Slenderman is just what he sounds like - a tall, slender man with no facial features. He usually appears in a black suit. Thankfully, Slenderman is a fictional character (or is he?) created in 2009 by Eric Knudson in the Something Awful forums. Slenderman now appears on the Creepypasta site, as well as numerous Reddits, and even in real-life news stories, as two girls blamed him for their assault on a third. Other appearances by Slenderman include several episodes of crime-solving television shows, a documentary called Beware the Slenderman, and, of course in fiction, like the stories here. You may not want to read them at night.
Knock in the Night
It is incredibly hot where I live during the summer. No one leaves the air-conditioned paradise that is their home unless they absolutely have to. Watching the news one night the weatherman speaking in his usual drone informed us that there was a heat wave incoming and that it would be even hotter than it normally is over the weekend.
"Oh hell no," my husband says to me, clearly irritated. "Well, why don't we go to my grandpa's cabin Friday night to avoid it?" I replied.
He definitely liked the idea. My grandfather gave us his permission to go up there for the weekend, just asking that we do a few things to help him keep it cleaned up and do some fire hazard reduction for him. We agreed, looking forward to a weekend alone and out of the heat. Thursday evening we pick up the keys from him and pack up our truck to leave early in the morning. Friday morning we're headed up there and stop in a small town at the base of the mountain to get some gas and snacks. We're standing outside the truck, eating push pops, waiting for the gas to pump when my husband smiles at me wryly.
"Don't you dare." I say, knowing full well what is about to come out of his mouth.
He starts chuckling between licks of his push pop and whispers in my ear, "SLENDERMAN. HAHAHA. SLEEEEENDY IS WAITING FOR YOU UP THERE." "
You're hilarious," I reply sarcastically. If only.
We reach the cabin and get the lights and water going. Take our bags and the groceries in. It's a little chilly, so I decide to grab some firewood from the back while he finishes unloading the truck. I stop abruptly at the side of the house, as I notice some scratch marks. Long, thin, and going along the side like someone was dragging a rake almost while walking along. Those weren't there last time I was here, but it had been a very long time since I had been there, so I shook my head and continued on to the back to grab a few logs. The rest of the day goes by without incident. We go fishing, ride the ATVs, make some s'mores. We're sitting comfortably, cuddling on the sofa, flipping through channels on whatever the rabbit ears on the TV will pick up when we hear scratching and knocking along the side of the house. My husband must have felt me tense up because he immediately says, "It's probably rats."
I look at him and say, "Are you fucking kidding me? Rats? No way."
The sound suddenly stops and doesn't start up again, so after an hour or so we go to bed. The next morning I go outside to grab more firewood. Curiosity gets the better of me and I decide to go look on the side of the cabin where I heard the banging and what I see immediately makes me want to puke. Sure, the sound was rats. Being nailed. To the wall. There are half-eaten rat carcasses all over the wall, surrounded by those same scratch marks that I had seen the day before. That was enough for me. I start yelling for my husband to show him.
"Woaah, that's messed up," he says when I show him.
"I want to leave. Like, today. I don't want to stay another night."
He makes another joke about Slenderman and tells me we'll be fine. "If it makes you feel safer, we'll shut all the window and door coverings."
The cabin had these big wooden doors and window coverings that lock to prevent anyone from breaking in while no one is there. I agree to this and say we'll stay another night. Just before dusk, we lock everything up and barricade the front door, mostly because I demanded it so I could sleep easily.
Just as the night before, as we're sitting down watching television I hear the dragging, scratching, and knocking. I sit there petrified. My husband yells, "Stop it! Whoever you are you aren't funny!"
Just as he says that the knocking intensifies and we hear a deep growling through the cracks in the wood, puffs of breath say in a crackling inhuman voice, "Come....out....to play...with....me..."
I run up the stairs faster than I have ever run in my entire life, heart thundering heard against my chest, barely able to breathe. I hide under the covers. What the heck that's going to do I don't know, but it brings me an inkling of comfort. I sit there cursing my husband for not leaving when we had the chance. Whatever is out there laughs in that horrible voice for hours. Knocking and knocking all over the house, claws scratching the walls. Rattling the doors and window covering trying so hard to get them open.
Eventually it stops and we fall into an uneasy sleep. That morning we pack up our shit in a hurry and get into the truck. The house is covered in torn-in-half animals. Raccoons, squirrels, foxes, there's even half a DEER on the deck. We throw all of our shit into the truck and just before we leave, I remember that my grandpa keeps motion capture cameras on the trees surrounding the house because he likes the pictures of the wild life.
I grab them and flip through them as we're driving off, happy to be getting the heck out of there.
The pictures are nice enough. Some deer, a few blue jays, which makes me smile because they're his favorite. Just as I finally start to relax and breathe easy, I start to see pictures of the animals being nailed to the cabin. The next picture has me shaking so hard I'm about to drop the camera. Written in blood on the side of the cabin where I had originally seen the scratches are the words, "Good bye. Thanks for playing."
The final picture is what makes me scream. The first thing I notice is the yellow cat slit eyes, glaring into the camera. The miniscule, pin prick teeth covered in fur and blood and all manner of viscera. It's hunched over, its spine in an arch, waving at the camera. Furry stick like legs ending in cloven hooves with the torso of a man. Its emaciated and gangly thin. It's clearly laughing at us and the fun it's having. I drop the camera, willing the image out of my mind and look out the window, just in time to see it waving at me as we drive out of the woods.
What Lurks in the Backwoods
This creepy Slenderman story was written by Redditor Marrinho:
It was the camping trip we had all been waiting for. Weeks of meticulous planning had ensured that we had left nothing to chance, and that we would leave the city with nothing but confidence and excitement. It was a long weekend, meaning we had three nights to explore the seemingly endless expanse of beauty and nature that was Algonquin Park. Two of my friends, Jeremy and Jakob, had booked us a camping site deep in the backwoods, nestled right in the middle of the infinite amount of calm lakes and tall oak trees.
Every variable that could have an influence on the trip seemed in good shape the afternoon we left. The weather forecast showed nothing but beaming sun and warmth, traffic was going to be unusually low along the highway, we had packed a variety of meals and snacks, and we had rested well the night previous, giving us the necessary energy to hike and portage across the three lakes that stood between us and our site.
At 3 pm, we packed our bags in Jakob’s car and hit the road. There were four of us: Jeremy, Jakob, Mick, and Eli (myself). It was the middle of the summer, so we figured we had until about 9 pm to get to our campsite before sundown. As we had to paddle across long lakes, as well as navigate some steep inclines and rocky terrain. We simply couldn’t afford to get caught in the dark. As it took three hours to get to the main access point, this left us with three hours to navigate through the backwoods to our site.
In the car, the mood was jovial. We were happy to be done work for a while and to be able to kick back, drink lots of beer and smoke lots of weed – all this while completely free from the hustle and bustle of civilization.
“Yo Mick, did you remember to pack the binger?” Jakob was listing off items to make sure we had everything… double-checking and triple-checking.
“Yeah, it’s wrapped up in my camping pack. Once we get to the site and set up our stuff I’ll get it out.”
I was getting giddy: “I’m so excited to just be on the lake getting yoed and sipping brews. It’s been too long.”
Meanwhile, Jeremy was thinking more responsibly: “We just gotta be sure that we have everything set up before we start drinking or anything. Setting up the tent and the tarp over-top, creating the hoist so bears don’t muck our food, and collecting a good bundle of wood to start the fire.”
He was right. The last thing we wanted was to be navigating in the dark while drunk or stoned trying to set up our site.
Mick kept the mood relaxed: “Don’t worry about that, we’ll have time. We’ll split up responsibilities and it’ll all be done pretty quickly."
At this point, I could hardly contain myself. Being in the backwoods was certainly an intimidating thought, but my buddies were all experienced, and I didn’t have any doubt that we’d be well-prepared for the mission that was to come.
I fell into a nap the rest of the drive and woke up just before we got to the access point. When we got there, Jakob and Jeremy quickly got busy loading the canoes with our gear, while Mick and I went to go buy some extra ice for our coolers. When everything was ready to go, we launched ourselves from the beach and began paddling.
The mood changed quickly as we realized what we were up against. The wind had picked up considerably, creating choppy waters that took a lot of effort to paddle through. By the time we had reached the second portage, it was nearly sundown. I think we were all getting antsy, but it took Jakob speaking up to get us to make a decision.
“Kay, the sun’s already starting to set. We’re definitely not going to make it to our site tonight. I think we should just take the loss and set up on one of the open sites on the next lake."
Jeremy was hesitant: “How do we know they’re not all booked? Someone could show up and kick us out, and we really won’t want to have to set up twice.”
I decided to intervene: “It could happen, but there’s lots of sites on this lake. I’m with Jakob… I don’t think we have a choice. We can’t navigate in the dark.”
We all came to the agreement that we needed to find a site on the next lake – and fast.
Oddly enough, we began to paddle through the next lake when we noticed that every site was empty. Being a holiday weekend, this threw us off guard. Something seemed ominous to me, but I let it slide. I attributed the lack of fellow campers to the unexpected high winds. They must have just delayed their trips until the waters calmed down.
We found a good site and quickly jumped out of the canoes. Without a word being spoken, we split up and started to prepare for the night. Mick set up the hoist that would keep our food away from any lurking animals, Jeremy went further into the woods to chop some firewood, and Jakob and I started to piece together the tent and tarp.
Thirty minutes later, we were ready to go. The hoist was prepared a safe height up from potential thieves, the fire was crackling with great intensity, and the tent and tarp were ready to provide shelter for our weary bones a few hours later. With that, Jakob broke out some sausages to cook over the fire while we each cracked open a pint and prepared the binger.
We were a few beers deep enjoying some good conversation when Jakob interrupted.
“I swear I just saw something move not 50 feet into the woods. What the heck”
“You’re just really yoed, man. At worst it’s a deer or something.” Mick was eager to settle the mood.
“I’m serious – whatever it was, it was standing on two feet and was definitely not just a deer. It looked about ten feet tall.”
“Screw that, I’m going to check it out. I highly doubt there’s anything out there.” This was classic Jeremy. An expert troll. The three of us knew exactly what he wanted to do. He was going to run off into the woods, mess around just long enough to get us anxious and make us try to find him, only for us to return to the campfire with him awaiting our arrival.
After 30 minutes, that’s exactly what happened. I was the one who broke. I ushered Jakob and Mick to come with me. They grumbled but eventually followed suit. I figured the sooner we gave in to Jeremy’s troll, the sooner we would be back around the campfire enjoying ourselves. If only.
We grabbed the flashlights we had packed away and began the hunt. It seemed so ridiculous but deep down I thought it was sort of fun. After 15 minutes, that fun had worn away into slight desperation: “Guys, I don’t think even Jeremy would put us through this much. Something’s gone wrong. I think he got lost. YO JEREMY, ARE YOU YOED BUD?” I yelled half-jokingly, trying not to get too scared.
A few seconds after I had finished my sentence, a faint scream broke the silence. I’m not going to lie - I was terrified. I started trembling. We all looked at each other with grave concern before Jakob had decided he’d had enough.
“He’s trolling. He’s trolling us. He’s probably laughing his rear off right now thinking we’re terrified. I’m not gonna entertain it anymore. I’m going back to the fire. Soon enough he’ll come back and he’ll have learned that we aren’t going to give in to his antics.”
Jakob was pretty clear about his intentions. Mick agreed and didn’t seem too interested in looking any further. I was so terrified that I just wanted to stay with the other guys. So, we started back towards the fire feeling slightly uneasy, but confident that Jeremy would come back in a short while.
That’s when I made the mistake of turning back and flashing my light into the deep, dark woods.
I saw it only for a split-second before it dashed behind a tree, but it was unmistakable. Just as Jakob had described, whatever this thing was, it was freakishly tall. That, or we actually were both just yoed.
I was frozen. I couldn’t move. I flashed the light on my arms to see nothing but goosebumps. My mind raced with every possibility, settling on the horror that Jeremy could be gone for good. Finally, I forced myself to speak up.
“Hold up. I just saw something. I swear I’m not messing around. It was just as you described Jakob. Tall. Really tall. What if it… took Jeremy?”
“This is dumb. I think we’re all just drunk and high and in need of sleep. Jeremy is doing his thing and he’ll come back soon. Like we said, he’ll probably be back at the fire when we return.”
Mick was doing his best to keep us calm. If not for him and Jakob, I don’t know whether we would have survived that night.
When we got back to the fire, it had already died out. But that wasn’t the worst part. There was no sign of Jeremy. When I realized he was still gone, my heart sank. I was torn. On one hand, I was fed up with Jeremy’s trolling and just wanted to sleep it all off and forget the night ever happened. On the other, I was truly terrified that whatever Jakob and I had seen took Jeremy and murdered him in cold blood. Honestly, I was ready to suggest getting in the canoe and never coming back, but I couldn’t leave Jeremy like that, and we wouldn’t be able to navigate in the dark anyway.
“Let’s just get in the tent and try to get some rest. Jeremy has a flashlight and he knows how to get back here. It’s only been an hour; he’s probably up in a tree listening to music or something and will come back after we fall asleep to freak us out. We’ll laugh it off in the morning and have some breakfast. We’ve still got two days to explore and have a good time, so let’s try and relax.” Jakob had clearly calmed down a lot, and his reassurance was convincing enough to get me to (reluctantly) agree.
On the verge of tears, I joined Mick and Jakob in the tent and decided to try and fall asleep. I don’t really know how, but I managed to doze off pretty quickly. I guess the combination of fear, stress, inebriation, and fatigue had taken its toll on me. If only I had been able to sleep through the night.
I awoke to the sound of footsteps approaching. My heart started beating faster and faster. Trying to remain calm, my immediate thought was that it must be Jeremy, finally back. Nonetheless, I gently poked Jakob’s arm, which proved enough to wake him up. In his half-asleep state, he looked up at me. “What?”
All this happened in the space of about 10 seconds, and by then the footsteps were much closer to the tent. Jakob now understood what was going on – I didn’t need to explain anything. We stared at each other in abject terror as the footsteps got closer and closer. I could tell we both had the same two ideas: it was either Jeremy finally coming back, or we were about to be brutally murdered by a ten-foot tall Slenderman. My heart was pounding as the footsteps were now coming from just outside the tent.
“Nice try, bud. We’re still awake," Jakob said in a nervous tone.
The footsteps immediately stopped. No reply. Complete silence. I thought my heart was going to explode out of my chest. Whatever lay outside was now right beside our tent. For a few more seconds, the most eerie silence remained. And then, pandemonium.
The scream of a banshee broke the calm of night with the most bloodcurdling, ear-piercing sound we’d ever heard. Mick was jolted awake and the three of us looked at each other thinking these would be our last moments alive.
The screaming was incessant. After a while, it started to shake our tent. We couldn’t formulate words, nor could any of us muster the courage to move an inch. We waited, and waited. After what seemed like hours, the shaking finally stopped. The screaming didn’t, but it was getting farther and farther away. To this day I have no idea what stopped it from entering our tent, but I am eternally grateful for whatever it was. After a few more minutes the scream was reduced to a faint sound off in the distance. It remained like that throughout the night.
None of us said a word to each other. We instead tried to force ourselves back to sleep, but it was to no avail.
After several hours, the light of sunrise pierced through the tent. By now, the screaming had stopped. It was Mick who said the first words.
“Is it safe now?”
“I think so. Let’s pack up our stuff and get out of the park. When we arrive back at the main entry point we’ll put in a missing persons report.” As much as I wanted to hope Jeremy would be found, part of me knew I’d never see him again.
We didn’t speak a word while packing up the canoes. It took us only 10 minutes before we were ready to set off. Once in the water, I started to reflect on the events. Still, there were no other campers in site.
That’s when I saw it. Squinting my eyes, what looked like a log was bobbing motionless in the water on the other side of the lake. As we paddled closer, it became clear that it wasn’t a log. And once we were right up alongside it, I couldn’t contain myself. I threw up into the water. We waited in silence for a while before we paddled back to the access point.
I will never go camping again.
The Thing in the Yard
AtLeastImGenreSavvy shared this story:
My friend Anna called me and asked if I could take over a babysitting job for her. Anna had the lead in the school play, and she had to go to dress rehearsal.
“I can’t babysit!” she moaned into the phone, “they’ll give away my part if I skip rehearsal!”
Anna and I both knew that the theater teacher, Mr. Olsen, wouldn’t actually give her part to someone else if she missed rehearsal. Anna was overly dramatic about everything. Her dream was to go to a nearby college that was well-known for its TV/radio program. The college had its own TV station, and Anna was convinced that if she could get a part in one of them, she’d be discovered by a big Hollywood agent.
I had never met the family that Anna was supposed to babysit for, but I agreed to take the job. “You owe me big time,” I told her as she gave me the name, address, and phone number.
The Callahans were new in town. They had a formal event to go to and they needed someone to watch their 7-year-old daughter, Emma, for a few hours. They were willing to pay me fifty dollars, and they promised to be home before midnight.
Emma was a sweet little girl. She had curly blonde hair and big blue eyes. She was just learning to read, and after her parents left for the night, we settled in on the couch with a Junie B. Jones book. Emma was very adamant that I not help her in any way.
“Mommy says I have to sound it out,” she said matter-of-factly.
After finishing the book, I put Emma to bed and then went back downstairs to watch TV. I found a nature documentary about meerkats (hey, it was either meerkats or Kardashians) and started to watch. I was only about 15 minutes in when the TV suddenly lost its signal. The screen filled with white static. I was flipping confusedly through the channels when Emma came into the room, dragging along her blankie.
“There’s a monster outside my room,” she said in a small, shaky voice. Her face was pale and I noticed that she was shivering. I turned and glanced out the window behind me.
The waning moon was half-hidden by clouds, but it was still light enough for me to see the back yard. The Callahan’s back yard was large and bordered on a thickly wooded area. A knee-high stone fence separated the yard from the woods. There was a small plastic playhouse in the center of the yard.
Something was standing next to it.
It stood on two legs, like a person, but seemed too tall and gangly. Its legs were abnormally long. I didn’t get a good look at it, as it turned and darted into the woods, stepping over the fence as if it wasn’t even there.
I didn’t want to believe that I’d seen it. Heck, if Emma hadn’t started screaming, I think I would’ve been able to convince myself that I had just imagined it. I grabbed Emma, pulling her in close to me and trying to shush her. My mind was racing, but I knew one thing: I needed to call the police.
The TV suddenly flipped back on. The screen showed Emma’s empty bedroom. It was as if a camera had been set up outside of her closed bedroom window. A low gravelly voice spoke.
“We are coming.” The voice was soft and raspy, as if whoever was speaking was trying to whisper and shout at the same time.
I jerked away from the television, scooping Emma up into my arms as I did so. She was screaming again, burying her face in my shoulder. I remembered seeing a landline in the den, so I ran into the next room.
I picked up the phone but didn’t hear anything. Whatever was messing with me had somehow cut the phone lines. Emma clung to me, pressing her face into my leg and screaming hysterically. Somehow, above Emma’s shrill wails, I heard a faint tapping sound coming from behind me. I turned.
The thing from the backyard was standing right outside the window. It had stooped down and was peering in through the window. Well, I think it was peering in. It didn’t have a face. It had a blank greenish-gray concave, as if its face had been removed out with an ice cream scoop. It was completely and totally smooth and featureless.
I didn’t pick Emma up this time. I grabbed her wrist instead. With my free hand, I grabbed a poker from alongside the fireplace. I ran, pulling Emma along behind me. I had to find a safe space to hide Emma, a place without windows that the thing in the yard could look through.
We wound up back in the living room, and I opened up the closet door. The closet held neatly-labeled boxes containing toys and stuffed animals. There was just enough space for a frightened little girl to stand in the back. I pushed Emma into the closet.
“You have to be brave,” I told her. “You have to stay in here and be very quiet and very brave.”
I didn’t really have any sort of plan. I could hear something scraping against the side of the house. The thing in the yard was scratching at the house, clawing at the siding. My mind was racing a mile a minute. I couldn’t seem to hang onto a solid thought.
“Are - are you f-freaked out?” stammered Emma.
“It’s gonna be OK,” I told her. “Stay here and be very quiet.”
I think she was about to say more, but I shut the closet door. I turned to the sliding glass door that led to the backyard. The thing was walking away from the window. It was coming towards me. It lumbered along slowly, moving in sharp, jerky movements. Its arms swung by its sides. They looked absurdly short in comparison to its legs.
Without thinking, I opened up the sliding glass door. The thing stopped, tilting its head at me quizzically. It was as if it hadn’t expected me to come out of the house.
I ran towards it, swinging the fireplace poker as hard as I could. There was a thick, crunching sound as the poker collided with the thing’s legs. The legs buckled immediately, snapping backwards. The thing toppled, shrieking and squealing as it fell. It landed hard on what I guess was its rear end. It flailed its arms at me, but I swung the poker again. I felt it collide with the spot where the thing’s face should have been. The thing stopped screaming and toppled backwards, slumping onto the ground.
The back yard suddenly filled up with light. My heart was pounding and adrenaline had flooded my body; for a brief moment, I thought that the sun had come up. I stumbled back, blinking. I dropped the poker without fully realizing it.
People were pouring out of the woods, shouting and screaming at me. My legs gave out, and the next thing I know, I was sitting on the ground.
A woman wearing jeans and a T-shirt was screaming at me. She had a set of chunky yellow headphones dangling around her neck and what looked like a hand-held radio clipped to her belt. At first, I thought it was a Walkman. She was waving her arms and shouting. Even though I could hear her perfectly, I couldn’t seem to understand her.
“What have you done?!” she screamed, “it’s a show! It’s a show! You idiot!”
Someone pulled the yelling woman away from me. I looked around. The back yard was full of people. Some of the people were holding cameras and boom mics. Anna was there. She was crying. Great, heaving sobs wracked her body. I remember thinking that she should've been at play practice. A man offered me his hand and pulled me to my feet.
The man explained to me that a bunch of seniors at the local college were filming a TV show for their final project. It was a prank show, like that one the SyFy channel used to air years ago. Someone would call in and suggest a scary prank to play on a friend or family member. The prank would be videotaped, and then the whole thing would be broadcast on the TV show. They had actually filmed a few episodes already; one showed a boy peeing his pants when a creepy-looking clown popped out of his locker, and another showed a girl screaming as a masked man with a rubber machete chased her out of a parking garage.
Anna had called in and pitched a prank to be played on me; she would send me on a phony babysitting gig and then a guy dressed like Slenderman would terrorize me. Emma and the Callahans were all actors. Anna had thought that she could impress the students and that they’d let her have a small, recurring role in the show.
The man I attacked with the poker was named Jude Plaskett. He had been walking on stilts; my first blow had broken the stilts, but left him basically unharmed. My second blow put him in a coma.
He didn’t wake up.
There was some talk about filing charges against me. Luckily, that never happened. I had been terrified out of my mind and had been convinced that a monster was about to kill both myself and the child I was supposed to be babysitting. Jude’s family wound up suing the college and his classmates.
This happened a little over a week ago. Anna still won’t talk to me. She’s furious that I ruined her shot at TV fame. I’m pretty mad that she set me up for such an awful prank in the first place. I can’t sleep at night. I keep thinking about the horrendous crunching sound that the poker made when it collided with Jude’s face. And lately, I keep thinking that there’s something in my back yard. I keep waking up to the sound of bushes and trees rustling, but when I go to the window, I don’t see anything. I don’t know what I keep expecting to see. I don’t really want to.
A story from Redditor atbest:
The river was the color of whiskey and flowed like hot tar. Invisible cicadas jack-hammered away in the reeds and horse flies hovered, waiting to dive bomb unsuspecting ears. We'd been hiking for hours and only just came upon the ruins.
The stone foundations of the cabins had weathered the years much better than their wooden bodies and the now splintered furniture within them. We didn't trust the walls to hold but the bonfire pit was in good enough shape for our purposes. The coolers we'd lugged all the way up here were set down, and the boys immediately started to brag about who was best at starting fires.
This expedition was all Tyler's doing. Classes had let out a week ago, but we'd just got organized enough to coordinate who would buy the beer and who had tents and where we'd go for a long weekend in Algonquin Provincial Park. As a group we'd kicked around the idea for ages but it wasn't until Tyler piped up about a now-abandoned boy's camp he had attended as a kid that everything came together.
The day was a haze of blue and gold, one of those perfect early summer daydreams. We had a lot of fun poking about the ruins of the old camp and even found some useable old pans and marshmallow roasting sticks in what had been the mess hall. By the time the sun set we had s'mores and a good buzz going over the fire.
Shaun and Jana had recently hooked up and were in the obnoxiously clingy new couple phase. She sat in his lap and fed him bits of toasted marshmallow like he was a baby bird. Amy and Tamir had been together so long that somehow they spoke a language all their own of body movement and eyebrow raising. Tyler and I were the only unattached ones and I think the others hoped this trip would push us together so we'd all be a group of couple-friends. They didn't yet know that Tyler was gay - he'd only just come out to me in confidence and so to deflect their pointed lines of questioning I suggested a scary story contest.
There were the usual retellings; Hookman, Slenderman, Goatman. And then Tyler told us he had a true story.
"I used to go to camp here."
A pause. A fresh beer cracked open.
"Do you know why this place got shut down?"
We are a bunch of jackasses. Tyler didn't go along with the joking. He looked ill. Like a man in a confession booth making one last ditch attempt to save his mortal soul. He shushed us and started over.
"Ten years ago my parents sent me to camp here. The place was in a lot better shape then. It was great, actually. Everything a ten-year-old could ever want from a summer camp. There were six cabins and the mess hall and a big cultural hall where we sang camp songs and listened to lectures from forest rangers and stuff.
"That's where I met Brian. We weren't bunkmates so it took a few days for us to bump into each other. He was skinny and asthmatic with big ol' coke bottle glasses. The perfect picture of a nerd right out of an 80s sitcom. But we got along great."
He broke off abruptly and it took a bit of cajoling to get him going again. We figured he was pausing to buy time to come up with something.
"Brian Sweeney might have made it if he hadn't been such a chicken. The lake here was great and all but the counselors knew how dangerous the water could be so there was always someone on lifeguard duty and there's nothing more alluring to a kid than the promise of unsupervised adventure.
"A bunch of the older kids found it and it was top secret but somehow Brian found out and he dragged me along to see. A few kilometers outside of camp there was a place where the river was wide and deep and in the middle there was this sort of rocky outcrop with some trees on it and an old rope tied to one of those trees. That's what the older campers had been using to get across. They weren't too happy when we showed up to gawk. They made us swear to secrecy on pain of death and then shooed us away."
Tyler stopped here to go take a leak. We listened to the water of the lake lap against the shore and joked about skinny dipping later. Tyler came back and picked up the narrative.
"It was one of those stupid kid things. Suddenly the most important thing in the world to us was to get to that little island thing. Like a quest. You know how kids get when you tell them they can't do something. We made plans to sneak out that night and swing across the river.
"We were both twiggy little insects. As soon as we got there it was pretty clear we'd have a hard time clinging to the rope long enough to make it. Instead we built a bridge. Took us hours to do and it wouldn't hold more than one of us at a time but we were so damn proud of that dinky bridge.
"I went first. We had a fight about it and Brian won. If the bridge collapsed I was the stronger swimmer so I was the one to test our construction."
By now I could tell that Brian hadn't just been a friend to Tyler. Something in his voice when he said his name or the little smile. He'd gone first because he wanted to look good and show off in front of his crush.
"When I touched down on the other side I couldn't help it. I jumped up and whooped in victory. I teased and taunted Brian until he joined me. The bridge dipped down in the middle and touched the water and when it did something moved down there.
"We could hardly see it in the moonlight but it freaked Brian out and he ran the rest of the way. I stood in front of him and looked over the edge..."
We booed Tyler for the false suspense but it was clear he was pretty shaken up.
"You guys aren't going to believe me anyway so I'll tell you. There was a face in the water. Well, sort of a face. Pale with a big open mouth and long black hair. For a heartbeat I thought it might be a dead body but then it moved up at us.
"We bolted. Screamed like little girls and scrambled up the biggest tree, which happened to be the one with the rope on it. The only reason we stopped climbing was because the branches got too small to hold our weight. We clung to each other and shook like leaves and strained to spot the thing again. It was like Jurassic Park; we figured if we kept quiet and didn't move it might not see us.
"It was still mostly in the water. The thing was humanoid but only barely. It was touching the bridge - touching it and sort of sniffing at it I think.
"What I'd taken for hair was this puffy fungus-like growth all down the hunched back of it. The hands probing our bridge were also puffy, like they'd been in the water a long time. The fingers weirdly long and thicker at the tips. But its face.."
Tamir stirred the fire and Jana snuggled even closer to Shaun, if that were possible.
"It had no eyes. They just weren't there. The skin was all smooth over the dents but if it did have eye sockets they were empty. No nose, either. Just these slanted slits. And the mouth...
"It was round like a suckerfish. Full of slender pointed needleteeth. We could see... we could see the mouth dilating and contracting, like it was breathing hard. And it looked up. It looked right up at us without eyes. It wanted us and it wasn't going to go away.
"We waited. We were like rabbits pinned by the gaze of a hawk. Prey. We knew we weren't getting out of that tree. The older kids might come back later or they might not. We were too far away from camp to scream for help. We were completely alone. Just us and the monster.
"Brian wanted to wait until help came but I knew we couldn't. What if it got impatient and decided to come up after us? We had the rope. We had a way out, one way or another. We argued in whispers while the needleteeth thing paced the water below.
"We decided I should go first. We'd seen the older kids do it. How hard could it be? All you had to do was hold on and let go when the timing was right. We moved slowly down the branches and the non-eyes of the needleteeth watched us the whole way. I'd have to hold high up on the rope to stay out of it's reach. The landing site on the other side was muddy and worn down. It wouldn't be too hard to hit. Like jumping from a swing on the playground.
"In my nightmares, I'm back there waiting to swing. Just frozen and in my nightmares I can never do it. I can never let go.
"Brain pushed me. I guess he knew I needed the extra momentum. It was quick. Letting go was the hard part. The mud was cold and harder than I thought it would be and I scraped up my leg pretty good but I made it. Needleteeth didn't come after me. It was still watching Brian.
"I don't know what happened but he couldn't do it. He made the swing but he couldn't let go of the rope and it started swinging back the other way and I tried to grab him but I couldn't. I couldn't grab him and there was a splash and Brian was gone. Nothing but ripples. I waited and waited for him to come up but he never did."
Tyler stood up abruptly and threw more wood on the fire. This time we didn't goad him into continuing.
"I told a counselor as soon as I got back. I don't know how he understood me, all hysterical and crying and snotty. He rang this big brass emergency bell and all the other counselors came out and organized a search party. Treated it like Brain had drowned. Like he'd just drowned instead of been taken.
"They looked for two days and then one of the kids snitched to their parents and a reporter came and dragged up all this nasty history about the camp and we all went home two weeks early. The camp never reopened.
"The end, I guess."
By now we knew it wasn't just a story. This had happened, whether or not some of the details were made up. Tyler had probably watched his friend drown and then ten years later he'd brought us all up here. Why? I couldn't wrap my head around it. To confess? To confront the trauma with a few years of perspective? Maybe to prove to himself that this place didn't have a hold of him anymore. He'd made it out. He'd made it over the river.
We slept under the stars that night. Or the others slept. I'm not sure Tyler did. I'm pretty sure he sat awake all night watching the lake and hearing the slap slap of the water hitting the shore.