The bus pulled into a gravel parking lot, surrounded by brown grass and overgrown weeds. Giant rocks jutted up from the ground in all directions. Through a thin row of trees, down a steep incline, the deep blues from Lake Stoneway sparkled and glimmered.
We gathered our gear from under the bus storage and waited with the rest of the grade eights on a hill overlooking the cabins. I leaned back against my duffle bag and soaked in the warm rays.
Coach Mackleby shook hands with a large man in a white t-shirt with Camp Staff written in bright red letters along the front. The two looked like they could have been brothers, with their ridiculously tight muscle shirts and 'surfer-dude' bleach blonde hair. They talked for a few minutes before walking over to us.
The man with the white shirt flipped his sunglasses onto his head and blew a whistle. “Okay folks, listen up. Welcome to Camp Stoneway.”
The kids around us cheered and clapped. The smell of fresh pine filtered through the air. This was Northern Canada, clean, beautiful and in the middle of nowhere.
“We better get WiFi up here, my dad promised that we’d get service,” Brandon muttered, pulling his phone out.
“We’re on a trip, who needs WiFi?” I replied.
“Zip it Wesley.” Brandon slid open his phone and checked the signal.
The instructor blew his whistle again and looked out toward Brandon and me at the back. “Are you guys listening?”
I gave a thumbs up and nodded. Already we were establishing ourselves as the bad boys. Not sure how proud of that I was. “We’re good,” I muttered.
“My name is Chaz and I’m going to be your Camp Leader this week. We’re going to head down to your cabins in a second and then get started with our first activities.” He strutted around the perimeter of our scattered bags and sweaty bodies, parading an air of cockiness. He reminded me of Brandon. “Before we head down, I want to inform you that we are looking for full participation in all activities this week. That is all activities, including our talent show on Friday.”
Coach Mackleby stepped over beside Chaz and eyed Brandon and I. He knew we were the tough guys, the ones who hated participating in useless activities, like talent shows. But, I was on a trip away from home, away from military-like parents, and I was prepared to do everything, including the talent show. Besides, we knew about it already. It was just a matter of finding a way to convince Brandon. I’m sure he wouldn’t care if we sweet-talked a few girls into lending us some clothes and dress up as a girl band or something. Not only would we get participation marks, we’d get a good laugh as well.
I’d actually thought about this quite a bit. If Brandon was game, my plan was to ask Michelle Heartly to help us. It would be the best way to get to know her better.
She sat in the shade by a big oak tree, weaving Sarah Livingstone’s hair into a complicated ponytail. To say Michelle was pretty was an understatement. She had deep brown hair that floated down her head like a waterfall. Her white teeth glowed between her perfect lips.
She was a goddess.
Sarah Livingstone on the other hand, was evil. My group of friends referred to her as the Cyber Ice Princess. She somehow had the ability to destroy a person online with the simplest, yet nastiest of comments.
“Yo, dumby, stop staring.” Brandon nudged me and grabbed his bag.
Chaz guided us all down the hill toward the cabins.
“I wasn’t staring,” I replied. “I was thinking.
“Whatever, just face it, you like her.” Brandon spit on the grass and flung his bag over his shoulder. He was a tall kid, almost six foot. His size was intimidating but not to me. I saw through his fake strut, and puffed out chest. Sure his voice cracked when he was in the seventh grade, and he had thick black hairs pushing out of his chin, but to me, he was still the goofy kid who only became popular because of what happened to his dad last year.
Chaz checked his clipboard and pointed to Cabin Nine, our cabin. “You have ten minutes to get changed and we’ll meet you back at the hill.”
I was bunking with four other guys from my class and one kid from French Immersion. Brandon and I were of course together, along with Markus Trent, Clay Dogson, Michael Courten and Gus Boyer.
The cabins were pretty basic, with three wooden bunks, a couple windows, a garbage bin and two outlets. Not much, but we didn’t care. It was our space.
Carved through the room were names of kids who stayed there in the past. “I think this was his cabin,” said Markus. He checked under the top bunks and along the walls.
“Who?” I asked.
Markus looked at me and shook his head. His thick black eyebrows twisted. “You know.”
“How do you know he stayed here?” Brandon tossed his sleeping bag in the corner bunk and pulled out a towel from his bag. “There are like twenty cabins, what makes you think it was this one?”
Markus sat down in his bed, brushing some sand off the plastic mattress. He turned to the wall, running his fingers along the engraved plywood. “Because my brother told me. His name is here somewhere, I know it.”
“So what?” Brandon replied. “It’s just some dead guy. What’s the big deal anyway?” He lifted his shirt and sprayed his armpits with deodorant.
“Big deal?” Markus replied. “He’s out there - somewhere. His spirit is out there.”
“So?” Brandon tossed the deodorant into his bag. “You actually believe in ghosts?”
“I don’t know, I guess.” Markus fluffed his pillow and read the names on the wall again.
“Ghosts are real man.” Gus Boyer slipped on his running shoes and tied up the laces. “The kid is dead, he’s buried in the ground somewhere, but that doesn’t mean he ain’t here.”
Gus Boyer was a tough guy. He wore black almost every day and always had lines shaved along the sides of his head. He came to our school halfway through last year and was immediately picked up by our group. Gus was the fastest kid at Ravensdale to climb the ladder of popularity. I liked him right away, mostly because he was funny. Like me, he never really took part in Brandon’s taunting and teasing. He just liked our company. What I liked about him was he never spoke much, but when he did, we listened.
“What makes you think that?” Brandon asked.
“Well, because Markus is looking at the dead kid’s name right now.”
We turned to Markus who sat quietly on his bed. His face was pale, like the blood had rushed out of his head. Gus was right. Carved into the wall, beside Markus’ headboard was Riley Grayson’s name.
We stood silently for a minute in the room, staring at the carved letters in the wall. I couldn’t help but think about him, walking, talking, hanging out with his friends. It felt strange. This room was the last place he slept in before he died.
The hinges creaked on the door as a cold breeze crept through our room. Standing at the entrance, with his hood tucked tightly over his head was Simon. He knocked on the frame of the door and dropped his backpack and guitar on the step.
“What are you doing here?” Brandon pushed past me and darted over to him. He picked up the backpack on the floor and tossed it onto the sandy path outside. “Wrong room, you idiot.”
Simon stepped back through the door and reached for his gear. “Sorry.”
“Sorry?” Brandon lifted up the garbage bin by Markus and Clay’s bunk and dumped it over Simon’s head. “Don’t ever step near this cabin again, got it?”
“Ye..yes.” Simon’s muffled voice vibrated through the plastic bin.
“Then, why are you still standing here?” Brandon stepped out the door, slapping the garbage bin against Simon’s head. He pushed him onto the path and spit on the ground. “Loser.”
A few of the boys laughed, watching Simon struggle to his feet and place the garbage bin back on our step. He brushed off the sand from his bargain-shop hoodie and ankle-high blue jeans. He picked up his guitar and bag and walked away.
Brandon stood on the step with the garbage bin, watching Simon drag his feet along the path to the other cabins.
I cracked my knuckles and cleared my throat. I wanted to say something to Brandon. It was getting to be too much. The guy was relentless. I mean, enough already.
Brandon placed the garbage bin back in our room and slapped my back. “What a loser, eh Wesley?”
I swallowed and turned to him, curling my toes inside my shoes. I wanted to say something. I knew I should. “Yeah,” I replied. “What a loser.”
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