House Across the Lake

by Paul G. Jutras



KEYWORDS:                    SCHOOL GIRL


The wheezing gray camp bus- CAMP THUNDERCRACK read the faded rust covered lettering slowly bounced along the winding road. The bus was almost empty: since most of the parents had sent their kids to camp the week before.

Pushing the blonde hair out of my face, I pulled out a Sherlock Holmes novel from his knapsack and stopped listening to the boys and girls cracking jokes. There was a reason my school was late in starting summer vacation. We used up all our snow days and ended up getting out a week after the other schools going to camp. The boy next to me was Steve. He was slim with muscular arms and legs. He had short black hair and wearing a T-shirt of his favorite baseball team.

I'm thirteen, but never been to camp before. Since Steve had been to sports camp the previous summer, he was able to help me through the long bus ride. Although he had never been to Camp Thundercrack, he was certain that all summer camps were the same.

"There's nothing here, Steve!" I exclaimed.

"I'm sure we're almost there, Jason," he replied as his sling shot took aim and fried a paper ball at the girl in front of him.

I thought of what camp would be like. I was determine to have the most fun I ever had unafraid to try any activity the camp offered. I recalled that the camp brochure mentioned swimming, archery and horseback riding.

"How can a trip to camp be so boring?" Called the blonde-haired girl who was hit by Steve's sling shot and returned fire with a spit ball.

"Who are you?" asked Steve.

"Susan," said the girl. "This is my first time at Camp Thundercrack, too. I just hope that it's as good as their pamphlet claims."

The driver spread up on the down slope. In the far distance, I could finally see the totem entrance of the camp's main gate above the trees. The camp's sign was stretched between the totems with its name written in broken sticks.

Most of us campers on the bus murmured and glanced toward the front of the bus. One boy: however,

Remained in his seat and folded a piece of paper. When he stood up he hit Susan in the head with the paper airplane. "We're finally here."

"Hey!" Susan turned around angrily. Crumbling the paper airplane into a ball, she threw it back at the ball. "Watch it!"

As the driver opened the door we stepped into a large open area. The bus was parked beside the totem poles, which held up the camp sign. The woods that surrounded the camp were the spookiest Steve and Susan had ever seen.

"Here." The driver grumbled taking our stuff from the luggage compartment. His strength hardly seemed human.

A few second later, we heard the sound of someone's feet crunching against pine needles. They were getting closer.

I whirled around to see a couple step from the shadows.

"Hello." A young man said in a creepy voice. "I'm counselor John and this is counselor Mary. Welcome to Camp Thundecrack."

The two stood with a clipboard in one hand and pencils behind their ears. They had a whistle around their necks and wore camp T-shirts. Pointing with one finger they took a silent head count of the new arrivals.

"This is a camp? It's more like a ghost town." Steve joked. Grabbing my gear from the bus, I hurried over to join the other campers in lining up before the counselors. John and Mary had separated the boys and girls in two lines.

"The other campers are over by the lake." John told Steve, pointing down a trail in the woods. "Boys follow me. The girls go with counselor Mary."

"I'm glad you all choose to join the group," John spoke loudly. "First we'll drop you boy off at your cabins. Once everyone is settled in, you can join the others down at the lake. They'll be more to do here then you possibly imagine."

As John raised his clipboard, he looked over at the cabin and made two check marks with the pencil. The cabin sat up and the hill looked haunted. I couldn't notice the odd smile the formed on my counselor's face as he turned to the group.

"Jason Wells?"

I grabbed my stuff and stepped out of line when I head my name. John pointed to a cabin sitting on top of the hill. Only one side was lit up.

"You and Steve will be sharing that cabin." John bellowed. He then made another check mark and headed to the next cabin. "Your bunkmates arrived in last weeks group. The rest of you follow me. I'll show you where to go."

Suddenly I felt the urge to look up at the cabin. Its walls could use a touch of paint and the screens on the door and windows could use some mending. The number 7 on the front was covered in a fine layer of dust, and the building itself was surrounded by the eerie shadows of the surrounding trees.

Suddenly we heard a scream coming down from the lake. We dropped our gear and ran down to the far side of the hill.

Starring at the lake in horror, we saw a lifeguard pulling a camper from the dark water. I ran to the lake shore, my heart pounding in my chest. The lifeguard had already started to give the camper mouth to mouth as we reached them.

"Hey, sir - what happened?" I asked. "Is he hurt?"

"I told him not to cross the lake," The lifeguard narrowed his eyes at me. He raised his right arm and pointed across the lake. "That house is off limits."

I paused briefly on the small green dock at the edge of the lake, rowboats tied to its supports. Then I saw it. It didn't scare me but it cried mystery. I felt totally confused and wondered what a detective would do.

"Why?" I asked.

"Forget it, kid." The lifeguard bellowed. He waved over two other counselors. 'Them him to see the camp nurse."

He walked up behind us and place a hand on each of our shoulders. "You just forget what you saw here. You're here to enjoy the camp. Just remember Thundercrack's main rule, stay away from that house."

But I wasn't listening. I was only thinking about the old house. As the lifeguard left, I turned toward Steve. "What's the big deal about an abandoned house? Looks like we've got a mystery on our hands."

The wind started to pick up and blew in my face.

I'll look on the boy later." The lifeguard said, returning to his station while the two of us walked back toward the cabin.

"Oh, man, not another one." Said a new voice from earshot. We turned to see a boy standing behind us in a baseball cap. He walked over beside us. "Third one this week. If this keeps up they won't be any campers left."

"I'm Adam, Cabin 7." He said.

"I'm Jason. He's Steve. We're your new bunkmates." I explained. I couldn't help starring off at the house across the lake.

Adam started for the cabin then stopped and turned around. "You know the rules? They won't let you go across the lake. And they won't let you phone home. The only phone's in the nurse's office."

"So is there anything else we should be aware of?" Steve asked walking back toward the cabin with Adam and me.

"Lights out is up to us." Adam replied. "I've only had a few hours sleep since I got here. When I'm not playing, I'm reading comics."

"Hey- have you heard what happened at the lake? They're carrying someone off to the nurse's office?" Susan came running toward us.

"Who's she?" Adam asked.

"We met on the camp bus," Steve said.

I covered my mouth and coughed. I was starring in shock at the idea that I had only just gotten here and I already witness a near drowning. I didn't know what to say about. I thought maybe I should go to the nurse office sometimes to see if he's okay.

I found my voice at last. "Have you heard anything about the house across the lake? It's one of the camp rules."

Adam then kicked me in the shin.

"Owww!" I practically yelled. "What's that for?"

Adam kept a sharp eye on me to make sure I didn't say a word about it. I hated the idea of not letting Susan know what I heard more than I hated knowing myself. Then again what did I really know.

"Hey, Adam - what's the problem." I said starring with an angry look in my eye and throbbing brusied shin.

"Tell your friend nothing about the house." Adam ordered. "Her counselor will explain the rules to her. If not- what's one less camper."

I just stood their for a second, completely confused. "I don't know anything about the house. How can I tell her anything?"

"I just got here! I ran down the lake because I heard a scream! What does that have to do with any house? What are you three going about it?"

"Maybe you already know too much." Adam started walking on toward the cabin while Steve and me retrieve our gear. I couldn't wait to get some sleep. I had hope that things would make more sense in the morning.

We walked through the woods. Reaching our cabin, we notice the light inside was moving about. It was clear that our fourth bunkmate was reading Adam's comics by flashlight. I wondered if he might prvoide more information.

"Oh, man." Complained the new boy in the cabin. He set his book a side and looked down from the top bunk. "Are they assigned here?"

"Get a life." I snapped. Saying that only made me think of the boy who almost drowned.

"Knew it." He grumbled. "You're new here, aren't you. That's why..." he began to say one thing, then I realized he choose to say something completely different. "That's why I don't recognize you." He completed his sentence. He then dropped down to the cabin floor with a loud thump.

Before I could say anything Adam spoke up. "Mike takes pride in knowing everyone here. At least he claims to know every camper by their face. If you ask me, I'd say he doesn't know half the campers he claims to know."

"With so many campers here one day and gone the next, it's easier than you think." Mike joked.

We went through our duffel bags and each pulled out a bag of marshmallows. I was looking forward to roasting them over the camp fire. It was obvious from my bunkmates attitude that he wasn't going to be any help.

"I hope we'll run into Susan at the camp fire." I stated. "Maybe her counselor knows why that kid almost drowned. You had us leave before we could learn anything."

"Probably nothing to learn." Said Adam.

"Whoa! You don't know that! There just might be a connection between the accident and that house." I walked over and opened the door. The fact there had been other accidents made me sure something was going on.

I suddenly ducked as a bat flew through a hole in the cabin's window screen. Steve had grabbed a tennis racket and tried to swat the flying rodent. Almost hitting me in the process.

I think that everyone returning from the lake was outside the screen windows and laughing. Adam and Mike just took a seat on their bunks with amused looks on their faces. Mike started stuffing his face with potato chips and Adam was holding a bottle water in one hand. I had a feeling that the place wasn't any summer camp that Steve had been.

Then the bat swooped down without warning and nearly landed on top of my head. I couldn't help panicking. "Hey!"

"Hold still!" Steve said, taking careful aim and swinging the tennis racket. As the bat flew off of me, the racket hit me on top of the head. "I got it!"

"Oww!" I rubbed the top of my head. "Get it...not me."

"Open the window while I try to scare the bat out." I cried. Rolling up a magazine I tried to swat the bat better than Steve. The two of us only ended up swatting each other as Adam opened a window.

The rolled up paper swished the air as I chased the bat outside. "It's going to be a long summer." I said.

Mike just flashed a really weird smile and grabbed a bag of marshmallows as he walked to the door. Longer than you think." He said.

The smile left Mike's lips. " Best not be late." He added. "Counselor John doesn't like campers who show up late to the camp fire."

Mike started off. Adam quickly joined him. "If this wasn't so creepy it'd almost be funny." Steve looked at me. "Where do you think the bat came from?"

"Chill." I said. A bad start to summer camp wasn't going to get the best of me. I stomped down the front porch of the cabin. "Forget about the bat. We need to find the cause of the near drowning if we're going to solve this case."

"Are you going to check the house out in the morning?" Adam's icy voice almost sent chills down both our spines.

"Jason, you're not thinking..." Steve hesitated. Then he continued. "...Go across the lake after seeing what happened to that other camper? Shouldn't we talk to the camp nurse or something before we go running off?"

That made me even more determine. I wanted to have fun. I couldn't enjoy myself until I knew what was really going on," I replied. "We need to find some facts."

Ducking our heads, we tried to keep low branches from smacking us in the face. "Don't worry." I said when I saw the look on Steve's face. "I'm sure that they're a logical explanation to what's going on."

Finally we reached the evening camp fire. The groups were sitting in a circle on logs separated by their counselor. John started the campers with a camp song - "Michael Row His Boat Ashore." But I had other things on my mind I could see Susan sitting in the girls group across from me.

Then John gave us one of his creepy looks. "How would you like to hear a scary camp story?" he asked in a weird voice.

The silence was broken only by the chirping of crickets.

John just kept staring. His eyes darted from one group to another. "Does anyone know why they're not allowed across the lake?"

All the campers started to look at each other in complete silence. I just stared at John with intense interest. Gathering important information was what any detective would be doing. Counselor John was telling the one puzzling camp story I wanted to hear since I got to camp.

John took a bite of his roasted marshmallow, keeping everyone in suspense. "The people who died in that house own the property the camp was built on. Course back then this was a girls only camp. Rumors have it, they're buried in the cemetery on the other side of the lake."

"So what?" One kid asked.

"This camp reminds them that they're no longer alive." John said. "That's why it is said that their ghosts haunt that house across the lake every summer. They watch over the camp like they were still alive."

"Ghosts?" The word made Steve want to burst out into laugher. "No kid in their right mind would believe such a story." He whispered to me."

"That's why nobody is allowed to hike anywhere near that house during the course of their stay." John said, keeping his weird plastered smile on his face. While I knew Steve was right about ghosts not existing, I also knew they're was something counselor John was hiding.

"The first counselor to come back from the house was never the same again." John went on. "He was by himself and lost in the woods at night. He found himself by the house. When the camp found him the next morning, he couldn't speak. He was rushed to the camp nurse as fast as possible, but he was dead by the time he arrived.

"How did he die?" I asked.

"That's the mysterious part." John said. "Nobody knows. When people came to examine his body... it was missing."

"Yeah, right." Muttered Steve.

"How do you know this?" asked Susan.

"The counselor who died," remarked John. His skin started to melt off his face. "Was me."

I jumped from the log and backed away from John.

Everyone laughed.

I glanced over at John. He was removing actor's make up with a towel and laughing like a maniac. "Sucker! We really had you going didn't we?"

I couldn't help but laugh at myself. I had fallen for one of the oldest camp jokes around. I was sure that all the campers that arrived the week before was in on it. I even began to wonder how real the bat in my cabin was.

John took a bit out of one final marshmallow and then stood up. "Everyone fall out to your bunks." He grinned with a weird smile. "While this camp doesn't have an official lights out, I suggest you get ready fro a big day ahead."

"It's something we do to a chosen first timers." Explained counselor Mary.

"Right." John said. Giving me a pat on the shoulder, he smiled at both Adam and Mike. "None of the past arrivals were more fun to fool than you. Boy, were you an easy target. Looks like your bunkmates were a real help putting you in the correct frame of mind."

The next day on the lake shore, I stared at the house a cross the lake. I was impressed with the great joke that counselor John and the others played on me. I didn't see the shadow of one of the camp's lifeguards fall over me. "In the water, kid!"

"Here I go." I said as I jumped off the dock and swam through the dark water. It didn't take long for Goosebumps to appear on my arms.

I felt the familiar feeling of being watched as I moved away from the shore. I had to remind myself that the near drowning was all part of the joke. The picture of the lifeguard pulling the camper from the lake filled my head. I remembered John's face melting and how scared I had felt. More scared than ever in my life.

"John, couldn't you have gotten the lake any more frigid?" Steve joked. He looked around only to see me way in the middle of the lake. I didn't have any idea just how far out I had gone.

Steve peered behind me.

A green slime oozing on the surface of the lake, started to come up behind me. Doing the back float, it was about to take me unaware.

"Hey!" Steve cried out as he tried to say afloat and pointed at the slime at the same time. His voice echoed in my ears. AS Steve got my attention I sat up and glanced over my shoulder.

Panicking, I tried to swim for the dock. Not knowing what it was, I could only think about getting away from it. Each time I opened my mouth to scream, I swallowed water. My blurry vision saw Steve heading toward me.

"What's going on!" I gasped for air.

"Swim!" Steve said, trying to reach me.

"I couldn't believe this is happening."

"C- C- Cold." I said, feeling the green slime sticking to my feet. It felt like the bottom of my bare feet was walking on ice. Just when I started to go under, I spotted Susan up on the dock.

"Got you." Susan said, dropping to her knees and reaching an arm out to me.

"Thanks, Susan." I said. I finished climbing on the dock and felt myself pulled free of the slime. When I looked back, I saw that the slime was moving in the direction of the house.

"No way," I said with a look of fear in my eyes.

"Check it out." Steve said, climbing ashore. He jogged along the beach and over to us. "It's heading straight to the house across the lake."

"Weird." Susan muttered. "This can't be another camp tradition, can it? Part of your counselor's practical jokes?"

"Perhaps there's a mystery here after all," I said. "We'd better go over to that house right now. It's pretty far. We'd better take the camp horses if we want to get back before dark."

Realizing the counselor Mary probably wasn't as lax about the light out rules as John, I went to the camp stables as soon as I was finished changing. Steve and I selected a pair of stallions and took off to the far side of the lake. We were surprise to see the camp bus pulling up in front.

The ground began to shake around the cemetery, causing some of the gravestones to fall over. Caskets were trusted to the surface.

"I'm thinking we should of taken that lifeguards advice." Steve cried.

All around us bodies rose up from their graves. I notice the dead look in their eyes that reminded me of department store mannequins. It sunken, eyes glowed inside plastic heads of what should of been decayed skin pealing off a skull. The jaw bone appeared ready to fall off and its joints moved in a mechanical method causing them to move in a stiff manner toward us.

All around us bodies rose up from their graves. We scrambled terrified toward the house's open doors. We moved at such speed and in such panic, we tripped over our own feet.

My heard pounded in my chest as I scrambled across the floor while Steve blocked the doors. As I reached a pile of photo albums, the top album fell on top of me.

I looked up at the ceiling. Only I couldn't see the ceiling anymore. Only blackness and a group of mannequins in camp uniforms moving toward us. Their arms outstretched.

"No! It can't be!" I scrambled back against the a pile of boxes and felt blonde hair brushing again my shoulders as I stared into angry eyes.

"But it can." Counselor John stepped from the darkness. Reaching his neck he pulled off a rubber masked to reveal a mannequin face beneath. "The owners of the house wanted the camp to be closed. After I was transformed by the house I was given the assignment to make sure that it closed down. If I can't scare the campers away, I transform them."

The former campers grabbed hold of us as John waved his arm stiffly in front of our faces. I felt myself getting sleepy as I watched the hair on my body fall into clumps on the floor. Even the hair on my head came out. Steve and my skins took on an unrealistic plastic appearance complete with built in mannequin pivot points. "You'll make good guardians of the house. Unless we need you to scare a swimmer in the lake or in the woods. Then you'll have to take on a different appearance. For the most part you'll remain in here as a mannequin guardian."

The other mannequins then posed us and found us a place in the house. I knew I was going to be frozen like this for a long time.

When evening came and Steve and I didn't return, Susan got worried. She went to counselor John who was starting another camp fire. "Sir, have you seen Jason Wells and Steve Dodge?"

"They took up sick." John said with a smile. "In fact, with some many people getting sick and being sent home, Mr. Thundercrack has decided to make this the finale summer which this camp will be open."

Susan knew that what John had said couldn't be true. The horses they had taken out wasn't back in the stable. Taking one herself, she took off around the lake and up to the old house. As it reached the cemetery, the horse started to act up, forcing Susan to go on foot.

"Jason! Steve!" Susan called out, feeling her legs getting stiffer with each step. As her hand reached for the house's door knob, her arm froze in place. As did her legs. She noticed a plastic shine toward her skin as her eyes fixed straight ahead.

She listened as the camp bus pulled to a stop behind them. The driver got out and moved in a robotic manner over to her. "Welcome to your new home, little lady." He picked her up and carried her inside. "Your friends are waiting for you inside."

"I knew she was too close to the boys to leave their disappearance along." John said as he got off the bus. "I'll walk all three horses back to camp after you're through setting her up inside. "They should be the last of our collection till the end up camp. Once the camp is closed for good, the masters can find a nice home for all of them the department stores back in town."


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