Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Night of Terror: a true story

As a teacher, I am at times required (or I volunteer) to go on student trips. I've taken students to places both domestic (Washington, D.C., New York City, Orlando) and international (England, Scotland, Germany, Spain). Yet not one of these trips is as memorable as the Night of Terror.

Prior to having children of my own I was coaching our school's varsity girls basketball team. The team desperately needed new uniforms. So instead of badgering the booster club, I figured I'd take matters into my own hands. I rummaged up a babysitting opportunity at a family conference center up in Northern PA that would pay $1000 in exchange for two days of babysitting for several families attending a conference. Lodging and food was provided at the facility, we just needed to find our way up there. So myself, another teacher named Jackie, and six of my basketball girls piled into a school van and we headed north.

The first evening we spent playing with the little kids, putting together puzzles, coloring, running relay races. A successful evening, all in all. Then the director of the conference center gave us directions to our lodging. It wasn't on the main campus (which should have been our first red flag), it was a-ways up in the woods. So in the spreading darkness of night and through dense foliage, we drove our 15-passenger van around in the wooded hinterlands for what seemed like hours. Finally, we found it. An octagonal building with a cement slab for a front porch; a 1970's sliding door with cloudy glass its only entrance.

We hitched our duffle-bags up higher on our shoulders and stepped inside. Through the gloom we saw a common area (which we called with little endearment "The Pit") with recessed flooring and cushioned benches around its edges. A fireplace stood at one end. And from the raftered ceiling stringing down to the bottom of the pit hung massive cobwebs--flapping and drifting from the draft we had allowed in.

I will take this opportunity to mention that I am an arachnophobe. I hate, hate, hate spiders. Loath them. The tiny ones I've learned to deal with, but anything dime-sized and larger my hands start to shake and I may or may not emit horrible, feral sounds. So being greeted by these monstrous cobwebs made me a little jumpy. Yet in an effort to look cool not alert my girls to any of my misgivings, I smiled and said, "Let's find the bedrooms."

We walked down the hallway to our left. The hall, lined with doors, snaked around the entire circumference of the building. Each of the doors opened to a bedroom packed with two to three sets of bunk beds. There were at least 8 bedrooms and only 1 bathroom to share amongst us. 

"I need the bathroom!" declared one of the girls named Nicki.

That's when the screaming started. 

"There are huge spiders all over the bathroom!" Nicki shrieked.

"There's spiders on the walls of this bedroom!" shrieked another.

"And in this bedroom!" shrieked a third.

And I froze. I stood in the hallway clutching my duffle and expecting to die. My heart hammered up in my throat. My stomach contracted as though bracing for a punch. Oxygen was in short supply. I opened my eyes and saw Jackie looking as white as flour--which is most likely how I appeared as well. 

Come on, Anna, I thought to myself. You're the adult here. Act like it. I tried to wriggle free of my terror by rallying the troops. 

"Right, girls, this is the plan," I said and launched into action. "We're piling into 1 room. This room--" I pointed to the room with 3 bunkbeds in it. "Move the beds to the center of the room, away from all the walls, and butt them up to each other so it makes one massive bunkbed. Then we will sleep all together: 4 across the top and 4 across the bottom. Let's move!"

My rallying cry brought a flurry of activity and soon we had our bunkbed island constructed. By then it was late--well past midnight--and after using the bathroom in pairs (1 person to ward off arachnids and 1 person her business) we all crawled into our sleeping bags and rooched around til everyone got comfortable without knocking someone else off the bed. I was on the top bunk between Nicki and Jackie. I may just as well have been preparing for a blizzard with all the layers I was wearing. I pulled the hood of my sweatshirt up over my head, tied tight it's drawstring under my chin, and hunkered down inside my sleeping bag so that not a speck of me was exposed to the outside world. While I was sweating profusely, I wasn't about to leave my cocoon. 

Until Nicki nudged me.

"Do you hear that?" she whispered.

"What?" I answered, my head still inside my sleeping bag. 


I sighed, poked my head free of my cocoon.

"Listen," whispered Nicki.

All was silent. Then thunk. scratch, scratch, scratch, scratch, scratch sounded on the roof above us.

"What is that?" I asked and looked over at Jackie.

She peered back at me and I thought she might cry. I know I wanted to. We heard it again. It sounded like little mice or squirrels dropping onto the metal roof and then running, running, running with their little rodent feet. 

"It's outside," Jackie finally said. 

"So I guess Plan B is out," Nicki mumbled.

"What was Plan B?" I asked.

"Sleep in the van." Nicki yawned. "I'm not going outside now."

"Right," I nodded. The only thing to worry about at that point was the spiders, and I ducked my head back under my covers, listened to the rodent circus rioting above us until finally at some point I fell asleep.

Morning dawned bright. Sunlight poured through the branches of the surrounding forest. Songbirds chorused in welcome of the new day. But I didn't enjoy any of it because I was stiff and exhausted and desperately needing coffee in a land where none was to be found. We all got up, participated in the buddy system again for bathroom usage, threw our belongings into our bags, and plodded out to the van. 

There was not a spider in sight--these were evidently nocturnal spiders--but on the front porch were several chickens clucking about. I stopped causing Jackie to nearly collide into the back of me.

"What?" she asked, peering around my shoulder.

"Chickens," I answered.

"Of course."

We walked outside and the chickens scuttered away. Then I turned and looked up at the roof. I started to laugh and called to Jackie, pointing. "Walnuts." 

The rodent circus was actually walnuts falling onto the roof and rolling down. Amazing how everything is far less threatening in daylight.

We all piled in the van and started to pull away.

"Wait!" Nicki yelled when we were about 50 yards from the cabin. "I think I forgot my towel in the bathroom!"

"You think you forgot it? Or you did forget it?" I asked.

"I did forget it," she said.

I put the van in park. "Okay. Hurry up."

She hopped from the van and sprinted toward the cabin. Then more screaming began. Jackie and I and several of the girls jumped out and ran back to see the new crisis Nicki had encountered. About 20 yards from the cabin we froze. 

A buck with a massive rack was at the door of the cabin. The sliding door was opened just a crack. The deer had its antlers wedged into the crack and was swinging its head from side to side to try and open further the door. It pawed the ground with its front hoof and huffed and grunted with its efforts. I saw Nicki through the glass door standing with her towel trailing from her hand. She looked out at me, her eyes wide. Then she did something amazing. She took that towel and started to flap it. Like a matador shaking a red cape at a bull, Nicki shook that towel in the buck's face and started screaming at the animal. Then we all started to scream at it. Jackie ran back to the van and blasted the horn. The buck jerked its head back from the door, scrambled down off the porch and galloped into the woods. 

Nicki walked from the cabin, dragging her towel behind her, and stood on the porch. The chickens came clucking back from wherever they had hidden themselves.

"I left the door open only a crack," she said. She sidestepped the chickens and walked toward us. We all silently filed back to the still-running van.

"You must really want those new uniforms," Jackie said. 

"I'm reconsidering," I answered, shifted the van into drive, and prayed that wherever we ended up there'd be coffee waiting.

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  1. That was hilarious, Anna. The spiders reminded me of the bathroom in a farmers' co-operative in a neighboring town. It has a shower in it so the guys can wash off farm chemicals if they have spills, but that bathroom has almost a solid mat of fiddle-back spider webs in it, especially the shower. So, so disgusting.
    And the buck? Why was it trying to get inside, I wonder?
    But most importantly, did you ever find coffee?

    1. Haha! I did get coffee and I have NO idea why that buck was so intent on getting inside the cabin. My first thought was that it had rabies. Can deer get rabies? I'm not enough of a sportsman to know these things. I just scream at animals (and spiders) and hope that makes them go away. So glad you enjoyed the story, Danni! (And if I ever come to OK, I'm steering clear of the farmers' co-operative. Thanks for the warning.)

  2. Great story Anna! Was Murphy's law in full effect, or what? I'm still shaking off the images of the spiders. Ick.

    1. Murphy's Law was indeed in full swing! To this day it is one of the most bazaar experiences I've ever had! So glad you enjoyed it, Stevie!


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