Friday October 8th 1982
It was a Friday afternoon, close to mid-October, when the events of this tale began. The green leaves of summer had already changed into their autumn hues, and the residents of Thornbrook NY, a cozy little hamlet in Chester County, had embraced the fall season with delight. And nestled in the center of town was Thornbrook Junior High, a small school, perched on the summit of a hill, surrounded by colorful trees and residential homes.
Inside the school, the students sat at their desks, eagerly waiting for the dismissal bell, and three o’clock couldn’t have come soon enough. It was Friday after all, and Columbus Day weekend as well. When the bell finally rang, the kids jumped out of their seats and poured into the hallways like roaring rapids, excited to start the three-day weekend. But one student in particular didn’t join in on the celebration, and his name was Andrew Harper.
Andrew Harper, the brown haired, “nerd boy" (as some labeled him) remained seated at his desk in his history class, while his fellow students rushed out the door.
Now if it were any other Friday, he'd be just as excited as they were to start the long weekend, but that particular day was different. He didn’t want to leave the classroom at all—and for good reason. You see, earlier that day, before the first class even started, Andrew had received a personal request from two of the most feared bullies in school: Butch Johnson and Shane Reilly.
The request (or demand ) was to see them after school for an important meeting, and because of this, Andrew had been in a state of panic all day. A meeting with those two could only mean trouble.
So the twelve- year-old, seventh-grade honor student, and active member of the Chester County Youth Troops, remained seated at his desk, hoping the bullies would somehow forget about him. And this quickly caught the attention of Mr. Robinson, his history teacher, who sat at the large desk in front of the classroom, a puzzled look on his face.
“Andrew, what are you doing?” Mr. Robinson asked as he stood up from his chair. “It’s time to go home, buddy.”
“I know, sir,” said Andrew, “but I was wondering if I could stay after school for extra help?”
“Extra help?” Mr Robinson looked surprised. “Since when do you need extra help?”
It was a good question. Andrew was an honor student after all, and he rarely scored lower than an A on any of his tests. Nonetheless, he had to think quickly, anything to keep him from leaving the classroom.
“Well,” Andrew continued, “the test we’re having on Tuesday, on the American Revolution—I’m having trouble understanding the British tax policies concerning the colonies.”
Mr. Robinson’s eyes narrowed under his thick glasses. “Well, that’s what your books are for. You just need to study hard, like you always do.” He shook his head. “What’s with this sudden confusion concerning British taxes?”
Andrew had to think quickly again—anything to stall time. “Well…the whole Sugar Act thing...uh...could we go over it in more detail?”
Mr. Robinson glanced at the clock above the classroom door. “Sorry, Andrew, you know there’s no after school study on Fridays,” he said, gathering papers and stuffing them in his briefcase. “And right now, I have to run to a teacher’s meeting.”
“Maybe just five minutes?” Andrew pleaded. His heart was jumping against his ribs.
“Sorry, Andrew, can’t do it.” Mr.Robinson smiled. “There’s plenty of information in your book about the Sugar Act, and everything else that’ll be on the test. You’ll do fine.”
Mr. Robinson stood up, grabbed his briefcase and nodded toward the window. “You better get going. The buses are here.”
Andrew groaned quietly and stood up, grabbing his book and trudging toward the door. He tried to hide his doleful expression, but Mr. Robinson could tell something was wrong.
“Andrew, is everything alright?”
Andrew sighed. “Yes, sir…I just want to pass the test.”
“You always pass tests. This one should be no different, and you have three days to study.”
The hallways were just about empty when Andrew exited the classroom, except for some kids who stayed after for sport activity. He didn’t play any sports, but he was well known for his skills as an elite Youth Trooper. He had won all kinds of medals and was on his way to becoming a Junior Troop Captain; an honorable rank he dreamed of achieving.
Andrew rushed to the main entrance of the school. There was no sign of the bullies at the moment, but he kept looking over his shoulders to make sure. If only he could make it to the bus without being noticed... but as soon as he tried to make a run for it, he heard heavy footsteps approaching from behind. He closed his eyes and sighed. They’d found him.
Butch Johnson grabbed Andrew’s shoulder. “Well, well, well, looks like someone’s trying to avoid me.” He spun Andrew around like a top. “Where ya going, Harper?”
Butch was a tall kid, with broad shoulders and curly blonde hair. He towered over Andrew, who was much shorter and thinner and right now, felt even smaller than he was.
Shane Reilly stood next to Butch. “I guess he doesn’t want to talk to us,” he said, “ I'm offended.”
Shane, known as “ The Enforcer” was Butch’s right hand man. He was the “collector” of student lunch money, as well as other things pertaining to their bully enterprise. If a student didn’t want to pay the bully tax, or do their homework, or anything else Butch commanded, you could rest assured Shane would come around to settle the matter.
“So, what’s the problem, Harper?” Butch gave Andrew a little shove. “I told you to meet us right after school. Seems like you’re trying to ditch out on us.” He smiled coldly.
Andrew froze. “ I...I… wasn’t trying to ditch you, Butch. I..um...forgot. I’m sorry.”
“Forgot, eh?” Butch grinned. “Oh well, I’ll let it slide... this time. Now come with us.”
They escorted Andrew off to the side of the building for more privacy. The buses pulled away, and Andrew was trapped.
“Okay Harper, I’ll cut right to the chase,” said Butch. “I need a big favor from you this weekend.”
“Sure, Butch... what can I do?”
“Well, since you’re a wiz when it comes to camping and all that stuff, Shane and I need your help this weekend in Woody Hills Park. We plan on camping there Saturday night, and we need an expert trooper, like yourself, to help us navigate through the woods.” He patted Andrew hard on the back. “You up for it?”
Andrew’s heart sank at the mention of Woody Hills Park. The wooded park, located at the western side of Thornbrook, was a place of legend, full of stories about ghosts and strange creatures prowling around at night.
“Well?” said Butch. “You want to come or not?”
Andrew knew it wasn’t really a question; Butch Johnson never “asked” anyone for anything. He demanded things. And if he didn’t get what he wanted, there was always a consequence.
“Yeah, Harper, we ain't got all day,” chimed in Shane. “We need to find Grimdamun Cave. We’re looking for some hidden—”
“ Enough!” Butch interrupted, elbowing Shane in the arm. He turned his gaze back toward Andrew, who could barely look him in the eyes. “We just need you to help us locate the cave. That’s all you need to know.”
As if going into Woody Hills Park at night wasn’t bad enough, now they wanted to go to Grimdamun Cave, the deadliest part of the forest. The stories and legends of that cave go back a hundred years or so, and though no one knew of its exact location in the forest, or if it even existed, the stories lived on.
Some claim that a local woman, a few years back, had disappeared in the forest, after taking an early evening walk through the trails. Others claim to have seen strange looking creatures lurking around at night near the alleged Grimdamun Cave, going in and out of it, terrorizing all the animals in the forest. And in recent days, some have made the claim about a strange, elderly man, who looked like he belonged in an earlier century, going in and out of the park at late hours. The rumor was that he took residence inside of the cave.
Andrew was silent for a few moments, not sure why they wanted to go to such a place at night, and not sure how he should answer them.
“Harper?” said Butch. “You awake?” He snapped his fingers in front of Andrew’s eyes.
After a few more moments of silence and contemplation, Andrew somehow mustered up the courage to deny them of their request—hoping they’d understand…
“I’d love to help you guys...but there’s a big test on Tuesday, and I really need to study for it this weekend. But thanks for inviting me.” He smiled nervously, and attempted to walk away, but Shane stepped in front of him.
“Hmmm,” Butch mumbled. “Alrighty then, Harper. If you have to study, then you have to study.” He grabbed Andrew by the collar of his shirt, and pulled him closer. “Why don’t you study this.” He made a fist and put it close to Andrew’s face.
Andrew gulped at the sight of Butch’s knuckles; the same knuckles that had been the fate of many kids.
“Looks like he’s studying real hard now,” said Shane, in a mocking tone, and the two bullies shared a laugh.
“Well, Harper, what’ll it be?” Butch continued. “A fat lip? Bloody nose? Or one night of camping with us at Woody Hills Park?” He clenched his fist tighter and placed it under Andrew’s chin. “I’m sure you’ll make the right choice.”
With a sheepish grin, Andrew said, “Well...I guess one night of camping could be fun.”
“Now you’re talking.” Butch smiled and pulled his fist back. “Meet us there around eleven o’clock, Saturday night, and bring whatever we need.”
“Yeah, and bring some food too,” said Shane. “I get grouchy when I’m hungry.”
“What exactly do you want me to bring?”
“Whatever we need,” said Butch. “You’re the trooper, not us. So bring some tents and stuff; whatever you think we’ll need. We’re counting on you, Harper.” He gave Andrew another heavy pat on the back. “I got an old map that shows where Shadow Cave’s supposed to be located, but I don’t know how to navigate in the woods—especially not at night.”
Normally, Andrew would’ve loved the idea of a camping trip being a Youth Trooper and all, but not with those two. The idea of using his skills to help two hoodlums didn't sit well with him. And if his Troop Master, Mr. Pippo, ever found out he went on a camping trip unsupervised by an adult, he’d be in serious trouble. And even worse, if his parents ever found out, he’d be grounded for life!
Before the two hooligans left, Butch gave Andrew a final warning: “Don’t forget, Harper, eleven o’clock, Saturday night.” He poked his finger in Andrew’s chest. “And if you don’t show up—we’ll come and get you.”
After that, the two bullies walked away and vanished from sight, leaving Andrew by himself.