I took the boy camping this weekend. Made up a ghost story about Skeleton Bear the first night, and followed up the second night with an origin story. Spent the intervening time searching Salt Fork State Park for the aforementioned Skeleton Bear. We didn’t talk about or search for The Grassman, because sasquatch stories are a dime a dozen and played out.
About 100 years ago there were tons of bears around here, and they were all the kind of bears that minded their own business and didn’t cause any trouble unless someone brought it with them. They ate fish and berries, lived in caves, and searched for honey. One day a hunter named Hosak came to the area and killed a bear. He took the bear’s skin to sell it at a store and he ate the bear’s meat. When he got to the store, the storekeeper and the shoppers were all shocked that the hunter Hosak had killed a bear. They asked him why and he told them that bears were vicious, mean, dangerous animals. He frightened the people so much that everyone started hunting bears. They would kill bears and use their skins for rugs, and put their heads on plaques on the wall. They would eat the bear meat and leave the bones on the ground.
This continued for many years until all the bears had been killed except one. This bear was the nicest bear in all the forest, and would return missing camp stakes to the tents of campers, gently rubbing the side of the tent and saying “You can call me Bear, I’ve brought back your tent peg.” Despite being the nicest bear in all the forest, she was sad and a little angry because she didn’t understand why all of her bear friends were being killed. The son of the original hunter was now a young man and decided that he and his dad would find this bear, kill it, and rid the land of bears forever. The son even said “I’ll take the bear’s bones and tie them together in the front of Hosak’s Hall so everyone will know who killed the last bear!
The hunter’s son and the hunter Hosak went out into the woods, scattering tent pegs as they went. They set up camp and determined to stay awake all night until the bear returned the tent pegs. They stayed up the first night, but the bear didn’t come. They managed to stay up the second night as well, but the bear didn’t come. On the third night, after two days without sleep, they could barely keep their eyes open, but, just before dawn they heard a gentle rustling on the side of the tent and heard: “You can call me Bear, I’ve brought back your tent peg.”
They hunter Hosak and his son jumped out of their tent with their guns and said “Ha! We’ve got you bear! We’re going to kill you and tie your bones together in our Hosak’s Hall, so everyone will know we killed the last bear!” And they shot the nicest bear in all the forest. Before the bear died it said: “A curse on your kind! There’s enough life left in my bones to get revenge! You’ll see!” And the nicest bear in all the forest died.
The hunter Hosak and his son skinned the bear and removed the meat, and only took the bones with them back to Hosak’s Hall. They tied them together in the shape of the bear and covered it with an old tent. Then they invited all the people in the area to a party to see the bones of the nicest bear in the forest. They all came to Hosak’s Hall and ate lots of food, and drank lots of beer and were appropriately impressed when the hunter Hosak and his son told their story and unveiled the bear skeleton. Some of the people were sad that all the bears were dead, especially the nicest bear in all the forest, but they kept these feelings to themselves.
All of the people invited to the party went home. A few weeks went by and they realized that no one had heard from the hunter Hosak or his son. Another few weeks went by and they decided to send a policeman to check on them. When the policeman got to the place where Hosak’s Hall had been, he didn’t find it. Instead he found a big cave with a bee’s hive hanging in front of it, and no sign there had ever been a house, a hunter named Hosak, or his son. Out from the dimness of the cave a shambling bear emerged. But this bear was only bones! The policeman ran away and Hosak’s Hall became known as Hosak’s Cave, Lair of the Skeleton Bear.
Soon after this, campers started disappearing. Their tents were found clawed apart but there was no other sign of what might have happened to them. People started whispering about the curse of the Skeleton Bear, and it was said that when the bear came to your tent it would ask “Does anyone call you Bear?” If the person answered “no”, the bear would kill them fast. If the person answered “yes”, but was lying, the bear would kill them slow. If the person answered “yes”, and was telling the truth, Skeleton Bear would leave them in peace.
One day a new group of hunters laid a trap for Skeleton Bear. When the bear came to the tent, it exploded with dynamite and destroyed all the bones. But the next night, Skeleton Bear came back and destroyed the hunters. It’s said that no matter how many times Skeleton Bear is destroyed, as long as there are bones in the forest from another bear killed by hunters, it will return to seek vengeance.
I wanted to tell the boy a story that would scare him a bit, but make it so that, in the end, he felt safe and confident enough to sleep. The first night, I told him about how Skeleton Bear attacks the campers, and since I’ve been calling the little guy “Bear” since he was smaller than a small one, if the Skeleton Bear came to our tent in the night, he could honestly answer the question and be safe. The next day we wandered around the park looking for Skeleton Bear, and while we were on a bridle trail I convinced him that fallen trees had been crashed by Skeleton Bear, that the horse dung was from Skeleton Bear, etc. By the time we got to Hosak’s Cave, he was reaching his own conclusions. We got back to camp and he lost a tent peg, that I later found and pocketed. I laid the origin story on him by the fire that night and put the tent peg by his shoes where he might find it in the morning. He did, of course, and is convinced that there’s still a little bit of good in Skeleton Bear somewhere.
And he’s not scared at all.