Host: The force of fifty atomic bombs. Two hundred and thirty square miles, one hundred and fifty thousand acres of living forest vaporised, devastated. A cubic mile of solid rock-- the largest landslide ever recorded-- traveling at hundreds of miles an hour, burying everything in its path. A blast cloud fifteen miles into the stratosphere, raining mud and ash, blotting out the sun: streaked with lightning, rumbling with thunder.
That was Mount Saint Helens, the morning of May 18th, 1980. And after the terrible noise of the eruption ceased, there was left a landscape of ash and… silence. The “Dead Zone,” they called it. The mountain was going back to sleep again. Perhaps it wanted that silence to help it. Perhaps to a mountain of cold dead stone, that silence is peaceful. Nothing living could stand it.
On the fringes of the Dead Zone something… living, but inexplicable began to appear. Always at night, always accompanied by that terrible silence. It seemed the eruption had awakened something other than Mount Saint Helens… something that was not content to go back to sleep.
Welcome to The Camp Monsters Podcast.
Every week or so we sit up here by the fire and try to scare each other with stories about those things you hear pass too close to your tent in the middle of the night, or what runs across the trail just beyond the beam of your flashlight. Every part of the country has its own legends to explain what it was you thought you caught a glimpse of. We’ll be traveling the country and telling some stories of the things that live... just beyond the firelight.
While you listen, remember that these stories are just that: stories. Sure, some of them are based on the testimony of people who claim to have seen these creatures, but it’s up to you how much you believe… and how to explain away what you don’t. So come closer to the fire and let’s hear this week’s legend.
It’s getting pretty late now, though. The fire’s burning down, we were just about to wrap it up. But-- no one wanted to start back by themselves. Especially...
You came up from the main camp, right? Up the trail, past that stand of trees down there? You didn’t… uh… see anything on your way up, did you? Any person, I mean? No, no, of course not, I’m sure they’re all asleep. We’re about the last ones awake, I guess. Anyway, you’re not nearly tall enough. I mean you’re just the right size for you, but just before you came up we were puzzling over a big pair of eyes reflecting out of the trees down there about where you came from. You know how eyes will do, shining back just past the firelight? Usually a blink or two and they’re gone, the critter will move on... but these were steady. Moving just a little bit, like maybe they were creeping up closer. They winked out just before you snuck up on us. Whatever it was, you must have scared it.
Probably just an owl or something. It’s been years since anyone’s seen… well, anything strange... around here.
You heard about that, right?
Tomorrow you should hike that ridge behind us. Beautiful view from the top. You can see Mount Saint Helens like you could reach out and touch it. She’s sleeping now, the mountain-- what’s left of the mountain. But just after the eruption… that was something. Half the mountain sheared away, ash and debris hundreds of feet thick, and the blast zone… the “dead” zone they called it. They tried sending people in there to salvage some of the fallen trees-- there were thousands of acres of old-growth forest knocked down, millions of dollars of lumber lying in the ash, waiting to rot. But… it was the eeriest place. Think about it: not a bird, not an insect, not a branch or a leaf left for the wind to stir. Even your footsteps smothered by the soft ash, so deep, so light the slightest movement brought it up in clouds, clouds of ash that clung to any moving thing, following, filling, choking.
It choked the carburetors on the trucks until they wouldn’t run, it dulled the chains on the saws until they wouldn’t cut. It caked and burned men’s throats until their voices died. Until there was that silence again. That terrible, terrible silence. You’d catch yourself listening… holding your breath… waiting for… something. Something horrible.
And that was during the day. I never knew anyone to go up there at night. Voluntarily, that is. But the eruption, the devastation brought a lot of tourists, and these old logging roads around here tend to get people lost, turned around. You can end up where you don’t mean to be, with night coming on.
Imagine it: night catches you back in these woods, right on the edge of the dead zone, and you’re creeping along some rough old road, totally blind except for what you can see in your headlights. And then your engine conks out. Oh it happened all the time, the ash around here would get in the intake, clog the air filter, choke the motor right out. And without the sound of the motor, that silence starts to sneak up on you. You leave the headlights on, of course. But you have to get out of the car, pop the hood, and turn your back on the stretch of silent woods lit up behind you.
Of course you think you hear something. You turn quickly… nothing. Just the woods, pale in the headlights. Silent. You look back at the engine. Everything you do seems so loud in that silence. The shuffle of your feet in the road, the clink of metal as you fiddle with the filter housing. The sound of your own breathing. You turn around again, feeling silly as you do it but even more scared... What if something is there? Something close, snuck up to you? Something impossible--
All of this happened, you know. Back in 1994, 14 years after the explosion. To a man named Brian, on a lonely road in the middle of the night, right here in the shadow of Mount Saint Helens. Except when Brian turned around, out there in the night-- there still wasn’t anything in the headlights. Just woods, just silence. [transition from fire to silence to ominous background noise] He shined his flashlight back at the engine again, hoped he’d got everything fixed and could get out of these woods, away from this nameless fear. He reached up, slammed the hood shut-- and caught just a glimpse of something in the beam of his flashlight. He stopped. Aimed the light up. Way up.
Nine feet above the cab of his truck there was… a face? Something like a face, the tiny eyes of a bat, the snout like a wolf but shorter and thicker, squashed. Yellow teeth. And on either side of the face… stretched thirty feet out… were huge, dirty-pale, leathery… wings. Like a bat’s wings. Long long fingerbones flexing, stretching out the membrane of the wing, getting ready to pounce, to fly at him.
Don’t. Drop. The Light. Whatever you do, don’t drop the light. Brian backed up one step… two. Where could he run? He couldn’t run, he couldn’t turn his back on this… creature. Where could he hide? Hide… hide…
This huge thing was staring at him with its beady black eyes, dazzled a bit by the bright flashlight. Then it slowly, slowly started to crouch, to coil its body for a leap. A thick, deep chest with the muscles for flight, a long body on short powerful legs with claws like talons glinting darkly at their ends. It’s snout came open, strings of saliva clinging to more and more yellow teeth, a thick pink-and-black tongue.
Hide… hide… hide… There was nowhere to hide. The thing was on the truck, he’d never make it to the woods...
The creature sprang, its huge wings slapped the air. There was a terrible scream: three screams, in fact. A wet, high-pitched cry from the creature; the scream of its talons scraping the roof of the truck as it launched... and Brian’s scream as he dove forward and scrambled under the truck. He spent a long cold night under there, listening hard against the silence, shining his dying flashlight around any time he thought he heard something. Twice he froze in terror when his light caught the talons of the creature in the dirt just beside the truck, walking slowly, awkwardly around it.
Dawn eventually came. A light dew settled the ash that Brian had been pressing his face into all night. HIs flashlight was dead, but he hadn’t seen or heard any sign of the creature since first light. Still there was that silence… the silence of the dead zone. He wished there were some birds to start singing, something to reassure him that the thing was really gone. But there was nothing. Just the tension of perfect stillness. He inched his head closer and closer to the edge of the car, over beneath the driver-side door, trying to look everywhere at once. He peeked out, looked up-- and jerked himself back under the car when he saw part of a wing poking out up above. Was it still…? No, no. That hadn’t been a wing, just the shadow of his side mirror, he was almost sure... He inched out again... further… a little further… Then suddenly he was out, up, and into the cab of the truck, flying down the dirt road and trailing a cloud of ash behind him.
Of course you know what the locals said about the story Brian told after his truck skidded to a stop outside of the first gas station he came to. It got to be the best joke going. They started calling the creature “Batsquatch,” and Brian naturally became “Batsquatch Brian.” The scratches on the top of his truck came from the sticks and branches that he barreled through as he drove as fast as he could go down the mountain. The tears in the back of his shirt, right behind his neck, as if something with talons had grabbed at him? Well, no one doubted from his ash-covered appearance that he’d spent the night under his truck: he’d probably just caught his shirt on something under there.
But it was true that the coyotes were particularly aggressive that year, coming by night to snatch people’s pets and livestock and drag them back into the woods. People blamed the eruption for driving the coyotes out of their normal hunting grounds, but… everyone agreed that these were the quietest coyotes they’d ever known. Several locals commented on the eerie silence they’d noticed in the night, just when their dog or cat or lamb was taken. And all the laughter at “Batsquatch Brian” started to calm down a bit when the remains of some of the missing animals were found… high up in the trees.
Looklooklook! Oh, they're gone. A big pair of eyes, glowing just down the trail. Close. They always get closer as the fire gets lower...
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No no, don’t put another log on the fire. We’ve got to let it burn all the way down before we head in for the night. Just move in a little closer if you’re getting... cold.
We were talking about the silence, weren’t we? The silence and the sightings. Well, summer arrived, and the tourists and campers came to see what they could see of the volcano, or to hike and fish in the lakes and forests outside of the dead zone. Things got about as busy as they ever get in these quiet hills. There was a little summer camp about two valleys over from here, Camp Tishelub, it’s been closed for years now. The whole “Batsquatch” phenomenon hadn’t been reported in the papers or anything yet, it was just a local rumour, but somehow or other the story made the rounds at Camp Tishelub, and the campers were having a great time scaring each other with it. The counselors took new campers out on “Batsquatch hunts” and that sort of thing.
As the summer went on the Batsquatch stories started to gain momentum at the camp, even more than these sorts of stories normally do. No, the “Batsquatch hunts” never turned anything up. It was always lone campers, walking between buildings at the edge of the forest that would come running, bursting into the counselors quarters in the middle of the night, sobbing, terrified. Once they calmed down, it turned out none of them had clearly seen anything to be frightened of. Just… something... in the trees... in the trees and moving slowly toward them. It could have been anything, the older ones admitted that; but for some reason that they couldn’t explain they’d all been seized in that moment by overwhelming fear. Some of them mentioned how silent it had seemed out there, in the dark.
People get scared at night, at camp, it’s part of the experience, part of the fun. But the fear that spread through Camp Tishelub that summer was something more than any of the counselors had ever known before. They’d been the ones making up the stories, at the beginning of the summer, and now they were struggling not to believe them. And more than one counselor found themselves running into the nearest lighted building at night, especially when their rounds took them close to the forest. By the end of the summer the counselors were making their rounds in pairs and most of the campers were too terrified to venture out at night anymore for any reason. The tension in the camp was almost unbearable but there hadn’t been any incidents for a week or more. No one had seen anything moving in the woods. The insects and little animals filled the nights with their sounds.
Then one night, there was a different sound. Half an hour past the two a.m. round, it came from G Cabin, the cabin furthest out, closest to the woods. The sound started quiet at first, like a groan, then rising and rising to a piercing cry that woke half the camp. The other half woke up to the screams and shouts of every camper in G Cabin, who kept it up until every light in the cabin was turned on and every counselor in the camp was turned out of their beds.
It was mass hysteria, and it never was very clear what had happened. Something… that mysterious something… had been right outside the window. The something-- the Batsquatch everyone called it-- had let out that cry… or someone had woken up and seen it and let out that cry. And then everyone had seen… something, right at the window. No two descriptions were alike. It had a dog’s or a wolf’s or a bat’s head, or a man’s head with fur. It had run off into the woods, or flown off over them on huge pale wings. The only thing every camper agreed on was that none of them were going to stay in G Cabin anymore-- and no one in F Cabin was going to stay there if G Cabin was empty.
You know what happened next. You know there was a counselor at the camp who decided she was going to get to the bottom of this Batsquatch nonsense, to show the kids there was nothing to be scared of. Jessica was her name, and she was a natural for this kind of thing, born and raised in these woods and knew everything that anyone else knew about them. By dawn she was packed and ready to go, into the woods and spend the night on top of the ridge, come back and tell everyone what a big nothing there was to be afraid of. Two other counselors went with her, more out of shame than courage. One of them was Jess’s best friend Lindsey. The other was about my height and complexion, but thinner and younger. Anyway, the three of them left just after breakfast, so the whole camp could see them go.
Jess led the way, talking and laughing, following old trails up the hill and keeping her eyes open all the time for the paw prints of the black bear or coyote that she thought would explain everything. Bear and coyotes would hang around the edge of a camp, scrounging food and scaring young campers. And both are curious creatures, either one might get up on its hind paws and peer into a cabin at night. It was just a matter of finding some proof, and then giving all these scared-ee city kids a little lesson in nature.
As the hike got steeper Jess quieted down a bit, and began to complain that she’d never seen so few signs of big animals as there were on these trails. No bears and no coyotes, not even any deer or raccoon yet. It was strange…
The hikers were taking a break when Lindsey finally found the tracks of a big animal. All around an old rotted stump that sat right on the top of the ridge, with a view of the valley. None of the tracks were very clear, just the scratching of big claws here and there and some partial prints that looked as bizarre as any prints look to the untrained eye.
Not a bear, Jess said, or a badger. Maybe a cougar, but she didn’t look convinced. After that Jess didn’t say much until they got to the clearing where they set up camp. As the other two put up the tent, Jess wandered around the ridge near the clearing looking for more tracks. If she found any she didn’t say anything about it when she got back, just stayed quiet and thoughtful. Once camp was set up the other two talked about exploring up the ridge a bit further-- Jess told them to forget it. Night was coming down, and she didn’t want either of them getting lost, she said.
It being summer they didn’t have a fire. They ate their dinner cold and told some jokes, looked down at the camp in the valley far below. The sun set blood red, the stars started to come out. They goofed around some more, shone their flashlights around the clearing a bit. No scary stories that night, but when they went into the tent there didn’t seem much to be afraid of, and the woods sang them to sleep with its gentle night sounds.
Long hours later, Lindsey reached out to shake the other two awake, only to find Jess already sitting up in her sleeping bag. What was-- shhh! All three of them sat, listening so hard that it was awhile before they became aware of the total silence they were listening to. But something… something had woken Jess and Lindsey up.
The listening, the silence went on for a long time before someone said, “Let’s go out,” and reached for the zipper of the tent flap. Jess grabbed their hand to stop them at the same moment something pushed suddenly, violently against the tent right where the flap was, brushing Jenn’s hand hard enough for her to feel something cold and bony on the other side of the thin fabric, making that distinct sound things make when they rub against a tent wall. Someone screamed, someone turned on a flashlight, filling the tent with blinding light. Then the silence again… or was it? It was hard to tell if the sound of loud breathing came just from the other people in the tent, or... from something outside.
The wall of the tent beside them pressed in so far so fast it seemed the poles would snap, and they felt a wild flapping and clawing on the other side of the fabric. They all screamed, but the attack didn’t stop right away. There was the sound of something tearing, and the light went out for a moment. When it came back on the tent was still standing and they were still in it, with only a few little tears in the wall. But the silence was broken. There were sounds now, slight but distinct sounds of footsteps now here, now there, just outside the tent. And breathing. Loud, wet breathing that couldn’t belong to any of them.
They huddled in the middle of the tent, pressing together as far as they could from the walls. The footsteps circled and circled the tent, just outside, then stopped. The wet breathing stopped. The silence returned, stretched out until they could barely stand it. Then there was a wind, a sudden burst of air that buffeted the entire tent around, and the sound and feel of something grabbing at and pulling on the tent poles, rattling them against each other. Jess was the only one who looked up, and she swears to this day that right at the top of the tent where the poles crossed she saw huge yellow teeth poking quickly through the fabric, as if something were biting down at them from above.
That attack stopped as quickly as it had started, and was followed by hours of silence broken at intervals by the footsteps, the breathing, and occasionally a sudden burst of that terrifying, buffeting wind. When the flashlight started to die the breathing came noticeably closer, until it sounded more like something snuffling almost against the fabric, and Lindsey saw something black and shiny glint through one of the holes. But they found and turned on another flashlight, and the breathing backed away again.
Sometime after dawn the normal sounds came back to the woods, but it was broad sunny daylight before Jess unzipped the tent and went out. There was nothing but a few holes in the fabric, a few dents in the poles to show that anything unusual had happened in the clearing that night. Except for a few faint marks in the dirt just outside the tent… marks like the ones Lindsey had seen by the stump the day before.
Camp Tishelub closed that day, due to sudden concern about the safety of the aging cabins, of course. Jess lives in Seattle now and still loves the outdoors: kayaking, sailing, anything on the water. I haven’t heard of her doing much camping. Not long after not long after Camp Tishelub closed, the U.S. Geological Survey closed the Dead Zone. For the sake of science, of course. Once the salvage logging stopped and the Dead Zone went quiet again, the so-called “Batsquatch” sightings tailed off. If the eruption woke that strange creature up, it seems like it must have found some place to sleep again.
The Dead Zone isn’t really a Dead Zone anymore these days: little plants and animals are back, small trees are starting to regrow. And more and more people are spending more time in the area. They’ve opened sections of it up to hiking, camping. But the more people go back in there the more some of us start to listen again for... a certain kind of silence.
Well, looks like I’ve just about talked the fire down to ashes. We’d better head back. If you don’t mind waiting until I’ve made sure this fire is out, we can all go down together. I mean, that little patch of woods down there looks quiet, but then… quiet isn’t always the best thing, is it?
The Camp Monsters’s podcast is a part of the REI podcast network and is written and performed by yours truly, Weston Davis, and recorded and edited by Nick Patri in the very cozy and campfire-like confines of Cloud Studios in Seattle, Washington.
Be sure to listen to the next episode of Camp Monsters, when we will hear about one of the clearest lakes in America… and something that you might see in it, if you look deep enough.
And if you enjoy these stories, please subscribe, rate, listen and spread the word. It is your support that keeps us recording. Thank you.