Mom didn't think that was a very good idea. "I know what will happen," she said. "You'll go to bed right after supper because you'll both be afraid of the dark and Jimmy will have horrible nightmares after eating that sauerkraut."
"Nonsense," her husband remarked and he packed the sauerkraut anyway.
Friday night they went to be early. Not because they were scared, but because they were tired. They had gotten up early, finished packing, and had driven half the day to reach the beautiful campsite which they were able to claim.
Saturday was a busy day. And even though they ate a good breakfast and lunch, the full day of hiking left starving by supper time. That sauerkraut turned out to be a real treat that evening. It certainly complemented that grilled sausage! And for dessert, banana pudding washed down with hot chocolate.
After relaxing around the campfire a short while they turned on their AM/FM radio to hear the news.
Unexpectedly, a emergency flash news report came over the radio:
ATTENTION, ATTENTION, ALL CITIZENS:
JUST HOURS AGO A CONVICTED MURDERER ESCAPED FROM THE JACKSONVILLE CORRECTIONAL CENTER. INITIAL ATTEMPTS TO CAPTURE HIM HAVE FAILED. HE IS AT LARGE AND IS CONSIDERED DANGEROUS. HE IS BELIEVED TO BE HEADING NORTH-NORTHWEST ON FOOT. HE STANDS ABOUT 6'4" AND WEIGHS APPROXIMATELY 280 POUNDS. HE HAS LONG BROWN HAIR WITH A BEARD AND MUSTACHE. HE ANSWERS TO THE NAME "GOLD TOOTH." IF YOU HAVE ANY KNOWLEDGE OFF THE WHEREABOUTS OF THIS ESCAPED CRIMINAL PLEASE CALL YOUR LOCAL POLICE IMMEDIATELY.
FOR EVERYONE'S SAFETY, ANYONE CAMPING IN THE JACKSONVILLE STATE FOREST AREA
SHOULD LEAVE IMMEDIATELY. THAT IS ALL.
Instantly, Jimmy turned to his dad in fear.
"Don't be afraid, Son. You have nothing to worry about. Jacksonville Correctional Center is twenty miles north over Jackson Ridge. Besides we're leaving in the morning and there is no way anyone could travel that distance on foot in twelve hours. Regardless, the news report said he's traveling north-northwest and we're due south."
"Dad, I don't care. I'm scared. I wanna go home." Jimmy replied.
"What if I gave you something to protect yourself with?"
"Like what, Dad? A Swiss Army knife?"
"No, of course not. I brought the rifle for a little target practice tomorrow morning before we leave. But if you'd like, I'll keep it in the tent tonight for protection."
"Yes, I will."
"Really? Do you promise?"
"Yes, I promise."
"OK, let's stay. But I'm getting tired. I want to go to sleep. And my stomach is acting up a little."
Jimmy got up from sitting by the campfire and walked over to the tent and got in.
Mr.. Simpson walked over to the duffle bags and began to look for the rifle finding it in the red one.
Holding it in his hand, Mr.. Simpson knew the gun was not loaded with bullets. And he did not plan to load any either. Mr.. Simpson had no concern whatsoever that the escaped prisoner would threaten them in any way. He was merely providing a sense a security for his son. Mr. Simpson was more concerned about a possible bear attack than the prisoner at large.
Walking past the tent to put the fire out, Mr. Simpson could hear that Jimmy had already fallen to sleep. Smiling to himself, Jimmy's father picked up the pail of water and poured it over the fire. Immediately, the sizzle of steam rose into the air as the fire light disappeared into darkness.
Mr. Simpson turned on his flashlight to find his way back to the tent. As he walked over, he held the flash light in his right hand and the rifle in his left. Crawling into the tent he placed the rifle between the sleeping bags. Zipping the tent door behind him, Mr. Simpson crawled into his sleeping bag, zipped it up and then turned the flash light off. As he laid in the darkness, he could hear Jimmy still snoring and the gentle noises from the crickets and the bullfrogs outside. For a moment, he thought about how happy he was to be there in such a beautiful peaceful place with his son who he loved so much. Everything was perfect. Peaceful. Serene.
Slowly, Mr. Simpson could feel himself falling to sleep and beginning to dream. Soon he was deep in sleep and snoring too.
In the middle of the night, probably around four in the morning, Jimmy awoke. He was squirming because his stomach was cramping and he was having nightmares.
As he laid on his back looking up at the top of the tent, he immediately thought about the escaped murderer.
He turned his head to look towards his father and then he saw the gun lying between them. Instantly, he was relieved. He felt safe again.
Then, in the distance he heard CRACK!!
It sounded like someone stepping on a fallen branch. Then, he heard CRUNCH!!
It sounded like someone stepping onto a pile of leaves. Then, he heard CRACK!!
Again. Another broken branch.
Jimmy tried to wake his Dad up, but he couldn't. He tried shaking him, but he was sleeping too deeply. Jimmy grabbed the rifle and pointed it at the door, not knowing it was loaded.
Then, outside the tent, Jimmy saw the shape of a man silouhetted by the light of the moon. Instantly, without thought he pulled the triggered of the unloaded gun.
The gun fired and a bullet ripped through the tent striking the shadowy figure dead.
Mr. Simpson woke up in a panic and didn't understand what was happening. Everything seemed chaotic and confusing. His ears were ringing from the sound of the gun firing. He couldn't believe the gun was loaded. He thought for sure it was not. Good thing he was wrong.
Jimmy was sitting still holding the gun firm in his grip. His eyes were locked straight ahead in the direction he had fired. He was trembling with fear. Finally, he spoke.
"I saw him. It was him. The escaped prisoner. I know it was him. He was going to kill us. I had to do it. I had to do it. I had to do it." Jimmy repeated
Hours later, the cops arrived on the scene. The man did not look like the escaped prisoner. He had short hair, no beard or mustache, and was wearing street clothes.
Jimmy felt sick that he had shot at someone without knowing who he was shooting. His dad felt terrible that he had made the awful mistake of thinking that a gun was unloaded without checking it by opening the breech.
Jimmy was arrested as a murderer and he was taken to Jacksonville Prison. There he was placed in the very cell that the escaped convict had been in.
"Kid, this cell is good enuff for you. You killed my brother-in-law, Henry. Well just keep you here until I hope they hang you.
Later that night a man with long hair was brought in wearing handcuffs and leg chains. The guard laughed as he shoved him into Jimmy's cell.
'Hey, you two murderers should get along just fine in there", he cackled as he slammed the door, locked it, and walked away down the hall leaving the two in there together.
"Aw. what e in fo her kid? You murda someone like me? And as he laughed Jimmy saw the gold tooth shinning though the droopy long mustache covering his face. And Jimmy realized that he had finally meet the killer face to face, locked in a cell together without anyone around to help. And all because he shot someone he didn't even know.
"Say kid," Gold Tooth exclaimed as he came closer and closer to Jimmy, "I hair you be har fer tryen to kill me.
Jimmy backed up until he was finally trapped in a corner of the cell. Gold Tooth put his manacled hands out in front of him, reaching for Jimmy.
"I hate it when people try to kill me," Gold Tooth growled, snatching Jimmy around the waist as he tried to sneak past him.
Jimmy struggled with every ounce of his energy against the overwhelming strength of Gold Tooth, but he just couldn't break away. Gold Tooth had him and wasn't letting go!
Jimmy knew he was going to die. His breath was being squeezed out of him. His last chance for survival was to shout for help to the guard who had left them both in the cell.
"HELP!" Jimmy screamed at the top of his lungs.
"Jimmy, Jimmy! Wake up Jimmy!" a familiar voice was shouting and Jimmy suddenly realized he was not in the cell, but was in the tent being shaken by his father.
"Jimmy! You have been having a nightmare. Wake up."
What had been a great camp out had turned into a nightmare. But they had both learned important lessons. Pay attention to the authorities when they make an announcement and follow their instructions. Never trust that a gun is not loaded and never shoot at a target without positive identification, even in a dream. And when your mother gives you some advice, even if it's just not to take sauerkraut on a camp out and eat it before going to bed-believe her!