The Beast That Haunted Me For 20 Years

Flickr / Andreas Øverland
Flickr / Andreas Øverland

ENTRY 1 – July 5, 2013

I still remember it clearly. It haunts me like a cold darkness, the same kind of feeling I guess someone feels before they die. In this state, it doesn’t seem to be such a bad ending. For the past 20 years, my thoughts, my dreams, and my reality have been plagued by the Beast. It resulted in a divorce and now a separation from my second wife. I suppose there are roads I could have taken to prevent these things, but how can I burden another soul with that which I am haunted? My therapist feels that doing so will only help, and maybe even save my second failing marriage, perhaps saving what little hope of a relationship I have with my kids.

beetlejuice

It was the 21st of October, 1991. I was just three months past 10 years old, and for my first steps into manhood, my grandfather thought it would be a good idea for me and my friends to go camping with him. For years I had begged my parents to allow me to go into the woods with my grandpa, to spend a night under the heavens. Just two guys roughing it in the wild like Wild Bill and the cowboys since. For years they had said no, but this year, this year they said yes.

I had two friends in mind that I wanted to go on the expedition into the wild. However, they did not share in my excitement. But no worries, I thought, it will just be me and my Grandpa. He said he had the perfect spot picked out, a little bare spot in the dense woods, a spot he had never camped before. It would be remote, just like the cowboys’ camp.

I asked Grandpa how he had found the destination. He told me that he and some old Army buddies used to fish at the park, friends that had since passed. Since then he had hiked the trails and stumbled across the small clearing that looked like a picture-perfect campsite.

beetlejuice

Grandpa described the camp accurately. It was a three mile trek uphill, through a creek, down a gully, and through battalions of thorns before we reached the small opening he had described to me. We walked through the clearing and stopped just 10 feet into the woods. It only took a few minutes for Grandpa to set up the tent. I watched in amazement as he flipped the tent up, staked down the corners, and topped the roof without ever breaking a sweat. The 68-year-old man still had it.

After the tent was up, he glanced around the woods and out into the clearing, and then looked over to me, “We need to get a fire going to keep the animals away tonight. Why don’t you walk around and find us as much wood as you can, dry and up off the ground?”

“How big should they be?” I asked, aware of my inexperience.

“Start with finger-sized, then two fingers wide, then forearm wide. Get as much as you can carry, then get some more,” he said. His expertise amazed me.

It took about half an hour to gather my share and another 20 minutes for Grandpa to get his. I looked at the towering woodpile that stood a full foot taller than I.

“Isn’t that too much?” I asked.

Grandpa shook his head. “No, nighttime is long and cold. We’ll need it.” He looked at me, my eyes wide with wonder. “Want to be in charge of the fire?” he asked.

“Really?” I asked with amazement. “Can I?”

“Hell, I don’t see why not.”

I followed Grandpa to where he had set up the ring of rocks. He placed the finger sized wood into a neat little teepee, stuffed a piece of paper under it, and handed me the lighter. He looked at me and smiled as I took the lighter and made my first fire.

beetlejuice

We sat by the fire and ate a small dinner while we told each other ghost stories. Night fell quickly, bringing a vast darkness and chill that felt more like winter than autumn. I stood and walked off to relieve myself. The wind howled like a pack of wolves.

As I finished, the wind began to calm. There was the snapping of a twig deep in the woods. The wind picked back up, causing me to shiver. My fingers felt icy. It was as if nature were warning me of what was to come.

I took a step deeper into the cold dark night, my ears turning toward the sounds of the snapping twigs. “Grandpa?” I hollered. I turned back to camp, and saw him round the tent and come toward me.

“What is it, Danny?”

I stood still, simply pointing into the woods. Grandpa stood silent, his aging ears focused to the darkness. There was another snap. Grandpa looked down at me and smiled, putting a reassuring hand on my shoulder.

“Oh, nothing to worry about,” he said, “Probably just a deer or some squirrels settling in for the night.” He turned my shoulder signaling for me to go back to the tent. I did. But Grandpa stood there a moment longer. At the time I thought nothing of it, but now, I realize that there was a fear in his eyes as he gazed out into the woods. It was a fear that was not caused by the possibility of a deer or a squirrel, but the fear of prey when it sees the predator.

I ducked into the tent, shivering, trying desperately to keep from the wind. I huddled myself into my sleeping bag, which helped, but only a little. Grandpa came in behind me and zipped up the tent. He took a big sniff and then began to clap his hands together, rubbing them furiously.

“It’s colder than a witch’s heart out there.” Grandpa slid back and unzipped his bag, huddling under it.

“Grandpa, can we stay another night?”

“Maybe, we’ll have to see how these old bones hold up on this hard ground.” He leaned over and kissed my forehead. “Night, Danny.”

“Night, Grandpa.”

beetlejuice

I’m not entirely sure how late it was, but I know the darkness had grown and the moonlight had faded. I saw Grandpa sitting upright in the tent. His eyes were focused on the zipper of the doorway. I could tell that the fire had almost died out, just a hint of an amber glow remained of it.

“Gran…,” I began

“Shhhh,” he hissed. I saw a large knife in his hands. I sat up beside him.

In a soft whisper I leaned in toward him. “What’s out there?” I asked, trying to keep my voice from shaking.

“I don’t know.” His eyes were still locked on the rusting metal of the zipper.

Outside I heard a crack of a branch, something heavy was moving around our camp.

Grandpa tightened his grip on the handle of the knife and he turned to me, “Danny, I need you to follow me out there, and run when I tell you to. I’ll be able to find you, but I need you to run back toward the gully we came through. I will come get you from there.”

“But what if there’s nothing out there? What if it’s just a deer?”

“It’s not.” His certainty caused me to shiver. He crawled to the doorway, and slowly unzipped the tent, looking back toward me to make sure I would be ready when it was opened. He started out of the tent and I followed. He looked at me and motioned with his head for me to start running.

I did. I didn’t get far before I stopped, maybe 50 feet or so. A dark, evil growl echoed throughout the woods. I stood frozen, looking back to the camp. I could vaguely make out my Grandpa’s silhouette through the glow of the dying fire. Beyond that was the Beast. It stood tall, nearly a foot higher than Grandpa’s six feet and change and easily double his 250 pounds. The light that reflected in the Beast’s eyes was a red glow. Its body lacked fur, and its teeth were long and razor like. It let out a ghastly growl.

Grandpa raised the large blade high above his head and swiped down on the Beast. The Beast screamed, and with little effort slapped at Grandpa, causing him to soar across the woods, back-first into a tree. I heard the life escape him. I watched the monster skip toward him and begin slashing and snarling.

I turned and ran, wishing I was running in silence, but knew within my heart that I was making more noise than I cared to admit.

I am uncertain how far I ran, but I was panting for air. Every muscle in my legs burned. The cold night air burned my lungs as I gasped. I stood still, trying to slow my harsh breathing. I heard heavy footfalls. I could see nothing through the darkness.

I took off again in a full sprint, ignoring the pain that was shooting up my right shin as if barbed wire caught in my flesh. My sides began to ache, but I neared salvation when I spotted a pair of lights shining through the windows of a cabin only yards ahead of me.

As the light grew closer I heard a snap, but it was closer this time, near me. My ankle gave way and I crashed to the ground with a panicked scream.

“Help!” I cried out. “God, help!”

I could feel the earth quaking under my back as the loud thuds grew closer. They slowed and I forced my eyes open to see the tall Beast hovering over me, a demon ready to possess my helpless soul. It cocked its head and looked down at me, drool dripping from its parted lips. It spoke in a gargled voice that was rough to make out through the dark rasp in its voice, but I swear it said, “You’re not welcome here.”

It reached down and grabbed me by the cheek. I felt my cheeks warm as its nails pierced my flesh, causing warm blood to pour out. It sniffed the blood scent that began to fill the air and pulled me to its face snarling. Its breath smelled of decay and death.

As I closed my eyes, knowing I was going to die, I heard thunder in the distance. The Beast dropped me and I crashed to the cold hard ground. There was another crash of thunder forcing the Beast to let out a horrific cry. I opened my eyes, and as the third thunderclap rang out I saw blood spew from the Beast’s chest.

It backed away slowly and then crumpled to the ground. Its weight crashed hard just feet from me.

Two men with shotguns stood on either side of me while a woman knelt down beside me, placing my head in her lap. One of the men pulled out a large flashlight and shined it on the Beast. Its jaws were drenched in Grandpa’s blood. It was a hideous beast. Its face was of weltered leather, its open eyes a deep red that matched the blood on its snout.

One man shot the Beast in the head and then looked to me. “What are you doing here?” His voice was dark and cold, his face looked as if the years had been poor to him.

I fought back the tears. “My Grandpa and me were camping and it attacked him!”

“You better not ever speak of this boy, we don’t need no trouble, you hear?”

The woman tightened her grip on me. “Leave the boy alone, Charles. He’s just a kid! Now help me get him to the house.”

“What if the other things come looking for it?”

“John can burn the body, now help me!” She stood from the ground wrapping her arm around my neck. “He’s shaking!”

I don’t know how long they kept me in their home. A few days, I guess. Once Carol – the woman who cared for me – felt that I was healed she decided it was time to call the authorities. Charles was still uneasy about whatever lurked in the woods. They told the police that they had found me the night before in the woods, wandering and dehydrated.

My parents picked me up that same day at the police station. I was told of the search party that had been looking for me for two days, to no avail. I was asked a million questions about where I was and what happened to Grandpa. Charles had drilled me for days, and I repeated his answers with the ease of a well-versed actor. “In the woods trying to find my way home,” I would say, “a bear attacked us at camp, he tried to protect me, but it got him.” The words came out with such fluidity I almost believed them myself. I think that it was easier to believe those words than the truth.

Once we got home my parents never brought it up again. We held a small closed casket service for Grandpa. I’m not sure if Grandpa was in the casket or not.

I hoped not.

As the days turned to weeks, then to months, and then to years, I had convinced myself that what had happened was a freak accident. A bear attack. But I know it was more. I can still see the bloodstained face of the creature, the trembling fear boiling in Charles’ eyes.

beetlejuice

I still think about it, more often now. It has been 20 years to the day of the attack. Three months past my 30th birthday. I sit here and in the reflection of my computer screen I see the scar on my right cheek left by the Beast. I remember it each time I look in the mirror. The scar I told my wives and kids I received while camping when I was ten.

In the other room I can hear the newscast, the breaking story of a young girl, Marissa Stanton, who had gone missing in those same woods where Grandpa and I camped when I was 10 years old. I plan to go out there and aid in the search this weekend, not that it will help. The only help I – and everyone else – can really offer is a prayer that God had mercy on her helpless soul.

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