Nick Olson woke up in the middle of the night, uncomfortable in the dingy little Marlboro sleeping bag that he’d been afforded for the camping trip. He was lying in the darkness, listening to his mother’s breathing and father’s snoring when he realized he really had to pee.
He thought of waking them, but his five-year-old logic shunned the idea. They’d think he was still a baby that couldn’t do things on his own, and that was the last thing that Nick Olson wanted at this particular juncture.
He took tentative steps as he went out, his bare feet getting poked and prodded by the rocks that rested beneath the tent’s floor. He took a look back as he left the zippered entrance of the tent. The whole thing was haphazardly erected, a blue monstrosity that he’d tried to help putting together but had ended up mostly watching as his dad did the heavy labor. The family station wagon was parked next to it, license plate “UD 6226.”
Nick knew where the porta potty was. In hindsight, he probably should’ve used a tree and called it a night, but the little boy decided that he’d make the journey through the woods to the toilet and do it right.
The trip there was easy enough. He took careful steps, his feet still bare. The mud caked onto them, but he didn’t really care much.
His mind wandered to a story that his parents had told just before bed. In it, a group of faceless, axe-wielding monsters appeared in the woods, set on terrorizing little boys who were trying to go to sleep.
Nick Olson didn’t entirely catch the reason for the story’s coincidental plot points until later. At the time, he took it as a terrifying legend that happened to center around a little boy that was inexplicably very similar to himself.
But anyway, he did his business and headed back. Or rather, he tried to. Nick got back to where he thought the tent was, only to find nothing but trees and brambles. There were tents and cars all over, but no blue monstrosity, and no UD 6226.
Nick decided he wouldn’t panic, that the campground couldn’t be that big. He’d find the tent soon enough. He explored the outer edges of the place, afraid to go too deep into the woods. The faceless axe monsters might be there.
Time passed on, and still he couldn’t find it. He quickened his pace now, ignoring the pain at his feet as he stepped on jagged rocks and the like. He reached one end of the campground, only to be greeted by the high-speed whoosh of cars as they sped down the highway only feet from him.
He was only five, but Nick Olson knew very well that that wasn’t good news. He headed back into the heart of the campground, pressed into the woods that petrified him.
Up ahead was the unmistakable form of a bar, but which little Nick Olson saw as just some weird cabin that grown-ups laughed and yelled loudly outside of. He scanned the faces of each patron, but was too scared to ask any of them for help.
But just then, he saw them. His parents. He was saved!
He ran over, incredulous at his luck. But his heart dropped as he got closer. His mind had played a cruel trick on him, morphed the faces of pure strangers to look like his mom and dad. Nick was despondent.
He turned back to the heart of the woods, where the monsters no doubt lurked. They might kill him with their axes, but what was his alternative? He braced himself, decided to act like a big kid, and trudged on into the scary forest.
Hours passed, but all time slipped on in vague fashion. It felt to Nick Olson at once like he’d just left the tent and that he’d been outside for years. His feet hurt, he was exhausted, and he just wanted to lie down.
And then he saw it.
Peering out of the darkness of the woods was a pair of headlights. The phantom lights glided past, but stopped at once as Nick Olson hastily approached them.
It was the owner of the campground, on patrol in his golf cart.
Nick explained the whole thing and hitched a ride with the helpful owner. The man asked for any identifying clues that could lead them to the boy’s parents. Nick offered up that they were in a blue tent. There were dozens of blue tents. His parents drove a station wagon. It was the ‘90s. Those were almost an automotive uniform by that point.
But wait… the license plate!
“UD 6226. The license plate number is UD 6226.”
The campground owner sped off in his golf cart, now primed with useful information.
Finally, after what seemed an eternity, that awkwardly-shaped blue tent was found. A monumental weight lifted off of Nick’s shoulders. He thanked the man and made his way back into the tent.
His parents were wide awake by now, scared completely out of their wits. Nick couldn’t see what their problem was. He’d just needed to go pee was all. It was like they had seen the faceless axe monsters or something.