Gordy– the cranky old caretaker– squints at the moss-covered, rickety fence that circles Camp Unity.
“Eyesore,” he says, snuffing through one nostril.
Three dirt-smudged and wild-haired kids stand beside him in various attitudes of attention. The tallest boy with the tamest hair studies the fence with great attention.
Its boards are gray and tall– much taller than the grizzled caretaker– but the whole line of the wall teeters crookedly behind the cabins. Here and there the boards are stained black and appear to ooze with something viscous.
“Creeps me out,” says the tallest boy, Greg.
The tiniest boy– named Pete — looks up at the caretaker with a myopic squint. “What’s it for?” he asks.
“Eye pollution,” growls Gordy.
“For real though?” says Greg.
“Yeah. For real?” echoes Dillon, who only speaks up in order to repeat things, as if his given role in life is just to be the shadow of others.
Gordy’s sour frown squeezes his face. “I don’t know what it’s for. Boundary line I guess… been here as long as I’ve worked here. Been falling over and making creepy noises since then, too. I’ve wanted to rip it down since day one.”
An excited gleam sparks in Greg’s eyes. “Are we gonna tear it down? Is that what we’re doing today?”
“Yeah. Are we gonna tear it down?” Dillon says.
The lines on Gordy’s sun-bleached face fluctuate. “I’d like to tear it down…. No reason to keep it…Just trees and brush back there….” He sounds as if he’s trying to convince himself.
“Does the Director want it torn down?” asks Pete.
“Ha! The Director wants to keep it ‘because it’s always been there.’ Bad reason if you ask me.”
“Well, if the Director doesn’t want it torn down…”
“Quiet, Pete,” says Greg.
“Yeah. Quiet, Pete,” Dillon echoes.
Gordy turns to peer at them, scowling specifically at the tiniest boy.
“All I’m saying,” Pete continues, “is that someone put it up for a reason, and maybe we shouldn’t take it down.”
Gordy snorts. “They put it up to keep runts like you inside– if they care about it so much, they’d have repaired it. It’s a danger!… We should take it down.” Gordy turns the crafty gleam in his eye back to the gray planks and the dark arms of the trees that peek above them. “We can’t have it collapsing on top of one of you scrawny-butts.”
Gordy turns from the fence and nods. “Come on.”
The three boys file after the caretaker. They follow a dusty road that snakes between the cabins. The sound of other children playing– shrieking, calling to each other– drifts from the opposite end of camp.
Gordy leads them to a huge red barn. Through the open front door, the boys catch peeks of farm implements: a tractor, an old Jeep covered in rust, several blue barrel drums for garbage. Gordy tells them to stay put and disappears inside. The boys fall out of attention immediately. Greg begins to rove the clearing, Dillon at his heels, while Pete squats down, picking at the scraggy grass that’s growing in the dust.
“If there’s nothing back there,” Pete says, almost to himself, “what’s the harm in leaving it up?”
Greg straightens from poking a wood pile with a stick. “If there’s nothing back there, what’s wrong with taking it down?”
“What if there is something back there?”
Greg sneers. “Don’t be a chicken, Pete.”
“Yeah. Don’t be a chicken, Pete,” says Dillon, but the paperish color of his face tells the other two boys this is something that didn’t occur to him before. He presses the tips of his fingers together nervously.
Gordy reappears in the open doorway and tosses a sledgehammer down on the ground among them. “Whoever lifts it, can use it.” He disappears again.
Greg scrambles across the yard and snatches up the heavy-headed hammer. “I’m the biggest.” He lifts the thing awkwardly and grins. “I’ll punch a hold like–” and he swings the hammer, almost taking himself to the ground.
Gordy returns and tosses a pry bar and a small hammer toward them, and then retrieves an even bigger sledgehammer and spike for himself. His craggy face shines with uncharacteristic pleasure.
“Let’s get to it,” he says.
They retrace their steps along the dusty road. Now they see a line of children racing down the hill and disappearing around the bend to their next activity. Even Greg looks after them wistfully.
“You know,” Pete says, “some of the boys in cabins six and seven– the ones right next to the fence–”
“I know where cabins six and seven are,” Gordy growls.
“Well, they say they hear things at night.”
“Them city boys wouldn’t know an owl hoot from a coyote.”
“I’ve heard it,” Dillon says, and they almost stop in shock. “Didn’t sound like a hoot or a bark to me.”
Gordy frowns at him. “Then you probably just heard the wind whining through the cracks. I did say it makes creepy noises, didn’t I? But them’s natural for old structures.”
Dillon’s paper-colored face shows green around the edges. “This was like something movin’ in the leaves and breathin’– snuffin’, like– like a horse– or… or somethin’,” he adds abruptly as if out of steam.
“You kids gotta stop watching scary movies.”
They’ve arrived at the fence now, and for a moment, they stop and stare at it. Where to even begin?
Gordy shrugs a shoulder. “Seems as good a place as any,” he says, leaning his pike against the back of a cabin.
“We’re just gonna smash a hole in it?” Pete asks. He looks down the long fence skeptically. “What are we gonna do with the broken up pieces?”
Gordy turns, sledgehammer in hand. “Why do you ask so many questions? Just do what I tell you. Let me think about the rest of it. You. Don’t. Need. To. Think.”
Greg shoots Pete a smug sneer. Dillon, however, just stares at the fence as Gordy approaches it.
Gordy swings the hammerhead into the middle of the fence with a resounding Bang! The boards shudder along the line, waving back and forth before resting still again.
Again, Gordy swings.
The fence sways, but the spot where Gordy keeps striking hasn’t even splintered. Gordy wipes his brow. “Guess she’s stronger than she looks.”
He winds up the hammer and Bang! This time the tree limbs shake as the fence sways. Leaves and bits of twigs fall down onto the dirt path.
Dillon takes one step back, his eyes growing wide.
Gordy swings again, grunting now with effort. His face has grown red. He continues to swing. Bang!… Bang! The trees sway and shake, leaves drop, and bits of limb skitter across the dirt.
Dillon takes another step back.
Greg’s eyes shine as he watches. He wrings his hands on the handle of his sledgehammer, licking his lips at the same time.
Pete frowns, trying to determine if the trees are still shaking in time with Gordy’s hammer.
“Maybe he should stop,” Dillon says.
Pete glances at the other boy.
“Maybe he should stop.”
Gordy’s face bulges with blood; veins pop to the surface of his forehead and forearms.
The fence begins to reverberate, almost hum, from the pounding, and now, the debris rains from the trees. All of the sudden, a loud crack rips the air.
Gordy straightens. Dillon steps closer to Pete. Greg begins to giggle under his breath. They all take a breath at the same time.
The fence sways one way and then the other. A crack begins at the spot of Gordy’s attack. It moves jaggedly to the top of the fence and then begins to widen. The fence creaks, like an old door creeping open; it shudders once and then splits at the crack. The right hand side falls back and hits the ground with a crash.
The four of them peer through the dust kicked up by the fallen portion of the fence. The trees march off in every direction, undergrowth hides the forest floor, and over it all a sudden silence hangs.
Gordy spins around; his face glows with triumph. “See! Nothing. Not even a nosey neighbor.” He uses the inside of his elbow to wipe down his face.
The boys look beyond him to the dense undergrowth. A mound of dark fur and over-sized shanks raises itself up out of the foliage. The trees tremble at its movement. The boys catch a glimpse of razor-like teeth and claws that flash against the nearest trees.
Pete and Dillon take two steps back as the thing raises itself up on its back legs and towers over Gordy. Fear erases the features from the boys’ faces.
Gordy frowns at them. “What?” he says.
The creature behind him huffs and then growls, deep from its throat.
“Run!” screams Pete.
The boys scatter.
Gordy gets scattered too.
© 2021 Katie Baker
Hello Prose Lovers! Thank you for reading as always 💕 I wrote this little story at a dry time. For some reason I find writing about kids helps my creative thought flow (at least lately when I’ve been stuck). I think people are much more forgiving with the fantastic in stories about kids, and sometimes adding the fantastic to a story gives you the flexibility to not be so serious! 😆 What are some things you Prose Writers fall back on when you’re feeling the dry times in your writing? I would love to hear from you. Drop me a comment, and thank you for all your likes.- K