Nightmare at 9,286 Feet

The Cast: Brian (alone), Burt (my boss), Myself (jokester), The Staff (unwitting participants).

You could hear the scream from 400 feet away. It was two o’clock in the morning.

Have you ever terrorized someone so bad that they couldn’t sleep? Have you ever mentaly scarred someone so bad that they were.. um… well, mentaly scarred?

Over the years I have pulled some interesting pranks. Some have been received with good spirits while others have not. I have endeavored to always ‘do to others what I would be willing to have done to me’ in my pranking, because some things are just not funny. Making an exact replica of a piece of furniture out of cardboard and waiting for the owner to notice = Funny (it took them awhile). Prosthetic chicken head with the real head mailed years later = Funny. Bloody Voodoo Doll = Funny. Letting the air out of all the tires of somebody’s car = Not funny. Taking someone’s stuff = Not funny. Humiliating people =Not funny. Yeah, there are lines you shouldn’t cross with pranks. I accidentally did, once.

The ‘family dynamic’ of personalities that are within the staff of a Boy Scout Camp are… How can I put this politely? Interesting. You get quite the range of ages and maturities. As a result, you get quite the range of ages and maturities. And, this one particular summer was no different.

At the time of this occurrence, my wife and I had been working for the BSA for several years and had become part of management. Because of this, we had input into the activities and events that helped the staff to unwind and such. Well, it can be difficult—at times—to come up with events that can entertain a wide variety of ages and maturities. And, one weekend we were blessed with a wonderful idea. Well, I was, anyway.

We would work Monday through Saturday mornings on the mountain. And, since it made things easier to start Monday mornings if we were already on the mountain by Sunday evenings, we basically had a 24 hour period to wash clothes, run errands, get supplies, and do whatever else done that we needed to get done. This often left us up late on Saturday nights making things ready so that we could (on the next morning) go to church, come home, pack the van, and leave for another week of camp. Lucky for us, PBS was running the new Doctor Who series on Saturday nights—and we were loving them.

I enjoy Doctor Who, I am not a die-hard fan, but I do enjoy many of the stories. And, on this particular evening, as I was watering the lawn and doing laundry, my wife sat with me while we watched an episode and folded the clothes (this was before streaming and other online medias). With all the multitasking of events, I required a timer, so as to know when to rotate the sprinklers (this will be important later on). Anyway, the episode that was being broadcast that night was Blink.

Blink has to be one of the greatest stories written. You don’t even have to be a Doctor Who fan. It’s just a great tale written by Steven Moffat based on the short story “What I Did on My Christmas Holidays by Sally Sparrow” by Sydney Newman. The story is basically this: The Doctor is sent back in time by Weeping Angels (angelic-monster statues) and uses Sally Sparrow (they’ve never met before) to help him get his time machine back.

The suspense is fantastic! The directions the story takes are quick and incredible! You get sucked right in! I had been ‘folding’ my underwear for 15 minutes when the alarm went off and it made both my wife and I jump. We had been so absorbed by the story that we had both been sitting still for the whole 15 minutes. I still had the same underwear in my hands. My wife had the same towel—unfolded—in hers. We had become part of the story, we were the proverbial flies on the proverbial wall of the adventure. If you haven’t heard of it or seen it, I recommend taking the time to do so. Between the music, the dialogue, the storyline, the characters, and the villains, you really get a great phycological thrill-ride.

Doctor Who, Blink, aired Jun 9, 2007.

Back to the horrible thing I did: The next day, at camp, I let my boss know about the great episode and how awesome it was. Burt was not a big fan of Doctor Who, but was willing to sit through the episode since the Doctor was not a key player (he had hardly any screen time at all). Burt also thought it might be good to include a couple of the Commissioners (camp good-will officers) as a ‘reward’, due to their demanding jobs, and this might be fun for them.

So, at about eleven o’clock on Sunday night, the four of us conspiratorially sat in a tiny office (the size of which would make a telephone booth seem spacious) to watch the supposed ‘scary’ story. I was behind them all on a desk, Burt was to my right, and the two Commissioners were sharing a seat to his left. We huddled around a small laptop to secretly enjoy this nugget of entertainment.

All the lights were off and all the staff were asleep. It was just us four, in the dark, at night. Burt clicked the play button and it began. It worked on them too. They were sucked in just like my wife and I were. I knew the story and made them jump by bumping them at the ‘worst’ times in the show. We had a great time and felt we needed to share the experience with the rest of the staff. So, we decided that on the next Staff Night (this coming Wednesday) we would play it for them. But we needed them to all be there from the start—you have to watch from the start, no interruptions. But how to do it?

“We make it mandatory.” Was Burt’s idea.

“How do we make Staff Night Movie Night mandatory? It’s the staff’s night off.”

“We tell them it’s a mandatory sexual harassment training.”


With that, we sent the two Commissioners to bed. Unfortunately, the lodge where we had watched the nerve-racking show, was about 400 feet from where the male staff slept (nicknamed Tent City). They would have to walk across a large open mountain meadow in the dark.

“I know it’s ‘light’s out’ right now, but can you at least turn the porch light on until we get to our tents?” At that request Burt flicked the switch to the porch light into the ‘on’ position, but the lightbulb was burnt out. They would have to traverse the distance in relatively dark as the moon wasn’t that bright that night. Burt and I watched the duo navigate the dark expanse with their backs pressed against each other while they walked in a clockwise-rotation and moved in as straight of a line as possible toward their tents. They were either crying or just whimpering the entire way—Burt and I could hear them.


Wednesday came, and the staff gathered to watch the ‘mandatory’ sexual harassment training video. Because of the way the episode begins, our captive audience had no clue as to what was unfolding before their eyes. We had them. By the time the title crawl and theme music played they were all hooked and needed to see how the story panned out. Nobody left. Again, perfect.

Now, what’s important to understand—if you are unfamiliar with the episode Blink—is that the dramatic tension that Moffat and Hettie Macdonald (the director) create sucks you up so wonderfully, that when the end comes ‘round you are so into the story so that when they drop their ‘bomb’ on you, you believe it. You completely let yourself say, “Oh. My. Word. They’re real. They’ve always been real.” And you go along with it. It’s a miniature masterpiece. Very well done.

So, as a quick reminder, the basics of the plot involve angel statues that creep up upon unsuspecting people and then touch them. Once touched, that person travels back in time and is doomed to live out their life there. Not really horrific on its own, but the presentation! Oh, the presentation sells it that way! The flickering lights, the camera angles, the dramatic music, the angel statues themselves… When you see their ‘monster’ faces… Man! It’s good stuff. And so, being the wonderful person that I am, I took some time to sketch out some angel statues onto white cardboard, cut them out, and then did something grand.

I drew a few like this one.

While the unsuspecting staff was completely absorbed into the show, I snuck out the backdoor of the lodge and took my ‘angel statues’ with me. Using the cover of night, I deftly placed the angels in ideal locations for my staff to encounter upon their return to Tent City. Tent City was almost completely surrounded by trees, and as such, this allowed only a few easy entrances into the area. So, naturally, I placed one Weeping Angel so that the thin cardboard profile would be left unseen until it was too late, because the angel would be noticed only as you passed it—it would be right next to you.

This is was the one that was ‘right next to you’ when you saw it.

I added another angel. Higher up in the trees, so when flashlights would be moved about, the bottom would be noticed, the flashlight holder would then move the light upward to see what it was, and be greeted by an ‘attacking’ angel from slightly overhead. I placed a few more ‘attacking’ angels next to tents, inside tents, in the trees… It was a stroke of practical-joker genius. But, I held onto the coup de grâce, for later. Much later.

Anyhoo, after the ‘mandatory training was over’ it was late, dark, and time to send the staff off to bed—because we timed it that way. The older staff were able to just walk the few feet over to their trailers and were completely indifferent about the whole event. The younger male staff were full of bluster and bravado (while still visibly nervous), while the young female staff just followed the illuminated pathway to their dormitory—and teased the boys about how they didn’t have to walk in the dark. Everything was going according to plan.

As the male staff reached Tent City, their outcries of fear and terror were fuel for the laughter from Burt and myself (Burt knew about the cardboard silhouettes). I was informed the next morning that one of the staff had—upon seeing one of the angels—screamed and then commenced ripping the silhouette into shreds. Another just yelped and stomped the angel to death. There was mild panic and terror. At one point, a staffer yelled out that they hated me (they called me by name), to which I just laughed harder. All in good fun. Perfect.

I mentioned before that the ages and maturities vary, and one result of that is that younger males share—way too much. I knew way too much about their habits. Including who went to the bathroom in the early hours of the morning. There were three of them, regularly—usually. So, I waited until about 1:30 in the morning and then crept through the shadows and trees to the male-staff area—with a special silhouette of a very scary angel. I also had saved it for a special location.

In camp we had one outhouse designed for those with special mobility requirements. It was larger, had a ramp, and also had a spring on the door that made that special haunted house door rwee-e-e-i-nk! sound. When I knew that nobody was using it, I crept in, and mounted the special angel silhouette at about eye level on the wall, above the toilet seat. It was a perfect location because the outhouse was white and the cardboard I used was white, so you wouldn’t notice the angel right away, you would have to ‘find it’, in a manner of speaking. You wouldn’t notice it until you noticed it.

Think about it. When you’re comfortable in your surroundings, at night, in the dark, you stumble around until you get to your location, then you look about (that’s why you step on the Lego’s that are on the floor—you’re too comfortable). When you’re camping, you might be all alert for the first few nights. But, after a few weeks, you get comfortable, and begin to act like you would at home. You stumble around until you get to your location, then you look up. I knew that. I knew the staff wouldn’t see the angry angel until they were about to… Well, you know, relieve themselves. And the best part was, if they were so scared they were going to pee themselves anyway, they were in the perfect spot for it. Win, win.

It had taken me about 20 minutes to get to the outhouse without being seen or heard, and only 10 minutes to get back. After about ten minutes in bed—it was now about 2:10 in the morning—I heard a blood-curdling, terror-induced, cry of anguish unlike anything I have ever heard before. I smiled and went to sleep. My work was done.

The next morning I found out that I had missed. I got the wrong staff. I took out an innocent. I had done wrong. As I sat there, listening to the victim’s description of his trauma, I struggled to not laugh out loud (because it was funny, but it wasn’t).

What basically happened was this: Brian (the victim) woke up with the need to answer mother nature’s call. As he sleepily meandered to the outhouse, he behaved exactly as I knew someone would. His head was down, he was looking at the ground, flashlight aimed at his feet to show him the way. The outhouse door rwee-e-e-i-nk!-ed open. The floor reverberated the sound of each of his steps. He stepped up to the toilet seat. And, as he was about to take care of business he looked up, with his eyes closed. However, upon opening his eyes, they were locked with those of an angry monster-angel. An angel that was reaching out for him. An angel that was going to get him and send him to another period in time. That was when he screamed (and almost dropped his flashlight into the outhouse receptacle). Brian had made the blood-curdling-terror-induced-cry-of-anguish-unlike-anything-I-have-ever-heard-before that I had heard.

The image I placed in the outhouse resembled this one, shadows and all.
(they just added to the believability factor)

After the scream, Brian somehow managed to fly back into his tent and dove into his cot and sleeping bag. Once he had found himself the right way around to face the tent door, he spent the next four hours shivering, sweating, hyperventilating, and deathly afraid of what was—in his mind—definitely going to come for him. He diligently shone his flashlight upon his tent door to keep the weeping angel at bay. Unfortunately, after about an hour, the batteries began to die. See, if you can see the weeping angel, they turn to stone, stop moving, and can’t hurt you. But, if you don’t see them, that’s when they can get you. As Brian’s batteries died, so did his hope for survival. The worst part was that there were fresh batteries a measly six inches away, sitting in plain sight, on the corner of his cabinet. But, in order for him to use them he would have to turn off the flashlight, the very flashlight he was using to keep the weeping angel at bay, and change them in the dark. That takes time.

Any noise—it’s the woods, they’re all over the place—and he would glance about to see if it was human or not. There was one staff member that walked past Brian’s tent to go to the bathroom and Brian thought he was about to die, that his time was up—he almost wet himself (remember he didn’t get to go to the bathroom).

Brian’s mother was a little bit psychologically destructive. Getting away from home was one of the best things that ever happened to him. Summers at the scout camp did wonders for him. Brian is a good guy. That night, I broke him.

For the rest of the summer nobody could walk up behind Brian. As a staff, we had to collectively look out for him and keep the scouts and other adults from approaching Brian from a place he couldn’t see. Brian is a smart guy, but that joke really messed with his head. It took him a while to get over it (a couple years).

Brian did forgive me. But, I could never apologize enough to for that night.

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