The Grayson Highlands Backpacking Dream

But from the moment I left those ponies. For me, everything started to change. And not in a good way.

For one thing, just as I was shredding up a certain stretch of trail, near my camping destination. I had to stop for a family, (single Mom and two sons, I think) coming uphill the other way. And, for some reason, her adolescent son in the lead, gave me a look, which shook me to the core.

Indeed, he almost looked demonic to me. Disturbed. Not sure, if it was the eye shadow and mascara around his eyes. Kids today. And, in the depths of his eyes, for a moment, I swore I saw red. Like the red flames of a smoldering coal. Burning, blazing hatred at me. Like he wanted to trap me into some kind of satanic ritual, or something. Burn and torture me to crisp in a blaze of blasphemy. The whole time doing everything that he could in his little demonic heart to try to steal my soul for his one true master.

And then, they were gone. And I was left alone on the trail, trying to make sense of it all.

It’s just your dang imagination. I told myself, trying to shake it off.

There wudn’t no red in his eyes. No demon inside of him. In fact, there was nothing wrong with that darn kid, at all. He was just one of those transsexuals, transgenders, or non-binary individuals. So brave and stunning, simply for their identity. Or maybe, he was just a good kid, who liked sporting makeup. I guessed. Not knowing much about the subject. But something inside of me knew that he wasn’t right inside. And it had nothing to do with his unusual overt appearances other than that abyss of hell that I swore I’d seen in that boy’s eyes.

Nonetheless, they were gone for good. And I was gonna be safe and sound in my campsite. Which I’d stayed at many times. Where I’d had some of the best rest of my life, drifting off to sleep under stunning starry skies.

But, for whatever reason, after I arrived there. Set camp. Ate dinner. Even rested a bit in my hammock as it got all dark. Nothing ever seemed right about my campsite on this particular night.

Instead, everything felt unsettled. Disturbed.

My Grayson Highlands campsite at dusk.
My Grayson Highlands campsite at dusk.

And another feeling I got there was that I was being watched. The whole time.

But whenever I’d look around, scared to death that I’d see some big-a$$ Momma bear charging my way. Some infuriated Sasquatch. Or even a half-starved cougar, leaping out of the trees. Right on top of unsuspecting me.

No, I have to say, whenever I’d finish searching all those long shadows in the woods all around me. Nope, there’d never be anyone, or anything, there. So it was just me. Alone in the woods. Yup.

As no other campers had also settled in for the night in the nearby campsites. Which was unusual for this particular spot. So, it was just gonna be me and the stars tonight. Which was good. I told myself. Because, I, of course, loved staring up at stars, as I drifted off to sleep to the sounds of that pristine mountain stream, flowing so close to me.

And so, it would also be so, tonight. Except, just before I finally settled in. Cooled off, calmed down. It was only then, when I saw the most spectacular shooting star blaze all the way from the south to north. All the way across the pitch black sky.

So that I knew what true beauty was for all time. And I could rest easy, knowing we are never alone on this earth. Rather, there is something all-powerful. Almighty above. Or all around. An eternal consciousness we are all a part of.

And then, I was gone into the world of night. The world of our dreams…

And in it, I saw the terrifying glare from a demon’s eyes.

Then, came a few memories of one of my best friends…

Back in the day, when we were fishing the Potomac River, as teens. I’d just caught a catfish. Then, my friend asked me for it. So I gave it to him, thinking that he only wanted to keep it so we could cook it later that night. But he just chucked it in the fire, watching it burn for a while before he shot it with his BB gun. Yeah, I should have dumped him as a friend, right then.

Then, there was this other time. Another memory of him in those dark dreams… When he was shooting at some pigeons underneath a bridge with his BB gun. Then, one of those poor pigeons fell from the bridge into the shallows of a creek. Unable to fly. Flapping. Hopelessly. Dying. My heart breaking in half. I picked up a stone. To put the poor bird out of its misery. But before I did. I saw that look in that bird’s eyes. Never could shake it.

It’s okay to kill for food. But for sport. For fun. To torture. No.

So yeah, I should have dumped my “friend” then.

But, you know, we both loved fishing. And, he’d listen to me. He was a funny guy for sure. Popular with the girls. And we’d go water skiing on the lake in his Dad’s motorboat. Good times. No, he wasn’t all evil.

Even in my dream that night. When he came to me. No, he wasn’t evil. But we got into a fight, anyway. Thing is. I always knew that I could beat that guy in a fight. Particularly in a wrestling match, because I’d wrestled in high school. Whereas, he hadn’t. And trust me, if the guy you’re trying to beat doesn’t know how to wrestle, grapple, or do all that jujitsu stuff, well, chances are. No matter how big he is, he’s going down.

Yet, in my dream, whenever I’d try to get the right leverage, handhold, or position to chuck my friend. Every time, he’d counter me, perfectly. So no, I couldn’t bring him down. Break his will. Pin him on the ground. No matter how hard I tried.

And still, I tried over and over again. And again and again. Fighting him in a fight neither of us could win for what seemed like an eternity. A continuous loop. Until eternity finally ended after all the time that the river flowed. To mercy.

Then, I awoke. Startled. Scarcely able to breathe. Feeling like the life was being strangled right out of me. In a panic, I stared around. Wondering if I should break camp right now. Pack up, head out, on the trail. And fast.

But it was pitch black. All around me. And I knew that I’d probably trip on some rocks. Break something big. A hip. A femur. Lying helpless until morning, or that damned boy from the trail found me and did God only knows what …

Jesus Christ save me.

Suddenly, just outside my tent, I saw a small flame suddenly ignite. Illuminating the ghostly face of my long lost friend. The very one, who I’d just dreamt about!

Ghostly face of an old friend illuminated by a lighter.

Bobby? What in the??? I gasped aloud. Jaw agape.

You gonna be my catfish, my pigeon, tonight? He asked, glaring at me, the lighter still burning bright. While in his other hand, I noticed him holding a bottle of lighter fluid!

And that’s when I also saw that same look in his eyes. The same look that I’d seen in that boy’s eyes during the previous day. The same look that I’d seen in my friend’s eyes when he’d killed those two helpless animals when we were both teens.

And, for a moment, I was so terrified. So petrified. So frozen in my fear that I almost accepted my fate. Becoming one of his blood and fire sacrifices. But then, something inside of me told me that I’d been preparing for this moment my whole life.

And there it was. Right where it always was. And I grabbed it with my left hand. Hitting him square in the eyes with the high beam from my headlamp. Blinded, momentarily, he stepped backwards. And, in that split second, I unzipped my tent a bit and hit him hard again. Right in the face. With the bear spray. All of it.

Coughing, choking, wheezing, I unzipped, ripped, and sprang from the tent. Knife in hand.

Bobby! I screamed. You ain’t no friend of mine. So now you gonna die!

And with that, I was upon him. My left hand around his collar. Held tight. The other hand, stabbing, slashing for my life.

No, I’d not let go for all time. Still, he crumpled in my grasp after a while. Gasping for breath, choking, dying. And finally, I eased my death grip.

So he fell. Sprawling out on the ground.

Somehow, still breathing.

And laughing. Laughing hideously. Sinisterly. Glaring at me. The demonic fire in his eyes burning holes right through me.

But it wasn’t Bobby who I saw on the ground anymore. It was me! Me glaring at me with those same demonic eyes!

God, help me.

And that’s when I knew that evil had actually won the night. That the wars would still go on and on. And that there was no hope for humanity in this dark world. After all, I’d become the very evil I’d sought to destroy, tonight. And so, evil was consummate. All around us. And there was no stopping it. Ever!

So not knowing what to do anymore. Where to go. Or even, who to tell of this unbearable news. I simply fell to my knees. Praying. For salvation. Redemption. And forgiveness for what I’d done. What I’d done wrong. ALL OF IT. At every turn in my life. At every moment. I’d ever had the chance to do what was right. And failed.

See, I wasn’t any better than anyone. Not you, me, or anyone else. And Bobby had been a drunk, a bum, a moocher for a lot of his life. But was I any better? Yet, he thought he was better than others? Acted arrogant, sometimes. And a few guys had beat the crap out of him because of it. But, was I any better than that? Or the same? Yes, I was just a man with flaws trying my best in life, just like my friend had done. Just like everyone else.

Then, there arose in my heart some words. And I just spoke them, still staring at the mutilated body of my friend, as he choked and gasped out his last breaths, still laughing at me. Evil incarnate. Or was it really me?

Bobby, I swore, I forgive you. That’s all.

And suddenly, a bolt of lightning came striking down, surging right into my heart, as a jolt of pure energy and vibration. Carrying with it, a current of love so boundless and infinite that I could not contain it any longer. And thought that I’d die of it.

And so, it just overflowed right out of my heart, as an unstoppable tidal wave, surging and rolling across the world. Touching every soul on this earth in one supernova of love, forgiveness, and redemption for all time. And remorse, regret, and repentance for even the most incorrigible and depraved among us. Those of the island of evil, for whom there will be no escape on judgment day…

And so, I was finally free at last from the dark forces that tempt all of us. For that one pure perfect moment in my life. And then, the light from above finally carried me upwards to that place of infinite love and truth, where the river of life flows an eternity. And my soul would finally rest in peace at last…

After a long career in the publishing industry, Gary Alan left his corporate job to pursue his next adventures in life as a blogger, writer, investor, fly fisherman, hiker, and traveler. He is the author of the adventure fiction book, 'Big Thunder-Hearted River'.

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