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Campfire Stories

All sense of direction has left me as the sun sets, taking away the last hint of a reference point I had. I don’t know where the beaten path is and the foliage is almost painfully thick. I can hear a lot of animals all around me, but I can’t tell what they are or how far they might be. I’m beginning to regret my choice to fly this long of a distance on my own, I should have just taken the train. Could have at least remembered my GPS. Or a flashlight.

Back home, I would always read books and watch documentaries on survival in the wilderness. Take hikes and get lost on purpose, just for the experience of being in nature. I got pretty good at it if I do say so myself, and now I know the woods around there like the back of my hand. Fat load of good that did for me, I have no idea what to do now, when it actually matters. Don’t know what grows or lives here. To make things worse, I can’t shake the feeling that something is watching me… and I remember the campfire stories all too well.

“It’s only up from here,” I whispered to myself, trying to refocus my mind.

As if in direct response to my words, my makeshift crutch snapped and sent me crashing face first into the ground. Searing pain radiates from my left thigh as I try to clamber to my knees, reminding me of the presumably broken femur slowing me down, now without its splint for who knows how long. Adrenaline is a hell of a thing. At least all that time “practicing” survival has kept me relatively calm in the face of this, I’m sure panicking would be really bad right now. I’m feeling lightheaded. Am I bleeding? It’s impossible to tell in this darkness. Looks like I’m stuck here for the night.

“Better get comfortable,” I mutter shakily, wincing as I attempt to roll onto my back.

Upon opening my eyes, I’m greeted with a shadowy figure right in front of me with massive antlers. So much for not panicking! The stories may have scared me but I didn’t think they were real, wait, this can’t be real it’s not possible. I’m hallucinating, must be, oh god it’s coming closer what do I do? It’s reaching for my leg, I don’t want to get eaten.

“D-Don’t kill me,” I said as everything went black.

I’m awakened by the sun shining on my face through the leaves and a quiet crackling. Did I make a campfire? How did I do that with this… leg? My leg is… fine? Upon closer inspection after wiping the sleep out of my eyes, I was definitely bleeding since my pants are all red, but the leg is torn off and my leg looks fine. Aside from that and the campfire, everything seems the same. This must be real, but it doesn’t make sense…

“Don’t move.”

I jolt at the sudden voice and a chill runs down my spine as I see the figure with antlers from before approaching me. I scramble to move away and try to scream, but nothing comes out.

“Don’t. Move,” it repeats in a commanding voice. “You’ll hurt yourself.”

“I’m sorry! Just let- leave me alone!” I blurt in a panic, still dragging myself away.

It raises its hands. “I mean no harm. Look at me.”

My heart is racing and my mind is screaming ‘run away’ endlessly, but its words gave me a foothold to push back and try to calm down. Every fiber of my being is screaming to run, but it really isn’t being hostile. The fire must have been its doing too. Did it heal my leg as well? It must have been looking after me through the night. Deep breaths…

“Alive, yes? Speak when you have steadied yourself.”

One by one I push out the racing thoughts as my heart slows down. “You…” I say with a deep breath, “Are no monster.”

“Well spotted, traveler.”

“Did you help me?”

“I did. So you’ll leave sooner.”

“Are the stories true?”

“Oh, very! Every word! What they neglect to mention, however, is that not all of us are monsters.”

Finally, with a sigh I relax. Now that I can focus, I drag myself to my feet with my miraculously healed leg, careful to avoid trampling the mushrooms near me.

“You, too, are no monster,” the antlered man quietly says. “You understand.”

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” I say with a smile. “Sorry for the, uh, intrusion.”

He silently nods before turning towards the direction I came from. Taking advantage of this clarity of mind, I look around and take in the beauty of the untamed forest. Never had a chance to really see it until now. The absurdity of this situation is also very clear in my mind, however, and this feels… wrong somehow. The beauty is intoxicating, like nothing I’ve seen back home, yet here I am in god knows where, lucky to be alive for several reasons, standing face to face with the monster of my nightmares, having a casual chat.

“Is someone waiting for you?” says the antlered man, still looking away.

“Ah, my parents. Told them I’d be back in a couple days.”

“Come, I will bring you home.”

Confused, I follow him. What does he mean by that? Does he know how far it is? He must be taking me to a bus stop or something.

“Here, take this.” He hands me a small bone pendant. “Even the monsters among us will not harm you so long as you carry this.”

“Thank you! I’ll take care of it.”

“Don’t mention it. Really.”

Suddenly, the forest clears. We’ve only been walking for five minutes, and I’m in… my back yard? Behind me, he is nowhere to be seen. My emaciated body goes limp as my parents hold me up with fearful tears in their eyes.

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