Bible camp, p.2
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       Bible Camp, p.2

           Ty Johnston
 
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  “Don’t you worry about anything,” the old man said. “I won’t let them harm you any.”

  ***

  “I’m starting to remember,” Mary said as she and Ken made their way along the path.

  “What’s that?” he asked as if he wasn’t much listening to her words.

  “My older brother used to talk about it,” Mary said. “The fire the old man was telling us about. There was a kid killed. His name was Tommy something. They called him Tank.”

  “Tank?” Ken let out a laugh. “Why’d they call him that?”

  “Apparently he was a big kid,” Mary said. “My brother said they used to make fun of him, he was so big. Said it was too bad Tommy didn’t make it to high school because he would have been perfect as a football player.”

  “Really?” Ken said. “Yeah, I guess somebody like that would be good for a defensive tackle.”

  Before further words could be shared, they came out in the circular gravel lot where the vehicles were parked. Abby still sat on a stump while reading, but every few seconds she would glare over the top of her book to where Gloria was rooting around in the back of the Jeep, loud pop music blaring from the speakers within. Of Lance and Russ there was no sign.

  “Where are the stupid twins?” Ken asked no one in particular.

  Abby slammed her book closed and thrust it down onto her knees. “Looking around the cabins, like you told them, and making a bunch of noise while doing it. Between their hysterics and the ditzy chick here with her music, there’s been no lack of noise.”

  Letting out a laugh, Ken dropped Mary’s hand and moved up to the Jeep, slapping the side of the vehicle.

  Gloria let out a squeal and sprang out of the Jeep. Glaring at Ken, she did not look happy.

  “What was that all about?” she asked.

  Ken kept on smiling. “Just keeping you on your toes.”

  At that point a scream came from behind one of the cabins, and a moment later Russ came rumbling into view as if the devil himself were right behind him.

  The big youth ran around behind Ken as if hiding, then pointed back the way he had come.

  Laughter was heard first, then the grinning face of Lance, who approached his friends with something furry on the end of a stick held out towards them.

  “What is that?” Mary asked.

  Russ stuttered and kept pointing. “It’s a c-c-cat.”

  “A cat?” Abby sprang to her feet. “It better not be.”

  “It’s not a cat,” Lance said with another chuckle. He slung out the end of the stick to one side, propelling the small dead animal into the nearby woods.

  Gloria looked stricken and backed away to stand near Mary and the others while Abby stormed past Lance and stared into the weeds where the dead critter lay.

  Lance tossed the stick to one side and said, “See? It’s just a raccoon.”

  Abby turned on him with hate in her eyes. “And you killed it?”

  Backing away, the tall, skinny youth held up his hands in defense. “Hey, it was already dead when we found it on the doorstep of one of the cabins. I just moved it so it wouldn’t be in anyone’s way.”

  Abby still did not look pleased. She stamped a foot and marched away from the group, heading down the path to the lake.

  Ken smirked and came forward. “Just a dead coon. Would’ve had to remove it anyway. No big deal.”

  “That’s what I was thinking,” Lance said.

  “He ... he was going to put it on me,” Russ said, his voice shaking.

  Concern in her features, Mary placed a gentle hand on one of the big fellow’s shoulders. “I’m sure he wouldn’t have done that. Would you, Lance?”

  Lance didn’t answer. He just stood there with a big grin on his face.

  Ken laughed, then got serious. “Okay, everybody. The keys are in the counselors’ cabin, so let me get them while the rest of you are unpacking.”

  He headed to the building and, as Tucker had told him, the door was unlocked. Ken disappeared inside.

  “Who the hell made him boss?” Lance said.

  “Nobody,” Gloria said.

  “We might as well do as he told us,” Mary said. “We’ve got to unload the cars anyway.”

  As packs and suitcases were being taken from the vehicles, Ken appeared once more, now holding up a large ring of keys.

  “I’ll unlock the first two cabins,” he said, walking towards the nearest one. “We’ll split up, girls in the front building, guys in the next one. Mary and I will take the counselors’ quarters.”

  Gloria slammed a backpack on the ground. “That doesn’t seem fair.”

  “Fair, shmair,” Ken said with a twinkle in his eyes. “Mary and I are the only couple. We need some space to be alone.”

  At these words, Mary’s face turned red while Ken unlocked the first cabin before going around the side to the next building.

  “Well, la di da,” Gloria said, glancing to Mary. “Who would have thought little miss perfect over here had it in her.”

  Russ didn’t say a word but kept unloading the Jeep. Lance didn’t say anything either, but he couldn’t help from grinning like a crazy person.

  Mary’s flush only turned deeper.

  Ken reappeared. “Okay, let’s get this stuff put away, then we can get started cleaning the place.”

  Lance looked up the sky. “It’s going to be dark in couple of hours.”

  “Then we’d better get to it,” Ken said. “I don’t want to sleep in dust tonight. Besides, the sooner we get done, the sooner we can go down to the lake and start a bonfire.”

  “Great!” Russ said. He held up a small plastic ice chest. “I brought hot dogs!”

  “You are a hot dog,” Lance said with a laugh as the group went back to work.

  Except for Gloria.

  “What about Abby?” she asked.

  Ken glanced to her as he lifted a suitcase. “What about her?”

  “She’s not helping,” Gloria said. “I don’t think that’s very fair.”

  “You don’t think anything’s fair,” Lance said.

  Even Russ let out a giggle at that one.

  But Gloria didn’t move, and her face became hard as stone as she stared at Ken.

  Who stared right back. “Once we’re packed away, Russ can go down to get her. Okay?”

  “I’m not unpacking her stuff,” Gloria said, “and I’m not carrying it into our cabin.”

  Letting out a sigh, Mary reached around the other young woman and pulled a small pack from the Jeep. “I’ll do it,” she said.

  Ken glared from Gloria to Mary. “Good. That’s settled. Now let’s get to work.”

  ***

  Trundling down the trail of packed dirt and gravel, Russ soon found himself walking faster than he felt safe. There was a slight decline as the path made its way through the trees, and the further he went the faster he went.

  Finally he skidded on his tennis shoes, coming to a halt as the path ended. Before him was a beautiful sight, a picnic area with wooden benches and tables as well as a couple of standing grills that looked as if they had not been used in some while. On the other side of the clearing was the lake, sparkling and bright with a short dock of gray wood extending some little distance into the waters. The forest continued all around the edges of the lake and more trees could be seen on the far side, at least half a mile distant.

  But there was no sign of Abby, his purpose for being there.

  “Abby?” he called out.

  Nothing.

  Worry growing in the pit of his stomach, Russ moved to the nearest table and leaned against it to catch his breath. Looking around, he still saw no sign of his friend.

  “Abby?” he called again.

  There was nothing again for at least a minute, but then a distant coughing noise came from along the shore and further to the north.

  Pushing away from the table, Russ headed in that direction.

  “Abby?” he repeated.

  Still there was n
o answer, but he did not let that stop him. He moved down to the edge of the water and saw there was a thin trail that appeared to run into the thickets and trees. Following this path, he found it stayed near the water, and he wondered if it ran all the way around the lake.

  He had not gone far when he heard the coughing noise again, this time closer.

  “Abby, is that you?”

  “Shit,” a familiar voice said, followed by the sound of movement.

  Pushing through some bushes, Russ finally spotted her. She was hunched down beside a large rock, what appeared to be a rolled cigarette in one hand while her other hand waved away some smoke over her head.

  “There you are,” Russ said, coming forward.

  She didn’t look glad to see him, but she stood and rubbed out her smoke against the big rock.

  “Why didn’t you come when I called you?” he asked.

  “I was hiding,” she said, brushing ashes from the legs of her black jeans and the lower half of her T-shirt.

  “Why were you hiding?”

  “Because of this.” She held up her smoke.

  Russ leaned forward and sniffed, his nose curling up. “It smells funny.”

  “That’s because it’s pot, you bozo.”

  “Oh.”

  “Yeah, oh. I’m sure pretty girl and little miss Christian would throw a fit if they knew what I was doing, so I wanted to keep it to myself.”

  Russ backed away, grinning. “Hey, it’s no big deal. I won’t tell anybody.”

  She glared at him a moment, then stuffed the dead joint into a pocket. “You better not.” Then she forced her way past him and took the trail back to the picnic site.

  Russ followed right behind. “You know, I saw that novel you were reading. If you want to take a look, I’ve got some of King’s Dark Tower graphic novels with me.”

  She spared a glance over a shoulder as they came out near the dock. “Yeah? That might be cool. At least give us something to do.”

  They paused at the clearing, looking out across the lake.

  “You mind if I ask a question?” Russ said.

  “You just did.”

  “What?”

  “You asked me a question.”

  “Oh, uh, okay.” His words fumbled. “Can I ask another?”

  “Go ahead.”

  “Well, I was wondering,” he began. “You don’t seem like the church-going type, no offense, and I’ve only seen you at church a few times, so I’m wondering why you’re here.”

  She didn’t look at him, but continued to stare out across the flickering waters. “I told you guys. I wanted to get away.”

  “Away from what?”

  She shrugged. “From life. From everything. School. Nagging parents.”

  Russ didn’t seem to know what to say. While she stared at the lake, he stared at her.

  Finally she turned around. For a moment her eyes filled with bitterness as she saw his stare, but then she shrugged it off and walked towards the path leading pack to the cabins.

  “Let’s go,” she said. “It’ll be dark soon.”

  Like a good puppy, Russ followed.

  Neither noticed the shadowy figure watching them from the trees.

  ***

  “Where the hell have you two been?” Ken asked as Russ and Abby strolled out of the woods, the larger of the two breathing heavy from the uphill climb.

  Abby pointed back the way they had come. “Just checking things out down near the lake.”

  “There’s tables and a dock,” Russ said, puffing between words. “Even standing grills for a cookout.”

  A grin spread across Ken’s lips, but his eyes held a hint of mistrust. “You sure that’s all you saw down there?”

  Russ looked confused. “What else would we see?”

  “Maybe you saw Abby’s panties?”

  Russ’s face turned red.

  Abby snorted. “You wish.” Then she marched away, heading towards the Jeep.

  “Mary already put your stuff in with Gloria,” Ken said.

  Abby turned and made a beeline for the front cabin, vanishing inside.

  Ken winked to the big guy. “Maybe it’s your weekend to get lucky, Russ.”

  All Russ could do was blush even further.

  At this point Mary came out from the counselors’ building, Russ’s ice chest hanging from one hand. “Mr. Tucker has done a good job keeping these places up. We’ll hardly have to do anything this weekend.”

  “Great!” Ken announced. He glanced up to the sky, which had turned a deeper shade of blue. “Be dark in an hour or so, and I’m hungry.”

  Mary held up the ice chest. “I’ve got the food. I heard what Russ said, and we could have hot dogs going pretty soon once a fire is built.”

  “Let’s get to it, then,” Ken said, turning to Russ. “Go get the others, and tell them to meet us down by the lake.”

  “Sure,” Russ said, turning away.

  ***

  Old man Tucker slammed the screen door behind him as he stormed into his house. “Lord, have mercy!”

  He wanted to curse, to scream out the most vile words he could think of, but he knew that would not be God’s bidding. Instead, the old man stood in the middle of his decrepit living room with its threadbare rug and its battered and torn furnishings, and he spun around slowly while rubbing at his grizzled jaw.

  Movement from the hallway caused him to stop.

  Tucker looked up and glared at the humongous figure in the shadows.

  “Those ... miscreants,” the old man said, “with their filthy mouths and their pot smoking. Saw them with my own eyes. They’ll be up to no good tonight for sure. Probably having sex and up to all kinds of sin with their devil metal music and their Satanic Dungeons and Dragons games. I know! I saw it with my own eyes!”

  He seemed to want to go on, but suddenly his breathing came harsh and he gasped. Patting at his chest, he moved to a rickety couch and plopped down.

  After a few moments, he was able to speak again. “Don’t worry about your old dad,” he said, holding his chest. “I’ll be all right. It’s just those kids that get me all riled up, and that new church that bought the land. Why couldn’t they leave well enough alone? Why couldn’t they --”

  The words stopped. Tucker’s eyes went wide and his chest lurched. His hand above his heart twisted into a claw and then it drooped over the arm of the couch to hang at the side.

  “Those brats,” he whispered between trembling lips, “they get me so worked up.”

  His eyes closed, and the hanging hand twitched, and his body slumped down deeper into the couch.

  Never to move again.

  In the shadows, the gigantic figure loomed. Anyone listening might have thought they heard a brief, sharp cry of anguish.

  ***

  By the time darkness rolled over the camp, the college students had finished putting away their gear and had headed down to the lake with flashlights and oil lamps in hand.

  “I don’t see any sign of a fire,” Ken said, placing a wicker basket on top of one of the tables.

  Lance gave him a puzzled look. “We haven’t started a fire yet.”

  “He means the fire from thirty years ago,” Mary said, hanging lamps and placing plastic ware and paper plates across a table.

  “There was a fire?” Russ asked, helping Gloria with tearing open packs of hot dogs and buns.

  Ken smirked. “Yeah, the caretaker told us about some kid getting burnt up in a fire at some building down here. I don’t see any signs of it.”

  “It was thirty years ago,” Gloria said. “What do you expect.”

  “Over here.” It was Abby who had spoken. The group turned as a whole to where the girl in the dark clothes sat on a bench to one side of the site. Next to her set one of the lamps and the thick novel she had carried all day.

  “What are you talking about?” Ken said, coming forward with a flashlight.

  “Here.” Abby pointed to the ground a few feet in front of her, then of
f to the sides all around her. “If you look, you can see remains of soot in the dirt. Must be from that fire.”

  “Yeah, maybe,” Russ said, coming up next to Ken. “It’s in kind of a squarish shape, so it could have been a building.”

  Ken snorted. “Bullshit. You guys don’t know what it is.”

  “No, we don’t,” Abby said with hooded eyes for Ken, “but we don’t not know, either.”

  Ken stared back at her with an unbelieving look then he turned away in a huff.

  “I believe it could be the place,” Russ said in a lowered tone, then he too went to join the others.

  At the nearest grill, Lance sprayed plenty of lighter fluid from a plastic bottle onto some kindling picked up in the woods. A moment later he scratched a match on its box and tossed the burning splinter into the grill. Flames whooshed up high, bringing a startled cry from several, then the fire settled down into a warming, waltzing blaze.

  “We ready to cook?” Lance asked, looking over a shoulder to his friends.

  “Oh, yeah,” Russ said, coming forward with a plate, metal tongs and the food.

  It wasn’t long before the scent of hot dogs wafted through the night’s air, the moon shining down and bouncing off the lake like two silver dollars staring at one another.

  When the first batch of dogs were ready for munching, Russ piled them on a plate and brought them over to a table where Gloria was setting out cans of soda.

  “Should’ve brought beer,” Ken said.

  “You ain’t kidding,” Lance said with a laugh.

  Ignoring the others now that the food was ready, Russ grabbed a bun and stuffed a hot dog into it. “Let’s eat!”

  Mary came forward, frowning. “Shouldn’t we say grace before we eat. I mean, we are here for the church, after all.”

  The others stared at her as if she had lost her mind, but then Ken shrugged and said, “Okay, let’s get it over with.”

  Mary bowed her head.

  But before she could speak, a curse came from Abby.

  Everyone looked to the girl in black.

  “This is stupid,” she said, slamming her book closed and jumping to her feet. “I’m not going to sit here and listen to a bunch of Jesus garbage just so I can eat.”

  Then she picked up a lamp and stormed away from the site, taking the trail she and Russ had found earlier in the day.

  No one said a word to stop her.

  “She’ll be back,” Russ said, looking hopeful.

  Lance chuckled. “Yeah, when she gets hungry.”

 
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