Grandfather’s campfire story

When my hair was as black as a crow’s feathers, I still remember to this day the campfire’s light flickering on Papa’s wrinkled old face. 

The flames made the wrinkles on his face dance like ripples in the water – it made me smile. Little did I know it would be my last innocent smile. 

I’ll never forget that day, it was the 31st of October. 

My friends and I were playing hide and seek as dusk creeped up on us. The fading light extended the shadows of the trees like fingers on a bony hand. 

The darkness kept getting closer and closer until the only light came from Papa’s campfire. 

The fire’s warmth fought off autumn’s chill. It was that time of year, just before winter’s wrath blew down from the hills. A time when people gathered close, and huddle inside from the wailing winds – but there is always one fool who’ll venture out into the dark unknown. 

Papa’s face grew angry at us kids as we chattered and poked at his fire. 

“Enough,” he loudly snapped at as. I think he realized that he had spoiled our fun and with a wicked little grin he said he’d tell us a story if we’d just shut the hell up. 

Papa started: It was many, many moons ago. Long before my grandfather and his grandfather’s time. That’s when people started to notice that every year at this time, people would become weak, pale and some would even pass from the light.  

One cold Halloween night a child ran into the darkness never to be seen again or so everyone thought. A year to the day, a stranger swept past a woman. She said he looked like the missing child; except he had aged into an old man. 

She told her husband, her son and their neighbours – and one by one they all became bedridden, followed by the kind of chill that makes you sweat and one by one they all became ghosts – all except for one. 

That person would be the only one to grow old. They witnessed all of their friends and family turn into ghosts; one by one. He or she will be the only one left to warn others of a pale stranger. 

Papa paused and scanned our faces, but as he and I locked eyes a strange shiver ran down my spine.

He knew it and I knew it.  

“One of you will become the stranger who will pass along this story, one of you will become that ill wind that blows over the bones of others.” 

Another chill came over me as I looked into the faces of my friends. Their eyes were as wide open as their gapping mouths as they hung on Papa’s every word. 

Suddenly he stood up and threw a log into the fire, and the sparks flew straight up into the night air. He then exclaimed: “Watch the smoke, it will tell us who is the one who’ll grow old and pass along this story and warn others of the pale stranger.” 

I don’t know how it happened or even if Papa had something to do with it, but the smoke that was following the sparks into the blackness, changed. 

The smoke swirled, the sparks died out and it turned a sickly grey then blew straight into my face. 

“Beware: the pale stranger!”  

 Email beeinthebonnet@shaw.ca

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