Friday October 8th
As soon as Butch and Shane left, Andrew started his walk home. It was windy outside, with a slight chill in the air, but the weather was the last thing on his mind; he was more concerned about the two bullies. The whole situation frightened him and he needed to vent. Steven Jacob’s house was on the way. He’d stop there. His best friend and fellow Youth Trooper would listen, and maybe even have some advice.
He and Steven had been buddies since kindergarten. They joined the Peewee Troops together when they were in first grade, and they both loved camping and fishing and just about everything else to do with the outdoors.
It took Andrew nearly half an hour to reach Ridge Road where Steven lived, and sitting on the steps in front of the house was Steven's younger sister Suzy. Her eyes lit up as soon as she saw him.
Oh brother, he thought. Not now! From the moment Andrew and Suzy first met, she insisted they'd be married one day. Andrew, on the other hand, didn't quite see it that way, and avoided her as much as possible.
"Hiya Andrew," she said, twirling one of her pigtails, with a big smile exposing her sparkling braces. "Did you come to say hello to me?"
He rolled his eyes. "No, Suzy, I need to talk to your brother. Where is he?"
"Are you okay?" she asked. "You look like you're worried about something. Want to talk about it?"
"No! I want to talk to Steven."
"Fine!" Her smile quickly changed to a frown. "He's in the backyard doing chores."
"Thanks!" Andrew walked around the side of the house to the backyard, where his buddy was raking leaves.
“Howdy sir!” shouted Steven, excited to see his pal. "How come you weren't on the bus?"
“Oh, okay," Steven responded. "So how's my fellow trooper and future captain?” He tossed the rake to the side.
Steven was a bit taller than Andrew and twice as wide. He had a pleasant aura about him, and was Andrew’s most loyal friend. Some of the kids called him ‘chubby’ and ‘hamster cheeks’ because his cheeks were round and always looked full, but he was a good sport and usually laughed it off.
“Fine—I guess,” said Andrew. His tone couldn’t be any gloomier.
“Oh, nothing really,” Andrew mumbled, “other than the fact that my life’s about to end.” He plopped himself down on a thick tree stump in the middle of the yard and dropped his book bag on the ground.
“What are you talking about?” Steven sat down next to him.
Andrew explained the meeting he had with Butch and Shane, how he was being forced to go camping with them at Woody Hills Park.
“Oh, wow. Woody Hills Park?” Steven’s jaw dropped. “That’s crazy!”
“Yup,” said Andrew. “Butch wants me to help him locate Grimdamun Cave.”
“Grimdamun Cave?” Steven's jaw dropped again. “What for?”
Andrew shrugged. He was just as baffled as Steven. “I don’t know. He wouldn't say.”
Steven shook his head. “I’d stay away from there at night if I were you. People are still talking about the missing lady from a few years ago. And you know that weird old fellow—the one with the top hat who walks around town at night sometimes, with a cane?”
“What about him?” Andrew shuddered.
“Well, Miss Bonsworth told my dad that she saw him lurking through the neighborhood one night near her store about a week ago. She said he was just staring at people and not saying a word. And then he just disappeared. It’s the same guy people have seen going in and out of Woody Hills Park lately. Some people think he lives there. Creepy stuff.”
Bonsworth Market was the oldest store in all of Chester County, and Natalie Bonsworth was the last surviving member of the original owners family. She liked to tell stories about the town’s history, and her stories about Woody Hills Park were the most disturbing.
“And you know what Matthew Bruce told me?” Steven continued. “He said he saw wolves in there one night—like real big wolves. He was out biking and got lost in there after sundown. He's lucky he made it out safe!”
“Wolves?” Andrew raised an eyebrow.
“Yup.” Steven nodded. “He said they had really dark fur and were huge. But it was hard to get a good look at them because it was too dark.”
“And you believe him?” Andrew asked, doubting the story. “You know better than to believe Matt; he’s always exaggerating. And besides, we’ve been there a few times with the troops, and we’ve never seen any wolves!”
“But we’ve never gone there at night,” Steven reminded him.
“Makes no difference,” said Andrew. “Matt Bruce is a fibber and I don’t believe anything he says.”
“Why would he lie?” asked Steven. “And besides, it's a big park— probably lots of animals in those woods that we’ve never seen. You shouldn't go there, Andrew… especially not at night—and definitely not with those two.”
“Yeah, I know. But if I don’t go, I’m dead.”
“Dead?” Steven’s eyes widened. “What are you talking about?”
“Butch made it clear that if I don’t go along with them he’ll pretty much kill me. And to make matters worse, I have to bring everything!”
“Yup. Tents, sleeping bags, the whole works. Oh, and food!”
“That’s ridiculous! I wouldn’t stand for that nonsense.” Steven stood up and puffed out his chest. “I’d tell them both to go to—”
“Sure you would.” Andrew rolled his eyes. “You’d do the same thing I did.”
Steven shook his head. “What a bunch of jerks those two are. I wish they’d leave the school forever.”
“You and me both. But that’s not happening anytime soon.”
“Well, what are you going to do?" asked Steven. “Your folks won’t let you spend the night in the park, especially not with those two.”
“I know,” said Andrew. “Anyway, I was hoping you could help me somehow.”
“Of course,” Steven said, smiling. “How can I help?”
“Come with me,” Andrew said. “That way I won't have to carry everything by myself, and I won’t have to be alone with those two clowns.”
“Are you nuts!” Steven protested. “You know I’d do anything for you buddy, but my parents won’t let me go and neither will yours. You need to forget about this whole thing.”
“I can’t!” Andrew snapped, throwing his arms in the air.
“Because if I don’t go, they’ll come looking for me.”
“Oh?” Steven raised his eyebrows. “Well that’s not good.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Did you also consider what would happen if Mr. Pippo finds out?”
“Of course,” said Andrew. “I can kiss my chance of becoming Junior Troop Captain goodbye. Hopefully he won’t find out.”
The Troop Master was a strict and stern leader, always telling the boys to set a good example for others. He had a low tolerance for bad behavior, and would ban anyone from scouting trips if they misbehaved, or didn’t keep their grades up in school. Andrew knew he’d be doomed if Mr. Pippo found out he’d gone camping without adult supervision, and he could forget his chances of becoming a Junior Troop Captain.
“So anyway,” Andrew cringed, “will you help me? I’ll never ask you for another favor...I promise.”
Andrew felt bad for asking Steven to come along, knowing it would put his friend in danger too. But he was desperate and his long time buddy was the only one he could ever count on.
Steven took a deep breath, mulling over the situation. After a brief moment of silence and pondering, he cracked a smile and nodded his head.
“Okay,” Steven said. "I’ll come along. But how are we going to pull this over on our parents? It’s bad enough Mr. Pippo might ban us from the troops, but if our folks find out, we’ll be grounded for life!”
That was a tough question. Andrew hated lying and he knew it was wrong, especially lying to his parents, and Steven felt the same way. But he felt there was no other choice.
“I’ll figure something out,” said Andrew.
“Better figure it out quick...before I change my mind.”
“I got it!” Andrew shouted, then looked toward the house and lowered his tone. “This Saturday my father has to work a double-shift at the jail. He’ll be gone all night.”
“Okay,” said Steven, not sure where this was going. “And?”
“And you can come to my house for a sleepover. My mom won't mind, and I’m sure your folks won't either. When my mom’s asleep, we can sneak out. She usually goes to bed around nine.”
They talked it over for a few more minutes, and the plan was settled. It would be a night neither of them would ever forget….