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Campfire Tales

Campfire Tales

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Campfire Tales

307 pages
4 hours
Sep 16, 2018


Eight horrifying tales to make imaginations run wild, heartbeats stampede, and more things go bump in the night. Titles include Glitch, The Man With the Black Umbrella, The Agony of Alteration, Saying Goodbye, A Campfire Tale, and more. Join Vincent in modern Romania as he searches for his lost research partner and learns the ancient origin of vampirism from his mysterious guide Marianna in The First Strigoi, or discover the terrifying event from AX's family that inspired the chilling story of a killer stalking coeds in Safe from Harm. Three eerie novel samples are also included in - Campfire Tales.

Sep 16, 2018

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Campfire Tales - A.X. Rhodes




Senoia, GA

This is a collection of short works of fiction. All of the names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright ©2017 A.X. Rhodes.

Published in the United States by Little Pawn Press, Senoia, GA. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book in whole or in part by any means without the written consent of both the publisher, Little Pawn Press, and the listed author or authors.

Manufactured in the United States of America.

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1


Safe from Harm

The First Strigoi: Part I

Painting Macabre

The Man with the Black Umbrella

A Campfire Tale


The Agony of Alteration

Saying Goodbye

Return of the Raven

The Familiar Stranger

In the Light of Darkness

*A Note from the Author

Safe from Harm


Noise drifted down the hall.

Voices spoke at low volume.

Darkness permeated every room, but one.

Niles sat upright in his bed, listening intently. The sound barely tickled his ear. The hum of the air conditioner dampened the distant whispers. If Niles were twenty years younger, the hushed words might be perceptible, but his aged hearing failed to discern more than faint mumbling. Niles shifted his legs over the edge of the king mattress, and maneuvered his arthritic feet into beige, moccasin slippers. Stained and filled with bacteria, Niles refused to get a new pair. They felt too comfortable to achy feet and ever- increasing bunions, moldable and lacking the rigidity of newer fabric. A chill swept over him as he stood up. Residual body heat dissipated from around him.

Could this really be happening… again?

Wood flooring greeted his foot as Niles stepped off the thick rug, a signal he was exiting the bedroom, about to enter the long hallway. No nightlights. Niles had walked that hallway thousands of times without any incident. The bright little bulbs wasted a lot of electricity. Another useless modern appliance. Niles' feet scuffed across the floor with a staggered shh sound, constantly reminding the early morning hours to remain silent. The voices ahead of him ignored the command. Years back, Niles marveled at his father's feet scraping over the floor and wondered why he did not lift each foot and take precise steps. Niles Garrett had then promised himself to never get old. However, he broke that promise... and others.

More intense voices.

Parceled paranoia?

Or sinister circumstances?

The stagnant nighttime remained agape with impassioned possibilities under a nearly full moon. Niles kept shades down and blinds closed, shutting out the glowing orb, but fervent feelings flowed into the house like the fluid fire from beneath Hawaiian volcanoes preparing for yet another public spectacle.

Passing the two dark bedroom doors to the left and a bathroom door on the right, Niles reached the end of the hall as the grandfather clock ahead of him chimed a three o'clock alert. As the metallic bellow of the brass gong faded, the voices in the living room became clearer. An aura of light extended out from the room into the hallway. Niles hesitated, dreading his next move.

It is happening again. Will this ever end?

As Niles stepped around the corner into the living room, his light blue-gray eyes immediately fell on a figure shrouded in shadows seated in his easy chair, rocking back and forth quietly, aside from a slight squeak that chirped as the big chair pitched too far forward. A small-framed elderly woman either ignored Niles or failed to notice him. Her skin looked pale, and her long white hair drained of life, frizzy. Her ovular face stared blankly into the light as Niles maneuvered over to a wingback chair and dropped into it. He sighed at the sight of her, running his fingers through thinning white hair. Her face was creased with worry. She needed some sleep, but the voices held her attention, holding her in a perpetual state of insomnia. Oblivious to the dire news swirling around him, Niles only heard her voice.

God help them, Niles' wife Edna said with a sob. She stopped rocking and covered her face. Niles walked over, took her by the hand, and led her back to bed. They drifted off to sleep facing one another in the darkness, hands clasped together between them, praying in silence.

The following morning Niles awoke to the same sounds coming from the living room. He found Edna on the sofa this time, watching intently, listening to yet another newscast about a missing college woman in the Rome area. It was occurring more frequently in the last few months. Located in the northwestern corner of Georgia and near the rural intersection of Tennessee and Alabama, Rome was the home of some respectable educational institutions: Berry, Shorter, and Floyd College. Berry and Shorter were private schools that brought a flood of young people into the area during fall and spring semesters. Floyd was the local community college. Niles and Edna's daughter Becky, or Rebecca, was studying musical drama at Shorter, a Baptist college, and had just been crowned Ms. Shorter and Ms. Rome. Niles and Edna were very proud of her accomplishments, but the long distance between Rome and their home in sunny Savannah made them more uneasy. Rebecca seemed far away. And beautiful, young brunettes were vanishing from all three campuses.

The abductions took place in isolated areas on or near the college grounds, but lacked commonality beyond that minor detail, other than the victimology: brunette, around twenty, and gorgeous. After being raped, tortured, and strangled, the women were left in public places within the community, positioned in peculiar poses, and wearing headphones. The police and GBI were baffled by the strange ritual, including the killer's habit of calling the family to taunt them on the night of the abduction and ask them a peculiar question: Does she hear what I hear? When news of the strange question and headphone ritual reached the national press, the sadistic kidnapper was given the name, the Audiologist. Although campus security and local law enforcement had stepped up patrols, college girls were still falling victim to Rome's first serial killer, who had already snuffed out eleven females in only eight months.

You keep watching all that, Edna, and it will drive you mad with worry. Turn on something else.

I don't want to watch something else! Edna snapped, turning up the volume to drown out Niles. What if Becky is next? I wish she'd come home.

It is her last semester, and her three hardest classes. A lot of library research and writing papers. She can't give up now. All we can do is pray for her safety.

She could come home on the weekends. You should make her come home… every weekend! You are her father.

"Make her? Edna, she is a grown woman now. Becky's life is there, not here. I can't make her come home anymore than I could talk her out of dating the guy with long hair and tattoos her freshman year."

Well, I am not resigned to losing Becky to a man who will do God knows what to her! I still care what happens to my baby girl!

And I don't! How can you say something like that to me, Edna! You know damn well I'd follow her around with a shotgun all day if I thought it would help. But it won't. I almost lost her once by being an overprotective father, at your prodding, and I'm not going to risk that again! We'll just keep inviting her down for a visit when she calls. That's all we can do.

Mulling Edna's words over in his head, Niles prepared them a vegetable lunch consisting of fresh lima beans, sliced tomatoes, fried okra, and a pan of cornbread. They washed it down with iced tea-ade. However, few words were spoken at the dinner table. The uncommon silence lingered until the phone rang. Startled by the sound, Edna and Niles glanced at one another and the kitchen desk phone with gnawing trepidation.

They sometimes screened phone calls with the answering machine, but had not yet acquired Caller I.D. Niles rarely purchased the latest technological advancements, until they were more mainstream and the price dropped considerably. He considered letting the machine take the call.

It rang again like the shrill bell of a town caller announcing the coming end. Another ring. Each one sent Edna into a bigger panic. Niles got up to answer it. Edna gasped.

No. Don't! Don't answer it, Edna pleaded.

This is ridiculous, Niles said.

He picked up the receiver.

Music played on the other end.

Sussudio from Phil Collins. An eighties tune.

Oh! She's all I need… all my life. It sounded too raucous to Niles.


Hey, Dad, Becky said cheerily.

Hey, Sweetie. How are you getting along up there? Niles winked at Edna. Her face brightened.

I'm good. Just taking a break from my theory paper, relaxing by the pool, listening to some tunes. Could you turn that down, please? Thanks.

The music volume lowered.

Glad you get some downtime once in a while. Are you there alone?

Edna stood up and held her hands together beneath her chin.

Carla's here with me. Niles shook his head at Edna. And there are some guys here checking us out. Don't worry. We're being careful.

Is this the phone we got you for Christmas?

Yeah. I get awesome coverage everywhere.

"Glad it worked out, Becky. Guess I can buy a worthwhile gift once in a while. I keep meaning to get us a cell phone, but never get around to it. Classes going well?"

Yeah. Twice the amount of reading from my previous workload, but I'm hanging in there. Got Bs on all my midterms, so I'm in good shape.

"Still seeing… what's his name?"

Niles had never remembered names well, but was deliberately absentminded about her boyfriend's.

Kevin. Yeah. He is good to me, Dad. I think I love him.

Is that feeling mutual, Sweetie? He dreaded an affirmative response. A short film ran through Niles' mind of Rebecca at age seven in a short pink dress at Easter. She was looking for the final egg in the hunt in her grandmother's backyard. When she discovered it lodged in a big clump of flowers, Niles cheered. Becky ran and hugged his legs. He missed those moments, but accepted Rebecca's growth and maturity. Still, Niles dreaded that guy who would one day replace him as the top man in her life.

I think so. He's never said it, but….

It's so good to hear your voice.

Me too. We were about to head back. I've got a class at two. Just wanted to check in. I know how paranoid Mom gets about what's happening here.

Yeah. Take care, Becky, and come down for a visit one weekend real soon. The fishing has been real good lately. I guarantee you'll get a whopper.

All right, Becky replied, laughing at his bribe to entice her to visit. I love you guys.

And we love you. They said their goodbyes and hung up.

Is she…? Edna said.

She's fine, Edna. Just fine.

Yet they still worried about her day and night.


The long days passed with the monotony of retirement. Niles kept busy. He met some friends for breakfast on Tuesday at the local breakfast joint; a tiny overcrowded place where the food was a bit more convenient than delicious. They reviewed politics and current events. His old friend David, a white bearded hunter type, joined him for half a day of fishing off the Tybee Island pier on Wednesday. For Thursday, Niles conducted his shut-in ministry for the church. The new pastor had little interest in it, so it was not a formal type of church outreach, just something Niles felt an inclination to do. His elderly flock remained appreciative of Niles' decision to spend quality time with them. Sometimes he went by on Sundays before or after church. Niles tried to have an outing with Edna on Friday, but she remained glued to the TV and the ongoing saga in Rome.

When he walked into the house after running some errands, Edna was still parked in front of their old television. Niles remembered seeing the obsessive side of her in their dating years and early on in their marriage. Edna had resisted the idea of forgive and forget, wanting to argue until Niles relented, unable to accept a truce. He had brushed it off as no more than a temporary problem, but Niles later learned Edna lacked the ability or will to let go of an issue or disagreement. It made it difficult to move on and had nearly ruined their marriage in their early thirties. And it still drove him crazy.

Wanna go out and grab a bite? Niles asked.

I already ate something earlier, Edna replied, shooing him away so that she could hear the news commentary.

What? A cup of coffee and a cracker? Are you sure? Early birds get—

Niles, I'm trying to watch this! Niles frowned and walked away. He called one of his elderly shut-ins and offered to bring him lunch. Mr. Cafferty was overjoyed to have some company. Totally bedridden and suffering from a degenerative arthritic disorder, Cafferty still possessed a very sharp mind eager for conversation. And his new maid kept his bedroom of antique pecan furniture spotless and welcoming to guests. With alert eyes, a sharp nose, and long wisps of white hair combed neatly across his head, Cafferty sat up straight and smiled with sheer delight upon his visitor's arrival. Niles spent the rest of that Friday chatting with him about olden churches with cemeteries, how technology had divided families, and the absence of common pleasantries and courtesies in modern American society.

Still peeved at his wife's ridiculous behavior, Niles prepared a sandwich and ate alone in front of the TV in his den, while Edna continued to stare and listen to the same images and remarks from hours earlier. Niles prayed for his daughter's safety and the previous victim's families before turning out the light and going to bed. Before Niles drifted off to sleep, he turned onto his right side, pulled the pillow over his exposed ear, and grimaced with irritation. The news was hyping a possible abduction on that very night—a predication without foundation.

Lord, help them, Edna said from the other side of the house.

When Niles woke up the following morning, he realized Edna's side of their bed was still cold. He figured she had fallen asleep in front of the TV again. Niles heard the same news stories and regurgitated commentary blaring from the living room. And it was Saturday. He shaved, dressed himself, and marched into the living room to confront Edna.

Edna was seated in her wingback chair in the same gown she had worn for five days. Her eyes were wide with consternation and bloodshot. She failed to notice Niles' entrance or offer him a good morning. Niles fumed as the newscaster started his flamboyant way of stirring up his audience.

Could this be the night when your loved one falls victim to this heinous serial killer? One thing is certain, there will be another victim…and soon. It so infuriated Niles that he rushed over to the television and unplugged it. Edna glared at him.

Turn that back on!

I will not.

You turn that TV back on right now, Niles Garret! Or—

Niles yanked the coax cable out of their VCR and threw it on the floor.

I will not have you waste another weekend of your life staring at that screen, dreading what might never happen! It's Saturday, Edna, and we are going out to lunch… like married people do.

Maybe I do not want to go to lunch right now. Maybe I want to stay here!

Oh, for Heaven's sake, Edna! You have been wearing that gown for a week. Take a shower, put on some clothes, and let's get out of this house for a while. They frowned at each other, each one testing the resolve of the other. Don't think I won't put you in the tub and scrub you down myself! I don't care how modest you are. Your way or my way? Edna fumed, glaring like a child denied a request for candy.

But what if—?

It'll happen whether you're sitting there or not. All your worrying won't change anything.

Edna looked away from Niles, huffed, rose slowly from her chair, and left the room without a word. In a few minutes, Niles heard water from the shower in the hall bath. He sat down in his recliner to read the morning paper. Thirty minutes later, Edna walked into the living room and sat down in silence. She looked like a church lady going to mid-morning brunch. Her white hair was brushed out and flipped up at the ends. Moderate make-up and pink lipstick. Slacks and a colorful blouse—her style. Niles smiled, pleased at her groomed appearance, but she would not look at him.

Shall we? Niles said. Edna walked out to the garage, but continued pouting.

Niles took Edna to their favorite restaurant for country cooking. They chose vegetable plates with Mexican cornbread. Niles attempted to engage her in polite conversation. He mentioned that a couple at a nearby table looked a lot like one from their Sunday school class, but Edna only shrugged in response. She replied several times with single word answers, seeming intent on remaining angry. Niles offered to stop by an antiques dealer, so she could look around for hidden treasures. Edna refused to take the bait. Dead silence rode back home with them. When they walked into their home, Niles noticed the answering machine's message light blinking. As he extended his index finger to press the play button, the phone rang.

The sound shocked them, like a cat jumping out of the dark in an old horror movie. Edna jumped back and was visibly shaken. She stared curiously at the telephone as it rang again, like it was a bizarre element of a Twilight Zone episode. Without realizing it, Niles was doing it too. He grabbed up the receiver. Edna studied his face as the conversation unfolded.

"Hello…? Oh, hi, Kevin…. What…?"

Niles glanced at Edna, trying to remain calm.

His eyes gave him away. Edna gulped.

No, we haven't heard from Becky lately. Is she okay…?

Alarmed, Edna clenched her hands together.

Niles' respiration increased.

She thought someone followed her from the library to her car the other night, and you let her go back…! Edna covered her mouth and nose with her hands and sobbed. I know better than anyone how stubborn she is, but you're supposed to look out for her…! Hell, stalk the girl if you have to…. You did. Niles calmed a bit. And she got mad at you. Well, maybe that is why…. Okay, I will try and reach her. Niles hung up and sat down at the kitchen desk. It's probably nothing, Edna. Becky feels smothered and isn't returning his calls. Niles dialed his daughter's number and waited. No answer, just her voicemail. Hey, Becky. It's your father. Kevin called and was worried about you. And now we're worried too. Just let me know you're okay. Love you, Sweetie.

Waiting felt intolerably nerve-wracking, like a death-row inmate waiting to go to the electric chair. Edna flipped the news back on, hoping that word of another victim, anyone other than Becky, was already a story. But the wait continued. There were not any new disappearances. The anchor interviewed a very well-known forensic psychologist who had examined the entire list of victims. Niles sat down next to Edna on the sofa, took her hand, and squeezed. All of the victims resembled Becky, like sisters in a very morbid family portrait.

Not her, not Becky. Please, Lord. Not my baby girl, Niles thought.

The minutes marched on.

Niles gnawed on a fingernail.

Dinnertime came and went, but they were too preoccupied to notice.

Edna's breathing became alarmingly erratic. Niles rubbed her shoulders, trying to sooth her raw nerves. Hours passed. They held hands. Darkness descended. Niles thought of the JFK assassination. Panic and utter disbelief.

A news reporter reminded her audience that the usual span of time had arrived when the rapist and killer made a heart-wrenching announcement to an unsuspecting parent. But what was the murderer doing? Had he located a new victim yet? Was she already dead? And was it wrong to pray for the next victim to be someone else's daughter?

"I can't take much more of this, Niles," Edna cried. Niles put his arm around her and pulled her close, feeling closer to her than he had in years.

It's okay, Edna. I'm gonna take it with you. At those times he wished that Edna was more stable; that he did not always have to keep it together for her. Sometimes he needed her support as much as she needed his.

RING! The phone shattered the silence like a brick thrown through the living room window. Niles was on his feet and across the room before Edna could stand up. RING!

Niles yanked up the telephone.

Hey, Dad.

Becky? Edna broke down in the next room.

I'm sorry I didn't get back to you sooner.

We were worried sick!

I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking. Kevin made me so mad, and he wouldn't stop calling. So I switched off my phone.

Your mother was on the verge of a nervous breakdown--the both of us!

"I know. I am so sorry, Dad. I just really hate it when he does that."

Kevin said someone was following you?

It's nothing, Dad. A shy guy from one of my classes this year. He's harmless. Just has a crush on me. Like I told Kevin, it's NO BIG DEAL!

Okay, Becky. I believe you. Have you spoken to Kevin again yet?

Long pause. No.

It's your business, Becky, but you should at least let him know you're okay. With all that's going on up there—

All right, Becky replied, sighing. I'll let him know. Love you guys.

We love you, Becky.

And I'm sorry about all this. Didn't mean to worry you.

The call ended with a new invite down for the weekend, but Becky laughed it off as usual. After Niles relayed the information from the call to Edna and calmed her down, they watched an old comedy on the classic movie station, ate popcorn, and had a fairly good and uneventful night together. The senior adult luncheon after church took their minds off the serial killer for a few hours. A missionary spoke and conveyed the need for a well and a few goats in his tiny village in Burkina Faso, moving nearly everyone to contribute to the cause.

But the next week moved at a crawl. All eyes were trained on Rome, not only in Georgia, but the whole nation. The police had nothing to go on. No good leads. And the paranoia was

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