"...go missing in the woods, sometimes. Not far from where the old camp used to be. Who knows? Maybe they get lost. It can be pretty easy to get turned around there. Maybe animals get them. There are bears around here, after all. But sometimes... sometimes... they'll find a piece of sleeping bag. Or a backpack. Or a fishing cap. Slick with blood. Smelling, reeking like a campfire. Even though not so much as a charred stick is anywhere around."
Giggles, some enthusiastic, some nervous. A low chorus sweeping the gathered family. Uncle Pete smiled, satisfied.
Max's dad stood up just enough to open the cooler, fumbling around inside.
"I remember that guy. He was usually pretty quiet, drank a lot... could usually smell it. I always tried to stay the hell away from him. Remember that time he ran down Stevie Marks?"
"Oh yeah, yeah. Little Stevie Marks, the wiry bastard... what did he do? Steal his hooch, or something. If Stevie hadn't been a pain in every single solitary person's ass that summer, they probably would've had the cook locked up right then. Too bad they didn't."
"Yeah, I remember when I heard the news. No one was really too surprised... shocked, yeah, but not surprised. It had just been a matter of time. Thank Christ we were long gone by then!"
Uncle Pete put his hands on his two daughters' heads, ruffling their red hair. They laughed, suddenly not as scared.
"That the story you were thinking of, kiddo?"
Max grinned. It wasn't the story he'd read in the comic, but if it were any indication of where things were going, it was going to be a good night.
"No, but it was awesome. The one I heard had, like... it was about, like, torn-off heads and angry ghosts."
Uncle Pete smiled, tilting his head back.
"Yikes. You're going for the hard stuff tonight. I did hear something like that, though I don't remember much of it... something about a crawling head."
"Yeah, this slithering head, or maybe there was more than one, sliding around on the ground like a snail. Yeah, that was it. They would slide out from the underbrush, and lick you to death by the campfire."
Max furrowed his eyebrow. "That's so weird!"
"Yeah," a chuckle, "yeah it is pretty weird. There's some pretty wild ones out here."
"Let's hear a gory one!" Allen piped up.
"Yeah," Bobby joined in, "tell us about body parts! A real blood-n'-guts one!"
"The last one wasn't gory enough for you?"
"Some people get lost in the woods, maybe a crazy burnt-up vet gets 'em... I mean it was cool, but, not nearly bloody enough!" Allen looked over at Bobby with a mischievous grin, knowing that he'd ratchet it up.
"Yeah! Let's hear the good stuff! Bring on the meat!"
"Hey Uncle Pete..." Max chimed in.
"Whatever happened to the camp? You said 'most of it' burned down..."
"Yeah, most of the camp burnt right to the ground. A few charred cabins might'a stayed up. Depending on who tells what story, there's some whole sections of the camp that are still out there."
"An abandoned murder camp?! Awesome!" Allen cackled, Bobby following suit.
"Are there any stories about that?" Max kept up, heart racing.
"Yeah, yeah there's definitely a few stories about that."
"Aw, you gotta tell it! Tell us about the murder camp!" Allen demanded.
"Yeah, bring us the blood-n'-guts!" Bobby crowed, fists clenched.
"Yeah Uncle Pete, tell us!" Max was with them. He couldn't let this one slip by.
Uncle Pete sighed, rolling his eyes. "Awright, awright."
Max and the boys smiled. The breeze from off the lake picked up, and kicked the fire up, popping near Uncle Pete's face.
"Well, the camp wasn't far from here. Right on the same lake. They do say, depending on who you ask, that some cabins are still out there. Some say the cook is still out there, somewhere. Some say his victims still are, too..."
The Hanging Woman
by Mike Wasion
"This place is... creepy, Dane."
"Oh, c'mon. You didn't say that a minute ago when the fire was going."
"That's because the fire was going. I said it before you lit it, I said it all the way in..."
Janet played with an old, dirty cobweb for a moment, before remembering she should be grossed-out, and wiped it on her shorts in disgust. The old cabin was full of them.
"...I said it before we left."
"Now baby, I thought you said it would be romantic."
"You said it would be romantic. I said 'pizza and a movie'. You just wanted to check this place out. Get me alone in the woods someplace and check me out... I don't know which makes you a bigger pervert."
Dane put his arms around Janet's waist, tugging her playfully.
"I can do both."
"And that's what makes you the pervert. I mean, here? Even if it wasn't where a bunch of people got killed, this place'd still be gross. Just look at this place!"
She had a point about that. The cabin was half rotted, battered by weather, neglect, and seemingly something worse. Larger sections of the walls and ceiling had fallen away, letting in the damp and the moonlight. Filthy cobwebs stretched from every corner of the large open room, and the beds that lined it were broken-down and moldy. Pale mushrooms sprouted on some.
"So why did you agree to come?"
"You had that look in your eye. When you get that look, I get excited. What can I say? You trained me well."
Dane smiled. He pulled her against him, running his hand up her back.
"And I mean, Donna & Steve came out here once, so it must be okay."
Dane pressed his lips against hers, and the world around her disappeared. There was nothing but him, and her, and their bodies, pressed together. She could feel the beads of his sweat against her skin, mingling with her own. As they did so, his temples began to pound, his breathing sped up, and hers followed.
It was only a breeze, a gust that was there and gone in a moment, but it cut through her like a razor-blade made of ice. Suddenly the world was back; the forest for miles, the rotten old campground, the mossy, sticky, dirty, dead building they were in... the tattered bunks around them, dark stains a silent reminder of their former occupants... and the pale moonlight, barely pushing the endless dark away, instead bathing what it would in a cold glow that only seemed to illuminate its horribleness.
And that breeze, that there-and-gone breeze that seemed somehow to linger in the room long after it had left, silently watching them.
Janet froze, a tiny mouse in the claws of a hawk.
"Jesus baby, are you alright?!"
"Yeah. Yeah, I'm alright. Look baby, we gotta get that fire going again."
Dane was rigid, locked in the moment. As startled as he was at Janet's sudden shock, he couldn't navigate away from his current state of mind. At least not all at once.
"Uh, baby... why don't you just let me keep you warm?"
"Look, baby - either get the goddamn fire going or we're going! Home! Now!"
"Okay, okay, okay. Look, I'll get the fire going. Just gimme a minute."
Dane awkwardly shuffled away from Janet, mumbling under his breath. Toward the back of the room, near the largest break in the wall and ceiling, was a yawning, makeshift pit. Three or four feet deep, the floor boards had been pulled up, the dirt beneath scooped away and lined with old scorched rocks. Blackened from countless fires throughout the years, like much of the camp itself. It was insanely dangerous, but so was Camp Diamond. Or at least had been, in the '80s.
Dane lit a match and peered down into the fire pit. The wood from earlier had all been consumed. There was nothing left to restart the fire. He sighed.
"Hon, we gotta go get some wood. Let's just run out and grab a bunch real quick You grab an armful, I'll grab an armful, we can get the fuck back in here and get it started in no time."
Janet couldn't explain it, but she suddenly wanted very much not to go outside. Something... she just didn't want to. She could barely imagine being in this cabin, alone, but something about going outside seemed worse.
"What? Let's just grab some, and we can get back in here in like a minute."
"No. I mean, I'm no good in the dark. Just run out and grab as much as you can real quick, and I'll watch you through the hole."
"Wha... whatever. Are you sure? I mean, it doesn't really seem like... this is a place you wanna just chill, by yourself..."
"No, it's okay. Really. Just hurry honey, okay? I'll be watching from the the hole."
Another heavy, beleagured sigh.
"Alright. Just sit tight for a second, okay? I'll be right back."
"Okay. Just hurry, baby. We gotta get that fire started back up... then maybe we can get started back up."
That was all the incentive Dane needed. With a flash of a grin and not another sound, he hustled out the door.
Janet quickly got to the hole in the wall, waiting impatiently for Dane to appear around the corner of the old cabin. She hated to have her back to the darkened room around her -- with it's stained beds, and what had been in them, and what could still be in them... no no no, don't think about it, don't think like that -- but she sure as hell wasn't going to take her eyes off Dane, not even for a second. A slight breeze moved through the trees, and as small and quiet and harmless as it was, it made her somehow all the more certain she didn't want to be out there.
Dane grabbed up armfuls of sticks in a near-panic, desperate to get back inside and get that fire going as soon as humanly possible.
Ah man, fuck this, fuck sticks, I need logs. Somebody's got to've left some out here at some point, some campers or hunters or kids... that goddamned fire pit looks' to've been used a hundred times, you don't get a bonfire goin' with sticks...
They'd managed to get the earlier fire going out of sheer luck. Dane had some lighter fluid, and there was just enough old wood in the pit to get a burn. Didn't last long. This was gonna have to last long. He wasn't about to have Janet freak out and demand to leave fifteen minutes into a romp. He'd die of blue balls, before anything else got them.
Dane turned on his dim flashlight, hoping in a frenzy to find anything that would deliver him from the hell that awaited him if he couldn't get Janet's jeans off.
An idea tore into Dane's head, and a rush of relieved excitement followed with it.
They have to have one.
Dane sliced through the darkness with his beam until he came across a cabin that had one. He ran over and butted the old rusty padlock on the door with the hilt of his flashlight, and finally the entire hinge fell away. Yes! A woodshed!
With a little luck, there'd be some old logs stacked inside, maybe just dry enough to be useful. Or maybe there'd be a stack of logs up to his waist, along with several bags of charcoal. All bone-dry.
What the fuck...?
The logs were, for the most part, all fresh-cut. The charcoal looked like it had just come off a store shelf, and of the six or seven bags heaped together, only a couple of bags on top had been opened. Looking closer, Dane realized that sitting next to the bags were several cases of lighter fluid. Again, only a few appeared to have been used.
Did people still use this camp? Like, actual campers? No, that didn't even make any sense. Somebody must have stored this here for private use. Hikers, maybe. Who-knows-how-many parties had gone down out here over the years; maybe this was a go-to stash for... whoever. It didn't matter. It was his go-to stash at the moment, and he silently thanked whoever left it there for the trouble.
Dane reached into his pocket, and pulled out a small, crumpled object. A strip of condoms. He tore a few off, and tossed them into the woodshed. Even trade.
He loaded up, and headed back to the cabin. Dragging his jacket along like a makeshift nap sack, Dane took stock of his haul.
Okay, couple'a bundles of logs, two bottles of lighter fluid, bag'a charcoal for good measure...
A detail clicked in Dane's head. He pulled his flashlight back out, to see if he had been remembering things correctly. By the time he ran his eyes across it earlier, he was too hyped-up and horny to care, to process much of anything but the looming, burnt-out cabins and Janet's ass.
He trained a beam on the tree line, and sure enough, there they were; grills. Dozens of them, of all makes, models and sizes, parked in random locations amongst the thick of the trees. Some looked old; rusted, and out of date.
He stepped toward the nearest one. It was caked with the charred film of countless past cookouts. Why was it under a tree -- not a nice, shady tree, in a clearing, by a picnic table -- just stuck under a random, overgrown tree? It seemed sort of dangerous. No more than a huge fire pit inside a cabin, he guessed, but... they were all under trees, lined up along the edge of the forest.
There had to've been, like, a rave or something out here. Those exed-up fuckers'd probably blow up if they stayed in the sun too long, but shit, why the fuck didn't I hear about any of this?! I don't have a single friend who hit this thing?
He walked over to another nearby tree, peeking around the trunk. Sure enough, another grill. It looked like it had been used recently, still pink, barely charred blobs of meat sticking to the scorched, greasy surface. Freshly burnt coals rested in the bottom.
Something brushed against Dane's face. Startled, he whirled the flashlight toward the darkness of the drooping branches. A rope hung there, tattered, frayed, old. Small, rubbery objects were tangled along it's surface. Pieces of meat, like in the grill.
The rope smelled.
Dane felt eyes on him -- Janet. He grabbed his jacket, and made for the cabin.
Whatever, man. Just get the fuck back inside.
Janet was ecstatic to see Dane walk through the door. He had been outside maybe ten minutes tops, and she had her eyes on him the whole time, but it seemed like an eternity. She hadn't turned around since he left. Whatever was behind her could stay behind her, goddamnit, as long as it didn't make any noise.
"Oh baby, thank God, that took forever!"
"Aw sugar, it was only a couple minutes."
"Couple minutes?! Couple hours, maybe! Couple'a days!"
Dane set his jacket on the floor, and once again put his arms around Janet's waist. "Ya miss me?"
Janet tried not to crack a smile. "Just get the fuckin' fire started."
"I can do that."
He pressed his eager lips against hers, and in an instant their tongues were intertwined. Dane's hands wandered down the small of her back, and slowly slid into the back of her jeans. Janet's breathing sped up to a pant, and the world around her again faded out. All that existed was the warmth of Dane's body pressed against hers, the rapidly increasing heat, heavy, shuddering breaths, blood pounding like a drum, flowing like a river, ever downward...
Almost on instinct, she feverishly un-buckled his pants, reaching-
They turned just in time to see it tumble from the rafters.
At first, they couldn't be sure of what they were seeing, even though they were. Janet had been since before they arrived. Before they even left. Some part of her was waiting for it. And here it was.
The body -- and it was a body, though the word seemed a mockery applied to a thing in it's condition -- dangled from a frayed noose around its leathery neck. It was as thin as a skeleton, and would have been nothing more than such were it not for the withered, glistening layer of flesh that clung to it, patchy, like horrible gnarls of green beef jerky. It looked like animals had been feeding on it. A lot. It's midsection was open, and hollow, nothing between it's pelvis and it's splintered breastbone, which was just covered by a tattered, long-deflated pair of breasts. Save for a few jagged, broken ribs, there was no rib cage, no spine even. All that connected the two haves was a rubbery sheet of skin. It's neck was stretched out from the rope, barely as big around as someone's wrist and more than twice as long as it should be, an absurd, horrible parody. Damp tangles of hair hung limply from it's head, streaked with greasy, emerald colored mold -- a head free of any eyes. They were being stared at by empty sockets full of congealed, jellied fluid. It's mouth was a horrible, rictus sneer, just open enough to glimpse the half-nub of a bloated, blue-black tongue.
It swayed before them.
A million thoughts slammed into their heads at once, screaming and thrashing and beating themselves into some quick, desperate semblance of protection from what they were seeing --
-- only to see the body pull back up into the rafters and out of sight.
A bitter, lilting female laugh shattered Dane's meager train of thought.
Dane struggled with the horrifying thought that someone, some maniac, some bitch was dangling a dead body in front of them, but Janet knew the truth. Could feel it. The laugh was coming from the body itself.
A moment of crushing silence. The two stood and stared dumbly, paralyzed in the dark.
With another snap, the body fell again. It was closer this time. Hideously, the moist skull of a head shifted position atop it's vulgar neck, looking right at them.
It can't see-
It's mirthless, sing-song laugh echoed from a mother-smile full of dead teeth. A sickening, empty exhalation escaped from somewhere inside it -- uuuhhhhhh -- and up it went, into the pitch-darkness of the rafters.
Again it fell. Closer...
It was coming right for them.
Snap! Snap! SNAP!
It was going to be right on top of them. And Dane wasn't going to be there. He did the only thing he could. He waited for the thing to slide up, and finally broke free, one terror replacing another, the terror that held him giving way to a terror that sent him running blindly into the night.
He ran out of the cabin and into the campground beyond.
"Dane! Dane! Dane, don't leave me!"
The thing had fallen right in front of her. And as she summoned the courage to finally flee, she realized that she had backed herself into a corner.
Janet started to cry. There was nothing left to do. The thing dangled in front of her, swaying quietly. The only sound it made was a ragged breathing, forced up from the shredded remains of what once had been lungs. Janet began slid down the wall and sank into the corner. The carcass watched her sob for a moment. Watched her sobbing, intently. No screams. Just a little, muttering sob. It held out it's hands. Clenched hands, palm up. Silence.
After what seemed like an eternity, somehow Janet knew. Maybe the thing was telling her somehow. It didn't matter. She had no choice. Actually, she had one choice. Just one. Trembling, Janet pointed to the thing's right hand.
It unclenched it's bony fingers, and inside lay a crumpled piece of paper. Janet stared at it. Her eyes widened.
"No. No, no, nononononononononono!!!!!!!"
The corpse reached into it's pelvis, and pulled free a handful of the withered, soaking pink tissue that remained there, and shoved it into Janet's open mouth. Some teeth chipped. Others broke outright. Her throat bulged.
Choking, gagging, she tried to vomit. The creature held her nose closed in a vice-like grip, pushing her head back against the cabin wall, subdued no matter how hard she flailed. A hard, rancid knee to the jaw, pressed in place even harder. Janet had no choice but to swallow. And when she was done there would be much more to follow.
A familiar wave of relief crashed over Dane as he leaped down the cabin stairs and into the clearing. He had the rest of his life to think of Janet, to hate himself, to mourn... but he had the rest of his life. It was a straight shot from the clearing to the trail, and if he followed it long enough, he'd get to the old parking spot. He could make it. All he had to do was keep running.
Back in the cabin, the screaming had stopped.
Oh, God. Don't think about it, don't think about it, just RUN!
A snap from somewhere up in the trees. Branches creaking, shifting.
It was too dark to see what it was; but it was too loud, too sharp for it to have just been the breeze. Too big for it to have been an animal.
Another snap, somewhere behind him, amidst the treetops. Another.
Fuck, freezing up hasn't done me any favors this far. Just gotta get to the trail and get the fuck outta here, don't stop, never look back...
Dane ignored the sounds in the trees (and the silence in the cabin), and ran. The camp around him was a blur, and he didn't care to see it. It was a straight shot to the trail. A straight shot. All he had to do was run.
Finally, the mouth of the path. A tear in his eye, he made for it-
He had to stop short to keep from running into it. It was her. The thing from the cabin. It dangled there spitefully, hanging from nowhere. Blocking his way.
The fear inside him became primal, and just as he was about to cross the threshold and fight the thing in front of him, something else fell from the trees by her side. He could barely assimilate what he was seeing -- a smallish, bloated thing, round eyes gleaming, smiling at him -- when dozens more fell from the trees around her, all at once.
They were... children mostly, though there were others -- hikers, campers, teens -- all dangling by the neck from old, fetid ropes like an endless gallery.
They were split open and gutted, their putrid, burnt entrails dangling...into the countless, waiting grills.
The children seemed happiest to see him.
Swollen and pustulant, dead but smiling, their huge round eyes glowed like animals in the moonlight. Old, soiled rags adorned their septic bodies. He could just make out the Camp Diamond logo on some. They tittered and hooted and brayed like hyenas, arms outstretched, many holding forks and knives, and s'more sticks. Clicking their teeth.
Before Dane could turn to run, a loud snap at his back announced that one had landed right behind him. Before he could even scream, clammy arms wrapped around him.
The thing from the cabin got closer somehow, gliding through the air, the unseen end of her rope moving through the darkness as though she were hung from a conveyor belt. She held out a single, upturned fist. She unfurled her bony talons, and a small piece of dingy paper fell to the forest floor in front of him.
Upon it was the word "eaten".
A searing pain in his neck, as teeth pulled a pork-chop-sized piece of skin from the muscle. Dessicated, claw-like fingers reached down and slid into the softness of his stomach, making a fist, pulling out.
The thing from the cabin grabbed Dane's ankles and pulled him upward, spreading his body out. The others reached out, digging in.
After the screaming, all that could be heard above the treetops was a sound like a hundred raccoons fighting.