Colton Banks was new to Shelton View. He came in March, got to know a few of the kids in April, and in early May found himself sitting in a yellow bus heading off to Camp Casey for two and a half days of outdoor experience. He didn’t want to go.
Colton thought of himself as tough and so did his classmates. He swore, had seen R rated movies, had smoked with his older brother. As soon as he had the chance, he’d take drugs and drink beer. You could just tell. The other kids at Shelton View didn’t really like him, but they were too afraid of him, so they pretended to like him a lot.
Colton sat with Max Cleaver on the ride out. The teachers had given them some dumb scavenger hunt to do that was supposed to make the bus ride pass faster. The two of them started it, but after about half an hour Colton got totally bored and quit. Max would have kept doing it, but Colton made him feel like a little kid. “That is so dumb,” he said, so Max put the paper away.
It was one of the girls who mentioned the barracks for the first time. “Does Colton know the story about the barracks?” Emily Larson said, leaning forward.
“Shut up, Emily,” Max Cleaver snapped.
“You’re scared, aren’t you?” Emily teased. “Scaredy-cat. Scaredy-cat.”
“I’m not scared at all. That story is dumb and everybody knows it.”
“Then tell him.”
“I told you to shut up.”
“You know what. If the story was about something that had happened in the girls’ barracks, you’d be too scared even to go to Camp Casey and you know it.”
Emily’s face went ashen. It was as if for the first time she actually considered that the story could be about the girls’ barracks. Instead of teasing Max more, she leaned back away from them and was quiet for the rest of the bus ride.
“What’s the story about the barracks?” Colton asked, his voice loud. “I like scary stories.”
“It’s a stupid story,” Max said. “You don’t want to hear it.”
“Tell me,” Colton insisted.
Just then one of the teachers stood. “Okay everyone, we’re just about there. Here are some last minute instructions.”
Max was glad. He didn’t want to tell the story. Just thinking about it creeped him out.
Once they reached Camp Casey, all the kids were assigned to teams. Colton hated being on teams. He wanted to be left alone, but they stuck him on the dumbest team of them all, the purple team. He didn’t like any of the guys on the purple team, and he didn’t like the counselors, Brett and Singer. They wanted to lead the boys in stupid “Hip Hip Hooray” cheers, cheers Colton definitely was not going to do. But when he crossed his arms and glared, the counselors got up in his face.
“Tough guy, are you?” Brett said, getting right up in Colton’s face. “I’m not a teacher, tough guy. I’m a marine. And so is Mr. Singer. We learned to follow marine rules. And for the next two and one-half days, you’ll follow our rules.”
Brett’s face was ugly with rage “Understand?”
The purple team was the only team that had to tuck their shirts in, walk in straight lines, keep their shoulders back, and their stomachs in. And they had to do it everywhere. Weirdly, the other guys actually seemed to like it; Colton didn’t. He hated it.
He wished he could tell both counselors to go jump off the pier, and a couple of times he started to, but there was something about them that made him think they could do something to him, something mean, and not mind at all. In fact, he thought they’d enjoy it. He knew how much he could get away with when it came to teachers, who were always pushovers, but with these two, he wasn’t sure.
One of the camp projects was to make a banner. That was okay by Colton. He liked to draw pictures of dragons and knights and orcs and monsters. That’s what he did whenever he could. He liked to draw gory stuff a whole lot more than he liked to march around in the woods looking at trees or go to stupid hoedowns and dance with stupid girls.
The other guys in the purple group were happy to put him in charge of the banner. His partner, Alex Castle, was afraid of him, so Colton took over the project. He gave orders and Alex did whatever Colton said. With Alex, Colton was like the marine sergeant.
The two of them started painting the banner outside, but the wind came up and the poster paints blew over and the banner paper got all wrinkled. “Let’s go into the barracks,” Colton said. “We can paint on the floor by our beds.”
“Okay,” Alex said, “but we’ve got to get out of there before three o’clock.”
“We just do.”
It was about two when they started painting. Colton decided to draw a purple dragon on the banner. “We’ll be the Rampaging Dragons,” he said, and Alex nodded. Colton drew a cool-looking dragon twisted around the peak of a mountain, his dragon mouth breathing fire and burning up people at the bottom of the mountain. Blood was pouring from the people’s eyes and ears and mouths. It was like something from Lord of the Rings.
“That is so cool.” Alex said. “We’ll have the best banner.” Colton did all the sketching and all the planning, and Alex painted in the sections exactly the way Colton told him to. The boys worked and worked, and time passed. Then, just when they were about to finish, a terrified look came to Alex’s face. He grabbed Colton by the elbow and yanked. “We’ve got to get out of here,” he said.
“Ten minutes and we’ll be done,” Colton said.
“We’ve got to get out of here NOW.”
Alex yanked Colton to his feet with a strength that amazed Colton. Even more amazing, Alex started running toward the door, running as fast as he could. Without even knowing why, Colton found himself running. Neither boy stopped until they were outside on the green grass with the cool wind blowing through their hair.
Once he was outside, Colton suddenly felt dumb. “What was that all about?” Colton said. “What are you afraid of?”
“Don’t you know the story of the barracks?” Alex said.
“No,” Colton replied, “but this is the second time I’ve heard about it. How about telling me?”
“Not now,” Alex said. “We’ve got to get back to our group. We do history at three. I don’t want to be late. I’ll tell you all about it at dinner.
They started toward the basketball courts where they were to meet with the rest of the group. They’d gone about twenty steps when Colton realized he wasn’t wearing his Camp Casey passport around his neck. Every camper had to have the passport showing at all times for any counselor to look at. Brett and Singer always checked for it. If he didn’t have it, they’d punish him.
“I’ve got to go back,” Colton said. “I took my passport off when we were painting. I’ll be right back.”
“You can’t go back there now.”
“I’ve got to go back.”
“You’re going alone then,” and with that, Alex walked off. “There’s no way I’m going back in there.”
That surprised Colton, because the number one rule at Camp Casey was to stay with your partner, and Alex never broke any rules.
Colton turned and headed back to the dorm room. The screen door was banging as he walked up the stairs--banging and banging and banging. That was strange because there wasn’t any wind. Even stranger was the heat. As he opened the screen door, it hit him like a blast from a furnace. But all of that was nothing compared to what he heard when he stepped inside.
The walls of the barracks started to creak, and then came a scratching sound from below him. It sounded like the nails of a cat on a wood floor. When the scratching stopped, a voice would go “Ahhhhh” . . . “Ahhhhh” . . . “Ahhhhh.” Long and low.
“Who’s there?” Colton shouted. “That’s you Alex, isn’t it? You’re not funny and you’re not scaring me. Just come out.” But Alex didn’t come out. And all Colton heard was more creaking of the walls, more scratching of nails against wood, and the long, low “Ahhhhh” . . . “Ahhhhh” . . . “Ahhhhh.”
From where he stood, Colton could see his passport on the floor twenty feet in front of him. He took one step toward it, but as he did the screen door slammed shut behind him. In an instant, the room went from hot to cold. And now, there was no creaking of wood, no scratching , no voice going “Ahhhhh.” There was only silence.
Colton ran and grabbed his passport off a cot, turned, and raced out of the barracks as fast as he could.
“You’re late,” Singer snapped. “We’ve all been waiting here for you. All of us.”
“What do you want to do with him?” Brett said.
“We could leave him in the bunker for the next two hours. Leave him down there in that little cold room without any light. We do that, and he won’t be late again.”
“I won’t be late again,” Colton said, terrified they’d notice the missing passport. “I promise.” His voice quavered, even though he tried to stop it.
Brett looked at Singer. Singer looked at Brett. “All right. This one time. But you screw up again, and we’ll lock you up down there. We’ll lock you down there for four hours, and we’ll throw a rat in there with you. That’s a promise. And don’t think about complaining to Mr. Ito. You say one word to him about us, and you’ll wish that all we did to you was lock you up in the bunker.”
“Tell me the barracks story,” Colton said. He was in the camp cafeteria eating dinner with Alex. Around him were about a hundred other campers, all of them laughing and talking loud. But Colton wasn’t laughing. He had a deep pain in his chest, a pain of fear.
“It’s a crazy story. Really stupid.”
“Just tell me.”
Alex brought a forkful of bright red jello to his mouth. “Okay. Here’s how it goes. Supposedly, about ten years ago at camp, there was a mean kid who moved into Shelton View just before the kids all went to camp. Anyway, this kid kept breaking all the rules. He brought a big hunting knife with him that he used to scare the other kids with at night, during the day he didn’t stay with his partner, didn’t obey the counselors. Well, the second afternoon, when his group was supposed to be at the switchboard, he cut out. He’d brought a pack of cigarettes with him, and he sneaked back to Barracks B to smoke.”
“That’s our barracks,” Colton said.
“You bet it is. “
“So then what happens?”
“So he goes back to the barracks, and he opens the door, and he hears this moaning sound. So he walks over to where the sound is coming from, and he sees this janitor guy lying on the floor bleeding, a knife—the tough kid’s knife—sticking out of his ribs. The kid wants to scream, but the guy is going “Ahhhhh” and the kid is so freaked out he can’t get his voice to make any sound. And then the walls start creaking, and he hears this strange, scratchy sound beneath his feet, like a cat. He looks down, and there’s this old lady looking up at him. Really old, like a hundred. Only instead of being all decrepit, she grabs him like some big cat and she yanks him so that he falls into the hole. Then she starts screaming at him. ‘You want help, don’t you? You want to tell everyone! Well, you won’t tell anyone. Ever.” And he watches, his eyes wide, as she reaches her hand into his mouth and yanks his tongue out with her bare hands. Yanks it out by the root.”
Colton stared at Alex. “That’s dumb. Nothing like that could ever happen.”
Alex took another bite of his red jello. “I told you it’s dumb. Everybody knows it’s dumb.”
“Is that the end?”
“Tell me the rest.”
Alex leaned forward. “Well, kids say that the old lady was the dead guy’s wife. They say she still lives in the tunnels that are underneath the barracks. There’s a whole bunch of them down there. They got built in World War II in case the Japanese ever landed here. Anyway, kids say the crazy old lady comes back to the barracks every day at three—that’s when she murdered her husband—to make sure there’s nobody else around who might have seen her do it. So nobody wants to be in the barracks at three. Not even the counselors.”
Colton shook his head. “You know what’s wrong with that story? You could check on it, no problem. You could go to the library and look up whether or not there’d been a murder at Camp Casey and whether some kid had gotten his tongue ripped out. You could check it on the internet.”
“Lots of people have,” Alex said.
“Well, there was a murder. Some woman in Coupeville did kill her husband.”
“Big deal. Women are always killing their husbands. I bet there’s nothing about a kid getting his tongue ripped out.”
Alex shrugged. “There isn’t. But kids say that the teachers knew they’d have to close down Camp Casey, and they didn’t want to, so they covered it up. “
“It’s dumb,” Colton said. “Really dumb. It doesn’t scare me at all.
The next day, Colton wanted to do everything right so that Singer and Brett wouldn’t have any reason to hate him, but everything went wrong. He couldn’t sleep because Brett snored really loud. And then, when everybody else was getting up, he did fall asleep. So when the counselors came in, his bed was a mess and he was a mess. “You look like a degenerate,” Brett said to him. “Do you know what that means?”
Colton shook his head. Brett turned to the rest of the group. “He doesn’t know what degenerate means, even though that’s what he is,” he said, and all the boys laughed at him even though Colton was sure not one of them knew what a degenerate was either.
In the morning he had his oceanography class. It was okay, but at the end somebody had to kiss a sea cucumber. There were thirty kids in his group, but somehow his name got pulled. He wasn’t afraid, didn’t really care. Big deal, he thought, kissing a sea cucumber. But when the teacher put the cucumber up to his face, it started wriggling around and some sort of mucus came out of its mouth just as Colton puckered up his lips. And then this mucus stuff shot out of the sea cucumber and burned his lips, and suddenly he heard “Ahhhhh” really low behind him, but when he turned around all the other kids started laughing at him because the sea cucumber mucus was dangling from his lip. He didn’t know what to do, so he sucked the cucumber mucus up into his mouth and it tasted sick, like some dead fish, only a thousand times worse, and all at once he was screaming like a little baby. And that’s when everybody else really laughed. Colton felt smaller than a bug. He had to do something to show the other guys he wasn’t a loser. He had to, if it was the last thing he ever did.
The banner. That would be the way. For some dumb reason, the teachers and counselors really cared about the banner. If he could make the dragon look so real that the purple group won the beads for first place, well then, that would shut them all up
That afternoon the purple group had free time. While everyone else played basketball, he sneaked into the barracks to work on the dragon. He worked hard from one o’clock until two, from two o’clock to two thirty, from two thirty to almost three. Then he stopped. He had to make it to survival class on time.
The paint on the banner was still wet. He didn’t want anyone to step on it, so he slid it under his bunk. The strange thing was that as he slid it under, he saw the initials C.B. carved into one of planks of wood. Not scratched in, but carved in. Really carved in. He was sure the initials hadn’t been there before. He’d have noticed if they were. The more he looked at it, the sicker he felt. C.B. Those were his initials. Colton Banks. If Singer or Brett saw the initials, they’d accuse him of doing it. They’d stick him in the bunker for sure.
He stared at the initials, trying to figure how he could cover them, when something started oozing across the floor. It looked like red paint, he thought, touching it. He must have spilled it. But as soon as he felt the warm thickness of it, he knew it wasn’t red paint. He knew what it was.
Colton looked up at the clock. It was three minutes to three. He had to get out of there. He didn’t want to risk being caught by whoever or whatever it was that had caught the other kid. Colton raced for the door, but just as he reached it, he remembered his passport. He’d taken it off again to work on the banner, and it was lying on top of the bunk.
He stared at the floor by the bunk. There was no liquid there. It was just a floor. He’d imagined the whole thing. Camp Casey was turning him into a loony. He took a deep breath and started back across the barracks to his bunk. There was nothing to be afraid of. Nothing at all. As he reached his bunk, he looked up at the clock. Three. What a dumb story. Why had he ever been afraid? He was Colton Banks. He was tough.
That’s when the door slammed shut behind him. A second later, the barracks became really hot, then icy cold. The walls started creaking, all of them, and he heard the moaning “Ahhhhh” and then the scratching. The floorboard beneath him cracked open and an old, withered hand grabbed him by the wrist and yanked him down, down, down. He wanted to scream for help; he wanted to cry out for Brett or Singer. He opened his mouth to scream, and that’s when he felt the withered bony fingers reach into his mouth, reach deep down into his throat, and yank.
Alex Castle and Max Cleaver were sitting on the bus together heading back to Shelton View.
“Camp Casey was a lot of fun,” Alex said.
“ It was awesome,” Max replied. “Do you think there really were any snipe?”
“I heard somebody from Shelton View saw one, so there must be.”
“The dance was dumb though, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, I guess. But it was kind of fun too. And the bunker story was really scary.”
For a little while, they sat looking out the window, neither of them speaking.
Finally Max broke the silence.” It was weird how that new kid, that Colton Banks, just disappeared. One minute he was there and the next he was gone.”
“He probably brought a cell phone with him and called his mom and dad and had them come get him,” Alex said. “He wasn’t having much fun. The counselors hated him.”
“He sure could draw though,” Alex said. “That dragon on the banner was incredible.”
“I couldn’t believe the colors. The red was a real blood red, wasn’t it?
“Totally blood red. Totally. If I didn’t know better. I’d have sworn it was blood.”
For a time both boys were quiet.
“I wonder if he’ll be back at school.” Max said.
“Who?” Alex asked.
Alex shook his head. “I don’t think so. I heard the teachers talking. They said he withdrew from Shelton View. That’s the last we’ll see of him.”