Whispering Pines: Basil

I had just been brought on as a line cook for the summer at the Whispering Pines summer camp, a temporary position until I could figure out something more permanent. I was older than all the campers and even the counselors by at least 5 years. By all rights I should have stayed in the kitchen the whole summer, at least I should have only had to talk to the other kitchen staff. But the director singled me out after dinner on the first day of the camp and ushered me out to the amphitheater (which was just a hill with a fire pit at the bottom) to sit with the campers for some kind of event they were having. It seemed strange to me then that she didn’t do the same for any of the other kitchen staff, she only seemed interested in ushering me out the back door and into the amphitheater. But I went along with it and took a seat at the back of the group.

A young counselor stepped into the light of the bonfire and began speaking. The pitch of his voice fluctuated in a way that made him seem anxious and unprepared. I leaned to look past the campers in front of me to see him. He was thin and pale, telling a story about how the camp came to be called Whispering pines. The campers around started talking amongst themselves, making it hard to hear what he was saying. I picked at a patch of dried pancake batter on my shirt and tried to listen, but I only caught snatches, just enough to figure out that it was a story warning the campers not to go out alone because of… something in the woods. I told myself that it was just a tale to scare the campers into staying in their bunks at night, but the more I listened, the more it seemed that counselor wasn’t afraid of the crowd but of the thing he was describing. He would not name it, I noticed, as though the thing might be listening, might hear its name and come looking for the one who called it.

The campers around me seemed not to notice, or not to care about the storyteller’s demeanor. They were fearless in the way that teenagers often are, driven by the desperation and urgency of youth. I gave up on the storyteller and listened to their conversation:

“Why do you think they make us come to this?”

“They’re probably just trying to scare us”

“Maybe, but I heard someone disappeared last summer, went for a walk in the woods, and never came back.”

“Where’d you hear about that? I didn’t see it in the news”

“I heard it from someone who knew someone in the kid’s cabin. He said they sent out a search party, but they couldn’t find a body or anything”

“I bet the kid just ran away. They’re probably just squatting in some old farmhouse or something.”

“That’s probably it. You’d think they’d have shown up by now though, it’s been almost a year, and I wouldn’t want to squat in a farmhouse through the winter out here.”

“They might have died of exposure. One of my dad’s cousins died that way while he was backcountry camping in Michigan. They didn’t find his body until the spring when another camper came across his tent.”

“Hey, we should look for their body”


“Why not? We’ll sneak out after lights out”

The other campers laughed and agreed to meet up an hour after lights out by the trailhead. I was surprised a bit by how readily the kids agreed to the plan. I’m not a superstitious person, and I really don’t believe any of the stories the counselors tell about the camp are true, regardless of how compelling their delivery was. But there are much more commonplace dangers in the woods at night.

At some point I fell asleep, tired as I was from the days work and woke with a start to the director standing over me as the kids wandered out of the amphitheater to their cabins.

Did you enjoy your nap?” She smiled at me. In the dim flickering light, she had taken on a different appearance, one that had me thinking it was a good thing I woke up when I did.

“I—ah… yeah, thanks. you startled me.” I stood up backing away from her a bit.

“Enjoy your night, Basil. and remember—stay on the path.” She turned away and seemed to vanish into the shadows. I shivered and hurried back to the staff barracks.

After I showered, I decided I should probably go to the trailhead when those campers planned to meet up for their expedition. I had a bad feeling something would happen to them, and I probably should have just told a counselor. But I didn’t want to get them in trouble (I know how I was at that age) so I figured I would just go myself and follow at a distance in case anything happened. If something did happen … I was a bit foggy about what I would do if something did happen. Radio for help? There wasn’t any cell phone service. I had my walkie talkie but there was no guarantee anyone else had theirs with them or turned on and even if they did, I didn’t know what the range of the radio was.

When I went out, armed with my radio and a flashlight, the kids were standing around the trailhead. I left my flashlight off so they wouldn’t see me and ask what I was doing out there. Maybe I should have confronted them then, pretended to be a counselor, and get them back to their cabins. But I just watched and waited for something to go wrong.

There were four kids in the group. two of them had actual flashlights, and the other half had turned on the flashlight on their cell phones. There wasn’t much use for a cell phone out here for anything other than a flashlight, since there wasn’t wi-fi at the camp either. There was a landline and a computer hardwired to the internet in the director’s office, but no wi-fi and no cell service anywhere. I got the idea that the director was one of those weird conspiracy theorists that think the radiation from cell phones will give you brain cancer. I don’t think she would even have the computer if she wasn’t required to maintain electronic records by the state.

After pushing each other around for a bit, the kids settled down and headed into the woods on the trail.

“Do you think we should go off the path to look? If they died on the trail they would have been found by now, you’d think.” I flinched at that. I really did not want to go off the path.

“Have you seen these trails? No one maintains them once they get past the ax-throwing range. I doubt anyone’s even been out here since the initial search.”

“They probably wouldn’t have camped far from the trail anyway. The underbrush is too dense to walk through, let alone set up a camp.”

“You’re probably right”

“We should come back in the daylight if we don’t find anything tonight. I think we have a couple hours free after lunch”

“What, are you scared of the dark?”

“I just think it would be easier to see during the day!”

We were traveling deeper into the forest as they talked, sweeping their flashlights along the side of the path and taking diverging paths seemingly at random. I followed far enough back that their flashlights wouldn’t reach me if they turned around and tried to memorize the turns we took so I could make my way back alone if I needed to. I was beginning to feel like I had been worried for nothing coming out and all I’d accomplish was earning a reputation as a stalker when one of the campers stopped walking and gestured to the other three to stop and look where their flashlight pointed into the dark. I couldn’t see what they were looking at but they all fell silent and stared. My heart quickened and I gripped my radio, wishing I had grabbed a knife from the kitchen before coming out here in the dark with a bunch of teenagers. All I had was a box cutter on my key chain with barely a half-inch blade.

“It’s not moving…maybe it’s dead?” one of the teenagers finally whispered.

“Or maybe it’s asleep. We should go back, this was a bad idea”

“I kind of want to touch it.” I recognized that as the voice of the camper who had originally suggested the outing. Figures. Still, if they turned around I would need to figure out how to get behind them again without being noticed and I did not savor the idea of going off the path with whatever it was the kids were looking at. I looked around to see if I could find a place to hide—and tripped backward over a rock in the path. They swung their flashlights over to where I fell, still out of range of the light. For a moment I was glad to stay undetected until I saw a creature reach out of the trees toward the daredevil kid.

“Look behind you!” I called out to them, grabbing a longish stick off the path (it really hadn’t been cleared recently) and rushing out past the kids. They yelled in confusion until I swung the branch and hit the creature’s arm. It recoiled from the blow.

“Run!” I yelled, pushing the kids back the way they came. They didn’t bother protesting and sprinted away. I followed behind, turning on my flashlight and watching to make sure the thing didn’t follow us. It took us much longer than I thought it should have to get out of the forest but whatever was in the trees didn’t step out on to the path and we eventually emerged back at the trail head. When everyone was out the teenagers turned to me.

“Who the hell are you? Were you following us?”

“I—“ I paused, unsure how to explain myself. “I heard you talking at the bonfire, I wanted to make sure you didn’t get hurt.” It sounded stupid out loud. What kind of 27 year old follows a bunch of high schoolers into the woods at 1 am, just to be sure they’re safe?

“Are you a counselor or something?”

“No, I’m just a cook. I should’ve just told a counselor—I didn’t want you to get in trouble—" fumbled around in my pockets for something to prove I worked for the camp. “Dammit, I must have dropped my radio in the woods.” I said half to myself.

“How do we know you aren’t lying?” I didn’t have anything to say to that. Luckily, I didn’t have to say anything, since at that moment the director walked up to us.

“Hello Basil, hello children. You’re from Jamie’s cabin, aren’t you? I’ll have to talk to them about keeping better track of you at night. Did you find what you were looking for in the woods?” She was carrying a large kerosene lantern that flickered ominously, casting strange shadows across her face. For a moment I forgot my fear in the strangeness of the scene. Who uses kerosene lanterns anymore? Why not just use a flashlight? And what was she doing awake? Did she hear us yelling? The campers stammered a response to her question, just as surprised to see her as I was.

“Why don’t you get back to your cabin? I’m sure Jamie is worried about you. Come to my office after breakfast and we’ll talk about this more. And Basil?” I had started backing away, hoping I could escape her attention. I obviously failed.

“Yes ma’am?”

“Thanks for looking after the children.”

“I, um. You’re welcome?”

“I’ll get you a new radio in the morning. Feel free to sleep in, Daniel can cook breakfast.”

“Thank you, ma’am” She smiled at me and walked towards her house. I stood stunned for a moment before heading to my own room. At least she hadn’t fired me. I still didn’t know what to make of any of the things that had happened, but I couldn’t afford to quit so I just went to my room and tried to sleep it off like bad hangover.