“Dad, we’re gonna be late!”
“No, we’re not.”
He never seems to understand that on a day like today, if you’re not at least a half hour early, you may as well be late. As you sit in the car waiting for him to get in the driver’s seat, you check your supplies for the twentieth time. Granola bars? Check. Binoculars? Check. Extra socks for under your hiking boots? Check. Dagger made from silver with a handle made from unicorn antler? (It’s not a horn, they shed them every other summer.) Check.
Yep. You’re ready for your first day hunting werewolves with your friends the Sasquatches.
Every summer for the past four years, your dad’s been driving you to Camp Skoocoom. You know every bump in the road. Well, at least as long as there is a road. Once you’re deep enough into the forest and you get to the turnoff, “road” is just too generous a term. You always start counting the seconds at that point, and, like always, when you hit three hundred and four, Old Mr. Lee is standing by the roadblock, dressed as a park ranger.
He recognizes you immediately, and you get to see him grin. He’s half-yeti, half-satyr, and that combination leads to a lot of teeth. The big hiking boots are covering his hooves, but you’ve seen him barefoot before. He’s a hundred and sixty, and he can still beat any of the other counselors in a footrace.
“Hey, Chance! Good to see you. You’re in the Accountant cabin this year if I’m not mistaken.”
You nod your excitement. Camp Skoocoom doesn’t name their cabins “Barracuda,” “Bobcat,” or “Wolf”. Here, your cabin is named after things which are mundane to you, but they fill most of the other campers with wonder. You’ve gone through your Janitor, Mechanic, Waiter, and Librarian years. Now, you’re finally an Accountant.
You turn to say goodbye to your father. He holds out a bottle with a blue liquid inside. You don’t catch yourself fast enough to stop from groaning.
“You promised your mother that you’d wear the pixie repellent every day. I don’t want you coming home with silver spots all over you again. “
“Okay, Dad. I’ll see you in a few weeks.”
He musses your hair. Old Mr. Lee smiles down at you. “You know the way.”
You do indeed. You’re up over the hill like a shot. There’s the lake. The mess hall is up against the cliff face over there, and the Counselors in Training have already started stacking the wood for the bonfire tonight. You’re here!
What do you want to do first?
Chosen: I want to head to the cabin and unpack.
Your pack is heavy and getting rid of some of this excess baggage would be great. Besides, you’re itching to see what is in the new cabin.
You head straight down the hill and take a left. The cabins are arranged in a semicircle around the natural cove found in the lake. The Accountant’s cabin is the second furthest from the hill. Next year you’ll be an Actuary, and then you’ll need to think about becoming a counselor in training.
Three stairs lead to the cabin door. Sitting on the top step is a creature most people would mistake for a cat. You recognize the baby sphinx immediately, and you smile in greeting.
“What has four legs in the morning, two legs in the day, and three at night?”
“A sawhorse that somebody breaks and then only half fixes before going to bed.”
The sphinx blinks up at you. “Darn it.” So saying, he shifts, allowing you passage to the door.
“You’ll get it, Petey. Just don’t rely so much on the classics.”
Inside, the cabin smells like cedar. A stack of firewood sits next to the chimney. It’s an honor to know that your cabin is finally trusted with the right to make a fire in the fireplace, even though in this heat there’s no way you’ll be doing that for a couple nights at least.
As you approach one of the bunks, the scent changes from cedar to a peculiar blend of skunk, rotting cabbage, and very old mushrooms. A huge grin spreads across your face. You dump your pack on the lower bunk, then stand on that to look up at your best friend on the top.
“Momo!” you shout in greeting. His thick mat of fur is shorter around his face and the top of his head. It takes you a second, but you figure it out. His mother made him get a haircut. She gets that way when she sends him to be with his cousins, the rest of the Sasquatch clan. Living so far away from the rest of the family, she’s always concerned about keeping up appearances.
“Hey, Chance.” His Missouri drawl is very thick. He always gets that way when he’s . . .
“Dude, were you sleeping?”
“Yeah, I just needed a nap. I felt a little peakid for a little bit. Jet lag, I guess.”
“Jet lag” is technically “Griffin lag,” but you know what he means.
“You sure you’re all right?”
He nods, sitting up in the bed. “Glad you’re here, bud. We got a few more hours before the big doin’s tonight. What do you want to do?”
Chosen: I want to round up the Sasquatch boys and head to the totem pole. Once a summer, the top head talks to us.
“Totem Pole,” you say definitively. “Come on.”
Momo shoots you his ghastly grin and the two of you bolt from the cabin.
“Why is a raven . . .” begins the sphinx.
“You can do an entrance or an exit, not both. You know the rules.”
“Sorry. I had a good one.” He moves out of your way a little sulkily.
“We’ll get it on the way back, I promise.” You say this over your shoulder because Momo is already halfway to the dining hall. You will never beat him in a footrace, but you manage to keep up with him so you’re only a few steps behind when he reaches the door.
Momo is just about to open the door when a huge figure with wings, horns, and an impossibly long neck bursts forth and runs right into your friend.
“Sorry, JD,” says Momo.
“Hey, don’t worry about it. Good to see you guys!” He replies with his thick New Jersey accent.
“We’re heading up to the totem pole. You in?”
He smiles at you. “Heck yeah! I’ll meet you up there.” He spreads his wings and takes off toward the totem pole.
You open the mess hall doors and are met with the high pitched howl. You respond in kind. Gragg and Shagg leap up from the table and rush up to you. After quick thumps on the back that set your teeth rattling, the ritual greeting is over, and without having to discuss it, you’re on your way to the totem pole.
You sit on the stumps between Momo and JD and stare up at the top head. Everyone looks at you to speak, since you have the clearest voice. “We greet you, oh totem. Another year has passed. What wisdom may you impart for us?”
The beak opens up, and a surprisingly high pitched voice replies. “The bite will be worse than you think.”
What do you want to do with that information?
Chosen: Pixie repellent. Put it on now before I get bit.
Okay. Your dad and a talking totem pole have both warned you. It’s time to take this seriously.
You pull out the bottle of blue liquid. “I think I better put this on.”
JD recoils his neck. It puts his head about two feet behind his back. “Aw, man, really?”
Gragg and Shagg are suddenly on their feet. “Later, dude!” Momo is only a step behind them.
“Guys, wait. It’s not that . . .” You give up. You can’t lie to their retreating backs. You close your eyes and pull the stopper from the liquid.
Pixies are terrified of hard work, and so a pixie repellent smells like sweat, motor oil, freshly cut grass, and sawdust. All at once. You hold your breath and apply it to your neck.
Eventually, though, you have to breathe. You try not to retch, telling yourself that the smell will pass. You’ll get used to it. You just need to be patient. You can deal with . . .
Forget this. You’re running as fast as your legs will possibly carry you toward the swimming hole. You’ve got to get this stuff off of you.
The swimming hole is just past a set of reeds. You rush toward it as fast as possible, but you come to a dead stop. A set of eyes stares unblinkingly out at you.
What should you do?
Chosen: I think it’s my friend Bonnie, the mermaid. I really don’t want her to have to smell me like this.
Chosen: I think it’s a bunyip. I need to stay very very still and hope it leaves.
That is so totally a Bunyip. You can tell because it doesn’t quite look like one.
Bunyips are not stable in their form. They’re like shapeshifters that haven’t figured out how to control their ability. Even if you saw the same bunyip two weeks apart, you might not recognize it. That’s why descriptions of bunyips in the wild never quite match each other. And because their shape is not stable, they don’t have terribly keen eyesight. They can never get used to the shape of their own eyes. If you can just stay still, it won’t know you’re here.
“It’s not going to work, Chance. It can’t see you, but you reek to high heaven.”
Bonnie is, of course, downwind of both you and the Bunyip. Your friend the mermaid looks at your situation warily.
“How did this get into the swimming hole?”
“I think there’s a hole in the underwater fence. Counselor Nessie is looking into it with Champ.”
You really wish the counselor and her nephew were here now. The bunyip can hear both you and Bonnie, and it’s following your conversation like it’s watching a tennis match.
“What do we do?”
“Can you run?”
“Depends on how far it can leap. You?”
“I can outswim it, but I’m not sure it would follow me in the water. They prefer land meat if they can get it.”
You take a calming breath and force yourself to stay still.
“Okay, I have a plan.”
What is it?
Chosen: We’ll both talk at once, confuse it, and run away in the chaos.
“I need you to talk at the same time as I do.”
“What good will that do?”
“See how it’s head is following us when we talk? If we both talk at the same time, it’ll get confused. We can both slip away while it’s trying to figure out which one of us to . . .”
In retrospect, the flaw in your plan was the need to explain it. The Bunyip has apparently chosen a target, and you’re it. The next few seconds are a flash of kangaroo legs, snapping jaws, and a set of teeth as long as your pinky finger. You vaguely remember Bonnie screaming and throwing a rock. You don’t remember having the pixie repellent in your hand, but when you thrust your hand toward the creature’s sensitive nose, the bottle more or less erupts.
The bunyip bellows in distaste and leaps away from you. Still roaring its displeasure, it jumps into the water and swims away.
“I’m okay.” You’d rather just stay on the ground where it knocked you down, but you don’t want Bonnie to worry. You take a deep breath and make your way to your feet.
She’s right. There’s a cut on your hand. It’s not deep at all. You’re not sure if it’s from a claw, a fang , or the shattered bottle of repellent.
“Don’t worry about it, B.”
She regards you for a moment. “Are you sure?”
What do you want to do next?
Chosen: Hello. Dangerous creature in the swimming hole. We need to get more people over here to catch this thing.
“Look, my hand is fine. We need to get this thing out of the swimming hole.”
“Sure, but how?”
“Can you see if you can get Nessie and Champ over here? I’ll run up to the cabins and see if I can’t get more help.”
She nods and puts her head under the water. It always strikes you as odd to hear these underwater linguistics, so you don’t hesitate to tear out of there.
You dash up the rise toward the cabins, and you run almost immediately into Momo, JD, and the Sasquatch brothers.
“Dude! You’re still rank!”
“Guys, chill. There’s a Bunyip in the swimming hole.”
The news is met by a great deal of consternation. You have to shout to make yourself heard. “HEY! Focus. I left Bonnie down there. We need to do something!”
The Sasquatch brothers have been sweet on Bonnie for a couple of summers now. You’ve got eager hands. Now you just need to figure out what to do.
What do you choose?
Chosen: The Janitor cabin is the closest, and the counselor is the Lake Worth monster. We could really use his help.
With a glance around, you know where you’re heading. The Janitors cabin is for your first year at camp, and you all know the counselor. Momo makes it to the door first and bangs rapid-fire until it is opened.
The Lake Worth Monster has been insisting that everyone calls him Worthington. When you first met him, it took you a few days to get past the fact that he has both fur and scales. His mother is a mermaid, and he’s distantly related to the Sasquatch brothers on his father’s side. He recognizes you instantly.
“Hey there, what’s the ruckus?”
“Bunyip in the swimming hole.”
“Tarnation!” He’s the only person you know who uses that word. He turns to the first year campers and strictly orders them to stay put. Then he grabs a coil of rope and rushes down to the water. You and your friends are at his heels.
You look to your left and see Bonnie on one of the rocks in the hole. You can make out the bunyip heading straight for her. Suddenly, a huge neck bursts up between them. Nessie lets out a bellow that could tear paint off a wall. He catches the bunyip in his jaws and shakes it, tossing it into the shallow waters nearest you.
Worthington acts in a split second. He hurls a loop of rope around the bunyip, catching its neck and left leg in a perfect example of Texas lasso work.
“Grab it!” he shouts.
You and Momo grab the rope and hold on with all your might. The Sasquatch boys rush up and take a leg each, pushing the creature down. JD takes to the air, lands on the creature’s back, and covers it’s eyes with his hands.
Within a fifteen minutes, you’ve all returned the bunyip to the other side of the swimming hole and Counselor Champ pokes his head up at you.
“Nice work, everybody.” His voice is a horrible series of gnashes and clicks, but you can tell he’s smiling at you.
Everyone’s good mood is spoiled as a shadow falls over you. Literally.
“Nice work indeed,” says Nurse Grendel from between jagged, uneven teeth. He is not smiling. “You could all have been killed. I’m here to make sure absolutely no one was hurt. Can’t have anyone with an open wound going on a werewolf hunt.”
What do you do?
Chosen: It’s not an open wound if he stitches it up. I’ll show him my hand and ask him to treat it. How bad can it hurt?
You square your shoulders and look straight into Nurse Grendel’s eyes. It’s hard because one of them is about four inches lower than the other.
“I have a cut, sir. Can you please take care of it?”
Everyone get’s very quiet.
“What did you say to me?”
“I have a cut,” you repeat, holding up your hand. “Can you put a bandage on it, or stitch it up, or something, please?”
With your hand up, you realize that, when Grendel flares his nostrils, you could fit most of your fist inside one of them. “You want me to patch up your cut? Do you have any idea who I am?”
“Up until now, I thought you were the nurse.”
The terrible silence grows even more palpable for a half-second. Then the laughter starts. Worthington is shaking, trying to contain himself, but Nessie lets out a guffaw which causes waves in the pool. Before you know it, Bonnie, JD, and all your friends are nervously joining in.
“Nicely done, Chance.” Worthington claps you on the back. “Grendel usually gets away with just locking people away in the office for the night. Nobody’s asked him to actually tend a wound in years.”
“They’re usually afraid he’ll eat them,” Nessie says with a serpentine grin.
“JD, take your pal back to the cabin and get a bandage on that cut.” Worthington smiles at you. “Hurry up too. The bonfire’s in about half an hour.”
JD picks you up by the shoulders and flies you back to the cabin. You’re both laughing so hard, he almost crashes. JD has twelve brothers and sisters, so he knows his way around a first aid kit. You make it to the pile of timber a full ten minutes before it starts.
Your cabin mates are all around you. Bonnie, now with legs, JD, Momo, Gragg, Shagg, will be on your team. The rest of the cabin (some centaurs and the rest of the mermaids who don’t get along quite as well with Bonnie) makes up the other team.
“Dude! That was awesome!” Momo is patting you on the back. “The look on Grendel’s face . . .”
“That was beautiful!” Gragg agrees.
“We’ve been talking about it, and we came to a decision.” Shagg nods, almost solemnly. “You can have first choice.”
You blink in surprise. Gragg, the oldest of you, would normally get that honor, but now you can choose what your job will be in the upcoming hunt.
Chosen: I prefer to work with other people, so I’ll be one of the runners. We’ll try to lead the werewolf into the nets.
“Chance Wilcox, your team has given you the right of first choice. Where will you stand for the hunt?”
“Right in the thick of it, sir,” you respond to Counselor Yu. “I want to be one of the runners.”
The oldest living Yeti nods solemnly, but you can see the smile in his eyes. Is he remembering his own time in your cabin? He turns to your companions, and one by one, they make their choices. Momo will join you as a runner. JD is happy to be the spotter, and his wings will give you a serious advantage on that point. Gragg and Shagg take places as bait makers and trappers respectively, and Bonnie is happy to work the silver shucker. Frankly, she’s the only one you’d trust not to use up all the silver in the first two minutes anyway.
An hour later, while Gragg is off wrangling up something to use for bait, you and Momo sit in the trees off to the side of the hunting field watching Shagg’s progress. You only have about five minutes until the moon rises. After that, the counselors will begin the howling which will attract the werewolves.
“He’s doing a lot of trip lines. Better watch that.”
Momo nods distractedly.
“Yeah. I’m just really hungry.”
“I think there are some candy bars in my backpack.”
“Nah. I want some burgers,”
You blink in surprise. Momo is a vegetarian. Before you can ask about that, though, he draws in a sharp intake of air and winces.
“A stupid dog bit me on the way to camp. I didn’t think it even broke the skin, but it just started itching!”
Gragg appears off to your left at the edge of the clearing. Even from thirty yards away, you can smell the awful stench rising from his bait. And considering you hang out with Sasquatch’s and smell like pixie repellent, it takes a lot to offend your nose today.
“Oh, man, that smells really good!”
You look at Momo like he’s grown an extra head. His head is back and his nostrils are flared, greedily breathing in the air. As you look at his silhouette against the rising moon, you think to yourself that you never noticed how large Momo’s nose was. Then it gets bigger. And bigger.
Now it’s more like a snout.
In a flash, you remember the totem pole’s words. “The bite will be worse than you think.” Too late you understand what it meant. Somehow, against all odds, your best friend is turning into a werewolf.
What do you choose?
Chosen: If I shove him to the ground now, I could hop on his back where he can’t reach me. Then I can get Gragg and Shagg to come help me hold him down.
You expected to panic. You really did, but your brain simply says no.
You’ve been studying werewolves for most of the year, and more importantly, you know Momo. He was your partner when Horus the Centaur taught your cabin Judo. (Never try to hip toss a quadruped, by the way.) Bottom line is that you know where his center of gravity is.
Horus would be proud of the trip. It’s just about perfect. You leap on Momo’s back, put him into the closest thing you can get to a full nelson. You’ve got to keep his claws and his teeth away from you or he’ll probably infect you too.
Then you start screaming bloody murder.
While your whole team starts coming over, it’s JD, with his bird’s eye view, who figures out what’s happening first. He lets out a squeak you know he’ll deny until his dying day and then heads out over the treeline. You know he’s heading for the counselors.
Shagg arrives next and throws himself over Momo’s legs. A sasquatch is pretty strong to begin with. Lycanthropy makes Momo even stronger. The two of you can barely keep him down, and your arms are already on fire from the strain of holding down your friend. Gragg trips four times over Shagg’s trap lines before he finally reaches you. Bonnie is last to arrive.
“What do we do?” Gragg shouts. He grabs one of Momo’s arms and pins it, taking some of the pressure off you. You shift to get a better grip on the other arm, and Momo snaps at you. The clack of his teeth as he barely misses you is louder than a shotgun in your ear.
“I have the silver!”
“No!” you command Bonnie. “You’re too close. It’ll really hurt him. Grab my knife out of my backpack.”
Bonnie dives for your bag and unceremoniously upends it. She pulls out your knife and tears off the sheath. “Now what?”
“He was scratching his right leg. Right above the knee. See if you can find a cut or a bite mark and lay the blade on top.”
It takes Bonnie way longer than you feel it should, but she does it. You can tell the moment she does because Momo leaves out a scream that echoes over the mountains. Almost instantly, his strength seems to sap and he lays still.
“And that,” says Counselor Yu, “is a new record for catching and curing the werewolf.”
You stare at him for a moment. He seemed to have come from nowhere, but his arm is over JD’s shoulder, and it’s obvious that he was here even before JD went to fetch help.
“You mean . . . ?”
“Yes. That’s the secret. The werewolf is always one of the campers. No one has ever caught him before the change is complete, however.” He grins a hairy grin down at you. “Now don’t you go telling the younger campers and spoiling the surprise for them next year.”
“But what about Momo? Is he going to be all right?”
“Of course. Silver on the cut should heal him completely by morning. We were standing by in case things went wrong, but that hasn’t happened in years.”
You stare at him for a moment before realizing the rest of your friends are doing the same thing. Counselor Yu laughs.
“Oh, if you could see your faces. I can’t wait to see what you lot do next year.”
“What’s next year?” says Shagg.
“We open up the maze and see how you deal with the Minotaur.”
One thought on “Camping with Cryptozoologists”
Awesome!! really enjoying these!!