the secret of moths
by rebecca waddell
Jeff Campbell turns in a slow circle, taking in the sturdy cabins of Camp Narquata. Built forty miles from the nearest town, the camp occupies the relatively level space where the towering redwoods watch over the butterfly-filled meadow on one side and the crystal blue lake on the other. Four years of memories – from his first kiss under the shaded forest to the time he split his lip when he slipped on the dock – filled every corner of the camp’s grounds. None of them compared to the night he’d forgotten something in the dining hall after dark and braved crossing from his cabin with only the bright pinpoints of the stars to light his way. Jeff wonders what new memories will fill this space now that he’s returned as a counselor.
Yee Goldberg with his shaggy gray hair and bronze skin reminded Jeff of a human cross-bred with a lion. He was as much a fixture of the camp as the whispered legends of mischief-making creatures lurking in the dark forest. The stories Jeff never believed, but Yee lived and breathed Camp Narquata. That’s why Jeff told his father he’d need to keep the facilities manager on staff if he wants the place to stay profitable. And so, Yee stayed and Jeff became the only counselor fresh out of high school for the summer.
“We’re going to make this place even better than it already is,” Jeff says with a grin on his face. He hasn’t stopped smiling since he arrived a month ago. It was worth the long drive to his last few weeks of high school to help get things ready for summer. Amazement filled him. Hard to believe he gets to help run the place that was like a second home. In just three days, the rest of the staff would join them for the summer season. He and Yee still had a lot of work to finish getting everything ready. If only they could keep painting at night, but Yee insists they keep the lights off.
Jeff pulls in a deep breath of the clean air and relaxes his shoulders. “All of the new lights are in place, right, Yee?” he asks. The only thing he’d hated about camp as a kid was the complete lack of outdoor lighting after dark and the sundown curfew that kept them indoors. Though he’d asked every year, no one ever gave him a real answer why no one would ever turn on the lights outside the cabins. Good thing dad owns the camp and Jeff has some say. Wiring up those lights was the first thing he changed.
“About those lights.” Yee clears his throat. “They’re installed, but we can’t use them.” His slight Scottish accent comes through thicker as sweat gathers around his temples. This happens every time Jeff mentions the lights, but Yee still hasn’t explained why they make him so nervous.
“Oh?” Jeff asks, casting a side-long glance at the older man. He squares his shoulders and smoothes back his wavy blond hair.
“You see, it’s the stars. You can’t see them right with lights on. It ruins the camp experience,” Yee says, sweat dripping down his face.
Jeff pulls a notebook out of his pocket, flips to the page he’s looking for, and meets Yee’s eyes. “You used that excuse two weeks ago. Care to try another? I have them all written down.” He pats the notebook and smirks.
The color drains from Yee’s golden skin. With a resigned sigh, he moves closer, glancing left and right before meeting Jeff’s amber eyes. “It’s because of the moths,” he whispers before clamping a trembling hand over his mouth and scanning the forest.
“Yeah right,” Jeff says. “I’m not buying that one either. In all my years here, I never once saw a single moth.” He stops, realizing how strange it is that butterflies fill the meadow fluttering everywhere, but not one single moth. Shaking off the oddness of the insect imbalance, he draws up to his full five-foot-eleven-and-a-half inches and squares his shoulders. “I say we turn the lights on tonight and that is that. I’m the boss here.”
“That you are,” Yee says shaking his head. “Well, I’ll be sleeping in town until you come to your senses.” He doesn’t say more, but checks the time and the angle of the sun. “I’ll be off for the day then.”
“Wait, why are you leaving?” Jeff asks.
“I’m not sleeping here if you’re turning on those lights.” Yee pales even more until his usually bronze skin is the same color as the crumpled waxed paper from their camp lunches.
“You’re leaving me alone?” Jeff swallows hard knowing it’s stupid to be afraid of being alone at the camp when there are all kinds of lights on. He stands taller reminding himself that he’s an adult now, has been for nearly seven weeks. Still, whatever Yee is scared of, he’s no longer smiling and joking about. The lack of Yee’s sparkling white teeth and ever-present grin is enough to unnerve Jeff.
“Oh, you won’t be alone.” Yee claps Jeff on the shoulder. “Good luck, Boss. See you in the morning if you’re still around.” With that, Yee strides over to his car that doesn’t move often based on the depth of the pine needles he brushes off of the exterior. He starts the Toyota right up after the third try and pulls away from the camp. Jeff catches him glancing in the rearview mirror and shaking his head.
“What was that all about?” Jeff asks with a shrug. Too late, he realizes there’s no one to talk to now that Yee is gone. With a shrug, he crosses to the light switch, flips on the outside lights and goes into the cabin he’ll soon share with other staff members. Flopping down on the bunk he’s claimed as his own. He pulls out a book and a bag of jerky and takes a break with every intention of painting the dining hall one more time before bed so he doesn’t have to do it in the morning.
“Yee’s just superstitious,” Jeff mutters, getting comfortable. Despite all he said, some part of Jeff worries about anything that could shake the solid Yee. He starts in on his book, reading by the beam cast by the new lights streaming in through the windows. Less than a chapter in, fatigue from the hard work of getting the camp ready for the summer sends Jeff into a deep sleep.
A creaking door startles Jeff awake. In the pitch blackness of the cabin, he falls out of bed. Confused, heart thundering, the dinner bell peals loudly, echoing across the entire camp and out across the lake. Jeff sighs. “Must be the wind. I must’ve left a door open somewhere,” he says out loud. “But where are the lights?” Cursing Yee under his breath he gets to his feet. “Very funny, nice joke. Do you play this one on all the new guys?” Jeff asks.
Pissed that Yee snuck back to turn off the outside lights after his show of running to town, Jeff stalks to the door. He pulls it open expecting to find a laughing Yee on the other side. Instead, a wall of moths covers the door like a curtain. Though he slams the door while screaming at the fluttering cloud, several of the insects make it inside. They cling to him, crawling across his bare arms, on his hair, his face. He screams and yells, but nothing works to dislodge them.
There are too many moths.
He can hardly breathe.
Their wings suffocate him.
With a great deal of difficulty, he covers his mouth and nose and draws in a deep breath. Pulling his shirt up over his face, Jeff stumbles over to the switch that controls the outside lights and flips it off. He huddles against a wall in as small of a ball as he can curl trying to keep the moths away as much as possible. Gasping and coughing, the fluttering slowly stops and he can once again breathe. Through the windows that were pitch black when he first awoke, the soft glow of distant stars fills the screened glass with a welcoming nighttime light that doesn’t attract moths.
Jeff doesn’t move until the sun rises. Thick rays shine through the windows bouncing off the closed wings of at least a thousand moths. Next to him, the brass knob wiggles and Jeff lets out a shout as Yee comes through the door. Jumping up, he throws his arms around the caretaker.
Yee glances at the moths. “You must’ve opened the door. At least you turned off the lights before things got too bad.”
“What do you mean got too bad?” Jeff demands. “I nearly choked on those winged pricks. They wanted to kill me. I’m taking them all out as soon as I can find some moth spray.”
“No, you can’t do that. The moths are the only thing that keeps them away,” Yee exclaims.
“Keeps what away?” Jeff asks in a small voice.
“The Gufflups,” Yee whispers.
“The what?” Jeff asks.
Yee gestures with his head for Jeff to follow him. Jeff casts one look at the moths, shivering at the memory of their legs and wings covering his body, and sticks close to Yee. With ninja steps, they cross to the cafeteria where Yee slowly opens the door. “They’ll scatter as soon as the sun hits them,” he says. “Stay away from their mouths.”
Jeff swallows hard unsure he wants to see what’s inside the door. Nothing can prepare him for the piles of what look like pompoms in greens and grays mounded inside the dining hall. One of the larger green ones sits on the head table where Yee and Jeff ate lunch yesterday. The sun hits its form and the thing comes to life. Hard black eyes shine out of a head as the thing unhinges and reveals rows of razor like teeth that remind Jeff of a crocodile’s snapping jaws.
“Their poisonous,” Yee says.
“Of course they are,” Jeff mutters. One of the things turns toward their voices and Jeff screams. A tidal wave of pompoms surges toward them.
“Into the lake,” Yee says. “Fast.”
Jeff runs flat out, right on the tail of the caretaker. Side by side, they plunge into the icy water. Yee lets out a complicated whistle that would rival any bird. The moths that clung to the cabin ceiling with Jeff all night move out in a cloud chasing the rolling gufflups back into the dark forest. When the sun reaches the middle of the sky, Yee hauls Jeff back to shore. Lips blue, they face each other.
“There you go lad,” Yee says, his accent thicker than Jeff has ever heard it before. “Now you know the real secret.”
“Those rolling things are awful,” Jeff agrees.
“Oh aye,” Yee agrees. “They’re why we keep the lights off.”
“The Gufflups?” Jeff asks through chattering teeth.
Yee rolls his eyes. “No, the light. It draws the moths away, calling them off of guard duty. That leaves the Gufflups room to gather in their rolling packs. Room to kill.”
Jeff swallows hard and nods. “I’d rather see the stars than ever see another moth around here again.”
“Aye,” Yee says with a nod.
After they dry off and change, Jeff drags the ladder from the dining hall outside and climbs up. He moves it around and doesn’t stop until every single light bulb on the exterior is safely smashed in the dumpster. Now nothing can disrupt the nighttime patrol and reveal the real secret of the moths.
About the Author
Rebecca Waddell writes Chapter Books, Middle Grade, and Young Adult novels set in the real world or places born in her brain. When not petting wolfacorns, eating chocolate with her husband and tweens, she blogs poetry. She is proudly represented by the completely awesome Jessica Schmeidler of Golden Wheat Literary.
Author Site: http://rebeccaw23.
Poetry Blog: www.reflectionoffaith.