It’s been a while since my last blog post and I apologize for that, my dear readers. There’s just a lot going on with Paper Crane Books at the moment, so I’ve been doing press stuff. But let’s not dwell on that! Today is Sunday and that means books! It’s been a while since my last book feature and an author has kindly volunteered to be featured today so that my blog doesn’t die. (Thank you, L.M~!)
Synopsis: It’s the late 1940’s, in a small English province. Young Carol has the perfect family, an imaginative, adventurous life…. Things suddenly all change when Carol begins hearing and seeing things.
Foreboding sounds, creeping shadows, fill her room at night. Are they simply sounds of a house–and herself–settling in for the night? Or are they stirrings of a terrible fright? When Carol moves to America, she finds the strangeness she thought she’d left behind has instead followed her.
This can’t be all in her mind!
Follow Carol’s search through the depths of reality and fantasy; as she struggles to uncover the shocking source of a shadowy, sinister fear that follows her… How far will you go with Carol to uncover the truth?
Read more to read the first chapter~!
Stomping her feet on the doormat and brushing the dirt off of her pants, Carol twisted around to survey herself.
“There, I think that’s pretty good,” she commented to herself, while feeling satisfied that she had done all that she could not to track dirt into the house.
Carol was through the front door and approaching the living room, as her father was trying to convince her mother of something.
“It would be fun. There are going to be other families and lots of other children there too,” he offered, using his best pleading voice.
Becoming very excited with the possibility of going on a trip somewhere, anywhere, Carol bounded into the living room and came to a halt, just short of where her father was sitting.
“Where are we going? I want to go!” Carol burst out.
“You don’t even know where it is that you want to go, Little One,” Mom replied coyly.
“It doesn’t matter, Mom. I heard the words fun and lots of children to play with. That’s all I need to know!” Carol almost shouted.
“Since it’s a company camping trip, it’s all paid for, and you’ll know most of the people there.” he continued to explain.
Carol’s imagination wasted no time in coming up with guesses on where they might be going. Carol waited while her mother playfully tortured them by making them wait for her answer.
“Well… alright. I don’t see much harm in going,” she finally relented.
Not wanting to waste any time, Carol raced off to her room to start packing.
The next weekend, with the car all packed, it was time to head out for their first camping trip.
“This is going to be a grand adventure!” Carol declared, as she climbed into the back seat.
Pulling into the campsite parking lot, Carol bolted out of the car and began marveling at all the different sights and sounds to explore, not to mention the sweet smell of pine trees coming from everywhere. The trees stood so tall against the sky and the breeze was cooler than back home, but it felt so good. Stopping for a moment to close her eyes against the sun, Carol took in a deep breath and wondered, Why couldn’t we live here?
With all of their things unloaded from the car, everyone carried what they could to the campsite.
“I will have this up in a jiffy. I have pitched my fair share of tents in my day. I will see you up at the end of this trail, at campsite number three,” her dad stated matter-of-factly.
Stopping to close the trunk, Carol followed her mother up the trail. At first, Carol walked closely behind her while trying to look into the trees, to see if she might be able to spot any deer or even a bear!
Knowing they would be cooking hotdogs later, Carol scanned the trail for the perfect stick. Spotting one, she stopped for a second to stoop down and pick up a long stick. Seeing that she was falling behind, Carol hurried to catch back up.
“What do you have there?” her mother queried.
“This is my hot dog stick, Mom. Isn’t it a beauty?” Carol asked, while holding the stick up.
“Don’t the tents look grand?” Carol asked, as they came into view. “Which one is ours?”
“Your dad said ours was number three.”
As they walked past a few campsites, they both read the numbers aloud, “seven, six, five.”
“Here, Mom, our tent is over here. And what a great job Dad did of putting the tent up, too,” Carol called out in a triumphant voice, at having been the first one to spot the site.
After everything had been put away, everyone attending the company camping trip gathered down at the fire-pit shortly before sunset. Carol sat examining the stick that she had found for roasting hotdogs, when her attention was drawn away by the sound of people laughing and having fun.
“You know, Little Lady, I think I can hear people out by the water. I wonder if someone should go check and see if that’s where your father has gone off to,” Carol’s mother wondered aloud.
“I’ll do it!” Carol almost yelled.
Laughing softly at how animated her daughter could be at times, Carol’s mother sent her to look for her father. “I think it would be okay, for you to go ahead and play with the other children at the water’s edge, as long as you are down there anyway,” her mother added.
After a full afternoon of unpacking and playing, it was time to come back to the campsite to get ready for dinner, which was to be followed by campfire stories.
Arriving back at the campsites, the adults, and children, who had gone into the lake earlier, quickly changed into some drier and warmer clothes, before returning to the shoreline to watch the sunset with their co-workers and their families attending the company camping trip, before dinner.
Carol watched in silence, as the sun slowly melted into the water. Oh, the colors were magnificent! The sky was filled with oranges and reds, causing the clouds that hung in the sky to look like softly spun cotton candy with their pink and blue tones. The setting sun cast ribbons of what looked like molten gold and silver gliding on the gently rippling water.
With only a little light remaining, everyone headed over to sit near the fire. Settling in, Carol sat staring into the flames, as they wickedly flickered and danced in the light breeze, as if they were alive.
Glancing to the man sitting next to her, Carol couldn’t help wondering, With a nose as big as that, can he smell things better than other people can?
Carol’s attention was taken away from staring at his nose, when he leaned over towards her and softly asked, “Did you know that some people say that if you stare into the flames of a fire long enough, you can hypnotize yourself?”
Carol’s stare went from his nose to his eyes. They were the strangest looking eyes she had ever seen. They were large and unusually close together. The round wire rimmed glasses he wore made them look even larger than they actually were.
“No, I did not know that,” Carol replied, while trying hard not to continue staring at him.
“Okay, may I have your attention,” a short, round bald man declared, as he stood up in front of the fire. “I want to thank all of you. Without the dedication of our sales team, Little Lake Bass and Hunting Shop would not be what it is today.”
Everyone sitting around the campfire clapped and cheered, as their employer took a bow.
“Okay, as those of you who have been on camping trips with us before already know…” he then paused briefly, “We have a tradition of seeing who can tell the scariest campfire story, and as usual, there will be a cash bonus going to the winner.”
Carol found herself startled, when a tall slender man who had been sitting near a pile of firewood jumped up without warning.
“Prepare to be terrified, like you have never been terrified before in your lives!” he boasted.
Taking up a flashlight and drawing it up close under his chin, he used the light to cast an eerie glow across his face.
Carol couldn’t help thinking how he looked like a Daddy Long Legs Spider, as he crouched and crept around in the firelight. The flashlight made his eyes look sunken into his face, almost as if they weren’t even there. Except for when the light would catch them just right, then, and only then, could you see tiny sparks where the eyes should have been.
His tale was about others that had gone camping, and were never to be heard from again. He went on to explain how one at a time, the campers all disappeared. When one of them would leave to collect firewood or go for a walk down by the lake, it would be the last time anyone would see them. As he continued, the gruffness in his voice helped to add a sinister feel to the story, which hung in the air like a thick grey mist.
Carol watched him, as he walked, methodically from one side of the fire-pit to the other. His slow deliberate movements began to have an almost hypnotic effect on the rest of the group as they watched his every move, and listened to his every word. He talked about how the other campers, tried to stay together in groups, but even this did not help. Each morning, when they would wake-up, there would be someone else missing. Finally, there was no one left. No trace was found of the missing people. No tracks. No clues. Nothing at all.
As the storyteller made his way to the other side of the fire-pit, Carol whispered to her mother, “If no one was left, then how does he know what happened?”
Looking down at her daughter with the oddest expression, “Oh, you are a silly little one. It’s only a story. It didn’t really happen,” her mother replied.
“Oh, I knew that. I was testing you to see if you believed it or not.”
Reaching over and patting the top of her daughter’s head, she then turned her attention back to listening to the rest of the story.
After the man finished his story, five others stood to take their turn at telling the scariest or best story, in hopes of winning the cash prize.
As each storyteller made his or her way around to the far side of the fire-pit and was out of earshot, Carol would stare into the flames or look at the faces of the people sitting around the fire. They too were lit up with the same unnatural glow as the flashlight cast on the faces of the storytellers. None, however, looked quite as scary to her as the tall thin spider man who had jumped up to present the first story of the night.
As Carol sat between her parents, clutching their arms, she could not help wondering if the stories were scaring anyone else or if she was the only one who was frightened.
“Alright!” yelled their boss, as he stood up in almost a rolling motion.
A chorus of “AH, E-E-E, OH,” shattered the calm of the night air. Most of the people had been startled by the sudden outburst, as their attention was drawn back to the center of the fire-pit, instead of looking for anything that might be lurking in the trees or bushes behind them, just out of the reach of the fire light.
Seeing that he had succeeded in getting everyone’s attention, he asked with a hardy laugh, “I didn’t scare you all, did I?” Even though the entire group, all at once reassured him that he had not, he knew that he had.
“Alright, it is…” he paused for a moment to look at his watch, as if to make sure of the time, “nearly midnight; the witching hour. Therefore, for safety’s sake, we’ll call it a night and continue tomorrow night. This way, you can all get safely tucked away in your tents before witches, demons, and the really scary things come out, looking for unsuspecting campers to carry off!”
While some of the campers gathered their things, to make their way back to their campsites for the night, others continued to talk amongst themselves about the different stories told, comparing which story they thought had been the best so far. Many of them really liked the tension that was added with the way their boss had dispatched his employees and their families to their campsites.
Peering into the darkness all around, Carol turned to her mother and tugged on her shirtsleeve. “Witches and demons, Mom! Really? Witches? What does he mean scarier things are waiting to come get us? I’m not scared, you know. I’m just making sure you and Dad are okay. That’s all.”
Pausing for a moment, Carol’s mother looked out into the still night surrounding them. “He was just trying to scare you, and it looks like it worked. There really isn’t anything to be afraid of out there. Remember, these were only stories,” she added.
Somehow, she didn’t quite sound as if she believed what she was saying, so Carol did not feel particularly reassured that there was not really anything out there.
Waking up the next morning, Carol was sure to check on the other campers who had come on the company camping trip with them. This was not hard to do, since their group, only took up eleven campsites in all. Carol was deeply relieved to see that no one had gone missing during the night.
That evening, after dinner, Carol and her parents joined the other campers around the fire-pit for roasting marshmallows and the continuation of the campfire stories.
While letting her thoughts wander off, it occurred to Carol that she had not mentioned to her mom and dad, that earlier she had seen a creepy little man, a short way off in the distance. Oddly, she couldn’t help but wonder who he was or where he had come from. She was not quite able to see his face. He kept his head down and wore a wide brimmed hat. Even though it was very warm out during the day, he wore a pair of tattered black gloves and a long black coat. Carol guessed he must not have been able to walk especially well, as she watched him walking hunched over and clutching the top of a strange looking crooked stick that he used as a cane.
Carol’s attention was snapped back to the present, as the first of the campers took his place in the center of the group near the fire, to begin his story for the night. This story started out like most of the stories that were told the night before. The next storyteller, however, had one significant difference. The previous stories were all about things hiding in the woods or near some cabins, but this one was about a lake creature.
After announcing what his story was about, he paused for a moment. Without saying another word, he slowly raised his arm and pointed his finger. As all eyes followed the direction he was pointing, they all became frightfully aware of the close vicinity of the lake to where they were currently sitting.
Carol was sitting on the lakeside of the fire-pit with a couple of new camping friends, when suddenly; she shuddered. She was sure she felt the icy fingers of the lake monster slithering up her back. Not wanting her back to the lake, Carol quickly rose and made her way over to where her parents were sitting. Nestling between them on the other side of the fire-pit, she was surprised to see that she was not the only one to get up and move to the other side of the campfire.
Satisfied that his theatrics had set the appropriate mood for his story, the storyteller dropped his arm back down to his side and began his tale.
“Sunlight or the bright light put off by a fire, are the only things that can hurt it. Because of this, it always waits for the cover of darkness, where it hides and watches for the campers to get too far away from the light of the fire.”
He continued to tiptoe around the fire-pit, as he told his story. With all eye’s riveted on his every move, he crouched down and acted as if he were trying to hide from the creature that he spoke of.
“The lake creature would ooze and slither out of the water, silently with cold, wet slime dripping off of its body,” he uttered in a deep and sinister voice.
At this point in the story, Carol found herself looking toward the shoreline for anything oozing out of the water, rather than at the man telling the story.
“You always knew when the creature was near. The ground you walked on felt cold and damp to the touch,” he whispered. Then shuddering, he drew in a ragged breath, as he pretended to be scared half to death himself.
Carol had been sitting between her parents with her legs pulled in close to her, while balancing her feet on the log seat. There was not much room, so after a while Carol was forced to unwrap herself and place her feet back down on the ground.
“E-E-E-E-E-E!” followed by “O-O-O-O-H-H-H, A-W-W-W!” filled the air, as her startled scream created a chain reaction, causing most of the other campers to scream as well.
Having taken off her shoes and socks, Carol’s feet had touched something cold and wet on the ground, and while trying to get away from whatever was down there, she had almost tumbled the three of them, backwards over the log seat. Gathering her wits about her, Carol noticed that she had tipped over her mom’s cold soda, and that’s what she had stepped in.
After everyone had calmed back down, the storyteller gave a wry smile, almost as if he had expected someone to scream. He then continued with his story. “The creature would move ever closer to the unsuspecting campers. As it neared the camp, it would pause while watching and waiting for one of them to wander over too close to the bushes, away from the reach of the campfire light.”
“You’re not still scared, are you?” Carol’s father asked.
Looking up at him, Carol boldly answered “Oh, no,” as she continued to creep closer to the firelight. “I’m just trying to stay warm.”
The man continued, “The campers could hear the rustling of the leaves and the snapping of the occasional twig, as the creature made its way closer and closer to them.”
Carol was feeling terribly nervous now. She just knew that she could hear the creature he spoke of, moving around in the bushes, behind them. The hairs on her arms stood on end, as her skin tingled with fear. Carol was also sure that she could feel the lake creature’s slimy fingers slither up her spine and over the top of her head, then back down into the pit of her stomach.
The man, as he told his story, kept creeping closer to Carol and her parents. He began speaking in an even lower tone as he continued walking slowly around, staring at everyone one by one.
As he worked his way nearer, Carol couldn’t help wanting to get closer to her parents, even though they were not sitting as close to the fire as she would have liked. Moving back to sit between them, Carol held tightly onto their arms.
The storyteller’s voice had become even quieter and grave sounding. “Closer and closer it would come…” he almost whispered, as he circled back around one more time to where Carol was sitting. Then, without warning, he leaped toward her yelling, “AND THERE IT IS, BEHIND YOU!”
The resulting response, from Carol and the others that were sitting near her, resembled someone setting off a chain reaction by knocking over the first domino in a carefully laid out display. The screaming cascaded around the fire-pit area, leaving no voice unheard. Some people sat clutching at the person next to them, while drawing their feet up off the ground. Others jumped up and stood wildly shaking their hands in the air, while stamping their feet, on the ground in front of them.
After calming back down, everyone, including Carol, sat and laughed a nervous, hollow laugh. Carol didn’t know about anyone else, but she did not feel very funny right now.
They all watched, as the owner of the company stood up and walked to the center of the circle. After clearing his throat, he went on to say, “Well, I must say, I think this may be, at least for me, my favorite story told thus far. However, to keep things fair, we will leave the decision of who the true winner is, up to whoever gets the most votes at the end of our story telling tomorrow night.”
Carol tried to act as if she didn’t honestly believe any of the stories each person had told for the night were true. Still, she was surer now more than ever that she could hear the creatures that they spoke of walking around in the woods, as everyone returned to their tents.
Looking toward the lake, Carol had to wonder if the ripples she saw in the water were caused by the lake creature waiting to pull one of them into the murky depths.
Even though the stories told each night did tend to scare Carol, she was not about to admit it to anyone. Oddly enough, she still looked forward to the telling of the next tale of terror.