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I run a private campground. It’s a job I’ve trained for my whole life. My dad learned from his grandfather, and then he and my mother taught me how to deal with both the mundane aspects of land management and the more… specialized tasks. It’s taken a lot of research, both academic and practical, but my family has developed a system of sorts for handling the more dangerous occupants of this land. Of course, as we saw in the last post, some people think they know better
. Fortunately, this post is not about them.
If you’re new here, you should really start at the beginning
and if you’re totally lost, this might help
I tried an experiment. I went outside and sat on my front porch and waited for Beau to show up. No cup, no booze. Just me. Waiting. After about an hour, I saw someone emerge from the woods. He wore a hoodie with the hood pulled up and carried a cup before him in both hands.
It’s not the alcohol. It’s me. I’m the one summoning him.
I still went inside and got a couple glasses and some vodka to make Moscow mules with before he reached the porch. It was the polite thing to do.
“What do you think of your name?” I asked as he sat down and pulled his glass over to him.
“I don’t have a name,” he answered, so quickly that I felt it was on reflex.
He lifted an eyebrow but refused to confirm anything.
“We’re working on it,” I continued. “Do you at least like it better than ‘Sippy Cup Bae’?”
“I don’t care.”
do not have an opinion,” he snapped, raising his head to stare me directly in the eyes. “A preference would mean I am ascribing a name to myself, if only for a moment, and that is not an option for me. If it were, we wouldn’t be sitting here together like this.”
He’d be trying to kill me like everything else on the campground. Because there was nothing I could offer him in exchange for my life. Uneasily, I backed off from that line of conversation.
“Sorry,” I muttered. “I just thought… are we friends now?”
“No. I don’t make friends with my food.”
“But you don’t always kill people. It’s not like making friends with a cow. It’s more like… we’re apple trees. You can be fond of plants.”
He didn’t reply, just sipped silently at his drink.
“Is it because I’m an asshole?” I sighed.
Cool. This was off to a great start. At least we were being honest with each other. I told him that I’d taken his suggestion to heart, that I could cull the campground of the more murderous inhabitants. I showed him my list. He glanced it over without comment, which I admit was disappointing. I’d been hoping that since he saved my life a couple times and then I saved his life by giving him a new cup we’d have something more of a partnership here. However, he seemed utterly disinterested in the creatures I’d deemed incompatible with human occupancy. Shit, I don’t think he’d even looked at it long enough to ascertain whether or not he was on there.
“So,” I said tentatively. “I want to kill the harvesters.”
“That’s… not a good idea.”
“Last time you said that it was because you were trying to warn me that the lady with extra eyes was out to kill me. Could you try being less subtle?”
“Fine. It’s not a good idea because the harvesters will - at minimum - dismember you and use your bones as toothpicks. How about you start with something easier? Like an irate squirrel?”
I was offended. I took a deep breath to tell him off, to remind him that I’ve taken on the master of the vanishing house, the man with no shadow, the lady in chains, AND the lady with extra eyes - which almost killed him, I might add. But before I could say anything, he just set a knife on the table between us.
My knife. The one made of bone.
“You shouldn’t lose your weapon so easily,” he said quietly. “Also, you don’t actually know how to wield it.”
“You were watching,” I accused. He nodded softly.
I drank about half of my mule in awkward silence, made even more uncomfortable by the growing realization that Beau had no intention to break said silence. We’d finish our drinks without speaking another word and he’d be just fine with that.
“Can I have my knife back?” I finally sighed, if only to get the conversation going again.
“It’s not mine; why would I keep it?”
“I’m not really certain what I’m doing here. None of my family has tried to hunt down the more dangerous creatures. We only go after the weak ones. This is uncharted territory for me.”
“Then figure it out, camp manager.
My title was a sneer. I clenched my hand into a fist under the table and while I didn’t act on my anger - I said nothing - I am certain he saw it, for he smiled slightly and lowered his gaze to the drink before him.
I exhaled slowly. Inhaled. Held it. Exhaled. Slowly, that knot of anger in my chest unwound.
It is difficult being confronted with arrogance. It is even more difficult knowing that the arrogance is earned
and there is little you can do to even the balance of power between you.
“Could you be a little
more forthcoming?” I finally said. “I’m trying to ask for your help here.”
He sighed, lifted his drink, downed it, and then slammed the empty cup onto the table. I winced. It’s good that I was using copper mugs because I think he would have broken a glass one.
,” he hissed. “I am acting contrary to my nature already. It hurts. Would you try to hug a sea urchin? Your species weren’t meant to interact. Neither are ours.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered, staring down at the table. “You look human so it’s easy to forget, I guess.”
“I’ll do this much,” he said. He stood, pushing my knife towards me as he did. “I’ll teach you how to wield it. Look for me in the morning.”
So this is a thing now. Knife-fighting lessons with Beau. As of writing this I’ve had a couple already. It’s… not easy. He doesn’t really do much teaching, it’s more just me flailing at him until he gets bored or annoyed and slaps the knife out of my hand and leaves. I think I’m supposed to figure it out for myself and then get in practice with him.
At least I’ve got the internet to help.
In the meantime, I’ve been focusing on ending the camping season with a minimum of incidents. We’re getting our fall surge as people come out to enjoy the cooler weather. There’s more day-trippers and fewer overnight campers, which is easier in that some of our monsters only come out at night, but harder in that the day-trippers like to take hikes down through the deep woods. They also don’t like when their quiet stroll through the wood is interrupted by an engine, so my staff are patrolling on foot. Bryan’s dogs are also spending their time in the deep woods. No one minds coming across a big fluffy friendly dog, right?
Meanwhile I get to spend the day getting a spike of adrenaline every time a dog barks. At least Bryan’s dogs have a distinctive voice, once you know what to listen to. It’s a deep, reverberating bark that carries easily across the campground. There’s a specific cadence to it, when something is wrong and they’re not merely barking at a squirrel. Evenly spaced, but a sense of urgency in the short pauses between barks.
I wish I could say I was surprised to hear it, when one of them sounded the alarm, but this is
a bad year. The worst year, perhaps. I merely felt resigned. Of course. Of course
So I hopped on my four-wheeler (back from the shop with only some cosmetic dents left that aren’t worth fixing) and got on my radio to ask my staff to help pinpoint where the dog was located. Edge of the deep woods, they approximated. I dispatched Bryan and another senior staffer in the hopes that they were closer than I was.
Bryan was, at least. He was already surveying the scene when I rolled up. His dog sat nearby, leaning its head against his side, tail thumping against the ground.
“Look,” Bryan said, pointing at two trees.
Both were encircled with ratchet straps. Caught between the bark and the strap were the torn remains of ropes. Hammock ropes. Something had torn the hammock off the tree.
The hammock monster hunts by daylight. It targets people in hammocks. I said all this to Bryan and he nodded thoughtfully. But the hammock monster controls people after they fall asleep. This thing tore the hammock off and dragged it - and potentially its occupant as well - into the woods.
“Maybe it got impatient?” Bryan suggested.
“Or maybe it’s not the hammock monster,” I muttered.
I wasn’t terribly convinced. This was too specific of a target. With the way things were changing this year… it was very possible the hammock monster had also changed its hunting habits. At least this would be an easy rescue, I thought. The hammock monster had avoided confrontation in the past. We just had to find the victim before too much of its mind was taken. I directed Bryan to let his dog take the lead, I would go next, and he could take the rear.
Bryan normally didn’t do a lot of hunting. He controlled the dogs but tended to stand back and do only that, leaving the rest of the work to us. I’ve never pressured him to do more.
The dog led us down into the deep woods. We went off trail and even I could pick the direction the monster had gone from the broken branches and crushed leaves. Usually the only creatures that leave such an obvious trail are the ones that are big enough or powerful enough to not rely on stealth or ambushes to hunt with. I began to grow uneasy, even with the reassuring feel of my shotgun in my hands.
The dog halted. It raised its head and stared intently towards some large trees that blocked our view. The normal noises of the forest surrounded us but when I stopped and listened intently, I could hear a faint slurping noise coming from behind the trees. Like something was drinking.
Something new, perhaps? There are plenty
of vampiric creatures recorded but the “burns up in daylight” problem was also pretty firmly established and I couldn’t recall which - if any - didn’t have to hunt at night.
I gestured for Bryan to stay back. His dog stayed by his side because apparently I rank lower in the hierarchy of people to protect, which I get
, but at the same time I was also the one going straight into danger… so a little backup would have been appreciated.
I swung wide, giving myself plenty of distance in which to fire if I needed to. Or run away. Running away is always
an option that’s on the table. I first saw a pair of thin ankles and bony feet. The flesh dangled from them like drapes. I edged further forwards, bringing more of the monster into view. A bony body, the spine clearly visible beneath slate skin that hung off its underbelly in swaying folds.
The hammock monster. It had
altered its hunting methods.
The camper lay in her hammock, the fabric twisted around her, pinning her arms and legs together. Only her head was visible… or at least, what was left of it.
The top of the woman’s head had been neatly carved off. The hammock monster crouched over the exposed skull, noisily sucking up brain matter.
At least I didn’t have to worry about hitting the victim now, I thought with resignation. I raised the shotgun and fired.
The shell punched a ragged hole into its back, angling just downwards of the spine. It pitched sideways, opening its mouth in a silent screech that I heard in my mind alone. It lanced through my brain like a knife and I doubled over, gasping for breath as for a moment, all thought was shattered into pieces at the sound. Like something had shaken my mind, scattering the fragments like a snowglobe, until they settled once more.
I caught a glimpse of something charging towards me. Its stomach sloshed back and forth, taut like it’d swallowed a basketball. Empty eye sockets with branches growing out, crooked and sparse, a handful of green leaves clustered around the eyeballs that stared fixedly at me. The sclera was bloodshot. This stood out in my mind.
Then there was a palm in front of my face and the creases in the skin shone like silver thread.
And the next I knew was I was walking through the woods with my mother. We walked through ashen mud. It came up to our knees. She held my hand. This was an early childhood memory. Only bits and pieces were vivid - I remembered the shape of a stick and the feel as it broke when I stepped on it, and this seemed odd because we were walking through mud. I didn’t remember my mother’s face, nor any other details about her, but rather I remembered her as a strange, abstract concept of my mother.
“Kate,” she said. “You need to know this land is special.”
My attention was focused on the mud. It seemed wrong that it’d be there. I looked to the trees, to see how they were faring in this strange flood, and they loomed out at us as dead, dry things with matted branches. One of them brushed my face, catching at my hair, and I slapped it away. They were closing in on both sides of us now, scratching at my arms and my cheeks and I wondered why my mother seemed unbothered by them.
“I’ll have to tell you when you’re older,” she said thoughtfully. “It’s too much for a child.”
She said something else, about ‘after she was gone’. I turned to her, not understanding what she meant. And I saw that the branches around us were turning into hands, the twigs curling like fingers, and they latched hold of my mother. They pulled at her and pieces floated off, like ripping off chunks of cotton candy. She kept walking, as if nothing was wrong, even as the branches tore away her hair, her arm, her face.
They were taking my mother.
“No!” I screamed. “NO!”
I let go of her hand. I shoved past her, throwing myself at the trees. My fingers clutched around the branches, crushing them beneath my fingers. I tore at them, wildly ripping and snapping them apart, screaming all the while. This was my mother
they were taking. My MOTHER.
And I would not let them. They would not take her from me, as she’d been taken all those years ago.
Sunlight filled my eyes. The haze vanished, the branches and the mud retreated like the ocean tide. And I was screaming in rage, my hands closing around a thin neck, and I slammed my forehead forwards.
The snap of branches echoed in my ears. I felt something sharp gouge my brow and then I reeled back, my skull having connected with something unyielding. Dazed, I stumbled backwards, feeling blood flowing down the side of my face. In front of me the hammock monster howled in pain, fingers clutched around its eyes. One of the branches was snapped in two, the eyeball lying on the ground like a split grape. The other dangled from only a few fibers, bobbing wildly back and forth as the creature thrashed.
From off to my left I heard Bryan approaching, calling my name in fear. His dog crashed through the underbrush, barking madly, and at the sound of its cries the hammock monster turned and fled. Its long legs propelled it forwards in bounds and it quickly vanished out of sight, hands outstretched to feel its way through the trees as it went.
Breathless, Bryan appeared from around the trees and took in the scene. The dead camper. My bloodied face and the cut on my brow from where the hammock monster’s eye branch had gouged it.
“Well that solved one dilemma for me,” I gasped. “Hammock monster just made it to the top of my list.”
I still have the memory of my mother, but it has been tarnished. I no longer remember the original scene, what else my mother might have said to me in that moment when it was just the two of us. I remember instead what the hammock monster tried to take from me, of my mother’s body coming apart like a cloud in the wind. I will not forgive it for taking this from me.
This morning I asked Beau, during “training”, what he thought about going after the hammock monster.
become more aggressive lately,” he replied thoughtfully. “I, for one, would be happy to see it go away before it impinges on my own prey.”
I feinted towards his head and then rotated my forearm and wrist to stab at his side. His own knife was already there to block it, having anticipated my redirection. Not fast enough. I wasn’t fast enough yet.
“I have no doubt that you are physically strong enough to kill it. It’s your will that is weak.”
“Bullshit,” I snarled, lunging for him.
He merely stepped around the thrust from my knife, seized my wrist, punched me in the solar plexus, and walked off while I was doubled over on the ground wheezing for air.
I’m a campground manager. I’ve given Beau’s warning some more thought. He said my will was weak and initially I thought that he had to be wrong. That it was just another taunt. Yet… perhaps I am weaker than I believe. It was anger that pulled me out of that place the hammock monster had sent me to, anger that has carried me forwards when I needed to fight. But without that anger, what am I?
With it, I commit atrocities.
Without it, I cannot even pull the trigger on my mortal enemy.
I am the product of both of my parents, but I am their extremes. The gentleness of my father turned into cowardice and the fury of my mother turned into unthinking cruelty.
I’m not seeing a therapist. There’s one in town and while the staff get free or discounted therapy sessions with her as part of the benefits package, I’m not so sure she’s all that effective. And I sure as hell am not finding someone outside of town. I think I’m on my own for figuring myself out and I don’t really have the time to go on a retreat and discover my inner child or whatever the heck it is you do to work through anger issues.
I’ve got a monster to kill.
So… fuck it, we’ll do it live
.[x] Read the full list of rules. Visit the campground's website.