My Writing Portfolio

You are reading reading through my collection of short stories and poetry. No portions of this content may be used or published elsewhere, in print or digitally, without without my express permission.

© I. A. Phillips

Start of a Tradition

The crackling fire sent fading shadows dancing across the pine trees. A man wearing a leather jacket and matching cowboy hat wandered into the light. His woodman’s beard touching the top of a few logs he was carrying. As he rested on a stump near the fire and stacked the logs he called out to the nearby tent. “All right, ya can come out now! I brought enough t’ last us till dawn!”

The zipper to the tent opened halfway and a clean-cut face shot out. “It better. I’m never going camping again.”

The bearded man chuckled. “You said you wanted t’ ‘get away from the wife’ this weekend. And, I wanted t’ camp.” he turned over flashing a grin. “Ya think you made the right choice?”

The tent fully opened and a man in cargo shorts and a jacket hurried over to the rejuvenated campfire. “This whole day has been a disaster. First, we got here near dusk because of road construction. Then, I had to do all those humiliating tests. And, finally I realized I hate camping.”

“Now now, you’re just nursing a hurt pride because ya’ let out a little yelp when they took your fingerprints.”

The clean-shaven man turned to his friend, “Why didn’t you also have to go through the tests?”

“Because they already have my info at the ranger station.” The cowboy picks up a bag of marshmallows near his stump and impales one on a stick.

“I can understand emergency contacts, but finger prints. Why would they need that information?”

The bearded man settles back onto his stump and starts to roast his marshmallow before nonchalantly responding.  “Well ya have rules for reasons.”

“Wait you mean they arrest people at the station so much they just fingerprint everyone?”

“Ha, don’t want t’ look at the obvious do ya! No, they have it t’ help identify bodies!”

“Wait you mean people have died in these woods?”

“Ryan, people have died everywhere. They take fingerprints because of a specific case that happened here.”

Equal parts curious and scared Ryan wasn’t sure what to do. After a few moments he threw a branch into the fire and moved to sit next to his friend while the branch crackled and charred.”

The bearded man looked at his marshmallow drip into the fire before he started speaking. “It happened around eight years ago, before ya moved into North Dakota. It was so brutal that it broke headlines across the state and experts from D.C. had t’ come over.” Ryan tensed as the bearded man continued. “When the D.C. cops were called, they were horrified at what happened. The investigation was kept under tight lip until the press released the full story. But, let’s start at the beginning of the story. With the six college kids going on a weekend camping trip.”

“The six students were doing the stereotypical horror movie things. Sex, drugs, skinny dipping, that kind of stuff. However, on their last day of camping no one saw them at the lake, no one heard their loud music, and no one saw them check out. The rangers assumed that they snuck out of the forest in the middle of the night. Well, until a hunter found their campsite.” The bearded man leaned closer to the fire; shadows started to dance across his face. “The tents were all wide-open with their insides a mess. All except for one which had been gutted and was stained with blood. The site looked as if a tornado had swept through the camp. Camp supplies littered the area, clothes were found hanging from trees, and trash was randomly strewn about. As the hunter turned t’ the front of the tents, he saw that blood stained the ground outside of the tents. Nauseated he saw that all the blood trailed out of the camp in the same direction.  He could tell that the trails were obviously drag by the smell he determined that it had happened days ago. While the hunter radioed the rangers, he went t’ look for the kids. As he followed the trails he wondered if animals might have killed the kids then dragged them home. That was until he caught sight of something at the end of the lightest blood trail veering off from the others.

“Slowly stepping towards it the hunter knew this was no animal attack. Across from him on a large pine he saw it hammered t’ a tree. A severed human hand hammed t’ the bark with a rebar rod through the palm.” The cowboy described the scene in gruesome detail using his own hand as a model. Ryan visibly gagged at the details which only spurred his friend to go further. “When the police came t’ investigate the scene they knew it was done by a professional. They said that the kids had been strangled in their sleep, dragged out of their tents, mutilated, then finally dragged t’ a truck.”

Ryan listened to every word the bearded man said. He had become completely drawn into his friend’s story. “The hand they identified as one of the girls, the same one whose tent was ripped open and whose blood trail was the lightest. The cops said that the killer knocked her out in a struggle where she bled over her tent. Then he hammered her t’ the tree before coming back t’ her. Luckily for her it seems that she bled out before the killer returned. The killer was none too happy about this. The nearby soil shows signs of stomping and the tree nearest t’ it had multiple slash marks.”

The bearded man paused as he put another log into the fire. “You can’t just leave the story like that! Did they catch the killer?” The cowboy reached over and handed a marshmallow stick to his friend saying, "I'll tell ya, but ya got to roast me a snack” he motions to the blackened glob on top of a burning log. “Mine seems t’ be slightly overdone.” Ryan snatched the stick and gave back a perfect golden roasted marshmallow to his friend who was on his phone. The cowboy laughed and ate it in one bite as he put up his phone. As he repositioned himself next to the fire Ryan did the same.

“The D.C. police had t’ be called in t’ help catch the monster who butchered those kids. Once they came over, they went straight t’ work and began t’ track down whatever vehicle carted away the bodies. Within two days they found a rusted truck with identical tires in a scrap yard. The owner said that some man had sold it last week claiming that it was his late father’s and how he didn’t want it. The D.C. guys checked around the area if anyone knew who the truck belonged t’. Eventually a local teen said he saw it while he and his friends were visiting the abandoned house on the outskirts of town to smoke. The police wasted no time in searching the abandoned lot. After turning the property, upside down they decided t’ look around the nearby woods. Within a mile-radius of the house, a shallow grave was found where all six bodies were dumped.

The bearded man leaned forward once again with the same wide grin. “Each body was so badly mutilated that they had trouble determining who was who. Detectives decided that the best way t’ identify all the bodies was t’ use fingerprints. The bodies were not so easily identified as the missing students. With no fingerprints taken beforehand household items were compared instead. But, the fingerprints around each neck found no matches across police databases. Later the rebar was identified as part of the abandoned house and all suspects had an alibi. With no other leads the case went cold.”

“Nearly eight months later on St. Valentine's Day, an abusive spouse was arrested for domestic violence. When he was processed his fingerprints came up as matching a cold case – the College Carnage Case. The D.C. detectives came back and helped run through the evidence. Eddie Riggs, was one of the people who seen around the abandoned house, and had used his wife as an alibi, later proven false. Not only did he still have the murder weapon, but his fingerprints were found on the rocks that were used t’ hammer in the rebar.”

Ryan was on the edge of his seat and needed answers as his friend started to roast a second marshmallow. “Why did Riggs do that to the college students?” The bearded man looking off of his phone turned and smiled toward him. “Well we don’t know.”

“What do you mean we don’t know?”

“I never finished my story. While the town was celebrating the capture of their worst criminal to date the unthinkable happened.” Ryan tuned out everything else as he focused on his friend's rising voice. “While the prison transport was rolling through the forest to a super-max tragedy struck. The elderly driver had a stroke and barreled the transport down a hill! When the police arrived, they found Riggs gone! And worst of all he has not been seen to this day!”

At that moment two hands grabbed Ryan from behind. He turned around screaming to find the forest ranger that finger printed him standing there. Calming down from his laughing fit he said, “Dan-Danny asked me t-to fingerprint you so he could tell his BS story and I could ‘scare the shit outta you’” Ryan angrily shot over to Danny who had heaved over laughing. The ranger sat down next to Ryan. “All right now I got a story that will outshine yours Dan!”

“Ha, you wish!” he said as he passed over the second marshmallow.

As the ranger told his story Ryan realized that maybe camping wasn’t so bad. Next time he would have some stories too.

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