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Albert Tippitt felt as though he didn't fit in at camp, though he tried; his efforts were met with the normal teasing of boys his age. He yearned for home, his family, and his brother who teased him but not as much as the kids at camp. At home he could hang out with his friends who roamed the neighborhood on their bikes and often stop by the stream to catch frogs.
His parents were always busy with work, social activities, and many of their own interests. He wondered if they would even care if he ran away from camp. It didn't matter, he had a plan; he would leave after supper while the other kids were occupied with activities, hike the path to the stables, cross the open field beyond and dash across the road to hide in the gorge a short distance away. Then, when it was dark, he would travel behind the tree line to avoid cars along the road to Cooperstown. The plan was a little hazy after that but the trek would give him time to think and he would have had plenty to eat.
As dusk darkened the trees with ashen shadows, Albert carefully started his journey up the path to the stables. There were two councilors tending the horses in their stalls so he crept low across the open field to the trees lining the road and hid in the foliage of the bushes beneath. He crouched down and watched to see if the councilors had seen him; they didnít seem distracted so he hiked to the gorge.
The gorge was darkening but he had brought a flashlight. He didnít need it yet but would soon, the rocky walls were dark. It wasnít easy navigating his way deeper into the gully so he stopped and sat below a tree that had fallen across the top of the gorge like a bridge. He didnít know how far he was below ground-level, but felt secure knowing that anyone searching would never notice him crouching below. Soon the hideout became inky black and Albert was surrounded by a frightening shroud of loneliness.
His plan was to reemerge from the gorge and follow the road to town was hampered by his reluctance to move. He heard twigs cracking, an occasional thump and various unrecognizable sounds. They were all coming from the ground above but that didnít ease his apprehension to move through the darkness, even with his flashlight. He knew that a flashlight in the blackness of night showed only a small area by its beam and made the surrounding darkness even more intense.
Albert was dreadful that his plan to run away had been a mistake. He then sniffed something foul and nauseating, similar to when he and his friends rode by a vacant lot near his neighborhood and saw a dead raccoon under a tree. They all grimiced and held their noses tightly as they peddled by.
The stench seemed to get stronger until Albert had to close his mouth and hold his nose. Pangs of nausea overcame him as he frantically tried to decide what to do. The smell was coming from the opening of the deep ravine, where he had entered, which made him move further into the canyon to escape it. He was too frightened to use his flashlight and the footing was difficult.
The smell was horrible, and seemed as though it were moving toward him. He couldnít hear anything above the chorus of the crickets and bugs but didnít dare look back. Oh, how he wished he hadnít left camp and worried that he would never make it to the road to town. Stumbling on with his shirt untucked and held over his face against the invading odor, the boy became numb with despair.
He started to weep quietly to himself and his legs started to buckle - Albert had to rest. Just as he found a level outcrop to sit, he heard a hissing sound: a deep hiss that rose above the din of insects, like a cat defending its territory, only deeper. The seething, breathy discord grew nearer but he couldnít judge the distance as it seemed to surrounded him.
The vile stench intensified and Albert was now frozen with fear. He touched his flashlight as though it would provide a sense of relief. Then he saw movement; an illusion not far down the gorge that didnít make sense. He was confused and transfixed by the sight. His eyes had grown somewhat accustomed to the dark but he didnít trust them as he tried to make out any detail.
He was looking at a vague, seemingly human shape that was too tall and ill defined. It faded in and out of the darkness while drifting slowly closer. Its eyes seemed intense as it sniffed from side-to-side as though searching for prey. The vision was emaciated, with flesh or fur hanging from long bony limbs.
It stopped to smell something near a boulder the size of an automobile. With little effort, the waife grabbed the heavy object and cast it aside with unimaginable strength. The mass made a large arc and crashed against the opposite side of the chasm with a bang. As the boulder clattered to rest, a large bobcat ran from its hiding place. The cat was quick, running fast as a dart, but the curious silhouette quickly melted into the darkness reappearing on top of it. Seizing the mammal with long cadaverous fingers, it thrust the cat into its maw, and chewed with a crunching noise until the feline was gone.
The feckless youngster had never been so frightened. His breathing was rapid and shallow as he quivered with fright. He had no defense against such a thing and had to hold both hands over his mouth to stifle a gag from the sight and horrible smell. The small utterance was enough to distract the ghost-like creature and it turned slowly toward the runaway. It stopped licking its bloody mouth and looked directly at Albert, whose eyes were wide with terror.
The camper remembered his flashlight and slowly took it from his pocket. With one hand defending his mouth and nose against the retched stink, he flicked it on and directed the bright beam toward the tall figure. He saw a gaunt bony giant with long skeletenous legs and arms and a starved torso. The fingers were long and clawed and filthy rags were hanging from it. Mottled stains camouflaged the figure against the hues of the gorge making it almost invisible without the light. The head was skull-like with sagging skin hanging loosely as though draped over its face; the large feet, hands, chest and face were stained with the blood of previous kills and dripping offal dangled from its numerous fang-like teeth as it hissed and growled with a low guttural sound. The monsterís eyes were ardent with hunger.
Albert knew he had no chance but to try to run blindly up the gorge. Before he bolted, he grabbed a straight stick, sharp at one end, jagged from where it had been broken from a tree. He no longer noticed the rotten redolence and his body was panicked, full of terror-producing adrenaline. He threw his flashlight at the ogre and ran as fast as the rocks would allow him. His legs grew heavier as he tried to escape and was unable to scream. Immediately he felt an icy grasp on his shoulder and the putrid breath of the beast.
The strength of the grip paralyzed him with pain as it bore into the muscle and pushed him down. With abandon, Albert thrust the stick over his shoulder in reckless defense. The spear penetrated deeply into the beastís eye-socket causing blood to pour out around the wood. The hold was released and the creature shrieked loudly enough to silence the voice of the surrounding wilderness, stilling all life in tense concern.
Albert fell to the ground still benumbed and unable to move from the cold restraint and vomited as the monster wiggled the bloody shaft from its eye to throw it aside. It leaped on the boy and bit deeply into the neck shearing the flesh and muscle down to the vertebrae until darkness entered the lad's body with relaxing disregard. Albert went limp, his eyes still wide open as he went to sleep.
Years later, a group of campers, led by a nature councilor, went searching for fossils and other collectibles in the gorge. Later in the afternoon they passed a large boulder and one of the boys found a rusty flashlight with a broken lens and dead batteries. He cast it aside as worthless. Further up, another boy tripped over an object hidden under some leaves and upturned part of bone. Brushing away the leaves revealed numerous morsels; pieces of rib, several mammal-like molars, part of a leg, and other shards that looked as though they had been pulverized and spit out by some large animal. Momentarily, a noxious odor filled their noses but soon dissipated. The nature councilor examined the grey leavings and determined that since the remains were too small for a man, an animal must have died and been scavenged by numerous creatures over time. The find and sudden stink reminded the boys of one of the scary tales often told around the campfire at night: the story of the Windigo.