Camp Monsters

Lizard Man

Episode Summary

Something feels off about this raining night in South Carolina. You can't put your finger on it. Driving through the intersection, you catch something in the rearview mirror. Something bathed in the red of your brake lights, something moving fast, close behind your car.

Episode Notes

Something feels off about this raining night in South Carolina. You can't put your finger on it. Driving through the intersection, you catch something in the rearview mirror. Something bathed in the red of your brake lights, something moving fast, close behind your car. You don’t get a good look at it, but…whatever it is, you decide you don’t like this. Whatever it’re all alone out here.

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Episode Transcription

You drive through the intersection– through the dark and the rain– and when you get over to the other side of the highway, you stop along the shoulder, peering into the woods. Isn’t this right where you saw it?  Isn’t this right where it was standing?  What was it? But it’s no good-- everything outside your headlights is soaked in darkness. So you look forward, and are about to drive away from there… when a corner of your eye catches something in the rearview mirror. Something bathed in the red of your brake lights, something moving fast, close behind your car.

You don’t get a good look at it, but… whatever it is, you decide you don’t like this. Whatever it is… you’re all alone out here.  So you step on the gas… and your engine revs… but you don’t move.  You try again, revving longer, and harder… but still… the car doesn’t move.  Something else begins to move, though.  Something that shouldn’t.  

The handle… on your passenger-side door.  The handle begin to jump and jolt… like someone who’s never seen one before is trying to use it.  Like some animal has hold of it.  Like something out there in the wet darkness… is trying to get in.  You look down at your console and rush to slam your hand onto the “LOCK” button… but just as you do, you hear the door latch on the passenger side clack open… you feel a gust of wet night on your face… and the car creaks as something… begins to climb in beside you.  Then you turn, and see that…

This is the Camp Monsters Podcast

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Boy-- I guess I shouldn’t have drank that whole 30-ounce tumbler before we got in the car. Between bathroom breaks and getting lost on these rural South Carolina roads, I’m afraid we’re going to be late to the campfire tonight. If we can even have a campfire-- this rain hasn’t let up a bit. We might have to move the whole thing inside.

Listen-- do you mind if I run through this week’s story really quick as we drive? It’ll help me prepare and… actually this is the perfect setting for telling it. See, most of it takes place inside of a car, along a lonely country road right here in South Carolina, on a night just like this one, thirty years ago-- when one of these big Atlantic storms was spilling its rainy guts all over the inland counties.

Cliff had a funny feeling that night. It first hit him as he was locking the back door of the diner-- closing up alone, after the night shift. At first he thought it was the feeling of being watched. He stopped, with his hand still on the key in the diner’s back door, and looked around the little parking lot. Looked for a stranger leaning against the back of the building, eyeing him... or maybe a friend waiting for Cliff to get off work. But there was no one. Just an empty gravel parking lot, with the sound of frogs in the ditches and the roll of distant thunder. There was no one to pin the feeling on, and nothing to see except Cliff’s old sedan sitting tired under the buzzing orange lights, and the flashes of lightning away to the south that told of a storm about to roll in-- the smell of rain and electricity sharp in the air.

As Cliff crunched across the gravel to his car, the funny feeling grew stronger, but-- what was it? Like the feeling of being watched, but not quite… a sense of foreboding-- a warning-- a feeling that something was about to happen. Cliff opened his car door and took one last glance around the empty parking lot. Then he looked up at the flashing sky; heard and felt the first heavy drops of rain begin to fall. And he decided that was it-- that was where the feeling came from: just an instinct before the storm, same as animals have when they seek shelter as the thunder approaches. 

So he jumped inside the shelter of his car, wheeled it down the quiet main street, and pointed it toward his house a few miles outside of town. The rain started coming down in earnest as he left the last streetlights behind. But he was safe, and dry, and heading home… So Cliff wondered why that feeling of suspense… kept growing stronger.

The road home wound for some way through Scape Ore Swamp. Cliff didn’t think anything of it-- he’d driven that way hundreds of times before, day and night, in all kinds of weather. And the swamp didn’t yet have the tales attached to it that it does today-- that night was the start of all those stories. Cliff didn’t know that yet-- but he was about to find out.

He knew that road so well that he started to slow down even before his headlights made the stop sign up ahead glow red. He stopped completely at the sign, and peered each direction down the intersecting highway. The cross road didn’t have to stop, and it was one of those highways that big semi trucks liked to howl down. Sure enough, here came one, pulling a wave of wind and road-spray along with it.  Just as it passed, Cliff sat up straight in his seat, startled. Not by the roar of the truck, or the shiver of his car in the buffeting wind, or the slap of the spray against his windshield. No, it was… it was something he’d seen on the other side of the highway, in the truck’s bright headlights as it passed. Something he thought he’d seen. Right in the treeline at the edge of the road.

He squinted impatiently as his wipers cleared the driven wall of rainwater that had pelted his windshield, then as he drove slowly across the intersection he swerved a little, so his headlights would sweep the same spot. And the fact that his lights revealed nothing but trees and brush and darkness… that made Cliff even more curious. As the lights of that truck had flashed past, he thought he’d glimpsed a tall, skinny figure, standing on two legs, draped all in green. It was the kind of vision that usually terrifies just for a moment-- and then you cock your head and look again and chuckle at how badly you mistook that mossy tree stump or falling-down old billboard.

But when Cliff swerved his lights over that patch of woods… there was nothing. Nothing that looked even remotely like what he’d seen, nothing he could have mistaken…  Nothing that explained the strange image that still flashed in the speeding headlights of his memory.

When he’d got across the highway he pulled halfway onto the shoulder and slowed way down, trying to peer into the woods as they scrolled past his rain-streaked passenger window. It was pointless, though, because the night outside his lights held nothing but shifting darkness, especially back there in the trees. He turned his head toward the windshield again, preparing to accelerate away-- and as he turned, he saw something in his rearview mirror. Something moving, quick and close behind his car, lit up bright red by his brakelights. By the time he’d turned his eyes full to the mirror, whatever he’d seen was gone. It had flashed so fast in the corner of his eye that he hadn’t been able to tell which way it was going. He jumped on the brakes and checked both side mirrors, then whipped his head around and stared out of the rear windows.

There was nothing back there but red-tinted rain. Nothing but night. Nothing he could see moving, behind or on either side of his car. Cliff felt the first tickle of fear then, but it was the comfortable, exciting kind of fear-- like most of us, he felt fairly invulnerable inside his car. The doors were locked. If there was someone out there in this monsoon-- if what he’d glimpsed was a person, and they were looking for trouble, then a quick flick of his foot on the gas pedal would put Cliff well out of harm’s way in an instant. His wasn’t a particularly fast old sedan, but it was faster than a man on foot, and it had always been reliable…

You’ve probably already guessed it, but… that’s when Cliff first heard the sound. A hollow clicking, knocking sort of sound-- a sharp, mechanical sound: quick, repeating, metal on metal.Oh no… it must be coming from the engine, or… transmission or something. What? No. C’mon. Not now. Not right now, not out here. He took his foot off the brake and gave the gas pedal a little tap. RRRRRvvvvvv, the engine said… but the car didn’t move-- in fact it settled back a bit. Aw no. Cliff pressed the gas down again, longer this time: RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRvvv… but the car just sat there on the roadside, its headlights shining out into the pouring rain, its engine grumbling… and that clicking sound growing louder and more persistent in Cliff’s ear.

He felt his heart beating faster as he glanced around at the darkness outside. This all happened thirty years ago, remember: no cell phones, no hope of dialing for help. Cliff ran through his options: he could get out of the car into the storm, with… whoever or whatever was out there, walk back to the highway and try to flag someone down… but in this weather no one would see him, and no one would stop if they did. Or he could sit in the car on this barely-driven road in the middle of Scape Ore swamp, with some mystery prowling around outside, waiting for either a good Samaritan or dawn, whichever came first… and his money was on dawn.

Cliff took a deep breath, tried to calm down, then looked closely at everything on the car’s meager instrument panel. A quarter tank of gas, ok… oil pressure good… temperature good… RPMs ok… he put his parking break on and off-- no problem there. Then he turned on his dome light and looked over at the gear selector for his automatic transmission, and almost laughed out loud. It was knocked out of Drive: it was caught down between two gears. He must have bumped the handle when he’d turned around to look through the back window for… whatever he thought he’d seen out there. That was the trouble-- all he had to do was throw it back in gear.

And anyway, that clicking sound-- when he turned his head it became obvious that it wasn’t coming from the engine compartment after all. It was… what was it? It was…

Then, in the low-light glare of the old sedan’s dome light, Cliff saw what was making the sound. It was the handle on the locked passenger door… it was the sound of the handle clicking up and down, up and down, over and over again as something… something from out in that wet, pitch-black night-- in the middle of the swamp-- tried to get in.

The door was locked.  Cliff checked that instinctively.  And then… then for a few moments he stared fixedly at that handle– his eyes locked on it in dread, so that it was all he could see. No doubt this tunnel vision was his brain’s attempt to protect him… no doubt some part of his mind was already aware of what had appeared in the passenger-side window.  Anyway… this state of shock couldn’t last forever. Eventually, Cliff dragged his narrow circle of sight just a bit higher. Eventually, Cliff saw the face… the face that was pressed against the glass over there.

Cliff always stops telling his story at this point-- and even if you don’t believe a word he’s saying, it’s hard to deny that, even thirty years later, he looks and sounds like a man who’s shaken… almost to the point of passing out, or getting sick. Cliff stops his story and swallows hard a couple times-- if he’s acting, it’s the best acting I’ve ever seen anybody do. Then he starts talking again, quiet and slow-- and this part about the face always comes out in exactly the same words, like memorizing his description of the creature lets Cliff keep a little distance between himself and the terror of the memory.

He says it was a green face… scaly like an iguana but with the features of a human being, except… except the eyes were too large, and they reflected bright red, even in that dim light. All red, no pupils-- translucent, almost, like-- like you were looking right straight through those huge orbs to all the blood and nerves at the back of the eye. And as Cliff stared at it, transfixed with horror, the whole face below the nose slowly began to split open, from a seam that ran from the nose to the chin… The whole lower face split open and spread wide on either side of the head, showing an inside lined with bony spikes in serrated rows like the mandibles of some monstrous insect.

BANG! The thing reared back and slammed its head against the window. It left greasy brown marks on the glass. BANG!!! So hard Cliff heard something crack. And he saw those dead red eyes looking at him… in a way that seemed… so hungry.

The whole world around Cliff had been screaming loud for some time now… Cliff thought it was the engine-- thought it was his terrified leg mashing the gas pedal down to the floor. And it was-- or that was part of it. The other part of the sound was Cliff, screaming and screaming at the top of his broken voice. Cliff heard himself just about the same time that he found the handle of the gear selector, and mashed the sedan into Drive. But he’d forgotten to take his foot off the floored accelerator, so when the car dropped into gear it bucked and slammed and screeched forward with violent, grinding, fractured-metal sounds banging out from under it.

Cliff was lucky he didn’t break the car for real, then-- rip the transmission out, scatter it in shattered metal shards all over the road. But it held, somehow… and somehow Cliff held the car’s sliding, screeching noise on the wet blacktop until the tires found their grip and carried him speeding off into the night.

The first thought that occurred to Cliff, once his mind had re-congealed enough to hold thoughts, was just a single word: “What?! What?! What?!” Repeated, over and over. Then a kind of disbelief set in-- a numbness, a refusal of his brain to sign the receipts for the things his senses had dutifully delivered. That led to the thought of what he was going to say-- how he was going to describe to other people the thing that had just happened to him. He wrestled with that concept for a good while, but it kept pinning him. He got more and more frustrated and discouraged, until he started to wonder if… if he should even try to tell anyone at all. 

I mean, he had no proof. Even if that creature, that… what would he even call it?  The giant green-man?  The Mandible-Monster?  Or… a lizard… the lizardman– the Lizardman of Scape Ore Swamp.  Huh.  That’s probably what people would call it.  It sounded silly to Cliff– people would chuckle at that, laugh it off… but the real thing was… was nothing Cliff could ever laugh about.  

No.  He decided then and there that he’d never tell anyone.  There was no point– no one would believe him.  He hardly believed himself.  Maybe… maybe it had all been just some kind of hallucination– a waking nightmare.  Anyway, he had no proof: even if the thing, the… the lizardman… had damaged the outside of his poor old car a bit… the car was old enough that even he wouldn’t be able to tell which dings and scratches were fresh.

As if to prove his point, just then the wiper on his driver’s side of the windshield made a nasty grating noise and stuck at the top of its arc, pointing straight up toward the stormy night sky. Awww, great. Three seconds later and the soaking rain had twisted his vision into a bulging kaleidoscope of contrasting headlit shapes, with the yellow center-line weaving crazily through all of it, and jumping every time a fresh raindrop hit. 

Cliff slowed down and peered up at the top of the windshield, where the tip of the malfunctioning wiper was stuck. Maybe if he just rolled down his window and reached outside, he could get it working again. It looked like it might be caught on something… some thin, dark shape that clung to the top of the windshield there… what could that be? He figured that during his panicked escape he’d probably hit a low-hanging branch and wedged a chunk of it in the weather-stripping.

Cliff put his hand on the window crank and started to roll it down.  The window slid open an inch… two… then something cold and slimy flew into the car and brushed against his face.  Cliff pulled his head away and the car swerved, and for an instant the windshield was filled with an image of tall reeds and muddy water– the deep ditch at the side of the road.  Once the car smashed in there, it was going to take a tow truck to get it out.

With one hand, Cliff ripped the steering wheel in the other direction, and somehow managed to skid the old car sideways back onto the road.  With his other hand he was desperately trying to hold onto the window handle, leaning on it with as much of his weight as he could, but…  The thing caught in the window writhed and flapped, scrabbling and scratching wetly at everything it could reach-- and it was strong, horribly strong.  It was pushing hard against Cliff’s weight…  It was forcing the window… ever… wider…

There was a light up ahead-- the only light on this stretch of road– a big arc lamp hung above the gateway of a pasture that some farmer had hacked out of a drier part of the Scape Ore swamp. As the light began to trickle into the car, Cliff glanced at the thing stuck in the window…  It was… it was like an enormous, dark, wet bat… but… no, as the light grew stronger, he saw:  it was a hand.  A green, scaly, webbed hand.  Long, thin, slimy fingers, with shiny skin stretched grotesquely between them. 

Cliff pressed even harder on the window crank.  Now that they were back on the road, he jammed a knee below the steering wheel to hold it, and used both hands to try to crush that hateful thing in the window.  Over the noise of the rain and the engine and the tires on the road, Cliff heard a sound outside, like a hissing scream of pain. 

Then, just as they passed directly under that lonely light… that terrible face again. Dropping down from the top of the windshield, leering at him from the top of the car where the thing clung.  Those bulbous blood-eyes. That mandible mouth, snapping viciously open and shut like nothing Cliff had ever wanted to see.

Cliff tried to slam on the brakes.  But he missed– and jammed on the gas instead.  The car rocketed forward, and it was a testament to his terrified reflexes that Cliff was able to recover and mash down on the brake before the car slammed into the ditch on the other side of the road and rolled over and over. 

It was the violence of the stop that finally did it.  With one last terrible hiss the long slimy hand was torn free of the window, and Cliff rolled the handle shut as the strange green form tumbled over and over in the road ahead. Cliff didn’t stay to watch it, though.  The last he saw, as he swerved around it and raced for home, the thing was lying in a heap in the middle of the road.  

He hoped someone would find it– would find positive proof of what had happened to him.  Sure, the next day he found blood and a couple of strangely-shaped scales jammed into the top of his driver’s-side window.  And yeah, the state lab he sent one of the scales to couldn’t identify any known species that it came from, but… well, that gave Cliff the confidence to tell his tale to a few people– though he doesn’t blame the folks that don’t believe him.  He says he wouldn’t believe it either, if it hadn’t happened to him.

But over the years, in this area of South Carolina that we’re driving through right now… more and more people have come around to Cliff’s version of what happened.  Because… ever since that night,  a steady trickle of other people have come forward about… seeing something strange out there in Scape Ore swamp, and along the roads around it.  More and more people have caught a glimpse of the Lizardman, but… when they do– none of them ever have the nerve to stop long enough to take a good picture.  Something about those big red eyes, staring at them… They stay in their cars and keep driving.  Maybe it’s better that they don’t stop.  The Lizardman doesn’t seem to like it.

Well, I think we’re almost there. Just another couple miles and our turnoff should be on the left. Keep your eyes peeled-- this rain is so heavy I can barely see to drive. I wonder if-- <> Ohhh, no. I know that sound. <> We blew a tire… <> We can’t keep driving on it. Don’t worry, I can change it-- even in this soup. You mind calling the folks at the campfire and telling them what happened, and why we’re so late? Tell them we’re close, right by… what’s up ahead there? Right by a little bridge over a creek, with a sign that says… Scape… Ore… Swamp…

On second thought, maybe call and see if they can send someone down to pick us up. No point crawling around in that swamp… on a night like this.

Of course if you find yourself broken down alongside a lonely road through Scape Ore swamp in the middle of the night… or… even if you don’t, you’ll be glad you put something warm in your YETI Rambler Tumbler. While everyone else is running for their life through chest-high muck to try to escape the Lizardman and get to the nearest coffee shop, you’ll be safely sipping your favorite drink– that’s been kept at the perfect temperature for a ridiculously long time thanks to the double-wall vacuum insulation that’s built into all YETI Rambler drinkware. Check out all the styles and colors available at REI dot com, or in-store at your local REI. Thanks, YETI!

And while you’re there, check out the amazing customized “Camp Monsters” 14-ounce YETI Rambler mug.  Just like the Lizardman, some people don’t believe that everything tastes better out of your very own “Camp Monsters” mug… but those who’ve experienced it first-hand know better.  We sold out of our merch so quickly last year that REI has decided to give REI members the first crack at these special “Camp Monsters” mugs. So check out all the benefits of joining at REI dot com slash membership. Or if you already ARE an REI member, then come and buy a mug at REI dot com slash Camp dash Monsters. Don’t forget that dash!

Closing up the diner all by themselves for the first time tonight are our Executive Producers, Paolo Mottola and Joe Crosby.  Our Associate Producer, Jenny Barber, was supposed to swing by and pick them up, but she broke down right after dropping our Engineer Nick Patri off in Scape Ore swamp to gather some authentic sound effects.  She tried to flag down a passing big-rig, but our Senior Producer Chelsea Davis was racing a deadline with a trailer-load of fresh podcasts for delivery.  But don’t be scared, Jenny: those wide, blood-red eyes reflecting back at the edge of your flashlight belong to your truly, Weston Davis, up all night hunting inspiration for next week’s episode…

Next week we’ll be high in the Cascade mountains, way up in the Pacific northwest, telling a scary story around a cozy campfire, with a thin trail of smoke drifting off into the tall, dark trees around us.  But we’ll be talking about a creature that doesn’t wait for dark to terrify… it brings darkness with it.  Darkness and flame… heat and thick, choking smoke.  We’ll talk about a hiker who was unlucky enough to have an encounter with that creature… and we’ll find out if she was fortunate enough to live through it.

Of course the stories that we tell here are just stories. Sure, some of them are based on things people claim to have seen and experienced, but it’s up to you to decide whether or not you can identify the species that Cliff’s mysterious scales came from.  Fish or lizard or…what?  Please subscribe to Camp Monsters if you haven’t already-- and like, share, review, and tell your friends to give us a listen. It’s your support that keeps us recording. Thank you. See you next week, around the campfire.