Blood is really warm,
it’s like drinking hot chocolate
but with more screaming.
— Ryan Mecum
With the good weather, I figure camping season is here already. So for today’s post, I’m going to reimagine one of my favorite campfire stories:
Behind the wheel of his new, 1995 Ford pickup, Tanner’s eyelids felt weighty. Music. He needed music and fresh air. It was still daylight, but with the inquisition of trees along the road, the afternoon was shaded from him.
He had needed this trip, craved it like the body communicating a nutrient deficiency. As a photographer for the city paper, his work tied him to crowds and steel buildings, humans and their creations at their most vulnerable.
The car’s swerving woke him, and with a free hand, he slapped at his face. There had been plenty of campgrounds already, but he had skipped every one. Too close to the city. Too crowded with others. Really, though, it was the irrational discomfort he often felt: as a photographer always watching others, it felt like others were always watching him.
He needed to escape. Fully.
Ahead, a dirt road cut into the forest and he took it without deliberation, and a hundred feet down the road, a toppled sign marked an unmaintained campground, the spot not even on his map. Perfect for him.
Both elbows popped as he stretched outside his truck. High in a tree, an eagle spied on him, and he slowly raised the camera from his neck. But the bird sensed his intention, and Tanner guessed his photo would turn out poorly.
Shouldering the backpack of camping gear Tanner’s reclusive neighbor had lent him, he followed a trail deeper into the woods. Spotty cries of birds. Sunlight carved with shadow. Spiny bushes and severe trees. After five hours of hiking, he found an acceptable clearing for camp.
Away. He was finally away.
The rest of the day and the following one, he explored the wilderness, never straying too far from the trail or his camp, taking pictures, snacking on nuts and raisins. He tried meditating, but that inner peace remained stifled, a rusty vent he could only partially open, the cool air thinly freed.
And by the third night, he decided he’d had enough. The same maw of the city he had tried to escape, now lured him back with the safeguard of its teeth.
Parked at his apartment complex, he tried to return the camping gear to his neighbor but surprisingly found him out. Instead, then, Tanner took everything to his own place and went straight to the spare bedroom he had converted into a dark room.
Snipping the film, mixing the chemicals, he prepared to develop his footage in the blood red light. And although too early for a fair assessment, he examined the negatives.
The eagle had turned out blurry. A photo of a collapsed cedar was all right. The—
He stared at the next picture, hesitant. How did… In what sounded like a nearby apartment, a door slammed, Tanner too focused to heed it. For halfway into his footage, the film still damp, were a series of pictures Tanner couldn’t explain.
Pictures of himself sleeping.