The cabin struck me as a less than ideal place for a troubled children’s retreat. Despite obvious, well meaning efforts to render it welcoming with colorful murals spanning the outer walls, it was nonetheless vaguely unsettling.
It was a thirteen sided round house, like a yurt but a solid wooden structure rather than fabric over a frame, with a squat conical roof, all ragged and falling to pieces as it had been built in the 70s and not consistently maintained since.
The selection of toys was, as a consequence, pretty dated. “Lawn darts? Weren’t these banned when some kid-” Shirley, the other counselor, shooshed me. Two of the children had a history of violent outbursts with sharp objects. We stashed the darts in the bus.
Of those two, I’d only read Rebecca’s file exhaustively. I had a working knowledge of the basics for the rest. What may trigger them, histories of abuse, what medications to keep on hand and so on. Rebecca’s file was something out of the ordinary. No history of abuse, sexual or otherwise. No violent outbursts against other children. She was here for animal mutilation.
The notes provided claimed her foster parents had walked in on her several times in the process of dissecting live mice, squirrels and other small animals. Very precisely, using whatever the sharpest implement in the house was. X-acto knives at first until those were removed. Then separated scissor blades. When everything sharp had been removed she somehow found some other source and would use things like the small blade of a pocket knife or a disposable scalpel.
When asked why she did it, she answered cryptically. “They can visit for a little while but it makes them sick. To stay longer, they need new bodies. Made from real living parts. Their normal bodies only work where they come from. To come here and stay, they need organs from something that lives here. The organs need to be the right size and delivered fresh. So we made a deal.”
She produced equally bizarre drawings. Most of them were bedroom scenes at night, with Rebecca sitting in bed and little stick figures climbing in the window, down to the floor, then up onto her bed. Handing her something resembling a little knife, while she handed it little bits of red something or other.
The consensus was that she was showing symptoms characteristic of a future serial killer and that merited her inclusion in the therapeutic retreat program. Socializing with girls her own age was supposed to accelerate the development of her emotional intelligence. She hadn’t spoken to anyone on the ride up to the cabin, however. I asked her why. “No point in getting atttached”. Not sure what I expected, but that wasn’t it.
I got the girls settled with some board games, administered meds according to the schedule, then helped Shirley put together a lunch of ham sandwiches and juice boxes. They were famished from the trip and it was a pleasant, peaceful few minutes while their mouths were full of sandwich before they went back to loudly laughing, screaming and gossiping. But, that’s what they were here to do.
A little after 3, Shirley said she was going back to the bus to retrieve her camera. Documenting social interactions was one of the things she hoped to get out of this trip. When she didn’t return by 5, I decided to set out after her. I didn’t get fifteen feet from the cabin before rain began pouring down around me and thunder clapped in the distance.
I pressed on a ways until the wind became really violent. It was all I could do to make it back to the cabin without being thrown off my feet. Guilt turned to panic when I found I wasn’t getting any reception on my cell. The girls must’ve sensed this as they began whimpering and telling each other something bad must’ve happened to Shirley. For their sake I forced a calm countenance and insisted she must have taken shelter in the bus to wait until the storm died down. This placated most of them. Not Rebecca, though.
“Not long now” she murmured. I did a double take. “Excuse me, kiddo? Not long until what?” She turn and stared at me for a while before speaking again. “They’ll be along very soon. We’ll need to begin preparing.” Efforts to get her to clarify failed. 7pm rolled around.
Despite my best efforts to stay alert and keep an eye out for Shirley, I dozed off. When I awoke, I found myself tied to the chair. A prank? “Alright, fun’s over. Untie me you little monkeys, or I can’t make dinner.” The girls sat at the outer most edge of the room, backs against the wall, knees to their chest, wide eyed and quiet. In the center of the room was some kind of ornate wooden platform with two handles at either end, as though intended to be picked up and carried by two people. Before I could ask where it came from, Rebecca entered the room. She was soaked.
“You weren’t outside were you? Untie me Becky, or you’re in serious trouble.” She was unphased. “They’ll be here soon. We have to prepare. Everything must be exactly right.” She vanished into the next room, then returned dragging one of the other girls who she’d gagged and hog tied. “Oh no. No, Becky? That’s enough. Stop this, untie me and I won’t punish you.”
She placed the bound girl on the decorated wooden platform very gingerly and walked around it, inspecting her from every angle. She answered in a strange sort of singsong chant. “We’ll all be punished if she’s not ready. So she has to be ready when they come.”
My threats, pleas and everything else fell on deaf ears. Becky proceded to bring in small animals from outside, cut open from neck to groin and pinned to little wooden frames. Some were clearly still alive, if lethargic. She took a paintbrush from her pocket, dipped it into the animal’s insides, withdrew it and began something resembling calligraphy, using the bound girl’s exposed skin as the canvas.
“You crazy little shit! Do you have any idea what the consequences will be if you don’t stop that?” She remained deadpean, but replied. “Not worse than they will be if I do.” Again she chanted: “We’ll all be taken if she’s not ready. So she has to be ready when they come.” She finished painting symbols on the struggling, tied up girl whose muffled whimpers she seemed wholly indifferent to.
The dissected animals were now arranged at six points around the platform. Thunder clapped. Outside I caught a brief glimpse of something I initially rejected as a trick of the light when lightening momentarily backlit several moving silhouettes. Subsequent lightening revealed the same silhouettes out among the trees, each time slightly closer to the cabin. I shrieked.
“Shhh”. Rebecca wrapped duct tape around my head, blocking my mouth but leaving my nose clear to breathe. “No loud noises. That isn’t right. Everything has to be exactly right. They’re outside now, don’t ruin it or we’ll all be taken.”
To spite her I tried to scream but could produce only a muffled grunting sound. After everything that had happened it was almost unsurprising when the silhouettes, revealed by each lightening flash, finally reached the cabin door and slipped inside.
The tape wasn’t necessary. I couldn’t force myself to make any sound. My mind rejected what was in front of me. They moved like nothing with any real mass to it. A sort of shifting or gliding. Their countless improbably long spiderlike legs jostled as if locomoting but did not properly touch the ground. They were like projections, superimposed over the room, yet moving within it. Moving in an orderly procession, taking their places alongside the wooden platform with the girl on it, lifting it, then carrying it out the door. In her first display of emotion since I met her, Rebecca now grinned ear to ear.
“Without a hitch. That will tide them over for tonight, don’t you think? But they’ll want bigger bodies soon. That means bigger parts.”
I don’t know how long I was out. I initially felt relief when I awoke, thinking everything prior to that was a dream. Until I tried to move, and couldn’t, as ropes tightly bound me. Neither could I scream because of the gag. The girls still huddled around the room, silently watching with wide eyes as Rebecca completed preparations. The wind picked up, followed by familiar thunder and lightning just as she finished painting my face. “Good, you’re almost ready” she cooed. “We’ll all be taken if you’re not ready. So you’ve got to be ready when they come.”