There is No Bunk #7

by Patrick Barb

Dee-Dee doesn’t know she’s the only one left alive. Long past “lights out” in all six log cabin-style bunks (three for the girls and three for the boys), moonlight illuminates encroaching trees. Heavy with forgotten divinity, the moon casts a glamour on dirt paths that meander through the campgrounds, making the well-trod earth under Dee-Dee’s flip flops appear bone-white.

She traverses these skeleton paths and her fear builds on itself with each step.

#

Mr. Carlson, the camp supervisor (the camp’s “real” grown-up, as opposed to counselors like Dee-Dee, who play-acted the role from mid-June to early August every summer), still had creamy white zinc-oxide slathered on the tip of his nose when he sent Dee-Dee to wait for help by the camp’s front gate. “I called the sheriff,” he’d said, hands hovering just above her shoulders in an approximation of inoffensive paternalism. “They’ll send some deputies. We’ll get everything sorted. We’ll find where those kids and counselors got off to…”

“I know where they are!”

Dee-Dee’s protestation was met by the back of Mr. Carlson’s head, bobbing down the path, headed in the opposite direction from her destination.

“I’m telling you, I saw Jenni and Jesse go into Bunk #7! There was an extra bunkhouse behind the fire circle. I think that’s where all the others are too. Mr. Carlson!”

“There is no Bunk #7!”

Dee-Dee heard a sudden, swift sound, something that could be matched to the tone and tempo of a long bladed weapon swung from the shadows and embedded in the neck or chest or stomach of the unfortunate and unbelieving Mr. Carlson. After that seemingly definitive thud broke up the nighttime cricket chorus and snuffed out the fireflies’ lights, Dee-Dee ran.

If she hadn’t run, then maybe, she could have considered other potential sources for the noise that’d made goosepimples rise up in defiant rebellion against her skin. Could the blame lie with a raised cabin window, shaken loose by time and subpar construction, that dropped shut on a windowsill, spilling dust and dead flies instead of blood?

Perhaps.

#

Dee-Dee sees the light ahead. It’s not the floodlights illuminating the gated entrance by the service road or the promised rotating blue and red squad car lights as expected. Instead, a large Coleman lantern hangs from a railroad spike that’s hammered into the front of a bunkhouse that has no business standing where it does. An orange flame flings itself against the glass and metal enclosure, testing the limits of its prison again and again.

On quick inspection, this new building matches all six of the other bunks back down the trail. Dee-Dee sees the same cedarwood façade and the placard that displays the bunk’s number bolted beside the screen door entryway. If she did turn around and go back to camp, she’d see the same features in the six familiar bunks (three for the girls and three for the boys). But this is Bunk #7, not 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6.

And that can’t be right. Because there is no Bunk #7.

Dee-Dee knows that. Everyone at camp knows it too.

Everyone at camp knew it.  But everyone is gone.

Dee-Dee’s all alone. She’s got no one to tell her if she’s crazy or if she’s not. And she still sees the building dead ahead, somehow moved from where she’d seen it last. It stands in the middle of the path. Which makes no sense because how did the old bus get them to the campgrounds, if not down this old road?

But the building is Bunk #7. That’s exactly what she sees on the placard. She hears the harsh winds, teasing a summer thunderstorm, blowing through the open windows. She smells stale sweat, wet beach towels from lakeside swimming, and campfire smoke, the same as she might smell from any other bunk.

Inside, shadows stretch from the cabin’s ceiling down to the floor. The dark outlines remind Dee-Dee of bodies from some slasher film, trussed up nubile teens hung from the ends of meat-hooks red with rust or blood or both.

But she’s held in thrall by her fear and doesn’t consider that shadows don’t always resemble their sources. Could those sinister shapes belong to backpacks or bunkbed posts?

Perhaps.

#

Last time she’d seen Bunk #7, Dee-Dee had watched Jenni and Jesse, a pair of teenage lovers—the kind she had only seen in dreams she didn’t tell her Mom about— find the seventh bunk behind some brambles backlit by the dying glow of their last campfire.

From the shadows, Dee-Dee had watched them approach the cabin. “Where are you going? Everyone’s gone and you’re off to do God only knows what? Don’t go in there!” She kept her warnings and admonishments to herself.

She’d looked away when they’d opened the door. Staring down at a sprouting poison ivy plant, Dee-Dee shivered to hear a killer’s footsteps stalking behind her friends. Boots rattled floorboards in a relentless pursuit.

But don’t old wooden building groan and quake with the settling, adjusting for the added weight of new inhabitants?

Perhaps.

#

Dee-Dee picks up the lantern from its hook outside Bunk #7. She raises it with one hand, feeling its weight try to drag her arm down. Before she can talk herself out of it, she grabs the screen door’s rusted, crescent-shaped handle and looks inside of Bunk #7.

#

If the deputies’ cruisers pulled up at the spot, short of the camp’s padlocked gate, they might mistake the squeal of a screen door’s hinges for a girl’s scream, some high-pitched whine of terror in harsh contrast to the night’s peace and quiet. They’d get out with their service weapons drawn, imagining themselves the heroes arriving at the last minute to dispatch some masked psychopath dispatching counselors and campers inside Bunk #7 in brutal and creative fashion.

But what if there’s no Bunk #7 to find? Would those would-be heroes be content with finding nothing?

Perhaps.

THE END

Author Note: This story was originally written for one of Crystal Lake Publishing’s monthly flash fiction Patreon contests and appears in their Shallow Waters Vol. 7. I wanted to replace the traditional slasher with a liminal space as the threat facing the hapless campers, imbuing this place that should not be with a sense of dread and menace along the way.

Author Bio: Patrick Barb is a freelance writer from the southern United States, currently living (and trying not to freeze to death) in Saint Paul, Minnesota. His work appears in Humans are the Problem (Weird Little World), Boneyard Soup Magazine, and the Tales to Terrify podcast, among other publications. For more, visit patrickbarb.com or follow twitter.com/pbarb.


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