#SummerofScreams (1)

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Untitled (Summer Camp)

BY Ryan Bartlett

ryan-bartett-summer-camp-untitled-summer-screams

 

Title:
Untitled (Summer Camp)

Media:
charcoal and pastel

 

 

 About the Artist

selfportrait_ryanbartlett

Ryan Bartlett is an artist based out of Orange, California who specializes in detailed works done in charcoal and mixed media.

Ryan has participated in  previous Pen & Muse writer & artist showcases and you may find them here (The Dark Carnival),  here (12 Days of Christmas), and here (Haunted Hotel). He’s been a featured artist at HorrorCon International.

For shows, commissions, or other inquiries, private message or email ryanbartlettart at yahoo dot com.

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#SummerofScreams (1)

Get the entire story posting schedule here!

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Camp forever

BY Rena Olsen

 

“She wasn’t always the ghost of Camp Forever,” I said, keeping my voice low and eerie as I glanced around the circle, making eye contact with each of the mesmerized girls, using my flashlight as a spotlight in the otherwise dark cabin. “She once was a camper…just like YOU!”

“BOO!” A dark figure jumped against the window of the cabin and the girls screamed, scattering as far from the intruder as they could. Most ended up in my lap or as close to it as they could get. I shined my flashlight toward the window to reveal the face of a grinning Alex, senior counselor and the current object of most girls’ affection at camp this week. Every week, really. The girls started giggling, one at a time, until I was buried under a pile of hysterical fourth-graders.

“That was so scary,” said Jamie, one of the newest campers. “Is that story true?”

I wiggled out from under the heap and rose to turn on the lights. A tap on the door interrupted my answer. I opened it to find Alex, grin still in place, hands stuffed in his pockets.

“’Course it’s true,” he said, having heard the question through the thin walls of the cabin. “The first ghost was the camp director’s daughter the very first summer the camp was open.”

“Alex,” I said, warning in my voice. I’d only told the girls the stories of the swings moving on calm nights, of splashing sounds on a quiet lake, and unexplained lights turning on and off all over camp. They were a little too young for the PG-13 version of the camp ghost.

“What? You don’t think they’re old enough to hear?” Alex asked, teasing in his voice.

“We’re old enough,” Jamie said, puffing out her tiny chest, a blush painting her cheeks when Alex winked in response.

“See, Maddy?” he said, crouching down as the girls crowded in.

Resigned, I leaned against the wall, crossing my arms. Alex wasn’t the one who would have to deal with terrified girls in the middle of the night all week, but once he got going, there wasn’t much that could stop him.

“The legend says,” Alex whispered, “that the first camp director’s daughter was given the run of the camp when she lived here. She joined whatever groups she wanted to, went where she wanted, and basically made a nuisance of herself. She would leave the craft room a mess, sneak extra desserts from the kitchen, and take candy and ice cream from the canteen.”

“She sounds like a brat,” Marissa said, wrinkling her nose.

Alex laughed. “The other staff members agreed. They threatened to all quit unless the camp director put some rules in place for his daughter. And so he did, and he said he wouldn’t be there to save her if she broke the rules. She would have to deal with the consequences.”

The girls were all silent, probably imagining if they’d been at camp then. I could see which of them would have fallen on the side of the camp staff, and which were feeling a little bad for the naughty little girl.

“On the very first night of her new restrictions,” Alex continued, “the little girl snuck out of the director’s cabin, determined to go for a midnight swim. She had wanted to swim out to the island in the middle of the lake, but hadn’t been able to try before her dad put the new rules in place. Only, she didn’t realize how far it was. In the middle of the lake, she got very tired.”

“What happened?” Jamie whispered.

“She couldn’t stay afloat,” Alex said. “She started to sink under the surface of the lake, and screamed for help.”

The girls were tense, and a few had clasped hands, but they were super into the story. Alex had that effect on people. And he had perfected this story over the years since we had been campers and then junior counselors together. I wondered who would take up the ghost story mantle once we were gone. This was our final summer. I wasn’t sure I was ready for it to be over.

“Legend says that her dad heard her cries for help.” Alex’s voice interrupted my reverie. This was his favorite part. “But he only stood at the top of the hill and watched her struggle. After all, he had told her that breaking the rules has consequences.”

“That’s awful!”

“What a mean dad!”

“My dad would never let me drown like that!”

The girls were indignant, and I hid a smile.

“And yet he did,” Alex said. “And the ghost of that little girl roamed the camp for years, watching for rule-breakers, waiting for her chance to set things right.”

“How would she set things right?” Another girl, Jill, spoke up for the first time since Alex had arrived. She played right into his hands.

“Every year, there’s a rule-breaker or two that comes to the camp.” Alex looked around the circle. “None of you, of course,” he said. The girls shook their heads vigorously. “The ghost looks for the girl breaking her very first rule on the night of a full moon. If she succeeds, the girl must take her place until she finds a rule-breaker of her own.”

“What happens to the ghost?” Jamie asked.

“She takes over the life of the girl who broke the rules,” Alex said casually. “In fact.” He looked around the huddle of girls. “She could be one of you right now.”

The girls eyed each other, their faces turning suspicious. That was quite enough.

“Okay, Alex, thank you,” I said, wading into the group of girls to pull him up by his arm. “We need to get ready for bed, so say goodnight to Alex, girls.”

The girls mumbled goodnights and headed for their bunks, still sending nervous glances at each other.

“Don’t break any rules, girls,” Alex said cheerfully as I shoved him toward the door.

A slight whimper from one of the bunks told me that it could be a long night in Cottonwood Cabin.

I opened the door, but before I could shove Alex out and close it behind him, he pulled me through with him, pulling the door shut.

“Alex,” I said, pushing against him. “What are you doing?”

“Breaking a few rules,” he said, smiling as his mouth came down on mine. I kissed him back for a minute, maybe two, but then pulled back.

“You are incorrigible,” I said, though there wasn’t much force to my words. I’d loved Alex Chambers since the first year we attended camp together, when we were both second-graders. It had taken years, but last summer we had finally gotten together. The current director knew, but had requested that we kept our relationship on the down low, and definitely away from the campers. He didn’t make it easy.

“Come down to the fire circle tonight,” he said. “We can have a cozy campfire and tell each other ghost stories.”

“No way! You just left eight terrified girls in my cabin. Just because you’re not in a cabin this week doesn’t mean I can leave mine.”

“I just made sure none of them will step foot out of bed until morning,” he said, cocky smirk on his lips. “They’ll be too scared of becoming the ghost.”

“Or they’ll all be in my bed. And they’ll notice if I’m gone.”

“Wait thirty minutes. They’ll be asleep. Then come down.” His eyes turned pleading. “Please, Maddy? I hate when we don’t get to work together.”

Ugh, that boy. I had never been able to say no to him, hard as I tried. I had never left my cabin alone in all the years that I’d been a counselor, though I knew that others did from time to time. It was frowned upon if you got caught, but really only warranted a slap on the wrist and a warning not to do it again. Not much of a deterrent.

“Fine,” I said. “But only if they’re all asleep.”

“Deal,” he said, pressing his lips to mine one more time before disappearing into the darkness.

With a deep sigh, equal parts exhilarated and irritated, I stepped back into the cabin.

“Where did you go?” Jamie was instantly in front of me. “We thought the ghost got you.”

Patting her head, I released a small laugh. “No way am I letting a ghost take me away from you guys,” I said. “Now into bed with you. I’ll play you some music to help you sleep, and I promise I won’t go to sleep until you’re all deep in dreamland.” It wasn’t a lie. I just left out the part where I would be leaving for a bit while they slept.

The girls climbed obediently into their bunks, and I couldn’t help but notice that they did it a lot more readily than they had the previous nights. Maybe Alex had scared them into following the rules to the letter. I wondered how long it would last.

I selected soft music to play from the speakers hooked up to my phone and picked up a book, turning off the main lights and clicking on the lamp next to my bed, the orange glow the only light in the cabin. Alex would most likely be going back to staff quarters disappointed tonight. From the restless sounds around me, it would be a long time before these girls fell asleep.

 

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Amazingly, all the girls were breathing deeply less than twenty minutes later. Maybe being scared had exhausted them. I whispered a prayer for no nightmares as I stuffed my feet into sandals and slipped silently out the door. It took me a few seconds after stepping into the shadows to find the path. I had a flashlight, but I’d walked these paths so much over the years, I hardly needed it to see where I was going. Besides, a flashlight could give me away if anyone happened to be gazing out their window.

I heard the lake lapping against the beach before I emerged from the wooded path, and the scent of campfire was strong on the breeze. I stopped to observe Alex from within the shadows, and my heart squeezed. By himself, Alex was a different guy. Relaxed, but not in a way that was trying to impress anyone. I didn’t realize until last summer how much of a show he put on all the time. Sure, he was loved by campers and staff alike, but few knew him as I did. We were both heading into our senior year of college, and I didn’t know what the future held for us. But I didn’t want to think about that tonight.

Taking a deep breath, I stepped out into the beach, kicking my flip-flops off and tiptoeing up behind Alex. Reaching over his head, I covered his eyes and leaned forward, whispering in his ear. “Guess who.”

A shiver ran through his body before he suddenly stood, reaching his arms behind him to grab the backs of my legs as he rose. I shrieked and moved my arms to clasp his shoulders, laughing as he began galloping across the beach. He rushed toward the lake, his feet leaving dents in the wet sand, and began splashing along the shoreline. As he moved deeper, I gripped him tighter. “Alex, stop!”

“Oh you want me to stop?” he asked, still moving forward.

“Yes, please!” I gasped, both from laughter and from the cold water that was splashing onto my bare legs.

“You don’t want me to dump you in this lake?”

“You wouldn’t dare.”

He dared.

I came up sputtering from where Alex tossed me to find him already at my side, swimming circles in the shallow water. He snagged me around the waist, pulling me close.

“I hate you.”

“Lies,” he said before crushing my lips under his, the warmth of his mouth clashing with the coolness of my lips.

I let him think he’d gotten the best of me, raising my arms to tangle in his hair, but at the last minute I placed both hands flat on his head and shoved him under the water. I was slogging back toward shore when a hand gripped my ankle, pulling me back under.

We played for a few more minutes before calling a truce and heading back to shore and the warmth of the fire. Thankfully Alex had brought some towels as well. He wound a towel around me and then wrapped me in his arms. I leaned my head on his shoulder, the heat from the fire and from his body warming me.

“Maddy?” Alex said after a while.

“Hm?”

“I love you.”

Instantly I was wide awake. I knew I loved Alex, but we’d never said it out loud. This was a huge step, and suddenly I was very happy I’d broken the rules and come out to meet him tonight. I wonder how long he’d been planning it.

Sitting up, I looked Alex in the eye. I’d seen many sides to Alex, but I’d never seen him so vulnerable. “I love you too, Alex,” I said. Joy sparked in his eyes as he leaned forward, and then we didn’t talk again for quite some time.

 

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It was very late when Alex walked me back toward my cabin. Our clothes were almost dry, and our fingers tangled together as our hands swung between us. We took our time. I didn’t want the night to end, but I also couldn’t wait for whatever came next. For the first time, I was excited for the end of summer in a few weeks. I loved Camp Forever, but I needed to move on. Moving on with Alex didn’t seem quite so scary.

As we passed the canteen and craft buildings, a loud slam echoed through the air. I jumped, gripping Alex’s arm. He tensed as well, the muscles in his arm contracting under my palm. Looking up, I frowned as I saw a light on in one of the little-used upstairs rooms.

“Do you think someone is up there?” I asked. Sometimes the staff used the extra rooms as a quiet place to get away, but rarely at 3am.

Alex shrugged. “Only way to know is to check it out.”

That didn’t seem like the best idea, but I didn’t have a reason to disagree. I kept tight hold of Alex’s hand as we climbed the outside staircase to the room above the canteen. The door was slightly ajar, and Alex knocked as he pushed it open. “Anyone in here?”

The room was empty.

A single lamp burned in the corner, and in the exact middle of the room a large book lay, as if it had fallen there.

Except there were no bookcases anywhere near the center of the room.

“Haha,” I said, trying to control the shaking in my voice. “First you butter me up, then you scare me? Nice try.”

Alex turned to me, eyes perplexed. “I didn’t to this, Maddy,” he said. “I have no idea how this light turned on or this book got here. I turned it off on the way down to the lake.”

My stomach flipped. “Another staff member must have done it then,” I said. “They must have been watching us and ran out of here before we got up here.”

“There’s only one way down, Maddy,” Alex said, voice serious. “And there’s no way someone could have run out without us seeing them.”

“They figured out a way, okay?” I said. “Alex, what other explanation is there? It’s just a joke.”

His eyes were darting around the room, taking in every corner. He glanced and me and his expression cleared. “Of course it’s just a joke. What else could it be?” he said, but his tone was unconvincing. “Let’s get you back to your cabin. Those girls are going to be up in a couple hours.”

I groaned, trying to revive some of the levity from earlier. “Ugh, don’t remind me.”

“You love them,” he said, nudging me as we walked back down the stairs and resumed our course back to Cottonwood.

“Kinda,” I said, shrugging.

“You love me,” he said, pulling me around to face him. We were within sight of the cabin now, its porchlight a beacon.

I shrugged. “Kinda.”

His forehead creased before his face broke into a grin. “We’ll work on that attitude of yours,” he said. “Someday it’ll get better.”

“Maybe,” I said. “It could take some work.”

He leaned down to give me one more lingering kiss. “I’m willing to do the work.”

I watched him lope away, a goofy grin on my face, echoes of the word “someday” fluttering through my heart. When I could no longer make out his white t-shirt, I turned back toward my cabin, coming up short, my heart in my throat.

Between me and my cabin stood a girl. Sort of. She had long glossy hair and wore a choker as an accessory to what looked like a retro camp t-shirt and shorts combo. Her arms were layered with friendship bracelets, and she wore a flower crown around her head. Her face wasn’t angry, but assessing.

And she was see-through.

The porch light on the cabin was still visible behind her, the glow muted but still there. The cheerful red door to the cabin, behind which slept eight girls I had promised to take care of, shimmered at the edges as the girl rocked back on her heels.

“You broke the rules,” she said. Her voice had a breezy quality to it, and I strained to hear it.

“Who-who are you?”

“I was the ghost of Camp Forever,” she said. “But you broke the rules.”

“I don’t understand.” I gauged my chances of making a break for it. How fast did ghosts run?

In an instant, she was in front of me, inches from my face. “I broke the rules once. But now you broke the rules. I never thought it would be you.”

I tried to step back, but my feet were rooted to the ground.

“I watched you. You and all your friends. And all the campers and counselors before you. Lots of rule-breakers. But never you.” She paused as she studied my face, lost in thought. Her eyes flew up to meet mine. “But there are consequences for breaking the rules.”

My mouth had gone dry, but I tried to swallow anyway.

“Please, can I go back to my cabin?” I didn’t recognize my own voice. I should have let Alex walk me all the way to the door.

She was still inches from my face, and I couldn’t look away from her eyes. Eyes that were blue and glowing and I was falling

falling

falling

And then I was upright again, staring into brown eyes, which had been frightened only a moment ago, but were now relieved, grateful. I leaned back, disoriented. I could no longer see the light on the cabin because I was facing the wrong direction and staring at…

Myself.

I watched as the other me looked down at herself, running hands over arms and clothes, running fingers through short curls.

“What’s happening?” I tried to ask, but no sound came from my mouth.

“It’s okay,” Other-Maddy said. “You’ll get the hang of talking without breathing eventually.”

I realized she was right. I wasn’t taking air into my lungs. I could no longer feel my heartbeat.

“Thanks, Maddy,” Other-Maddy said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve felt the cool air.” She took a deep breath. “I think I’m going to like it here.”

I reached for her, but she sidestepped me easily. “Okay, so obviously things are different now, but they’re not all bad. You get to stay at Camp Forever…well…forever! Or until some other girl breaks her first rule on the night of a full moon.”

She pointed up, and sure enough, the bright circle of the moon stared back at me. It had been cloudy earlier. I hadn’t even realized it was tonight.

“Don’t worry,” Other-Maddy said, reaching out an arm to pat my shoulder and then pulling back as she remembered that I was see-through. “I’ll take good care of your life.”

I wanted to scream at her, to somehow grab her and force her out of my body, but I could only drift after her as she marched toward the cabin. Before going inside, she turned around. “And I’ll never leave these girls alone, I promise.” With a wink, she disappeared inside.

My mouth opened in a silent scream as the moon ducked behind the clouds again, and the porch light on Cottonwood Cabin clicked off, shrouding the entire area in blackness.

 

I wasn’t always the ghost of Camp Forever. I was once a camper. Just. Like. You.

 

 About the Author

 

rena-olsen

Rena Olsen is a writer, therapist, teacher, sometimes singer, and eternal optimist. By day she tries to save the world as a school therapist, and at night she creates new worlds in her writing. Her debut novel, THE GIRL BEFORE, is now available from Putnam! Represented by Sharon Pelletier of Dystel, Goderich & Bourret LLC.

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Website

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My heart aches for Texas.

Seeing the devastation and the loss that so many have suffered at the hands of Hurricane Harvey left me wondering one question:

How can I help? What can I do?

Unfortunately, I’m unable to travel there to assist in person and money is tight for me.

The best thing I can do right now,  is to donate items I can and donate money to those that are there right now, working for change, to help, and to aid. And of course, constantly send love and good vibes in my thoughts to everyone who has been affected.

I had donated money to Harvey relief already, but I had this growing feeling that it wasn’t enough. But what else could I do?

The next day. my writing partner & bestie Brian LeTendre approached me with the Pizza for Texas idea. It was brilliant. He is brilliant. And I knew right away, that this was something we had to do.

Final-Pizza-For-Texas

HERE’S HOW TO BE A PART OF THE #PIZZAFORTEXAS HELPING HAND:

1.  From 9/6/17 to 9/8/17 you can get A PIZZA MY HEART pizza anthology for FREE. 100% free right here on Amazon. The anthology holds tales of mystery, murder, happiness, love, and more.

2. Once you get your free book, head right over to your favorite charity or business that is helping aid Hurricane Harvey relief in Texas and make a donation.  Most of you know that I’m a huge animal lover, my first donation was to the Texas ASPCA, who are currently assisting with animal transfers, food & supplies, and sheltering pets of evacuated families until they can be reunited with their families.

Choose a charity, a cause, that means something to you. And donate whatever you can. 50 cents. The cost of the book $2.99. Or more if you are willing and able!

3. Enjoy your free anthology and feel proud that you did something awesome to help others.

If you can do more, great! Good for you!

And if you can’t do more than this, great! Good for you!

We all have our limits and we all want to do something to help people and animals in need. I’m so proud of you for helping do what you can.

For a full list of charities and businesses benefiting Hurricane Harvey relief in Texas, see below.

If you have one that you recommend that is not on the list, leave a message and a link below so we can check it out.

List of places Supporting Hurricane Harvey victims

SPCA OF TEXAS

Houston Food Bank

Save the Children

Texas Diaper Bank

Driscoll Children’s Hospital

Austin Pets Alive!

Portlight

Direct Relief USA  

Galveston Food Bank

Food Bank of the Golden Crescent (Victoria)

Corpus Christi Food Bank

Southeast Texas Food Bank (Beaumont)

Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley (Pharr)

Brazos Valley Food Bank (Bryan)

Central Texas Food Bank (Austin)

San Antonio Food Bank

The Houston Coalition for the Homeless

The Texas Department of Agruculture’s Star fund

Trusted World

Global Giving

 

For a list of further places to donate, check out these links:

Here

Here

Or google it. :)

 

If you’re already purchased the book, thank you so much! You can still participate by sharing the picture above (right click Save As, save to your computer, and share on any social media site using the hashtag #PizzaforTexas) or donate to any charity of your choice.

 

Hugs and love and pizza,

jolene-haley-logo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Final-Pizza-For-Texas


#SummerofScreams (1)

Get the entire story posting schedule here!

Scroll to the bottom for a giveaway.

 

Crime of Passion at Camp Melodic Cove

BY Kristin Rivers

 

It was supposed to be a beautiful wedding that summer evening in July for Sonia and Robert with family and friends as their witnesses; until the girl turned it into a bloodbath. They had prepared for this occasion for months, receiving permission from the Christian camp belonging to Melodic Cove Community Church to hold the ceremony. Around for eight decades, the camp and church has had its ups and downs economically, spiritually after the decline of religion going into the new millennium and physically as camps became obsolete to a world obsessed with smartphones and tablets.

The wedding was an opportunity to keep the camp alive and show neighboring towns that Christian camps were not obsolete, especially when people came together before God to be wed.

Now, as Sonia sat on the back of a firetruck covered in a scraggly gray towel and her wedding dress smeared in blood, that illusion was history. The stench of bodies beginning to decay filled the air as nearby policemen interviewed survivors. Sonia covered her head with the blanket.

Beyond the woods, a wave of brown hair poked out from the darkness. Her eyes scorched blood red blinking at the flashing sirens and first responders helping everyone evacuate the camp. She heard the pastor, Doug; mourning after the Sheriff suggested shutting the place down. There was no way the camp would recover from this PR nightmare, not with twelve bodies strewn across the camp’s chapel and fires burning from the paper lanterns hung outside for the reception knocked over in the chaos.

“I said you would rue the day you took him away from me. Enjoy marital bliss, Sonia, or what’s left of it.”

 

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One month later…

Hannah Miller was used to hearing horror stories from her clients. After all, she was a therapist for almost twenty years. Abuse, alcoholism, drugs. One client had escaped a cult and was still recovering from the twelve year ordeal.

This one, however, topped them all.

“Have you ever gone camping Ms. Miller?” a young girl with curly dark brown hair asked. “People are so mean at those camps, especially the religious ones. They say they want to help you, but in actuality, they lie to your face and talk behind your back.”

“I see and no I haven’t gone camping since I was a child,” Hannah said while scribbling her notes. “Sadly, your point about religious people is correct. They become so corrupted by power that they do the very things they preach against.”

“Exactly,” the girl whispered. “The Christian camps are the worst. They take away things, too. Things that should belong to you.”

Hannah stopped writing. Where is she going with this?  She waited for her patient to continue. Instead, she rolled onto her side. “Did you have a bad experience at a Christian camp?”

“Yes,” she whispered again, trying to hold back tears.

Hannah’s eyes softened. “Tell me about it, Cornelia.”

“I don’t want to,” she said. “Besides, the camp closed down. Best thing that ever happened to the place.”

Hannah arched an eyebrow. During her lunch break, she had read in Garden of Melodic Weekly that another survivor of last month’s massacre, a 94 year old woman, succumbed to her wounds. She was the bride’s great-grandmother and had suffered a near-fatal heart attack.

“Were there ever any therapists onsite at the camp? You know, in case there was something beyond the counselors’ expertise?”

“No. Maybe that would have made a difference, I don’t know.” The patient turned to face Hannah again. Her red eyes darkened. “Do you believe in God avenging His bullied children, Ms. Miller?”

“I’m not sure. I haven’t attended church since I was ten.”

“Do you believe in God, though?”

“Yes.”

“Good. That’s the only thing you can rely on in such an unforgiving place. Maybe you’re the exception.”

“What do you—?”

“I believe our session has concluded for today?” The girl got up, smoothing the wrinkles of her long brown dress with rubies at the collar, waist and skirt. Nodding respectfully, she walked out of Hannah’s office.

 

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“Mrs. Fishman?” Hannah was at the Melodic Cove Library. Noisy kids were running for the children’s section while their parents tried to quiet them. Adults flipped through issues of People and Newsweek near the bestsellers shelves. Teens were on the computers taking notes for summer reading assignments. Another librarian was helping a patron find books he wanted to read.

Mrs. Fishman, a fifty-two year old mother of three with long gray hair and soft, blue eyes looked up. “Oh! Hannah, good to see you! How can I help you today?”

“Do you happen to have a copy of last month’s paper? I know it might be impossible to find but—”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Mrs. Fishman searched the computer. “So how’s therapy going?”

“Same as usual,” she shrugged. “Draining. I was thinking during my next vacation to visit a retreat.”

“Good idea! In fact, why don’t you go to Melodic Cove Community Church’s Christian camp next week? There’s a signup sheet downstairs.”

Hannah stiffened. “I thought the camp was closed down after—”

“It was,” Mrs. Fishman explained, “Doug decided to try one last time to keep the camp, and church if you ask me, afloat. Despite what happened, Mayor Saunders convinced the Sheriff to a trial run lasting a week. If there’s a good turnout and no weddings held, the camp can reopen next season. So far twenty kids signed up and we got at least thirty counselors on board. I think they’re all from the church, though. Doug hopes the community can step up.”

“How does Sonia feel about it?” Hannah had a few sessions with her future mother-in-law, Jean, before the wedding about her reservations.

“That girl is a snake in the grass. I wish Robert could see that, hopefully before it’s too late.”

“Sonia is actually for the reopening,” Mrs. Fishman said. “I was surprised. I thought she would have wanted it to stay closed to prevent another tragedy.”

“How is she?”

“Better most days, worse some. She hasn’t been the same since losing Robert. He was her world. She’s convinced herself that he would have wanted the camp to remain open. Even suggested one of her campers should get married there to save her soul! I don’t know who she’s trying to kid.”

Hannah shook her head in agreement. “I don’t think his family would approve either—”

“Here we are!” Mrs. Fishman went to the backroom and found a copy of the paper. “Last month’s copies of Garden of Melodic Weekly.” Hannah skimmed the front pages of each paper. Coming to the week of the massacre, she recognized Sonia talking with a firefighter at the scene and the bodies of relatives, Robert and her future father-in-law sprawled throughout the chapel. The Sheriff had later confirmed they all died from blunt force trauma caused by flying crucifixes. The person of interest was never found but witnesses claimed a young girl was seen running off with blood in her matted dark brown hair—

Wait, dark brown hair?

Why did that detail stick out to Hannah? “Mrs. Fishman? Was there ever a composite sketch released of the suspect?”

“I don’t believe so. Whoever did it though was out for revenge against Sonia. I can guarantee it.”

 

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Children under ten screamed merrily running around Melodic Cove Christian Camp with sticks pretending they were wizards. Some of the counselors tried to dispel that claiming it was evil.

Hannah shook her head. She understood the counselors were simply doing their job, but really? Open a Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings once in a while and you might think differently. Nearby, two counselors were leading two groups of six teens in canoes on the lake. They were shouting words of encouragement and told them no matter what, God loved them. She smiled at the thought.

Maybe hope for the next generation yet.

“Ms. Miller?” Pastor Doug asked.

Hannah turned. “Yes hello, Pastor. I just wanted to come by to make sure you have taken the necessary precautions?”

“We have, and please call me Doug. I’ve talked it over with Sonia. She’s coming later tonight for the—”

“Pardon me Pastor, but why on earth would you reopen this camp after the massacre? You’re putting children’s lives and, frankly, your congregation’s at risk. Are you that desperate for money?”

Pastor Doug stiffened, his eyes narrowing in disgust. “I will not be talked to that in this manner—”

“Then maybe you should listen to God more,” Hannah continued. “Because the girl who did this will come back to finish what she started or start something new entirely—”

“Then what have you done to prevent such a travesty from occurring again?”

Hannah stopped. Glancing over at the outdoor auditorium where the worship band was practicing for tonight’s bonfire, she said, “I spoke with the local Sheriff for backup and to keep an eye out. I hope that maybe if we catch her and have Sonia talk we can—”

“God help you for dragging Sonia back into this—”

“Pastor Doug. I am a professional and have been trained in mediation. I believe the suspect wants Sonia to suffer and if my hunch is right, she isn’t finished and will come back, thanks to you. We catch her, we could get her calm enough to speak with Sonia and end this peacefully. The Lord gave us free will and a choice to do good or evil in this world. I’m trying to stop the evil.”

“Do you believe in God, Ms. Miller?”

“Yes—” Hannah froze mid-sentence in realization. Cornelia.

“Please don’t do this. I have one more chance to keep this church afloat—”

A blood-curdling scream interrupted his thoughts. Turning, Hannah and Pastor Doug watched in horror as the children ran from an effigy of a calf painted gold spouting fire. Pastor Doug grabbed holy water to dispense the “demon” while Hannah watched the lake turn blood red. The counselors and teens on the canoes paddled quickly. Hannah called the Sheriff with more information and to send more reinforcements.

“It’s just like last time.”

Hannah turned to see Sonia with a dazed look in her eyes. “Last time? What do you mean?”

“Right before Robert and I were gonna get married, an effigy of that same calf used for a lesson about idolatry came alive and began breathing fire at the kids. Later, the lake was turning blood red before nightfall—”

“Did you have a bonfire before the wedding took place?”

Sonia shook her head. “No. The campers two weeks before us did. Nothing happened then.”

“Sonia, I know this is too soon to ask, but why did you want to get married here?”

“I grew up. I used to be such a bully to people and ruined so many lives with my gossipy mouth and poking fun at those with ugly fashion sense. I mean, can you imagine—”

Hannah gave her a dirty look. Another counselor, Dave, and twenty kids returned from going up one of the hiking trails. When he saw the lake, he ushered them away from the sight. Sonia wiped a tear watching the children start crying and asking Dave questions. “You were a counselor, weren’t you Sonia?”

“That’s how I met Robert. He was one, too.” Sonia shuffled her feet against the dirt anxiously. “My parents wanted me to learn respect and kindness so they had me work here one summer. I hated it. But, eventually, I grew to love it.”

“Was one of your campers named Cornelia by any chance?”

Sonia’s feet stopped moving. “She was assigned to me.” She began laughing. “Oh how I hated how beautiful her hair was! Robert was smitten from the start, three years apart—”

Hannah’s eyes widened as a look of disdain formed on her face. “She stole your man. Plus, since you just admitted to me about your ‘gossipy mouth’, you probably bullied her through rumors to make Robert stop loving her. I don’t know what you said and, frankly, I don’t even wanna know. I’m not sure how God feels, but you deserved to lose everything.”

The effigy was smoldering from the holy water as the counselors and Pastor Doug chopped it to pieces and threw it in the lake, now blue again.

Sonia’s eyes watered. “But I’ve changed, honest!”

“Did you really, Sonia? Your mother-in-law certainly didn’t think so—”

“She was a witch,” Sonia blurted out. “Some family that traveled in an RV who didn’t have much I don’t know. I called her cursed of God to make her change her ways. They don’t even belong here; they just travel around and invade people’s lives. She was a weed in a field of wildflowers. They—or she, rather— hated our Christian values and left that atrocity—”

“I thought you just said the camp used that effigy as a lesson about idolatry? If she and her family wanted to learn about God and His goodness, there was a better way to approach it. I may not have attended church for a long time, but even I am not that judgmental and stupid.”

Sonia’s eyes widened. She began blubbering, “They didn’t care! She didn’t care about my feelings; the little witch knew what she was doing! They could care less about others for that matter! I gave up after two days—”

“Maybe that’s the thing, Sonia. You didn’t take the time to care about them.”

 

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The bonfire went on without incident and the calf effigy kept quiet. The band sang their praises as children swayed to the music and lifted their hands up to the starry skies above. In the camp’s chapel, Pastor Doug was tidying the pews after the evening’s service, asking God to bless and protect everyone at the camp. By ten p.m., the lights of every cabin went dark.

Silence fell.

In the lodge where the Pastor and some guests slept, Hannah read over her notes about Cornelia. Shaking her head, she added another note:

“Cause of pain: Jealousy and Bullying

Solution: Murder and Suffering”

 

But there was still one thing Hannah didn’t understand. If Cornelia wanted revenge on Sonia for taking Robert from her—

 

—why was she left alive?

 

A few doors down, Sonia tossed and turned in bed. She was glad the camp was open again but her earlier dispute with Hannah soured the mood. How dare she judge her? Either way, she tried to be hopeful. After all, the kids loved it and were enjoying themselves. She could just picture them singing in their cabins and saying their evening prayers. Everything was going to be fine—

CRASH.

Sonia started. Before she could think, the door slowly swung open. “You.”

“Yes, me. Have you ruined more kids’ lives yet?” Cornelia slammed the door shut.

“If you wanted to kill me, why’d you spare me?”

“I feel the greatest punishment in the world is leaving a victim alive while others suffer agonizing deaths. Why kill the damned when you can make them suffer hell on earth?”

“You loved Robert!! You didn’t have to kill him!”

“I didn’t have a choice,” Cornelia sniffed from regret. “He chose you. I was dead to him the moment you started those rumors about me. He wouldn’t have loved me after what I did, so I had to kill him. What did I ever do to you?

“You were pretty and a man I loved wanted you instead. Cursed among God, remember? Or should I say, cursed weed?” Seizing an opportunity, she grabbed the bedside lamp and smashed it against Cornelia’s head, who dodged just in the nick of time. Glass shattered to the floor as Cornelia kicked her in the face, making Sonia stagger. She then tripped her again.

Tying her to the bed with the sheets, Cornelia cackled. “I think I’ll just leave you like this. I guess the saints really do turn out to be the greatest of sinners.”

A commotion of voices and footsteps were heard outside the door. Sonia screamed for help. Cornelia opened the nearby window to escape. “Peace at last,” she breathed.

Sonia struggled against her binds, until one hand slipped out. She quickly untied the others and pulled the nearby crucifix off the wall. Cornelia turned in shock as Sonia screamed, “This is for ruining my wedding! YOU RUINED MY LIFE!!”

Blood splattered against the walls, her clothes and face as Cornelia struggled to fight back. The door broke down as Pastor Doug and the counselors restrained Sonia. The crucifix fell to the ground in a heap, covered in blood and strands of Cornelia’s hair.

Hannah didn’t enter the room. Instead, she closed her eyes at Sonia’s screams of anger. She dialed the Sherriff. “You might need to come down here. There’s been another incident,” she said.

Sonia sobbed the names of Cornelia’s victims as she was being handcuffed. The children were ushered away by the counselors and asked to collect their things. Crowds formed outside the crime scene.

Summer camp was over, and so was Melodic Cove Community Church.

Hannah looked down at the deformed face of Cornelia, her mouth slightly open and eyes closed forever. The EMT covered her remains with a white sheet. The autopsy would later pinpoint the exact cause of death: blunt force trauma by crucifix.

Pastor Doug wept. Grabbing her suitcase, Hannah left the camp without speaking to him.

 

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The camp was shuttered for good after the weeklong trial. The children were actually sad about it, being young enough not to understand what had gone on the month prior. Pastor Doug left his flock overnight, wanting to avoid any more scandal ruining his name and church forever. Everyone who belonged to the church scattered among nearby groups or left town entirely.

Hannah stood outside the yellow tape closing off the camp from the outside world two weeks after the trial. Sonia received life in prison for the gruesome murder of Cornelia. Her remains were delivered to her family, where they chose to have a Christian burial. Hannah spoke with both families during long, agonizing therapy sessions. After one session where Robert’s mother-in-law threatened the life of Sonia’s mother, she called time and had someone else take on the case.

She was done. She saw the signs too late. But, maybe deep down she knew what was coming, and just wanted everything to sort itself out.

She hoped God would one day forgive her.

“Ms. Miller?”

Hannah turned to see a thin built young woman with mousy brown hair down her back, a long blue dress and green eyes step forward. “Hello, Charity.”

“So, this is the camp?” Hannah nodded solemnly. “How can you still say you believe in God after this?”

Hannah turned to the empty chapel, pristine from the recent renovation during the trial run. “I just do. Sonia got her due in the end. Cornelia…”

“Got hers.”

“In a strange way, she did. They both did. I could have done more.”

“But you didn’t. Sonia, in a way, deserved it. Maybe you just wanted them to sort it out like you had hoped. There is a lesson to be learned, I guess.” Charity coughed. “Will you be able to help my child? I know this is a difficult time but I heard you were the best out there with helping people.”

Hannah turned to Charity. “I pray to God every day that I still can.”

“Then do it. Try again.”

“You’re right. After all, we have free will.”

 

 About the Author

author-kristin-rivers

Kristin Rivers is a fiction/short story writer, blogger and aspiring playwright. She is a 2016 graduate of Smith College with a Bachelor’s in English Language and Literature and also holds an Associate’s in Creative Writing from Holyoke Community College. Since graduating, she has kept herself busy job searching, networking, keeping up-to-date on happenings at her alma mater and starting her own writing blog, The Writer’s Soul. Other recent endeavors include contributing blog posts, submitting short stories online for writing contests, tutoring and becoming a Content Creator for creative marketplace, YAYWORLD. She currently lives in Massachusetts as she continues working on her first novel, exploring other writing opportunities and hoping to one day move to Nashville, Tennessee. You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram.

 

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What Came in the Cloud

by Jamie Adams

 

It’s just past lunch when the cloud arrives. Deeks is on his way to the tennis court behind the dining hall when it descends, a languorous, bloated pool of indifferent plum. He looks up and when he looks down, he finds that his steps leave scorched earth behind him and his hands are blackening swiftly.

In the dining hall, Margo and Luke clear their dishes and step outside. The campers come tomorrow and it’s time for a dry run down at the waterfront. When 300 second and third graders fall onto the camp like a hailstorm, there’s no room to not know what you’re doing. They leave the humid dining hall and walk past the tetherball courts in the thick air. They step into the circumference of the cloud.

When Margo’s hands wrap around Luke’s neck, pale against sun-dark skin, she is indifferent to the crack of his neck echoing off the surrounding hills as it snaps.

 

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Evangeline and Hanna miss the cloud at first. It’s 103 with 97% humidity and they’re by the stream at the northern boundary of the camp, stripped to flamingo pink and electric green bikinis. Evangeline’s is striped, Hanna’s is polka-dotted. Both are statements to the boyfriends who broke up with them right before camp because “you like each other more than us and we’re sick of being second.”

“This water is freezing. I think a fish just touched me.” Hanna flips her long, wet hair back, running her hands over it as she stands waist deep in the gurgling water.

“You’re full of complaints today. Wash that chip off your shoulder while you’re in there.” Evangeline crosses her short legs at the ankles and tips her head back to bathe in the sun.

Hanna bolts toward shore with a scream. “Okay, that’s it. We’re done. That was definitely a fish and it definitely touched me. I’m out.”

“Good, you can work on your tan with me.” Evangeline waves her hand over her pale legs, almost painfully bright in the direct sunlight.

Hanna flips her hair and towels the sand off her feet as she steps into her sandals. “I know I’m weirdly unreasonable, but I’m going to have to pass on hanging out with the horseflies and your legs when it’s a billion degrees out here. I want lunch.”

“We ditched lunch for this great experience we’re having.”

“I’m unditching. I want a turkey sandwich with dill pickle chips, and I want it now.”

The woods are cool and full of shadows. A crow screams through the pines. Hanna stubs her toe against the hidden stump of an ancient tree. A branch flips under Evangeline’s foot and opens a scratch down her calf. Both girls leave a trail of careless steps and pinprick blood spots down the needle-laden path. In the slanting green light, the sweat on Evangeline’s face glows a jaundiced yellow. The path is longer than they remember. Flip flops on pine needles make for slow, slippery going and the humidity weaves a fine, damp lace over every inch of their skin. It takes them all the way to the other side of the forest to notice the burnt rubber scent in the air.

 

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Anna takes out the trash after lunch. The dumpster used to be right behind the kitchen but then there was a health code problem and now it’s closer to the edge of the woods. As Anna heaves the bulging black sack over her head into the rusting green dumpster, she realizes she’s leaking.  She, not the garbage, leaves a trail of liquid along the sand as she takes three steps back and looks up at the engorged bruise of cloud overhead. Bile and water pool around her faster than the thirsty earth can absorb it.

David and Graham fish Asher out of the lake, howling with laughter. Asher shakes himself like a dog, water flying from the ends of his hair and the tip of his nose. “Not cool. And now revenge is a given. Both of you will have to watch your backs.” He peels a long, molding green string of seaweed off his shoulder.

“I’m not too worried.” David means it when he says it, but the wind shifts slightly and the smell of rot and decay mixes with lake water. He is uneasy.

Graham follows Asher down the dock back to the sand. He looks down the shoreline and freezes. “Oh, what?”

David doesn’t register the sudden stop and knocks into Graham, who stumbles into Asher. Asher lands on his knees in cold damp sand. The palm of his right hand rests beside a severed fish head. He’s a few months from finishing an EMT certification, just counseling at camp for the nostalgia of all the summers he’s worked before. He’s seen blood, guts, bone, but he’s never seen a lake’s worth of fish lying mangled on the shore, bloated and gray in the heat. They are so numerous they’re stacked atop each other like scaled, wet building blocks and every single one has been separated from it’s head. Asher throws up.

Graham, who can mock anyone for anything but still be invited to their birthday parties, turns to David to comment.

David is looking up at the roiling cloud hanging low over the camp. His eyes are bleeding.

Graham wants to run but the lake has taken on a brackish sheen and at the end of the dock, Asher’s head begins to fall forward as the deep line of a fatal cut opens around his neck.

The cloud is growing. Long purple fingers unfurl across the sky, swallowing up the sunlight and sand.

Graham reaches for the sky, though he can’t say why he’d risk it, and is startled to find himself streaked with algae. It spreads, black and molding, down his arms and over his bare chest. It saves his mouth for last.

 

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When Hanna and Evangeline reach the edge of the woods, a breeze picks up. Hanna chokes at the stench, mossy and coppery and freshly rotting. Evangeline’s skin breaks out in goosebumps. She sweeps her hair up on top of her head and secures it into a ballerina’s perfect knot.

The first one they find is Anna, a shriveled husk already crumbling at the edges.

Hanna freezes, desperate to touch, to understand, but even in her shock she can see there’s no helping Anna now. It occurs to her to call for help. Her cell phone chirps impotently, no service. She follows Evangeline numbly, her steps disjointed. Evangeline takes off her shirt and ties it over the lower half of her face as the stench grows stronger. She leads the two of them through the empty camp, past bodies with missing limbs, past mold and scales and fluids. The buildings are aged well past their normal state. Shingles fly from the roofs in gusts of fish-laden wind. The siding of the cabins pulls away, nails popping and boards growing. Loose leaves and pine needles spin together in small whirlwinds. Dust coats their sticky skin.

“I guess we’re done here.” Evangeline gives her shorts a tug up higher around her waist. She pulls the shirt from her face. Her jaw has been reduced to bone. She lifts a hand to push tangled wisps of hair from her temples. Skin blows away like ash, reducing her to an interconnected network of raw white bones and knobby joints.

Hanna shrieks. The sound of it is caught up in the cloud overhead.

“Did you still want that turkey sandwich?”

Hanna can hardly stay on her feet. Her T-shirt blows skintight and translucent against her body. The swimsuit she bought to match Evangeline’s glows beneath. “What are you?”

Evangeline smiles, neat rows of small teeth in the bones of a strong jaw. “Your friend.” She points a skeletal finger. The cloud lowers. The wind dies away. The heavy heat settles wetly on their chilled skin.

“I think I want to skip lunch and go to the stream.” Hanna’s face is gray. Her eyes are glassy. Her foot still bleeds from the injury in the woods, bright and slow.

Evangeline flicks a strip of skin from the bones of her arm. “We can swim first and eat afterwards.”

“I want a turkey sandwich and dill pickle chips.” Hanna runs a hand over her long hair, dull and separated under the weight of the deeply bruised sky.

Evangeline leads the way past the stained sand, over the decaying corpses scattered through the camp. “Whatever you want is fine by me.”

Hanna looks over her shoulder. She does not look dissimilar from the trees around her. “You’re being awfully generous today.”

Evangeline lifts a single finger. The forest blackens, a path of coal and ash leading them back to the stream. “That’s what friends are for,” she says.

 

 

About the Author

jamie-adams-pic

Jamie is an MG and YA writer, among other things. She has a minor shoe addiction, major coffee addiction, and the ability to read multiple books in a single day if left uninterrupted. Christmas is her favorite holiday: colorful lights, peppermint candy, and sweet, sappy stories included.

She can be found at jamieadamswriting.wordpress.com or on Twitter at @jamie_adams22.

 

FREE showcase stories for more amazing stories from Jamie:

Haunted Hotel: Catch Keeper’s Snare

Night Harvest: Blood Moon

Spring Flings: Strings and Shadows

12 Days of Christmas: Second December

Dark Carnival: The Whites of Their Eyes

 

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The Art of Crafting friends

by Kathleen Palm

 

The first time I saw a ghost, I was three. The wispy form of Dad came to my room and said good-bye. I remember it clearly, how the flowered wallpaper on my wall cut across his middle, vague blobs of color shining through his gray form. I remember his wavering grin and the shine of his eyes. I remember how free he was. No more questions. No more pain. No more limits. Just cold bliss.

I hold onto that image, that feeling as I tuck my hands in my lap, my fingers tugging at the holes in the hem of my shirt, Dad’s shirt. I ride in silence in the passenger seat of Mom’s shiny new car. A shadow sits behind me, whisper whisper whispering a warning…no, not a warning, a promise. I can’t reply. Not in front of Mom.

Spirits. Entities. The dead. Not everyone believes.

I glance at Mom. Her hair tugged into a messy gray-streaked ponytail. Her green-eyed gaze fixed on the bumpy country road as she talks and talks, her words trained on the need to make me normal.

I pretend they’re not there, the ghosts. For her. For the therapist she dragged me to.

“Oh, Genevieve, you’re going to have so much fun.” Mom’s words ache with forced enthusiasm. “You just need to talk to the other kids and get involved in activities. At the end of the week, you’ll have so many friends.”

I have friends. Out the window, a mass of greenery spreads out from the road. Trees. Trees. And trees. Between the trunks, hunched in death, ghosts creep to the side of the road. They come for me. They sense me, one who can see them, hear them. I want to go to them.

“It’s pretty here. There’s canoeing and archery. They might have horses too.”

Mom won’t stop talking, all the way to summer camp…Camp Friendship, or something stupid like that. A flood of words, of encouragement, of happiness, of positivity. At least one of us has benefitted from therapy.

She taps her fingers on the steering wheel. “You can forget all about your imaginary friends.”

The figures in the trees, the wispy figure behind me in the car, not imaginary.

“I mean imaginary friends were cute when you were three or maybe five, but not at eleven years old.”

I clench my jaw and clasp my hands, holding in the words I want to scream.

Over the road, a large wooden arch holds the words ‘Welcome to Camp Friendship’ in crooked black letters. We bump into a dirt parking lot. Sunlight reflects off shining smiles as kids run between cars with bags banging on their backs and knees.

A shiver of hate crawls along my back. They know nothing. Only the limited view of the living.

I run my fingers over my watch. Dad’s watch.

Mom pulls the car into an empty spot and turns the key. “We’re here!”

I reach for the handle. “Great.”

The closing of the car door echoes in my head, so final, like the sound of a guillotine blade striking. I know because the ghosts show me the past, bring it to life in my mind, teach me. With a stupid smile plastered on her face, Mom hands me my bag, then heads to a building with a sagging sign with the word ‘registration’ printed in unhappy block letters.

Trees line the parking lot, and, tucked within their trunks, cabins crouch under leaf-covered branches. Sunlight freckles the metal roofs and wood sides. Spirits hover outside the spots of light. They call me.

I want to be with them, the dark misty forms and silver wisps of those who have been.

But there are others creeping along the ground. Dark and jagged beings constantly hunting, searching, but for what I don’t know. They never tell me. The not-people, I call them. One hid under my bed when I was six or seven. It tap tap tapped on my floor, on my walls, on the ceiling. Mom never heard it and didn’t believe me.

She never believes me.

It had never been a person, never been alive. Skulking and sneaking. Tapping and growling. It played wicked games. It spouted evil words, though I never feared it. It hovered in corners and crept along the ceilings, but didn’t hurt me. And one day it was gone. I met others, more not-people, over the years. One here. One there. Months would pass, years would go by, without seeing their crooked shapes flicker across a doorway. But at this camp, hordes of not-people crawl and limp through the shadows.

Strange and intriguing. For a moment, I am glad to be here.

But why are they here? Why this camp?

Voices slink from every shadow and ooze over the shiny new shoes of the smiling campers, unaware and uncaring. We were called. We were summoned. We were promised a gift.

A gift?

We wait for the promise to be fulfilled.

“Genevieve!”

I spin, the calm place I found ripped away by my name. Mom has her hands on her hips and fury clear on her face.

In a few purposeful strides, she stands before me. Her gaze dips, as if taking in my shirt, Dad’s shirt. “It’s not real, what you think you see out there. You know that.”

“No,” I say, begging for a fight. “You know that.”

Mom’s hands crash onto my shoulders, her fingers pressing with a need to silence me. “No more of this!”

I wiggle out from under her grasp. “I don’t want to be here with these…people!” Frustration sinks into my words, lifting them above a whisper. “They don’t understand. I hate—”

“Stop!” Mom glanced around, giving half smiles to those who gaze our way. She closes her eyes for a moment, then takes a breath. “You can’t hate the living…you are one.”

A phrase the therapist made me repeat.

“You feel as if you don’t belong, so you’ve created a world only you can see.”

More nonsense from the therapist. I’ve tried before, to be in the world. It never works. Ever.

“Time to let that go,” her voice is a dangerous whisper. “No more getting kicked out of school for scaring kids with talk of ghosts. No more avoiding life. You will go to camp. You will make friends. You will be normal.”

Normal. Like the girls who giggle and skip around me? I’m not like other people. The dead find me. They talk to me. That is my normal. I can’t help that I am drawn to their cold, to their knowledge.

Mom grabs my hand and walks towards a door with another registration sign taped to the glass. With an uneasy smile, she looks at the other parents and kids. “Don’t be nervous, dear. You will have so much fun!”

They follow me. Whispering. Tapping. Growling. No judgements. No expectations. No petty name calling or eyes full of insults. Unseen, but not unfelt as campers and parents react with a shiver or glance over their shoulder.

Not-people slink down the roof to the top of the doorway. Pointed fingers stretch over the stone. Eyes shine from black heads, staring at me. Obsidian claws reaching.

I reach my hand to the lingering shadows. “My friends.”

They want something. Need something. Maybe I can help them.

I enter the building. Adults stand, shifting as if uneasy, as if overwhelmed, as if ready to get away from the noise and chaos. Voices echo as kids run to greet each other. Other girls watch from the sidelines, quiet smiles of excitement. This is not exciting. It’s torture. Mom pulls me through the room. She expertly slides past parents standing with bags hanging from their arms or sitting at their feet. I barely avoid collisions with little brothers and girls intent on getting as far from their parents as possible. Mom continues to look back at me, as if afraid I will disappear.

If I could vanish, I would.

Spirits glide along the ceiling. Not-people crouch in the corners. Watching. Waiting. For what?

Girls giggle, huddled together, whispering secrets. I wait for them to look at me. They always do, their stares laced with mean words and sickening grins. The living. Shallow and awful.

“Just a little effort and you can make so many friends. Real friends,” Mom says with a nod to the masses as she pulls me to a table.

They will never be my friends.

Smiling adults sit behind the table, pens tapping on papers with lists of names. A woman with a limp, brown ponytail sits up straight. “Hi! Welcome!”

I glance at a name tag stuck to her shirt. The edges curl around the green hand-written letters. Margo.

“I’m sorry, we’re late,” Mom says, a hint of annoyance in her voice. “Someone was reluctant to come.”

“Oh, sweetie,” Margo says with a lame look of sympathy. “You’re going to have so much fun, you’ll forget all about missing home.”

But I won’t miss home.

“This is Genevieve Fries.”

“Just Gen,” I say.

“Well, Just-Gen, you’re in Cabin 13. Find the counselor with the Cabin 13 sign. They will lead you to your happy home away from home in a few minutes!”

Just-Gen. Like I haven’t heard that before, as well as Genevieve believes, Geneweirdo, Spooky Gen.

“She has trouble making friends,” Mom adds.

I clench my fists, fighting the urge to slam my hands on the table and declare that I have friends, ones that don’t post stupid pictures online, ones that don’t make me feel bad for wanting to wear my dad’s old shirts, ones that don’t make fun of my light blonde, nearly white, hair.

“Oh, well, don’t worry, here at Camp Friendship, we’re all friends!” Margo’s words are sickly sweet and hollow.

To distract myself form the need to throw up, I check the room for my friends. Shadows glide across the floor, hover at the ceiling, and pass in front of windows. Darkness gathers in the corners and crawls up the walls. Thick and burning, the air sparks with their desire…their hunger.

So strong. Excitement at what it could mean drives away my annoyance.

Mom embraces me, an awkward hug filled with demands. “Be nice to people. Make friends.” So much left unsaid.

To fulfill her expectations. To be normal.

Only I won’t.

With a few smiles of encouragement and waves, Mom slips out the door. I turn to the counselor waving a sign with the number 13 and tiny hearts painted on it. Her dual braids bounce on her shoulders, her smile a perky curl. I don’t look at her name tag. I don’t care. In a wave of squeals and flailing girls, I am swept to the group headed to Cabin 13. Pine needles cushion my feet. Birds sing and flutter in the air. A breeze carries the solemn voices of the dead, call call calling me. Shadow people circle the mob of campers. Silver mist trails overhead. Spirits everywhere. They want to talk to me, to share their stories. It’s the not-people who creep at the edges of my vision, jagged angles and harsh black, that demand my attention. Wanting…something.

We want what was promised.

What was promised?

“Go ahead and unpack your things, Cabin 13! Then meet back at the main cabin for arts and crafts. Our theme is friendship!” Counselor Perky waves at the cabin, a poor example of a place to live, and skips off along the trail, leaving me trapped in a group of girls.

Girls I was supposed to talk to, to be friends with. I want to run off into the woods with the ghosts. I want to hear their tales and learn what they know. I long for the cold touch of forgotten fingers and memories of days lost to the past.

The screen door creaks as the girls push their way in, chatting and laughing. The wood floors echo with footsteps as a group of seven rush to one side lined with three bunk beds. Four others wander to the opposite side of the square room, glancing at the larger group, as if gauging how well they would be accepted. They all look at me, judgement in their eyes, as if wondering who will get stuck with me as a bunk mate. A game the living play and the dead don’t. Beds protest as bags land on their rusty springs while everyone discusses where they want to sleep, pushing beds together and sharing where they are from and what they like. Clothes and make-up and boys and being happy to be away from their parents. Nothing important. Nothing real. Cell phones flash as they take pictures.

I don’t have a phone. The dead don’t like flashes and pictures.

I toss my stuff by the door, away from the oddness of the living. The corner of one of Dad’s books pokes out from the top of my duffel bag, his glasses a comforting weight in my jacket pocket. My keepsakes, stolen from a box without Mom’s knowing, to remind me of Dad, of what he said, of what it meant to see him before the light swallowed him.

I lean against the door, ignoring the bright colors of life and turning to the gray. Shadows grow, shift. Ghosts step through the walls. Not-people crawl up through the floor, clinging to the underside of beds, dark fingers gripping the sides, waiting.

“And you are?”

I look up. The group of seven girls stare at me, hair twisted in fancy designs. The others in the cabin fall silent.

“Gen,” I say, my gaze straying to the creeping shadows.

A girl in a pink tank top steps forward, judgement oozing from her stance. “So, Gen, what are you looking at?”

Ghosts. Spirits. “Nothing.”

“Nothing must be pretty interesting,” a girl with red curls says. She laughs, then everyone laughs, before returning to their meaningless chatter.

Make friends. With the living?

Not-people crowd under the beds and hang from the ceiling. So many. So powerful. So hungry.

The sensation flows from them to me. They look to me. As if asking a secret question. Begging. Icy fingers grip my leg and I look down at a wicked grin. A game. Fun. I gaze at the girls of Cabin 13, who glance at me, as if confused as to what I am, and giggle. My insides fill with frigid delight.

A high-pitched whine precedes the loud speaker crackling to life. “Arts and crafts begin in the main building in a few minutes!”

With eyes rolling and phones in hand, the seven girls file out the door. The others follow, looking a bit more excited.

I take up the rear. A pulsing wave of darkness crashes behind me. Not-people and ghosts. Excitement drips from them as if what they need is close.

The crowd enters the main building and finds seats at long tables, tables full of glue and paper and glitter, of string and beads and fabric. Those who follow me, who speak to me, guide me to take a seat in the center of the room, in the center of the smiling girls, who talk talk talk as if they know everything.

The counselors direct us to create something to give to a new friend. To open our hearts to new people. To give a gift.

Not-people stir and shudder. A gift.

Beads scatter across the table. The pile of string is pulled in different directions. Talk of bracelets and necklaces flitters from one girl to the next. Beads and string don’t make friends. I long for the cold touches, for the knowing of what comes after this strange existence. There are no questions in the icy embrace of death. There is no pain. No glasses without an owner. No ragged shirt hanging from slumped too-small shoulders.

The spirits rise behind the campers. Not-people crawl onto the backs of the living and occupy open spaces on the benches. Black voids among the color of life.

“Gee, I wonder why she has trouble making friends?”

I glance up at brown eyes locked on me.

Brown Eyes nudges the giggling blonde next to her and points at me. “Did you hear her mom?”

Miss Giggling Blonde laughs and nods as her face twists with evil intentions. “Maybe if you weren’t weird, you could make friends.”

I grip the hem of my shirt, holding in the hate that wants to spill out. “I don’t want to be your friend.”

Brown Eyes rolls her eyes. “Oh. I’m hurt.”

“The girl who stares at nothing,” a familiar voice says. Pink Tank Top from Cabin 13 strolls along the aisle.

“What are you wearing?” Red Curls from Cabin 13 follows in Pink’s wake.

My fingers poke through the holes at the hem of Dad’s shirt. Anger coils deep in my soul ready to strike. The living and their questions, their need to pick and poke and make fun of.

I hate it. I hate them.

The dark spots around the room seep in through the frail edges between here and there. The dead’s eyes fill with longing. Hunger. Whispers fill the air. Chanting. Their icy fingers caress the girls’ faces.

A gift. Our gift.

I know what they want, what they’ve been waiting for.

Make. Create.

The image of a symbol glows in my head.

Make. Create.

I know what I need to do, what they need me to do. My friends.

How? Draw the symbol? Make it real. Not-people grip the table edges, staring at me.

Make. Create. The words grow louder, screaming in my mind.

I need something to draw on.

I reach for paper, but not-people push it away. Make. Create.

A wad of pipe cleaners sits in the center of the table. I grab a handful and scatter them in front of me, colorful and fun. The symbol burns through my thoughts, dark and powerful. A star. A crescent. An arrow. All these somehow combined. Not-people drag their claws over the table. The room vibrates, it hums, as if ready to explode.

I don’t know if I can bend these fuzzy nothings into what I see. Not-people cheer for me, push me. A red, blue, and purple form a crescent. Not-people call for more. Green, green, and white and the crescent grows. An arrow. Black, purple, black, yellow. A star. My fingers trip and stumble over each other as frustration tangles the commands traveling from my brain to my hands. I hold the final shape in my thoughts. Not-people close on me, grip my arms with cold touches. I work as fast as I can, my fingers guided by the dead.

I swipe the remaining pipe cleaners from the center of the table, waving away the whiny protests of the others at the table. They don’t like me. I don’t care.

My creation must be…will be perfect.

One look. Their minds will open. Make. Create. Our gift.

The ghostly chant gains momentum as I near the completion of my task. Excitement rambles in my chest, pounding on my heart.

I finish crafting the symbol, and a rush of power darkens my mind. Ghosts press forward. Not-people hiss and tap tap tap on the wood tables.

One look.

I look from one twisted form to another. Look?

Everyone must see.

So many girls fill the room. How do I get everyone to see? Cold hands boost me up, help me to stand on the bench. Everyone must see. Everyone must look at the strange girl who has no friends.

Except I have a lot of friends.

I thrust the arts and craft project in the air. “My friends!”

Bright faces turn to me. Bodies become motionless and smiles freeze into emotionless grins. The glint in the eyes of the living fade as shadows drape across their skin. Not-people crawl onto the campers’ backs and sink their dark claws into heads covered with shiny blonde or perfectly curled hair. Black seeps over the girls’ eyes, no longer full of shallow thoughts and judgements.

The pipe cleaner symbol flares to life with blue flame, then disintegrates. I drop my arm. The bodies around me stiffen, then jerk. All of them. Everyone has looked at me. Hands slam on tables. Feet stamp on the floor. Spasms rock their shoulders, slanting one way then the other. Bones snap and pop. Muscles quiver. With a collective gasp, the bodies still. One by one, they pick up a hand and gaze at it in wonder. Black oozes from eyes and down chins.

“My friends,” I say as I climb down from my perch. “Join me for arts and crafts!”

My friends whisper in strange new voices as not-people and spirits make themselves at home in the living.

Maybe Mom will believe me when I tell her I have friends. I’ve always had friends.

 

About the Author

 

kathy-palm-author-photo

Kathleen Palm loves the weird, the scary, and the fantastical, believing that magic makes the world a fabulously strange place. Her kids, husband, cats, and dog add laughter and general chaos to her life, which includes writing, reading, and watching creepy television shows, featuring demons or time travel. An author with REUTS Publications, she is working on her debut YA fantasy DOORS. Her short stories DARK WOLF and TOGETHER can be found in the anthology FAIRLY TWISTED TALES FOR A HORRIBLY EVER AFTER. Her horror short story WHAT LURKS IN THE DARKNESS can be found in the anthology HALLOWEEN NIGHT: TRICK OR TREAT.

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Wolves of Camp River Swamp

by Danielle McKinney

 

It was the worst summer camp on the face of the planet but Alec’s parents insisted that he had to go. They didn’t want him to waste his summer days playing video games. It wasn’t their summer, but still Alec was forced to attend Swamp River Camp for Teens.

“Alec, you might like it. You won’t know unless you give it a chance,” his mom said, trying to sell him on the idea. She had no clue about what he liked. Staying inside was more his forte, not running in the woods with a bunch of idiots trying to bond while singing campfire songs.

Despite his pleas and his attempts to try to get his dad to stop these shenanigans, Alec was going to summer camp. He packed up everything, including his Beats headphones and his tricked out alien laptop. Maybe I could just stay in the cabin and game the whole summer without having to take a step-in nature, he thought to himself.

His mom popped her head in the door as he was trying to shut his duffel bag. “You’re not taking all that stuff, are you?”

“Mom, you’re sticking me in the wilderness already. Can’t you at least allow me to enjoy it in style?”

Resigned, she said, “Just don’t lose it. Your father and I are not replacing it.”

“And I wouldn’t ask you to, because I am going to guard this stuff with my life. Plus, I don’t think I’ll be leaving the cabin much anyways.”

“I think that they might have a no electronics rule at the camp, but if you want to take that risk, that is up to you.”

“The risk is worth it. I still think you’re wrong. Summer camp sucks and this is going to be a crappy summer if I’m stuck in the woods.”

“You might be surprised, though.”

“Yeah, right,” he grumbled. She wouldn’t budge.

Twenty minutes later, Alec boarded a bus with 20 other teens to go to summer camp. This was going to be social hell. Plus, they were singing. Hopefully I wouldn’t be bleeding from my ears anytime soon, he thought. He kept looking out the window, hoping that this torture would be over soon.

Two hours after he climbed on board, the bus pulled onto a bumpy, dirt road. They passed a worn, wooden sign that read “Welcome to Swamp River Camp for Teens!” The bus stopped in front of the camp mess hall. Further down the road, he could see tiny log cabins. Alec was praying for wi-fi service out here, but he seriously doubted it.

Before they could even stand up from their seats, a portly man launched himself onto the bus, clipboard in hand. He wore a baseball cap that covered his unruly, black hair.

“Good Morning campers!” he yelled with way too much enthusiasm. Some of the other kids mumbled good mornings at him, but apparently, that wasn’t good enough. “Campers, I said ‘Good Morning!’ Let me hear ya!” This time, the response was louder, and this seemed to satisfy him.

“I’m Camp Director Dave, and before we get to the cabins, I have some rules to go over. Number One rule is to have fun, but also be safe. No venturing off into the woods by yourself. Always bring a buddy! Number two is, if you need to use the bathrooms after dark, remember to grab your buddy. Now, I don’t want to drag on and on, so I’ll go over more rules when we’re at dinner tonight in the mess hall. But remember to have fun!”

As he bounded off the bus, the others started to gather their belongings and step cautiously out into the sunshine. Once everything was sorted out, the camp counselors grouped the kids up by name and took them to the cabin where they would be spending the rest of the summer. Alec grabbed the first empty bottom bunk and started to unpack all his tech. He was approached by a chubby guy he recognized from the bus, a kid who resembled a pig, if a pig had blonde hair and wore tiny, round glasses.

“Hey, I’m Simon. This is the last bunk. Would it be cool if I grabbed the bottom?” he said.

Alec looked around the cabin and every bed seemed to be full. He begrudgingly started moving his stuff up to the top bunk. “Do you mind if I sit on the bottom, just until I get my tech up?”

“Is that a gaming computer?” Simon said.

Alec nodded.

“I don’t think we’re allowed to have electronics here. My parents made me keep all my computer stuff home. They said that it would just get confiscated by Camp Director Dave.”

“Well, I’m willing to take that risk.” Alec stowed his duffel bag under the bunk while Simon dropped his bag on the side of the bunk bed by the ladder, leaving enough room for him to climb up.

“Hello, campers!” Camp Director Dave bellowed as he burst into the cabin. “Just wanted to check up on you all and see how much unpacking you’ve got left.” The counselor’s eyes fell on Alec and his barely hidden laptop. He shook his head, disappointed, although he knew that there was always one kid in the group who insisted on bringing in some sort of electronics.

“Hey, son. I’m afraid I am going to have to confiscate your laptop there. Camp River Swamp does not allow computers, tablets, phones, mp3 players… any of that stuff.”

Sighing, Alec packed up all his gaming equipment and handed it all over to the camp director. And this is how I know this summer is going to suck, Alec thought to himself.

Dave patted the teen on the shoulder. “Sorry I’ve got to do this to you, bud. I know that you might think you’re not going to like it here, but that is going to change.”

“Whatever,” Alec grumbled, rolling his eyes at the now laptop-less bunk.

“What was that?” the camp director asked.

“Nothing,” Alec answered.

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That night, Alec woke up to complete darkness, his skin clammy with sweat. The first day of camp was over with; just 20 more days to go. His gaming gear confiscated, he had no choice but to participate in the camp activities. It’s not like they can force me to do all of their stupid activities. I should just park myself right here for the next three weeks, Alec thought. Thinking he was the only one awake, he climbed down the wooden ladder to the floor to go take a leak.

“Hey, you’re supposed to have a buddy if you go out,” Simon said, sitting up in the lower bunk.

Without a pause, Alec exited the cabin. “Go ahead, tell on me, dude. Maybe I’ll get kicked out and get go home.”

As he made his way to the boys’ bathroom – more like glorified outhouse – Alec hoped Simon would tell on him. Maybe if he broke enough rules, then he would get sent home. Alec hated hanging out with people. He had gamed and talked with others online, but never met them in real life. He kept to himself, and because of that, his mom banished him to summer camp.

“He’ll make friends there,” she told his father. “This teen camp will be good for him.” She had started to sound like a broken record by the time the day finally came for him to leave.

In the dingy bathroom, he splashed cold water onto his face, hoping that would cool him down. As he looked up in the mirror above the sink. a dark shape passed behind him, reflected in the glass. Whipping around, but he saw nothing but empty bathroom stalls. He turned back to the sink, where the water had stopped flowing.

“What the hell?” he said to his reflection, “God, get a grip, man. It probably shut off automatically and you just didn’t notice it.” Taking a deep, trembling breath and gripping the edges of the sink, Alec focused on his own face in the cloudy mirror, trying not to freak out.

A high-pitched, rending screech rattled the air behind him. Alec whipped around, and in the pale-yellow light, his eyes found four long, ragged scratches in the thin metal stall door. The teen bolted from building, slamming into the swinging door and stumbling out into the night. He never saw the girl – one second he was running for his life, and the next, he was flat on his back in the dirt. Standing before him, looking nonplussed, was a pale, dark-haired girl dressed in the white shorts and a pink polo shirt that the counsellors wore.

“Shit, sorry,” he mumbled as he fumbled his way to his feet.

“It’s fine. I bet you run into girls in the dark all the time.” She smiled and her eyes gleamed in the moonlight.

“Only the pretty ones,” he replied, mesmerized.

Concern flooded her face. “Are you okay? You look terrified.”

“Something, a bear or some kind of animal, clawed through one of the stalls in the boys’ bathroom. I thought I was next.” He laughed half-heartedly, trying to sound like he was joking but making a bad job of it.

Her hands on her hips, she admonished him, her eyes sparkling. “Well, you shouldn’t have gone off by yourself. The camp director is strict when it comes to kids running around the camp unsupervised.”

“I won’t tell if you won’t.”

“We should get back. You don’t want to get caught outside at night,” she said. In the woods, right behind the bathroom building, something – or somethings – began to howl like a pack of hungry wolves.

“Yup, I agree. Time to get back to bed.”

“It’s like you think I’m kidding. I told you that it’s best not to go cavorting alone at night. The woods hide many wild animals.” She turned and started to jog back to the girls’ cabins.

“Hey, I didn’t get your name!” Alec called out to her.

“It’s Cat,” she yelled back over her shoulder.

He hurried back to his own cabin and the safety of his bunk. Simon was asleep by the time he got back. How could he sleep through that eerie howling? Then another thought struck him. What kind of summer camp had wolves, anyway? It’s probably not the best place to build a camp for kids in woods with wolves lurking around. He planned to ask the camp director first thing in the morning. He fell asleep as exhaustion took him, the wolves howling through the night.

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The next day, Alec never got a chance to talk to the camp director. Every time that Alex got remotely close to him, he was always busy. If there were wolves in the woods that were savage enough to claw through a metal bathroom door, then the campers were not safe. Yet the guy couldn’t spare even one second to talk to Alec. What kind of leader was this guy, anyway?

Although he was still freaked out from the attack last night, meeting Cat seemed to calm him down. Throughout the day, he tried to find the girl, even asked the other camp counselors where she would be, but none of them knew who he was talking about.

Maybe she was just a camper and not an actual counselor, Alec thought to himself. During dinner, he made the rounds at the girls’ tables, but he got some strange looks when he tried to ask the other girls about her. He made his way back to his own table in defeat as the camp director stood up in front of the entire mess hall.

“Campers, I am pleased to announce the first camp activity. After dinner, we will all be taking a hike to the highest point of the camp to watch the stars,” he announced, his round face glowing in the bright fluorescent lights.

Over the sound of a few cheers from the other campers, Alec called out, “But Camp Director Dave, the woods are full with wolves.” The entire room fell silent as the other teens comprehended what Alec was saying. “It’s not safe.”

“Come here, son,” Dave waved the boy over into a corner of the room as the rest of the kids began talking at once. Alec stepped up from his table and followed the director. In a hushed voice, Dave said, “Listen, there are no wolves in this camp. It’s perfectly safe. There aren’t even wolves in this entire state, not for hundreds of years, anyway. Maybe some raccoons, deer, elk, and possum, but there are no wolves. Got it?”

“But, sir,” Alec tried to say but he was interrupted by the camp director.

“I promise that everyone is going to be perfectly safe and the camp counselors will be spread throughout the group to make sure that everyone is secure and protected and that there are no injuries of any kind.”

Alec tried to tell the director about the bathroom stall door, but the man wouldn’t listen.

The rest of the campers started filing out of the mess hall to head back to their cabins to get ready for the hike.

How could he not listen to me? All he had to do was go to the bathrooms and see the door, Alec thought. He felt a tap on his shoulder.

“Are you telling the truth? Is there a wolf in the woods?” Simon asked, pushing his glasses up his nose. The two boys left the mess hall and made their way to their cabin.

“Yeah. I can show you the claw marks on the bathroom door if you want. Plus, I heard them howling all night. Dude, this hike is dangerous. These wolves are savage. Letting people out into the woods is a nightmare waiting to happen.”

“You’re safe if you have your buddy, though, right?” Simon smiled half-heartedly at his joke.

“Dude,” Alec sighed.

“But you’re still going on the hike, aren’t you?”

“There’s this girl… I met her last night. I couldn’t find her anywhere today. I need to talk to her again.”

“You like her,” Simon said, raising his eyebrow knowingly.

“That’s none of your business. I don’t even know why I told you.” Alec started walking toward the cabin door. “Let’s go or that idiot camp director will hunt us down.”

The two boys met with the rest of the teens, and as soon as each counsellor took a head count, the group started off into the woods. Alec made his way through the group to find Cat. Suddenly, he was yanked into the bushes by a force he did not see. He started to fight back, but he realized that it was Cat.

“It’s just me,” she whispered.

“I couldn’t find you. I looked all day. Where have you been?”

“I was helping the nurse. There are always many injuries on the first day. She needed the extra help.”

“We should catch up to the others.”

“Don’t you want to have some fun in the woods?” she asked, her eyes gleaming. She grabbed his hand and pulled him slightly towards her.

“But the wolves…”

“Will not be a problem. I know where there’s an abandoned cabin. We can get better acquainted.”

She pulled him aside as they went further into the woods, away from the path. The deeper they went, the darker it got. Alec could barely see his hand in front of his face. Cat didn’t seem to have a problem, and she just kept pulling Alec deeper and deeper in the woods. Every so often, she said that they were getting closer, but it didn’t seem like it. Then the howls began.

“We should get back.” Alec said, yanking his hand back and turning around.

“We’ll be fine.”

Cat grabbed his hand again and pulled him along, but as she did, he stepped on something that crunched beneath his feet. Alec stooped down to pick up what he stepped on. “These are Simon’s glasses.” He held the smashed and bloody glasses up for Cat to see. “Simon… he must have followed us. He could be hurt. We need to go find him.”

Alec yanked Cat in a different direction. He started to run and the girl followed closely behind him. Suddenly, he tripped, bringing her down with him. He turned back to look at what he had tripped over. Alec gasped. Before him, his chubby friend lay in the dirt and leaves, his face and neck torn open. There were long, deep tears ripped through his body, all the way down to his now deflated stomach. His throat had been completely torn out, the pink tube of his esophagus hanging from the hole gored in his neck.

“We have to take cover. There’s a ranger station just over there,” Cat said, pulling Alec to his feet.

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Cat and Alec ran through the woods. Behind them, they could hear the pounding of paws against the ground. The wolves would be on them at any moment. Alec could feel the hot breath of the beasts on the back of his neck, mere inches away from doing to him what had been done to Simon. He prayed that they could get to the ranger station before the wolves could catch them.

“This way,” Cat said pulling him to the side. He saw the dark silhouette of the cabin with bright squares of light shining through the windows, encouraging the couple on. Cat got to the door first and threw it open. The sight that they saw was one that they would never forget. Before them, a ranger was mangled and torn, his upper body hanging from a deer rack. His lower half was dumped on the floor with loops of intestines trailing out of his pants.

“We’re done for,” Alec said.

“There has to be some kind of weapon… or a gun!” Cat cried. She fumbled through doors and drawers of the station, hoping to find something. The cabin was already a mess. There was broken furniture everywhere, shredded by huge claws. Inside a tall cabinet, Cat yanked out a long rifle.

“Here,” she said, digging through the floor of the cabinet for bullets. “This will work. It’s probably our only chance.”

“Do you even know how to fire a gun?” Alec asked. The only time he had fired anything was a plastic arcade gun.

“Don’t you?” she asked back, her voice rising in panic.

“No, but it can’t be that hard. Just point and shoot, right?” She passed the rifle to him. He looked the gun in his hands. Alec knew that he would have to make sure the safety was off. He had watched a ton of movies where guns didn’t work if the safety was still on. He found a little lever on the stock and slid it back. Outside, the wolves howled, the entire cabin now surrounded Cat and Alec barricaded the door with pieces of broken chairs and half a coffee table.

“That should hold,” Alec said. Just then, a huge, gray wolf jumped through a window, sending shattered glass flying in all directions. The thing was as big as a bear; this was no ordinary wolf.

“Shoot it!” Cat screamed. Alec lifted the gun up as the wolf launched itself at Cat, teeth bared and going in for the kill. He pulled the trigger, the bullet aimed perfectly. The wolf landed on the floor beside Cat in a heap of blood and fur. But once it slid to a stop, the teens realized that it wasn’t a wolf that was dead on the floor. It was a girl. Alec ran to her side. The bullet had caught in her in the stomach. She was bleeding profusely.

“Why did you shoot me? I was protecting you.” the wolf girl asked, blood leaking from the corner of her mouth.

“What?” Alec gasped. He looked back to Cat, but something had changed. She wasn’t the pretty girl that he had met the other night. Fangs protruded from her mouth and her eyes were jet black.

“From me,” Cat hissed as she pounced on Alec. The boy picked up the rifle but the vampire plucked it from his hands and threw it to the side. The wolf girl had enough life in her to shift back into her wolf form. The werewolf caught the vampire in the throat and ripped the creature’s head from its body. Alec could only watch in horror. Just then, more wolves jumped through the window to aid the hurt werewolf. Before his eyes, one of the wolves shifted into his human form. It was his Camp Director Dave.

“Alec, we need to get you back to the pack. You need to complete your shift,” he said.

“Shift…” Alec said, and the word hung in the air.

“This camp is for young werewolves. We had hoped to catch the bloodsucker before the young wolves, came but we were too late,” the boy said. As the man’s words hung in the air, Alec felt his body begin to shift into a wolf.

 

About the Author

danielle-mckinney-pic

Dani loves horror movies ever since she saw Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers with Danielle Harris.  She loves vampires, her favorite movie is Interview with a Vampire.  She reads constantly and mostly books about the supernatural and is also a paranormal investigator. She currently works at a call center for a life insurance company but is pursuing her master’s in library science to become a librarian. She currently writes for pophorror.com.

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Camp Crystal

by Vanessa Rodriguez

 

The night wrapped the trees in darkness. Only the dull glow of the moon trapped behind a cloud illuminated the sky. Shadows stretched across the lawn, wavering when the wind swayed the boughs.

“This time will be different.”

Grace ignored her father and stared at Camp Crystal’s main cabin. Even the night couldn’t disguise the perfection and reputation the camp was known for.

But it didn’t matter. Everywhere Grace went it was the same. She never fit in.

“When will you be back?” Grace didn’t know why she bothered asking. He wouldn’t decline the job.

Her father sighed. “Can you last until the end of summer? It’s only two weeks.”

“And if I can’t?”

“Gracie, I can’t keep putting you in different summer programs every time it doesn’t work out.”

“I know.”

“This is the last one.”

“I said, I know.” Grace reached over the console and yanked her duffle bag between their seats. She knew it was her fault, she’d screwed up. And this place had a price tag they could barely afford.

Grace’s father touched her arm “I’ll get you if you need me to, but try, Gracie.”

Grace nodded and slid out of the car. She waved goodbye and tightened her grip on her bag before she trudged up the winding walk way to Camp Crystal.

The main cabin’s windows glowed warm with welcome. But it was a mirage—Grace knew the welcome wouldn’t last. By the end of her stay, those inviting windows would be a reminder she didn’t belong. She stepped onto the wood porch, the boards creaking beneath her feet. The air grew quiet, the chirp of crickets and the whistle of wind absent from the night. A rustling in the dark caught Grace’s ear. Prickles danced along her skin. She turned and fought the urge to call out. The shadows swallowed the surrounding woods. Seconds passed.

It was nothing. Perhaps, a small animal. Grace ignored her unease and entered the cabin.

A fire flickered in the hearth, but it was the only aspect of the room that reminded Grace of a cabin. Large white shag rugs covered the wood floors. Glass topped tables and expensive gray leather couches took occupancy of the room. Even the décor was modern and harsh; steel picture frames, black vases, and dark art.

The room wasn’t only empty of campers, but it also felt empty. Cold. Lifeless. A façade.

“Hello? Is anyone here?” Grace set her bag on the floor. Only the crackle of the fire answered her back. Maybe everyone was asleep. Grace glanced at her watch, doubtful. 8:20pm. She sighed.

“Grace Bautista?”

Grace turned around. A young man dressed in khaki shorts, Topsiders, and a pale blue polo smiled back. The harsh lighting cut deep shadows beneath his cheekbones giving his chiseled face an even more god-like quality. He smiled and Grace blushed.

“That’s me.”

“Welcome to Camp Crystal. Our guests are finishing up the evening’s traditional fire night. Why don’t I get you checked in before you meet the rest of your cabin mates. My name is—”

Grace’s gaze flickered to the silver name badge on the young man’s chest. “—Miles.”

Miles studied her and smiled again. “Miss Bautista, I have a feeling you’re not like our usual guest.”

“You may be right. But call me Grace.”

“Very well…Grace.” Miles’ bronze skin flushed a shade of pink. He cleared his throat and stepped behind a white counter. “This is your welcome packet.” He slid a large white envelope toward her. “It contains our rules, daily schedules for kayaking, archery, yoga, meditation, lunch, social hour, and many other activities. If it’s not listed, I’m sure we can accommodate. You’ll also find a map and a key to your cabin. Camp Crystal’s modus operandi is to assure you’re as comfortable as if this was your home away from home.”

Grace opened the envelope and let the key drop into her hand. It was large and brass with a crystal-like gem on the fob. This was the farthest place from home. “I don’t think that’s possible.”

“I know this doesn’t look like a traditional camp, but give it a chance. Before your stay is over you’ll have had an unforgettable experience and made friendships that will last a lifetime. We pride ourselves on this. I assure you won’t want to leave.”

“You have quite a challenge then.”

This time Miles didn’t respond immediately. He studied Grace again, but his pale green eyes delved a little deeper. Would he figure her out before she even made it to her cabin?

“I’ll tell you what, Grace.” Miles paused as if he were choosing his words carefully. “If you have any problem—if you feel your experience here was less than memorable—I will personally see to it that it’s rectified. Anything at all, please don’t hesitate to talk to me.” A sheepish grin touched his lips as he leaned across the counter. “I happen to be an excellent listener.”

“Thank you, I’m sure I’ll be taking you up on that offer.”

“I hope so.”

Grace stood in front of Miles, the crackle of the fire like a flame sizzling between them. Maybe camp wouldn’t be so bad after all. If she was expected at her cabin soon, it could wait. She liked talking to Miles.

“Is this her?” A voice said from the other side of the room.

“Miss Benson,” Miles straightened, his air of formality returning, “please, meet Miss Grace Bautista.”

Dressed in jeans, sandals, and a lavender cashmere cardigan, a young woman, Grace guessed to be around her age, strode towards them. She smoothed her cropped black hair behind her ears before speaking. “I’m Lena. I came to take you to the girls before lights out.”

“Girls?”

“Our cabin mates. They can’t wait to meet you. We have a full day tomorrow.”

“We do?”

“C’mon.” Lena hooked her arm around Grace’s elbow. “Miles, can you have Grace’s things sent to the cabin, please.”

Grace looked back to Miles for help.

“You’re in good hands,” he said as Lena tugged Grace away. “Grace, remember what I said.”

“Grace, huh?” Lena asked once they were outside the main cabin.

“That’s me.”

“Miles must like you to be on a first name basis.” Lena’s arm remained slung in Grace’s elbow. “He is an amazing counselor. And off limits.”

“Is he your boyfriend? I didn’t mean any harm. I was just—”

Lena laughed. “Of course not. Camp Crystal has a reputation to uphold. Counselor-camper relationships go no further than acquaintances.” Lena nudged Grace and gave her a warm smile. “I’m just trying to save you from pining over someone who is unavailable to all of us. Miles is charming—exactly what Camp Crystal pays him to be. You have a unique opportunity here: lifelong friendships and acceptance. Connections. Experience.”

Grace studied Lena from the corner of her eye. This girl was dead serious. No malice. No cloaked lies. Or this camp had made her believe every word she spouted like some kind of teenage cult.

“I can already tell we’re going to be perfect friends.” Lena smiled wider if that was even possible and led Grace onto the porch of a small cabin. Like the main cabin, the windows glowed warm and the boards creaked beneath their feet.

Grace followed Lena inside where two beds each lined the opposite walls.

“She’s here!” A handful of voices rang out.

Before Grace could take in her cabin mates’ faces, a pair of arms encircled her, pulling her into a tight hug. “It’s so good to finally meet you—”

“—Grace,” Lena introduced.

“Glad to meet you, Grace. I’m Markie.” The girl released Grace, revealing a mass of loose red waves and bright green eyes.

“Pia.” A girl with a long, thick braid of dark brown hair added. Both Pia and Markie were dressed in pajamas, their faces makeup free and glowing.

“Your bed is over here.” Markie tugged Grace across the room to a pink comforted twin with large gray pillows. “We put together a welcome basket. I hope you like lavender and vanilla.”

The girls stared at Grace with bright, cheery smiles as she took in the interior of the cabin. She could feel their expectant gazes. No doubt they were everything a girl would want being in a new place, but Grace couldn’t help being suspicious. It was eerie. Grace sifted through the basket of lotions, soaps, and makeup. Then she put on her biggest smile and said, “I love it. Thank you.”

All three of her new companions cheered.

“We’ll let you get settled. You must be exhausted and overwhelmed. Your bag is by the door.” Lena pointed behind Grace.

“I didn’t even see them bring it in.”

“Everything at Camp Crystal goes off without a hitch. Never expect less.” Lena stepped closer and drew Grace into a hug. “We love it here. And I know you will, too.”

 

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Sweat dripped from Grace’s brow, the late afternoon heat hovering like a blanket over the woods. Her tennis shoes pounded down the dirt path made by hikers through the brush. Branches swatted at her as she ran; overgrown weeds and plants snatched at her ankles. Grace glanced behind her. No one. Even though her heart raced in her chest, she pushed her legs to run faster.

She reached a slow-trickling brook and slowed to a stop. Her breath came in ragged gasps. The path behind her remained empty, but she had to keep moving.

A twig snapped to her left. What was that? Grace made a slow survey of the woods, but nothing stirred. Leaves rustled behind her, and she whipped around. Nothing. She had to get out of here; her mind was playing tricks on her. Grace took a step back, her shoe sloshed into the brook, cool water seeping into her sock.

She turned around and gasped. “Lena!”

“You’re fast.” Lena grinned.

“How did you get here?”

“I ran.”

“I mean, I know, but I didn’t hear you. And you—you were way behind me.” Grace glanced back the way she came. Impossible.

“Grace, are you okay?”

“Yeah, I…”

“Maybe your first day was too ambitious.” Lean placed her hand on Grace’s shoulder. They’d only met yesterday, it didn’t feel right, but Grace couldn’t move away. “I think a shower and dinner before fire night is exactly what you need.”

What Grace needed was normal. Normal was no one paying attention to her. Normal was sitting at the camp lunch table alone. Normal was muttered remarks about her under other campers’ breaths. These girls weren’t anywhere near normal. But if she told her dad the reason she couldn’t stay at Camp Crystal was because everyone was being nice to her for once, he’d be upset she pulled him away from work.

“C’mon, Grace. You look pale.” Lena linked her arm through Grace’s like she did the night before and guided her through the woods until the main cabin came into view. They passed a couple of girls heading to the dining hall. Grace couldn’t remember their names, but it was hard to forget how cheery and insistent they were that she joined them tonight by the fire.

“Hey, I think you’re right,” Grace said, stopping in front of the main cabin. “Food and a freshen up will be perfect.”

Lena’s lips curved into a huge smile. “I couldn’t have put it a better way.”

“But I should probably call my dad. I promised I would when I settled in.” Grace’s gaze darted to the main cabin’s window. She had no intention of calling her father; she just needed a moment to herself. And it wouldn’t hurt to see Miles again. He seemed to be the most normal person at this camp of perfect cloned teens.

“Then I’ll save you at seat at dinner.”

“I’ll be there.” Grace jogged up the few steps to the front door, the creak of wood beneath her feet.

“And Grace…”

Grace stopped with her hand on the door.

“I’m so happy you’re here. You’re fitting in—” Lena paused as if she couldn’t find the right word, but the gleam in her eyes said otherwise. They stood there for a second too long staring at each other.

Grace swallowed. “Perfectly?” she offered, her voice soft.

“You took the word right out of my mouth.” Lena turned and walked away.

Grace shivered and entered the main cabin. Anything to put a wall between her and the feeling that this place was too perfect.

 

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“You were right,” Grace said.

Miles looked up from his laptop and the pile of papers next to it. He peered over the top of his screen and raised an inquisitive eyebrow. “Right about what?”

“That this place would feel more at home than…well, home.”

“I didn’t say that.” Miles gave her a knowing smile.

“You did—”

“I said that we aim to make this more like a second home.”

Grace stepped over to the counter and rested her elbows on the counter next to Miles’ laptop. “Well, whatever you said, you were right. So thank you.”

“No need to thank me, Grace. It was up to you to trust the situation and those around you. It’s not easy to let your guard down.”

This close Miles’ eyes weren’t just green but ringed in dark blue. How did she get close enough for their arms to brush? “What about your guard? Do you ever let it down?”

Miles breath came out staggered. Grace hadn’t meant to be so bold. A lot had changed these past two weeks. Lena, Markie, Pia—all of the girls of Camp Crystal—had welcomed her despite her distance and shown her what friendship could be. It’d taken time for her suspicion to melt away, but they’d given her no reason to doubt it.

“Not in a professional setting.”

“Right, of course.” Grace moved her arm away, but Miles placed his hand on it before she could escape.

“But it’s been a challenge lately.”

The heat of Miles’ hand weighed heavy on Grace’s arm, seeping into her skin and sending prickles through her limbs and into her belly. She couldn’t move, and she didn’t want to.

The cabin’s front screen door swung open, and Miles pulled away abruptly. Lena popped her head in. “There you are.”

“Miss Benson,” Miles said, his professional charm in full force.

“Grace, tonight is the last night of fire night, and we usually do something special. Are you coming? You won’t want to miss this.” Lena waited with her usual gleaming smile of encouragement.

Grace looked to Miles for help. She wanted him to give her a reason to stay.

“You should go,” he said. But he must’ve seen the look of disappointment on her face because he quickly added, “I’ll be there at the end for closing ceremonies.”

“C’mon Grace, everyone is already in the woods.”

Outside, the night was upon them. Black inked the sky and heavy clouds hid the moon. Lena’s silhouette, only brightened by the small flashlight in her hands, guided Grace past the cabins and into the woods. Branches and fallen leaves crunched beneath their shoes as they weaved between the trees on the beaten path to the large bonfire pit where fire night was held every evening.

“What’s so special about tonight? Well, other than the last night of camp.” Grace couldn’t believe how fast the past two weeks had gone. She hadn’t even spoken to her father since he left. Even when she’d missed his call, she wasn’t homesick.

“You’ll see. I don’t want to spoil the surprise.”

A small pit of dread edged its way into Grace’s stomach, but she quickly dismissed it. These girls were different. Different in their endless optimism and open arms welcome, but they weren’t like the girls from other camps. Right?

Ahead the trees took on the warm glow of campfire. They weren’t far. The low rise of chatter and laughter beckoned them as the fire light grew stronger. Grace cleared the last grove of trees and stopped on the threshold of the fire pit.

That tiny pinch of dread blossomed into a cavernous beast of fear. Grace swallowed hard and took a step back, falling into Lena’s grip. “What, what is this?”

“Closing ceremonies, my dear Grace.”

Surrounding the fire, all of Camp Crystal stared back at her. They were dressed in brown hooded robes that touched the bare earth. Their perfect faces transformed into dark grimaces beneath the dancing flames of firelight.

Grace tugged out of Lena’s hands and turned to face her. When had she put on a robe? What was happening?

“Don’t be afraid. This is your induction. You’re one of us now.”

Grace shook her head. “I don’t think this is a good idea.”

Lena slowly raised the hood of her robe over her head. Around the fire pit, her fellow campers followed. Soon Grace was surrounded by a haunting sea of brown ghost-like figures.

“Trust us, Grace. Have we steered you wrong yet?”

“Please don’t do this.” Grace made a run for it but they must’ve known she’d bolt. Hooded figures grabbed at her and drew her back. “Let me go.”

Lena raised her hands into the air and began to chant a language Grace didn’t understand. The cloaked campers’ voices rose together until their low hum resonated down to Grace’s bones.

“You don’t understand. You’re wrong.” Grace struggled against her captors. Where was Miles? Maybe he’d known about this all along. Maybe he didn’t care about her like she’d thought.

Beside them, the fire fizzled into dull blue flames and then shot into the air like a torch. Grace gasped, but the voices around her grew louder. Faster. Everything became brighter. It wasn’t the fire engulfing them; the clouds opened up as if answering the campers’ call, exposing the moon. It was large and full, like it might fall into the woods and crush them all.

Heat seared into Grace’s skin. Panic coursed through her veins. She began to cry. Grace slumped to her knees as fear wracked her body. It was happening again.

Lena knelt down and picked up Grace’s chin. “Look at me, Grace. We love you. We want you to be a part of us.”

“I’m sorry,” Grace whispered, and she opened her eyes.

Lena stumbled back on her rear and gasped. “What…Grace, your eyes.”

Grace’s captors gasped and let her go. The chanting died away, leaving the crackle of the fire in its wake. Then the screams of terror began. Grace glanced down at her hands. Her nails were lengthened into razor-sharp talons, black and curled at the ends. Energy surged through her body, transforming her into a hunched beastly creature with muscled haunches and a snout. Grace pounced into the crowd of huddled campers and slashed her hands across their bodies. Cries of pain filled the air. Warm blood sprayed across her fur. The metallic saltiness of flesh and death poured into her mouth at every snap of her fangs.

Once the creature inside of Grace surfaced there was no stopping it. She couldn’t control the fear, the anger, or the pain. Grace howled into the air, sad and remorseful. She was fated to be a spectator of her own destruction—it was her punishment for what she was.

“Grace?”

The creature didn’t have to turn for Grace to know whose voice that was. Miles. No. Please, leave. Never look back.

“I saw you Grace. I know you’re in there.”

Grace whipped around, her eyes set on Miles. Hunger unfurled itself inside her ready to pounce. She pulled it back but her grip was slipping.

“Listen to me. You don’t have to do this.” Miles’ voice wavered.

The beast dragged her closer. Grace wanted to yell at him to escape while he still could.

“I like you. A lot.”

After what Miles had seen, how could he?

“I knew there was something different about you.”

Grace fought to control the creature, finding strength in Miles’ words. Maybe she could beat it for once.

“Grace, you are strong, and smart, and amazing. I know you can beat this.” Miles stepped closer and Grace strained against the beast. “To me you are…perfect.”

Perfect. It was a lie. Hackles rose on the back of her neck. She’d tried so hard to fit in and when she did, she knew she’d never be perfect. Grace let the darkness inside free. Her clawed arm snapped out, sinking its talons into Miles’ abdomen. She released him and he slumped to the ground with a grunt.

Grace stepped into the cover of the woods where she’d wait until her father arrived.

Alone. And Imperfect.

It was better this way.

 

About the Author

vanessa-rodriguez_writer-headshot

A Midwest girl and half Pinoy at heart, I now reside in Southern California where I spend my afternoons auditioning for commercials or writing. I write New Adult and most genres of YA from contemporary to fantasy. And my steamy adult romance can be found written under the pen name Angelique Reyes.

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Read more from Vanessa:

The Cheaters Club – BROKEN BOY on Wattpad
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Other publications:

A Pizza My Heart Pizzathology

Short Fuse’s Hot Holiday Reads Anthology – Blame the Mistletoe

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The Boathouse

by Brian Letendre

July 15, 1978

“I’m pretty sure Director Spencer wouldn’t be on board with this,” Harry nervously offered from the shadows of the lower bunk.

“Shut up, dickweed,” Chad snapped. “You’re just lucky we didn’t think of this when you were a counselor-in-training. You got off light. All you had to do was swim to the other side of the lake and back.”

“Yeah—naked,” Harry moaned. “And then you guys hid my clothes and I had to walk back to my cabin while you all slapped my ass a hundred times.”

“And it’s still the most action you’ve ever gotten,” Chad smirked. “So you’re welcome.”

Haley rolled her eyes. “Knock it off, idiots. It’s gonna be lights out soon and we need to give these three their marching orders.”

Jessie, for one, was hoping the rest of them would keep arguing, at least until Director Spencer showed up. She’d heard that all CITs had to go through initiation by the other counselors. She’d also heard the rumors about counselors partying after lights out, the secret bonfires, the hook-ups, and more. But counselors never told campers about what actually happened after hours. They were like a secret society, one that Jessie had dreamed about becoming a part of since she began attending Camp Crabtree at eight years old. That was seven years ago, and now that she was old enough to be a counselor-in-training, she was almost a part of that secret cabal of almost-adults that ran the whole camp. She just had to pay her dues for one summer as a CIT. And that meant doing whatever the senior counselors told her to do. In order to graduate to counselor for next year, she had to pass peer review. If the senior counselors liked you, you passed. If not, you failed and were sent back to the ranks of the regular campers. And there was no way Jessie was going to let that happen. If that meant spending the night in the creepy-ass boathouse, that’s exactly what she’d do.

All eyes turned to Mallory, the senior counselor, who was leaning against the dresser. She dropped the strand of long, black hair she’d been twirling and pushed stop on the 8-Track player. Silence filled the room as John Travolta and Olivia Newton-Johns’ voices cut out in the middle of “You’re the One That I Want.” Mallory paused for effect and then strolled forward to face Jessie and the other two CITs.

“Okay newbies, here’s the deal. In order to graduate from CITs to counselors, you need us. It’s our last summer here, and we need to know that whoever’s coming up behind us isn’t going to tarnish our good names by being a fuck up. So for the next six weeks, you do what we say when we say it. Got it?”

Jessie nodded solemnly. Mallory was a bitch, but she was the Head Bitch. There were four senior counselors, fourteen regular counselors, and CITs, Jesse included.

The other three SCs—even Chad—were pretty cool. Jessie knew she just needed to get through the hazing period, and she wasn’t going to give Mallory a reason to focus on her.

She stole a glance over at her two fellow CITs, Andrea and Paulo. They didn’t look half as nervous as Jessie felt. Then she noticed they sat awfully close to one another on the bed, and their pinkies were hooked together behind their backs.

“I asked you a question,” Mallory growled, leaning in toward Paulo.

The smile faded from his face as he swallowed. “Yes, ma’am. We’ve—I’ve got it.”

Mallory’s gaze drifted over to Andrea before she stood up straight again.

“Like Chad said, the three of you will be spending the night in the boathouse. We’ll be locking you in just before midnight, and I’ll let you out when I come down for sunrise swim.”

The word “boathouse” was a bit of an exaggeration, as the building Mallory referred to was a glorified shed. The long wooden shack near the edge of the lake was about the length of a tractor-trailer and was filled mostly with racks that held canoes and lifejackets. It was damp, musty and a haven for spiders, which Jessie had an unnatural fear of. The idea of spending the night in there was not pleasant, but it didn’t sound half as bad as swimming across the lake naked and getting your ass slapped a bunch of times.

Andrea must have thought the same, because he foolishly spoke up. “So, what’s the big deal about the boathouse? Are you guys gonna mess with us while we’re in there or something?”

“What’s the big deal about the boathouse?” Mallory repeated, followed by a cartoonishly evil laugh. “Tell ‘em, Chad.”

“Do any of you losers know the history of this place?” Chad smirked.

“I know the camp’s been around for over twenty years,” Paulo replied.

“Not the camp, dumbass,” Chad replied with a disgusted look. “The lake.”

“The lake was formed in 1928,” Jessie blurted out before thinking. It was a habit from school. If she heard a question and she had the answer, she felt compelled to give it. That quality got her no small amount of teasing throughout elementary school, and it brought the spotlight she had been trying to avoid right onto her.

“Very good,” Mallory said, mildly impressed. “Anything else?”

“Um, I know it’s not really a lake, it’s a reservoir,” Jessie replied. “They actually flooded three small towns in the area to form it in order to supply the area with drinking water. People had to relocate. That’s all I really know.”

“Then you don’t know the most important part,” Mallory smirked. “The part about all the people who died.”

“What do you mean?” Andrea asked, and Jessie noticed she was holding Paulo’s hand firmly now.

“There was a church in the middle of Barnsley,” Mallory said in her most dramatic voice. “And many of its patrons had no intention of leaving their lives—and the church—behind. Barnsley was the first of the three towns to be flooded, and when they released the dam, the water came quickly. A bunch of parishioners had hidden in the basement of the church, as they would rather die than leave. They all drowned before anyone figured out they were still there. That was fifty years ago tomorrow.”

Jessie didn’t believe Mallory for a second. There was no way a church full of people went unaccounted for before the town was flooded. There had to be people whose only responsibility was making sure everyone was out. It did make for a good story, though.

“And then there were the cemeteries,” Mallory continued. “A company was hired to move all the bodies that were buried in the area to a new location. But legend has it they took the money and mostly just moved the headstones.”

“Bullshit,” Paulo chuckled. “No way that happened.”

“How the hell would you know?” Chad replied. “You’re not even from around here, New York boy. Mallory and I grew up in Cunningham—we know all the stories, right Mal?”

“That’s right,” Mallory agreed with a wicked smile. And that’s why I saved the best for last. The legend of Lucy Masters.”

“Who the hell is that?” Andrea asked, and Jessie could tell the stories were starting to get to her.

“She was a girl about our age, whose parents lived on the other side of the lake,” Mallory explained. “She’d grown up around here too, so she knew the history of the lake and the secrets buried beneath it. On the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Barnsley drownings, Lucy’s friends dared her to take a canoe out to the spot where the old church still sat at bottom of the lake. It’s only about a half-mile from here.”

“She was a smartass like you,” Chad chimed in, looking at Paulo. “She didn’t believe the stories, and she damn sure didn’t believe in ghosts. So just after midnight, she rowed out there all by herself, while her friends watched from the distant shore. The dare was to stay out there until four a.m., when the Devil’s hour had come and gone.”

Even Jessie found herself leaning forward on the bed as Chad’s words sucked her in. “What happened?”

“Nothing…for the first couple hours,” Mallory replied, taking the story back over. “But just after three, a large, thick cloud passed in front of the almost-full moon, and the water went dark. Lucy’s friends could no longer see her. But they heard a blood-curdling scream echo across the lake, and the sounds of splashing around in the water. When the cloud finally passed, the moonlight shone on the water once again, just in time to see the tip of Lucy’s red canoe disappear below the surface.”

Jessie, Andrea, and Paulo just sat there speechless. The hairs on Jessie’s arms stood straight up.

“No one ever found any sign of her or the canoe again,” Chad said. “But there have been plenty of reported sightings over the years of a girl in a red canoe, floating out on the middle of the lake, just before the Devil’s hour.”

“And since midnight marks the sixteenth,” Mallory said spookily, “the twenty-fifth anniversary of Lucy Masters’ disappearance will be just before three a.m. Maybe tonight, she’ll finally come back to shore.”

“If she does,” Chad added, “she’ll need a place to store her canoe, right?”

Silence settled over the room as Chad and Mallory let the story sink in and take old of the three CITs. It was broken five seconds later when a loud knock on the cabin door startled them all and unleashed a scream from Andrea.

“Geez Louise,” came a voice from beyond the door, which swung open to reveal a middle-aged man in cargo shorts and a “Camp Crabtree” t-shirt. “Am I really getting that scary in my old age?”

“Sorry Director Spencer,” Mallory apologized. “We were just finishing up our first counselor’s meeting with the new CITs. I guess we lost track of time. She turned and gave all three of them a fake smile that had plenty of menace behind it. “These three are going to be great.”

“I sure hope so,” Director Spencer smiled. “They’ve all been coming to Camp Crabtree for years, and only our best campers go on to be counselors.” He looked at his watch. “But they can’t do it without a good night’s sleep. Lights out is in twenty minutes.”

“We were just heading out,” Chad replied, motioning for Haley and Harry.

“Good idea,” Director Spencer nodded. “I just made the rounds, and your cabins are all a bit rowdy. Sixteen is too many for just one counselor.”

Each cabin consisted of two main rooms with eight beds in each. A small room in the middle was where the two counselors assigned to the cabin slept. Harry, Chad, and Harley had left their counterparts to watch over a full cabin at bed-prep.

The counselors-in-training however, stayed with one of the senior counselors. And that meant Jessie, Andrea, and Paulo weren’t going anywhere. Mallory had them all to herself.

“We’ll be in bed by eleven,” she promised Director Spencer. I have a sunrise swim tomorrow, and I’ll be taking these three with me. I just want to go over the activity schedules with them again before bed.”

“I’ll see you kids in the morning, then,” Director Spencer replied, letting the other three SCs out before pulling the door closed.

No sooner had the latch clicked than Mallory wheeled around to face them. “You three might as well rest now,” she advised. “Because the only thing you’re bringing to the boathouse is your bathing suit, a towel, and pair of flip-flops.”

Jessie crawled up to her bunk and stared at the ceiling, telling herself there was nothing to be afraid of. But thinking the words and believing them were two very different things.

 

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Mallory opened the cabin door and peeked around.

“Let’s go,” she whispered over her shoulder before stepping out. “And be quiet about it.”

Clad in their bathing suits, t-shirts, and flip-flops, the three CITs followed Mallory around the back of the cabin toward the long dirt path that led down to the lake.

Mallory wasn’t worried about Director Spencer catching them–his cabin was near the entrance to camp, a good quarter-mile away. But if any of the campers saw them sneaking down to the lake, someone would say something, and Mallory would be screwed.

The path down to the lake was a long one, leading away from the cabins and through the woods. It wasn’t long until the lights of the camp were almost gone completely, and they would be walking in total darkness, as the canopy of trees overhead blocked out most of the moonlight.

“Ow! Son of a—” Paulo grunted as he stumbled.

“What part of ‘be quiet about it’ didn’t you understand?” Mallory hissed.

“It’s not my fault we can’t freaking see,” he whispered back as he limped along. “I just rolled my ankle.”

“Here, let me help,” Andrea offered, pulling his arm around her shoulder. Jessie could hear the concern in her voice, as if she needed any further confirmation of their little summer romance.

“Fine,” Mallory sighed, clicking on a flashlight and illuminating the path ahead.

 Jessie gave Mallory an annoyed look. “You had that the whole time?”

“Yeah dipshit,” she fired back, “and I needed to be out of view of the cabins to use it. Now shut up and let’s get moving. It’s almost midnight.”

The paths started to slope downward, and it wasn’t long until Jessie saw the shimmer of moonlight on the water. The path opened up, leading down to the sandy shore, where a lifeguard chair sat twenty yards away from the boathouse. The two barn-style doors were open, and a small ramp led into the yawning darkness.

“There’s your room for the night, kiddies,” Mallory sneered as she clicked off the flashlight. “Make yourselves at home.”

Jessie closed her eyes for a second and took a deep breath. This is a test, she thought to herself. And I’m going to pass it.

With that, she opened her eyes and strode toward the oversized shed, with Andrea and Paulo following behind.

“I can walk,” he said to Andrea, and she let him go ahead, biting her lip as she watched him limp over to the boathouse.

“You’ve really got it bad for him, huh?” Mallory asked, and the shade of crimson Andrea’s face turned could be seen clear as day in the moonlight.

“What?” she sputtered, trying to fake a laugh. “I was just helping—”

“Please,” Mallory rolled her eyes. “I’ve had enough summer flings to know one when I see one. Two pieces of advice. One, be the boss. And two, don’t fall in love. Summer crushes never last.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Andrea replied flatly, quickening her step to follow behind Paulo in case he stumbled.

Mallory shook her head. She remembered when she was fifteen and had no freaking clue about anything. In a way, she was doing these three a favor by scaring the shit out of them. It would build character, help them shed some of that wide-eyed innocence. And then in a few years, they would be the ones telling ghost stories and putting CITs through hell.

“The circle of life,” she said aloud, quite pleased with herself. Then she put her bitch face on again and tromped down toward the boathouse.

At least there’s a few windows, Jessie thought as she walked into the boathouse. On either side of her were two sets or racks with three canoes each on them. They ran the length of the walls in the boathouse, except for roughly a five-foot space in between the racks on the front wall, where a window overlooked the lake. There was another window at the far end of that shed, which was opened outward about halfway. This allowed the breeze to flow through and dry things out. Luckily, it was a fairly warm evening.

“Damn it,” Paulo grumbled as the strap of a lifejacket hit him in the face. There must have been a hundred of them hanging from long hooks in the ceiling. Several of them were still dripping from when the counselors had run the canoe-flipping drill earlier in the day. The occasional sound of water hitting the wood floor made it feel like they were stepping into a cave.

“It’s dry in the middle by the window,” Jessie called to them, and Paulo and Andrea wove their way through the lifejackets to find her.

“Any last words, newbies?”

They turned to see Mallory standing in the doorway of the boathouse. She was shining the flashlight under her chin so that shadows made her look as sinister as possible.

“We’ll be fine,” Andrea called back, trying to sound confident. “See you in the morning.”

Mallory smiled wickedly. “If you make it that long. Say ‘hi’ to Lucy for me.”

With that, Mallory swung the doors closed. That was followed by the sound of the metal latch clanking, and the distinct click of a padlock.

“You bitch,” Paulo spat, and he quickly limped to the door, pushing against it to no avail. “You never said you were locking us in here!”

“To be fair, I never said I wasn’t,” purred Mallory from the other side. “You’re not chickening out in the first thirty seconds, are you Paulo? I mean, what would Andrea think?”

That one hit home. Paulo wanted to fire back something that would shatter that prissy veneer of Mallory’s but he reminded himself that this was literally the second day of camp. He wasn’t going to ruin his whole summer in one night.

“See you at sunrise,” he said, turning away from the door and heading back to the girls.

Jessie and Andrea had found some dry lifejackets and made a circle on the floor in front of the window. Paolo gingerly sat down next to Andrea.

The moon was bright that night, save for the occasional cloud that passed in front of it, and as long as they stayed within five feet of the window, it was more than enough to see by. The window at the far end brought in considerable less light, and there was a whole lot of shadows between them and that window.

“So…” Jessie started, hating the silence. “You two are a thing now?”

“Well, uh,” Paulo stammered, flushing.

“It’s fine,” Andrea said, planting a kiss on his cheek. “Seems like everyone has already figured it out. Even Mallory.”

“But counselors aren’t supposed to have relationships with other counselors,” Paulo replied. “I didn’t want to get Andrea in trouble.”

“Good thing you two aren’t counselors yet then,” Jessie smiled. She could see the relief on Paulo’s face, and Andrea gave her a thank you nod. “Besides,” Jessie added, “you guys know Mallory and Chad have been hooking up for the past three summers, right?”

“I knew it,” Andrea smirked. “She’s such a bitch.”

“Thanks for being cool,” Paulo told her.

“”I’m just sorry you guys have to have me as your third wheel on this romantic moonlit evening,” Jessie replied, straight faced.

Andrea burst out laughing, which made Paulo start laughing, and soon all three of them had tears rolling down their faces. Though none of them would admit it, the laughter dispersed the nervous tension all three of them had struggled to put words to.

Once the laughter died down, Andrea unfurled her beach towel to reveal a deck of cards, and a pack of cigarettes.

“Babe, you told me you were quitting,” Paulo said, ignoring the cards.

“I’m down to like two a day,” Andrea justified. “I only brought them in case I get too bored or stressed. Don’t be mad. Let’s just play some Pitch, okay?”

All it took was a few bats of her eyelashes for Paulo’s annoyed look to melt away. Jessie rolled her eyes at the lovebirds and grabbed the deck of cards.

“I’ll deal first,” she told them, shuffling the deck and giving them each six cards. “Paulo, your bid.”

“Pass,” he replied nonchalantly.

Me too, Andrea smirked.

“Damn it,” Jessie sighed, looking at her garbage hand. “Two, I guess.”

They spent the next few hours playing cards, as it proved a good distraction from both their quarters for the evening and the thought of what Mallory and her goons might have planned for them. They hadn’t heard a peep from outside, save for the constant low sound of crickets, the drip, drip, drip of waterlogged lifejackets inside the boathouse.

“It’s gotta be after three now, right?” Andrea said after she’d taken another game from them.

“Feels like it,” Jessie replied, stretching into a yawn.

Andrea gave Paulo a quick smooch on the cheek and stood up. “Sorry babe, but I need a cigarette. I’ll go lean out the window down there, so you guys won’t smell it.”

“Doesn’t bother me,” Jesse shrugged. “My mom and dad both smoke.”

“Well, it bothers me,” Paulo grumbled.

Andrea hesitated for a moment, but Jessie gave her a “he’ll get over it” glance, and she continued to the far and of the boathouse. She pushed the window open and leaned out, lighting a cigarette.

“You know,” she called back after making sure to blow the smoke outside, “It’s only like five feet up. We could totally squeeze out of this and sneak out.”

“I’m sure Mallory has one of her minions watching us,” Jessie replied. “And they haven’t even started screwing with us yet, so they’re definitely still out there.”

“Well, I don’t see—holy mother shit!”

“What?” Jessie blurted, Scrambling to her feet.

“Look out the window!”

Jessie pulled Paulo to his feet and they scampered over to the window.

“I don’t see—” Paolo started.

“There!” Jessie pointed.

Floating along lazily, out toward the middle of the lake, was a canoe, the moonlight glinting off of its shiny red side. And seated in the middle of the canoe was what looked like a girl. It was hard to tell, but whoever it was had long, wavy hair that hung down over their face.

“No,” was all Paulo could mutter, and Jessie felt his body stiffen in fear as he leaned against her.

“Settle down,” Jessie gently scolded, having regained her composure after the initial shock. “It’s obviously Mallory.”

Andrea must have figured the same, as she leaned out the window and yelled “Nice try, Mallory! Or should we say Lucy? Ha ha ha!”

Whoever was in the canoe didn’t answer, but slowly turned her head in the direction of the boathouse.

“Man, she’s really playing it up,” Jessie muttered, almost admiring Mallory’s dedication. She’d obviously bought a wig, and must have rowed hard enough to let the momentum carry the canoe into their field of view. If Jessie were a little more gullible, she’d have been totally creeped out.

“Is that all you’ve got?” Andrea shouted, flicking her cigarette toward the water. “You made us stay out here—”

Bam! Bam! Bam!

The sound of someone slamming on the barn doors of the boathouse instantly muted Jessie, Paulo, and Andrea.

“Hey jackasses!” came the pissed off voice of Mallory through the doors. “Are you trying to wake up the entire camp?”

Not even a startled whimper escaped any of them, as the same question popped into each of the minds simultaneously.

If Mallory was outside the door, then who was out on the water?

As the thought crystallized, Jessie’s gaze swung back to the water. The figure in the red canoe began to shimmer. Suddenly, it and the boat liquefied and dropped into the lake like a water balloon that had been pricked with a pin.

“What..the…hell…” Jessie breathed, not believing her eyes.

“Did you effing see that?” Andrea yelled, pulling herself in from the window, eyes wide.

“What was that?” Paulo moaned. “It’s like it…melted or something.”

“Hello?” came Mallory’s voice again from outside. “Are you idiots gonna answer me?”

Paulo opened his mouth, but Jessie shushed him. “Listen,” she whispered.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

“You guys hear that?” Andrea said as she started walking back toward them, flip-flops smacking as she went.

Drip. Drip. Drip. It was faster now. And growing louder.

The Jessie saw it, in the shadows between Andrea and them. The water from the lifejackets had formed a rather large puddle.

But the sigh of relief caught in her throat. Because in that moment, Jessie realized the water wasn’t dripping down from the lifejackets. It was dripping up from the floor.

“Andrea—”

The wide-eyed look on Andrea’s face was quickly blotted out by the shadowy form that began to rise out of the puddle on the floor.

Andrea’s trembling hand rose up almost involuntarily and she flicked her lighter. The small flame illuminated the rotting face of the creature before her, and one word escaped her lips before the end.

“Lucy.”

The word still hung in the air as an arc of water shot from floor to ceiling, extinguishing the flame.

“Andrea!” Jessie screamed as two perfectly symmetrical halves of Andrea’s body peeled away from one another and fell in piles on either side of the thing that had killed her.

“No!” Paulo cried in anguish, hobbling toward the thing.

Jessie reached out a second too late to grab him but whiffed. In that second, she made the decision not to case him, because it meant chasing death. Instead, she bolted for the barn doors and threw her body against them.

“Jesus Christ!” Mallory snapped from the other side. “What the hell are you guys doing?”

“Open the fucking door!” Jessie screamed as she clawed the door.

“I told you you’re not getting out—”

“It’s killing us! Open the door now!” Jessie pleaded.

Mercifully, Jessie could hear Mallory fiddling with padlock, and she took that moment to steal a glance back at Paulo.

She shouldn’t have.

His feet dangled off the ground as the cracked and bloated hand of Lucy Masters squeezed his face.

“Please, no,” he whimpered as she brought him close and pressed her broken lips against his before dropping him on the ground.

Paulo landed on his hands and knees, violently retching. Gallons of dirty lake water spewed from his body, until at last he gasped for air, coughing, and sputtering. He started to pick himself up, but his stomach lurched again, only this time, it was a steady stream of blood that spilled from his mouth. The last thing he saw before the darkness took him was his own intestines coiling like a snake as he vomited them up.

Jessie had lost the ability to form words as she stared at Paulo’s innards piled on the ground. But when the decayed foot of Lucy Masters stepped on them a second later, Jessie snapped out of it, because she realized it was her turn.

With each spongy, sloshing step, Lucy got closer. Jessie pressed herself against the door, closing her eyes and bracing for the final blow.

Instead, the doors behind her gave way, and she tumbled backwards into Mallory, both of them rolling down the ramp onto the sand below.

“Son of a bitch,” Mallory said, pushing Jessie off of her. “You clumsy—”

“We have to run!” Jessie growled, and the feral look in her eyes immediately dispersed Mallory’s rage. One glance at the doorway of the boathouse replaced that rage with sheer terror, as the dripping corpse of Lucy Masters shambled into the moonlight.

“How?”

Jessie’s answer was to grab Mallory by the collar and yank her to her feet. They sprinted up the path away from the lake, into the darkness of the woods. And they kept running, until the light of their cabin started to come into view.

Jessie’s sense of relief was short-lived. She tripped over a protruding rock and went down in a heap, all the adrenaline leaving with the wind that was knocked out of her.

Mallory ran over to her, gasping for air herself. She couldn’t remember the last time she ran that hard.

“Do you think she’s—she’s…” Mallory heaved, “still…”

Jessie’s eyes filled with tears as she pointed down the path.

Splutch.

Each step sounded like a wet facecloth being dropped on a shower floor.

Splutch.

“Come on,” Mallory prodded, trying to pull her up.

“Just leave me,” Jessie said, her voice cracking. “I can’t run anymore. She wants me and she’s going to get me.”

Splutch.

“Then I guess we fight it,” Mallory said, digging the rock Jessie had tripped over out of the dirt and cocking her arm back.

Splutch.

The stench of rotten meat wafted over them as Lucy was within ten feet now.

“Starting left fielder for Cunningham High, bitch,” Mallory said as she hurled the rock at the shambling creature. As it sailed over Lucy’s head, Mallory saw the undead girl’s jagged lips curl into a smile.

Splutch.

Jessie grabbed onto Mallory and turned her head away, waiting for the killing blow to fall.

“I’m sorry,” Mallory whispered as the realization washed over her that this was it. She wasn’t sure if she was apologizing to Jessie, or to Lucy.

As Lucy’s outstretched fingers reached for them, Mallory could see the bones of her knuckles poking through the skin. She wondered if Lucy would take her and Jessie back to the bottom of the lake with her.

Mallory closed her eyes.

Splash.

The sound made Jessie turn back to look. Instead of Lucy’s corpse looming over them, there was only a puddle of water on the ground.

Mallory opened one eye, and then the other. “What…just happened?”

Clinging to Mallory, Jessie pulled herself up. “I don’t know. She just…disappeared.”

“Well let’s not wait for her to come back,” Mallory said. “Come on.”

A few minutes later, they were in the cabin, sitting across from one another, both staring at the clock that read four-thirteen.

“We made it through the Devil’s hour,” Mallory said. “That must be it. That’s why she disappeared. Or maybe we got far enough away from the lake.”

“But Andrea and Paulo…” Jessie moaned. “We have to call the cops, and tell Director Spencer, and—”

Everything that had happened finally caught up with her, and Jessie broke down. Mallory came to sit next to her and held her as the tears flowed uncontrollably, streaming down her face and falling to the floor.

Drip.

Drip.

Drip.

 

 

About the Author

Brian LeTendre

Brian LeTendre is the writer of the Parted Veil horror series, which includes Intrusive Thoughts, Courting the King in Yellow, Lovecraft’s Curse, and Lovecraft’s Pupil.

A gaming, comics and horror lover, Brian has co-hosted and produced a podcast about geek culture called Secret Identity since 2006, producing well over 1700 hours of programming. He also hosts and produces podcasts about writing (See Brian Write), music (Thrash It Out) and gaming (Co-Op Critics).

Brian lives and works in Massachusetts.

Brian on Twitter

Brian’s Blog

Brian on Amazon

Brian’s Podcasts

 

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Blink Fly

by Victoria Nations

 

Blink Fly, and it started like this.  The camp was fine when I left it.  The girls were fine, and who cared if I hiked off because screw them, that’s why.  They were happy with an afternoon siesta after kitchen duty, and I was happy to have an hour without listening to them swoon over Counselor Jimmy.  Fainting out in the Texas heat was preferable, believe me.  The sun made the orange rocks and pale plants glaze together, and everything looked like stained glass by the time I got to the canyon top.  And…

Blink Fly, and they never got why I loved the robber flies so much.  Lisa flat out screamed when one landed outside the cabin.  Todd tried to stomp on it, and everyone laughed when I got in front of him to protect it.  Nice outdoorsy kids here at camp, stomping on a fuzzy wild creature just because it was different.  I tried to convince them: bristles, shiny dark eyes, and big you-know-whats on the males.  You’d think those kids would think it was hilarious, a hipster, bearded, bad boy fly.  But they didn’t, and they were fine when I left, and so was I.  And…

Blink Fly, that first robber fly I saw on the trail was eating a housefly.  It just appeared there, dinner in mandibles, a second after I looked up.  I would’ve told the counselors my head was down because it was stupid hot in that Texas canyon, but who cared if I was lonely.  Whatever, there was my favorite fly from home, waiting for me.  And that was exactly why they’re so awesome: eating houseflies, hanging out.  It cocked its fuzzy head as it ate, watching me pass, like it wanted to say something.  And…

Blink Fly, and the camp was fine when I left.  The campers were fine.  They didn’t see the robber fly go by, carrying a big wasp, both of them as large as my thumb.  It flew up the trail, then dropped over the canyon edge.  I got woozy looking down, trying to follow it.  It must’ve been so fast to catch that wasp, fast enough to fly all the way to camp and back to meet me on the trail.  I could hear it buzzing down there, until I couldn’t.  That robber fly was so fast, it was gone right in front of my eyes.  And…

Blink Fly, the next one was way too big.  I almost wished those girls had come with me to see it.  It was just way too big, as a big as a banana, sitting there on a rock, a hummingbird in its mouth.  We had hummingbirds down at camp.  They flew right up to the feeders by our cabin.  The girls left the windows open to watch them.  The robber fly had to be really quiet and really quick to catch it.  I was just as quick when I threw my bandana over it and snatched it up.  It was strong, stronger than me.  Its wings beat so hard, I could hardly hold it.  Its spines stabbed my hands, and then it was gone.  Afterwards, I couldn’t tell if it was hummingbird blood or mine smeared on the cloth.  And…

Blink Fly, the girls were fine when I left them, laying on their bunks with the breeze coming in the windows.  They didn’t say anything when I left.  The camp was fine, and the counselors were fine, because they didn’t see that next robber fly crouching on a boulder above the path.  I thought it was cat.  It was hairy, with long legs, and eating something that might’ve been a prairie dog.  I thought it was a cat until it looked at me with bug eyes that glinted in the sun, and it didn’t seem real.  Counselor Jimmy had warned us about that, and the girls had all nodded so seriously and filled their water bottles.  It was something you’d see when you’d walked too long in the heat, an unnatural thing your head made up to scare you.  I was hot for sure, and that robber fly was there for sure, and I was just happy it had something to eat so I could slip past.  I had a hard time walking straight on the trail after that, for all the looking back I did.  And…

Blink Fly, the next fly was the worst.  I didn’t see all of it, not that anyone in camp would’ve believed me if I went back there and said I did.  Big wings, robber fly wings, buzzed  behind an outcrop next to the trail.  They were stiff and clear like windowpanes, and they were large, as long as a truck.  They buzzed in quick bursts, and the buzzing echoed terribly down into the canyon, and I’ll bet the camp heard it and someone came out to look.  When the wings were still, I heard crunching and sobs broken by wet, sloshy cries.  The girls were fine when I left.  But maybe someone had followed me, come to spy on me, because screw me, that’s why.  They had seen all of the robber fly.  I scurried past on the trail because I didn’t want to see what was on the other side.  And…

Blink Fly, I wish it would just stay still.  And…

Blink Fly, I can’t handle it popping in and out like that.  And…

Blink Fly, it’s on the path in front of me now, between the boulders and the ledge.  Thick, jointed legs jut out to either side with black spines like ladder rungs.  It’s tawny brown, the prettiest robber fly yet, and its bristles blend in with the spiky plants that grow between the rocks.  Enormous, faceted eyes look directly at me.  I think it might have followed me here, landed to let me climb on and buzz down to the camp, to show the girls, and Todd, and Counselor Jimmy.  Me and my gorgeous flying steed.  And…

Blink Fly, I look at its mouth to see what its got, but it’s empty.  And…

Blink Fly, it’s reaching for me.

 

Pictured below: Palo Duro Canyon

Palo Duro Canyon

 

About the Author

 

Victoria-Nations-author-pic

Victoria Nations is a horror writer and biologist, and lover of spooky, spooky stories.  She spends her time hiking in swamps and writing from what her family calls her dark, little heart.  She emerges from the woods in late summer, damp and covered in burrs, to search out early Halloween decorations.

Victoria lives in Florida with her wife and son, who indulge her love of monsters.

Twitter: @Leaves_Cobwebs

Victoria’s Blog

Previous FREE writing showcase story:

Haunted Hotel: Food and Drink Man 

 

 

 

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