a novel by
The grounds of Camp Havenside look innocent enough — a chapel and worship pavilion, cleanly separated girls and boys cabins, and a lush forest surrounding it that, when the sun falls, goes still and undisturbed with a strange quietude.
Suffering from a crisis of faith, Sam, a young church-going teenager, accompanies his youth group to the long-undisturbed Camp Havenside to seek spiritual enlightenment. What he finds is something different, more and more soul-shaking as the week of camp unfolds. As all supposed virtues and sacraments are perverted in brutal horrors, so creeps the approach of something that has slept in the secret folds of a cloistered Christian church camp for generations — waiting for someone to haunt.
Looking into the stars, Sam leaned back into a lack of light, sound, or breath.
Eyelids closed. The ground continued to shift, a rock continuing its temporal yet endless orbit, pulling along the thin string of time. Time ran in single streams down Sam, liquid documentation of it all, and everything all dragged tethered behind it. Eyelids tightened. Fingers gripped blades of grass as if to epilate the earth, wound the world. It was deep, deep down – clear to him in that constant simulation of eventual absence, that space between lid and iris where his whole lineage was encased, hanging forever before him at all hours of the day and the impossible night – deep, deep down. Smelled of soil, hints of a home awaiting him beneath. One day, all as it should be, and he would remain there without needing to be cast back down; one day the stone would not need to be rolled away, and beings beyond him in realms redolent of some half-formed, aborted protoplasm of self still soaked in tears hemorrhaging at the hands of its own iniquitous first cry into that already screaming dimension of which he was the second sacrifice – they would clap, dance, strut, stomp the snakes at their feet with no consciousness of the incongruity, of anything that had happened, of any song he had sung, unconscious of him entirely. The clamor would all be swallowed by the closing of a coffin lain in dry, dry desert, the only temptation worth giving in to, and quiet finality relieving his soul of its own anathema as eyelids closed.
. . . to dust you will return.
Lights interrupted the black, twinkling mutedly, holes opened in the fabric. The canvas was unmoving. No shriek from any inner sanctum threatened it, towering miles above the soil into which his body was already pressing, a nameless inclination. Charnel jaws beneath yawned upon him – but the stars stood constant above. Talk and campfires and cabins and swimming pools and Frisbees and water coolers and chapels all lay under the sun – but it was all forever in ownership of the stars.
Camp Havenside. Earth, water, blazing sun. Forestry in all directions, and somewhere hidden a garden. A broken cistern cracked, an eternal thirst. Stars made crosses in the sky.
They will ask the way to Zion and turn their faces toward it. They will come and bind themselves to the Lord in an everlasting covenant that will not be forgotten.
Sam’s lips resealed themselves, and with them, a covenant.
Brenda Howard sat in the driver’s seat of the minivan and slid the key into the ignition.
it’s in me . . .
Brenda Howard buckled and disengaged the emergency brake.
it moves me . . .
Brenda Howard shifted gears into reverse and pulled out on the dirt road.
what is in me . . .
Brenda Howard turned around.
“Isaiah, you sleep-talkin’ again?”
His eyes were wide open. His head hung backwards against the seat as if dead, but determined to show his dead face. Drool slipped slow and cold down the side of his mouth. His eyes were wide open.
“Mommy . . . what . . .”
“What is it, honey?”
“What . . . what is here . . .”
“What is here? You mean here at camp?”
“What is here . . . it . . . it was before us . . . what came
here before us . . . what was here before us . . .”
“Honey . . . honey, now, it’s okay, don’t be
scared, it’s okay. Nothing was here before us,
honey, nothing came here.”
“Nothing . . . nothing . . .”
“Nothing is here that didn’t come here
with us. Okay?”
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