By: Robert Schroder ’24
I’ve been in and out of jobs since I dropped out of college. I was never really a school person, and I just couldn’t deal with it anymore. Looking back, I probably should have just sucked it up and gotten my stupid degree. Sorry, where are my manners? I still haven’t introduced myself. My name is Phil and I’m 24. While I’m doing anything I can to make rent, my true passion is nature. I’ve always loved spending time alone in the woods, enjoying a short break from reality. After losing yet another job, I wasn’t in a good place. I was a failure who couldn’t do anything right. I decided to go out to the local pub and get a few drinks.
“Hey Phil, how’s it going buddy?” I looked over at John in the corner, smiling at me with his yellow, chipped smile.
“Same as always, John.” I gave the most basic answer I could think of; I wasn’t in the mood to talk. John was a usual at the pub, and knew that if I was there I was down on my luck. When I sat down on the other side of the bar from him and ordered a gin and tonic, he got up and came over to me. He paid his bill, and leaned over my shoulder before leaving.
“I know why you’re here. Don’t do anything stupid. Luck comes and goes, yours will turn around eventually. Just give it time.” I scoffed and brushed him off.
“You’re starting to sound like my dad John, and I haven’t talked to him in four years.” With that he walked out, and I was alone with the bartender. After my fifth round of drinks, the bartender cut me off and I angrily stood up to leave. On the way out, I glanced over at the job adverts as I usually do. I almost walked out before stopping in my tracks. I immediately sobered up and walked back to the wall. While there were the usual adverts, I spotted one that was never there before. “Park Ranger wanted. No experience required. Call the number below to apply.” I was shocked. This could be my way out, my luck finally turning around. I ripped off the whole poster and walked out to shouts from the bartender. I didn’t listen; I had a call to make. I managed to get back to my apartment, dreaming of getting my life together and having a second chance. When I dialed the number however, all I heard was static. I tried again and again, all with the same result. I slammed the phone on my bed. This was my chance, my lifeline, and I was too late. They must have already hired someone else.
Wait, that wasn’t a reason to cut off the number. And wouldn’t I get an automated message if the call wasn’t going through? That’s when I started hearing something coming from the phone. Through the static I thought I could make something out. I listened closer – nothing. Then, very quietly, I heard three quick taps, three long taps, and then three quick taps again. “Hello?” I asked questionably into the phone. This was weird. Was I being pranked? Suddenly the tapping stopped and the phone line went dead. I went to bed that night creeped out, but mostly upset over the missed opportunity. I would have to go out and look for another job soon.
When I woke up the next morning however, everything changed. I received a text from an unknown number. It read “Hello Phil! This is Amy with the Alaskan National Forest Protection Association. I am led to believe that you are interested in working as a park ranger with us. If this is true, you’re hired! We need you as soon as possible. We will fly you out and send you a few thousand dollars to get all the gear you need when you land. I hope to see you soon. Best, Amy.” I was confused. This was all surreal, and it felt too good to be true. I didn’t notice the hundreds of red flags, like how they got my name or how they knew I wanted the position. I was curious, and what could be the harm in replying, even if it was a joke? I sent a text back saying that I was in fact interested and asked what I needed to do. Amy responded almost instantly. Weird, I thought. Maybe she was on her break or something? We texted back and forth a few times, and it ended with her sending the details to my direct flight to Anchorage, Alaska and me having $3,000 in my bank account. I was left in shock, I didn’t think it could be real. I had never had this much money at once, and I thought about just keeping the money and refunding the ticket. It would leave me with enough for a month or two, giving me plenty of time to get a job. Just then my phone buzzed one last time. “So sorry, I somehow forgot to mention the salary for this position.” Below the message I thought she had sent me another phone number. It must have been a mistake. I sent her another message, but all she did was confirm the number.
I immediately started packing my few belongings and got a taxi to the airport. Seven hours later the plane landed with a thud. I quickly bought my essentials for the next couple weeks and then it was another three hour drive to the fire station I would be staying at. I pulled my car into a run down parking lot with a small reception building that looked abandoned. The dull brown sign said “Welcome to the Gates of The Arctic National Park.” I got out of my car and breathed in the fresh summer air as a smile spread across my face. I was finally free. I was where I belonged. I walked up to the abandoned looking building and saw a sheet of paper nailed to the door. It was a note, directing me to my watch tower and giving me other instructions. I didn’t question it. I stopped asking questions when I learned the salary. I quickly figured out which way to go, and set off on my journey. The trails were beautiful and I lost myself in my new environment. Every few minutes I stopped to listen and admire the views. It was all so surreal. After a few hours of this, I realized that my hike was going to be a lot longer than I planned. It would probably take me the rest of the day and almost all of tomorrow to cover the distance to my tower. I decided to start looking for a place to set up camp close to the trail. I didn’t think anyone would be out on the trails so late and not have camp set up already, so I didn’t go very far.. I found the perfect spot in a small clearing of grass. After setting up camp and having a quick meal, I decided to go to bed and get an early start in the morning.
I awoke in the middle of the night to rustling near my tent. I laid there with my eyes open and listening intently. It sounded like a small animal, maybe a squirrel or racoon. I decided there was nothing to worry about and tried to go back to sleep. Suddenly, whatever it was by my tent gave a start and jolted into the woods and I heard it fade away. That’s when I heard footsteps. I couldn’t tell where they were coming from, but I assumed they must have been a hiker on the trail that was trying to finish a hike in the night. It was almost a full moon so there was good visibility, but I couldn’t see out of my tent. I waited for the footsteps to fade and quickly fell back asleep. When I woke up the events of the previous night were like a fog in my memory. However, the second I unzipped my tent, I was horrified. I looked outside at my gear scattered across the whole field. Something, or someone, had gone through all of my stuff.
I started picking everything up and retrieved my food from the tree I stashed it in. Luckily it was untouched. When I came back to the site, the events of the previous night started coming back to me, and I came to a horrifying truth. The footsteps I had heard were coming from the direction the head of my tent was faced. This wouldn’t be a big deal, except the fact that my feet were pointed towards the trail. This means that either something very large was by my tent, or someone was walking off the trail, in the middle of the night, this far into the woods. This thought sent shivers down my spine, but I shook it off and packed up my bag to start hiking. No matter what had happened last night, I knew for sure that I didn’t want to sleep in a tent out here for another night. I convinced myself that it must have been a deer or even a moose and started off at a brisk pace. I had around 15 miles to walk today and I was already off to a late start.
I quickly got into a rhythm and completely forgot about the chaotic morning I had. I was back in nature, in my safe place, living my dream. After about 12 miles of hiking, I came across another campsite. There was a one person tent, an old campfire, and some bags of equipment laying out. I decided to look around, but I couldn’t find anyone. I assumed this must have been whoI heard last night and I called out for them. No luck. They must have set off for a day hike and left their heavy equipment behind. I continued on my journey, and made it to the watchtower just before dusk. It was surprisingly new. I looked around the base, and saw a massive stack of firewood and some food stashed in bins to keep the animals out. I climbed the seemingly never ending stairs up to the top of the tower, and went inside. I dropped my bag and pulled out the instructions I took the previous day. I was exhausted, but I wanted to make sure there wasn’t anything I had to do before I went to bed. I read through the dry, normal sounding instructions and tasks I had to do, and it all seemed normal. Just before going to bed, out of the corner of my eye I saw a sheet of paper on the nightstand. I walked over, picked it up, and began reading. It went as follows:
Greetings, new Park Ranger. I assume you fell for the same trick that I did. The dream job. Getting to live out here all alone with nature and making that unbelievably high salary. I regret to inform you that you are in for the hardest challenge of your life. I wrote this to give you a better chance than I did. Here are the rules I figured out.
What was this, some sort of joke from the last Ranger? I was skeptical, but I continued reading.
- Don’t leave the tower between 10pm and 8am, no matter what you see.
- Always keep the door locked when you are inside. It won’t come in unless you let it.
- If you hear sprinting up the stairs, get under the bed immediately and pray that it wont find you there.
Suddenly, it felt as if a freight train crashed into the tower. I was thrown to the floor, dazed and confused. Then it started. That dreaded scratching up the stairs. Oh God. I pictured some demon sprinting up the stairs at full speed, running into the railing every time it turned a corner. Whatever it was, it was huge, and it was fast. I remembered rule 3. If you hear sprinting up the stairs, get under the bed immediately. That was the fastest I had ever moved. I threw myself under the bed and braced myself for when it reached the door. Bang! Crash! Slam! Then silence. It reached the top balcony. There was only a door between that monstrosity and me. I froze. My skin went cold with goosebumps as I looked back to the second rule. Always keep the door locked when you are inside. It won’t come in unless you let it. Had I locked the door? I prayed I had. Oh God, please God, please tell me I locked it. I almost cried out when I heard the rusted handle start slowly turning.
Squeeeeeeeek. The door’s rusty hinges slowly turned, and the door was open. I looked towards the door from my hiding spot and almost screamed right then. The light from the sunset reflected off of the creature.The edge of the bed blocked my line of sight, and I could only see its feet. It had gnarled claws sharp as talons. Its skin was a grayish brown, and it was pulled tight around its extremely skinny legs. It took one long step into the room, and I heard something drag along the ceiling. It must have been at least 10 feet tall! Tears streamed down my face, and I struggled to stay quiet. It walked over to the bed and stood there. It was taunting me. It knew I was there, and I was going to die. I heard it’s deep ragged breathing and I held my breath for as long as I could. Right when I thought it was going to pick up the bed and reveal my hiding spot, it let out a rattling scream that startled me and it turned around to walk out. I heard that horrific scraping back down the stairs as it threw itself down them just as fast as it had come up. I waited, and gasped in air like I had never breathed before. I jumped out from under the bed and ran to shut the door and lock it. What had I just experienced? I didn’t sign up for this. I was terrified, but I picked up the list again and continued where I left off.
- If you see the man in the morning, you must build a bonfire in the field with the firewood provided. Do this just before dusk, and leave the lights on all night. You must stay awake until 2am. I don’t know what it’ll do if you fall asleep before then.
- If you are outside and everything goes quiet, you have a five minute head start on the creature. Do not return to the tower, it will already be there if you try.
- Don’t try to leave. It likes toying with you, and it won’t care about the rules if you try to leave.
I know this all sounds like a joke or a prank, but I assure you it is not. Whatever this thing is, it likes to toy with you. Use that to your advantage, as it is all you have keeping you alive. Goodluck. I think I hear it now. It’s knocking on the roof. I think it wants to come in, and I don’t think I can stop it.
What have I gotten myself into? I was terrified of what was to come, and I pictured my inevitable fate. I was going to die to this creature. No matter what happened, I would eventually break the rules or run out of food. I made sure the door was locked, and I checked it again. I tried to go to sleep, but I was shaking and couldn’t stop. That night I had countless nightmares of that creature stalking me, and what would have happened if it checked under the bed. The next morning I was still shaken, but I tried to do something to get my mind off everything. I decided it was best to unpack my bag and make myself at home, as I wouldn’t be going anywhere any time soon. In the middle of unpacking I heard something coming from outside. I saw a hiker by the treeline waving and screaming at me. Fire! Fire! Fire! The man repeated over and over. I saw smoke coming from the direction of the campsite I had seen the previous day. I was about to step outside when the man stopped yelling. This caught me off guard. I looked at the clock. It was 7:58 am. I remembered the rule. As I looked up, I briefly saw the man turn around and run into the woods on all fours. At this point I knew I was screwed. What was this thing? I waited until it was 8:20 to go outside, and I decided to venture down the stairs. I heard birds chirping and singing, and I was happy to know it had left me alone, at least for now. I started chucking firewood into the ring that was burnt in the grass from previous fires.
I spent most of the day in the tower, thinking about how I could get out of my situation. It was only when I started to see the sun touch the horizon that I snapped out of it. I jerked up out of my chair and ran down the stairs. I dumped a can of gasoline on the massive pile of firewood, threw in a match, and darted back up the stairs. It was time to wait. I sat in my chair, overlooking the fire with the false sense of security that the tower gave me. Nothing was happening. I don’t know what I was expecting to happen, but I thought it would be something. Minutes turned into hours, and hours passed by with nothing happening. I was starting to doze off, when around 1 am I heard a shriek coming from the woods. I shot up, fully awake, not sure what I had heard. Suddenly, I saw four figures entering the clearing. They all took the appearance of hikers, but I knew better. Who could say what was really under their disguises. I was terrified. There were more of them. I thought there was only one up until now. This was when I noticed something. They seemed to avoid the fire. Although it was dying out, they only went as close as the outer ring the light from it formed. With this, I came to two realizations. First, they are afraid of fire. Second, the fire was very quickly dying out. When I came to this conclusion, they all looked up at me in unison. Shivers immediately shot down my spine. All I could do was pray that the fire held out for long enough, for who knew what they would do to me if that fire went out. When the clock struck 2 am, as if it was clockwork, they all sauntered back into the tree line, just before the fire went out. I decided to go to bed before anything else could happen that night. I left the lights on like the rules said, and again dreamt of that thing finding me under the bed.
The next day I found myself out on the trails. I was wandering about until I came upon a campsite. It was the one I had passed a few days ago. I approached it, but suddenly stopped. The tent was ripped to pieces, the equipment thrown about. It was destroyed. After looking at the site, I realized something was wrong. I couldn’t hear anything. Oh God I was so screwed. I didn’t know how long it had been since the forest went quiet, so I didn’t hesitate to dart into the tree line to look for a spot to hide. I found a half dead tree, and crawled my way inside the trunk. It would have to be good enough. The second I got into my spot, I heard that gut rattling scream. It was close. I peered out, and saw it in full clarity for the first time. The thing must have been ten feet tall. It was humanoid in shape, but everything was wrong. Its limbs were long, too long. It didn’t make sense. And it was so skinny. It was as if it hadn’t eaten anything in its lifetime. But the worst part was its eyes. They were a red so bright it looked as if a fire were burning in its sockets. This thing had come straight from hell – from my nightmares. I was going to die, and there was nothing I could do. The creature suddenly snapped its head around, looking straight at me. It felt like it was staring into my soul. Those piercing red eyes left an imprint in my mind. It let out a shriek, and as I began to sob, I saw an unnaturally wide smile spread across the creature’s face. At this point I just wanted to curl up into a ball and wake up from this nightmare. It started walking towards me. Oh no, oh no no no. This was it. When it was about two steps from my hiding spot, I heard another piercing shriek from off in the distance. It stopped dead in its tracks. Then it yelled back. The noise that came out of its mouth was so strong and piercing that I thought it ruptured my eardrum. It began to stalk away, back towards the other shrieks. I listened to it, and it was laughing. This thing was toying with me. I knew it now. I decided I had to run. It was my only chance to escape. If I went now, I could make it to my car in maybe three hours. It was worth the risk.
I waited for the sounds to return to the woods, and sprung from my hiding spot. I slowly made it to the trail. Then my fear got to me, and I started full out sprinting the opposite way from the tower. I put probably six miles between me and the tower in about 40 minutes. I thought It was going to be okay. I even slowed down to catch my breath. This was a mistake. Just then everything went silent, as if someone flipped a switch. I started sprinting. I had a five minute head start and I wasn’t going to waste it. I felt eyes on me from all directions. I was running faster than I ever had, my veins pumping with adrenaline. The trees rushed past in a blur. I wasn’t going to let it catch me. Suddenly, I couldn’t believe my eyes, I saw the parking lot. This only made me run faster. I heard it behind me now. It wasn’t going to let me get away. I ran faster with every step, giving all of my energy, until it all went dark. Something flew into the back of my head and I fell over instantly. I wasn’t knocked unconscious but I was dazed and couldn’t move. I heard it stalk up to me from behind, then from my sides. They were surrounding me. I gave up. I accepted my fate. Everything went black.
I awoke in the night in the field in front of the firetower. It was the middle of the night. It brought me back to this hell of a place just to mess with me. I got to my feet and started slowly climbing the stairs. I was about halfway up them when my worst nightmare came true. I heard the scrapping frenzy of limbs climbing the staircase below me. Every crash threw me off balance as I struggled up the rest of those stairs. It was so close to me I felt like it was going to reach out and grab me. I reached the top and I threw the door open and jumped inside. Then nothing. It was all quiet and still. This brings me to where I am now, writing this story as a warning to you. If you find a job like this in the middle of nowhere, it’s probably too good to be true. I hear it now. It’s tapping on the roof. That pattern; I remember it. I thought back to the phone call I had made that got me into this mess. Those three quick taps, followed by three long taps, and again by three quick taps. S.O.S. It was taunting me again. I think it wants to come in now, and I don’t think there’s anything I can do to stop it. I heard a thud behind me as it fell to the balcony. The door slowly creaked open. It’s behind me now. I can feel cold shuddering breaths on the back of my neck. I took a deep breath and swallowed. It’s watching me write, and I’m afraid what it’ll do to me when I stop. I pictured the scene in my mind, of this towering creature bent down behind me, waiting to pounce. My warning to you: If you ever find a strange set of rules, follow them.