From the Pages of Heroland: Roberta Manning

What follows is a work of fiction/suspense/horror, based on actual stories I was told while at ‘Camp Glenwood’, in Wisconson as a child. I’m working on the last part now, but I thought I’d put this up for consumption. Let me know what you think so far…

Part 1: August 1977

A stiff breeze rustled through the trees above him, as Ray Borgia moved silently in search of the missing boys.

It was 1977 and only two years earlier, he’d been doing much the same in Viet Nam. Corporal SP4 Ray Borgia, was a combat tracker during that war; hell, he was still a tracker no matter where he went. That war and everything he learned in it, were buried just beneath the surface of his soul, ready to be dug up at a moment’s notice, and used for good or bad. The bad came in the form of nightmares and combat reflexes, the last of which caused him to lose his most recent girl.

As ray crept forward, eyes sweeping the forest floor before him, he thought of Charlotte. Charlotte was a sweet thing. She had a friendly disposition and was easy to laugh. Ray met her while she was waitressing at the Old Oak Inn about twenty miles south of Camp Glenwood. He was a serious man, kind, a nice smile, but his eyes hid a somber presence. That presence was the war. It watched from within him. Ray was always surveying the room he was in, never sat with his back to a door, and was guarded in his conversation. After all, information could give the enemy what he needed to strike; and in Ray’s experience, the enemy was well hidden and always within earshot. Charlotte saw past the surface of Ray’s exterior, to the person it was guarding. She liked him none-the-less.

Common sense told Ray that these people weren’t the enemy, but training made mistrust an instinct now. It was as ingrained in him as blinking. If he concentrated, past his training, he could feel something for Charlotte, but that concentration didn’t always come easy. It only came easy when there was a mission; and the children were his mission now. Five missing children.

Camp Glenwood sat on the south end of Lake Blaisdell in northern Wisconsin. Ray was the Camp Director. Boys were bussed up every May from the Glenwood Military School for Boys in North Eastern Illinois. Ray was the Dean of Students at the main campus the rest of the year. He devoted his life to helping the poor, at risk youth of the Chicago land area, because he’d been that himself nearly forty years ago.

In 1938, Ray’s mother, Martha Borgia was a single woman in a time when that wasn’t something as acceptable as it is now. When Ray started getting into trouble at only eight years old, she feared the worst. Her brother was already in the Joliet Prison, and she didn’t want to see Ray go down that road. She’d read about Glenwood, a military school started by Abraham Lincoln’s son in 1887; unlike WestPoint and other private academies, Glenwood catered to those in just the type of situation Martha found herself in. It would not be unfair to say that Glenwood Military School saved young Ray’s life, and he endeavored to pay that debt back every day, one boy at a time.

That vow means more than ever in this moment. Wearing his old combat fatigues, and a carrying his M1 Carbine, a souvenir that his commanding officer let him keep at the end of the war, Ray stealthily crept forward towards his purpose.

Five boys had gone missing. At first it felt like a dream. Darnell Johnson, fifteen years old; he was collecting craw daddies at the river bed, and then he was gone. This was his second year at Camp Glenwood. The police were called, a search ensued, and flyers were posted. No trace was found. The local newspaper even let Ray use a full page for a week. Local hunters joined the search to no avail. Ray felt impotent in his duties. He was the protector of this camp, the leader, and a boy had gone missing on his watch.

Then Tom Haberford, seventeen years old. While the search group was out looking, not four days after Darnell, Tom went missing. He’d told his counselor Amy, that he was going to the loft above Doby Hall to read. Doby Hall was a large, rectangular log cabin that acted as a library. When the chow bell rung, Tom didn’t show up to the Chapekwa mess hall. The counselors went looking and found nothing; the search embraced Tom now in its fold. It was his second year as well.

As the search continued, police helicopters were brought in, scuba divers searched the lake bed, and it seemed that there were as many people, including campers, in the thick Wisconsin forest, as there were trees. None-the-less, three more disappeared the day after Tom.

Ray talked to Mr. Dunleavy at the main Glenwood Campus, and it was agreed that the camp would be shut down and the remaining boys bussed back to spend the remainder of the summer on the main Glenwood Campus, as administration assured parents that every effort was being made to find the missing boys. Ray spoke with the local police and it was decided that the national guard would be called in to join the search.

More than disappointed in the closing of the camp, Ray was concerned for the boys who went missing on his watch. Were they ok? Were they terrified? The danger that Ray felt those boys were in, intensified with each minute that passed, so Ray decided to put his tracking skills to use and begin the search himself, before the clumsy youth of barley trained, guardsmen showed up and trampled over any evidence that might be out here.

The National Guard were due to show up at the empty camp around noon the next day. They could cover a much larger area than the fifty or so people, including law enforcement, camp counselors, townsfolk and campers who’d focused their search West of camp; as that was the most likely place the students would have been taken. There was a town west of Camp, and a river. It was thought they might have been abducted, and taken west down the river in a canoe, so focus was put on searching homes along the river.

Ray was heading east. He had his own thoughts about what might have happened to his campers, and he didn’t need fat Police officers who’d never tracked anything beyond a jelly damned donut to tell him where to look. After all, one of the first books Ray read when he was just ten years old, in that loft that Tom Haberford had his eye toward when he went missing, was a Sherlock Holmes book. In it, Holmes states “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” That bit of literary investigative technique helped him many times in the jungle, which was as mysterious as it was dangerous.

Ray felt it impossible that the boys went west, because there was no tracking evidence to corroborate that; just supposition and lazy imagined intuition. East, must be the truth.

Part 2

As he made his way east, carefully taking in his surroundings, he thought of Charlotte. A week before the boys went missing, Charlotte made Ray eggs and bacon for breakfast. Although he’d asked her to never wake him, she wanted to surprise him. She brought a tray into the bedroom of her apartment above the bar she worked in, where Ray lay silently asleep; she softly called out to him “Ray….Ray, honey….”

No response; no movement.

She set the tray down at the foot of the bed and silently walked up to his shoulder; she smiled coyly to her-self, leaned in and put her hand on him to gently shake him. “Ray, sweetie, I’ve got a sup…”

Before she could finish the sentence, like a coiled snake, Ray punched her in the eye with a rabbit quickness she never thought possible. She was on the ground before she even knew what happened. As the pain crept up on her, she began to cry.

Ray couldn’t forget the look on her face…the look of betrayal…the look of fear. He’d only ever seen Charlotte smile, only ever seen her content. He got up and left, without explaining. Why bother? The deed had been done, no matter the reason. There was no walking it back. Sure, Charlotte might have forgiven him, but he’d never forgive himself. He looked back one last time as she sat on the floor, sobbing into her open palms, and walked away. 

Ray knew that it was a near impossibility to explain to a civilian the magnitude of the training he went through; the days of seemingly endless sleep deprivation, the intense fatigue and incessant prodding torture, all of which he was subjected to by his own government in an effort to make him just as dangerous in sleep as he was awake. The purpose of this training was to make a soldier strike at the enemy when his guard was at its lowest; when a prisoner was sleeping.

He was trained to sleep with one eye open, to separate conscious from unconsciousness so that he could be aware and asleep at the same time. He was to merge the two when movement was detected and strike hard. Overcome and escape; always escape. Capture was death and combat trackers were not allowed to die; too much rested on their shoulders.

It took him years after the war just to learn how to sleep with both eyes closed again. But the need to strike out never left, which was why he always made sure the women he was with knew not to disturb his sleep…he lacked conviction when disclosing this to Charlotte.

Although it was instinct and nothing more that punched Charlotte that morning, instinct activated by a single touch during sleep, it was Ray’s instinct and he wouldn’t subject kind, gentle Charlotte to it again.

Charlotte wasn’t the enemy and his training had betrayed him in this instance. But as a member of an elite combat tracker team, Ray had been captured twice. That training saved him the second time and you only need to use a skill once to justify its existence.

Part 3

Along with his Labrador Retriever Frenchy, Ray and Combat Tracker Team 7, 9th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division Airmobile, were charged with ‘Reestablishing contact with the elusive enemy’. He could still remember the way his commanding officer worded that with a heavy East Texas accent; seemed so formal to him, when all it really meant was that they were to dig around in the shit and find trouble. Doesn’t matter how much of a combat veteran you were, intuition told you to stay away from trouble.

In any case, Ray along with his team: Hobbs, Steward, McComb and Jacobs, were sent out with a combat platoon to recon areas for possible enemy activity, track the enemy for engagement if necessary and locate lost or missing friendly personnel. Locating lost or missing friendly personnel…that’s what he was doing now, except he was doing it in this friendly forest in Wisconsin, instead of the inhospitable jungles of Viet Nam.

He was a glorified Camp Counselor now, not a Combat Tracker, he had to remind himself. As much training as he had, he was out of practice and not as young as he used to be. His senses had been diluted by alcohol; his once sharp tracking skills, dulled by age.

Ray had been, by far, the best tracker on his team; 37 POW’s and 3 teams, including an air cav unit that had been shot down over the Ha Noi River, were recovered because of SP4 Borgia, Frenchy and his team. Maintaining noise discipline in furtherance of establishing an element of surprise was key to successful tactical tracking, and although he didn’t know why, Ray was practicing noise discipline now, thousands of miles from the thick jungle of Viet Nam.

He had to remind himself that he was searching, not hunting. These were woods, not jungles; pines, not fronds. There were no tracks to suggest the missing boys had met with foul play; no blood trails to follow, no struggles to decipher amongst broken leaves. At least not yet; but something inside stoked anticipation within him…the hair on the back of his neck stood up and he stopped.

Wind rustled through the pine needles above him, as it blew south towards the dump. Funny, the sound of the wind went north, but Ray felt a breeze blow west and cool his face. His focus intensified as he surveyed the land all around. Under different circumstances, the familiar breeze that caressed his face, could comfort him like no bedding could. He listened closely; the sounds and smells of the forest would tell him all he needed to know. He felt watched…but no evidence to his senses told him he was. He knew that meant nothing, and cautiously moved on.

A hundred yards to the north and below him, through the trees, Ray could see the afternoon sun reflecting off of the surface of Blaisdell Lake. There was a light incline that led down to the lake, but Ray was heading east, in the opposite direction of the last three boys who went missing. West just didn’t feel right, and Ray learned long ago to follow his instincts. Besides, though he was last seen west of camp by the river, one of the counselors found what he thought was Darnell’s shoe on the forest floor to the east. That told Ray a lot.

The shoe wasn’t hidden, it fell off, suggesting that Darnell was running fast when it happened. The shoe wasn’t tied, which told Ray that Darnell wasn’t expecting to run; he wasn’t playing…he was running from something. But what? There were literally NO other tracks but his. In these woods, only two things could have chased down a fifteen-year-old boy, a bear and a man. The bears rarely came this close to camp. Sure, there was an inordinate number of bears in this part of Wisconsin, but it was because of the garbage dump a few miles south east, and they mostly stuck to that area.

Another odd thing was that Darnell’s shoe was found a hundred feet from where his footprints ended. That’s right, Ray reminded himself, Darnell was at a full sprint and his footprints just ended, like he’d disappeared. In all his years of tracking, Ray had never seen anything like this, and he’d seen some weird shit. Sure, the enemy would try to deceive trackers, but those deceptions were easy to see through, when you knew what to look for. Ray knew what to look for.

Ray shared all of this with the police. They said that their orders were to contain the search to the west. Something didn’t add up.

Besides, there were no ‘enemies’ here. Camp Glenwood had been here for sixty years. Ray had been here as a child. This camp saved him from a life of crime and cultivated his interest in the outdoors, which eventually led to him being the only one in his group of friends to volunteer to serve in Viet Nam while the others were either drafted, or moved to Canada and Mexico. He felt a lot of ways about the draft dodgers, until he’d drown in the mud, blood and sweat of that war. He was less judgmental now, and learned to focus on his own short comings, rather than those of others. A man took responsibility, and Ray felt it his responsibility to find these boys.

The only people around this area were the Indians of Lac Courte Oreilles, and they were harmless. The Ojibwe, stayed mostly to themselves, on the south side of the Chipetaw River, that acted a border to the Chequamegon National Forest just north of it. Their village was about 10 miles east of Camp Glenwood, and their tribe lived in these woods longer than anyone else in the area. That didn’t stop the locals from looking down on them. Ray knew a few of the local Indians from the Old Oak Inn, but he’d had no interactions with them. Not because he felt any kind of way about them, they just kept to themselves as did Ray.

He’d read in the newspaper that the Ojibwe counsel was petitioning the government to remove and cover the landfill, affectionately known as “The Bear’s Den”, because of the smell, the bears, and ‘toxic emissions’ that were killing wildlife. The Ojibwe maintained that corporations had been hiding barrels of toxic sludge beneath the mounds of trash since the 30’s. They posited that those barrels were rusting and filling the earth with death. But with no evidence and no desire by the government to open an investigation, the petitions went nowhere.

Ray had taken groups of kids by the dump hundreds of times over the years, to look at the staggering bear population. With no need to fight for food, it seemed like every bear in the northern United States lived and flourished in and around that landfill. There was a stretch, about a quarter mile long, along Lake Blaisdell Road, where you could see into the dump. A guardrail ran along that stretch before the ground dropped off about 40 feet, and the landfill began. It stretched north for miles, and east and west where the view was cut off by the thick forest on either side. Inside the landfill were mounds and mounds of colorful garbage…and bears, hundreds of bears

Ray would stop the bus, typically on the way to the tubing port along the Chipetaw River in town, and let the kids look down and out of the window at all the bears. Fat and lazy, huge beasts foraged about the dumps slowly. Some interacting playfully, some digging alone. Cubs roamed about with their mamas, while older loaners disappeared into the forest beyond view.

He was always careful to tell the children that this was not a normal scene. Bears didn’t typically congregate in this manner, and they should never approach a bear. However, in all the years that the camp had been open, no camper had ever been put in danger by a bear.

In fact, in all the years Camp Glenwood had catered to poor and at-risk boys, who danced dangerously close to the edge of a tragic life, as Ray had himself so many years ago, no child had ever gone missing. There was only one case of someone going missing from Camp, and that was Roberta Manning the year before.

But Roberta had suffered a personal tragedy, gone over the edge, and the police determined she most likely committed suicide. The poor woman. Ray knew her since he was a boy; knew her husband these past seven years. All the boys who went missing had stayed in her cottage the year before; but Roberta was dead. It seemed like a century ago. With thousands of acres of forest to cover, the police said they found her body in the dump a month later. The search was called off for her. She was declared a suicide and the case was closed. A memorial service was held. Many of the boys were inconsolable. Ray himself gave a speech, reminding the boys that one mistake does not cover up years of good deeds.

Roberta had been a counselor when Ray went to Camp Glenwood in before WWII broke out. She really changed his life. When the camp closed due to the war, Roberta went her own way, got married. Now, her and her husband had been back for these past eight years while Ray was away fighting a different war; one that meant nothing, and never should have been. The kids loved them both. Until last year, Roberta and Bart ran the cottage called ‘Gramps’. It was called that because kids who’d gone to Camp Glenwood the longest, stayed there. They were grandfathered in.

However, because of budget cuts, Roberta and Bart were put in charge of the cottage called ‘Newb’ last year. This is where the newest kids stayed. They often had younger, more patient counselors, as the newest boys tended to act out the most, and as stern as Ray himself could be, he preferred that hard boys be given a soft hand. That’s what worked on him as a youth. As the head of Camp Affairs, Ray was confident that the kindness of Roberta and Bart would be enough to comfort rather than dominate. After all, it was part of his speech at the pre-opening ceremony dinner, which was held for staff a week before the children arrived, that there was no such thing as a bad camper.

In any case, if it wasn’t the Ojibwe, and it wasn’t the Bears, what the hell happened to the five missing boys?

Part 4

Ray crept east, taking his time, using his training to scan the forest floor. He felt unease, he felt fear. He’d learned in Viet Nam that fear was a good thing so long as you held it close, and used it. You couldn’t let it use you. Fear kept your senses sharp, which kept you alive. He’d never been this far east of the Camp. The Chipetaw River came out of the lake about ten miles from where he started, and Ray knew that if he stayed on that river, he’d eventually run into the Ojibwe village. Someone there might have seen the boys, or something that might lead Ray to them.

It was six o’clock and getting dark; Ray decided to camp for the night. He loved building a fire in Wisconsin, the bark from the birch trees was easy to light and always dry. Within minute’s he had a moderate blaze going, and pulled out his pocket knife. He searched around on the ground for a long branch, cut the leaves off of it, and sharpened the end. He opened his back pack and pulled out the food he’d brought. Hot dogs over an open fire, what’s better than that?

He sat down on a log near where he’d started his fire and stared deeply into the flames as he ate. They were hypnotic; speaking with no words, no meaning. But there was comfort in their communication.

“Got an extra one of those.” Came a voice to his right.

Part shock, part instinct, ray jumped up to a defense position, dropping his stick and grabbing his M1 in a swift motion as he did. His eyes adjusted as he stared into the black forest from where the voice came. His arm looped through the shoulder sling, he pointed his rifle into the darkness with intent; eyes wide, he didn’t say a word.

“Relax.” Came the voice from the dark, just beyond the light of the fire. “I’m a friend.”

A tall man with long flowing black hair stepped out of the darkness with his hands up. It’s as if he knew exactly where the night began and vision ended. It took a lot to impress Ray, but for someone to sneak up on him, with his training? That was a man to be respected. It also remined him of his age and he winced a little to himself.

As soon as he stepped into the light, Ray recognized his interloper. “Ben?”

“Yes, Ray, It’s Ben.” he smiled as he walked slowly towards the fire.

Ben was an Ojibwe who was a regular at the Old Oak Inn. Ray saw him there many times, sitting quietly by himself with a glass of water. Every few songs, Ben would walk up to the Jukebox and play the same thing: “Brandy” by Looking Glass. Ray always wondered why he did that.

“Do you mind?” Ben said nodding towards the fire.

Ray let his guard down “Help yourself, there’s a chill in the air tonight.”

“Been a chill in these woods for a while now, Ray. Haven’t you felt it?” Ben asked as he warmed his hands over the fire.

“What are you doing out here, Ben?”

“Same thing you are: searching for something.” He said looking deep into the fire.

“I’m looking for five kids, Ben. They went missing a few days ago; maybe you heard? What are you looking for?” Ray asked pensively as he let his guard down, unslung his rifle and leaned it against a tree. Ray could tell an enemy from a friendly, and Ben was a friendly.

“I heard. Whole village heard. We offered to help, but the police said they didn’t need any ‘Red Man’ help.” His eyebrows raised when he said ‘red man’, as if the insult stood before him.

“I didn’t know that, Ben; that’s a shitty thing for them to have said, and a shittier thing for them to have done. We need all the help we can get.”

With is measured look and cocked smile, Ben looked Ray in the eye now, “White man has done far shittier things around here.”

Ray didn’t return the smile “What are YOU searching for Ben?”

“Bear poacher.” Ben said seriously again.

“Bear poacher, around here? I thought the bears were good for the tourists? Good for businesses?”

“Bears are good for many reasons; they’re strength, power, integrity. They’re seen as healers to our tribe. But these bears Ray, these bears are not natural. Their light has gone out and they only live for the food that is put in front of them; they no longer roam, they no longer spread their magic and medicine to us. They are dying inside a little eacy day, but now…now, someone is killing them and taking what little power they have left.”

“How long, how many?” Ray said with reverence.

“Maybe sixty since last summer.”

“Jesus, Ben. I didn’t know.” He said apologetically to the stoic Indian standing by his fire.

“I hope you find your boys, Ray. I will ask the great spirit wolf to protect you as you continue your journey.” Ben turned to leave.

“Ben, do you think they’re connected?”

Ben stopped and turned. “I’ve considered this, but I’ve found nothing to connect your missing boys to my dead bears. My bears are killed harshly, with a blade of some kind. Your boys are simply gone. No violence was found.”

“Bears, killed with an edged weapon? An injured bear is a tough hombre, who’d get in that close to kill a bear? Much less sixty.” Ray was genuinely puzzled at this thought.

“Someone who wants to be quiet and remain anonymous; gunshots are heard from far away in these woods.” Ben said.

 “Stealth.” They looked at each other.

“I had not considered that. Yes, it seems that our problems do share a common thread.” He nodded as he stroked his chin. “I’ll watch for your boys Ray, and consider them more thoughtfully in my search. Goodnight.”

“One more thing Ben…why “Brandy”?” Ray gave Ben a slight smile and raised his eyebrows, in a rare gesture of genuine curiosity; his bright eyes danced as the fire cracked in front of him.

Ben turned to Ray and considered him thoughtfully; then said: “My name is Binesi; it means ‘Ocean Bird’.” Ben lowered his head as he continued. “My father was a sailor, in naval intelligence. He met my mother here, during the war. He was sent here to oversee the building of submarines when the factories were built beyond the town, to help in the war effort. My mother worked at the Oak Inn when it was first built, as a place for the new townsfolk to relax; that’s where they met. Her name was Braanji; my father couldn’t pronounce it at first, so he called her Brandy. That was his favorite drink. He died storming the beach at Normandy a few years later.” He looked up at Ray again, with the slightest bit of tear creeping to the edge of his eye, glistening in the fire light between them. “He went back to the sea and left my mother with a lump in her belly. He was a good man, who I never met. My mother always remembered him fondly. That song makes me think of them. Good night Ray, may the wolf protect you.”

The cadence with which Ben told this story, the reverence with which he spoke of his parents…left Ray speechless. It was as if Ben’s story danced with the fire…Ray was mesmerized. As he watched Ben stride away and disappear into the dark from which he’d come, Ray gave a haphazard wave before he realized he was doing it “Yeah, Ben…may the wolf protect you as well.”

Ray pulled out his knapsack and lay on top of it close to the fire, as it slowly burned down. There was a pop from within, and embers danced up into the night sky. Through the pine needles, Ray could see a million stars. They flashed out for an instant and he wondered if his vision was failing him now. He fell asleep, comforted as a wolf howled in the distance.

Part 5

Nothing.

There was darkness in his sleep. Ray never dreamed. Sleep was almost a trance for him; his breathing was deep, but measured; slow and quiet. His senses functioned at their peak in silence.

In an instant, lightning reflexes lashed out in muscle memory, and he felt a sharp pain as two of his knuckles shattered against something hard. He was on his feet before he knew what was happening and had to adjust to what he saw.

By the fire light left, he knew he couldn’t have been out for more than an hour.

Pain shot through his wrist and up his arm. He heard a surprised grunt, and the bear took a step backwards in surprise to shake off Rays punch. It looked at him with dull green eyes. Ben was right…there was no light in those eyes. They seemed to absorb the fire light, rather than reflect it. The bear shuddered all over and swung its head back and forth methodically as it stared intently at Ray; he felt it was deciding what to do next. The two were as gunfighters, staring at each other across a town square.

The Bear decided. It labored and seemed to bounce on its front legs. It was huge, the biggest bear Ray had ever seen. Once, twice, three times it bounced. At first Ray didn’t quite understand what it was doing…then it finally gathered enough momentum, and pushing itself up, stood tall on its back legs. Ray could feel the sound it made next. It began from deep within the creature, like the start of an air raid siren, came up its chest, through its throat and out of its mouth which twisted and slathered. The deep base of the bears scream echoed through the forest and Ray had a moment to hope Ben heard that, when the unimaginable happened.

The bear stood nine feet tall, and as Ray’s eyes took it in, just above the bear’s head…a woman stood, hunched over on a thick branch. Her bare feet and one hand gripped the branch as she stared intently at Ray, the other held a long axe with a dark ash handle and rusted silver axe head. In an instant she stood tall on the branch and at the same time swung the axe overhead, bringing it down hard into the top of the bear’s skull and deep into its brain.

The terrible scream stopped instantaneously, and the bear fell towards Ray.

Ray turned and dove forward, but he was too late. He was pinned by the bears massive head as it fell on top of him, it’s right paw crashing into the waning fire, sending sparks flying up into the dark night. He had just enough time to think how quickly this all happened. He’d punched a bear, presumably in its forehead, it was up and about to kill him (he hadn’t even thought of that until this instant), and now it lay dead on top of him. He could feel its massive tongue on his left arm, lolled out of its mouth and laying on him like a blanket. He was soaked in the bear’s blood and he could smell burning fur.

Shit…the woman. Who was…Ray heard a branch snap and turned his head to look. The last thing he saw in that moment was the black ash of an axe handle swinging down to meet his face. A million stars of the night sky danced in his vision.

Then…nothing.

Part 6

Ray woke up slowly; groggily. First thing he felt was dirt in his mouth…in his throat. He coughed a dry cough and licked at his lips and teeth, trying to rub the dirt off of his tongue; he only managed to smear the dry dirt that covered them as well. The tasteless heavy grit of earth was everywhere, the must of it filled his nose and he winced as a sneeze began high up in his nasal cavity, and came out of him with a plume of dust and pain.

The next thing he felt were his ribs. He could tell that at least two were cracked. The pain shot through his body when he sneezed, and now when he coughed. He was breathing heavily and fear gripped him, but the pain that came with each breath was near unbearable. He breathed in, and his lungs pushed against the jagged wall of his cracked ribs. It was like trying to fill a balloon within a shark’s mouth.

Ray had to center himself; use the fear to sharpen your senses, he told himself. As he calmed, he began taking in his surroundings.

He was underground, that much was obvious. It was a large, cavernous room; stone walls. Above, he could see massive tree roots poking through, what looked like, a dirt ceiling that was held up by rusted iron support beams. Old as they were, they were out of place. There was rubble everywhere; he was lying on a pile of broken bricks and stone; dirt and dust covered all in front of him. Wait…he recognized that.

To his right was a fireplace. The hearth was huge, easily seven feet across and five feet high. Bricks and dirt lay within as if the chimney had collapsed down and come through the opening. The stones that made up the fireplace were larger and darker than the ones that made up the walls, and above the mantle was a large moose head. One eye was plucked out and the other seemed to stare at Ray, eerily…knowingly. Its huge left antler lay on the floor below and its jaw held firm, giving the creature a look of stoic reservation as it guarded this room of decay and destruction.

This was Tammany. Ray lived here one summer.

It had been decided in 1941, that the Glenwood Camp was too large for the amount of boys it housed during the Summer. Rather than have an ‘East’ and ‘West’ side of camp, those in charge decided to condense the camp and sell the spare land. The four cottages on the east side of campus were torn down, and their stone walls used to build the Chipetaw mess all. Chipetaw mess hall became the front of campus, where before it would have been the middle of the campground.

A for three years before the tear down and construction took place, Ray stayed in the far eastern cottage of Tammany. He remembered the nights spent listening to ghost stories in the basement of the large, well-built stone cottage. He and his fellow campers, warm and secure in front of the burning fire, sitting in a circle together, as the flames cracked and snapped sending embers shooting off into the chimney. Ray used to think that this must be what it would be like to watch a bullet being fired from inside of a gun. The large moose sat, not judgmental as it did now, but as a guardian. The woman telling those ghost stories was kind, thoughtful and an amazing story teller…Roberta Manning.

Just then, from behind, Ray heard the bricks shift and make heavy noises as they fell down a hill of themselves. Ray realized then that he was bound. Hands in front, legs trussed and a rope going from his hand bindings to his ankle bindings. He tried to turn to see what making the noise behind him, and realized he was laying at the foot of a pile of rubble.

Like a spider, she came crawling over the top, shifting the rubble beneath her as she came. Ray looked, wide-eyed over his shoulder at the filthy disheveled creature that stared back at him with the same cold dead eyes of the bear he saw earlier. Her white hair was matted and covered in dirt. Her face was black with filth. The arms had been torn off of her shirt, which hung in tatters from her body. He looked at her in amazement and whispered “Roberta….”; it was not a question.

To be continued….

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