“That is idiotic,” Rachel says, “There’s no way the government–the US government–is hiding proof of alien life anywhere, let alone here,” Rachel waves her arms around, signaling she means everything surrounding us, “In this bumfuck national forest.”
We have this argument nearly every time we’re out here. At least one Wednesday a month we schedule “happy hour” at an abandoned missile silo site in the forest behind our neighborhood. Don’t let the name fool you though, it’s just a large concrete slab in the middle of the forest. But it makes for a good place to drink and look up at the stars.
“I don’t mean that is has to be here,” my reply here, always the same, “Just that if I was ran the government, this is exactly where I’d hide my secret research facility.”
“Most people get wiser with age, Maurice, but here you are getting stupider.”
Rachel and I have been friends since we were in elementary school. Even after all these years, I can still remember the first time we met. I was standing outside my house watching my dad chop wood and she came up, introduced herself, and told me my haircut was stupid. We’ve been friends ever since, something like 30 years now, despite that. Or maybe because of it. My haircut was stupid. I’d gone to the barber and asked for a lightning bolt shaved into the side, but it ended up just looking like I was a malnourished dog with a patchy coat.
“I have to pee.” I say, in direct reply to her comment.
“You don’t need my permission, now do you?”
I walk off the concrete slab, tripping over cans of beer as I edge into the darkness. As I step down onto the forest floor, I feel a tremor inside me. It’s almost like an earthquake. I look back to Rachel but she’s sitting still as ever, sipping on her beer. I move deeper into the forest. The darkness here is incredible. Just a couple dozen feet away from our lamp and it’s nearly impossible to see anything. It’s hard to feel alone these days, but out here it’s like you can take just a few steps and suddenly you’re so far away from everything you can’t imagine a life with modern technology.
I finally find a place I’m comfortable with–I’ve always felt weird about peeing too close to anybody, and that includes Rachel–and unzip my pants. The air’s cool enough I can see a faint fog comes up from the ground.
I’m zoning out at this point, you know that type of zone out where you’re just pleasantly peeing in the woods? That’s where I was at. But a snap of a branch brings me back to life, followed by another, then another. On the trail in front of me I can see a dim light approaching. Odd, people don’t usually come up here, especially at night. Unfortunately, I’m still peeing. I clench to try to hurry up the process when the light gets much brighter. It’s light enough now I can see the outline of a person.
“Hello?!” I call out, zipping up my pants. I turn back to look for Rachel but I must have wandered too far away as I can’t see her. I turn back to the light, now bright enough to reveal not a person, but a group of skeletons. The one in front holds a flashlight, pointing it at the ground as they walk in a single file line along the trail, just as if they still had their skin. Their white bones shine in the light, as a few last bits of flesh slide to the ground with each step.
I step back and a twig snaps underneath my shoe. The lead skeleton pauses, halting the whole group. It turns its head toward me. It makes a motion, like a sigh, but without lungs or a facial expression its difficult to tell. It seems annoyed. The one in front turns back to its followers, who all shrug in reply. The skeleton turns back to me. I lock my eyes onto the face of the skeleton in front, who seems to be contemplating my fate.
“Maurice, you okay down there?” Rachel yells.
I’m able to pull my eyes away for a moment and turn, “I, uhh,” what do I even say in this moment. When I turn back, the group is gone. Further down the trail I catch a glimpse of their flashlight bopping over the portion of the trail that crosses a river. “I’m, sorry, I’m coming back. Just got a little a lost.”