Thank you all so much for participating in Beartooth Anthony’s Halloween Campfire Short Story Contest.
We received many excellent stories from all over the world, from Zimbabwe and Singapore to Ireland and the UK. Your stories were colored by your unique backgrounds, and it was truly enjoyable to read your interpretations of a scary campfire story.
This year, the judges selected One of Them, by Alva Isaksson, from Solna, Sweden, as the winning story. Congratulations Alva, enjoy the Snow Peak GigaPower Backpacking Stove, and bragging rights.
You’ll find the winning story, runner up, and an honorable mention below. Happy Halloween!
Well, I Didn’t See That Coming Award (Honorable Mention)
An entertaining story with an unexpected twist.
“And Along Came Delores”
by Leanne Edelen
Delores sat very still, high up in the tree perched on the old, rickety hunter’s deer stand. Her long legs dangled off the side into darkness. This high vantage gave her the perfect perspective to find her prey. Delores despised hunting, but it was a necessity. Her children must eat.
When she climbed up the tree this evening, she had hopes of locating one of those giant raccoons these woods were famous for, but even a few big squirrels would do. These overly big animals were much more than local lore. However, no one wanted to acknowledge the real cause was a nearby power plant and the green goo it seeps into the stream. But it was surely the reason that Delores stood an amazing six foot seven inches tall, as she was from around here too.
She wedged her big body into this little miserable tree stand almost once a week to supplement her brood’s diet. It was the only way she knew how to provide enough food for all of them. Their little mouths never stopped complaining about not having enough food, so she sat in the rain or the snow or high winds crammed into this tree until dinner revealed itself. Her children never appreciated her sacrifice or a full belly. To Delores, they only appreciated knowing when their next meal was coming.
She thought back to her own mother, who never really had to work this hard to feed her and her sisters. Of course, Delores’ mother wouldn’t have worked this hard. She wasn’t the type to really do or feel things for others. In fact, when Delores grew larger than her sisters, her mother didn’t become concerned, she became uneasy. The uneasiness turned to shame when Delores became taller than most grown men. Shame turned to disgust as her legs grew thick and hairy, while her sisters’ stayed thin and delicate. Soon after that, contempt was all that was left as Delores became a local monstrosity. She was forced to leave her family and fend for herself.
A light in the distance brought her back into the moment. It danced up and down illuminating the footpath and provided safe passage for a young teenage boy. Delores was not surprised to see him, for it was summer and the camps that flanked these woods were filled with teenagers. It was not the first time in her many years that she has seen girls from the girl’s camp and boys from the boy’s camp, searching for each other in the dark for a late-night rendezvous. Delores rolled her eyes in disgust at the thought of young romance. She did not have time for such nonsense. She had children to feed.
The boy, so concentrated on not stumbling on the path, failed to notice a very large spider web draped from tree to tree, and walked right into the center of it. He danced around like he was on fire, grabbing at his arms and face trying to pull the milky-colored, sticky silk from it. His light fell to the ground and went out. She laughed out loud. A moment later, Delores saw the light with the boy trailing again behind it. This was the kind of story, Delores would share with her friends later, if she had any. Her life revolved only around her children and their endless appetites.
As Delores hoped, the flashlight began to shine in her direction. She was too high in the tree to be noticed but he stood out like a beacon in the night. Delores mused that this boy must really like the girl he was meeting to parade around in the night looking for her. Once he even called out, “Amy! Um. Amy, where are you?” He didn’t give up or turn around though, just trudged closer and closer to Delores in her perch prepared for the hunt.
She descended the tree slowly and quietly, watching as he swept the ground below her with the flashlight, but not the air above. His dark colored hair was all she could see as he stayed focused on the ground especially when the light glided over the dead blonde teenage girl wrapped up in milky silk. He screamed and then brought his hand to his mouth, stifling it as the children resumed taking their fill of the cocooned meal. He turned to run, but soon realized that was futile and stood frozen with his mouth agape at the sight of six foot seven inch Delores, her monstrous, overly-big fangs and all eight of her big, thick, hairy legs.
The Fundament of Evil Award (Runner-Up)
A tale of two evils. One a modern day monster, the other ancient and difficult to comprehend.
“The Dowsing of Bolsom Ranch”
by Kaylun D. Rice
Water divining did not come as natural to me as it did for my grandfather. He could reveal a well in Death Valley at the peak of summer. My sisters and I were told the gift skips a generation, but I fear it may have skipped two.
I don’t even know what I’m doing out here, sweating under this Arizona sun. Scouring this arid wasteland with intolerable dust sweeping into my nostrils is not a picturesque weekend.
This valley feels void and lifeless. To say this abandoned ranch has seen better days would be an understatement.
I find myself speculating about the origin of its decrepit solitude. Why did someone settle here in the first place? We are miles from the nearest semblance of civilization.
An uneasy feeling in my gut makes me wonder if something horrid happened to the original occupants. Perhaps a tragic history still imbedded in the land is interfering with my rods. It’s been an hour and yet nothing. No water to be found. What secret lies here?
I shake my head. My superstitious inclinations are just making excuses for my inability to find water. It’s probably abandoned because the previous well dried up. Perhaps the underground waterway shifted, which should mean it’s still here. I need to find it—no need to get spooked over nothing.
But I knew this contract would likely be futile when they offered it to me. I shouldn’t have accepted it, despite the monetary reward should I discover a well. Besides, something was unsettling about the way the new owner smiled while looking me up and down before shaking my hand. Perhaps my sense of detecting creeps is more reliable than that of finding water. I should listen to it more.
Then again, jobs are scarce for a half Navajo water dowser, especially one of my gender. You would think people here would take what they could get when it comes to finding water.
The rods jolt and I feel my heart pause, skeptical that the phenomenon is working again. It never ceases to amaze me.
My body remains motionless, suspended in time with my right heel only partially planted in the maroon dirt. The rods sway freely in the absence of wind. I slowly plant my foot into the earth and methodically encroach further into the barren property, but the rods show no further indication of life.
The sunlight is dying, and only a crimson tint remains on the evening sky, reminding me of my summer dress that had lost its luster.
Ambiguous shadows appear at the fringes of the desolate ranch, and I convince myself that some childish fear of the night will not dishearten me.
Still, my thoughts yield to that inevitability of a memory that always manages to seize my mind when the setting is right.
My grandfather’s story. The one he’d told me in private. The one he said he’d never share with anyone. But he had shared it with me.
“The rods detect more than water.”
There had been a hauntingly sober warning in his tone, a discordant melody to the moonlight’s gleam in his loving eyes.
“What else do they find?” I asked, my teenage self hopelessly incapable of resisting his tall tales. He must have sensed doubt or amusement in my question because his face had turned to stone. After an uneasy silence, I swallowed and asked again. “What else, grandfather?”
The crackling fire was quieter then, slowly turning into embers, the musky aspen smoke finally parting and giving our faces relief. I took a deep breath of cold, clean air that stung my lungs.
“The rods find water when they sense disruption,” he said. “But many things cause disruption.”
“A mineral?” I asked.
Again there had been silence as if grandfather was contemplating whether he should continue. A pack of coyotes howled in the distance, and I noticed his grip on his Winchester rifle tighten. It was strange; coyotes typically evoked a sense of appreciation of nature in my grandfather.
“No,” he said finally. “Terror. Pain. Hate. Fear. All kinds of evil.”
“The rods can detect those?” I asked, confused.
“That which carries it,” he replied. “That which walks between our worlds, like a stream underground. It goes unseen, but like the water, it is never far.”
“I understand…” I said, pondering his wisdom. “When I hold hate or jealousy in my heart, it’s like a poisonous stream-.”
“Dooda,” he spoke harshly.
The Navajo usually only came out when he got particularly frustrated. He must’ve seen the embarrassment in my eyes.
“Dooda,” he said again softly. “No. In this story… the monster is real.”
I became uneasy at my grandfather’s seriousness. I prayed he was joking or trying to tease his granddaughter, but he wasn’t.
“I’ve seen it. Yee Naaldlooshii.” He removed a roll of sage and let the end catch fire before setting it to the side.
I pondered his action and reached a terrifying conclusion, suddenly aware of the towering black hills surrounding us. Every minute sound played like a preamble to violence.
“Are they watching us now?” I asked.
“No,” replied Grandfather. “But, we do not want to invite them with our talks.”
“Invite them?” I asked. “I don’t want them here.”
“Neither do I,” grandfather laughed. He smiled and nodded reassuringly. Immediately, I felt as protected by him as I did when I was a little girl on one of our campouts.
“How do you feel when you speak of your sisters or your mother? Or think of your niece and nephew?” he asked.
I smiled. “Good. They make me happy. I love them, and I feel that love when I think of them.”
“You feel their spirit, yet they are not here.” There was a pause. His face turned austere, and he leaned into the dying fire so that the shadows disappeared from his face.
A jolt of fear hit my spine like lightning as he spoke.
“And what spirit do you think will come when you speak of evil? What you speak, what you think, will invite the spirit of those things. This is why we do not tell stories for thrill of the Yee Naaldlooshii. This is why I tell you to keep happy thoughts with you always.”
“Then why do we speak of it now?” I asked.
There was another long pause as he stared up into the starry night sky and inhaled deeply. “I tell you these things because I love you. You must learn that you may be safe. Your sisters have chosen a different path. I know you will leave for school, but you will return. This is your home. It is left for you to carry our family’s knowledge.”
I pressed my lips at the mention of returning after college. He knew I had no desire to come back. How was he so sure I would?
“Your great-great-grandfather was a white man. I am half, as are you. While one world can live in ignorance of the other, we are blessed to understand both. My grandfather knew water dowsing. My grandmother knew the history of the land learned by the Navajo. But we know both.”
There was a pause as I pondered our family’s history again. I had heard it so many times before, but this was the first time I understood why grandfather was the best water dowser in the west.
The sage mixing with smoke was a welcoming scent. Its supernatural properties calmed the world around us, and I no longer felt afraid. But the fear began to return when grandfather continued his story.
“I was water divining by a ranch near Snowflake. A rich white man from San Francisco bought a plot of isolated land and was told it would be fertile. Many others told him the land was useless and that he was tricked, but he would not give up hope. He had heard of me and wanted me to find a place to dig a well. Many of the white men laughed that he was using a Navajo ‘water witch.’ In my pride, I knew I had to prove them wrong no matter how long it took.”
There was another pause as the insects continued to chirp around us. Somewhere an owl hooted, reassuring us that nothing insidious was stalking our camp. I tucked myself further into my sleeping bag, escaping the cold desert night. Grandfather continued, and I felt the scent of sage grow stronger.
“I searched for water until dusk. Just as I was about to give up, the rods crossed. They met with such force they nearly bounced from my loose grip. But I could never repeat the finding in the same spot; it was always somewhere different. I looked up to take a drink from my flask. That is when I saw it. That evil creature. Perversion of nature.”
My thoughts are interrupted.
The rods cross almost violently. I pause. Inexplicable dread fills my soul as I stare down at what should’ve been a welcoming sight for any water dowser. The hair on my neck and arms stand up, an ancient alarm of danger. I know something is watching me.
I drop my rods and turn, pulling my .38 special and aiming it into the dimming desert behind me. The sun is still half an hour from setting, so I don’t need my flashlight. Not yet. I scan the sagebrush thoroughly.
Bolsom Ranch is eerily quiet.
The brush and ocotillo cactus stand motionless, like a backdrop painting made by Wile E. Coyote. The color feels shallow and disturbs me oddly. Everything feels superficial as if I had entered a museum with wax figures. The life in this place is draining.
There’s a decrepit ranch house with a window blind hanging partially on one side. The act plays out before me like a trite western scene. I watch the window blind creak open and close suddenly, but the sight stings my heart with fright. There’s no wind.
I slowly walk towards the abandoned house, trying to keep the sand silent beneath my boots. My eyes dart down to my .38 special, quickly spotting the brass shining in the cylinder, easing my mind that my weapon is indeed loaded. I look back at the window.
I pause several feet away, not wanting to continue. I know I need to prove to myself the house is safe, or I’ll be looking over my shoulder for the rest of the evening. I point my handgun in through the window as I peek inside. It’s empty, the dust undisturbed. I turn to leave.
Unexpectedly I recognize a face staring at me in the brush. My heart bursts, and adrenaline floods through my extremities to my fingertips and toes. I realize the image and laugh softly.
“You scared me,” I say to the coyote. I’m relieved, for it means there is some life in this godforsaken place after all.
She continues to stare from a distance, still concealed in the brush.
I lower my snub nose revolver. I turn back to where I left the rods, this time making more noise as I go. I look back as I walk, fully expecting the coyote to have taken her leave, but she’s still there, staring. She hasn’t moved, not an inch.
That painful feeling that something bizarre is taking place begins to loom in my mind, but I push it out.
“One marker down,” I sigh to myself. One more to find, then discover where the two streams meet. If I finish before nightfall, I won’t have to drive three hours this way again.
I lick my lips and taste the salt from the sweat of my upper lip, granules of sand mixing with it, and sticking to my teeth. I spit and wipe my face with my sleeve, pushing my straight black hair from sticking to my face. I holster my revolver and pick up my grandfather’s rods.
Longing to begin my long drive home, I look back at my ’74 Chevy pickup parked just outside the barbed wire fence, nearly a hundred yards away. I didn’t trust the rubble ridden road with its rusty nails and screws. Some careless farmer must’ve dropped his shipment years ago.
I hold the rods loosely in front of me as I retrace my last steps, clearing my mind like grandfather had taught me so that I wouldn’t subconsciously control the rods. I think of my niece and nephew again. Immediately the rods cross as if guided by the wills of a phantom. It’s over the same location.
Removing a marker from my pouch, I stick it into the earth and continue.
Almost immediately, I feel static in the air as the rods cross again. I feel a flood of relief and think I might finish soon, but I’m wrong.
I follow the pathway of the two hidden streams, but they do not intersect. I continue where I left off and find a third stream. I place another marker, but this stream runs parallel to the first two. Still no intersection.
Faithfully holding the rods in front of me like a guiding cane, I continue, clearing my mind of my surroundings. I feel the rods cross a fourth time and, again, place a marker. And again, the streams do not pass.
“Chʼį́įdii!” I curse.
Why are none of the streams crossing? I’m imagining the shape the bedrock must take to form such long, parallel lines without allowing the water to intersect. The markers have too even a space to have been chance. Maybe it’s some ancient form of irrigation below the ranch, for the aisles remind me of cornrows. Or perhaps a foundation made by the first pioneers.
No, it would be too old.
I continue divining and find another mark which also does not intersect. I’m no longer surprised and mindlessly mark the location while pondering the shape of the monolith beneath the saturated zone of the earth.
Reminding myself of the peculiar atmosphere at Bolsom Ranch, I wonder if it’s related. Perhaps what lies far beneath are the vestiges of something occult.
I shudder and push the silly thoughts from my mind.
“Mother Mary, help me,” I whisper, but immediately feel guilty for calling on her after swearing just moments ago.
If a well is dug into only one of these lines, it could drain a secluded chasm of water, unabridged by other streams. I convince myself the most plausible explanation is it’s merely a unique formation of rocks, perhaps caused by magma or earthquakes long ago.
The sun is now completely gone, but the evening sky is still radiant. It’ll be another hour before the first stars appear. I must hurry if I’m to finish before dark.
The rods cross smoothly this time, and I mindlessly remove a marker and place it into the earth. I’m trying to keep my thoughts on happy distractions, so I think of my students back on the reservation.
It isn’t long before images materialize in my mind about the evils so poignantly expressed through the ruins below the earth, but I push the pictures from my mind.
Like a horse to water, the memory of my grandfather’s story returns, but I remember his words.
Keep happy thoughts with you always. They keep you safe.
Minutes pass like seconds, and I uncover more parallel streams. I place more markers. I’m unaware exactly how many tags I’ve set but continue my purpose instinctually, like a dog mindlessly driven to circle his bed before sleeping.
Finally, the task is complete.
I slide the rods into my belt and look over the barren pasture of the ranch at the many bright yellow flags marking the line of underground streams at their strongest points. They subtly converge, meeting somewhere below the ranch house.
I slowly walk to the edge of the formation, overlooking the property. I notice something odd about the layout of markers indicating where the rods had felt the most energetic flow of water.
The flags form something…
Backing away, I find a rickety barrel and carefully climb on top to get a better view.
My skin crawls, and I can hear the blood pounding in my ears as I make out the letters.
The clairvoyance in my mind vanishes, and I lose the merciful immunity I once had against this malignant aura, this inescapable evil enshrined within the abysmal valley of Bolsom Ranch.
My knees feel mysteriously drained, and it takes the utmost concentration for me to crawl off the barrel without falling.
My mouth sours, and I feel bile working its way up my throat. Thoughts rush through my mind, more questions than answer, but I concede that speculation is only a distraction at this point.
I regain the strength in my legs as I exert them with a willful purpose. I turn toward my truck but freeze.
It’s an image of such peculiar horror that my mind is possessed with chaos and utter confusion. It’s the coyote. In the same. Exact. Spot.
She’s still staring at me.
We stare at one another for a moment. The pounding in my ears has returned. I slowly start to approach the coyote and realize her eyes are not focused but are forced open.
As I walk up to the coyote, I can smell it before I see it. She’s dead. She was skinned from the neck down and was propped into this position, for some unknowable reason. I look beyond her and see six or seven more coyotes placed in precisely the same manner.
The disorder and outright obscure events on this ranch have convinced me of everything I need to know. I must leave. Now.
I run to my truck. I can’t wait to see this place in my rearview mirror. I reach my truck door, but for some reason, it’s locked. I try to peer into the driver’s window for my keys, but see a reflection in my window of a man standing behind me.
I try to yell and turn, but he grabs me and forces a handkerchief to my mouth. I throw my elbow into his side, and I hear him grunt, but his hold is too tight. I try to deliver another blow, but I feel my strength weakening.
Pushing off the truck, I swing my arm back, trying to grab his groin. He jumps back, still holding the cloth to my mouth, and laughs.
“Oooo, you got fire! Don’t worry, darl’n, that’ll come later!”
My vision is turning black, but I know I recognize that voice. It’s the voice of that disgusting creep who hired me…
It feels like a dream. No, a nightmare. One where you can’t run, yet your heart is beating as if you were. My sinuses feel congested, and my eyelids feel like they weigh ten pounds.
I’m confused at first, but quickly remember what happened. I feel the fighting instinct in me surge through my arms and into my fingertips, but my head is still lacking strength and direction.
Layers of dust rub onto my face and clothes. I squint, trying to keep my eyes free from irritation. Looking around, I can see I’m in the abandoned ranch house.
There’s a lantern style flashlight at the end of the room. The objects beside it are blurry, but it looks like one of the blobs is my attacker, hunched over a table. He’s whistling some off-pitch tune.
Softly squirming my tied hands toward my waist, I feel for my revolver, but it’s gone.
I hear a laugh.
“Look’n for this?” he says, holding up my revolver. “I saw you point it at my friends out there.” He laughs again. “Don’t worry. You’ll get it back. But you won’t need all these for a game of roulette!”
The man fidgets with my firearm, and I can tell he’s not overly familiar with a .38 special. He finds the cylinder release button and empties my rounds onto the table before picking one back up and inserting it into the cylinder.
Thanks to my mother’s encouragement, all those years in sports have made me flexible. I’m able to bring my secured hands down to my boots. I scarcely grab the handle of my boot knife before he sees me.
“Hey, where you tryna go? The fun hasn’t started yet.” His stubbled mouth parts like an infected wound, showing his gaping teeth. He closes the cylinder on my revolver and walks toward me, unbuckling his belt. He kicks my arms away from my boots but doesn’t see the knife.
“What, can’t get your fun like most men?” I ask, trying to cut the rope around my wrists. “No girl’s willing to take you home?” I can tell in his eye that he can’t stand my patronizing tone, but he quickly gains control of the conversation
“Nah,” he says, unbothered. “Feisty women like you are more fun this way.”
“Right, I’m sure you’re a regular Casanova,” I say, trying to get him to speak longer. The knife fumbles in my hand, but I manage to hang onto it.
He lifts his upper lip to smile, but its obscenely fake. “I’ve had women like you. You won’t talk so smart when the pain starts.” He holds my revolver up to my head.
I look at him through phony eyes. “Stupid threat, unless you like your women dead first.”
“I jus like the pain first,” he whispers. He crouches close to me and points my revolver down at my leg. He pulls the trigger.
My leg helplessly flinches. This makes him laugh, so his large gut bubbles against his button shirt.
The rope is tighter than I hoped.
“Where will it be?” he asks, toying the revolver over my legs. He slowly points it to my other leg and pulls the trigger.
I don’t flinch this time and instead, smile. I can tell he’s frustrated.
“Maybe an arm,” he scoffs.
I watch the revolver make its way to my arm, and I know I must act. My hands are free and shoot forward, seizing the gun on either side and pulling it towards me. My grip is wobbly because I’m still holding my boot knife. I jam my thumb between the hammer and cylinder, stopping the firing mechanism.
He lets out a gasp and tries to pull the trigger, but it doesn’t fire. He strikes me in the back of the head with his free hand, but I don’t let go.
My knife’s edge finds its mark and cuts a deep path into his wrist, covering my hands with his sticky blood. He yells and loses his grip on the gun.
With divine swiftness, I turn my .38 special back toward my attacker and pull my thumb free of the hammer. A resounding crack explodes from the weapon as the bullet hits him square in the gut. He falls to the ground with a scream and holds his stomach, blood seeping from the wound and staining his shirt.
I watch him for a moment, maintaining distance from my injured attacker. He groans and hisses as he slides further away from me. Wearily, I stand and watch his retreat.
“You dumbass,” I say to him as he whimpers. “You can see the rounds in a revolver. Russian roulette is played with empty cases, too.”
Finally, I see why he’s sliding toward the table. He has a hatchet, skinning knife, and .22 rifle there. I sigh, knowing he won’t reach it in time, but something else catches my eye.
Just beyond the table and out the window, approximately sixty feet away, I see it, watching me.
The unparalleled fear I experienced reading the flags seizes my body. I lose the ability to hold a single coherent thought. Only one thing repeats in my mind.
It. Can’t. Be. Real.
I command my body to move, but I’m frozen. I know there is another, nearer threat in the same room just feet from his rifle, but it’s no longer important. There’s a sole, abhorrent truth that is petrifying my mind: wickedness is wearing skin.
The primordial beast stands as tall and as muscular as a bear. Its head is the skull of a once mature buck with its large antlers reaching into the night like bat wings. Its two needle-like eyes, glowing pearls, radiate against the brim of its slit, boney nose. Its foggy breath flows into the cold, desert air, carrying the light from its eyes, expanding like a spirit’s body until it dissipates.
My attacker reaches the table and pulls himself up with labored breathing. He grabs his .22 rifle, but freezes. I know he sees that same horrifying enigma that has pierced my soul.
His question is cut off by a terrifying chromatic screech, echoing through the valley like my ancestors’ war cries.
We both watch as this perversity of nature lowers itself to the ground. On all fours, it charges at the house.
I have no time to contemplate the paranormal absurdity of this creature’s existence nor to confront the disbelief within me, currently at war with everything my physical senses are experiencing.
My revolver is empty, but I’m not hopeless. My attacker shall provide my escape.
I hear him cry at the sight of the demonic monstrosity running toward him. He raises his .22 rifle and begins firing, but I don’t wait to watch. I turn and run down the deteriorating hallway.
Still drugged and not entirely in control of my faculties, I stumble but catch myself on the wall.
The room behind me explodes into chaos. I hear wood snap accompanied by unholy screams and mortal terror.
His cries turn to gargles, and I flinch to the sound of his flesh ripping.
I make it out the door and start running down the old driveway without looking back. I make it halfway before a rusty nail pierces my boot and sinks into my foot.
I let out a moan of pain and fall but quickly regain myself. I pause. It’s utterly silent inside the house. Panic starts to take my mind, but I remember what my grandfather taught me.
Keep happy thoughts with you always. They will keep you safe.
I’m unsure how literal the meaning is, but I’ve got nothing else to lose. I close my eyes shut and think of my family. I focus on them as I continue down the side of the road, limping.
With relief, I reach my trusty pickup and try to open the door, but it’s still locked. My heart sinks in my stomach, but I battle it with memories of my niece and nephew.
I look to the other side of my truck and see the passenger door is still unlocked. That degenerate must’ve locked the driver’s side so he could sneak up on me.
I hobble to the passenger door and open it, sliding myself to the driver’s seat. Starting the engine, I finally look to the ranch house. The light from the lantern is still on, but I don’t see any shadows in the room. I put my truck in drive and punch the gas. After a brief moment, I turn on my lights.
As soon as my lights come on, a flash of black fur appears. A haunting image of a deer skull staring at me sends terror through my body. I scream seconds before we hit.
Violent vibrations shake my truck, but I keep my foot on the gas. Miraculously, I make it over the body and continue down the road, hitting potholes and loose gravel.
I continue driving into the night, looking into my rearview mirror every five seconds, but nothing appears. Each time I look up, I expect to get transported back into the hellish nightmare I just escaped, but it never happens.
I’m shaking as I drive.
After two hours of driving, I finally reach Flagstaff, home of the nearest 24-hour hospital.
The rest plays out like a hazy dream. White lights and clean scrubs finally surround me. It’s apparent I look horrific because the nurses at the front desk are immediately concerned about my well-being. I try to talk, but all I manage to get out is, “he tried to rape…”
I needn’t say anything more.
They take me to the back where I meet with nurses and a doctor. They remove the nail in my foot that I had forgotten entirely. They patch up the rest of my body after calling the police. They promptly arrive and ask me questions regarding my experience. I feel like I’m on autopilot because no part of the conversation stays in my mind. Eventually, they give me a room where I wash and fall asleep.
It’s morning, or plausibly noon judging by the amount of light coming through the window. I drearily open my eyes. I see my sister sitting in a chair next to me, asleep. I smile and reach out to grab her hand.
My sister wakes up startled at first. She looks at me with pure love and joy. She rushes to my bed, and we give one another a long, tight hug.
“Mary!” She starts to cry.
“Oh, hush, Jenny,” I say. “I’m fine.”
“I know, I just-” She inhales sharply. “I just love you.”
“I know,” I say, still holding her. “I love you, too.”
Time passes as we talk. I call home to my bedridden mother, who is understandably hysterical. My sister tells me it took half the town to convince her to stay home and that I was alright.
After half an hour of reassuring our family that I’m genuinely okay, there’s a knock on my door. It’s the detective.
“Can’t this wait?” my sister asks with an impatient tone.
“No, it’s fine,” I say. “I want to help.”
“Maybe you should get a lawyer, first,” says Jenny.
I nod for my sister to leave, and she reluctantly agrees.
A white man in his 30’s enters the room, notepad in hand.
“Thank you,” he says softly. “You answered most of our questions last night, and it’s been a great help. I need to ask a few more questions now that we’ve been to the scene.”
“Sure,” I reply, but a burning question comes to my mind. “Did you find the.. thing?”
The detective’s eyes narrow, pondering the nature of my question.
“The… your attacker?” he asks. “We’ve found several strange ‘things’ out there.”
I sigh. He would’ve known what I meant if the body had still been there. I just wanted the validation that I wasn’t crazy, that I had seen what I know I saw.
He senses the disappointment in my eyes and tries to offer reassurance. “Your attacker is there.”
“He’s alive?!” I ask in shock.
“Uh, no,” replies the detective with a nervous laugh. “I’ll put it this way: in my fourteen years of law enforcement, I have never been more sure of a ‘deceased’ call.”
I nod my head. He continues.
“We’ve found fourteen other bodies out there, all women. It looked like wildlife had eaten most of them. This guy was the real deal, real evil. But you stopped him. You saved his future victims.”
I nod again but remain silent. The detective continues.
“It’s obvious there was a much larger animal… of some kind… at the scene with you last night, as you had mentioned. Honestly, our guys and gals are completely stumped at what it could’ve been.”
I hold my tongue, choosing not to volunteer more information on the matter. It’s not like he’d believe me.
But this detective… there’s something about him; an aura, an instinct, a gift. Whatever it is, he knows there’s more. And I feel him wanting to believe.
“I know you don’t want to tell me,” he says. “I’ve worked alongside the police on the rez. I know you won’t tell me because I’m a cop. But I’m not asking for me. I’m asking for them,” he says, pointing out the window. There’s a pause as he struggles to tell me the next part. “This is not the first scene like this I’ve come across. Those obscure animal marks, mixed patches of fur, human footprints mixed with beasts’, gory puncture wounds mixed with human bite marks… I need to know. Please.”
I pause and look out the window, trying to find the right words.
“Perhaps, if we knew one another better, I would tell you.”
I hear him sigh in defeat, but I continue.
“I would tell you how old this land is, and the many secrets that lay buried out there. If we were friends, I would tell you about my family’s history, and the stories our great-grandparents passed on. Maybe I’d even tell you about the strange things we know of that wander in the night, slipping between our worlds like a hidden underground stream. If we were especially close, I’d tell you about what I believe happened out there during the dowsing of Bolsom Ranch. I’d tell you things you already know, how evil leeches off of, and draws other evil. But I’d tell you that it’s more real than you know. At Bolsom Ranch, it was real. Evil showed its form and fed off the corpses left behind by that maniac. First, it watched and fed on the torture and pain experienced by those innocent women. And then it devoured their bodies once they were discarded.”
I stop and look back at the detective who’s staring at me like a child clinging onto every word of his grandfather’s story.
“And I’d tell you, detective, to keep happy thoughts with you always. They will protect you from evil.”
Our Newest Phobia Award (2020 Winning Campfire Story)
Congratulations Alva, winner of the 2020 Halloween Campfire Story Contest. The judges appreciated the camping theme and originality of this story.
“One of Them”
by Alva Isaksson
I guess I was kind of naïve. They tell you never to go out alone at night, never to talk to strangers, and that is just what I did. But, after all, I was only a child. Now, I am an old woman, and it is the first time I can bring myself to talk about what actually happened. No one knows the complete truth about that night, except for me, and, soon, you. I am dying, that is why you are reading this; that is why I can tell you. I trust you are the one person that will believe me. Bear with me now, because here we go:
“My name is Ella. I am eight years old. Today I am going to camp!”
I had written those words down right before my father shouted to me from the hallway that it was time to go. I was excited, but at the same time I was worried. I had never been to camp before; I had never even been away from my parents for longer than a weekend sleepover. What if I didn’t make any friends? What if a snake slithered into my sleeping bag and bit me? What if I couldn’t sleep, what would I do then? My mother always used to make me hot milk with honey if I had trouble sleeping, would there be hot milk at camp?
When my dad stopped the car on the already crowded parking lot, my anxiety grew. He kissed me goodbye, and handed me off to a camp leader in a red shirt with screaming, yellow letters, and huge teeth. When the leaders proclaimed all the girls had arrived, we left our packing in our tents, and they started showing us around the area. A bit into the woods from the parking, five huge, pointy tents were set up in a row. They looked like the ones they had shown us in class and told us Indians lived in. I know now that we’re supposed to call them Native Americans, but this was a different, more ignorant time. In the middle of the tents was a big stone ring with tree stumps around it. Some way down a small path through the woods was a lake with a bridge running out into it. Around the edges of the water were only more trees. We were told we would have designated swimming times, but we were never to go out to the water alone. Then, we played some get-to-know-each-other games, had lunch, went for a walk in the woods, made dinner and sat around the fire on the tree stumps, telling stories.
As the darkness wrapped around us like a tight blanket, we went to our tents to sleep. I was sharing mine with four other girls, and my sleeping bag was closest to the entrance. For a long time, I lied in my sleeping bag, twisting and turning, falling in and out of sleep. My legs started tingling so much it felt like they were full of ants. The air was stuffy, the sleeping bag uncomfortably tight and spinning around my body; I felt like I was being tied together with ropes. I could only take shallow breaths, my heart was racing – I had to get out. All of a sudden, I was outside the tent. I looked around, but could not see much more than the big shadows of the other tents in the dark. I stuck my thumb in my mouth and didn’t know whether to wake the leaders up or to just sit outside until I got tired enough to sleep. The thought of Big Tooth made me choose the second option. But my legs were still too tingly to sit still, so I started wandering around, pacing back and forth outside.
“Be quiet”, some sleepy voice mumbled from inside, and I turned to walk somewhere else. I started going around the big trees, knowing I should be scared to be up alone this late in a pitch black forest, but felt for some unbeknown reason much calmer.
Suddenly, I stopped. I could hear something, but I wasn’t sure what it was. As my feet were not rustling the ground anymore, I could hear it even clearer, but couldn’t make out what it said. The voice was hissing, and faint. I held my breath, and it got louder. I sounded like what I imagine a snake sounding like if it could talk. I turned around and ran back to the tent, jumped in my sleeping bag, and closed my eyes, hard. The next time I opened them, it was morning. I barely thought about what had happened the night before, I was too busy learning how to tie knots, how to start a fire, and how to play Crazy Eights.
It was time for all the girls to go swimming. As we all jumped in and out of the water, Big Tooth had told us that there were eels living in the lake. Some of the girls got frightened, but the leaders said not to be scared. Eels were actually really cool animals; the core of their life cycle and reproduction had been a mystery to biologists for centuries, even millenniums. There was even talk that eels worked on a different sort of time than all other animals, they seemed to be bound more to a reproduction based sort of clock, rather than a circadian one. Eels in captivity, ones that never got to reproduce, could live for hundreds of years! I didn’t understand most of what the leader said, and what I did get, nauseated me even more.
After swimming, we learned how to fish, and I prayed the whole time, I wouldn’t catch one of those slimy fish. Luckily, I didn’t, and so we cooked the fish, and sat around the fire, eating and singing.
Then nighttime came around. I was tired and ready for bed. However, my body could not comply with my sleepy mind, and I was once again left lying restless in my sleeping bag. As my head was just by the thin piece of cloth that worked as a door for the tent, I could hear everything going on outside: the leaves rustling in the wind, the odd bird here and there, and … someone whispering. It was the same kind of hissing from the night before, but now I was sure it had to be from one of the campers. Who else would be out, this late at night? I climbed out of my sleeping bag, opened the cloth door, and stepped out. I could see no lights, and none of the girls seemed to be awake. When I heard the noise again, I followed it, down the path towards the water. It must be some of the leaders sitting out there talking, I thought, but when I came to the bridge, I saw no one. I didn’t dare stepping my foot on it, remembering the leaders’ strict words, and, so, I turned back to my tent, still not having an answer for from where the voices were coming.
The next day, I was exhausted. My movements seemed to go in slow motion, my brain couldn’t keep up with what words I were speaking, and I was becoming easily annoyed. The leaders got worried about me. They asked how I was doing, and I said I’d had some trouble sleeping. They talked amongst each other about calling my father to pick me up, but I begged them to let me stay one more night. They agreed, but said if I couldn’t sleep again, to come straight to them, and they would drive me home.
I can’t even remember what we did that day, but I know that when the sun went down and the darkness spread around the camp, I was thankful. I stumbled into my sleeping bag and fell asleep immediately. Then, suddenly, I was awakened. It was the voices again, and they seemed louder, and to come from even more people now. I gave up. I knew it was time for me to go home, I couldn’t bear another restless night. I got out, followed the voices in the complete darkness, and expected to meet the leaders and get driven back home. But I didn’t see any of them. Following their voices, I ended up by the water, once again. And once again, there was no one there. However, the voices were still clearly audible, louder than ever, and I stepped onto the bridge to find the source. Maybe, the leaders were having a late night swim. If they were, and they saw me walking out on the bridge, they might get mad at me for not listening to them, but at this point I didn’t care. I just wanted to sleep.
I got to the edge of the bridge, but saw no one. In the darkness, I could just barely see the shadows of the treetops across the lake. A fog had laid low over the water, or, perhaps, it was my sight starting to get blurry. I stood still for a while, staring over the edge, into the dark water, as if someone would miraculously appear, and just as I started thinking about turning around and look for the leaders elsewhere, I heard something.
“Finally, you have come!”
I looked around. Where did it come from? It was that hissing voice, and while it made the hair on my arms stand, it was, in some strange way, soothing. I turned my eyes back to the water and jumped. Down there, right below the edge of the water, were one of those slimy, disgusting eels.
“Do not be scared.”
It was so freakish, it almost seemed like it was the eel talking to me. But I knew that could not be true.
“Of course it is I, talking. Who else could it be? Look around. There is no one else here.”
Its’ voice came out as a beautiful hissing song, and it compelled me to do as I was told. It was right, there was no one else there. But how could I understand an eel, and how could it seem to read my mind?
“You think like a human. Eels are not bound by the thing you call laws of nature. There is a kind of existence beyond yours that is completely possible; you just have to be willing to see it. Are you willing?”
I couldn’t quite figure out what the eel was talking about, but I sure was growing curious. I nodded. All of a sudden, my sleepiness was completely gone.
“Excellent. Then, I will show you.”
It felt like something sucked me down, fast. I could see myself going headfirst into the water, but I didn’t seem to get wet. The speed made my stomach turn, but I wasn’t scared at all. I was excited to find out what the eel was talking about.
What I saw, when I came down under the surface, words can barely describe. Everything around me was in a beautiful blue, green color, not dark like it had seen from above. Stones, starfish, algae, and the eel all seemed to shine, they were radiating with some kind of glowing hue. When I moved, I moved fast and smoothly, like the water was just slipping off me, not working against me like it normally did when I tried to do breast strokes. I looked down at my body, and it looked the same, but when I moved, I did so with my arms and legs tightly together, slithering my body to the left and right. Even my own skin seemed to shine.
I followed the eel. There was no question in my mind to why I shouldn’t. I had a warm sensation in my body, as if I had just had a mug of warm milk, and with every feet I swam, I felt more energized and got a tickly feeling in the pit of my stomach. I don’t know how long we swam for, but suddenly, I started hearing a beautiful singing. More eels started appearing, they were coming from every direction, joining the First Eel and I in our journey. Then, we approached a heard of eels, and we stopped. The singing was all I could hear; I couldn’t even see anything else than the wonderful tones surrounding me. I had my eyes closed, but at the same time I saw everything. There were sparkling lights all around. I didn’t understand where they could come from, the sun was not shining on the lake, but it didn’t matter. I didn’t care about anything else than the song.
“Welcome”, First Eel said, and the rest of the group chorused it. “Welcome, human. We have been awaiting your arrival eagerly, and finally, you are here.”
They had been waiting for me? For what? I was just an eight-year-old girl, why would they have been waiting for me?
“We know, it must seem strange for you. But you make up an important part of our journey. Without you, this cannot be done.”
“We eels need to go to the Sargasso Sea. It is our calling, our meaning of life. We go there to reproduce, and to rest. But, we cannot do it by ourselves. It is a long, tiresome journey, and we need a human to accompany us on our way.”
But, why me? I am just a child.
“You are a child. That is why you are so important. We are all adults. We are tired. We need the energy of a young one, to take us all the way.”
How long will it take?
“Many months, young one.”
Months? I can’t be gone for months. What about my father? What about my mother?
“They will cope with your departure. They will see, that you have a higher purpose to fulfill. Without you, and others like you, the eels would be completely extinct.”
For the first time, a worry started growing inside of me. But, again, as if the eels had read my mind, the singing started, and once again, I was filled with a peaceful tranquility.
What will I do after we’ve arrived?
“You will rest, together with us.”
But what if I get bored of resting?
“For eels, once we get to the Sargasso Sea, there is no such thing as boredom.”
But I’m not an eel. I’m a child.
“No, young one. Now, you are one of us. You are, whatever we are.”
Disturbing the serenity I felt inside, I heard a small voice picking at me.
You are not an eel. This is not for you. You have to get back. You have to get back to your mother and father.
This is all very nice, I thought. My brain was working slowly, as if it, too, had to swim breaststrokes through the water. But, I want to get back.
But I have to.
I tried to turn away from the herd of eels, but it was difficult, like something was pulling me to them.
“You have to stay now.”
I don’t have to do anything. I want to get back to my father, now.
I turned, harder this time, and as I faced away from them, it was as if something had snapped. The calmness was gone, the singing had quiet down, I was cold and scared. It was such an unpleasant chock that I almost wanted to turn back again, but I forced myself not to.
I could hear the eels behind me, coming up closer. I started swimming away from them. I couldn’t swim with my whole body anymore, and had to do like I had learned in swimming school. Arms and legs, arms and legs, like a frog. The water was not slipping past me now; it was pushing against me. It felt as if I was swimming in thick slime. But I swam; I swam as fast as I have ever swum.
The eels dark, slimy bodies were coming up to me, they were surrounding me. As I pushed one away, another one appeared. Then five more, then ten more. Suddenly, all I could see was the blackness of their bodies around me. I don’t know how I did it, but I kept swimming. I was exhausted, their bodies were pulling against me, dragging me back, but I pushed forward.
“You have to come with us”, First Eel yelled. “You have to fulfill your purpose.”
I don’t want to! I want my daddy! I want my mommy!
My lungs started aching, all of a sudden I was screaming for air. I had to get above water. I started turning my strides upwards, towards what I hoped to be the air. My muscles hurt, my whole body was in extreme agony, and I couldn’t see anything for all the eels around me. I wanted to quit, I wanted to go back to the tranquility, but I was too scared. I had to keep going. I had to get out. I had to get back to my daddy and mommy.
Suddenly, I was gasping for air. The cold air hit my face, as if someone had punched me. The ground was in front of me; I had arrived just beside the bridge. And it wasn’t dark anymore; the brightness of the day burnt my eyes so bad I had to close them. Blinded, I dragged myself out of the water. I dug my fingers into the dirt and pushed myself forward. I just wanted to get as far away from the water as I could.
I heard footsteps rushing toward me, and then felt warm, human arms grab me tightly. My body was covered with slime, and it rubbed off on the person lifting me in their arms.
“Ella, my baby. Oh, Ella, you’re safe, now. Ella, daddy’s here. Daddy loves you.”
I had been gone for fourteen days. No one could figure out how it had happened. They all asked me, but I had nothing I could tell them. I knew they wouldn’t believe me. I said I blacked out from falling into the water, until I got back to land, and they said, I must have fell into the water, drifted to land somewhere, and laid passed out for two weeks, before finally swimming back. They wrote me off as a medical miracle. And a miracle, it surely was.
I know, that this might all seem strange. But it happened. I promise. Don’t ever go to the water alone at night, especially if you can hear their song. The eels will take you with them to the Sargasso Sea where they die, and die, you will too. Have you ever thought about how the eels make the long way out, without any seeming source of food? I know how they make it; they bring along a young child, naïve enough to follow along, small along to take with. They feast on you. You won’t notice until you’re almost gone, and then, it is already too late. You will be far out at sea, and not much of you will be left. Take my word for it; I was almost one of them.
Until Next Year
Thank you all, again, for participating. As an outdoor blog, a writing contest is a little outside of our scope, and we really have a lot of fun reading your creative stories.
We hope you all continue writing, keep telling tales that keep us awake at night, and keep enjoying the great outdoors!
Until next year, happy trails.