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Scary Campfire Stories for Middle Age

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Gather round, summer campers. Hey, Braden. Put that stick down. The marshmallows are for s'mores, not for stuffing in your... Br... BRADEN. Can someone get him to... Lance! Can you go get Lance from the commissary? I know he's setting up for friendship bracelets, but. Please, just... OK, thank you.

Anyway. Get over here, campers, for it is time for a scary ghost story. Sit on these hacked-off stumps. There is OFF Deep Woods in the basket under the snack table. The mosquitoes this year are the size of Mothra. Please take care not to get the OFF Deep Woods on the few marshmallows that did not go down Braden's pants.

OK, everyone ready? Flashlights down. Prepare, kids, for a terror unlike anything you've ever experienced in your short lives, for this is the hair-raising story of The Forgotten Fee.

One dark night, a woman approaching middle age -- we'll call her Bethany -- fumbled for her phone on the nightstand. She checked her social media accounts as a cool breeze wafted through her darkened windows and flapped the sheer curtains. In the distance, she heard the faint howl of a wolf, or maybe it was a Three Dog Night cover band at the nearby VFW. She watched four videos of Taylor Swift lyrical analysis, and then checked the Realtor app for house listings she would surely hate. Who decided that vinyl plank was a luxury product, anyway?

No, don't cry, Carly. It's fun to be scared, but we're safe. Oh, crying from boredom? I mean, that's rude. Yes, you can make another hot dog, but wait until it cools down to bite. We've talked about this. The roof of your mouth needs to heal.

Bethany checked her email to see if there were any letters informing her of a large financial windfall or an exciting creative opportunity, but there were only sale ads for Old Navy and Pizza Hut. Realizing it was Friday, Bethany opened her bank account to see if her paycheck from her job as a, uh... winter camp counselor, yeah, had cleared without incident.

Just then, a shadow darted about the room, filling the walls and ceiling like a slick of black tar. Bethany absorbed the ominous chill of looming disaster, same as when she tried to get through the impulse aisle at Burlington on a Saturday and was a half-hour late to book club.

There it was: a mysterious, evil fee for $39.99, billed annually from the iPhone app store for some service she forgot she subscribed to. This fee was a slippery specter that slid into her Bank of America feed at a time when she desperately wanted $39.99 to spend on Aperol spritz.

She'd experienced this type of haunting before, always from some corporate handle called SLIMBOT or AUDIOTRANSLATE or FOODBOX or NEWFACE. Sometimes the cursed fee landed in the form of a year's subscription to some entity such as the Chicago Tribune, which Bethany signed up for at an introductory rate to read "Chicago's 24 Hottest Restaurants of 2022" before a vacation. Bethany felt better in this situation because at least she was supporting journalism, but renewing a full-priced subscription to a local newspaper in a city where she did not live nonetheless ripped her soul to shreds like a bloodthirsty vampire.

 

You have something to say, Kelly? Yes, this story is scary. Just wait. Just wait until you're in your 40s. Get back to me then. Sure, whatever, you can go to the other campfire, fine. They have karaoke, do they? I don't even care. Tell Cody I said it was OK. Tell him I hate him.

Where was I? Oh, right, the terror. This time, the cursed $39.99 fee came from a walking app that Bethany tried because the ad made it seem as though simply walking a few minutes each day would transform her into a Hadid sister. This app could have been the missing link to a fully transformed life. However, Bethany tried the app once and did not find the AI trainer croaking "ONE MILE, EXCELLENT" over her Spotify mix particularly helpful. Plus, her shorts chafed.

Bethany promised she would immediately cancel the service, but just as soon as she made that solemn vow, she became distracted by a video of a woman making a foot-high apple pie, which simply does not seem appetizing. Even now, Bethany has not learned her lesson. As she retells the tale, passing down the oral history of this nightmare from town to town, she is still not 100% sure she has canceled the walking app.

Then! A rustling in the trees stirred the... oh, Lord, it's Braden, and he's got the... put down the Hershey bars! He's running to Cody's campsite! LANCE! LANCE!

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Stephanie Hayes is a columnist at the Tampa Bay Times in Florida. Follow her at @stephhayes on Twitter or @stephrhayes on Instagram.

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Copyright 2024 Creators Syndicate Inc.

 

 

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