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Lisa Clark O’Neill
Lisa Clark O’Neill
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That was the singular thought floating in twelve-year-old Tate Hennessey’s head as she watched the empty Coke bottle spin on the cabin’s plank floor. The tinted glass blurred, executing revolution after revolution, finally slowing to a drunken and uneasy rest.
Its open mouth pointed at her.
For one perilous moment the only sounds in the musty dark were the mechanical whirr of the ceiling fan and the rasp of her uneven breathing. Up to this point she’d been lucky, as for the past fifteen minutes of this dumb game no one had any reason to pay her any attention.
Looks like her luck had just run out.
“You know what that means, don’t you Tate?”
The nasty, sing-song voice belonged to Lacy Chapman, a viciously perky blonde who’d already developed breasts. Real breasts, the kind that required an actual bra as opposed to one of those training jobs Tate’s mother was always trying to push on her. Lacy’s boobs apparently bypassed training entirely, heading straight to the Major Leagues. Rumor had it she’d let one of the boys from the other side of camp touch them. Tate wasn’t sure if that was true, but she knew for a fact that Lacy was trouble. Her angelic looks belied a bully who liked nothing better than to make other people squirm.
And Tate was currently on the skewer.
Swallowing hard, she studiously avoided the five pairs of eyes which pinned her like an insect awaiting dissection. It was decision time, and she didn’t much care for her choices. “Truth,” she finally mumbled, not about to accept a dare. Since there were no boys around with whom to play spin-the-bottle the traditional way, they’d merged the two games to make it interesting.
“Okay.” Lacy delighted in Tate’s discomfort. She’d made it her mission over the past five days to make sure Tate was alternately ridiculed or excluded. The only reason she’d been invited to play the game tonight was that Lacy knew it would prove a goldmine of embarrassment potential. “What I want to know is… do you have a thing for Lifeguard John?”
Every bit of summer color drained from Tate’s face as all eyes present snapped toward her. She’d been prepared to answer almost anything, but her mammoth crush on Lifeguard John – the hunky eighteen year old counselor – was her deepest, darkest secret. How had Lacy managed to figure it out?
Certain that she was stepping into a very carefully laid trap, Tate took the path of least resistance. She lied.
Several muffled giggles followed someone’s curse of disbelief, causing Tate’s green eyes to widen. If she’d said that word, right out loud, her mother would have cleaned her clock.
“Then how do you explain this?” Lacy held up the Polaroid of Lifeguard John that Tate had hidden in the bushes outside the counselors’ cabin to take. Until that horrifying moment, it had been stashed beneath the mattress on her bunk.
“Give that back!” Tate lunged across the circle of snickering girls.
“Ah, ah, ah.” Lacy’s push sent Tate sprawling backwards onto her butt. A splinter lodged itself in the heel of her palm, but the sting of humiliation was more painful. “Would someone care to remind Tate what happens when you break the game rules?”
“She has to accept a dare,” several voices rang out.
Lacy smiled as panic rearranged Tate’s features. “And I know the perfect one for our little liar. Since Tate is the one who cost us the swimming trophy today, I dare her to go over to the boys’ camp and get it back.”
The ultimatum swung through the air like an executioner’s axe. The best way to reach the boy’s camp was by way of a walking trail through the forest.
The dark, creepy forest.
Not only was the dare cruel, it was also unfair. It really hadn’t been her fault that they’d lost the competition. Beforehand, a boy named Timothy had told her stories about the monster of Lake Allatoona, and then swam underwater during the heat of the race to lay hold to her ankle. Panicking, Tate had floundered, causing Lifeguard John to dive to her rescue. But a little thing like the truth didn’t matter to Lacy. Several girls snickered behind their fingers, and Tate knew she was sunk. It was either suck it up and walk through the dark, or spend the rest of her time here in misery.
Confronting the narrowed eyes staring back at her, Tate swallowed her rising fear. “No problem.” But when she started toward her flashlight, Lacy’s hand snaked around her ankle.
“No flashlight.” Her tone was sweet, but her nails bit into Tate’s skin. “If the boys see it, they might know that you’re coming.”
Jerking her ankle away from Lacy’s grip, Tate stalked out the door.
Fluorescent light winked between the vents of the cinderblock bathhouse, but the shadowy path through the trees looked like the gaping maw of Hell. Shuddering, Tate picked her way a little deeper into the darkness, the ground mist swirling around her ankles reminding her of every monster movie she’d ever seen. Crickets sang their dirge to evening, woodland debris crackled beneath her sneakered feet, and something rustled in the underbrush beside the almost imperceptible path.
Tate jumped, a loud splash off to the right reminding her that the path followed the edge of the lake. Visions of the monster the scheming Timothy had tricked her with crowded her overactive imagination, but she valiantly told herself that there was nothing but fish in the lake.
Moonlight shimmered, giving the murky, brownish water an eerie glow, as