by Kristen Bealer
Based on comments and flashbacks from Camp Fear.
“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.”
Without other 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 voice.
“Like, I don’t know where Alex was during the square dance, Cindy. I, um, had a headache so I didn’t even go.”
Daria frowned. 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 looked around.
“Great,” she sighed. “I’m lost.”
After checking to make sure the stitches were still intact, she tried to figure out which way Camp Grizzly might be. The sun was setting as she started looking for the trail.
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—
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 death.”
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.
Suddenly she 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. . .
Following the 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 Camp Grizzly, aren’t you?”
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 for her.
“Now,” Barbara 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 about camp?”
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.”
“Hmm.” Earl 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?”
Daria smirked. “Thanks.”
Earl dropped her off in front of the “Welcome to Camp Grizzly” sign and waved as he drove away. As Daria walked toward her cabin, she could see some of the campers drifting in from the other direction. They won’t even know I left camp, she thought.
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 me.”
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 friends.”
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.