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“WELCOME TO CAMP!!”
“WELCOME TO CAMP!!!”
“WELCOME TO CAMP!!!!”
My eyes opened. Stupid CITs. They were always as annoying as hell when the campers arrived. I rolled over and looked at the door. I was in Cabin Six, with six other girls my age and one counselor. Everyone except a wiry girl named Emily and I were up. I sat up in my bunk and rubbed the sleep out of my eyes.
“Oh, good, you’re awake,” Emily said, rummaging through her things for a shirt.
I stretched and stood up. The hardwood floor scraped against my bare feet. “The CITs woke me up, actually.” I glanced at the window. Bright sunlight filtered through the window. “What time is it?”
Emily glanced at her watch, buried beneath mounds of other bracelets. “Two fifteen. The new campers are arriving today.”
I licked my lips at the thought. I grabbed my clothes for the day, my shower stuff, and a towel. I was halfway out the door when Emily stopped me.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
I shrugged. “Gonna take a shower.”
“Okay. I’ll wake the rest of the cabin.”
I snorted. “Try waking Liza up. That’ll be a challenge.” I walked to the bathrooms. They weren’t connected to the cabins, so people had to walk just to go to the bathroom or take a shower. When I opened the door, no one was in the bathroom. I walked into a bathroom stall, took my clothes off, wrapped the towel around me, and headed to the showers. They were a bit nicer than the showers in the rest of camp, and I was glad of that. As soon as I turned the water up, warm water assaulted my back and neck. I sighed. In about an hour or two, the camp would be filled to the brim with excited nine year olds bursting with happiness and moody fourteen year olds who wanted anything to be anywhere but here. Over the noise of the showers, I heard the door open.
“Who’s in here?” the voice asked.
“Maria, from Cabin Six,” I replied.
“Oh, hey, Maria. It’s me, Sera.” Sera was a girl from Cabin Two who was known for flirting with all the boys. We didn’t get along very well, mainly because our personalities are night and day. She was the girly-girl and I was the tomboy.
“Are you excited for the arrival of the new campers?” she asked, trying to make small talk.
“Yeah.” My voice sounded flat and uncaring.
“Why are you acting this way, Maria?” Sera asked.
I turned the shower off and wrapped the towel around me. “Is it right to do this?” I asked myself.
Sera glared at me with bright blue eyes. “I thought that you’d be more excited. Where’s your excitement now?”
“Shut up, Sera.”
“Whatever,” she muttered, and touched up her makeup. I swear, I’ve never seen a day when Sera doesn’t wear makeup.
After I got dressed and dropped my stuff off at the cabin, I went to The Coliseum, which consisted a bunch of haphazardly placed stone steps on a hill. It’s where we met as a whole camp, and do stuff like campfires and other crazy things.
Today, it was filled to the brim with new campers. The whole place was bursting with excited energy.
Oh, god, I thought. It’ll be like this for the rest of the summer. After only a few seconds, it gets old very quickly.
“Hey, Maria!” a voice cried out over the din. “Over here!”
I followed the sound of that voice, dodging people all the way. Under a thick willow tree, a fifteen year-old boy stood leaning against its trunk. He was very handsome, with caramel-colored skin and dark, almost black hair. His eyes were a pleasing shade of royal blue. He had a strong yet lanky build.
“Hey,” I said, settling in next to him.
“So, you ready?” he asked.
I chuckled. “As I’ll ever be. Are you, Damien?”
Damien smiled widely, showing off perfect white teeth. “Yeah. I’m your second-in-command, so why wouldn’t I be?”
I glanced around, making sure no one overheard us. “Shush. Don’t make the campers suspicious.”
Damien rolled his eyes. “Oh, right. They have to remain oblivious until their last breath.”
“Stupid Dr. Dawson and his stupid rules.”
Okay, here’s the story. Dr. Dawson is a total lunatic that was posing as a doctor from Germany to get his hands on specimens that weren’t available in his native country. And what kind of specimens did he want, you ask.
He wanted dinosaurs.
I know, I know, it sounds really cliché, but it’s true. Most of the big finds were in the States, so he moved here to get all the goods. He moved to a large mansion in northern Montana, and his base of operation was in his basement. Some say he was a former Nazi scientist, but no one knows for sure.
From what I’ve been told, he somehow found a way to extract complete DNA from dinosaur fossils. He tried countless times to grow the DNA he extracted, but nothing worked. He became desperate, and in a rage fueled by lack of sleep and multiple failures, he jammed the syringe containing the DNA into the arm of his eighteen year old assistant, Jasmine.
Jasmine underwent a horrible transformation, and through this, Dr. Dawson finally got a breakthrough. He researched his assistant, and found out that the dinosaur blood creates a few mutations in a human’s chromosomes, and this creates a very strange disorder. Dr. Dawson calls it ‘Lizard Syndrome’ and it causes the person to be able to switch forms from a human to a dinosaur. Even I don’t know all of it.
But the problem with Dawson’s new discovery was that the 50-50 combo was mentally unstable. Jasmine tried to attack Dr. Dawson multiple times, and she lost most of her human reasoning. In the end, he euthanized Jasmine. But that was the only beginning. He got more assistants, both male and female, and starting playing around with how to balance the human DNA and dinosaur DNA.
After many attempts, he finally got it right. It was a 25-75, with 25% dinosaur and 75% human. The first type of dinosaur he experimented with was a Velociraptor, and he decided to try more. T-rex, Spinosaurus, Allosaurus; the list goes on and on. He also experimented with herbivores, but found out that carnivorous dinosaurs were the best because the herbivores were very flighty.
Now, almost fifteen years later, there are at least fifty or so of these ‘hybrids.’ (We call ourselves Hunters) As the old ones die out, new ones take their places. It’s a vicious, never-ending cycle. And since us Hunters are very antisocial to other humans, we’re usually placed in one place from the day we were born until our last breaths.
And that’s where I come in.
My fellow campers from cabins One through Seven are batch #325. We live on an abandoned old campground in northern Wisconsin. Others can get in, but we can’t get out. And since we’re carnivores, Dr. Dawson likes to add in very grotesque pawn. Every summer, about one hundred kids are sent here, never to return again.
I think you can put two and two together.
“Hey, it’s time for lunch,” Damien said, snapping me out of my daydream.
“Oh, right, yeah,” I said. I walked into the dining hall, which was on top of the Coliseum hill. The scent was the first thing that hit me. Okay, I’m sorry, but a lot of humans packed together smell like a McDonald’s ball pit. Good and bad scents mix and mingle together to make one giant pool of scents.
“Blech,” I said to myself as I sat down at the cabin table. Only Liza was there, her frizzy red hair doing its own little thing and her blue eyes hazy with tiredness.
“How’d your nap go?” I asked.
Liza groaned. “I wanna take another one. Too tired to eat.”
I playfully punched her in the arm. “Remember, the first day there’s grilled cheese.” I swear that Camp Pine’s grilled cheese is the best in the whole entire freakin’ world.
“Yay!” All tiredness gone, Liza jumped up and down in her plastic chair.
“Sheesh. Calm down, Liza.” I looked up and saw that the rest of my cabin had come. Elizabeth, Liz, Marie, Emily, and Shayna were my crazy and hilarious cabin mates. Our councilor, Sue, smiled at us in a way that only a councilor could do. Oh, by the way, our ‘councilors’ are actually college students studying us for a semester or two. From what Sue told us, she was in her senior year and majoring in paleontology.
“So, when do we get our assignments?” Marie asked. It’s so weird having people have names almost exactly alike.
“When the new campers are signing up for activities,” Shayna replied.
Marie licked her lips. She wasn’t thinking about grilled cheese. “Yum.”
I looked around the dining hall and saw that a bunch of the human campers were staring at us, most of them guys. I chuckled. “Looks like some of the campers are suffering from ECS.”
Everyone at the table laughed. ECS is something we like to call ‘Edward Cullen Syndrome.’ Along with heightened senses, hybrids are beautiful to normal human eye. It’s a defense mechanism, I’ve been told. If we were insanely pale and sparkled in the sun, we could pass for one of Stephenie Meyer’s vampires.
Suddenly, the dining hall went completely silent. I twisted in my chair and saw Dr. Dawson in front of the fireplace.
“Welcome, children, to Camp Pine,” he announced. “I hope you enjoy your stay here.” There was a mischievous glint in his eyes. They’d enjoy themselves until we hunt them. Bum bah dump ba buhhhh!
“Now,” Dr. Dawson continued, “let’s join in for grace.” We stood up and sang grace that was posted above the fireplace. After we sang, “Aaa-men,” we sat down, and the grilled cheese feast began. And, as always, they’re the best thing in the world.
“Ohmigod, this is so good!” I cried, my mouth crammed full of grilled cheese dunked in piping-hot tomato soup.
Sue chuckled, poking her salad with her fork. “I can never know how you can eat that much.”
“It’s in our DNA,” Elizabeth replied, swallowing a huge blob of grilled cheese.
By the time lunch was done, I personally had gone through at least five grilled cheeses. It was a good day.
“Hey, and welcome to Camp Pine,” Mike, the lead councilor said. “I just have a few quick announcements. Councilors, meet me in front of the flagpole after lunch. Campers, after rest period, we’re going to choose four activities for the week. But for now, let’s just try to sleep off the food coma. Have a good rest period!” The announcements were done, so we headed back to our cabin.
“So, what do ya want to do?” Liza asked, all tiredness gone.
Shayna shrugged. “I dunno.”
Liz stretched. “I’m definitely not tired. Food equals energy, remember?” For some odd reason, our bodies take more nutrients out of food.
“Do you want to check the perimeter?” Elizabeth suggested.
The idea sounded good. “I like it,” I said.
“While you do that, I’ll be putting your hunting portfolios together,” Sue said. “I’ll meet you guys back at the cabin. Have a good time!” Sue took a turn on a dirt road towards our cabin. She soon faded into the bright green of the forest.
We walked in the opposite direction through the dense forest. When we got a few yards away from a large clearing, we stopped and spread out. I hid behind a tree and stripped. I always hated it when my clothes ripped when I transformed into a dinosaur. So, yeah, it was all skins.
I let the dinosaur inside grow, and soon enough, I was a dinosaur. I walked around the tree and then walked to the clearing. Everyone was there except for Marie.
“Hey,” I said, announcing my presence. We could talk to each other in our dinosaur form, and to a normal human, it would sound like a lot of growling and roaring.
“Good to see ya, Maria,” Shayna said, her T-rex face curving into a grin.
“Why is Marie taking so long?” Elizabeth asked. She was an Oviraptor, one of the only omnivores in our batch.
“Remember, she struggles the most with who we are,” Emily replied.
I chuckled. “That reminds me of Rosalie from Twilight.”
“Did I just hear Twilight?” Marie asked, her head popping out from the bushes. For some odd reason, she hated Twilight and anything relating to it.
“Nothing,” I said quickly.
“Let’s get moving!” Liza roared and jerked her head towards the thick forest. A Spinosaurus has a head that was eerily like a crocodile’s and I have a feeling that this was an early version of the modern crocodile.
I rolled my eyes. “Have some patience, Liza.” I started walking towards the perimeter. The others followed me at a distance, acknowledging I was the leader.
I was actually and oddity, if you want to know. After a while, Dr. Dawson got bored of just putting one type of dinosaur into humans. So he decided to put half Velociraptor and half Allosaurus into a human. It was a success, and he started to experiment again. Some combinations worked while others were complete failures.
I’m a Velociraptor/Allosaurus mix. I have the killer instinct of both, with the strength of the Allosaurus and the cunning of the Velociraptor. And I also look like a velociraptor in Jurassic Park, so a lot of people made jokes about that.
“Hey!” Shayna cried out. “Maria! Don’t run into the fence!”
I stopped dead in my tracks. The electric fence was a few inches away from my nose. “Whoa, that was close,” I muttered to myself.
“C’mon, let’s find some snacks,” Liz said, licking her lips. She was a purebred Velociraptor, and barely came up to my knee. Real Velociraptors are puny, if you ask me.
We hunted in the woods for the next hour. I found a plump rabbit, and a white-tailed deer with a limp. They were both amazingly good and juicy.
“Who do you think you’ll get?” Shayna asked after we returned to our human form.
I shrugged. “I don’t know, really. I usually get a few more because I’m the leader in my hunting party.”
We walked up to Wolf Lake and waited for the other campers to return from skills sign-up. Some other cabins were there, and I saw Damien. I sat down next to him, and a smile appeared on his face.
“So, how was your adventure in the woods?” he asked.
I shrugged. “Almost got my nose burned off.”
He chuckled. “Got close to the electric fence, huh?”
“Yup.” Damien and I weren’t going out as a couple, definitely not, but he was one of my best guy friends. I’d never brought it up, but I had the nagging feeling he felt the same way. There was no other guy that I was more comfortable around.
Damien glanced behind him. “They’re out.” I glanced behind me, and saw the human campers filing out of Wolf Lodge. All of them were eager and beaming.
“Damn, they’re staring,” I said.
Damien shrugged. “Don’t they always?”
“True, true.” I glanced back again, and caught the gaze of a teenager with shaggy black hair and intense green eyes. He reminded me of Percy Jackson from The Lightning Thief. He looked straight at me, and a shiver went through me. Who was he?
“Hey, the councilors want us in Wolf Lodge,” Damien said, making me look away from the Percy Jackson look-alike. We got up and headed into the lodge. Inside, our councilors were holding thick manila folders.
I walked up to Sue, and she held out a folder. I grabbed it from her and took a look at it. In it were three personal campers and five for our hunting party. In all, there were seven campers. We were in for a very interesting summer.
The first three kills were easy.
Two were for the hunting party and one for me. I took down my personal one fairly easily, mainly because she was a timid little nine year-old.
“Herd him like a sheep!” I growled as my hunting party was chasing our third camper. I knew he was tiring because he was at least one hundred pounds overweight.
“Got it!” Damien hissed back. He ran right behind me, with Bree, TJ, and Max flanking us behind. Damien and Bree veered to the right, while TJ and Max heading towards the left. I stayed in line with the prey. We continued at this pace until our prey tripped over a log. It ended quickly.
“Hey, you hungry?” Bree asked after we rounded together.
I shook my head. “No, you go ahead.” Our hunting party, like wolves, had a hierarchy while eating. The higher your ranking, the more meat you get. And since I was the leader, I usually got the first picks, but this kill was unappetizing for me. And besides, I was already gorged on my personal kill.
TJ shrugged. “Suit yourself.” I started to walk around the nearby forest, my mind wandering. Was hunting kids bad? Most of my fellow campers didn’t really care, but I had formed a “conscience” as Damien put it. I always doubted if what we were doing was right or wrong. Animals are one thing, but humans are on a whole new level. I wished that I could escape and leave this twisted prison, but that was impossible. The borders were lined with electrified fences that packed enough punch to kill. I’ve seen it before, so I know.
“Hey, you okay?” Damien asked behind me, making me jump.
I sighed. “Yes. No. I don’t know.” I turned around to face him. “I’m not sure if it’s right. People in the normal world usually get life sentences or even the death penalty for what we do every summer! Does that seem fair to you?”
If a dinosaur could bite its lip, Damien did. “Well . . . you do have a point.”
I nodded. “See? I don’t understand how they can enjoy it.” I jerked my head towards Bree, Max, and TJ, who were gladly out of earshot.
“I was wondering . . .” Damien looked at the pure blue sky. He seemed to be contemplating something really important.
“What? Go on.” I smiled in my strange dinosaur way. To most people, it looked like a snarl, but to us, it was a smile. Body language was crucial, because one false move and you’d be someone else’s dinner.
Damien sighed. “I was wondering . . . if you wanted to be a couple.”
My eyes widened. “Whaaa?” I asked, not making eligible words.
Damien rolled his eyes. “I want to be your boyfriend, Maria.”
“Oh,” I murmured. This was shocking. Us? A couple? It didn’t seem real, and I was tempted to pinch myself with my sharp middle claw to make sure that I wasn’t dreaming. Instead, I nipped at my shoulder gently with my teeth. No, definitely not dreaming.
There was a gleam in Damien’s eyes I’d never seen before. “So, are you saying yes?”
I nodded. “Uh . . . yeah, I guess so.”
Damien smiled and walked right up to me. He was so close that I could smell his individual scent, which smelled like ginger and Axe cologne. I breathed it in, my eyes closing slightly and my jaws parting to catch the scent deeper.
“You’re beautiful,” Damien whispered in my ear.
I opened my eyes. Damien’s green eyes were soft. “You’re beautiful, too,” I replied. We stood like that for a few minutes, just breathing each other’s scents. Damien knew that I didn’t want to go too far, and he respected that. So no, there was no mating between us.
“Hey!” TJ’s eager face broke through the bushes. “We’re heading back, if that’s okay with you.”
I nodded. “Fine, fine. Go ahead.”
“Thank you!” Bree cried out, her voice suddenly cracking on the last syllable. I glanced at Damien, and suddenly burst out laughing. The three of them were still young in dinosaur standards. Damien and I were fully grown, and I have to admit I was a few inches taller than him. Damien noticed me staring and he chuckled.
“What are you thinking about?” he asked.
I shrugged. “Nothing, really.”
For a few moments, we stood there and just reveled in each other’s presence. When reality finally interrupted, we headed back to Pine Lake, the smaller and muddier of the two lakes here at Camp Pine. The Hunter cabins were having a mud-slinging contest there, and I did not want to miss it. Damien and I walked there hand in hand, and I could tell we started a lot of conversation.
“I didn’t know you were going out with Damien,” Shayna hissed in my ear as we divided up into two teams. From the look on people’s faces, this was going to be one messy fight.
“I didn’t know until about twenty minutes ago, actually,” I muttered.
“Oh, we all knew it was coming,” Liz said, butting into our conversation.
I smiled. “Well, you don’t have to guess anymore.” After a lot of arguing and a bit of mud throwing, the teams were finally picked. I was on the blue team with Shayna, Liz, Marie, and a few other campers from the other cabins. Damien was on my team and I practically squealed in delight when he moved over to our side.
“You ready?” I asked, my fingers skimming a deep pile of mud.
Damien nodded, some of his hair flopping in his face. “You betcha.” And then, the chaos began. It was a battlefield of flying mud, screaming teenagers, and pure excitement and fun. We didn’t have much time to do a lot of fun things, and this was one of those rare times. By the time we were done, most of the mud around Pine Lake was on our skin. We looked like wet, gooey sasquatches.
“We win!” Jason, a T-rex hybrid on our team, yelled. The rules were that whoever was the muddiest won, and I think we had a bit more than the red team.
Sera, who was pretty much the captain of the red team, sighed. “I think you’re right. You won by a margin, but we’ll be back with a vengeance next time.”
“Oh, it’s on,” Jason said, a leering grin spreading on his face. It was about four thirty-ish, so we had about two hours and a half until dinner. All of us were in desperate need of showers, and we gladly complied.
“That was fun,” I said over the din of talking voices and running water.
“It was,” Elizabeth agreed.
“I’m curious—are you going to . . . you know . . . do it with Damien?” Emily asked. I could almost see her lifting an eyebrow.
“Definitely not,” I replied. “Well, not now. Maybe when we’re older.”
Emily chuckled. “Always virtuous.”
“Shut up!” By dinner, we looked fairly presentable, but there were still hints of mud. This was mainly for the boys; it always seemed that they could never be clean enough. As my cabin mates and I sat down, I caught the gaze of two boys. One was—you guessed it—Damien. And the other was the Percy Jackson lookalike. He was on my personal hunting list, and from what I knew, his name was Jay. I had also learned that he liked books, especially the Warriors series. For some odd reason, I wanted to save him for last.
“Hey, Maria, wake up!” I looked up and saw Liza waving a hand in my face.
“Sorry,” I said, shaking my head. “Daydreaming.”
“Probably about Damien,” Emily muttered under her breath, and I heard Elizabeth snicker. Those two were the best of friends, and they practically knew what the other was thinking.
“No,” I said, glaring at the two of them. “I wasn’t daydreaming about Damien.”
“How do we know?” Elizabeth asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Just shut up.” The two of them (and most of the cabin, for that matter) would not shut up about it for the rest of the day. Even during vespers (vespers were a reflection time before lights out), they wouldn’t be quiet.
“Damien and Maria, sitting in a tree,” Shayna sang. “K-I-S-S-I-N-G . . .” She started to go on farther, but I shushed her.
“Shhhh,” I hissed. “I’m trying to go to sleep.” Truthfully, I was tired. So much had happened to me in one day, and I was exhausted to the bone.
“Okay, let’s back off here,” Marie said from across the room. “Maria needs her beauty sleep.”
“So do you,” I snapped.
“Jeez,” Marie muttered, backing off. “What? Are you PMSing or something?”
I didn’t say anything. I could feel sleep clawing at my consciousness, and I gladly let it rip me to pieces. As I fell asleep, I felt utterly calm and peaceful.
And I wish then that I knew that I wouldn’t be able to sleep peacefully after that ever again.
As the days of June transitioned to July, and July melted into August, the hunting continued.
I was able to take down my second personal kill. He was an emo, lanky twelve-year-old, and had put up a pretty good fight. But in the end, I won. I always do.
My hunting party cleanly finished up the last two kills. We had a mini party for the last kill, with a cake and everything. We had a reason to celebrate because we were the first hunting party to finish off all their kills. Most hunting parties finished up in September at the latest, and it was only August 1st.
“This is so awesome!” Bree cried as we sat around a warm campfire. She was in her dinosaur form, and the party hat on her head was skewed to the side. It was quite funny, if you ask me.
“It is,” I replied. Damien and I sat across from Bree, Max, and TJ. We were in our human forms, and our hands intertwined. Our relationship had been public for a while, and a lot of people still talked about us behind our backs.
“So, tell me, are you doing it?” Max asked, cocking his head to the side.
Damien groaned. “Not you too! But if you really want to know, we aren’t.”
“Trust me, we’re not,” I insisted. “But if you want to believe something else, that’s fine with me.”
Bree chuckled. “Okay, whatever you say.” But there was mischievous glint in her eyes that I didn’t like. She didn’t believe us. Not one bit. After that confrontation, we had an amazing time talking and roasting marshmallows over the fire. It was fun.
The next morning, my attention was focused towards my final, individual prey. I wanted to be the first to finish because I knew I’d get an award in I did. Jay was a slippery thing, always getting out of my grip. I knew I had to act fast or he would figure out Camp Pine’s gruesome secret. Humans who figured out our secret were silenced quickly, usually by Dr. Dawson himself. So, yeah, I didn’t want my creator to get all the credit.
That day, I had all the skills that Jay had. His first skill was Advanced Archery, and I followed him. I sat down in the shaded shelter that was the Archery tent.
“So, are you a good shoot?” I asked Jay as we waited for the instructor to arrive.
He shrugged. “I’m pretty good. I’ve taken lessons. But not as good as Katniss, I’m afraid to say.”
I chuckled. “Nice. I’m pretty good too.”
The instructor came after that, and the skill began. When I finally was able to string the bow, I could feel the taught stress of the bow and the increasing kinetic energy slowly rising in the arrow. I took a deep breath and let it go. The arrow embedded itself in the middle of the target, right on the bulls-eye.
I lowered the bow and glanced at Jay, who was next to me. He stared back in shock. “Man, you’re good,” he said in astonishment.
“Thanks,” I said and put the bow down for the next person in line. As I walked back to the Archery tent, I watched as Jay let go of the string, and the arrow flew through the air like a fighter jet. His landed a few inches above mine. Since there were four bows and only three targets, some had to double up and aim for the same target.
“Nice,” I whispered to Jay as we sat down together.
Jay chuckled. “Yeah. I was hoping for one of those Robin Hood split-the-arrow-in-the-middle-of-the-target-in-two tricks, but alas, it didn’t work.”
“Sucks for you.” I glanced into his deep green eyes, and I started to compare Damien and Jay. While Damien was fairly bulky and muscular, Jay was a bit on the scrawny side, but I knew he was pretty strong. Jay’s green eyes were guarded and wary, while Damien’s were easy to read like a book. Both held themselves as if they were important, or as if they were from another time.
“Hey, you okay?” Jay asked, snapping me out of my daydream.
I nodded. “Yeah, I’m fine.” But for the rest of the day, I couldn’t focus. It was as if Jay’s spirit hung over me like a cloud. Everyone close to me noticed my discomfort and tried to worm the answer out of me. But my resolve was stone-cold.
“Hey, what’s up?” Damien asked. We sat on the banks of Wolf Lake, the full moon creating a silver glow on the lake. It was beautiful, almost like a dream.
“Nothing,” I replied. I could tell Damien didn’t believe me.
“Oh, really?” Damien raised an eyebrow. He was on to me.
“I said it was nothing.” I was reassuring him . . . and myself. Something about Jay made me uncomfortable, and I had a burning desire to find out what it was.
“Whatever you say,” Damien said, pulling me towards him. Our lips met, and my fears disappeared. It was one of those kisses that all girl dreams about; the sparks, the desire, it was all there. I melted into Damien’s embrace but something tapped the back of my consciousness, and I forced myself to break away from him.
“What’s wrong?” Damien asked. His eyes were part hurt, part confusion, and part concern.
I sighed. “I . . . I don’t know.”
“Well,” Damien said, “it’s late. I’ll see you at breakfast tomorrow, right?”
“Yes,” I whispered. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” I slowly got up and walked back to my cabin. But halfway there, I heard noise and stopped in my tracks.
“Are we going the right way?” a voice hissed.
“I’m not sure. I can’t see the trail,” another voice said.
“Go to the right,” an eerily familiar voice said. My eyes widened. Jay! The dinosaur inside me roared, and I was instantly spurred into motion. I followed the sound and the scent of the boys I had heard.
“This is a dumb idea,” the first voice muttered. “Why’d we even do this?” So this was an impromptu night hike? Perfect. I followed them, making sure to make my footsteps as quiet as possible. Every time they paused, I stopped. Every time they moved along, I continued on.
“Wait, what was that?” Jay asked when I stepped on a twig, making an unnaturally loud snap.
“It was probably an animal,” the second voice replied. The voice sounded confident, but to my trained ear, there was a layer of fear under the shell of confidence.
The boys continued on, but they strayed away from the trail, which was more convenient for me. They were soon ambling through the forest, making a racket, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the Hunter cabins could hear them.
“Hey, do you see that?” the second voice asked, looking behind him. He must’ve seen my eyes and panicked. My bright blue eyes always seemed to glow, even when I wasn’t in my dinosaur form.
“It’s probably nothing,” Jay replied, glancing back to where his companion had been looking. His eyes met mine, and both ours widened. Dammit. He recognized me.
I couldn’t waste any time. I suddenly took two bounding steps forwards, the inner dinosaur leaping inside me. When I finally reached them, I was fully dinosaur, my lips curling in a snarl. Jay’s two companions stared at me and screamed. But they weren’t my target.
I rounded on Jay. He met my murderous gaze with a calm one of his own. Under the blood-rage that made the edge of my vision turn red, I was horribly confused. Why wasn’t he running? Everyone else ran. What was wrong with him?
“I know it’s you,” he said, his voice stony.
I blinked. How could he know it was me? “My mother told me not to go here,” he continued, “but I didn’t listen. Now, I know why.” Another thing confused me. Most of the campers here came from foster homes, so that they wouldn’t be missed much if they didn’t return. So why did Jay come here if he had a family?
“My mother didn’t tell me much about my father,” Jay said, his voice suddenly weary. “She never said anything. Nothing at all. But when I said I was going to Camp Pine, her resolve finally broke. She told me that she had gone here herself, as a camper.”
My eyes widened. No one ever escaped. The fence made it impossible. But then . . . how was it possible?
“She told me that she was on the list of the best Hunter in the whole camp. No one got under his grasp. But my mother . . . she did. She went on to say that he had saved her for last and after a while . . . he had his fun with her.” I’d heard of that before—male (and female) Hunters having their fun with their targets. In fact, Sera boasted about who she did it with every single summer.
“But after a while, my father realized she was too precious to him, and tried to find a way to smuggle her out. It took them a while, but they soon found a flaw in the fence. There was a five-foot rip in the fence near the west perimeter. During the night, they went to the fence. My mother crawled out, but the councilors had already found them, and dragged my father away. My mother never saw him again, and she feared the worst: he was terminated.” For example, if a Hunter gets too out of hand, Dr. Dawson usually euthanizes the Hunter in question, like he did with Jasmine all those years ago. We all feared that power; it was as if it were the hand of God coming down to judge us.
“My god,” I whispered to myself, horrified.
“So my mother wandered around for a month or two, trying to find a permanent place to stay and a job that could sustain her. It was then that she noticed that something was wrong. She had horrible nausea, and she seemed to be gaining weight when she frequently didn’t have three consistent meals a day. After a while, she understood what was going on with her. She was . . .” Jay suddenly choked up, and took a deep breath before continuing. “She was pregnant.”
“With you, I can imagine,” I breathed. I didn’t know why I was talking, but I was. Jay wouldn’t understand me, anyways. Or . . . did he?
He nodded. “Yes, with me. When she was seven months pregnant, she was able to get a stable job and a place to stay. And then I came. After that, she started down a self-destructive path that I couldn’t follow. She drank so much that she passed out cold for hours. She started to smoke things that made me sick to my stomach. She would leave and return a day or two later, beaten and bruised and drunk. It scared me to see her like that. She couldn’t afford school, so she taught me all that she knew, which wasn’t much, let me tell you.” My heart went out for Jay. His story was so much worse than mine. Dimly, I could feel tears glistening in my eyes and threatening to spill over.
“When she found out that I had gotten a letter from Camp Pine, she screamed at me, saying that if I went, I’d die there. I didn’t believe her, so I went anyways. And now, here I am . . .” Jay spread his arms. “I don’t want to die here, Maria. Please help me.”
“I will,” I whispered. “I will do anything to help you.”
A ghost of a smile flittered around Jay’s thin lips. “Thank you. Oh, and yes, I can hear you. My dad was a Velociraptor/Allosaurus mix, too.”
“So, does that mean you can . . . ?” My sentence faded.
Jay nodded. “I can, in fact. But it hurts to transform. Do you want me to show you?”
“If it’s okay with you,” I replied.
Jay grinned. “Great.” He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. I watched as the transformation took a hold of Jay, his face contorted in pain. I winced as I heard his bones snap menacingly and rearrange themselves. For the rest of us, the pain was more pleasure than anything, but for Jay, it was opposite. This was pure agony.
When it was finally done, I was staring at a normal mix, like myself. He had the same eyes, and they glittered with familiarity. A few of the hybrids talked about finding a “mate,”—a Hunter that you were destined to be with—and I had the soaring feeling that I had found mine.
“You’re beautiful,” Jay whispered, echoing the words Damien had said only a few months ago.
I smiled seductively, a smile I rarely used. “I know.”
It quickly escalated from there. Pleasure arced through me, and I moaned slightly. If I rated my relationship with Damien on a scale from one to ten, it would be a three or four. But with Jay, it would be an eleven. I don’t want to give you the gruesome details, but let’s just say that the dinosaur was in control most of the time. Humanity took a backseat for a while.
After a while, I noticed that there was a rustling in the bushes, a few muttered curses, and a loud whack as if someone had hit a tree with their fist in rage. I pondered who it was, and when it dawned on me, my heart plummeted.
“What’s wrong?” Jay asked after a while, noticing my discomfort.
“I think . . . I think Damien might have spotted us,” I replied truthfully.
Jay swore under his breath. “When I see him again, he’ll be dead meat.”
“No, don’t,” I said quickly. “Don’t fight him.” We were silent for a while, and I pondered an idea. “You know . . . sneaking out sounds good to me.”
“You know, I was thinking the same exact thing.”
Avenging Angels is a last-ditch effort.
“Who’s ready for Avenging Angels tonight?” Dr. Dawson cried out.
The whole Coliseum erupted in deafening screams. This lasted for about a minute or two. But I wasn’t interested in the festivity. I was planning something, something big.
“Okay, okay, let’s settle down,” Dr. Dawson said after it was quiet. “Here are the rules to Avenging Angels . . .”
To sum it up, Avenging Angels is pretty much revenge tag. The Boys and Girls units hide in forest around the camp while we, the Hunter unit, try to tag them. If a camper gets tagged, they must head back to the Coliseum, where they receive white stripes on their face to show that they are “avenging angels.” After they get these stripes, they can go back into the forest and can tag the Hunters and “avenge” their death/tagging.
Well, that’s what they’re told. The truth is that this is the time where we flush out the remaining human campers, which numbered at about fifteen. Yes, I know it sounds horrible, but this is not—I repeat—not your regular summer camp. (*insert devious smile here*)
I glanced around the Coliseum and met the eyes of two people—Jay and Damien. Damien just glared at me, still hurt by what he had seen a few weeks earlier. So, yes, we weren’t a couple anymore.
The other was Jay. He just stared at me with baleful eyes. By tonight, he was either going to be dead or on the other side of the fence. I hoped to god that it was the latter of the two.
“The campers have five minutes to hide before the Hunters start.” Dr. Dawson glanced down at his watch. “Time begins . . . now!”
The campers rushed out of the Coliseum, scattering like startled birds. When the campers were well out of reach, Dr. Dawson turned to us, a devious smile on his lips. It made me sick to my stomach.
“You know what to do,” he said in his silky German voice. “They’re prey, that’s all.” The hungry look in his eyes, matched with that little half-smile, made me want to jump down to him and rip his jugular out of his throat. Dr. Dawson was just a disgusting, vile murderer. And it dawned on me that this instrument of death—us—were just as evil as he was.
“The five minutes are up,” Dr. Dawson announced, glancing down at his watch again. “. . . GO!”
The Hunters sprinted out, eager to track their prey. I lagged behind, trying to figure out a plan. Could Jay fake his death and escape? Could he and I both escape together? Or does the option result in Jay’s death? The possibilities were endless, and that’s what scared me. My arms prickled in gooseflesh, and I knew it wasn’t from the temperature, which was a blistering eighty-five at seven thirty at night.
I ran lazy loops around the forest, trying to pick up Jay’s scent. At one point, I stumbled over three campers, all about seven or eight. They saw me, and I charged a little bit, making them run away. I didn’t give chase. They were somebody else’s prey, anyways.
After a few minutes, I finally caught Jay’s scent, which smelled like dark, pungent incense. He was heading towards the west, near the Girls unit and the barn. Slowly but surely, his scent got stronger as I got closer, and to my dismay, I felt the dinosaur inside me lick it lips, prepared for attack. It was then that I had to stop and calm my heartbeat, trying to push the dinosaur down under the surface.
After I recovered and was able to function without my dino butting in, I continued on the trail. When I finally got a glimpse of Jay, I had already passed the Girls cabins, and the pastures, where the horses bolted away from me. They never trusted a predator, even if it looked like a human. From my vantage point, I saw Jay sitting on the ground, a few feet away from the rip in the fence he’d mentioned.
“You came,” he said in a relieved tone when I stepped out of the forest.
I smiled. “I did. So, this is the rip the fence, huh?” It didn’t look like much. There was a tear in the fence, and it looked big enough for someone to squeeze through with little problem. “Is it electrified?”
“No, it isn’t,” Jay replied. “It needs an uninterrupted stream to charge up fully, and this rip is breaking the connection.”
“Haven’t they found this place out? Why haven’t they fixed it yet?” Knowing Dr. Dawson, he probably would've fixed it up the moment he saw it. But why hadn't he?
Jay shrugged. “Who know? Maybe he thinks that you guys are too mind-controlled to even think of escaping.”
“True, true,” I muttered. “But we should get going. Time is of the essence.”
He nodded. “Okay. Let’s go.” I watched as Jay shimmied under the fence, and when he stood up again, he was out of the property. I crouched down to follow him, but something glinted in the edge of my vision. In the tree next to me stood a claw, embedded deeply in the wood. It was about the size of my pinky, and I assumed it was probably a claw of one of the younger Hunters. I quickly snatched it out of the tree's grasp and scuttled under the fence.
When I stood, finally out of Dr. Dawson’s reach, Jay enveloped me in a tight embrace and kissed me hard on the lips. When I pulled away, I whispered, “We’d better get going.”
Walking hand in hand, we walked away from Camp Pine, and towards a better future for us, and someday, our children.
I didn't look back