Lately, my mind has been wandering back to my first camping experience. This event is the source of such fear and dread that thinking about it even twenty years later is sending shivers up and down my spine. However, I feel by writing this incident down I can put that night behind me and finally put this harrowing encounter to bed.
I lived a sheltered life as a child. I attended Christian school and went to church three days a week, sometimes even more. My father was a pastor, and when I developed an interest in doing outdoorsy type stuff, I asked if I could join the Boy Scouts. My dad in turn suggested I join the Cadets. This is an organization that is like the Boy Scouts but with a more explicitly Christian bend to it. I agreed, and he registered me the next day.
I liked attending meetings for the Cadets. I quickly made friends with everyone there. It seemed like I had joined at a very opportune time since the big overnight camping trip to Bong Recreation Area (feel free to make jokes, God knows we did) in Kenosha, WI was only three weeks away. To say I was excited would be a gross understatement. I had never been camping before and had always wanted to go. I convinced my father to join me and spent the next three weeks up all night with anticipation coursing through me.
The day of the big trip arrived. I rode in the car with my father. A smile beamed across my 9 year old face the entire way there. We arrived at around 4 PM. We set up our tent and our sleeping bags. This was followed by an extended nature hike. Initially, I was having a great time. I remember I caught my first wild animal, a frog. Even though I was disappointed when my father would not let me keep it as a pet and made me release it back into the woods, I was still very proud of this accomplishment.
The Ranger who was guiding our troop came across a rundown shack. This shack was ancient and decrepit. It must have been abandoned for at least the better part of a century, maybe even more. A derelict chair rocked ominously on the tiny front porch as the wind played with it. He told us to remember this hovel because it was the home of the Batners. This was followed by a lot of oohhs and aahhs.
This name meant nothing to me, but I was genuinely intrigued that a family had lived in such a tiny shanty. Around 6 PM, it began to get dark. I fell a little bit behind my father and the rest of the troop. With a cold wind blowing through the October air, I began to look at the branches of the barren and gnarled trees as they swayed. I surveyed my surroundings and soaked in the eerie silence that accompanied it. I became a little frightened. There was something unmistakably creepy about these woods. When the wind through the trees began to resemble a whisper, I quickened my step as night began to overtake the woods in an impenetrably black shroud.
We cooked hot dogs for dinner at the campsite. This was followed by one of the things I was most looking forward to, making s’mores around the campfire. As we began to eat, the Ranger that had served as our guide gathered everyone’s attention. He told us that he was now going to tell the tale of the Batners. I am going to write what he said as best as I can remember it.
“Back in the late 1930s, the area you are now sitting in was supposed to be converted into an airbase. Bulldozers and the like were ready to begin demolishing the forest to make way for it. However, there was one major problem. The Batners would not leave.”
“The Batners were a family that occupied that small shanty that we passed on the trail. They lived a completely isolated existence. The family consisted of Grandma Batner who did nothing much more than rock in her chair on the front porch. There was Grandpa Batner. He was an old codger who was missing all of his teeth. A black patch covered the hole where his right eye used to be. Their son Roy and his two children, Jenny May and Roy Jr., also lived in the tiny house. There had been a fair number of disappearances in the woods surrounding that shack, and this lead to rumors spreading about the family in the community. The most widespread being that they were cannibals.
They would lure lost hikers under the guise of down home hospitality and butcher them. They would feast upon their flesh. The most disturbing rumor was that they would grind the meat down into a slurry so that toothless Grandpa Batner could participate in the feeding. In any case, the government needed them to vacate their property in order to begin work on the runway. They, of course, refused to move. This continued for years. As the US joined World War II, the push to build an airbase became that much greater. They were offered a tidy sum to move on. Despite all of the economic pressure including thinly veiled threats of physical coercion, the Batners refused to budge. As 1945 rolled around, they were still stubbornly refusing to leave their property.”
“One day, government agents descended upon their shanty in one last push to get them to leave. They were shocked to find all of the members of the family dead. Apparently, they had all taken some kind of poison. Tucked into old man Batners’ pocket below his wide toothless grin was a note. It read,
“You government pigs may think you have won, but even death itself will not keep us from the land that is rightfully ours. Though our bodies may be removed from this land, we are not going anywhere.”
Wouldn’t you know it, World War II ended shortly after. With everyone looking with optimism toward the postwar future, it was decided that the land would be better served as the recreation area we are now camping on. However, as more people began to camp in the area, the number of disappearances began to skyrocket. Rumblings about strange red lights in the woods began to circulate.
Consistently, reports of bright red eyes cutting through the darkness of the woods came from multiple sources. With time, it became common knowledge that the ghosts of the Batners still occupied these very woods. That their hunger for human flesh was not sated by death. They stalk and prey on campers such as yourselves. Their voices, a whisper in the wind. Their red eyes hypnotic and ravenous for young flesh. The day may belong to us, but make no mistake, the night belongs to them, the Batners.”
As soon as he finished the sentence, two red lights appeared in the darkness of the trees. The other campers and I shrieked as the light moved slowly but surely toward the fire. I grabbed my father in panic. A feeble scream escaped my lips.
The light moved closer.
The source was revealed by the light of the fire. One of the troop leaders had sneaked into the trees during the telling of the tale. He had a hearty laugh as he showed the two laser pointers to us frightened campers. Everyone seemed sufficiently relieved, but the whole episode had frightened me so badly that I did not recover so quickly. As I hinted at before, I lived in an extremely sheltered home with no exposure whatsoever to scary stories and the macabre. As the rest of the camp settled in for the night, I kept asking my father to reassure me that it was a made up story, which he did repeatedly. Needless to say, he was furious.
Silence settled in as the rest of the campers were sleeping soundly including my father. I lay awake thinking I would be incapable of sleeping. Slumber eventually found me.
However, this sleep was restless and unfulfilling. I awoke in a daze. It took me a few moments to realize where I was and quickly after that for the fear to come rushing back. I told myself that it was all just a story over and over again, but this offered me no consolation. After my eyes adjusted to the darkness, seeing my father sleeping so peacefully provided me enough comfort to calm down. I reveled in the silence of the tent and closed my eyes preparing to fall back into the arms of sleep.
Then I heard it.
The wind blew through the flap of the tent. Carried on the wind was a voice. At first, I told myself I was mistaken. However, the whispering continued. It was barely audible but there was no denying its existence. Though I could not understand what was being said, the voice was calling to me. Before I knew what I was doing, I opened the flap with hands that no longer belonged to me and stood in front of the tent staring out into the darkness of the woods. That is when a pair of red lights appeared.
Scarlet red bobbing up and down through the trees attached to a figure concealed in the darkness. My horror intensified when I saw that this figure was not alone. It was being trailed by another pair of blood red eyes emitting a sinister light that latched onto something inside leaving me powerless to react. The eyes were other worldly, and combined with the incessant whispering, had me wholly hypnotized, mesmerized, and frozen in place as the lights marched ever closer to the tent. Then a third pair of eyes materialized followed by a fourth pursuing a clear cut path toward where I was standing. What I felt next snapped me out of it. I screamed at the top of my lungs as the hands grabbed me by the shoulders.
It was my father.
Try as he might, he was incapable of consoling his hysterical son. He pointed out that there was no one in the woods in an attempt to calm me. It didn’t work. I was beside myself with fear. As I sobbed uncontrollably, he quickly packed up our gear. We left immediately. He was livid to say the least. He lodged a formal complaint, and I never went to another Cadets meeting or step foot into Bong Recreation Area ever again.
Now, I can lie to myself about how foolish I was being. That I was just a child and had imagined the whole thing. However, whenever I try to rationalize it, I go back to that night and am reminded of what scared me the most. After the fourth set of bright red eyes appeared. Another single light, much brighter than the rest, materialized. There was no mistaking it, that eye was trained on me. That single red eye was so bright that it illuminated a toothless grin.The mouth opened, and a cackle escaped his lips.
Oh Jesus, that sound.
Who am I kidding? Writing this down won’t change a thing. I can push everything from that night into the past except that fucking laugh. I can still hear it now.
It was a sound so sinister and depraved that it followed me out of those woods that night and will remain with me until my dying day.