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I remember it like it was yesterday. Camp Omega in the foothills Virginia in some small town. It was like any other camp, bunks to sleep in, campfires at night, and friendly counselors. Looking back on it, maybe too friendly. At the time I thought that they were just being friendly because it was their job. I have never been so wrong.
Camp was fun at first, though the activities were a bit odd. We had to make these dolls that looked like us. Mine had straw for hair and blue button eyes. Then we had to make these bracelets with our names on them. Everything was personalized which I expected from camp. We had campfires and shared our feelings until we knew each other pretty well. There were about twenty-five other campers and fifteen councilors. One camper stood out to me, her name was Jeanette. She was nice and didn't talk too much. I was shy too so we connected easily through enjoying the silence.
It was the last day of the week-long camp. I was so happy to be going home the next day, camp was fun but I missed home. We sat at the fire with everyone including the counselors. I wasn't sure if it was the fire but they looked different. The looked familiar but their faces were pale as ghosts. I shrugged it off and listened to the next activity.
I wish I didn't.
We all had our dolls that resembled us. I held mine in my hands and tried not to look at it, as its blank blue button eyes stared into me. “This represents the old you. The you before camp.” The lead councilor said to all of us. Then they had us throw the dolls into the fire. I watched as mine was engulfed in flames, snapping and popping as the fire consumed its canvas skin. “You are a new person now,” the head councilor told us.
After the doll burning they told us there would be a goodbye ceremony and dinner. Two of the councilors led us back to the cabins and told us to pack our stuff. They explained that the celebration ceremony was at the nearby barn on the edge of the property. The other councilor left so it was just one with us. His name was Scott. He was always nice and had good jokes. He waited at the fire pit as we all gathered our things. He was acting weird as I sat next to him waiting on everyone else. He was staring into the fire silently, with a disturbed look on his face. “I love you,” he muttered once we were all assembled. I didn't know whom he was talking to so I assumed I misheard him. “I love you guys and I’d do anything for you,” he said clearly so we all heard it.
We all looked at each other with confused expressions but it was a nice gesture and we said that we loved him too. He smiled and got up. “We’re ready,” he stated and led us through the forest to the edge of the camp. It was dark and the air got thicker. I was excited for the ceremony. I was ready to leave and go home where there was cable and internet. I've had enough of the outdoors.
We suddenly exited the woods and the barn loomed in the darkness. All of the camp councilors stood around it in a circle with torches in hand. I felt my stomach drop. I knew something wasn't right as they ushered us all into the barn.
It was an old rickety structure, I’m sure wasn't up to any building code and I was also pretty sure we shouldn't be in there. The councilors stepped inside and formed a circle around us, closing the door behind them.
The head councilor broke from the circle and stood before us. “Jeanette Lewinski please come forward for your departure,” she said. We all looked uneasy but Jeanette stepped forward. I was happy for her; maybe she would get a ribbon or something cool to take home.
The councilors moved from the ring around the barn to a ring around us, all the while holding their torches. I could feel my heartbeat quicken as they came closer, and closer.
And stabbed Jeanette in the neck.
She didn't scream and suddenly it was sudden pandemonium as the counselors threw their torches at the walls of the barn. I didn't notice that all of the councilors had long serrated knives with them. I tried to run but the barn was starting to go up like a match. Kids were running around screaming before being stabbed by the counselors.
“We have to get out of here!” I screamed before running straight into Scott.
“Carl, don’t you want to stay for the ceremony?” he asked me. His eyes seemed to appear pitch black and he wore the most sadistic smile on his face.
I punched him in the gut and ran past him out of an opening in the barn. I had never run that fast in my life. I looked back briefly. God, I wish I never looked behind me. I could see black figures, silhouetted by the light of the fire, running about screaming. Some stood still, with their arms out, accepting the stabs by the counselors.
I heard chanting of some sort, at first I couldn't make it out but it grew louder:
“We know what’s best for you, we love you.”
Over and over again. The sight of Jeanette’s last breath as her mouth filled with blood flashed through my mind and I ran.
I ran into the forest, my heart beating in my ears like a drum. I didn't know where I was going. I was just running in the direction that we came from. The chanting followed me. “We know what’s best for you, we love you.” It repeated like a broken record, over and over.
The glow of the inferno lit the property dimly so I was able to come out the other side where the cabins were. I looked behind me again; I could see the brush moving and the chanting growing louder. How did they find me? How did they follow me?
“We know what’s best for you, we love you.”
I ran faster but I felt a hand tug at my shirt. I fell and it fell with me. I looked back to see the councilor, he had my ankle in one hand and a knife in the other. His eyes were empty black pits and his skin was white as a sheet. I screamed and kicked the knife out of his hand with my other foot. That loosened his grip a bit and gave me time to get back to my feet and run towards the exit.
The sign reading “Camp Omega” stood hauntingly above the entrance. I ran straight through it. The footsteps behind me stopped as the councilors did. I looked behind again, and there they stood. Looking trapped inside of the campgrounds stood all of the councilors. Still as stone. As if they knew they couldn't cross the gate.
It started to rain and that’s when they put their hoods up. I didn't even notice the hoods and robes before. Even in the dim light I could tell they were blood red. “We know what’s best for you, we love you,” they chanted again. I started to back away slowly, my eyes wide in terror as they pulled their daggers out again. I thought they were going to throw them at me. Part of me wanted to run and scream but the other was transfixed on the scene playing out before me.
In unison they raised their bloodstained knives and stabbed themselves in the necks. Blood spurted everywhere. I could see it mix with the rain as it flowed down their necks and they fell.
All I could do was scream and run down the dirt path into the little town. It felt like weeks that I ran until I found the town and the police station. Relief washed over me as I entered the wooden doors. I must’ve looked like a mess. My hair was matted with a mixture of sweat and rain. I probably had blood on my hands. I looked down at them.
They were clean. The rain must’ve washed the blood off. I walk to the front desk as calmly as I could where the secretary looked at me. She had a shocked expression on her face as if I had just risen from the dead. I assumed it was because of my disheveled appearance.
I explained everything to her. The camp, the councilors, what they did; everything. She looked shocked and gave me a glass of water. “Do you want to call your parents Carl?” she asked me.
“Yes please.” She gave me her phone and I called them up. I’m surprised they could understand me since I was choking on my own tears and snot that ran down my face and into accumulated into my mouth. They came as quickly as they could to pick me up. An hour later they arrived at the police station. I was so relieved that they found me that once I got in the car I closed my eyes. I felt safe.
I must’ve fallen asleep because when I opened my eyes we were in an unfamiliar place. I blinked a few times; we were parked in front of a brick building that loomed gloomily overhead. It was then that I realized something. The woman at the police station, how did she know my name? I never told her.
“Where are we?” I ask with apprehension, my parents look back at me with sad expressions.
“Son, we’re at a mental institution. We’re worried about you,” my father stated flatly. My jaw fell open.
“You don’t believe me?” I asked.
“Carl, you've been missing for a week now. You showed up at a police station in this small town ranting about some camp with murderous councilors,” my mother stated. I was silent trying to process everything.
“Carl, we know what’s best for you, we love you,” they chanted in unison.