The McKack Attacks
Cold Dark Syder
(From the perspective of Rob Duffy)
My friends and I like to go camping a lot. Usually once in the Spring, once in the Summer, and once in the Fall. Other people are always asking us if they can come along. But the four of us are elitist when it comes to our camping trips. It's like our own little club and no one else is allowed in. Because of this exclusivity, we've managed to build strong bonds and good memories. Sometimes we even learn a thing or two about ourselves. But the camping trip where we met Syder Brown was the first time we ever learned anything about the McKacks. We had seen them several times before that night. We just didn't know they had a name. Syder Brown showed us what the McKacks were all about.
The day I met Syder Brown started off miserable. I woke up in the living room, rolled off my futon, switched it into the couch position, and threw on some clothes. I looked over my camping pack to make sure everything was ready to go for the trip we were taking that afternoon. I threw an extra pair of jeans into one of the pockets and made sure my sleeping bag was properly attached at the bottom. After that, I waited for the other guys to wake up.
The four of us all rent a three bedroom house in O.B., a beach community of San Diego, California. The living room doubles as my unofficial bedroom area after midnight, while everyone else gets their own room. It can be kind of a drag sometimes, but at least my rent is cheaper then the other guys.
It was a a little cloudy that morning, but the weather report said it was suppose to clear up later in the day. I went into the kitchen to make some breakfast, but to my dismay the last few slices of bread had gone moldy in the bag. I didn't have the extra cash to go down to the store and buy a new loaf. No toast for me that morning. The guys were all still asleep even though it was going on eleven, so I decided to give Leah a call and ask her if she wanted to meet up real quick before we head out. She said to meet me down on Dog Beach, which is just a block away from my house. I arrived ten minutes before Leah did. When she showed up, we sat down on the sand and enjoyed the cool morning breeze as I proceeded to tell her how much I was going to miss her while I was gone for the next three days. I told her I'd think about her the whole time I was gone. I told her I loved her. That's when she dropped the bombshell on me.
"Look Rob," she began, "I think you totally rock as human being and all. But, I think we're just going in two different directions. I feel like, you think we're one thing and I think we're another. I'm not sure if that makes sense, butI don't know. I'm so sorry, but I think it'd be best if you and I were just friends and not thisromantic thing."
I wasn't that surprised. Leah and I had been together for three months and six days, which was a step or two above my average. I had been anticipating this moment for a few weeks, and it happened the same way it always does. I was just starting to get comfortable, a future seemed to be forming, one day we're having great sex, the next day she dumps me. It was like clockwork. I never see any red flags. No signs that a break-up is coming. Just a complete one-eighty and a kick to the curb. It's always been that way for me. It's like a big cosmic joke. I could have asked her why. I could have begged her to reconsider. But this endless cycle of falling in love and having my heart broken was becoming all too familiar. I didn't want to drag it out any further.
"I feel really bad for doing this right before your camping trip," Leah continued, "I was going to wait and tell you when you got back, but then it just sort of came out when you said you loved me just now. I couldn't take it anymore. I can't keep living this lie. I hope this doesn't ruin your camping trip."
"Oh, of course not," I replied sarcastically, "Nothing gets me in the mood for s'mores and campfire songs like having my feelings trampled on. Thanks a lot, Leah!"
I didn't give her a chance to reply. Instead, I stood up and walked away, leaving her alone on the beach to allow her newfound feeling of freedom to resonate happily with her cold dark soul. I'll bet a ton of weight was just lifted off her shoulders. She probably felt a whole lot better. Good for her, I guess. Let her find another boy to fuck and then fuck over. What did I care?
As I walked back up the sidewalk toward my house, I began to wonder about something. Could the fact that I wasn't able to have toast that morning be considered some sort of comic foreshadowing to the events that transpired on the beach with Leah? I wasn't sure. It just always seems like when I'm pissed off about something insignificant like moldy bread, I have something truly terrible happen to me, which puts the whole thing in perspective and I wind up feeling like an even more of an asshole than I did before.
When I walked through the front door of the house I saw that Dave had woken and laid out on my futon in the living room watching T.V., with his bare feet resting right on the pillow where I lay my head at night. I didn't pay him any attention, but continued to move across the living room towards the sliding glass door leading to the back yard.
"Ready to forget your cares and join the bears in the great outdoors!" said Dave energetically, as I walked by him.
"Tell Rory and Pitt that I'm not going this time," I replied as I approached the sliding door.
"What happened? Leah break up with you?"
I didn't reply to that. I had stepped outside and shut the sliding door behind me before Dave could say anything else. Our back yard is a good sized patio area with a ping pong table in the center of it, which is usually covered by red plastic cups used to play Beer Pong with. Aggressively, I shoved all the cups aside, climbed onto the ping pong table, laid down on my back, lit a cigarette, and stared up at the sky. As I exhaled smoke straight above me and watched as it blended into the clouds, I thought about all the things people do in order to distract themselves from the painful crap they go through. I always telling myself I'm not addicted to cigarettes and yet it was my first impulse when I stood up and walked away from Leah on the beach. The cigarettes would provide some temporary relief, but I knew it wouldn't last. Deep down, the only thing that would really lift my spirits at that moment was going camping. It had pulled me out of a funk before and I was sure it would do it again. When it comes to our special camping trips, I'm like a little kid going to Disneyland. Nothing can get me down. So, why did I just tell Dave that I wasn't going on this one? An angry impulse, perhaps. I hate to admit it, but I love attention. This whole situation that was going on here was a prime example of my condition. I knew I was going camping for sure, but there was no way in hell I was getting off that ping pong table before someone came out and talked me into it.
About a half hour later, Rory came outside and sauntered over to me. It was typical that they'd send Rory. He's like the little puppy who comes and tugs at the bottom of your pants and says, "Hey let's go for a walk? Want to take a walk? Grab the leash, it's time for a walk." Dave and Pitt knew it, so of course they used it to their advantage.
"Hey buddy, how you doing?" Rory asked as he approached me.
"Leave me alone, dude," I replied monotone.
"Look, I'm not really sure what's happening here. But Dave says that we can't go camping until you stop acting like a little Emo bitchAnd I really want to go camping, so"
I was a little angry that Dave could be so insensitive about my current situation, but I still smiled inside myself because everything that came out of Rory's mouth had this innocent dopiness about it.
I met Rory Martinez in a history class when I was 19, during my first and only semester of community college. I dropped out, but Rory stayed in and eventually received an Associates Degree in Music Theory. This degree opened new doors that lead to an exciting job waiting tables at a local beach bar and grill a few blocks away from our house. He's never given up on his music though, developing original songs and playing on the streets for spare change when he's not working. If Rory were an action figure, his acoustic guitar, hemp necklace, and beanie would be among his accessories. He's the shortest of all of us, by about six inches and he also has the darkest complexion, which earned him the nickname "Short-Brown" by Dave. Rory is the only child of a young Mexican immigrant and an older white fellow. He doesn't talk about his father much and I've only met him once in my life. But his mother dotes upon him like crazy, bringing bags of food over to our house once a week and taking him out for special "mother-son" days. We like to bust his chops about being a mama's boy, but the truth is it's something I'm envious of Rory for. Not that my parents were bad people or anything, but they certainly didn't promote the kind of values to me that Rory had promoted to him. These values obviously gave Rory a certain likability that was instantaneous and genuine. I can only connect with certain kinds of people and tend to freeze up when I'm among new crowds. With Rory, it doesn't matter who the person is. He could talk to a complete stranger like they had been best friends for years. Everybody liked him. I was jealous of him for it, but I couldn't hate him. It was impossible. He was the kid brother I never had. There just wasn't anything bad a person could say about Rory Martinez. True, he may have been a little dim. But he was a sweet kid.
"Come on man," persisted Rory, "We'll write a song about Leah while we're up in the mountains. Check this out! I've already got a good opening"
Rory's guitar had been hanging behind him, attached to a wrap that went around his upper body. He quickly swung it around to the front and started playing a fast paced ditty. As he played his guitar, he began to improvise words and sing:
"You don't need Leah, she's totally boring,
Let's go camping Rob, and forget about this,
It's time to party, it's a time for being young,
A time for being young,
A time for being young,
Why do you want to fall in love so much?
You're only 26, what's the matter with you?
It's a time for being young
A time for being young."
I stared at Rory blankly as he slowly gave up and stopped strumming.
"No, no good?" He asked, "I'll work on it. Try making the lyrics rhyme a little. Add some wavy violins over it, maybe a percussion solo?"
I lit another cigarette and continued to stare at Rory with no expression whatsoever. His song was catchy, considering he had made it up completely on the spot. But I wasn't prepared to dignify it with a compliment at that particular moment. Instead, I turned my head back up to the sky, exhaled smoke into the air, and watched Rory sulk out of the corner of my eye. He was sent out here on a mission to cheer me up, and the look on his face said defeat. He wasn't looking forward to going back inside and explaining to his comrades how he had failed to complete his objectives.
"Well," I finally said to him with the lowest amount of enthusiasm I could muster, "We'd better get going if we want to enjoy any daylight."
Two hours later, we were cruising down Highway 74 in Pitt's green Izuzu Rodeo. Pitt was in the driver's seat, quiet as usual, Dave was seated shotgun, I was sitting in the back behind Dave, and Rory was sitting next to me on the driver's side. Dave and Rory had spent much of the journey in a meaningless debate about the existence of Bigfoot.
"Thousands of people claim to have seen him," argued Rory, "Are you saying they're all liars?"
"No. Some of them are just stupid," replied Dave.
"I've seen Bigfoot footage on Youtube, man. It doesn't look like a guy in a costume to me."
"Well then you're stupid too, because every video you've ever seen that claims to be footage of Bigfoot is in fact, a guy in a costume."
This went back and forth for quite some time. I had tuned out of the conversation, still sulking about Leah. As I began observing the vast open spaces, appreciating the fact that I was getting farther away from the city, I slowly picked up my spirits and attempted to forget about my unsuccessful love life. I decided to roll a joint, reaching behind my seat and into the cargo hatch where my back pack was, pulling my pot and papers out of the front pocket where I had stashed them. I also grabbed one of Pitt's frisbees to use as a rolling tray. While breaking the weed up with my fingers and preparing to roll, I had started listening in on Dave and Rory's conversation again, looking for a good spot to jump in. But I hadn't said anything up until that point, and right as I was about to light my newly rolled doobie, Dave decided I had been quiet long enough and started busting my chops.
"Hey Rob! Mr. Moody-Fuck back there! Why don't you try cheering up, huh? Leah wasn't the right girl for you, alright! We all knew it. Don't tell me you honestly believed she was. Stop moping around, grow some balls, and have some fun for crying out loud!"
"Sure thing Dave," I replied sarcastically as I lit the joint, "That's right, you have all the answers. Your advice is so fresh and enlightening. And it really works. How much do I owe you for that?"
"I'm just trying to help you man," retorted Dave, "You're my friend. I don't like to see you torturing yourself. It's high time you realized that you're your own worst enemy."
Dave Gastineau. Dave, Dave, Dave. Where do I begin with Dave? First of all, when Dave says that I'm my own worst enemy, he's absolutely wrong. I know exactly who my worst enemy is, and it isn't me. I've gone head to head with my worst enemy many times during the course of my life. Sometimes I win the battle. Sometimes he does. But the war is far from over and the final battle has yet to be fought. My worst enemy has also been my best friend since I was eleven years old. His name is Dave Gastineau.
A mutually morbid sense of humor and two houses that resided across the street from each other were the two major contributing factors of our initial friendship. Even as kids, the relationship was a strange one, the two of us often competing with each other in just about everything we did together. As we got older, this continued as did our arguments amongst each other. But we always stayed together. We were attached at the hip in high school, and were well known around campus as a class clown comedy duo. After graduation, we rented our first apartment together, and have been roommates ever since. Dave use to have dreams of being a stand-up comedian, but after a bad experience in an open mic venue, he gave up and settled into a job working as an assistant for a wealthy stockbroker whom Dave is always referring to as "Dick The Penis." As Dave got older, he grew more and more cynical about life, aspirations, and human affliction. He hates life and is the ultimate critic, always sharing what he believes are his well-constructed negative opinions with every single person he comes across. The guy has a razor sharp wit, I'll give him that. He's smart too, the kind of guy who can think his way out of a tough situation. I've been able to count on him for tough advice, or to fix my computer if it has a problem. Whenever we watch Jeopardy on T.V., Dave gets more answers correct than the contestants. But his incapability of having a real human relationship is worse off than mine. He's never had a girlfriend for as long as I've known him, and I've only seen him hook up a few times. I think he's lonelier than he's willing to admit, but it's hard to feel sorry for him. He may be my friend, but he's an asshole. Not just to me, but to everybody. He seems to get away with it a lot, probably because his eccentricities amuse people like a court jester would, so he's always forgiven for his self centered behavior. But I know Dave better than anyone and underneath his pseudo-stage persona is a frightened little boy suffering from a narcissistic personality complex. We get along sometimes. I wouldn't trade our memories for anything and I think I'd even be sad if he died. It's a strange paradox with Dave. I hate the guy. But I can't seem to separate myself from him.
After taking a few rips off my newly rolled joint, I passed it over to Rory who graciously accepted. No one said anything for a few minutes. We all seemed to be looking out the windows visiting with our own thoughts. Pitt turned up the radio a little bit and changed the station. We had just driven through the town of Hemet, a depressing little shit hole, populated with nothing but strip malls, fast food restaurants, hookers, and meth heads. Fortunately, there was nothing ahead of us now but an open road that ended at the base of the beautiful San Jacinto Mountains, growing steadily larger as we approached them. I rolled the side window down and allowed the wind from outside the car to hit my face as the buzz from the weed began to sink in. Leah was stuck in the revolving doors of my mind, going around and around in circles, unsure if she should come all the way into the lobby or go out onto the sidewalk and hail a cab somewhere far away. I felt a nudge on my shoulder that snapped me out of it. It was Rory, offering the joint back to me, which I took and begin taking some good strong hits.
"Say fellas.." said Dave from the front seat, "How about passing that joint up this way?"
"I would Dave," I began, "But your Mr. Moody-Fuck comment really hurt my feelings, and I'm not sure if I want to share my cannabis with you at this moment."
"Oh!" laughed Rory, "Dave got shut down! Rob's the pot nazi now! No pot for you, Dave!"
I chuckled for the first time that day and passed the joint back over to Rory. Rory began taking elegantly exaggerated tokes and blowing the smoke in Dave's direction. Then he pretended to hold the joint out for Dave, but each time Dave went for it, Rory would retract. Finally Dave got bored, gave up, turned round, and faced forward in his seat saying nothing. Rory and I shared a laugh between us. I'm not sure if Rory was just trying to cheer me up or if I was the devil on his shoulder, a superstition I had often suspected about myself.
"Mmm, this is some good stuff, Dave," Rory continued to tease, "You don't know what you're missing. It's grown from God's green asshole. You really should try a toke.oh wait, you can't."
"It's okay," said Dave defensibly, "Pitt and I brought some blow. We're going to snort some rails tonight and we ain't sharing with you. Isn't that right Pitt?"
"Shut the fuck up Dave, before I knock your teeth down your fucking throat!"
It was the first thing Pitt had said in over an hour.
Four years ago, Dave, Rory, and I were sharing a two bedroom apartment when Keith "Pitt" Pittman moved in next door to us. We all hit it off right away. Before long the four of us decided to rent a bigger place closer to the beach, which is where we live now. Pitt is older than the rest of us by about five years. He's built like a brick shit house. He spent most of his life as a tough Boston city kid, but after reaching adulthood, he moved out to California to get away from the winter blizzards. The Boston part of Pitt still runs deep in his blood. His thick accent is still strongly prevalent in his speech, especially after he's had a few drinks. Pitt is the only sports fan of our group, living and dying with the Red Sox, Celtics, and New England Patriots. His typical outfit consists of baggy shorts and a sports jersey of either one of the aforementioned teams. He looks intimidating as all hell, the large scars running down both sides of his face being his primary feature. When Pitt was eighteen, he was in a horrible car accident that mangled most of his head and face. After months of reconstructive surgery he was left with how he looks now, which is honestly unfortunate. One of his eyes is constantly dripping fluid and he has removable dentures in his upper teeth. A metal plate in his hip causes him to walk slightly off balance and inhibits his ability to run. He talks about the accident and his current physical appearance with a good sense of humor. Most of the time Pitt is calm and collected, but he's known to be a short tempered mad dog if he's let off the chain. When Dave brought up the fact that they had secretly brought cocaine along, I honestly thought that Pitt was going to pop him in the mouth. Pitt has always been a functioning closet drug addict for as long as I've known him. The rest of like to smoke pot, drink, and experiment with other things on occasion. But none of us have a serious dependency. Pitt has been addicted to pain pills since his car accident, which is a nice way of saying he's been chewing codeine and zoloft like candy for almost ten years. In addition to his over the counter medications, Pitt guzzles alcohol, chain smokes cigarettes, snorts cocaine like a vacuum, and occasionally he's even been known to sniff heroin. That's just what I know about. I've never seen any needles or track marks, thankfully. For some reason, he doesn't like to smoke pot which I've always thought was strange. He likes to pretend that no one else is aware of his drug problem, but it's painfully obvious. Despite this affliction, Pitt is actually the most finically stable out of all of us and the only one who has never struggled to pay the rent. He makes good money working for a landscaping company, which affords him the master bedroom of our house, a nice SUV, decent clothes, an impressive entertainment center, all the drugs he wants, and plane tickets back home to Boston a few times a year. I think he also deals drugs in his spare time, but I couldn't be sure. Pitt's kind of an enigma. I never know what he's thinking.
I had decided to give Dave a break and let him take a couple rips off my joint. He had been quiet after angering Pitt, so I leaned forward and held the remaining roach out in front of him, asking if he wanted to kill it. Dave paused for a moment, nodded, and took the joint out of my fingers. I stared out the front windshield as we approached San Gorgonio Mountain, the tallest peak in Southern California. The road had gone from a straight shot to a series of curves. We were rounding a bend when I first saw the hitchhiker standing just off the rail with his thumb out in the air.
"Hey guys! What do you say we help this fellow out?" I said.
The four of us all looked at each other for a moment, nodded, and Pitt began to slow the car down and pull off to the side. I got my first good look at the hitchhiker, a skinny guy who appeared to be in his early thirties. He had long golden blonde greasy hair, which he tied in a ponytail that extended down to his neckline, and a brown five o'clock shadow covering his lower face. I didn't get a good look at his eyes just yet, as they were still covered by aviator sunglasses. He wore a faded Bart Simpson T-Shirt, torn denim jeans, white sneakers, and a long sleeve plaid shirt wrapped around his waist. He carried a large camping pack over his shoulders, similar to the one I had. When the car came to a stop, the man spoke very friendly.
"Thanks for stopping by!" he said.
"Where you headed?" asked Dave.
"Anywhere, man. Wherever you can take me. If you're going through Idyllwild, I wouldn't mind being dropped off there, " he replied.
"Yeah, we're heading through there on our way up to Black Mountain Road," said Dave, "Saddle up!"
"Rad! Thanks!" said the hitchhiker, as Pitt proceeded to open the back hatch of the car, so the hitchhiker could put his back pack in there. After he placed the pack on top of the rest of the cargo, he closed the hatch and approached the back passenger door on my side. I opened the door and stepped out, allowing the hitchhiker to slide in between Rory and I, because I hate having to sit in the middle. Once we were all inside, I shut the side door and Pitt continued driving down the road.
We were all quiet for a moment, each of us taking a good look over our new companion. Dave still had what was left of the joint in his hand, which he held out and offered to the hitchhiker, who said thank you and accepted. He was obviously a professional stoner and blew a couple of thick smoke rings, none of which seemed to break its form, not even when they exited out of the top cracks of the car windows and disappeared.
"So, what's your thing man?" asked Dave finally, "Like, what are you doing hitchhiking out here in mountains all by yourself?"
"It's what I do man," replied the stranger, finally removing his sunglasses, "I'm a traveler. I go all over. I'm sort of on my way to Vegas right now, but I don't have to be there on any time schedule. Some family in a minivan picked me up off I-15 earlier today, but for some reason the father told me the lift was over shortly after went through Hemet. Not sure if I weirded them out or what, but I wasn't going to argue with the guy. He had two kids in the car. So I was stuck out on the road and left with a choice of either walking back to Hemet, or taking my chances in the mountains."
"Well fuck Hemet, right?!" said Rory, who was most fascinated with the guy's story.
"Damn straight," continued the hitchhiker, "So I was hoping to make it to Idyllwild before nightfall so I can grab some food. And now it looks like I will accomplish that, thanks to you guys."
"No worries," assured Rory, "You got a place to stay tonight?"
"Wherever I wind up, brother. I got my tent and my sleeping bag attached here. I'll set it up somewhere that looks quiet and peaceful. I do it all the time. It's just how I roll."
"Well shit, man. We're camping only a little ways past Idyllwild. We got food and beers. You're more than welcome to come along with us if you want?"
With Rory, it doesn't matter who the person is. He could talk to a complete stranger like they had been best friends for years. The hitcher seemed very flattered by Rory's invitation and looked around at the rest of us seeking approval. I finally got a good look into his eyes when he turned his head towards me. They turned out to be a lot smaller than I had envisioned before he removed his sunglasses,and his gaze was both direct and hazy at the same time. I also gave him a grin and nod to the camping invitation and he flashed a smile of recognition back at me.
"Yeah man, that's totally nice of you guys to offer. But as you can see, I have too much going on right now, so I'll half to decline..No, I'm just kidding, yeah that sounds awesome. I'll roll wherever you guys roll. Got my own tent and everything. As long as it's cool with everyone involved?" he said.
"I don't think it's such a good idea guys," Dave interjected, "Haven't any of you ever seen a horror movie before? You can never trust a strange hitchhiker, especially one that acts super nice like this guy."
"I've got some extra weed in my pack," said our newfound friend.
"Alright fine, you can come along," retorted Dave, quickly.
The five of us all shared a laugh, including Pitt who still hadn't opened his mouth since threatening Dave. We were all hitting it off nicely. The stranger obviously shared the same values, ideas, and sense of humor with the rest of us and it was clear we were all going to get along and have a party. Playing gracious host, Rory began the introductions all around.
"I'm Rory, by the way. This is Rob and Dave, and the chatterbox in the driver's seat who can't keep his mouth shut is our good friend Pitt."
"Hi," said the hitchhiker, "I''m Syder."
There was a pause as each of us took a moment to process the name.
"Cider?" Dave finally asked, "Like what they serve to kids at Thanksgiving?"
"No, no. It's pronounced the same way, but mine is spelled S-Y-D-E-R. Syder."
"Interesting name," I complimented.
"I like it. The connection goes even further too. My last name is BrownYou know? Same color as the sparkling shit."
Thirty minutes later, we had risen two thousand feet in elevation since we picked up Syder and our knowledge of him had also grown by about two thousand bits of information. Syder was a talker if ever there was one, but his stories were incredibly interesting, even though they all began with the phrase, "So, I was traveling this one time"
The roads had grown narrow and dangerous. The curves at the base of the mountain had been long and easy to cut into, but now each curve slowed us down to fifteen miles an hour and we could never be sure what was coming at us from the other side of the bend. Pitt was a good driver and had been on this road before, so everyone felt at ease. Ponderosa pines poked their tall trunks out of the ground, large branches extending over the road, allowing some shade to enter the vehicle, a relief to me after having the hot summer sun beaming down on my face all through the San Jacinto Valley. I sunburn fairly easily, yet I'm always forgetting to bring sunscreen. It's a curse.
We came upon the little town of Idyllwild, which was Syder's original destination before we persuaded him to come along with us. It was a far more charming town than Hemet, smaller, with fancy cabin-style houses nestled into the trees. One gas station and one Mini-mart that specialized in camping supplies appeared to be the extent of the commerce area. It was the kind of place I could see myself living in some day, if I could ever afford it. But with no need to stop there, we pressed on, working our way further up the mountain.
Syder continued to share his stories with us during the whole ride, finally reaching the point where I felt like I could write a movie about his entire life story from start to finish. From the little bit of information he shared with us during our short car journey, we learned that Syder was born at Ramstein Air Force base in Germany where his father was stationed. Syder and his mother returned to the United States after the unfortunate loss of his father in a helicopter crash. Apparently he wasn't physically in the helicopter, but was serving on the ground crew and was violently crushed by the falling wreckage. After the tragedy, Syder's mother was never able to put the pieces of her life back together and turned to alcohol for relief. She became an abusive lush, making Syder's childhood miserable. When Syder was 22, he had what he described as a spiritual epiphany. He realized that the world only seemed sad and lonely because his mother was forcing him to view it that way, but if he was willing to accept basic universal goodness into his heart and focus on positive energy, he could reach true enlightenment. He relayed to us how he was visited by a religious deity that he felt was God, but not in the traditional sense. This deity told Syder that his destiny laid before him on an open road, a message that propelled Syder to become a traveling guru. He began hitchhiking and working his way from place to place doing odd jobs and occasionally begging for food and money, which he discovered was his true calling in life.
"So what is the ultimate goal of your journey?" I asked, "Are you like Diogenes, searching for an honest man?"
"Hell no," replied Syder, "My search for an honest man ended a long time ago. And you know what? There's more of them out there than you might think. No, my journey doesn't include any final destinations. I'm just trying to gain as many experiences and see as many places and meet as many people as I possibly can. That's the only real goal I have. "
Syder seemed to be accomplishing that goal very well. After ten years of exploring and traveling to nearly every major city in North America, Syder had an infinite amount of stories and adventures. He told us about the night he spent sleeping in a cave with a family of coyotes. The pair of sneakers that lasted him eight years during his travels. His peyote experience with a group of Native Americans in Arizona was a life-changing event. He spoke very proudly about the time a beautiful middle aged woman picked him up off the side of the road in Ohio, took him to her home, where he was immediately seduced into a wild threesome with the woman and her twenty year-old daughter. Then there was the time he got lost on Mount Whitney and almost starved to death, before finally coming across a group of hikers in the nick of time. He met Hunter S. Thomason at Yellowstone National Park, and was almost shot by Ted Nugent after accidentally walking onto his hunting preserve. He saved the life of a little boy from drowning after falling out of a kayak while on a white water rapid excursion. A whimsical romance with a Latino waitress kept him in Mexico for almost a year. That story took ten minutes. Another fifteen minutes went into Syder's story about living in an Idaho commune for seven months. What else do I remember? He had been robbed a total of six times in his travels, and was even jumped twice, both times occurring as he was passing through the South. I really enjoyed hearing Syder's stories, even if I doubted the truthfulness behind some of them. But he seemed like a fairly harmless guy. Still, I was beginning to sympathize with the father who had kicked Syder out of his minivan a few hours previous. The thought then crossed my mind that this minivan dad may have saved himself and his family from some kind of horrible fate.
Our turnoff was Black Mountain Road, a thirty mile dirt trail running up and over the San Gorgonio peak. It was originally built as an access for fire trucks in the event of wildfires, which Southern California is notorious for. The road was uphill and treacherous, with sharp turns, unstable gravel, and the feeling that at any moment we could slip over the side and tumble hundreds of feet below. A trail of dust followed behind us as Pitt sped up and skidded around the turns, humming the Indiana Jones music to himself. We rolled up the windows when the dust began entering the car and Pitt finally slowed down after almost running head on into a forest ranger coming down the mountain in the opposite direction, hauling a huge pile of severed tree branches in the bed of his truck. Since the trail was only one lane and the vehicle coming down always has the right of way, Pitt began to back up, declining until finally reaching a spot he could pull off to the side and allow the ranger's truck to pass. Pitt waved to the ranger, a friendly looking old chap who smiled and waved back before disappearing around the turn, allowing us to continue on up the mountain. Besides the ranger's truck, the only other vehicles we came across were a pair of dirt bikers, who maneuvered around us quickly and were soon out of sight.
After a half hour and ten more anecdotes from Syder, we appeared to be driving along the top of the San Jacinto Mountain range. Most of the hills that had towered over us during our ascent were now running parallel or lower and the only thing that seemed taller than us were the trees. Along the top ridge of the mountain are first-come, first-serve campsites, one about every half a mile. No proper camping facilities are available at these sites, apart from a place to park your car and a metal fire pit. No running water, bathrooms, or electricity exist for miles, which explains why the sites are free to the public. The first site we came across was already taken by a group of rock climbers, so we continued on. A half mile later, a second camp site came into view that was empty, but it lacked shade and seclusion from the road. The third spot we found was almost a mile past the second, had a great view of the valley, and the fire pit was located in an open circle, surrounded by enormous rocks and boulders, giving the impression of a natural amphitheater. We decided right away that this was our spot, parked the SUV in the designated space, and stepped out of the car to stretch our legs after the long car ride.
"Nice spot!" exclaimed Syder, as he quickly climbed to the top of a boulder and admired the view.
Pitt went around to the back of the car, opened the hatch, and began taking things out and setting them on the ground. He appeared to be looking for something specific.
"You guys want to set up camp, first?" asked Dave.
"Yeah Pitt, you want me to help you put up the tent,?" concurred Rory, as he approached the back of the car.
"Are you guys kidding?" said Pitt, "We just got here. Let's have some fun, yeah?"
He reached deep into the back of the SUV and finally found what he was looking for: A few baseballs, two catching mitts, and a wooden bat. He tossed one of the balls up in the air and swung the bat as it came down, watching as the ball soared through the tree branches before finally landing in a pile of fallen pine needles.
"So who's up first?" asked Pitt.
The five of us spent the remainder of the afternoon playing baseball, tossing frisbees, smoking weed, and drinking beer. At around four o'clock, we set out on a little hike of the surrounding area. Syder lead the way, smiling all the while, breathing in the outdoor air as though it was some kind of a drug. I followed shortly behind him, the two of us having hit it off really well. Rory and Dave spent the majority of the hike sword fighting each other with two sticks they had picked up off the ground. Pitt was always a good sport about hiking, but usually lagged a few hundred feet behind us, occasionally ducking behind a tree to snort a rail, pretending like none of us were aware he was doing it. We came upon another tall peak in the mountain range, and decided to climb to the summit, which took us about thirty minutes. The time was well worth it though. We stood on the top of this rock, surrounded by nothing but amber blue skies, as large green mountains unfolded below us is in all directions, eventually reaching flat yellow valleys way down at the bottom. To the East were some smaller mountain ranges, followed by a never ending horizon of desert. To the West, we caught a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean in between a break in the hills, just as the sun was about to go down. We stayed on top of the peak as it grew darker, watching city lights turn on and illuminate themselves throughout the valley, thousands of feet below us. From where we were, we could see the entire cities of Hemet, Perris, and Riverside. It was breathtaking. The five of us were on top of the world. We were the only people who existed.
We decided to return to camp shortly after the sun went down. The hike back was a little treacherous, as we couldn't see where we were going in the dark and no one had thought to bring a flashlight. Upon returning, we lit our camping lanterns and began unloading the vehicle and setting up camp. Rory proceeded to make a fire. Pitt had purchased a brand new two-room tent that was more complicated to set up than he had initially thought. He was much too proud to read the instructions the tent came with, so he and Dave took almost an hour before they managed to get the whole thing up and stake it into the ground. Syder on the other hand, was able to put up his tent in less than one minute, placing it behind a large boulder on the other end of the campsite, out of sight from the rest of us.
My major contribution to setting up camp was the kitchen area, which consisted of a small fold-out card table that we used as a prep area, a portable camping stove, a five gallon water jug, soap, and a dishwashing pan. I proceeded to unload the ice chest and remaining food from the back of the car, placing the non-perishable stuff on the card table next to the stove. I am the unofficial chuck wagon and cook whenever the guys and I go on our camping trips, which is weird because I rarely cook when I'm at home. But we all have our little jobs and it seems to work efficiently for us. Rory does the food shopping before we leave on the trip. I do the cooking. Dave and Pitt are in charge of cleanup. The menu I had planned for this evening was a large serving of spicy italian sausages, which I had planned on grilling over the campfire in a frying pan full of beer and serving in some sourdough bread rolls with hot mustard and ketchup.
The stars were shining bright and a crescent moon hung in the sky as I began preparing dinner for everyone. Syder and I sat around the campfire, talking in great detail about Hannibal, Missouri, a town we were both familiar with for different reasons. The sausages rested in a frying pan, swimming in beer, over the metal grill that was installed onto the fire pit. I began rotating them with a pair of tongs. Rory sat quietly on the other side of us, playing a slow melody on his guitar. Pitt and Dave had disappeared inside the tent for a little cocaine covert-op. I was amused at the way they were trying to be sly about it and failing miserably. First of all, they got into the tent and turned a flashlight on, illuminating their silhouettes and making their every movement visible to the rest of us. Secondly, the tent was only a few feet away from us so we could hear everything they were saying. The sound of a metal razor blade tapping repeatedly over a plastic CD case, followed by the loud snorting were also a dead giveaway. They even started talking about it.
"That's some good shit," we heard Dave say.
"Just wish we had more," replied Pitt in between sniffs.
"By the way, sorry for bringing this up in front of the guys earlier today in the car. I didn't realize you wanted to keep it a secret."
"When I said, "Don't tell Rob and Rory we have blow," that wasn't a strong enough indication?"
"What difference does it make?" asked Dave, "I know we don't have much, but it's not like they'd even want any. Rob hates coke, and Rory's too scared to try."
"That's not the point, Dave! I don't want them knowing I do this, okay!"
"Trust me on this, Pitt. They know."
"Can you at least let me have the illusion that they don't? Is that too much to ask for? Or do I seriously have to kick your ass?"
We pretended not to hear them and shortly afterward, Dave emerged from the tent, leaving Pitt inside to do whatever other drugs he had brought along with him. Dave grabbed a beer from the cooler, lit a cigarette, and sat in one of the chairs next to Rory, who continued playing his guitar, adding a nice ambiance to the whole scene. I observed as Dave glared at Rory, unable to watch him engage in something he loved to do, without growing green from envy. I could tell by Dave's body language what was coming next.
"Hey Rory!?" Dave said, interrupting the music, "Are you a famous musician yet?"
"No. Not yet," replied Rory, attempting to pick the music back up where he was before getting interrupted.
"No? No record deals? No platinum albums?"
"Well, surely you have some concerts booked for the summer, yeah?" mocked Dave.
"No Dave, and don't call me Shirley," said Rory, attempting to defuse the situation with humor.
"Or gigs? That's what you call them, right? Gigs? Have you had any gigs, lately? Have you had any gigs, ever?"
Rory attempted to ignore Dave's taunts and continued to play his guitar. But Dave wasn't giving up.
"Wait, wait, dude!" Dave interjected, placing his hands over Rory's guitar strings, "Before you go playing one of your little masterpieces there, do you think maybe I can have your autograph? I know you're going to forget about me when you're a rockstar, so I'd like to take care of it now."
That was the last straw for me. Maybe Rory was okay with Dave mocking him, but I wasn't.
"Hey Dave," I said from across the fire pit, "Are you a stand-up comedian, yet?"
Dave fell silent, staring at me coldly.
"No?" I continued, "Well maybe you shouldn't shit on other people's dreams just because you didn't have the balls to pursue your own."
All went dead for a moment. Rory had a wide-eyed look on his face, which he was using to hide his smile. Syder just seemed bewildered at the tension that had suddenly formed between us. Dave obviously wasn't sure how to react to my comment.
"Fuck you, man!" he finally said, jumping out of his chair and storming off into the woods.
I took a long drag off my cigarette and continued cooking the sausages. Out of sight, out of mind.
"I'm confused," said Syder, "Did Dave want to be a stand-up comedian at some point in his life?"
"Yeah," I replied, "Until he got booed off the stage once and gave up."
"Well, you really seemed to get under his skin."
"Oh fuck him. If he can't take shit, he shouldn't dish it out. We all know Rory's music sucks," I joked, "But we don't have to make fun of him for it."
"Thanks asshole," replied Rory.
"Don't mention it. And please, feel free to continue playing."
Syder and I continued to exchange experiences as the sausages sizzled in the beer over the cackling fire. We smoked some hash that Syder had with him and listened to Rory sing another improvised song. This time, the tune was familiar to all, the same as "Four Dead in Ohio" by Crosby, Stills, and Nash. But Rory had changed the lyrics to describe the goings on at our particular campsite:
"Dave's out there, bitching and moaning,
Pitt's snorting a grip of blow,
Rob's shooting the breeze with Syder,
He's some guy who we don't know,
And when it comes down to it,
He's just some guy that we found,
We don't know if he's friend or he's foe,
Maybe he's crazy,
Goes hitch-hiking around,
He could be a fucking psycho
Na, Na, Na, Na, Na, Na, Na, Na,
Na, Na, Na, Na, Na, Na, Na, Na."
Syder and I had a good laugh and applauded Rory's creative improvisation.
"Okay, that was really great, man!" I assured him.
"Yeah Rory, you got some real talent, man," Syder concurred.
"But I have so much more!" exclaimed Rory.
"I'm sure you do," I replied, "But look! The sausages are ready. It's time to eat. Hey Pitt! We got some chow out here!"
"Do we want to wait for Dave to get back," asked Rory.
"Hell no! I'm starving!" I replied.
A few minutes later, Pitt came out of the tent filled with energy, doing a little dance as he approached the campfire. Who knew what else he had taken while he was in there, but Pitt was now in higher spirits than I had seen him in all day. He breathed the air deeply, admired the atmosphere, and immediately began preparing two bread rolls for himself, spreading mustard and sauerkraut all over them. Using a pair of metal tongs, I threw a couple of hot links in between Pitt's rolls and watched as he started scarfing them down. I wasn't sure how Pitt could be so hungry after snorting so much coke, but I guess he was just use to it.
The sausages turned out to be extremely delicious, the beer flavor having seeped inside and mixed in with the meat. I was quite proud of myself and decided to cook with beer more often. I began destroying my meal, having not realized just how hungry I was until I had food in front of me. I was reminded of the fact that this was the first thing I had eaten all day, breakfast having been ruined for me that morning by the addition of mold onto bread.
It was at that point that I noticed Syder wasn't eating anything. I figured he was just waiting politely for someone to offer and apparently Rory noticed this at the exact same time I did, so he beat me to the punch.
"Hey Syder," said Rory, in between bites, "Have some food, man. There's plenty."
"Yeah bro, eat something" I added.
"Oh no thanks," replied Syder, "I..uh.I don't eat meat."
It was a good thing Dave was still out in the woods pouting. Anytime Dave hears someone talk about vegetarianism (or any "ism" for that matter), he feels the need to challenge that person's beliefs. In Dave's view, vegetarians are unenlightened pipe-dreamers who are just looking for a way to feel better than everybody else. Their cause is a futile effort, according to Dave. He likes to point out how pretentious people can be when they're trying to do the right thing, all the while he completely misses the irony. I've heard it from him a million times, and I was glad I wasn't going to have to sit through it again.
"Well we got other stuff to eat," continued Rory, "You gotta be hungry, right? What can we make for you?"
"I don't know man, what have you got?" asked Syder.
"PB and J fixings, oatmeal, chips, s'mores, rice cakes, we got a big watermelon we can cut up."
"You had me at oatmeal, dude. That sounds good," replied Syder.
"Cool," replied Rory, "Hey Pitt, can you hand me the oatmeal. It's in the bag next to you."
Pitt was suddenly broken out of the trance he was in while inhaling his dinner. It took him a second to register the favor Rory had asked, but he finally nodded and reached into the large paper grocery bag next to his chair. He fished around looking for the oatmeal for a moment, but seemed to be having trouble locating it.
"Uhno oatmeal in here, boss," said Pitt.
"It should be there," replied Rory, "It's in a plastic bag."
Pitt shuffled through the bag again and finally pulled out the large plastic bag Rory was talking about, examining it for a moment with a puzzled expression on his face.
"Rory, what is this?" Pitt asked.
"It's the oatmeal I bought. Syder wants to make some."
"This is it? You didn't buy any instant oatmeal?"
"..I bought that" replied Rory, with a puzzled expression.
Pitt was growing increasingly annoyed.
"This isn't oatmeal, Rory. This is a bag of fucking oats!"
"What's the difference?" asked Rory.
"Rory, when you go camping you bring instant oatmeal you dumb ass! What the hell is the matter with you?"
Syder got up from his chair and grabbed the bag of oats from Pitt's hand.
"Hey man, it's no big deal," Syder assured Pitt, "I'm sure this stuff is probably way better for you than that instant crap anyway. This is probably all natural and organic. No preservatives or anything."
"Yeah, but it taste like butt."
Pitt was clearly annoyed with Rory, but he let the issue go after that. Syder began cooking himself some oats and water over our camping stove. A few minutes later, Dave returned to the camp and plopped down on the camping chair across from me, looking over the fire and directly into my eyes, not saying a word. He didn't have to. I knew what that look meant.
"You hungry buddy?" I finally asked him, breaking the tension.
"No. Not yet," Dave replied.
"Where'd you go, anyway?" asked Pitt.
"Just took a walk."
"Did you see Bigfoot?" inquired Rory, with a smile on his face.
"No Rory, I didn't." Dave suddenly started laughing, ".I didn't fucking see Bigfoot, okay. I destroyed you in that debate already. We're beyond it now."
Rory and Dave both had a laugh at this exchange and all of our positive energy was restored. This is just the way it is with the four of us. One minute we're hating each other, the next minute we're best friends again. Dave looked across the campfire at me once more, this time his gaze had lightened.
"Hey Syder!" Rory went on, "Maybe you can help Dave and I with this little argument. You've been all over the place. Have you ever seen Bigfoot?"
Syder had sat back down in his camping chair with the hot bowl of oatmeal he was now consuming. He stared at Rory for a moment, his eyes unflinching. I could already tell by Syder's body language that he was on the verge of telling a long story. Keeping Rory on the edge of his seat for an answer, Syder took a few more bites of oatmeal, teasing him with anticipation and building up as much attention from the rest of us as he could, giving us ample time to prepare ourselves for whatever it was he was about to say,
"Bigfoot?" he finally said, breaking his trance, "No, never. I've looked, believe me. All that stuff, Bigfoot, Chupa-Cabra, Sasquatch, it's all a bunch of bullshit."
"Told you," Dave bragged to Rory.
"However" continued Syder, "In my travels, I have seen several sightings of the menacing creatures known to the world simply as the McKacks."
All of us fell silent for a moment.
"The what, now?" asked Pitt.
"The McKacks," Syder repeated, his voice getting quieter, "Creatures, who lurk in the wilderness areas of Southern California, attacking unsuspecting human prey. Sometimes people go into the woods and never come out alive. People think, oh, they must have gotten lost or something. Sometimes they're right. But other times, it was really the McKacks. Most of the people who've fallen victim to the McKacks didn't even see it coming. They come quick. Out of nowhere.You don't want to be around when the McKacks attack."
"What do they look like?" asked Rory, with the expression a five year old kid might have when hearing a ghost story.
"They blend in with their environment," continued Syder, "Like the chameleon. They only come out when the time is right. No one can be sure exactly what they look like, because anyone that's had the misfortune of crossing them didn't live to tell the tale."
"So then, how is it exactly, that you yourself have seen them, as you claim?" asked Dave, skeptically.
"I see them in my dreams," Syder replied, "Every single night. They control me. I'm the guy they use to lurk other people out into the middle of nowhere. I can't save you from the McKacks." His face slowly developed into a shit-eating grin, which was illuminated by the campfire in an unsettling way. None of us were sure what to say at that point.
Syder suddenly jumped out of his chair and charged at Rory.
"McKack!" He screamed in a high pitched voice.
Rory let out a frightened yelp, as Syder grabbed him and began tickling his stomach, ferociously.
"Oh Jesus!" exclaimed Rory, before letting out with a fit of laughter.
All of us had a good chuckle after that. I was really beginning to like Syder. From the little I could tell, he had a very interesting way of looking at the world. He was a true individual, the kind of guy who wasn't afraid to be himself. His McKack story was goofy, but it obviously came from some creative impulse deep inside his mind, which he was perfectly comfortable sharing with us. I had to appreciate that kind of thing in a person. It became clear to me that Syder's most passionate desire, besides traveling, was to entertain people. He was clearly digging on how attentive and enthusiastic we were about what he had to say and when he was done tickling Rory, he smiled and did a little bow in his chair. I figured I could learn a lot from Syder Brown. Even though I knew asking him questions was inviting long drawn out speeches that dominated the conversation, I had to hear some advice from this guy. All of us had finished eating at that point, and it was time to for me to conduct a little interview.
"Hey Syder," I began, "Let me ask you a question. What's your opinion on romantic love?"
"Oh great," said Rory, "Hear we go again."
"At this moment, I happen to be speaking to the gentleman sitting next to you," I retorted quickly. Rory sighed and began playing his guitar loudly. Dave scoffed and lit a cigarette. Pitt groaned, got up from his chair, and walked away from the campfire.
"Fuck these guys, Syder," I said earnestly, "It's just you and me here. Answer the question."
"Um.I'm not really sure what you mean by the question, Rob," said Syder.
"Like, romantic love. Do you believe in it? Do you think it's something tangible or is it just an illusion created by hopeless humans?"
"Well.," Syder paused, "In my travels, I have experienced a few moments of what I considered to be truly profound feelings of romantic love. They were brief, but to deny that I experienced them would be to deny the very essence of who I am. I've also experienced profound religious and spiritual moments in my travels that I also refuse to just dismiss as confused illusions. I'm grateful for having them bestowed upon me. But the thing is, I was never searching for these moments directly. They just sort of came upon me through circumstance. For me, it's only about the journey, man. I say, focus on the adventure and the treasures will reveal themselves. You dig?"
"Yeah," I replied, "Focus on the adventure. I like that."
The fire had died down into a bed of coals with a few small blue flames. I leaned my hands closer and rubbed them together.
"Well Rob," said Syder, "Your question was probably the most interesting question I've been asked all day. Something must have brought it on. If you don't mind me asking, what was it?"
"Well, there's this girl Leah, I've been seeing her for a few months now. Everything seemed to be going great. I thought we had something really special. Then, this morning, before we're all about to leave to go on this camping trip, she tells me right out of the blue that she doesn't want to be with me anymore. This whole thing is sort of a cycle that continues to repeat itself with every girl I fall in love with. I'm starting to feel as though I'm forever doomed to serve the role of the rejected lover. I was just curious as to your perspective on the subject."
"Rob," Rory interjected, "That girl was balls deep in half the neighborhood. She probably got bored and found some other guy to get her rocks off with. Just get over it, bro."
"No, Rory that isn't true," said Dave, "She didn't leave him for another guy. I mean, it is true that she was balls deep in half the neighborhood, but that's not the reason why she broke up with Rob. The truth is Rob just got too serious, too soon. Like he always does. She got scared and ran off. Like they always do. The real problem here is that Rob wants a girl he can make love to, but he only goes after the ones who want to fuck."
All fell silent again, everyone waiting to see what my reaction was going be. Would I be a slave to my emotions? Or would I be honest with myself?
"Yes Dave," I reluctantly agreed, "You are absolutely right. Thank you for finally saying it. Someone needed to."
"You know I'm really not trying to break your balls, right?" Dave assured me, "Okay, maybe a little bit. But I'm your friend and I just want to see you stop doing this to yourself. I think you'd be a whole lot happier if you just let go of this whole "true love" kick that you're on."
I hate Dave Gastineau. Hate him. Hate him. Hate him. Especially when he's right, and I have no choice but to tip my hat to him. He had hit the nail right on the head and walked away smelling like a rose. Well played. Very sly with the insincere sincerity. Dave was a worthy opponent, and even though we were secretly enemies, we both maintained a constant mutual respect for the other.
"Well, would you like to know what my advice is, Rob?." Syder began
The sound of the wooden baseball bat cracking against the back of Syder's skull rang out and echoed loudly through the ponderosa pines, before dissipating into the cool night sky above. Syder's body quickly flung forward and crumpled loudly on the dirt next to the campfire, creating a small cloud of dust. I felt a few drops of blood spray across my face, the source of which was from the new wound in the back of Syder's head. A moment of silence passed, as we slowly collected ourselves. I had been taken completely off guard, having not seen Pitt sneak up behind Syder with the baseball bat. My surprise quickly turned to anger.
"Jesus fucking Christ, Pitt!" I screamed, "Watch what the fuck you're doing!! You could have taken my head off!!"
"Sorry kid," replied Pitt, "But I couldn't take one more minute of that douchebag's ramblings"
I stood up defensibly, wiping Syder's blood off my face and feeling my own blood begin to boil from the inside.
"Look at this, you dumb Boston prick!! It's on my fucking face! It's in my eye!"
"I said I was sorry!"
"Man, if I get hepatitis I'm going to nail your fucking ass!"
"Rob, calm down!" yelled Dave, getting in between Pitt and I, "We'll get you tested at the county health clinic when we get back home. Pitt, you jumped the gun. Next time, wait until everyone else is ready, huh?"
The dust cloud surrounding Syder's body had settled. His left leg was shaking as strange half-moaning sounds came out of his mouth and repeated themselves like a broken record
".Uh Ah..Uh AhUh Ah..Uh Ah.."
The blood seeping out of the open wound in the back of Syder's head was slowly staining his blonde hair. Dave bent down and turned his body over, so Syder's face was staring straight up at us. His eyes began twitching open, trying to make sense of the predicament they had found themselves in. His scleras had reddened and become bloodshot.
"Syder?" said Dave, snapping his fingers, "Hey Syder! Right here, buddy! Over here, Syder!"
Syder was able to open one eye a little bit better than the other. His pupil wandered around on it's own, trying to circle in on the sound of Dave's voice. Dave shook his shoulders a little, and continued calling out Syder's name. Eventually, Syder appeared to regain some form of consciousness and his eyes focused onto Dave.
"There we go," Dave continued, "Now he's coming around.Hey Syder, can you hear me? What happened, buddy?"
"..Eh UhWhat?Uh...Ah Uh...," was all Syder was able to get out, and his body began convulsing in a state of fear.
From behind me, Rory let loose with a high pitched giggle. Dave continued to examine Syder's level of consciousness.
"Damn Pitt, looks like you wacked him pretty good. It's going to take some of the fun out it."
Dave stood back up, giving Syder one good stomp on the stomach before moving away, allowing the rest of us to have a go. Rory immediately ran in, kicking Syder repeatedly and giggling even louder than before.
"Welcome to the party, Syder!" Rory said in between his laughter.
Rory continued kicking Syder. Eventually, Pitt took Rory by the shoulder and pulled him away, giving him a pat on the head and indicating that Rory needed to calm down a little bit. Syder coughed, continued twitching, and suddenly let out with a few sudden shrieks of terror.
"Alright, get him up!" I said, taking charge of the situation.
Dave and Pitt grabbed Syder by the arms and lifted him to his feet. From my pocket, I produced a plastic surgeon's glove, which I put on my right hand. From the other pocket, I pulled out the black switchblade I always carry with me when I go camping, and flicked it open. The moonlight reflected off one side of the blade in a shade of silver, contrasting with a shade of orange from the reflection of the campfire on the other side of it. I approached Syder, whistling in an attempt to get his attention. I wanted him to know I was coming upon him with the knife. But his head was hanging low at that point and he was no longer responsive. I figured he was trying to go to some kind of happy place in his subconscious.
"Rob." I heard him say quietly, just as I was ready to stick my knife into him.
I stopped when Syder said my name, grabbed him by his hair and pulled his head up to my eye level. His right eye opened again to my chagrin, and I looked directly into it as I ran the tip of the blade over the picture of Bart Simpson on his t-shirt, slowly moving it down towards his stomach. I stopped for a moment to read the caption on the shirt: "Don't Have A Cow, Man."
I inserted the knife into Syder's abdomen, until almost the entirety of the blade had disappeared inside. Then, I pulled it out and shoved it back back in, twice more, twisting the handle around during each stab, listening as Syder's moans turned into gurgles. After I pulled the knife out one last time, Dave and Pitt let go of his arms and he dropped to the ground like a sack of potatoes. At that moment, all four of us maliciously descended over Syder, jumping, stomping and kicking him as hard as we could, focusing mainly on his head, stomach and testicles.
When we ran out of momentum, Pitt grabbed Syder by the hair and quickly dragged him over to the campfire, propping him up on his knees. The metal grill was still in place since I had made dinner, and Pitt slammed Syder's head against it a total of six times, echoing loud pings out of the metal campfire bowl. Syder's blonde hair had been forced out of it's ponytail by then, some of it catching fire and singeing back a few inches. After tiring of slamming his head against the grill, Pitt threw Syder on the ground. He had gone still and limp, aside from his head which occasionally moved back and forth.
His eyes did not open. His face was barely recognizable. Blood had caked over his eyelids, hair, forehead and cheeks. Black burn lines from the grill ran over the entirety of his face, many of which had created deep grooves and gashes in Syder's skin. His nose had been completely bashed in, a thin mucus seeping uncontrollably out of his exposed nostrils. His jaw had been dislocated from his upper skull and hung permanently open, wiggling on it's own, whenever Syder's head moved around.
Rory bent down and began shoveling handfuls of dirt into Syder's mouth, pushing it down into his throat has fast as he could.
"Here Syder, eat this!" he sad, "It's good for you, there's no meat in it!!"
Rory stood up and attempted to get a few more kicks in, but I grabbed him by the arm and pulled him back before he was able to do anything else. Rory nodded to me that he understood and stepped away. We had all had enough by that point. Especially Syder.
The hike to find a proper burial space had taken us about an hour. It was so far off the beaten path, the chances of anyone coming around were fairly slim. It was almost two o'clock in the morning when the hole was finally deep enough to our satisfaction. We had spent almost two hours digging in shifts, one guy digging, one guy holding the flashlight for the digger, while the other two gathered large rocks and leaves from the surrounding area. Pitt had the shovel most of the time, as he wasn't pleased with how fast the rest of us were going.
"Here, give me that shovel kid! You guys don't know how to dig a fucking hole. Look, everyone pay attention, let me show you all how to dig a fucking hole, " he had said.
None of us had much to say during the digging process. It was getting late and we were all feeling pretty tired and beat. We had taken down Syder's tent at the campsite and stuffed his body and back pack into it, wrapping them up like a burrito. This proved to be most convenient, as we were able to grab one end of the tent and drag it along with great ease during the hike, without having to worry about leaving a trail of blood behind us. It was now resting next to the edge of the hole, ready to be thrown into it's final resting place.
"That should probably be good," said Pitt, climbing out of the hole, huffing and puffing from digging so much, "Go ahead and dump him in."
Dave and I rolled the body over the edge of the hole, tent and all, and let it drop to the bottom. Each of us took a moment to catch our breaths and allow the reality of our actions to sink in. We would be the last people who would ever see Syder alive, and the only ones who would ever know what had happened to him. It was a feeling we wanted to savor.
We threw all the rocks we had collected over the body, until a nice layer covered it completely. The dirt came next, falling in between the cracks of the rocks, and slowly filling up the hole. When it was filled and stiffly packed down, we smoothed the top out and poured leaves all over it, camouflaging the disturbance we had made in the earth's crust. When we had finished, it didn't even look like a six foot hole had recently been dug there. After standing over the grave for a few final thoughts, we turned our backs, walked away, and left Syder's body in the cold dark ground.
When we returned to the campsite, each one of us washed our hands and faces, using water from the five-gallon jug. We all changed our clothes and put the stuff we had been wearing into one large trash bag. Rory had had too much excitement at that point and was all tuckered out. He immediately went into the tent and fell asleep. Pitt, Dave, and I sat around the campfire for another half hour, smoking cigarettes, staring deeply into the flames, and coming down from the natural high murdering Syder Brown had given us. None of us said anything for quite awhile.
"Okay, so one thing I want to make clear to you guys," said Pitt, finally breaking the silence, "Next time we go camping, I'm doing the shopping. I mean Rory, I love the kid and all, but fuck man, when you go camping, you bring instant oatmeal. It isn't that hard to figure out. Am I right?"
My friends and I like to go camping a lot. Usually once in the Spring, once in the Summer, and once in the Fall. Other people are always asking us if they can come too. But the four of us are elitists when it comes to our camping trips. It's like our own little club and no one else is allowed in.
Syder Brown was the fourth person we had murdered at that point, but we considered him to be special. This little activity of ours was quickly becoming an art form, and Syder may have been our masterpiece. It was the most fun out of all of them and more importantly, we had done it without any means of detection. The first three were sloppy by comparison, and each one was followed up by news reports and body recovery. No one ever suspected us, but it was still nerve-racking to hear people talking about it.
Our first camping trip wasn't really a camping trip at all. We just told people we were going camping that night. Instead, we singled out Arnold Cranston; a local bum we had seen hanging around our neighborhood. We followed him up to the bluffs one evening and when no one was around, we ambushed him and threw his ass off a cliff, onto the jagged ocean rocks below. The next day, we heard on the local news that a transient had fallen to his death, in what authorities believed was a drunken stupor. Even though the book seemed to be closed on that case, we were all nervous wrecks for a few weeks. It's always that way the first time you kill somebody.
Jessie Serrano was our second victim. She a seventeen year old high school senior. Six months after our first kill, we had gone camping out at Joshua Tree National Park and spotted Jessie mountain biking along a trail one afternoon. Technically, not all of us were at fault for that one. It was just Pitt and a rock the size of a baseball that did the job. When we saw this young girl biking by herself, we knew she was the perfect target. We hid behind a tree as she approached us on her bike, unaware of our presence. When she was about fifteen feet away, Pitt jumped out on the trail in front of her. I remember seeing her frightened look before the rock collided with her face at seventy miles an hour, causing her and the bike to fling forward and somersault a few times into the dust. We'll never know if it was the rock or a broken neck that actually killed her. We didn't stick around to find out. After we saw that she wasn't moving, we took off and headed home. A few days later, we heard about it on the news, her death being ruled out as an unfortunate accident. As we watched footage of the candlelight vigil being held at her high school in Palm Springs, we wondered if the police were hiding any evidence about the blunt trauma to her face or if they thought it was caused by the fall. Either way, the experience taught us that high-profile murders like Jessie Serrano's weren't exactly our forte. It was too much exposure and too much risk. We waited a full year before doing it again.
The third time, we loaded the car up with camping supplies and took a long drive down to Cabo San Lucas. Demtrio Parral was a Mexican fisherman we happened to come across on an isolated beach. Since no one else was around, we managed to take our time with him. I stabbed Demetrio with my switchblade a total of twenty-seven times that night, leaving a large pool of blood in the sand surrounding his body. The thing that was most memorable about that murder was the argument Dave and I got into regarding our treatment of him. As the four of us tortured this poor guy, he kept pleading with us to stop. But Demtrio Parral spoke little English, so Dave started teasing him in a stereotypical Mexican accent.
"Oh Por Que, Amigo?" Dave taunted, "Por Que!? No Bueno, Si!? Problema? No Te Gusta?"
I told Dave he was being racist, which angered him and resulted in a shouting match between the two of us. Sure, my morals at the time may have been out of sorts and contradictory, but I just thought Dave's treatment of Demetrio was unnecessary. Pitt and Rory managed to break the argument up and we continued with our participation of Demetrio's demise. When we were done, the fisherman looked like one of his fishes. Afterwards, we made no efforts to get rid of his body, instead choosing to leave him, exposed entrails and all, on the beach for someone else to come across. What did it matter? We were heading back up to the United States the next morning. Who would suspect us? We were just four dumb American kids on a camping trip.
When we returned home, Dave went to work on the computer, searching for information regarding our excursion in Mexico. He found only one article in a newspaper, which Rory had to translate for the rest of us. Authorities in that area stated they were unable to come up with any leads in the Demetrio Parral case, but remained confident that something would break. It was the first time we had ever heard the word "murder" in print, regarding something we had taken part in. Needless to say, we all grew paranoid again, for a little while. The first two kills were ruled as accidents by police, and even then it caused us to break a sweat. But when that word showed up in that Mexican newspaper, the fears came back tenfold. It was time to reevaluate our situation and make some rules. We knew it was a miracle that we hadn't been caught at that point and if we were going to continue down this path, we needed to get smarter about it.
With Syder Brown, we never heard a peep about him again. No one reported him missing. No one ever found his body. To this day, it still rests up there under the dirt on San Gorgonio Mountain.
The morning after we killed Syder, I cooked breakfast for everyone, which was eaten quietly around the campfire. We were still hung over from the escapades of the previous night. Each of was deep in our own thoughts. Rory finally broke the silence.
"Hey guys, I was just think about something Syder said last night," he began, "Remember that story he told us? Well, I think the four of us are the McKacks."
"Yes, thank you Rory," replied Dave, "We were all thinking the same thing and we didn't need you to state the obvious!"
They were both right. I remember thinking the same thing when Syder was telling the story of the McKacks. He looked at all four of us as though he recognized something inside our souls. Like he was describing us and calling us out on our plans. I'll never know if he knew what was actually coming, but that look he gave me certainly indicated something. This puzzled me a great deal. If he suspected our plans in some physic way, why didn't he try to escape? Maybe Syder was the kind of guy who understood that you can't run from your fate. Maybe he just trying to be amusing and now we were reading too much into his story. Either way, the story of the McKacks now seemed more poignant that ever.
From that day onward, the four of us chose to identify ourselves as The McKacks, in honor of Syder Brown. Camping trips would now be known as McKack Attacks. Rory even started working on a new song, which he titled "Let's Go McKack Attacking." With our newfound identity, we decided we needed to start coming up with some rigorous ground rules if we were to continue this activity without being caught. We had been fairly stupid about it, up until that point and it was high time to graduate from Serial Killer University and start turning our practice into a profession.
We spent the rest of that morning sitting around the campfire, developing the rules as well as drawing out an insurance contract between the four of us, just in case one us ever developed a conscience and decided to blabber about our little secret. The ten rules we came up with turned out to be fairly straightforward. We didn't feel the need to insert rules about secrecy, or anything else that we obviously knew already. Just some guidelines. A little food for thought.
The Ten Rules Of The McKack Attacks were as follows:
1. No more than three McKack Attacks a year.
2. No McKack Attacks within 100 miles of our home in San Diego.
3. No keeping trophies of our victims and no saving of newspaper clippings from the attacks.4. Always develop a strong alibi after each attack and stick to it.
5. No McKack Attack will be made to anyone we know, personally, even if we really don't like them.
6. No McKack Attack will ever be made without the presence of all four participants.
7. Avoid patterns. Vary it up in terms of victims and methods.
8. No robbing. No raping.
9. No leaving of "calling cards" or taunting letters to police officers.
10. McKack Attacks will continue until all four participants agree to back out, or until we are exposed.
I wrote four copies of the rules and contract, one for each of us, which we all sighed and dated. We all hid our contracts from each other, to ensure that if we were to ever get caught, we would all be equally at fault. No one was going to try to get a deal by rolling over on the other three. It's not that we didn't trust each other. It was just for peace of mind.
After the morning campfire meeting, we decided to take one last hike to the spot where we buried Syder Brown. The ground remained undisturbed. After a few days, we were sure the smell would begin seeping out of the ground. A forest animal may even attempted to dig him up. Fortunately, we had piled enough heavy rocks on top of Syder's body. He wasn't going anywhere for a long time.
It was the secrecy that I was beginning to love about our new hobby. What we had done was now strictly between us and the God I didn't believe in. No one else would ever know. That made me feel special. After leaving Syder's grave for the last time, we took down our tent and packed all of our supplies into the car. As the McKack's drove away from the campsite and started their journey back home, I finally felt like something other than a rejected lover. For the first time in my life, I knew exactly who I was.
But Rob, Dave, Rory, and Pitt will return in:
(From the perspective of Rory Martinez)