you want tea?” Her head snapped back. Wild hair flying in every direction, her eyes lit with the nonexistent moonlight The frozen air that had come in swung the hanging straw men but I didn’t stay to see how the ones above her tent flew.
The tears had long dried in my eyes, Sadie’s name evaporated from my throat and my heart slammed against my rib cage. I ran, faster than my feet and threatened to fall each foot landing. The air all around was frozen now, the trees grew frost and I ran.
Back at my site I threw myself into the tent, surprised my fingers worked well enough to pull the metal teeth open. They shook from nerves and cold. It was far too cold for summer. Pitch black inside the tent, the eerie orange glow of the sky was cut off and my hands blindly searched for my prepaid cell phone. I needed the police, I needed the army!
The sleeping bag next to mine ruffled, a moan escaped the encasement. My head shook on the top of my neck involuntarily, as if suddenly I had Parkinsons or my skull was on a spring. It vibrated down my spine and my hands cramped into themselves. It scorched me, that deep fear.
It was my daughters voice that prevented it from burning me, “what the hell is wrong with you?” Sleep was hard crusted in her eyes and her hair cemented to her face. The angry snap of her tone faded as we met eyes. Her expression softened to my shaking show of insanity. I threw myself onto her and freed the tears that had accumulated. I wrapped my arm around her head and sobbed. She had been in the tent the whole time! I said nothing more but crawled into the sleeping bag and slept off the last few hours of Friday the Thirteenth. Packed up camp the next morning.