For the Children of Camp Fuller
The pretty counselor smiled over children sitting in an arc in the dirt and began reading.
“Once there was a Camp Fuller like this one, not so different. It had cabins like yours, and woods that rustled with life at night, just like here. Except this Camp Fuller lay abandoned, in ruins. Fuller was not the first name given to the sleepover camp, it was the last name remembered. The first given name was Camp “Wihku-muyak” which is a Mohegan-Pequot phrase for having called you here. Camp Wihku-muyak was also a place with a bend in the river, with a knotted rope swing, like the one you swung off of today into Dudley’s Pool. The place was no different than any other summer camp in New England or anywhere else for that matter except for one thing. If a living person visited old Camp Fuller, they wouldn’t see what you see here everyday. The camp wasn’t for the living.
The kids, all around your ages, received campers’ money, like your scholarships, to be able to come. It’s just that, the money wasn’t really earned with good grades or good behavior. It was whatever money was left over from their funerals, rolled over into a last experience leaving earth. Secret money passed hands through the spirit world, in exchange for readying for the journey when they were no longer alive. Not that they knew they had died. They would cook fish on the fire that they caught, and squish hot marshmallows between crackers and even listen to spooky stories, but all the while, their parents were home crying themselves scarlet over the departed souls of their beloved sons and daughters.”
The counselor looked up from her sheet and raised her eyebrows to see how she was doing. Most of the campers were marking the dirt with twigs or pebbles as they listened. Only the Bartollomotti twins looked like they were going to vomit. She winked at them and they looked at each other and secretly smiled. She continued.
“Once or twice the campers would hear a whistle in the woods or a glimpse a wavering vision hovering over the still lake. If a living soul came upon the ramshackle ruins of Camp Wihku-muyak, they would meet with the sound of distant laughter of children, and might feel the brush of an unseen arm pushing past them in an open field, or even smell a waft of something cooking, weak in the nostrils, but still there. Sometimes they were staring straight at each other through the screen that separates us, feeling the prickling electricity of a being they could not really see. Only one out of ten thousand saw solid from one side to the other. But nobody is like that here tonight. It would only be a hint, or a sound, or a thought combing through your hair like fingers of a breeze.”
When the long summer of lemonade and volleyball, canoeing and friendships were ended and the campers moved on, a grief-stricken parent would step out the door one day to find a homemade lanyard in the driveway, a weaving purse or popsicle stick picture frame on their front step, as though dropped from their son’s or daughter’s knapsack. If the camper had been very lucky scouring the woods for shed antlers like Jim found, or some Native American artifacts, the parent might even find a single quartz arrowhead on top of their mailbox. They would pick it up, and start fresh with crying again. Lacey, you found an arrowhead on Tuesday, didn’t you? What a treasure. Well, it is late. Very, very late. And with summer camp nearly over, I have a question for you. Have any of you completed a crafts project yet?”
The silence that had settled over the children lifted with a few nervous laughs and scattered applause as Sherri Ludniewski left the platform. As she passed Lawrence Bigglesworth, he pointed to himself and mouthed, “Marry me?”
Phil Villarez raised the microphone to light groans. He was an older boy with squared kneecaps sticking out the top of long, dirty gym socks. It didn’t help that he thought he was the dude because he was in high school. He held a monocle with a cracked glass he had dug out at the Victorian Dump and cinched it between his cheek and eyebrow. He swatted at a horsefly that was diving at his head. The microphone squealed out of the loudspeaker as he ducked and leaned away.
Phil raised his clipboard within an inch of his face and said into the dead mic, “All campers report back in one hour for the head count.”
The kids stampeded to their cabins, joking and shoving each other lightly.
Phil was left tapping the microphone when the wind shifted.
If you’ve ever been in New England in the summer, you know what can happen during stretches of weather so hot and humid it feels like you are rolled in wet wool blankets. These are times when Hobomoken growls and throws fire from his mountain and unleashes winds to rip trees from the earth. The twins were the first to notice, because they were close to every rustle of grass, every break of twig.
Flipped over by the sharpened claws of the thunderstorm, the leaves, showing silver undersides, began to tremble. And the first of the projects began to arrive home.
Janet Parlato lives in Connecticut with her husband, Steve, their children, Ben and Jill, and their spaniel, Austin. Her work has been published by Brides Magazine, Silas Bronson Playreaders Theater, and Freshwater Poetry Journal, among others. Janet’s work appears in two anthologies,the 20th Anniversary Anthology of the Guilford Poets Guild and Kaleidoscope WoJo. Janet is thrilled to be included in Parhelion!