By J.J. Cheesman
It was three months ago that I took that god forsaken trip. It was nearing the end of senior year at my high school. My two best friends at the time, Brad and Mason, had been talking all year about taking a camping trip before the year closed off. Sort of a ‘last hurrah’ before we had to go be adults. Brad was going to go to the University of Illinois on a fifty thousand-dollar football scholarship. Mason’s dad ran a towing company that he was going to go work at after school was done. I… well. I never thought we make it out to go camping, the three of us had made plans like that before, but we usually all just ended up at one of our houses eating junk food and playing video games all night.
But by the time the first week of May came around I woke up on Friday morning to a phone call that jolted me awake. The sun wasn’t even up yet and for a terrible moment in the darkness of my room I thought I’d gone blind. I groaned as I realized that the muffled sound of my vibrating phone meant that it had fallen off of my bed-side table. I leaned over my bed and scooped up the phone off of the floor. Looking at the phone’s screen I was a little aggravated to see that for one, it was 4:55 A.M., and two, it was Brad who was calling. I slid my finger to accept the call and didn’t even attempt to take the irritation out of my voice, I hate mornings. “What dude?”. Brad’s jovial voice belted out from the receiver. “Woah chill out asshole, just called to make sure you’re ready”. I laid back in my bed and used my free hand to rub my temples with my thumb and forefinger, his loud voice was already giving me a headache, “Ready for what?” I asked. “What do you mean for what? To go camping obviously”. I let what he said sink in for a moment before replying. It had been months since anyone said anything about going on a camping trip, let alone this weekend. “You want to go today? I don’t have anything packed, and we have school today, why didn’t you say anything earlier?” It was Brad’s turn to pause for a moment, I heard some muffled dialogue between Brad and someone else that I couldn’t make out followed by a loud ‘YOU DUMBASS!’ from Brad, and then he spoke directly into the phone again. “Sorry man, Mason was supposed to tell you, he found a good spot for us to go only about thirty minutes out. We were just going to skip school this morning. We WERE on our way to your house but we can turn around and go without you if you want I guess”. Once again I found myself hesitating to speak. On one hand I didn’t want to disappoint my friends and miss out on a weekend of drinking and fishing, mostly the former. On the other hand, I really needed to study for finals and my parents weren’t going to be happy that I’d left on such short notice. I thought it over a few times in my head before I heard Brad’s impatient voice from my phone. “Well, I’m waiting on your answer bro”. “Give me ten”, I said, He told me that was fine because he was going to stop off at a gas station and get some donoughts and worms anyway. He laughed when I told him not to get the two things mixed up before I hung up the phone.
I grabbed my duffel bag from under my bed and ran to my closet to start filling it. I packed pretty light, a few changes of clothes, a couple pillows, deodorant, and I grabbed my fishing poll from the closet as well. I then changed into some jeans and a long sleeved shirt and ran down stars with duffel bag and fishing pole in hand. I then grabbed my watch off of my dresser and double checked its time with the time on my phone before putting it on and leaving my room. Both of my parents were at work and being an only child I had no one to worry about waking up. I found a pen and some scratch paper and jotted down a quick note about how I was going out for the weekend with the guys and to call any of our cell phones if they got worried, and that I would probably be back Sunday night. I kept it short and simple, I knew my folks wouldn’t like it much, but I didn’t expect to get into much trouble if any at all. It was usually my house Mason and Brad hung out at so my parents got to know them both very well over the years, and they got to know their parents as well. In fact, Brad’s folks and mine went out to the bar together every other Saturday night. I then slipped on my boots and was out the door before 5:15.
Brad hadn’t arrived yet by the time I was out the door, and I was left waiting out in the cold morning air. After a minute or two, I debated pulling a sweatshirt I’d packed out of my duffel and putting it on. But as I was about to set my bag back down, Brad’s truck pulled up. Brad had the window rolled down and called out “Hey, grab shotgun, I made dingus switch to the back seat at the gas station”. I walked around to the bed of the truck and looked in. In the truck bed I saw both Mason and Brad’s bags, a couple coolers I assumed were full of beer, and a good-sized tent that I was relieved to see. In my rush to get ready I could only hope that my Brad and Mason had prepared for the big stuff. I also spied their fishing poles and joined mine with theirs, and set in my bag alongside the other two, and then hopped into the front seat of Brad’s Dodge.
As soon as Brad pulled out of the driveway Mason was excitedly talking my ear off. He explained that he’d gotten his older brother to buy us a couple twelve packs, and that he also let Mason bring his cabin-style tent. I didn’t know much about tents but Mason said that meant it was ‘Big as Hell’. Brad offered me a donought from a box on the dash which I refused. I was still pretty tired, and the sound of Mason’s voice going on about the campground we were headed to combined with the motion of the vehicle rocking me slightly in my seat was making my eyes heavy. I listened as much as I could about the river we would be able to fish at and the deer we would most likely see on account of it being a wildlife preserve. But try as I might I fell asleep just as Brad was turning the truck off of my street and out onto the main highway. I woke up about twenty minutes later as Brad was saying how they made good time getting to the campground. “We wouldn’t have if you knew how to obey a speed limit sign” Mason said. “Nobody likes an asshole Mason” Brad shot back. I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and looked around as Brad was turning the truck into a road off of the highway we had been on and onto a narrow road surrounded on both sides by very large trees. The branches of the trees grew so long and were so vast in number that they created a thick canopy above us as we drove on. The sun was just starting to peek over the horizon at that point so it was very dark under the veil of the tree branches. I remember thinking very clearly though, that even if it was the middle of the day it was unlikely much light would penetrate the trees thick leaves. “I don’t see a sign anywhere, are you sure this is it man?” Brad asked. “Yeah, the GPS on my phone says this is the place, look there”.
We were reaching a fork in the road with a post off to the right side with two signs on it. The top sign said ‘CAMPING GROUND’ and had an arrow pointing left, the bottom said ‘THE DRYER’ had an arrow pointing right. From our position we could see a lodge just a couple hundred feet up the road on the right and at that point Brad looked back to Mason. “I hope you brought cash”, Brad said. “Why me!?”, Mason asked. “Because I bought the food.” “Yeah but It was my brother who bought us the beer and let us borrow his tent”. At that point, I chimed in. “Don’t worry about it guys I’ll cover whatever it costs to stay, it’s never that expensive for tent camping anyway”. Brad parked the truck in a small parking lot that sat alongside the lodge and we all got out and walked up the stairs that led to the lodges double doors. We found the doors to be locked and we noticed a laminated sign posted on one of the doors. It was a notice stating that no staff would be in until Monday morning due to personal issues and that unfortunately, camping on the grounds was not permitted until then, and of course the obligatory ‘sorry for any inconvenience’ at the bottom and a ‘sincerely, Charity Wildlife Preserve’. “Fuck that!” Brad yelled, “If they wanted us out so bad they should have put up a gate, Let’s go pick us a spot” To this Mason immediately put up protest. “We can’t do that man, the sign says it’s closed, let’s just come back next weekend or something” “No way, I’ve waited all year for this with you two dick weeds there is no way I’m going back” Mason looked pleadingly right then and there for me to help. God dammit all, I wish I had wanted to go back. But hindsight is always twenty/twenty isn’t it? “Well, you guys didn’t drag my ass out here at five in the morning for nothing”. Brad laughed heartily and clapped me hard on the back. “That’s my boy!”, He yelled, and started toward his truck. I started walking back with Brad but Mason hesitated, “Come on man, what if we get into some deep shit?” Brad called back, “Don’t be a puss bud, we’ll be gone Sunday before anyone gets here anyway!”. Either the assurance of knowing that we would be gone before Monday or not wanting to be labeled a puss by Brad got Mason to finally follow us to the truck but either way we didn’t hear anymore protests from him.
The lodge had allowed for a momentary clearing on which it had been built. A field of over-grown grass lay beyond the lodge, devoid of the expansive trees and their oppressive limbs for at least five or six acres until leading once again into an expanse of trees. Before entering the truck again, I took note of how even from afar, and even though the sun was now making itself quite visible, the darkness in those trees made me feel as though I was being watched. The trees were so many in number, and so over grown that looking past them was impossible. “Charity Wildlife Preserve” I said aloud, and then turned to Mason, “How did you find out about this place?” I asked. Mason shrugged, “Just googled camping sites near us, this one was the first result, so I clicked it and found out it wasn’t far”. Then Mason grinned, “I explained all that already but I think you were asleep”.
We got in the truck and started driving further down the road, and as we drove on away from the lodge, the trees began to close in on us once more. Once we drove a couple hundred feet we came upon the first of the campsites. The campsites were all marked by posts that were sticking out of the ground on either side of the road, painted black with red numbers etched into the top wood to denominate each one. The actual sites were set back a couple hundred feet or so with a road filled in with white rock leading up to them. Each campsite had another one paralleled on the opposite side of the road and each had only a picnic table and a small pit. No electrical, and no running water. I was right about the sun having a hard time penetrating the trees. Even in the clearing of the campsites the sunlight was dim. Brad asked us how far we wanted to go down the road before picking a site. “I say we go as far as we can, that way we can see if anybody decided to do what we did and camp here anyway AND we can scope out for a place to fish”, I offered. They both agreed, and Brad added that he was sure we would find someone else on the camp grounds. We followed the road all the way down and we found every single camp site to be empty, Brad was happy about that, but Mason was only put off by it. “If we’re caught by a grounds keeper or something, I’m blaming it on you two”, he said. At the very end of the road was a loop that curved back the opposite direction out of the camp grounds, and beyond the loop was a clearing that led to a high river bank. We decided to camp at the very last camp site so we would be as close as we could to the river, which happened to be number 34. When I got out of the truck, I checked my phone. No bars. That meant that if my parents tried to call, they were going to be pissed. I decided that it was too late to do anything about it, turned off the phone, and threw it in my bag when we started pulling our gear out of the truck.
The first thing we decided to do was set up the tent, which actually took a long time. Mason wasn’t lying when he said it was big. We started around 6:30 and we didn’t get finished until about 7:15. But our work was worth it, once inside the tent I realized that a group of eight people could set up a card table and play a few hands of poker comfortably. It was one of those tents that had windows that you could zip down and a front and rear entrance as well. As I was coming out of the tent Mason was cursing up a storm. “What’s wrong?”, I asked. “There’s no electrical, and I brought air matrasses for us all and I don’t have a battery powered pump, I didn’t even think about it” He replied, slumping down on the picnic table. Brad walked over from his truck carrying a cooler in one hand and a large bag in the other, with a big smile on his face. He set down the cooler, opened it up and pulled out a can of beer, and threw it to Mason which he caught. “Calm down there, firecracker”, he said throwing another can to me, “You think you’re the only one who brought something worth having? I brought sleeping bags.” He dropped the large bag to the ground and nodded to it. “I could kiss you” Mason said. “Please don’t” Brad said through a laugh. Then we all laughed. “Well I feel pretty worthless, you guys set us up for this weekend and I didn’t do anything.” I told them, opening my beer. The pop and fizz sound of two other cans joined my own, and Brad held up his can. “Don’t worry about it Dave, we only need your company, we wouldn’t have drug your ass out of bed if we didn’t” Then Mason lifted his on beer, “Yeah man”, he said, “You’re our friend, besides, without you, I’d only ever get to hear Brad making fun of me”. I smiled and lifted my own beer, “I can drink to that”, and we did. Then Mason suddenly asked, “What do you think the dryer is?”. “What?” Brad asked. “The dryer, it was on that sign just before the lodge.” “Probably just some land mark they decided to name, all these parks do that crap, we can go check it out later on after some fishing if you guys want”. Brad said. We agreed, finished our beers, and then we spent a little time unpacking the rest of the stuff from the truck and knocked out collecting fire wood early so we wouldn’t forget about it and have to go scrambling in the dark for it that night. Now, let me get one thing straight. I loved the outdoors. There was nothing I loved more than fishing or going jogging on trails. I thought that once I got out in the wood of the forest I’d love it. But I was wrong. I didn’t know how to explain it, but being out there in those woods with the dwarfing trees and their vast canopy above was suffocating. It was like being in a state of gray. Nearly every tree looked exactly the same, and every time I tried to force myself to venture deeper into the trees, something in my instincts held me back. I thought maybe for a moment I was just being silly, but glancing up to look around for my friends, and seeing that they too hadn’t gone far beyond the clearing of our camp site told me that I wasn’t alone in my feelings. Something was off in those woods, I just couldn’t put my finger on it.
We gathered up as much fire wood as we could, which was a surprising amount considering that none of us traveled more than forty feet from the camp ground. We then headed out to the river bank to fish and drink beer, which turned out to be just drinking beer because none of us had any luck. By the time we decided to call it quits it was nearly noon and we all had a strong buzz on, so we decided to start a fire and roast hotdogs. We sat in fold out chairs that Brad had brought and ate our dogs and drank our beer, and when the hot dogs were gone we drank more beer. In our inebriated state we forgot all about our plan to go see what ‘The Dryer’ was and told stories until well into the evening. Eventually Brad went to his truck and get his guitar, and he played while Mason and I played chess on the picnic table with a travel-sized set he’d brought with him. We played four games, our stories reduced to idle conversation as the beer made it very hard to concentrate and play, I remember drunkenly telling Brad that he was better than Jimmy Hendrix more than once. Before I knew it, night at come and we were all settling down in our sleeping bags for the night. I think I was the one who fell asleep first but I can’t be sure, and really it doesn’t matter. I do know however, that I was the first to wake. The wailing started late that night, I know that too.
My eyes shot wide open and I sat up quickly in my sleeping bag. I was wide awake, and my heart was thudding heavily in my chest. Thanks to the day’s activities my head was killing me, and I had to focus to listen for whatever might have woke me up as I looked over to the sleeping forms of my friends. Brad, half way out of his sleeping bag with one armed still wrapped around his guitar, and Mason with his mouth open and drooling slightly, yet they were both undisturbed. My heartbeat began to slow as I settled back down in the sleeping bag and yawned. I stared up at the ceiling of the tent and watched the shadows cast from the dying embers of our fire from earlier dance around the tent. I started to drift off to sleep listening to the calming sound of the water rushing through the river that was so near the tent. Then, my eyes shot open when my ears were met with a high-pitched wailing sound that filled the air. The awful cry was something I had never heard before in my life, I don’t even have anything to compare it to now. All I know is the sound sent chills up and down my spine and froze me to my position there in the sleeping bag. The sound grew closer and closer, until it sounded until it sounded like it was only thirty feet outside the tent. Then, as abruptly as it started, the awful sound stopped. Somehow the others were still sound asleep beside me and I wanted so badly to wake them, but I dared not move for fear of whatever had made that sound would hear me and know we were in there. So I lie there with my sleeping bag wrapped around me like a protective cocoon waiting for the sound to start up again, it never did. Eventually, when after what must have been an hour I managed to calm myself down. Maybe it was just some weird bird, I thought. I had read online sometime that year about a bird who could mimic any sound that it heard in the forest, including man made things like chainsaws and sirens. This thought brought me some comfort and I eventually drifted off back to sleep and didn’t wake up again that night.
The next morning, I woke up to find the tent empty. Brad was outside drinking beer and cooking bacon on a large skillet that he rested directly on top of the embers of a small fire. Mason was nowhere to be found. “Where’s Mason?” I asked, taking the piece of bacon Brad offered. “He went down to the river, when he woke up this morning he had dried blood running from his ears and he went to wash it off” “Jesus” I said. He nodded, “Yeah, talk about a rough hangover” I nodded and grabbed a can of beer and chugged it down. My head was still killing me when I woke up, and I was hopping a little hair of the dog would fix that. As I finished my beer I spotted Mason walking up from the direction of the river bank with a towel around his shoulders. “How are you feeling?” I asked. Mason shrugged, “I’m alright, just got a splitting ass headache”. “I’ll drink to that!” Brad yelled as he finished off his own beer and scooping the bacon from the pan onto a paper plate. I asked Mason again if he was okay, and I said I didn’t think he should take bleeding from the ears so lightly. He got a little defensive, and told me angrily not to worry about it, so I left him alone. We sat around the camp fire, eating and talking with the sound of the fire cracking and popping its own two cents in with us now and then. Until Mason said, “Hey we should go to see what ‘The Dryer’ is all about”. We agreed, and we decided that we would walk there to get us some exercise and enjoy the scenery a bit. It was about two miles from our camp site to the lodge, and when we got back to the fork in the road, we were wondering if we had made a wrong decision. None of us knew how far ‘The Dryer’ was down that road and even though we walked on Brad said a bit bitterly, “Should have brought the truck”.
It turned out however that we didn’t have far to walk at all, the road to The Dryer only took us about a mile through a winding road that cut into the dense wood that was similar to the road our campsite was on. About half way down, the road turned to dirt, and the trees around us grew denser and wild. By the time we reached the end of the road we found ourselves in a small clearing that was lined by a perfect circle of trees. In the middle of the clearing was what looked to be a fire pit. It was marked by a circle of large stones and it was not much bigger than the one we had at our campsite, In the center of the fire pit was a metal poll protruding from the ground. The poll looked to be made out of solid iron that was beginning to rust, and rose nearly six feet out of the Forrest floor. “This is it?”, Mason said. “What the hell even is it?” Brad and I both shook our heads and for the first time since we’d gotten to the camp ground, I was sober and everything was quiet, as we all stopped talking for a moment to wonder about whatever the fire pit could have been used for, and I realized what had unsettled me so much about those woods. It was quiet. I mean dead quiet. There wasn’t any wind to speak of and I didn’t so much as hear a bird or the rustle of foliage as small animals scurried about the Forrest. The unnatural lack of sound was somehow deafening, and staring at that rusted metal poll out there in the middle of the forest gave me a level of uneasy that I had previously not known. My friends must have come to the same realization I did, Brad said that he was ready to turn back and Mason quickly agreed. As we walked away from that place back the way we came, I listened intently for the sounds of the forest but heard nothing. Brad and Mason were both quiet and seemed to be trying to do the same but neither of them mentioned anything. The lack of sound certainly was disturbing, but as soon as we were out of line of sight from ‘The Dryer’ the mood seemed to pick up and we all started talking again. I noticed however that Mason still remained quiet, only chiming in on the conversation when he was directly asked a question and his face had become pale. I asked him what was wrong and he just simply said he didn’t feel well. When we once again reached the fork in the road, Mason stopped and walked off to the side of the road and vomited. I turned away so I didn’t get sick myself, but the heavy slapping sound of his vomit hitting the ground nearly made me wanted to heave anyway. “Damn man, are you going to be alright?” I heard Brad ask. Mason didn’t answer right away, he just kept heaving the contents of his stomach on to the grass. After about a minute he dry-heaved a couple times, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “You good?” I asked. Mason nodded and gave a thumbs up, and we started on our way back to camp as Brad commented on how he couldn’t believe Mason had that much in his stomach. When we finally arrived back to camp I checked my watch and found it was nearly two o’ clock. Brad said he wanted to go fishing but Mason still wasn’t feeling well so he and I stayed behind to play a couple games of chess, I felt bad and I didn’t want him to be alone. I told him he should probably lie down and when he refused I went and found the chess board.
Normally, Mason is an absolute whiz at chess, I have never once beaten him. I didn’t even much care for the game, but Mason did so I had him teach me how to play at his house once so that we’d have something to do if we ever got bored of everything else. But Mason was quiet the whole game, I spoke to him off and on and he either shook his head or shrugged in response, and it was clear when I took his queen by move six that he was barely invested in the game at all. As time moved on his face became paler until it was nearly ashen and he was fighting to keep his eyes open. It took me getting up and actually dragging him to the tent to get him to lie down, but when he finally did, he went to sleep before his head touched his pillow. I felt bad for Mason being in that much misery so I closed up the tent and made my way down to the river to talk to Brad about leaving early.
“What?” Brad said turning in his fold out chair to look at me, “He’s just got the brown bottle flu he’ll be alright” He had a beer in his hand and his cooler beside him on the ground, the handle of his fishing poll stuck deep in the earth between his legs with its line cast far out in the water. He wasn’t having much luck today either. “I don’t know man; he looks pretty rough.” I told him. He was about to reply when the smell hit us. “Holy hell what is that stank!?”. Brad and I covered our noses as the air was filled with a thick putrid smelling odor that nearly made me gag. The nauseating smell filled the air and invaded our nostrils, draining the color out of both of our faces. I was about to speak when Brad said “Oh my god”. He was staring out into the river and I followed his gaze. I looked out into the water for whatever Brad saw but for a long time I didn’t notice anything in the water. I scanned the river out into the opposite bank that was probably a hundred feet out or so, but saw nothing but trees, I brought my gaze back down to the water and then I saw it. On the surface of the water were hundreds of thousands of dead fish floating down the river. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, there were actually so many fish, that when I first looked I mistook them as just part of the water. Brad quickly reeled in his fishing pole and folded up his chair. I grabbed his cooler and we half-walked, half-jogged back to our campsite, all while breathing through our mouths to try to stop the horrifying smell to enter our nostrils, it didn’t help much. Once back at the campsite the smell of dead rotting fish was still strong and I told Brad that was the last straw and that we were packing up and leaving to go home. But Brad wasn’t having it, he said that we would simply move camp all the way up to camp site number 1, so that we would most likely be far enough away from the river that the smell wouldn’t reach us. I told Brad that I didn’t care what he said I wasn’t staying anywhere near this place after what we saw in river. Instead of raising his voice Brad calmly explained that there was likely some sort of chemical run off farther up the river that we’d probably hear about on the news when we got home and there was no reason to ruin our weekend over it. Then I brought up the fact that the entire forest was devoid of sound, which he just waved off with a pitiful explanation about how the wildlife was probably deeper in the woods. I was going to bring up the wailing sound I had heard the night before but I was interrupted by the sound of Mason emerging from the tent. “I want to stay”, Mason said as he stepped out of the tent, “let’s just move camp like Brad said”. “Finally someone who doesn’t want the party to end”, Brad said smiling triumphantly. I asked Mason if he was sure he wanted to stay, and he said that he did, but I know that he only didn’t want to let Brad down. I then asked him if was feeling any better and he said he was. And although he DID seem to be a little more up-beat and lively, he was still pale as a ghost.
By the time we got everything packed up and reset our tent it was nearly six o’clock. Brad and Mason were sitting around the fire while Brad played his guitar and Mason sat talking about how his dad was building a boat out in his garage out of lumber and that it was the most interesting thing he’d done all year. I sat in quiet with my chin resting on my hand staring into the hypnotic flames of the crackling fire. I was listening intently to my surroundings while the other two talked and drank. As hard as I strained my ears there was nothing within those trees to hear. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed when we first arrived. My thoughts turned to the dead fish in the river, and the wailing from the night prior, and I shuddered. Mason was the first to turn in that night. As time went by he seemed to have lost whatever energy he gained and he half stumbled to the tent, though I suppose that could have been the result of the beer. I gave Brad an accusing look and when Mason had the tent closed behind him Brad whispered, “He’ll be fine”, putting down his guitar and reaching into the cooler beside him. When Brad bent over I noticed a dark liquid coming from his right ear. “Brad, your ear is bleeding”, I said. Brad simply wiped the blood off of his face with his palm and then wiped his palm on his jeans. “Wow, must be going around, allergies or something huh?”, he said taking a swig from his can. “I don’t think allergies do that man” I said. He grunted and quickly changed the subject. I stayed up for a bit with him while we talked by fire light. I was sure the events of the past twenty-four hours would make it a little difficult to sleep but about an hour later I grew very tired. I got up and told Brad I was going to sleep, and he nodded in acknowledgement as I walked passed his chair to the tent behind him. I knew he was upset that this weekend turned out to be a bit of a bust but at that moment I didn’t care, I couldn’t wait to wake up in the morning and head home. That night as I got into my sleeping bag I hoped like hell that eerie wailing would not return.
But, once again, I was awoken in the middle of the night. I shot up in my sleeping bag as the wailing came once more, but this time it sounded weaker, as if whatever was making the sound was wounded and couldn’t call out loudly. The fire outside was still going strong, and I could see the shadow of Brad siting in his chair was cast against the tent. I was just about to call out to him when a hand grasped my shoulder. I turned to look into the wide-eyed, frightened face of Brad. He shook his head slowly and put a finger to his lips as he gestured over to Mason in his sleeping bag. The realization struck the pit of my stomach like a boulder as I slowly turned to look back at the shadow of whatever was sitting in the chair outside. It was clear to me then, that the wailing sound must be coming from who or whatever was in Brad’s chair. We sat in the tent in silence for what seemed like an eternity until the thing in the chair ceased its horrible call and finally stood up. Though it was hard to tell do to the distorting nature of the flickering fire casting the shadow, the thing looked to stand at least seven feet tall, with spindly arms hanging loosely at its sides. The creature then turned to the right, and started walking off in the direction of the river, the sound of its footfalls making loud thuds as it walked with a shambling gait. We waited until the sound of the thunderous footsteps dissipated, and then a little while after. After a full minute or two Brad finally whispered, “I say we wake up Mason and make a run for it, we can come back for our gear in the daylight”. I nodded, but neither of us moved right away, we were watching and listening for that thing to come back. After a while, I turned my neck to look behind me at Brad. Though we had a ton of space in the large tent, we all set our sleeping bags fairly close to each other, but Brad’s sleeping bag was set back just a couple feet behind mine. So when I turned to look my eyes caught a glimpse of what was behind him, and my blood turned to ice in my veins. Behind Brad was the rear entrance of the tent, and the flap was zipped down. One of us must have gotten up in the night to pee, and forgot to zip the flap back up when we came back, to this day I really couldn’t tell you if it was me or not.
It took me a moment to register exactly what I was seeing as my gaze shifted from the wide-eyed stare that was on Brad’s face, to the ghost white face that was staring back at me through the opening of the tent. The creature staring in at us had a face that wasn’t all together in-human, but rather a twisted mockery of what a human face should look like. It had the eyes so big and so bright-blue that they glowed there in the dark like two great lanterns. It had no nose or ears that were visible and long black strands of dark hair protruded from its head at on angles and formed a curtain of sorts around its face. It’s mouth, curved into a vicious smile, was lined with teeth that seemed to be white under a thick dark substance they were caked in. As soon as I noticed it, the creature reached into the tent, it’s long spindly arm easily covering the distance from outside and to where Brad was sitting. My eyes went wide but fear muted my voice as I tried to utter out warning. The creature rested its hand on Brads shoulder, and it flexed its long boney fingers ending in vicious pointed claws as they found there home on his right breast. Most likely due to shock, Brad could only choke out a nearly inaudible gasp as he was impaled and dark spots stained his shirt. Then with blinding speed he was ripped from the tent as he and the creature disappeared into the night. For a very long time, I didn’t move or breathe. I sat there in the dark frozen in fear. As the flickering flames of the fire cast long shadows over the tent I came to one horrifying conclusion. I knew right then and there why the sound the creature was making earlier didn’t sound as powerful as the previous night. The creature that took Brad wasn’t the same one we watched walk off into the woods moments ago, it couldn’t have been. We would have heard it circle around the tent. Then, as if in answer to my terrible thought, a cacophony of wails rose up in the night, piercing my ears and forcing me to cover them with my hands. In all of the commotion, I had nearly forgotten Mason sleeping beside Brad’s sleeping bag. He was so sick that he had not stirred since I had woken up. But when the wave of wailings began he sat up in his sleeping bag shouting something I couldn’t hear and cupping his own ears. I knew that it was only moments before one of those abominations came back, so I uncovered my ears and went to Brad’s duffel to search for his keys and I only prayed he didn’t have them on him when he was taken. Lady luck was on my side that night and I found them in the first pocket I looked resting on his socks and deodorant. I ran to Mason, grabbed him by the arm, and yelled, “We got to go!” I pulled on his arm but he resisted at first. “Where’s Brad?!” he yelled back. Before he finished his question, the wailing in the woods stopped, our heads jerked to the direction of the open rear entrance of the tent as we heard screaming in the distance. It was an awful, primal scream of agony that one would only hear in the darkest moments of their most terrifying dream. Brad, my friend who I had known since eighth grade, was screaming all alone in that dark forest while some horrific monstrosities did god know what to him. I pulled on Mason’s arm again and this time he did not resist as I opened the front entrance of the tent and the both of us shot out into the night towards Brad’s truck. The wailing cries started up again as I jumped into the driver’s side, slammed the key into the ignition, and turned. I know what you’re thinking, classic horror story cliché, ‘the truck didn’t start’, right? I don’t blame you, that was exactly what I was praying didn’t happen as Mason jumped into the passenger side quickly, although with a little difficulty. But the truck started, and I slammed it in reverse all the way down the road from the campsite, and whipped it around in road leading to the lodge, and slammed my foot down on the pedal once again after putting it in drive. As we sped through the preserve, my eyes only focused on the road ahead that would take us out of those hellish woods, Mason said somberly “Jesus, what the hell are they?”. I stared out of the passenger side window where he was also looking. In the dark of the forest, there were sets of blue glowing eyes, hundreds of them, set just a few feet beyond the forest’s edge. I looked outside through my window to be greeted by the same sight. I kept driving on, praying that none of them would come any closer to the road, and none did. They did however keep their eyes on us until we got back out onto the highway. I didn’t slow down the whole way back to civilization. After that, it’s mostly a blur. I drove us to my house where Mason and I burst in waking my parents up and explaining the whole thing. Brad’s parents were called, followed by the police, and a search was conducted.
Mason and I were questioned over and over again and we told them exactly what happened. No one believed us, well, they didn’t believe our version of the story anyway. When the police searched the campsite they found it exactly how we left it, but when they starting searching the entirety of the camp ground, they found Brad in ‘The Dryer’. Well, they found what remained of Brad anyway. Something had picked all of the flesh off of his bones clean, then they took his skull and placed it on top of the pole in the center of the pit. The rest of his skeleton was carefully tied together with roots and fibers to recreate its original state like a twisted scarecrow. When Brad’s parents were told, Brad’s father came knocking on our door demanding that he see ‘the son of a bitch who got his son killed’ and when my father told him to get off his property, Brad’s father punched mine in the jaw and stormed off. I haven’t heard anything from Brad’s parents since. After that night Mason got sicker and sicker with something his doctors couldn’t identify, and a month ago, he passed away due to the illness. The last thing I would like to reveal, is that tonight, before I started recording the events of that weekend, I heard wailing coming from the woods that lay behind my house. I don’t believe I have much longer on this earth, my ears are bleeding, and as I stare outside my bedroom window, I stare into blue eyes and wide smile full of teeth.