The Camping Trip – Short Story Contest Winner!

The following story won second place in the Writers Block Box Short Story Contest. With Halloween just days away, I hope you will enjoy reading it for a bit of suspenseful fun!

The Camping Trip

© 2023 Carolyn Fenzl

He could hear everything but dare not open his eyes.

His buddy Ryan had insisted a camping trip would be fun. Fresh air, s’mores, male bonding in the natural elements. But the tent set up was a hassle and Cal was displeased that his tent was steps from the campground dumpster. The air around his tent had been quite ripe before the sun set for the evening.

Cal hadn’t been sleeping very soundly. The ground was rigid, and his sleeping bag lent only a thin barrier between his body and the earth. Despite knowing Cal’s lifelong aversion to the outdoors, Ryan never mentioned that Cal should bring a sleeping pad. How was he supposed to know that was even a thing before his friend had scoffed at his omission?

“Good luck sleeping tonight,” Ryan had teased.

Good luck was a bit of a foreign concept for Cal on the best of days. But now it was after midnight, cold and uncomfortable. But what had gotten his attention while laying in the dark was the sound of a wild beast snuffling through the nearby dumpster.

Cal quietly unzipped his sleeping bag and scooted toward the side of the tent closest to the dumpster, listening more closely. Anything could be out there hunting for a moonlight snack, and he didn’t want to be that snack. Racoons, coyotes, and bobcats were possibilities. They would drag off some scraps and most likely leave as stealthily as they had come. But a new thought sent a a chill down his spine. Bears, wolves, and mountain lions lived in these woods too, and they might want their moonlight snack with a human chaser.

‘Oh god,’ he thought. ‘I’m not even sweet. I’m a bitter man!’

Within seconds, the sounds from the dumpster ceased and Cal heard something much closer. The beast was sniffing and scratching at the front of the tent. He jerked away from the tent wall and scooted to the center where the mesh dome above his head revealed a cloudless, starry night. He might have noticed it if he wasn’t so busy bemoaning that he’d ignored Ryan’s earlier warnings about not leaving food in the tents.

He worried there was only a matter of seconds before the beast ripped through the flimsy tent with its razor-sharp claws. Would it kill him quickly and drag his body parts all around the woods or eat every last scrap of his body leaving no trace for his friend to find in the morning, and no way to figure out what had happened.

Cal realized he needed a weapon. He wasn’t going down without a proper fight. But you didn’t bring bare hands to a razor claw fight. He felt around in the dark for his duffle bag and quickly unzipped it. The best he could come up with inside was a small folding shovel that Ryan had handed him before bed so he could scoop some dirt over the campfire to prevent forest fires. Safety first, he thought ironically. But the foot-long weapon wasn’t very sturdy, and the short handle would be a meager buffer between him and the beast. Unfortunately, it would have to do. Cal knew it was time for a real ‘man versus wild’ situation.

The beast’s nose was now indenting the fabric wall all the while making slurping grunts. The shadow it cast through the fabric looked wide and stocky. Cal unzipped the tent prepared to strike with the shovel when necessary and came face to face with Brutus, his friend’s elderly bulldog. Cal’s shoulders slumped and he fell to his knees in relief, dropping the shovel and petting the old dog as it continued to root around the tent for scraps. Glancing over at his friend’s tent, he noticed the partially unzipped area that had allowed Brutus to escape. He grabbed a graham cracker from his snack bag and lured Brutus back to Ryan’s tent.

Next time Cal would take a city vacation where, unless he ran into Wolverine or his ex-girlfriend, there would be no razor-sharp claws to fear.

Photo by Bianca Gasparoto on Pexels.
Photo by Bianca Gasparoto on Pexels.

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