How to Survive Camping is a series of Horror stories published on the r/nosleep subreddit by author Bonnie Queen under the username faintig--goat. It revolves around a campsite set on "old land", making it home to many odd, folkloric, and often dangerous beings.
Each story is told from the perspective of Kate, the campsite owner, and recounts how she deals with the many creatures living there, and ensures that the majority of campers survive their stay. In order to help the latter, she put together a guide titled "How to Survive Your Camping Experience", which contains a handful of rules such as "do not stare at unusually large deers", "never trust a man without a shadow", and "stay hydrated". Of course, there will always be some who can't be bothered to take the rules seriously, which usually ends very badly for them.
Due to r/nosleep having a policy of never breaking character (i.e. comments from both authors and readers must be written pretending the stories are undoubtedly real), a lot of additional details can be found in the comments, provided by the accounts of both Kate and her newest employee "Turtle". Advice and suggestions from readers are also occasionally referenced directly within the story.
The full list of rules can be found here. The campgrounds now have an official website, which also lists all the stories so far. Bonnie Queen also has a website with a listing her other works, found here.
How to Survive Camping provides examples of:
- All Myths Are True: Several of the beings and creatures that roam the campsite are inspired by actual folklore. This is especially true of those that appear during winter: the Yule Cat (Icelandic folklore), Shulikun (Slavic folklore), Perchta (Germanic folklore), and even Saint Nicholas himself (Christian folklore).
- All There in the Manual:
- The campsite itself is never named, but the official website refers to it as "Goat Valley Campgrounds".
- While the woman with extra eyes is not given a name within the stories themselves, one of the comments by Turtle states that she introduced herself to her as "Sally". She also states however that her name changes depending on who she is telling it to.
- And I Must Scream: This is the fate that awaits those who break rule #4 and offense the dancers. One person is found to have been dismembered, its body parts scattered around the campsite, and the upper half of its head placed on a stake... yet the latter was still conscious, and visibly suffering horrible pain. Thankfully, pulling the surrounding stakes from the ground allowed him to finally die for good.
- Another Dimension: Campers sometimes accidentally end up in the gray world, a world that looks like the campsite, a silent, seemingly depopulated world from which the color seemed to have been drained. The only way out i, as stated in rule #5, to beg whatever being inhabits this world for help and hope that it is in a merciful mood. There are allegedly other creatures living there, notably a disembodied half-bird hybrid, but this might be a case of Unreliable Narrator.
- Appearance Is in the Eye of the Beholder: The man with a skull cup appears differently to every person it interacts with. This◊ is what he looks like to Kate, but other people for instance see him as a woman instead.
- Casts No Shadow: The man with no shadow. He is the reason why rule #17 advises you to make sure someone casts a shadow before you pursue any kind of conversation with them. If you don't heed the rule, he acts as The Corrupter.
- Conditioned to Accept Horror: Kate has been prepared to take over the campsite her whole life, which, combined with the monstrous beings and occasional casualties she has to deal with on a regular basis, has left her mostly unfazed by most of the horrors occurring around her. Even having to commit murder herself appears to be an unfortunate necessity at worst for her. This actually plays out in her favor when facing the master of the vanishing house, after it has assumed the form of a monstrous, mutilated human-deer hybrid, with a gaping, slimy mouth splitting its body:
- The master: Do you fear me now?Kate: Buddy, you are asking the wrong person. I have a dead girl knocking on my window every single night and every morning I get to listen to her be dragged off by a monstrous beast. And thats probably among the least of the horrific things Ive witnessed.
- Creepy Child:
- The children with no wagon are described as having silent, creepy stares, which unnerve people enough that no one usually conducts business with them. While it is not quite clear what would happen if someone did, it does involve people getting skinned alive, liquids turning to blood, and the children getting "prey".
- The little girl qualifies, although she's the polar opposite of the usual "unnervingly calm" examples of this trope, appearing at night to weep outside the owner's house all night long. She was arguably even more creepy when she still talked to Kate, either cheerfully singing about her brother being in danger or point-blank telling her that "nothing is safe, you just try to pretend otherwise". And let's not forget that time she was just calmly sitting in the bloody remains of Kate's mother...
- Horror Hates a Rulebreaker: The whole series revolves around Kate's list of rules, and how breaking them always ends horribly for those involved. Break rule #9note , and the lady in chains will kill you. Break rule #6note , and something will probably kill you in your sleep. Break rule #18note , and the owner will kill you, as a precaution. Break rule #4note , and the dancers may not even grant you the mercy of death.
- Hypocrisy Nod: Kate's plan to find the vanishing house is to follow the lights in the hope they lead her to them. She does comment on the fact that she is not only actively breaking one of the rules she is trying so hard to enforce in the process, but that it is specifically one she keeps complaining is so blatantly obvious it shouldn't even need to be stated.
- I Did What I Had to Do: This is Kate's justification to Perchta when she comes to her to punish her for being wicked. It does not sway her in the slightest.Perchta: Necessary, perhaps, but no less wicked.
- Mega Neko: The Yule Cat is so large that it has trouble fitting through a picture window, and it can grow even larger, reaching the size of a house.
- Monstrous Cannibalism: In "Why We Don't Keep Horses", the strange dapple stallion eats meat of all kinds, which is quite nastily demonstrated on the other horses.
- Must Be Invited:
- Many beings follow "hospitality laws", meaning they cannot enter someone's house unless they are invited in; it's even said that The Devil itself might be repelled for lack of invitation. It's usually a very bad sign when one isn't bound by that rule. According to the man with a skull cup, humans used to follow these laws as well, but that tradition was lost to time.
- While the little girl also needs to be invited in order to enter the owner's house, any point of entry left open counts as an invitation, as long as it has been opened by the proper resident of the house and is deemed a "formal" entrance (i.e. one leading directly into the house proper, which includes windows but excludes garage doors).
- Noodle Incident: The rules explicitly state that vodka mixed with Gatorade is not an acceptable substitute for water. Someone in the comments mentioned that it sounded like a call out. The owner all but confirmed that it was.
- Nothing Is Scarier:
- It's never stated exactly what the man with a skull cup does to those who refuse his drink, but the description was enough to bring the owner to tears whenever she thought about it during the following days.
- The first story features a creature hidden inside a mound of broken branches, which seems to absorb the warmth, light and sound around it. In reality, it is far larger than said mound, with a mere shrug from it making the earth itself shake. It's never stated what exactly it looks like, or even just what it is. Rule #10 does refer to it indirectly, but all it says about it is to neither leave the tent or even look outside until the sun is up.
- Whatever it is that campers who escaped the gray world found at the top of the hill, they don't want to talk about it. Even Kate's uncle, who had no qualms going into gruesome detail about some disembodied half-bird monster, deemed it better not to tell anyone.
- Some of the rules that have not yet been explored within the stories end up as this. Just what is the thing mentioned in rule #7 that can mimic the voices of those you know? What about the one in rule #14 that can take your friend's appearance?
- Oh, Crap!: Kate is confident that the Yule Cat, which devours those who haven't received new clothes before Christmas, cannot harm her, as even if she didn't have time to buy some herself, her aunt always made sure to gift her some every year. Then realization dawns on her:Kate: Even without my yearly socks, my aunt always was sure to give us something [...]. It was kind of her thing. (beat) My aunt. The one that just lost her husband. I couldnt recall her showing up at my house to drop off a package this year.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: The campsite's newest hire is referred to in the story as "Turtle", which is derived from her online user name, "TinyFloatingTurtle".
- Skull Cup: The man with a skull cup carries one around, as his name implies. Drinking from it will leave one unable to eat or drink without vomiting for the entire next day, but it is much preferable to what happens to those who refuse the drink.
- Twisted Christmas: The campgrounds are closed during winter, and for good reason, as ancient powers converge during that time. The creatures that appear during the season are even more threatening than usual, from a gigantic cat that will devour you if you haven't received new clothing, to a woman who will stuff your intestines with stones and straw for being "wicked" (which includes being messy around the house), to warriors in chainmail armor that will drag you to be drowned if you're not merry enough around Christmas.
- Unscrupulous Hero: The owner might be actively trying to protect campers while preserving the land and appeasing its inhabitants, but that did not stop her from accumulating quite the body count, to a point where some comments worry that she may be bordering on downright sociopathy. She poisoned one of the campers and burned one of her employees alive to appease and/or banish beings of power, had to strangle her former best friend to death when she was still a teenager, and stabbed the sheriff in the neck possibly just as much out of personal satisfaction as necessity. And that's only her non-supernatural victims.
- Weirdness Magnet: The campsite being "old land" means that it has become home to creatures of folklore, unnatural phenomenons, and even possibly a few deities. It becomes more apparent as the stories go on that it literally acts as a weirdness magnet, and that while it is a refuge to some creatures, it is more akin to a prison for others.
- Will-o'-the-Wisp: There are lights that attempt to lure people into danger; while there are few terrain hazards on the campgrounds, they do tend to leave people at the mercy of other far more dangerous creatures. Rule #3 is "Dont follow the lights", to the chagrin of the owner who thinks it should be blatantly obvious that you shouldn't.
- Wouldn't Hurt a Child: While the beastly predators will hunt humans no matter their age, many beings will not harm a child until they have met certain conditions signifying their transition to adulthood.
- The little girl is an interesting case. She stopped talking to Kate after her first period, as she doesn't talk to adults, only weeping to trick them into brutal murder. Before that however, she not only spoke to Kate on several occasions, but informed her when her brother and her friends were in danger, and even woke her up to save her life once. Zig-Zagged in that the little girl reminded Kate to leave through a non-formal entrance so she couldn't harm her, implying that she did not want to harm her, but would have if she had been able to.
- Wounded Gazelle Gambit:
- Rule #9 warns campers about the lady in chains: she pretends to be in distress so that people will attempt to help her, but it is merely a ruse so she can kill them.
- The little girl weeps outside the owner's house all night long, begging to be let in, and gets dragged away by a monstrous beast before dawn, screaming in terror all the way. Inviting her inside would however lead to a gruesome death, with the last person to have done so implied to have been ripped to shreds.