“Daddy, what does ‘fuck’ mean?”
The word hung in the air like a fart in a crowded elevator. The trip, originally intended as a pleasant getaway for Stan, his wife, and their two children, had become anything but. They quickly discovered the problem with public campgrounds is one is forced to share them with the public.
Although Stan worked long hours at the post office, there never seemed to be enough money for a vacation. Finally, in desperation, he marched into his bank and requested a loan. Stan had gone to high school with Bob, a loan officer at the bank.
”Are you doing some renovations?” Bob asked to pass the time while entering Stan’s income information into the computer.
“Nope, I’m taking the family on a much needed camping vacation.”
”I didn’t even know you were married,“ Bob responded. “Do you want to put your wife‘s information on the loan?”
"That’s alright,” Stan replied. “How much longer is this going to take?”
"We’re done,” Bob said with a smile and a handshake. “The money is already in your account. Enjoy the trip.”
Flush with cash and the desire to get away, Stan packed the car with family and the necessary accoutrements and headed north. For an overworked federal employee who desperately needed to escape the endless drudgery, camping seemed like the ideal activity.
Almost everything about their campsite seemed perfect. It was off the road, far enough that there were no sounds of passing cars. A quiet brook ran behind their lot, giving the would-be campers the ultimate water feature. The rustic cabin looked like it was lifted right off a picture postcard.
The only problem was the cabin next door was inhabited by four miscreants, who were sharing their colorful vocabulary with seven-year-old Kayleen.
“What did you say?” his wife said, horrified by the word.
“I got this, honey,” Stan assured her, placing his hand on his wife’s arm. “Baby, that’s an adult word,” he continued. He picked his daughter up, putting her gently on his knee. “Promise me you won’t say it again.”
“I promise, Daddy,” came the cherubic reply. “Pinky promise.”
“Pinky promise,” Stan replied. He intertwined his smallest finger with Kayleen’s.
“Now, go get your brother and tell him it’s almost time for dinner.”
“Ok, Daddy,” she responded enthusiastically, skipping across the old wooden floor of the cabin, so lightly the boards didn’t even squeak.
“You promised this would be a quiet getaway,” his wife said as soon as her daughter was out of earshot. “Those hooligans next door are ruining everything.”
“It’s ok, mamma bear. I’m sure they are just kids having a good time,” Stan remarked, taking his bride in his arms and kissing her gently on the lips. “If it doesn’t quiet down by the morning, then we’ll pack up and find another campground down the road apiece.”
“'Down the road apiece,' really?” his wife said with a chuckle. “Who says that, grandpa?”
“I do, little lady,” Stan replied with a smile and a pat on his wife’s backside. “Now go relax for a while. I’ll make dinner.” Stan watched as his wife walked to the back bedroom, where she sat on the floor to play with the children.
Before Stan could start dinner an unexpected knock broke the silence. Peeking out the window Stan saw the campground manager standing at the door.
"Can I help you?" Stan asked, puzzled by the intrusion.
"Just checking in on our guests." the manager replied cheerfully. "I do it twice a day, once in the morning and, well, once about now."
"I'm fine," Stan responded. "The neighbors are a bit loud, but nothing I can't handle."
"Fantastic, enjoy your time with us and don't hesitate to swing by if you need anything. I'll see you in the morning on my rounds."
"Thanks," Stan said, as he closed the door and headed back to the kitchen.
Dinner, like the trip, should have been perfect. The cabin Stan had rented came with a kitchenette, and in no time, he placed four bowls of Dinty Moore Beef Stew on the table. Stan didn’t have to call his family to the table as the smell of simmering vegetables and meat did the job for him. His son, who just turned four, sat in his booster seat between his parents. Kayleen, the self-described “big girl,” sat across from her little brother.
Everyone seemed to love the stew.
It should have been perfect, but it wasn’t.
Just as Stan was about to take the first bite, the quiet was once again disturbed by his unruly neighbors.
“You can run—but you can’t hide!” cried out a drunk ne’er-do-well as he chased a topless young woman right past the front picture window.
“That’s it,” Stan shouted, finally pushed past his limit. “I’m going to put a stop to this.” He stood up, heading for the front door.
“Stan, don’t,” his wife begged, knowing full well he would not listen.
The cabin’s front door slammed so violently that it could almost be heard above the loud music coming from the campsite next door. Stan stopped only long enough to pull a small satchel from the trunk of his car.
Soon, there was quiet. The music and the shouting stopped. There was no noise of any kind.
“I made a deal with them,” Stan said upon his return. “I said if they kept it down tonight, we’d leave in the morning. Then they can rabble-rouse to their heart’s content.”
There was no more ruckus for the rest of the night; however, Stan barely slept. The quiet had become loud; Stan strained to hear anything. The room and the cabin and the woods lay silent, save for the crickets whose erratic chirps played an eerie melody.
At first light, Stan, without saying a word, packed his car and prepared to depart as he had promised. He had been so happy to arrive at this secluded paradise, yet now all he wanted to do was leave. The campground manager must have already started his rounds and Stan wanted to be gone before he had to endure another awkward conversation.
Secured by a seat belt and mirrors adjusted, Stan reached down to shift his old car into drive, only stopping when the sound of sirens shattered the silence.
Police deputies, a state patrolman, and an entire SWAT team surrounded the car in what seemed like an instant. Just as quickly, Stan was pulled from the vehicle, thrown to the ground, and handcuffed. Only then did Stan see the bloody mess in front of the neighboring cabin—four lifeless bodies, laying neatly in a pile.
Overwhelmed by the violence and disoriented by his own disturbed mind, Stan closed his eyes and began to sob.
“Please help my family,” he pleaded to the officer who firmly guided him to a squad car.
“Your family?” the police officer asked, genuinely confused.
“They’re in the car! Please—my family, they are in the car!” Stan exclaimed, turning back to where his car stood empty. Just then, he felt a tiny tug on his shirt. He looked down into the tearful eyes of little Kayleen.
“Don’t be afraid, baby,” Stan replied, “It’s going to be ok.”
“Are you talking to me?” The officer paused, unnerved by Stan’s puzzling demeanor.
“No, no . . . I’m talking to—” Stan stopped mid-sentence, looking around in horror as he realized Kayleen was never actually there.