Estimated reading time — 22 minutes
Every summer camp has their legends, and ours was Camo Boy. A borderline recluse in a camp filled to the brim with over-energized kids. The nickname came naturally, given the boy’s predilection for only wearing faded sets of camo.
His father dropped him off at the foot of our cabin with a military surplus trunk, a knapsack, and a steel canteen. I wasn’t sure why he needed all that. This place wasn’t a boot camp, hell it could barely be called a camp. More of a youth hostel for kids between the ages of 7 and 13, with top of the line speedboats, fancy ropes course, riflery range, decent mess hall, modern chapel (yeah, basically a Christian Summer Camp, but it was cool. Seriously!), and an old stable at the top of the mountain.
To better imprint the layout of our camp, permit yourself to imagine a web of dirt roads woven into a cluster of three, round-sided mountains cut in the middle by a big ravine. We were at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Burton, Georgia, set back in a cove on one of the gorgeous lakes in the local area. There were plenty of other people living on the lake too, many with impressive speedboats and pontoons in equally fancy boathouses.
So, no, it wasn’t really camping. More of a supervised getaway, where kids were under the care of slightly older kids who’d gone through their time as campers and graduated to counselors. Everyone knew everyone, no one minded the subtle Christian overtones professed by the camp’s director, and we all had a wonderful time.
It was my third year there. I was eleven years old, so this was back in 2005. Camo Boy seemed to be roughly my age, but he carried himself like one of the counselors. Quieter, more serious, only mumbling to any kid that approached him. His dad, a giant of a man dressed in similar army fatigues, had just finished signing off on a health form. He handed it to the head counselor, shook their hand, and gave his boy a squeeze on the shoulder. Then he stepped up into a vintage pickup truck finished in faded, forest green, and rumbled off.
Camo Boy was left standing at the entrance, watching kids and counselors shout and laugh. He had short, sandy hair, a narrow complexion, and light-grey eyes that flickered over the cabin in the way a drone took footage of its targets – not overly hostile, but cold and curious.
I watched from the other side of the cabin, having just finished unpacking my trunk. I wasn’t terribly quiet as a kid. Rather I simply had trouble socializing with others; a mild strain of Asperger’s saw to that. So I tended to pick out other kids who displayed similar qualities – those who read rather than played, or did play, but did something interesting and solitary.
As I sat by, a hand found its way onto my shoulder. I looked up, startled, to see the head counselor, Michael, nodding toward Camo Boy. “C’mon, bud. We try to include everybody here.”
“I guess,” I sighed. “But you’ll owe me for this.”
Michael chuckled. “Deal.”
Slipping from my bunk, I quietly padded around a group of kids playing mini-basketball in the center of the room, and approached Camo Boy. He eyed me warily, but didn’t seem to mind my approach. I stuck out a hand, eyes pinned on the ground and mumbled. “I’m Sean. Wanna bunk with me?”
Camo Boy took my hand and shook it. His palm felt sweaty and rough, with a powerful grip for an eleven-year-old. He told me his name in a soft voice, but I’d already christened him ‘Camo Boy’ in my mind. He released my hand after a moment, seeming far more relaxed now that he at least knew someone.
“This your first time?” I asked, making awkward conversation.
“Yeah,” he said, shouldering his pack. “Though I think I could handle it.”
“You think?” I asked, braving a smile. “I thought you were prepping for Doomsday with that gear.”
“I like to be prepared,” he replied ominously. He seemed half-joking, as he flashed a lopsided smile my way, but there was an edge to his voice. “My dad and everything…”
“Military upbringing,” I nodded. “Don’t worry. It’s pretty badass, honestly.”
“If you like it, I can show you some stuff later,” Camo Boy said as he hooked his knapsack onto the bed above mine with little effort. “Seems like there’s plenty of stuff to do around here.”
“Oh, tons,” I said excitedly. “Archery, tubing, riflery, blob wars, water games, arts and crafts, Capture the Flag.”
Camo Boy hoisted himself onto the side of the bunk and slid his covers on with liquid precision. Military training. “Sounds like more than enough to keep us occupied.” He lifted himself onto his bunk and rolled over to look down at me. “Open my trunk, would you?”
I did as told. It was a worn, black-leather thing, with army insignias and hazard stickers placed at its corners. When I opened it, I got pretty much what I expected: uniform rows of clothes, toiletries, and extra blankets. I looked up at Camo Boy questioningly and he pointed to the right corner of the trunk, where an old blanket sat.
“Lift it,” he said simply. Beneath, I found a massive K-BAR Knife. With a ribbed handle and massive blade sheathed in an oiled-leather case. “Pass it to me, quick.”
I tossed it up to him, and scrambled up a moment later. “That’s a damn sword,” I said excitedly. “What do you need it for? Killing bears?”
“Nah,” Camo Boy briefly unsheathed it to reveal the black blade, worn but lethally sharp. “It’s an old habit. Sleep with protection.” He held the blade to the light and winked at me. “Only mine’s not made of rubber.”
I didn’t know what he meant, but laughed anyway. We spent the rest of Sunday afternoon together, trading stories and potential activities to do the next day. When dinner was called, I went along with my new friend. No one seemed to give us a second look. I couldn’t wait for the rest of the week. Not when Camo Boy’s expertise could teach me so much.
Dinner passed quickly. It always did the first night. Then we went to the Colosseum, a big concrete depression built right over the creek leading to the lake, and had night program. I explained to Camo Boy how we mixed Christian songs with regular, pop music as a way to make sure the youngest of us weren’t bored. He didn’t seem to mind, but he also didn’t join in either.
For the most part Camo Boy was silent, swaying with the music. At one point he pointed back behind us, to a dirt road that led away from the main road and up to an old, wooden structure. I explained it was the riflery range and that we could sign up for it if he wanted. He found that quite appealing.
After night program, we all headed back to our cabins, simultaneously tired and energized. We’d selected four activities, or skills as the camp called them, for the next day, and I ended up doing the same ones as my new friend – archery and riflery in the morning, horseback in the afternoon. A solid schedule.
Back at the cabin, we were given half an hour to talk and hang out before bed. Camo Boy spent it sharpening his knife, being careful to keep it out of view of the counselors. I told him I sometimes hunted with my dad and knew how to strip a bird with a knife, which he took polite interest in.
He explained it was great to know that stuff, to be ready for anything, but I could learn so much more. As we slid into our beds and the counselors called lights out, I asked if he could teach me some things. He said he’d be more than happy too.
Morning came in the rapid-fire style I’d grown accustomed to with camp. I assumed Camo Boy endured similar scheduling with his army background, but he seemed a bit slow to adjust. When I woke up and shook his shoulder, he sort of jumped, eyes wide and alert, his knife in hand. I made him hide it before the counselors could see, trying to laugh it off.
“C’mon. Time for morning exercises.”
After that initial moment of panic, Camo Boy returned to his quiet ways. We spent about fifteen minutes at the waterfront, doing “exercises,” but really only annoying the hell out of the rest of the lake’s inhabitants with cheers, laughing, shouting, and occasionally throwing someone in. For all intents and purposes, Camo Boy was in excellent shape, doing each exercise with little difficulty and even garnering the attention of the rest of our cabin.
Before we knew it, he and our head counselor, Michael, were in a contest to see who could do more push-ups. I filtered out at around ten, but Michael and Camo Boy held strong through twenty, then thirty, all the way up to fifty, and Camo Boy barely broke a sweat.
Eventually, Michael broke and collapsed in the gravel of the waterfront amphitheater, defeated. Our cabin herded him and Camo Boy down toward the dock, jeering at our head counselor and cheering on our victorious friend. Michael, being a good sport, accepted his punishment, but at the last moment, dragged Camo Boy into the water with him.
I jolted as they went under water, seeing Camo Boy’s features widen with the same fear he had when he awoke. They disappeared for a moment, before resurfacing. Michael filled the air with curses, clutching at his nose as it pumped blood all over his face.
Camo Boy stood in the shallow water, arms folded across his chest as he shuddered. “I-I’m sorry. I didn’t mean too… you caught me by surprise.”
Michael wrapped a towel around his nose and laughed. “Don’t worry, dude. You just caught me with your elbow. Good match?” He stuck out his non-bloodied hand.
Reluctantly, Camo Boy took it. The rest of our cabin and all the other campers watched in fascination. When they broke apart, the bell for breakfast rang and everyone ran for the mess hall. I stayed behind with Camo Boy, who shuddered in his soaked fatigues. We went back to our cabin while Michael went to the nurse’s office, and looked for dry clothes.
We marched up the dirt road in silence, before I finally broke it by saying, “So how many push-ups can you do?”
He looked at me, surprised. I shrugged. Michael had said good game, so I didn’t care much about the nosebleed. “I don’t know,” he replied, “But where I come from, the victor doesn’t get thrown in with the losers. It’s poor sportsmanship.”
I regarded him as we slipped into the cabin and went to our bunk. “It was just a bit of fun, though.”
“Either way,” Camo Boy said, slipping into fresh clothes and thumbing his knife for a moment. “He shouldn’t have done that.”
I wasn’t sure how to reply to that so I just said, “Let’s get some breakfast. You’ll love the rest of the day.”
He didn’t seem convinced, but accompanied me anyway. Breakfast passed rapidly, as did chapel time – where we did a bit of heavenly worship – and then it came time for skills. Camo Boy seemed to brighten at the mention of those. Propulsion-based activities were right up his alley.
Our first skill, archery, took place on a big field set back into the mountain. We were given cheap compound bows and colorful arrows. The counselors in charge ran through the same monotonous spiel about odd-fletchings out, always aim down-range, and never dry fire crap I’d heard before.
Camo Boy didn’t seem to be paying attention to them. Instead he grinned at me and leaned on his bow. “You still want me to teach you some stuff, right?” I nodded. He grinned wider, a hint of something sinister in his grey eyes. “Just watch me, then.”
The counselors – a young girl named Stacey and slightly older boy named Travis – were distracted as they told everyone to line their shots up. Most kids could barely pull the bows back, and some couldn’t even knock their arrows. Camo Boy and I were the only ones even remotely equipped.
When the girl gave the command, arrows flew in every which way toward their target, slapping against the foam-padding like rain. I noted Camo Boy hit near center every time, releasing the arrow fluidly. When it came time to put our bows down, I didn’t see him stay back as I was too eager to see how I did. I walked up to the target, noting my arrows and reached up to grab them.
“WHUMP!” I cried out and stumbled back as an arrow embedded itself where my hand had been a moment prior. A faint cut appeared on the webbing between my thumb and index finger. I looked back at the counselors, but they were assisting the other campers in finding their own arrows, and then I looked to Camo Boy. He smiled wickedly and dropped his bow, before striding over to me and yanking out the arrow.
“First thing you’ll learn, don’t walk into my line of fire,” he laughed.
I nodded quietly, cradling my hand. No one had seen what he’d done, and if I told on him, the counselors would claim it an accident. “Nice shot,” I muttered.
I avoided walking anywhere near Camo Boy’s line of fire after that. Always waiting until he went to get his arrows and following suit. We slowly forgot about the incident after awhile, and when the bell rang to signal the end of the skill, we were laughing once more. Riflery was next.
As I told Camo Boy the day before, the riflery range was this rather creepy skeleton of a building, two stories high and stacked with musty mattresses on the second floor. They four kids shoot at a time, but he and I were lucky enough to go first.
We laid down on mattresses and shouldered our guns, once again ignoring the drone of the counselor’s instructions. I simply watched Camo Boy, noting the way he shouldered his weapon, relaxed his breathing, and peered down the firing range with absolute fixation. I squinted my eyes, trying to pick out what he was staring down. All I could see was a slight flicker of movement right below our targets.
When the counselors finally let us fire, I watched my strange friend carefully, catching a sickening grin spread over his face as he dipped his rifle low and fired. A small flurry of movement followed by the bullet punching into the dirt seemed to widen his grin even more. I shifted uncomfortably and fired my own shot, not caring where it went. Something about that malice in his features twisted my gut.
After we finished our turn, the counselors let us retrieve our targets and this time Camo Boy eagerly ran ahead of the other kids. He beckoned me off to the side of the targets and proudly showcased his results: a chipmunk, bucking in throes of death, a hole torn through its underbelly with shoe-string intestines dribbling out of it.
“Nice shot,” I said quietly.
“I was off by a bit,” he replied, slowly using the heel of his boot to crush the poor thing’s skull. “Meant to deliver a killing blow. My father loathes suffering.”
I nodded in agreement with the cardinal rule of hunting – quick, clean kills. Always. But a cold weight of dread in my stomach made me uncertain. He didn’t seem to mind stamping the creature out of existence.
We weren’t able to shoot again in the time left for that skill. Too many others and too few guns. I didn’t mind. Sounds of that chipmunk’s skull still crackled in the back of my mind.
When the end of the second skill came about, I was quick to forget my qualms. The next three hours took us through the high-point of the day: free-time, lunch, and rest hour. Or ‘craziness, refueling, and recovery’ as I thought of it. Those hours passed like a blurr, taking me and Camo Boy through a plentitude of activities before we wound right back on top of his bunk for rest hour. He did disappear for a short while during free-time, but I’d been so preoccupied at the waterfront, I scarcely noticed.
I decided to forgive him for his eccentricities throughout the morning. Chalked it up to adjustment issues. When I hoisted myself up amid the soft chattering of other campers pretending to be quiet during rest hour, I noticed Camo Boy fiddling with something.
It was small, white, and intricate, bound by string. I peered closer and jolted back when I realized it was the bones of the chipmunk he’d shot. “The hell are you doing with that?”
He only grinned, twirling the bones on a string. “Couldn’t let it go to waste.”
I folded my legs and eyed the bones nervously. “You didn’t… you know… eat it, did you?”
Camo Boy stared at me, “You’re funny, Sean, you know that? Of course I didn’t. Not enough meat.” As before, I couldn’t tell whether he was joking. He held up the bones, showing off the pearly-white quality to them. “There is a certain beauty to it, though.”
I shrugged. “Bones are bones, dude. You’re lucky I’m used to that kind of stuff or you could be in major trouble.”
“Not bones,” Camo Boy lowered the string, “Death. And I know you won’t tell anyone about this. I trust you.” He smiled that eerie smile, making me shift uncomfortably.
“Well not anymore,” I promised, looking at the bones and the K-BAR knife sitting between us. I imagined he could very easily do away with me in the fashion he had done away with the chipmunk. One quick slice of that knife… I shuddered.
Camo Boy returned to fiddling with his bones while I watched, listening to the other kids play cards and mini-basketball. Part of me deeply regretted forming whatever twisted version of a friendship this was with Camo Boy, but another part stirred with intrigue. His past, his skills, his family, and background. I wanted to know, but never really gained the courage to probe deeper.
After rest hour, time for third and fourth skills came along. Camo Boy and I had signed up for horseback riding which I was just now remembering meant we needed to walk up a long dirt road to get too. As per usual, Camo Boy had little trouble with the climb. He would’ve left me in the dust, sucking in breaths like a fish, but instead he lingered to laugh and encourage me along.
We reached the top a couple minutes later, sweaty and covered in dust. The barn and paddock for the horses squatted in a little clearing surrounded by trees and piles of gravel. We were surprised to find only us and one other kid had signed up, leading to a rather quick and engaging rundown of things. The counselor in charge here was far more attentive that those at archery, so Camo Boy conducted himself better.
Unsurprisingly, the military-raised kid showed impressive dexterity in handling his horse. He led it out into a dirt-filled paddock and briefly kneeled to attach something to his boots before mounting. I was pretty comfortably around the big animals, having ridden my fair share on trail rides and at carnivals. The other kid in our group, a timid girl with freckles and flaming red hair, required far more persuasion to even get close to her steed, so we were left to our own devices once more.
Luckily the horses were docile, gentle creatures, used to supporting little brats all day. I rode my horse around in circles, eventually getting the grey gelding, aptly named Silver, up to a trot. In turn, Camo Boy showed impressive skill with a deep-brown quarter horse named Dancer. He held his boots tight against its flanks, applying gradual pressure that made the animal step like a show horse.
I watched, impressed, as he took it around the paddock, making it prance fancily. Eventually he came up beside me, sitting erect and grinning.
I looked at his horse, at the fear shining bright in Dancer’s eyes and then noticed something dark red trickling along its flanks. Blood. Again. Camo Boy wore spurs on his boots, which he dug deep into the rescue horse’s flanks.
He noticed me noticing, and only smiled wider. “Control is everything. And it’s not hard to control beasts, Sean. It just takes a little pain.” He dug the spurs in deeper, making the horse whinny in protest.
“Stop it,” I said quietly. “He did nothing to you.”
Camo Boy regarded me with cold grey eyes, “Maybe I’ll dig my spurs into you someday. See how you react to pain.”
I’m not sure what fueled my reply, but I somehow held my ground this time. “No. You won’t.”
A glimmer of malice flickered in that kid’s face, anger briefly clouding his smugness. “One beast at a time,” he replied, before trotting off.
The remainder of the skill passed in relative silence and soon it became boring to churn about in circles. Seeing as I couldn’t avoid Camo Boy, he remained at my side and nodded to the far side of the clearing where an old cabin squatted on the edge of the treeline. I explained in grudging sentences how there used to be a horseback riding cabin up here, but it’d been put out of commission in the early 90s.
He mulled over this news with interest, keeping Dancer in check with the spurs in his boots. The only reason I didn’t bring the brutal practice to the counselor’s attention was out of fear. We ended up taking our horses back to our stalls, where Camo Boy quietly brushed down his ride and rubbed away the blood painting its flanks. He claimed kindness was the best dissolution for fear, that a balance of the two yielded the best results. I suspected he wasn’t only attributing that wisdom to the horse.
The rest of the day passed quietly for us, with a faint shower of rain coming down during dinner, but clearing up as the moon ascended. When we found our way back among other campers, I almost began to realize what it felt to be normal for a change. Time spent in Camo Boy’s company always felt elastic, stretched out and isolating. I welcomed the efforts of a couple other boys who seemed interested in getting to know the quiet, militant kid better.
To my surprise, Camo Boy greeted them with warmth. We spent dinner laughing and flinging food at one another, making crude jokes that only immature boys found funny, and essentially messed around like idiots. It almost made me hopeful that first night would work out. But, as with many things, I wholly underestimated the path that night would take.
That night we played a game called Capture the Counselor. It’s easy enough to follow, with all the counselors painting themselves different colors and each color being worth a certain amount of points. They’d go and hide around camp and the campers would wait for a little while, before running after the counselors in order to get points for their cabin.
Camo Boy treated the challenge as I expected: like a military exercise. He outfitted himself in his usual garb, styling himself in leafy patterns intercut with branches and twigs. And one small detail, one that only I seemed to notice, was he slipped his knife into his boot. When I asked him about it, he only shrugged and said something about wild animals. I didn’t press the issue.
So fast forward to about 8:30 at night, the sky shot through with a streaky overcast, the Colosseum packed with over-eager campers, and caches of counselors hidden all over the place. I’d already been roped into going with my new friend, and part of me actually hoped we could win this thing. Given our small numbers and his experience, perhaps he could track them down.
When the whistle was blown for everyone to go, we wheeled out of there like demons, powering up the stairs and heading straight for a predetermined area: the stables. We’d agreed this would be the most likely spot to stumble across a more valuable counselor given it was the furthest area from the Colosseum and the longest trek. Unfortunately, at some point during our sprint up there, a huge group of girls managed to split us up and when they cleared, Camo Boy was nowhere to be seen.
I wasn’t sure what to do; keep going or join another familiar face. Instead, the weather made that decision for me. Apparently the drizzle from a couple hours prior had only been a harbinger for a much larger storm cell, and big, heavy drops spattered the ground as I struggled to decide.
Rapidly, the rain worsened, turning from a light shower to a massive deluge in moments and drenching everyone, even through the canopy of enormous trees looming above. Counselors, painted in various colors, began to emerge from various areas around camp. I was about halfway between the Colosseum and the stables, close to the archery field, and a group of counselors herded us back the way we came.
I tried to explain to a girl painted in blue that I’d been split up from a friend, but brutal cracks of thunder coupled with the general panic of driving everyone back to shelter made it difficult. Her only reassurance was that another counselor had probably found him and told him to do the same. With no other option, I agreed to head back.
It proved difficult to get back to the Colosseum, even on a wide dirt road. The rain formed an impenetrable curtain against the luminous dark, and the trees cast giant shadows against the sky. By the time we reached shelter, several kids suffered from scrapes and falls, and the rain only added a chill to the night.
I went to sit with my cabin, watching soaked campers chatter among themselves and counselors blotched with discolored paint do their best to keep a headcount. It took some time, but eventually we all became settled. I’d been diligently counting familiar faces from the moment I sat down, but not because I was worried Camo Boy would not return. Rather, a sense of foreboding had bloomed in the pit of my stomach from the moment I got split up from him. I was worried other familiar faces might not return.
And as the role-calls for each cabin went up, my fears were confirmed. But it wasn’t a camper that was missing. It was our head counselor, Michael. Neither he nor the strange kid who liked to blend in were anywhere to be seen.
I could tell from the chatter among the staff that they were fully aware of the situation, but as rain pounded down on the tin-roof covering the Colosseum, the storm reminded us any search would be futile. I tried entertaining the hope that the two had just hunkered down elsewhere, but that horrible sense of foreboding disallowed me.
Feeling queasy, I stood up and walked over to one of my counselors. I told them I wasn’t feeling well and needed to go to the bathroom. In their distraction, they nodded, before resuming an animated discussion on how to conduct a search in this weather. Slowly, I walked up the steps of the Colosseum and out into the rain-soaked night.
Even in the pounding rain I knew where I was headed. I knew this camp and its webbing of roads and trails intimately, even at that age. I took a deep breath, wiped my eyes clean, and made my way up to the stables.
I fell twice going up. The first time wasn’t bad, but the second split the skin on my knee open and a trickle of blood ran down my leg. In the cold, oppressive rain, I scarcely felt it. Instead fear throttled any other feeling out of me. Something about approaching the ominous and unknown did that to you. An uncertainty that you knew just enough about to formulate a terrifying hypothesis, and that fear backed up by a sense of absolute dread. It was like approaching a wounded predator and hoping the beast wouldn’t awaken with enough strength left to slice your guts open. A gamble, and one I had ample time to mull over and over in my mind as I stalked my way up the winding dirt road.
The stables… that place was infinitely creepier at night. The barn, an old, oblong homunculus of tattered wood, tin roofing, and looming hay bales. Then the abandoned, ramshackle cabin a little further beyond, where the woods softly grasped at it, trying to swallow it up. I shivered violently. Two creepy buildings for the price of one.
Swallowing my fear, I ventured into the barn. A dark corridor yawned before me, flanked to either side by ragged hay and saloon-style doors. I briefly imagined it to be a zoo, showcasing all the horrors of the world in one terrifying place. A soft snort from the nearest stall scared the shit out of me, but it was only Silver.
His big head loomed out of the darkness, eyes large and gentle. I smiled and patted his nose, shaking quietly. He managed to calm me somewhat, but then a horrible noise from the other end of barn shot through the tranquility. It sounded torturous – a mixture of a horse’s dying scream coupled with the hollow, echoing roar of some terrible beast.
Silver jerked back from my hand, his eyes flashing white in fear. I shushed him desperately, trying to calm the pulse of my own heart, but it did little. The old horse snorted and retreated into the darkness of his stall, leaving me alone once more.
Another bone-scorching bray pierced the stable, ringing off the tin roof and stabbing into my skull. Gulping down a sob, I slowly approached, praying it to only be a frightened horse.
Closer and closer I crept. As I went by the other stalls, I noted not a single horse came forth. They were all huddled at the back of their quarters, collectively in terror of something at the far end. Each step brought me closer, the rain’s pounding only interrupted by a devastating scream from that stall. I began sobbing as I closed in, trying to fight the wave of logic and reason pulling me in the opposite direction.
As I balanced on the brink of fight or flight, I steeled my nerves and rounded the corner of the final stall… and promptly screamed louder than anything humanly could. Michael stood before me, or rather was held up before me, nailed in place at the wrists and ankles. His body, painted a flaky red from the contest, was saturated with dark blood, and his pale chest heaved softly. He’d been crudely crucified against the rotting wood of the stall, but that had little to do with my scream.
Dancer stared back at me, through soft, gentle eyes, before another horrific scream rolled out of the old horse’s muzzle. Then he flopped back, his long face little more than butchered mask, skin limp and neck wrinkled, sitting atop Michael’s shoulders.
Dancer’s body lay to one side of the stable, a ragged stump left where the head had been. Michael, in agony and nailed up, unleashed another inhuman bellow against the rain. Each time he drew in a breath, trying to call for help, blood would seep from his chest where deep, childish letters had been carved.
A message would bloom to life in crimson lettering against his pale skin.
“Every beast may be conquered.”
Then Dancer’s head would lift, a large, hellish puppet on a string, and let loose another bray of pain that burrowed so deep into my skull, it pierced my core.
I heaved and sobbed at the brutal sight, grinding my hands into the straw. I wanted to go to help my counselor, but that noise blasted me back. I watched streams of blood spill down Michael’s chest, leaching his life out of him so that Camo Boy’s lecherous message could scrape my mind.
Then I heard a chuckle.
It sounded from behind me, clear as ice in the roar of the rain. I turned slowly and finally saw him, standing just beyond the stall’s door, gripping his knife in one hand, strings of blood and gore matting his hair and arms. He was smiling.
I croaked out the only thing I could, no longer caring about anything else as Michael loosened one finally death cry before sagging forward, dead. “Why?”
He only shrugged, coldly regarding the monstrosity he’d created and gripping his knife. “Because, Sean, all beasts must be conquered. I tried to teach you that today, give you access into my world. Into who I am. I am what you might refer to as an equalizer. Through all the blood and shit and gore and suffering, I eradicate chaos from this world. I bring control, little by little.” He pointed to the abomination nailed to the wall. “If others found this, they’d say it was some voodoo shit or pagan sacrifice. That I’m terribly insane, frightfully psychotic, and entirely unmade for this world.” He stepped up to me and pressed the knife’s edge to my cheek. “But I am made for this world. I know what I want. I want you as my witness, to see the bodies you must tear through and the gentle souls you must rip apart to bring about control. I’ll disappear soon, and you’ll be the only one who ever knew just what a fucked up little friend you made.” He began stepping back, out into the rain, leaving me in a state of shock and misery. “And at some point you’ll realize, I was entirely made for this world. Then, we’ll come together again.”
He slipped off into the night, leaving me raw and exhausted. The sight of Michael, his body butchered and Dancer’s head slung over his own, no longer frightened me. Instead it was saddening. As I slowly lost consciousness, my vision tunneled around my poor counselor. A conquered beast.
No one ever found Camo Boy. He became a legend told around the campfire after that. A spectre of many camper’s imaginations, made infamous by his disquieting presence and ominous disappearance.
How did the camp continue to run after this terror, you might ask? Higher powers.
I awoke in the nurse’s office the next morning, apparently having suffered a serious bout of pneumonia-induced exhaustion. Camo Boy wasn’t stupid. He knew I’d be an uncredible witness on account of being a child and a victim of extremely stressful conditions.
When he said others would see the disgusting horror show he’d created, he meant they’d see it through my eyes. My words, no matter what they were, would control everyone else’s perception, whether they believed me or not. My details on what happened would incubate in the minds of disbelieving adults which would inevitably pass on to the gossip of teenagers and finally come to life in the wild imaginations of kids. And the infamous legend would only grow from there.
Still, there was the issue of how the crucified man-horse monstrosity never got found. Well from what I gathered, neither the body of the horse nor that of Michael was ever recovered. Just as Camo Boy had vanished, so too did a counselor and an old quarter-horse. The most common hypothesis was that Camo Boy had ridden the horse out into the woods, going deep in and Michael, who’d been reportedly hidden up near the stables during the game, had gone after him.
Of course the camp, in aid with local law enforcement, launched a massive search operation. They looked and looked, finding no evidence in the stall I’d claimed was drenched in blood. And beyond that, they never found any evidence of the missing individuals. I did witness a peculiar sight while in nurse’s office though – a giant, craggy man built like an ox talking to a distraught couple. Later I learned they were the parents of Camo Boy and Michael respectively.
My guess, as little as it counted for, was that Camo Boy’s father might’ve pulled strings behind the scenes. Either fueled by the same belief system his son worshipped or simply too careful to let anyone discover just how fucked up his kid truly was. I believe he had some part in blurring a couple important details. As for Michael’s parents… well they just had to accept that their son had perished in the wake of a righteous cause, even though his true demise was so much worse.
My own parents were called on account of my health and distraught condition, but the disbelief of a frantic child runs deep in the veins of adults and they didn’t want anything to do with my horrible explanations
I was scheduled to be picked up the next day from camp, and ended up spending one final night in the medical bunks. As I went to sleep, the torturous bellow from that night continued to ring through my ears, full of pain and malice, wanting to both be killed and to kill. At some point in the night, a brush of air woke me, and I found a knife embedded deep within the wood of my bunk.
It was dark, wicked sharp, and clean. Below it rested the letters C.B. Camo Boy. ‘Conquered Beast,’ I thought wryly, heart fluttering a bit. I yanked the blade out and stuffed it under my mattress, finding exhaustion weigh me down more than fear. I knew Camo Boy could do away with me at any point, so I felt little fear of him. More pity and grief.
One thought did still nag at me though. The fate of poor Michael, with his body carved and pale, seeping blood and gasping raggedly as he suffocated within the moist confines of Dancer’s hollowed-out head. Had Camo Boy dragged him out somewhere into the woods and hidden him?
Or had he ripped himself free of those nails and stumbled into the Appalachian Wilderness himself? I closed my eyes as another gut-wrenching bray branded my ears. I couldn’t be completely certain if it was only in my mind… or if it came from somewhere deep in the woods.
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