I don't have any idea why we decided to explore that day. It was probably because when you're little, everything seems like uncharted territory. Or even more probable, it was because I was crazy and wanted to live like Little House on the Prairie trekking all over "the land". As we stood at the top of what my family dubbed "Death Hill" our steamy breath slithered around our heads as if to seduce us into doing something wrong.
It worked. With a "Ready or not..." we began our slippery, wet walk down the largest, bumpiest hill that side of Chester.
Were we allowed on Death Hill? Yeah. It was my families sledding hill, located in the very back of our property. To get there, you had to crawl under (what seemed like) hundreds of pine trees that grew on the land. If my family was smarter, we would have sold them at Christmas time, bringing in hundreds of dollars per year.
Instead, our neighbors who lived just past Death Hill did.
We never went on their land. Even when we had a particularly good run (in which we did not fall into the icy water that bordered each side of the "track") and we hit the bump just right that we got a lot of air-we'd fall off of the sled to avoid going over the property line.
I don't exactly know why-my parents wouldn't have told me to stay off the land, and I don't remember anyone specifically yelling, but, for some reason, I remember a man in a red quilted jacket, boots and one of those crazy hats that folds over the ears walking near his property with a scowl on his face. I think he had a shot gun.
I acknowledge that this is totally made up. Perhaps there was a man at one point, walking on his property. But I am certain he didn't care about us sledding and even more certain he had no gun.
But-all the same-this is what I remembered, and this is what I told my friend. And yet-we still pressed on.
As we crossed the line, I remember feeling strangely free, trepidatious and maybe a little bit like I had to pee.
We did silly things like ducked and rolled behind bushes, inspected his trees for anything that may be out of the ordinary (like what? A red ribbon instead of a blue one? We were nuts.) We were looking for clues about why this man was so mean, and why he was so protective of his land.
When we found nothing in his crop, we actually contemplated sneaking into his house. I think I mentioned above that we were slightly nuts. We didn't, however, because we saw someone inside.
Instead, we opted to explore his woods, hoping to find more clues.
There is little doubt in my mind that by this time, we were frozen-wet to the core and hungry. And anyone who says that kids are not determined should keep this story and reference it for proof that when there's a mystery to be solved, no amount of grilled cheeses or hot chocolates can lure them away from their adventure.
Entering the woods, we were careful to avoid the traps (that we imagined would be there). Using a stick, we poked and prodded, making sure that nothing would clench our ankles. We even had a plan-the one who got away would use pine needles to mark the trail so they could come back with the police. Genius.
Because we were so efficient and clever, neither one of us were ensnared. Entering a clearing, my hand caught her arm. In front of us stood a small, shack-like building, no bigger than an outhouse.
What was this doing here? we wondered. Afterall, we were in the middle of no where.
After much debate and thought, we deduced that the shack that stood before us must, without a doubt, be the place the tree man brought his victims.
There simply was no other explanation.
Deciding that we'd come too far to go back now without even peaking, we slowly crawled toward the structure.
Looking back, I find this funny: The traps, we had a plan for. The possible Murder Shack with a crazy man inside-nothing.
There were no windows, so our only way to find out what was inside was to open the door. We knew that no one (alive) was inside because being the ever graceful person I am, slipped while trying to be quiet, and fell into the building. If someone was inside-naturally they would have come out.
Hand on the door, my friend to the side with the biggest stick we could find, I yanked.
And, to our horror-
It was an old outhouse.
Deflated and cold, we found our way back home, ate our grilled cheeses and drank our hot chocolates, wondering what type of decoy that outhouse played in his scheme.
Years later...we are still in the dark.