The scream was followed by a roll of laughter.
“What was that?” PJ said.
Punk raised his eyebrows. “They are telling ghost stories, after all.”
“You mean, it’s just special effects?”
“Maybe. Get your coat and we’ll go see.” He grinned at her. “It can’t be much scarier than what’s happened to us so far today.”
She agreed and soon joined him carrying a jacket, gloves, and a fleece blanket.
“You should be toasty,” he said as he folded up their lawn chairs to take along. He stuffed a small flashlight in his jacket pocket and they headed down the road in the darkening campground. The wind had picked up a little, rubbing the tree branches arching over them in a bone-rattling chatter. Wispy clouds sailed past a thin crescent moon.
PJ took Punk’s hand and felt a sense of well being settle over her. That feeling was reinforced as they neared a picnic shelter with a large bonfire blazing off to the side. PJ was excited. The scene looked like the TV ad: families and couples gathered around the fire, laughing and enjoying themselves. Punk and PJ found space for their chairs on the far side of the fire.
When PJ sat down and looked around, she realized the woman from the motorhome was sitting next to her. The woman said her name was Gigi and PJ resisted asking her why she was taking firewood from another site. Across the way was a woman about PJ’s age, sitting in a lawn chair with one leg in a cast to her knee. That might explain the golf cart they had seen parked near the bonfire area.
A young man, tall and thin, got up and introduced himself as Manny Short. He began to tell the old story about the man with a hook. He spoke in a low, soft voice, building the drama so that the whole group was straining forward not to miss anything. The cracking of the fire and the wind in the trees served as an effective backdrop to the story.
PJ could picture the young couple parked on a deserted road, hearing the announcement on the radio of an escaped murderer who had a hook in place of his right hand. She leaned closer to Punk as Short described the scratching on the car door and the fear of the couple.
“They finally get to the girl’s home. She gets out of the car and turns to close the door. As she reaches for the handle, she spots, hanging on the handle, a bloody hook. She screams.”
Another scream split the air. It came from the other side of the group—the woman with the cast fell forward out of her lawn chair, continuing to scream and swinging her arms wide. In doing so, the mug of coffee in her hand struck the face of a woman next to her, spilling the contents down the poor victim’s shirt. Behind the first woman, in the shadows, PJ could make out a slight figure all in black. The firelight glinted off a shiny hook protruding from one sleeve. The figure turned and disappeared into the woods, chased by a small yapping dog.
The rest of the group around the fire sat stunned for a brief moment before pandemonium erupted. People rushed to help the two women. The first woman stayed on hands and knees, trying to get back up. A man, presumably her husband, helped her back into her chair and tried to calm her.
“I felt something sharp on my neck,” she sobbed. A yelp came from the woods behind her. “Snooky!” she wailed. “He went after that man—he’ll get hurt!” But her fears were soon allayed as the tan Pomeranian tore back into the circle and raced around the couple in a barking frenzy.
Meanwhile, the other woman mopped coffee off her shirt with a handkerchief while a man examined a large bruise beginning to form on her cheek. PJ turned when she heard more yelling. It was their neighbor, Doris, and she was on her tiptoes, thrusting a finger into the face of Manny Short.
“What’s the matter with you? Don’t you realize people can get hurt from that kind of stunt?”
Short held his hands up. “I didn’t have anything to do with it! I don’t know that guy.”
“Oh yeah?” Doris shouted. “How did he know you were telling that story?”
“It was on the flyer—,” but he was interrupted as a ranger walked up to them.
“Let’s cool it, folks,” he said, and turned to Doris. “Ma’am, please calm down. We intend to find out what happened and who was responsible.”
Fred came up and took his wife’s arm. “C’mon, Doris. Let them take care of it. But,” he said to the ranger, “I’ll bet the farm that Con Conniver had something to do with it.”