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The Unicorn Prince


OK, so there's a proper order to camping. First, got to pick a good spot, get your tent set up, help out all the clowns who don't know what's going on. Send everybody to go play down by the river, the lake, the stream, the pond. No, Michael (ph), put the iPad away; go get dirty. Now it's time to start the fire. Kindling first - take your time. I know everybody's hungry - hamburgers, hot dogs, lemonade, a hot chocolate for the kids. The adults start drinking whatever it is they drink. Now send everybody out searching for sticks.

Make sure they're long enough.

And finally, that fire is finding its rhythm. Put another log on for this next part. It happens every time; that last bite of marshmallow, that's when the sun goes down. Red and orange explode into the horizon. Finally, everybody kind of calms down, gathers around, starts looking at the fire. Still got to wait. There's plenty of time; nobody's going anywhere. When it's just a little bit darker, then you start off like a little bit of history. All right, you know the first people - the first people to live in this area, they didn't believe in dying. They didn't believe in it. They just thought everyone at some point took a long sleep. That's why they dressed their departed in bed clothes. They wrapped them in blankets just like they were tucking them in for the night. And they'd sing lullabies to them every single night because they wanted them to stay sleep. It was said that when one of them woke up, they'd wake up mean. And maybe - I don't know - maybe it's because people forgot to sing, they got too busy, moved away - maybe that's why right here, right where we put down our tents, after the sun goes down, there's been reports of figures - figures wrapped in white rags wandering in this forest and every single one before they grab you with their cold, cold hands and demand that you sing them a song - yeah, nighty (ph) night.

Well, today on SNAP JUDGMENT from PRX and NPR, we proudly present "Campfire Tales," amazing stories from our favorite campers. No, they were not happy campers. My name - my name is hide under the covers until hope returns in the morning. I hope somebody's making pancakes because you're listening to SNAP JUDGMENT.


WASHINGTON: Now, our first story is from Maria Serratore-Gunter. Maria's a hard-core snapper and the winner of our scary story contest. But as you may or may not know, in order to be a winner, you first have to journey through the darkness. Maria's story is performed right here by our own resident sorceress, Julia DeWitt.

JULIA DEWITT, BYLINE: My birthday is the day after Christmas, so I get twice as many presents as everyone else. But my favorites are always the one I get for my aunt. For years she's bought me collectible dolls, and now at the end of high school, my collection is massive. But I'm still excited to add another one. I hold and touch the box from my aunt leading up to my birthday. I want to open it early so badly. I'm normally really patient about gifts, but this package is different; it's calling to me.

Finally, Christmas is over and my birthday arrives. I remove the wrapping, open the box, slowly peal back the protective foam and there's this doll. My mother, sister and father, puzzled by my reaction, all want to see this doll. I remove it from the box and place him on the table in front of us. It's a male figure with a broad chest, maybe 18 inches tall, wears gray, satin pantaloons and a pink, satin, open-collared shirt. The exposed legs and arms are stark white, each leading to dark, black hooves instead of feet and hands. The porcelain face is that of a horse with blazing green eyes ringed in yellow with flecks of red. On top of his head is not a hat or a crown, but a glimmering, twisted horn of silver. It's a beastly unicorn prince. We look at it stunned, and it stares back at us from. From every angle, it seems to be looking at us with that menacing glare. Finally, my mother breaks the silence; put it away so we can have cake. I place it on a shelf across the room, and we proceed with the cake and the festive mood is restored. And then...


DEWITT: It's the mirror in the guest room. The mirror is mounted to the wall shared with the shelf on which the doll sits. And it's fallen off the wall. The mirror has simply broken to pieces. Not knowing what else to do, we clean up the mess and just go to bed. I take the doll with me in my room and put it on my dresser.

That night, I wake up in the middle of the night. My bedroom has become so cold. It's late December, but this is Houston, Texas, so the temperatures at night rarely dip below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. I step out of my room, and I'm surprised to find that on the other side of the door, the temperature's much warmer. So I grab my pillow and a blanket, and I go to sleep on the couch in the family room. I'm just about to drift off to sleep when I hear a noise coming from the kitchen. It's like the click-clack tapping of feet - little feet and lots of them. I convince myself maybe it's a bug outside or some water dripping from the tap, but it persists within a regular pattern.


DEWITT: Whatever is making this noise is just steps from me, which means that it can see me. I'm so frightened that I can't move, and I start to cry. My mom hears me, and she comes out to the living room. Why are you crying? And what you doing out here? I tell her about the cold in my room and the sounds of little feet walking across the tiles in the kitchen. She clearly doesn't believe me, so she turns out the light and lies down next to me to prove I'm just imagining things. And immediately, the clattering starts again. She grips my arm, slowly turns on the light and then she goes to the kitchen; nothing's there. She stays up reading next to me the rest of the night with the lights on.


DEWITT: The next day, my mother calls her sister to ask about the doll. All my aunt says is it called to me. It caught her eye, but she wasn't convinced it was the right gift for me. She went home that evening without a gift at all and had a dream about that doll. So she returned to the shop the next day to buy it for me.

I decide that the doll has to go. I take it outside to our concrete slab of patio to smash it. The first strike on the concrete, I brace for the flying shards of porcelain, but nothing happens. So I strike it again - nothing. I am sure a third time will do it, but then still nothing. Shocked, I turn its face towards me and the red-rimmed eyes meet my own. And then I feel something come over me, but it isn't fear, more like an acceptance of the doll's evil. And then almost without thinking, I take it back into the house and leave it on the kitchen counter just lying on its back with those wild eyes staring up at the ceiling.

That night, the temperature in my bedroom is normal, but I'm still too scared to sleep. I only finally fall asleep when I take the nightlight from the bathroom and place it on the wall next to my bed. And then suddenly, I'm awake again. That noise, the click-clack tapping of the little feet are back, and I can hear it getting louder, closer. I pull the covers tight around me and repeat to myself, it's just your imagination. It's just your imagination. It's just your imagination.

And then I see the light - a light so bright it's blinding, and it's pouring into my room through the cracks around, above and below my door. I try to turn the lamp on, but I can't move. I try to call out, but as wide as I open my mouth and as hard as I try to scream, only air escapes my lungs. No sound comes out at all. I'm paralyzed with terror when the door begins to shake loudly, like someone violently trying to get in. The light's getting brighter. I need to shield my eyes, but I'm too afraid to look away. And then like a bolt of lightning, the shaking suddenly stops.

At first, I still can't move. But then as the tension slowly recedes, I smell fire. My muscles relax, and I reach for the lamp. Cautiously, I creep out of my door and open it. I can see a warm glow from the family room. I call out, who's there? My father's voice returns sternly, you should be in bed. I approach him in the family room. He started a fire in the fireplace and is stoking it. He puts his arm around me. You can go to sleep now, he says gently as he kisses my head. I peer into the fireplace, and I see it - the last smoldering remains of the doll.


WASHINGTON: Thank you, Maria Serratore-Gunter, for your story. And did you hear it snappers? Beware of the unicorn prince. That piece was performed by Julia DeWitt. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.