Camp was camp, I told myself as I stood in the center of the lopsided circle of cabins. There was something rotten hanging over everything, and it wasn’t just the thick 1950s South Carolina air. I knew the rumors — this place used to be a plantation, but no one told ghost stories about the place for fear of being called racist. But there was something wrong, and no one dared mention it.
The first week passed without too much incident. Sometimes, when we came back to our cabin, we would discover dirt and food scattered on our floor, and our clothes strewn all over the room, but we blamed the boys in the next cabin. Silly 14-year-olds who though that having a year on us meant they could trash our place whenever they wanted.
On the first night of week two, I awoke in the middle of the night really needing to relieve myself. I dreaded the 100-foot walk up the hill, but the potential of embarrassment in front of my fellow campers lured me upwards. As I walked, humming very softly under my breath, I heard a voice. I turned, but the moon was obscured by trees. It was 3 a.m., well past lights out; but I figured it was one of the cabins, still up playing card games.
My bathroom trip was uneventful, but when I stepped out of the shack, I saw a soft light glowing out of the corner of my eye. I turned and saw a tall white man astride a horse, holding a candle aloft. He was squinting at something right through me, and suddenly his horse reared and started to charge at me. I stood frozen, my mouth dry and my brain screaming at my body to move out of the way.
Then the horse passed right through me and I felt light-headed.
I was quiet in the mess hall the next morning, poking listlessly at my food with a fork. My cabin leader asked if I was sick, and I told her I’d not gotten much sleep the night before, but that I’d be fine. She frowned, but walked away, and when I turned to watch her go, my eye was caught by something out of the window.
I sucked in my breath sharply.
An entire family of slaves dangled from the giant tree in the center of our camp. Their heads were twisted at funny angles, and their toes and fingers were swollen. All at once, they opened their eyes and pointed in perfect unison at our cabin. I squeezed my eyes shut and blinked them open again, terror making my heart race. They were gone.
I excused myself and slipped out of the mess hall, returning to the cabin, my feet pounding in time with my heart. I pawed through the closets, opened the doors, peered under the beds, but found nothing unusual.
Still, the slaves’ empty faces haunted me. I found the camp director’s office and tapped on the door. She looked up from her desk. “Yes?”
“I’m in cabin 105,” I told her.
Her face whitened, but she nodded, trying to maintain her smile.
“Is there anything underneath it?”
“No, of course not. Just the usual mess of wires, plumbing, that sort of…” Her voice trailed off as she studied my face. “You know what’s going on, don’t you?”
She sighed. “You can’t spread this. The camp will be closed.”
“About a hundred and fifty years ago, a family of slaves were hung for trying to run away. Their bodies were thrown in a ditch, where that cabin is now built.”
I came into the room and perched on the edge of the visitor’s seat, leaning forward so far I almost fell on my face.
The camp director rubbed her face with her hands. “Until a few years ago, that cabin suffered many fires and electric explosions. Every time we try to introduce something new, the slaves become angry that we’re disturbing their final resting place. Many people have died trying to live there.”
Suddenly, her eyes became hard. “You can’t know this.”
“But I — ”
“You’re gone. I’m sending you home.” She loomed over me and snarled softly, “Don’t you dare tell anyone about this.”
I nodded numbly. Being sent home was a welcome respite. I never went back to camp again.