Carly Groban bounded into the kitchen on lanky legs. “Oh, look!” she cried, reaching for the mail.
“Don’t touch it! It’s evil!” Her mother Sharon snatched the collection of brochures and ads out of the way before Carly’s hand made contact with the flyer on top.
“I just want the camp catalogue.”
“You ordered that?” Sharon drank from her steaming mug then put it down and rested her temple against her fingertips.
“Dad said he’d pay for it, Mom. You don’t have to worry about…”
“This has nothing to do with the finances!”
Again, Carly reached for the mail; again, her mother moved it. “This is going to be another one of your ghost stories, isn’t it?”
Sharon looked up, her eyes bloodshot and her cheeks streaked with red. “No,” said Sharon. “This is the ghost story.”
“Mom, I don’t think your meds are working.”
“I don’t take medicine because I see ghosts.” Sharon banged the coffee cup on the table and took several deep breaths. Then she got up and swept the mail into a trash can that materialized at her side.
Carly said, “I’m calling Gran.”
“I just want to go to summer camp…”
Sharon said, “I was fifteen when I went to summer camp for the first time. It was wonderful.”
“I never knew you went to summer camp.”
“Sure. Only in my day, if you were a teenager, you went as a junior counselor. Senior counselors stayed in a house in the middle of a quad, and junior counselors lived in the cabins with the kids. So I had my own cabin of ten year olds to mind that first year. The next year, they promoted me to the twelve year olds.” As Sharon spoke, thunder rumbled outside, although the sky was blue. There would be no storm. Not out there. Inside, chairs, end tables, and boxes began to move around the house, all squeezing in around the table. She said, “Hello girls. Don’t knock over the coffee.”
“Mom, you need to take your Risperdal.”
“I took my Risperdal, Carly. How could I make this up?” She pointed around the table, to the assembled furniture.
“I…I don’t know. I want to call, Gran.”
“Honey, your Gran knows all of this. I don’t want to put her through it again.”
Carly didn’t reply, and Sharon went on speaking. “We lived with the kids, and we tried to keep them out of trouble and get action on the side ourselves. I think the junior counselors were crazier than the kids.”
“Yeah? How come you never told me you went to summer camp?”
“Because everyone died that second year, except the kids in my cabin.”
“It was in the news if you want proof, and I really think your Gran should have told you before she let you go ordering something like that catalogue.” Sharon tilted her coffee cup and, determining it empty, drifted over to the sink and set it down. When she moved, the entire procession of chairs came along.
“Well Gran never told me anything like that.”
“Of course she wouldn’t. She wants to protect you. But I think she should have, and I’ll do my best to tell you now.” Sharon turned to the rumbling furniture. “Sit girls,” she said. The chairs stopped moving, and Sharon turned back to the window.
She went on. “There was a woman killed in Atlanta, and one of the guys started a rumor that the murderer was hiding out in an old barn. The counselors scared each other with it, and of course scared the campers, too…”
“Oh my God. He was hiding there, wasn’t he?”
“Don’t get ahead of the story, Carly,” said Sharon. “As I said, we scared each other with it through a couple of sessions, until a bunch of the boys decided to raid the barn one night. The girls overheard and went to wait in the barn and scare them first.
“I was hot for Jim Waugh. But I saw him kissing Tina Belcher, and I had an idea they’d stay behind to make out. I wanted to jump out and get their picture. So I sent my girls to Jenny Simmons and went to hide behind the boys cabins. Only Tina and Jim never showed up, and I got bored waiting. So I went back to my cabin, and there were all my girls mad because Jenny left without them and none of the kids knew where the barn was.”
“Wait a minute…” Carly got up.
“Carly sit down and let me finish.”
“No, I remember now.” Carly found her legs jerked out from under her by an unseen force. “This is bullshit, Mom. GRAN!”
“Don’t bother your grandmother!”
Sharon’s bloodshot eyes grew to swallow her entire face as she flew at Carly, who intoned, “Bullshit! Bullshit! Bullshit!” like a magic spell until her grandmother’s arms shook her awake.
Carly’s limbs were at first too heavy to move in bed. She was curled into a fetal shell, and she had cut off circulation to her right ankle by tangling it up and pinning it under the left one.
Her grandmother said, “You OK?”
“Yeah.” Carly breathed heavily, like she’d run a long way. “I was afraid you wouldn’t hear me.”
“No, I heard.” Carly’s grandmother sat down heavily on the chair beside the bed. “I heard. What was it this time?”
“Some damned summer camp story.” The logy feeling finally let go of her arms and chest, and Carly pushed up on one elbow. If she had ever wanted to go to camp, the desire had now officially passed. But she couldn’t remember ever wanting to go, even though, in that dream, she had ached to reach in the trash and pull the catalog back out. “She was all on about how everybody but the girls in her cabin died…”
“Well that one at least has a shard of truth in it.”
“Just a shard. Some girl killed herself at the same camp your mother went to.”
“And she blows it up into a massacre.”
“With herself as the heroine no doubt.”
“It was looking that way.”
Carly’s Gran got up from the bedside chair and went to the window. Then she whistled.
Carly said, “What?” Her legs were working again, so she swung them down to the floor, but she didn’t stand up yet.
“She bopped a hole in the glass this time.”
Now Carly whistled. “We’ll have to cleanse the house.”
“Well, that’s been coming. Your feet any good yet?”
Carly rose carefully. “I won’t be running, but I’m good to walk.”
“Come look at this.”
Carly limped over to the window. Her right leg tingled as blood flow returned to the foot. She squinted out and saw a slimy pamphlet outside on the sill. “I guess she brought me a present.”
“Don’t touch it,” her grandmother said, “It’s evil.”
Carly laughed, low and hollow. “I guess she knew you’d say that.” She looked out beyond the window into the night, “Mama! If you would have just taken your medicine it would all be fine. This isn’t my fault, and it’s not Gran’s. Go haunt Daddy awhile, will you? I’ve got a Geometry test in the morning.”
Carly’s grandmother patted her on the shoulder. “Do you think you can sleep any more tonight?”
“Probably. But I’m moving to the den, if it’s all the same to you.”
Gran nodded. “I was going to suggest that,” she said. “Come on. I’ll help you get your blankets moved.” They walked back across the room together, mutual victims of the same haunting, abandoning the affected room until they could cleanse Sharon from the house once more.
I gave Grace O’Malley this prompt: Three dozen nightmares later, he finally had his answer. (No need to quote – just take off on the theme.)
Jessie Powell is the Jester Queen. She likes to tell you about her dog, her kids, her fiction, and her blog, but not necessarily in that order.