It seemed simple enough. Ten weeks, good pay, and experience working with kids, which was exactly what I needed if I was going to be a teacher when I graduated, like I always planned. I had heard about Camp Sunrise at my university the last month of school as I frantically searched the job fair for internship opportunities.
There were two people, a man and woman, smiling and handing out applications at their table. When I inquired about being a camp counselor, they were thrilled and encouraged me to apply. Sunrise was only a couple of hours from my house, but I was assured that the counselor cabins were air conditioned with comfortable beds and clean bathrooms connected to the rooms. It was an internship that seemed almost too good to be true.
I was interviewed over the phone and was soon offered the job, which I — of course — accepted. My mom and dad were sad to see me leave again just two weeks after coming home from college, but I was looking forward to this new adventure and they were happy for me to get the exposure.
The day of move-in, my parents and sister helped me to settle into my cabin. My roommate was a sweet, red-headed girl named Holly who had already gotten situated the day before. After asking me if I was okay with the side of the room she chose, she helped me sort my things and make the place seem like home. I already knew I was going to love it here. I said my goodbyes and watched my parents drive off with a wave. I had my car here in case I had to go home on weekends and for when I had to move home at the end of the summer, but I didn’t plan on driving it much other than that.
“Opening ceremonies for staff are tonight; want to walk together, Zoey?” Holly asked me.
I nodded eagerly and headed towards the dining hall with her. The property that Camp was on was pretty big, but we were given a map to figure out where some of the farther out buildings were. The kids would be getting here in a week, so until then, we had staff orientation so we could get to know each other and learn the activities we’d be doing with the kids. Underneath the dining hall was a large conference room lined with chairs. There was a stage set up in the front where I assumed whoever was in charge would speak to us. Holly and I sat next to a couple of friendly-looking girls who had been counselors here before.
“Mr. Jasper is awesome,” one of them exclaimed. She told us that he was the head supervisor of Camp Sunrise and ran pretty much everything. He was adored by the rest of the staff and kids here. As if on cue, a dark- haired man ran up onto the stage greeted by an eruption of cheers from the crowd.
“Hello Sunrise staff!” he shouted into the microphone. “For those who are new this summer, I’m Alan Jasper, coordinator of this beautiful Camp.”
The returning counselors all pointed at him on stage and he took a bow. It seemed really weird how excited everyone was to see this man, but I didn’t know him yet; he could be a really good leader and nice person. He went over some rules and regulations to keep safe, but his departing message left me feeling kind of odd.
“And kids, make sure you don’t go near the woods. You never know what could be lurking out there in the dark,” he concluded with a sinister smile.
There were a couple giggles from the experienced counselors, and everyone stood to leave. We were pretty free for the night, but one of the guys was having a campfire behind his cabin that we were invited to by the girls we sat next to. Holly and I went to change our clothes before heading over.
“Can you believe that guy? Watch out for the woods,” the redhead mocked.
“Why do you think he said that?” I asked.
“Who knows? It’s such a cliché though,” Holly rolled her eyes. I brushed it off and put on a sweatshirt before following my roommate out to the bonfire. It wasn’t too far from our cabin and we sat with the same girls we met at opening ceremonies. They were blonde fraternal twins who were the same age as us and wanted to both be social workers when they graduated from college.
“Hey, you guys are new,” the boy who was living in this cabin said. “I’m Jimmy. It’s my third summer here,” he smiled.
We introduced ourselves and he handed each of us a water bottle.
“You can make a s’more too if you’d like,” Jimmy offered.
The group of counselors sat talking and laughing until one of the twins stood up and signaled everyone to be quiet.
“It’s just past midnight,” she whispered. “I think we all know what time it is.”
The other blonde rose up next to her.
“Scary stories,” she cackled. I looked over my shoulder at Holly who could barely contain her laughter.
I was so glad to have a roommate who wasn’t spooked by this kind of stuff; I definitely was and living with someone brave would force me to buck up. There were the usual ghost stories and haunted house stories until Jimmy called the attention to himself.
“What I am about to tell you, is a story about this very place; Camp Sunrise.” I felt a chill run down my spine. This wasn’t gonna be what I needed.
“A few years ago, before any of us started working here, rumors went around that Jasper was losing it. He was seeing things on the grounds that weren’t there and he thought that someone or something was spying on us. It was rumored to be schizophrenia or something. Legend has it, when he isn’t on his meds, one staff member or one child will have to be sacrificed so that whoever is watching us stays away. That’s why we can’t go in the woods at night. That is when Jasper buries the sacrifices. The chilling part? He has everyone wrapped so tightly around his finger that they volunteer to be killed off for him. And if anyone tries to rat him out, they’re dead too.”
No one spoke and all that could be heard was the cracking of the fire.
“Come on, Jimmy! You tell that story every year to scare the newbies. If Jasper ever found out you told people he had schizophrenia he’d throw a fit!” a boy piped up.
“But it’s not true, it’s just a story I made up,” Jimmy giggled. I let out a deep breath. As far as scary stories go, that one was mild and it was pretty lame trying to pass it off as true.
“So what’s the real reason we can’t go in the woods?” Holly asked.
“None of us really know,” Jimmy shrugged truthfully. “Probably just because it’s dark and Jasper doesn’t want anyone getting lost or getting poison ivy.”
The bonfire continued on for a couple hours longer and then it was time for bed. Back in the cabin, I double checked the door and windows as my roommate climbed under the covers.
“Don’t freak out, Zoey. It’s just summer camp. We’re totally safe here,” she smiled. We exchanged goodnights and shut off the lights. I couldn’t help but toss and turn, still scaring myself with thoughts of the ghost stories from earlier tonight.
The next day at orientation, we had a quick breakfast on our own and headed out to meet the group at the soccer field. Holly and I learned quickly that there were two obvious groups here. There were the “obedient” counselors and then the “cool kids”.
Jasper stood in front of the group and raised both of his arms. A little over half of the staff sat down and fell silent right away. The others took a bit longer to obey, sitting on the ground after a raised eyebrow look from Jasper. The newbies fell somewhere in-between; not knowing the protocol mixed with not wanting to look foolish.
“This morning, we have basic survival training. The children are not encouraged to use this facility to make themselves into the next Bear Grylls, but we have to be ready for anything. There are five stations set up through the woods and across grounds. Your goal is to race to each of them, complete the task, and meet back here when finished. This will not be easy. Making teams is up to you, but this was designed to be individual. It shouldn’t take you more than a few hours. Best of luck to you all. Are you ready?” Jasper signaled for everyone to rise. I had a drawstring bag on my back with my sunscreen and water bottle. I regretted not packing an extra granola bar this morning.
“Go!” he yelled. The experienced counselors sprinted off towards the woods. Holly latched onto me and pulled me in the same direction.
“Let’s trail them,” she suggested.
We ran for what seemed like ages, losing the others, until we got to our first obstacle. It was a cargo net about 20 feet high. A sign placed next to it read, “Climb me to the top, ring the bell, then descend down the other side.” This wouldn’t be that hard. I grabbed onto the net and started my climb, eyes focused on the top. It wasn’t until I heard a yelp from Holly that I looked down and realized that the net was covered in not only ants, but fire ants.
“What kind of fucked up place is this?” Holly shouted.
I reached the top and rang the bell, only climbing about halfway down the net before jumping the rest of the way. My arms were covered in bug bites and I was already sweating. My roommate and I followed one of the only trails in the woods to a creek.
“If we follow along here we might find a way out,” I said.
Holly nodded her head. The sun was rising in the sky and beating down on us relentlessly. After about an hour of wandering, we were still deep in the woods unable to find a way out.
“Look,” Holly pointed. There was a shack in a clearing ahead. Maybe this was obstacle two. The shack looked like it hadn’t been visited in years. I pried at the door, but it seemed to be sealed shut.
“Maybe were wrong,” I sighed.
Holly gave the door a kick and we heard a crack. I pulled from the top again and the door opened. What we saw inside nearly made me shit my pants. It was a shrine to Jasper. There was a photo of him and a voodoo doll looking thing set up in the middle of the floor in a circle of candles. There were scratch marks on the walls and what looked to be like blood splattered on the floor and inside of the door. Looking up, I saw what looked to be like decomposed fingers, toes, and ears hanging from the ceiling on strings. At the back of the shack was a message etched into the wood with what was probably one of the fingernails. No one makes it out alive. I backed away, mouth open in shock. I couldn’t form words or make any kind of noise. Holly covered her mouth with her hands. I backed into what I thought was a tree and turned around to see Mr. Jasper himself standing there with a grin.
“Lose your way?” he asked. I nodded my head.
“What the fuck kind of sick-ass thing is this? And who the hell are you?” Holly demanded. “This is fucking creepy!” She was obviously just as freaked out as me, but I couldn’t speak.
“I think you better both come back to the conference room with me. You don’t have to finish survival training,” he said calmly. “I’ll explain everything.”
We sauntered back up to the camp grounds, realizing we weren’t too far off from actually making it out of the woods on our own. The sun indicated it was late afternoon and my stomach grumbled as I realized I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. We got to the main building where Jasper split us up into two different rooms. Great, I thought, I’m getting fired and I haven’t even started. He must have started with Holly, because I sat in that room alone for nearly 30 minutes. There was a knock and Jasper walked in and took a seat across from me.
“You aren’t in trouble, Zoey,” he started. That was a relief. “What you saw in the woods was set up as a prop from last year’s camp. We did a Halloween themed activity and it was meant to be spooky. No need to be afraid. Are you with me?” He explained.
“Yeah, I follow,” I replied.
“Good,” he nodded with a smile. “Unfortunately, Holly is going to be quitting Camp Sunrise. She doesn’t believe this is for her anymore.” I frowned, not hiding my disappointment. It had only been two days, but I was really starting to like her. I didn’t want to see her go. Plus, I didn’t have anyone here that I was as close to as her.
“Can I say goodbye?” I asked.
“She actually already left to pack up her room. I’m sorry. Will you join me for opening ceremonies part two?” he asked.
I agreed and followed him back into the large conference room we’d been in on night one. Another staff member was congratulating the winner of the obstacle course, a buff blonde boy whose name I hadn’t learned yet. I took a seat off to the side alone and Jasper waited to take the stage. When he got on, the crowd erupted like it had before, kids pointing at him and him bowing in return.
It was a weird way to greet someone, but it was normal for everyone here. Jasper talked about Holly’s departure and moved on, talking more about Camp logistics. We listened to him lecture for about an hour, and then we were free to go to bed. I looked around at the exhausted faces around me, most of them covered in mud. Whatever the survival course had in store must not have been pretty. I went to my cabin and hopped in the shower. The bug bites stung, but I could have had it much worse. Coming out, I noticed though Holly’s side of the room was mostly clear, there was a ring on her dresser. It looked to be older, maybe belonging to her grandmother or something. How could she leave something like that behind? I was also upset she left without saying goodbye to me. I thought we were becoming friends. There was a knock on my cabin door and I opened it to see Jimmy.
“Hey!” I greeted.
“Hey Zoey,” he fake smiled.
“What’s up?” I asked nervously.
“Well first, I’m having a fire again if you want to join. Second, I wanted to say sorry about Holly. I’d feel awful if my stories freaked her out.”
“Oh no,” I assured. “It was something we saw in the woods that freaked her out.” His eyes widened and his disposition immediately changed.
“You saw the box,” he breathed.
“Yes?” I said as more of a question. “Jasper said it was a prop.”
“He’s lying,” Jimmy said. “There are some weird people here, Zoey. If I were you, I’d get out while you still can because once you’re in, there isn’t any escaping. Like I told you; this is my third summer here.”
I started to sweat nervously.
“Maybe I’ll quit like Holly did in the morning then,” I said.
“No!” Jimmy protested. “Leave now. Don’t tell anyone just go.”
“Alright,” I agreed. I didn’t think I’d actually go, but it’d appease him for now. He pulled me into a hug.
“Good luck.” He turned to walk away.
“Hey, Jimmy,” I called. He turned around towards me. “What happens during the survival course?” He took a breath.
“Well you climbed the net, I’m assuming?” I nodded in reply. “After that there’s a swim through the pond, and a logic question and answer. If you’re traveling alone, they shock you, Milgram style, if you answer wrong. If you’re with a partner, they shock your partner if you’re wrong. Then, you haul a huge sack of flour up a hill and you have to sprint to the finish and there’s an army crawl right before the end with cockroaches and other insects in it. The only actual survival part is having to clean your wounds after the race. Like I said, this place has some weird people. I tell the ‘fake’ scary stories and try to make everyone at home, but really, it’s a warning to get out. I can’t go around saying that this place is bad because I’m a part of it. They’d find me, they’d know. I told you before, if you aren’t with them, you’re dead.”
I shuddered and anticipated packing my bags as soon as Jimmy was gone.
“What kind of Camp is this? Why is it like this?” I asked.
“Because Jasper is in charge; this is his cult and teaching kids from a young age to worship him brings them back. They become counselors when they’re old enough and the madness never ends.”
There was a crack from a branch being stepped on outside and Jimmy froze.
“I’ve said too much,” he whispered. He turned and started to run.
“Wait!” I yelled, following him.
I ran along the dimly lit path in the direction of his cabin, but lost him along the way. I decided it might just be best to head back. I would have to leave in the morning if I was actually going to do it. It was getting late and I was probably freaking myself out like usual. It did seem like he was right, though. There were the weird rituals when the staff greeted Jasper, there was the shack, and the twisted survival course, and the fact that Jasper separated Holly and I and wouldn’t let me say bye to her. But could he really be hurting or killing people and their families not catch on?
I looked up to realize that I had followed the trail into the woods. I wasn’t too deep in and could still see the path that led back to my cabin and out of here. My feet crunched the leaves and I got a chill up my spine, noticing the dropping temperatures. I tripped over a branch and caught my balance before I fell. I looked down and immediately became nauseous. It wasn’t a branch I had tripped over. It was smoother and flesh colored. I bent down and followed the appendage with my eyes to a collection of red hair nearly hidden under a pile of brush. I didn’t want to lift up the vegetation, but I knew I had to as a for sure way to convince myself that this place was truly as fucked up as Jimmy claimed. It was my roommate, Holly, laid out in a pile of blood, eyes wide open, frightened and staring up at me.
What happened next was a blur. I couldn’t scream as I was frozen in absolute terror. I stood and ran as fast as my legs could carry me to my cabin, grabbed my keys off of my desk, swiped my purse off of my bed and sprinted to my car. I didn’t stop for anything. I started the car and drove the two hours home in an hour and-a-half scared out of my mind. It was the middle of the night, but I woke my parents up to tell them everything; the cult, my roommate, Jimmy, the fact that I had left all of my things there and would have to go back. There was no hesitation in believing what I was saying. What else could make me drive through the night because I was too afraid for my life to stay at that place another night?
My mom and dad reported everything to the police. I told them my story. I told them everything that I knew. Camp Sunrise had been under suspicion for a while now. How I had never heard about this, I have no clue. Kids would always turn up missing from there, later to be found dead. It was always some sort of freak accident, though. One drowned in the pond, another stung by a bee when she happened to be allergic and no one had her epipen on hand; and the most chilling: a redhead girl about the same age as me who had wandered out to the edge of the property where live wires from the electricity plant had shocked her before they marked it off as an unsafe zone.
“It wasn’t electrocution, and it wasn’t an accident. Jasper killed Holly!” I protested. The police promised to escort my family back to pick up my things and assured me that they would conduct a full investigation after hearing my wild accusations. We couldn’t go until a couple of days later, to my dismay, but when the time came, we were accompanied as promised to Camp Sunrise. The police spoke to Jasper while I cleared out my cabin, a couple other officers standing guard outside of the door. Staff passed by giving me dirty looks, some even yelling obscenities when they thought they were far enough away. The joke would be on them when this place was shut down. I packed the car and waited patiently with my parents. Jasper and two officers walked out looking defeated.
“So sad to see you go, Zoey,” Jasper said with a warm smile. “I’ll see you again.” His words sent a chill down my spine.
The police found nothing. The shack I told them about wasn’t there. Holly’s body wasn’t where I said it was. Jimmy was nowhere to be found. He was probably the next to get taken out in some kind of “accident”. The worst part was that the police believed me, but didn’t have any evidence to end this twisted Camp.
Jasper smiled and waved as we drove away. He knew everything about me. He had all of my information since I was supposed to work there. I’ll see you again. I lasted only two days at Camp Sunrise. What really scares me is what still goes on there behind closed doors. Parents and families are oblivious; the deaths are brushed off as “freak accidents”. Few on the outside know what really happens, but I know the truth. I don’t know how long I can take the threats. They aren’t direct, but I know I’m being stalked by those people. Jasper doesn’t want his secret getting out. What I do know for sure is that I am never working at a summer camp ever again.