Thank you all so much for participating in Beartooth Anthony’s Halloween Campfire Short Story Contest.
This year we received hundreds of short stories, from all over the world! I have to say, some of you are truly deranged. I’m going to have trouble sleeping for weeks. We hope you enjoyed writing your stories as much as we enjoyed reading them.
This year, the judges selected Campfire 17:33, by ToJo, from Long Beach, CA, as the winning story. Congratulations ToJo, enjoy the Black Diamond Trail Back Trekking Poles and bragging rights.
You’ll find the winning story, runner up, and an honorable mention below. Happy Halloween!
Spirit of the Campfire Story Award (Honorable Mention)
Leanne’s story, told from the perspective of a former camper, embodies the spirit of our campfire story contest.
To: Next Summer’s Camper
by Leanne Edelen
Now that you’ve found this letter, I can tell you what I know because I know things I shouldn’t. Like, I know your parents dropped you off at Camp Open Skies with the hope of turning you into an outdoor-loving kid by sleeping in a tent, singing by a campfire and fishing for your dinner. Camp Master Sanders probably greeted you right at the entrance. Maybe he messed up your hair and patted your back while promising that this would be the best summer ever. Trust me, Sanders is a “master.” A master at selling that this camp is just FULL of adventure and wilderness activities. What he doesn’t sell, and what your parents won’t see in the brochure, is that Camp Open Skies is filled with lies. Maybe I shouldn’t call them lies, when they are more like secrets – BIG secrets. I had to write it down. Someone needs to know the truth.
Listen up, you should know that I’m twelve years old, probably just like you. My twin sister and I are here together, although they separate the boys and girls so we can’t always talk. This is our second time at Open Skies. Our stays have included plenty of adventure and wilderness, but it wasn’t because of hiking, swimming and fishing. Instead we’ve found that it’s not what’s up in the open sky you have to worry about, it’s what they bury under the ground. And believe me, this camp buries their secrets very deep.
Camp Secret #1
Kids have disappeared from here before and they have NEVER been seen again. About ten years ago, a group of five friends snuck away from camp and into the nearby woods in the middle of the night. Nobody noticed they were missing until the next morning when the tents were found empty. The camp leaders got together and formed a search party. They found strange things in that search, but not the missing children. So, the camp was forced to close and stayed that way for five years.
That’s when Camp Master Sanders bought it, fixed it up and renamed it Camp Open Skies. His biggest goal is to make your stay at this camp fun, so you’ll come back next year. You’ll notice he spends night and day wandering and checking on the camp and its campers. I heard my parents say he sunk every dollar he had into making it presentable and safe. A lot can fall apart in five years of no one taking care of it. He had to do most of the work himself to save money. If you look behind the chow hall, you’ll see his mini-tractor fitted with a big scoop on the front – the kind you dig or bury stuff with. I’ll tell you more about that later.
Open Skies takes summer camp to a totally new level. Last year, Sanders brought in a raptor specialist. A raptor is a bird, but not like a parakeet or something dumb like that. A raptor is a hunter. It eats other animals. The specialist asked for volunteers and I raised my hand. Next thing I know, I was standing in front of the amphitheater with a big leather glove on my outstretched hand as the largest bird I have ever seen came flying straight at me. It flew in low and even buzzed my sister’s head before it landed right on my forearm. It was amazing and I was hooked on Open Skies.
I waited all year to have this “experience” again. As all of us campers assembled in the amphitheater, I could barely wipe the smile off my face. I couldn’t wait to find out who our special guest was. But, when Sanders announced Randy the Worm Rangler, my blood turned cold. A middle-aged balding man with a long cone-shaped beard walked out to the cheers of the other kids. Everyone, pretty much, knew who he was since his face was plastered across almost every billboard five miles out from the camp. His worm farm property backs up to Open Skies and sells bait to people wanting to fish on the nearby lake.
Randy smiled at the crowd, revealing a jack o’lantern grin that made my stomach lurch. My sister was seated next to me. Her face was white and her hand was cold as it grabbed on to mine. “It’s him!” she whispered.
So, this is probably a good time to let you in on the second secret they won’t tell you about here.
More campers have gone into the woods. I know because I was one of them. It happened on my first trip to camp. I didn’t know about the missing kids. Maybe I would have still gone if I knew, but I definitely wouldn’t have asked my sister to sneak out with us. There were four of us, all walking in the woods. We were goofing off and telling spooky stories, really just trying to scare the living daylights out of each other. Little did we know, someone was about to do that for us.
It started with us finding a big pit, or what we thought was a sinkhole, in the middle of the woods. Luckily we didn’t fall in, but going around it changed our course a little bit. Well, really, we got lost and wound up on the neighboring property. Yeah, you guessed it, Randy’s property. We didn’t know, though. It should have been a clue when we found these big barrels full of dirt. They were where he stored the worms after he caught them. We didn’t know that either or what happened next probably wouldn’t have happened. We started the world’s largest dirt fight!
We flung dirt everywhere and at everyone. Worms started flying too, but we didn’t care. You couldn’t even see my sister’s face anymore, just the whites of her eyes. “Eww. It got in my mouth.” she screamed spitting out a worm and pulling more out of her hair. We were laughing and squealing. I winded up a fresh ball of dirt and called out that she was in for more trouble when I heard a thick country voice spit out of the night, “She sure is in trouble.”
None of us even heard him coming up behind us. I turned to see big, bald, bearded Randy holding on tight to my sister. The other two campers scattered like cockroaches into the woods, but I wasn’t leaving her.
Twins are special and read each other like a book. She knew I had a plan before I ran towards them in a crouched line-backer stance. I was hoping that my speed would make up for his weight and she would be able to get out of the way.
Right before I got to them, Randy let out a howl as my sister clamped her teeth on his arm causing him to step back and loosen his grip enough for her to move and me to hit him like a freight train. He fell backwards into another worm barrel, spilling all of its dirty guts as he and it hit the ground. We didn’t wait to see what happened next and bolted into the safety of the woods.
Slowly, we found our way back to the camp. Only one of our other night hiking friends was there waiting for us. He wasn’t alone though. Sanders stood guard over him like a prison warden. I swallowed hard, not knowing what would happen next.
“Did you see the other boy on your way back? This one, says there was four of you.” demanded Sanders.
“No, sir.” my sister squeaked.
“What happened to you?” he asked looking at her with his face all scrunched up. She looked down her dirt covered body, realizing that her jacket was ripped.
I’m not sure I told you this, but my sister is smart, not just book smart, but what my Mom calls quick on her feet. “I fell in a sink hole up there. Luckily, my brother was there to pull me out or else you would have a lot of explaining to do to our parents.” Sanders cleared his throat. She pushed him a little farther, “This camp is dangerous, Camp Master Sanders, really dangerous. Kids could get hurt!”
“Everything is fine. It’s fine. It’s fine. Just get back to your tents.” Sanders said nervously after considering her comments. “I’ll look for your friend. I’m sure he’s fine. Do not go back in the woods.” And just when we thought we were getting away with it, he added, “However, I hear that Chef Hampton is short on help in the chow hall tomorrow morning, I expect to see you there at daybreak. Do you all understand?”
We understood, went to our tents and didn’t give another thought about the Worm Rangler until he became our special guest.
Randy stood on the stage of the amphitheater holding a stick, shorter than a broom stick but just as thick, and a metal bar. His special talent, he explained was Worm Grunting. “Ya see,” he said, “Worms are dumb. They ain’t smart at all. Ya need only make the right noise and they will come up outta the ground for ya to gather up.”
He followed this with a snorty laugh. His eyes searched the crowd of campers until they locked on to mine. My sister’s hand squeezed tighter. His nasty grin got bigger as he tried to stare a hole right through me.
Sanders asked him to demonstrate his talent, so Randy broke his gaze and walked to the side of the amphitheater where there was fresh earth. He drove the stick into the ground and ran the metal bar across the top like he was playing a really thick violin, back and forth. It made a sound that you could describe as a grunt, but it sounded more like a frog than a pig.
Sanders started handing small pails to all of us, telling us to go out and gather the earthworms. We could use them when we go fishing tomorrow.
My sister and I took this opportunity to get as far away from Randy as we could, so back in the woods we went, picking up a few worms along the way. It only took us a few minutes until we were standing at the rim of another big pit, barely missing a tumble to the bottom. However, this time, we knew it wasn’t a sinkhole, at least not the regular kind.
That brings us to another camp secret.
The pits are not made by nature, they are man-made. I know this is true because our missing friend told us that morning in the chow hall. Even though we were super happy to see him, he was acting really funny and it took awhile for us to get what happened out of him. This is the best of how I remember what he told us:
I started running when the guy grabbed your sister. I was scared, really scared. I’m sorry I left you, but I wasn’t even thinking anymore. I ran through the woods. Dude, I was like a wild animal or something, dodging trees and rocks. Then, all at once. my feet weren’t touching the ground anymore. I fell all the way to the bottom of that hole we found earlier. It hurt, even dazed me for a few minutes. Then I started feeling around to see if I could find a way out. Everything I grabbed onto fell off in my hand. One time it was a glass bottle another a piece of car tire. Nothing like sticks or roots, it was all garbage.
Anyway, soon Sanders showed up and got me out with a rope. I told him about the garbage I found. He said this whole property was built on top of an old landfill and sometimes the garbage underneath rots enough to make one of these holes. He said he would fix it and threatened me with chow hall duty for the rest of camp if I told anyone. After I got back to my tent, I heard the tractor start up so I do think he fixed it. Please don’t tell anyone. I don’t want to do this all week.
Our sudden stop at the edge of the hole caused the pail I was holding to swing and launched the few worms we had into the pit below. My sister and I looked over the side to see the worm’s fate. It was only about six or seven feet deep, so we could see the bottom with no problem. We expected to see garbage like our friend described, but this hole had a thick, pink slime covering the entire floor. Our three little worms were floating in it, but they didn’t look hurt or anything. They looked fat. It was like they were getting bigger right before our eyes. I know it sounds unreal, but they were close to hot dog size in no time.
We couldn’t look away and that gave Randy the perfect chance to sneak up on us. “I’ve been puttin’ up with sneaky kids for twenty years now. But, you two crossed the line. I ain’t just talking about the property line, neither. Ya crossed the line of no return, even worse than those kids ten years ago. Might have to be a little harder on you, girl. I still have a scar from where you bit me!”
He lunged in our direction. My sister and I both leaped to either side. He didn’t know the pit was there and couldn’t stop in time. Randy fell face first into the hole with the now giant worms and pink goo. A grunting noise, more like a pig then a frog this time, came from the pit and then there was silence.
We slowly backed away from the hole, too scared to see what had happened. Was he eaten? Was he turning into a giant Randy? Neither one was something we wanted to see. Twenty feet or so away, we were surprised by another familiar voice, Sanders. There was no way we were playing games or being brave this time. We told Sanders everything that happened. I mean everything. We spilled our guts about what we did last year all the way up to Randy falling in the hole.
Sanders walked up to the edge and looked in. I’m pretty sure I heard him scream a little, but after a minute he turned around with his salesman’s smile. He promised us that everything would be fine so long as we didn’t tell a soul. He would fix it and told us to return to camp. “It’s fine, it’s fine.” he said as he turned back to the hole.
An hour later we heard the motor of the tractor fire up and knew Sanders was heading to the woods. It was time to bury another secret.
Not for the Squeamish Award (Runner-Up)
Kelsy’s story contains imagery that will stick with you.
by Kelsy L. Buch
I have a spider inside me and nobody believes me.
I was just about five years old when I saw that spider climbing along its web on the lower corner of the swing set. Or maybe I was seven. Maybe a bit older.
Kids from my class started to gather around me.
“It’s a black widow!” one kid said in awe.
“No, no, it’s a tarantula! See how furry it is?” an older kid explained.
“That’s not a tarantula!” another kid butt in.
“Could be. It’s gotta be poisonous.”
“No way! You touch it!”
Who knows why I did it? Peer-pressure? Curiosity? Either way, I stuck my hand straight into its web and grabbed it by its fuzzy front legs and gulped it down whole like it was nothing.
Some kids laughed, some kids screamed, one kid barfed, and another nearly fainted.
Throughout the school year, kids would swap stories of eating coins, game board pieces, and worms – the weirder and grosser, the better. But I always won. I was the kid who ate the spider.
I would laugh and stick out my tongue and scare the poor girls next to me telling them that I have spider eggs in my gut.
But it wasn’t quite so funny when I started feeling something move in my stomach. Just a little bit, but enough to remind me of it. Digestion, I assumed. Nothing more than a little digestion.
But then, I started to feel as if something were crawling up my intestines. I could swear I felt it – eight teeny tiny legs tick-tacking up and up and up, inside my abdomen, in between my organs.
It couldn’t be, I assured myself. Stomach acid alone is enough to kill a spider, I thought, I’m just scaring myself with my imagination. I’d laugh at myself for even allowing myself to think such ridiculous thoughts.
But sure enough, an hour or so would go by and I would feel that same tick-tacking, tick-tacking, tick-tacking inside of me, now near my lungs. It was walking along my ribcage, creating webs between my bones. I felt it. I knew I felt it.
This is crazy, I thought. It just isn’t possible.
Once I got home from school that day, I went straight to the kitchen and drank as much water as I could. Flush it out, I thought. Or maybe I’m just sick. Maybe I’m dreaming a sick person’s dream and when I wake up, it’ll all be over.
So I went to my room, turned off the lights, and tucked myself into bed. Yeah, I just need to sleep. That’s all.
But the moment I began to drift off to sleep and the tick-tick-tacking inside of me felt distant and far away, I began to choke, as if I had something lodged in my throat.
I ran as fast as I could to my parent’s bathroom, gasping for air, dry-heaving over their sink, trying to clear my airway, but something just didn’t feel right.
So I grabbed my dad’s flashlight from inside of the bathroom cabinet, stuck my tongue out wide, and pointed the light down my throat. Nothing, but my own mouth, until I saw those tiny, furry legs reaching up my throat and onto my tongue, crawling out towards me.
I dropped the flashlight in shock and screamed.
And then, I angrily forced my fingers down my throat and hurled, for hours and hours and hours, until there’s was nothing left to throw up, until I felt dizzy, until my parent’s got home from work and they asked me what was wrong.
“It’s inside of me … it’s alive … get it out …” I tried to explain in a weak voice.
They rushed me to the hospital and demanded I get every sort of scan done. By the time I came through, the doctor was in my room, trying to get me to explain what I felt was wrong.
“There’s a spider… I think I swallowed a spider and it’s… it was in my….”
“There is no spider inside of you at all. I promise you. Your parents are just outside and they asked us to take some scans and – here. Nothing. No spider. That’s your CT scan, your MRI, your PET scan…”
“Doctor, we need you in intensive care,” a nurse shouted out while jogging down the hall.
“Listen, I’ll be right back. Have a look at those and we’ll talk more about your symptoms and some possible treatments when I get back, okay?’
I nodded and he was off. A rush of relief fell over me. If a doctor couldn’t find anything wrong inside of me, then there probably wasn’t anything. I was probably just sick – in my body or in my head.
I glanced over the scans peacefully, comforted knowing there wasn’t – wait. I grabbed the MRI and looked a little closer. Something was off. On the lower left side of my brain, maybe it was the shadowing, maybe it was something else, but I swear it looked like a…
I dropped the MRI and quickly picked up the CT scan. Right inside of my stomach, right where I knew it would be, there were these tiny balls glued together in a sphere at the bottom of stomach.
I screamed and I screamed hard.
They couldn’t see it. Not my parents, not the nurses, not the doctors. Maybe that’s why they sent me away to this mental institution. Maybe they thought I was crazy. Maybe I am.
I can’t remember much anymore. The tick-tacking, tick-tacking, tick-tacking repeats over and over again inside my head. There’s a gnawing on the left side of my brain, day and night, and my insides feel riddled with furry little legs tick-tacking, tick-tacking, tick-tacking up and down my organs like it’s a playground for spiders.
I have spiders inside me and nobody believes me.
That’s Too Dark for Me Award (2019 Winning Campfire Story)
Congratulations ToJo, winner of the 2019 Halloween Campfire Story Contest. The judges enjoyed the camping theme, this is an outdoor blog after all. The story is pretty dark, but it has a moral.
Four boys awoke around a warm campfire. Dry leaves crunched under the weight of their bodies as they gathered themselves off the dirt ground.
The smoke of the fire was as cloudy as their memories. They could remember nothing and only knew that they didn’t know each other, and that they were ankle bound by iron chains to one another. None of them knew how or why.
The first boy spoke, his hair brilliantly red-orange, the flames dancing in his eyes, “Where are we?”
“Looks like we’re camping,” the dark haired one declared sardonically.
“Obviously. But why? I mean, who are you people?” Redhead asked, searching the group with tentative eyes.
They traded names and ages-the only self-identifying thing they could recall-like campfire stories.
“At least we know that much,” Emett chirped happily, the clear optimist and youngest of the group.
“I don’t care about none of your names. All I care about is getting home,” Garett stood, removing a stray leaf from his coal black hair.
“We’re stuck together, remember?” Brett gestured to the bulky fetters at their feet.
Garret sighed before demanding, “Then get up and follow me.”
The other three boys exchanged reluctant glances before Garett impatiently snapped, “C’mon ladies. Today!”
“Don’t call us that,” Emett kicked up dirt and scowled.
Scott, the one who hadn’t uttered a word more than his age and name stood up in silent compliance; he shrugged when Emett and Brett exchanged glances with him.
“See, he knows I’m right. Now let’s go!” Garett’s eyes bulged to punctuate his demand.
The other two rose to their feet and the boys marched in a straight line like prisoners.
“I feel like I’m in jail,” Emett muttered from the back of the line.
“As if you’d survive there,” Garett shot back from the front.
“Have you ever been to jail?” Brett’s fiery red eyebrows rose curiously.
“Juvie. Once,” Garett grunted.
Emett leapt for joy, “Hey, you remembered something!”
Brett grinned, “He’s right! What else do you remember, Garett?”
“Well, how did you remember?” Emett’s prepubescent voice rose to an excited squeak.
Garett shrugged, “It just popped in my head…I guess.”
Suddenly, Garett came to a halt and so did Scott.
As a result, Brett bumped into Scott, and Emett’s face smashed against Brett’s back.
He rubbed his nose and leaned over for a better view, “What’s going on? Why did we stop? I’m the shortest, so why am I way in the back?”
“There’s something…there’s something…” Garett stammered, pointing towards the vast forest before them.
“What is it?” Scott finally spoke.
“There’s something…here. In front of us,” Garett explained.
“Well, what is it?” Brett asked impatiently.
“Is it a bear?” Emett’s excited tone belied his inquiry.
“I don’t know. I can’t see it,” Garett ran a plump hand through his hair, catching more stuck leaves.
Scott approached the “invisible thing,” lifted an open palm, and pushed forward until his hand came into contact with it.
“It’s like a wall or barrier. I think we might be trapped,” Scott concluded calmly.
Brett and Emett didn’t believe it until they took their turns touching the invisible wall.
“Maybe we should keep going. To search out the perimeter, you know.” Brett suggested.
In unison, they agreed to follow Brett’s advice. The boys stayed close to the invisible wall and walked for thirty minutes before unanimously concluding that they were boxed in.
They had seen nothing but trees and darkness.
“How is this possible?” Garett uttered. For the first time, the rough edge of his voice was grinded down. He almost sounded as if he would cry.
In silence, the four made a solemn trek back to the campsite; it seemed to be situated directly in the middle of the barrier that had them boxed in.
“We’re caged in like wild animals,” Emett played with stray sticks.
“No, we’re not.” Garett’s eyes were beady holes of stifled panic.
“You know he’s right, Garett. We’re trapped in here.” Brett agreed.
“But if outside still exists, then there has to be a way to get out, right?” Emett’s question was directed towards Scott.
Scott’s words crumbled before they could even form.
Restless, Emett played stick drums on his lap, leading him to find a pair of glasses in his pocket.
Naturally, Emett tried them on and looked around. Everything seemed to sharpen in detail. “Wow! That’s so much better.”
Brett offered Emett a glance,” You wear glasses? Wait…Where did you get those?”
Emett shrugged, discounting the prospect of the meaning of his discovery, “They were in my right pocket.”
“Everyone, check your pockets!” Brett nearly shouted.
After a quick pat down, the boys made inventory of their pocket findings:
Emett: seeing glasses and a yoyo.
Scott: a smooth black stone, plastic comb, and three sticks of mint gum.
Brett: a sheet of loose leaf paper and black marker
Garett: A candy bar wrapper and a cellphone-with a cracked screen-that wouldn’t turn on.
“Well, what do we do with all this?” Brett’s shoulders sagged tiredly.
“What’s the paper say?” Emett leaned over to retrieve the paper and mentally read it before scrunching his nose in confusion, “Huh? Why did you write this?”
“I didn’t write anything,” Brett argued, confiscating the paper from Emett to read it for himself.
Brett fell silent and passed the paper on to Scott who also read it.
“Can you all just shut up for a minute?” Garett commanded. His focus was on his phone-if it were even his-in attempts to get it to turn on.
Scott attempted to show him the paper when Garett threw up a dismissive hand, “I don’t care what it says. This phone is the only thing that can help us right now, not a stupid piece of paper..”
“But…” Scott’s words crumbled again.
“Just put down the stupid phone and read the paper, Garett!” Brett shrieked.
Garett looked up slowly and accepted the paper from Scott with feigned interest, before balling it up and tossing it into the fire.
“No!” Brett dove for the paper but it was too late. “Why did you do that? You didn’t even read it!”
“Hey, look.” Emett tugged on the shoulder of Brett’s shirt.
Emett pointed his finger at the fire in silence, his eyes glued to what was in the flames.
It was only then that Brett realized what had captured Emett’s attention. The paper wasn’t consumed by the campfire or even burnt by it.
Scott grabbed a nearby stick and rescued the non-flammable paper.
“See! It’s important,” Brett pleaded with Garett.
Scott uncrumpled the paper and read it again, this time aloud, “Emett, fall. Brett, drown. Scott, asphyxiation. Garett…”
Scott’s eyes warily flitted to Garett before he continued, “Garett, allergic reaction.”
“This sounds like a testament of how…” Scott trailed off.
“Of how what, Scott?” Emett was thirsty for an answer.
“Scott?” Brett’s curiosity was accompanied with fear.
“Don’t even think of finishing that sentence,” Garett’s hands were large balls of anger.
“What?” Emett’s voice was a shrill plea.
“A testament of how we all died.” Scott’s words fell heavier than the iron shackles enslaving their ankles.
“That’s silly. We’re not dead; we can’t be.” Emett pinched his own arm and searched his own heartbeat.
“No, it makes sense.” Brett looked forward at nothing in particular, “The invisible perimeter, the chains, and memory loss. We might be in…I dunno, a different world. Maybe..”
“Like Purgatory?” Emett rubbed his eyes before a lone tear raced down his cheek and clung to his chin. He wiped it away discreetly.
“If we really died and woke up here, then we have to be here for a reason, right?” Emett’s question fell to the ground, desperately waiting for someone to pick it up.
“Maybe you all did, but I did not die.” Garett uttered, his arms crossed and held tightly against his large body.
“If we’re all dead, then you are too!” Brett argued.
“Hey, the paper’s changing,” Scott declared, holding it out to the group. Everyone watched in silence as the previous words slid off the paper like raindrops on a windshield and faded away.
New words in the same thick cursive penmanship formed:
3 stay. 1 goes. Or all stay here together. Forever.
“What does that mean?” Emett stammered, cleaning the lenses of his glasses and putting them back on as if the words would change, not that it was outside the realm of apparent possibility.
“Isn’t it obvious?” Garett impatiently cracked his knuckles.
Brett sighed and rubbed his temples.
The circle fell silent for several moments. The gentle crackling of the campfire offered to fill the silence.
Scott chewed his thumb nail and stared into the flame as he muttered, “I’ll stay.”
“What? Scott?” Emett’s eyes were innocent pools of hazel.
“The campfire…” he began to explain, “..it showed me something. Something I did that led me here when I was alive.” There was a hitch in his voice.
“Fine by me. It’s just out of us three now,” Garett discounted Scott’s presence and focused on Brett and Emett. “We have to decide. Three stay, one leaves.”
“No! I’m not leaving, Scottie. We can all figure this out. There has to be a way!” Emett stomped his foot, flattening a cluster of dry leaves.
“And then there were two,” Garett grimaced.
“Wait! We can’t do this; it’s not fair.” Brett protested.
“You heard what Scott said. He deserves to be here. And if that pipsqueak wants to stay with him, let him.” Garett answered as if reciting the solution to a simple math problem.
“But what if we all did something horrible? Or at least…something we shouldn’t have that led us here.” Brett continued, “Maybe we should all look into the flame and find out for sure like Scott did.”
“Yeah,” Emett agreed weakly, wiping his eyes. “I think Brett’s right.”
“Has it ever occurred to your two pea sized brains, that sad and wimpy over here is trying to trick us? I bet he’s plotting. That’s why he’s so quiet. He’s probably in on all of this.” Garett threw an accusatory glare Scott’s way.
“No! I won’t believe it!” Emett cried.
“You don’t even know him. Why are you on his side?” Garett rose to his feet angrily before sitting back down.
“We all should be on the same side. I’m with Scott and Emett. I think we can figure out whatever this is if we all work together.”
“Thank you, Brett.” Emett’s voice was barely above a whisper.
Scott handed a stick of gum to Emett and did his best to offer a reassuring close-lipped smile.
“Now, let’s look into the fire,” Brett advised. “We’re gonna do it with or without you, Garett.”
“I’ll do it again, too. There’s probably more I need to see.” Scott agreed, although his voice was thick with anguish.
Garett rolled his eyes as the boys averted theirs to the flames.
Several minutes of silence passed until there was a sniffle from Brett, then, Emett, and Scott. Their sniffles erupted into mournful sobs as creeks of tears ran down their orange licked faces.
Garett didn’t care. It was all a ploy as far as he knew. He was the only one thinking straight in his opinion. He wasn’t going to put his second chance at living in the hands of strangers. He was going to trust the paper rather than their reasoning.
Garett picked up the paper as quietly as possible and reread it.
3 stay. 1 goes.
The words had a spirit of their own. They felt alive and as if they were speaking to him, swirling around him as sure as wind.
Suddenly, the words dripped off the pages and two simple words began to form as if an invisible hand were writing them:
Garett swallowed the lump in his throat and glanced at the boys who were still dripping with tears and captivated by the campfire like moths. To Garett, the dancing flames reflected in their eyes made them look deranged and possessed.
Garett retrieved Brett’s marker and tightened his grip around it as he wrote his name in capital letters underneath the question.
As soon as he crossed his final “T,” the paper disintegrated before his eyes and the circle feel silent.
Garett looked around nervously, only to discover that Emett, Brett, and Scott had somehow disappeared. Only their shackles and belongings were left behind.
One of them had found the key, or had it all along and left while he was distracted. It was all a joke meant to get back at him for being mean to everyone, Garett assumed.
Surely they were nearby, all three watching him and sneering. Probably laughing somewhere behind the trees and hi-fiving each other.
Garett could deal will the silent treatment. He was more than confident that they’d be back after he had “learned his lesson.”
Garett’s confidence began to dwindle with every passing minute.
About an hour in, the joke wasn’t funny anymore.
Brett, Scott, Emett. Garett called out their names until his voice was reduced to a raspy whisper and eventually, desperate sobs that fell into dry silence.
Maybe being alone wouldn’t be so bad, Garett pushed himself into believing. He didn’t have to deal with Emett’s whiny little voice and at least he still had the warmth of the campfire.
That was his way out, he thought. All he had to do was look into it. Just how Emett, Brett, and Scott did. That had to be the reason for their disappearance.
Hope filled, Garett steeled himself; of course, he didn’t want to see whatever the fire had to reveal, but what other choice did he have?
Garett took a deep breath and set his eyes to the flames when a quiet whoosh passed through the campsite and extinguished the campfire; like that, Garett was left alone in unrelenting darkness.
Until Next Year
Thank you all, again, for participating. As an outdoor blog, this contest is a little different than what we do the rest of the year. We really have a lot of fun with it. We encourage you to continue writing, tell scary stories, and most of all, enjoy the great outdoors!
Until next year, happy trails.