I wrote this a few years ago. As I was posting it here I read it again and saw a few problems and attempted to fix them. If something appears to lack continuity with something earlier, it is likely from these edits. I tried to get them all. I look forward to hear what can be said about this, and how it can be improved.
What the hell is wrong with me? Why did I agree to go on this trip? I hate camping, I hate the outdoors, I hate nature. Just let me stay in my apartment on the 17th floor curled up in my warm blankets watching Netflix. Is that too much to ask for my weekend? I look out the window at the clouds stretching from one horizon to the other, they seemed to promise rain. Yeah, rain if we’re lucky. I rest my head against the window. Why am I doing this? A voice asks if I am alright. I turn and look at the reason I am going to be freezing my ass off sleeping in a tent.
“Yeah, just looking at the clouds. They don’t seem friendly.”
Abby turns and looks out her window. “All clouds look like that this time of year. Don’t worry about them.” She glances at me with a small smile.
I smile back, inwardly praising and reviling her. Why does the girl I love have to enjoy the outdoors so much? I take her hand in mine and lean my head against her shoulder. I may not sleep well on this trip. May as well try to get a little rest now.
I woke a few hours later as the car hit a steep dirt road. I blinked away the sleep. It had grown a little darker out. I glanced at the clock on the dashboard. It was only 5 PM.
“How much farther to the site?” Abby asks, stretching a little.
“It’s at the end of this road.” Conroy replied. Abby’s older brother. Nice enough guy, even if he is a little juvenile at times. “Me and Abby used to come here every year with our parents, you’re going to love it.” Fifth time today he’s said that.
“So you keep saying.” Sam laughed. Conroy’s wife, first time I’ve met her.
I press my forehead against the window and watch the trees pass. Most have lost their foliage, a few leaves seem to be clinging on not wanting to take that final leap. There’s a deer about a hundred feet into the woods, watching the car as we pass. I get Abby’s attention and when I look back it’s gone. A frown crosses my face and I look back at the area as we move away hoping to see it again. Just trees.
A few minutes later we pull into an empty parking lot and I get out to stretch my legs. Felt like I stepped into a meat locker. Shivers ran through me as I took in the surroundings. A few marked paths led into the forest toward camp sites, a small cinderblock building which smelled foul from twenty paces was marked as a toilet. A sign hung on it “Please use these facilities and not the forest if able. If you are unable to make it, dig a hole and bury it when you’ve finished.” Okaaaaay. Abby, Conroy, and Sam started unloading the gear from the little hatchback. It’s too fucking cold out.
I find my way over to Abby and nestle against her for warmth. She laughs and playfully pushes me away. She then hoists a very full backpack up and onto her back.
“I’ve got your stuff too, I know hiking’s not really your thing.”
“Thanks.” I meekly reply, feeling more than a little guilty. She takes my hand and starts heading toward one of the paths.
“Hang a sec, need to use the bathroom.” I eye the building uncomfortably.
“Go ahead Con, we’ll catch up.” Abby says as he passes her.
I approach the building and open the door, the aroma is what you’d expect; piss and shit. The room was surprisingly clean, two stalls with doors, a mesh security glass window that let in light from outside, even a sink. I didn’t see a soap dispenser, though. I finished, washed my hands for what good it would do me, and stepped outside. A fluorescent light lit up over the door as I walked toward where Abby was waiting.
“Sorry, long car ride.”
“It’s okay.” She links arms with me, and we proceed down the path.
I could hear Sam and Conroy laughing and talking from up ahead. The forest was silent otherwise. We’re the only ones crazy enough to go camping this time of year, it seems.
“Is this a popular spot? I didn’t see any other cars back there.”
“It IS normally really busy, we started coming in the winter because almost no one else does. Less fighting over the good spots to set up, less chance of running into wildlife too. Sometimes a mountain lion or a bear would show up and scare the campers.”
“Some deer though.” I meekly replied.
“I suppose so, I didn’t see it though. Was it a buck or a doe?”
“Did it have antlers?”
“Oh, no. It didn’t.”
“A doe most likely, or a fawn. If you see it again, don’t go near ’em and there shouldn’t be a problem.”
We drift back into silence and head steadily toward the campsite. The stillness is actually rather nice. The company makes it more so.
We passed several clearings before reaching one that seemed to crown a hill. This clearing was about 30 meters across and circular. An opening on one side showed a well travelled footpath that led toward a lake. In the middle of the clearing was a fire pit with a couple of logs secured as benches. I looked around and then stared toward the lake, it was a breathtaking sight. It looked like a black mirror, a few reflections off the surface, I couldn’t tell if it was frozen or not. When the light’s better tomorrow I will go and inspect it closer. Please, no one mention swimming.
Conroy was already busy setting up a tent and Sam was nowhere to be seen. Abby dropped the pack and then verbally guided me through pitching the tent. Out of my pockets, my hands start to feel the cold and refuse to cooperate. While I fumble with the poles, Sam appears from the forest carrying some small branches and sticks which she drops into the fire pit.
Abby continues to verbally guide me through setting up the tent, pulling a lantern from the backpack and turning it on. The light is welcome and I discover that I’ve got things completely backwards. She takes over and tells me to help Sam find some more dry wood for the fire.
I take a flashlight into the woods. The forest floor is slim pickings as I try to find something. Most of the wood is gone and after 15 minutes I head back with only a handful of twigs to show for it. Sam seemed to have a similar plight. She arranged the sticks and spent a couple of minutes trying to coax them into burning.
“I’m going back to get the firewood from the car.” She announced after the flames took, picked up a flashlight, grabbed the keys, and headed back the way we came.
I sat in front of the tiny blaze and watched it for a few minutes. The fire was struggling hard to stay alive, but it would jump to the next twig triumphantly after licking at it for a bit. There was some warmth coming from it. I shivered audibly. A blanket then appeared around my shoulders, followed by a hug from behind.
“Tent’s set up, going to toss the sleeping bags in, then I’ll join you.” Abby pecked my cheek and left me with the blanket by the fire. I wrapped it tighter around me and looked around the clearing again, the tents were on either side of the fire. Conroy was attaching the cooler he brought to a rope. I looked past where he was standing and saw two things glinting in the dark, maybe 15 meters from where he was standing. I watched them for a few seconds before grabbing a flashlight and aiming it that way.
“Hey!” Conroy shielded his eyes from the light. The reflection behind him was gone.
“I thought I saw something behind you.” He peered in the direction I illuminated and shined his flashlight over the area slowly.
“Nothing out there but trees.” Conroy doused his light and resumed hanging the cooler.
“I suppose.” I return to my seat on the log and stare at the fire again.
“Maybe it was that deer again.” Abby called to me.
“Sarah saw a deer on the way up here.”
“Buck or doe?”
“She said it had no antlers.”
“Shame I didn’t bring my rifle, we could have some venison.”
My stomach rolled a little. “As long as you don’t share.”
He laughed; he always teased me for my diet, I tried to jab back when I could. He crawled into his tent and I heard a whirring noise then a click and music quietly filled the area.
Abby joined me and we shared the blanket in front of the tiny fire.
“He’s a butt. Just ignore him, you’re here with ME, not him.” Her smile was infectious and we cuddled on the log. She’d tend the fire when it looked weak. I would occasionally glance back up into the trees to see if I could spot the deer again.
We heard Sam’s footsteps approaching a few minutes later and she dropped the wood she was carrying. Prepackaged, the kind of stuff you’d find at a grocery store. She tore the plastic off one of them and started arranging the wood in the pit.
“Will that wood last all night?”
“Probably not, we weren’t expecting there to be so few sticks and branches on the ground. We may have to cut the trip short depending on the temperatures.” Abby frowned as she said this. I did a little dance inside.
Conroy turned the radio off, crawled out of his tent and went to his backpack. He called for his keys, Sam tossed them to him. He tucked them away, pulled out some marshmallows and took a seat at the fire. Sam added the fuel to the fire pit then joined Conroy. He pulled a half-burned stick from the fire and stuck a few on. We spent a few hours talking as the bag of marshmallows gradually disappeared. One caught fire and burned up.
“I want that one.” Everyone looked at me. “What? Those taste the best.” I grabbed it when the stick was offered to me and I pulled it off. After that they’d set one on fire every few minutes and give it to me.
When the bag was empty Conroy, headed back to his pack and stuffed it in. He looked back at Sam and nodded toward the tent. She hopped up and nearly sprinted over to it. There was the winding noise again and then the music returned, louder than before.
I fidgeted a little on the log. “Wanna go for a walk? The fire will feel a lot warmer if we get away and come back.”
“Nah, I’d rather just sit here and cuddle with you.” She responded.
So we sat there listening to the crackle of the fire and the music from Sam and Conroy’s tent, while huddled under a blanket. A few songs went by, commercials, and more music. The night grew darker and there was a rumble of thunder in the distance.
“Ooooh, thundersnow!” Abby was grinning ear to ear. I hope we get a light show as well.
“I hope it doesn’t snow.”
“Well, we’ve got a tent to keep it off us if it does.”
With that she stood up and pulled me toward the tent. She then pushed me in, followed, and closed the flap behind her. It looked like four people could sleep in here comfortably. The sleeping bags had been rolled out, joined together but still lay open. We climbed in and shut out the cold with a quick fastening of the zipper. We kissed and gazed at each other as the music started to fade out.
There was a loud grunt that woke me. At least I think it was a grunt. It was a loud guttural noise from right outside the tent. Abby, cuddled against me, could sleep through a marching band. I sat still listening intently. There was rustling outside the tent, and what sounded like something scraping against wood. I didn’t hear another grunt, and after a few minutes the rustling disappeared. When my panic subsided I settled back in and tried to get back to sleep.
I woke to a kiss in the morning and we extracted ourselves from the sleeping bag and then the tent. Sam and Conroy’s tent was still zipped. The sky was still overcast but the sun was trying hard to break through. Abby set about restarting the fire while I went to get the food down from where Conroy had suspended it. I stopped at the tree and stared at the bark. It had four deep gashes resembling an X; they looked fresh. I called Abby over.
“What could have made that?” I asked her.
“I don’t know. That wasn’t there last night.” She looked at me.
“Are you worried?”
“A little… we should wake Con and Sam.” She made her way over to their tent. I ran my fingers across the bark. The cuts were about an inch wide and two deep. She wasn’t that worried, are marks like this normal around here? I untied the cooler pondering this, lowered it, and gathered the rope up. Abby returned to me, the tent open behind her. “They’re not there.”
“Maybe they went to the bathroom?” I suggested.
She took the cooler from me and opened it up, grabbing a granola bar. “Maybe. Let’s go check.”
We walked relatively quickly back toward the parking lot, jogging most of the way. Took us about 10 minutes to get there at that pace. The car was parked where we left it the night before, the smell remained around the toilets.
“I’ll check in here.” I started into the women’s room and felt a tug at my arm.
“Let’s go together.” She linked her arm with mine and we went into the toilet. The place looked as it had the night before. Only a little better lit.
“Nothing here, check the other–” Abby’s hand covered my mouth and I looked at her. I followed her gaze, she was staring at the window.
A deer’s head was at the window, and appeared to be looking into the toilet. The window was easily three meters from the ground. I pulled Abby closer and we both stood there looking at the head. I couldn’t tell if its eye was looking at us.
“What is that?” Abby whispered.
The deer moved at the noise and we both shivered in each other’s clutch. I put my finger up to my lips, and we continued to look at the deer.
Time seemed to drag on. What felt like a few hours later, the deer head moved away from the window and we both relaxed a little. I say a little because my heart was still beating like a hummingbird’s. Abby took a few steps toward the door and I grabbed her arm.
“We don’t know what that was.” I said in a hushed tone.
“It looked like a deer. I just want to see if there’s anything outside.” She pulled away from my grasp and pushed the door open slightly, enough to look out. “I don’t see anything. I don’t hear anything either.”
I joined her at the door and pushed it open a little more and tried to scan the area. “Let’s find your brother and Sam and get the fuck out of here.” She nodded and we left the bathroom, taking care to be silent as we scoured the surroundings. We even checked by the window but saw nothing to indicate anything had been there a few minutes before. Nothing.
I nearly jumped out of my skin when Abby started to laugh.
“What’s funny about this?” I almost shout at her.
“It’s a prank. It’s gotta be. Con and Sam got up before us and snuck down here to set it up. They must have been planning this for a while to get that deer head.” She continued to laugh.
I was still on edge, but it made a lot of sense. “They made the marks in the tree too?”
She nodded, the last of the laughter ebbing out. “I’m going to get him back for this. You’re going to help me.” I laughed a little uneasily and we began the walk back to camp. “First thing I do when I see him is slap him for this.” She went on. “Then I’m going to steal his breakfast.” She opened the granola bar and offered me a bite.
“I’m not feeling too hungry after that.”
She gave me a peck on the lips. “It’s just a joke, your appetite will be back when we get–”
Her words were cut off by a loud cry. It sounded like Conroy screaming in pain. Abby immediately dashed ahead, I tried to keep up with her but could only just keep her in my sight. She ran not toward the campsite, but farther right of the path we took. As I was catching up I saw her duck behind a tree and promptly throw up. I came closer, out of breath. She was motioning for me to not come closer.
I had to see what she saw.
As I moved closer there was a repetitive wet sound, like someone slapping a large fish onto a chopping block. Edging up, the first thing I saw was a deer’s head on the other side of the hill. I tried to catch my breath as I stepped nearer. The head was perched upon another creature’s head, and worn almost like a cloak, the skin of the deer hanging down the creature’s back. It had light grey skin which looked warty and diseased. I couldn’t see its face from this vantage point, though I could see what it was doing. It was picking up Conroy and then throwing him onto the ground. Its hands would open like a paper fortune teller, four clawed fingers would grasp part of Conroy, lift him, throw, and repeat. The ground was stained crimson beneath him. He was still alive, each time he collided with the ground he would let out a moan.
I found a tree near where Abby was hiding and looked at her helplessly. She shook her head, tears on her cheeks. The thumping stopped. I knelt and poked my head around the base of the tree. It was holding him again, and it brought him very close to its chest and… CRUNCH!
It sounded a tree breaking in half. It pulled Conroy away from its chest; his head was gone. Another crunching noise followed, and another. I really wanted to throw up. Abby quietly did again. We sat there tensely listening to the creature consume her brother.
A weaker thud caused me to look around the tree again, it had dropped Conroy's leg to the ground. Staring at the leg I noticed a blood trail that led off into the woods to the right of the creature. Parts of Sam could be seen over there. I felt the pain of dry heaving.
It moved in the direction of our campsite, probably 50 yards off. Abby quietly followed, going from tree to tree. I did the same after I caught my breath, looking around in case this thing wasn't alone. Abby motioned me to join her quickly at a larger tree where we resumed quiet stillness.
The creature approached the tent Abby and I shared. We watched from our new concealment as it delicately opened and removed every object from there. There wasn’t much: The two sleeping bags, a couple pillows, our backpacks, and the tent itself. It carefully laid the items out and separated the sleeping bags. It opened the backpacks and emptied the contents. It then disarticulated the tent with unnerving speed and precision, laying the parts in an seemingly deliberate manner.
It bellowed out a noise that sounded like distant thunder. It then turned around and started to inspect the campsite further. Its front was drenched in blood. A single bulbous eye sat where a head would sit on a person. The deer head perched atop that. An opening in its chest ran vertically; there were serrated teeth lining it. A vulgar, worm-like tongue worked on cleaning the gore from its body. It glared around the campsite turning its body, as if the eye were unable to pivot. It made a few more of those cries. Each time I froze and covered my ears. Eventually a second one entered the clearing, and a third. The first one took steps toward the lake, the others falling in behind. I watched them as they left, feeling sick. I inhaled sharply as one of them seemed to shift into a deer and skip ahead of the other two. I continued to watch until they were out of sight, and until I couldn’t hear them anymore. I grabbed Abby and held her tight.
“I’m sorry.” Was all I could think to say.
She didn’t respond to me. She pushed me away and walked calmly into the clearing, straight to Conroy's backpack and found the car keys laying near it. I was in awe at how calm she was considering what just occurred. Was she in some form of shock? I told her what I had seen as they were leaving. She didn’t want to hear it. We left most of the camping gear, Abby took a hatchet and a knife from where her pack was emptied. She gave me the knife and we started our way back to the car. We went as fast as we thought was safe and made it unmolested. She got in the car and started it, shifting it into gear as I closed my door. We sped down the bumpy dirt road that led from the camp site. I saw she was crying again.
“I’m sorry.” I offered her again. She brought the car to a stop and pulled me into a close embrace, sobbing uncontrollably.
“I’m glad you came.” Abby said through her sobs.
“I’m not.” I lamented, holding her tighter.
I watched through her window as a pair of deer approached the car.
I'm guessing that you meant to imply an American Indian legend, like a Wendigo or Deer Lady. It's not clear what it is. Actually, I am having to guess a lot. Reading it, I am not even sure this is happening on the North American continent. An American would have said ten feet and not three meter high window, so this very much implies not USA. It could be Canada, or they could be in the UK or New Zealand. Saying something like "17th story apartment in Vancouver" or "Algonquin Provincial Park" or something to roughly set the location.
The creepiness escalates OK, up to around the deer head in the bathroom part. I keep thinking that they are seeing elk. Since we have no idea where they are, it's not unreasonable that what they are hearing are rutting elk, the signs in the trees are from elk, and that it's an elk in the bathroom. It gets better when Conroy gets slapped and smashed. So, how much that's in between do you really need? Could you eliminate everything between "Maybe they went to the bathroom" and "Her words were cut off by a loud cry?" That would help drive the story better.
Towards the end when the whatever is thrashing the camp site, we de-escalate WAY too much. We don't need that many details on how well the camp site was thrashed. Then we go down several notches in creepy as the people are driving away. Maybe the deer that they see are not just deer, but it's a vague worry and you don't mention anything like a chase.
That which doesn't help move the story forward holds it back. With every part, think of this
Is it required to establish background (people, location, time?)
Do we need it to transmit the emotions of the characters to us?
Is it building creepiness?
Is it part of that final payoff of horror?
If a sentence or a paragraph doesn't serve those purposes then ask yourself whether it can be chopped way back or even deleted?
One last note: "Winter Camping Trip" as a title. In what little experience I have, Vancouver is cold and raining and Toronto is cold and snowing. That doesn't sound like fun camping weather to me, and if it is 0 C then you need to work with that. I wouldn't expect to find dry firewood on the ground if it's in a wet winter either.
Over all it's good. It has an eighties horror film feel to it. I like that.
It sets up nicely and builds rather nicely, but the ending is kind of dry. Great monster by the way. However, the way you've written this; there is no reflection of terror in what the characters are witnessing. You should describe how the girls behave when they see Conroy being turned into a potato mash. I'd like to see what Sarah thinks and how her thought process works while she is witnessing her I assume brother in law being beaten to death by some of monstrosity.
I don't really see their fear, I am told they are scared, I want to see that, I want to relate to that and I can't.
The ending was really a thrill-killer, why does Abby go all Ellen Ripley in response to what she saw only to finally break down when they're out of danger? where does this personality trait stem from; it could be interesting to see an insight into their past. You've already mentioned how they went to that location as kids. Spice some more backstory on Abby and Conroy that could potentially explain her unusually calm reaction.
You had some weird placement with commas and the like, go over your punctuation once more.