Metal skewers covered in charred marshmallows stuck to the rocks that surrounded a fire pit at campsite #22. A coyote howled to his brothers as an owl swooped down to snatch up a mouse for dinner. A family of raccoons grabbed a knapsack from a bench table at site #15 and disappeared into the woods. Chief Ranger Mark Ingram grinned as he snuffed out his cigarette in the ashtray of his Jeep Cherokee and turned up the volume on the radio. He drove away from the Magnolia Campground. Ranger Ingram sang along with Creedence Clearwater Revival as he drove up the narrow gravel driveway to the Ranger Station at the entrance of the park, “there’s a bad moon on the rise.”
A row of four glowing Jack-o’-lanterns stared back at Ranger Ingram from the front porch. He put the Jeep into park and grabbed his rifle from the rack. Ranger Ingram knelt by each Jack-o’-lantern and blew the candles out one by one, extinguishing their carved expressions. The screen door squeaked as it opened. He looked up to see Charlene leaning in the doorway with two red Dixie cups in her hands.
“Hey, hon’ ! I saved you some of that witch’s brew that the crew makes every year. You missed another great Halloween party.”
Mark put his rifle to the side of the door, grabbed the cup and leaned down to kiss his wife. He licked his lips and squinted down at his glass.
“What’s in this witch’s brew stuff anyway?”
“Punch, everclear and rum, I think. The rest of the Ranger crew got pretty tanked an’ I had to drive them to their cabins. I didn’t start to drinkin’ the stuff until I got back ’bout an’ hour ago.”
“Guess I won’t have any back up tonight if I need it, huh?”
“Aww honey, since when did ya ever need any back up on Halloween night, anyway? Why don’ ya come in an’ kick yer boots off for a while?”
Charlene brushed her strawberry blonde hair from her shoulders and winked up at her husband.
“I’ve got about an hour before I’ve got to make another round.”
The couple exchanged a lingering kiss in the doorway before closing and latching the door.
* * *
A mosquito landed on Joel’s forehead and pierced his skin. He woke up from an intoxicated slumber to smack himself and groan. Joel rolled over in his sleeping bag and put his arm around Rosie, who was snoring. Joel closed his eyes and tried to go back to sleep but the pressure in his bladder wouldn’t let him. He fidgeted with the zipper to the front of the tent for about a minute before opening the flap and stepping out into the moonlit landscape. His eyes finally adjusted to the moonlight and he stumbled over to the bench table. As Joel urinated he let out a deep sigh of relief. He zipped up his pants and sat down at the table. He scratched the top of his head, looked around and under the table. He stretched his hands out and touched the cool concrete platform underneath the table, then looked around the campsite. The table was empty and he thought that he had remembered leaving his knapsack on top of it before passing out. He stumbled back to the tent and shook Rosie.
“Rosie, Rosie, baby, wake up.”
Rosie rolled over and grunted.
“Did you get my knapsack from the table?”
“Knapsack, what knapsack?”
“You know, the bag where I keep the stash. It’s not out on the table!”
“Did you leave it on the table?”
“I know I did!”
“Did you ask Jim and Karen if they saw it?”
Joel stepped out of the tent and stumbled over to the other tent. He crouched down, tugged and pulled at the zipper, before the flap of the tent came open. Jim sat straight up, grabbed Joel by the collar and screamed out, “What the hell, man?!”
“Jim, it’s me, Joel. Calm down man!”
“What the hell do you want, Joel?”
“My knapsack, I can’t find it! Did you guys happen to bring it in before you went to sleep?”
“No, man, it was out on the table, why?”
“It’s gone, I can’t find it. Someone must have gotten it!”
“Gotten it? Chill out man, maybe it’s on the ground or something.”
“I looked, it’s not there! Oh crap, man! My stash of mescaline, weed and acid was in there!”
A sound of twigs snapping came from the other side of the campsite. Joel stood up, turned his head and held his breath. Jim’s jaw dropped, he grabbed Joel’s hand and shook it.
“What was that?”
Joel stood breathless, motionless and scared. Frustrated, Jim pushed Joel out of the way, and crawled out of the tent.
“What the hell was that?”
The snapping continued getting louder and closer. The two men stood staring into the darkness, looking for the source of the unnerving sound.
* * *
Chief Ranger Mark Ingram’s eyes started to close and he shook his head to fight off the drowsiness. He rolled down his window and lit up another cigarette as he drove into the Magnolia Campground. He eased onto the break pedal and slowed down. Mark took a slow, long pull from his cigarette as his headlights illuminated site marker #14. Three raccoons ran out into the road and he slammed onto the break so hard that he lost his cigarette. He turned on the spotlight and shined it at the road. They all turned in unison and stared up at the Jeep. He honked his horn, but they wouldn’t budge. He leaned out of his window to yell at them and noticed that the raccoons were bearing their teeth and growling fiercely. He pulled the rifle from the rack. A loud thud above Ranger Ingram startled him. There was something clawing at the roof. He quickly rolled up the windows and pointed the rifle up towards the sky. The other three raccoons were up on the windshield now, growling and scratching at the glass. Mark bit his lip, cocked the rifle and fired. He fired again and again, over and over, until the growling, clawing and scratching stopped. He slowly tugged at the door handle and stepped out of his vehicle. Blood and fur littered the road. The sound of a man shrieking made him jump and turn towards the direction of campsite #15. Joel crawled out onto the road, clutching his face as he screamed. Ranger Ingram ran over and helped Joel up. Mark’s stomach tightened as he looked down into the bloody, vacant cavities where Joel’s eyes used to be.
“They took my eyes! Oh God, my eyes!”
Mark suppressed the urge to lean over and vomit.
“Calm down, sir, we need to get you some medical attention.”
Mark tried not to look Joel in the face. Joel shrieked as he gripped Mark’s arms.
“They came out with their glowing eyes and creepy masks. They ate my stash and then they attacked us. Oh God, those crazy animals killed them all!”