Let me begin my story.
I started work when I was fifteen, spending my summers away at Camp Valleyway. The camp was nestled in the foothills of the Appalachians, cupped in a valley between two mountains with a natural lake at the center, its waters stained murky with southern clay. I worked as a swim instructor, and each week a new set of campers traveled from across the state to experience the outdoors.
I still remember the exact day it happened. Tuesday, fifth week of camp, the hottest day of that summer and just before the Fourth of July. That week was known as "Rich Week" to the councilors, since many of the wealthier parents took off for the holiday and left their children behind. It came right after the "Orphan Week", which was when the Clarkestown orphanage, largest in the state, traveled to camp free of charge because the camp was government owned. Yearly the local residents came by at the end of the week and children were often adopted. Just last week, a girl in my class had found a new home with some farmers a few miles out, and I remember seeing Ellie wave from the cab of a pick up truck as she started her new life in the country.
As swim instructor, in my off time I helped the sail instructors patch sails under the watersports canopy. Logan, the head of watersports and about five years older than me, sat across of of the picnic tables, his small eyes looking over the lake. Logan kept his hair in a tight buzz cut, revealing a scar around the back of his head, and when he spoke, it was in a deep drawl.
"Mike, watch what you're doing," He growled, noticing I had skipped a stitch, "I only got two eyes, and there's too much going on for me to watch everyone today."
"Got it." I said, and put my head down. Logan kept a tight watch on his crew, but now his focus was on the lake. Ed and Ted, two twin councilors with one brain between them, were teaching a beginner's swimming course. Ed and Ted always made Logan uneasy, and had earned a spot of first and second on his mental list of instructors-who-were-most-likely-to-screw-up-next.
So when Ed, the smarter of two, came sprinting up from the lakeside so fast his long legs spewed a dirt exhaust behind him, Logan was ready.
Ed opened his mouth, words wheezing in between each intake breath and his wet hair plastered over one eye.
"We're... missing one. One camper... can't find him in the water... friends don't know where he is."
Without hesitation, Logan's whistle shrieked through the campground, startling campers and councilors alike.
"Out of the water! Out of the water! All lifeguards to the dock." He shouted, his deep chest working like a bellow as adrenaline shot through me and we ran to the water. As a lifeguard, it was our responsibility to search for the body, and fifteen of us lined up in one end of the swimming section.
At Logan's call we dove, myself in the deeper end at fourteen feet, and spread out across the bottom. The water filtered sunlight and heat, so the bottom was cold and dark, with underwater plants that gripped against my calves and pulled me back as I swam. After three strokes, I returned to the surface, and Logan sent us back down again to search, hoping to find a still warm form.
I was the one who found the body. Its hand brushed against my face, a pale palm that was all too white. I saw the face next, too dark to recognize but a girl, with long hair that fanned around her like she was under static electricity. I gasped, involuntarily drawing in water to my lungs, gripped her torso and began swimming to the surface. She felt swollen, her arms too big, and her temperature a cold I will never forget.
Halfway to the surface I felt her leg catch on something and she was pulled back down out of my grip. I turned, watching her open eyes on mine as she descended, but my lungs screamed, and I knew I needed air or I would join her down below for much longer than intended.
“I found her!” I shouted, breaking the surface, “Quick!” And I dove back down, my hands sweeping through the muddy bottom. But I found nothing but muck and empty water, even as the other lifeguards joined. Five minutes later and Logan’s whistle rang out again, calling us to the dock.
“The camper has been found.” He announced, “In a restroom by his site. Ed and Ted must have let him slip past them, and both of them will spend this night scrubbing the dock with your own toothbrushes.” He paused, and I felt the other lifeguard’s gaze fall on me. “You are all free to go. Except for Mike, I want a word.”
The others trudged away, looking back at us over their shoulder. Logan focused on me, spittle meshing with his words as he hissed.
“I don’t know what the Hell that was about Mike, but you could have cost us a life with your false call back there, and next time you try something like this I’ll take yours.”
“But I saw something,” I insisted.
“I don’t believe in ghosts, Mike, and we scoured that water. Get out of my sight, you’re off waterfront.” He left, and word spread around camp about what had happened. I could tell many of them detested me, and none believed what had happened, so I quit the next week and pushed the from my mind though it still found my dreams.
That was twenty years ago, and today I hold the newspaper, the top article calling back my memories.
*Murders at Camp Valleyway
Nineteen skeletons have been discovered in the lake of Camp Valleyway, several aged at over thirty years since time of death and none younger than ten. Due to renovations the lake was drained, revealing a collection of bones at the deepest region. Several femurs were found attached to anchors with rope, and after much investigation the state police discovered the source of the bodies.
Ten years ago, before Clarkestown Orphanage was shut down for embezzling state funds, each summer their orphans spent a week at the camp. Nineteen were thought to be adopted by locals in nearby proximity to the camp, but after reviewing records police have discovered these adoptions were never documented. All nineteen were drowned and disposed of in the lake, at an area too deep for the campers to normally enter, except for one that drifted near the swimming area due to an insecure rope.
It is believed that the orphanage collected funds appropriated for these children long after their death. Police encourage anyone with information on the matter to step forward.