Authors: Richard Matheson
Copyright © 2001 by Richard Matheson
Cover art to the electronic edition copyright © 2011 by RosettaBooks, LLC
All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the publisher or the author.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locations or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Electronic edition published 2011 by RosettaBooks LLC, New York.
ISBN e-Pub edition: 9780795315763
To my father,
but always remembered
When I was 17, I worked as a counselor in camp in the Pocono Mountains. I used much of the experience as background for this novel.
The train wheezed into Emmetsville at nine-sixteen that Saturday night.
“You win.” Bob handed me a dime. “I thought we’d have to get out and push.”
Bob and Mack and I dragged our suitcases off the overhead racks and lugged them down the aisle. “Emmetsville! End of the line!” the conductor’s voice came drifting down from the next car. “You’re telling me,” Bob muttered.
Our shoes crunched across the gravel as we headed for the station waiting room. It was getting chilly out and I could feel the night air through the thinness of my jacket.
“Listen to that engine,” Bob said. “Sounds like an old lady after a hundred yard dash. I’m surprised we ever got here.”
“We’re here, ain’t we?” Mack said.
“Yowza,” Bob said. “Yowza, Mack boy.”
The waiting room was small and smelled of rotting wood and disinfectant. Bob and I put down our luggage and stood waiting while Mack went over to the ticket window and asked the man how we got to Camp Pleasant.
“There’s no bus,” he said when he came back.
“What about taxis?” I asked.
“No taxis either.”
“Fine,” Bob said. “What do we do—walk?”
Mack gave him a withering look. “You can walk if you wanna,” he said, “I’m ridin’.”
“What are you gonna ride, your suitcase?” Bob asked.
“Wait and see, jerk,” Mack answered.
We picked up our luggage and followed him out onto the street. He turned left and started walking along the sidewalk as if he wasn’t carrying two heavy suitcases.
“What’s muscle-head up to now?” Bob wondered.
“Wait and see, jerk,” I imitated Mack’s guttural voice.
Halfway down the block there was a drugstore which Mack went into. We followed him and put down our luggage again. Mack was thumbing slowly through the telephone book as we walked over to him.
“Who you gonna call, the Red Cross?” Bob asked.
“Stop shootin’ off your mouth and you’ll see,” Mack said.
He didn’t find what he was looking for though and a confused look crossed his face.
“Are you trying to find the camp’s number?” I asked him.
“Yeah, but it’s not here.”
“The camp’s probably in another county,” I said. “Why don’t you call information?”
“That’s right,” Mack said, nodding. He glanced at Bob. “Why don’t you use your brains like Matt?”
“I yust come over on the ferryboat,” Bob told him.
boat,” Mack said, reaching into his pocket for change.
Bob and I went over to the fountain for coffee while we waited.
“That guy kills me,” Bob said. “If you go in for anything besides sports and screwing, Mack thinks you’re queer.”
I shrugged. “Don’t let it bother you,” I said.
“Yowza,” Bob said and the girl brought us our coffee.
The truck groaned to a halt in front of the drugstore and a short, well- built man, about thirty, got out of the cab. He was wearing blue denims and had a tan corduroy jacket over his sweat shirt. There were sneakers on his feet, a dark baseball cap on his head.
“Hi, fellas,” he said, sticking out his hand. “I’m Sid Goldberg, head of the Senior Division.”
We shook hands.
“You’re in my division, Harper,” he told me. “Cabin thirteen.”
I nodded and smiled. “Swell.”
We put our luggage on the back of the truck and Mack got into the cab.
“Good old Mack,” Bob said as we climbed up on the truck. “Always in there.”
“We’d better sit behind the cab,” I said. “It’s liable to be a little windy.” We sat down on our upright suitcases.
“All set?” Sid Goldberg called and we called back that we were.
The motor coughed into life and we felt that truck jolt under us as it picked up speed. Immediately, a cold wind rushed down over us, ruffling our hair, penetrating our jackets.
“What makes you think it’s going to be windy?” Bob asked, his face lost behind wind-flying hair.
“Just a suspicion,” I answered.
We had to bend over at the waist to keep the direct blast off our heads. We crossed our arms and tried to keep warm, at the same time trying to keep the suitcases steady.
“This is the life!” Bob said. “A leisurely summer in the country!”
Sid Goldberg kept driving faster and faster. By the time we were out of town, the truck was doing seventy, roaring and rocking along the dark country road. Bob and I kept losing balance and falling against each other.
” Bob shouted. “This guy must have learned to drive on the Indianapolis Speedway!”
His suitcase fell over suddenly and he went flopping on the floor of the truck. Over the whistling rush of wind I heard his cursing and watched him lunge at his suitcase which was sliding away from him.
“What a way to start the summer!” he shouted when he was back beside me but I couldn’t answer because I was laughing too hard.
“That’s right, laugh, you bastard!” he screamed. “I could’ve broken my neck!”
In a minute, freezing, rocking, blinded by blowing hair, he was laughing as hard as I was.
The truck rolled down the pebble-strewn path into Camp Pleasant, low- hanging branches brushing and scraping across the cab roof and swishing over our heads.
“There,” I said, “that wasn’t so bad, was it?”
“I hope the dispensary’s open,” Bob answered. “My can is fractured.”
Sid Goldberg braked the truck in front of a large, dark building.
“The dining hall,” Bob muttered as we both stood. We handed the luggage to Sid Goldberg and Mack, then jumped down onto the ground.
“Ooh, my legs,” Bob said.
“S’matter, boys, have a rough ride?” Mack asked blandly.
“You bastard,” Bob muttered.
“All right, fellas,” Sid told us. “You wanna follow me? I’ll show you where to bunk down tonight.”
We trudged behind him under the high darkness toward a dark building on the shore of the lake.
“This is where we put on most of our shows,” Bob told me as we scuffed down the path. “They show movies here on Wednesday nights and have song fests.”
I grunted acknowledgment. The song fests would be my job. I was to be the music director; the first the camp had ever had.
We reached the lodge and Sid pushed open the door. It was pitch black inside, smelling of damp wood and molding mattresses. Our footsteps echoed off the high ceiling as we walked across the floor.
“Take your choice,” Sid said, his voice sounding hollow. “One’s about as good as another.”
Back in the cabin, Sid waited until Mack got the battery lamp from his suitcase and set it on one of the upper bunks. Then he said, “I think you’re all squared away now. You can let down the window shutters if you want more air. And you know where Paradise is.”
“Yeah,” Mack said. This was his third year at Camp Pleasant. He worked on the waterfront.
“Glad to have met you fellas,” Sid said. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
He left us and became a thin beam of light dwindling off into the darkness. Bob and I got pajamas from our suitcases while Mack stripped off his clothes and put a striped bathrobe over his thickly muscled body.
“What’s Paradise?” I asked.
“The head,” Mack said. “Where I’m going now to drop one.”
“How delicate,” Bob said.
Mack snorted. “Oh, ex-
! I mean—I am going to have a
When Mack was gone, I propped my flashlight on the bunk I’d picked.
“Doesn’t he like you?” I asked.
“Oh, muscle-head’s all right,” Bob said. “He’s an oaf, that’s all.” He slipped on his terrycloth bathrobe. “When he gets to know you better, he’ll start on you too.”
The walk to Paradise was a long one over rough ground, under the rustle of four-story pine trees, between rows of dark cabins, set to the music of crickets and the occasional, far-off belch of a frog.
“The Senior Division is the farthest one from Paradise,” Bob told me as we walked. “Then the Intermediate, then the Junior. I guess they figure the younger they are, the harder it is for them to hold it.”
“You have a Junior cabin, don’t you?”
“Good God, no, Intermediate. I wouldn’t take a Junior cabin on a bet. You always get stuck with a couple of sailors.”
“Kid who wets his bed at night. Boy, can they stink up a cabin.”
Paradise was a tall building on the edge of the woods, built like the others, with logs and rough planking. We went up the long flight of steps and through the front doorway. As we entered, Mack was standing on one side of the long double row of sinks that ended in a small shower room. As he brushed his teeth, the buttery glow of his lamp lit his broad hair-swirled chest. I joined him at the sinks while Bob went into the other section where the toilets were.
I washed my hands and face, then took the toothbrush from my toilet case and pressed a half inch of paste onto the bristles. In the other room, Bob was singing soulfully —
“I’m a little teapot short and stout. Here is my handle, here is my spout.”
“What do ya think of this guy, Goldberg?” Mack asked me.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Was he here last year?”
“No. We had Johnny Wilson but he’s in the Marines now. He was a good joe.”
I nodded. “Goldberg’s probably all right too.”
“We’ll wait and see,” Mack said. “You can’t ever tell about these kikes.”
Later, while we were making our beds, I asked Bob why we were in camp three days before the kids arrived.
“Man, you have to
your hundred and fifty when you work for Big Ed,” Bob told me. “We’ll be cutting grass and sweeping floors and lugging mattresses and trunks and every damn thing the next three days.”
“Well, isn’t that
bad,” Mack said, zipping his nude body up in his sleeping bag. “You’ll get those lily-white hands all dirty.”
“Screw you,” Bob said.
“You’d like to,” Mack answered.
“No,” said Bob. “As a matter of fact, dear boy, the very concept repels me.”
, dear boy!” Mack threw back in a labored falsetto and turned on his bulky side, muttering to himself, “Another goddam Merv.”
“Yowza,” Bob said tiredly. I wondered who Merv was.
We got into our bunks and Bob lit a cigarette before going to sleep.
“Yeah,” he said to me, “You’ve got quite an experience ahead of you meeting Big Ed Nolan.”
“Yeah, he don’t like you either,” contributed Mack.
“His scorn is my badge of honor,” Bob answered.
“Aah, shut up,” Mack growled. “Someone wants to sleep.”
“Someone?” Bob said, his voice suddenly dramatic. “Who can this someone be? Laocoon? King Henry the Fifth? Saint Augustine? Little Nemo?”
“Shit,” Mack said.
“Ah,” Bob said, “it is he, Mack Muscle-Head.”
head handed to ya?” Mack asked.
“No,” Bob sotto voced, “I need it. I own a hat. Good night, all.”
The bugle blew me out of Julia’s arms and, for one hideous moment, I thought I was back in that country hospital again, screaming as the doctors, telling them she wasn’t dead and I’d kill them if they touched her.
Then I looked out the screen door and saw the mist-covered lake and heard the bright singing of birds. There was a thumping sound and, looking toward the bunks on the opposite wall, I saw Mack reaching for his underwear. I got up and pulled off the top of my pajamas.