“This campfire needs a ghost story.” Theresa was nudging against Ned for warmth, looking like a bit of a specter herself, the white hoodie she was bundled up in a stark contrast to the dark autumn evening.
Constance disagreed. “No, no ghost stories. It’s scary enough out here as it is.”
“Aw, come on.” Blaine tossed more wood onto the fire and plopped down next to his protesting girlfriend on the log she was using for a seat. “What better setting could you ask for than this for a good scare? It’s cold and dark, there’s no moon tonight, s’mores are all eaten and there’s just the six of us…out here…in the middle of nowhere. Anything can happen.”
“Stop it! You’re scaring me.” Constance smacked her boyfriend on the arm, but with the layers of clothes he was wearing he hardly felt it.
“I’m just messin’ around, sweetcakes. Hey, if you don’t want a story, we could always go back to the tent and…you know.” He wiggled his eyebrows at her.
“Ew, gross,” Jeannie protested from across the crackling flames. “Get a room.”
“What do you think the tent is?”
“Not private enough,” the girl shot back.
They all fell silent when Tucker, the sixth member of their group, thundered, “I have a story! But if you want to hear it, you all have to be quiet and listen to the whole thing. And…you have to believe.”
“Yeah, right. You’re about as scary as a newborn kitten,” Blaine teased.
The storyteller ignored his hecklers and began. “Did any of you ever hear of…the Snapratchet?”
“Sounds like a cell phone app.”
“Not much is known about the Snapratchet,” Tucker continued, refusing to break from the character of the horror story narrator he had slipped into. “I only know what I read online, but it was enough to make me fear it more than any other creature out there.
“From what I read, the Snapratchet is not very big; maybe the size of a raccoon or a small dog. It’s got eyes bigger than your fist, and claws longer than Jeannie’s press-on nails.”
“Its teeth are like a thousand needles, and despite the fact that it’s covered with fur, its tail is more like a lizard’s with scales and spikes all up and down it.”
“So it’s like your twin brother,” Blaine joked. The others laughed, except for Constance, who just snuggled closer to her boyfriend.
Tucker continued. “Nobody knows where it comes from or where it goes to. The only proof they have of its existence are a few footprints, some blurry Bigfoot-like snapshots, and the screams of its victims.”
“Victims? What does it do?”
“Don’t let him get you rattled, sweetcakes. He’s making it all up.”
“No, I’m not, and I can prove it.”
“Prove it? How?”
“Simple.” Tucker cleared his throat. “You want to know what it does to its victims? One of us is going to find out. See, according to the legend, after you’ve been told about the Snapratchet, if you don’t believe in it, it comes to take you away that same night.”
“Oh, yes. See, if you don’t believe in the Snapratchet, all it wants to do is prove to you that it exists. According to the legend, the one person who believes in it least after its tale has been told is whisked away by it in the night and is never seen from again. The only trace of them after they’re gone is the echo of their screams through the woods that no one can quite pinpoint, and a terrible, abrasive sound like someone being stretched on an old fashioned rack or ground up with those terrible claws. That’s how it got its name, from that horrible sound it makes. Snap…ratchet. Snap…ratchet. Snap…ratchet.” He tapped out a beat on his log seat for emphasis. “So, now that you know about the Snapratchet, you best believe in it, or tomorrow you’re going to wake up in its lair and never see the rest of us again.”
The five seconds of eerie, dramatic silence that followed was destroyed by Blaine’s overbearing mocks. “You gotta be kidding me, dude. That’s the worst, must un-scariest story I ever heard. You totally suck. I’d be more frightened hearing you read the ingredients off the marshmallow bag. How could something that small just pick people up and carry them away? If there are pictures and footprints, why hasn’t it been caught? And why doesn’t anybody but you know about it? This sounds like the kind of subject they write about in a third grade composition class.” He laughed loudly and falsely, encouraging the others to join in. “The only person here who could possibly believe such a story is you.”
“We will see,” Tucker muttered under his breath. “We will see.”
The moment Tucker woke up, he realized he was no longer nestled in his sleeping bag with his girlfriend in the comforts of his tent. The vines that had him lashed to the stump he had been perched on appeared to be normal, but when he struggled against them they turned out to be stronger than braided cord. His hands were bound behind his back, his eyes propped open by a pair of twigs, his head fixed in place by some sort of wooden contraption he could neither see nor remove it from. He was facing a wall that was carved from some kind of wood and looked as tough it had been scratched poorly into a semi-flat recess. “What? What is going on here? Jeannie? Blaine? Blaine, I swear to God, when I get out of this I’m going to kill you…”
“There is no need for violence,” a calm, matter-of-fact, slightly squeaky voice soothed.”
Unable to see who it was or move his head to do so, Tucker remained panicked. “Who’s there? Look, I don’t have much, but if you let me and my friends go, you can have everything we’ve got. Just don’t hurt us and don’t…well, leave the girls alone, if you know what I mean.”
“There is no need for you to be concerned about your friends,” the friendly voice reassured him in an eerie monotone. “It is you who is in trouble, not they.”
“What? What are you talking about? Who are you?”
The individual revealed itself, coming into Tucker’s frozen vision from his left side. Unbelievably it was exactly the creature he had described at the campfire the previous night from his internet discovery. Appearing to be some mad scientist hybrid of a raccoon and a rabbit, the creature he beheld stood only two feet off the ground on its hind legs, looked at him sadly with unbelievably large eyes, the kind like you find in those kitsch Mexican paintings, and held a small square electronic device in one of its two impossibly long-nailed claws. The black and off-white stripes of fur that ran down its back halted near the hind quarters, merging into a scaly green tail that came to a point about four inches later, covered in scales that ranged from bumpy to lethally jagged. “I am exactly who you said I was, although I believe the nickname I have been saddled with is a gross misnomer. Perhaps it is because my real name is not pronounceable by your kind.”
“Who…what…what are you?”
“For lack of a more understandable term, I am the one you called the Snapratchet. It’s an absolutely awful name, insulting and unfounded. I have no idea how such a strange and terrible moniker came to be.”
Tucker pulled and pushed against his restraints even harder, but it was no use. The Snapratchet was quite the binder. “But you…and I…I’m not the one you want. It was Blaine. He’s…”
A strange sound erupted from the Snapratchet that sounded somewhere between a snicker and a hiss. “Oh yes, he does seem the type, but in the end, it was you who believed in me less than anyone else. You at least piqued a bit of interest and doubt in the others, but you, you did not even show one shred of belief in me. Not when you read my story, nor when you shared it. Even now you are still showing signs of disbelief, though you are clearly conversing with me now.”
“So what’s all this? Are you going to kill me? Break my bones? Rip my flesh? Feast on me until it’s time to hibernate?”
The laugh/hiss made a second appearance. “Heavens no. Though you are no storyteller, my friend, the things you said about me were absolutely true. I have to prove to you that I exist. We will start with my vacation slides.”
“Vacation slides? What?”
The Snapratchet disappeared back the way it came. A few moments later what little light there had been in the creature’s hidden lair dimmed to nothingness and was replaced with a projected picture on the carved-out recess. It was of the Snapratchet smiling broadly in almost complete darkness. Its viciously boring and polite voice created an unbearable narration to what was sure to be an absolutely mundane presentation. “We’ll start with the Grand Canyon wheels. There are about twenty-six of those. Here is me arriving at the Canyon on the first night. Next slide.”
The unseen machine behind him went snap-ratchet.
“Here is me on the first night from a different angle. Next slide.”
“Here is me in the first night from a third angle. Next slide.”
“Vacation slides? No! No, anything but that! I believe! I believe! I swear to God I believe…!”
The creature ignored Tucker’s screams for mercy, which echoed through the forest above them, and continued its dreary commentary. “Here is me a few steps to the left from the last frame. Next slide…”