Roger groaned as he woke up in a barn after a long day of what his paystub referred to as ‘groundskeeping.’ He blinked and saw a raven nearby, simply watching him. As soon as he stretched, the bird cawed and flew off through the large opening where the barn doors used to be and into the morning sky. His head had been laid on a rough bale of hay so he had to rub his neck to - in a bit of futility - soothe some of his new neck pain.
Feeling an alien bit of soft cloth, he could tell something was different: his shirt and overalls had been replaced by silk pajamas and a smoking jacket. He got to his feet and looked around: his work clothes were nowhere to be seen. Roger took out his notebook - an old, leather bound diary that simply had the words “THE VICAR” emblazoned on the front - and wrote down his observations.
By his mysterious new clothes, Roger could tell he was interpreting the omens correctly.
The head counselor’s cabin was about a kilometer out of the woods, down towards the lake. Roger - in his bizarrely nice clothes - began his long trek. The brambles and woods scratched at his thin silk and added a few holes to his strange costume, but after about an hour he marched up to the door under the Camp Counselor sign and knocked. It was just about eight in the morning, and Mike was nothing if not punctual.
“Roger!” Counselor Mike said escorting his old friend in. Roger clumped up the old wooden stairs. Mike’s office was small and made almost completely out of wood. For Mike’s part, he was in his shorts and t-shirt already, his red mustache cleaned and his whistle sparkling. “We missed you at dinner last night!” Mike looked Roger up and down. “So, how did it go yesterday?”
“The vicar is displeased.”
Mike sighed. “It’s always displeased.”
“—And active,” Roger interjected.
Mike nodded and leaned forward, templing his fingers in mock interest. “I see. What did you find out there?”
Roger took out his generations-old notebook.
“The stone table in the field has been set with bizarre dishes, again. Statues made to look like humans in the deep woods made out of rabbit meat. A bloated carcass of a deer rose out of the middle of the lake.”
Mike leaned back in his tall chair and waved it all off. “Pranks, misinterpretations.”
Roger shook his head. “Mike, I don’t think you should open the camp this year.”
“It’s too late, Rog - we’ve only got three weeks, plus the counselors will be coming next Monday morning.” Roger sighed.
“Alright, Mike. I’m going to see how Stella’s doing. We’ll have a staff meeting at ten this morning.”
“Sure Roger, get some breakfast. It’ll be all right, you’ll see.”
At the mess hall, Roger trundled past rows and rows of empty tables and into the kitchen where the smell of eggs and bacon floated in the air.
“Hey Stella,” Roger said, not even bothering to change out of his silk pajamas, still brimming with weeds and sticks.
“Well aren’t you a sight,” Stella said, her apron already spotted with grease. “You go out chasing omens again?”
Roger slumped into a metal seat at the metal table as Stella served him a plate. Roger, hungry from yesterday’s exploration, dug in.
“Yeah, Stella - not good but... I’ll keep you safe. Mmmm, good eggs!”
Stella smiled her broad smile.
Exactly at ten - just as Roger was doing some finishing touches on some topiary near the camp’s entrance - Mike’s voice came over the loudspeaker. “Staff meeting in my office everyone!”
Lake Sermontithe, the main sign said as Roger passed it by.
There were only five official staff members: Mike, Stella, Roger, Fred - the lifeguard, Lina - the fae nurse, and Sinil - the naga in charge of activities.
“I wassssssn't aware of a meeting this morning,” Sinil hissed.
“You’re not aware of much of anything,” Fred retorted, his sunglasses already resting on his white, sun-lotioned nose. Sinil sneered at him before Mike raised his hands.
“Shut up, Fred,” Lina said, folding her shimmering blue arms over her white nurse gown.
“All right, all right people,” Mike said. “We’ve got less than a week before the counselors come.” He flipped his notebook, reading some of the names. When he finished, the looked at the group. “Some of Normalton’s finest, especially Yvette. You guys remember Yvette?”
There was a murmuring of assent. For the first time, Roger felt hopeful: Yvette was a talented witch.
The clock on Mike’s desk started ticking backwards as a wolf howled deep in the woods. “Uh, that’s all for now, everyone: Let’s have another meeting in a couple days: same time, same place?”
Without a word, they all stood - their chairs scooting on the wooden floor. Sinil slithered out of the office, tripping Fred who fell on his face. Fred yelled as the naga laughed. Roger cringed and ran to Fred’s assistance.
“You bitch! If you broke my nose I’ll sue!”
At that, Mike ran out of his office. “Sinil, what did you do?”
Sinil went from giggling to shock. “Wh-what happened?”
“You know what happened floozy!” Fred yelled, holding his nose. Lina knelt down and gently moved Fred’s hands away.
“It looks okay,” Lina said gently.
“The vicar has begun its torment,” Roger said mysteriously, gazing far away.
“Okay, Roger,” Mike said, rolling his eyes, “That’s enough,”
“Yeah Roger,” Lina began. “We don’t need that kind of—”
“Don’t you talk to Roger that way!” Stella said.
“Wh-what’s happening?!” Mike said, standing up.
“It’s all right, Stella, you don’t have to stand up for me like that,” Roger said, causing Stella to turn her head and cry. The little hallway was full of emotion until Roger sighed. “I’m going to perform some rituals to keep the Vicar at bay - it’s causing us to go nuts.”
There was a general nodding as Roger hugged Stella, patted Fred on the shoulder and gently held Sinil’s upper arm. Lina and Mike observed him, worried.
“There is no Vicar, Roger,” Mike said as Roger walked away. “Roger? ROGER!”
“Too late, Mike: I’m going to help us out - at least for a little while.”
“If you go, don’t bother coming back!”
Roger sighed, but continued on his path out the door and into the woods and the field beyond. Even though it had been sunny that morning, ominous clouds began moving over the camp. Roger went to the toolshed for basic preparation. After gathering the necessary items, Roger slung his knapsack over his shoulder and opened the metal door to brave the woods.
Wind was bearing down on the trees and fog was coming in from the forest as Roger walked, the crunch of leaves and grass his only noise. The woods seemed empty - silent and lifeless - as Roger walked back toward the barn and the field. In the field he saw the massive stone table at which there was ‘food’ prepared for unknown guests. Roger shuddered and sat.
“Thank you for the meal!” He announced, shoveling the twigs, worms, and offal greedily into his mouth. “Delicious,” he whispered between mouthfuls, struggling to gulp down the meal. He looked down: he was wearing a white bib now, along with his pajamas - which, out of fear of disrespecting the vicar, he had not changed out of.
Afterwards, Roger bent over, gagging but not vomiting. He looked up into the gray sky, tears in his eyes. He waited for a few moments, calming himself before taking off into the woods.
Through the mist, he saw The Guests. They were still there, rabbit meat sloughing off of them intermittently. Roger looked down and saw that he was now wearing a perfectly fitted tuxedo.
“I am pleased to meet you!” Roger announced, shaking the hands of one of the tall, unnerving statues. The meat wrapped around his hand and engulfed him in an instant.
Roger was spinning alone in the dark.
“You don’t say?” He yelled, queasy and afraid. “What a coincidence! I too am a psychiatrist!”
Slowly, he was returned to the mist-filled forest. He smiled and, trembling, shook its hand again. This time nothing. He gulped and walked around the other Guests, being mindful not to disturb the forest floor. Nearby was the oldest tree in the forest: he kissed it for good luck.
He made his way back to camp, avoiding Mike’s cabin and window, and stole a rowboat, paddling it to the middle of the lake to the doe carcass.
“May I have this dance?” He asked it.
The doe’s head, bobbing in the gray water - mottled by droplets of forgotten rain - seemed to nod. Slipping into the moderately warm lake, he grabbed the doe’s hooves and swam in a circle, gagging as maggots dripped into his coat pocket.
“You dance divinely!” He yelled. After a few turns, he set it gently back in the water. It bobbed its head from unknown ripples, seeming to nod again. Roger climbed back onto the boat and paddled - slowly and respectfully - back to land. When he disembarked he walked to the nurse’s cabin, where Lina was tending to Fred.
Roger walked in, sopping wet in a tuxedo dripping with gore and maggots. Lina looked him up and down but before she could even formulate a question, Roger spoke up.
“How’s his nose?”
Lina nodded. “He’s okay: Sinil came in and apologized and they made up. ...I don’t think you’re okay, though.”
“Don’t worry about me, this is all the Vicar’s doing.”
Lina hovered over to him, her little wings making a buzzing sound. “I know you’ll be okay physically Roger, but it’s your employment status I was referring to. Mike’s pissed.”
Roger shook his head. “That’s all right. I think this’ll be my last summer anyway.”
Fred sat up and Lina sighed. “Oh come on, Roger,” she said. “Just talk to him like you did a few summers ago.”
“That was a decade ago, Lina: He wasn’t as bad, then. I think the Vicar got to him or he’s worried about profits... or both: The Vicar does care about tithes. B-But don’t worry, I live across the river: I’ll try and make sure nothing bad happens.”
“I don’t want you scaring the campers,” Lina warned. “Not one word about the Vicar to them, okay?”
Roger’s eyes bulged and he ran over and vomited loudly into the sink. After a few dry heaves he looked up: sweaty, wet, and wild-eyed.
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