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Literature / How to Survive Camping

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"Iím a camp manager. I donít have a list of rules because Iím trying to ruin your fun. I have a list because Iím trying to help you from coming back to camp and finding your tent collapsed and full of rainwater and having no dry clothes or nowhere to sleep. Iím trying to keep you from spending half a day setting up tents because you didnít plan where everything would go in advance. And Iím trying to keep you from doing small, simple things that could result in a horrific and most assuredly agonizing demise."

How to Survive Camping is a series of Horror stories published on the r/nosleep subreddit by author Bonnie Quinn under the username fainting--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 of the series' stories. Bonnie Queen also has a website with a listing her other works, found here. The complete series has also been published as a set of physical books, which are available for purchase on Amazon.

How to Survive Camping provides examples of:

  • Alas, Poor Villain:
    • It is entirely possible to feel sorry for both the master of the vanishing house and the Gummy Bears when their true nature is revealed. Both are slowly fading away because nobody remembers them anymore. When Kate finds it, the master begs her to love, fear or worship it so it can prolong its life just a little more, whilst the king of the Gummy Bears feels that he and his people are fading and doesn't even remember his own name, asking Kate for a human body in the hopes that it will remind them who they are and give them some comfort before they fade.
    • The lady with extra eyes/the lady in chains. She's an Anti-Villain who genuinely wants to protect the campgrounds, which regularly puts her at odds with the owners, who are often forced to kill her for their own self-preservation. On top of that, she involuntarily becomes the homicidal lady in chains, a result of Matthias murdering her using the chains after she poisoned his son. That said, she does also continue to do this of here own free will after Kate breaks her curse for her own ends.
    • The thing in the dark is in constant pain due to multiple people over time having pulled branches out of it. First Matthias did it to escape the lady with extra eyes, then several campers used it for firewood, then Kate used a bit of it as a torch. It was never even whole to begin with, because it killed its creator by accident before she could finish dreaming it up. When it was taking its revenge for the firewood incident, Kate heard it screaming in pain and despair and felt sorry for it, and later cried for it when she learned its backstory.
    • The children with no wagon are actually a group of Tragic Monsters who are revealed as the spirits of people who died alone and without comfort in want of a mother's love.
  • 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 .
    • The fairy which resides on the campground is all but stated to be a member of the Tuatha Dé Danann, while its enemy, the entity known as the "horse eater", is confirmed to be a Fomorian, both from Irish mythology.

  • 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 offend the dancers. One person is found to have been dismembered, his body parts scattered around the campsite, and the upper half of his 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.

  • Animalistic Abomination: Yet another variety of beast that roams the campground, although the dapple gray horse is an especially notable case. A stallion which was already anomalous and surrounded by suspicious deaths and misfortunes even as a foal, it only grows worse as it matures. In time it would eventually come to possess razor-sharp teeth, a carnivorous appetite, the ability to corrupt those who it allows to ride on its back and an extremely sadistic, malicious and violent demeanour, considering it brutally trampled and devoured a farmhand and proceeded to messily kill and cannibalise the rest of the horses after escaping the ranch out of sheer bloodlust.
  • 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 is, 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.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking:
    • One chapter features ravings about Things Man Was Not Meant to Know. These ravings include a forest of ash only visible in the corners of one's eye, a sea of mud, and a basement. From the sound of the latter, just an ordinary, everyday basement.
    • Rule #21 is a very mundane rule, compared to all the other rules about dealing with the evil spirits and Eldritch Abominations that frequent the camp. Rule #21 is a reminder to drink lots of water, because failure to do so will land you in the hospital from dehydration.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Kate finally faces the little girl and the beast for the final time, as the land turns ancient. As she dies, Kate ascends and becomes the Lady of Stories: a benevolent figure who now watches over the grounds as its' ruler, with a reformed Beau by her side. But she all but states that as the time passes by the remnants of her humanity had started to fade. Her brother, who spent his entire life trying to avoid the campground must now assume her mantle. But at least the campground becomes safer as Kate becomes the Lady of Stories and uses her newfound status to eject the more dangerous inhumans off from the land. WordOfGod also states that her brother and her old friends do see each other from time to time but it has become something more like what human!Kate had with Beau instead of the one they had before.

  • Big Bad: Each book has a main antagonist that Kate must fight. They are "The Man Without a Shadow", "The Lady in Chains", a fomorian and finally "The Beast". Kate defeats all except the last one.

  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: This goes without saying to most of the inhumans that roam the campground.

  • 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 thatís probably among the least of the horrific things Iíve 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...

  • Disproportionate Retribution: The inhumans loves to dish this to anyone who 'insults' them (whether they knew it or not). Kate also will do this to anyone who worked for her and does not treat the inhumans with respect and fear - as Jessie finds out. Kate, however, reasoned that if she doesn't do it, the inhumans will inflict this trope to an even worse degree. One of Beau's victims was painfully exsanguinated for the evil of "double-parking" and several others poisoned for the crime of handing out shitty candy during Halloween. Another example were the ones dished by the fairy - who not only killed a man for insulting them (and also for mistaking their deer for a horse), but also his entire family including those who are related to them to the first degree. Yet even after he died, the victim was resurrected and turned into a humanoid boar and then hunted for one last time. It bears to mention that the fairy would have killed others near the the camp site, despite them having NO relations whatsoever to the victim, except physical proximity if not for Kate's quick removal of anyone near the victim's campsite as soon as she heard.

  • The Fair Folk:
    • The being described in rule #11 ("If you see a large deer, do not stare at it and especially do not make eye contact with the person riding on its back. Consider bowing until it passes. This is a sign of respect and it may bless you with its favor.") is eventually identified as a fairy, and makes it clear just how above and beyond it is from any other power in the campgrounds. It is so far one of the only beings that can come and go from the camp boundaries at will, referring to the camp as "scraps", is an immense source of knowledge, and has other powerful magic at its disposal, like turning people into deer to be hunted, and occasionally forcing people into the grey world *by accident*.

  • Humanoid Abomination: Many of the nasty things that lurk at the campground like to manifest in humanoid form, some putting on a better facade of humanity than others, yet even the most adept at doing so canít fully hide their true nature, either through unnatural abilities, odd habits or horrendous acts of extreme violence.

  • 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.

  • Hellish Horse: The dapple gray stallion that roams the campground, and as its backstory can tell you in ďwhy we donít keep horsesĒ, it was a nasty, horrible animal from the day it was born.

  • 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.
  • Moving Buildings: The vanishing house was able to teleport, appearing and disappearing around the borders of the campgrounds at the will of its master. This is most notably demonstrated when a man who knew of the true nature of the house tried to ram his car into it. It disappeared right before impact, and he died after crashing into a tree that was formerly behind the house.
  • 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.
    • One update ends with Kate cutting the post short because of an ongoing incident involving Turtle sprinting across the grounds holding a bag of lemon drops and being chased by a horde of rabbits. It's framed in a way that indicates this is something to do with one of the creatures that inhabits the campground, but no further details are given.
  • 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 Kate to tears whenever she thought about it during the following days.
  • 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 couldnít 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".

  • Running Gag:
    • Through Book 2 and Book 3, Kate's four-wheelers has an unfortunate tendency to get utterly destroyed whenever she suffers from an encounter.
    • Kate stresses, almost every other chapter for campers to NEVER FOLLOW THE LIGHTS.

  • 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.

  • Uncanny Valley: Played straight on any inhuman who dons a humanoid appearance. Kate and others note that even the ones who could pass as a human being have something 'off' about them that can signal humans that they are in the company of something not human. Kate knows only of one of these kind of beings that managed to completely fool her as being 100% human and they completely gave it away because of their sadistic nature.

  • 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 "Donít 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.
      • It eventually becomes unclear whether or not this is actually the case with the little girl, because she is presented as genuinely desiring freedom from the beast, when the lady in chains is shown to potentially be able to kill it.

Please check the calendar and ensure you have designated your next-of-kin before visiting.