– John white, Charlottesville, VA
My friends and I were seated in a circle around a blazing campfire in the woods of West Virginia. We were busy celebrating the tough 1.1 mile hike endured that day by consuming everything we had labored to bring, including those golden liquids that sloshed so enticingly every step of the 5808-foot journey.
A sudden scream then came piercing out of the dark woods, and we were all sober in a second. I was the only one with any relevant experience in the woods, and I coolly told the huddled man-boys, “Don’t worry guys, it’s just a bobcat.”
To be honest, I’d never heard a bobcat scream, but I had been told that it sounded just like a woman in distress. To be honest, I still haven’t heard an actual bobcat scream.
Our midsummer’s night party picked back up and we pretended to ignore the shrieks that continued calling for at least another half hour.
At one point, I wandered away from the fire to get more wood to burn in sacrifice to Dionysus when the unintelligible cry formed two distinct, decidedly non-bobcat words, “HELP ME!”
With scenes of every horror movie I’d ever seen dancing through my head, I dropped the firewood and ran back to the group to tell them that we had to help. Four of us split the three flashlights and dove headfirst into the trees, which had suddenly become hostile and overwhelming. As we followed the sounds of the scream toward its unknown source, we each grew more and more terrified and acted more courageous and confident as a result, sprinting through the forest like mongooses on the hunt. One of my valiant band of brothers-in-flannel didn’t have a flashlight so he loudly ran into several trees head-first. It would have been funny if we weren’t so scared.
Since we had no idea if this distressed woman was alone or being tormented by captors, we tried to stay as silent as ninjas until we could see her in our lights. In our minds we were putting to use all the skills gleaned from stealth missions we had played in dozens of video games, justifying at once those decades of digital addiction. Despite our best efforts, she must have heard us, because she started screaming louder and shriller than before. Then our three beams of light converged on her, illuminating her body like some kind of backwater Broadway star.
A thirty-something woman, wearing full-body bunny print pajamas, stood in the middle of a trail. You could tell that she’d been crying, and my God her voice must’ve been sore from screaming in vain for thirty minutes. I felt more than a little stupid for ignoring her for so long. When we got closer, one of us said what every knight in shining armor says to the damsel in distress after he dramatically bursts through the door locked tower door—“Hey.”
She responded, to paraphrase, “Hey.”
Turns out she’d left her tent site at dusk, looking for cell phone reception and got caught in the moonless dark without a light. As we walked her back toward her campsite, you could tell that just having light guiding the way calmed and visibly relaxed her. And then she let out the loudest series of farts I’ve ever heard. They were concussive enough that another party camping on the mountain probably heard them and turned to their fearless leader, who likely told them with collected cool, “Don’t worry guys, it’s just a toad.”