The air is still and hot. I am perched on the unforgiving edge of a hard wooden bench inside the sleeping cabin assigned for the one overnight campout I will ever have with the rest of my Camp Fire Girls troop. There wasn't much to the whole thing, actually. There was a day hike to see the burial spot of a woman who had been married to a famous war hero of the state. Not the actual hero....just his wife. We are sweaty and underwhelmed. I've already unrolled my sleeping bag with the pink and purple flowers, but the heat is going to prevent me from ever climbing into it.
We are slapping mosquitoes and debating which of us is going to accompany Francine at the camp fire to make sure it is extinguished properly. Through one wall that is nothing but screens we can see the fire glowing stubbornly in the dusk. The sound of cicadas fills the air almost as quickly as stars in the summer sky. The extent of our culinary skills is evidenced by the Hobo Stew we've made by combining carrots, onions, potatoes and ground beef and wrapping it all in individual packets of aluminum foil. Truthfully, I doubt we even cut up the vegetables ourselves given that our leaders had little confidence in our ability to wield a knife or even build the fire used for cooking. The resulting hot mess is burnt carrots, still crunchy potatoes and raw meat. My stomach is rumbling.
The issue at hand now has less to do with reluctance to throw stuff into the flames while pretending to put them out and more about the story Francine had told us at dinner. No one wants to help with the camp fire now because of the Zodiac Killer, a phenomenon about which I had been previously and blissfully ignorant. My tender psyche was in no way ready to receive the information she so enthusiastically gave us, namely the gruesome way Zodiac was able to predict the astrological sign of his victim before strangling them and then safety pinning a rendering of that same sign to bare skin. Never mind that Francine had probably gotten some of her facts wrong. This was the most exciting thing that had ever happened in Camp Fire Girls, which--if reports from my Girl Scout buddies were to be believed--was totally lame. I was inclined to agree having been coerced into spending six of our meetings making cookies at a facility downtown but which turned out to be charm school. Disappointing to say the least.
Enough of the girls had heard about the Zodiac Killer to remove any doubt that he was just another scary story passed around the camp fire. Some of their parents had even talked about it with them. Not mine. We took two newspapers and the only thing I read in it was Dear Abby.
That evening we marveled at Francine's confidence as she sat on a big rock stirring the flames with a stick while waiting for someone to get deputized into helping her. Was she brave or just paralyzed with fear after believing the power of her own words? It was hard to tell. Fran was a tough nut having already shaved her 10-year old legs with her father's safety razor and then boldly lied to her mother about having cut herself on a jagged piece of glass when she sustained a deep cut to the shin. Her life was either a cautionary tale (my mother's opinion) or an excellent adventure (my view).
Meanwhile, every stray noise brought forth cries of, "There he is!' "He's right there at the edge of the trees!" It was terrifying and energizing in only the way fantasy based on truth can be. Eventually, someone went out and threw water on the fire. I can't remember who it was. There was no Zodiac Killer in our area, let alone in our state. He was busy doing bad business on the West Coast. No matter. There were more unseen things for girls to fear out there in the dark and we had all the time in the world to learn just who and what they were.