There are nights that seem to happen for no reason at all. I suppose you could say every night happens for no reason at all, but I’m talking about those special nights—the ones that stand out from all the rest. Nights when you have a raging party with friends or philosophical discussions with a complete stranger. Then there are nights when, at one in the morning, you decide to go camping. In the middle of nowhere. In the back of an SUV. With your best friends. During finals week.
On that particular night you would wait until your friend, let’s call her Logan, gets out of work, and you’d pack up your black 2007 Dodge Nitro with enough pillows and blankets to keep a small village warm. You’d get your other friend, let’s call him Jake, to bring his bottle of Vodka but only after pestering him to share because you never ask him for gas money to cart his ass around town.
Once the car is packed up, you’d pile in and put your iPod on shuffle because it’s “God’s Playlist,” and the songs played will superstitiously dictate how your night will go. You’d notice your car has only half a tank, and although it takes less and an eighth of a tank to get to Allegany State Park and back, you’ve seen the horror movies, and you know that the pyscho-killer always goes for the kids who think they’re prepared.
Once you decide that you need to fill up your tank to feel comfortable, you soon realize that every gas station is closed. Why you live in a place that all the gas stations close by 11 p.m. is beyond you. You’ll stop at multiple Kwik Fills and 7/11s and get out to swipe your card and attempt to pump gas into your vehicle, and none of them will actually pump gas. You’ll give up after the fourth stop and an unnerving encounter with a pickup truck that shone it’s light in your face for five minutes and some creep in the corner of a deserted Kwik Fill smoking a cigarette. Your friends will ask if you could all stop at Tops to get snacks because they know the muchies are going to hit real soon based on the amount of dope you have in the car. Naturally, you oblige their request. And at this point, it will be 2 a.m.
Of course, because it’s 2 a.m., Tops will be empty except for an employee or two and now you and your friends. As a group, you’ll decide on Cosmic Brownies—because what sounds more like being stoned than the word “cosmic”?—and an array of other junk foods. You don’t plan on eating them though, because you’re allergic to gluten, and won’t have a place to puke and clean yourself up when you’re in the woods. You’ll just stick to your gallon of water and hope to God you don’t have to piss at some point during the night.
While you’re walking through the isles of Tops you’ll turn your head and see a short, overweight man who looks like he could be homeless limping toward you. You’ll notice that he’s the same man who, about two weeks ago, motioned you over to him in McDonalds and whispered a few sentences that sounded like they were from Revelations in the Bible. That scared you then, but seeing him now ensures you that you’re not going to make it through the night. It was a sign. You’ve seen the horror movies, and this is shaping up to be one.
You’ll run away from the guy, who seems to be wearing the same tattered brown jacket, large-frame glasses, and stained baseball cap that he was when you first met him, and you’ll find your two friends, pay for your food, and get the hell out of the parking lot before the man can see what kind of car you drive, the license plate number or what direction you turned out of the parking lot. You’ll notice the only other car parked is a pickup truck. You and your friends will laugh and say you’re all being over paranoid—but what the hell was he doing at Tops at 2 a.m. anyway?
You’ll shake it off and begin the drive to the state park. When you hit the Allegany Indian Reservation, suddenly the air will seem thicker and a misty fog will be rolling around on the ground. Your truck will blaze through it, but it’s getting harder to see. You know that it’s always foggy at night around here, but you’re still uneasy.
Someone in the car makes a joke saying it would be nice if there were at least a few streetlights. The road ahead is lit by only your headlights, but even then, you can feel the darkness surrounding your car like a bully ready to steal your lunch money. You knew it was coming, and there was nothing you could do about it. You could’ve stayed home and been safe, but where’s the fun in that?
You continue to drive. The voices in the car have ceased, and now all you hear is the songs playing from your iPod and the repetitive sound tires make when speeding down a road. Soon enough you’re headed up the side of a mountain. The twists and turns in the road seem impossible, but, guided by your headlights reflecting off the guardrail, you soon see the rock marking the entrance that has “Allegany State Park” engraved on it. Once you pass the rock, the guardrail disappears into the ground like it had done it’s job, and you didn’t need it anymore. But now you need it more than ever.
There’s a pickup truck sitting on the right side of the road. Before you pass it, you know you shouldn’t look inside because you’ll either make eye contact with your killer, or you’ll see that no one is in the car and that your killer is already trekking through the trees. You look anyway. It’s empty.
You ask your friends where they want to park to spend the night. Previously you agreed on the stone tower, an area where you all hang out. It’s full of graffiti and Satanist symbols. It sounded like a badass idea in the daylight. When you suggest that, Logan quickly replies that she’s “looking for trouble, but not that much trouble.” Then you realize that you are, in fact, looking for trouble. Why else would you go camping at 2:30 a.m. on a Saturday night in Allegany State Park without telling anyone you were leaving campus?
You manage to navigate the winding road with walls of trees on either side. Your friends suggest parking by the lake. It’s a pretty open area, with more than one way to exit in case of an emergency. So you pull into the grassy-dirt area near the lake, which is somehow even darker than the road you took to get there. Your headlights flash across the lake. Earlier that day, the water had been murky, but not foreboding. Now it was black sludge waiting to engulf you.
“The car must be parked strategically,” you think, preparing yourself for a quick getaway when the killer shows up. Once you park, you turn off the car, and you exchange a look with your friends. It’s not a look of confusion or fear necessarily, but more of acceptance, a “now what?” look. There is a collective sigh in the car, and almost on cue, your headlights turn off. You know they are programmed to do that, but it doesn’t make it any better.
You brave the darkness to set up your bed in the back of the Nitro by putting the backseat down and layering blankets and pillows. No one will be paying attention when a pair of headlights emerge from the forest and begin to drive towards the lake. You’ll all notice when the engine becomes audible, and you’ll stand like statues, holding your breath, as the pickup truck, remarkably similar to the one from the side of the road, turns into the grassy-dirt area, makes a wide circle around your Nitro, and drives back out and down the road. When you look at your friends, you finally breathe. Logan will have her hands on her walking stick, ready to fight. Jake will have ahold of the back hitch, ready to slam it shut. And you realize you are clutching your keys, ready to jump in the front seat, rev your engine and speed out of there. But that wasn’t needed—yet.
Once your bed was made, you’ll all pile in, crack the windows a bit and sit in a circle in the back of the Nitro. Logan will reach into her bag and pull out a cylindrical container. When she pops the cap, the scent of incense and pot are released into the air. You’ll relax a bit as Logan pulls out the apple you two smoke out of. Apples always get you higher, and the weed lasts longer in an apple than in a pipe. She piles it in. You distribute lighters. One for you. One for Logan. Jake doesn’t get one. He can’t ignite a lighter, so you have to do it for him.
You feel the smoke fill your lungs. It almost burns. Soon enough the car is cloudy, and you feel hazy. That’s when Logan sees a mass over the lake. Jake sees it too, and when you turn around, you see a mass made up of light. You’ll think that’s what they’re talking about until they say it’s moving and it’s dark. You don’t see the same thing. Now the paranoia sets in.
Dope never made you feel paranoid before today, but now is a hell of a time to start. Jake and Logan continue to talk, but their voices become muted to you. You turn around, facing backwards in the car, leaning up against the back of the drivers seat, and you look out the window. The trees start to move, not sway in the wind—move. Large masses emerge from the forest, and you shake your head to try to get rid of them, but they keep advancing towards you, so you take another hit.
Two minutes of relaxation, and the process begins again. You begin to wonder what trouble were you actually looking for. Logan announces she’s tired. Jake is nearly asleep already. You crawl forward, now ignoring the forest encroaching on your vehicle and the masses levitating over the lake. Your body hits the makeshift mattress, and Raevin complains she’ll be too warm in the middle, so you switch with her. It’ll give you more legroom anyway. You all cuddle up with each other. You’re about to fall asleep when you hear an engine. It stops. You hear a knock on the window. “It’s just your imagination,” you think. Your imagination continues to knock as you fall asleep. Trouble can wait.