The Legend of Pocono Lake
“There is no Legend of Pocono Lake.“
Stan’s nasally voice actually sounded annoyed. I struggled to hold back a laugh over the phone as my wife rolled her eyes from the passenger seat. The first showing of snow started to speckle the local Pennsylvania roads. It was hard to concentrate on the joke and driving at the same time. One more wrong turn, and we were about to be late for our camping trip.
“Where did you even get that, anyway? ‘Legend of Pocono Lake’? I don’t think that is a thing,“
I could hear Stan typing furiously into his phone. God. The fact that he was looking it up on the Internet made me laugh harder. My cover was blown.
“Hey, hey, that’s not fuckin’ funny man,” he mumbled through an embarrassed chuckle. “You would not believe the amount of weird shit that comes through here.“
Stan was taking his new gig as park ranger quite seriously. Truthfully, I was happy for the guy. For years, he had struggled with the right application for his Environmental Science degree. He moved around a lot. Lost out on a lot of relationships. Finally, after six years of searching, Stan landed the dream job as a park ranger in the Poconos. It even came with benefits.
The trip was a chance to visit him in his new element.
“Emily, are you in the car? You might want to hear this too,” Stan asked through the speaker.
“Yessir!” Em replied from my side.
“Katie and Steve backed out last minute. They can’t make it,” he paused as I blocked a groan. “Which makes tonight a foursome… haha.“
“That sucks, but more booze for us, right?” I offered.
“True!” Stan replied emphatically. Then he paused again. “But… that is not our only problem.“
“There is a guy at our campsite,” he sighed.
Emily beat me to the next question.
“What do you mean a ‘guy’? We drove three hours from Jersey to get here,” she looked at me and relaxed her sass. “Can we still camp on the Lake?“
Stan was embarrassed again. I felt bad for him.
“Totally! We have the campgrounds reserved. I made sure of that. But this guy works for the Park Service too. He’s one of the dudes who cleans up the trails. So it’s not like, a random, or anything…“
Emily buried her head in her hands.
“Okay. We are close to the campgrounds. Can you meet us at the lot, so we know where to go?“
Stan replied that he could and we hung up the phone. After a few more minutes of scrambling with the GPS, we found the turnoff point somewhere high up the mountain. The whole area was quiet. There was not a single soul in site.
As promised, Stan was standing outside his Toyota Corolla. He was gawky and grungy as ever. At his full height, Stan stood over 6’7. But he must have weighed 180 pounds soaking wet. He had long, shaggy blonde hair that poked out of a Billabong beanie. The striped blue-white shirt and tight black jeans made him look like a hipster Waldo.
Stan’s wife was him, too, and she was the opposite. Cynthia stood around five feet nothing, and had a crop of wild red hair that clashed with Stan’s blonde. She wore a sensible hoodie with black thermal pants. Her hands were gloved, her hood was up, and she looked to be absolutely freezing.
They waved us over. I parked our car in the next spot.
“I am so g-glad you guys made it!” Cynthia shouted from her muffled turtleneck. She reached out to give Emily a hug as I started to lug our gear onto my shoulders.
“It is really not that cold,” Stan shot back.
“Cold enough to freeze the lake, dick!” Cynthia countered.
Stan turned back to us with a sheepish grin on his face and shrugged his shoulders. He grabbed a couple of our bags as I locked up the car and followed him towards the campsite.
“As you heard, the Lake is frozen. So no need to worry about any legends,” Stan offered sarcastically as we headed through the hills.
“Oh are you sure? I hear that’s the best time!” I laughed back.
The woods was a beautifully scenic landscape. Acres of empty land stretched out without meaning, only to find meet endless acres of forest. A few inches of snow had started to cover the tips and tops of the pine trees. Wind lazily drifted mini tornadoes of white. In an hour, it would be night,
“It is perfect out here,” Emily offered. I agreed. Soon enough, we found the campfire.
“We have to be careful of the bears. We put all of our food in these bins,” Cynthia linked arms with arms with Em and led her over to the tents.
“Where’s the guy?” I asked Stan, after settling in.
A few dozen yards away, a shadow was turned away from our direction. He was looking out towards the water. For a moment, I thought he might have been just enjoying the view, but the sudden burst of yellow hitting the snow indicated otherwise.
I looked away.
“Want a picture, Junior?” a drunken voice called out from the distance. “Maybe you can hold it for me, pretty boy.“
“Okay, what the hell, dude?” Stan shouted back in defense.
“What, what! I’m just fucking with the kid.” The man turned and zipped his zipper in a fluid motion. As he walked over towards us, I got a better view. He was middle aged, with salted brown hair and a grizzled gray beard. He had a bit of a belly, and wore dirty overalls, over a park uniform that looked like it had been given out in 1986.
He stuck out his callous covered hand. “My name’s Johnny. What about you, boy?“
“Matt,” I said, sheepishly. I did not shake his hand. Sensing an awkward gap in the conversation, Stan immediately seized it.
“My buddy here was just telling me about the Legend of Lake Pocono,” Stan laughed nervously. “Ever hear of anything weird like that out here?“
My cheeks turned red as Johnny set his curious blue eyes on me again. He was studying me. Like he was checking to see how much I could handle.
“Well, I can tell you one thing. I know you looked me up, kid,” he said to Stan. “But we are sure as hell not out here cutting trails in the wintertime.“
The way Johnny said that made my blood run cold. Then why was he here?
“The Park Service is investigating several animal mutilations,” Johnny continued. “The bigger animals have been turning up by the beach with their throats cut. And by big – I mean bears, mostly.“
“Something is killing the bears?“
Johnny leaned forward. He was insulted. His face was very serious.
“You think I’m fucking kidding, you better watch yourself tonight, boy,” he turned to Stan at this point, and nodded. As if to say ‘you should understand this.’ Stan gave a confused nod back.
“The weird thing about these killings is not the fact that the animals are dead. Nature is a bitch. Crazy things happen sometimes. No, no… the weird thing… is that the animals are not being eaten. Whatever is killing them is slitting their throat and leaving the body.“
He looked over at our wives. I guess he did not want them to hear the next part.
“Like it was doing it for fun.“
Johnny pulled a fresh Marlboro cigarette from his pocket. He let it in the dancing flames of the fireplace. His hand was shaking. He actually looked nervous. That made me sweat.
“None of the other scavengers have touched the corpses. There were no bite marks, no insect damage, nothing. It was like… they all knew to leave the body alone.“
The detail of his story started to worry me a bit.
“If that’s true, Johnny, campers should probably not fucking be staying here. Why hasn’t the park been shut down?” I asked.
“Hasn’t killed any people, yet.“
With that, he turned away and went back to his tent. I was dumbfounded. Stan seemed to sense the argument coming.
“Look man, he’s just fucking with you. There is nothing in these woods. I would have heard about it.“
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“Yeah. These old guys love fucking with campers. Don’t worry about it.“
Given my own prank, five minutes before, I decided to let it go.
The rest of the night was a lot of fun. The four of us played a few board games while we killed a couple cases of beer. The snow slowed down sometime after two. Em started to fall asleep by 2:15, and Cynthia knocked out soon after. After a final beer and bite to eat with Stan, we killed the fire and decided to call it a night.
Our two tents were set up side by side. After the unsettling story, and even more unsettling companion sleeping a few yards away, there was something reassuring about having a park ranger in the tent next door.
Sometime around four thirty, someone started moving.
I don’t remember if I fell asleep. It’s possible. There may have been a couple moments where I was able to pass out and close my eyes. But, that distinct noise was enough for me to stir and check my watch to confirm the time.
The owners of two heavy patiently approached the fireplace a few feet from our sleeping bags. They paused contemplatively.
Then they started to sprint in our direction.
I gripped my hands around the metal bat that I brought as backup. But the owners of the feet scampered past. They ran down the embankment to the west of our campgrounds in a hurry. They were headed towards the lake.
There was a choked, soft, scream in the distance.
I could hear a man holler. There was a scuffle.
Then the feet started to retreat up the hill towards our campsite. I refocused the grip on my bat just as something started to move, loudly, through the water. If that sounds impossible for wintertime, that’s because it was. The lake was frozen solid. But I could hear the ice breaking in audible chunks and pieces as something waded through a mere 300 feet away.
A voice started to mumble to itself outside. It was clearly Johnny.
“Jesus christ,” he whispered to the empty night. I guess he clipped a button into his walkie, because the next words he said came with the cackle of static. “It’s approaching me. Visual contact.“
Water splashed and dripped somewhere in the distance.
I thought he was still fucking with me. Honestly, that seemed more conceivable than the thought of a lake-dwelling monster climbing up the hill to kill good old Johnny. I contended that this was all some elaborate rouse, set up to scare the city kid.
But the voice that spoke next was not Johnny’s.
“HiYA, JohN-knEE” it said, quietly. The tone was guttural and garbled. John started to cry.
“gET oVeR HERE, pleASE!” it hissed. Soft, sucking footsteps of something massive filled the campground. They were not fast, or rushed, or calculated. It sounded like a body being dragged out of the water. It stopped moving after a while. The creature sounded like it had him cornered.
“I haVE watcheD-d-d, you, JoHN-knEE,” it continued. “Be mY fIRST, JoHN-knEE.“
John tried to scream.
Presumably, the creature cut off his voice, before he could.
I darted back to my sleeping bag. I held my breath in my chest. I hoped my quick, panicked, reaction was not enough to alert it of my location.
I was wrong.
The dripping noise started to approach our tent. I reached for my bat and Emily at the same time. The sound of something wet turned into wild sniffs. That noise, after everything, was finally enough to wake Emily up at the worst possible time.
“What’s tha..” she started sleepily.
I threw my hand over her mouth before she could finish the sentence. She looked at me with panicked eyes that finally quickly started to comprehend the situation.
The sniffing got louder. It was more confident. Bizarrely, it started to paw at Em’s purse. After a harsh swipe from the other side of the tent, the footsteps retreated back down the hill in a lazy shuffle. After a moment, a sickening plop and breaking of the ice confirmed the creature left the way it came.
I woke up Emily, Stan, and Cynthia soon after. They did not believe me at first. But when we found Johnny’s body in the center of our campsite, they changed their tune in record time.
His throat was slit.
Stan had enough sense left in me to take Johnny’s last bit of advice. We left his body alone. That might be why we were able to leave unharmed.
I don’t know if there was ever a known Legend of Pocono Lake. Before that weekend, it was just something I invented. But the truth is that something is out there. And people need to know.
It is not safe to camp by the lake.