2013 Second Place Winner


By Gary A. Scott

            My father never took me camping. He hated it. During World War II, while traveling with the American Army across France and Germany, he’d had to camp out a great deal, often in terrible conditions. He swore then that after the war he would never sleep anywhere but in a nice clean bed, in a nice warm house. In fact, while he was raising us, dad never really showed much inclination to do much of anything outdoors—sometimes he seemed to think that the whole point of fighting the war was to win his right to stay inside.

It wasn’t like dad’s attitude toward the out-of-doors traumatized me. I simply found that I really didn’t like the out-of-doors either. Growing up I only learned to think of it as a place where I could get sun-burnt, frozen, bug-or-dog-bitten, cut, scraped, run over or even beat up. Though Dad preferred the indoors merely for its ability to keep you warm and dry, I personally loved it for its ability to keep me uninjured.  

            When I grew up and left my dad’s warm, comfortable, and safe home, I went to college and in one of my English classes met Amelia Mae Worster, the most beautiful, intelligent, and kind-hearted creature on the face of this earth. I fell in love with her, unconditionally, and I have always felt that our marriage would have been perfect, except for one thing: Amelia Mae had been raised by parents who taught her to love the out of doors, and—Good Lord!—even camping, too! Our continuing discord on this subject is the primary theme of this story, which follows.   


            One summer night, Amelia Mae, my young and very beautiful wife of nearly a year, came home and announced that she had just bought a tent and two sleeping bags. I was horrified, but not totally surprised. She’d been threatening to do this for months.

Then, even more terribly, a few nights later Amelia Mae announced that, whether I wanted to go or not, she was going camping, during our mutual vacation time, for a full week, at Branton State Park, 275 miles away. This place was way up north, in the middle of the most forested corner of our state! She said that she was quite willing to go camping all by herself, because of what she called my “silly, perpetually negative attitude toward the outdoors.”

The truth of the matter, though, was that Amelia Mae knew that there was no way that I was going to let her gorgeous self out of my eye sight for a full week, especially not that far.  Right from the start we both knew that I was stuck coming, too.

I guess Amelia Mae had just gotten fed up and just had to go camping, one way or another, because it was something that her family had taught her to love. I personally loved Amelia Mae so much that I really wanted to go with her and have a good time too, but I dreaded sleeping on the ground in a sleeping bag (in any weather!), I don’t like rain (and I’m not that fond of the sun, either!), and, as this was July, I should mention one outdoor activity that I hate more than any other: getting bitten by mosquitoes!

I have always despised the little blood-sucking monsters, and all that summer, and the last, too, I had been trying to communicate this to Amelia Mae. The problem was that she herself viewed the little bastards quite benevolently: she once even called them, “Our little friends, the Mosquitoes.” She actually liked the murderous little thugs!

During one of our arguments on this subject, Amelia gave me her prescription for learning to really understand mosquitoes. First, I had to learn to truly love and appreciate “Mother Nature.”  Next, I had to learn to love and appreciate my own role in “Mother Nature’s larger picture.” Then, according to her, I would “easily learn how to get along with mosquitoes.” By her logic, it was really that easy!

The most annoying about this wacko theory of hers, was that it worked perfectly well for her. For example, one hot July evening, around dusk, during the first week of our marriage, I was astonished to find Amelia Mae out in our completely mosquito-infested garden, dressed only in short-shorts and a halter-top. She was on her hands and knees digging, removing weeds and planting flowers.  After I strongly questioned the sanity of these actions, this is when she first advanced her theories about mosquitoes. And, as she spoke, this was also when I first realized that she could just stay there, bare-armed, bare- midriff, and bare-legged, amongst thousands of mosquitoes, forever unmolested.

She expounded on her theory that night for like fifteen minutes, and, too stunned to argue, I just listened. I had just finished walking our dog, and had on a thick layer of repellent and long pants, a hat, and a jacket.  (Yet I still received mosquito bites!)  After a few minutes, I really began hoping that some of the mosquitoes would bite her, too, just so she could see things a little more from my point of view!  Yet, amazingly, none did.  It became increasingly obvious that Amelia Mae could remain unscathed in that garden as long as she liked, right in the midst of all her mosquito pals.

It became an inescapable fact: Amelia Mae was safe from mosquitoes any time, any place. Later, during that first summer of our married love, I, who so dearly loved her, finally decided one evening, when she was out visiting a friend, that I owed it to her to give her theories a really honest effort. (Real love can make you do some very stupid things!) Unfortunately, when I stepped into our garden, with short sleeves, short pants, and no repellent on (Amelia Mae claimed that repellent only offended the mosquitoes!), Amelia Mae’s benevolent “little friends” leaped at me like piranhas, starting a feeding frenzy as if I’d been a two hundred pound ham tossed into the Amazon.

Being so overwhelmingly in love with Amelia Mae, I tried out her principles, again, several more times, each time trying to “improve my attitude.” Admittedly, once, it even momentarily seemed to work. For like 40 seconds the mosquitoes appeared to be sensing that I was trying not to dislike them (which Amelia Mae kept saying was so crucial!), and they kept their distance. But then one of them, a rogue I guess, opted for a quick taste. I tried to smash him, and the rest leaped to his defense; so I went after all the little berserkers with the garden spade.

Later, when my wife came home, she found all the smashed flowers and vegetables. Her anger at all the damage calmed down a little—after she finally let me speak—after I explained that it had only happened because I’d been trying out her theory on mosquitoes. Then she told me not to try out her theories anywhere near the garden anymore. I had to admit that this was pretty good advice.


            Though my beautiful wife deplored the “toxic stench” of my mosquito repellents, she finally reluctantly conceded that I could use them during our various walks through the forests of Branton State Park. Her only condition was that I would always shower off the repellents before we slept together. I countered by insisting that I shower really late, and that, before we went to sleep, I would be allowed to use my flashlight to search out and kill any mosquitoes in the tent.

Everything went fine the first two nights: Branton State Park’s excellent shower facilities were not far from our tent, and after I killed one or two mosquitoes in the tent (which actually pained Amelia Mae!), we finally spent relatively decent nights, considering where we were. The second night in our tent, my lovely wife even said how happy she was that we had gone camping together in such a beautiful spot, something she had feared might never happen.

The third evening was when the disaster that is the main subject of this story happened. I took my shower really early, around six; it was so dry and bright and sunny that the mosquitoes hadn’t even appeared, at least not in the beach area where we’d been hanging around all day. Then I realized that, because the day had been so relaxing and beautiful, I had forgotten to buy new flashlight batteries for my nightly “search and destroy” missions against the mosquitoes in our tent. Amelia Mae argued that we’d probably not even have any tonight, but I insisted on going to the local camp store. She refused to come along, preferring to stay on the beach, so I set off in our car alone.

I was quite disappointed, seven miles later, when I found a sign on the front door of the store:

“Sorry, my sister is sick.

Had to go to Inisburg.

Back tomorrow.”

There was no other store anywhere even close, and I didn’t like the idea of having to sleep in the tent without my nightly mosquito kill. But I was a whole lot more disappointed when I found that I had locked my keys inside the car. The park store was out in the middle of nowhere, and the other key was with my wife, seven miles away.  (It was Amelia Mae’s car, so I didn’t feel I had the right to break the window.) Unless I wanted to wait for someone else to come around, which might not be until morning, I had a long walk ahead of me, and the sun was getting lower and lower in the sky.

Just then a speeding “four by four” off-road truck came speeding by. It contained a half dozen screaming teenagers and probably a case of Budweiser, and was doing maybe sixty on the single country road back to the camp. I hesitated, and they were gone. That was the last moving human driven vehicle I would see for a long time.


Once the ripping sound of the four by four’s tires on the pavement finally died out, I was left alone in the ominous, stony quiet of a forest road in the deep woods.

The only noise was that of insects buzzing. The sun was dipping lower and lower, and I really regretted being out there with no mosquito repellent; that was locked up in the trunk. I had seen the pocket-sized mosquito repellent many times—I should have bought one for just such an emergency!  But it was too late now: I had to start my seven-mile walk back to the camp.

I figured the faster I walked the more mosquitoes I might escape. I soon warmed up to quite a brisk pace. The problem was that the sun was sinking lower and lower, and because of the forest that edged both sides of the road, less and less of the road was being heated by the sunlight, and the retreating sunlight had been the one thing that had been keeping the mosquitoes mainly in the shade of the surrounding trees.  I noticed, too, that the air space over the left side of the road, which was already shaded, was already being explored and inhabited by many different types of bugs.

In fact, bugs of all kinds were getting bolder in the cooling shadows, and a few darted out into the sunlight to challenge me.  They buzzed and blurred into the lights and shadows of the airspace around me, some orbiting me, despite how fast I was walking. I felt like a sun with multiple planets. My swats and swings interrupted and deflected their orbits, but never stopped them.

Maybe half a mile into the walk, it happened. I felt a quick pain on my right ankle and I knew it was a mosquito digging in. But, before I could even lift my leg to swat at it, I felt another bite on the back of my neck. Enraged, I kicked the one off my ankle and even managed with my hand to squash the one on my neck.  Angrily I gazed at the broken little insect body in my right palm, then I flicked him off into the dirt—the little son of a bitch!

As I continued my long walk, to my dismay, I soon found that the dead mosquito had merely been an expendable advance scout—as my hearing attuned, I began to hear the buzzing of an infinitely more formidable mosquito grand army, which, en masse, was waiting in the bushes and trees just off the road, and just out of the sunlight!  Scanning all the foliage that I passed, I could see dozens, no, hundreds! of more advance scouts coming off the bushes and trees, still out in the cooler darkness and shadows of the forest. They were watching me, from still safe positions just out of the always-narrowing path of sunlight.  But some kept coming out after me, even with the sun still up: The mosquito army was sending out skirmishers, through the sunlight!  to test me! I slapped at them with the Detroit Tigers baseball cap that I was wearing. I beat many of them away, and certainly killed some—these skirmishers were clearly willing to take casualties! But as I collected their bodies from off of my skin I started finding my own blood, too!

Now I heard what seemed to be the combined sound of billions of tiny, individual, and very hostile buzzing: the sound of all these mosquitoes’ passionate hatred toward all blooded creatures—all focused on me! At first it was barely perceptible, but, once it was established as credible in my mind, it grew quickly: it was the sound of trillions of mosquitoes beating on their insect tom-toms! This, their jungle, was now alive with the news of my soon to be totally unprotected presence. I decided, too, that I was hearing thousands of mosquito officers and sergeants and corporals, urging their respective units within this infinite host, to form into proper ranks, phalanxes, etc., etc., etc.!


            My pulse quickened, and I’m sure that my eyes were quite wild. Now I believed that my only chance was to walk faster and faster. Perhaps I needed to run…but how far could I run? The whole forest seemed like nothing but an infernal mosquito hell!

I kept up a desperate pace for perhaps two miles; I was sweating profusely, and fighting off more and more skirmishers—was my sweat now attracting them? I—

—Wait! —behind me! I abruptly sensed something awful back there—I suddenly thought I heard something really large and dangerous! … Was it only my imagination? ….No! I did hear it! I began to turn, but before I could even begin, I that this sound was loud, horrifying, monstrous, running footfalls behind me! —on the asphalt… Hey! No! Wait! It sounded like a really fast “clip-clop-clippity-clop”! Thank heavens! It had to be merely a local horse rider!

Boy, did I feel foolish! It had to be some stupid, rich, local resident riding his horse. I was going to be rescued—I could get a ride or they could send help! Then I would be out of this madhouse!  Instantly I imagined myself mounted, riding behind the rider of that horse, looking silly but totally ecstatic to be saved!

Very, very fast the clopping got extremely loud—was this horse-riding nut actually going to run me over? And I finally finished turning completely around—it had taken me maybe a full second. Just as I looked straight back, a blurring large animal burst by me before I could see it clearly. It had brushed me, going by!

The creature was well past me now, running hard, and it looked back, just as I turned forward again. Its nostrils flared, it had soft fearful eyes—it was a large doe! But it wasn’t really looking back at me; rather, it was looking back through me. And it was seeing something that worried it way more than me. I heard the thing just before I saw it: Because now—


He was hugely antlered—with, of all things, a huge scar on his forehead—and somehow he reminded me of a full-sized battleship churning through high seas—with his masculinity, his armament, fully prepared for war!  Now I knew what his quarry, the doe, was running so fearfully from!

(….In the very next possible instant I thought of something concerning the buck and the doe that may seem slightly out of context: I was suddenly really impressed by how both were going about their own roles in “Nature’s business” without paying a single zip’s attention to the annoying mosquitoes.  This thought lasted perhaps .0000025 of a second. Then came another thought.)


(Amelia Mae has often criticized me for what I admit is one of my true character flaws: procrastination. She would have been very proud of me; however, had she seen the speed in which I made my next decision, which was to do something that only a second before I would have considered unthinkable.)


—Unfortunately, the buck, which seemed really obstinate and maybe pretty stupid, too, just kept coming after me.  He chased me through bushes, around trees, and the only thing that finally saved me was when, almost completely out of breath, I saw a big rock on the ground and picked it up and bonked him hard, right in the head. This stopped him momentarily, and he stood there staring dumbly, and panting almost as hard as I was.

To say the least, this face-to-face confrontation with this large forest animal was a very wild experience for a lifelong “city slicker” like me, and it was especially vivid, because, while we were each catching our breath, we were no more than ten yards apart. Admittedly, he must have once been quite a handsome specimen, before he got the scar; but the scar seemed to have changed everything about him. I guessed some hunter had put the scar there, with a freakish, non-mortal gunshot to the head, but the gunshot had still really damaged his appearance, and probably his whole outlook, too. I had drawn more blood with my rock, and I imagined that, right then, he was re-living, somehow, the trauma of the original gunshot.

I suppose that even then I was feeling a little sorry for him, but I was way more worried that he still might be dangerous. Since he was still standing there, not walking away, I heaved another rock. I hit him in the head again, and drew more blood. He got wobbly, and then he just started walking away.

I slowly backed away, picking up two more big rocks in each hand, just in case, and then started picking my way through all the bushes back to the road. Beginning to walk on the road again, I saw him disappear. I was glad I hadn’t gotten too hurt; I’d just suffered some scratches and cuts. As I walked I became more sympathetic toward the big, scarred buck, and I finally started hoping that he would ultimately find his doe.

For some reason, the mosquitoes didn’t bother me much anymore, during the rest of my walk back to our campsite.


            The next day one of the park rangers gave Amelia Mae and me a ride up to the camp store where I’d left the car. While we were there, we also went inside to shop. The store had a little restaurant area, so we sat down for a moment, and ordered doughnuts and coffee. The old lady storeowner kept staring at me, from over at her counter, and when she brought over our order, she spoke up.

“How’d you get all these scratches and cuts?” she demanded. “You weren’t cut up when you came in here several days ago. Were you in a fight?”

Amelia Mae blushed and lowered her eyes in embarrassment. She hadn’t believed a word of my explanation for my condition, and was pretty angry about the whole thing. She strongly felt that I still owed her “the real story.”

I knew of nothing but the truth, so I told the storeowner that a buck had chased me into the woods, because he was after a doe and thought I was competition.

“That’s very hard to believe,” interjected an older man, sitting with an older lady at a table right next to us. “Bucks don’t start chasing the does in late July: They don’t get into their ‘rut’ until late October!”

Amelia Mae’s face turned almost crimson.

“Just wait a second,” the storeowner said to the man.  “What did your buck look like?” she asked me.

“He was really big,” I said. “And he had a big scar on his forehead.”

“Well, shit!” said the old lady storeowner, “You just got chased by ‘Charley’—he’s been kind of a legend around here, the past few years. People say he’s the one buck around these parts that will chase a doe anytime, anywhere! Everybody who’s reported his … ‘activities’ has said he’s got that same head injury, and we’ve decided that it’s what’s made him always “on” for the girls, if you know what I mean!”

“That’s preposterous!” the older man retorted. “I’ve never heard of such a thing!”

The woman with him was clearly annoyed by his continued arguments.

“Before Charley was around here we had never heard of such a thing either,” said the store owner, “but maybe a dozen people have said they’ve witnessed what this man claims he saw yesterday, so I guess this man could be telling the truth, right?”

“But how could even a head injury do that to a buck?” asked the older man, even further annoying the lady with him. “How could even that change all the laws and cycles of nature that should dictate—”

“There’s a retired military doctor lives up here,” interrupted the storeowner. “He claims that he saw ‘frontal lobe’ head injuries do the very same thing to a few soldiers in Vietnam. He said that he knew one of the victims personally—a high-ranking officer whose wife tried to help out in the recovery. The doctor said this woman used to get really, really tired!”

The older woman sitting with the older man burst out into loud laughter. “That’s a great story,” she said, when she stopped laughing. “Hearing it has made this whole trip up here worthwhile. She smiled at the storeowner and Amelia and me, and then glared at the older man.

After she and the older man left I asked the storeowner why the buck was named “Charley.”

“I named him after my husband,” she replied. “My Charley’s dead now, and I really do miss him.” The old lady storeowner kind of got teary-eyed after that, and after Amelia and I expressed condolences for the loss of her husband, we left.

When we got into the car, I saw that Amelia Mae had tears in her eyes, too.


            On the way back to the campsite Amelia Mae apologized over and over. “I’m so sorry I disbelieved you,” she said. “I should have trusted you.”

“You weren’t that wrong,” I finally told her. “Even though it was a true story it really was pretty preposterous. I don’t think anyone else would have believed it either.”

“I still should have believed you,” Amelia Mae said. “You’re my husband!”

“You did fine,” I said, after reflecting for a few moments. “You just got tricked by a freak circumstance, something really abnormal.”

“Well, I promise,” said Amelia Mae, “that from now on, no matter how abnormal or freakish your claims are, I’ll believe you!”

“Let’s not get ridiculous!” I replied. Her words had put me into a sudden panic. Amelia Mae’s self-confidence, right or wrong was the bedrock of our relationship—I had to save it! “Compared to you,” I offered, “I’m an idiot! Honestly, I’ll always need your honest criticism, or I’ll end up riding off into the sunset on the ‘Delusional Express!’”

“It’s true,” Amelia Mae said, after thinking about it for a few seconds, and agreeing a lot faster than I would have liked.

“It’s not always true,” I started to argue.

“Just do me one favor,” said Amelia Mae, in more normal tones, already back to not listening.

“What’s that?” I asked, feeling some of my normal annoyance with her beginning to arise again.

“Just be my ‘Charley,’” she said. “All mine and only mine!”

I almost started to argue with her about this, but then it dawned on me what a great offer it was.