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The Beast THAT ATE BOY SCOUT TROOP 16

It started innocently enough. Some local Boy Scouts went on an overnight backpacking trip to a remote section of the Green Swamp.

Night had fallen, and the boys were busy warming their beenie weenies over a fire when one of them heard laughter coming from the dark woods.

"Did you hear that?" Melvin asked his tent mate.

"Hear what?" Jack responded.

"Laughter," Melvin said. "There it is again."

Jack took out his flashlight and shined the light into the trees.

"It probably is just a lost cow," Jack told Melvin. "Stop being such a whiner."

Melvin said he knew the difference between a "moo" and the diabolical cackle of a deranged psycho killer.

"All right, you big baby," Jack said. "Let's go check it out."

Jack and Melvin made the other boys promise to save some food, then headed off into the darkness. It didn't take long before the Scouts realized they were hopelessly lost.

"Great idea, Melvin," Jack said. "Bet you a root beer and pack of Twinkies those guys eat our dinner."

Little did they know hunger would be the least of their problems. By now the moon had risen high in the sky, but the canopy of trees was so thick the light was of little help. The Scouts trudged on through the waist-deep water of a swamp, mosquitoes tearing at their tender flesh.

Then, without warning, a blood-curdling laugh echoed through the woods. "Hee hee heeeee ... " Jack and Melvin stopped dead in their tracks.

"Sounds like it's coming from over there," Jack said, pointing to an island that rose above the fog. "Let's go."

Melvin told Jack he was crazy.

"Stop being such a wimp," Jack told his friend. "Are you a Boy Scout or what?"

Humiliated, Melvin agreed to follow Jack. They continued on to the island, which was littered with wrappers from countless snacks.

"Moon pies, Snickers, Little Debbies ... looks like somebody had one heck of a party out here," Melvin said. "Look, there's a trail of Hershey kisses leading to that pond over there."

Jack, a big chocolate fan, got down on his hands and knees and started eating his way toward the crystal clear pool of water. Then, his face covered with chocolate, he leaned over to take a drink. Suddenly, two moss-covered arms reached out, grabbed him by the neck and dragged him into the spring.

Melvin reeled back in horror as his friend's skeleton, stripped to the bone of all flesh, came flying out of the pond and landed in the middle of a bunch of empty potato chip bags.

"Hee hee heeeeee," a voice cackled. "He was hungrier than I thought."

Melvin turned around quickly to see a man with a long, gray beard dressed in a suit of rusted armor. The stranger looked old, real old, older than his dad, his granddad, even older than Mr. Critchley, the mean guy at the end of the street who never gave the baseball back when it went into his yard.

"Who are you?" Melvin asked.

"I am Pedro Luis Juan Francisco Madonna," he said. "Humble servant of the King of Spain."

Melvin reached over to shake the man's boney hand but was overpowered by a sickening stench. "Geez ... you stink," he said, momentarily forgetting his manners. "How long has it been since you took a bath?"

The old man thought for a moment and said "About 476 years, three months and two weeks, give or take a day or two."

The old man explained he had been part of Ponce de Leon's expedition to find the Fountain of Youth when he and another soldier wandered off from the main party. The two had stumbled across the spring, then began to argue about who would get the first drink.

"We did paper, rock and scissors, and I won," the old man said.

But his friend was a sore loser. He drew his sword and challenged him to a duel.

"We fought for a long time until eventually I cut off both his legs," the old man said. "That is when he rolled over and fell in the pond."

Then, to the conquistador's surprise, his legless companion popped his head out of the water and said, "Hey, I feel great. We should bottle this stuff and sell it back in Spain."

The Spaniards, however, were out of luck. Ponce de Leon and the rest of the troops had left to burn Indian villages and massacre women and children.

"We soon learned that although we would live forever, we still had to eat," the smelly conquistador said. "As you can see, there are no cafes around, so we had to make do with what we could find ... bugs, rats, frogs and the occasional raccoon."

Melvin thought about it for a second, then asked, "What about your friend, the Swamp Thing?"

"He's still mad because I cut off his legs," the conquistador said. "But out of Christian charity, I still bring him food to eat."

Hmmmmmmm, Melvin thought to himself, that must explain the copious quantities of discarded snack wrappers. The boys of Troop 16 had complained of missing treats.

"Sure you wouldn't like a drink?" the old man asked. "You'll live forever, just like me."

Melvin pondered the offer. Being 10 years old forever would have its advantages. He'd get to do fifth grade over and over again, so homework would be a cinch, and he'd never have to get a job, file income taxes or pay full price at the movies. But then he remembered his poor pal Jack, lured to his death by a trail of Hershey kisses.

"No, thanks," he said, turning to see that old man had drawn his sword. The conquistador swung, but Melvin was too quick. The Boy Scout spun around and kicked the Spaniard in the butt. The old man fell face down and couldn't get up.

"Help me," he said.

"No way," Melvin said. "You are a smelly old psycho killer, and besides that, you are named after a girl."

Melvin took off running. But halfway back to the camp he started feeling bad about making fun of the old man's name, because after all, the poor guy's parents probably had no idea they were naming him after a singer who likes to run around in her underwear. But he started feeling hungry again, and instead of returning to apologize, he went straight back to camp.

Everybody was sound asleep. Melvin found his plate where he had left it, but it had been licked clean.

"Who ate my beenie weenies?!" Melvin screamed. There was no answer, just a fiendish laugh coming from the woods. "Hee hee heeeee ... "

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