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Fear Itself

By Jeff S. Pate All Rights Reserved ©

Thriller / Horror

Blurb

Tim McDaniel is a normal guy who works hard and loves his family. But one day as he's driving home he calls his wife to tell her he's running late only to have her laugh it off as she believes he's pulling a joke as he pulls into the driveway. After she hangs up, certain that she's staring right at him, he speeds home only to find his family gone and a note that reads, "Did you miss me?" Just like that a childhood terror resurfaces in his life and now he teams up with his best friend, Paul, to find them and stop this demonic force of nature that has it out for him. From the mountains of North Georgia to New Orleans and back, they'll stop at nothing to save his family but the darkness will stop at nothing to drive him mad with fear. He begins to question his very reality as waking nightmares fill his mind, short circuiting his efforts at every turn. Only through the help and guidance of some folks with experience in this new spiritual realm does Tim stand a chance to face Fear Itself.

Prologue

What is it about the dark that makes us afraid? Most people say that it’s the not knowing what’s there, but that’s not answering the question. Nobody really fears the unknown so much as they fear what might be there. So then, what is it that might be in the dark that scares us? What is it about the bump in the night that makes us jump? What is it about the closet door being cracked open that makes us uneasy? What do we think will get us? Maybe not what, but who. I’ve seen what’s in the dark. I’ve seen what causes the uneasy feeling to run up the back of your neck. I know what, and who, fear is because I have seen… Fear Itself.

Summer 1992

“You guys are so friggin’ lame!” Tim proclaimed trying a little too hard to sound at ease. “I don’t have to go to some stupid haunted cabin in the middle of the woods to prove I’m not afraid.”

It was true, of course, but it still came across as a flimsy excuse not to back up his bold claims. Tim had been insisting that he wasn’t scared of anything or anyone which instantly began the goading and mocking from his fellow sixth grade campers. Bugs, snakes, lightning storms, even the spooky tales of an old haunted cabin didn’t bother Tim. Never had, really. But now his insistences earned him the challenge to sneak out of his cabin, leave the campground, walk to the cabin alone, and bring back a piece of it as proof. All at the magical hour of midnight. How cliché.

The cabin in question was about a mile into the woods off of the old trail around the pond. Until the middle of 1974 it was used as a place for serious hikers and fisherman to lodge for the night, back when the fishing was good in these parts. Unfortunately, there hadn’t been any use of it since they recovered the dead bodies from the lake. Fourteen of them in all.

Hiking and camping in these parts stopped almost immediately. The pond was never really the same attraction after they pulled the bodies out. They drained a good five feet of shoreline that never quite filled back in. The local fishing industry pretty much dried up after that, too. The sad fact was that the only good thing to happen in these parts in the last 20 years was about five years ago when a family sold the land to the little Baptist church up the road to start a boy’s summer camp.

It was called Camp Muscogee, after the local Native American tribe that used to inhabit most of the south Georgia land in the area. Kids could paddle canoes, ride horses, learn to shoot a bow and arrow, all the good camp stuff. After the first summer the ghost stories about the cabin started. It was said that that’s where the killer tortured and dismembered the boys and then threw the disfigured bodies in the lake. If you went there alone at night then the ghosts of the mutilated boys would drag you into the lake so you would share in their watery torment…forever. (Cue scary music.)

Camp Muscogee was only in its third year since it took a couple of years to raise the money and build the camp. Apparently they targeted middle school aged boys because those were the ages of the boys killed almost twenty years ago. Kinda sad, kinda creepy.

The current challenge was simple enough, anyone who was brave enough to get there and back, alone, simply had to rip a piece off of the dilapidated walls to prove to the others that you had, in fact, visited the cabin. It was made of a birch which was rare in these woods so a chunk of it served as a satisfactory proof. Only one boy had ever dared to try it. And he was never… seen… again! Yeah, right. It had a flare for the dramatic but what good ghost story didn’t? Seeing as how this was only the third year that the camp was in existence Tim was convinced all the stories were pretty much bullcrap anyway.

But that’s how the story went as told to Tim and that’s when he chimed in with his now famous, “Well, I’m not scared of anything” line. The “yeah, rights” and “puh-leases” were quick to follow. But Tim adamantly insisted that he was scared of absolutely nothing. Why had he done that, he wondered? He knew it would only lead to a series of taunts and dares that he would eventually have to back up or else look like a lying sissy.

Tim was smart enough to know that if a boy had gone missing from the camp that he, or better yet his dad, would’ve heard about it before coming. His dad wouldn’t put up with that kind of nonsense. No, it was a made up story to scare kids and get them to think twice about sneaking out of their cabins at night. Still, was he willing to go there, alone?

“I’m just saying that it’s dumb to think that some ghosts of some dead kids are waiting to come get us, is all.” He tried to sound as nonchalant as he could but now the gauntlet was about to be thrown. And by the one kid who knew just how to get under Tim’s skin better than anyone.

“Timid Timmy is too scared to go,” got it all rolling. Timid Timmy. Not an altogether unclever nickname but one that could destroy a boy’s self esteem and social image if not eliminated immediately. Del knew just what to say. Del whatever-his-last-name-is. Who cared, really? He was as mean-spirited a person as Tim had ever met and now he could potentially ruin his first summer at camp with this idiotic nickname.

“Forget you, man,” was Tim’s witty retort.

But Del just pouted out his lower lip and in his best baby voice said, “Timid Timmy’s too afwaid to go. Him thinks da boogeyman gonna get him.”

This brought all kinds of laughter from the other boys. Great, now he had to step up to the plate or he was toast. Tim had never backed down from a challenge before. He was an only child and was often having to prove himself to other groups of kids for the simple reason that his family moved a lot making him the perpetual “new kid.” His dad was a contractor and they had to go where the money was. Tim was only twelve but had moved six times in his life. He longed for a home but at least he was well liked… most of the time.

Every once in a while he would have to do some stupid stunt to get “in” but he always did it and this would be no exception.

“Fine,” was all he said.

“Fine what? Fine you’ll go or fine you’re a sissy?” Del just wouldn’t quit.

“I’ll go. Tonight. Midnight. No biggie.” Tim knew that once he did this he would be the camp stud and Del would be calling him ‘sir’. “Wanna tag along? Or are you too scared?” Tim knew the rules he just wanted to do some of the taunting for once.

“You have to go alone, Timid Timmy. Or do you need me to hold your wittle hand?”

“No, no. I prefer to go alone that way I won’t have to drag your dead body back when the pond boys take you out for being such a little punk.” Score one for Timmy. The other boys seemed to like that as well because a cacophony of “oh mans” and “he told you’s” followed. But Del just smiled his creepy smile and said, “We’ll see.”


Midnight came at a snail’s pace. The boys had lights out in the cabin at ten so two hours crept by for Tim. He couldn’t explain it but he had a sort of dread about going. He knew it would be a piece of cake. He even planned out some elaborate practical jokes to pull on the boys upon his return. Scratching on window screens, moaning outside the door, stuff like that.

Their cabin leader was a seventeen year old kid who slept like a rock so sneaking out wasn’t really a challenge. He knew when the time finally came he’d be stealth enough to get out and back in without detection.

But as he lay there awake his mind started down a road he wasn’t prepared to travel. He was almost glad when midnight came so he could get out of that place and get going. His watch alarm beeped its faithful chime and he eased out of bed so as not to wake anyone.

“They’re gonna get you Timid Timmy,” came the first of many hushed taunts. So much for not waking anyone. Apparently the others were as worked up about this as he was. He could hear Del above the others, almost as if he were whispering the words into his mind, “they’re gonna get you.”

Only one boy, Gabe, whispered an encouragement.

“Tim.”

“Yeah?”

“Be careful, ok?”

“I will, Gabe. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be back in half an hour.”

And with that he eased out of the cabin and began his journey. He felt like a character from a story or something. Off on this eerie adventure with no one else around. There was no band of brothers on this trek. There was no Samwise to his Frodo.

Man, he would give anything right now to make this story a comedy. Goofy music would play as he walked. Maybe he would get to the cabin and it would be decorated for his birthday or the cute girl who lived down the street from his new home would be there to welcome her hero with a sweet kiss.

Well, his birthday was in November and this was an all boy’s camp so those weren’t the most likely scenarios to be played out. And this didn’t feel like a comedy in any way. The Georgia summer night was muggy and thick. This was the stuff all good horror movies were made of and he knew it.

All the plans of meandering over there, grabbing a handful of birch and heading back for some pranks were out the window now. He just wanted to get there and get back as soon as his Nikes would let him. This was so dumb.

What had his father told him about trying to prove himself? “It takes a man to walk away, son.” Easier said than done sometimes, Pop. His dad was always trying to get him to be a little more by-the-book, a little more military, if you will. His dad had never actually served in the military, but you wouldn’t know it. All business summed him up pretty well. Tim’s creative approach to life caused some unrest between them but he knew his dad loved him and meant well.

He got his creative side from his mother. Music and acting really lit his fire and he was a pretty gifted musician, by any twelve year old standards. His dad had become a lot less tolerant of Tim’s “hippie ways” as of late. This last move was supposed to be the jackpot for them. “No more moving for a while,” was his father’s promise. “But I expect you to buckle down in school and find yourself a good paper route or something to earn yourself some money for your extra-curricular activities.”

Extra-curricular activities? Paper route? Who talked like that? Tim’s dad did, that’s who.

“This summer I want you to get your head out of the clouds and take life more seriously,” he told him at the close of the school year.

“You do realize I’m twelve, right dad?” was his smart-alec response.

This got “the look” from the old man and a chuckle from his mom. She shouldn’t encourage him but she did. In fact, it was her idea to let Tim go to camp in the first place. “Let him be a kid,” she said with pleading eyes.

The old man caved every time with her and that was cool. He loved her and Tim knew it. So really, it was his mom’s fault he was in this mess with the stupid haunted cabin by the lake. “Thanks, mom,” he said sarcastically to the trees.

He figured it would be about a fifteen minute walk each way. No dilly dally and certainly no stopping to look inside or anything. He had seen enough cheesy movies to know what not to do in situations like this. Grab the wood and haul butt back to camp. Fifteen, heck. He might make it back in five.

With each step he grew more anxious and worried about what might lie ahead. Strange thoughts like, “what if somebody lives there and really does kill anyone who dares to trespass?” and “what if I’m attacked by a wild animal?” began to plague him. He could see Del’s mocking face in his mind’s eye. That kid was evil.

The cabin was within site now. Flashlights were against the rules so Tim took this one by moonlight. Lucky for him it was nearly a full moon. Was it waning or waxing? He could never tell. The cabin looked extremely uninviting with the moon’s pale light hitting it through the leaves. “Here we go,” thought Tim.

He was about ten feet away when the niggling fear that had been nipping at his mind began to take bigger and bigger bites. He was reaching out to touch the wood when the fear began to feast on him. His mind was becoming a buffet of terrifying thoughts and it took every ounce of courage he had to reach out and rip off a piece of the wood.

Done. He did it. This was almost over.

As he held the wood in his hand the fear subsided for a moment. Timmy turned to jog back to camp with his prize and SMACK! He was knocked on his butt by… by what? Was that a tree? No, it couldn’t be a tree! There were no trees this close to the cabin. Timmy looked up and his throat seized shut. Looking down at him was a beast of a man with hate and darkness etched so deeply in his face that it was nearly enough to stop his heart.

Tim tried to scream but couldn’t. He wanted to get up and run away but couldn’t. He could only sit there and look into the face of evil. The dirty, cold hand of the large, old man reached down as his fingers laced around Tim’s throat. Was this the end of his story?

A mile away Gabe lay there crying softly in his pillow while Del sat in the dark with a twisted smile on his face. His lower lip came out as he whispered loud enough for Gabe to hear, “Timid Timmy found a new fwiend.”

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