Campfire Chills

Sometimes you read stories that leave you with cold chills.…

Sometimes you read stories that leave you with cold chills. There are some stories that make the small hairs on the back of your neck stand at attention. The following, although 25 years ago, still does both to me.

During my bachelor days, my buddies and I would travel to some off-the-beaten-part locations for dirt bike riding, fishing, hunting, target shooting and some camping. We had chosen to travel deep into the Appalachian Mountains for this trip, and it included two of my best friends Harry and Ray, brothers that lived near me, and their co-worker PJ and his 17-year-old son Gray (names have been changed).

We began this journey on Thursday evening, as we all worked that day, and ended up leaving around 7:00 pm. We traveled with two vehicles, each pulling a trailer loaded with dirt bikes and camping gear. As we looked for what would be the best place to unpack, that offered a small lake, access to a nice flat range area and a place we could see for a few hundred yards, we began to unpack the trucks. PJ, the co-worker of my buddy’s, was a good ole boy who had been to these parts hundreds of times, but this particular place was as new to him as it was to the rest of us. As we began to unload the dirt bikes and align our trucks for a quick “look see” in the morning, PJ said something wasn’t right; he continued to say that he felt that we should maybe go back down the road a bit and set up camp there. As we laughed it off and, thinking he was only trying to spook us, we told him that we had driven as far as we were going and those sleeping bags were calling us to them. PJ was notorious for playing practical jokes and at the hospital where he worked, the tales would grow tremendously. After getting our gear off the vehicles, just what we would need to get to sleep, we all fell hard asleep and before we knew it, morning was upon us.

Harry, who worked at the hospital with PJ, was the first up and had been griping about how cold it was and that we should have left earlier and got there in time to build a fire. Weighing only about 140, Harry was lacking the girth that PJ, Ray and I had to keep us warm. We were ready to gas up the bikes and see what was around the ridge when Gray, PJ’s son, yelled that one of the four 15-gallon gas cans had leaked out overnight and was close to empty. Our first thought was that he had not totally tightened the lids, as it was he who had filled them the day before, since he had gotten out of school at 2:30 p.m.

Gray walked over to the gas can and, without a word, looked at Harry and shook his head. Harry asked, “What is it?” and Gray said there looked to have been a rock that had poked a hole in the tank. We knew that both vehicles had rubbed some rock ledges as we came around the old mining road, but we didn’t think that the gas tanks had been hit in any way. PJ walked over to the tank and said, “Guys, the tank has a hole in it, but it has been made by something a lot sharper than a rock.” We all walked over and looked at the gash in the bottom part of the tank and it looked to have been made with a knife or ax of some sort. We looked at each other and didn’t say a word.

By the time we had fueled the bikes up and locked up the trucks, I bet no more than 15 words had been spoken between us. We each hopped on a bike and after a few minutes were fast on our way to see what we could find around the ridge. We paired off in a two-man and three-man group and went our separate ways looking to see if there was anything or anyone around us. By the look of the old logging road, no one had been up here in years.

After about a couple of hours we met back at camp and began to get a fire going in order to fix lunch. We had packed two large coolers with sandwich fixins and some steaks and potatoes we could grill for dinner, just in case we all failed at shooting our dinner. I called for Harry to bring the cooler with the sandwich items over to the back of the truck bed; we were using it as our table to prepare our lunch. He came over and asked where it was and I said to quit acting stupid, as he had put it in the front of his truck before we went riding that morning. He looked at PJ and said, “The jig is up, where did you move the cooler to?” PJ said some type of profanity and walked over to the cab of the truck and looked inside. He had a puzzled look on his face and said, in a very serious voice, “I swear I did not touch the cooler!” This is where the hair on the back of my neck first stood to attention. PJ looked around and said, “Where’s Gray?” We all looked around the campsite and Gray was nowhere to be found. Again, those tiny hairs were saluting at full attention.

About ten minutes later Gray returned and asked why we were looking at him so funny. We told him about the cooler being missing and he said that some of the items were around the ridge, where he had gone to relieve himself minutes earlier. PJ and Harry went back to where he had been and neither found any of the items that Gray had said he seen earlier. PJ accused Gray of not remembering where he had been and that made for a good laugh before we had lunch and, again, went off in our groups to ride.

That night PJ went around the ridge in the truck to pick up firewood and also to dispose of some unnecessary waste from dinner. After about 30 minutes we heard a gun shot followed by two more. PJ carried his S&W .357 on his side and a UZI Carbine in his truck. A few minutes later, PJ came back to camp with an old Ford F250 coming hard behind him. We grabbed our guns and knelt behind the other truck; just as two guys jumped from the truck, Ray fired an Ithaca Entry 12 gauge into the air. The guys stopped dead in their tracks and slowly backtracked to their vehicle and, as they were getting into their vehicle, said they would be back later with more guys.

After they left, we discussed the whole purpose of coming here in the first place; it was to relax, do some shooting, a little hunting and fishing, and dirt bike riding. We didn’t come to get caught up in some kind of trouble we knew nothing about. So we began loading up the vehicles and after we started down the road and out of the mountains, we thought there must have been another way in, because we knew we were the only ones that had traveled the way we came. About an hour and a half later, as we were stopping to fuel up, a Deputy Sheriff and his wife were in the convenience store. We explained what had happened to us and he wanted us to show two other deputies that were on duty where we had been. PJ and Gray decided to go back and show them where this problem had taken place, and the other guys and myself headed on home.

On Monday morning PJ received a call at his work from the Sheriff’s Deputy that he had taken back to the scene and was told that the two men and three other, two more men and a woman, had been arrested and that due to us letting them know about what had happened, a huge harvest of marijuana was cut and burned.

We still talk about it sometimes; and since, PJ has passed away, and when we do talk about it I get those hairs standing at attention every time.
—KMW, KY

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  • RGH

    KMW has at least 3 encounters here where he has had to use a gun. Either he’s full of $*it, or is not a likable person.