Last week, I asked readers to challenge me with a writing prompt, and I picked a winner at random. I started writing the story this morning, with a promised post date of midnight (my time) tonight. Here is the story:
Hashing: participating in an event, usually a run, held by the Hash House Harriers, an international social and non-competitive running group.
Hasher: a member of the Hash House Harriers.
A coyote yelp would have shattered the silence of the East Texas woods, except the forest hadn’t had much silence since the hashers arrived yesterday. Now, twenty four hours into their camping weekend, the hashers were in full swing, talking, laughing, catching up with old friends, meeting new ones. Music blasted from the sound system set up under the pavilion, drowning out the metallic banging coming from the kitchen as volunteers cleaned up after the evening meal.
There were more than twenty tents pitched in the open field in front of the pavilion, and a few more were scattered at the base of pine trees along the edge of the woods. A bonfire roared in the middle of the field, flames reaching ten feet into the air. As night settled around the campsite, the temperature dropped, and hashers congregated around the fire to ward off the damp evening chill.
Two men carried one of the many kegs closer to the fire, so no one had to walk too far to get more beer. Because that was a big part of what this weekend was about – beer. Beer was the holy water of this group, the sacramental liquid they were devoted to, the reason they were here. It served as their nourishment, their societal reward and retribution, their ceremonial Eucharist. If hashing was a religion, beer would be the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
After several rounds of folk songs and drinking games, one hasher spoke up. “How about a ghost story?” The group freshened their beers and sat back to listen.
Once, years ago, a hasher named No Diddley got lost in these very woods during a midnight trail run. The next day, someone noticed he was gone, and they went out into the woods, looking for him. They followed the same trail they had taken the night before, calling his name, listening for his return of “on-on.” But they didn’t find him.
That evening, another hasher disappeared, and this time, when they went looking for him, they found a trail of beer cans leading to his broken and bruised body.
The next year, the hashers lost another of their brethren in these woods, and another the next year, and another the following year. All told, eight hashers have died in these woods, each with a trail of beer cans leading to their body.
Now, some say it was coyotes, or a bear, but I think it was the Ghost of old No Diddley, looking for more beer. He roams the forest still, searching for his brew, killing anyone who gets in his way.
“That’s it?” Tongue War asked. “Dude, that was the lamest ghost story ever. Down-down!” he shouted, demanding punishment. A chorus of “down-down” started around the fire, and the storyteller was made to chug a beer. It was something he did with pleasure, so as a punishment, it didn’t hold much weight.
It was nearly midnight, but no one was ready for bed. Someone suggested a moonlight hash, and Backseat Driver volunteered to live hare. He filled a backpack with beer, grabbed a bag of flour to mark the trail, and took off, a trail of white leading into the woods. The rest of the hashers gathered in a circle and sang a couple of warm up songs, giving Backseat Driver a fifteen minute head start. Then they headed out, following the trail of flour. They followed the marks for a mile, then ran into trouble finding the next mark. They broke up into smaller groups, fanning out, whistles in hand, listening for the tell-tale “on-on” when someone found the trail again.
There was a metallic rattle as That’s All Folks F*ck You stumbled and fell to one knee. She held up a beer can and shook it. “Looks like Backseat got thirsty.”
Puss’n Boots held out a hand to help Taffy up. “It’s not like Backseat to litter, though. I’m sure some redneck tossed it in the woods last week.”
“But it’s Backseat’s favorite beer,” Taffy pointed out. She looked closer. “He didn’t even open it, he ripped a hole in it.”
Tongue War took the can from her and looked at the ragged gash. “Looks like a wild animal did it.” He glanced behind him and ducked his head. “Maybe,” he whispered, “it’s the ghost of No Diddley.”
Taffy backhanded him in the chest and rolled her eyes at Puss. “You are such a jackass, Tongue.”
Tongue cackled. “Come on, let’s head back to camp. I don’t think anyone’s going to find the trail. Backseat’s gonna have a down-down for this, for sure.”
They made their way through the dark forest, searching for the last white pile they had found, then followed the trail backwards to camp.
Tongue War unzipped Taffy’s tent and poked his head in. “Come on, get up. Backseat never came back to camp last night. We’re organizing a search party.”
Taffy pulled on a pair of pants and a sweatshirt and stumbled out of her tent. Most of the other hashers were just as out of it as she was, from the looks of it. Puss’n Boots was bent over a trashcan, throwing up, and several people had their head in their hands, rubbing their temples. Taffy grabbed a plastic cup and poured herself a Bloody Mary.
“So what’s the plan?” she asked Tongue.
Tongue turned the sound system on and spoke into the microphone. The feedback made everyone grab their heads and swear, but Tongue ignored them. “We’re going to follow the trail Backseat laid last night and then fan out from where it ends. Keep the person next to you in sight at all times. If the circle gets too wide to keep each other in sight and we haven’t found him, we’ll head back to camp and call the cops.”
They set out on the trail, and at the end of it fanned out as instructed. They called his name, both his hash name and his given name, Chris. Taffy spent as much time making sure she could still see the other hashers as she did looking for Backseat. She could barely see Tongue through the foliage. “Tongue, I think it’s time to turn back,” she called.
Tongue stumbled and bent down. “I found another beer can,” he called back to her. “Same as the one last night, gash in the side.” He stood and looked around. “It looks like there’s a cave or something down here, I’m just going to go check it out.”
“Tongue, wait!” Taffy called, but he disappeared. She blew her whistle to summon the other hashers and walked toward the spot she had last seen Tongue. She waived to Puss’n Boots and gestured down the hill. “Tongue found another beer can and went to check out the cave,” she yelled. She started down the steep slope, planting her foot sideways and leaning into the hill, trying not to slip.
When she reached the bottom she looked up. Puss stood at the top, ready to come down after her. “Stay up there, no use both of us being down there,” Taffy said. “I’ll be right back.” She ignored the vines that brushed her legs and walked to the cave, peering in. “Tongue?”
A shadow moved along the wall to the right. She looked, but saw nothing. She stepped inside the cave and called again. “Tongue? Did you find anything?” A scuffle of movement to her left drew her attention, and she took another step. She could just make out the form of a man, huddled on the ground. “Backseat?” She took another step. Her foot connected with a lightweight object, sending it tumbling toward the man. She looked down.
A beer can.
She squinted into the darkness. “Tongue, is that you?”
The growl from behind startled her. She turned. Her eyes widened. She opened her mouth to scream.
Puss’n Boots pointed down the hill to the cave. “She went in there. She said that’s where Tongue went.”
Five hashers made their way down the steep incline and started toward the cave. An empty beer can rolled out, causing them to pause. They studied the gash in the can. The sharp edges of aluminum glinted like teeth.
From the top of the hill, Puss’n Boots screamed and pointed. Taffy lay in the mouth of the cave, staring back at them. He limbs hung loosely, as if pulled from their joints. A gash marred her face, the edges resembling those on the empty beer can.
They found Tongue War inside the cave, crouched next to a pile of empty beer cans. A gash across his throat pointed to cause of death.
No one saw Backstreet Driver again, but legend has it, he roams the woods of East Texas, still looking for his favorite beer.
Thanks, Mary, for the suggestion! Genre – Horror; Subject – camping; character assignment – a hasher. The minute I saw your challenge, I knew it would have to involve beer! 😀 Hope you enjoy it!
To everyone not familiar with the world of hashing, I’d like to explain a few things. Everyone gets a nickname, or hash name, and it often has a sexual connotation of some sort. All names used in this story are completely made up, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they existed. Names are often shortened to one word or an acronym. I hope the naming conventions in the story weren’t too confusing (and I tried to keep them somewhat SFW). Also, I do not write horror, so this was a first for me. It’s no Stephen King, certainly, but I did my best.