My name is Glenn and I want to tell you about an encounter I had from my childhood.
In 1983, I was 12 years old and myself and my two younger brothers, Derek who was 10 and Andy who was 7, did what every respectable boy living in rural Ohio did during their summers in the days before the internet or cell phones – we tore around in the woods, investigate all the critters that came across our path, built forts and generally just spent as much time outdoors as we could.
Our preferred place to hang out outside was the old Shasta trailer camper that had been parked eternally behind our house. It had been abandoned by the previous renters and the landlord left it there, parked just inside the tree line about 30 yards from the back door of the house.
That old camper and the shade trees around it was the preferred place for us in the summer. It was far preferable to sitting in the “sweatbox”, as we called the house, since it was metal, sat in the sun all day, had no air conditioning, and never cooled down – not even at night.
The first hint that there might be something else that liked to hang out around the camper came early one summer morning.
As usual, we headed out the back door after breakfast. We could see something was odd as we made our way down the metal steps from the back door. The old, metal table that always sat outside was turned over and the chairs were strewn about and we could see the camper had been moved. Where previously had sat parallel to the house, it now seemed to be a little angled, with the main window area above the hitch pointing slightly into the trees.
We went out to investigate, but being kids, we just assumed the jerk teenagers a few properties over had been around again.` We righted the table and collected the chairs, and saw and heard nothing more that day, so we just forgot about it.
It was a week or two later, during one of the especially hot, humid periods that we decided to escape the house and sleep out in the camper. Sitting in the cool shade of the trees, the camper provided a mini vacation for us kids. I now also know it gave mom and her boyfriend Duane a mini vacation from us, too.
Now, I know things are very different today, and I would never let any child in my care sleep out alone in a camper, but back in the 80s it wasn’t a big deal to let your kids camp out in your yard. Just trust me when I tell you that the world was a very different place then.
In preparation we stocked the camper with a cooler full of ice and jugs of kool aid, and brought some snacks and our favorite board and card games. Nothing inside the camper actually worked, so the tiny desk lamp that sat on a counter for interior light and the string of colored plastic party lights that hung on the front of the camper were all hooked up from a heavy duty extension cord ran into the house.
After dinner inside the house with mom and Duane, we walked out to the camper just before dark, happy to escape the heat, and the ever-present parental authority.
While Duane didn’t live with us, we knew he spent some nights there at the house. Mom tried to not let us know it, but hey – we were kids. And almost never in the history of parent-child relationships is a parent completely successful in keeping their children in the dark about things going on in their own house, so we knew darn well mom and Duane would take advantage of no kids underfoot that night for him to sleepover. Again, we didn’t care. We were just as happy to have a little time away from them as they were to have away from us.
We had spent the evening playing games on the old table in front of the camper, eating Doritos and sipping kool aid until well after dark.
We had been out there several hours when the first stick landed on the table. It wasn’t very large, and as we were sitting under trees, we just assumed it had fallen from the tree, as sometimes happens.
A few minutes later came a few more branches, this time a bit larger, and as they were skidding across the board game we were playing and knocking half of it off the table. Clearly they had not fallen from the tree.
Quickly we decided it was the jerks that had come through previously, and feeling bold with three of us together, Derek took the biggest stick and threw it beyond the camper into the darkness and yelled, “Get lost, jerks! We’re not afraid of you!”
There were no more sticks for a while, so we picked up all the colored money and game pieces from the ground – I think we were playing Pay Day, if anyone remembers that game, and we restarted the game.
It was the light rain that began that forced us inside the camper. We played a few more games before the three of us were sufficiently groggy enough to convert the bench and table area in the back of the camper into the bed, turned out the desk lamp and laid down for sleep.
We laid there for quite a while, but I think it’s fair to say that three boys naturally tend to do anything but sleep in the middle of the summer alone in a camper, and it wasn’t long until we were trying to scare each other with stories of escaped convicts with bloody stumps for hands or other, similar high-brow stories that pre-teenage boys so enjoy.
Andy was in the middle of telling us some scary story when we all felt something bump the camper.
We were whispering about what it could be when the bump came again, quickly followed by a loud, hitting noise, with whatever it was strong enough to rock the camper slightly.
The Jerks were back, we decided. They had heard us telling stories and decided to scare us, we thought.
Being the oldest meant I was supposedly the bravest, so I was the elected one to tell them to get lost. So I crawled over my two siblings on the foam mattress and walked over to the kitchenette area to look out the window with the intention of telling them to get lost.
The string of colored plastic party lanterns was still on, lighting the front of the camper in a weird, pinkish hue from all the colors shining together, but it was enough light to see a few feet away from the camper.
I didn’t see anyone out front, but I yelled out that whoever it was should get lost.
That was a mistake as the window was suddenly darkened with a large, hairy shape. The orange plastic party lantern hanging directly above the window outside bouncing off the mass of darkness outside. I didn’t understand for the first second that the thing darkening the window was a living being of some sort until it stooped down to look in the window, and I could see the face illuminated in the orange glow.
The face was broad with wide features; the mouth was flat lipped and very wide, and the nose was wide and flattened. There was a heavy brow ridge which cast a bit of a shadow into the eye area, but it, too, was wide, and the darkened areas where the eyes should be gave the impression of also being wide.
The hair covered the face except for the nose and mouth area, which looked like old leather. I can’t say the color of the fur exactly, as the orange light made it hard to tell, but it was dark colored.
I had backed up against the opposite counter as soon as I understood it wasn’t the jerks. I think I tried to scream but nothing came out. Derek and Andy were asking me what was wrong when I think I got out the word monster or something like that as I plowed my way under the bed into the space between the two bench seats where the table leg screwed into the floor.
I saw Derek’s feet come down off the bed and step tentatively around the wall fridge to see what was there.
A half second later he half yelled and half inhaled at the same time as he joined me under the bed area.
It was pretty cramped but Andy forced himself under there as well – he didn’t need to go look, apparently.
We huddled there, the three of us breathing hard, terrified and repeatedly asking each other in whispers about what that thing was out there.
We waited, wondering what would happen next. We discussed trying to make a run for the house, but we were too scared to go out with that thing out there.
Then the chattering started, but it sounded much closer, and we knew it was at the horizontal window at the back of the camper. We froze and tried to hold our breath so it wouldn’t hear us.
It was chattering, low almost as if it was trying to get us to come out of hiding – it sounded the same way you would coax an animal out of hiding. At least, that’s how it sounded to my 12 year old ears.
But there was no way we were coming out.
I heard it walk around to the side of the camper facing into the trees, and the chattering started again from the window there.
I told Derek and Andy to move – get out and they didn’t want to, but I started shoving and climbing over them in the cramped space. When I heard it chatter again, I jumped up to the bed area and screamed with all I had, knowing my mother’s bedroom window that faced the yard was open.
In a second Derek was screaming with me, but we stopped and scrambled back to our hunkered position when the thing came around that side of the camper.
In reality, it was probably eight or ten seconds until my mom and Duane made it to the back door, but it seemed much longer.
I heard the sound of a shotgun being fired and then heard my mother running and screaming. A second later she was there in the camper. From there, it really is all a blur.
I remember my mom pulling us out from our hiding place and shoving us toward the house while Duane ran alongside us, looking back every second or so with a shotgun.
It was there, in the light of the kitchen, terrified and shaking that I began to cry. Mom wanted to call the sheriff’s department, but I remember Duane stopping her. He asked her what she thought she saw out there, and what exactly she would say to the sheriff’s department. That stopped her from calling.
There was a quick, huddled discussion between mom and Duane at the end of the hallway about what they should do while the three of us sat nervously in the kitchen, still very shook up. We watched as Duane went to ever window and closed and locked it. When mom told us we were going to stay over at Duane’s for the rest of the night, I was torn. On the one hand, I was happy to get away from there, but on the other hand that meant going out in the darkness, and I wasn’t too keen on that.
Duane could see we didn’t want to move, and he promised he would make sure we were okay, and he did. He went out front and made sure there was nothing there, then escorted us out to mom’s car, since we couldn’t all fit in the cab of his truck and drove us to his small, one bedroom apartment where we all stayed together in the living room – in the blissful air conditioning.
We didn’t stay at the house much after that, and never without Duane there all night with us. About a month after that, mom agreed to move in with Duane, and he rented a house for all of us together. About a year later, we came home from school to find a wedding ring on both of their left hands; they had gotten married that afternoon at the courthouse.
Many years later in my adulthood, Duane and I talked about the things that happened that night. For years both he and my mom tried to convince us boys that it had been a bear, and sometimes we had believed it. But I had seen the face. I knew that was no bear, and I asked him once again what he saw that night.
And he said – that he saw something he didn’t believe in, and that he still couldn’t believe what he saw, but no – what he saw was not a bear. And the tracks left all around the camper in the rain-dampened earth weren’t bear prints, either.
I also asked him if he thought he hit it with the shotgun. He said no, and that he hadn’t fired anywhere near the camper, only that he fired directly left once outside the trailer, hoping to scare off whatever it was. Which, he said, is exactly what happened. As soon as he let off the shotgun, the creature ran into the trees and the darkness.
I still think about that night sometimes when my wife and I take our kids camping. No – I am not afraid to go camping, but not foolish enough to go unarmed. I remember too many wonderful summer nights spent in that camper in our back yard, and I didn’t want my kids to miss that. But these days I go camping in something much newer, larger and more luxurious than the old, metal beat up Shasta that once sat in the trees behind our house.