By Chef walpurgisnight
It was getting to be a tradition.
For the past two years we’ve gone on a camping trip together, me and my group of friends: Sean, Lin and her sister Lily, Key, Sal, Monica, and Gabe. Monica’s family is really wealthy and they own a lot of land out in Bumbfuck Michigan so we’ve wrapped up our past two summer vacations out there in their woods. We pitch a few tents in what’s basically the backyard of Monica’s grandmother’s huge Victorian-style house and pretend we’re “roughin’ it” when in actuality, we just sleep out there for the five hours of the night that we don’t spend drinking or playing video games inside. Cooking out over the bonfire and climbing trees is fun, but it’s always only been a very small part of the trip.
None of us talked about it or admitted it out loud, not even Monica, but we were all a little afraid to be out there for too long. We had no concrete reason to be, but we were. No matter how many times the Pines’ family assured us that the property was safe. I’d never seen or heard anything out of the ordinary out there–maybe it was just because I’d seen enough horror movies to develop a fear of the woods in general, but I don’t know. Something about the air in the intimidatingly vast property just made me feel really vulnerable.
I got told just days before we were supposed to leave that I wouldn’t be able to take the time off for the trip. One of my fellow supervisors at work had to go in for emergency surgery on his knee and my store just didn’t have the coverage. I was really bummed, but my friends didn’t hold it against me–we all know being an adult sucks sometimes. I told them they could still use my cooler and my tents and my camcorder and that they should video-blog the trip for me. I hugged them all goodbye the morning they left and then I went off to my shift. I told Sal to call me once they got there because I knew he would be the only one who’d remember to check in.
Sal never called–none of them did. I left work at 10PM and tried to text and call all of them, but not one of them got back to me. I checked Twitter, Facebook–nothing from anybody. No updates since Gabe’s “hitting the road” status from earlier that morning. I felt like throwing up–something felt really wrong. Key’s mother called me as soon as I started to panic and she sounded really rattled too–he hadn’t talked to her all day, and he’s really good about touching base with her when he takes trips. I’d later learn that that whole night, my friends’ parents were all trying to get in touch with each other. None of them heard from their kids since they first got on the road. Monica’s mom called the landline to the house several times–Grandma Pines was out of town this year, but Monica should have answered if they were there–she didn’t.
Sean’s father drove up to Pines’ property the next morning with Monica’s parents. He told me something felt off as soon as he stepped out of his car. When you pull up to the house, there’s no fence or anything, so you can see if anything is set up in the area surrounding it–he would have been able to see if everyone had set up tents and gear as soon as he got up the path, but there was nothing. But he said all the house’s windows were open and all the lights were on. Within a half hour, they called the police.
I was asked to come in, watch the videos, and answer any questions I could. I transcribed what I watched as best I could.
Clip 1, 10:45 9/16/2016
Gabe has the camera pointed at the rearview mirror.
Gabe: “How the fuck do you know when it’s recording?”
Monica: “The green button is on, dipshit.”
Clip 2, 1:15 9/16/2016
Gabe is filming the back of Lin’s car just ahead of them. He’s talking to Sean and Monica but I can’t tell what they’re saying, even with the audio adjusted. It’s raining really hard and I see flashes of lightning.
Clip 3, 8:16 9/16/2016
A closeup of Monica. She’s smoking and swinging in the rocking chair out on the back porch. She looks tipsy. She notices she’s being filmed and winks at the camera. I think Sean laughs.
Clip 4, 10:16 9/17/2016
I swallow hard when I see the timestamp–it doesn’t make any sense. Saturday morning–Sean’s father was already calling the police by then. I want to ask the cop what’s going on, but he tells me to please just keep watching quietly.
Lily is flipping pancakes. She scrunches up her nose at the camera and Gabe chuckles.
Gabe: “You don’t look so good, Lil. Didn’t sleep?”
Lily: “How could I? All those fucking screams last night?”
Gabe: “The hell?”
Lily: “You didn’t hear that shit? Lin and I were freaked the fuck out–“
Gabe: “What the fuck? We didn’t hear anything.”
Lily: “Yeah, it fucking sounded like cats in heat, but–wrong. Like it wasn’t natural.”
Gabe: “We were out in the tents all night and we didn’t hear shit–“
Lily: “Lucky you! We came in the house at like four and it was still going. I don’t know when it stopped but I guess I fell asleep at some point.”
Gabe: “Did the girls say anything?”
Lily: “They’re not up yet, I dunno. Here, can you pass me that–“
Clip 5, 11:14 9/17/2016
A wide shot of the “backyard.” I can hear glasses clinking and a couple of my friends taking drags of cigarettes. I see a figure standing far off by the edge of the woods, but whoever’s filming doesn’t seem to notice it. Then I hear Gabe’s voice, followed by Sean’s, then Key’s–they’re talking about the hot tub needing repairs because the bubble jets don’t work, and then the figure moves and Gabe sees it–
Gabe: “Whoa, whoa, what the fuck–“
Gabe: “Holy fuck, what the fuck, who the fuck is–“
Sean: “Yo, what the fuck, man–“
Gabe: “Did you see? Did you fucking see–“
The figure is contorting in the distance and I cover my mouth with my hand. It’s shaped like a person, but it starts doing this odd twitching movement with its arms–they look almost like they’re stretching out really long and then shrinking again. The legs are bending like a flamingo’s. The boys behind the camera are yelling and freaking out. The shot cuts to the figure launching itself upward into the trees.
The timestamps are turned off.
It’s night time, a shaky shot of the deck out back. The porch light is on and Lily and Key have their backs to the camera. They’re crouched down sitting on the steps and Lily is sobbing. Key looks behind his shoulder and mouths “turn it off,” but the camera’s still recording. Key pecks the top of her head and rubs her back but she barely moves.
Key: “Are you sure you saw…”
His voice is too quiet for me to hear everything he says. I’m pretty sure Gabe is the one filming again. I don’t see Monica in the shot but I hear her voice, and then Sean’s.
Monica: “What happened?”
Sean: “You didn’t hear that shit?”
Monica: “What the fuck do you mean–“
Sean: “There’s some shit in this fuckin house, man–“
Gabe: “Guys, guys–“
Monica: “–I looked in every single room, there’s nothing in here–“
Sean: “–freakin the fuck out, man, I’m tired of this shit–“
Monica: “Well what the fuck do you want me to do, Sean?”
A shot of something–somebody?–caught very high in a tree. Whoever’s filming is panting and coughing like they started crying and it sounds like it could either be Gabe or Sal. The shot is focused on whatever’s stuck up there and something breaks off the tree and falls. It makes no noise when it lands and that’s where the shot cuts.
It’s a shot of Monica’s room, or what used to be her room when she was a little kid. I’ve only been in that room a couple of times–it’s full of old childhood shit so there’s nothing really for us to see or do in there. The window is open and a little breeze ripples through the curtain. There’s a crash like glass shattering from what sounds like downstairs and I nearly jump out of my seat, shielding my eyes but the cop touches my arm, tells me there’s nothing scary in the shot. It’s still just the room, pink and purple with sunshine coming through. The clip ends with another loud crash and I swear a see flicker of someone’s face, wide-eyed and gaunt, peeking into the corner of the window–just for a second. I gasp out loud and whip around to look at the cop and he gives me this nod to keep watching.
The last clip they show me is a still, blurred shot of the living room. The camera’s facing the window overlooking the backyard and I can see the lit campfire. The TV isn’t in the shot but I can hear the music to the menu screen of one of the Mario Kart games–the shot is shifting in-and-out of focus and I can tell nobody is recording, the camera’s just been left on. It’s about a minute and a half of just this, then suddenly the power in the house goes out with a crack and I shake in my seat. There’s a strange, howling noise from the outside, but it’s not a coyote, not an animal–it sounds like two or three people mocking wolves, but warped. Something hits the window with a hard thud and I wince–there’s blood spattered across it and through the smears, I can see somebody with oddly-shaped limbs standing by the fire. They don’t move. They just stand there with their head bent down, fixated completely on the flames while the howling keeps going and I start to notice something. The howling sounds exactly the same every time–like it’s a six-second sound clip playing on a loop. As soon as this clicks in my mind, it stops completely and I’m so thrown off that I almost don’t see the figure disappear–it doesn’t leave the shot, I don’t see it move, it just vanishes. The fire goes out and the lights turn on in the house again. The menu music from Mario Kart is playing again and I can hear my friends laughing, the clink of beer bottles. The shot goes blurred and then shuts off.
That’s all the footage they showed me. I was asked where I was during all this, why I didn’t go on this trip, why my friends had some of my belongings, especially the camera. And I told them the truth. I told them about the previous two years, how nothing strange had ever happened on the Pines’ property before. In turn I asked them what happened to my friends.
They told me seven bodies were found on the property–none of them belonging to any one of my friends. Their parents were asked to identify the bodies and remains and none of them matched. My friends are just missing.
I knew the cops weren’t gonna tell me, so I asked Sean’s father about the seven dead strangers. Were they people the Pines’ knew? He didn’t know. He just told me how he found them–six of them, in a clearing in the woods, laying in a circle surrounding a tree with their guts strung together, holding hands like in a prayer. The seventh body was perched up at the top of the tree, impaled through the head on the highest branch.