Authors note: This is the short story I wrote in July that was rejected. The story had to be under 1k words ( mine is 998 ) and it needed to feature something about camping. Camping for me was a huge part of my childhood. I attended a Christian camp in Wisconsin for many years. Digging back into those memories was wonderful. Finding the scary hidden within was delicious.
The lake was black and hid many secrets. The only light offered came from the hanging moon above but it could not penetrate the lakes obsidian depths. But it did provide enough light for Brody Fitzmore to see the outline of the peer that floated silently in the distance.
Brody gulped the velvet summer night and crunched his toes deeper into the sandy shore. It was a funny thing to see the place that offered laughter, games, and splashing under the summer sun become so dark and ominously corrupted under the waxing moon.
The buckling ribs of the cicadas, the croaking of something bulbous and slimy just beyond the tall reeds, and the scratchy wool air made 12-year-old Brody, who was crowned bravest of the first-year campers, think only of the horrible hungry things within.
A voice slipped through the dark of the trees that leered behind him like great sentinels of summer.
“It’s the last night of Camp Wonder, Brody.”
The soft chattering of his fellow campers buzzed somewhere between the trees.
“That means this is the last chance to win the Craw-Man Patch.”
Another wave of exciting chattering followed as this crucial fact fell upon Brody and his doubting thoughts.
He needed to do this. If he failed, the counselors would win the coveted patch and he would never be able to return.
Gritting his teeth, Brody took a step into the inky water. The midnight lake felt cold and treacherous. But the chattering turned into cheers, and Brody was filled with courage.
Emerging from the forest was first-time camp counselor, Ellen Roberts, his competitor. Her red one-piece swimsuit seemed to glow as Brody’s eyes quickly traced her.
“You ready,” she said softly looking down at Brody with more concern than competition.
Brody focused his eyes forward. He dare not look at her completely. If he looked at her he would be distracted. He needed to focus. This was life and death stuff.
“Little more than a hundred yards. First one back gets the patch.”
Ellen smiled at him and took a step into the water. They were side by side. Equals in the pale moonlight. All the games. All the blood, sweat, and tears led to this very moment.
Heck, the entire summer depended on this, thought Brody as he balled up his fists with determination.
“It begins when the fire starts. And remember, beware of the thing that sleeps below!” commanded the voice in the forest.
Brody and Ellen went into a running position. A few clean steps and a perfectly executed dive would be the determining factor without question.
From behind them someone was breathing, moving sticks on sticks, pouring a tin of liquid, scraping a match, and then the whoosh of fire and heat. The final camper vs counselor challenge began with a cold splash.
Brody felt he had taken a better dive but he couldn’t be sure because he did not expect the awesome darkness of the lake. His heart pounded from his arms cutting madly through the water but also from the terror that soaked his very bones.
This must be the feeling the elders talked about last night as they sat around the fire. The water was truly filled with microbial fears that bubbled up from the fathoms below.
My God, thought Brody. How deep is the lake? And what of the slimy, blind, oily things that hide amongst the forest kelp below?
Did something just grab him?
Brody kicked violently with his legs. It was probably just his imagination but it could have been the thing that sleeps below! Another layer of gooseflesh covered him as the horror-filled his mind. Must stay focused-
Brody’s head cracked against the floating wooden deck. He made it! Ellen splashed close behind him. Without even trying to clear the stars from his eyes, Brody hurled himself on top of the platform so he could dive back towards the blazing shore. The damage was done.
“Brody! Your head. Your bleeding!”
Brody turned to see Ellen lifting herself up onto the deck. She looked like how he imagined a siren to be. Flowing hair, piercing eyes, smooth skin. Then one of his eyes went dark. With the back of his hand, Brody wiped at it. More hot sticky blood plopped into the water.
Ellen gently tilted his head to the right and examed him. The blood gleamed silver under the spell of the moon as it continued to drip on the deck and fall between the planks.
“It’s not bad. Just a bad scrape,” she said softly.
They locked eyes as she pressed Brody’s hand over it.
“Kinda silly to get hurt over something like this, huh?” She said as her eyes stared out at the bonfire onshore.
“You think your too old for summer games, don’t you?” Brody said with a chord of defiance in his voice. “ You don’t believe in the thing below, do you?”
Ellen looked at Brody with silent teenage knowing.
“It’s all just silly summer camp games, Brody.”
Brody looks at Ellen with a smile. Taking his hand, he wiped the blood across his entire face as if it was warpaint.
“I hit my head on purpose,” he said with wide, unblinking eyes of madness.
“Why’d you do a thing like that?”
“Why did you want to bleed, Brody?” said Ellen nervously.
“Because it’s drawn to blood.”
Suddenly Brody started pounding on his wound. What was once a scrape turned into a cascading gash. Blood flowed freely.
Then it came – A tall shadow with cherry-red eyes and moon drenched claws that clicked and snapped behind Ellen.
Smiling Brody turned and dove back into the black water as the thing that sleeps below violently grabbed Ellen with ancient hunger.
As Brody neared the shore the sound of Ellen being ripped apart was replaced by triumphant cheering from his fellow campers. The fear that nearly conquered him was all but gone. The summer was saved.
The campers had won!