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Harpers Ferry - Peter Malakoff

When I was in my teens, I spent a night in the mountains near Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. It became like a scene right out of the movie 'Deliverance.' 


I was with a friend and we had been walking the Blue Ridge mountains and camped for the night in a lean-to off the Appalachian Trail. Around midnight, we were suddenly awakened by a gang of adolescent, redneck kids. They had snuck up and woken us by holding cigarettes to our arms.

We had both been burned.


My friend freaked out and started screaming, but I went into a hyperaware survival mode and began to include everyone present in my feeling consideration. These kids seemed like killers, the kind that not only tortured animals but, tortured people. They had a leader, who was by far the oldest and biggest, but by no means the smartest, although he did have a sort of focus on iniquity that was unique. He was simple, dumb and evil at the same time...sort of like George Bush. And, he was easily misled, if you didn't try to do so straight out with a frontal assault. That would only give him more strength.


I began to talk to them and eventually to joke with these guys. They had gathered around my friend and I like a pride of young lions with mischief and harm in their vague minds, but I slipped into their stupid bond like a trickster, first by making fun of how one of the guys dressed, then, another's looks and by asking them questions about their lives and about girls, what they did and what they thought was cool, never mentioning what they had just done to my arm which burned with the mark of a lit cigarette.

My friend just sat like a scared, numbed animal. I found it impossible to bring him into the camaraderie. But, as long as he sat there non-communicative and shut down, there was something in these young boys psyche that was oriented to hurt him, I could feel it like a silent visualization they had, but, were not aware of. It was like being surrounded by a pack of wolves- one false move, one impulse and they would attack us.


As I carefully associated myself with these boys, I eventually made some joke which got everybody laughing, including my friend, and at that moment I could feel the pack-hunting instinct lift from off the group. Then, I got out some food from my knapsack and passed it around, sharing one of the oldest forms of fellowship. I asked one of the smaller guys to build up the fire and we spent the night around its light and warmth with small-talk, adolescent boasting and girl talk.


As dawn approached, one of the kids said he had to get home and like vampires,

they all got up and started to leave into the woods

as first light spread across the sky.

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