I didn’t know these guys! I just sat there purely stunned. I mean what have I gotten myself into? Its the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere and I’ve got six nutcases around me. I reasoned in my mind what to say, I even started planning moves in case this all went south. I was thinking what it would take to get to my pistol on my pack over in the tent. I looked at rocks near the fire I could use as a weapon, who to take first, who looked the most dangerous.
All these thoughts raced in my head in just seconds and I think he recognized the look in my eyes and took a step back and squatted down and rested his hands on his knees.
“Now John, if you think about it, if we wanted to hurt you, we could have done it last night as we watched you lean back and drink coffee. We could have taken you in the pool earlier today or on the ridge when you would stop to watch your back trail. Anytime we choose my friend.”
Now I was really starting to think of what a mess I seemed to have gotten into.
“Who are you? And what do you want?” I managed to get out.
“Let me ask you John, how many times have you hunted and fished next to the park over the years? How many times and how many parks have you been in?” He said as the grin changed to more of a look of contemplation.
“I don’t know, too many times to count since I was a kid. Why? Who are you?”
“We will get to that but there’s a few things you need to hear and understand first. We’ve watched and protected you since you where a kid, every time you came in here we watched and looked after you. We have saved you more times than we can count, all the while waiting for you to get to a point in your life’s journey where you would be open to our proposal.”
“I’ve never seen you in my life, I have no idea who any of you people are and frankly you’re starting to make me angry. So if you don’t mind, lets get on with this, whatever this is!” I started to stand, getting ready to fight anybody that tried to stop me from leaving.
He just stayed squatted down and as I glanced around to the others, they looked just as relaxed.
“Listen John, you need to calm down a little here and sit and listen to what I have to say.” He just pointed at a spot opposite the fire and him.
I eased down, realizing about the only chance I had now was to listen to his story. As I glanced around I noticed three people seemed to meld back into the darkness and left us by the fire.
“Fine.” I grunted. “Lets hear it.”
“Good, now we are getting somewhere. Have you ever thought about our system of National Parks? Why they where formed? How they came to be?”
“To protect out natural treasures and make a place for all people to enjoy nature.” I answered.
“Sure, Sure but how many stray off the roads or stay outside of the designated camping areas. If, say, you wanted to go into the back country what do you have to do?”
“Get a permit.”
“But why, you just said its so all can enjoy it, why do you need to register to enjoy it?”
“Well, I imagine its to keep track of whose out there and be ready if they need help.” I answered.
“Yeah it’s to keep track but not for the reasons you think. In 1872 Yellowstone was the first park established right? Then in 1916 Wilson created the National Park Service. What else was going on in 1916?” He asked with a glow in his eyes.
“Well, World War One for one thing.” I answered.
“Right, and did you know at that time the War department controlled a lot of those parks? And before you say it was just battlefield sites I’d correct you on that, it was many other areas. Then in 1933 Roosevelt not long after taking office transfers it all to the National Park Service but do you know what else he created?”
“Nope, not a clue.” I answered with a touch of sarcasm.
“Well, the Civilian Conservation Corps for starters but also the National Guard bureau. Do you know why?”
“I think the CCC for to help those affected by the depression and the Guard to prepare for the war he knew was coming?”
“Wrong.” He said bluntly. “It started in the middle of WWI because we found things out here that we needed protection from, not the other way around. When the War Department controlled it, it raised too many questions. The CCC was used to created roads for us into these areas and Parks to keep the public where we wanted them. The Guard was for if it all went south. It’s not the animals in the wilderness we need to fear, but instead its an ancient enemy, one that is just as smart as we are but has the advantage and strength it takes to be formidable. Basically I’m telling you we’ve been at war since 1916 here in our own country and no-one knows the wiser about it and that’s the way it must be kept. We patrol in teams of 12, all of us dedicate our life to this fight. We sometimes scare people out but that’s just to protect them. We fight friend, we fight.”
“War? Fight? Are you high or just totally insane?” I asked.
“No. Well, maybe a bit insane.” He chuckled. “But I am serious, we hand pick who we want, we offer them a choice, join us, help you fellow man or face the enemy alone when you come back.”
“Look, I don’t believe this at all, if there is an enemy out here, put it on the news. Confront the country or people that support them and end it there.” I said.
“The enemy here has no country, no flag. They have been here longer than us and frankly we are all that stand between them and the rest of the country. If you put this on the news, society would collapse within days, religions would collapse, it would be anarchy.” He spoke with passion as he said this.
“Look at you, you’re dressed like a caveman with bad taste, the rest of you look like crap and Im supposed to believe you’re some special branch of the government, some super spies running around the woods? Not a chance!” I said while shaking my head.
He laughed to the point he started coughing. The others joined in and seemed to relax even more. Thats when I notice the guy to the right touch his ear and say something to what appeared to be no-one. Right after this, they all while still chuckling, seemed to be looking behind me. I didn’t hear a sound back there but turned to look and just then six new guys stepped out of the dark behind me. These guys however where dressed totally different. Black fatigues, boots, weapons, night vision, the works. I was stunned even farther.
“Im confused here.” I said as I looked back to him. “Who are you? What do you want with me?”
“The name is Rory, John. Six of us are dressed in this caveman pioneer crap because we have followed you in from the main parking area and if we get spotted dressed like this, people just think we are playing mountain man. If you walked around dressed like that, well people might panic you see.” He said as he pointed to the guys that was taking packs off and sitting on them.
“As far as who I am, I run this group. This is my team. And what we are here for is you. We’ve watched you for years, you move in here like a predator and that’s what it takes to survive what we do. You not going to get rich. There will be no movies or book deals about you and if you get killed, well you’ll just be dead.” He paused, I think to let all this sink in.
“What you will be doing,” He continued, “ Is what you love doing, living most of your time in the wilderness, hunting and being what you was born to be. We find those that the news calls lost but in reality have been kidnapped. We stop the enemy from getting to the outside world, well as best we can. And we watch. We watch for people going where they shouldn’t, we protect those that do and make sure this secret stays just that.”
“What if I don’t want to play along?” I said looking straight at him.
“Well, John, it’s like this. The choice we are giving you is walk away with us now and do what you are born to do or say no; and become another sad statistic in the wilderness.”
I could tell be looking at him that now it had turned serious. This wasn’t a threat, this seemed to be a sure and certain promise.
“What about people back home, this is not fair to them. My Job, my house, what about all those things?” I asked with more than a little concern in my voice.
“Look, all that will be taken care of, this is not slavery. You get leave but you can never tell people what goes on in here. You can never go home again. You can retire if you live that long but I promise you the things you will see and do will more than make up for it.”
He stood up and the others did as well.
“Now grab your pack and get ready to move. I’ll have the three out there on guard take care of your camp. It’s time to choose.”
I stood and looked at all those around me. They all seemed to nod, or wink or put a thumbs up at me as my eyes moved from one to the other. I went to the tent and grabbed my pack. At this point fear had drained from me and that wanderlust had taken over. I really wanted to see what this was all about. If all else failed, I thought I could watch for my time and make a break for it.
As I adjusted my straps, Rory spoke to everyone.
“Two columns, gentlemen, Bill, you take point and me and John will pull the rear until the others join us.” As soon as he finished, I noticed they had all put their gear back on and who I assumed was Bill moved out first heading farther up the ridge along with the others until it came our turn to leave the firelight.
“John, hang with me.” I looked and realized he had small pack under that fur coat and from it he pulled two sets of night vision unlike any I had ever seen and handed me a pair.
“Just flip them down and boom, we walk in the green.” He adjusted the band for me as he said this.
I took one look at my camp and then it was time to go. I looked back up the ridge and flipped them down and entered a world of green.
Part Three coming soon!