This year at IGGPPCamp, everyone was invited to submit a camp ghost story based on prompts. (You can check out the winning entries here, here, and here if you want a trio good, creepy tales!) But there’s one last tale to tell. Enjoy. 🙂
An IGGPPCamp Ghost Story by Camp Director Jo
The camper sat bolt upright in her bunk, certain she’d heard a voice. Her chest heaved as she tried to catch her breath, calming herself by the sounds of the steady breathing of her cabin-mates. None of them had moved, as far as she could tell. As her heart slowed to a more normal rhythm, she took one more deep breath, and started to lay back down. As her head touched the pillow, a shadow fled across the cabin window.
The camper swung her legs from under the blankets and carefully placed one foot, then the other on the smooth wooden floor of the cabin. She didn’t want to wake her friends, but wanted to know who was outside at this hour. By now even the Camp Directors were in their cabins, sound asleep. She crept to the cabin door, pulled the knob, and stepped out into the bright night.
No-one was in sight.
The moon reflected on the rippling surface of the lake, like latticework on the pies they’d made earlier in the mess hall. A quiet wind pushed the trees of the pine forest surrounding the campground gently to and fro, and tickled the back of the camper’s neck. She placed one hand there, feeling a sheen of anxious sweat. Maybe she’d imagined the voice, the shadow. They’d been up late telling stories and eating way too much sugar. It was possible the whole thing was just the tail end of a dream.
The camper spun to her left, looking for the voice. She could see the arts and crafts cabin, huddled like a hibernating animal, a faint glimmer on its roof the only hint to the glittery chaos within its walls. She shivered despite the cold air. As she peered into the darkness, she saw movement again; a dark figure seemed to be looking into the windows of the craft cabin.
“It must be someone who can’t sleep,” she thought. Maybe she wasn’t the only one having bad dreams at camp. She hesitated for a moment, then scooped up her trail shoes and laced them up. If someone needed a friend in the middle of the night, she would be there for them. After all, even with all the new friends and fun things to do, it was easy to get homesick at camp.
As she crossed the campfire ring, she smelled smoke from the fire they’d made earlier in the night. She saw someone had left a flashlight, so she picked it up on her way to the craft cabin. While she walked, she thought about her own homesickness. At least, that’s what she thought it must be. For the last three nights, she’d had strange dreams. Each night, right after falling asleep, she’d dreamed about a different campfire, cold with blue flame, in the middle of the forest with not a cabin or other camper in sight. Each time, she felt herself drawn to it like a magnet inside of her chest was pulling her, compelling her to come closer and closer until she was afraid she’d step right into the heart of the fire. Then something would rise out of the flames and she’d wake up suddenly in her bed.
Now that she thought about it, she hadn’t had the dream tonight. At least, not that she could remember. But something had woken her, she was certain of that. And someone else was awake, too.
She arrived at the side of the craft cabin. The porch was illuminated in the moonlight, specks of glitter sparkling in the night, trailing across the porch. She couldn’t see anyone, though, so she climbed the stairs and tried the door. It opened, and she stepped into the big main room. Long rows of tables filled the space, while the walls were lined with shelves full of baskets and bins containing every craft material a camper could ever want. The entire area was covered in a fine layer of glitter-dust that would probably never come out of the crevices, but that was how the campers (mostly) liked it.
“Hello? Is anyone here?” She didn’t want to raise her voice, but couldn’t see anyone either. “Do you want to talk?”
She turned around and around, but everything seemed in order. As she started to go back out the door, a face peeked through the window. She shrieked. The face vanished.
The camper ran outside but there was no-one in sight. Her heart raced in her chest. There was no place close enough for someone to hide, but she was certain there had been someone there. The moonlight on the lake was beautiful, though, and she could just make out a shape at the edge of the water. Maybe the person was hurt?
She pulled the door of the craft cabin closed and hurried down to the lake front, glad of the flashlight she’d found. It cast a narrow, warm beam of light in front of her. Even with the bright moonlight, one could never be too careful. This part of the lake wasn’t near the docks, and the campers didn’t usually come down this way to go into the water because of the thick grasses growing under the water and the risk for leeches. She had no interest in getting near the leeches, but if another camper was in trouble, she’d do what she could.
As she reached the edge of the lake, the flashlight beam landed on the shape; she realized it wasn’t a person as all, but one of the camp canoes, stuck in the mud along the shore. The camper bit her lip and frowned. This canoe wasn’t supposed to be here. Nobody had mentioned one being missing, either. She came closer, running the flashlight beam across the side of the little boat.
A strange symbol marked the side: it looked like one of the troop badges, but wasn’t one she recognized, and was very faded, blue with perhaps a fish in the center? But she’d been at camp for years and couldn’t recall having seen this troop’s logo before. It nagged at her, though, like it was still somehow familiar, like something she could almost just remember. Strange. She stepped carefully into the shallowest part of the water, with just the toes of her trail shoes in the edge of the sticky mud, to get a better look inside the canoe.
The canoe was perfectly intact, with the seats in almost new condition, and a single paddle lying across one side of the bottom. It was nearly empty, too; on the rear seat, a single round stone was placed in the very center, just out of her reach. She leaned forward, straining to touch the stone, but felt the toes of her shoes slide deeper into the mud. There was nothing for it– she’d have to step into the small boat.
She struggled to lift her right foot out of the mud, the lake-muck suctioning the sole of her shoe in such a way she feared she was already trapped. She wiggled her foot back and forth trying to get free, but with no luck. Finally, with one last desperate pull, she managed to get free and at last stepped into the canoe.
The boat sank slightly under her weight but didn’t rock. She thought the bottom must have been flat on the shallow lake bottom, and that it was probably safe enough to step over the middle seat to the rear and finally collect the rock. As she reached down to scoop up the smooth stone, she felt the boat suddenly lunge backward. She stumbled and landed hard on the middle seat, cursing in shock as the canoe floated into the water, the shore receding quickly behind her.
The camper clutched the flashlight to her chest like a security blanket. The wind picked up and rushed across the surface of the lake, shattering the moon’s reflection. Something flew out of the trees and she ducked as it swooped over head, but when she looked up again, it was much darker than it had been.
The moon seemed to have shifted and was much lower in the sky. It was waning now, too, and tinged orange-red behind the very tips of the trees. She realized she could see her own breath in front of her, even though it was the middle of August and usually warmer at camp.
The boat drifted slowly, heading away from camp and toward the island on the south end of the lake. They weren’t allowed to go there, and all kinds of rumors about why flew through camp every year. The unlikeliest was that it was home to buried treasure, but the camper didn’t really believe that, especially since their little lake was so very, very landlocked. Why would pirates have come all that way? All the same, there was something peculiar about the island, and even though many of the other campers joked about going out to it on dares, no-one she knew actually followed through with it. The Directors and Staff were pretty strict about that. It also seemed to be the only rule they never explained, now that she thought about it.
She realized she was still clutching the stone in her hand. Her palm ached from gripping it so tightly. Silly, really, that she’d climbed into an untethered canoe to get it. As she unfolded her fingers, she realized there was writing scratched into the surface of the stone.
She traced the letters, puzzled. Who would scratch that into a rock? As she turned the rock over in her hand, she noticed another word, scratched onto the bottom of the stone, an exact match to the first.
She nearly dropped the stone as the canoe slammed into a shoreline. The camper got unsteadily to her feet, and slipped the stone into her pocket. Careful not to tip the boat, she stepped out onto the pebble-lined shore of the off-limits island.
Tall, thin trees reached overhead, obscuring the moon completely from view. She could just make out the opening of a trail right in front of her, not ten paces from where the boat had landed, vanishing into the forest. The wind pushed her hair into her face, and she tucked it behind her ears, listening: the voice she thought she heard, the one that woke her, was calling again.
“Hello? Are you there?”
“I’m here,” she called back, her voice low. She couldn’t tell where the voice was coming from, but there was no-one else on the shore. “I can’t see you.”
“Come find me!”
“Where are you?”
She waited, but the only reply was the wind.
With nothing else in sight, and no other options immediately available, the camper turned on the flashlight once more and ventured toward the trail. Pine needles cushioned her footsteps and she made no sound as she walked into the island forest. Somehow the trees here seemed taller than the ones around camp, but that didn’t make any sense. She couldn’t see much of the sky, as the dark branches leaned across the path overhead, blotting out any natural light.
The forest was silent. Not a single cricket or frog chirped in the night, not single rustle reached her ears, but the feeling that someone or something was watching her made her stop in her tracks. She whipped around, but the trail behind her was empty. She shone the flashlight as deep into the trees as she could on all sides, but nothing reflected in the beam.
“Come find me!”
“Where are you??” The darkness swallowed up her voice.
She spun back to face the direction she’d been traveling, or so she thought. The camper realized she’d lost sense of what direction to go. The voice seemed to have come from the direction she now faced, so she steadied herself and plunged ahead into the darkness. After several more minutes, the trees suddenly opened into a wide meadow.
The meadow was roughly circular, with a wall of pine trees lining it on all sides, broken only by the trail on which she stood. No moon was visible now, but the sky stretched overhead in a blanket of stars, almost as thick as the glitter from the craft cabin. She turned off the flashlight and took two steps into the meadow to get a better view of them. A thicker band of stars went right across the center of the sky, and she realized she was seeing the Milky Way. The cold, clear air around her was still as she stood transfixed by it. As she took another step forward, and then another, she felt the air grow suddenly colder, but the stars had her attention. As she reached the middle of the meadow, however, a thick mist rolled from the far edge of the trees.
The camper turned and started to run back for the trail, but the mist overtook her, surrounded her, and dissipated before she could even get halfway back to the path. She stopped in her tracks, damp from the moisture and her own sweat, shaking with cold and adrenaline. As she looked around her, she realized there was something else in the meadow she hadn’t noticed before: ten stones, laid out in a perfect circle, all equal distance from the wall of trees. When she’d walked to the center of the meadow, she’d stepped right between a pair of them, the tallest of the bunch.
Why hadn’t she noticed them? How had she been so entranced by the stars that she didn’t see them?
“Oh! You’re here!”
The camper jumped and spun around. There in the center of the meadow stood a tall figure in a flowing, shadowy robe.
“Where am I?” the camper asked.
“You are home.” The figure’s voice came to her like an echo even though it wasn’t more than a few paces away.
The camper took a step back, fear rushing up inside of her. “No, I’m not.”
“Yes, you are. Don’t you remember?”
The figure stepped slower, holding out its arms to her.
“This is the island! The forbidden island at camp! This isn’t where I belong! I’m not supposed to be here!”
“It’s all right, dear. This happens every year. Just come to me and you can go back to sleep.”
The camper paused, a sudden drop in her stomach. “What do you mean, every year?”
The figure dropped its arms and seemed to tilt its head to one side. “I’m so, so sorry. But every year, on the last day of camp, we have to bring you back here.”
“Why?” the camper asked. “Why can’t I remember?”
“It is a gift of the island,” the figure said. “We give you this every year– you are allowed to return for one week to the final place. But the week is up. Camp is over. It is time to come home.”
“What do you mean by the final place??” The camper felt panic rising in her throat, but she found she could no longer move her feet.
“Oh, my dear. It is time to remember.”
“No! No, you can’t make me!”
“I’m afraid we have to. It’s time to be home now. It’s time for your nap.”
“NO!” The camper struggled to pull free, but her body was frozen in place. The figure glided toward her across the gray grass, growing larger as it approached.
“There’s no need to be frightened. You’ll go to sleep now and wake up in time for next year’s camp. It’s just a little nap. And while you dream, you can share everything you learned with us.”
“NO! I DON’T WANT TO!”
The figure placed its hand on the camper’s shoulder. She felt her body grow cold, and the fear drained from her body once more. She remembered. She remembered it all. This was where she belonged. This is where she’d fled, all that time ago, when it happened. This was the deal. This was the curse.
“There, there, my dear. Just relax.”
The camper closed her eyes and felt herself sinking into the warm embrace of the forest and the darkness. As she drifted off, she could just make out the last, faint echo of the voice.
“Sweet dreams, Ginger.”