". . . And they never found his body."
The campers sat in silence, the words echoing in their ears. They glanced at each other nervously. Then one by one they began to chuckle. It was a nervous laugh but it seemed to relieve some of the tension that hung in the air.
The fire crackled. It's warm orange flames licked the dark night sky creating an eerie glow against the blackened forest.
"Tell us one more story," the campers begged of their leader, even though many of them were yawning. A couple of them had fallen asleep, using the sitting logs as a wooden pillow.
"Tell us something scary," requested one wide-eyed kid you couldn't help scratching his mosquito bites.
"Or something with magic in it," suggested one tall, freckled girl.
But the group leader just smiled and refused.
"I've told you all the stories I know," he said as he stood up and stretched his tired limbs. "Well, all except one. And believe me, you don't want to hear that one."
"We do!" the campers cried all together. "We do want to hear it!"
But the leader would only smile and firmly shook his head.
"Let's clean up. Collect all our trash before we turn in," he said to the group.
The kids groaned and complained but did as they were told. They wandered around the campsite collecting empty potato-chip bags, soda cans and other things that did not belong in the wilderness. As they went about their chore, they grew increasingly curious and tried to guess what the secret story might be.
One of the kids looked at the leader and noticed the way that his long shaggy hair hung over his ears.
"Is it a werewolf story?" he asked.
A girl who wore her hair in one long blond braid that hung down her back thought that the leader had been looking pale, probably because he had slept for most of the day.
"Is it a vampire story?" she wondered aloud.
The youngest child in the group had been speculating for days about what the leader kept in the strange-looking charm that hung from a chain around his neck. He wanted to ask him about it, but felt too foolish.
"Is it a witch story?" the boy asked instead.
A tall, young girl who had been sitting directly opposite the leader all evening and had watched the heat waves from the fire turn his features into a shimmering, insubstantial vision, had another theory.
"I bet it's a story about a ghost," she guessed, twisting a strand of her dark hair around her finger.
As the leader walked past a girl with blond curls and tiny rimless glasses, she heard that his canvas shoes were still squishing with lake water.
"I bet its about a sea monster or some creature from the deep," she mused.
One of the older boys, who had definite taste for the more frightening tales and loved all types of horror movies, looked up at the leader and thought he saw a strange, wild glint in the man's eyes.
"I bet it's a story about an ax-wielding maniac," he said.
The leader continued to shake his head as he collected everyone's contributions of trash in an airtight container.
"You're all wrong," he said as he packed the garbage down.
"But why can't you tell us?" the kids whined collectively. "We want to hear it!"
"No, you don't," the leader stressed as he turned away from them and picked up the lid for the container. "Trust me when I tell you that you don't want to hear this story."
The leader's voice had begun to sound a little stranger, a little lower then usual. He was shivering slightly, and the muscles of his shoulders were tensing beneath the thin fabric of his T-shirt. He kept his back to the group and spent a long time fastening the lid of the container. None of the kids really noticed. They were all much to intent upon the idea of the forbidden story.
"Why don't we want to hear it?" the group demanded.
The leader stood up straight. He seemed taller than he had only minutes ago. As he turned to face the campers ever so slowly, the reason became apparent.
He had transformed.
The leader had transformed into something that was loathsome beyond description, horrifying beyond anything that they had ever created in their childish imaginations.
"You don't want to hear it," he gurgled in a voice that had become choked, guttural and monstrous, "because there's no telling how it ends!"
The leader spread open his massive jaws then, raised up what had once been his hands, and advanced upon the group.
The screams carried far over the treetops and into the lonely wilderness.
And then there was nothing but darkness as the remains of the fire were extinguished by the blood of fresh, young campers.