Most of the few campers and staff presently at Camp Waconda settled down around the campfire, waiting for the last few campers and staff members to arrive. As darkness fell, shadows danced in the firelight. The camp was about to start its first two-week session of the summer, though a few of the campers had arrived early due to various transportation issues.
"This looks like the kind of night when the Ghost Miner puts in an appearance!" one boy whispered to another.
"That's just a silly old camp story!" the other one whispered back.
"You sure?" the first boy whispered with a grin.
"Yeah," the second boy replied, though he shifted uncomfortably – though of course, being typical boys their 'whispers' weren't quite as quiet as they'd intended.
"Now boys," said Mr. Sam Dickers, the camp director, who'd been moving around conversing with some of the other campers, "don't go about needlessly scaring the others. After all," he added with a wink, "that's going to be my job in a little while when I break out my best campfire ghost stories. Now," he said almost to himself, "where did I put those s'more-making kits?" He wandered off.
As the others waited for his return, their conversation moved on to other stuff. When there was a rustling at the edge of the clearing, no one gave it much thought at first, thinking that it was just either Mr. Dickers coming back or the last of the late-comers arriving. Then one of the campers sitting near the second boy looked up and let out a shriek. Everyone looked at the camper, who had a terrified look on his face, and they all followed his gaze. Several others shrieked at the sight – for there was the ghostly apparition of an old-time miner hovered at the edge of the clearing.
"BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!" the ghost cackled.
"The Ghost Miner!" the first boy shrieked. Pandemonium promptly erupted among the campers and staff, who ran about screaming as the ghost chased after one group and then another. The Ghost Miner threw small fireballs, which struck the ground and momentarily flared up before going out. After several minutes, the terrified people cowered behind trees, benches, boulders, whatever they could find to hide behind.
The Ghost Miner hovered near the center of the clearing. "Leave this place at once!" he proclaimed in an eerie voice. "Leave, or suffer the consequences!" A puff of smoke billowed up, and when it cleared, the ghost was gone.
The scared campers and staff looked at each other, wondering what had just happened.
"We're almost there," Mr. Welker said to the other passengers in the blue-and-green van. "Camp Waconda, straight ahead!"
"Great!" his son Rick, replied. "I can't wait!" He'd been looking forward to this trip for months. He'd been going to Camp Waconda every summer for several years, and this year he was 15 years old. That meant he could finally get to be a junior counselor!
Joining Rick were four other individuals. Three were fellow 15-year-olds and fellow junior camp counselors: Ashanti Novell, Nichole Chan, and Casey Rogers. They had all been friends for years, though in the case of Rick and Casey, it had, suffice to say, started evolving beyond "just friends" the year before, admittedly to no one's surprise. The fourth individual was not a person, but a dog, who was currently snoozing in the back of the van. The pooch had been adopted by Casey several years ago as a puppy and had been given the name of Shaggy Dog, on account of his being very shaggy. Shaggy Dog looked to be a mutt – a mix of several different breeds which no one could fully figure out, though the size he'd wound up growing to had seemed to indicate at least some St. Bernard in his ancestry.
They soon pulled into Camp Waconda's parking lot. The group piled out of the van, and they all stretched for a moment. Shaggy Dog yawned and stretched before giving himself a good shake and letting out an energetic "Woof!" as he looked around, sniffing the air for a few moments.
"Man, I can't believe I actually missed this place," Casey said, looking around. He ran his hair through his brown hair, which always looked a bit messy, despite his best efforts to comb it.
"So, you're finally here," someone nearby said in a raspy voice.
"Yep," Nicole said as the group turned towards the source of the voice. It was an older man in well-worn dark blue overalls and an old, worn light blue shirt. The gang recognized him as Robert Prince, who was had worked in one of the nearby school districts until he'd retired, but who had been brought on to work summers as the groundskeeper/maintenance man at Camp Waconda a couple of years before. His career choices had always struck the gang as a bit odd, since he'd never seemed to enjoy being around kids much, and he was often known to complain about the messes they left behind.
"Well, you missed a bit of excitement a little while back," Robert said. "The Ghost Miner started putting in an appearance a couple of days ago."
"Who?" Mr. Welker, who'd never stayed at Camp Waconda, asked.
"The Ghost Miner," Ashanti said. "Supposedly, he's the ghost of a miner back in the 19th century who once prospected in this area, convinced that there was untold mineral wealth here if only he could find it. However, he never found it and died one harsh winter. His ghost is supposed to haunt the area, convinced that there's treasure here and it's all supposed to be his." Ashanti laughed. "Of course, that's just an old local legend. There's not really a ghost here."
"Tell that to Mr.Dickers and the others who got the bejeebers scared out of them," Robert told them.
"You mean they actually saw the Ghost Miner?" Nicole gasped. The four teens glanced at each other.
"According to them. I didn't see him myself. He apparently first put in an appearance at the fire pit two nights ago, told everyone to leave or suffer the consequences."
"What consequences?" Rick asked.
"He evidently didn't say," Robert replied. "He disappeared in a puff of smoke right after making that declaration. It'd have been nice if he'd stayed around to help clean up the mess everyone made because of his appearance. Kids these days litter enough as it is without him helping out."
"It was definitely weird," a new voice replied. "He also popped up a couple of other times to smaller groups."
Someone was moving towards them, and Rick recognized the man as Tom Fields, who'd been brought on two years ago as the head of the camp theater. Tom had minored in theater at college, but feeling that it wouldn't pay the bills, he'd majored in geology, and had largely worked as a freelance geologist since graduation until he'd inherited a sum of money from an elderly family friend who'd passed away a couple of years ago that, while not huge, was of an amount that had allowed him to be able to devote a lot of his time to his true love, the theater.
Rick had gotten to know Tom some the year before, as Rick loved the theater as well and had been about as heavily involved in the camp's theater as a camper could get. In fact, Rick's assignment as a junior counselor was to work with Tom in the theater. Rick had always found Tom to be a bit...odd, as if the man would have been more at home with the rocks he studied as a geologist than the people he worked with in the camp theater and various community theaters he'd been involved with over the years in his spare time, but very knowledgeable and passionate about the theater. (Interestingly enough, Shaggy Dog, who tended to like everyone he met, had never seemed to like Tom – a feeling which at times appeared to be mutual – and tended to growl at him, this time being no exception.)
"But then," Tom said with a shrug, "I don't put much stock in the threats of this ghost. Ghosts haven't generally been associated with actually causing physical harm to anyone."
"Yeah, but I think it'd still be unnerving to see a ghost," Casey replied.
"Hey, I know a few paranormal investigators who know how to deal with ghost elimination," Tom said, "and even some clergy who could perform an exorcism of the area. I offered to get their help, but Sam refused."
"I'd have taken you up on the offer," Casey said, swallowing hard.
"Come on, Casey, you can't actually believe in ghosts," Ashanti said, twirling a lock of her black hair on her finger. "Especially after all we've been through." The four had wound up becoming friends after teaming up 3 years before to figure out an apparent haunting at the local mall in their hometown (which turned out to be a former mall security guard upset over what he'd viewed as a wrongful termination of employment and who'd turned to "haunting" the place to get revenge).
"I don't know," Casey replied. "I've seen some strange things..."
"Yeah, but all human-made in the end," Rick said, "like that school cafeteria back in September," (where a cafeteria lady had staged a haunting to get back at what she'd considered to be ungrateful students who were dissing her cooking).
"Or the comic book store case two months ago," Ashanti said (a comic book store janitor who took up haunting the place in an effort to get his hands on several rare first-edition comic books being held in the store's safe
"Or that 'ghost cat' last week," Nichole added (a cat lady who'd taken one of her cats and put a coating of flour on it to scare away kids that were using her yard as a shortcut between the neighborhood and a local swimming hole).
"True," Casey said, "but haven't you ever wondered about all the cases out there that haven't been proven to be a person in a mask? What would we do if we ever stumbled across the real thing?"
"Well, we'll cross that bridge when, and if, we get to it," Rick said, giving a barely noticeable caress to Casey's hand. Casey had always been a bit excitable at times (which was sometimes exasperated by the fact that he, for some reason, loved to read about the paranormal), and they'd found a while back that physical contact with Rick, even in small amounts, had always managed to soothe him, and this time looked to be no different.
"You're right," Casey said. "Besides, like Tom said, actual ghosts haven't actually caused any harm. Well, unless you take into account the legend of the Bell Witch..."
"Moving on," Ashanti said.
Just then Mr. Dickers came over. "Ah good, you're here," he said. "Grab your stuff and I'll show you to your cabins. You happen to be able to get the pick of the lot, as you're the first junior counselors to arrive." The group followed him to the junior counselor cabins. Junior counselors got more privacy than the campers, but less than the full (adult) counselors, and were paired two to a small cabin. The cabins were set in a long row, with their side walls touching each other. Rick and Casey took one, while Ashanti and Nicole took another. Other cabins would be assigned to the other junior counselors as they arrived.
As Rick and Casey dropped their packs onto their beds, Shaggy Dog sniffed around the place, poking his nose into various corners and under the beds. Mr. Dickers poked his head into the cabin. "Just as a bit of a reminder as to what was in the junior counselor rules book," he told the boys, "what you two do in privacy – such as it is around here – is your business, but we do ask all junior counselors to curtail any public displays of affection. Some of the younger campers are impressionable, and I'd rather not hear from any irate parents wondering why they had to explain to their kids about...romantic stuff."
Both boys nodded. Mr. Dickers was aware of their relationship after inadvertently walking in on a snog-fest the two had been having in the empty dining hall one afternoon last summer.
Just then, Ashanti and Nicole came on over. "We're really looking forward to helping out this summer," Rick told Mr. Dickers, changing the subject.
"I just hope there is a camp this year," Mr. Dickers said, sounding a bit sad.
"Wait – what?" Casey gasped out.
"Oh, it's this whole Ghost Miner thing," Mr. Dickers said. "It's making a lot of the parents nervous, and many of them are considering pulling their kids out of camp. The main reason the owners," the owners being a group of well-to-do business owners who ran the camp as part of their philanthropic efforts, "have kept Camp Waconda open over the years was for the kids, seeing as how it's made so many kids happy. There are a lot of developers, though, who'd love to turn the area into an exclusive, private community with million-dollar 'cabins.' If no more kids come here, the owners will have little reason to hold on to the land and will likely sell out."
Mr. Dickers, Rick knew, would certainly know about high-end developers, as several of his family members worked in that field in a family business; while he was semi-retired, he still worked alongside them, often as a consultant.
"We certainly don't want that to happen," Nicole stated firmly, and the others nodded.
"There may not be much of a choice," Mr. Dickers said, "if the Ghost Miner keeps showing up."
"We'd like to help out," Rick said. "We do have some small experience in such things."
"Well, I suppose there isn't much harm in trying at this point. Thanks guy, for everything," Mr. Dickers said before leaving.
"I just hope we're not making a big mistake, guys," Casey said.
"Of course we aren't," Nichole said. "We'll figure out what's going on."
"We should probably get unpacked first," Ashanti said. "Then, we can take a look around while it's still light. If history has taught us anything, this 'Ghost Miner' won't put in an appearance until it's dark."
"Good idea," Nicole said. "Come on, Ashanti. Let's give Romeo and Julian some privacy."
After the girls left, Rick looked over his bed and wondered for a moment if he'd be able to sleep comfortably in it, as it looked like one of the beds for the younger kids. He had hit a noticeable growth spurt starting last fall, and already wound up standing at an impressive 6'1". He'd found it was still a bit unnerving to be a lot taller than some people, like his mom, not to mention the awkwardness of going to kiss Casey on the lips and having to bend way down to do so if they happened to both be standing at the time.
"Hey, think we could both fit in one bed?" Casey asked with a smirk.
"I bet you'd like to find out," Rick replied with a grin.
Casey's response was to wink, and Rick had to admit to himself that he couldn't wait for lights out. They both got horny like any other teenage boy, and had "done stuff" with each other, though they hadn't gone all the way yet.
They quickly started getting unpacked. As Rick started putting his clothes in the drawer of the small dresser on his side of the room, he wondered what, or rather who, was behind the Ghost Miner. While there were a lot of things science had yet to be able to explain, Rick, despite what he'd told Casey earlier, really believed that there was no such thing as ghosts – there was always a logical explanation for these kinds of things, a "man in a mask," if you would. They just needed to figure out who it was behind this "Ghost Miner," and why they'd take up haunting the place.
After Rick finished putting away his stuff, he turned to Casey. "Ready to go?" Rick asked.
Casey closed the dresser drawer, then turned to Rick. "Just about," Casey replied. He suddenly ran to Rick and jumped up, grabbing a hold of his boyfriend and wrapping his legs around Rick's waist and putting his arms around Rick's neck. Giving Rick a fierce kiss, Casey ran a hand through Rick's almost equally unruly blond hair. "Hey there, handsome," Casey said in a low voice after breaking off the kiss.
"Hey, easy there," Rick said, grinning as he felt his body responding to the stimulation. "I just put away my clean underwear. I don't want to have to get some out again quite so soon."
"Oh, that would be so unfortunate," Casey said. "I'd absolutely hate to go around knowing that I'd made you wreck your underwear."
"Yeah, that would be such torture for you. As much as you know I'd like to accommodate you, the girls are waiting. Down, boy!"
Casey let go, gracefully landing on his feet. They headed out to meet Ashanti and Nicole. The four of them quickly decided to take a look at the area around the campfire pit, the location of the Ghost Miner's first appearance, while there was a bit of light still left. Upon arrival, they looked around for a few moments.
"So, how do we go about this?" Nichole asked.
"Nicole and I talked with Mr. Dickers a little bit earlier while we were waiting for you," Ashanti said to the boys, "and he said the Ghost Miner first appeared over here," she pointed at one particular spot, "and moved around within the clearing, chasing after everyone, before disappearing roughly here," indicating a spot by the fire pit.
"We should split up," Rick said. "Ashanti and I will take a look off in that direction," pointing off in the direction of the Ghost Miner's appearance. "If the Ghost Miner is a person, we'll see if we can spot any tracks or anything like that. Casey and Nichole, take a look around here. See if you can find anything and maybe figure out where he might have gone after he disappeared."
"Right," Nichole said. Casey swallowed hard, not too thrilled with the idea of splitting up when there was supposed to be a ghost around. Well, at least he had Shaggy Dog with him.
"So what do you think we should look for?" Casey asked Nichole after Rick and Ashanti left.
"Well, I can't imagine that footprints and the like would be too useful," she said, adjusting her glasses. "There were too many people running around. It would have likely messed up any impressions in the dirt."
Casey took a deep breath and tried to maintain a calm, rational feeling about him. If the others were right and there really were no ghosts (or at least there were no ghosts in situations like this), then there were various clues to look for to show that.
"All right," he said after a moment, "if I remember correctly the Ghost Miner is supposed to have disappeared in a bunch of smoke, right?" Ashanti nodded, and Casey continued. "So that means that if it was a person and not a ghost, then he'd need something to produce that smoke, right? Like some sort of smoke bomb?"
"Hmm, it's something to consider," Nichole said, stroking her chin and moving over to where the Ghost Miner had reportedly vanished. They looked around, but didn't find anything outside of noticing a patch of unusual discoloring on the outside of that side of the fire pit itself. "Well, it was a good idea anyway," she said. "I think that it's just that Robert might have unknowingly cleaned up any debris from a smoke bomb when he cleaned up the area afterwards."
"Or maybe it really was a ghost," Casey muttered.
"Perhaps," Nichole said, "but let's take a look this way." She headed towards the forest at the edge of the clearing.
"Why that way?" Casey asked.
"Because," Nichole said, "it's unlikely any of the campers or staff went this way, so there would have been no other footprints from anyone to contaminate things, and I doubt that Robert would have had any reason to come over to clean up anything."
They headed over and looked in the surrounding area. "What's this?" Casey said after a bit, pointing at some sort of small rectangular indentations, 4 in a row, that had been made in the ground.
"Whatever they are, they were made by something with some weight behind them," Nichole said, "considering how they're in farther than our footprints are." She pointed at one of Casey's nearby footprints for comparison.
"That's odd," Casey said. "I know animal tracks, and they certainly don't look like animal tracks."
"Sure they're just not deer tracks or something? It is starting to get dark, after all."
"Definitely sure. They're too perfectly rectangular and too close together."
Suddenly Shaggy Dog, who'd been meandering around, raised his head up from the shrub he'd been sniffing and let out a sort of puzzled growl. "What is it, boy?" Casey asked.
Shaggy Dog looked around, then stopped to look behind Casey and Nichole before letting out a whimper. Casey and Nichole froze for a moment before slowly turning around and finding themselves staring right at a glowing figure that could only be the Ghost Miner.
"Bwahaha!" said the Ghost Miner.
Casey and Nichole yelled in fright while Shaggy Dog let out a howl. The three of them turned and started running with the Ghost Miner not far behind...
After Rick and Ashanti left the fire pit area, they hiked for a few minutes. They soon reached some cliffs.
"I've never really seen any of this up close," Ashanti said.
"Yeah, this was always part of the out-of-bounds areas," Rick replied. The out-of-bounds areas, as the name suggested, were those areas that were either within the camp itself (such as the kitchen, storage areas, and counselors' cabins) and the areas outside of the camp that, because of either safety concerns or privacy, campers weren't supposed to go into unless they were with a member of the camp staff (and as such, this was the first year that the rule hadn't really applied to Rick and Ashanti, as they now technically constituted camp staff and not campers).
Looking around, Ashanti soon spotted a small cave entrance. "Cool, a cave," she said to Rick. "Wish your buddy Tom was here. He could probably tell us all sorts of things about this."
"He's not my buddy," Rick commented. "I'm just going to be working a lot with him this summer."
"Look at this, though," Rick said to Ashanti, pointing to a coupe of small rectangular impressions in the dirt near the mouth of the cave. "These definitely don't seem natural."
"Yeah, they seem fresh, too. I wonder if they mean something."
"I don't know," Rick admitted. "But we'll keep them in mind. If we've ever learned anything, it's that sometimes the most insignificant-seeming things can sometimes be the biggest clues."
"Hey, want to check out the cave?" Ashanti asked. "I brought a flashlight." She held up a small flashlight she'd been carrying on one of the pockets of her cargo pants.
Rick shrugged. "Why not? And who knows? We might find a clue."
They started going into the cave, and Rick quickly had to duck down in order to fit inside because of the low ceiling. They moved in a little way before coming to a large cavern. Ashanti shown the flashlight's beam around, illuminating the walls and ceiling, a few feet above their heads, as it passed around.
"Well, looks like it dead-ends here," Ashanti said.
"Yeah, but it's still cool. Man, if there'd been a cave like this back home, I bet I'd have never left it as a little kid!"
"If there was one like this back home, I bet you and Casey wouldn't leave it now, seeing as how you'd get a lot of privacy in it," Ashanti replied, lightly punching Rick in the arm.
"Well, I wouldn't say that," Rick murmured, feeling his face go warm and feeling grateful that the cave was too dark for her to see him blushing furiously.
"Hey, I do like how parts of the cave seem to sparkle," Ashanti said, politely changing the subject as she moved the flashlight beam around the cave before stopping at one patch on the nearby wall. The two moved over to it, and noticed that it was a vein of light brownish-looking crystals.
"I've never seen anything like this before," Ashanti said. "Have you?"
"No, I haven't," Rick said. He reached out and ran a hand lightly along it. A couple of small pieces broke off into his hand. He put them in his pocket and said, "I'll ask Tom some time. I bet he knows what this is." Rick quietly planned on giving Casey one of the pieces, though he didn't tell Ashanti that out of a bit of irrational fear that she might tease him for it.
Rick turned to face the entrance to the cave, but as he did so his foot connected something that certainly did not feel like a part of the cave and that gave off a wood sound with the impact. "What the..." Rick said, looking down.
Ashanti, also having heard the sound, turned towards Rick and flashed the flashlight's beam downward. A couple of woods chest were pushed up against the wall. "Well, it seems we're not the only ones to have found this cave," Ashanti said.
Rick opened up one chest, and she and Rick looked inside, only to find it empty. Rick closed the lid and was about to open the other chest when they both heard what sounded like yelling and howling. They quickly headed back outside and started to move towards the sounds when Casey, Nichole, and Shaggy Dog came bursting into the clearing that was around the cave entrance. Casey practically leapt into Rick's arms.
"Gh-gh-ghost!" Casey sputtered out. "Chasing us!"
"I don't see anything," Ashanti said skeptically.
But moments later she had to take back her words when the Ghost Miner himself burst into the clearing.
"Bwahaha!!!" he said upon seeing the group. He made a throwing motion, and a moment later a small fireball exploded in front of them. The group screamed, and started running back towards Camp Waconda, with the Ghost Miner again in pursuit.
The group soon stumbled into camp. "Is he still behind us?" Rick asked.
"I don't think so," Nicole replied. "It's been a few minutes since I last heard his laughter."
"Hey, what's with the commotion?" someone asked, as a cabin door opened up, spilling light out onto the group, who realized that they'd arrived at the location of the cabins of the main camp staff, and that the person talking to them was Mr. Dickers.
"Ghost Miner!" Casey managed to sputter out.
"So you saw him, too," Mr. Dickers said. "Now you see why so many of the campers and staff are scared. Come on, I'll get you some hot chocolate, and you can tell me about it."
20 minutes later, seated in the kitchen and clutching mugs of hot chocolate (and Shaggy Dog gnawed on a bone), the gang told Mr. Dickers a little about what they'd been doing when they'd encountered the Ghost Miner.
"Look," Mr. Dickers said, "I appreciate your wanting to help, but I want you to stay within the camp boundaries for now. I know that you're junior counselors now and that the out-of-bounds rule 'officially' doesn't apply to you any more, but remember that that rule is there for the protection of those not familiar with the area outside of camp and who, through their ignorance of what's out there, might wind up getting hurt. Even I don't make a habit of going out there."
The four kids agreed, and quickly finished up their hot chocolate. "Now," Mr. Dickers said, "it's getting late and we've all had a long day. I think it's time we hit the sack."
He got no arguments, and they each headed towards their respective cabin. Entering their cabin, Rick and Casey began to undress. "Man, that was freaky," Rick said.
"You don't need to tell me twice!" Casey replied with a shudder.
"I really hope that this is something that's just some strange prank," Rick said. "I'd hate to think we've just seen an actual ghost." He pulled down his pants and underwear and sat down on the end of his bed to pull them of completely, along with his socks and shoes. He then sat there for a moment, wondering who - or what - it was that they'd just seen.
Suddenly Casey was there in front of him, hunching down between his legs. "Ohhh yeah," Casey said, staring at the sight of Rick's crotch. "No need to worry about clean underwear this time."
Casey then leaned forward as his tongue darted out and began darting over Rick's crotch. Rick moaned out and flopped back onto the bed, his member hardening in response to the sudden pleasure. He grabbed Casey's head and pushed it into his crotch and moaned out again as Casey's tongue continued working his crotch.
After a couple of minutes, Casey removed Rick's hands from his head and got up. He grabbed Rick and practically dragged him more fully onto the bed. Casey then got onto Rick and started grinding his crotch against his boyfriend's. The room filled with moaning and panting as the two horny teenage boys went at it, clutching each other as their hormones raged through their bodies. The bed actually started rocking back and forth as Casey continued to grind. Within minutes Rick cried out in ecstasy as he released his load onto himself and Casey, and Casey's own cry and load weren't far behind.
Casey flopped down onto Rick when it was all over, and the room became quiet except for their heavy breathing. After a few minutes Rick started slowly caressing Casey's back and butt with the fingertips of his right hand.
"Thanks," Casey said quietly, raising himself up onto his elbows and staring into Rick's chocolate brown eyes. "After what happened earlier, I needed that." Casey stroked Rick's cheek.
"You know I'd do anything for you," Rick replied, staring up into Casey's deep blue eyes for a few moments before drawing him down for a kiss. Casey then got up and grabbed his shirt, using it to clean them both up.
"Oh, here, I came across this earlier," Rick said, going over to his pants and pulling out one of the bits of rock he'd found in the cave earlier. "Thought you might like it."
"Oh, now that's interesting," Casey said. "I've never seen crystals quite this color before."
Casey set it down on the nightstand between the two beds before the two climbed under the covers of Rick's bed, with Casey resting his head on Rick's chest, and soon fell asleep together.
The next morning the four kids gathered in the dining hall. After going over the events of the night before, Rick said, "So if the Ghost Miner is a living person, then the big question is, why are they haunting Camp Waconda in the first place? What's their motive?"
"Well," Casey commented, "I don't think it would be for gold or anything like that, since the guy who was supposed to become the Ghost Miner never found any when he was supposed to be alive. But maybe it's like Mr. Dickers said – there are developers who want to get their hands on the area for development purposes. I have a cousin in real estate, and I do remember him saying that large expensive houses out in the woods are all the rage lately among the rich."
"Maybe it's the trees," Ashanti said. "I remember Robert saying once last year that some logging companies had their eyes set on all these old-growth trees around here, but that the camp's owners didn't want to sell, for the same reason they don't want to sell to the developers."
"And doesn't Robert's brother own a logging company?" Nicole asked.
"He does," Rick said.
"Or maybe it's just a classic revenge story," Casey said. "For example, has any of the staff been fired lately?"
"Not that I'm aware of," Rick said. "At least not from last year's group, though there were some openings from a couple of years ago. That's when both Tom and Robert were brought on, among several other people. I know that I, for one, never did hear why the previous people to hold those jobs left. We could always check with Mr. Dickers."
"How do we know that this isn't just one of the kids trying to prank everyone?" Ashanti asked.
"I don't think it's a kid," Rick said. "We've seen the Ghost Miner ourselves, and from what we'd heard from other eyewitnesses, this seems a bit complex for a kid to pull off."
"Well, what about..." Nichole started to say, but was interrupted by the campers arriving for breakfast. Not wanting to try to talk over the noise, they decided to grab some breakfast as well. After grabbing some food, they settled down among their own thoughts. After breakfast, they headed out, looking for Mr. Dickers. They found him with some of the other staff members in a meeting room of the theater, finishing up a meeting with some of the other staff members.
While Mr. Dickers finished up talking with a couple of the others, Tom came over. "Rick, I picked up few books from a public library book sale, including a few plays I think would work well for the plays we do at the end of each two week session, or at least we will if there is a camp in two weeks. Take a look at them and let me know what you think."
Rick nodded, and he and Casey looked over the books, which lined a section of one wall. A few minutes later, Mr. Dickers came over. "I understand you wanted to talk to me, Rick?"
"Yes," Rick said as the two moved over to a corner of the room. "Out of curiosity, do you think that there might be anyone who might want to close down Camp Waconda? Perhaps someone who might have a grudge against you or the owners?"
"No," Mr. Dickers said. "Nobody that I can think of."
"Are you sure?" Rick asked. "A former employee who wasn't happy about being let go, maybe? Some real estate developer or logging company who can't seem to take 'no' for an answer?"
"I'm sure," Mr. Dickers said. "Sure, there are a couple of members of my family who'd love to have a crack at developing the area, but they've always seemed to understand and accept the camp owners' decision to keep the camp open."
"Weird question - could somebody be doing this just for kicks? Someone with a fascination with pranking people and who just doesn't understand boundaries?"
"I suppose it's not outside the realm of possibility, though who that could be I couldn't guess. Nobody here seems to fit that personality."
Rick thought things over. He couldn't shake the feeling that he was overlooking something. "Do you have any thoughts on who might be doing this that I might have left out?" he finally asked.
"No, I can't," Mr. Dickers said, "but I'm as stumped by this as you are. I'd think that anyone - or at least any one alive – who wanted to close down Camp Waconda this badly would be a little more direct, not to mention obvious, about it – maybe try to sue us out of existence over some perceived harm or something like that." He sighed. "I appreciate your trying to figure this out, and I wish I could be of more help. I just hope you get it handled soon. I just talked with the owners before the meeting this morning, and they're seriously considering shutting down Camp Waconda if there are any more appearances of the Ghost Miner."
"Well, I hope it won't come to that. Thank you for your time," Rick said before the two parted ways.
The four teens spent the day looking about within the camp for anything that might help them figure out what was happening. The staff didn't have any new ideas, and the few kids they talked to were all just scared.
As evening fell, the staff and campers gathered around the fire pit for what some were beginning to fear was the final time. The mood was subdued, despite the best efforts of several people to cheer everyone up.
"So, is this the end?" Ashanti asked as the gang sat close together. "Are we really going to lose Camp Waconda?"
"I don't know," Rick said quietly. He was still stumped. He felt like there was just one or two things that he was overlooking that would put everything into place if he could just figure them out.
Suddenly there was a shriek of "The Ghost Miner!" from nearby. Everyone looked up to see the Ghost Miner hovering near the edge of the clearing. He let out a characteristic "Bwahaha!" before chasing people and throwing a few fireballs for a few moments. When he came to the fire pit, he stopped.
"This is your final warning!" he declared in an unearthly voice. "Leave or suffer the consequences!" With a huge puff of smoke, he was gone.
Nobody was quite sure how long they stayed where they were, clutching each other and whimpering, before Mr. Dickers strode into the middle of the clearing and said, "I think we should all go to bed now. We can decide what to do in the morning." Nobody argued with him.
After arriving back in their cabin, Rick and Casey stripped and made love again, this time with Rick being on top. After laying in each other's arms for a while afterwards, Casey said, "I'm still too wound up to sleep. Mind if I read?"
"Sure, but read what?" Rick asked.
"Tom let me grab a few books earlier while you were talking to Mr. Dickers. Besides theater books, there were some others on different subjects. Some of what I grabbed was scientific-y stuff that would probably interest Nichole more, but I thought I'd give them a try."
Casey nestled into the crook of Rick's left arm and looked a little through several of the books; Rick found he was also in a position to somewhat see the pages. Nothing seemed to overly grab Rick's attention until he noticed one page in the most recent book Casey was looking through.
"Wait, go back!" Rick said just after Casey turned the page.
"What is it?" Casey asked as he turned back to the page he'd just been on.
Rick didn't answer, but just stared at the page. Casey turned his own attention to the page. "What the..." he said when he saw what was on it. Both boys read over the information on the page, and examined the pictures.
"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" Casey quietly asked after a moment.
"I think I am," Rick responded. "I think that we may have just determined that the 'Ghost' Miner isn't a ghost after all."
"Yeah, but that's true, how do we prove it and put a stop to what's been going on?"
"I think I have the beginnings of a plan forming..." Rick said.
The next morning, Rick and Casey were eating breakfast with Nichole and Ashanti. The boys had told the girls of what they'd found the night before, and of the plan Rick had come up with.
As they were finishing up their breakfast, a few of the campers came over to the table. "Hey, you guys are going to get the Ghost Miner, aren't you?" asked one kid, a stocky brown-haired boy of 10 named Todd who the gang knew from past years at camp.
"Of course we are," Rick said with a grin.
"I hope you do," Todd said. "I've always wanted to work here as a junior counselor here, and I can't do that if they close down Camp Waconda. That makes me mad!" He pounded a fist into the palm of his other hand. "Let us know if we can help."
"Actually," Rick said, an idea coming to him, "I think we could use your help." He beckoned the small group to come closer and, after glancing around to make sure nobody was paying attention to them, lowered his voice. Turning to one of the other boys there, Rick said, "Jimmy, you remember where the forest ranger station is?" Jimmy nodded. "Good," Rick continued. "Since you're a fast runner, I'm going to need you to slip away tonight after dinner. Run to the forest ranger station and get Ranger Smith and maybe a couple of other rangers over here as fast as you can. If all goes according to plan, we're going to have a little something for them. The rest of you, meet up at the fire pit after dinner as if you were just going to another campfire. Pass the word around to the other kids, but only tell them we're going to have a campfire, and nothing else."
The kids nodded and moved off. "So, you going to let us in on this amazing plan of yours?" Nichole asked quietly.
"Of course," Rick replied with a grin. "First, Casey and Shaggy Dog are going to be joining the kids around the campfire. They're going to be the bait."
"Bait?!" Casey said, his voice, quivering.
"Shh!" the others told him.
"Sorry," he said, dropping his voice. "But...bait?"
"Yes, bait," Rick said, "to catch a ghost. And here's how we're going to do it..."
That evening, the campers who'd met up with the gang earlier – minus Todd – gathered with Casey and Shaggy Dog around a cheerful fire, roasting marshmallows and singing silly camp songs.
At a certain point and time, Casey stood up. "Now, I'd like to thank everyone for being here," he told the assembled campers. "Everyone having a good time so far?" Everyone indicated that they were. "Good," Casey continued. "Hopefully this will be the start of a whole lot of fun this summer at Camp Waconda..."
"That's what you think!" came a spooky voice from the edge of the clearing. Everyone's head whipped around to find the Ghost Miner standing there. "You were warned to leave, but you didn't!" the foul specter said. "Now prepare to face the consequences!" He began throwing fireballs as pandemonium once again erupted among the campers, who scattered about screaming.
Casey took a deep breath. This was his big moment. Rick was counting on him! (All right, Ashanti and Nichole and the campers were, too, but Rick really was!) "Hey, Ghost Miner!" he called out. "Why don't you pick on somebody your own size?"
The Ghost Miner whirled around and turned his full attention to Casey. "I think I will," the ghost said, "starting with you!"
The menacing phantom started charging at Casey, who turned and ran in the direction Rick had told him to earlier, being sure to act like he was scared over being chased by a ghost (though acting scared wasn't really needed, as Casey really was scared). Casey ran into a small fog bank that had started forming on the edge of the clearing. The fog quickly made it hard to see more than a few feet in any direction. Fortunately Casey knew where he was supposed to go, and after ensuring that the Ghost Miner was still following him, he kept running. Suddenly and unexpectedly, Todd was in front of Casey.
"Hey, leave him alone!" Todd shouted at the Ghost Miner, but any attempt at bravado on the boy's part was cut off by Casey plowing into him, sending both boys tripping over an electrical cord and tumbling to the ground.
"Oof!" someone said nearby. It was Nichole, who'd been using the cord to provide power to the fog machines she'd been using to make the fog bank, and she'd been pulled off-balance by Todd and Casey crashing into the cord.
They looked up in fright as the Ghost Miner bore down on them, and just when they thought they were goners, there was a familiar "WOOF!" as something large darted out of the shadows that moved in front of the Ghost Miner. This time it was the Ghost Miner who was unable to stop in time as he stumbled over Shaggy Dog. The Ghost Miner let out a rather un-ghost-like "Whoa!" as he pitched forward into a particular cleared space on the ground.
"Guys, now!" Casey called out.
Rick and Ashanti, who were waiting in nearby shrubbery, quickly pulled on a rope they were holding that had been run through a system of pulleys and attached to the net that was concealed by the fog. The Ghost Miner was yanked up into the air.
"We got him!" Todd cried out. Word quickly spread through the other kids who'd been gathered around the campfire, who were soon gathered under the spook that had been terrorizing the camp.
Casey quickly grabbed a cart that was normally used for hauling stuff around camp that, as such, had oversized tires to handle the rough, uneven terrain that could be found at times at the camp. The Ghost Miner was lowered onto the cart, and the group quickly made their way back to camp.
"Hey, not that we don't mind your help," Casey said to Todd, "but why'd you try to take on the Ghost Miner yourself back there? You could have been hurt when I ran into you."
"Sorry," Todd replied sheepishly. "I guess I got a bit carried away there, and I thought you were in trouble."
"Well, no harm done," Casey replied.
They soon arrived at camp, where they found the camp's staff (well, all but one) waiting with Jimmy, Ranger Smith, and two other rangers. They moved the cart carrying the Ghost Miner into the commons area, where the floodlights had been turned on.
"Well, I was wondering why this young fellow was so insistent upon dragging us up here," Ranger Smith, who was a long-time friend of the gang and their families. "It looks like you've nabbed yourselves a ghost – though, of course, knowing you, you'll probably tell me that this is no ghost."
"You've got that right, Ranger Smith," Rick said. Rick stepped over to the Ghost Miner and pulled the netting down around the ghoul's head, then grabbed the top of the miner's hat and pulled up. Several people gasped as not only the hat came up, but a mask as well, to reveal a familiar face underneath.
"Tom Fields?" Mr. Dickers said, confused. "You're the Ghost Miner? But...why? I thought you liked it up here."
Tom just looked away, but Rick said, "I think I can explain things here. I'd imagine that it has to do with this." He pulled something out of his pocket and handed it to Mr. Dickers, who along with Ranger Smith and several others who were standing close to them, looked at it. It was one of the rocks he'd gotten from the cave the day before.
"It might just look like some pretty crystals," Rick said, "and at first that's what I thought it was, too. But last night Casey was looking through some science books that he'd borrowed from the camp library, one of which was a book on geology. It turns out that rock is a piece of spahelrite, or as we geological laymen might say, it's a zinc sulfide mineral, and is the most common form of zinc ore."
"Zinc," Ranger Smith deadpanned. "This was all about zinc? I'll be sure to remember that the next time I take my nutritional supplement."
"Yes, it was about zinc," Nichole said, stepping forward and seeing where Rick was going, "but you have to keep in mind that besides being a mineral needed, albeit in trace amounts, in the human body, zinc also has many industrial applications because of, among other things, its anti-corrosion capabilities and general usefulness in alloys like brass and bronze."
"Right," Rick said with an appreciative grin at Nichole. "Ashanti and I stumbled across a cave yesterday that had veins of it running throughout, along with two trunks in there that indicate that we weren't the first people to find the cave. I remember hearing in the news a while back that several mining companies that operate in the region are offering very nice incentives to individuals who help them find workable mineral deposits. Those who point them in the direction of valuable deposits are paid a small percentage of the profits from the mining operation. While the percentage itself is small – usually 2-4% of the profits – if the operation turns out to be large enough, that can still equal a considerable sum of money to the average individual. It's an offer that Tom, being a freelance geologist, would have been well aware of. He also knew that the area around Camp Waconda had once been searched by prospectors who had reportedly never found anything of worth, but he realized that they were searching for things like gold, silver, and precious gemstones, and that they might have ignored other mineral deposits or not realized what they found. And because nobody thought there were any valuable minerals around here, no one would suspect him of having any reason to stage the Ghost Miner haunting."
"So when he saw the job openings a couple of years ago at Camp Waconda," Ashanti said, "he realized that by getting a job here he could use it at a base of operations while searching the surrounding areas for possible mineral deposits, and at some point must have also stumbled across the same cave Rick and I did. Knowing full well what he'd found, he knew he'd hit the jackpot, but at the same time he realized that the deposit was on land owned by the camp's owners, who he knew would never sell the land as long as Camp Waconda was operational. But he figured that if enough campers were scared away, the owners would have little choice but to sell. So he used his knowledge of the theater to take advantage of the legend of the Ghost Miner. He used a costume and makeup for the appearance, and stilts painted black, which left rectangular imprints in the ground, to make it look like he was floating. The smoke was produced using dry ice bombs, which left residue on the fire pit. The fireballs were cheap theater pyrotechnics."
"But what would keep them from simply selling to the developers who want to put million-dollar cabins up here?" Mr. Dickers asked.
"He hoped that the same 'ghost' who was scaring away the campers and staff would keep the developers at bay, too," Casey said. "And since no one would be willing to buy the land, its value would drop considerably, and could be picked up dirt-cheap, at which time Tom would 'discover' the zinc deposits and go to the mining companies. Any concerns they had about the ghost could be put to rest by his assuring them that he'd brought in either the clergy or paranormal investigators he says he knows to 'cleanse' the area of the Ghost Miner, which, as you can see, was actually him all along."
"And I would have gotten away with it, too," Tom said, "if it hadn't been for you meddling kids and your dumb dog!"
"Huh, that sounds familiar," Ashanti whispered to the others.
"All right, you're coming with us," Ranger Smith said as he and one of the other rangers helped Tom out of the net and put him into handcuffs. "Sam," Ranger Smith said to the other ranger, "get on the radio and contact the sheriff's office. They're better equipped to handle holding Tom over until the district attorney decides what to do with him than we are."
After the rangers and Tom drove off, Mr. Dickers said, "Well, at least now we don't need to worry about Camp Waconda closing down due to ghosts. But who will run the theater and help put on the end-of-session play we always do after each two week session every year? It's a little late to start the hiring process for a replacement."
Casey glanced over at Rick, and found himself grinning - and not because of hormones this time. "Actually, Mr. Dickers," he said, "I think I have an idea..."
The audience laughed along with the play, and applauded when it was over and the actors and stage crew took their bows. Mr. Dickers then took to the stage himself. He said, "Well, another successful camping session. If the past two weeks and this delightful play are to be any indication, then the camp's staff and I have a wonderful summer to look forward to. Now, while I don't normally like to single out anyone, this time I feel it is warranted. While we were unfortunately being led to believe that Camp Waconda was being haunted by a supposed ghost and was in danger of being closed down, someone here refused to be scared and organized some people to investigate and ultimately unmasked the culprit. Then he stepped in to help make sure that the camp theater would still be a part of this camp. So I'd like to have Rick Welker come out here and take a bow. "
As cheers erupted, Rick, who'd been watching backstage, was too stunned to move. Casey, who was standing next to him, gave him a playful shove. "Don't be a doofus," Casey said, grinning. "Get out there."
Rick went out and took a somewhat awkward bow to much applause before holding up a hand for silence. When everyone quieted down, he said, "While I certainly appreciate the very kind words from Mr. Dickers, I have to confess that I could not have done what I did on my own. So I'd like my friends Ashanti Novell, Nichole Chan, and Casey Rogers to come up here and take a bow."
When a somewhat quizzical "Woof?" came from the front row amid a bit of laughter, Rick said, "And yes, Shaggy Dog can come up, too."
The five friends took a bow, quietly enjoying the spotlight – just for a moment – but knowing far more that their actions had helped out.
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