Chill Clinton is a professional writer with an interest in a variety of forms.
A Spine-tingling Tale to Tell Around the Campfire
Like many others in their younger years, I went to sleepaway camp nearly every Summer. But these Summer visits up the coast to a remote campground were not only prime opportunities to get away from my parents while enjoying tons of junk food and archery (what ten year old doesn't enjoy getting to play with sharp things?), but chances to indulge in one of my favorite childhood pastimes: telling scary stories.
The story below is my interpretation of a tale that one of my teenage camp counselors told my cabin just before bed, which has stuck with me for decades because of how terrifying I found it at the time. It isn't entirely my own creation, but like many campfire stories, is a product of repeated retelling, with small adjustments made along the way.
Feel free to enjoy this story alone, or read it aloud on your next camping trip!
The Trucker and the Keyhole
A trucker, driving all night to see his daughter for her birthday, breaks down on a seaside highway shrouded by forest and mist. Seeing a faint flicker off in the distance, he walks until until he comes across a small cottage at the base of a lighthouse.
He knocks once on the door, before it creaks open, and an old woman in a tattered nightgown answers. Without question, she offers him a bedroom upstairs, but can’t follow him because of the arthritis in her knees.
“Up there and to the right, you’ll find your room,” the old woman tells the trucker. “There are two other rooms as well- a bathroom across from the staircase, and another to the left, at the end of the hallway.”
She leans in.
“You needn’t worry about that room.”
The trucker thanks the woman and ascends the creaky staircase, finding his room, and passing out from exhaustion.
A few hours later, he wakes up to use the bathroom, and after finishing, is left standing in the hallway, drawn to the room at the end of it.
He tries the knob, but it’s locked.
Noticing a glow from the keyhole, he slowly crouches down to peer through it.
Beyond the door- a dimly lit room with a bed, a white dresser like the one in his daughter’s room, a pink rocking horse in the corner, and a girl.
Not really a girl- a woman with a girl’s frame- with pallid skin, long strands of black hair, and draped in a lace gown like a toddler playing dress up. She lifts her hands over her limply hung head, as if held up by puppet strings, and sways.
The trucker nearly falls back on his ankles, but catches himself before crashing to the floor. He checks over his shoulder to make sure he is alone, stands up, and tiptoes back to bed.
But he can’t sleep. His mind is a tide pool, swelling with salt water. Moments pass when he forgets about the woman just feet from him, swaying to the silence, but they return, each time a little worse.
Finally, he returns to the hallway, inching his way to the door at the end of the hall, returns to his knees, and presses his face to the keyhole.
But this time, there is no room, no light, no woman.
Only a deep, menacing red.
The trucker tries his other eye, but nothing changes.
No dresser, no rocking horse.
Hoping he might have dreamed the whole room in his tired mind, the trucker returns to his room, and only reopens his eyes the next morning, when he hears a crackling cast iron skillet.
Downstairs, he finds breakfast waiting for him. The old woman ushers him to the table, and makes him a plate of eggs and toast.
He thanks the woman for her generosity, but apologizes for not respecting her wishes to leave the room alone.
“I have to ask you,” says the trucker, “What’s in there?”
The old woman sets her spatula down on the counter, and loosens her apron strings with a sigh.
“I’m sorry you had to see that.” She scrapes a chair against the floorboards and takes a seat at the table. “You see, I have a daughter who was born with several unusual conditions.”
The trucker leans forward, forgetting the food in front of him.
The old woman wipes at an age mark, accented by her somber disposition. “I keep her locked in there for her safety, and mine. Plus, it is so difficult to look into her eyes.”
A cavern opened in the trucker’s stomach as he struggled to maintain his composure.
“Red as the pits of hell.”