Camp Monsters

The Shadowman

Episode Summary

You’ve seen it before: a shadowy figure in the corner of your room at Camp Whileaway. You want to run, scream, cry out for help... but you know you won’t be able to. That’s one of the powers of the Shadowman.

Episode Notes

You’re tucked away in your bunk at Camp Whileaway when you notice a shadowy figure in the corner of your room. You can’t take your eyes off it. You wish you could run, scream and cry out for help, but you know you won’t be able to… that’s one of the powers of the Shadowman.

Welcome to Camp Monsters Summer Camp. Over the past few seasons of the show, we’ve gotten tons of suggestions on the monsters we should cover. We noticed that a lot of these take place at a summer camp. So we’ve collected the best of the stories you’ve sent — and researched a few of our own — to create our first series of legendary summer camp creatures. Hopefully you can take these episodes with you to summer camp, or let them take you back to the days when you were a camper, scared of what might be lurking outside of your cabin.

This year’s sponsor is YETI. Check out all of their amazing gear in store or at

Pack it up - Shop YETI Camp Coolers

Drink it in - Shop YETI Drinkware

Episode Transcription

You blink your eyes slowly open. Oh yes-- you’re tucked snugly in your bunk at Camp Whileaway. What time is it? After midnight. The porch light filters through the old fabric of the curtains, casting the dimmest orange glow across the room. So dim that it’s hard to see anything but shadows. Shadows. You find yourself staring at the shadows… especially that one over in the far corner. And as you stare, your heart begins to beat fast-- then faster. You wait for it, for that… something… the something that you’ve seen before, in the shadows over there. You’re certain that, any moment now… it’s going to appear. And then it’s going to move. It’s going to float across the room toward you-- and when it does, all you’ll want to do is scream, cry out for help, scramble up and run away. But you know… you won’t be able to. That’s one of the powers of the Shadowman.

This is the Camp Monsters podcast.

No matter how dark the night…

No matter how fast you run…

No matter what is chasing you…

You’ll be safe if only you can make it to the campfire.

…but will you make it?

Of course there are other things beside the Shadowman that have the power to freeze people in one place. A YETI cooler, for instance. Don’t believe me? Then watch what happens at your next big summer picnic. You’ll pull out your YETI cooler-- let’s say it’s a YETI Tundra 65, like mine. And someone will trot over from playing flag football to get an ice-cold drink. Then the kids will run up from swimming in the lake, and rummage for one of the snacks you brought. Dad will take a break from the grill to grab something cool. And you’ll notice the circle around your YETI cooler is growing… friends and family gravitating toward this source of icy relief from the heat of summer fun. And since it’s your cooler, you’ll be right at the heart of it. Thanks, YETI.

Well here we are, around the fire here at Camp Whileaway, in southern Wisconsin. Before you search the internet for it, I should remind you that all the camps and campers mentioned this season have fictitious names, and any similarity between them and real-life people and places is pure coincidence. Anyway-- here we are at what we’ll call Camp Whileaway. It’s like a thousand other summer camps across the country. It’s got an open field fringed by woods with trails running through them; it has a swimming pool and the fire pit we’re all sitting around now. It has neat little cabins and a mess hall. If you listen you can hear the frogs trilling down by the lake. Camp Whileaway has it all… including its very own legendary creature.

Sam was the one who told me about that part of Camp Whileaway. Sam was thirteen when I met her, with black hair and a glint in her dark eyes, and a voice so quiet I had to lean my ear down almost against her lips to hear her. Her lips and her eyes, she said– those were the only parts of her body that she could always rely on. Sometimes even her reedy whisper of a voice failed her-- but she could always count on her lips to go on making silent shapes in the air. The rest of Sam’s body had been twisted uncomfortably into a large power wheelchair by one of those cruel syndromes that knock you down in childhood and then hover over you like a prizefighter, waiting to hammer you back to the canvas every time you start to struggle up. Oh, that’s the other thing about Camp Whileaway-- it’s like a thousand other summer camps across the country, but the whole place is set up so that kids in situations like Sam’s can have a full summer-camp experience. The cabins are accessible, the pool has a gradual entry, the trails are all paved, and every kid who needs it has their own personal counselor with them 24/7. Camp Whileaway is quite a special place.

And Sam is special, too. I didn’t know it when we first started talking, though I should have read it in her eyes. Sam knows a secret that most of us never learn-- and she learned the secret last summer, right here at Camp Whileaway.  Lucky for me Sam had heard about the Camp Monsters podcast: so she told me her story.

Sam said it started with a wonderful dream. She couldn’t remember the dream’s details-- just that it was one of those where you get to do things you never even realized you wanted to do until you dream them… where everything happens naturally and effortlessly and just in its right place. Whatever was in that dream was so nice that when the sound in Sam’s cabin woke her, the first thing she did was try to fall back asleep, to fall back into that dream. But then she noticed that the cabin door was open.

Spilled out across the floor by the foot of Sam’s bed was a bright pool of orange light, pouring in through the cabin’s open front door. Sam felt the fresh coolness of midnight ripple past her face, smelled the watered grass, heard frogs singing– tasted the dark blue of a world recovering from the sun.  So that was what had woken her– the latch of the door as one of the counselors came or went.  Sam tried to move her head to glance at the doorway, but found that she couldn’t.  Well: waking up paralyzed might frighten you or me, but not Sam-- her condition sometimes produced brief periods of paralysis. So she waited patiently for the symptoms to pass and examined what she could see without moving her head.

Like the other three beds in the cabin.  That would tell her who was up and about.  But… hmm… her roommate Radi… Radi’s counselor… Sam’s counselor… one, two, three… shapes, obviously bodies, loosely sleeping forms, filled all three beds. So no one from Sam’s cabin had left or come back… and the door was still standing open…

Sam waited for someone to step into the doorway; waited for a silhouette to break the surface of the orange light that pooled across the floor.  When a long stretch of seconds passed and nothing had appeared, Sam began to think up explanations: maybe another counselor, out on rounds, had opened the door and then been called away. Maybe someone from Sam’s cabin hadn’t quite closed the door earlier, and a stray breath of wind had blown it open.  Maybe the latch was weak.

Any of those things could have been true.  And yet… and yet Sam felt an unaccountable fear begin to bubble up from deep within her frozen body.  It seemed to her that the orange light from the porch was unusually bright… or was it that the rest of that cabin had grown darker?  Were the shadows in the corners always so deep, so impenetrable?  Sam tested her voice– tried to ask who was there, loudly, so that the others in the cabin would wake up too.  But her throat was as frozen as her body, and not a sound came out.  And all the time she was staring down at the orange light on the floor… and waiting.

Slowly… so slowly that Sam wasn’t sure she saw it at first… a shadow began to appear at the bottom of the light that poured in from the porch. Slower that the minute hand on a clock the shadow spread upward, as whatever cast it slid slowly, slowly into the doorway.  Long before the full silhouette spilled across the floor, Sam could identify it.  She knew what cast that shadow-- that is, she knew what people called it. As to what the thing was… she hadn’t the faintest idea. 

But a name… the title of an old ghost story that one of the counselors had told around the campfire… that name floated into Sam’s head: the Shadowman. And as she looked at the tall, gaunt shadow that had finally, finally filled the frame of light from the door, Sam knew.  It was the Shadowman. The Shadowman was here.

The shadow in the light on the floor was not like any other shadow Sam had ever seen. It wasn’t just shade, filled with the bounce of light from the source that cast it-- this shadow on the floor was black… bottomless… a perfect void, a nothingness that the orange light around it was powerless to illuminate. Sam felt like if you touched that void, you’d fall in. Fall endlessly into…

Into what, Sam didn’t know and didn’t want to imagine. The Shadowman was moving a little faster now-- like a wary stranger who has opened an unknown door and found it was the one they were looking for. As it came into the room, Sam caught her first glimpse of the thing itself, the thing that cast the shadow. It had a silhouette like a person, very tall and very thin, with arms hanging limply at its sides and hands hidden in the sleeves of some dark garment. She couldn’t see its face, couldn’t see its features, couldn’t see its eyes… but though it had the shape of a person, Sam felt… she felt knew it couldn’t be human. 

Sam was working her lips, almost foaming with the effort to speak, to scream “Stop! Stop!”, to make any kind of sound that might wake the others. But nothing came except… except the Shadowman, coming ever closer across the floor.

When it reached the very center of the room, just feet from where Sam lay wide-eyed with horror, the Shadowman stopped… and then began to turn… slowly, slowly… toward Sam?  She couldn’t tell… then… no… It was heading toward her roommate Radi’s bed.

“Wake up! Look out!” Sam thought as loudly as she could-- which was as silent as any thought. Though her body was frozen, still and rigid, her mind thrashed in anxiety. Radi was Sam’s friend, and the desperation Sam felt to help her, to make a sound, to do anything, became so intense that tears of rage and frustration slid from Sam’s eyes and mingled with the sweat that already beaded on her face in spite of the cool night that wafted from the open door.  

Sam watched in mute panic as the Shadowman hovered over Radi’s bed. What it was doing Sam couldn’t see-- it seemed to carry darkness with it, and whatever part of the room it was in became so dim that it was impossible to see anything. Anything but… shadows.

But then… amidst the darkness that had gathered over Radi’s bed… at first Sam thought it was a trick of the light, something refracting through the prism of tears that welled in her eyes… but when she blinked them clear, there it was again. The moon?  Yes– no… no: something like the moon, like a crescent moon, with two small, bright stars shining just above it, shining out from the darkness that the Shadowman cast. And then Sam blinked again, and saw: saw the shadow bending low, so low, directly over Radi as she lay in her bed. And saw Radi, the crescent moon of her smile and the twinkling stars of her eyes, coolly grinning back into the creature’s face.

Despite Radi’s composure, Sam’s soul writhed against the image. She was certain that Radi was in horrible, mortal danger. Sam had to… she had to do something, she had to wake someone. She’d scream if she was able, she’d cry-- and the tears did flow down her face, but all that her efforts were able to produce was the smallest, thinnest squeak.

It was enough-- though not in the way Sam intended. The pure-dark outline of the Shadowman’s head floated slowly up from Radi and pointed toward Sam. Then the whole tall figure rose slowly… slowly… and glided across the floor toward her bed. 

And as it came, every thought left her. The confused memory of Radi’s staring eyes fled with the rest of Sam’s mind, and what came to fill the void of thought was pure, uncontrollable fear. Fear that trembled Sam’s muscles and dragged her breath through involuntary gulps of terror. As the thing-- the darkness, the Shadowman-- drew up beside her bed, bare inches away, a last breath left her lungs in a shuddering sigh. And her terrified body forgot to draw another one, as she realized that the thing was reaching for her.  A thin, horrible arm, still shrouded in something like clinging black smoke, rose from the Shadowman’s side and reached for her face. Closer… closer… If she could breathe she would smell it now, so close to her face… No!

In the last instant Sam’s body reacted, and she was able to tear her head away from the creature and turn it to face the cabin’s wall. The movement was so sudden and so unexpected that Sam knew if she had been dreaming, then that was the spasm of waking. But she couldn’t bring herself to turn back to the room to check, to see if she was awake, to find out if the horrible Shadowman was still there. She lay with her face to the wall and her eyes shut tight, hoping that she had awakened, hoping that nothing would happen, wanting to slowly calm down.

But then she felt it. On the back of her head… in her hair… like a large, wet scorpion picking its way slowly, cautiously through the tangles… toward her face. She shut her eyes tighter, willed it not to be real, tried and failed to scream, tried to think of what else she could do… knew there was nothing that she could do. And as soon as she realized that– she felt long, cold, wet fingers grip the side of her face.

The touch was so icy, so shocking, so revolting that without realizing what she was doing she gasped in a great lungful of air and opened her eyes wide, pulled her head away from the fingers and whirled to face that horrible shadow-- only to see the ceiling, blank and cool in the early morning light. The birds of morning sang softly behind the closed front door. The shapes of her sleeping roommates were just beginning to stir. It had been…a dream? She must have been asleep. But she felt like she hadn’t slept in days.

All that day, one thought burned in Sam so brightly that it nearly consumed her. She was short-tempered and sulky with her counselor, listless and tired and disinterested in all the day’s activities. All she could think of was getting her roommate Radi’s attention-- getting Radi aside for a private moment to ask her about the night before. That was easier thought than done-- it was hard to get a private moment with anyone during the bustle and fun of a crowded day at camp. But Sam finally managed it just before dinner.

She rolled up to where Radi idled in her wheelchair on the path outside the mess hall, and asked her point-blank what she had been looking at the night before.  Sam realized that she sounded aggressive, almost belligerent.  But there was no time to ask any other way. Sam needed to know if Radi had seen anything the night before. She needed to know if it was real.

Radi’s always-radiant smile faltered and faded. She looked bewildered and said she hadn’t been looking at anything– that she’d been asleep the whole night, dreaming… a dream she remembered very well, one she often had.  Sam asked her about the dream.  And after some hesitation Radi shyly and quickly described an encounter with a shadowy figure that paralleled Sam’s experience in every way but one: in Radi’s version, there was no hint of fear.

Sam listened and heard, but she couldn’t believe. She interrupted impatiently: weren’t you terrified? Radi’s confusion seemed to deepen. Well... the first time she’d ever had the dream… at camp, the summer before…  Yes, that first time she’d been absolutely terrified… but then of course she’d seen the Shadowman’s face, and everything had changed…

The Shadowman had a face?  There were a thousand questions Sam needed to ask– but at that moment their two counselors appeared from the mess hall and began to stroll in their direction.  Sam just had time to tell Radi that it wasn’t a dream– that she’d seen it too– and to beg her to stay awake that night until… in case the Shadowman came again.

Sam hadn’t spoken quite fast enough.  Her counselor heard the name– Shadowman– and mock-scolded Sam for telling scary stories.  It got Sam thinking, and when the counselors were distracted talking to one another over dinner she whispered hurriedly to Radi: What about the counselors?  Did they ever see anything?  Oh no, Radi said. Thank goodness. She didn’t think they’d be able to stand the initial fright. 

“If they couldn’t stand it, how can we?” Sam asked.  Radi smiled that mysterious smile of hers.  “Because there’s one thing we have more of than anyone else,” Radi said. “Unflinching courage. Look at me,” she continued, and her smile grew a little wider, “I couldn’t flinch if I wanted to.” And both of them laughed.

But they weren’t laughing later, as the shadows lengthened and night descended on their beds in the little cabin. Radi was solemn and apprehensive for her friend… Sam was just plain scared. But all through the long dark hours, whenever fear started to get the better of her, Sam was strengthened by the pale glint of Radi’s eyes across the room.

Then, sometime long past midnight… what was that? Sam hadn’t been asleep-- she was almost sure. But she’d been so deep in a daydream that the sound startled her a little. Such a small sound this time… she almost questioned if she’d heard it… she couldn’t place what it could be. Its direction was hard to pinpoint as well, but it seemed to have come from near where the door to the bathroom hung ajar. And staring past the door… following the white-tiled floor as far as she could until it disappeared in darkness… Sam tried to remember… had it always been that dark in there?

As soon as she had that thought she was struck by the certainty of what was about to happen. The feeling fell onto her all at once, and it was no longer a question of whether or not the Shadowman was in there… it was a question of when she’d first see him emerge.

She didn’t have long to wait.  Sam thought she saw a movement… like an insect struggling suddenly out of a dark, close crevice, antennae waving in the darkness– and then the Shadowman was there, stealing through the doorway and into the room. Sam stared at it, wondering what it was going to do, who it was going to approach first… and in spite of what Radi had told her, Sam felt fear taking hold.  It was nothing Sam saw that chased her mind back into the burrows of this awful terror. It was what she couldn’t see… what that thin veneer of shadow might hide… things too horrible to think… images too terrible for memory flashed through Sam’s mind as the tall, thin figure moved toward her.  It crossed the room at a pace that seemed to take a dozen frozen, terrifying hours. “Come on!” Sam wanted to scream. “Come on! Now! Here I am!” But slowly, inexorably, at its own chosen pace, the Shadowman came closer.

Finally. Finally. It was there, finally, beside Sam’s bed. Inches from where she lay sweating, immobile, breathing like a beast of burden, drained of everything but fear. As she waited for that cold, horrible touch she felt her stomach rising into her throat, rising like she was falling… falling for a very long time. But at the very bottom of her freefall into fear, Sam landed in a swelling wave of her own will. She was burnt out, exhausted-- she was tired of the terror. She wasn’t going to just lie here and wait.  She had nothing left… nothing left but her courage. So she used it. She used it to look up, directly into the Shadowman’s face.

Sam’s already faint voice had been fading and fading throughout her story. I’d started by leaning over to hear it, then squatting-- by this point in the story I was on my knees, grasping the wheel of her chair, leaning my ear so close to her lips that sometimes I could feel the words more than I could hear them. It was only when her story ceased entirely that I realized how close I was-- I pulled my head away from hers and saw that her lips were still moving, telling me the rest of the story… but no sound came out. She stopped and pressed her lips together; put a shrug into a look and gave it to me.

“What-- what did it look like? What did you see?” I said, quickly, with desperate curiosity stamped all over my face and dripping from my words as I tumbled them out.

Again her lips moved and I leaned in to hear her, wishing that I could silence the buzz of voices from the other people around us, still the trill of the birds in the trees and the bumble of the insects in the grass, wishing I could stop the whole world until I learned what Sam knew.

But I heard nothing. And when I pulled back to look at her again she wasn’t trying to talk anymore. She was just smiling at me-- a rueful smile that held something in it that I hadn’t seen before in anyone except the very, very old. Something that told me she knew something that I didn’t, and couldn’t know-- but that I’d one day find out.

Then it was time for everyone to go away, and Sam left with her family. What she’d left me with was wonderful and frustrating-- it was the greatest trick of storytelling I’d ever encountered, and I hope I’ve managed to do it even a fraction of the justice it deserves. To this day I wonder whether Sam’s voice really gave out on her, just at that crucial point… or if she knew she couldn’t say what she’d seen, and she just chose to give me as much as she could.

I guess I’ll never know. But if you’re out there, Sam: thank you. For giving me a hint that the difference between terrifying shadow and comforting shade is at least partly in how you look at it.

I don’t know how you all choose to look at the shade that’s been creeping from the treeline towards us for the last little while, but now that the sun is down I think it’s safe to call it more than just shade. It’s real darkness, now. Be careful getting back to your cabins-- even paved paths can be treacherous at night. And keep being careful once you get inside-- even once you get in your bunks. And if you’re woken by a little sound coming from somewhere nearby in the middle of the night… maybe just keep your eyes closed. With your eyes closed there’s no difference between shadows and shade and… total darkness.

But even with your eyes closed, it’s easy to tell the difference between your brand new YETI cooler and that old cooler you used to use. Just wait a couple days, then stick your hand in-- do you feel slimy lettuce floating in lukewarm water? Must be the old one. Or do you feel your treats nice and secure in a bed of cool, clean ice? That’s the YETI. And YETI offers a whole line of quality camp gear made with the same attention to detail and quality as they use on their coolers. Check it out online at YETI dot com, or try before you buy at your local REI.  Thanks, YETI!

Camp Monsters is part of the REI Podcast network.

Shhhh! Our Senior Producer, Chelsea Davis, is fast asleep over in the far bunk. Our Engineer, Nick Patri, is still awake but he has his headphones on, diligently editing the next episode. So he can’t hear the little sound that wakes us up as our own resident Shadowmen, Executive Producers Paola Mottola and Joe Crosby, loom out of the closet. If you need me, writer and performer Weston Davis, I’ll be here with my eyes shut tight and the covers over my head, trying to think of something pleasant… like next week’s episode…

Next week is the last episode of our Summer Camp season… but don’t worry! We’ll be back in September to tell even more frightening tales around glowing autumn campfires. But next week we’re preparing for a night like any night at summer camp… a night in the lower half of a bunk-bed. The top bunk is empty… at least… it’s empty when you go to bed. But… in the middle of the night you awaken to the corner of a bedsheet dangling down from above. Dangling down and… moving. I guess we’d better find out what’s up there… in the top bunk…

See you next week for another episode of the Camp Monsters Podcast.

Thanks again for joining us by the fireside. If you’re having fun here at Camp Monsters summer camp, take a second to like, review, and share the show with your friends. It’s your support that keeps us recording– just ask our Content & Media Strategist, Lucie Brooks. Thanks, and see you again next week.