Estimated reading time — 15 minutes
Thursday, 8:00 PM
The fire crackled in front of my eyes and the kids talking around the fire didn’t really bring my attention, and neither did the counselor telling scary stories. Sure, they were a little scary, but it just didn’t interest me. In fact, this whole camp was boring. I wished Mom hadn’t sent me to summer camp. Cameron, my best friend, would have accompanied me during the summer and we would have played video games all day every day. Mom knew I didn’t like the outdoors. Sometimes I thought she just wanted to torture me. I didn’t like the outdoors and for good reason. There would always be my bully wandering around. Her name was Stacy. I hid from her as often as I could without my own friends calling me a baby for not facing her. I wasn’t afraid to hit a girl, I just didn’t want to.
I would bet that Cameron was at his house right now, eating a bowl of chips and shooting people on Ballistic. Our moms didn’t approve of our shooting games. They were afraid we’d turn out to be murderers when we grew up. Me? In jail? No, thanks. Cameron and I both agreed that our moms were a little overprotective.
Maybe she was being protective by sending me here away from home while the police asked questions about Uncle Ken. It broke Mom’s heart that Uncle Ken was being charged with murder. It was hard to believe it myself. When I was little, he was always the cool uncle who brought me a gift on my birthday and for Christmas. Guess he was more than meets the eye, like Transformers, except he wasn’t a vehicle.
When I had overheard Mom and Dad talking to each other late in the night about Uncle Ken breaking into the old woman’s house and stealing things, then killing her because she’d allegedly startled him. Still, it wasn’t right. He’d stolen from an old lady’s home and killed her. And as far as I knew, he was on the loose and considered extremely dangerous.
If there was a crazed killer on the loose, I would have thought Mom would want to keep me as close to her as possible, but no, she’d sent me to a camp with a whole bunch of people I didn’t know or like. I was stuck here. For the whole summer.
Janelle—I think that was her name—trembled as the counselor continued with the story. It was about some college student who roamed the grounds with a knife and would kill people because he was . . . well, crazy.
I tried not to let it bother me too much because I didn’t want to think about a twenty-year-old sneaking up behind me and pulling out a knife then cutting me up into bits. I was pretty sure the counselor had mentioned that the serial killer was a cannibal and ate the hearts of his victims. It made me shiver a little.
To distract myself from the story, I ate my s’more, though part of it fell and I caught it in my other hand, then quickly gobbled it up so no one would notice. Everyone’s attention was mostly on the scary story anyway, so I felt pretty confident that no one had seen.
The fire burned went down to coals before the coach turned his head and jumped back then stood up when someone appeared in the dark, hobbling quickly over with dead eyes and something in his hand. It was a knife.
Everyone around the campfire screamed, including me, and jumped up from their seats on the logs and some of them shoved their way to the back of the group in front of the crazed killer. My heart rate skyrocketed and I was one of the kids who had shoved their way to the back of the group.
I just hid behind everyone and hoped it would all end.
When I’d been expecting the sounds of girls screaming bloody Mary like in a movie and the college student to start slashing the kids up with his knife, everyone started laughing.
As the laughing died down, I brought my head up. Turns out it was Josh, another counselor, with mud smeared on his face and those eyes were no longer dead. And the knife he’d been holding was fake. When he flung it around as he talked, it whipped from side to side. It was flimsy. I almost sighed in disappointment.
Ben was another bully, but a new one. He liked to pick on me around the camp and make me clean stuff up and blame me for stealing things.
He swung his arm around my shoulder and laughed until his face was red. “Man, you looked scared enough to pee yourself!”
One of his friends laughed with him. “Pete is a chicken!”
“I am not!” I screamed back, then flung his arm to the side. Ben looked like he was going to rip my arm off for doing that, but I was saved by the counselor.
“That’s enough fun for tonight, kiddos,” laughed Josh as he patted the other counselor’s back proudly.
Everyone turned to go to their cabins and get some sleep, so Ben and I went our separate ways, but I could feel him glowering at my back until he disappeared into his cabin with his buddies and I did too, except I didn’t have any buddies. Just three different bunkmates. Two slept on one side, Dustin and I slept on this side.
Quickly, I slipped into my plaid blue pajamas and snuggled into the sleeping back and fluffed my pillow.
Dustin moved in the top bunk to look down at me and smiled a little. “Don’t worry about those guys. Besides, I saw Ben cower to the back too, so you definitely weren’t the only one.”
On the other side, Lance and Aaron were already snoring. I nodded and pulled the sleeping bag up to my chest. “Thanks, Dustin.”
“Anytime, buddy. G’night.” He said then went back up to sleep.
“Night,” I sighed and tried closing my eyes, but the breeze outside kept me awake even though I could barely hear it. Dustin had fallen asleep within ten minutes, so I was the only one awake in the cabin. It took me what seemed like forever to finally fall asleep.
Friday, 7:30 AM
Oatmeal had been served for breakfast and orange juice. Later today, we would be taking a hike, said the counselor. I just hoped Josh and him wouldn’t be pulling another one of those pranks. It had shaken me up quite a bit, though I wasn’t going to admit that to anyone. It was hard to admit it to myself even though I wasn’t talking out loud.
I played with the spoon inside the bowl. I wanted to call Mom and see how she was doing, but that wasn’t going to happen, especially with the other students watching me constantly. Ben hadn’t taken his eyes off me the entire morning. It was like he was telling me he was planning my funeral. I dreaded what he had in store for me.
Dustin and Janelle sat beside me, and so did Lance and Aaron. They were talking about the boat racing. I wasn’t interested, but they tried to include me anyway.
“Yo, Pete,” said Lance, “we’re going to do the boat race tomorrow. Would you like to be on our team?”
It would be rude to turn them down, so I just shrugged. “Yeah. I guess.”
“Great!” Janelle clapped then ate some of her oatmeal and gulped down her orange juice. “We’ll be glad to have someone else along. No one else seems interested in the boat racing, or in us, for that matter. We’re basically the misfits (and don’t ask me why they named it this) of Camp Kakaroo.”
I snickered at the name. “Do you all know each other?”
They all glanced at each other, then Aaron said, “Our parents know each other. They all went to this camp when they were our age.”
“Sounds like fun,” I said. “I just moved here from California. Mom said this place was safer than there, so I guess Ohio is our home now.”
“Welcome to Ohio, then!” Janelle said cheerfully and stacked empty dishes. I polished off my oatmeal then handed the bowl to her.
“Thanks, I guess.” I shrugged and guzzled the rest of my orange juice. “Anyway, I ought to get ready for that hike.”
“Yeah, me too. Meet you at the fire pit when we’re ready, yeah?” He was talking to Janelle, who didn’t bunk with them since it was a boys’ cabin. She nodded quickly and we all stood, heading to our cabins to get ready.
Dustin, Lance, Aaron and I pulled on our hiking shoes and jackets and brought along the proper supplies for being out in the woods. It was quite sunny outside, so I decided to put on sunscreen. It was hot and humid and my shirt sort of stuck to my skin, but I tried my best to ignore it.
When we finished getting ready and packing bottles of water, we met up at the fire pit where several other kids had finished getting ready as well. The counselor was walking over, kicking up dirt as he moved.
He went over safety and rules and such. Follow the leader, stay on the trail, make sure you bring water, bring a compass, etc. I didn’t really pay much attention to what he said, but I was still prepared, I think.
Aaron carried a backpack full of God only knew what, so I asked, “What’s in there?”
We started on the trail and followed the counselor and Aaron looked at me. “Oh, this? A few ponchos, a pack of water bottles, flashlights, a compass, and a bunch of energy bars.”
I laughed. “Don’t you think that’s a bit much?”
“Naaah. Can’t ever be too prepared, am I right?”
“I guess so, but if we get lost, I don’t think energy bars are going to sate your hunger for very long. Then again, I didn’t bring much food anyway, so I can’t really say much.”
Janelle walked over with a pack slung over her shoulder. “I’m carrying an orange, a water bottle, and a candy bar. Of course, a compass and a flashlight too.” She said proudly. Aaron and Dustin smiled widely and had packs of their own. They all seemed proud of themselves.
Me, I’d just brought a half-full water bottle (because I drank some of it while we were waiting for the other kids) and some leftover chips that I’d brought a week ago when Mom had sent me here. I just shrugged.
“Sounds like you guys are all set,” I told them with a slight smile.
“Seems like you don’t like the outdoors to me,” said Janelle with a suspicious look.
“Not really,” I shrugged again.
“Why are you here if you don’t like the outdoors?” Dustin asked, seeming awestruck.
“Well, my mom and dad need some time to take care of family stuff, so they sent me out here to get me out of the way. My uncle killed someone.”
They all look scared for a moment as though I were Uncle Ken and would kill them all right there.
Lance finally spoke. “Who?”
“I don’t know her name. She was just an old lady.”
“Dude. That was your uncle? Ken Hangman?” Aaron suddenly seemed interested. It looked like his eyes were going to pop out of his head because they were so wide.
“Yeah. He’s a cool guy. I don’t believe it, but everyone says he killed her. Guess it runs in the family,” I sighed. “My great-grandpa killed people. Hung them in the woods.”
“What a fitting name,” Janelle said with a shiver.
Same day, 10:13 AM
The hike was long and sweat made my shirt stick to me horribly. Sweat beaded my forehead. I just wanted to go home, turn on a fan and play some good games. Nope. Not gonna happen, said Mom’s voice in my head.
When I looked behind me, Ben was glaring right at me. I shivered and picked up my pace a little to walk beside Aaron, who seemed to be having a little trouble with his backpack, but I was no doubt weaker than he was, so I wasn’t going to offer assistance.
To avoid feeling guilty, I looked away and peered into the woods. We passed three dozen trees on either side every three steps. Beside a tree, I saw a very human-like figure standing with a rope that had a loop knot in his hand. I furrowed my brow then blinked and he was gone.
On the way back, I saw the same thing, except he was closer this time. He wore something that looked like burlap over his head and black thread was woven into it to make it look like he was smiling to his ears. And he was dressed in black, ragged clothes. They were covered in mud.
I blinked and he was gone again. Maybe I was just on edge because I was afraid that Ben was going to pull something, but I leaned over to Janelle and said, “I think someone is following us.”
She looked at me funny. “What? There’s nobody out here. You’re probably just paranoid because of the story the counselor told last night.”
I sighed. “Maybe. But the guy didn’t look like the one he described last night.”
“Maybe your eyes are just playing tricks on you,” she suggested.
“That’s likely. My eyesight isn’t that good, that’s why I wear these.” I said, pulling out the glasses case and opened it then pushed the glasses onto my face, then snapped the case shut and put it back into the abyss of my pants pocket.
“My grandpa actually used to live here. Maybe his ghost has come to haunt me. Woooo.” I said jokingly and waved my hands around. Janelle laughed a little in reply and pat my shoulder.
“Try not to think too much about it,” she smiled then turned her attention to the hike. We neared the camp and I stuffed my hands into my pockets, thankful for the fact that we were back and I could relax a little bit.
Silly me. I’d forgotten this was camp. Not home. I groaned as the realization hit me and I wanted to slump to the ground because my knees and feet hurt but if I’d done such a thing, Ben and his buddies would’ve laughed at me. Heck, Janelle and my own bunkmates probably would have laughed too.
“You know,” said Janelle suddenly. It took me a moment to realize she was talking to me. “You could probably tell your grandpa’s creepy story at the campfire tonight. I bet you a bag of Cheetos that Ben will cry for his mom and hide in his cabin.”
This time, I genuinely laughed then shook my head. “Nah. I don’t think my mom would appreciate me telling stories like that around the campfire. Besides, that stuff happened for real.”
Lance eyed me. “Did you guys know that there was a killer on the loose around here? He hanged people in trees and cut off their limbs.”
“What the heck is wrong with this place?” I sighed. “Anyway, that’s probably a lie. I think my mom has researched everything behind everything around here. I don’t believe she would send me here with that kind of history unless she was desperate, which she isn’t.”
“Whatever you say.” Lance shrugged. “All I know is that a couple kids went here a few years ago and didn’t ever come back. They say they disappeared in the woods when they were on a hike.”
“Dude, are you trying to scare the living daylights out of us all?” My tone raised into a squeak. My attempt to keep a calm composure had quite obviously failed.
Ben walked past us and growled a little, but I tried my best to ignore his irritable mood. “Anyhoo,” said Aaron, “I’m gonna unpack this crap and I’ll see you guys in a bit.”
“See ya, Aaron,” Dustin waved and we all went in separate directions. I went the outhouse then to my cabin, which Aaron was in, unloading his huge backpack. He snacked on one of the energy bars then tossed me one with a smile. I shrugged then opened it and took a bite.
“Not bad,” I nodded and took another bite.
“Eat it before it melts.”
“Did you put the energy bars in a cooler?”
“Sure did,” Aaron smiled proudly and took a bottle of water, then guzzled it.
“How’d you fit a cooler in there?” I asked in awe, eyeing the backpack on his bed.
He just beamed. “Like a boss,”
“Wow. Real mature, Aaron.”
Saturday, 6:45 PM
I was completely exhausted after the boat race. Lance and I had taken turns rowing, but he was far better at it than me. That day, I hadn’t seen the creepy guy standing anywhere near the camp—thank God—but I was still quite frightened about the whole thing. Another thing to be thankful for: I had mostly convinced myself that it was what Janelle said it was. My eyes playing tricks on me.
On the downside, I was pretty dang sure that Ben had sabotaged our boat. There was a tiny hole in it, but Aaron was quite prepared for such a thing and used a rubber tube and cut it then blocked the hole. We also lost the race but came in second. And, surprisingly enough, I had actually enjoyed the race. I actually had fun.
In the evening at around eight, the counselor made s’mores and handed them out to the kids. I munched on mine silently and stared off into the dark woods behind me. Dustin, Janelle, Lance, and Aaron were sitting on the other side of the fire, so I was pretty much on my own. Ben was sitting a little ways from me, too focused on eating his s’more to care about glaring at me again. His eyes were probably tired from it. I almost laughed at that thought.
There were noises behind me. Screams. I jumped up and the others followed in suit and looked to where the voices were coming from. A girl who looked around the same age was completely out of breath and grabbed my arms. She was in tears and shook. “D-dead! He h-hanged them! In the trees!”
“What were you doing in the woods?” asked the counselor in a strong tone. She looked too terrified to speak, but to my surprise, she did speak.
“We were just playing around and scared him . . . then he got grabbed! When we found him, he was hanging from the tree! I think he’s . . . d-dead.” At the end, her voice went to a whisper. “Please! Lissa is still back there!”
Another scream went into the air and I flinched, deciding on whether to stay or go and help find the Lissa she was talking about. I didn’t know many people here. Only my bunkmates, Janelle, and Ben. No Lissa. Who was Lissa?
“Where?” I asked in the bravest voice I could muster.
“J-just a little ways back. Hurry!”
The counselors had already taken off. Ben was standing by the fire, his face pale as could be. It was pretty clear he wasn’t going to do anything. Janelle was trembling and glanced over at me as if to apologize for not believing me when I said the day before that I thought someone was following us.
The girl let go of me and I took off into the woods. The counselors yelled at me to stay back, but I didn’t listen. A few other kids followed and I stopped when I saw a girl hanging in a tree by rope. The rope was wrapped around her neck and the sides of her face were slit to where it looked like she was smiling to her ears, just like the thing she’d seen in the woods. Her arms and legs were missing.
I doubled over and vomited at the sight of the dripping blood. I could hear the counselors shouting to each other in the woods. When I recovered, I looked around then found that a boy was hanging in a tree too. He was done up just like the girl, who I presumed was Lissa.
I refrained from vomiting again and held my stomach, swallowing hard and looked at the dark red blood dripping down the boy’s entire body; what was left of it, anyway.
When the counselors came back, they reassured everyone there was nothing to see and called the cops immediately after sending us to our cabins. An hour later, both my parents picked me up and we were on our way home. I didn’t know what happened after that. I hardly remembered whatever Mom or Dad had said to me. I just couldn’t get that image out of my head. In a thousand different angles, they flipped through my mind over and over again.
One week later – Tuesday, 2:35 AM
Nothing seemed right. I didn’t see things the way I did before. Dad was at a meeting in California with his old boss. He didn’t want to leave unless he was sure that I was all right. He even said that he would miss the meeting to stay and make sure I was all right.
I had several nightmares this week so far. All of them were about him. In my dreams, a voice would sing a song so disturbing.
It’s hanging day.
Oh, it’s hanging day.
The hangman’s here.
Comin’ to hang again.
Hanging day, oh hanging day.
Hangman’s comin’ again.
And I hadn’t the slightest clue what it meant. Was it related to the man in the woods at all? Was he the hangman my dreams sang of?
Hours ago, Mom sent me to bed, but I just couldn’t sleep tonight. It just felt like someone was here, watching me. Mom had checked on me a few times into the night, then I think she went to bed at around midnight.
But I heard feet shuffling in the hall and saw the figure of my mother walked down the stairs. Shortly after, I heard a door opening then closing. She got up so suddenly. Maybe she got hungry. Sometimes that happened to her during the night.
She had asked me several times if I’d seen anything. I refused to tell her what I saw, but I told her I saw them—the kids hanging—and she was devastated. She wanted to know so badly. It was all so traumatic, and it didn’t help that I went through it over and over again every moment. Mom didn’t mention sending me anywhere else after this.
I wondered if the disaster at the summer camp would make her even more overprotective and never let me leave the house again.
After ten minutes, I didn’t hear the door open again. Maybe she’d run out to the gas station really quick? I sighed then pushed the covers off me and stood, slowly moving through my room then to the hallway and started down the steps.
Her shoes were still at the front door when I reached the bottom of the stairs. “Mom?” I called into the house and my voice sort of echoed, but there was no answer. I called again, but still, there was no answer. She always answered me when I called. She was so worrisome about me now. So, I knocked on the bathroom. Still no answer. I swallowed hard then moved to the back of the house and gazed out the window on the back door and slowly turned the knob and opened the door.
I stepped out into the backyard and looked around the green lawn and Mom was nowhere. I checked her art studio and she wasn’t there either. Suddenly, I was grabbed and something was put over my head and I screamed. “Let me go! Stop it!”
Through the holes of the bag—or whatever it was—on my head, I searched for my attacker. It was a man with eyes sewn shut and a cut across his face. One in the shape of a mouth. It made him look like he was smiling to his ears. In a husky voice, the man began singing to me. “It’s hanging day . . . oh, it’s hanging day . . .”
“The hangman’s here . . . comin’ to hang again . . . hanging day, oh hanging day . . . hangman’s comin’ again . . . .”
“Hangman done got himself dead . . . so came the new hangman . . . .”
I hadn’t heard that part before. I wanted to hear the rest, but I didn’t. “No!” I ran outside again. I began trying to rip off the stupid burlap, but it wouldn’t come off!
When I looked up, I saw through the little holes in the burlap that there was someone hanging in the tree. She was wearing a light blue robe that the moon shone on. She was hanging in the tree in our backyard. The big one I used to climb when I was smaller. She still had arms and legs.
“New hangman comes to hang again . . . .” sang the hangman as he dropped something in front of me. When I picked it up, I felt different. There was a dark feeling in my chest, then in my whole body, and I liked it.
“Oh, it’s hanging day . . . .” he sang again and backed away, seeming to fade into a grey fog, then was gone completely. I turned back to the woman in the tree. When I saw her red curly hair, I instantly recognized her. It was Mom. And the Hangman wanted me to do what he did.
Somehow, I couldn’t stop myself.
I climbed into the tree and with ease, cut off her right arm with the blade he’d given me. I wanted to do this. I shouldn’t want to do this. She was slipping from my memory. I was too focused on the smell of the blood to care.
I’d removed her arms and legs and she was bleeding all over the backyard. When I climbed down from the tree, I stood in the middle of the yard and marveled my masterpiece. How so perfect it was, as was the smell.
Soon, I began walking away with the scythe in my hand and was beaming. For some reason, my face hurt, but I didn’t care. There were so many places and people to turn into masterpieces.
Credit: Kearsey W.