Facing the Wall
Riley Liston's first glimpse of the lake came as the bus wheels screeched around a tight turn on the rural highway. He could see the water shining in the sunlight beyond the trees. The driver braked hard, and Riley lunged forward. The minibus made a sharp right onto a narrow dirt road and rattled past the CAMP OLYMPIA sign.
The sign--featuring a painting of a giant snapping turtle--looked considerably shabbier than it had in the brochure. From what Riley could see of the buildings up ahead, the rest of the camp looked run-down, too.
"That thing had my foot in its mouth last year, I swear!" said Barry Monahan, the pudgy kid in the seat in front of Riley. "I've still got a scar."
"That thing" was Big Joe, the legendary resident of Lake Surprise. Said to be as wide as a wheelbarrow and as fierce as a mountain lion, the snapping turtle had been the subject of all kinds of stories from the older guys on the three-hour ride from the city. They told of kids who'd lost fingers and toes, and of others who'd barely escaped.
"About ten years ago he bit some kid's leg off!"
Riley squirmed and looked toward the lake again, but the bus had turned uphill and was approaching a ring of cabins.
When the bus stopped, a counselor stepped on board and introduced himself as Shawn. "You guys are in Cabin Three," he said.
"Who's in those other cabins?" somebody asked.
Riley swallowed hard and grabbed his backpack from the rack above his seat. He'd done well at sports in the past--Little League baseball, YMCA soccer--but he'd be one of the youngest kids at this two-week sports camp in the backwoods of Pennsylvania. Most of the guys on the bus were twelve and a few--Barry and Hernando--had already turned thirteen. Riley's eleventh birthday had been in April.
"Move your butt," said the guy behind him as they stood in the aisle.
Riley looked back. Tony Maniglia, who towered over Riley, was smiling as if he'd been joking--there was no way Riley could go anywhere until the line started to move.
Riley could sense that these older guys would be picking on the smaller ones like him. He knew most of them from their neighborhood in Jersey City, but not well. They'd been to camp before; Riley hadn't.
The only other eleven-year-old in the group was Barry Monahan's scrawny little brother, Patrick. He wasn't much bigger than Riley, but Patrick could have kicked his butt in two seconds. Riley had seen him working in the alley behind Monahan's Tavern, lifting beer kegs that Riley wouldn't have been able to budge.
Riley took a lower bunk against the wall, below Patrick. The inside walls of the cabin had been painted a pale yellow many years before, and the floor was bare gray boards. There were also ten lockers but no locks.
Riley spread out his sleeping bag, shoved his backpack under the bunk, and hung his sweatshirt and rain jacket in the locker.
"Cabin Three...," Barry was saying. "I seem to remember that this is the haunted one. I stayed in Cabin Six last year, but the guys in this one were always scared to be in here alone."
Riley looked around. It didn't look spooky in the daylight. He read the sheet of paper that had been sitting on every bunk:
CAMP OLYMPIA BULLETIN
Saturday, July 31
BASKETBALL ACTION BEGINS TONIGHT
Triple-header on Tap
Who: Cabin 1 Wonders vs. Cabin 2 Tubers (Cabin 3 Threshers vs. Cabin 4 Fortunes and Cabin 5 Fighters vs. Cabin 6 Sixers to follow)
When: 6:30 p.m.
Where: The spacious and modern Olympia Arena
What's at Stake: Team points toward the Big Joe Trophy!
Softball, Water Polo Get Under Way Tomorrow
Softball: Sunday morning at the Arthur Drummond Memorial Stadium
Water Polo: After lunch at the Lake Surprise Aquatics and Fitness Center
Each camper must play at least one quarter of every basketball game and one half of each water-polo event
Upcoming: Two-man canoe races, a cross-country running relay, the tug-of-war, and lots more, including the camp-ending Lake Surprise Showdown (a marathon swim race)
Best of luck to all Camp Olympia athletes! From the Hardcover edition.