Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Last Time by Crystal Collier

June hadn’t punched out yet, wouldn’t punch out yet. She ogled the ID in her mittened fingers like it had more answers than the Bible, but was unable to find a single one.

The camp office behind her was quiet, all lights turned off except for the one over the door, throwing an eerie light across the time-card machine. Her exit. Out of this world and on to the next.

Two weeks ago Camp Thistle had been buzzing, more kids running around than Disney on a holiday. Too many eyes. Tomorrow the manager, Don, would come and close the place down for the winter. Tomorrow condemned this wonderland to silence and doomed her chances forever.

She placed her ID on top of the machine and turned to the brightened doors. June grazed past aisles of never-expiring treats and wood-whittled souvenirs. She’d purchased a few and sent them to her nieces and nephew. Only nineteen, she hoped to have kids one day—but not until she finished school. Which she’d put off this semester after she discovered it…

A bell above the door tinkled as she pushed through and stepped into the snowy night. Stars glimmered above, casting their mysterious light on twelve white-capped cabins and the bordering trees.

Legend said the camp was built next to an Indian burial ground. It was just a story. June had been here six months and never seen any ghosts. Don’s grandson (who had worked here every summer since he was ten,) said he’d heard drum beats while taking hikers through the canyon. He’d discovered a cave there, but didn't actually enter.

He was a wuss.

June rounded the building. Her cloudy breaths were the only disturbance in the evening as she passed the mess hall windows. She stopped at the cellar door that led below the kitchen. Don never let anyone down there for supplies, not even the cook. It had been a sore point during the busiest times when June had to run around the camp to find him so they could start dinner. She’d requested the keys several times. Don refused.

But tonight, with the camp cleared out, she would discover what he was hiding. She lifted the electric screwdriver from below her coat and kneeled in the snow before the door hinges. Her tool whined to action.

Anyone who was deterred by locks hadn’t grown up with her brother. Not that he’d ever been slapped with petty theft, but Mom hadn’t been able to keep him out of the candy closet for sure. Of course, this was a little heavier than the candy closet. She appreciated the criminal implications of her actions, and that’s why she’d waited. When Don needed supplies from town to lock up, she’d volunteered to close things down for him. She’d been nothing but trustworthy all summer. He couldn’t possibly suspect, and now she had the camp to herself.

No witnesses.

Still, she couldn’t help feeling that the old man was standing right behind her, tapping a toe as he waited for her to notice.

She paused and turned. Tree tops, silhouetted by moonlight stared down at her, wind whistling between dark cabins and skimming the back of her neck. She shivered and shrunk into her coat. Winter came to these mountains far too early.

The tool buzzed back to life, shaking her bones and warming her hands. Three screws down, five more to go.

June was not looking forward to putting them back—especially with the wood splintering as the bolts came free. They would never sit right again. She wished she’d considered that. A story around camp said that a kid had snuck down there back in the fifties. He wanted to impress a girl and make her a picnic in forbidden territory—or at least that’s the story the girl told everyone after he went missing. A hundred endings had sprung up for the story: a monster in the basement, being murdered by the owner and served up to the other kids, that he’d been turned into a slave and lived down there still… It had been a scandal, something the local newspapers raved about, but Don had worked hard to make the story go away. Now only a few people knew it. June had made it her business to learn everything she could about the ordeal.

That boy was her grandma's brother.

She slid the last screw out of place and tucked the screwdriver into her pocket. She expected she’d find a normal cellar lined with supplies and labeled boxes of non-perishable food. It was a shame, really. She wanted there to be more to it, but if she let herself believe there was, she’d psych herself out of the next step.

No. Never. She’d come too far, worked the whole summer. This was it.

She pulled the wood away from its frame. It clung to the cement exterior a moment before popping free—like a frog being pulled from its perch.

Five steps descended into the new space. Darkness waited below. But no, not darkness. A sliver of light cut through the murk, the split between two black curtains.

June pulled out her cell phone and cued up the camera. There was no reception up here, but she would take evidence of what she’d seen with her. She owned that much to Grandma Rodriguez.
She placed one boot noiselessly on the first step and hit record, straining her ears toward the light. She ducked into the cavity and took another step. The wind’s warning died, and she descended another stair.

Air stirred from her own breathing, the sound far too loud.

Her boot scraped across debris on the fourth step. She cringed and stopped.

The drapes before her remained still, pitch black as the devil’s eyes. She swallowed and stepped down. Her gloved fingers grazed across the material—as heavy and velvety as a stage curtain. She pulled it back.

Light hit her in the eyes. She squinted.

Shelves lined the walls, stacked full of cans and boxes. The space was about ten feet wide, but as long as the building above. A hallway. The light emanated around a doorway straight ahead and its haunting blue lit the metal frames of the shelves like ice.

Her phone chirped. She swore and hugged it to her chest.

The hall waited, silent.

June turned the face of her phone up. Low battery. No! She was certain she’d charged it this afternoon. All the more reason to get this over with quickly. She hurried forward.

The door handle chilled her fingers through the gloves. She twisted it and pulled.

Light bloomed into the cellar and her jaw dropped.

A giant TV glowed, the final frame of The Princess Bride flashing across the screen. The back of an office chair faced her, two deer-like horns protruding above it. Metal in the corner reflected the movie like second screen: a dented aluminum egg as tall as she was with fold-down stairs ascending into a dark interior. It looked like a spaceship from a seventies movie.

She lifted her phone, but it was dead in her hand.

Someone sniffled and a paw the size of a tennis ball reached for a coke on a side table next to the chair.

“Holly frapaziod!” She jumped back.

The chair whirled around. June bumped into the wall behind her.

A giant rabbit sat in the chair, antlers sticking out of its brow, eyes like back golf balls. He tore earbuds free and his mouth opened.

June grabbed for the screwdriver, trembling. This was it. She’d broken into the cellar only to be eaten by an antlered, movie-watching bunny. But she wouldn’t go down without taking one of its eyes.

The thing hopped out of its seat, standing as tall as her waist. “I have a funny feeling you’re not supposed to be down here.” He sounded like an infomercial narrator. “Did Don leave the cellar door open again? I keep telling him he can’t do that.”

A talking, antlered bunny. Her screwdriver dipped along with her dangling jaw. “You’re a, you’re a—”

“An alien.” The creature winked. “That’s right. Just get it out. I’m Jack, actually.” He extended a paw. “And who might you be?”

Her fingers loosened around the tool. “I’m June.”

“Nice to meet you, June. You know, you’re handling this better than the last guy. We had to ship him off to the funny bin. Poor bloke. But where are my manners?” He waved a paw at the side table. “Would you like a coke?”

She swallowed, feeling dizzy. The last guy?

“Oh June, you’re looking a little woozy. Why don’t you have a seat?” He pushed the chair toward her. She collapsed into it. “So nice to have company, by the way. It gets so lonely down here, waiting for Don to round up all the spare parts to repair my ship. Guess thats why I tried to keep Jeffry here, but as I said, he ended up a bit loony. Must have been the gamma radiation.” He glanced at his Easter-egg spaceship. Do you know I’ve been waiting sixty years for technology to advance enough for the ship parts I need? We’ve got at least another thirty before someone invents the spacial displacement unit that will get me home, but at least I patched up the radiation leak. As exciting as that is, I like it here on Earth. Funny looking people, but a beautiful planet.”

Junes mouth flapped open but she couldn’t get anything to come out. Jeffry was the name of Grandmas missing brother. She dropped her dead cell phone.

“Did I drain your battery?” The rabbit asked. “So sorry. My gravinator is being wonky, syphoning energy off everything. Poor Don went through six generators this summer. Can you imagine how terrible I feel? He’s such a nice guy.”

She squinted, fuzzing her eyes and opening them wide again. Yup. Still a giant bunny with horns.

“Say, I’m going to need a new guardian in a couple years,” Jack said. “What do you say? Sound like an entertaining position?”

She blinked at him. He couldn’t be serious. “Do you pay?”

“Sure thing.” He flung a fist at a bag in the corner, a potato sack overflowing with gold nuggets. “I can’t take these worthless rocks with me when I leave anyway. Don seems to like them.”

Why not? Who said she had to go off to college and have babies anyway? June offered a hand. “I think we have a deal.”

“That’s just swell. Why don’t you join me for the next movie—Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”

Crystal Collier may spend too many late nights munching cheese and thinking up bizarre story twists, but she does so to appease the scientists locked in her Floridian basement. *wink wink* (Who else is going to finish building her teleportation device?) She figured she might as well make a dime on all that effort and became an author who pens everything from dark fantasy, historical, and romance tales, to inspirational stories and comedy. She has lived from coast to coast and now occupies the land of sunshine with her creative husband, four littles, and “friend” (a.k.a. the zombie locked in her closet). Secretly, she dreams of world domination and a bottomless supply of cheese. 

Check out more of her midnight meanderings HERE.

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