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Contemporary Suspense Funny

CW: bears and swears


“You sure we’re going the right way?” Jon asks as the Land Rover bumps along the rutted dirt road. Though it’s only late afternoon, the tops of the trees stretch overhead, their limbs intertwining like fingers to form a dark canopy that filters out the light.


“I’m fairly certain,” Andreas says, with a hint of a Swiss accent. “Though…” he pauses as he holds his phone closer to the Rover’s moonroof. “I’m not getting any signal here.”


“Kara,” Jon says, glancing in the rear-view mirror to the red-headed, thirty-something woman the backseat. “What do the directions say?”


Kara unfolds a piece of paper and scans it.


Join the Dartmoor Company Retreat

We’ve arranged an exclusive, private campsite, only 1 mile from the Cheat River launch site. Authentic backwoods ambiance on the border of West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Food, fun, and teambuilding, plus a wild ride on class IV rapids!


Directions:

Take Cheat River exit, Right on Hemlock Hollow for 15 miles

Turn left onto dirt track (look for sign ‘Naskar Park’) for 5 miles


“We’re going in the right direction, we passed the Naskar Park sign a while back,” Kara says, meeting Jon’s brown eyes in the mirror for a second, before he looks back to the track, slowing the Rover to make a tight turn in the road. “How many miles to you think—"


“Shit!” Jon breaths out as he slams on the breaks. The Rover’s front bumper rests a few feet from a large tree laying across the track.


“Can we get around it?” Andreas asks.


“No. There’s not enough—”


BOOM!


“Christ!” Andreas says, his head level with the glove box as he crouches down in the passenger seat. “What was that?”


“I think it was a gun. A shotgun,” Jon says, as he slowly sits up from his hiding place behind the steering wheel.


TAP tap


Heads swivel to the driver side window, where a gun barrel raps against the glass.


“Eh, didn’t mean to scare you,” The man with the gun smiles broadly. His gaunt face is topped with a camouflage hunting cap and anchored by a wiry red beard flecked with grey. “You here for the campsite? It’s not far.” He says, slinging the gun over his back. “I’m Ned, the caretaker, I’ll take you there.”


The Dartmoor team exits the vehicle, stretching after the 3-hour drive. They introduce themselves to Ned as they shoulder their backpacks.


“What are you hunting?” Andreas asks.


“Oh, well I wasn’t so much hunting, as protecting,” Ned says, as he climbs over the trunk of the tree blocking the road.


“Protecting? What are you…” Jon’s voice trails off as he straddles the tree trunk. Four deep grooves, about six inches long are etched into the tree. Dark red droplets run from the grooves onto the ground. “What is that?”


“Eh?” says Ned, returning to the tree to see what Jon is staring at. “Oh, well, that’s most likely Nokomis, the Werebear. She gets ornery during a full moon, like a werewolf. So the locals have taken to calling her the Werebear.”


“Oh, right, of course. There’s a fanatical bear roaming the woods, near our campsite,” Jon guffaws as he slaps Andrea’s back. “This your prank, Andy?”


“It most certainly is not.” Andreas says. “I already did my prank for this year, and it scored very highly indeed. This…” he points to the fallen log and bloody claw marks, “seems more like your kind of thing, Jon.”


Jon scratches behind his ear, mussing his wavy brown hair. “Could be Kara.”


“I told you, I’m not participating in your stupid prank contest. It’s so juvenile. I hope Andreas wins, so you’ll finally be dethroned," she says, mock bowing at Jon, “Captain Maturity.”


They follow Ned for a few minutes until they reach a small campsite with a firepit and a six-person tent. “You can put your gear in there, “ Ned says, pointing the nylon dome. “Just make sure you don’t have any food or smelly stuff, like chewing gum or coconut-scented lotion.”


“Is this the only tent?” Kara asks. “I was hoping I’d have my own.”


“Uh, yup.” Ned replies. “Your boss said she’d join you tomorrow, for the Whitewater rafting. So it’s just the three of you in there for tonight. It’s good for camaraderie and team-building, is what she said.“


He continues, “It will be getting dark in a few hours. If you want, you can take a walk. Stick to the trail though, and be back before the sun sets.”


They dump their backpacks in the tent and head down the trail, boots crunching the leaves and snapping small sticks.


Kara inhales the earthy and slightly musty smell of wet foliage. "It's good to breathe fresh air. "


"Hmm. Yes, though it's not as pure as the air in the Alps," Andreas says.


"That whole Werebear thing," Jon says, kicking a pinecone down the trail, "that's a prank for sure. And Kara, you only have a few weeks left to get your prank in. You must want to get Andy and me back for what we did."


"I beg your pardon," Andreas says. "My prank was very tasteful, and quite beautiful."


"I was picking fake snow flakes out of my hair and keyboard for weeks," Kara says.


"It was totally biodegradable paper," Andreas says. "It's not as if I bruised your ego like Jon did. With that fake journalist interviewing you about your fascinating sourdough recipe."


"Whatever, I'm not interested in your stupid games any....oh look!" Kara says, “Puffballs!” A cluster of spherical brown mushrooms, the size of small tangerines hunker on the right side of the trail, each with a black dot in the center of its dome, like a small puckered mouth.


Kara picks up a stick and pokes at one. A sickly yellow-green smoke rises out of the black dot, spewing spores into the air.


“Is that safe?” Andreas asks.


“Yeah, I think so.” Kara says. “I mean, I don’t think they’re hallucinogenic or anything.” She rocks a rotting log with her boot. “As a kid I loved walking in the woods. Finding puffballs and weird insects, like roly-polys and thousand-leggers.” The log rolls aside, making doodle bugs and millipedes scurry for cover.


The rat-a-tat-tat of a woodpecker on the trunk of pine tree is interrupted by an eerie wail, like a dove and coyote duetting in the distance. A flash of movement between the tightly packed pines catches Jon’s eye.


“What was that?” he asks.


“What?” Andreas and Kara ask in tandem.


“You didn’t see it?”


“What did it look like?” Andreas asks.


“I only caught a glimpse. Looked like a person with dark, braided hair, wearing some kind of animal skin outfit, maybe?”


The wailing sound echoes softly, again.


“We should be getting back,” Kara says, “It’s getting dark.”


When they reach camp, a crackling fire burns in the pit, sparks spiralling up to the full moon. Ned serves chili and cornbread on metal plates as they sit on logs circling the pit. Jon breaks out a bottle of whiskey, pouring large shots into tin mugs and handing them round.


“How was your walk?” Ned asks.


“Really good, I saw puffballs," Kara answers. “But we heard something strange, like sad singing, and Jon saw something that might have been a person, with a black braid, moving through the pines.”


“That so?” Ned says. “Well, that was probably Nokomis, daughter of the moon. Pour me some more whiskey and I’ll tell you a story.”


“Nokomis belonged to ‘those who keep records of a vision,’ the Chippewa, clan of the Nooke," Ned says. "They had travelled many moons from the Land of the Dawn, where the sun rises from the salty sea. Here they found fish, and deer and bear. On a full moon night, Abeque gave birth to a girl, Nokomis. Nokomis grew strong and tall, and talked with the animals in the wood, the birds, the stag, the bear. One day the chief said, 'she is a witch’ and he chased her into the forest.”


Ned takes a slug of whiskey, before continuing. “He hunted her for seven nights. Then on the night of a full moon, he saw her standing in a small clearing, and readied his bow and arrow. Sensing danger, Nokomis shape-shifted into a bear. The arrow struck her chest, but did not kill her. Though she bleeds from her heart every full moon, and wanders the wood in a rage, seeking revenge on brown-haired men.”


Andreas and Jon look at each other, wondering whose hair is browner.


“Well, you’d best turn in, you have an early start tomorrow.” Ned says, standing up and handing them a flashlight. "I'll come back in the morning."


Jon flicks the flashlight on, shining an unsteady beam toward the tent. He unzips the front flap and they duck through the opening. Kara, the last in, zips the flap as the men remove their boots. They sit on their sleeping bags drinking the last of the whiskey while watching the shadows jump and dance along the nylon walls as the fire burns lower. Eventually they settle into their sleeping bags and close their eyes.


An hour later, Jon sits up quickly. “You hear that?”


“Go back to sleep.” Andreas says, groggily, turning in his sleeping bag.


Aaaa waaa aaah laaanaa layaa


Andreas and Kara sit up, holding their breath as they listen to the strange lament.


“It’s getting closer,” Kara whispers.


A crack of branches breaking just outside their tent. A snuffling sound as something heavy paws at the ground nearest Jon.


A hulking shadow stretches up one side of the tent, outlined by the dying embers of the fire. Steam rises in small puffs from the creature’s mouth, as its heavy, laboured breathing fills the ears of the occupants.


"Land Rover, now," Jon says as he pulls on his coat and fishes in the pockets for the key.


A thundering roar shakes the tent, filling it with the putrid smell of rotting flesh.


Kara’s fingers slip as she tries to unzip the front flap.


Jon's side of the tent shreds in long strips as four sharp claws puncture the nylon and draw downwards.


"Kara, open the damn tent!" Jon screams as they huddle round her.


She finally unzips the flap and they stumble over each other, running barefoot in the dark towards the Land Rover. The ghostly song follows them as they trip over branches and rocks.


They reach the Rover and pile in. Jon starts the engine, turns on the headlights and backs down the narrow track. At last they reach the sign at the top of the road.


Naskar Park


In the backseat, Kara is laughing hard, doubling over. “Oh, oh man. If you could SEE your faces.”


Andreas and Jon turn to look back at her.


Then Andreas starts laughing.


“What’s so damn funny?” Jon asks.


“It’s an anagram,” Andreas says pointing to the sign, illuminated by the Rover's high beams.


Jon considers the letters, arranging them mentally into possible words.


“Shit," he laughs, “Kara's Prank."

March 28, 2021 12:53

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23 comments

H L Mc Quaid
07:56 Mar 30, 2021

I had few ideas for this prompt but couldn't get them to work, hence a very silly story. :0 I'll probs delete before it's submitted.

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Frances Reine
01:45 Apr 02, 2021

Hi Heather-- I read this one a little while ago and I thought I did leave a comment. And then I read it again and found out I didn't so here goes: There's something so crisp about your stories. They're well rounded, satisfying and exotic. And the dialogue's something extra special. This one's gripping. Definitely super clever. A lot of the stuff I was previously planning to point out is all tidied up and edited. Therefore, all praise this time :) (Claire covered them all, haha.)

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H L Mc Quaid
10:47 Apr 02, 2021

Hello Frances! So nice to hear from you. :) Thanks so much for the kind comments. I would never think of my writing as exotic, so that's very exciting. And I can always count on people like you and Claire to catch the things my eyes don't see! Will you be sharing a story soon?

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Frances Reine
14:32 Apr 04, 2021

No problem at all! I've been super occupied but I hope I'll be writing something soon! Thanks for asking :)

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Holly Fister
21:53 Apr 05, 2021

Haha! I love your bears and swears content warning 😂 Its the perfect start to a story with these goofy prompts!

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H L Mc Quaid
07:43 Apr 07, 2021

thanks Holly, I meant to take that out before it got approved, but oh well. 😂

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Kristin Neubauer
10:43 Apr 04, 2021

Fun! I did not see the end coming and I was wondering the whole time where this was headed. Great job of building up the suspense, the actions, the mystery. And then tying it up in such a satisfying way. The one question I had though was a bit the opening line “CW: bears and swears.” I don’t understand what that means. No one else mentioned it, so it must be something just failing to get through my thick head.... but I’m curious. Nice job!

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H L Mc Quaid
10:51 Apr 04, 2021

Hi Kristin! Thanks for reading and commenting. the CW is Content Warning, and I was maybe being too light-hearted with it. I'm not sure I should even have Content Warning on my stories (I don't usually deal with heavy themes, but I do use profanity, on occasion). I'll just take it off, as I agree with you, it's confusing. Thanks for your comments, I always look forward to them. :)

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H L Mc Quaid
10:52 Apr 04, 2021

dang, the story was approved (already?), so I can't edit it. Ah well, I was planning on deleting it in a week or so anyway. ;)

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Kristin Neubauer
11:11 Apr 04, 2021

Oh, I see - my personal opinion is that content warnings aren’t really necessary unless you are dealing with an issue that really might trigger someone. I only used one once - on my story The End. I felt the story was so disturbing that it even bothered me long after. I haven’t wanted to go back and read it again. But content warnings are subjective and we all have to go with what works for us. But I’m really curious about why you’re intending to delete the story? Do you dislike it? I thought it was fun, well-written, a little differe...

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H L Mc Quaid
13:44 Apr 04, 2021

I admire people who can write about difficult topics (not sure I'll ever join their ranks!). Re: Content Warnings. I thought about my friend who was savagely attacked by a polar bear that maimed several kids under his supervision, killing a 15-year old, before he could kill it. He probably doesn't want to read stories about bears. But, does that mean I need to put a CW on, because 99.9% of readers won't have been traumatised by bears. I dunno. As for deleting the story. First, thanks for your kind words. :) I guess I thought this story...

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Kristin Neubauer
15:04 Apr 04, 2021

Gosh - what a trauma and tragedy for your friend. We really never know what other people have gone through, do we? Yes, I see the why the warning was in your head. I’m looking forward to reading your next one!

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Claire Lewis
02:43 Apr 01, 2021

Gotta love a good werebear story haha! I enjoyed the prank war premise and Kara’s masterful win. The characters and the setting in the woods are wonderfully done as always. A couple minor typos: “The log rolls aside making doodle bugs and millipedes scurry for cover.” (Add a comma after ‘aside’) “What was that?”, he asks. (Paragraph break before, and remove the comma) Looks like a person, maybe, wearing some kind of animal skin otufit (spelling) Jon breaks out a bottle of whiskey, pouring a large shot into tin mugs, and handing them r...

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H L Mc Quaid
08:03 Apr 01, 2021

Claire, thank you so much for spotting those typos. I knew something wasn't quite right with the whiskey and the mugs sentence, but I couldn't put my finger on it, ha. Glad you found it amusing. thanks again for reading and taking the time to help me improve. :)

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Ash Jarvis
17:44 Mar 31, 2021

Kara is awesome—I love it when someone plays the long game! I was disappointed for all of a millisecond that we don’t find out HOW she pulls this off, then I realized it’s more fun imagining it for ourselves. (I like to picture Ned stumbling around a pitch-black forest in a werebear suit) I don’t have any critiques as far as the overall structure because the pacing felt perfect. My only suggestion would be that a few of the “says” could be removed, such as the paragraph that begins “Kara inhales the earthy...” and ends “...she says”—there ...

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H L Mc Quaid
18:11 Mar 31, 2021

ha! I did think about jello-covered office-supplies, but that wasn't as interesting as werebears. The untold Backstory: Ned is Kara's uncle and played the role of the werebear, his wife played (human) Nokomis. Kara knows these woods well she grew up nearby. :) Thanks for you comments, I removed a few more dialogue tags, and it's better. :)

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Beth Connor
17:15 Mar 31, 2021

I found this really entertaining- I spent the whole time trying to guess whose prank it was! You should keep it. quick edit- there is one spot that you spelled it wearbear, the rest you used werebear: "That whole Wearbear thing,"

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H L Mc Quaid
18:14 Mar 31, 2021

Thanks, I fixed the typo you caught! I might keep it for awhile. Can't say it's particularly profound or poetic, so, I"m feeling about meh about it, but parts of it were fun to write. :)

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Beth Connor
18:46 Mar 31, 2021

It's all part of the process right? Can't have exciting and profound stuff without the occasional (personal) meh!

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H L Mc Quaid
18:47 Mar 31, 2021

very true, very true. Here's hoping I'll have a less 'meh' story next time. :)

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