The Grunp was just something my cousins and I made up while at our grandparent’s place. We went up almost every summer for a week or two at a time when we were old enough, and I think we first started telling Grunp stories when I was nine.
The Grunp’s appearance and personality would evolve and change as we got older. The first time we told stories about the Grunp, he was a naked man with one giant eye in the middle of his head. The next year, he was covered in thick, white fur, with empty holes for eyes who walked on all fours and chewed on bones.
The last year we told Grunp stories he’d finally evolved to his final state- a white, furry creature who walked on two legs, smelled like a dumpster, had two blazing orange eyes and a drooling mouth crammed full of dozens of yellowed and rotten teeth. He could climb up walls and had claws half a foot long. He hated the kids that tramped through his forests every summer and plotted to steal one away so he could skin it alive and spit roast it for a delicious meal.
One thing never changed about the Grunp though and that was that he lived in my grandparent’s old barn.
The barn was ridiculously creepy, I’ll admit. It didn’t have any light or electricity out there, hadn’t been used in years either so it was empty other than a few remaining piles of hay and a broken lawnmower. We weren’t allowed to climb into the lofts because Grandma was afraid that the old floor wouldn’t support our weight so we’d fall and break our necks. I climbed up only once because I thought I heard something.
I didn’t see anything other than a dead rat but there was a lot of unexplained sounds in that barn. That’s probably what planted the idea of the Grunp in our heads. Some unexplained monster that lurked just out of sight, full of hatred and salivating at the idea of ripping us to pieces.
Given all this, probably the shittiest thing we could do was send Sissy Sandy into the barn for a night. And that’s exactly what we did.
I was eleven at the time and most of the cousins were about that age too, except for Sandy. Sandy was only six. Unfortunately, she was the only cousin in that age group, but since the rest of us started going to grandma and grandpa’s around that age her parents sent her with us anyway. The closest cousin in age to her was Bobby and he was nine.
You can imagine how we all felt about Sandy. It didn’t help that Sandy was a crybaby. She didn’t like sleeping in the dark, so whoever had the poor luck of bunking with her had to deal with a nightlight. She didn’t like being alone. She hated bugs and if she saw one she’d start screaming like she was being murdered. And she was terrified of The Grunp.
Most of the time we’d manage to ditch her with Grandma, who would play Go Fish and bake cookies with her. But when Grandma took a nap or we didn’t escape fast enough, we’d have to deal with Sandy tagging along. And oh boy, she’d complain about everything. She was too hot, she was too cold. She didn’t want to play near the barn. She didn’t want to play in the backyard. She was hungry. She was thirsty. She was bored.
I mean, typical six year old, but all of us were tired of it. We didn’t help the situation either by constantly teasing and picking on the poor kid. I think Jay was the one who started calling her Sissy Sandy, because well, she was scared of literally everything. I’m not exaggerating when I say that Sandy was probably scared of her own shadow.
It’s probably why we’d tell the most Grunp stories when she was hanging out with us. We’d get increasingly more morbid, talking about how the Grunp liked to peel off the fingernails of his victims and make them into earrings or that he’d use them to pick the flesh of his victims from his teeth. I think one time I even said that he would hang up his living victims in his cave and wait until he was hungry before chopping off their heads and chewing off their faces.
Sandy would go green and squirm, and then when she’d start crying we’d say that the Grunp was going to get her. That would make her run back to Grandma, saying that we were being mean, while we were all laughing our asses off.
Yeah, we were jerks. Poor Sandy. She just wanted someone to play with. And she really tried her best to keep up, she was just too little and we had no intention of playing with a ‘baby’.
I don’t know whose idea was it to play Truth or Dare, but I do remember it was my turn and that Sandy was my target. Sandy had been a pain in the ass all day, tagging along and complaining more than ever, and I’d had it. I asked if she wanted a truth or a dare, and I said if she’d pick dare, she’d get to play with us all she wanted tomorrow and we’d not tell any Grunp stories or call her Sissy Sandy.
Sandy’s eyes lit up as she proclaimed dare. We’d already had a dare where I did the chicken dance or where Jay called his best female friend to tell her he had a crush on her. Surely we’d not pick anything too bad for her, right?
I dared her to spend a whole hour in the barn. Without crying and without screaming. If she chickened out, then she had to spend the rest of the week with Grandma and that she couldn’t follow us.
I’m a monster. There was no worse dare I could’ve picked. The barn was already creepy in the day, I couldn’t have been paid to go out there at night. And if Sandy turned down the dare we really would have doubled down on calling her a sissy and she knew it.
So Sandy dragged her feet out to the barn. Grandma and Grandpa had already gone to bed so there was no one to catch onto our cruel joke. Jay highfived me, Bobby was bending over with laughter, and I was standing proud, thinking I was the most clever kid out there. Mary was already betting that she wouldn’t last five minutes out there as she set the egg timer.
Five minutes passed. Ten. Fifteen. By thirty minutes, we were all getting bored, we couldn’t hear Sandy crying and she’d yet to come out of the barn. We’d started playing Truth and Dare again and had almost completely forgot about her until the timer dinged.
I was impressed. I yelled out to Sandy that she could come out now, she wasn’t a sissy and that she could play with us tomorrow.
Sandy didn’t respond.
Figuring she’d fallen asleep, I ran out to the barn and poked my head in, calling after her again.
My heart dropped into my stomach when I saw that Sandy was nowhere to be seen. I knew she wouldn’t have climbed into the loft but I climbed up anyway to check. I came back out and everyone was starting to look a little nervous.
“Maybe she’d managed to get past us and went back to bed,” I said, attempting to reassure everyone as we headed back inside.
She wasn’t in bed. She wasn’t in the kitchen, or the basement… not like she’d go down there anyway, it was full of spiderwebs and she hated spiders most of all.
That’s when we realized something was wrong and that it was time to wake up our grandparents. We had to repeat it twice for Grandpa, he’d taken his hearing aids out before bed, but we didn’t tell the truth- we said that Sandy wanted to explore the barn and she’d not come back.
I already felt shitty for what I’d done. I felt even shittier for lying.
Cops swarmed the house, we were all counted up to make sure we were still accounted for, and we stuck to our story- Sandy went to explore the barn, she wanted to prove she wasn’t a sissy. We didn’t make her go out there.
Technically we didn’t, but I wanted to throw up every time I repeated our lie.
It’s when I overheard a conversation with one of the cops and our grandparents that I realized I had gotten my little cousin killed.
They didn’t know I was there. I was in the hall next to the kitchen, about to get a drink of water, and one of the cops was showing my Grandma a picture.
She narrowed her eyes for a few moments before she nodded. “Yes, I think I do know him! He came by a few days ago, asking for a meal, and I fixed him up with some leftovers from lunch and a slice of pie. Saw the kids p… playing… in the backyard…” Grandma went white in the face. “… Oh god, he pointed out Sandy. He… he said she looked like a real sweetie. Oh god, what have I done? What have I done?” Grandma clung onto Grandpa and began to weep.
I sunk to the floor as the cop shook his head. I found out many years later that the man in the picture was a man named Gene Hayes. A child sex offender with a preference of girls that looked like Sandy.
I didn’t know those details back then, but I knew that my little cousin had been kidnapped by a monster.
And he wouldn’t have had a chance if I hadn’t sent Sandy out to the barn alone.
I didn’t sleep that night. I just stared at the ceiling and thought about poor Sandy. How scared she would be and how I might never see her again, how it would be my fault if she never came home, how I’d never be able to face Uncle Ken and Aunt Barbara again. The next morning, before anyone was awake, I put together my next plan of action- I grabbed a baseball bat, made myself a few sandwiches, making sure to make one with grape jelly and to cut the crusts off. That way when I found Sandy she’d get something to eat.
I knew the nearby forests probably better than most of the searchers, I knew all the places people could hide. I knew I could find Sandy.
And I did… just not in the way I expected.
It was getting close to mid-afternoon when I stumbled across Hayes’ campsite. The place was a mess, beer cans piled near a burnt out firepit, muddy magazines scattered about, a small table turned over, sleeping bag crooked.
When I kicked over the sleeping bag, I realized it was soaked in blood and that there was five large slashes through it… and I saw one of Sandy’s pink hairties.
I stumbled back, falling on my ass and crawling back. My baseball bat rolled away. Had a bear gotten to Sandy’s kidnapper? Did it get Sandy?
I heard a twig snap behind me and I turned around to be face to face with The Grunp.
Our final description of him was actually pretty accurate. A bipedal, white furred creature with blood soaked claws and a drooling maw of hundreds of fangs, smelling like death and with hatred in his gaze. His eyes were a shade of yellow-green though- the color of dying grass.
And by his side was Sandy.
One of her pigtails had fallen out but the other was still tied in place. She looked pretty beat up, bruises and scratches on her arms and a busted lip and bloodied chin. She stared at me, almost as if she didn’t quite recognize me.
The Grunp carefully pushed Sandy behind him, shielding her from me. “Are you… his friend?” The Grunp asked.
Another thing that didn’t match our stories- The Grunp could talk. I shook my head no before I dug in my bag. “… Sandy? I brought you your favorite… made sure to cut off the crusts too.” I presented the sandwich, now a little squished from being in my bag all day.
Sandy blinked a few times before she smiled, revealing teeth stained bright red. “No thank you, I already ate.”
“Sandy, you don’t refuse food,” The Grunp patiently explained, taking the sandwich baggie between two of his claws and handing it to her, “You can eat it for dinner.”
Sandy nodded, clutching onto the bag. “Thank you,” She looked back up at the Grunp, “Can we go home now?”
The Grunp leaned down, carefully picking up Sandy as to not catch her on his claws, and set her on his shoulder. “Good day,” He said before he ambled off through the bushes.
And like that, he was gone.
I managed to get home by nightfall, where the search had turned into one for Sandy and me.
All I said before collapsing was, “She’s with The Grunp.”
We’ve never found Sandy. I try not to think about her, but I do, especially at night. I wonder if she’s doing okay. I wonder if she’s happy, if she’s not such a scaredy cat anymore.
And I wonder if she’s eating well.