by Kristen Bealer
Based on comments and flashbacks from Camp
“Where is everyone?” Daria wondered out loud.
The twelve-year-old wandered around the deserted campground in search of
any signs of life, but she couldn’t see or hear anyone.
Mr. Potts—or Mr. Putz, as she referred to him in her thoughts—hadn’t said
that anything was going on that evening, but she hadn’t spoken to him for most
of the day. Everyone else had been
playing that stupid greased watermelon game while she sat on her bunk in the
cabin and wrote in her journal.
She sat at an empty
picnic table and glanced at the stitches in her arm. I guess I can thank that horse for one
thing. I finally had an excuse not to
get dragged into the water again.
Maybe they all drowned. Or maybe Skip drowned and everyone else
followed his lead. Taking one last look around the camp, Daria sighed and decided not to worry about it. I wish
Mom had let me keep my book. Now what?
She looked toward
the forest at the edge of the campground.
Hiking was the only part of camp she didn’t hate—partly because it
didn’t involve key chains or watermelons or singing, but mostly because Quinn
and her vapid friends never came along.
Skip Stevens was always there, but he was easy to tune out.
“I’ve got at least
an hour before it gets dark,” she guessed.
“Taking a walk beats sitting here doing nothing, since doing nothing is
no fun without a television.”
voices or footsteps to interfere, Daria could hear
all kinds of nature sounds. Leaves were
rustling in the wind, birds were singing, and somewhere in the distance she
could hear water. I’m getting close to the lake, she realized.
As she drew closer,
she recognized a noise that didn’t belong to anything in nature, somewhere in
the distance. Quinn’s
“Like, I don’t know
where Alex was during the square dance, Cindy.
I, um, had a headache so I didn’t even go.”
She could just make out other, less piercing voices as she walked. At last she saw a dim orange glow and began
to follow it.
Peeking out from
behind a tree, she saw Mr. Potts and all of the campers gathered around a
campfire. Not too far from where she was
standing, her almost-friend Amelia was talking to some girls.
“So where’s that weird
kid you usually hang out with?” one of them asked.
“Oh, I don’t
know. She probably didn’t want to
come. At least, that’s what Skip said.”
Daria didn’t hear what the other girl said in
response, but all of them immediately started laughing. Even though she was standing well away from
the fire, her face began to feel warm. Amelia didn’t even bother telling me about
this. She turned her back on the
circle of campers.
Of course. I’m the “weird kid.” Everyone thinks I’m a freak, so naturally
she’d want a chance to ditch me and make friends with the normal kids. No wonder she didn’t visit me in the
infirmary after I got my stitches.
The more she
thought about it, the angrier she got, and the angrier she got, the faster she
walked. Soon she was running through the
forest, barely paying attention to where she was going. She didn’t stop until she tripped over a tree
root and fell to the ground. Landing
partly on her wounded arm, she grunted slightly in pain then stood up and
sighed. “I’m lost.”
After checking to
make sure the stitches were still intact, she tried to figure out which way
I wonder if anyone will notice that I
disappeared. Tonight’s the last night
here; we all go home tomorrow. Or
everyone else goes home and I wander around in the forest for the rest of my
life. If I ever get out of this, I never
want to see that damn camp again.
As she explored her
surroundings, searching for a familiar landmark, paranoia set in. God, I
hope there aren’t any real grizzlies around here. That’s all I need right now, to be eaten by
A low growl made
her jump. “Eep!” A few
seconds later, she calmed down enough to realize that the sound had been her
stomach. “Good. I’m getting a head start on starving to
She trudged on,
nervously eyeing the darkening sky and slapping the occasional mosquito. It’s
almost night and I’m getting hungrier. I’d even be willing to eat a greased
watermelon at this point.
stopped, listening. She could hear
footsteps on gravel, and they were close.
Don’t think about urban
legends. Don’t think about urban
legends. Don’t think about. . .
sound, she emerged from the woods and saw a house. She walked around it to see a general store
on the other side. A fifty-something
year-old man was unloading groceries from a truck. “Hello there, miss,” he greeted her. “You’re kind of far from
She glanced down at
her blue T-shirt. “Yeah. I got lost.”
Daria normally didn’t make a habit of talking
to strangers—or to anyone, for that matter—but she needed directions and he
seemed nice enough. He kind of reminds me of Mr. Potts.
I never thought that would be a good thing.
“My name’s Earl,”
the man said. “My wife, Barbara, and I
own the store here.” He noticed the way
she was eyeing his groceries and smiled.
“Would you like to come inside and have a snack while we help you figure
out how to get back?”
Daria nodded and followed him inside. She sat at the table,
making small talk as she ate some delicious homemade soup Barbara had heated up
finally declared, “what were you doing so far away from your friends?”
They aren’t my friends, Daria
thought. Out loud, she said, “I went for
a hike by myself and couldn’t find my way back.”
“Well, that’s all
right. Earl can give you a ride as soon
as you finish your soup.”
After Daria and Earl had ridden in silence for several minutes,
he turned to her. “So what’s so bad
Daria stared at him in surprise. “What?”
He smiled. “I saw your face when Barbara asked about
your friends. So what happened?”
“We don’t get
along,” mumbled Daria. “They think I’m weird.”
drove on in silence for a few more minutes, then
continued. “You know, a lot of folks
think my wife and I are weird.”
That friendly old couple? Daria turned and listened.
“Barbara and I are
plain folk, but we’re no fools. So when
people are rude to us, we play tricks on them.
My wife serves them bizarre food and I put on a ‘backwoods hick’ persona
to annoy them. I lay it on pretty
strong, but you’d be surprised how many people fall for it. My point is,
there’ll always be people who judge you based on what they see on the
outside. So you know what?”
Earl dropped her
off in front of the “Welcome to
She climbed into
her bunk and lay down. Shortly after,
she heard Amelia’s voice nearby. “Daria?” she whispered.
“Skip told me you
didn’t want to come tonight. I wish you
had. It would have been really great if
you had been there to tell him off. Why
didn’t you come?”
“No one invited
There was a long
pause. “Oh. I would have asked you about it, but Skip
said I shouldn’t.”
Baaaaa, thought Daria.
“I’m glad we’re
Daria rolled over and said nothing.
When Helen and Jake
came to pick their daughters up the next morning, Helen’s first question to Daria was, “Well, did you make any friends?”
“Just one,” she
replied. And he was full of country wisdom.
Thanks to Mr Orange, Ranger Thorne, and RLobinske
for beta reading.