Rather someone else do the reading? Listen to Mr. Creeps tell the story.
Back when other folks were becoming Robber Barons, or at least homesteading good farmland, my people didn’t have the good sense to do anything that would set their descendants—namely, me—up for an easy life. Instead, they decided to homestead in the Current River Valley. Ain’t no one getting rich down here. Over the generations my family gathered up more and more cheap land, and then those bastards left it all to me.
If chert rocks were valuable, well, I’d have me a goddamn fortune. I’ve inherited 500 acres of rocks, ridgeland, and woods, along with enough river frontage to flood at inconvenient times. The timber that covers most of the place might be worth something, but good luck getting it out once you’ve cut it. There ain’t no easy way to get logs out of here other than to float them down the river, but nowadays there ain’t saw mills on the river like there used to be. It’s a lot of land, but it’s not land that’s going to generate an easy income. I probably would’ve sold the whole place years ago, but it won’t fetch that much, and then I’d have to find somewhere else to live. I’m kind of stuck here.
Fortunately, a few years back I finally figured out a way to make a little bit of money from the place: I became a wilderness guide. People from the city pay me a pretty penny to show them around my own little patch of Ozark wilderness. At first I offered my services for hunting and fishing, and I did okay with that. Then I found some web-forums where people post about the monsters and “cryptids” they think exist out here in the hills, and I recognized an opportunity when I saw one. I started advertising my services to guide people searching for Bigfoot and other such bullshit. Those nuts ate it up.
Then I found another internet forum where people love reading “Rules Stories,” where there’s these strange rules folks have to follow to avoid being eaten by the boogie man or something. I put two and two together and started advertising crypto-monster tours of the Ozarks where you had to promise to follow my very specific rules before I’d take your money and hike you around my place hunting for whatever the hell it is you think lives out here. I’ve tripled my prices and I still have as much business as I can stand.
Are my clients idiots? Yes, absolutely. Or at least, I used to think that they were idiots. I figured that anyone willing to pay me $1,200 a night to hike around in the woods searching for make-believe critters had something wrong with them, but I never let that bother me. I rationalized that I was more of an entertainer than a con artist. I was just showing people a good time, letting them spend a few hours dreaming that there was something more to this world than we can see in our day-to-day life. Hell, I’d almost convinced myself that I was doing the Lord’s work or something.
Then that giant blue man ate an asshole named Hunter. Now I’m not sure that I want to think about what kind of man I am.
It was Hunter’s wife, Ainsley, that booked the trip.
She called me and left a message saying that she was hoping to give her husband a “genuine and dangerous supernatural experience” for their tenth wedding anniversary. I called her back with my usual spiel about how, “these hills are mighty spooky” and “you never do know what you’re gonna get when you’s out in the woods, but so long as you follow my rules you’uns’ll be okay.”
Ainsley was really into the rules from the start, in a capital “R” sort of way like they were the goddam gospel or something.
“How do we get the Rules?” She asked me on the phone. “Do you hand them out when we check-in, or can you email them to us so we can study them in advance?”
“I have ‘em written out on some note cards that I’ve laminated,” I told her. “That way they can stand up to the elements while you’re out here, and you’uns will always have them with you to consult in a dangerous situation.”
Before I could even get to the bit where for an extra charge she could keep the rule cards as a commemorative souvenir, Ainsley asked me, “Can you just email me the rules? I will share them with Hunter, and then he and I will commit them to memory.”
“Well, uh, I guess I could do that if—“ I stammered. On the one hand, I wasn’t a big fan of documenting my communications with prospective clients in digital form, because that sort of trail can lead to trouble. On the other hand, I was a huge fan of selling clients souvenir note cards filled with inane rules for $50 a pop. Since both hands were against me emailing her the rules, I tried to think of a reason to not send her anything. Before I could think of an excuse, Ainsley came up with a great reason for me to do as she asked.
“I’m sure that you have very good reasons for the way you usually communicate your Rules to investigators like us,” she said, “so I would, of course, be happy to pay you to deviate from your normal process and email the rules to me.”
“Yes, of course I would. And I would also agree to absolve you from any and all liability arising from the change in your preferred paranormal protocols.”
“I suppose that I could make an exception if—“
“In fact, I would pay you for an entire extra guest if you were to email me the rules in advance and then never share them or even mention them to Hunter once we get there.”
“I can do that,” I answered, trying to keep the eagerness out of my voice.
“It’s just that Hunter wants the illusion of being an explorer and figuring these things out on his own,” she explained, as if I cared why she wanted to pay me an extra $1200 to NOT hand them some lame laminated cards when they arrived.
“I understand,” I told her. “I look forward to you and Hunter joining us, and, if I may, I’d like to be the first to wish you a happy anniversary!”
“Thank you very much,” she said. “Now, I have my credit card right here. Can I go ahead and pay the entire amount in advance?”
“Yes, ma’am!” I answered.
Given how well Ainsley was compensating me for them, I tried to make my rules look nice before emailing them to her. I typed them up in a fancy looking document with “Current River Cryptid Encounters — Rules for Surviving the Night” at the top of the page. Then I cribbed off of one of my handwritten note cards and typed the rules into the document. I even tried to punch them up a little bit while I was at it.
Rule 1 was the only one I cared about enforcing: “Do what your Guide tells you to do immediately. Hesitation and stupid questions can be fatal.” It wasn’t a lie, because back when I was just doing hunting trips I often came close to killing a client for jackassery. Ever since I had the threat of supernatural retribution on my side, clients have been a whole heap better about hopping to when I give them an order.
The rest of the rules were things I’d come up with for dramatic effect or personal amusement. Rule 7 (“Do not bring peanuts, peanut butter, or anything containing peanuts or peanut butter with you.”) existed because I have an allergy and figured that if I couldn’t eat a PB&J sandwich for a snack then no one else should, either. Rule 9 (“Stay out of the river after sundown. In fact, don’t even look at the river after sundown.”) just sounded ominous to me, while Rule 13 (“Don’t throw rocks at it, whatever ‘it’ is.”) made me laugh.
Once I’d typed all of the rules into a document, I printed it into a PDF protected with a password Ainsley had asked me to use. I clicked send on the email, and Ainsley replied within three minutes.
“Thank you so MUCH! Please remember: DON’T SAY ANYTHING TO MY HUSBAND ABOUT THESE RULES! He’s very excited about pretending to learn about your cryptids, and if you mention anything about these rules it will shatter the illusion.”
I typed, “no problem, happy to help any way I can” in response. I could already tell that those two were going to be a handful.
Ainsley scheduled their overnight supernatural wilderness encounter in the middle of October, right about when fall starts to arrive around here. They showed up that afternoon in a tricked-out Porsche SUV. I had no idea that Porsche even made SUVs until theirs crept up my rutted driveway. Hunter was driving about 3 mph, weaving to-and-fro trying to avoid the holes, and, as I could see through the tinted windows, yelling at his wife. I came down from my porch to meet them in the driveway.
“—don’t know what the hell you’re thinking!” Hunter was screaming as he opened his door and slid off of a seat covered in the fanciest looking leather I’d ever seen.
From the other side of the vehicle, Ainsley gave me a pained expression and mouthed “remember” as she got out. Both of them were attractive, I guess, although their angular look was better suited for a TV studio than the hills. She was tall and rail-thin, with wispy blond hair flying out from underneath a neon green stocking hat. He was muscular in a way that I could tell came from a weight room rather than physical labor, with brown hair combed over the bald spot developing on the top of his head. Both of them wore tight-fitting and obviously new flannel shirts, designer jeans with logos I didn’t recognize, puffy vests that probably contained real goose down, and pristine hiking boots.
I began my usual welcome speech.
“Howdy, folks,” I said. “I hope you’re ready for—“
“We’re ready to experience nature!” Ainsley chimed in as her husband scowled at her. “The clean mountain air will do us some good!”
“Well, actually, these are technically hills, not mountains—“ I began, but I stopped when I saw Ainsley staring at me with a pleading expression and Hunter glaring at me with contempt. I adjusted my approach.
“But topographical definitions aren’t important! What is important is that we do, indeed, have some really clean air for you to breathe while we’re out in nature tonight.”
“Let’s just get this over with,” Hunter said. He went to the back of his SUV and began to rummage through it.
“Sounds good to me,” I said. “I’ll go get my gear from the house.” Before I could head back inside to get a jacket and my pack, Ainsley grabbed my wrist.
“Remember,” she whispered, “not a word about those Rules. I think he’s grumpy because he’s worried you’ll forget about our special arrangement. In fact, it would probably be best if you didn’t mention the supernatural at all. You know, let him discover it for himself.”
I wanted to argue with her, because who was she to tell me how to put on my show? Then I remembered that she was the one who’d paid me nearly $4000 for a single night camping in the woods, so I shrugged.
“Sure thing,” I said. “If that’s what you two want, that’s fine with me.”
She gave my wrist a friendly squeeze.
“Thanks,” she said, before joining Hunter to wrangle their gear out from the back of their fancy vehicle as I went into my house.
I watched through my front window as they bickered and, judging from their gestures, threatened one another with bodily harm. I took a deep breath and tried to center myself like I’d learned from that meditation app I’d been using. I knew it was going to be a long night. I just hoped that I wouldn’t be a witness to a murder.
The thoughts of murder prompted me to hurry back out there before those two came to blows. I shrugged into my own well-worn backpack, grabbed the .30-06 rifle I carried for show, and strapped on both my 9 mm pistol (also for show) and my genuinely handy hunting knife. It was time to take Hunter and Ainsley out into the woods to camp for the night. I had the feeling that I was going to earn every nickel I was getting paid for the adventure.
The hike was easy but exasperating. Hunter whined about how the hills were too steep, the trees with their gorgeous fall leaves beginning to turn color made the trail too dark, and the sounds of nature around us were too near at hand. Once we got to the gravel bar I always use as a campsite for my wilderness excursions, he kicked the rocks like a petulant child as I set up camp.
Being a customer-oriented kind of guy, I put the two-person tent over where the gravel gives way to nice, soft sand and put my own one-man tent as far away from theirs as I could. I figured that sleeping on a few rocks would be worth it to be as far away from those two as possible. Meanwhile, Hunter progressed from kicking rocks to chucking them into the river. Ainsley came over to me as I was finishing with my tent.
“Is that going to be dangerous?” she asked me in a hushed voice, nodding towards her husband. At that moment he was trying to hit a huge sycamore tree on the opposite bank, but missing wildly.
“Well, I was planning on catching some fish for dinner tonight, so he is risking scaring off our dinner.”
“It’s more than that!” she whispered with a tone of urgency. “He’s violating Rule 13! What kind of monster is attracted to rock throwing?”
It seemed like her eyes had an enthusiastic glow to them, but maybe it was just the sun beginning to sink low towards the ridgeline in the west. I tried to alleviate her anxiety over her husband being attacked by a haint without dispelling the illusion of supernatural danger.
“Mmmm, well, lots of them are attracted to the sound of rocks being thrown. They’re curious, you know.” I improvised. “He’ll probably survive, but I will have to go and tell him to stop.”
Ainsley stepped so close to me that I could feel her breath on my face. “I just want you to know,” she said, “that I won’t hold you accountable if something unfortunate happens to him because of his Rule Breaking.”
This was shaping up to be the weirdest wilderness supernatural encounter I’d ever led.
“Well, uh, thanks. I’ll try to keep him safe just the same,” I told her.
Ainsley didn’t look as pleased with that declaration as I’d expected she would be. Then I went over to where Hunter was busy searching for the perfect stone to chuck.
“Alrighty,” I told him, “I’m going to need you to stop scaring the fish. I got the tents up, so you can get settled into yours while I catch us some dinner.”
Hunter spun around at my words and glared at the two-person tent I’d set up for him and his wife.
“There’s no way we’re both going to fit in there,” he said.
“Well, sure, it’s going to be a little friendly,” I told him, “but you two are married, right? So it’s okay to be a little friendly.”
“We’ll make the best of it,” Ainsley said from behind me.
“Fine,” Hunter said in a tone that sounded far from fine. “What did you say about dinner?”
“I said it’s time to catch it. I have a spare rod and reel if you want to fish, too.”
“For what I’m sure my idiot wife is paying you, you’re the one that’s going to catch the fish.”
“That’s fine,” I told him, only I meant it. The last thing I wanted was that idiot lodging a barbed metal hook into my face trying to cast a line.
The trout were biting even better than usual that afternoon. In no time, I had six nice ones caught, cleaned, and cooking over the campfire I’d started with no help from my guests. There’s nothing quite like eating a fish no more than twenty feet from where it was caught and less than an hour from when you pulled it out of the water. As the sun was setting, we had a mighty fine dinner on the bank of the Current River. Ainsley and I tucked in, but Hunter picked at his plate.
“I’m going to have one of those sandwiches we packed,” he announced to no one in particular. Then he extracted a plastic container from his backpack and cracked the lid to release the unmistakable and sinister (to me) smell of peanut butter. He bit into the corner of a PB&J with the enthusiasm of a small child or, in his case, a douchebag.
Ainsley, who had been situated midway between me and her husband on the uphill side of the fire, scooted towards me.
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered to me, “I don’t know why he’s violating Rule Number 7—“
“What the hell are you whispering about over there?” Hunter yelled through a mouthful of sandwich.
“Just keep the peanut butter away from me,” I told him.
“And me,” Ainsley added. “If you’re going to be eating peanut butter, you need to go take a walk along the river to do it! It’s not safe to eat that in our camp!”
“What the hell, Ainsley?” Hunter yelled as he stood up from the log he was sitting on. “You’re the one who fucking packed this! You know I hate fish!” Then he pulled a second sandwich out of the container and stalked off down the river with a sandwich in each hand.
“I’m so sorry for Hunter being such an ass,” Ainsley said once he disappeared beyond the glow of the campfire and into the rapidly darkening night. “I don’t know why he’s being so difficult about your Rules. He’s putting all of our lives in danger.”
“Well, uh, I guess he’s just having a bad day,” I told her.
Ainsley and I sat in silence for a moment, eating the last of the trout and listening to sounds of the night. The river burbled. The fire crackled. Owls hooted in the woods. A silent bat swooped over the surface of the water Ainsley was studiously ignoring. And then rocks started plunking into the river. Hunter had resumed his game of trying to hit the sycamore tree now that it was illuminated by the light of the full moon.
Ainsley grinned like a maniac beside me for a split second, but when she saw me looking at her she made a visible effort to put on an expression of concern.
“What do you think it is that’s going to kill him?” she asked me in a somber tone.
“What do you mean?”
“He’s throwing rocks into the river at night while eating peanut butter. That’s violating at least three of your Rules.”
She was leaning forward and gesturing wildly as she spoke. In her excitement, she’d stopped whispering and had started talking loud and fast. “Is it going to be one monster, or is there going to be a bunch of them? Will it maybe be that hellhound I read about? I hear that dogs like peanut butter! Or maybe—“
“Look, Ainsley,” I began, “those rules are just for fun—“
Then there came a crash and a scream from downriver. I grabbed a flashlight and took off running. Ainsley jumped up and down and clapped her hands with glee.
Hunter was easy to find because he was making a lot of noise. I can’t say as I blamed him, because I would’ve hollered up a storm, too, if a seven foot tall blue man-thing was dragging me into the woods. The giant man was naked as a jaybird and covered with thin fur that left nothing to the imagination as it glinted a pale blue in the moonlight. The blue man had ahold of Hunter’s left hand, which still clutched the remnants of the second PB&J sandwich. As the blue giant strode up the bank he lifted the sandwich, along with Hunter’s hand, to his mouth and took a big bite. Hunter screamed as a couple of his fingers went along with the PB&J into the gullet of the monster.
For reasons that I still don’t understand, I sprinted toward the terror to try and rescue my jerk-client. I drew the pistol I carried more as a stage prop than as a weapon and aimed it toward the creature while praying that I wouldn’t hit Hunter. When my little gun popped the first time, the gravel between me and the blue man kicked up. When the monster turned to look at me, its almost human face had a quizzical expression on it. Then he took another bite out of Hunter’s sandwich, along with another of Hunter’s fingers. It looked like Hunter was down to just the index finger and the thumb on his left hand. Hunter screamed and flailed as he dangled from the creature’s grasp.
Despite my knees shaking, I advanced and fired a second time. I somehow hit the blue man with that shot, and blood turned the creature’s upper arm a deeper blue in the darkness. It roared and tossed Hunter away like a rag doll. My client crumpled and lay still at the edge of the water. Then the blue man charged toward me.
I was too scared to scream, but I wasn’t too scared to run. I charged up the hillside and wove in and out of black oak and hickory trees while that thing chased after me, bellowing. I figured that, since the blue man was a foot taller than me, I would probably be better at ducking under branches than he would be. Judging by the sounds of splintering timber behind me, I was right about that, and I was able to put a little bit of distance between me and my pursuer. Unfortunately, though, I wasn’t escaping fast enough. I realized that I was never going to be able to get back to my house and its relative safety before collapsing from exhaustion or tripping over a log. Once I was down, I’d be an easy meal for that thing. I had to come up with a better plan.
Then I saw the glimmer of my campfire on the water and remembered the .30-06 I’d left there. If I was going to bring that monster down, I needed something with more stopping power than my little 9 mm pistol. The .30-06 might just do the job. So, I made a hard right turn and sprinted back down toward the river and our little camp.
As I crashed into the firelight, Ainsley was nowhere to be seen. After I ran off she’d made a terrible mess. Both her and her husband’s backpacks were laying on the ground beside their tent with all their zippers open and most of their contents strewn about. There were trail bars and socks and I don’t know what all else scattered everywhere, but I didn’t have time to think about that. I snatched up my rifle and had it pointed up the river bank toward my pursuer before I realized that it wasn’t loaded.
“Shit!” I hollered as I fumbled around in my jacket pocket for the ammunition. My shaking fingers dropped the first cartridge as the blue man stepped into the firelight. He towered over me, and each of his powerful arms was easily four feet long. He growled at me and took a slow step forward. He seemed a little wary of the fire, so I hoped that I could keep the monster at bay long enough to load the gun. I backed away and felt for another bullet. Cold water began to lap around my ankles as I fumbled to load my rifle.
Then the creature dashed around the fire and grabbed the front of my jacket with his good arm. The enormous hand had nails like a human, only they were long and dark and jagged. In the firelight I could see that the skin beneath the fur was an even lighter blue than the fur, which was a silly thing to notice while being lifted into the air by an angry humanoid monster. I realized that I was never going to get the rifle loaded before the blue man began to take bites out of me, so I decided to throw the gun at the creature and try to wriggle out of its grasp in a final, desperate attempt to save my life.
Then some sort of little pellets rained down on the creature from downriver. I could smell the menace on the breeze. They were peanuts.
“Hey, big guy, you want more of these!?” Ainsley hollered from the edge of the firelight. She was holding a clear plastic tub that seemed to be about half-full of peanuts. She grabbed another fistful and chucked them at the blue man before turning and running back downstream. The creature scrunched it’s brow for a moment and then ran off after her, dropping me into the cold river in the process.
“Shit shit shit shit shit!” I told myself as I scrambled out of the water. Then I loaded my rifle and ran off after Ainsley and the blue man.
I found them just a hundred yards or so away, down where Hunter still lay unconscious alongside the river. His body was between Ainsley and the monster, and to my horror I realized that she’d slathered her husband with peanut butter. The open jar sat, mostly empty, on his chest. Loose peanuts were mounded up on him, too. The smell of all the peanuts was so strong that I could almost feel the anaphylaxis coming on, but I forced that concern out of my mind as I raised the rifle and tried to get a shot at the monster without hitting Ainsley.
Before I could squeeze a shot off, though, the blue man darted forward, scooped up Hunter, and plunged into the river carrying the comatose man like a prize. The last I saw of them, the giant was holding Hunter like an ear of corn and taking big bites of peanut butter and human as he went up the far bank at an inhuman clip.
I collapsed into a heap as the blue man and Hunter disappeared into the night across the river. Ainsley beamed as she picked up the jar of peanut butter and screwed the lid back on.
“I’m really sorry, Ainsley,” I said to her after I caught my breath. “I had no idea—“
“Don’t worry!” Ainsley said in a bright voice. “Hunter never was very good at following rules, especially rules that he didn’t read, so you shouldn’t blame yourself.”
“Well, I guess, but—“
She shushed me with a gesture and started walking back to our disheveled camp. I followed. When we got there, she fished a plastic bottle of vodka out of the bottom of Hunter’s crumpled backpack. She poured half of it into the river and then tossed the bottle and its remaining contents onto the sand by her tent.
“It sure is a shame that my husband got drunk and took a midnight swim. Who knows if he drowned or got eaten by the wildlife around here?”
“What are you talking about?” I asked her. “I know what I saw! I can’t believe that I saw it, but—“
Ainsley held up her hand and shushed me again.
“What I’m talking about is paying you $50,000 to confirm that my husband, despite all our warnings, drank half a bottle of vodka and went swimming in the river tonight.”
I looked at her with my mouth dangling open as I tried to process what had just happened. She continued in a voice that a mother might use to explain something unpleasant but necessary to a child.
“I imagine that the drunken-drowning story will be better for both of us than what actually happened, don’t you?”
I thought for a second about trying to explain to the sheriff that a giant blue man had eaten one of my clients, and that another of my clients had seemingly prepared the victim for consumption by basting him in peanut butter. I sighed.
“I suppose so,” I said. “I know the sheriff, and he’s not going to look too hard for a body if they don’t find anything floating in the river.”
“Great!” Ainsley replied. “Do you suppose those fish are still biting? I’m hungry, and I don’t think either of us is going to sleep tonight.”
“Yeah,” I said. “They’ll be biting. The really big trout like to feed in the moonlight.”
“I’ll pay you another $500 for some fish.”
I caught the fish while Ainsley cleaned up the camp.