Please enjoy the following short story, excerpted from my book Six Tales of Terror. Originally published in 2005 as a chapbook, it’s now available only on Kindle. When I sat down to write these stories, little did I know one, “Coed Terror in the Ivory Tower of Doom,” would in 2011 become the basis for the indie horror film Headline News. I intended them to be short, campy tales in the spirit of the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series, and used the card game Grave Robbers from Outer Space to randomly generate the titles, characters, settings, and creatures.
Devil Trail Reloaded
If there had ever been a stranger sight at Camp Lake Totagatic, it was rivaled by the appearance of a black limousine that rolled over the gravel road and under the sign that arched over the main entrance as the sun sat low on the horizon. Birds chirped as the limo pulled up to an aging bunkhouse and idled for a moment, just before a bony woman wearing a black mini dress stepped out. Her stiletto heels sunk into the mud, and she checked the address on the card in her hand for the tenth time.
The bunkhouse door opened before the woman could raise her hand to knock, revealing a young man who was lean, but not muscular. Sunglasses hid his otherwise dusky eyes, and he leaned confidently against the doorframe.
“My name is Karina,” the woman announced. “Is this Camp Lake Totasomething?”
“Yeah,” the young man said in reply. “You can tell your driver that you’re at the right place.”
The woman turned and waved. The limo slowly pulled away in reverse and returned down the same road.
“Come in,” the man said. “My name is Dean. Dean Schuman.”
“You live alone at an old camp?” the woman asked. “I should have charged you more. This place creeps me out.” She swatted away a fly as she slipped past the young man and walked into the bunkhouse. Her heels clicked loudly on the cement floor.
“Actually, I work here,” Dean explained. “I know it’s lame, but it’ll look good on my resume, and my dad said it’ll build character. Anyway, the camp doesn’t open for another week. The only people here are me and the crazy camp counselor, Kincaid. I hope she didn’t see you on your way in, she’s a real stickler for the rules.”
Karina raised her penciled eyebrows and adjusted her swarthy hair as she looked around. Rows of bunks lined the walls, leading back to what looked like a smaller room. “Is that your room?” she asked, motioning towards it.
“Yeah,” Dean replied.
“Let’s get going,” Karina seemed to insist. “We only have an hour.”
“Hold on,” the young man protested. “It gets boring here. I can pay for more time if you want. Let’s go outside for a bit.”
The call girl shot him a look of disbelief. “Does it look like I’m dressed to go walking through the mud?” she asked rhetorically.
“I’ll give you an extra twenty bucks,” Dean insisted. “Here, you can put these boots on.” He tossed the smallest boots he could find down at her feet, but they still proved to be too big.
Karina crinkled her nose in disgust. “My feet are going to get blisters,” she whined, but laced the pair of boots as tightly as she could. She had been asked to do weirder things in the past, and the young man was paying her. She didn’t think there was any harm in humoring an obviously lonely young man, even though she wondered if his friends had called her agency as a joke, which sometimes happened.
Dean, who was oblivious to the call girl’s misgivings, made sure the prying camp counselor was nowhere to be seen, and he walked outside while Korina stumbled behind. The pair headed to a trail that ran alongside the lake. The trail was partially obscured by the forest.
“They call this the Devil Trail,” Schuman revealed to his nervous companion. “The kids say it’s cursed, and the owner of the camp buys into it, but I’ve never seen anything dangerous here. You know how these camps always have some story behind them. I heard of one in Wisconsin where they claim gypsies turned into cats. Cats! I bet no one at that camp has ever really seen one.”
“Yeah,” Korina muttered as she smacked a mosquito that had landed on her bare thigh just below the hem of her dress. “Are we gonna go much further?”
“Just around this bend,” Dean replied. “There’s a great view of the lake just up here.”
As they rounded the bend, the two did indeed see the lake, except the path was blocked by a pool of mud that had oozed from the edge of the lake into the forest. Judging from the consistency, it looked like the pool was at least a foot deep.
“I am not walking through that,” Korina protested.
Suddenly, the pair heard a conversation drift from the direction of the camp, the sound of which seemed to be getting closer and closer.
“Oh, crap!” Dean yelled in a whisper. “Come on, we have to get out of here!” He grabbed the call girl’s hand before she could protest and pulled her into the woods. The two crouched behind the charred remnants of a large tree that had been struck by lightning.
Soon an old man in black pants and a black shirt, accompanied by a younger woman with curly hair and terra-cotta colored eyes, strolled around the bend. The silver-haired man made the sign of the cross in the air with one hand while sprinkling water on either side of the trail with the other.
“Who the heck are they?” Korina hissed.
“Michelle Kincaid,” Dean replied, “and the priest who comes every year to bless the trail. I told you the owner buys into that crap about that curse, but this priest usually comes earlier in the month. He’s late this year.”
Korina felt something tickle the top of her ankle just above the boot. “I’ve known guys who get a kick out of danger, but don’t you think this is a little weird?” she whispered as the warm appendage rolled back and forth against her skin.
“What?” Dean asked, turning his head towards her and at the same time lowering his sunglasses.
The call girl grinned and clutched the object, but her coy smile turned into a frown as her hand was covered with a paste.
She turned her head in horror. “Oh my God!” she screamed. “Is that a tentacle?”
Dean turned his head too and saw the feeler of a gigantic slug resting on Korina’s leg. Two beady eyes stared at him from their glutinous membranes. In a gut reaction, he pulled his companion to her feet and stumbled towards the trail, where the priest and the camp counselor stood examining the pool of mud.
Michelle Kincaid jumped when the two lurched out of the trees. “What are you doing here?” she yelled, and then pointed to the distraught woman. “Who the heck is that?”
“My, uh, cousin,” Dean quickly replied between panting breaths. “We’ve got bigger problems. Over there. Slug. Big slug. Tried to eat us.”
“What are you talking about, my son?” the old priest asked in a steady voice, but his question was satisfied by events before the young man was able to reply.
A sound like dozens of shampoo bottles being squeezed for the final time filled the air, and the group watched in revulsion as at least six slugs slithered onto the trail from every direction. The slugs were each about three yards in length, and the possessed a shotgun blast of black spots across their backs.
“What do they want?” Michelle screeched.
“I think they tasted something they liked,” Dean replied while quickly backing away.
The call girl tried to run, but the heavy boots she wore tripped her, and she fell to the ground with limbs flailing. The old priest helped her up while Dean and the camp counselor ran ahead. Her dress was torn and mud was smeared across her face.
The slugs got closer and closer, moving faster than anyone would have suspected.
Michelle Kincaid tossed a rock at the lead slug, but the projectile merely smacked against its heavy membrane and slid off. “We have to stop them!” she yelled. “They’ll ruin the camp!”
“Get to the store!” Dean shouted. The camp store was the closest building to them, and also happened to be where he worked. Like most of the other edifices, it was made from logs and had several small windows. The four fled toward it.
Dean slammed against the door and twisted the knob. “It’s locked!” he called out while fumbling for his keys. The slugs, creating trails of mud, slid out of the woods and into the field surrounding the main area of Camp Lake Totagatic. They were aided by the disappearance of the sun, which had been hidden behind a group of thick clouds.
Finally the door opened, and the four rushed inside. The first slug slammed against the wooden door as it was relocked, and the old priest and Michelle Kincaid pressed all their weight against the door to keep it from flying inwards.
Dean looked around frantically for something they could use to fight off the monsters. He tore through the shelves, until his eyes fell on a small bag of salt. “Hey!” he yelled. “Open the window!”
Ripping open the package, he thrust it out the window and dumped it on the first slug he saw. The creature hissed and twisted as steam poured off its wounds. After a few moments, it was reduced to a shriveled mess. “Help me out!” Dean pleaded.
Korina kicked off her boots and sprang into action. She poured a shower of white crystals out the window and decimated a second slug. She shouted triumphantly, but her joy was short lived.
Dean used the last remaining bag to finish off a third slug and seriously cripple a fourth, but there were still three more. The over-sized creatures oozed against the door, which shook on its hinges. Sweat poured down the old priest’s forehead, and he appeared as though he was about to collapse. Michelle Kincaid wasn’t fairing much better.
“I don’t know how much longer we can hold them,” she gasped as the door handle came loose and fell to the ground next to her. The door began to slowly inch open. “Damn it!” Michelle yelled from the strain. “I hate this job! Every summer I have to come here and put up with this crap! I wanted to be a softball player!”
Dean ran to the door and pushed on it with both hands, but with little effect. A feeler of one of the slugs had already wormed its way into the building. Korina rushed over and smacked it with a can of tomato soup. This seemed to only make the slugs angrier, and they pressed harder. The door slid open another inch.
Suddenly, a flurry of gunshots pierced the air just as the door finally flew open. The old priest, Michelle Kincaid, and Dean Schuman collapsed onto the cement floor, but the slugs never entered the room. Their twitching bodies lay just inside the threshold, eyes vacant.
A black limousine idled on the road that ran past the building, and a man leaned out the window, pistol in hand. A wide grin grew across his face when he saw Korina step over the dead slugs and out of the camp store. “What the hell happened to you?” he asked with a deep voice.
Korina turned and struck Dean in the chest with her hand. “Gimme my money,” she demanded.
Dean reluctantly opened his wallet and took out two brand new hundred-dollar bills.
“And the other twenty bucks you promised me!”
The call girl tore the money out of Dean’s hand and stormed down the sidewalk to the limousine.
“Hey! You forgot your shoes!” he called out, but Korina didn’t even turn around. She disappeared into the limo, and her driver casually pulled away.