by Artemis Greenleaf
Had a camping weekend, so I wrote a flash fiction piece…
“Alright, campers,” Counselor River said, “we’re going on a special night hike this evening. The Perseid Meteor showers are peaking tonight, so we’ll take a walk up to Stoneheart Hill after dinner. Counselors Morgan and Pat will have telescopes set up to we can get a good view. Be sure to bring your bug spray.”
“Cool!” Sam said.
“I just wish they’d let us go to bed,” Ryder replied. “I did most of the rowing when we went canoeing, and my arms are killing me.”
“This has got to be more interesting than sitting around in the woods listening to owls hoot like we did last week,” Sage added.
* * *
The campfire-roasted hot dog and Dutch oven cobbler dinner came and went. Campfire songs, while they waited for it to get dark, were sung and faded into sunset. Finally, Counselor River led the campers, armed with bug spray and flashlights, toward Stoneheart Hill. Counselor Bailey brought up the rear.
The hill was actually the exposed top of a granite dome. Dirt and grass mostly covered the sides, offering a long, gentle slope to the summit. However, there was a section, perhaps as much as a third of the dome, that was bare rock and ended in a drop of about twenty feet straight over the edge. The camp used this cliff face to teach rock climbing skills, and there was a large pavilion with shaded picnic tables, storage for gear, and a small stage for educational presentations near the bottom of the cliff. There was also a handwashing station and a latrine near the trail.
Stoneheart Hill offered the best view on the property – the topsoil was too thin for any trees to grow on it, and it rose above all but the tallest ones nearby. It would have been a great place for a signal fire, if not for the inconvenience of having to hoist the firewood up the sheer cliff face or pack it up from the far side of the trail. The stars brightened as the daylight faded and faint streaks and flashes just above the horizon soon had the campers happy and eager to reach the telescopes.
Something dark hulked just off the path.
“I’ve heard that latrine is haunted,” Sam whispered. “By the ghost of a camper who fell off of Stoneheart and died.”
“Really?” Ryder asked.
“Don’t be dumb,” Sage grumbled. “There’s no such thing as ghosts. It’s just camp lore made up to scare noobs.”
They continued in silence up the long trail to the top of Stoneheart. When they reached the summit, they found Counselors Morgan and Pat, who had set up five telescopes for them. Each camper got several six-minute turns, and they rotated through the short lines.
After about an hour and a half, Sam said, “Wow! That one’s huge!”
Counselor Pat looked up. “Almost looks like it’s coming this way.”
“It is coming this way!” Ryder shouted.
The meteor got bigger, and the glow gradually changed from white to yellow.
“We have to get off this hill!” Counselor Morgan yelled.
“To me! To me!” called Counselor River.
The other counselors wrangled the campers into line as the meteor glow changed from yellow to orange. The group started quickly down the hill, with Counselor Bailey bringing up the rear. They sheltered against the rocky cliff face, waiting for the meteor to pass. The red glow reflected off the metal roof of the pavilion as it neared. The sonic boom that followed it shook small rocks and dirt off the edge of Stoneheart and rained them down on the campers. They barely heard the whistling sound before the glowing rock crashed into the earth just in front of the latrines. It was so hot it melted its way into the native rock and very nearly disappeared below the surface of the impact crater.
“Cool! Let’s go see!” yelled Sam.
“No!” said Counselor River. “It might be dangerous.”
“How?” asked Ryder.
“Well, it is extremely hot. I can feel it all the way over here,” said Counselor Pat.
“And it could be radioactive,” added Counselor Morgan.
“If it’s radioactive, we’re already dead,” said Sage.
The campers could hear the crackling of the meteor as it started to cool. But then they noticed another sound…like a teakettle or a pot of hot water.
“It must be boiling the liquid in the latrine,” gasped Counselor River.
“It’s going to blow!” yelled Counselor Pat.
Three of the four latrine house doors popped open, and an awful geyser welled out of each squat hole. A terrible howling came from the fourth door. The campers and counselors alike froze in terror. Slowly, the door opened. A tall bipedal creature with dark, slimy skin raised its arms and stepped out of the latrine, toward the campers. “Aaauugh!” it groaned.
“It’s the ghost!” screamed Sam.
“It’s an alien!” yelled Riley.
“Run!” shouted the counselors.
Only Sage noticed that Counselor Bailey wasn’t bringing up the rear.