Killer at Kosy Kove
© Copyright 2022 by Thom Shilling
Photo courtesy of Ivan Samkov at Pexels.
In a few hours we’d be shrouded in darkness. We had driven four hundred miles since leaving home and the endless hours in a station wagon with four preteen children were taking a toll. With each mile I was barraged with repeated complaints: “Mom, he’s touching me!” or “Move over!” or “Dad, I need to go to the bathroom,” and the constant repetition of the most annoying question on any road trip - “Are we there yet?”
I relished the thought of stopping for the night.
We were taking a family vacation on a tight budget. That meant we loaded 1,000 pounds of crap into our 1977 Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser Station Wagon and embarked on a driving and camping expedition across the southeastern United States.
If there was an upside to our trip, the children’s school let out a week before the other schools in America. We had our pick of the best campsites at the best campgrounds. All parks would be litter free and tidy, with the smell of fresh paint. Yes, for once we would stay at a park that looked exactly like those in travel brochures.
Anxious from sitting in the car, the kids needed to be set free so they could burn-off their endless energy. Consequently, they were becoming more creative and more obnoxious. My wife reached her limits of vacation frustration about the same time the children started to play, Guess That Road-Kill - a game they invented whereby they took turns trying to identify the furry little waffles of flattened critters lying on the roadside.
Finally my wife pleaded, “Honey, isn’t it about time to stop for the night?”
Like a maniac on a mission, I was hell-bent on driving as many miles as I could before dark, but I knew she was right. We needed to stop.
I held off stopping as long as I could but the words, “Where do you want to stop?” escaped my lips.
“I don’t know. Where do you want to stop?” challenged my wife.
For the next fifteen minutes we volleyed the phrase, “Where do you want to stop?” until finally I snarled, “Dammit! We’re staying at the next campground we come to!”
Silence blanketed the car for several awkward moments, until we saw the sign next to the interstate: KOZY KOVE KAMPGROUND NEXT EXIT.
Taking a deep breath, I grunted. “Well? What do you think?”
Short on patience, my wife responded with a menacing, “FINE!”
The kids cheered as we pulled off the highway. The sign posted at the end of the exit ramp had a large red arrow with twelve inch tall words - KOZY KOVE KAMPGROUND, THIS WAY!
We turned on a four-lane road and drove for several miles. The road narrowed to two lanes for a few miles and then the pavement ended. We drove another mile on a dirt trail before we saw the next sign. YOU’RE NOT LOST. KOZY KOVE KAMPGROUND IS JUST AHEAD!
My wife exhaled loudly. “I don’t know. Are you sure you want to go there?”
By this point I was committed. Our search for the Holy Grail of campgrounds was at hand. I forced a tired smile to my face. “It’ll be okay. They’ve located the campground off the highway and put it back in the woods so we won’t have to hear the trucks running up and down the interstate all night.”
“I suppose, but I’ve got a funny feeling about this place.”
I patted her knee reassuringly as I drove up the trail, but secretly I wondered if we were doing the right thing. A few minutes later we started up a long hill; just before the crest there was another sign. GOOSE IT! YOU’RE ALMOST THERE! KOZY KOVE KAMPGROUND JUST AHEAD!
“Goose it?” quizzed my wife.
Before I could respond my oldest son shouted, “Hey, look at that!”
As we topped the hill, we saw a man wearing tattered bib overalls and a large straw hat. He raised his double barrel shotgun over his head and hollered something in Carolinian gibberish. Although I couldn’t understand one word, I nodded and waved as we passed. Every other set of eyes in the car locked on him.
Once again my wife echoed, “I’ve got a funny feeling about this place.”
With all of the conviction and credibility of a used car salesman I said, “Honey, that’s just how they say ‘hello’ in rural South Carolina. There’s nothing to worry about.”
Suddenly the children all yelled, “We’re here!” and began to chatter excitedly.
I pulled into the campground and parked in front of the general store. The doors to the car opened and our four kids ran in four directions. Before I could get out of the car my wife said, “Look! There isn’t anyone else in the campground. Do you think they’re open?”
“The door to the general store is open. I’ll go see.”
The general store reminded me of something from a Steinbeck novel based in the Great Depression. Old and weatherworn, it had a wide wrap-around porch, twelve-foot-long benches on each side of the door, a hitching rail across the front of the building, and the siding had not been touched by paint in over sixty years. I opened the squeaky screen door and walked inside.
A young lady in her early twenties sat behind the counter reading a magazine. When she saw me she smiled. “Hi y’all. Can I help you?”
“Are you open?
“The season doesn’t start until next week, but we’re open.”
“Can I get a campsite for the night?”
“Sure can!” Then she slid a registration card across the counter.
As I completed the form, she looked out the door and saw my station wagon. “Do you want a site with electricity?”
“No, all I have is a couple small tents.”
“Well, you go on out there and pick yourself a campsite.” She laughed and added, “They’re all open.”
“I’d like to buy some firewood.”
She gestured towards the axe next to the door. “I don’t have any to sell, but you can find some up in them woods. Just help yourself.”
When I got back to my car I drove to the best campsite and set-up the tents as the kids collected firewood. Fifteen minutes later the tents were pitched, firewood collected, and supper started.
While I put the finishing touches on our meal, my wife and children explored the campgrounds. They ended up at the shelter house, playing darts and shuffleboard until I called them for dinner. As the kids wolfed down their food, I noticed the distressed look on my wife’s face.
“What’s the matter, honey?”
“When I took the kids to the shelter house, I noticed a man looking out the window of the trailer next to the general store.”
When I glanced at the green and dingy white trailer she whispered, “Don’t look! He’ll see you!”
My eyes turned back to her vexed face.
“This place gives me the creeps. Now we have a man watching us.”
Using my most comforting voice I rationalized, “He’s probably a shut-in and doesn’t have anything else to do. Don’t worry, it’ll be okay.”
As I took my first bite of food, my worried wife asked, “Do the words, ‘squeal like a pig’ ring a bell?”
I choked and food shot out of my mouth at the reference to the film Deliverance; a movie we had seen two nights earlier.
The kids jabbered loudly as they ate their supper but my wife and I finished our meal in silence. As soon as the dishes were done, I suggested we take a walk around the campground and see if the man was still watching. My wife didn’t like the idea, but as the children and I started walking she followed. “I’m not gonna stay here by myself!”
We made the turn towards the shelter house and my wife whispered, “He’s still there.”
I strained to see the man but every time I looked toward the trailer my wife would warn me not to look.
A little after dark we returned to our campsite, and I built a glowing fire. We started to sing some campfire songs and everyone melted into the vacation spirit. Lost in the friendly radiance of the flames, even my wife relaxed for a while. As the kids started to settle down, I began to tell ghost stories. It seemed my audience hung on every word until a voice directly behind my wife said, “Hello folks.”
We all jumped, but after the shadowy figure entered the ring of light around the fire, we realized it was the clerk from the general store.
“I’m gettin’ ready to turn in. I thought I’d stop and see if y’all needed anything.”
After my heart sank from my throat, I thought I’d ask the young woman about the man in the trailer. “Excuse me but my wife noticed . . . ” I stopped talking as soon as I felt an elbow dig into my ribs.”
My wife forced a smile to her face. “Uh, I noticed we might be making too much noise. We’ll be a little quieter if you’re going to bed.”
“No, no, you folks are on vacation. You just go right ahead and enjoy yourselves.”
“We’re about to go to bed too,” said my wife. “We’ll see you in the morning.”
No sooner than the girl melted back into the darkness, I helped our two sons into their pup tent as my wife tucked our two daughters into their sleeping bags in our tent. Before returning to the fire, I faded deep into the darkness to get a better look at the trailer window where my wife had seen the man. Now, he was not there. Once I noticed my wife sitting at the fire, I hurried to join her. Placing another log on the fire, I whispered, “Well, nobody is watching us now.”
My wife stared into the fire but said nothing.
“It’s been a long day. We should get to bed soon. If we leave by eight in the morning, we should be in Savannah by noon.”
“Okay, but I’m going to the restroom to clean-up a little before I turn in.”
As I watched the dying embers in the fire, my wife gathered a few things from the tent and went to the showers located behind the general store. However, in a matter of moments she hurried back to my side. “I thought you said he was gone.”
“I didn’t see anyone.”
“Well, he’s still there.”
I bristled, “What do you want me to do about it?” As soon as the statement escaped my lips, I realized I chose the wrong words.
How can a one-word response be so powerful? I swear I could hear the exclamation point. After a long silence I muttered, “The fire’s about out. Why don’t we call it a night?”
I felt the tension mount as we left the fire and slipped into our sleeping bags. Unable to doze-off, I stared at the walls of the tent as my imagination ran wild with paranoia. The eerie orange glow from the dying fire cast silhouettes of murderous backwoodsmen approaching our tent. Every sound in the night reminded me of our pending doom. Each time a twig snapped I was certain someone holding a bloody hunting knife stood just outside our camp. When an owl screeched, I knew it was someone’s final blood-curdling scream. Every time fatigue forced me into a guarded slumber, I was roused by my wife whispering, “Did you hear that?”
During the longest night of my life, I rose to check on the boys several times. Each time I would place another log on the fire and watch it burn down to ash, laugh at my absurd behavior, get back in my sleeping bag, hear another noise, and then start the routine all over again. Finally, I heard pans clattering on our picnic table. I grabbed the flashlight and a butcher knife. This time I would protect my family from a Southern serial killer. I stood as tall as I could in a four-foot-high tent, threw the door flap back, lunged at the murderous aggressor as I shouted, “You son-of- a . . .”
Before I attacked the Killer at Kozy Kove I tumbled out of the tent. Falling flat on my face I saw a pillaging squirrel disappear up a tree.
Startled out of her shallow sleep, my wife screamed, “Oh my God. What happened?”
“Uh, nothing. I can’t sleep so I thought I’d brew a pot of coffee.”
My wife joined me outside the tent as the eastern sky began to lighten, and one by one the kids woke and gathered around the morning fire. Before the sun rose above the horizon, the boys and I struck camp as my wife and daughters made a cold breakfast. We packed everything except a fresh change of clothes into the station wagon and then drove to the general store. Relieved we had made it through the night, we decided to celebrate with a hot shower before we left Kozy Kove Kampground.
My wife and daughters headed to the women’s showers and the boys and I to the men’s. Still early, everyone was quiet until I broke the silence when I saw the showers. “Crap! Pay showers!” echoed through the hollows of central South Carolina.
Over the years, I have noticed certain eccentricities about myself. For instance, I might spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars on a vacation, but when faced with a pay shower that charges a dime for two minutes or ten minutes of hot water for a quarter, it becomes a personal challenge to spend the quarter but make sure my two sons and I all completed our showers using that one coin. Needless to say, the ten-minute shower will be used as an example of insanity for as long as my sons and I live. “Quick! Quick! Get wet! Now, you soap-up while your brother gets wet. Move over. I need to get in for a second. Quick, rinse!”
As soon as the three of us were covered in soap suds, the water shut off. “What are we gonna do?” asked my second son.
I wiped soap from my eyes and lifted my pants from the bench next to the showers. “Crap! I’m out of change.”
I offered a towel to my youngest son. “Wrap this around you and get some change from the car.”
“I don’t have anything on,” carped the boy. “Why don’t you get the quarter?”
I said the only thing I could think of. “Because it’s your turn.”
He frowned as he tried to come up with another excuse.
Not wanting to be the coin gopher, my oldest son chimed in. “It was my turn last time.”
What last time? I just made it up. I shot a fearful scowl at my youngest boy as I offered the towel a second time. “Then it’s settled. It’s your turn.”
Without question, he wrapped the towel around his waist and retrieved a fist full of change. A couple minutes later we rinsed and dressed. The hot water continued to flow well after we returned to the station wagon. The whole absurd scene defies sanity.
The boys and I waited impatiently for another ten minutes while my wife and daughters finished their primping - they used three quarters to take their showers. Those damned spendthrifts.
Desperately wanting to put Kozy Kove Kampground in the rearview mirror, I started the car as soon as my wife sat in the front seat next to me. I stared straight ahead as I put the transmission in gear; my big brown puppy dog eyes were too embarrassed to face her. “Honey, I’m really sorry. I should have listened to you and stayed someplace else. I feel like I’ve ruined our vacation. Just give me a chance and I’ll make sure the rest of the trip is flawless.”
I pulled away from the general store and started down the lane leaving Kozy Kove Kampground before my wife responded. “I shouldn’t tell you this, but when I left the showers I stopped at the window of the trailer to give that man a piece of my mind.”
“Well, since we didn’t get chased out of the camp by a maniac with a chainsaw, is it safe to assume he was just a disabled man stuck sitting at the window and watching anything he could see?”
Mumbling under her breath, my wife muttered, “Uh, no. That wasn’t it.”
I looked at her face for the first time since she got in the car. It seemed she was avoiding my stare. “Well?”
“Tell him mommy,” said my oldest daughter.
“Tell me what?”
“I stopped at the window, but before I could say anything I realized I had been watching a window fan.”
I shouted, “A window fan?”
My wife covered her face with her hand. I couldn’t tell if she was laughing or crying. “Yes, a window fan. If you look at it from this angle it looks just like a head and set of shoulders. I thought . . . ”Before she could say another word I thundered, “The fan man! Are you telling me I stayed up all night because of a window fan?”
Still covering her face, my wife’s shoulders bounced as she blurted, “Yes, it was the fan man.”
As we left Kozy Kove, our minds roamed free to dream about the horrific Fan Man. From that point forward, every time we took another family camping trip we always remember the fan man . . . Always watching. Always waiting.