When PJ awoke, for a moment she was disoriented. Then she realized where she was, and the whole upsetting weekend came flooding back. What had she gotten them into? She headed back outside and found Punk in a reclining lawn chair half asleep. He sat up when he saw her.
“Hey! Feel any better?”
“A little. Did you talk to Bill?”
“Yup. He gave me the name of a guy not far from here. I called him and if we need him, he will be Johnny-on-the-spot. Been thinking, though. Maybe Fred’s right that the sheriff is trying to keep everyone on pins and needles, hoping someone will slip up.”
“I don’t know.” She glanced across the road. “Do you think Doris could be involved? After all, her sister—.”
“Nah,” Punk leaned back and clasped his hands behind his head. “She’s not the type.”
“Who is the type?”
“It was probably someone we don’t even know.”
“Come inside and I’ll fix us some sandwiches before the judging starts.”
As she spread butter and mayo on bread, she said, “Were you guys by that table the whole time we were gone?”
“Well, Fred showed me his camper and we checked the football schedule for this afternoon while we were in there. Wasn’t for very long, though.”
“Somebody could have planted that tablet, then.” She set plates with turkey sandwiches and a bag of chips on the dinette.
Punk nodded, his mouth full.
“Are you going to watch the judging? There’s some pretty amazing projects going on,” PJ said.
“Fred and I were going to watch the game…what time does the judging start?”
“2:00. You could walk around and at least see what people have done, then go watch the game.”
He agreed with good grace, although PJ felt sure it was somewhat reluctant. They tidied the little kitchen and she found her camera. They walked across the road where Doris piled hot charcoal on the inverted lid of her dutch oven over the fire. When she finished, she and Fred joined them for another stroll through the campground. As is often the way in the fall, the sun had disappeared behind blustery clouds and the wind had picked up, tossing the leaves and rattling the trees, adding a more Halloween-like atmosphere.
The finished products impressed PJ even more than the construction. A makeshift wooden fence teetered along the front edge of one site with ghouls draped over it trying to escape. The pile of branches she had seen a family working on was now taller than her and enclosed a full sized skeleton lit from below, casting eerie shadows. It would be even spookier in the dark.
At another site, a tall dummy, cloaked in a hooded robe allowing a glimpse of a gaunt, spectral face, stood guard over a large basket of wrapped candy. PJ reached for a peanut butter kiss. One of the claw-like hands darted out from the long sleeves and grasped PJ’s wrist. Her heart seemed to stop and her eyes jerked up, looking into the face of—not a dummy. The woman emitted a long cackle and said “Don’t touch the candy, my precious.”
PJ backed away while Punk chuckled at her discomfort. The woman in black rubbed her hands together and winked. “It’s for the children,” and then she let out another long cackle.
Punk took her hand and led her to the next site. “I guess she got you, honey.”
PJ put her hand over her heart. “It’s still pounding! Lord, she scared me.”
“That’ll teach you to ask first,” her husband chided her.
“I didn’t think she was real,” PJ said.
“Like I said, they gotcha.”
At the next site, three people stood with clipboards, the ranger from the check-in shack and a man and a woman PJ had never seen. They talked in low tones and looked serious enough to be judging the Olympics.
PJ’s group continued on past and examined a graveyard with cardboard headstones, an old wooden farm wagon filled with grotesque creatures, and a zombie wedding. PJ pointed out the teardrop trailer with the unfortunate witch to Punk and Fred.
“I just can’t believe all the work people go to for this,” she said.
“It gets bigger every year,” Doris said.
They had reached the end of the campground road. Punk pointed to the trailhead.
“Is this the trail you took this morning?” he asked PJ.
“Show me that Black Hawk Point, will you?”
PJ hesitated only a moment. Maybe she would find another scrap of paper and solve this. “Sure.”
Doris and Fred declined so Punk and PJ headed down the trail. She watched along the sides for white scraps. Occasionally, there was a candy wrapper or drinking straw, but not what she was looking for. As they neared the point, she spotted a bit of white among the matted carpet of leaves.