Can you solve this mini-mystery?


By Adrian Ludens

A sound outside the tent woke Sarah and she opened her eyes. Was it another camper? It wasn't very likely. They were deep in the forest, far from any of the main campgrounds or hiking trails. Sarah and Bo had hiked in on the old logging trail yesterday and hadn't seen anyone else using the overgrown path.

Sarah realized she was holding her breath and exhaled slowly. She glanced around the tent. The unzipped screen swayed with a slight night breeze. She thought she must have dozed off and felt surprised that Bo still hadn't joined her. Maybe it was Bo's movements around the campsite that had woken her.

Not wanting the flaps open to the night any longer, Sarah sat up in her sleeping bag and called out. "Bo! What are you doing out there? Come here!"

A stick snapped and Sarah jumped. She felt her pulse quicken. What if something had happened to Bo? What if he'd wandered off and gotten injured? But no; based on the sounds coming from outside the tent, Bo was still at the campsite, blissfully unaware of the worry he was causing her.

"Bo! Quit messing around and come here!"

Someone coughed. Definitely not Bo, Sarah realized. She sat up quickly and reached into her backpack, looking for an item she needed to use only rarely.

"Who's out there?" she called.

"Never mind names," a gruff voice croaked. Sarah thought he sounded like a chain-smoking caveman. "You camp here, you gotta pay me."

Sarah's fingers hurriedly felt around in the dark for the object she wanted. The unwelcome visitor reached out and shook the tent. "Come on! I ain't got all night."

"I have a weapon," Sarah replied, stalling for time. "And Bo will be back any second. I won't talk to you until he's here." Her fingers seized the object she wanted and withdrew it from her backpack.

"My partner already has your husband, lady."

Sarah froze. The stranger's words stunned her. "What did you say?"

"Got him tied to a tree. Duct tape over his mouth. If you don't come out right now, things could get real bad for you two." The stranger's tone was vicious. "You can avoid trouble if you pay. Let's call it a user's fee for camping here."

"But this is forest service land." Sarah leaned forward and peered through the tent's screen. "There's no fee."

The stranger had backed away from the tent. He stood at the edge of the stand of birches, partially hidden by one of the trunks. In the moonlight, Sarah saw him shifting nervously. "Lady, I'm losing patience. Either you toss me all your cash, or my friend starts cutting your husband."

Sarah noted the man's scowl and clenched fist. He didn't seem to have a weapon. Sarah mirrored him with a scowl and clenched fist of her own.

"I'm calling for help on my cell." She announced.

"You're bluffing. There's no service out here."

Sarah was bluffing, but she knew the stranger was too.

She raised the object she'd secured from her backpack and put it to her lips. She drew a breath and blew it out. The object produced only a soft hissing sound. Sarah blew again, and then let the object drop into her palm.

"Hey out there!" she called. "You better leave now or you'll be sorry!"

The man sneered in the moonlight. "I decide when I leave."

Sarah heard movement in the brush, but still some distance away. "Whenever I feel afraid," she sang aloud. "I whistle a happy tune."

"Lady, my partner is gonna — "

"You're here by yourself, just like I am," Sarah murmured. The movement in the brush sounded much closer now. Sarah smiled. Hopefully the guy was smart, and ran away as fast as he was able.


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