~ The Dare ~
‘W-w-what do you mean it’s haunted?’ Chad Givens asked his older brother, Eric.
‘What? Don’t you even know what haunted means? It means the place is full of ghosts, jerkoff. Jesus, you kids are so dumb these days!’ Eric replied, as his friend, Donnie Prescott chuckled away beside him, before starting to make ridiculous whooo-ooo-ooo noises and wave his hands in the air, which was even more ridiculous.
‘That’s bullshit! There’s no such thing as ghosts!’ said Chad’s best mate, Shawn Turner.
‘You better believe it,’ Donnie piped up and said. ‘We saw ‘em ourselves! Didn’t we, Eric?’
‘Too right. There was two of ‘em . . . mean as anything, they looked like, their faces all twisted and horrible, but we didn’t hang around to ask ‘em their names, we just got the fuck out . . . even had to leave some of our stuff there!’
The year was nineteen eighty five, and the four boys were sitting on the edge of the old timber dock which jutted out into the Thompson River, not too far from their homes. It was summer time; time for swimming, fishing, fooling around and just whiling away their summer holidays. At fifteen Chad and Shawn were the youngest, while Eric and Donnie were both seventeen, and typically, as the oldest, they were also the antagonists, making life hell for the younger boys at every available opportunity.
As brother and friend relationships went there was nothing out of the ordinary between them. The older boys constantly heckled the younger boys, and while the younger boys may have, at some point in their lives, looked up to the others, these days they usually tended to keep their distance. This was for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the fact that there was something that the younger boys were doing their best to keep from Eric and Donnie.
Today, however, they were all down by the river. Chad and Shawn had been fishing when his brother and his best friend, who also just happened to be Shawn’s cousin, had found them there. The younger boys were sitting side by side, close enough for their bare, summer tanned arms to be touching, while their equally tanned legs and feet were dangling over the edge of the jetty, just inches above the water. Occasionally their feet would touch, and every now and then they would let them linger, sometimes even allowing a wayward toe to be caught and held there.
Yeah, that was what they were trying to keep from the others.
‘Hey, girls! Now don’t this look nice and cosy!’ Eric had taunted as he and Donnie strolled along the dock to where the younger boys were sitting, while rattling the loose timbers of the dock with each step they took. ‘Whatcha doing?’
Chad and Shawn glanced sideways at each other.
‘What’s it look like?’ Chad testily replied.
‘Playin’ with each other’s rods, by the go of things,’ Eric teased, which caused Donnie to break out in laughter.
‘Fuck you!’ countered Chad.
‘No thanks, we ain’t into that shit. You better ask your boyfriend if that’s what you want,’ Eric laughed.
Once again the younger boys glanced sideways at each other.
For Chad and Shawn today was much the same as any other day, as they endured the constant taunts of Eric and Donnie. The younger boys had long since grown tired of being the butt of the older boys’ jokes, but they were always careful not to let their guard down, because only they knew how much truth there was in what Eric and Donnie were constantly teasing them about.
From the time that puberty had arrived a few years earlier, bringing with it more than just a passing interest and mutual curiosity about what was happening with both their bodies, the two younger boys had become more than just friends. So far they had managed to keep things quiet about their relationship, but both of them knew that it would only take one slip-up for their lives to no longer be worth living.
* * *
On this January day the conversation eventually came around to how the four boys were going to be spending the last few weeks of their school holidays. Before long they would be once again making the daily bus trip into Macquarie Harbour to their high school – as these days there was only a primary school in Thompsonville, due to the recent remodelling of the regional education budget – so all four were keen to make the most of what holiday time they had left.
‘We were thinking about going camping,’ Shawn had said, after his cousin, Donnie, had asked what they were planning for their final weekend of freedom. ‘Maybe checking out that old hut up river . . . you know, the one at the foot of the mountains.’
‘What the fuck for?’ Eric had thundered. ‘Don’t you know it’s haunted?’
‘W-w-what do you mean it’s haunted?’ Chad asked his older brother, stammering slightly, as he often did when nervous or excited.
‘What? Don’t you even know what haunted means? It means the place is full of ghosts, jerkoff. Jesus, you kids are so dumb these days!’ Eric replied, as Donnie chuckled away beside him, before starting to make ridiculous whooo-ooo-ooo noises and wave his hands in the air, which was even more ridiculous.
‘That’s bullshit! There’s no such thing as ghosts!’ said Shawn.
‘You better believe it,’ Donnie piped up and said. ‘We saw ‘em ourselves! Didn’t we, Eric?’
‘Too right. There was two of ‘em . . . mean as anything, they looked like, their faces all twisted and horrible. They came at us . . . I even think one of ‘em was carrying a knife or sumpin’, but we didn’t hang around to check, or ask ‘em their names. We just got the fuck out . . . even had to leave some of our stuff there!’
‘I don’t believe you,’ Chad challenged his brother. ‘When did you go out there?’
‘Couple of years back . . . I guess we would have been about fifteen then, too. Same age as you girls are now. Don’t you remember when dad went ballistic about me losing the sleeping bag that time?’
Chad thought for a moment, but couldn’t remember anything like that having ever happened.
‘What happened? And what did you see?’ asked Shawn, suddenly sounding curious.
Now it was Eric and Donnie’s turn to glance at each other.
‘Well,’ Eric began. ‘We did what you guys want to do . . . go up into the foothills for a camp.’
‘Yeah, we loaded up dad’s old tinnie and motored up the river until we reached The Junction,’ Donnie added.
The two younger boys both knew the place they were talking about. It was where another creek flowed into the Thompson River. It was a place where the river ran wide and deep, where the water was as clear as if it had just fallen from the sky and you could easily see the rocky bottom and the massive fish that swam in there. It was a truly beautiful spot and one that was regularly visited by locals wanting to get away for a weekend camp, especially in recent times.
It was also the place where the old timber cutters of yesteryear had a camp. Using a team of horses they would drag the logs there that they would cut in the forests, before rolling them into the water for the trip downstream to the mill on the edge of Thompson Lake. Evidence of their having been there was still around, with the remnants of their camps, though well decayed now, still evident.
There were lots of stories floating around about those old days, but you never quite knew which ones to believe, as many of them seemed to contradict each other, or had a habit of becoming more and more outrageous with every telling.
The story that Chad and Shawn could recall which related to the old hut in the foothills, was about two brothers – timber cutters – who lived up there at one point; although depending on just who you asked, some say they weren’t brothers at all. The one thing that everyone did seem to agree upon, however, was that they were found dead together, outside their hut, naked and having been attacked by someone with an axe, which was still embedded in the decomposing body of one of them, while there was also evidence that it could have been the local Aboriginal natives, as spears and other native tools were found nearby.
At the time there were all sorts of rumours floating around the district about the two men and their murders, about who might have done that to them, and why. Nobody was ever charged with the killings, and after a while things died down, with their story simply becoming yet another local legend, believed by some, yet disbelieved by most.
‘Yeah,’ so Eric continued. ‘So we got to The Junction and then turned up that creek and headed for the beach, which was where we knew the path was that led up to the old hut. We knew it wasn’t too far and pretty soon we came to the place where they used to roll the logs into the water, and then the beach, so we aimed the tinnie for the sand and then dragged it up onto the bank, behind an old log.’
Chad and Shawn nodded their understanding. They had been to that spot before in a boat, fishing, but hadn’t ever pulled into the bank there.
‘Yeah, so after we hid the tinnie, just so no one would know it was there,’ Donnie said, ‘we got our stuff and started hiking up the hill, looking for the hut.’
‘Hadn’t you been there before?’ asked Shawn.
‘Nah. But we had a pretty good idea where it was . . . just like everyone, I suppose, but no, we hadn’t been to it before,’ he replied.
‘So then what?’ urged Shawn.
‘Well, we found a trail going up the hill and followed it, and pretty soon we found the hut,’ said Eric. ‘It was really old looking, and the boards on the verandah rattled a bit when we walked across them . . . but apart from that it looked pretty solid still.’
By now Chad and Shawn had forgotten all about the fishing rods they were holding in their hands. They were now focused solely on finding out all there was to know about the hut and what was supposed to be there.
‘Did you go inside?’ asked Chad.
‘Yeah, of course,’ Eric replied. ‘That was where we laid out our sleeping bags. There wasn’t much in there though. It’s only one room, and there was a table and some chairs, and some cupboards, and a bench with a rusted out tin wash basin or something, and it looked like there was some sort of curtain that blocked off a part of it . . . and that’s where I think they must have slept or something . . .’
At that Shawn gave a little giggle.
‘What’s so funny?’ asked Chad.
‘I bet they did more than just sleep there,’ he replied. ‘I bet’s that where they used to fuck each other too!’
‘What?’ Chad and Shawn said in unison.
‘You’ve heard the stories, haven’t you? They were supposed to be poofs . . . that’s why they got killed, someone saw ‘em doing it and went right off the handle!’
‘B-b-but they were brothers, weren’t they?’ Chad asked.
‘Well, that’s just one of the stories . . .’ Donnie said. ‘No one really knows but. Maybe they were brothers and still used to do it . . . some brothers do, you know! Or maybe that was all just a cover . . . maybe they were real life lovers instead, and only said they were brothers so people wouldn’t think they were deviants.’
This time it was Chad and Eric’s turn to glance at each other. The brothers. They actually knew what Donnie meant, but it was something that was never spoken about.
‘You’re fucking sick, Donnie! You know that?’ Shawn spat.
‘Hey, I’m only sayin’ what other folks have been sayin’ for years. No one is ever going to be able to prove it one way or another . . . unless they ask the ghosts themselves . . .’
‘Yeah, like that’ll ever happen!’ Chad scoffed.
‘Well, maybe you should be the one to ask them?’ Donnie teased.
‘Yeah,’ added Eric. ‘And while you’re there how about you get my sleeping bag and bring it back!’
‘W-w-what?’ Chad stammered.
‘You heard me. I dare you to spend a night in the place!’
* * *
‘So, what do you reckon? Do you still really want to check it out?’ Chad cautiously asked his friend after the others had left them.
‘Fuck yeah!’ Shawn replied. ‘I ain’t afraid of no ghosts!’ he chirped, cheerfully reciting the words from a recent movie they had seen at the local cinema over the holidays. ‘And besides, they dared us. We can’t back out on a dare!’
‘Well, I am still afraid of ghosts . . .’ Chad joked. ‘But I guess I’m game if you are.’
Shawn grinned at his boyfriend and reached across and placed his hand on Chad’s knee, just for a moment or two.
That pretty much settled it. The boys were going camping.
Over the next few days the boys started to gather together everything they thought they would need for the weekend. They arranged to borrow the small tinnie from Chad’s father, Jerry, along with the outboard motor, bought some spare fuel for the outboard, put together a stash of food and made plans to leave first thing Saturday morning.
They both made up a bed roll, with a thin foam mattress, a few blankets and a pillow, all wrapped in a small tarpaulin. They also threw in a small tent, as no one other than Eric and Donnie knew exactly what their plans were, so they didn’t want to arouse suspicion . . . or suffer ridicule. That had been one of their conditions on accepting the dare . . . they didn’t want anyone else knowing what they were up to . . . especially their parents!
When Saturday morning came around everything was ready. Their gear was safely stowed in the tinnie, which at this point was still sitting on the small trailer that Chad’s dad used for transporting it around. They had made arrangements for Jerry to drive the trailer down to the boat ramp at the edge of Thompson Lake so they could launch it, then once they were in the water the boys would be off.
It went without saying that there would need to be witnesses to this dare, so Eric and Donnie had planned a camping trip of their own, with Donnie having arranged to borrow his father’s tinnie as well, so they too could make a trip upstream. They wouldn’t be leaving until later in the morning, however, and had told the younger boys they would be there before nightfall to see that they went through with it. What the younger boys didn’t know, however, was that Eric and Donnie were going to pull into the bank well before The Junction, then trek across country until they found the hut, hopefully without being discovered by Chad and Shawn.
The older boys had been serious about having seen the ghosts, although their encounter wasn’t quite as melodramatic as they had made out, and while they had no qualms about returning to the hut in daylight, there was still no way they were going to step inside it again at night time. They would leave that to the younger heroes, and wait until Chad and Shawn came running from the hut, screaming, as they were certain they would, before springing their own surprise on them.
‘Now, are you sure you’ve got everything you need?’ Chad’s father asked them on the edge of the lake. The boat trailer had already been backed into the water and the tinnie slid from the trailer and it was now bobbing gently on the mild chop that was being whipped up by a summer breeze.
‘Yes, dad, for the hundredth time,’ Chad answered. ‘We’ve got everything.’
‘And you’ll be home tomorrow night?’
‘We promise, Mr Givens,’ answered Shawn. ‘We wish we could stay out there longer, but me mum says we’ve got to get ready for school again in a few days.’
‘And right she is, Shawn. All right then, you had better get going. Be careful, and keep an eye out for ghosts up there in the forests,’ he added, with a wink.
‘G-g-ghosts?’ Chad asked.
‘Oh, you know,’ his father said. ‘They reckon there are ghosts out there, some of the old timber cutters and such from way back. No idea if there’s any truth to the rumours . . . but you just never know!’
Chad and Shawn glanced at each other. Did he know what they were really going out there for, they wondered?
After the boys climbed in, Jerry waded out into the water, giving the small boat a push as he did so, to get it a little further away from the shore, before the boys started the motor. Chad positioned himself at the stern, and once they were in deep enough water he opened up the choke on the motor, then gave the starter rope a pull. The little Evinrude started first go, so once it was running smoothly Chad adjusted the choke back into its normal position, then opened up the throttle.
‘Have fun, boys,’ Jerry called to them as he waved them off. The boys waved back and then pointed the nose of their little vessel toward the northern end of the lake, and the place where the Thompson River emptied itself into it.
The boys were excited, even if they were also just a little nervous, as they set off. It wasn’t so much about the dare, however. It was more the fact that they were setting off on an adventure of their own, one which they would hopefully one day be able to look back upon fondly. It wouldn’t matter if they saw the ghosts, or even managed to stay in the hut for the entire night. They would be together and they could be themselves, and not have to worry about their every little action, or having someone find out about their little secret. And there was a certain freedom in that.
Out on the blue water, with the sun in their faces and the wind in their hair, they looked toward the place where the lake narrowed and the river began. Beyond that there were the mountains, rising steeply, dark and mysterious, and filled with secrets.
They were both sitting at the back of the boat, and with the hand that wasn’t on the tiller, Chad reached across and took hold of Shawn’s hand, then rested their hands on the seat between them, letting their fingers intertwine. There was no one around who was close enough to see them do it, and for both boys the opportunity to do so, out in the open like this, was liberating. They knew, of course, what the risks were of being seen to do so . . . after all it was nineteen eighty-five, and this was still a small and quite backward community, so anything that was seen to be even remotely gay was more than just frowned upon, even if it was known that there were people like that living in the community. The boys had seen what had happened to others who ventured down the path of letting the world know who they loved, and it wasn’t pretty.
‘Do you think that one day being like this won’t matter?’ Shawn asked his boyfriend.
‘Here? In this town? I don’t think it’ll ever change,’ Chad replied.
‘But there are others around here that are like us, aren’t there? And you don’t hear of anything happening to them . . . so maybe people don’t worry about it now, or at least as much as they used to?’
‘Yeah, there might be others around here, but didn’t you hear about those guys getting bashed down on the beach that night? Eric reckoned that they were caught kissing, even though it was dark . . . and I’ve heard of other things happening as well, even when people only get caught holding hands and stuff.’
‘So? All that means is that you don’t do it where anyone can see you do it.’
‘But if people know someone is . . . like that . . . they treat them differently. They mightn’t get bashed because of it, but they do still cop a lot of crap from everyone. The smart ones all move away . . . like that Anderson kid who lived next door to us years ago . . . he ran off with this surfer guy that came through town one time, apparently.’
‘Hmmm . . . I guess you’re right. But it would be nice to think that one day it won’t matter if two guys liked each other like we do, and could show it, wouldn’t it?’
‘Yeah, maybe one day,’ Chad said, while giving Shawn’s hand a little squeeze.
The two boys smiled at each other, content that for the moment they were together, and for now at least, that was all that mattered.
* * *
The trip up river was a pleasant one for the boys. The river was quite wide in most places, and slow moving, and as it was a glorious day, with little wind to speak of, it was mostly smooth going.
They passed a few other boats out on the water. On a couple of occasions they were tossed about in the wake from a speed boat that flew past them, while towing a skier. First the speedboat went upstream, before returning a short while later, although it looked like there was a different person on the ski the second time around.
‘Bloody hoons!’ Chad yelled out to them as he and Shawn rocked from side to side, while clutching the sides of the tinnie. The speed boat driver simply waved at them and kept going.
As they continued their journey up-river, putt-putting along at a leisurely pace on waters as blue as the clear skies above them, they started chatting about just what this day meant. They were both contemplating what lay before them . . . first there was tonight, which they were sure was going to be more of a challenge than either of them had first anticipated, but then there was tomorrow, and the next day, and the days after that . . . all stretching out into infinity.
What was the future going to throw at them? Would their lives turn out as they were hoping? Would they still be together, as boyfriends, in one year, or two, or five, or ten? There was no way of knowing the answers to any of those questions, of course, but this was their first big adventure together. It was the start of everything else that was to come, and even if it wasn’t mentioned, they both still knew it.
Around mid-morning they passed a couple of fishermen on a bend in the river, where the water was more shallow and rippled over rocks beneath the surface. They had been through here before at various times, but always with their parents, or in other fishing parties, so Chad knew what to do. The boys waved to the fishermen, and the fishermen waved back, before Chad gunned the little outboard motor and they took on the fast water in front of them, being careful to steer clear of any place where it looked like there were large rocks lurking just below the surface.
Safely out on the other side Chad kept the throttle open and pushed the boat along. He was keen to get to the junction and reach landfall by lunch time, so they could unload their gear and make the trek up to the cabin before it got too late, or too dark, given that on this side of the mountains darkness tended to come early.
Shawn kept him entertained with jokes as they cruised along, and as the mountains began to draw nearer, and the river started to narrow, and while vegetation started closing in along the edge of the water, all that could be heard above the constant putt-putt of the engine were the sounds of boyish laughter and echoes of the calls of the birds that made this forest their home.
It was around lunch time when they finally reached their destination, but only after having successfully navigated The Cascades, another point where the water bubbled and gurgled over unseen rocks below the surface. It wasn’t an easy job, heading upstream and straight into turbulent water, but with the throttle on the Evinrude motor opened wide, and with Shawn taking up a position in the bow of the little boat, helping to guide Chad away from the more dangerous spots, they soon emerged unscathed once more, finding themselves in the middle of a deep and wide water-hole that was just below The Junction.
‘My god! This place is beautiful!’ Shawn gasped as they slowed to a stop in the middle of the river and looked around them.
‘It sure is,’ Chad replied. ‘Not hard to see why people came here to live, is it?’
‘No, it isn’t,’ Shawn answered, before looking around him once more in awe.
They were sitting in the middle of a body of crystal clear water that was at least one hundred metres across, with barely a ripple touching the surface. On either side of them, bathed in sunlight, there were lush grassy flats leading down to the edge of the water, and occasional clumps of willows, dipping their deep green branches into the water, while beyond that, on both sides, rose foothills and densely forested mountains.
‘So . . . what about you?’ Shawn asked his friend. ‘Could you live up here?’
‘That’d depend,’ Chad answered.
‘On whether you’d be here with me,’ ventured Chad.
The two boys smiled at each other. What had started out, just a few short years ago, as mere curiosity and then a little fooling around was rapidly developing into something that was so much more, and they both liked where this journey appeared to be taking them.
‘C’mon, let’s go find that cabin,’ urged Chad. ‘We better get set up early this afternoon, before it starts to gets too dark.’
With a huge grin on his face Chad opened up the throttle and took the little boat around in a wide arc, before pointing it toward the mouth of the creek. The wind was stinging their eyes and blowing their hair back, but the boys didn’t care. Shawn held tight to the bow, which was raised slightly in the water, and let out a loud, ‘Wooooo-hooooo,’ which echoed around the mountains and made Chad laugh.
They were enjoying their freedom, and that was all that mattered. And, dare or no dare, nothing was going to take that away from them now that they had arrived at this heavenly location.
* * *
Even though neither Shawn nor Chad had touched land here before, they both knew the exact spot where they needed to beach their little tinnie. It was on a sandy stretch located on the northern side of the creek, right near where two massive logs jutted out into the water. They had been used by the old timber cutters as a slide, down which they would send their haul crashing into the water, after first towing the logs to the top of them using their teams of horses, and despite floods and fires and storms, these beasts of tree trunks had refused to yield, even to these forces of nature.
They had been told that it was easy enough to drag a tinnie from the water and conceal it behind some logs, to keep it above the water while also keeping it from view of anyone who might covet such items, so that was their plan, just as soon as they reached the spot.
Shawn spotted the beach and pointed it out to Chad, who nodded and headed straight for it. As they approached he let the throttle off a little, but made sure that they were still travelling fast enough to be able to run the boat up onto the sand.
A few of their supplies went sprawling across the floor of the boat as they reached land, as did one boyfriend, but there was no harm done and they were both laughing as they came to a stop, with Shawn having ended up almost in Chad’s lap and being hugged by his boyfriend.
‘Remind me never to get into a car with you,’ Shawn teased.
‘I bet that by the time I’ve got a car I won’t be able to keep you out of it . . . especially if we keep . . . errr . . .’
‘Fooling around?’ Shawn suggested.
‘Yeah . . . something like that,’ Chad grinned.
‘Okay then, what do we do first?’ enquired Shawn. ‘We better get the gear unpacked and get the boat dragged up and hidden away, don’t you think?’
‘How about we have lunch first? Then we can do all that . . .’ Chad started to say, before stopping himself and gazing off down the creek. ‘You hear that?’ he asked Shawn.
For a few moments they both listened carefully. For the most part all that could be heard was the sound of the wind in the silky oaks along the creek, or the soft sound of water lapping at their boat, but briefly, when there was a lull in the breeze they both thought they could hear something else . . . the distant sound of an outboard motor.
‘Maybe that’s them?’ Shawn suggested.
‘Who? Beavis and Butthead? It’s quite possible. I reckon that even if we don’t actually see them out here, they’ll still be around here somewhere, spying on us, to make sure we go through with it.’
‘So, I guess that means we won’t be able to fool around then?’ Shawn pouted.
‘Probably not. But hey, what do you say to us going skinny dipping after lunch, before it gets too late? If it is them it might give ‘em a real eyeful!’ Chad proposed.
‘Are you serious?’ Shawn replied.
‘What’s wrong? Especially after what we’ve seen and done before, Shawn,’ Chad ventured.
‘Yeah, but . . .’
‘It’ll be fun.’
‘It’ll be embarrassing,’ Shawn nervously laughed.
‘It’ll be just us. And it’ll be perfect, and natural.’
‘And all on show for anyone else who is hiding in the bush . . . like Beavis and Butthead.’
‘So? Eric has seen me naked . . .’ Chad ventured. ‘And I can just about guarantee that the two of them have at least gone skinny dipping before . . . if not done other stuff as well . . .’
‘How do you know that?’
‘Because, despite what he was saying the other day, you know, about guys, I know that Eric isn’t a total angel. Just between you and me, and you’ve got to promise you won’t ever say anything . . .’ Chad said, before pausing dramatically.
‘I . . . I promise.’
‘Good, well, I’m pretty sure Eric has fooled around with guys too . . . I mean, we all do at some stage, don’t we? What about Donnie?’
There was no way that Chad wanted his boyfriend to know exactly how he knew that Eric was no saint, but he was still keen for Shawn to know that it wasn’t just the two of them who had fooled around. He wanted Shawn to know that what they were doing was natural, and even more than that, he especially wanted to try and find out whatever Shawn knew about his cousin’s exploits.
If he could confirm his suspicions about his brother and Shawn’s cousin, then it wouldn’t really matter if they were caught skinny-dipping or fooling around, especially if it was by someone who they knew had sinned themselves. It might even give the two of them something to fall back on if they ever really did get caught out. An insurance policy, so to speak.
‘I . . . I guess,’ Shawn nervously replied.
‘Well, what about Donnie . . . has he ever?’
Now it was Shawn’s turn to decide what could, or couldn’t, be revealed.
‘Well?’ Chad demanded.
Shawn remained silent, unsure just what he should say. In the end he simply smiled at Chad, which told his boyfriend all that he needed to know.
‘So, what’s the problem then?’ Chad chuckled. ‘It doesn’t matter what they see us do . . . we’ve got enough on both of them that will make sure they keep their mouths shut! Because if they ever say anything, their own asses will be grass!’
‘That’s wicked. But bloody brilliant!’ Shawn replied.
‘Good. I’m glad we’re both on the same page here. So, what do you say? Care to strip off and dive in with me?’
* * *
At about this time the other two boys were also beaching their tinnie on a bank of the river, back around one of the bends in the river which was quite a way downstream from where Chad and Shawn currently were.
After pulling their boat out of the water and hiding it amongst the undergrowth, they packed their gear onto their backs and set out across country, in the direction of where they knew the timber cutters’ hut to be.
‘I reckon we find a spot not too far from the hut where we can set up camp, but still make sure that we are hidden,’ Eric said.
‘Aren’t there some big logs still around there? Maybe we can use them as cover?’ Donnie replied.
‘Good idea. We’ll have to make sure we’re careful, though.’
‘At least, just until we get to scare the crap out of the dweebs . . . then it won’t matter.’
‘They’ll know we’re there, though, won’t they? I mean, it’s a dare . . . so they’ll be expecting that someone has to see they go through with it.’
‘Yeah, but that’s half the fun . . . they know that they have to do it, whether they see us or not. For all they know, we could be sitting at home watching the television, but they’ve still got to do it, haven’t they? The pressure is all on them.’
‘And we can just sit back and chill . . .’
‘Yeah . . . or whatever,’ Eric sneered, as he reached out and made a playful grab at his friend.
‘Fuck! What are you doing? Not out here in the open . . . someone might see us!’ Donnie shrieked.
‘It’d be fun, don’t you think?’
‘Fuck no! I don’t want anyone to know about . . . about that!’
‘Pussy!’ Eric laughed, before setting off along a narrow trail that had been left by animals.
Donnie watched him as he walked away, admiring the view he had of Eric, while wondering just what he had let himself in for this time. Going back to that hut was something he swore he would never do . . . especially after what had happened the last time . . . and yet here he was.
Whatever it was that kept making him agree with whatever Eric wanted to do, well, it was just going to have to change, he promised himself. Eric might be a lot of fun when they fooled around, but sometimes he felt like that was all they remained friends for. There was never any question of their being more than just friends, at least not from Eric’s point of view, and that irked Donnie. Maybe one day, Donnie thought, he would meet someone who wanted him for more than just as some convenient shag.
* * *
There was still no sign of Eric and Donnie, when Chad and Shawn loaded themselves up with their gear and set off up the path, in search of the fabled haunted hut.
They had enjoyed a swim and a bit of fooling around behind the log which they had used as cover for their tinnie, before having a snack and loading up. Now they were heading deep into thick bushland, with was growing thicker and thicker, while the afternoon light was growing fainter, filling the forests with deep shadows.
‘This is getting freaky,’ Shawn whispered, after they had been walking for a little while. ‘Do you get the feeling we’re being watched?’
‘By who? Or by what?’ Chad sneered. ‘You afraid the big bad wolf is going to jump out and grab you?’
‘Man, it’d be impossible to know who might be living out here these days . . . drug dealers . . . axe murderers . . .’
‘Shawn . . . it’s a national park . . . they don’t let people live in national parks these days . . .’
‘And you think a bunch of rules would stop someone from hiding out if they really wanted to?’
‘Well . . . maybe not . . . I guess you might have a point there . . .’
As they kept walking along the path, they both noted that it seemed to be getting less discernible with every passing step. What had started out as a well-defined path back by the river, was now a narrow track, with scrub closing in all around it. They were even beginning to wonder if this hut even existed any more, but just as thoughts of turning around and giving up entered Shawn’s mind, Chad pushed past a thick bush and suddenly found himself in a clearing within the forest, where the late afternoon sun was shining through, illuminating the entire area, which included an old hut on the far side, which stopped him in his tracks.
‘What the . . .’ Shawn began to say as he walked right into his friend, only to realise they had finally made it after gathering his senses.
‘See . . . what did I tell ya?’ Chad gloated. ‘It’s real all right. C’mon, let’s go take a closer look!’
‘I . . . errr . . .’ Shawn stammered.
‘C’mon, pussy! We’re here now, we’ve got to go through with it,’ Chad commanded, while grabbing his boyfriend by the arm and starting to drag him forward. ‘Let’s go find out if there’s any truth to this local legend!’