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Rated: E · Fiction · Action/Adventure · #2262524
A man with a phobia explains why he won't go camping.

I'll Never Go Camping

I'm glad you invited me on this camping trip. So far, I've had a blast. And now, sitting around the campfire listening to some of the strangest tales I've ever heard, is truly exhilarating. You guys are really helping me get over this phobia. All of you know I have my reservations about camping, but I don't think you know why. Well, it's my turn to tell a story.

Over twenty years ago, I knew this guy named Byron when I was stationed at an Air Force base just outside of Phoenix. He was an avid camper and would go often because he was single, and no one could hold him back. He was very thrifty, living in the one of the base dormitories with us instead of base housing, and saved his money. He bought a big black Nissan Titan pickup which took up one and a half parking spaces. He was a great guy, friendly, and kind.

One Sunday, we were sitting at the picnic tables in front of our dormitory drinking beer when he returned to the base without his truck. When he stepped from the cab, we all gasped. He looked like shit. Like Mother Nature had whipped his ass good. He came over to the table, sat down, and asked for a beer. I handed him a Heineken and asked him what happened. This is what he told us...


At first he told us he couldn't remember anything. He said he found himself sitting on the ground under a black sky, but he didn't know where he was. He detected the sound of running water in the distance, and it haunted him for some strange reason. Then, after a while, that sound jarred loose a horrific memory in great detail, so this was how he told us his day began.

He said he arose, ready to begin a well-anticipated camping trip last Friday. Cruising along State Route 93, leaving Phoenix in his wake, he mellowed out by listening to smooth jazz. The desert oasis of Phoenix evaporated from his rear-view mirror, and ahead of him lay the vibrant desert greenery he relished so much. Today, his destination was the Bristle Creek Campground about 160 miles north of Phoenix, a dream destination he'd bypassed for years. He became intrigued the first time he saw it, or didn't see it. This campground was not visible from the road. Instead, it was located deep on the valley floor where the Bristle Creek flowed, and he wanted to see them both.

A large, decorative, redwood sign with yellow words read 'Bristle Creek Campground - Next Left' appeared like a beacon, guiding him towards his destination. He released the accelerator slightly, forcing traffic behind him to pass on his left. A few hundred feet later, he moved to the left-hand turning lane and turned, crossing the southbound side of Route 93, over a steel cow guard, and onto a stony, unpaved road. His massive black Nissan Titan handled the terrain's transition with ease, but it was about to get a pretty rigorous workout.

As he descended into the valley, the sky darkened unexpectedly, stirring up concerns. He stopped and rolled down his window. Looking skyward, it shocked him to see small, cottony cumulus clouds parading south toward Phoenix, and they had momentarily blotted out the sun. It was unexpected, especially since the weather forecast for northern Arizona stated it would be clear. He'd experienced changing weather patterns during previous camping trips, and a few small clouds were no enormous concern. He rolled up his window and carried on, but the valley looked very different now. More foreboding and dangerous, which unsettled Byron.

Minutes later, the sun's rays bathed the valley, bringing it back to life. The returning sunlight highlighted some stunningly white jagged boulders up ahead that were lined up curiously, and he surmised that someone must have placed them there for a reason. To him, it was an excellent place to set up camp, and he was sure the creek was somewhere close.

He parked on a hill that overlooked the boulders and lugged his equipment down a narrow path to a sandy beach by the boulders. Setting up camp was quick, and he went off exploring when he'd finished. He found Bristle Creek barely flowing, but it was enough for him to wade in its lukewarm waters. Once his explorations were over, he returned to camp and relaxed with his tablet and some beer.

The growing clouds brought forth night earlier than expected, but it didn't bother him. He crossed his legs and listened as the breezes created peaks and lulls in the rustling bushes. A beautiful melody. His first yawn surfaced around 10:15 pm and they became more frequent as time wore on, perhaps the effects of that long drive getting the best of him. He put up a valiant struggle against the persistent sandman, but it was no use. He eventually conceded and removed his sleeping bag from his duffle bag. The musty smell was pleasing as memories of past camping trips entered his mind. He unrolled and unzipped it, revealing its red flannel interior, then he maneuvered it into the tent and slid inside, cocooning himself. He left a single lantern lit outside the tent, then quickly dozed off.

Unknown to him, large, powerful thunderstorms pounded the swath of land between the northern city of Kingman, AZ and the small hamlet of Wikieup, saturating the ground with torrential rains. The typically dusty, arid desert washes transformed into muddy, raging rivers. The Bristle Creek valley sat downstream from Wikieup, and the brunt of the rainwater was heading in that general direction, scouring the land and scooping up anything that wasn't firmly rooted in the ground. Dead cacti and desert plants, dead tree limbs, and rotted animal carcasses roiled and churned in the water's chaotic rush to find level ground.

Byron was jolted awake, and he found himself being tossed end over end in the darkness like paper swirling in a strong wind. A deafening roar pierced his ears along with cracking, crunching, and gurgling sounds. He tried opening his eyes, but the pummeling he received knocked the wind from his lungs. His mind was useless. In the dark, he felt water rushing into his sleeping bag and began kicking and flailing violently, not wanting his sleeping bag to become a canvas body bag.

End over end he flew, but somehow he managed to free himself from his sleeping bag. Water was everywhere and his tent was gone. He was spinning in the deluge and instinctively took breaths whenever his head momentarily popped out of the water. He couldn't see anything. A powerful undertow pulled him below the water's surface once again and debris pummeled him. His struggling became more intense as he realized how critical his situation was.

His right leg slammed into a sharp, immovable object and pain seared his brain. Totally disoriented, he struggled for more air. His head emerged from the water and he gulped in some precious oxygen. He tried focusing on getting out of the rushing water, but with no light, he couldn't determine which direction to take. A large object slammed into the side of his face and broke upon impact, forcing his head underwater again.

He struggled to return to the surface, arms desperately fighting to find something sturdy. Just then, many sharp objects pierced his arm, and as he pulled away, he felt his skin being ripped open. Instinctively, he pulled his arm upwards, and that gave him the momentum to get to the water's surface. He let out a yell the gods could hear. His stamina was waning, and he knew he couldn't endure too much more.

Feeling himself being dragged downstream even further, he started moving perpendicular to the direction he was being forced to follow. Debris continued to tag his body, but through it all, he found his way to an area where the water's force had weakened. With all the strength he could muster, he pulled himself away from the turmoil and moved to a secluded area. He stayed put, trying to regain his composure, gulping in air like a jet engine. He fell onto his back and listened to the pounding of the rushing water whipping by him, along with the swift beating of his heart, before everything went dark.


When he awoke, his mind remained wrapped in a peaceful fog, but as it faded, his nerves fired an intense salvo of signals, sending his brain into a frenzy.

Then it struck.

PAIN... MIND-numbing pain... crazy, searing pain.

He welcomed death in that moment, but the Good Lord wasn't ready for him yet. His eyelids quivered until they were open. His consciousness returned, but not his eyesight. It was his pain that convinced him he was alive, but he desperately wanted to see. He needed to see. Without his eyesight, he was at the mercy of anything. He blinked, feeling his eyelids shut and reopen, but there was nothing. Then he heard a familiar sound, but couldn't recognize it.

He tried sitting up, but was thwarted when stabbing pains shot through his back. He lay back down with his face skyward, feeling helpless as ever. He blinked once, and that's when they came into view. Within the infinite darkness, minuscule pinpoints of light presented themselves. They were faint, so he continued blinking. Each time he opened his eyes, more appeared, some brighter than others. Soon, there were many of them... hundreds of them. They were everywhere.

Gently, he twisted his head towards the left, enduring the painful stretching of his neck muscles, and a white blob moved into his view. He relaxed as he tried to focus on it, not wanting to rush himself. Slowly, his eyes adjusted, and he recognized what the object was... it's the moon. A quarter moon that sat low on the horizon and illuminated the faint outline of land.

When it was time to flip over, pain erupted from other places. His rib cage felt like it was ripping. Grunting loudly, nearly screaming, he continued until he was up on all fours. Trying to stand and walk right now was incomprehensible, and staying on all four was impossible for any length of time. He needed to sit down and take stock of his situation. He leaned to the left, feeling his weight shift to a point of no return. Up and over he went, much faster than expected. He landed on his butt with a heavy thud as his breath abandoned his lungs upon impact.

It was his first chance to gaze at his surroundings, the little he could see. He was definitely in a remote area. The stiff breeze felt cooler than it should, cold, in fact, but he felt too sore to wrap his arms around himself. He started shivering, but there was no reason for it. He looked down and felt his pants. They were soaked. His entire wardrobe was soaked, including his socks and boots.

His pain had pre-empted this knowledge, but now another question went unanswered... how he got there. Then that familiar sound returned. The one he heard right after he awakened. It was back... or maybe it never left. He listened. It was low and continuous, vibrating within a very small range of frequencies, with occasional dripping sounds thrown in.

It was running water.

That was all it took. The sound of running water revived his memory. It all came back, including every horrific detail, before he lost consciousness. He remembered his drive, setting up camp, going exploring, and then going to sleep. The horror of being swept away had also returned.

Lost in the high shrubbery of the Arizona desert, he knew trying to walk was out. His cellphone popped in his mind. Supposedly, it was waterproof, but he wasn't sure if it made it out alive during the chaotic tumbling he experienced. He gingerly pulled it from his pocket and looked.

The face illuminated, and there were bars.

He could call, but he still needed some type of landmark, something searchers could use as a beacon. He slowly craned his neck as it ached, searching for anything. He carefully threw his head backwards in frustration, but spotted something shimmering from the corner of his eye. He turned his head to the left and spotted something on the horizon.

In the dim moonlight, barely visible from where he sat, was one of the headless steel sentinels standing motionless and at attention... an electrical transmission tower. It could act as a beacon. He called for help, told them where he camped and how he was washed downstream. The transmission towers made it easier for them to find him.


They took him to the hospital, where he stayed overnight. We all thought he was still out camping, and that's why we were so surprised when he stepped from the cab. I listened to him tell the story to others, and it never changed. That's why I remember it so well. After hearing him tell it the first time, that's when I'd decided to never go camping... until tonight.

Wait. Did somebody check on the weather?

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