As the nights get colder and the daylight gets shorter Second Saturday Stories wants to embrace Autumn with a collection of spooky stories told every weekend all month long. When a scout camp is inexplicably locked when they arrive, four Boyscouts amuse themselves telling scary stories around the campfire while the Scouter tries to open the camp. Read on for an excerpt from part 1 of this month's featured work 'Campfire Frights from Troop 15.'
Willy Dodson trudged up the hill, his breathing reduced to windy gasps that made his sizeable chest heave. He didn’t remember his pack being so heavy when his mom packed it that morning but holy cow it felt like it was filled with rocks by the time he made it to the top of Miller’s Hill. When he met up with the rest of Troop 15 he was sweating, his uniform was untucked, and his glasses had started to fog up. He ventured to the outskirts of the small circle the other three scouts made, experience teaching him that any closer could warrant heckles and a faceful of dirt from Brayden Cross before Scouter Alan could stop him. Willy dropped his pack as close as he dared to the other boys and overheard their confusion.
“This can’t be the place, Alan’s off his nut.” this from Brian, the one guy who sometimes held off on piling on the insults when Willy was being hazed by the rest of the troop.
“Getting his nut off might be just what he plans on doing.” this from Derek who knew how to wind the rest of the guys up. He was the one who’d charge in without a plan while playing capture the flag, or use all the troops' matches playing beat the devil until his fingers were calloused. Brian aimed for a charlie horse and the two devolved into a good-natured shoving match lobbing insults back and forth. Willy chanced a look at Brayden and saw that he was pacing out a grid with his phone held above his head squinting against the glare.
“You guys got reception?” he all but whimpered. Willy felt satisfaction warm his chest. Mom wouldn’t let him have a cell. She called them pocket computers and swore there were some things 12-year-old boys shouldn’t be able to find. This was always followed up with the same accusatory stare. Brayden found that out (Willy had confided in Brian who blabbed.) and bombarded him constantly with how great his latest iPhone was, Willy smiled at Brayden losing out on using his new toy. “Welcome to my life.” he muttered.
“What are you grinning at, piglet? Keep eye screwing me and find out what happens.”
“Brayden Cross we aren’t too far out I won’t drive you back to town and you can explain word for word how you speak to your peers to your mother, I'm sure she’d be real impressed. And boys break it up, you tear those uniforms and you’ll go home with an extra 25 bucks tacked on to this trip.” Scouter Alan spoke as he crested the hill they had all climbed up.
Scouter Alan Simmons (Al to his friends) unhooked his arms from the straps of his pack and set it down among Brayden’s North Face and Derek’s army surplus canvas, what Alan had called an Oldie Goldie when Derek threw it into the back of his Tacoma.
“She wouldn’t care Al, plus she’d say it was ok because there’s no wifi up here.” Brayden was using what Al had come to call his ‘Little snot’ tone. Al knew life would take care of Brayden and wipe that shitty little smirk off his face, but sometimes he was sorely tempted. “ That’s Scouter Alan.” Al corrected “and you won’t find any signal up here, we’re too far removed and too far remote. The only signals you’re gunna see up here are smoke signals!” Alan slapped his knee and let out an exaggerated bray of laughter which was met with either blank stares or full on groans from the kids.
“Ok boomer.” Derek intoned.
Alan was set to address the comment, a borderline slur in his eyes. When he saw the double doors that led to the small legion building that was to act as their home base for the next 48 hours.
“Very funny guys, who brought the padlock?”
4 sets of eyes followed his gaze to the large MasterCraft padlock looped through the door handles. All the boys looked from one to the other and then finally to Alan. Each of them united on one thought, that this was probably some set up to another stupid Boomer joke. Alan looked at each boy in turn. All of them almost young men, but still very much little boys. He could still make them quake in their hikers when he needed to, and right now he needed to. When he spoke his tone held a stillness that Willy recognized as the low boil of anger, his mother was good at that one too.
“Jokes over guys. Who’s got the key?” Alan asked.
“Nobody locked it Scouter A, is that not supposed to be there?” Maybe because it was Brian or maybe it was his tone, but Alan realised pretty quickly that if he let on something was off it would be the quickest way to start a panic. He already caught enough hell for bringing these guys outside of cell range in the day of helicopter parents, and if he brought them home with a story of being locked out of camp he wouldn't be surprised if one of their parents took him to court. He eyed Brayden before addressing the whole group, trying on his best ‘it’s all good’ tone
“You know what? I think I read something about this, yeah! Actually, there was an email from the bigwigs at Scouts Canada about this. I tell ya what; you boys get a fire going out here, I’ll get that door open, just may take a while for my Boomer brain to remember all the details.” Alan nods his head towards a well-used ring of rocks with the telltale charring of blazes gone by. He meets the gaze of all four of the younger scouts in front of him who for the moment seem to forget how their legs work.
He can read the expression in each of the gazes that are meeting his eyes. From cool indifference (Brian) to blatant defiance (Brayden) to manic excitement (Derek) to Willy, who meets his gaze for a nanosecond before his deep-set eyes flick away to the padlocked door the bags underneath them tell a story of sleepness nights and Alan wonders (not for the first time) how much of the crap he gets from the other kids sticks with him.
“Do you need any help? With the door?” Willy asks. Alan can see the kid’s almost vibrating with nerves, he doesn't want to be thrown to the wolves but Alan doesn’t need him breathing over his shoulder in case he actually has to jimmy a window or something to get in. Plus, maybe it would be good for the kid for him to not bail him out, hell he might even stand up for himself.
“Not this time William, you go with the rest of the gang, I’ll be over in a few minutes to assess your work. Remember fellas, teamwork makes the dream work, four lone wolves does not a pack make.”
Taking this as their dismissal, the boys grumble over to the fire pit and fan out into the woods surrounding the small brick building. Alan walks towards the doors fishing the keyring out of his pocket. He tries to not notice his racing heartbeat.
It takes longer than it should, of course it does. The rest of the troop listen to Willy’s suggestions the way adults listen to the smoke detector when it’s making that silly little out of batteries chirp. They hear it, and at first think to act on it, but after a while it becomes an annoying drone in the background meant to be ignored until they silence it all together by taking the batteries out. Willy has resolved to just bring arm loads of wood and drop them at the edge of the pit, leaving Brayden and Brian to argue over whether it should be a teepee or log cabin formation. Neither one of them realising it could be both. Willy knows the fire builder gets all the credit, but it’s often the wood gatherer who is the unsung hero of the fire. A fire is only as good as the fuel that feeds it, and if it was up to muckheads like Brayden it would be all pine needles and birch bark. The showers of the fire fuel selection; they look pretty and throw heat, but in 17 seconds the flame is no bigger than a matchburn and everyone’s cold and pissed off again. Willy feels a personal pride that even if no one else notices, he’ll know the fire that keeps them warm until they get inside will be due in large part to his efforts alone. Derek is no help. His fellow gatherer is going to great pains to peel every birch in sight of it’s aforementioned bark, and seems particularly fond of a punky pine.
When the fire finally gets going the four boys sit around it silenced by the ancestral connection that comes from watching a fire. Brayden insists on poking a maple switch here and there trying to man the fire but Willy has watched him smother all the good coal beds. Derek has taken a different approach, Willy sees, by jamming a stick into the flames and lifting it out every few seconds eyeing the burning end like it was a hundred dollar bill before stuffing it back into the flames. Willy chances a look for Scouter Alan who stood hunched over the padlock for a few minutes before moving to the back of the building out of sight. Willy’s prey drive keeps his eyes darting from one boy to the next waiting for one of them (probably Brayden) to notice they aren’t supervised and try something. Willy hopes the fire holds his attention for a few more minutes, it’s not like they’ll be out here for much longer, right? It’s Brian who speaks the idea into existence, looking from one boy to the other daring them to oppose.
“Anybody got any good ghost stories?”
Willy whirls around to face the campfire. Normally the chance to tell a story, to rely on literary prowess over physical brawn, would be in his wheelhouse. But thinking on the spot was never his strong suit. He tries to conjure up a compilation of horror movies he’s seen but his Mom doesn’t let him watch a lot and he’s worried if he tried to plagiarize something the other guys will know for sure and call him on it. Then he’d really be screwed. As it turns out it’s Brayden who speaks up.
“Ghost story?” he snorts “weak sauce.”
“Would you rather keep butchering that fire? Haven’t you touched your wood enough?” Brian leans forward keeping his gaze fixed on Brayden. He’s hit his growth spurt early and though he’s only got a few inches on Brayden it’s usually enough to enforce some measure of intimidation on the whiny little prick. Derek lets out a bark of laughter at the comment. “Yeah Bray, you keep it up and you’ll go blind!” he can hardly get the words out without giggling and once they’re out he pitches his head forward and lets fly with a laugh that echoes into the darkening woods around them. Even Willy chances a small exhalation through his nose. Brayden gives Derek what he hopes is a death glare and then looks at Brian, throwing the sapling into the fire where the flames engulf it.
“Fine.” he spits “Me first. But I’ll warn you, this is probably going to be so scary you guys’ll piss yourself, I know piglet will for sure.” Brayden stares at Willy through the flames and although he holds the gaze for longer than the standard one and a half seconds, Willy still feels his guts turn to water under that glare.
“Let’s hear it then, BrayBray.” Brian goads from the head of the fire. He shoots a quick glance at Willy who thinks he might have even nodded at him, but it was probably just the shadows from the flames.
“Fine.” Brayden continues. “I call this one The Scarecrow.”
Unfortunately, this is where the excerpt ends, but Brayden tells his story today at 3 in the continuation of part 1 of Campfire Frights. Come back this afternoon...if you dare!