Camp Monsters

The Top Bunk

Episode Summary

Getting a room at camp with a single bunkbed all to yourself sounds great... until you begin to suspect that you’re not actually alone... and that someone— or something— is up in the top bunk…

Episode Notes

You arrive late to camp and get placed in a room with a single bunkbed all by yourself. The idea of having your own space sounds nice, until you realize you’re not alone... and someone or something is occupying the top bunk…

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 when you were a camper, scared of what might be lurking outside of your cabin.

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Episode Transcription

You gasp awake. It’s hot, and stuffy, and for a moment you can’t remember where you are. Oh yes-- the lower bunk, at camp. Dim light from the window throws shadows and outlines around. Your roommate shifts and groans in their sleep in the bunk above you. You wonder what time it is, what could have wakened you-- then you stop… hold your breath… and listen. Listen as intently as you can.

And you hear it-- just audible above the pounding of your heart. Gentle breathing from the bunk above. Your mouth goes dry and there’s a chill in your limbs in spite of the heat. Because you know-- you’re certain-- that you’re alone in this room. You were alone when you locked the noisy bolt on the heavy door. You were alone when you climbed into your bunk and went to sleep. No one could have come in without waking you-- you’re sure of it. So who or… what… is breathing… in the top bunk?

Then something moves up there. And keeps moving. Like it’s sitting up. Like it’s… like it’s climbing down.

This is the Camp Monsters podcast.

One of the many nice things about a backpack is that it’s easy to take with you quickly-- like when you’re trying to beat the traffic out of town for a weekend camping adventure; or you’re fleeing a haunted bunk-bed in the middle of the night. In either scenario, you’ll be glad you have the YETI Hopper M20. Because it is a backpack… and a soft cooler. Combined. The nifty MagShield magnetic top seals in the cool, resists leaks, and makes opening and closing a breeze. And its rugged DryHide Shell exterior resists the sort of rips and punctures that the creature chasing you is trying to inflict. So next time, don’t just flee into the night. Take a YETI Hopper M20 with you. Because everything is more fun with ice-cold beverages. Check it out at, or at your local REI. Thanks, YETI!

Welcome to our last campfire of the summer. But this isn’t goodbye-- we’ll be back in early September with another eight weekly episodes-- eight more stories of mysterious creatures from around the country. There’s a lizard man that haunts a Carolina swamp, and a smelly ape loose along the gulf coast… There’s a giant ghost-hog in Arkansas and a whole gang of strange apparitions on a narrow forest road in Connecticut… I hope you’ll subscribe, if you haven’t already, and join us for those great stories.

But tonight… tonight we’re here around the fire at summer camp, one more time. The last day of camp is always a tough one-- it’s hard to say goodbye to the friends you’ve made. But it’s also nice to look back and reminisce about a summer well-spent… re-live a few of the funny adventures you got into. And maybe… maybe wonder about some of those camp experiences that… aren’t quite as easy to explain.

Like your very first night in camp. The night that your roommate disappeared.

Well I guess… I guess disappeared isn’t quite the right word, but…

You were late. Getting to camp. Very late. It was night, by the time you arrived-- everyone else was in bed. The sleepy-faced counselor on duty managed to find your welcome packet, then walked you halfway across the campus of the small college that hosted this summer camp, and pointed out the ugly concrete dormitory where you were supposed to sleep. Supposed to.

Room 318. You’ll never forget that number now. You’ll never be able to. But when you arrived outside it, that first night, you had to double-check your packet to make sure that door was yours. It was identical to all the others on that long, drab, echoing hallway, aside from the number stenciled on it. 318. It was yours.

In the brief fan of light as you opened the door you saw a narrow little dorm room, like any other. A pair of bunks on one wall, with the top of a tousled head peeking toward you from the sheets in the top bunk. A pair of desks on the other wall. The narrow gap between ended in the room’s only window.

You entered, and eased the door closed as softly as you could-- which turned out to be almost as quiet as a car crash. You whispered an apology in response to the low moan and shifting that came from the top bunk. You fumbled around getting ready for bed in the dark, managing not to elicit any other sounds from your roommate. Before you climbed in the lower bunk you opened the window as far as any dorm window will go-- which isn’t far-- because the room seemed a little stuffy. Then you lay down and let sleep smother the end of your long, busy day.

Which, as it turned out, wasn’t quite over yet. Because sometime later-- you had no idea how long-- you were awoken by an incredible sound. So loud it seemed like the whole building must be collapsing-- in fact, you felt the bunk bed lurch as you struggled back to sudden consciousness.

But with that cool awareness sometimes maintained in sleep, your waking mind knew exactly what had happened: your roommate had fallen, or-- well-- had thrown himself out of the top bunk with so much force that he’d slammed into one of the desks across the way.

You were only beginning to process this information when more kept pouring in through the limited senses the darkness afforded. You heard the retching, gasping sound of someone with the wind knocked out of them, strangely underlain by the scrambling patter of bare feet running across the tile floor. Then the heavy front door was thrown open with such force that it rebounded off the wall with a sound like a cannon. And the footsteps again, running… sprinting, at a killing pace, receding down the hall until another door slammed open, then closed, and quiet returned.

You were sweating. Not from fear, though-- that would come later. No, it was just that the room was stifling, sickly hot. You slid out from under your damp sheets and stood up, glancing as you did into the top bunk in the light that poured in from the door your roommate had left wide open. Ech! Either your roommate had been sweating even more heavily than you, or… or for once you were glad of these thick, rubberized dorm mattresses. No wonder he was in such a hurry-- it looked like he’d been late for the bathroom. Why would someone with that… situation… pick the top bunk?

Panting in the sweltering air, you stepped to the window. Hard to imagine why your roommate would have closed it in this heat, but it was shut tight. You threw it open again, and only after a sweet lungful of the cool night air did you become aware of the smell in the room. Faint… faint… but sharp. Unpleasant. A smell you remembered, but… but another whiff and it was gone, faded into the background or washed away entirely by the breeze that trickled in through the window.

Tentative heads cast shadows in the light from the doorway. After a few more breaths of night air you plunged back through the hot-box of your room and into the surprisingly-cooler hall. The slamming doors had woken a few people-- you apologized and made excuses for the roommate you’d never met, smiled and shrugged the whole thing off. Then, enjoying the cool, you strolled down to the communal bathroom. Not the ideal place to make introductions, but you thought you ought to make sure your roommate was alright.

But… whether he was or not, he wasn’t in the bathroom. You walked the length of the long hall, looking for another place he might have gone. The stairs were the only other option. Maybe he’d… well, who knew?

You wandered back to 318 again. Phew-- even the door handle was hot. You threw it open and switched on the light. Your roommate hadn’t snuck back while you were looking for him. Maybe he was so embarrassed about his wet bed that he’d never show his face again.

Except… you must have been mistaken. The top bunk didn’t look wet at all now, with the light on. You touched the sheets with a cautious hand-- dry. And the open window must have cooled things off in a hurry, because the temperature in the room was almost back to normal.

You waited around with the light on for a little while longer, but when there was no sign of your roommate returning you switched it off and lay in the dark. And after another long time had passed, something like sleep must have come.

It couldn’t have stayed for too long, though, because dawn was still young in the sky when there was a knock on your door. Had you locked it? Probably, and of course your roommate hadn’t taken his key when he ran out. You put your best, “Aww, no problem: forget about it!” smile on, opened the door… and found three people you didn’t know, none of whom turned out to be your errant roommate.

One was the head camp administrator, and the other two were counselors. They came to tell you that your roommate was “fine,” but had had a shock, and had decided to go home from camp. Well okay. Too bad about that. You asked what kind of shock he’d had, but they didn’t seem to want to tell you. Instead they asked about what had happened the night before. They asked… and kept asking. It became obvious that the administrator suspected you of playing some kind of mean-spirited prank-- some practical joke gone too far.

Maybe you got a little defensive. Maybe your answers were a bit short and surly. But it wasn’t any fun having things insinuated by people who didn’t know you. It all ended with some sharp words, and a definite threat from the administrator that you were walking on thin ice. She and one of the counselors left. The other one lingered behind. You hadn’t caught his first name but he went by his last one anyway, which was Kildare. He had the habit of staring hard directly at you for a few moments before saying anything. And the things he said didn’t all seem to be related, until you thought more about them later. It was… off-putting.

So after the others left he started by staring at you, then asking abruptly if last night really happened the way you said it had. You said yeah. He stared some more, then told you that the college never put anyone in this room during the school year. Didn’t use it at all. Left it empty. You asked why, but he didn’t answer that. After another hard stare he asked if you knew that the old medical school used to be here, right where the dorm was now. You said you hadn’t heard that, and added that you didn’t care.

That gave him a little smile, for some reason, and out of the blue he asked if you’d like to take the empty bunk in his room, rather than stay in 318 alone. You didn’t think you could stand another thirty seconds of his staring, much less being his roommate, but you didn’t say that. You just said thanks but no thanks-- you kind of liked having a room to yourself. He smiled a little wider, and nodded, and as he left told you to remember that it was a standing offer. In case you changed your mind.

You had fun, that day at camp, but you were tired all day long. When it was finally time to head back to 318, you didn’t take long getting ready for bed. And the last thing you did, before you turned out the light and fell asleep, was use a book to prop open the window.

And the first thing you heard, when you woke up in the middle of the night, was the sound of that book hitting the floor.

It took a few seconds for your sleep-addled mind to realize what the sound had been. Your brain wasn’t as sharp as it had been the night before-- this time you were hearing and… and seeing things long moments before you could analyze them. That metal-on-metal whisper… the hasp of the window sliding shut. Moving darkness… limbs… someone walking around at the foot of the bed… silhouette by the window… climbing up into the top bunk. Roommate, it must be. Hope it didn’t get too hot, like last night. Already was… already was pretty warm… Ought to say something… say something to your roommate… shifting around up there. Ought to… … your… … roommate… …

In a single breath you were fully awake. In a single breath you were sweating. The room was hot-- already sweltering, worse than the night before. But this time the sweat had nothing to do with that. You pulled your sheets up higher as you listened... Listened to someone, or… listened to movement in the top bunk above you.

Your mind was racing now. You’d… locked the door. That big, heavy, noisy door. You’d locked it from the inside. Bolted it. Even if someone had a key, you’d have heard them come in. You’d have woken up. No one could have come in without waking you. And the window… three floors up… sheer concrete walls… and it didn’t open wide enough for anyone to get in anyway. So… where had… who could… possibly be… in the top bunk?

Where your feet would have been, if you hadn’t drawn them in toward the rest of your contracted body-- down at the foot of the bed, something reached down. And your heart must have stopped. Something reached!… no… no it was just a corner of the sheet, fallen down from above, moving jerkily as… as whoever it was… shifted…

You were sat up in a ball, in the middle of your bunk, against the wall, with your eyes wide and trying to peer in every direction at once. The sounds of shifting movement were growing more restless, more violent. The edge of the mattress above trembled with it. The room was an oven: the sweat slid down you, unnoticed. And the smell… that faint, sharp smell… chemical… growing stronger…

You wanted to bolt. You wanted to run, but the thought of what awaited you beyond the edge of that top bunk… if you ran you’d have to slide out into the open… within easy reach of whatever it was up there…

The noise of movement above you stopped. There was a stillness, unbroken by your tightly held breath. Spots and rods and flecks of color danced in your straining eyes, and it took you a moment before you recognized… in one corner of them… by the head of the bed, toward the door… it was a moment before you recognized the black outline of a human head, peering down at you between the ladder rungs from the bunk above.

If you screamed you don’t remember it. You wanted to, anyway. And you shot out of the bunk faster than you’d ever thought you could move, so violently that you slammed into the desk across the aisle with such force that for a moment you thought you were going to lose consciousness, and the wish to scream grew so loud within you that you couldn’t hear anything else.

But you could still feel. And when something… cold and stiff brushed against the back of your neck… like an icy clawed hand clutching at you… no pain or lack of breath could stop you. You were at the door before you realized you’d moved at all, and from behind you heard something like wet footsteps approaching, coming after you. You ripped at the door without throwing the deadbolt, then twisted the latch with panicked fingers and tried again– and crushed your two small toes with the corner of the door as you clawed it open with all your weight and strength. Something cold and strong clutched at your waist as you slipped painfully through the door.

And you ran. You ran. Fast like you were floating down the cold tile hall, poor broken toes ignored, through the door onto the stairs and down them with your feet only touching two steps per flight. Slamming through the crash bar on the door into the lobby…

… knocking Kildare sprawling across the lobby floor. He hung on, though. He caught one of your dashing legs and hung on-- if he hadn’t you’d still be running yet. He hung on as you struggled and bellowed and flailed and cried, burning eyes wide on the door to the stairs, watching for the horror that was about to emerge and swallow you both.

But… but… nothing came. Nothing came but, slowly, Kildare’s quiet words, quiet words in easing repetition: that it was alright now… alright now… it was going to be alright. 

It would never. It would never be alright again, but… but slowly you felt better. You calmed a bit. Nothing came down the stairs… Kildare left you long enough to open the door and look, and held it wide so you could see the empty gray concrete steps within.

Then, as counselor on duty that night, he got out the first aid kit and helped do what little can be done for broken toes. He listened to your story while it was fresh-- every terrifying detail. He didn’t act skeptical, and he didn’t act surprised. In fact he said the same thing had happened to the two people placed in 318 the session before. Maybe now the administrator would listen to him, and leave the cursed place empty as it should be…

Then he asked you if you wanted to go home, as the others had done. And when you said no he fell to staring at you, as he was apt to do. Then he tried to give you the key to his own room, and told you the lower bunk there was yours for the rest of camp. But when you waved it away, and you said no, and you stared back at him just as hard… then that little smile crept back onto the corner of his face. And he grabbed two flashlights from behind the lobby desk.

The heat had mostly gone out of room 318 when Kildare opened the door. Aside from the sheets looking slept-in on the top bunk, and one of the desks being knocked slightly askew with a drawer partly open, everything looked the same as when you’d gone to sleep. But there was a feeling… there was still a feeling in the place. You asked Kildare if he felt anything funny about the room, and he looked at you but didn’t say anything. Just opened the window again-- he had to really haul on the latch to shift it-- and sat on one of the desks, facing the bunks.

You pulled one of the desk chairs over in front of the door, so there could be no question of anyone sneaking in that way, even if the huge noisy doors had allowed sneaking. After a whileawhile Kildare softly said that he didn’t figure anything would happen with the light on, and if you were ok with it would you…?

Your heart started to beat a little faster, but you reached up and switched the light off. You breathed quietly at first, straining your ears against the dark, but the night stayed soft and the only sounds were the occasional bump from Kildare as he shifted positions on the uncomfortable desks. You remembered the night before, and started to doubt that anything more would happen. You thought of saying something like that to Kildare, but after all you didn’t mind the vigil. And the chair was pretty comfortable, for an office chair…

Earlier that night you would have sworn you’d never sleep again, but it was a doze at least that you emerged from when Kildare whispered his short phrase. “The window,” he said, and your chin came off your chest and you stared at something that seemed like it must be a dream. A nightmare.

In the steady beam of Kildare’s flashlight, the window was closing itself. Slowly. Smoothly, like hands with even pressure were pushing it to. And when it closed, you watched the latch slowly turn. Until the window was locked. Tightly.

Kildare was transfixed. Staring at the window with his mouth hanging open like he’d never seen one before. Like he’d never see one again. You were transfixed, too, but from across the room you had a wider perspective. So it was you who saw it first, and managed to croak through terror-frozen jaws: “The bed! The bed! The top bunk!”

In your brief sleep the flashlight had fallen from your hand. You swept your hands across your lap in search of it, knocking it onto and across the dark floor. You dove after the skittering sound-- just as another sound rose from over by the bunk. It was a shout, and something like a hiss, and a tremendous struggle. The entire bunk bed was pulled over, and only the angle of the wall kept it from crashing down on the combatants. Kildare’s light spun crazily around the floor, giving you glimpses of his back as he was pressed toward you by… by whatever he was fighting with. At the last moment you tried to get out of the way, but there was nowhere to go-- Kildare tripped over your hands-and-knees form and fell back against the door, toppling the office chair behind you with a crash.

The only thing you could see of his assailant was the outline of legs standing in front of you, which you gamely threw yourself at, trying to buy Kildare time to regain his feet. The legs as you clutched them felt thin, and wet, and cold—terribly cold. As they shifted in your desperate grip it felt like the slimy skin that covered them was tearing and twisting: sloughing wetly off under your hands. And the smell-- that you’d smelled so faintly before-- now it was overpowering. Overpowering and unmistakable: formaldehyde. That smell that filled the science classroom, just before a dissection.

You gagged so violently that your whole body heaved, and at that moment something took hold of the door and flung it open with so much force that the chair, and you, and Kildare were thrown half-clear and half-crushed behind the opening door as something ran out into the hall. You scrambled on your hands and knees after it, and just managed to catch a glimpse of… a shadow, maybe. Something like a faint shadow passing over the floor and walls of the long hall at an incredible pace… and then disappearing.

You still don’t know what it was, in room 318.  All Kildare could remember was that it was cold, and strong– and in the one brief glimpse he’d got before it came for him, it looked like something that… had been human.  After that you took Kildare up on his offer of the lower bunk in his room. He was nursing a broken arm for the rest of the summer, which made him restless sometimes at night… but there was nothing more comforting to you than lying there listening to the noise, and knowing exactly who was up there.

As for room 318… last you heard, the summer camp has permanently stopped using it. Just as the college does during the rest of the year. So it sits, closed and locked and empty… empty except for a couple of dusty old desks… and a bunk bed… and whatever it is… in the top bunk.

Well… one last time this summer, we’ve talked the fire down to ashes. Guess it’s time to head back to the dorms. Dibs on the… bottom bunk. Bottom bunk this time.

If you liked these summer camp stories and you want to help us do them again next year, write a review and say so! Or if you’ve already left a review and your app won’t let you leave another, write an email to: podcasts at REI dot com. The folks who read those reviews and emails are the same ones who decide how many Camp Monsters there will be next year. Thanks for listening, and thanks for your help.

Another thing that helps make the Camp Monsters podcast happen are the good people at YETI. Well… the good people and, more specifically, the YETI Rambler 30 ounce tumbler with MagSlider lid. All this writing and recording makes for late nights. Sometimes very late nights. The kind of nights where ten ounces of hot coffee? Twenty ounces of iced tea? Just aren’t going to cut it. Whether it’s a night of serious work or a day of serious play, sometimes you need all thirty ounces of your YETI Rambler 30 ounce tumbler to get you through. If you have one, you know what I mean. Check it out at, or in store at your local REI. Thanks, YETI!

Camp Monsters is part of the REI podcast network, and legend has it that it’s haunted by the spirits of our Executive Producers: Paolo “The Friendly Ghost” Mottola, and Joe “The Even Friendlier Ghost” Crosby. Those bare footsteps you heard running down the hall belong to our Engineer, Nick Patri, who likes to be comfortable while he’s editing, and who just heard that the vending machine at the end of the hall is now stocking Wisconsin cheese. That same vending machine will soon be haunted by the ghost of yours truly, writer and host Weston Davis… as soon as Nick finds out I made up that part about the cheese. Staring in terror at the window closing by itself is our Associate Producer, Jenny Barber. And invisibly closing that window with her awesome mind-power is our Senior Producer, Chelsea Davis: because she’s just trying to maintain the AC and keep the energy bills down, ok?

As always, the stories we tell here are just that: stories. Some of them are based on things that people claim to have seen and experienced, but it’s up to you to decide what you believe… and how to explain away what you don’t. Thanks for listening, sharing, writing reviews, and spreading the word. You’re the reason Camp Monsters keeps recording, and the reason we’ll be back again this September with a whole new set of episodes. Thanks, and see you around the campfire.