14-year-old Abbey’s love/hate relationship with ghosts is tested when she’s stranded at a spooky summer camp. With her ability to see and interact with ghosts, she has lost many friends—it scares people and really, who wants to hang out with the ghost girl?—but there’s something addictive about the experience, too. But when an escalating series of paranormal incidents makes it clear a message is being sent, Abbey has to choose between her abilities or her new friends—history has shown she can’t have both.
1 | Odd Beginnings
I hate dead people.
Shivering as the hairs stand on the back of my neck, I know what I need to do. The basement stairwell is pitch dark and of course nothing happens when I flip the light switch. Nothing in my life goes that easy. The house is silent except for the sound of my own breathing. Still, I am not alone.
Trying to be ninja, I slip carefully down the wooden stairs. The third step lets out a slow creak as I ease my full weight onto it. The fourth step doesn’t do me any favors either, not that it makes a difference. Someone—or something—is waiting for me.
A solitary figure stands at the base of the stairs. An old woman dressed in a flowing vintage gown beckons me to proceed. A gust of wind kicks up—kind of strange considering I’m inside a basement—and my hair swirls around my face. Though her face is shrouded in shadows, the woman’s skin is the color of a pale brown paper bag with faint shades of olive green, any trace of pink long forgotten. I make out the outlines of the ancient furnace hulking behind the old woman. The transparency of her drab, colorless clothing makes it evident she’s only partially here in our world.
Yeah, I see dead people.
If this woman wants me down in the basement, she must have a reason. Let’s have it then. “Why are you here?” I ask. Stepping right up to the woman, the cold is so intense, I can’t help but shiver. As close as I am, I can’t see her eyes. A veil of shadow covers her face and I’m left staring into a pit of darkness.
She doesn’t answer. Experience has taught me not to expect much—if anything—in the way of verbal interaction in these situations.
Her hand slowly comes up and reaches for my cheek. It takes everything I have to hold my ground.
A sensation of vertigo hits me as the woman’s long-dead hand makes contact with my skin. Images of angry faces and a violent struggle race through my head, a chaotic whirl speeding by too fast to comprehend. I need this to stop before I get swept away, unable to process my own thoughts. It takes every ounce of willpower to raise my hand. Drawing strength from my momentum, I focus everything on the spirit’s hand and wrap my fingers around the pale wrist. I’m actually able to make contact with the icy cold skin, ripping the hand from my cheek.
The image freight train careening through my head comes to a screeching halt and I start breathing again. This dead woman wants me to know about her death, but there’s nothing I can do. Clearly, she died ages ago.
Without warning, her hand comes at me, shifting focus from my cheek to my throat. Possessing a strength I couldn’t have foreseen, she brings me to my knees as I fight to keep the hand at a safe distance.
It’s my own fault. I’m the one who enabled this contact. Lesson learned.
Twisting violently, I push her hand away and wrench my hand from her grip. Contact lost, her power over me diminishes immediately. Though not for a second do I believe the threat is over. I need to end this.
“Time for you to leave. You’re not wanted here. Now go!” I shout.
The breeze has become a whirlwind and the overhead light blinks on, burning supernaturally bright. With a loud pop, the bulb shatters leaving me covered in shards of glass and plunges me once again into darkness. The old woman gone.
I really hate dead people.
Opening the door at the top of the stairs, I step into the light. Squinting to see, I make out a tall figure across the room, facing away from me. My eyes adjusting to the light, I recognize my father standing at our kitchen sink, his hands deep in the soapy water as he cleans up our dinner dishes. “Hey, Abbey,” he calls over his shoulder. “What’s going on in the basement?”
“Nothing,” I answer. “I thought I heard something down there.”
“I hope those squirrels haven’t found their way back into the basement. That’s the trouble with these old houses.”
Fighting back a smile, I reassure him. “No, Dad, there’s no squirrels. Quiet as a graveyard down there.” I don’t like lying to my father, however some things are best left unsaid. My father doesn’t need to know his daughter is a certifiable spook magnet and that my childhood ghostly experiences have continued—let alone become so prevalent.
My name is Abbey, and like most 14-year-old girls you meet, I’m relatively normal—at least until you get to know me. And then all bets are off.
As I’m sure you’ve picked up on by now, ghosts like me. Okay, “like” might be putting too much of a positive spin on it. They absolutely are attracted to me, though—like a fat kid is attracted to donuts.
There’s a picture taken on my first birthday, in it I’ve got chocolate frosting smeared all over my smiling face and my recently deceased great-grandmother looms behind me in the background. Guess she really didn’t want to miss my party.
My mom told me a story about when I was young. She said I had been sitting on the floor playing with my dolls in our home and the door behind me had closed by itself. My mom had put down her book and opened the door. As soon as she was back on the couch, the door closed again. Frustrated, she got back up and placed a large book against the door propping it open. The moment she was back sitting on the couch with her book open, the door slammed shut again. Mom was shocked to find the door locked and the book returned to its place on the bookshelf. This is how my life has always been—things have never been quite normal around me.
As I grew older, the ghosts kept coming. My mother would get upset when I would tell her about the ghostly visits. She would look concerned and worried about me constantly. Sometimes she would cry and I didn’t like that at all. After I was old enough to start figuring things out, I decided it was better if I didn’t tell her every time a ghost made an appearance. I stopped telling my father most of the time, too. I think maybe he still knew, but at least he had his plausible deniability.
There’s an art to keeping a straight face when a ghost walks into the room and you don’t want the others around you to know. It takes supreme focus to keep talking to your mother about her day when a ghost passes through a closed door, glances your way and then does a double take. This one walked right up to me and began waving his hand right in front of my face—the same way you’d check to see if a person really could see through their super dark sunglasses.
There’s a love hate relationship happening where these ghosts are concerned. Sure, they intrude in on my life, coming at random times day and night and I’ve lost friendships when my abilities are discovered. I mean, I know it scares people and really, who wants to hang out with the ghost girl? But yet …
I don’t know why, but I crave the ghostly contact. There’s something about the feeling of the chill running up my spine when I experience a ghostly appearance. I know it can be dangerous, but it’s addictive as well. I’m not sure what that says about me.
These days, I try to shelter my father as best as I can. Since it’s just the two of us now, he already has a lot on his plate. I’ll always be his little girl and he’ll always be the person I look up to most—which is exactly why my father’s announcement that changed my summer plans came as such a blow.
“No way. I have to spend the rest of my summer vacation in River Falls? Wisconsin would be my last choice of places to finish out the summer. Why can’t I come with you?”
My father gazed at me with tender eyes. I could tell it wasn’t easy on him either to leave me behind. “I really can’t bring you this time. I’m going to a military base and there’s not a place for children there. I did check, I really did.”
My father, Constantine, is an investigative journalist who travels the world writing books and magazine stories chronicling the mysteries of our time. Whether it was psychic healers, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, a government cover-up of an invisibility experiment gone horribly wrong, or off to Easter Island to examine the large stone heads, my father has been on some amazing journeys. “Look, it’s just six short weeks and then I’ll be home and you’ll start high school.”
Arms folded, I hold my ground. “That’s the problem. You can’t send me off to church camp the summer before high school. High school is important. I need to prepare.”
A pained expression briefly colors his face. “I hate to disappoint you.”
“Well, yeah. Adults have disappointed me all my life. Remember how much I liked Santa until I found out about all the amazing crap he gave my rich friends for Christmas.” I can’t help but giggle.
My father gives me a chuckle. “I also remember that you got over it. And besides, it’s not like it’s really a camp,” he says. “There are no leaky tents or run-down cabins. You’ll be staying at River Falls College, living in the dorms. Camp Agape is the Cadillac of church camps.”
“Camp Agape? Camps should have cool names like Camp Runamuck. Kathleen went to a camp last summer by a dried-up lake named Camp Lakebegone. That was a cool name.”
“Okay, but a few short weeks at church camp will be good for you,” he says, giving me a look, “you may learn a thing or two.” I narrow my eyes at him, but he plows on. “And besides, your mother would have wanted this for you.”
Eyes down, I can’t look at him. He’s not playing fair. “I hate it when you play that card.”
My father gives me a warm smile. “I know. It’s my secret weapon. But, you’ll have a summer vacation to remember for the rest of your life.”
“That’s exactly what I’m worried about,” I call over my shoulder as I retreat to my room.
And as it turned out, I was right to be worried.