Writing Prompts

Halloween Challenge 10-10-21 Screech

Great horned owl courtesy of Unsplash

Somewhere in the Piney woods of east Texas, the campers happily set up the tents for the beginning of their weekend retreat. The teens made quick work of the job, anxious to get to the first business of the day; a three mile hike before breakfast.

The group of ten gathered their water bottles and backpacks as soon as the last stake was pounded in the ground, grabbing their map on the way our of the campsite. Pairing off, they headed out, with no guide, thinking they had the skills to go this one alone. Their parents all signed off on the trip, knowing their kids had been camping with troupes since they were young, faithful they were more than capable on their own.

The campsite was in a small clearing, yet tree branches hung over enough to provide a bit of cover. Once the returned from the hike, their plan would be to start a fire, cook breakfast, and coffee, then go fishing at a nearby lake. If they were lucky, they’d be catching their dinner, if not, they would have to make do with what provisions they’d brought. The girls usually packed the best snacks, so they weren’t worried.

The hike went without incident, except make them all ravenous and ready for a break and some coffee. The guys got the fire going, the girls made coffee, and soon, eggs and bacon were sizzling in the cast iron skillet over the fire. They were also equipped with a small, portable grill for the fish, if they brought any back. After breakfast, they hiked in the opposite direction toward the lake. There was a small dock, and Rusty, Trevor, and Gary had brought their kayaks. Billy and Brandon, besties since grade school, hung back on the dock. Fishing went just as well there as on the kayak as far as they knew.

The girls hung back at camp for the moment, happy to be left to the work of readying the tents for the evening. There were beds to inflate and make for each of the five tents, the portable kitchen to set up in case the guys brought back fish (basically a long table where they laid out spices, utensils, and paper plates) and the camp chairs to set out around the fire. Once that was done, they sat around the fire to dish out girl talk until the guys returned. The group had paired off like this: Rusty and Paula in one tent, Trevor and Kimber in the second, Gary and Maria, Billy and Lisa, and Brandon and Sarah in the remaining tents. They had all been couples since Junior High, and most everyone got along great.

Fall in Texas stays warm for a while, even the eastern region, and there is plenty of wildlife in the woods, including different varieties of owls. Great horned owls, screech owls, barn owls-rather spooky at night due to their ghostly white face and bellies, and barred owls, found mostly in eastern Texas. Woodpeckers, cottonmouth snakes, rabbits, opossoms, and squirrels are also native to east Texas. Coyotes and bobcats can also be seen in the Piney woods region. The girls feared nothing but coyotes, especially when running in packs around streams and rivers. They hoped the guys were back before it got dark.

In fact, Lisa and Sarah were bored once everything was done and chatting had died down, so they went down to the dock to see how Brandon and Billy were getting along. Having already sprayed themselves down with Off, they took the can with them, figuring the boys would have forgotten todo that themselves. Mosquitos are fierce, especially by the water, and they didn’t want to hear them whining about getting bit. The guys were happy to see them, grabbing the can immediately to give themselves a good spray. All of them were still wearing shorts after all. The bait bucket still had a few minnows in it, and the guys had caught exactly one trout. “Yall want a break and let us give it a shot?” Lisa considered herself pretty proficient in the fishing dept. Billy handed her the pole saying, “Sure, I’m gonna go grab a couple of camp chairs anyway.” And a beer, most likely, Lisa thought. “Hey, grab our water bottles too while you’re at it please.” Billy nodded and Brandon joined him as he walked back up to the campsite. Lisa winked at Sarah then and said, ”Let’s see how many we can catch before they get back.” “You’re on” Sarah replied.

Believe it or not, the girls had caught three flounder before the guys got back, maybe because the guys were dawdling, maybe just because they were better at fishing. Who knew? The guys were kind enough to bring a couple if extra poles and chairs, in addition to the radio, so soon the foursome were chilling on the dock, feeling peaceful and like they had no cares in the world. Back at camp, the other girls had gone exploring, looking for mushrooms or other treasures. iPhones tucked in back pockets, they were also snapping pics of birds, rabbits, flowers, or whatever caught their attention. It was great being carefree teens, just doing whatever they wanted, whatever came natural. They weren’t just thinking of supper plans, they were thinking of Christmas coming soon, and they scavenged for pinecones and plants they could dry for decor.

The kayaks pulled in about three hours after they left, happy to see that the couples on the dock had caught enough fish for an early dinner. The three kayakers had caught nothing but sore arms and sunburns. The seven of them humped the gear back to camp, but the three other girls were not back yet, so they went about cleaning all the fish, and getting them ready for the grill. As the sun started to set and the girls still had yet to return from the woods, Rusty and Gary went off to look for them. ”I guess they’ve lost track of time” Rusty said, to which Gary replied, “ Not Maria! Shes probably been begging them to turn back for an hour now!” He knew she was more of a city girl, ready to get back, eat, and follow up dinner with s’mores and ghost stories around the campfire. Somewhere in the distance they heard a scream, so they picked up the pace, nervous now. It sounded like Maria, so Gary whipped out his phone and texted her, hoping she had remembered to bring hers along. The deeper they went into the woods, the darker it became, and Gary anxiously awaited a return text. Rusty also texted Paula, who replied quickly saying Maria saw a snake, thats all. They were on their way back. “Meet you back at camp then” Rusty texted back, and he and Gary turned around, relieved they were ok. Once they returned to camp, they were happy to see fish cooking on the grill, the table set up with condiments, crackers, paper plates, and plastic silverware ready to go.

Maria and Paula returned to the clearing to the good smells of fish cooking, headed straight for their cooler for a soda, and then ducked in their respective tents to put their treasures away. Trevor looked around and said, ”Hey wait a minute, where is Kimber?” Paula came out from her tent saying, ”I figured she’d be here by now, she was right behind us, poking along looking for something in the leaves.” Trevor told her to go ahead and eat, grabbed his flashlight and headed back into the woods to find her. ”Kimber!” he hollered as he walked along. Just then, an owl screeched, scaring the wits out of him, and he quickened his pace. Trevor was notorious for forgetting his phone, so he kept calling her name, waiting for a reply. The owl screeched again, so he shone his powerful flashlight up into the branches looking for the source. When he finally saw the owl, he trailed the light down the tree, and there was Kimber, frozen in her tracks staring up into the branches. ”What are you doing, didn’t you hear me calling?” She wasn’t moving, so Trevor hurried to see what she was looking at. A bobcat was poised on a nearby branch, growling and looking ready to pounce. Grabbing her hand, he said, ”Let’s go” pulling her along and breaking into a run. He wished he had his shotgun, but never thought to bring it.

As they ran back toward the clearing, Trevor heard the thud as the big cat leapt from the tree, growling and chasing them as they ran. Kimber looked behind her to see how close it was, just in time to see a Great Horned owl swoop down on the cat. It rolled the big cat with its talons, distracting him long enough for the pair to enter the clearing, huffing and puffing from the exertion. “What happened” everyone asked at once. ”Whew, let’s eat, and I’ll tell you all about about it while we are eating our s’mores!” ”Why, is it a ghost story?” Lisa asked. ”No” Trevor said winking, ”but it’s still unbelievable.”

See, Great Horned Owls don’t screech. 😉

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