- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Stacy Knight ...
Stacy Knight looked forward to her week at Camp Cheer, a cheerleading camp set deep in the woods, but instead of white cabins and green lawns, the camp is dark and eerie and when Miss Helena starts shouting out rules, she sounds like a prison guard. The former national cheerleading champion's number one rule is, "Don't leave your cabins after lights out." But someone does. Was it brash and bossy Brooke, brooding and dramatic Lilleth, or quiet and friendly Pattisue? Should curious Stacy follow and find out?
The reader decides.
"Camp Cheer will be the best thing that's happened to me yet. I'm bound to make freshman cheerleader after going to such an outstanding camp," Stacy Knight told her brother.
Bill grunted the way he always did when she said anything to him and kept his eyes on the road. He was a careful driver, even if he was a conversational dud.
Forgetting him, Stacy sighed and closed her eyes. Camp Cheer looked so inviting in the brochure, she'd begged for a week there as her birthday present. She could see it now -- neat white cabins with green roofs, a grassy glade where practices were held, and the main cabin where Miss Helena, former Miss Cheerleader USA and owner-manager of Camp Cheer, resided.
The tires squealed loudly on the blacktop. Stacy sat up straight. A bend in the road was hairpin sharp and she drew in her breath. Bill navigated it smoothly but a minute later, almost missed the peeling sign half-hidden in the bushes. CAMP CHEER, TURN HERE. Braking, he backed up and wheeled sharply onto an overgrown gravel road.
Trees lined both sides of the road, bowing their branches in a leafy tunnel. It was dark back there and much cooler. Goosebumps marched up and down Stacy's arms as she awaited the sun-splashed camp at its end.
Long minutes passed and a large wooden cabin finally appeared. A tattered American flag flew from a pole near the double-doored entrance. Beneath it, she saw a faded yellow banner bearing the words, CAMP CHEER.
The trees were still dense with only a thin stream of sunlight coming through. A graveled parking lot and a sudden breeze threw dust through the car's open windows as Bill turned in behind the cabin. Heparked next to a blue van with a vanity license plate, Miss Cheerleader 52. Stacy wondered what the number meant, but not as much as she wondered where the grassy practice glade and white cabins were.
A quick look around revealed nothing but another long cabin marked Mess Hall. In a small clearing where plastic geraniums were poked into the ground, some girls were gathered around a large bulletin board. Otherwise, the camp appeared deserted.
Reluctantly, she climbed out of the car.
Her brother set her bags out beside her. "Guess this is it." He smacked her on the back. "Have fun, sis."
Bill was already climbing back into the car when Stacy held out her hand. "Unh," she said in a strangled voice. "Come back" is what she meant, but she couldn't bring herself to say it to Mister High-and-Mighty-High School Senior.
He gunned the engine and she used her outstretched hand to wave.
If Mom had brought her, she wouldn't have left her standing in a dusty parking lot in the middle of a gloomy camp with her bags gathered at her feet. Mom would have put her arms around her and said, "Are you sure about this place, honey?"
Stacy wasn't, but throwing back her shoulders, she hoisted her duffel bag over her shoulder and picked up her suitcase. She wouldn't have owned up to doubts about Camp Cheer if her mother were there. Lumbering like a packhorse, she approached the signboard. The girls she'd seen had already disappeared down a dark trail towards the even darker woods.
Stacy read the sign and learned she was in Cabin Six with three others -- Lilleth Long, Brooke Marker, and Pattisue Gaines. Noting they were all from Parkerville, the town nearest Camp Cheer, she sighed. They would already know each other and she'd be odd-man-out. A bummer.
Reminding herself she was usually a cheerful person, Stacy forced a smile and followed the signs with yellow arrows along the dirt path toward Cabin Six.
She passed Cabins One and Two right away and was dismayed to see their white paint had dimmed to dishwater gray. If the roofs were once green, it was hard to tell it now. Five minutes down the path, she passed Cabins Three and Four and they looked exactly like One and Two. There was no sound anywhere. She hoped it wasn't always this quiet at Camp Cheer. She'd imagined lots of "rahs" and "yeas" and "go-team-goes" ringing out, but silence filled the air.
Stacy had been trudging forever, it seemed, and was starting to gasp for breath from the weight of her camp gear, when she heard a loud noise. She stopped short, sweat beads popping out all over her. The noise sounded like a gunshot.
Reminding herself it was a summer afternoon and she was at cheerleading camp, she gathered her courage and moved on. A few more steps and she would be inside Cabin Six with Lilleth, Brooke, and Pattisue. Then everything would be fine -- she hoped.
Seeing a sign that said Cabin Five, she strained her eyes looking for it. When she spotted it hidden in a thick grove of trees, she muttered, "Okay, so where's Cabin Six?"
"Right next to Five, dummy."
She whirled to see a brash blonde with shoulder-length hair leaning against a tree, watching her. "Thanks," Stacy mumbled.
The Cabin Six sign was almost under her feet and the cabin itself was next to Five, but set even deeper in the trees. She felt the blonde's eyes on her as she turned up the path toward Cabin Six. The girl sauntered along beside her.
"Did you hear that loud noise a minute ago?" Stacy asked, partly because she was still shaken by it, and partly because she wanted to act friendly.
"The shutter on Cabin Six is loose. Every time a breeze whips through the trees, it bangs." The girl imparted the news with something between nonchalance and delight.
Stacy smothered a groan. A banging shutter to keep her awake at night and a camp mate with an attitude. Turning, she held out her hand. Might as well make the best of it. "By the way, I'm--"
"I'm Brooke Marker and I know who you are. I read the list of girls in Cabin Six on the board, and I know the others, so you must be..." She shrugged. "The other one."
Stacy didn't like being called "the other one" but forced a smile and followed Brooke into the dim cabin. It was mid-afternoon but the trees were too thick and the foliage too dense for much sunlight to enter. A single light bulb dangled from the ceiling. A thin girl with flowing black hair sat cross-legged on the bunk that stood under the window and nearest the door. Brooke swaggered across the cabin to the opposite bunk, by the cabin's other window.
Stacy's arms were breaking so she dropped her bags inside the door.
"Not there, dummy." Brooke jerked her head toward a bunk and footlocker at the back of the cabin, under the slant of the roof. "Back there."
"Lucky me," Stacy grumbled. The heat was getting to her, and so was Brooke.
"First comers get first picks." The black-haired girl spoke without looking up. Dressed in black shorts and sweatshirt and high-topped shoes, her lips formed a bold scarlet slash against her white face. "Hi. I'm Lilleth."
An African-American girl with short-cropped hair stepped forward and smiled shyly. "You can see I wasn't first." She motioned to her bunk and footlocker, which stood end-to-end with Stacy's. "I'm Pattisue."
"Hi." Stacy smiled, introduced herself, and dragged her bags across the room.
"Pick 'em up," Brooke said. "You're making too much noise."
She was painting her fingernails some gross shade of green, and Stacy couldn't see why a little noise should bother her, but Lilleth was reading, so she carried her bags to the back of the cabin and began unpacking.
Lilleth was reading a book called VAMPIRE TALES. Pattisue was writing a letter. Stacy wondered if she was homesick already.
A gong shattered the afternoon quiet. "What's that?" she asked as it sounded again.
"A warning. We have twenty minutes to get ready for dinner," Lilleth said.
"How do you know?" Stacy asked curiously.
"I read all of the information on the bulletin board."
"She's lying," Brooke spoke up. "And showing off her knowledge. She was here last year."
"This is my first time at cheerleading camp." Pattisue spoke quietly to Stacy. "It -- it doesn't look like I expected."
"Me either," Stacy admitted as she piled clothes in her footlocker. "The pictures in that brochure must have been taken a hundred years ago." She made the last remark loudly, expecting someone to laugh, or at least comment, but no one did.
She'd just closed the lid to her locker and dropped down on her bunk when the wail of a siren split the silence. She jumped, banging her head on the slanted roof. Lilleth laughed. So did Brooke.
Pattisue's eyes were wide and frightened. "Wh-- what's that siren for?" she stammered.
"Dinner," Lilleth replied, snapping her book shut. "Can't you tell?"
A dinner bell would have been nicer, Stacy thought, rubbing her head, but so would sunlight and bright white paint and shining green roofs. So would a congenial bunch of cabin mates and a warm welcome from the wondrous Miss Helena, whoever and wherever she was.
Ignoring Lilleth's sarcasm, Stacy followed her out the door. Feet dragging, she headed for the Mess Hall with the others, thinking someone with a warped sense of humor must have named this place Camp Cheer.
"Okay if I walk with you?" Pattisue asked, falling into step with her.
"Great!" Brooke and Lilleth had taken off at such a fast trot, Stacy wondered why they were in such a hurry. She smiled at Pattisue. "I'm starved. How about you?"
"I'm not a big eater," she said, shrugging.
She was tiny, so it was easy to believe that. Stacy tried again to make conversation. "Are you friends with Lilleth and Brooke?"
"We go to the same school if that's what you mean."
"It's not," Stacy said firmly. "I meant, are you friends?"
"No." Pattisue ducked her head so Stacy couldn't see her face as she opened the Mess Hall door.
Stacy wanted to know more, but the noise inside made it impossible to talk. Girls were waving and calling to one another across the room. Counselors were shouting, sending the campers through the cafeteria line and toward the few empty spots remaining at the long tables. Now Stacy knew why Lilleth and Brooke were in such a rush.
"We should have gotten here earlier," Pattisue said. "I don't think we're going to get seats together."
She was right. A red-haired girl wearing bright blue shorts and a matching tee shirt was directing traffic. Her shirt said Head Counselor on the front in big yellow letters. In small letters, it said Marge. She was broad-shouldered and hipped, with a loud voice. She motioned Pattisue to the left. "Move it," she shouted, and pointed to the right for Stacy.
Stacy was carrying her food tray with both hands and couldn't wave, so she waggled her eyebrows at Pattisue who moved off quickly.
For a main course, Stacy had chosen a dried-out tuna casserole over gray-looking meat loaf. Frowning, she picked through crusty noodles in search of tuna. When she looked up to see everyone at the table watching, she noticed they'd all chosen the meat loaf. Nudging the girl next to her, she laughed. "Is there something I should know about this casserole?"
"This is my first time here," the girl said. "I wouldn't know."
A lively bunch, no one smiled or talked, so Stacy craned her to check out the rest of the room. Brooke's pals wore heavy makeup, gaudy clothes, and bored smiles. When she caught Stacy looking, she said something to the others, and they all laughed. Shifting her gaze, Stacy spotted Lilleth sitting with a bunch of weirdoes dressed in black cutoffs and vests. Brooke and Lilleth presented a solid front in the cabin, but must not be close friends. Interesting...
Turning back to her food, Stacy knocked over the saltshaker with her elbow. "Better throw some over your shoulder or you'll have an argument," a girl across from her warned.
That superstition was one of her grandma's favorites, so she started to do as the girl said, but a hand closed over her wrist. "We don't throw food here." Marge, the Head Counselor's voice was sharp.
Before Stacy could respond, Marge shouted, "Campers dismissed. Everyone to Miss Helena's Main Cabin."
She took one more bite of salad.
"Move it," Marge yelled.
Clamping her mouth shut, so she wouldn't say, "Okay, Sarge," and make Grandma's superstition come true, Stacy rushed out the Mess Hall door.
Pattisue was waiting, and they were swept along with the crowd to the Main Cabin where the front door was propped open. The counselors all had first names on their shirts. "Pick up a folding chair as you go by," Marianne repeated at ten second intervals. Moon-Ja handed stapled papers to everyone.
Lilleth and Brooke sat in the back of the meeting hall together, as far as they could from everyone else. Stacy and Pattisue found places up front so they could see Miss Helena better.
Instead of studying the written sheets Moon-Ja gave her, Stacy looked around the pine-paneled room. From every wall, pictures of cheerleaders, with names and years under them, smiled down. In the center, at the front of the room, hung a picture of Helena VanOy, Miss 1952.
Miss Helena's hair was worn in a long pageboy with curly bangs, and it was so blonde, it looked yellow. Her eyes were bright blue, her cheeks a vivid pink. She was wearing a blue sweater to match her eyes and a strand of pearls. She looked bright (almost neon) and overly perky. It appeared the photo was black and white and touched up with oil paints. Her picture was framed in gold while the other frames were wooden.
The girl on Stacy's left, according to her nametag, was Sara. "Hey, Sara," Stacy said, nudging her. "Why does it say Miss 1952 on Miss Helena's picture?"
"That's the year she graduated from high school and the year she was selected top cheerleader in a nationwide contest. The other pictures are of girls who attended Camp Cheer and went on to win cheerleading titles afterward."
If Miss Helena graduated in 1952, she couldn't be very young now. But she was still turning out top cheerleaders. One picture was dated 1996. Would her picture be up there one day? Stacy wondered.
Marge whipped down the aisle toward the front, fluttering the papers in everyone's hands. "Marge, the Barge, is better than air-conditioning," Sara whispered.
Stacy chuckled. "I thought she was Marge the Sarge."
"Attention. The meeting will now come to order," Marge shouted. "Will you please stand for -- Miss Helena!"
Miss Helena bustled into the room. Her hair was still worn in a pageboy, but instead of bouncing, it drooped. She looked faded; the once golden hair was now ash, her eyes a watery blue. Her cheeks were still bright, however, as if she'd over-blushed them. "Welcome to Camp Cheer. I'm sure all of you future cheerleaders are going to love it here." Her voice was pure southern-bred honey.
After a few more soft-spoken words of welcome, Miss Helena cleared her throat and started rattling off rules in a rapid tattoo.
Stacy sat back against her chair in surprise.
Slim and petite, Miss Helena pulled herself to her full height. "We have certain rules here. Camp Cheer girls rise at six A.M. Beds must be made. Shower stalls are to be wiped dry. All clothes will be kept out of sight. Hair must--" The list went on and on.
There didn't seem to be any air in the room. It was still and hot. Stacy blotted the sweat from her brow.
"And finally, the most important rule," Miss Helena said, her voice rising a notch. "You are not -- I repeat, not to leave your cabin for any reason whatsoever, after the signal for lights out."
When she finished what you must do, the camp owner-manager proceeded with what happened if you didn't. Penalties ranged from "cleaning the commodes" to "restriction to quarters." At last, she stopped for breath.
"Camp Cheer is a wonderful experience." Miss Helena's voice dripped honey again. "When I won the national contest to become Miss Cheerleader, 1952, I was so honored, I wanted to help other young girls become superior cheerleaders like me. Enjoy your stay, girls." Curtsying, she wiped a tear from her eye and sat down.
"Superior cheerleaders like me?" Stacy muttered to Pattisue. "You can bet there's no conceit in her family. She got it all."
The Barge-Sarge took center-stage and began introducing counselors. "Cabins One and Two, your counselor is Marianne Jacoby." The girl who told the campers to pick up a chair stood and waved. "Cabins Three and Four, your counselor is Moon-Ja Say." The cute girl who handed out papers rose. "Cabins Five and Six, meet Danielle Lone." Stacy's counselor wore her whitish-blonde hair up, spilling curls like a fountain. She was slim and tanned, her smile and voice friendly. "Welcome, Fives and Sixes," she called out.
"I'll bet she's nice," Stacy whispered to Pattisue.
"Campers dismissed," Marge shouted. "Follow your counselors to your cabins."
Hopes high, Stacy followed Danielle. In a clearing near Cabins Five and Six, the counselor plopped down on the grass and the eight girls from the two cabins gathered around her. Danielle went over the schedule handed out at the meeting. "Any questions?"
No one had any.
"Follow Miss Helena's rules and you'll have a good stay. Break them and you won't." Danielle's words sounded ominous and Stacy shivered. "Sleep tight," the counselor called out in a cheerier voice.
"So the bedbugs won't bite?" a girl with a punk haircut and braces called out.
"So you'll be ready for wake-up at 6:00 A.M." Laughing, Danielle headed for Cabin Five where she'd sleep.
Groaning, the campers entered their respective cabins. Brooke grabbed the bathroom in Six first. Fidgeting, Stacy waited. Lilleth pulled a bag of chips out and started munching. Pattisue put on short pink baseball style pajamas and began writing in her diary.
At last, Stacy was able to use the bathroom and brush her teeth. Dressed in an old tee shirt and plaid flannel shorts, she climbed into bed.
A loud gong shattered the silence -- twice.
"That means lights out -- immediately," Lilleth said, flipping the switch to the ceiling light.
The cabin was eerily quiet. Crickets chirped outside, but the only sound inside was breathing. Thin fingers of moonlight reached through the windows, casting shadows on the walls. "A headless man roams these woods." Lilleth spoke in a shivery voice. "Roaming, roaming, looking for a head."
Pattisue gasped audibly. Brooke (Stacy could hear the smile in her voice) took up Lilleth's story. "Angry because he was beheaded, he stalks these woods every night, peering into cabin windows looking for a head he likes."
Stacy loved telling ghost tales. She and her friends made up outrageous ones at sleepovers. She joined in. "When he finds a head that suits him--"
"He'll--" Lilleth interrupted.
Stacy wondered if she didn't like her butting in.
"Cut it -- OFF." Lilleth shouted the last word and slapped her hand on the bed.
Stacy heard Pattisue jump.
"After that..." Brooke went on with the story, making it scarier and scarier. Occasionally, the loose shutter banged.
Stacy stopped listening to concentrate on a faint sound coming from Pattisue's bed. It sounded like crying. Maybe she was scared. Or homesick. "Could we all get a little sleep around here?" Stacy made the question sound like an order the way Brooke would.
"Listen to Miss High and Mighty telling us what to do," Brooke said.
"We do have to get up at six o'clock." Lilleth yawned loudly. "I could use a little shuteye myself."
"Spoilsports!" Muttering, Brooke tossed noisily, then settled down with a sigh.
The cabin was quiet again except for the faint sniff from Pattisue's bunk. "Blow your nose," Lilleth ordered, and Pattisue did.
Stacy was keyed up and couldn't go to sleep, so she mentally reviewed Miss Helena's rules. Then she recalled the pictures in the camp brochure and compared them to the actual camp. A rip-off, why would Lilleth come back a second time?
It seemed like an hour had passed and Stacy was still awake. She was thinking about Miss Helena making cheerleading her life, and wondering if was the only thing she was ever good at, when she heard something...
Someone was moving around inside the cabin.
Recalling the story of the headless man, Stacy clutched the sheet, pulling it up under her chin. Seconds passed. Slowly, she raised her head. Someone was sneaking toward the door of the dark cabin. Pattisue wouldn't venture out alone, so either Lilleth or Brooke was leaving. But which one, and why? Miss Helena's Number One Rule was don't leave your cabin for any reason after lights-out.
What happens next? YOU choose!
Copyright © 2000 by Betty Jo Schuler