First Saturday of July

“We’re here,” Mom announced. She handed me my camper’s pack and I stepped out of the vehicle. It had been a long trip.

“Have fun,” Dad said. “Glad you finally agreed to go. You’ll see, you’ll have fun and probably learn a lot more that you would have if we had let you stay home and read.”

“I would have rather read,” I said as I climbed out the car.

Mom closed the doors. The warm sun heated my silver clothing and I promptly shut off the heating control sensor. Looking around, a glass growing tree caught my attention. I saw my reflection; my blue eyes looked a bit wild. I purposely transformed to a more relaxed expression.

Two girls rushed up. “Aronica?”

I turned.

“That’s me.”

The girl with lavender eyes popped a white triangular oxygen pill into her mouth, then continued. “Sorry, asthma. I’m Mandeline. This is Semica.”

“Hi, you’re Nelva’s other friends?” I asked.

Semica nodded as we headed towards the lobby. The walls were covered with pictures of former campers and the activities they’d chosen. A red-haired woman in blue pants with green beads and matching top approached.

“Hi, I’m Shelva, the main counselor. Your rooms are this way.” She pointed to her left, and we walked towards our room.

I paused at a clicking behind me.

Shelva was wildly clapping and clicking her tongue, as if she was preparing to eat a steak. I swear I saw fangs, and claws instead of fingernails.

My roommate would think I was a loon if I mentioned this, I thought as I continued walking, then paused to wave to Nelva and her brother, Valeen.

They waved back. How they could be twins with Nelva’s wolf’s golden eyes and Valeen’s brilliant white ones, I didn’t get.

I paused at my door, and turned to Semica.

“Hey, we match,” I said, pointing at her silver top. It matched her hair and eyes perfectly.

“I tend to copy folks I like,” she said.

“Okay, then where are your dreads?” I shot back.

“Love those,” Mandeline said.


We turned back to Semica.

“Good point. I saw your photo on the camp board. No dreads.”

Mandeline and I stepped into room 50 and the others went to their rooms. We unpacked in silence. The camp doesn’t seem too strange, I thought, recalling the rumors I’d read online after Mom had demanded I research the camp. I’d been excited when Nelva and Valeen announced they were attending.

Sometime later, we stepped into the eating room and approached the tables, where cooks were ladling out bowls of a strange blue broth. We glanced at our bowls, and I drew back. A group of girls from the other table jumped as an antennae floated on top of someone’s bowl. One of them yelped, then bolted for the door.

I tried the broth, then paused and brought a napkin to my mouth.

I slowly pulled part of an antennae from my bottom brace.

I anxiously waved a cook over.

“What kind of soup?” I asked.

She grinned. “Dragonfly. It’s quite good.”

“One of its antennae just got caught in my braces. My parents paid 20,000 leaf buttons for these! I can’t believe you want me to eat this!”

People grew quiet as my voice rose.

“Calm down, Aronica. We’ll go get something else,” said Semica.

I jumped up from the table, and stormed off to our sleeping room.

When Mandeline came in the door, I turned to her.

“What in hell?” I asked. “My Martian pal, Fomana, will be shocked.”

“How’s that going anyway?” asked Nelva, coming up behind us, “is she proving to be an interesting study?”

I nodded.

Valeen rushed up with a news disc. “You may want to listen to this report.”

“Did a new sweet couple’s spot just open up?” I asked, as if we were alone.

Valeen threw up his hands. “Aronica, stop it. It’s about this network of camps,” he said. He passed Nelva the disc, then marched off to his room.

“Valeen is cute, right?” I asked, taking the disc from Nelva.

“I wasn’t here,” Mandeline said.

I took the disc and stepped into my room.

As I fitted the disc into my N-phone, I noticed the square writing strip on my bed. I picked it up, and read it.

“Warning! Leave this camp as soon as you can!”

It was unsigned. I placed the note on my day-stand. I attached my N-phone and inserted both into the givers’ box. There was a click as the article came up.

“There were several attacks at Camp Sardon three weeks ago. A group of campers have been sent to the hospital for allergic reactions to mosquito bites. Mosquitoes have been on the rise this year for some reason. Two victims nearly died from anaphylactic shock. The counselors have denied witnessing these attacks, but the victims told me, just before the attacks, they saw the transformations of those same counselors. I’m sure there’s more to come, and I’ll be reporting as more information occurs. Calice Shannot signing off.”

First Tuesday of July

Nelva ran up as Mandeline and I headed towards the exercise room.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Remember that reporter, Calice?”

“Yes. She hasn’t done any reporting. I was waiting to hear if she had other news.”

We headed towards the exercise gate and Nelva opened the door. “Calice was attacked two days ago. She was on her way to work when a group of mosquitoes swarmed her. One of her colleagues found her in her front yard. She’s dead.”

Semica stepped from the yoga area in sweats.

“What!” I said, flashing back to the note I’d gotten.

I retrieved it, and handed it to Semica.

Nelva continued, “Yes, smart her, she had the film circle rolling the whole time. Her network is sending it through this Sunday at 1 p.m. I plan to watch.”

“Me too,” Mandeline said as we stepped inside the exercise room.

I approached the yoga area while the others rushed to the treadmills. It was nearly dinnertime, and we’d lied to the counselors, telling them we’d be late. In reality, we weren’t planning to go. We’d both begun losing weight over the past couple of days due to near-starvation.

“People don’t shift,” I said.

Mandeline looked at me. “Aronica, I know what I saw. There’s something wrong at this camp. We should call our parents. They’ll take us home!”

I nudged her. “Do you want the campers to call you a loon? Keep your voice down.”

Semica walked up.

“Mandeline did you see…?” Mandeline nodded.

“I didn’t,” I said.

“A counselor transformed into a mosquito,” said Mandeline, “A huge ugly mosquito, the size of a vulture.”

“She left the evening’s gathering and was gone a long time,” Semica said.

“Semica, what are you talking about? I was at the gathering. I don’t remember that.”

Semica looked fierce, “Listen, counselor Shelva said she was taking a bathroom break, but didn’t return. I went to check. She was transforming.”

“I don’t remember her leaving,” I said.

“All right, but we were frightened; she was buzzing and pointing her fangs at us,” said Semica.

“Fangs?” I questioned. I stopped myself from adding that mosquitoes don’t have fangs.

Semica pulled out her N-phone and flipped the on lever, but lowered it quickly at the running footsteps. Shelva stood there, apparently back to normal.

“You girls should be in bed, it’s late.”

We nodded, and headed back to the sleeping rooms.

Second Tuesday of July

We reluctantly headed to the eating room. Semica and Mandeline looked around at the counselors walking in. As bowls were handed out, Nelva glanced at the cook, nervously.

“Did you hear about the attacks at Camp Narfin?” she whispered to me.

“I haven’t had a chance to listen to the disc. I’m still taking my Martian Studies class and have been writing to Fomana all evening. I have to package our letters as the assignment is due next week.”

The cook turned and gestured for us to come forward.

“I’m glad Martian Post has doubled their speed,” said Nelva.

“Fomana’s just moved towards the Southern pole,” I explained.

Valeen passed us with his bowl. As he headed to a table, my feet carried me his way.

“Aronica, sit with us,” Nelva called.

“Aw, I’m crushing on someone,” I said.

“Crush on him later,” said Semica.

“Oh fine,” I said.

“Can you go get your disc?” asked Mandeline.

I dropped onto the bench next to her. “Yes,” I responded.

The group grew quiet as we spooned up our creamed ginger. The cook approached with her portable dish retriever.

Third Sunday of July

We sat watching the report Calice’s network sent out.

“Wait, stop the disc,” I said. I couldn’t believe what I saw and had to look again. “Those counselors are changing!”

“Told you,” Mandeline said.

“I tried to call my folks, but the lines must be down, I just heard a buzzing,” said Semica.

“Me too,” said Mandeline.

I paused, before voicing my thoughts. “Maybe they’ve blocked us from calling. Nelva and Valeen tried to leave last night. They were caught by Counselor Primae. She apparently didn’t believe their excuse of sick parents.”

“No, I didn’t,” said a voice. As the counselor approached with a cup of blood red nectar in her hand, the disc’s sound began to turn staticky and the images began to merge. Shelva came around the corner and pointed a finger at the disc, and the N-phone shut off.

“Back to your rooms; lunch is soon,” said Primae. We looked at each other, noting the tone change on the last part of her statement about lunch being soon. Did she mean we were lunch?

“Did you see that power surge?” Mandeline asked.

The rest of us nodded. We headed to our sleeping rooms.

I approached my bed and found another note, this time with a photo attached. I picked up the note. It read, “This camper died last year at your camp.” The photo was of a young girl covered in mosquito bites. I stared at the unusual bites; they had a fiery glow to them and were leaking a bluish fluid.

“Nelva, come and bring everyone!” I called, “Do you think that blue stuff is blood?” I asked when everyone had gathered.

The group stared at the photo, then at the note.

Nelva glanced at the signature. “Who’s Lanice FishWood?” she asked.

“Name sounds familiar,” said Valeen.

“She was the reporter at Narfin,” explained Semica.

Third Tuesday of July

Nelva turned as I sat next to her. She held up her N-phone. “I snuck into the counselor’s area and found what looked like scales. They were attached to a card that read, “Hello, human.”

“Do you think one of them is writing the notes?” I asked. I spooned up my crushed racelle bones. Nelva paused to sprinkle salt and pepper on hers.

Mandeline and the others passed by with full bowls.

I waved a cook over. “Any honey glaze left?”

She nodded, then rushed off.

“Where’s Valeen?” I asked, suddenly noticing Nelva’s brother’s absence.

“Who knows. Maybe he left. We had a fight last night. You didn’t hear us? We’re a door down from you.”

“No, Mandeline was listening to a new female heavy asphault band, and I was responding to Fomena.”

“When do we meet her?” Nelva asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “She canceled her planned trip. Apparently she turned in an assignment late, so she isn’t allowed to leave the planet. It’s strange, as she usually turns in everything on time.”

“Maybe she got in with the wrong crowd,” Nelva replied.

Just then, the cook returned with the honey glaze pot, and I took it from her.

Nelva handed her empty plate to the cook and walked away.

“It’s a good thing that’s my favorite,” I commented, polishing off the meal, reflecting on our first day and the dragonfly soup. We’d ended up going to Fry-Twist, the new local restaurant, and having fried racelle nuggets and mozzarella sticks, their latest special.

The cook returned and took my still warm plate.

“Famena thought we should video one of the transformations,” I remarked as we headed towards the exercise area, joining Nelva as we walked.

“Valeen mentioned that.” Nelva said, “I just want to leave. I tried to write our folks, but I can’t seem to get through.”

“Maybe the counselors found out and confiscated your letters,” I said.

We stopped as Valeen walked up and handed Nelva a packet.

“You left those scales you found,” he said.

“Do you want to tell Aronica the plan,” asked Nelva.

Valeen and I headed to the counselor’s area, Valeen closing and locking the door behind us.

“So what’s the plan?” I asked.

“The plan is this. Nelva thinks the scales are part of the transformations, that they add to the injuries shown in those notes.”

“They attach them to their fangs?” I asked.

“Yes. To make them sharper.”

“And?” I prompted.

“I got a note also, telling us to leave this camp. I wrote back.”

“Ooo, what did they say?” I mentally kicked myself. I sounded so desperate.

“They said, ‘Breeding time is near, so the victim rate has skyrocketed.’ ”

“Have your staff members come up with an antidote?”

“There’s an international camper meeting this Wednesday. They’re hoping to bring an antidote then.”

“Oh, good,” I said, as we stepped out.

Third Wednesday of July

Mandeline and I sat next to Nelva on the long bench outside the main camp building. I’d told them what Valeen mentioned the day before and Mandeline had shared that she heard more campers had died. The other campers sat quietly, staring at the picnic tables.

“Where’s Semica?” I asked.

“She was tired, but I’ll check.” Mandeline rushed off.

The counselor’s doors opened and Shelva appeared, clapping her hands for attention.

“Let the meal begin.” She beckoned Primae over.

As Primae passed out from s’mores, I thought, I hope the s’mores don’t fly off. Steam rose from them as they were passed out.

Valeen walked over and handed me his s’more.

“You’re kidding; don’t you like s’mores?” I asked, polishing off mine. Then bit into his.

“No. Not my thing.”

I swallowed the last of the treat, then grabbed his napkin and tried to clean my face, but I still felt chocolate.

I picked up Valeen’s water and tried again.

“So what’s your thing?” I asked, after cleaning up.

“Mirror twisters,” Valeen replied.

I waited for him to explain, but no such luck.

Mandeline ran up. “Semica’s gone! Nelva says she saw her being dragged off towards the counselor’s building.”

We followed Mandeline to the spot where Semica disappeared. Nelva led us to a group of trees.

I pointed at Semica, who was sagging in Primae’s grip. We’d missed her transformation, but not Shelva’s. She was just transforming, her short, bright red hair all that made her recognizable.

I blinked at the bright flash of light nearby.

Valeen turned, reaching for the square reflective seven-legged insect that spun tightly spiraled webs before dying. He caught it and held out a leg.

“No.” I said, and stepped towards Mandeline.

Nelva appeared at my side. There was a snap as Valeen broke the insect in two. As he rushed off into the forest, I glanced at Nelva. “If we find more, can we break them in order to distract the counselors?” I asked.

“No. We can’t even use the webs. I tried that last night. I guess Primae was doing a practice transformation.”

Valeen appeared as we followed a distant sound. The buzzing grew louder as we approached. A group of male campers surrounded Semica. They were spinning in a tight circle. They were transformed from the bottom down. Primae was buzzing at them, and they stopped.

As they stepped back, we saw Semica suspended in a hardening carapace.

Valeen looked at me as Nelva retrieved the packet of scales. She pulled out the converted scale-shaped disc, and broke off a fragment. I took the disc, and followed her lead, then we tossed the fragments at Mandeline’s glowing bite marks.

“That’s the antidote? I thought it was being brought,” I said as the fragments attached themselves to Mandeline, then dissolved.

“They sent instructions,” said Nelva, “I guess they’re not coming.”

I watched as Semica’s bites stopped glowing and vanished. We heard a buzzing behind us. We turned in time to see Valeen’s glowing skin.

“I told you breeding time was near,” he said.

“Valeen, wait!” shouted Primae.

“But the others haven’t arrived yet,” added Shelva.

“I’m tired of waiting, the time is now.”

I turned towards Nelva. “Wait, you all were wearing masks?”

Nelva nodded. “Remember last summer when I was down with cold?” she asked.

I nodded.

“I wasn’t used to the change. Our parents’ real kids died in childbirth, and we were sent to live with them.”

“They always kept us indoors during our transformations,” Valeen explained.

Mandeline handed Semica her N-phone. “I won’t need this.”

“Won’t you be calling your folks?” Semica asked, I tensed. I was getting a terrible feeling, stupidly. I nudged her.

“She’s a recruiter,” Semica said.

Mandeline laughed. “No, I’m not!” She stamped her foot, then smiled as she stepped out of her carapace.

Semica and I stared as Nelva and Valeen transformed also. I ran towards the outside counselors’ area, then peeked inside one of the windows. As I reached to knock, buzzing distracted me. I soon found myself surrounded by a mass of mosquitoes. Valeen was stepping back into his carapace. Nelva flew up with Semica suspended by a claw.

“Come join us,” Valeen said. Perhaps you and Semica can recruit for us.”

I retrieved my N-phone, and Nelva gave an angry buzz. Valeen pulled the phone from my hands, breaking it in the process.