Roy and The Monster Of The North Latrine
All Roy stories are based upon real events as told by Roy’s father who kept a journal documenting his son’s adventures with animals
Roy didn’t believe the Monster of the North Latrine story. Nevertheless, he had to admit that he had to think twice about visiting the latrine that dark August night.
Earlier that evening, after the last notes of taps had faded over the YMCA summer camp, Roy’s counselor John, told Roy and his bunkmates the story of the “Monster of the North Latrine”. He claimed the story originated many years ago and was about a small traveling circus that played the farm country towns of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The circus pitched a tent and had several animal acts, acrobats, and clowns to entertain the country folk. They also had a small sideshow including several mutant animals. One animal was advertised as being half human… and half gorilla. Roy did not believe the story but his bunkmates did.
As the story was told, one night this half-human, half-animal creature escaped and was never recaptured. For many years thereafter, farmers claimed that someone or some creature stole their chickens and milked their cows dry. Occasionally farmers found dead farm animals in the field that were partially eaten. Rumor was the escaped sideshow attraction was to blame. Supposedly, the monster was still alive and living in the thick woodlands around the area.
John told them that, every so often over the past twenty years, a mysterious, hairy creature prowled around the North Latrine at night and frightened campers. In addition, there was evidence that someone or something recently had tried to break into the food storage building behind the camp dinning hall. When John finished the story he said goodnight to his kids, and left them in total darkness. The flickering light of a new moon shining through the canopy of leaves around the cabin cast eerie shadows.
Roy’s bunkmates lay in their bunks frozen with fear, and listened to the night sounds. Their fears increased when they heard growls and sniffing in the dark around the cabin. John and other counselors were out there making the animal sounds. Finally, they tired of their little joke, left the cabin area, and walked around the lake to the bright lights of the Canteen.
Roy, unlike his bunkmates, knew the sounds they heard were phony, but did not tell them because he did not want to spoil the atmosphere of the spooky story. Besides, he had heard the Monster story for the last two years. The story was a little different each time he heard it. Roy remembered what I had told him about legends and superstitions. They usually changed and were elaborated upon each time they were told. I simply told him to use common sense and not believe in silly or impossible stories just because someone else believes it, or because an important person like a camp counselor told it.
I remember warning him that sometimes very intelligent and educated people are superstitious about certain things. At first, it didn’t seem to make sense to Roy, but when I told him that there was a natural explanation for superstition, he understood. “Most superstitions,” I said “are taught by adults to children, who find it easy to believe in fairy tales, bad luck black cats, and Halloween ghosts. Even after they grow up and get an education many adults retain their childhood superstitions and are too trusting of the stories adults tell them.”
Roy knew that the Monster story was untrue, but he also knew that legends and superstitions are sometimes based upon actual events. Maybe there really was some kind of wild animal in the woods, or maybe the whole story was a complete fraud. Roy decided to find out for himself later that night.
Roy intended to stay awake for a while, but the calls of whip-poor-wills in the night and deep base chugerums of bullfrogs lulled him to sleep. Sometime in the early morning he awoke up to light patter of rain on the cabin roof. John had returned to the cabin hours ago and was in his bunk fast asleep, as were all the kids.
Now was the perfect time for an excursion up the dark trail through the woods to the old latrine. There was supposed to be a light over the screen door entrance of the latrine and several inside, but the bulbs had burned out and no one had replaced them. Roy got out his flashlight, slipped into his sneakers, threw his poncho over his head and sneaked out of the cabin, careful not to let the screen door slam shut.
Roy looked up the hill and could barely make out the dark shape of the latrine building. It was a small building with one long, chipped porcelain urinal and ten toilet stalls that all drained into a deep, smelly pit under the building. Holes had been cut into a heavy board and old toilet seats had been nailed over each hole. Flies, mosquitoes and spiders made the latrine their home and it was no fun to sit there. What if a spider bit your bottom? What if the seat broke and you fell into the pit below? What if you couldn’t climb out? What if… Roy could think of many more “what ifs”, but resisted. I had often told Roy to use self-control and avoid wasting time on useless thoughts. He decided not allow himself to think about all those scary “what ifs”.
The trail up to the latrine was muddy; the stones in the path were wet and slippery due to the rain. Roy almost slipped several times. To make matters worse his flashlight flickered and went out halfway up the path to the latrine. Finally he reached its screen door entrance and paused. It was dark inside and he had to admit that his heart was beating faster than usual. But, Roy was determined to continue his investigation. Roy looked into the woods behind and then to each side of the building. All was quiet except for splatter of rain on trees and roof of the building. Even the whip-poor-wills and frogs were silent now. Roy summoned up his courage and pulled the screen door open. It made a horrible squeaking sound, loud enough it seemed, to be heard by the whole camp. Roy stepped inside, looked around and wished that his flashlight worked. He was greeted with the very unpleasant smell associated with all latrines. It was darker inside than out and pale moonbeams flickering in through a row of screens along the wall provided the only light. As soon as Roy’s eyes adjusted to darkness he made his way down the isle and looked into each toilet stall. When he got to the last one he stopped and turned around. So far no monsters, and he was proving to himself that he was brave. It was at that precise moment that he heard something.
Someone or something was trying to open the screen door. Roy stepped backwards into the last stall and lost his balance. He fell back and ended up falling backwards right onto an open black hole. Had the hole been a little larger Roy might have fallen into the smelly pit below. He was about to get up when he heard the screen door slowly screech open and then, moments later, slam shut. Roy sat still, frozen to the toilet seat, wondering who or what was in the building with him. It could not be someone from the camp because he would have seen a flashlight.
Roy figured that it had to be something else, but what? Roy heard some shuffling, heavy steps coming his way down the aisle so he cautiously peered around the partition separating the stalls and saw a large, dark shape slowly coming toward him. Whatever it was saw him and stopped. It slowly rose up to its full height that Roy guessed was at least six feet. Now, Roy’s suspicions were confirmed. He knew what was standing before him and he was scared!
Roy was cornered by a large, adult, black bear, native to the woodlands of New York State. Roy knew that given a chance bears would usually run from humans, unless they were protecting cubs or were alarmed. This bear was not about to run, so Roy had to think fast. Thoughts of his encounter with the Holstein bull that charged his little sister, Silly Millie, several years ago flashed through his mind. Maybe he should try the same thing again.
Roy began to talk to the huge bear in a soft voice. “I’m sorry I alarmed you Mr. Bear. I really think you are a beautiful animal and I love animals. I want to be your friend.” Roy knew the bear did not understand his words but he also knew that sometimes words are not as important as other things such as body language, tone of voice, odor or facial expression. Roy hoped this bear was in a good sensing mood.
“I promise not to hurt you if you don’t hurt me.” he said half joking. The standing bear let out a woof-like sound and then dropped back down to all fours. It slowly approached Roy and sniffed the strange little human standing before it. The bear’s big nose sniffed Roy’s wet poncho and then pressed against his face. Roy could feel the bear’s warm, moist breath on his face. Then something strange happened, just like it happened with the big bull. The bear’s wet tongue slurped across his face.
Roy took a big breath of relief, slowly reached up, and put both his hands on the bear’s huge head. He could hardly believe what was happening. The bear, that could easily have killed him with a swipe of its paw or a bite from its big teeth, was actually licking his face while Roy pulled on its thick ears and petted its huge, furry face. As in the past, Roy did not fully understand how such a wonderful thing like this could happen. All he knew was that his love of animals had, in some mysterious way, enabled him to communicate with them. Or, was the bear just fascinated by the smell of the cookies that he and his bunk mates had consumed earlier that evening? He could hardly wait to write home to Maggie and me, and of course to his sister, Silly Millie. He knew we would be interested to hear about this friendly bear.
Suddenly, a low rumble came from deep down in the bear’s throat. The bear turned its head to listen and it sniffed the air. It had heard something that Roy had not. Roy stood on tiptoe and looked out the screened window high on the wall. Way down the trail he saw a flashlight coming their direction from the camp. Someone was making his way up the trail to use the latrine, and Roy now feared for that person’s safety.
As the figure drew closer Roy recognized the yellow poncho. It was his counselor John, who probably had too much to eat and drink earlier that evening. The bear swung around, padded back to the screen door, and rose up on its hind legs in a defensive posture, ready and waiting for the unsuspecting counselor. John had awakened a few minutes earlier with an urgent need to use the latrine. He was on a mission and walking fast so when he threw the screen door open and rushed in he collided with a huge, hairy, smelly, wet, black, shape. The collision knocked John backwards and to the ground where he stared up at the snarling, dark monster standing over him. In a flash, John scrambled to his feet and beat a stumbling retreat down the trail screaming at the top of his voice all the way.
Roy and the bear stepped outside and watched John disappear in the darkness toward the cabins. Soon there were lights and shouts from down below. John was waking up the whole camp. Roy turned to the bear again and rubbed its massive wet head. He knew that it was best for the bear to head back into the forest away from the turmoil below, so he gently tugged on the bear’s ears and led it away from the latrine into the woods. Roy patted the bear’s head and said “ I love you big bear but you must go back to your home in the woods away from here.” Somehow the bear must have received the little boy’s message and it shuffled off. The bear stopped several times to look back at Roy before it finally disappeared into the woods.
By now there was all sorts of noise from the camp below and at least two dozen flashlights were shining up toward the latrine. Roy picked up John’s abandoned flashlight and started back down the trail to the cabins.
When he reached the cabins he was surrounded by the camp staff, that up till then had not missed his absence. They told him that some kind of monster had attacked John. They wanted to know if Roy was OK and had he seen anything up there? Roy thought it best not to mention his encounter with the bear. They probably would not have believed him anyway had he told them what had happened.
Roy did tell them that he heard John’s shouts but, because his flashlight was not working, it was too dark to see anything. Roy saw his wide-eyed bunkmates peering though the cabin screens at him. Then John, who had cleaned himself up after peeing in his pants approached him to see if he was OK.
With an innocent smile on his face, Roy handed John’s flashlight back to him. John never did figure out exactly what Roy knew about that night’s events, though he suspected that Roy new more than he let on.
Roy wrote home to Maggie and me the next day and told us about his adventure with the bear. I wrote back a few days later that I was glad he was not hurt and was delighted to hear another story about Roy’s ability to communicate with animals. I also told Roy that his counselor, John, would most probably add a new chapter to the story about the Monster of the North Latrine, and by doing that, the story would become scarier than it was before.
When Roy grew older, he came to understand the full scope of my words. He had a better understanding of human nature and knew how easily stories are exaggerated when they are retold over and over. Real events, when mixed with superstition, ignorance and imagination are the basis for many fairy tales and legends. Mythical stories like the Monster of the North Latrine, are retold over and over at summer camps and around campfires to this very day.