Haunted by death

By: Dale Mayer

CHAPTER 1

The clouds swept across the sky, whipped by a blustery northerly wind. The sun was high, shining brightly over the lake and shore. It was a perfect summer's day at the lake. Not far from the water's edge, where multiple brightly colored tents sprawled, Chad Ingram followed his buddies up the beach for a short hike. Bruce and Josh, his best friends, were in charge of today's adventure. The girls had elected to stay behind.

This was their last camping trip of the summer before college started next week. The long-standing group of three young males and their three girlfriends had made the most of the summer weather to get out and enjoy their time together. This weekend, Tim, and Bruce's cousins, Anto and Pero, who'd moved to the US a couple of years ago, had joined them.

Chad liked them both and although Pero was easy to get along with, his dark, broody brother Anto was, by contrast, hard work. But so long as he was on his best behavior, he fitted into the group just fine. Some of the group had worked full time for the summer, others only part time, and one of their number was doing summer school. Making time together had been a challenge.

And they all knew it was the end of an era. And that making time for each other was important. Next week, each would be starting on the pathway of whatever future they'd chosen. This weekend was a last chance to let loose before life intruded. Good thing too. Futures were serious business.

Josh had organized this day hike, which was intended to be a fun couple of hours exploring this side of the lake. With only t-shirts, shorts and runners, they weren't equipped to do more. Chad liked to do at least one trip a day when they were out. Not going too far and not putting out too much effort, just a break from the beach and swimming and beer drinking. Well maybe not that last one, as several of them usually carried an open can of beer with them.

This was their second trip to the popular northern Washington area. They'd camped at the other side of this same lake early in the summer, close to where several members of Bruce's extended family owned cabins. That trip had been such a blast that they all wanted to come back and check out the opposite side of the lake, the less popular side. Where they'd first camped out were hundreds of cabins up and down the lakeshore. That area was open and sunny with lovely sandy beaches. All of which made it a big attraction for kids and families.

This time the group wanted a different experience. They wanted seclusion, isolation, privacy and a chance to enjoy their last bit of freedom without having to follow curfews and noise restrictions.

And from the looks of the tightly grown forest and steep incline on parts of the hill behind them, they had it.

The group took off up the hill in good spirits. Chad walked last in line, smiling at his friends' antics up ahead. Their laughter preceded them, filling the dense woods even as the sun fought to see through into the old growth and tightly grouped stick trees on the left. The air was filled with a heavy pine-scented atmosphere. Although the walk up the hill on the left side had started out easily, it hit the way-too-much-work-to-be-bothered category very quickly. Besides, they hadn't brought enough beer to fortify themselves for that much hard work.

"Hey Chadwickie, what's taking you so long?" Josh yelled back from up ahead. He'd been leading the group of males for the last ten minutes but had stopped to see what was holding his friend back.

"I gotta take a piss." Chad called out. "That beer is running right through me."

"Weakling! Jesus, you really can't hold your liquor, can you?" Raucous laughter filled the air.

"Ha, ha! I can hold it that way just fine. I wasn't the one slobbering all over the girls last night like you and Bruce were."

Chad, or Chadwickie, as his buddies liked to call him to rile him, stepped further into the dense woods and slightly off the path, and opened his fly. Immediately, a bright stream hit the mossy ground and ferns in front of him. He tilted his head back and sighed with relief that was enhanced by the mild buzz going on in his head. Life was good.

"Aren't you done already?" One of his friends called back; it was probably Bruce. "It's almost time to go back to the girls. You're taking so long."

"When you gotta go, you gotta go," He murmured quietly with a contented sigh. He could hear his friends moving further away but they were still within hearing distance.

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