She turned and ran, and I followed.
* * *
It seemed to take hours for us to get out of the forest. Hell, maybe it did. I don’t remember. Time didn’t seem to exist during that escape, as I held my bleeding brother and prayed to a God (one that I no longer believed in) that he would make it: please, just give me this 1 miracle.
We finally stumbled out into a ditch and climbed up onto a highway, where a passing pickup had shrieked to a stop. I suppose we were a sight to behold, covered in blood and nearly dead from exhaustion, not to mention me with my bruised torso bared in the cool evening air.
I don’t remember the man who found us. And I don’t remember the ride to the hospital, either. My gaze was fixed on Charlie, on watching his slight but persistent breath growing more and more ragged, slowing to a near stop.
The man didn’t think he’d make it. Tammy didn’t think he’d make it. I didn’t think he’d make it.
But he did.
* * *
If I still had a shred of belief in God after that whole ordeal, it vanished as soon as I learned the truth. All of it, with nothing left behind. I know the officer who worked with Tammy and I took a risk in telling us everything, but I think he knew that we had already seen enough. We deserved to know the truth.
And so I learned that my parents knew exactly what was going to happen at that camp.
Malachi – or Thomas Jameston, as was his name by birth – had begun preaching only a few months earlier, but had succeeded in garnering quite the following of devoted worshippers. He claimed that the way to the Lord had been revealed to him in a dream – the police believed that he was delusional. I like that idea better, rather than believing that he’s just that sick of a person. However, I can’t bring myself to believe it. I have to believe he knew exactly what he was doing, especially when I think back to those eyes.
You see, Thomas believed that the only sure way to Heaven was to die as a child – children being pure, blameless, and innocent, of course. And so he and his followers put together this camp. They advertised it with utmost caution, seeking out only the most fundamental and extreme followers of Christianity. The people whose beliefs border on psychosis. And he told them his vision.
Bring the little children to Christ. They are lambs, and shall be delivered as such.
I was right about the wine – they’d drugged us to keep us quiet. It made sense that they hadn’t fed us, keeping us as weak as possible. They had been planning to slaughter us by cabin because they couldn’t have killed us all at one time – surely some of the kids would have had their wits about them enough to run away and they wouldn’t be able to catch them.
Kids like Tammy and me.
Every parent who sent their child to the camp knew exactly what was going to happen to them, because the parents were expected to prepare to receive their children in the afterlife. By the time the officers came to talk to Tammy and me, my parents had already been found with matching bullet wounds in their skulls. I suppose the same thing happened to Tammy’s parents, although she never did tell me.
I suppose you want to know what happened to the other kids at that camp. Once Tammy and I arrived at the hospital, we were greeted by some officers in the emergency room. We’d screamed out our stories – I doubt that they made much sense, but the cops were able to at least glean where this “hell camp” was located.
I heard that 4 of the officers working the case quit after they saw it.
Of course, there was that clearing full of the tiny little bodies, yes, we knew they would find that. We didn’t realize that the counselors and Malachi would slaughter the other children once they discovered we were missing. They had to make quick work of it, so they were riddled with bullet holes. Some of the bodies were found at the edge of the clearing – it was clear that they’d tried to run away. The officers had hoped and prayed that a thorough search of the forest and surrounding areas would yield some live children, but there was no such luck. Every other child died that day, save for Charlie, Tammy, and myself.
The counselors had died, too, by the way. They had inflicted their own bullet wounds, it would seem.
But Malachi? He was nowhere to be found. In fact, they’re still looking for him, even now. Somehow, I don’t think they’ll ever find him, although I never stop hoping.
* * *
Tammy, Charlie, and I were all adopted into the same family. We refused to be separated, not that they would have done that to us, anyway. We were known as “special cases,” meaning that we needed a metric f***ton of therapy and, of course, medication to help us get through, well, the rest of our lives.
Charlie was, in a sick sense, the luckiest of us all. When he woke up in the hospital, he didn’t remember anything about the camp. From the week before we left for the camp, he didn’t remember a single f***ing thing. So, I did what any big brother would do, and the police, surprisingly, let me: I lied out my ass. I told him we’d been in a bad car accident, that mom and dad had died, but we were going to be okay. He’d cried and cried and cried but it was better than him remembering the truth. The truth would have broken him.
The truth almost broke Tammy. She still cries for her sister every day, even now. She never takes the golden necklace off of her own neck – it’s an eternal reminder of what she lost that day.
There was some good to come out of all this, however. Tammy and I found in each other what some people never find. It’s been 15 long years, but today we finally said our vows, with Charlie at my side as my right-hand man and her sister serving as a posthumous maid-of-honor.
Yes, Tammy and I got married.
I’m afraid every day for our future, if I’m honest. Although Charlie doesn’t remember what happened even now, he’s certainly realized that there’s more to the story than a simple car accident. He can tell it from the way I stiffen whenever he mentions our parents. And I know he’s been having nightmares lately, nightmares that wake him up with screams. I’m afraid the nightmares are about that camp… if he remembers, what will I do? I think about it every day.
Tammy is adamant against having children, and that suits me just fine. We shy away from any mention of religion or a religious life. She’s strong – stronger than I could ever hope to be – but there are some days where all she can do is stare at the wall, whispering her sister’s name over and over again. Emily. That’s what she was called. I know it because of the way Tammy screams her name in her nightmares, even though Tammy herself never mentions her beloved little sister.
I wish she would, but she just isn’t ready.
The real question out of all this mess is: why am I bothering? Why write down this wretched, awful story for you all to read? Is it because I feel the world should know the truth? Is it to give vent to the pain I’ve carried inside myself all this time?
I wish it were that noble. And I wish it desperately, but the real reason is far deeper, far colder.
I write simply because of the impossible. You see, the impossible showed up today at our wedding, and I simply can’t get it out of my head.
Because, as I slipped the ring onto Tammy’s finger, I looked out into the crowd… and I could have sworn that I saw Malachi grinning back at me.