“I should have never taken up meth in high school.”
This was Karen Garner’s first thought at she disentangled her foot from a patch of weeds that somehow were both moldy and scratchy at the same time, like a moss that hooked up with a patch of poison oak at a frat party. Karen hated the outdoors, and the outdoors didn’t seem too fond of her either. She kicked her foot violently out of the moss-weed-poison pile and landed it directly into the fecal material of what, by size, could only be a dragon manatee. Delightful.
Karen did not belong up here in the wilderness. Or down here. Or wherever here. This was not her place to be, is the point. A series of ill-informed, drug infused mishaps had led her to Pine Oaks, a poorly named, ill-conceived summer camp that’s sole purpose was to instill what little testosterone it could into the yuppie youth of Connecticut. It wasn’t working. Karen’s personal charge, Masin, was as effete as ever, traipsing through the foliage in his Armani Exchange tracksuit and Air Jordans. Where the hell does a kid even get Air Jordans now? Is Michael Jordan even still alive? And was he the Looney Tunes guy or the one with the AIDS? Karen’s twenty-six years of human condition had not prepared her to follow a precocious eight year old through the backwoods of New Money Country. What it had prepared her for, though, was a lot of disappointment, and these two things appeared to be growing in similarity by the moment.
She had not always been a former drug addict. She had spent her youth as one of the gifted children in the great town of Sioux Falls, Iowa. Or South Dakota. Nobody really knew or gave a damn which state Sioux Falls actually belonged to- it was incredibly provincial either way. She had some friends and a cul-de-sac and shit, and those were all fine and dandy. Her mom was nice enough, in a large-hipped Midwestern mayonnaise balls sort of way. Her dad was fine, too, delivering mail and being known by all his neighbors and just generally being stereotypical in the most cliché way possible, with a touch of redundancy just for posterity’s sake. Sioux Falls didn’t have deep dark secrets or shady areas. She wasn’t the victim of any type of abuse or bullying. Things were just fine.
Okay, it didn’t actually suck, but it was very, very boring. Karen was on the fast track to go to the prestigious Iowa State University and study some middle management shit before settling down, procreating thrice, and getting a ranch style house with some pasty accountant who would insist they own a dog or a horse or something four-legged. Karen would have preferred an emu farm and a split-level with strange tenants.
Recognizing early into her high school experience that neither the ostriches nor the landlady gig were likely to come to fruition in Iowa, Karen started plotting her escape. Somewhere along the line, however, Karen realized that steady recreational drug use was far cheaper than a plane ticket and weekly rent, so she decided to escape into her psyche instead of off to the European places de rigor.
At first, she was just a social pothead. Growing up in an agricultural state, high quality cannabis could be found for an incredibly reasonable price. Her own attempts at cultivating marijuana had left her jaded, however; her mother, confusing it for basil, chopped and froze the weed in a tiny Tupperware container, rendering its potency abysmal at best. Karen found she was not an exemplary dope fiend, farming endeavors aside. She wanted to make things more fast-paced; the weed slowed everything down almost intolerably. While she did occasionally enjoy meditations on why she had hands and how the United States’ economic troubles could be solved with little more than a spork, she found herself more frustrated than liberated by the ganja. In addition to the depressant effect, Karen also recognized early on that her genetic makeup on her mother’s side and the munchies were not compatible and would ultimately pave the way to Stretch Pants City.
So, as every bad antidrug campaign indicated, the marijuana gatewayed itself to some other, harder habits. Karen was an equal opportunity tweaker at first. She went to parties at the “bad kids” houses, pharm parties where anything in a pill bottle was popped. Unfortunately, most of Sioux Falls’ adult population was not on anything like pain killers or even antidepressants, meaning Karen ended up pretending to be high because she had popped a Prilosec, a laxative or, one time, a Viagra.
She tried going to raves in giant barns in the middle of abandoned farmlands. It seemed like a good idea- if the ecstasy didn’t take effect, the sweaty bodies around her and blaring lights and sound would at least get her heart rate up. She had forgotten, however, that sweaty bodies have certain smells and, though her E tab with the little smiley face on it was somewhat effective, vomiting all over her dealer ensured she would not be floating like that again any time soon.
She remained optimistic. She tried heroine (although needles creeped her out), cocaine (which made her nose runny for weeks after), crack (which, while fabulous for weight loss, was a bit low class for her), and Special K (which she thought might be better for the horses than for her). She did a stint with the hallucinogenic stuff, but decided she didn’t want to have someone put her on lockdown every time she got high. She even toyed with just being an alcoholic for a while, but found out quickly that old man bars depressed the hell out of her.
Karen was about to give up hope and go back to her previously envisioned existence when a friend of her approached her with an idea- methamphetamine. At first, it sounded silly- do it yourself drugs couldn’t possibly be potent enough or worthwhile enough for the serious investment a backyard meth lab would require. A quick glimpse at the DARE website and a couple of other google searches, however, would prove quite a different story. The research all concluded that meth was not only a great cheap high for the producers, but could also turn a fabulous profit if marketed properly.
From there, it was easy street. A week’s worth of test runs with Sudafed and matchbooks gave Karen the theoretical ideal batch of Meth. Wandering around some of the less pleasant neighborhoods in neighboring rural towns, Karen set herself up to deliberately get mugged, or, well, the Iowan equivalent of getting mugged. Yes, there were some awkward conversations at the beginning (“You made this, bitch? Really? YOU made this?”), but, within three weeks of mugging and word-of-mouth, she had a steady list of clientele, all of which were willing to take the interstate an hour or so out her way for a good hit.
On top of having a hefty profit margin, a new and eclectic group of friends, and developing the fantastic life skill of owning and operating one’s own small business while still an adolescent, Karen of course taste tested each batch to make for “quality assurance”. Though, as with any habit, she built up some form of resistance, she still was high pretty much all the time. Fascinatingly enough, this made her grades tank, forcing her to apply some effort in her studies, which was actually a nice change of pace.
It would seem that everything was running smoothly. Karen had her high, her new found source of stimuli, and enough money to go pretty much anywhere she’d like. Yeah, the teeth thing kind of sucked and, eventually, she had to pony up for a set of really pricey veneers, but otherwise she was doing quite alright until the Cinco de Mayo incident.
Well, more accurately, Tres de Mayo. May Third, Joshua Klingburn walks into the lab around 5:45 PM, the ascribed time for drug orders. He informs Karen graciously that he needs “like, a shitload of meth for a fucking sweet rave I’m throwing Wednesday”. He ends up ordering 200 grams that, while not impossible, is quadruple his usual order for his clients at the local set of dormitories. This, coupled with the rush manner of the order, equals quite a lot of money for a few hours of stress. Summer wardrobe for the next eight years, to be precise. Karen wrote out his receipt for “Rock Candy” and told him to come back by Wednesday morning.
But then, she dropped the ball. We all do it. With her other orders and the fact that she had to actually study for a Spanish test as well, it just kinda slipped her mind until 11 Tuesday night. Meaning she might’ve hurried the Meth Lab process along for this particular dose. Meaning the drugs might’ve not been as high quality as her customers had grown accustomed to. Meaning Josh was pissed off at her by Wednesday afternoon.
After about twenty minutes of nonstop screaming, racial slurring, and incoherence inside the store proper, she decided something had to be done to shut him up. She took Josh into the alleyway between the farm and her lab, hoping that she could some how bribe him with sweets or drugs to just stop his speed-fed screaming. Not so much. The yelling got louder and more vitriolic and led to quite a lot of attention from neighborhood kids and some variety of domesticated wildlife. Finally, the word “cops” was yelled. Now, there are few words that really make a person lose cognitive function. Smart kids, like Karen, are wont to do anything they can to avoid physical confrontation. However, a dealer and “scientist” hopped up on incremental amounts of methamphetamine has less control over her actions; any mention of the police and, subsequently, of being ousted shorts a synapse.
She couldn’t say exactly what killed Josh. When she finally regained full comprehension of her situation, there were several gardening implements in various parts of his torso, a shovel soaked in blood near his head, and the lower portion of him was eight feet away in trough where she fed her chickens and other small birds of prey. The chickens would be pretty pissed off that she got their feed wet.
The disposal of the body wasn’t anything terrifically gruesome. She borrowed a pickup truck, wrapped the two halves in garbage bags, and drove to the nearest public compost heap. She tried to be environmentally friendly at all times.
Things were okay for a few weeks. She was a bit shaky from the whole “killing another human being” thing. She was a little nervous that someone would ask if she had seen Josh. And she had to clean up a lot of the lab and surrounding area. Overall, though, things were going smoothly. She calmed down, She wrote things in her dream journal, the world returned to normal.
Unfortunately, then things got worse again. She upped her own dosage per “taste testing session”. She forgot to pretend to study for tests, and then to actually study for tests. She tanked the PSAT. She forgot to eat sometimes, and her skin got that palor that is awesome for vampire enthusiasts and sucks for everyone else. She suffered short term memory loss and long term memory loss and all the memory losses in between. And she started having terrifying, trippy dreams, most of them somehow involving Josh.
Now, this would all be fine and well had she not also started falling asleep in public places. And the falling asleep in public places wouldn’t really be that big of a deal were it not for one pesky childhood habit- sleep talking. She might be withdrawn and sullen during her waking moments, but it turned out she was a chatty Kathy during her retinal eye movement cycles. So, somewhere in the midst of a Physics lab one day, she apparently started screaming out, to the chagrin of the conscious bodies around her, something regarding the mysterious disappearance of Josh. A brief reprimand and trip to the school psychologist’s office later, it was established that she was suffering extreme trauma from the loss of her good friend Joshua. The prescription was a biweekly meeting with a school sanctioned therapist. Also, fine. Except that this therapist favored a good deal of hypnosis in her method and, very soon, the meth lab was out of the bag.
Karen found herself faced with three choices. She could go to a juvenile detention center, losing her right to vote and get high and a bunch of other stuff too. She could agree to a reform school, where she would be indoctrinated with all kinds of “be a good citizen” bullshit. Or, she could take her profits from her business endeavor and make a run for it. Guess which option she chose.
Heading across country was, to be fair, somewhat enjoyable. She enjoyed hearing the voices morph and shift with each state to the east. She had a very brief encounter with both Cleveland and Chicago, due to some poor planning with her Greyhound tickets. She landed in Virginia prepared to start a new life with a new identity. She would call herself Coleen, dye her hair red, and earn her keep as one of the step dancers in the Ireland section of Busch Gardens. The plan was foolproof.
Well, except that it wasn’t. A couple of minor considerations were not given to her initial plot. First, Karen had olive skin and looked about as Irish as an empanada. The cheap red hair dye she bought at the Duane Reade looked more of an insult to the Emerald Isle than an homage. Added to that, Karen did not know how to Irish Step Dance. While it looked very easy during the bastardized version of Riverdance that came to Ames on tour when she was eight, it turned out there was more than just stomping and looking really, really silly to the ancient Irish war dance. Her audition turned out impressive in that the adjudicators were so disgusted at her attempts that they asked her to stay longer just to watch whatever the hell she was doing with her feet.
With the heartbreaking rejection from the theme park, along with an equally poor reception at Colonial Williamsburg (“Milk maids don’t have nose rings, and they certainly don’t reference the Butthole Surfers in their speeches”), she decided the only thing to do was head North. She hitchhiked it up the coast, sobering up out of necessity as she went- for some reason, truck drivers weren’t big fans of people tripping their ovaries off in the middle of rush hour on I-95. She stashed her cash whenever she could, eating bad food that somehow had enough nutritional value to keep her going. She made it to New Jersey, where she spent a year working as a casino waitress in Atlantic City. She performed other odd jobs and not-so odd jobs and very odd jobs, keeping herself in decent clothing and a fairly okay apartment. She was almost happy in New Jersey.
Then, of course, there was the boyfriend. There always is. Something about his magic act should have told her that he was not an emotionally suitable life partner. After he set their apartment on fire, she decided to bounce farther up the coast, make herself look a little more, erm, presentable, and find herself a stable position where he couldn’t magically show up and cause her bodily harm.
The Goldbaums were somewhat miraculous in nature, despite their rather irritating ticks and lifestyle choices. This neurotic, half WASP, half chosen people family was in dire need of a nanny for their newborn bouncing baby person. They posted their address and all the information anyone who wanted to cause them harm could possibly need on the internet. These overly trusting, new money folks were exactly what Karen needed. She dyed her hair back to not-red, bought a skirt suit, and made up a bunch of credentials and references proving how good she would be at taking care of their darling baby. They hired her, thrilled to have a sophisticated “ethnic” nanny willing to live-in and take the task of parenting off of their hands.
Karen had no idea how to take care of a baby, being an only child and all. However, it turned out it didn’t matter. She just had to keep baby Masin from dying. She successfully did that every week, and every week she received a nice paycheck and got to stay in her deluxe lodgings in the sweet Connecticut suburb where they all lived in rather nice conditions. She was good at her job, as evidenced by one not-dead child. She didn’t hate the kid either, although he wasn’t a stimulating conversationalist or particularly enjoyable travel companion.
Her least favorite part of her job, in fact, was the “adventuring” she had to do with him. It started with taking his little, already apparently gay, ass to Gymboree classes during his toddling years. She hated the moms she was surrounded by. She hated the excessively happy instructors. She hated “baby soccer”, a sadistic game in which you swung the baby’s torso at a ball.
But most of all, she hated the other kids. She hated them because she could tell Masin hated them, and he was totally right. Fucking Miska was a goddamn Russian ball hog. Zoey dressed in clashing combinations of polka dots, causing a mild epileptic fit in any onlooker. George cried at goddamn everything, and Carl licked all of the balls in the playtime fun pit. Masin thought these little shits were tacky, often grabbing at the odd bow on a girl’s shirt as if to say “Oh, darling puh-lease”. Karen found she agreed with most of Masin’s nonverbal assessments of these germ-mongers, and it made her loath to attend the biweekly snot fests.
Masin softened over time, finding that the necessity to socialize for the advancement of himself emotionally and academically outweighed his initial disgust in his fellow tots. He went to the karate-themed birthday parties. He took part in the ballet classes, valiantly partnering with Tiffany and Caroline, even though he envied their toe shoes. He starred in the class production of “George Washington and the Cherry Tree” and went to PG rated movies sanctioned by the class moms. And, when Masin was approached with the concept of summer camp in May of his eighth year, he agreed promptly. Well, promptly after being assured Karen would come to “assist “ him with day-to-day activities.
It wasn’t that they had developed a necessarily strong or prominent bond. While she was the most maternal of the adults in the Goldbaum household (which wasn’t saying much), she was not particularly nurturing or warm. She and Masin had a habitual bond more than anything. She was there all the time and she wasn’t a nuisance, so he adapted to the custom over his eight years and decided she was good to have around. By his prepubescent logic, it also figured that having a semi-attractive member of the female sex follow him everywhere would probably earn him brownie points one way or the other- either the girls would take her up as their leader and he could get some lanyard weaving partners out of the deal, or the boys would dig her and he could build up an artifice of machismo.
Either way, Karen ended up packing her shit into a duffel bag and riding an hour and a half in a bus with the other “bouncelors” (counselors who were also private babysitters) to the New England equivalent of the Pine Barrens. She made an attempt to look on the bright side of things but, as it turned out, there wasn’t any bright side. She hated the heat and the humidity and, most especially, she hated the bugs. Rolly-poleys, spiders, gnats, centipedes- they all creeped the hell out of her. Her least favorite by far, though, were mosquitoes. In her “gifted’ days, she did a large amount of research on the bloodsuckers, trying to assuage her fears through a build up of knowledge. The hours pouring over the encyclopedia, unfortunately, had the opposite effect. She learned about the weird, Amazonian way mosquitoes handled their problems. She accidentally memorized the vast array of diseases carried in a mosquito bite. She learned the largest, and the most lethal, and the most vastly populated places.
Having packed several carcinogenic bottles of bug spray, complete with DEET and whatever else it is that kills mosquitoes, Karen tried her best not to think about the bugs. She unpacked her bags, having misted her entire cabin, and did her best to focus on pretty much anything else. She tried to focus on the wonderful musical lessons the brats gave each other accompanied by an A or an E chord on a severely out of tune acoustic guitar- songs like “The littlest worm I ever saw”. She tried to focus on potholder making and bead crafting, but the kids Masin hung out with absolutely loved to make ants and ladybugs as their “Beady buddies”. She tried to focus on their amateur cooking lessons, but the kids loved putting gummy worms and gummy bugs on everything from spaghetti and hot dogs to hot fudge sundaes and s’mores.
She didn’t even try not to think about the bugs during “outdoor time”. The nature hikes, the time in the lake, the various botany and wildlife exercises were all rife with creep crawlies and nasty things. She tried the best she could to hold her lunch down, but that was about all she could do. She was miserable. On top of the visible predators, she awoke every morning, regardless of the bug spray, to many itchy bumps of varying sizes and shapes. Showering did nothing to help- the resident arachnid in the bathhouse was so prodigious and so long-standing that the campers had affectionately named him “Pepe”.
The bites she got disturbed her more than anything. It wasn’t just the sheer multitude of bites or the bizarre discoloration of skin (more purple than pink) that upset her. It wasn’t the way clear, vodka-like liquid oozed from them after she scratched at them. Somehow, it appeared to her, the bites formed patterns. A couple of weeks into the camping experience, she noticed the bites clumped together. If she squinted a little bit, the bites along her left thigh seemed to almost spell out “hello karen”.
“I should have never taken up meth in high school.” Clearly the years of drug abuse had taken their toll. She tried to forget about the odd observation in her bed, but to no effect. She staggered through the nature hike, hitting that gross moss, with her mind fluctuating between they definitely spelled out something and I am a former speed freak losing my damn mind amidst a bunch of spoiled rich white kids. The effect was maddening. She forgot to pay attention to Masin. She forgot to vaguely flirt with the counselor who ran swimming lessons and was rumored to be very good with his hands. She even forgot not to eat the organic, free-range ground tofu they shoved into the Taco Tuesday vegetarian fare. The odd bumps on her leg were so distracting that she almost forgot to be afraid of the other variety of bugs on-site.
Steve, the soccer instructor she made out with a grand total of three times thus far (each time after Steve shared his stash of contraband liquor and Belgian chocolate), jokingly cupped his hand to her ear, which contained a lightning bug. She flinched, twitched, and smacked his hand away. Steve had a shitty sense of humor. Teasingly, he grabbed her ponytail and said something to the effect of “It’s just a little bug”. She felt compelled, maybe through hysteria, maybe through desperation, to tell Steve her suspected buggy on goings. Steve, of course, responded rather positively to the phrase “Can I show you something on my leg?, assuming that she was promising a sequel to their lakeside rendezvous. He was, then, rather disappointed when she raised her skirt only midway up her thigh and pointed to a blotchy strip that ran down to her knee.
“Karen, I like you and all, but that’s gross.”
“No, but do you see anything unusual?”
“Not yet, lift that skirt up further and I can make a more accurate appraisal” he joked.
“Stop being a moron, I’m serious, look closer at the bites.”
“You are into some weird stuff, you know that, right?”
A smack on the ear and some interesting language later, Karen got Steve to actually look at the mysterious pattern on her leg. His reaction confirmed what she had feared.
“Kare, did you leave a trail of sugar water or something in that pattern? Why is it in script? And why did you decide to address yourself in third person? Why not stop at ‘hello’?”
“Steve,” she replied, irritated “why the hell would I deliberately write in a trail of bug bites down my leg? I’m not that bored here just yet. And even if I was, I would focus my mental energies sneaking drugs or selling bathroom passes to kids, not itch-arting”
Steve deliberated for a moment, half incredulous. “What are the odds that this is a real thing? I mean, that you’re not messing with me. What are the odds that bugs would write any word out, much less address you by name?”
“That’s exactly my concern. It’s weird, right? It’s not like a heart-shaped bug bite or something. It’s two full words.”
Realizing she was getting slightly frantic, Steve decided ignorance might be bliss. “We’ll put some witch hazel on it. I have some here in my backpack. It’s probably just a freak thing. Don’t worry about it.”
He retrieved a cotton ball and a bottle of clear liquid out of his bag and started to blot at her leg, laughing as she winced, more of a dimple than a furrow forming at her brow. As he moved along the freaky bug trail, he started using lighter and lighter touches, tickling her at the knee, brushing lightly at his handiwork. She giggled, and grabbed at his hand. The panic of this week’s events slowly fading, replaced with a bizarre kind of warmth. She grabbed him by the neck and forced his lips to hers, trying to thank him for the comfort, if nothing else.
He pulled away. “Not yet,” he said “I don’t want your sympathy hook up. Besides, buggy, I’m a bit scared of you now.” He rolled over onto his back and cupped his hands under his head. “Look. Right next to Orion. It’s a giant mosquito.”
Karen punched him in the arm and laid down next to him. “Yeah, and next to that? It’s an asshole. I didn’t know you had your own constellation, Steve.”
“That was a deliberate effort. It took years of forfeiting graduation presents, birthday money, bar mitzvah gifts, all to create the stellar image you see above you. The heavens have been in dire need of a rectum.”
“Bar mitzvah gifts?”
“Yes, I even pretended to be Jewish to finish my orbital vision. Imagine what my White Anglo-Saxon Protestant family said to that.”
“You’re an idiot.”
“Well, you wanted to make out with an idiot, so that makes you….. hey, what’s the antonym for ‘sapiosexual.’ “
“Sapiosexual. You know. Attracted to intelligence.”
“ ‘Female.’ Women aren’t attracted to intelligence.”
“Well, then I must be a damn sight smarter than I thought. You know, considering my track record and merphhhh…”
We may never know what “merphhhh” means. The best bet would be something along the lines of “My current train of thought has been derailed by the woman on top of me, forcing my lips to perform other functions.” What we do know is that, over the course of the rest of the night, there was quite a bit of “merphhhh”-ing. Karen and Steve spent the night under the stars, sans chocolate or imitation scotch, looking at the stars and enjoying each other’s company.
When Karen came to, her first thought was that it was incredibly nice to have an arm draped around her again, after a mighty long time of working in childcare with few relationships of any substance and none involving a sleepover.
Her second thought was that she did not remember Steve’s arms as being so scrawny or wrinkled. Obviously, in the midst of a tender, passionate embrace, one does not analyze the nuances of the other person’s limbs. However, at some point, she could have sworn she would have noticed the shriveled up way his arms hung, kind of limp, almost lifeless.
Her third thought was something along the lines of Oh my fecking God, followed by an adrenaline rush, followed by her blacking out.
She had awoken to a shriveled corpse lying next to her. It might have once been Steve, but now was Steve jerky. All of the liquid seemed to be sucked out of him. Not knowing what to do or what had caused it, she walked, numbly, back to the main campgrounds. She headed to the mess hall, deciding she would assist with the breakfast burritos. Everything was gray. Everything was surreal.
She scratched at her arm. The bumps, she had assumed, were trauma-induced hives. She felt a prick of blood and decided, having scratched too hard, to examine the bumps. In the same cursive that had appeared on her thigh, she saw “I have been waiting for you.” She checked her leg and found that, in the place of the first message was a tiny bit of scar tissue, seemingly shaped like a mosquito.
She bit her lip to keep from crying. She was going insane. None of this was real. She didn’t spend the night with Steve, she didn’t go on a hike the previous day, this was all an effect of chemical withdrawal. Too much fresh air, not enough beer. Her mind was playing tricks on her. She finished wrapping up the egg-tortilla mixtures wordlessly, ignoring the other counselors, and headed into the showers. She scrubbed at her arm until it bled, hoping to remove the very thought of sentient writing. None of this was real.
She went back to her cabin and dug around for her daily schedule. Masin’s group was due to do arts and crafts for most of the day. Fine by her. Meeting her group back at the mess hall, she grabbed her charge by the collar, playfully, and tried to act like everything was okay.
“Hey, buddy. How’s it going?”
“Karen! Hi hi hi! Where were you last night? I wanted to show you the dance Tina and I made up, but you were gone. I missed you.”
Guiltily, Karen thought up an excuse. She might not be crazy about the kid, but she didn’t want to break it to him that she ditched him for a quickie. Or, more likely, that she imagined a quickie and was going insane.
“I felt sick, dude. Some weird bug bites got me down. I’m all better now, though.”
“I didn’t get ANY bug bites. You can check if you want. Itch-free, that’s me!”
“That’s great, buddy. Good on you. What’re we gonna make in arts and crafts today?”
“Let’s weave stuff! I wanna weave.”
They spent the day weaving all kinds of weird yarn tapestries. Both remained silent, working intently on their craft. Karen kept trying to push the dreamscape of last night into the back of her mind, or at least to stifle it for Masin’s sake. She managed the latter, with middling success. They continued their weaving after the arts and crafts team had left, after the lunch bell had rung, well into the afternoon. Finally, a very sleep Masin declared that he needed a snack and a nap. Karen was able to hunt down a PB&J. She took their latest work, something akin to a blanket, off the loom. She grabbed Masin by the hand and walked him over to his cabin.
“Nobody else is in there, Karen”
“Well, yeah, buddy, they’re all gonna go to dinner soon.”
“Who’s gonna keep the monsters away? Phil usually does that, because he smells bad and the monsters don’t like bad smells.”
“There aren’t any monsters, buddy.”
“Masin, the blanket smells bad, okay? It’ll keep away anything that could scare you. Okay?”
“Good idea, Karen. Okay!”
With that, Masin skipped up onto his bed and promptly feel asleep. Karen walked out of the cabin only to feel the numbness and horror of the previous evening resurge in her veins. She scratched at her back. Then, with horror, she realized she was scratching again. She ran to the showers, took off her shirt, and turned to the mirrors. The distorted image, “uoy rof gnimoc ma I” was legible enough. Something was seriously wrong. Someone was after her. She needed to get Masin and get out of there.
She threw her shirt back on, ran to her cabin, and started throwing things in her duffle bag. She had about $300 she stashed in her bag for random odds and ends she might want to grab. It was more than enough to catch a cab somewhere close to home. She sprinted to Masin’s cabin. He’d like it, it’d be like a nature walk. She knocked on the door.
“Masin? Buddy? Hey, time to wake up, we’re going on an adventure.”
She pressed her ear to the door, waiting for the mumbles and other odd noises that usually came out of the kid upon waking. Nothing. She tried again, a little louder.
“Hey, Masin? Hey, you’re always telling me naps are for babies. Stop being a baby, wake up.”
Nothing. This was stupid. He’s eight years old, he doesn’t need privacy. Just grab the kid and run.
She turned the door knob pushed the door open. The cabin was silent, save for the buzzing of some bugs. Masin would be on one of the top bunks. She checked the set of blankets to find an empty bed. Same to the second. She walked over to the furthermost bunk, hoping to also find it empty. He must have woke up and grabbed some dinner. She flipped the covers and promptly threw up.
Underneath the newly woven blanket was the same kind of shriveled up body she had awoken to that morning. The tiny, skeletal figure was unmistakably once Masin. What the hell was going on?
She didn’t wait around to find out. She didn’t even clean up the puke. She didn’t grab her duffle bag. She just ran. The camp was three miles from the interstate. She’d hitchhiked once, she could easily do it again.
Her lungs were on fire. Her feet couldn’t move fast enough to match the pace in her brain. She needed to get out. Time stood still as she sprinted out off the Pine Oak grounds and towards civilization. This will all be over soon. She would check herself in to the nearest rehab, get her head clear, start over. Everything would be okay, she just needed to detox properly. This was going to end fine.
As her sneakers hit asphalt, she let out a sigh of relief. She was out of there, the worst was over. She just needed to find a truck or something. She would say she was abused, that she was in trouble, anything. She was great at making up lines. She started walking South. She was getting some help.
About three hours later, exhausted and worn from too many adrenaline rushes in a 24-hour period, she was near collapse. That’s when the SUV passed her. New York plates. She flagged him down. The driver side was cloudy, which made sense- she hadn’t eaten or slept, she could barely see 2 feet in front of her. The car stopped, and she jumped in. She looked over at what appeared to be a man all in black.
“Hey, thanks. I’m heading down to New York. Gonna try to get myself cleaned up. I don’t want you to go out of your way. Just take me as far as you can.”
She heard a faint buzzing. She still couldn’t make out the driver. He hit the break and turned slowly to her.
“Karen Garner. You are mine. I have been waiting to find you. You will do great work for me.”
Sitting in the driver seat of the SUV was the figure of a man, covered in mosquitoes. The buzzing grew louder as the mosquitoes, under his control, swarmed off him slightly to gesture to her.
“Now, Karen, come here. I must pass on to you the sacred kiss.”
Karen tried to scream, and then everything went black.