That was, at any rate, what Patti was sure had happened. She didn’t know about the conversation at the time, of course - until that night, five years later, out in the snow in the middle of the forest, Jolene didn’t breathe a word of it to any living soul. And yet, there in the cold, she felt it pouring out of her. There wasn’t much more that had happened during her time at the camp, she said, not until three nights later, when, she claimed, she had gotten into her car and drove off while everyone else awake sat huddled in the cafeteria, abandoning everyone she was meant to be looking after, a scaredy-cat through and through.
Patti wasn’t convinced.
Jolene was a chicken, that much was sure - she remembered watching her from across the cafeteria as some of the girls from her cabin snuck up behind her while she was eating, unable to keep from laughing as she let out a blood-curdling shriek, usually spilling her drink across the table, just from a little “Boo!” - and, odd as it was, she couldn’t say that her story had been as much of a surprise as it should have been. But there had been no escape from the camp that night, not so easily.
Other than the occassional glimpse of her at mealtimes, Patti hadn’t gotten to know Jolene much, or, really, at all. They’d both shown up a couple days early for a bit of slap-dash orientation and training - it consisted mostly of, “Don’t let your kids wander off into the woods and get eaten by a bear” - but Patti had mostly steered clear of her. She’d learned to detect stuck up princesses at school, and Jolene gave off every indication of being one. Technically, Patti supposed that would make sense with Jolene’s story of running away, but that still wasn’t enough.
It had started with Mina, Patti’s co-counselor. It was late, past when the kids were all meant to be asleep, but one of them just couldn’t find her way off to slumber-land. Mina volunteered to stay with her, but Patti knew she wanted to go join the rest of the counselors back at the main building, especially Paul, so she’d told her to go ahead. Mina promised Patti she owed her one, then went practically racing out the door.
The camp was hardly the most intuitively set up there could be - it curved like a horseshoe, with the main building at the bottom, along with the parking and cabins going up either side, girls on one half with the swimming pool, boys on the other with a little baseball diamond, with a path making its way throughout in a half-oval. Other than the road leading in, it was surrounded by the trees on all sides, including the inside. Officially, they were supposed to follow the path whenever they wanted to go to the main building, but most of the counselors only did that when they had their kids with them. It was usually at least a little quicker to cut through the forest at the center, especially for her and Mina, since their cabin was at the very end of the path.
That was just what Patti did, once her charge had drifted off to sleep, and she’d made sure all the others were truly asleep as well, and not just pretending to get her out of the cabin for some kind of crazy twelve-year-old party. The moon was full, hanging low over the trees, so she hadn’t bothered to bring her flashlight along. She started to regret it as she made her way through the forest, weaving past the trees, dead leaves from the year before crunching slightly beneath her feet. She knew there wasn’t really anything to worry about there, but that didn’t make her feel any less paranoid. She’d made the trip every night, but every other night, Mina had been there with her.
But that was just her acting silly, she told herself. If there really was something out there, even with two of them, they surely would have seen some sign of it by then. Surely. And yet, no matter how hard she tried to convince herself of that, her heart just kept beating louder and louder in her chest, her eyes cutting over towards the path, and the lampposts outside the cabins. She took a step or two over towards them, then shook her head, resolving to stop acting like an idiot.
When she turned around, she nearly ran straight into Mina. She didn’t recognize her at first, as she was used to staring at the other girl’s face, rather than her pale stomach, almost glowing in the moonlight. Patti took a step back, not sure what was going on for a moment, until she saw Mina’s face, hanging a a few feet from the ground, a pair of red marks stretching across her neck.
Later, she’d remember the relatively small amount of blood pooled below Mina, the jagged quality of the cuts - rips, almost - in her skin, but at the time, she simply found her eyes going wide as she stumbled backwards, tripping over a branch and falling. She scrambled back up to her feet, running out towards the cabins, sure she felt someone there, trailing her, their hot breath right on her neck.
The light from the lamps did little to make her feel safe, so once she was free of the tangle of branches and leaves in the forest, her footsteps only grew quicker. She finally dared to glance behind her after she’d passed a cabin or two, allowing herself to slow slightly when there was no sign of anybody following her. As she reached the pool, she let herself stop completely, leaning against the chain link fence surrounding it and fighting to catch her breath, eyes scanning the forest, jumping as the light above the pool flickered and died with impeccable timing.
What was going on? Was it some kind of a prank? Mina did have a weird sense of humor, but this seemed a little much even for her, not to mention she’d had to have gotten help from someone else equally warped. Maybe it had been one of the boys… She knew that made more sense than Mina actually getting killed and hung from the trees.
No, she was just being silly, falling for the prank like a sucker. She shook her head, laughing quietly as she straightened herself up, stepping away from the fence and starting to head down the path to the main building. If her partners in crime weren’t lurking about, Mina could just stay in the tree the rest of the night - maybe that would teach her a lesson.
Something caught her attention at the corner of her eye, making her turn her head just a touch, just enough for her to see the pool. For a moment, it looked normal, until she noticed a darker patch of water.She turned further, following it, watching the spot get larger and larger, until at last she saw the person there, floating face down, fully dressed, the darker color seeming to eminate from them. The light flickered back to life with a dull hum.
“Shit,” Patti said under her quickening breaths. “Shit shit shit…”
And then she heard a sound behind her. She turned, backing away right as a baseball bat clanged against the fence in front of her, wielded by a wiry middle aged man with thick glasses, whose expression changed from anger to shock as she watched.
“I’m so sorry!” he exclaimed, lowering the bat quickly. “I thought you were…”
Patti kept backing away. “Stay the hell away from me,” she warned, reaching into her pocket, as if there was something there that would help her, rather than just lint. Her eyes darted back towards the pool.
“I don’t know who you are, but…”
And she never found out. She had her ideas, of course, but there had never really been time for a proper introduction.
“He was a psychiatrist,” Jolene interrupted. “H-He was from the asylum. He came to the main building, told us all to be careful, but some of them… Some of the counselors went out to help the kids…”
Patti didn’t need to hear what had happened to them. She’d seen them, strewn across the lawn like confetti. “He was lying,” she told Jolene. “That thing didn’t come from any asylum, and neither did he.”
“I didn’t kill that poor boy,” he said. “I don’t have time to explain, nor to escort you to safety. Take this and go to the main building. Barricade yourself in with the others.” He handed her the baseball bat, though she shied away from his hand at first, then hurried off into the night.
Patti stared down at it for a moment or two, something in her telling her to trust him, to follow him. He had, after all, given away what seemed to be his only weapon. She knew that was hardly enough to actually justify blindly trusting some random guy, when all this weird stuff - and she still wasn’t convinced it wasn’t just an elaborate prank - was going on, but she did anyway.
The man held a finger to his lips as she approached, giving her a hard stare. After a moment, she realized he was telling her to be quiet. Then he pointed back down the path to the main building, a much clearer signal. She shook her head and, a bit reluctantly, handed the bat back to him.
He opened his mouth, then shook his head and nodded, gesturing for her to follow him. He moved quietly, slowly, glancing towards the silent cabins for a few seconds before moving on. It was Patti and Mina’s cabin where he stopped longer, apparently having heard something more.
He made her stay outside, holding her back with one hand before venturing inside.
If she’d stayed in the cabin for a few minutes longer, if the kid hadn’t been able to get to sleep, if she’d decided it was getting late, she was tired, it wasn’t worth it to trek over to the main building, she would’ve still been inside. That was one of the things that haunted her, ever since. But not the main thing.
The man stumbled out, the baseball bat tumbling to the ground, his eyes dazed. He didn’t even seem to see her. “I have to find the other,” he was saying to himself. “There’s always two…” He vanished into the darkness, never to be seen by Patti again, no matter how hard she tried to track him down, to get his help.
The “other” might have reared its head, repeated that night with everything it had learned from its master, but the next morning, after the police had gone, the place was deserted. Patti thought about it sometimes, about the weeds growing up around the cabins, erasing the baseball diamond, about dead leaves filling the pool, soaking up the stagnant water. That haunted her, too, now and then.
But it was the inside of her cabin that showed up in her nightmares most often. If she’d been there just a little longer, sure, she might have died, too, but at least she might have done something before she went, might have made some contribution to save those kids.
He didn’t look like much, the person who had done it. He was older than she had been then - though maybe about the same age as she was now - and small. But she could feel the evil coming from him, saw the work of his hands, saw the blood on his lips, and knew it hadn’t come from within, just knew it. As surely as she knew what he was, what he had been.
The baseball bat was evidence - she knew that, too - but she barely even remembered taking it with her as she slowly made her way to the parking lot, putting it into her trunk as, deep down the dark, twisting road, she saw flashing lights approach, too late, as always.
Some day she would need it. Some dark, snowy day.