By Daris Howard
Special to The PREVIEW
February is Scout Month, and it always brings back fond memories of my time as a Scoutmaster. We live near a lot of wonderful natural beauty, and we spent a lot of time camping.
One particular winter weekend, my assistant, Rod, and I took 14 boys and went camping down by the river. Nights are long and days are short in the winter, so there weren’t a lot of hours of light left by the time we reached the campsite. The boys were planning a big game of steal the flag.
“There are about two hours of daylight left,” I told them. “If you hurry and set up camp, you could have most of it to play.”
“Setting up camp is boring,” Gordy complained. “Why don’t we play steal the flag first?”
“Because you won’t get camp set up,” I said. “We’ve been there before, and that’s why we have the rules we do. Just work fast.”
My encouragement seemed to fall on deaf ears. For the next couple of hours I heard nothing but complaining while the light faded quickly away.
I had food ready to eat long before they finished setting up the camp. When we finished eating, we had to clean up before they could do anything else. Again, they spent more time complaining than working. We just finished when the moon came out, and it was beautiful. It reflected on the snow and made the evening about as light as the early part of a sunrise.
“I know,” Mort said, “let’s do a moonlight game of steal the flag.”
“And when we get done,” Devin said, “we can tell ghost stories around the campfire.”
I didn’t relish the thought of being up most of the night trying to make sure the boys stayed out of trouble, but I had an idea.
“If you guys expect me to tell ghost stories, we probably better do it first.”
Rod looked at me and smiled as if he knew I had something up my sleeve. The boys told a few mildly scary stories, then it was my turn. I didn’t know many ghost stories. The boys thought I did, but I always made them up as I went along. I was just about to start when we heard a coyote howl. Then we heard another, and another. Though the coyotes weren’t foolish enough to come near our camp, the boys joked about it.
One boy smacked another one. “I bet you’ll be too chicken to play steal the flag now.”
I could see the perfect opening, so I started my story. “Years ago, there were a group of scouts that decided to play steal the flag in the middle of the night. There were 14 of them. They had heard the coyotes howl, but coyotes aren’t that big, so no one was scared. But the Scoutmaster said, ‘I’m not sure that’s a coyote. Listen to the way the sound seems to come from all directions at once, and it’s deep, growly, and eerie.’
“But the boys didn’t listen. None of them wanted to be thought of as chicken. They set up their flags, a blue one on one end, and a red one on the other. As they played, the coyote sound continued echoing all around them and grew louder. The Scoutmaster was sitting by the fire, and he realized that the shouts from the boys had faded away, and the coyote sound had disappeared. He wondered if the boys had gone to bed.
“He took his flashlight and went to see where the boys were. They weren’t in their tents. He found no boys, but he did find the flags, each torn into seven strips, flapping from the trees. He searched all night, and he didn’t see any sign of the boys, but he did see 14 pairs of fire-red eyes staring at him from the brush.
“The next morning, he found prints that looked like human hands, with long claws at the end of the fingers.”
Mort’s voice quivered as he asked, “What kind of prints were they?”
“All I know,” I replied, “is that werewolves are supposed to make that kind of track.”
Gordy yawned and stretched. “You know, guys, I’m really tired. What say we go to bed and play steal the flag tomorrow?”
They all readily agreed, and soon the camp was quiet, except for Rod’s chuckling and the howl of coyotes in the distance.
By Daris Howard