Ed, the scout leader, looked across the amber glow of the fire at his attentive troop. They were good lads, all looking his way waiting for his ghost story to begin. Well, they were all good apart from Luke, who was using his lightning-fast teenage fingers to flick through the menus of his phone. The faster his fingers pressed, the more despondent the boy looked.
‘Come on, Luke,’ Ed snapped, ‘we’ve had this conversation and I’ve told you already the whole camp’s in a mobile-free zone. It’s why they built it here. And it doesn’t matter how much you jab at your phone a signal is not all of a sudden going to appear. ’
‘But that’s not fair,’ Luke whined.
‘It is fair, and don’t be a baby, everyone else has managed to put their phones away. I think it’s a great idea, it’s meant to help you guys make new friends rather than spend the whole weekend messaging old ones.’
‘Fine!’ Luke replied and forced his phone back into his pocket, he added, ‘I hope your story is going to be amazing.’
Ed fought back the urge to leap over the fire and slap the insolent teen. Instead he chose to take a deep breath and reply, ‘well, if you start paying attention perhaps you’ll find out.’
‘So, guys, a ghost story, what better time to tell one? We have the camp fire and, better than that, thanks to dodgy planning by the other troops, we have the place to ourselves till the morning. Right, on with the story.
‘So, this is the tale of James, a man who has to stay in a lot of hotels for his work. This one time after a quiet day, he decided to use the hotel gym and then relax in their spa.’
‘Ed, can I go to the toilet?’ a small voice interrupted.
‘I’ve literally just started,’ Ed replied.
‘Please,’ the boy added.
‘Fine, whatever, anyone else before I start again?’
Luke held up his hand.
‘Fine, Luke, you can go with him, here, take a torch it gets really dark around the cabins.’
‘Right, where was I? So, James in the hotel gym, it’s late and he’s in there alone.
‘He has a quick look around, checks out the weights but after yawning at the thought of picking them up, he decides that a twenty-minute run will be enough to ease his guilt from the huge meal he had earlier.’
Now James is on the running machine when he hears a huge bang.’
As fortune would have it, a stick exploded and hissed on the fire as Ed said the word ‘bang’ and the remaining boys jumped, laughed and mocked each other for their reaction.
‘The noise was so loud that James thought he best go and investigate.’
In the pause Ed left for dramatic effect another boy took the opportunity to ask:
‘Sorry Ed, but I really need the loo, I should have gone when they did. Is it alright if go off now.’
Rather than answering, Ed handed him a torch and waved him away, then as not to lose the tension he continued ‘the gym was at the end of a long corridor lined either side with hotel bedrooms. It was narrow and some of the lights were out. Still, James could make out that a door near to him was open so he decides to go and investigate.’
Saying the word ‘investigate’ triggered Ed to realise that three of his troop had gone off and should really have been back by now.
After a brief conversation with his second in command, Mark, mostly about it probably being Luke leading them all astray, Mark and another lad now in need of the loo went looking for the others.
Once they were out of sight Ed continued, ‘right, back to the story, remember, James is walking down the corridor and, as he does, he starts to notice marks on the wall. Finger prints, then a hand print, then a dark stained trail.’ Ed did an impression of someone running their fingers along the wall.
‘James wasn’t sure what had caused the stain, it was clearly from a hand but the thick wallpaper had soaked in the fluid and James decided to believe that it was just paint. The trail led to the first room.
‘James thought about turning around, perhaps going down to the reception and reporting the incident. But curiosity, or perhaps stupidity, drove him forward. As he approached the door he hesitated as a light above him buzzed and flickered. He took a breath and stepped through the doorway. The room had been ransacked and there was a crimson hand print on the bathroom door. On the floor he could see what looked like a pool of blood.’
‘Ed,’ one of the boys interrupted.
‘What is it, Brett?’ Ed snapped.
‘Nothing, well nothing much, the other guys have been gone a while,’ Brett said looking over at the log cabins.
‘Don’t worry about it,’ Ed offered. ‘I’m sure they’re fine and Mark’s with them so whatever they are up to he’ll sort them out. Plus, it’s only been a couple of minutes.’
Brett wasn’t satisfied. ‘Not being funny or anything Ed, but have you never seen Friday the 13th or Evil Dead? No? Perhaps Cabin in the Woods, or Cabin Fever? There is sort of a theme to all these films.’
Ed laughed, the other boys laughed and then Ed questioned, ‘so you think the missing scouts have been killed by some psycho killer?’
‘It happens,’ Brett said though his voice had lost some of its vigour.
‘It happens in films, not out here in the real world. Can I carry on with my story now?’
Miffed at the dismissal Brett snapped, ‘fine, yeah, whatever, I’m just saying that there’s no mobile signal for some stupid reason, we’re in the middle of nowhere in a badly-lit camp and we haven’t seen a bunch of the guys in a little too long in my opinion. That’s all.’
Ed looked at him and waited for his tantrum to finish. He’d been a scout leader for more years than he’d like to remember and this wasn’t his first rodeo. The boy was just a little panicked by the setting and his story and they’d not been gone more than five minutes. So what if the toilet was only a minute away he was sure they were fine.
‘Fine, well, I’m glad you got that out of your system. The story’s nearly done and I’m sure these guys are keen to hear the end.’ Ed waited for the other scouts to give their approval and then continued.
‘Okay, so where was I? I think James had just seen the pool of blood on the bathroom door. As he was about to investigate further he heard a piercing scream, followed by a muffled cry that sounded like someone strangling out the noise.
‘James ran from the room, following the blood trail in the direction of the noise. His best reasoning told him to leave, to get help but he kept on running. Someone needed him. He passed door after closed door, each time the red finger marks were bright against the white.
‘He could see another open bedroom door and, as he approached, he slowed his pace. His heart pounded and, when he looked around the door, he saw a man covered in blood and holding a young girl by her neck. As James looked on in horror another loud bang filled his head!’ This time, as the fire seemed unwilling to repeat its earlier performance, Ed clapped his hands to make the boys jump.
The boys all did apart from Brett who said, ‘so, right, I know you’re coming to the end of the story, and I’m sure it’s going to be great, but the other guys have been gone ages now. I mean ages. And this is a camp in the middle of the woods, there are cabins and we’re out here by ourselves. I bet serial killers can smell us from a mile away. Can we please go and look for them? You can tell us the end of the story on the way.’
‘Fine! It’s not been ages at all you’re over reacting but fine.’ Ed didn’t want to agree, he wanted Brett to shut up and pay attention like the other boys but the determined look on the lad’s face told him that wasn’t going to happen. ‘Okay, everyone, grab your torches and let’s go find what the others are playing at.’
‘So, as I was saying,’ Ed continued as they made their way over to the huts. ‘James heard a loud bang and then the sound of someone speaking and then everything went black. When he opened his eyes he was lying on the floor at the bottom of the running machine.’
‘”It looks like you fell off the running machine and blacked out, sir, are you okay?”’ It was a policewoman looking down at him.
As Ed spoke, they checked the toilet block and, when they found nothing, they checked their own cabin dormitory. Still nothing so they started to move on one cabin at a time.
Ed forged on ‘…so the policewoman helped James to his feet and told him that he’d been lucky not to be seriously injured.
‘James said that he knew running machines could be tricky but he thought serious injury was unlikely. The policewoman shook her head and said, ”oh, no, it’s not that, a man went crazy this evening, he violently killed seven people and trashed the place, you are just lucky he didn’t come in here.”’
‘James began to remember what had happened before he passed out. He didn’t understand what was going on. He’d seen the blood: how could he have seen the blood if he had been unconscious in here? Then he remembered the little girl – had she died?
‘”The little girl,” he blurted at the policewoman. The officer’s face sank, “how do you know about the girl?”’.
Cabin after cabin proved empty. After the first couple a sense of unease grew among the troop.
Ed interrupted his own story and said, ‘only one more and then the admin office, they must be in one of them. Don’t worry.’
The boys were worried and two jumped and another let out an audible cry when a frog jumped in their general direction.
The last cabin was empty and, as they made their way up the hill to the admin office, Ed continued his story but in a hushed tone.
‘When James told the officer what he thought he’d seen she said, “this is too freaky.”
‘“Freaky?” James asked her.
‘“Yes, really freaky in fact. The killer had the little girl, we had snipers on him but he was holding her too tight so they couldn’t take a shot. Then, for some unknown reason, the killer looked at the doorway, loosened his grip and, well, let’s just says the little girl made it but he didn’t.”’
Ed really wanted praise for telling such a good story. It had drama, it had a twist. What more did the boys want?
If any of them had answered right now, they would have said that they wanted to be anywhere else but here.
In the dark, the admin office looked like a serial killer’s wet dream. It had missed the makeover the rest of the camp had undergone and, with moss around the door and panels missing, no one, not even Ed, was keen to enter.
The group hung around the doorway, none daring to reach for the chipped handle.
‘Come on, this is stupid,’ Ed said and, after taking a deep breath, he pushed open the door, walked in and the group rushed in behind him.
The hut was three times the size of the dormitory cabins and the old desks, broken chairs and a printer from the 80s made it clear that very little administration happened here any more.
The group stood in the middle of the room and shone their torches around the walls looking for a light switch.
In their haste to find extra light they didn’t notice the man who had walked up the path behind them. His huge frame filled the doorway.
‘What’s all this fuss?’ asked the man. Brett screamed and moved behind Ed. His panic and that of the other boys intensified as the man took a step forward. As he stepped they all begin to run towards the other side of the building in the hope of finding a way out.
‘Quick there,’ one of the boys yelled noticing a door with light coming from under it. As they rushed forward their combined weight broke the old door off its frame and they piled through. Some boys fell to the floor, others managed to keep their feet and then everyone stopped.
‘What you doing, guys?’ Mark, the second in command, asked.
‘What the hell is going on?’ Ed yelled.
‘Oh, sorry mate, I thought you would have come and found us ages ago. Luke here managed to find this place, and it turns out this room has some kind of aerial installed so you can get a mobile signal.’
Ed looked around. The scouts who were on the floor had recovered and were doing what their lost comrades had been doing for the last hour, checking their phones and enjoying the mobile universe.
‘So, who’s the scary guy in the doorway?’ Ed asked.
From behind him a deep, throaty voice said, ‘I’m just the caretaker, you don’t have to worry about me.’
Excellent, thought Ed, this was a bit of a mess but at least they were all okay, even if they were now glued to their mobile phones. He didn’t notice the caretaker’s axe.
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