Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Campfire Myth Captured

Where Detective Fraser searches for the answer to an ongoing mystery.
Campfire Capture

Detective Fraser inserted the recovered card reader, opened the video file and hit the play icon.
The bloodstained video card.

The video began to run. Low resolution, ambient noise and trembling hand-held quality, captured the moments before the boys’ misadventure. Low sunlight slanted through tall gum trees. Grey clouds hung low overhead, stealing light from each frame. The flare and crackle of a campfire became the focus of the film. Each boy took his turn adding wood and bark to the conflagration.

“You'll be wanting it to burn all night,” Sean said. “To be sure to keep dingoes away.” Sean’s pale skin, green eyes and reddish hair marked him as an Irish tourist, before the accent in his voice betrayed his origin.

Fraser hated the need to deal with grieving relatives, especially when they came from overseas. 

“Dingoes, yes, but what about snakes? Will the heat attract them?” British backpacker James, asked. “I have read of incidents when they crawl into a sleeping bag for warmth”

“Argh. I hate snakes. And spiders.” The American drawl belonged to Angus. “Do y'all know Australia has heaps of really venomous varieties? There are death adders, vipers, the funnel webs, not to mention dangerous ticks…”

“Don’t listen to Angus.” The cameraman’s voice blared. He seemed unaware of his proximity to the camera mic. “If we haven’t had any problems in the last three nights, it is unlikely we will have trouble tonight. Besides, this looks like a popular spot. We might even have company…whoever left all the camping gear should be back soon."

"Looks like a family. Perhaps they will return when they see our fire." Angus agreed.

"Getting lost can be more dangerous than all the toxic creatures that live here." Rodney sounded confident. "There is no way we will get lost. We brought a GPS with us. Just think, there are no bears, mountain lions, crocodiles, or coyotes. And at this time of year the ticks and snakes are not a real problem. Relax, bro. This is the Australian bush.”

“Fair enough, Rodney. You’re the expert.” James nodded, poking at the flames. He glanced over his shoulder to the darkening sky. “We should prepare our gear for the night while there is still light. It’s your turn to wash up, Sean.”

“As soon as I heat some water.” Sean moved into the video’s frame, carrying a blackened saucepan brimming with water and placed it near the fire. “Rodney, to be sure no one wants to watch the washing up. Don’t waste the battery. We will need it for later.”

The video stopped. Fraser leaned toward the computer screen, squinted and chose the next file. Again the video began to roll, obviously now set on a solid surface, it offered steady pictures of the group around the campfire. In this segment night allowed the firelight to dominate the frames. The shadowed images of the boys’ faces flickered and flared. Recognisable but hardly handsome. The expressions on their faces alternated between aghast, disbelief, and fear. Fraser strained to hear the conversation.

“The bunyip yowled and sank below the billabong’s dark surface.” Sean’s voice dropped to a whisper. “No one ever saw the old man or his dog, again.”

“Nothing? No body, no remains?” Angus scoffed. “Even myths need to follow logic. A bunyip? Really, could it get rid of the bodies so completely?”

“Angus, you sure know how to ruin a good campfire story. I liked it, Sean. Gave me goosebumps,” James admitted.

“Yeah, me too. Good ol' Aussie critters, some people swear they've seen them,” Rodney added. “Speaking of which, I swear I heard a grumbling growl while Sean was talking. Sounded weird. Did any of you hear it too?”

Angus turned, his face half in shadow. His shoulders shook slightly though the camera remained still. His expression showed concern. “Come on, I thought it was you, Rod, doing your animal noises…only badly.”

“Not me.” Rodney shook his head.       

 “And you are supposed to be the knowledgeable one. Great.” Sean hugged himself as though suddenly cold. “Don’t koalas make a dreadful noise?”

“True.” Rodney nodded. “I haven’t heard one for real, but they are said to sound like an engine running without oil. People who have them living nearby complain about the noise they make.”

Even through the camera mic Fraser heard a sound that made his blood curdle. He wanted to close his eyes but he watched the video as Sean flinched. “A noise like that?”

Angus, Rodney and James turned to look beyond the camera.

“Holy Shite. Did you hear that?” Rodney’s voice rose.

“What creature makes a sound so blood-curdlingly awful?” Angus scowled. “Is this some sort of prank?”

“A bunyip, perhaps?” James offered with a shrug. “Perhaps a yowie? Come on, guys. Who is doing this? Enough. I am seriously freaked out.”

“Angus… you are always looking at the logical explanation… what gives?”

“I suggest we investigate. The abandoned campsite… perhaps the other campers are playing tricks on us. I don’t buy that sound came from a living creature.”

“Oh god… not a dead one?” Sean crossed himself.

“No you idiot, I think we are being pranked and I for one will not sit here pissing in my pants. Y'all grab a burning branch, a solid log, and the mallet we used for the tent pegs and let’s see who has the last laugh when we spoil their fun.”

 The film bounced, as though Rodney had attached the camera to his belt.

Fraser tried to focus  as Rodney rushed to grab a burning branch and follow the others.

Sean’s shout brought Rodney to a halt, all four boys gathered in a trembling huddle. On the path ahead of them, bathed in silver moonlight and caressed by ruddy torch light, awful in their grotesque silence, lay the bodies of three humans.

Two adults and a child. Hideous injuries, black chasms gouged in flesh, obscuring their humanity.

Horror filled the camera’s frame. Rodney stepped closer, allowing the awful detail to etch into film. He turned and Fraser heard the wrenching sound of the boy vomiting. The camera focused on leaf strewn ground. Only sticky black shadows showed the presence of congealed blood.

“This isn’t a prank, Angus.” James’ voice broke the silence. “We should get out of here. Who would do such a thing?”

Sean lifted his torch, swinging light across the path. “Or what? There is nothing we know of that preys on people, is there?”

Rodney straightened, lifting the camera’s focus again to include the other youths, depicted in spears of red flame and the harsh blades of silver torch light.

“Have you ever heard of ‘drop bears’?”  His voice shook. “I didn’t think they existed. But this… this makes me think they do.”

Angus shook his head, bracing as the bush reverberated with a rumbling growl.

“Oh my god! Did you hear that?” His features contorted. “We need to get the hell out of here!”

“Run!” James yelled. He bumped into Sean as he sprinted away from the gruesome scene.

Rodney stepped backwards. He dodged James. Sean scrambled to his feet and lunged passed at a run.

A growl covered the boys’ shouts. Angus’ flaming branch spun toward a moving shadow.

The hair on Fraser’s neck stood on end as he watched the dark shape descend from the branches of a eucalypt. Like a possum flying through the air, a creature the size of a large dog grabbed Angus. Ignoring the flames, it slashed clawed limbs around the youth’s face and neck.

Rodney’s flight dragged focus away from Angus’ plight. His scream scored into Fraser’s mind. The camera’s focus showed the boy’s attempt to escape. The sound of Sean howling drove Rodney’s feet faster. A guttural roar, a shrill scream and Rodney’s flight paused. The youth turned in time to see a set of gleaming teeth glint in the moonlight.

There was a cacophony of gnashing, growling and yowling. The camera now focused on the leaves above the path, silhouetted against the beautiful full moon.

Fraser rubbed at a cramp in his shoulder.

A shadow crossed above the camera. For an instant Fraser looked into the glowing eyes of Australia’s lethal legend, the mythical drop bear.

With a final lurch the video stopped. Fraser sighed.

Seven dead in two days. The drop bear had gorged on their flesh and disappeared. It might not return for months, or years. No one knew the creature’s habits. No one had ever captured its image before.

The thrill of being able to prove the existence of a myth paled against the need to counsel those who had lost loved ones.

A simple, safe camping trip should not cost lives.

Then, no one should dismiss the warnings at the edge of the park. “Beware  Drop Bears”


For more information on DROP BEARS... visit Australian Museum or Aust Geographic article
DROP BEARS are on facebook too.
Thank goodness Koalas are not bears. They are marsupials. But they are not cuddly. ;)

Rosalie Skinner resides on the east coast of Australia when not totally immersed in the fantasy world of her writing.
Rosalie’s love of the ocean, nature, history and horses has enabled her to give her books an authentic air. Her latest achievement has been to ride through the Australian Snowy mountains and see the wild brumbies run. When not watching the migrating whales pass her doorstep she has more humble pastimes.
Other than being a published author, her greatest thrill is being a grandmother. Born over fourteen weeks early her granddaughter’s perfect development and growth are a miracle and joy.

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