As I sit here on Halloween, giving out candy to the neighbourhood trick-or-treaters*, I am reminded of a story so horrific, so scary, so gruesome, so humiliating — that I feel I must share it.

*Just kidding, I live next door to a strip club, there won’t be any trick-or-treaters in this neighbourhood.

The year was 1994, and my parents had just announced that they would be getting a divorce–something I had seen coming for years, and yet it still seemed to take me by surprise. At the time, I remember being less sad about the idea of our family breaking up and more…excited– excited that I would now have two of everything—or so I thought. You can imagine the look on my face when we packed our bags and moved into my grandmother’s 600 square foot, one bedroom apartment building. This was not at all what the movies had led me to believe divorce was like. I learned quickly that my parents’ divorce was probably not going to benefit me at all– in fact, it felt like I might actually stand to lose something.

I still remember the first night at my Grandmother’s house like it was yesterday—having traded my once comfortable water bed (it was the Eighties. It wasn’t, it was the Nineties and it was on sale. My parents love a deal) for a half-deflated, blow-up mattress in her backroom. I lay wide-awake,  kept up by the loud snores of my new roommate—a seventy-year-old General Electric Industrial Freezer—complete with built-in pyrotechnic light show and sound effects: sparking and buzzing every fifteen minutes, on the hour. After a few nights, the freezer and I had become friends. He spoke to me in a voice that came in loud and clear—it told me that everything was going to be okay, I just needed to do one thing: kill.Them. All.  Just kidding—freezers can’t talk….right?!

It did give me a lot of time to think though– and I began to see the silver lining to my parent’s divorce- it was the perfect opportunity to make a fresh start. After all, a few months later we would be moving to a new city, where I would be going to a new school closer to our new home—only to return seven months later after things went horribly wrong. But by now you’ve read that story already.

My return to St. Charles Elementary would not be the smooth transition I would hope for; nor would I receive the warm reception that I had anticipated.  What was I expecting? Well, you know that YouTube video with Christian The Lion? The one in the wild who gets reunited with the owner who had raised him as a cub one year previous?  Yes, that was the response I was expecting. Right down to a welcome back performance of the Whitney Houston classic “I Will Always Love You” performed by the St. Charles Elementary School Choir.  It didn’t happen quite that way. In fact, the response I got was more like that silent blue screen you get when your cable goes out.

I was welcomed back to St. Charles Elementary with ambivalent blank stares—from both the office secretary and the principal, who admitted they had no recollection of me, nor did they have any record of my previous attendance at that school. To make matters worse, they insisted we participate in the new student school orientation; one that started with a tour of the school – a school I had been going to for five years.

It was during this tour when I noticed it; a bad omen– a Halloween mural, that had been painted on the hallway just outside the principal’s office. It had all the elements you would expect—a bleak, gray sky, rolling green hills covered in pumpkins and a haunted house in the distance. But what made this mural special was the graveyard scene painted in the foreground—it was, for the most part your typical graveyard, except for one tiny detail.  You see, at the centre of this graveyard was one very ominous tombstone—one that was significantly bigger than the others. It was also the only one with an inscription…

RIP
DAN WILLIAMSON
1982 – 1996
Good Riddance!

Told you. Bad omen.

So, although the teaching staff may not have done a great job preserving my memory (or like, my academic records), my fellow students had. They had preserved my memory– by killing me off in the Halloween mural. The metaphor of this painting was not lost on my mother and I—and we were both dedicated to ensuring I did not become a causality of yet another school—especially because there were no other schools within a two-hour radius. It was then, beside the mural, that something caught my eye—something next to the mural. It was a sign-up sheet; a sign-up sheet for The Boy Scouts of Canada. It seemed to me at the time, like the perfect way to re-integrate myself back into school. What could possibly go wrong? We signed up, and I started later that week.

I was mostly excited about the annual camping trip to Camp Wetaskawin– even if it would be my first sleepover in a place that wasn’t my own backyard. It was also the first time I would not have the luxury of a nightlight to keep me feeling safe. (The truth is, even though I was twelve, I was still very much deathly afraid of the dark.) But even though I had a touch of nervousness, I was feeling confident– because after much hard work, and against all odds I had made a friend. A friend that I would be sharing a tent with. It felt good.

That was until the night before the camping trip, when my mother sat me down on the toilet to have a serious conversation – a ritual typically reserved for disciplinary conversations, or finding out what my dad had bought her for her birthday, anniversary, Christmas…you get the idea. These conversations all began the same way. She’d sit me down, look me straight in the eye and say: “We need to talk,” in a way that suggested this was not going to be easy for either of us. And to be honest, it never was.

This time my mother was sitting me down to tell me a cautionary tale. It was the story of a man, a woodsman; one who liked to lure children into the woods at night. I’ll spare you the gruesome details—but know it did not end well for the little boy in the story.  Unlike you, I was not so lucky. My mother did not spare me a single detail, believing confidently that telling me this horrific story could someday save my life. “It’s for your own good, now don’t you feel better?” she would ask me, as I sat on the toilet, mouth open, eyes wide, pupils dilated– in two words, scared sh*tless.

Cut to 9:00pm the next night at Camp Wetaskawin.

We had just finished our authentic campfire-cooked dinner – Pizza Hut (yes, we ordered a pizza – only in the suburbs, folks). Things had gone well so far-– I had continued to bond with my new friend—he didn’t even flinch when I unpacked my stuffed animal– a dog that had been given to me by a therapist. She told me it would ward off ghosts and protect me from things that went bump in the night. My new friend thought this was pretty cool (seriously!). Even better he thought I was pretty cool too (yeah!). Things were going great, that was until the head scout leader told us to grab out flashlights in preparation for … The Night Hike.

I froze. This was the start of a story I knew all too well, the story of a grown man taking a group of children into the woods—to kill them. I did the only thing I could think of—the only rational thing my twelve-year-old brain could process; I followed the rest of the kids willingly into the woods—almost certain I would not be coming out alive.

I felt a terrible pit in the bowels of my stomach. Maybe it was the stress of not dealing with my parents’ divorce properly; maybe I was just nervous that my new friend would suddenly realize I was completely lame (he still sleeps with stuffed animals!), or maybe it was because I was completely convinced my scout leader was luring us into the woods to kill us. There were so many thoughts racing through my mind at that moment–it was hard to tell exactly which one was the root of the issue. My twelve-year-old nerves were shot and my stomach was in knots. It was also full of Meat Lovers Pizza and Diet Coke. That’s when the real nightmare began – the kind of nightmare that begins with the sudden realization that you have thirty seconds to get to a bathroom–or else.

“I have to go the bathroom!” I shouted.

“Go ahead guys, I will wait here for Dan,” volunteered the Head Scout Leader

He aimed his flashlight into the woods.

“Go ahead. I’ll be right here.”

This was the end. I was sure of it. This is how I was going to die.

It had after all been a night of firsts: My first camping trip, my first sleepover away from home, my first shot at friendship and now my first time being murdered – but mostly it was my first time going number two in the woods.

Are you still with me? Get ready…

I paused for a moment, not quite sure exactly how to execute such a thing. Outside I could hear the kids snickering, and it became clear to me that no one could know what was really about to happen here if I had any chance of making friends. I weighed my options and after a few mathematical calculations, determined what I believed to be the best course of action. It seemed to me that the best way to have an undetected number two, was to make it look and sound like you were doing a number one—it was simple physics. It should have been the perfect crime—if it hadn’t turned into the perfect nightmare– a nightmare of sh*t.  I say this because due to a gross miscalculation—I, well, let’s tell it like it is– I sh*t my pants.

Actually, I sh*t onto my pants– like, a lot.

There was no denying what I had done. It was written all over my– well, it was everywhere. The way I saw it, I had only one chance of going undetected by the other kids-– I needed to pretend like nothing had happened. I needed to make my way back onto the path, rejoin the troop, making sure I stayed at the back of the line – out of sight and out of mind. That was my only hope. I emerged from the woods, exuding fake confidence. It worked for about two minutes, and then…

“Okay kids, time to head back! Dan, your turn to lead the group!”

I froze as a dozen faces turned towards me. My mouth opened, my eyes widened and my pupils dilated, as the light from a dozen tiny flashlights made their way slowly towards me, one by one, exposing my dirty little secret. I wanted to die. I wanted the woodsman to come and shoot me in the face. But the thing about murderous woodsmen is they are almost always not around when you need them. And so I stood there, like a deer in the headlights – a deer that had just been caught rolling around in its own feces.

I would spend that night alone (and many future nights alone for that matter). To my left a stuffed animal looking desperately towards retirement, and to my right, a bag of soiled clothes.

In the morning my mother would be called.

“There was an incident” she would be told. “You should come and pick up your son.”

In the car, my mother would ask me to explain to her what happened. There was no real logical explanation for what I had done, other than physics weren’t quite my forte (or history, science–geography). Ashamed, I would turn to her, look her straight in the eyes and say “we need to talk” in a way that suggested this wasn’t going to be easy for any of us.

Then I would hand over “the bag.”