By Jeffrey Bishop
They say that bad things come in threes. Not anymore.
Tell Time: 9 minutes
Scare Rating: 3/5 Ghosts
The weekend camping trip wasn’t planned, but Mr. Roberts figured they should get away for the weekend. His son Jake had found Buster, the family dog, dead on the porch, apparently the loser in a terrible fight to the death with something small but vicious, with long claws – a badger perhaps. Jake, now 11, had grown up with the pet, and was taking it hard.
They laid Buster to rest in the back yard Thursday night – the same day they found him – and Friday afternoon, Mr. Roberts found himself laid off from his job. The job loss was totally unanticipated, and only affected six others at the plant. Now they had a second compelling reason to escape for the weekend.
“Gee whiz, could the week get any worse for us, Dad?” asked Jake as they pulled their truck into their campsite.
Mr. Roberts got out of the truck and turned back to face his son. A grim expression spread across his face.
“Yes, in fact, things could get a bit worse yet,” he said cryptically. “Stay close to me and look lively if you see anything.” Mr. Roberts grabbed his bow and quiver of arrows before grabbing some of their gear and hitting the trail.
Jake hadn’t ever seen his dad quite so serious. The insistent, urgent tone of his counsel was worrisome – so much so that Jake didn’t inquire any further, but rather, obediently fell in behind his dad, keeping up with the double-time pace the elder Roberts set. As they carried their gear from the truck to the campsite, Jake dutifully scanned the brush to either side of the trail. But nothing seemed out of the ordinary as they did the hard work of setting up for the weekend, and by the time they finished pitching their tent and started a fire, Mr. Roberts seemed to have relaxed a bit.
“What’s going on, Dad?” asked Jake as he stuck a hot dog on to a skewer and placed it over the camp fire.
“I feel a little embarrassed admitting this,” said his dad, “because you’ll maybe think I’m a fool for giving any credence to the supernatural.” An awkward smile crossed his face.
“You ever heard the expression ‘bad things come in threes?’ With the string of bad luck we’ve been having this week, I kinda thought we might run into one of them out here.”
“Run into what?” asked Jake, looking up from the flames at his dad. “A thing? A bad thing? What in the world is a bad thing?”
“I really don’t know,” his dad replied, just as somber as before. “I ain’t never seen one. But we’ve had plenty of bad luck in our family, and plenty of bad things have happened to us through the years. No more’n anyone else, I’d suppose, but every once in a while – years apart when it happens – really bad luck comes in a streak of three. When this kind of bad luck comes, it comes hard: death and serious misfortune and personal disaster.
“Some says it’s just luck – and that good luck can hit in threes, too. I ain’t never experienced that yet. But some in our family – those that’ve been hit the hardest – says that the bad luck ain’t luck at all. They say it’s the work of three ‘bad things’ – three devilish imps who take turns giggin’ a person by bringin’ torment, pain and heartache into a man’s life for their own evil pleasures and purposes.”
Mr. Roberts wiped his forehead with a rag and sat down next to his son by the fire. “I don’t know what I was trying to do with my bow,” he said. “Maybe I thought I’d learn the difference between evil deeds and sheer bad luck. Maybe I was trying to prevent a third something from happening to us. And maybe I thought I’d get some revenge for what we’ve already endured.”
“Dad, I gotta tell you, that all sounds a bit … ”
“Ridiculous? I know son,” the elder Roberts replied with a chuckle. He set down his bow and quiver and grabbed a hotdog from the cooler. “It probably is, and I’m ok being wrong and being a fool. Let’s forget about all this and enjoy the weekend.”
The two did indeed enjoy their weekend, and for the most part managed to put behind them the bad things that had happened to them at the end of the week. Fishing, hiking and being in the middle of nature is good for that.
After a Sunday brunch of lake fish they’d caught and fried potatoes they’d brought, it was time to break camp and head home. Jake could tell that his dad was getting a bit anxious again; he’d put his quiver on again and had his bow close at hand as they dropped the tent and packed it up.
When they got back to the clearing where they’d parked, Mr. Roberts quickly scanned the area, then moved around the truck. He looked into the bed, at the tires and around the wheels and underneath and through the windows to the cab, before he relaxed enough to talk to his son again.
“I think we’re ok, Jake,” he called out. “Hop in and pop the hood while I check out the engine compartment.”
Jake slid into the driver’s seat and pulled the hood release lever. His dad lifted the hood, which concealed him completely except for what Jake could see in a two-inch slit at the bottom of the windshield under the raised hood.
“Everything looks ok in here,” said his dad as he lowered the hood. “Let’s head on home.” He set his hunting gear into his truck box and climbed into the cab of the truck.
Mr. Roberts started the engine and drove out of the woods and on to the highway. But no sooner had he reached cruising speed when there came a loud bang sound from the front end of the truck, followed by a rapid flub-flub-flub-flub-flub sound – the sound of a quickly deflating tire.
“Dang it all!” Jake’s dad growled as he struggled to maintain control of two tons of steel and to safely bring it to a stop. He pulled the truck to the side of the road, and then, to Jake’s surprise, quickly jumped out.
“Stay inside the truck!” he shouted to his son. He grabbed his bow and quiver again and ran toward a break in the woods, tracking something that had crashed through there only moments before. Jake sat in the truck, face pressed against the glass to watch as his dad disappeared into the dense undergrowth.
The seconds since his dad disappeared stacked up like minutes as Jake waited. Impatient and worried – about his dad’s sanity perhaps as much as his safety, the younger Roberts rolled down the window and called out.
“Dad! Dad! Where are you?”
As if in response, something that looked like a tornado cutting through the woods came toward Jake in the truck – back from the path his dad had made. Before Jake could react, the tree line exploded as a tiny creature tore its way out of the brush and leapt toward the truck.
In a panic at the monster coming at him, Jake ducked down in the seat and had the presence of mind to crank the window back up. He’d got a good look at the animal – if it was indeed an animal – that was aiming for him. About the size of a bull terrier, the thing seemed to be all upper body, with a barrel chest and a large head full of teeth and crowned with horns. Its front arms were thick and powerful, ending in claws, while its back legs were lithe and might have ended with cloven feet. A whip-like tail thrashed back and forth behind it, mowing down whatever it cut across.
Jake heard a heavy thud against the side of the truck. He looked up and saw that terrible face again, peering into the window as the creature gripped the steel door of the truck. He saw a fierce grimace spread across the gaping tooth-rimmed mouth as the monster raised a club-like paw to smash the window in.
Choking on a scream, Jake covered his head and braced for the assault. Expecting a crash, he instead heard another heavy thud – this one sounded wet, though – followed by an awful squealing shriek from the beast.
There was a third thudding sound, and the squeal stopped. Jake looked up to see two arrow heads had pierced the door in front of him. They were covered with a reddish-black blood. He looked through the window to see the monster slide down the glass to hang limp against the truck door, pinned in place by the two arrows.
Looking past the creature, he also saw his dad standing at the tree line with another arrow nocked. He quickly approached the truck where Jake sat trembling with fright.
“It’s ok now son,” he called. His dad walked around to the driver’s side and helped Jake out of the truck. Relaxing the draw on his bow, they walked together back to the passenger’s side of the truck. As they rounded the fender of the truck, they both got a very good look at the creature that had hunted them, even before Mr. Roberts had hunted it. Pinned to the sheet steel door, the beast oozed a brackish blood from its fatal wounds. The thing emitted a sulfurous smell that choked their lungs, and as they backed away from it, they noticed the damaged front tire, with four long rips across the sidewall that neatly matched the deadly critter’s claws – and also the injuries that killed Buster.
“There were three of them. I took chase after ‘em all,” said Mr. Roberts, “but they split off, and I was only able to stay after this one. But I don’t think the other two will bother us again, now.”
“I wouldn’t expect so, either, Dad,” said Jake, still shaking from the experience, but clearly relieved.
After burning the evil imp in a shallow pit fire at the side of the road and changing the tire, the two Roberts – father and son – climbed into the truck and headed for home.
“I hope we can expect to see our luck change for the better now,” said Jake to his dad. “But I guess they’ll have to change the saying to ‘bad things come in twos!’”
“That they will, son” replied Mr. Roberts with a grin. “That they will.”