A young boy encounters the famed "Lady of the Lake" in the most unusual of places. She begins granted his wishes but they come at a very high price!
The Lady in the Germ Box by Killian Crane
Buy the book Campfire Stories to Tell in the Dark
Music by Ray Mattis http://raymattispresents.bandcamp.com
Produced by Daniel Wilder
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It’s too hot, Greg thought. He and the other poor kids sat in Squirrel Lodge, packed like rats in foldout chairs. Some of the “rats” laughed, some of them cried. B.O. fumes and chocolate breath stagnated in the heat. Greg doubted he could take this for two weeks.
The head camp counselor, Marty Hartman, took to the stage. His mustache wriggled as he checked something off of his clipboard. “Alright, kids,” he exclaimed, “let’s play the quiet game as I give the Camp Thohmatatchi Safety Talk!”
It was all Greg’s parent’s fault. His father, a pro golfer, won a big tournament and used the money to get his helicopter license. His parents went on an awesome helicopter trip around Europe, while he was forced to learn the importance of rules or whatever for two weeks. He was ready to go home.
Greg didn’t listen as Marty droned on about emergency exits and procedures. He was caught in a game of cat and mouse, digitally.
His fingers danced over the portable game system he held, making his avatar dash across a bridge. A giant fish chased him, mouth gaping.
If he could just get the star over the water, he wouldn’t have to worry about that stupid fish at all, he could sprint all the way to the end. It came down to one, single jump…
Someone bumped him hard on the shoulder, and his avatar miss-stepped. He fell into the water, paddling like mad, but in the end he was pulled down to a watery grave.
“Ugh… ” he grunted as the infamous game over music played, “ …what the heck?”
He turned to see Russel smiling nefariously down at him. Russel had a fire red mullet and was twice the size of any kid in the room. “Pay attention to the assembly,” the fat-head said, sitting back and enjoying himself.
When Greg’s parents had dropped him off, they’d made a fatal error… they’d arrived in the family’s luxury SUV. As Greg brought his things to the cabin, a large chalky hand stopped him.
It was said fat-head. “Hey, was that your ride?”
“One of them… ” Greg corrected, “… we have five.”
The fat-head smiled, his pasty face somehow darkening. “Oh, we’re gonna have some fun, you and I.”
Marty raised a finger. “Before we continue, I will stress to you children, absolutely no pranks and or bullying will be tolerated here at Camp Thohmatatchi!”
Something told Greg that the fat-head behind him would be breaking those two rules, most likely breaking them over his head.
Marty did a cartwheel. “Let me introduce you to your camp counselors!”
There were five underlings total. All of them big kids, probably high-schoolers… and probably losers if they were here and not doing cool kid stuff. Greg didn’t bother learning their names.
The only person he wanted to get to know was that blond girl over there. Natalie, he thought her name was. Boy was she something. Girls had cooties and whatnot, but Natalie seemed different. Her hair was like strands of gold, and her emerald eyes could start wars. She was walking, talking treasure. Greg just had to know, like, what was her deal?
“Give it up for our Squirrel counselors!” Marty shrieked, clapping madly. Greg gave a golf clap, the one his mother used at his father’s tournaments.
As Marty droned on about how much fun they were all going to have, there was a tap on his arm.
It was the kid next to him. He had thick glasses and scraggly hair. “I’m Simon,” he whispered, “Simon Biles. From upstate. First time on the yard?”
“The yard?” Greg asked low.
“Yeah,” Simon said, “you know, the yard. That’s slang for prison on TV.”
“Ah,” Greg said nonplussed, “uh, yeah first time.”
Simon smiled, pushing up his glasses. “This makes year three for me. The ‘rents just don’t trust me around the house while they’re gone. Wanna be bunk mates?”
Year three, Greg thought. This guy looked like he could use a friend, and Greg could use some information. He nodded at the blond girl possibly named Natalie. “What’s her deal?”
Simon’s eyebrows danced. “That’s Natalie Carver, real looker, eh? She’s Queen Bee around these parts, sure to get the leading lady role of this years stupid play.”
Greg was intrigued. “Play?”
Simon nodded. “Every year, we put on a play for our parents the day they pick us up. Marty says it shows that we learned about teamwork and dedication, but I think he’s trying to live out some fantasy through us.”
“And you think Natalie will be in this play?”
“We’ll all be in it,” Simon said, “it’s mandatory. But yes, she’ll probably get the leading part.”
Greg could feel himself coming down with a case of the acting bug. Where there was a leading lady, there was a Prince Charming opposite her. And possibly a kiss…
It was clear that Simon was a wealth of information. Greg wondered what else he could tell him about the camp, and more importantly, Natalie.
Greg put out his hand. “You got a deal, bunk mate.”
“Sweet,” Simon said, and they shook on it.
When Marty finally finished the Squirrel Safety Talk, he announced that they would all have hot dogs for dinner, followed by activity sign up.
“But first,” he neighed, “let’s all come up onstage for our camp group photo!”
Cheesy music played. Kids ran to the stage… Greg ran too, stopping next to Natalie. He smiled wide for the camera. Maybe he’d been wrong about this summer camp thing. Maybe this would be the best summer ever.
At 07:30 sharp, Marty Hartman’s bugle woke the dead.
Greg brushed his teeth, thinking about the night before. By pure coincidence, he and Natalie signed up for the same activities, even the same time slots. The play this year was The Wonderful Fairytale. According to the script, a witch casts a spell on a beautiful damsel, and only true love’s kiss could wake her…
Greg would study the script every evening after activities, really getting into the mindset of the prince. He was already rich and handsome, he was a shoe in. He couldn’t wait to show Natalie how amazing he was at literally everything.
He dressed for the day, satisfied with himself. Then he stepped into his shoes… and grimaced. Dollops of shaving cream foamed from around his ankles.
Everyone else was already outside. His shoes sloshed as he sprinted.
A camp counselor raised the flag as Marty slid his bugle away, put his hand over his heart and led them in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Greg couldn’t help but look for Russel. He found the fat-head was grinning at him.
Well, he thought, this isn’t gonna be good.
The week went on much in that fashion. Each time he tried to impress Natalie or even just get her attention, there was Russel to ruin it for him. It didn’t matter what sport they played; dodgeball, volleyball, kickball, basketball, tennis… when Russel was on the serving end, Greg was always on the receiving end. And when Greg had the ball, he had to either get rid of it immediately… or be crushed by a stampeding fat-head.
Sprinkled in between being humiliated at every event, Greg kept discovering little surprises.
And every time he discovered them, Russel wasn’t far away.
Bugs in his backpack. Sand in his toothpaste. A toy snake in his nightstand. Worst of all was when he learned that Russel could sew. He’d sewn all of Greg’s underwear together.
He wanted to report all of this to Marty, but he didn’t dare give either of them the satisfaction. He just accepted Simon’s help getting rid of the evidence and moving on.
“Bunkmates,” Simon would say. And it would genuinely make Greg smile.
Greg didn’t shirk his studies for the play. In drama class, he was by far the loudest and the most expressive. He knew he was a shoe-in for the prince, he just needed to seal the deal. He couldn’t understand why people were laughing, but he was getting a reaction. The evening before auditions, Greg and Simon sat on the sandbar of Lake Thohmatatchi, talking shop.
Simon shuddered. “That thing is so creepy.”
Greg followed his gaze. There was an electric blue port o potty at the edge of the forest. Marty explained that, because the cabins were so far from the sandbar, they’d installed a blue box in case of “emergencies.”
Greg felt unease knotting his guts. It was fact those things contained all kinds of sickness and disease. And they stank. No one with any sense would ever use one of them. At least that's what his mom said.
“Those things really give me the heebie-jeebies,” Greg said. “I wouldn’t go inside of that thing in a thousand years.”
Behind them, a tall fat-head with a red mullet burst from the bushes. “Really?” Russel asked. “The heebie-jeebies?” He lifted Greg by the shirt, grinning ear to ear. “You don’t say?”
He hauled Greg in the direction of the electric blue germ box. Greg pumped the brakes, digging his bare feet deep into the dirt. His shoes were far behind, next to Simon. No, he thought, no, my bare feet can’t touch that floor in there. NO!
“Put me down, fat-head!” Greg shouted.
Simon, on his heels, echoed “Put him down, fat-head!”
Russel backhanded Simon, sending his glasses flying. The boy quickly shuffled to all fours, searching madly for them.
Greg tried to put up a fight, but Russel shook him like a sack of marshmallows. His brain careened in his skull, making him see double.
The door of the germ box swung open.
“No,” Greg cried, “please Russel, no!”
Russel threw him inside and shut the door. Greg kicked and yelled, but it wouldn’t budge. He heard Russel laughing as he shoved something against the door, blocking it good.
Greg’s bare feet touched the floor. Germs, he thought, I can feel the germs between my toes!
“I’m running for Marty, Greg!”
“No you don’t, snitch!”
Two sets of running feet faded away.
Whatever trapped him was jammed solid. He wanted to hyperventilate, but he didn’t dare breathe. The toxic fumes might kill him.
Actually, he thought, it didn’t smell too bad. It was… relatively clean, for what it was. But grime began to seep between his bare toes…
What would the prince do? He thought.
He raised the toilet lid. Some brave souls had definitely been here already. Waste floated in the blue liquid below. He gagged, slamming it closed.
Anger welled inside of him. “I wish Russel would just… disappear.” There was a knock.
Greg looked at the door. Maybe someone heard him screaming. “Hello? Can you help me?” There was another knock.
It hadn’t come from outside. It came from the toilet. From under the seat.
He hesitated, his heart thudding in his neck. “H-hello?”
The knock came again, louder.
Greg lifted the lid.
There was a woman down there looking up at him. Her long, wet hair knotted in clumps, and her skin was stained a dark blue. She smiled thinly. “Hello.” Greg wanted to scream but he couldn’t.
Her head bobbed out of the toilet bowl, into the light. He backed as far away as he could, but they were basically face to face.
“Who are you?” he uttered.
The lady cocked her head to one side, and blue liquid ran from her ear. Greg barely kept from losing his lunch.
Her voice was soft. “I’m the Lady of the Lake. I heard your wish.”
Greg was stunned. “My wish?”
The Lady nodded enthusiastically. “I can help you. Tell me what you wish, and it will be so.”
Greg thought of his game. Was this his chance to grab the star? With Russel out of the way, he’d have no problem impressing Natalie…
“Fine,” Greg said. “I… I wish that Russel would disappear.” The Lady smiled, bowed her head, and disappeared with a splash.
Marty Hartman opened the door, holding a large board and a pair of boy’s shoes. “You okay, Gregory?”
Greg wasn’t sure how to answer that. “We’ll see,” he guessed.
Russel got a “stern” talking to about why bullying is bad, but by dinner he wasn’t in trouble anymore.
The fat-head smiled at Greg.
Greg smiled back. He couldn’t help himself. Either he’d gone crazy in the germ box, or after tonight, Russel wouldn’t be a problem.
As the bugle woke him, Greg felt wonderful.
He looked to where Russel slept. The bed was empty. He got ready fast. There were no bugs in his bag, no snake in his nightstand, no sand in his tooth paste. When he put on his shoes, there was no shaving cream.
The flag was raised, and they said the Pledge of Allegiance. No Russel in sight. As they split into groups, Greg stopped Marty. “Hey,” he asked, “where’s Russel?” Marty checked his clipboard. “I’m sorry… who?”
Greg blinked. “Russel… ”
Marty checked his clipboard again. “Who?”
Greg smiled. “Oh, no one important.”
That day was amazing. With no fat-head interference, he was able to put in some time with Natalie. She didn’t seem all that interested in talking, in fact she seemed to try and avoid Greg. But Greg was confident that would change soon.
At auditions, Natalie killed it, drawing applause from the entire crowd. She was a shoe-in for the part of The Damsel.
Greg put in the performance of a lifetime. He didn’t just pretend to be the prince, he was the prince.
Instead of a standing ovation, people laughed. He didn’t understand what they thought was so funny. Still, he was confident.
That night, he had two Sloppy Joe’s to celebrate. It wasn’t long before Marty posted the roles on the Squirrel Bulletin.
Bodies buzzed excitedly around the results. Greg couldn’t see through them, but it was clear by murmurs that Natalie got the part of The Damsel.
To his confusion, a lot of people were congratulating Simon. He supposed that Simon got the part he wanted; Borkley the comic relief. He shoved through the crowd and scanned the list for his name… but there had been some mistake.
Simon Biles- The Prince
Gregory Gaspard- Borkley.
His jaw hit the top of his shoes. How could this happen?
Simon, looking dejected, put out a hand to shake. “You gave it hell, bunk mate. You’ll be an awesome Borkley!”
Greg stared at the hand. Shaking, he squeezed a bit harder than he intended. “Congrats, pal.” He hid the storm cloud in his heart. He needed to walk, clear his head.
And then, the storm cloud had a flash of lightning. Lake Thohmatatchi… the sand bar.
He went straight to the germ box, locking the door behind him.
The darkness magnified the smell. He was terrified, but he was out of options. Simon had simply forced his hand.
He lifted the lid of the toilet, swatting the fetid air. Tentatively, he said, “I wish I was the lead in the camp play.”
The stark outline of a head, dripping blue liquid, floated out of the toilet bowl. “Is that so?”
Greg swallowed hard. “Yep.”
Before, when he’d made his wish, she’d disappeared almost immediately. This time she lingered, floating ghostly quiet. Greg could hear his breathing.
After an eon, she cut the silence. “Anything else?”
The words surprised Greg. “Yeah, I suppose so. There’s this girl, Natalie Carver. I wish she liked me. A lot.”
She gave a low bow, then disappeared.
Greg quickly shut the lid. “Well,” he said to no one, “that’s that.”
He crept back to Squirrel Lodge. Among the kids running wild, Simon was talking to Natalie.
She was smiling at him.
Greg had enough. He left and went to bed.
He tossed and turned for a long time, wrestling with the night’s events. When he finally dreamed, he was at one of his dad’s golf tournaments. His swing was perfect. The ball plunked into the electric blue germ box. Hole in one!
The bugle sounded, and everyone rose to greet the day.
A medical emergency was declared. Simon was wheeled out of the cabin by EMS. His glasses dropped from his face, skittering on the ground. Greg picked them up.
Simon reached out to him with a red and white striped hand. He was striped like that over his entire body.
“Thanks, bunk mate.” Simon said weakly, putting on his glasses. He gave Greg a pitiful smile. Even his teeth were striped. The ambulance doors were shut, and the vehicle roared away.
Greg felt genuinely terrible about what he’d done… until he locked eyes with Natalie Carver. She looked at him in a way that made steam whistle out of his ears.
Marty walked up to him, shaking his head and looking at his clip board. “Sorry to ask like this,” he said, “I know he was your friend. But… the show must go on! It’s what Simon would have wanted. How do you feel about being The Prince?”
Greg’s eyes never left Natalie’s. “Yes,” he said, “I think Simon would want that.”
Marty checked something off his clipboard enthusiastically. “Fantastic!”
During activities, Greg and Natalie were inseparable.
Instead of participating, they doted on each other, laughing at everything the other said. More than once, camp counselors separated them.
During the afternoon break, they stole away to a secret alcove near Lake Thohmatatchi, far from camp counselor eyes.
“Oh, Greg,” Natalie said, “I don’t know what it is about you. You’re just so funny!”
Greg shrugged. “What can I say, m’lady?”
Natalie lost it. Greg laughed himself. He was pretty funny.
“It’s too bad,” she moped, “in a few days… I’ll have to go back home, and you’ll have to go back home. And we’ll probably never see each other again.”
Greg had other plans. They locked eyes for a long time. “Never say never.”
It was just one, and it was over fast. But to Greg, it lasted a lifetime. He felt woozy as they rubbed noses.
“We better get back,” he said, “they’ll be looking for us soon.”
“I know,” Natalie said tittering, “we’re so bad.”
They walked holding hands, the sand bar crunching under their feet.
The germ box loomed ahead.
“I’ll catch up,” Greg said, “I need to pee.”
“Oh,” Natalie said, “I can wait on you.”
“Uh… don’t be ridiculous! I’ll catch up.”
She hesitated, not wanting to move. Then she gave up, pouting. “Fine. But seriously, don’t take too long. I’ll miss you.” She sulked away.
Greg went into the germ box and locked the door.
“I wish… I never had to go home.”
He raised the toilet seat. She smiled up at him, content not to come up.
“You sure about that?” she asked.
Greg cleared his throat. “Yes.”
The Lady nodded, then sank into the dirty abyss.
That night, Greg’s dreams were filled with hand-holding, hugs, and best of all, kisses.
He got his star power-up. He was unstoppable.
No bugle screeched that morning.
Instead, Greg was called into Marty’s office. He thought maybe he and Natalie were in trouble, but Marty looked too grave for that.
“Gregory…” he said, tears welling in his eyes, “I really don’t know how to say this…”
Greg grew impatient, ready to spend the day with Natalie. Ready for another kiss. “Well? Spit it out already!”
Marty blew his nose. “I’m so sorry. We got a call that your father crashed his helicopter.
Your parents are… ”
Greg sank in his chair.
Marty handed him a tissue. Greg looked at it, not sure what to do with it. Not sure about anything.
Eventually, he was able to speak. “I need… I need to go home.”
Marty winced. “Actually… ”
Greg’s eyes went wide. “What?”
“Your neighbor called. There was a fire, something electrical. Your house was… totally destroyed.”
Greg laughed unbelieving. It wasn’t a happy laugh.
Marty shook his head. “I’m sorry, Gregory. I can counsel you through this. Do you need a hug?”
Greg crumpled the tissue in his hand. “No! What… what am I supposed to do?”
“Well, you can stay here. We have everything you need… ”
“No!” Greg shouted.
“Now, Gregory,” Marty said, “it’s lovely in the winter… ”
“This wasn’t the deal!” he shouted. “She tricked me!”
Marty mustache twitched. “Who tricked you?”
Greg stormed out.
“Gregory,” Marty shouted, “come back! I’m not finished counseling you!”
Greg almost sprinted past the kids saying the Pledge of Allegiance. Natalie seized him by the arm.
She had a crazy look in her eye. “Greg, don’t you ever scare me like that again! Where were you?”
“Get off me!” he yelled, pulling away.
Natalie’s face went from hurt, to fury, to pleading, to love. “I’ll never leave you, Greg.
What’s wrong? Let me help you!”
Greg was crying. “Leave me alone!”
He ran towards Lake Thohmatatchi, Natalie close behind him. She was frothing mad. “Greg!
Don’t you run from me! You can’t get away from me!”
He locked himself in the germ box. She pulled and banged, even head-butted the door. “Get out here so I can help you!” she shouted as her claws scraped down the electric blue plastic.
The smell was horrible. Greg lifted the lid, releasing a swarm of flies. “Get out here!” he commanded.
A face bobbed out of the blue liquid, floating among the waste. It was grinning with thin, sharp teeth.
Marty mewled outside. “Greg, come out here, let me counsel you!”
The box shook as Natalie assaulted the box. He could see her wild eyes through the crack. It wouldn’t be long before she pulled the door off the hinges. “Greg!”
When Greg turned back to the Lady, her head stuck high out of the bowl. She seemed to bulge from under there, barely contained.She was big, he realized. He wondered, with some horror, what she’d look like hauled up on land. Gills ran the length of her serpentine neck. “You called?”
“You cheated,” he said. “My wish didn’t come true!”
Her blue tongue licked dripping liquid from her lips. “You wished you didn’t have to go home… ”
The door flexed, the plastic nearly buckling. His parents, his house, this camp… it was all too much for him. He had to escape. He wanted out.
He looked at the Lady, his voice a fury. “Get me out of here!”
She cocked her head. “Are you sure about that?”
Greg gestured behind him. “Yes! I wish I could disappear!”
The Lady’s pupils grew massive. “Very well.”
Her head lurched forward, biting into his fingers. Shocked, Greg screamed as the needle like teeth sank into his knuckles. Her gills opened, and she blew ultramarine liquid everywhere. Slowly, she slid into the toilet bowl, cackling as she did. Greg pulled and protested, but she wouldn’t let go.
He reached for the handle, but he was already too far.
He flailed madly as he was was pulled into the darkness, into a sea of ultramarine blue. The bowl muffled his screams as he slipped.
Marty mewled from outside. “Greg, let me counsel you!”
Natalie screeched, “Greg, let me help you!”
The Lady’s slid below the surface, her eyes glowing in the dark liquid. Dread seized Greg as the greasy fluid ran up his arm. He squealed as his grip failed and he was pulled fully into the bowl with a great splash.
Natalie pulled the door off it’s hinges, throwing it to the side. Greg was nowhere to be seen. She and Marty held their noses as they looked down the open lid just in time to see a grouping of bubbles float to the top. One by one they popped, and the waste floating on the blue sea grew deathly still.
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