No one went to Camp Sunshine after the third massacre.
One massacre was just a thing that happened. Two was an unfortunate coincidence. Three was enough to discourage the most determined thrill seekers. The camp was abandoned, and it would remain abandoned for decades.
But kids with nothing better to do or in desperate need of privacy would park on the outskirts, beneath the old faded camp billboard just off the interstate, and do things they couldn’t do anywhere else.
Emmett leaned closer to Meadow. His breath reeked of alcohol and pot. His hand strayed up her knee, under he skirt. She stopped his progress but didn’t push him away.
“Hey, baby, come on,” he cooed, shaking his head, trying to get his overgrown bangs out of his eyes. He reminded her of one of those cartoon characters with the top of their face always obscured by some hair or a hat. She honestly couldn’t remember the color of his eyes.
Meadow pushed him away. He didn’t resist, leaning back. His hand moved back to her knee.
“Yeah, okay, baby.” He shrugged, offered her a beer.
She took a sip. She didn’t like beer. Or maybe she did, but not the cheap stuff he bought. But he was broke, so they made do.
He fiddled with the car radio. The reception out here was terrible. Some said it was the woods, cursed ever since that horrible day of the first massacre. Some said the land was bad before that, that it was made rotten by the indigenous tribes when the Europeans stole it. And some said the transmitter for the local station was just a piece of shit. Regardless, the only thing that ever came through reliably was the Christian station. If Emmett fiddled with it just right, he might pick up the polka station, which seemed more like a lateral move to Meadow.
He had a boombox, but he’d forgotten it at a party a couple of days ago.
Meadow teased her hair in the rearview mirror while he fought the radio.
“I don’t like it here,” she said.
“I thought you wanted to be alone.”
“Ya doink,” she grumbled. “I didn’t mean we’d go screw in your car again. Anyway, this place gives me the creeps.”
“Ah, Don’t tell me you’re afraid of ghosts.”
The full moon shone down on the Camp Sunshine billboard. On nights like this, the faded sign was somehow readable. Someone had spray painted a skull onto the smiling sun logo.
“Sunshine Sam is watching,” they’d sprayed under that in sloppy letters.
Only a mile down the road and around the bend of the trees, the old cabins sat, long ago abandoned.
“You know, they never caught the guy,” she said.
“I heard they killed him,” said Emmett.
“I heard they shot him, like, a hundred times, but that he didn’t die. They say some nights, you can see him walking around the place.”
“Who’s they?” he asked.
“No, seriously,” he said. “Who is they? It’s just a bunch of stories.”
He gave up on the radio and turned it off.
“My dad says they never found his body,” she said.
Emmett finished his beer and fished a half-smoked joint out of his leather jacket. He lit it, took two puffs, and offered it to her. She almost didn’t need it. She could get a contact high from the cloud released plopping into the seats.
“So maybe they didn’t,” he said. “Either way, it’s been twenty years. Do you think some crazed psycho has nothing better to do than lurk in these fucking woods for decades? It if were true, and it isn’t, then he’s a loser. And old. I’m not going to be afraid of any old losers.”
She laughed. He was funny. Especially after a few beers. “Yeah, I guess.”
“Hey, you want to do something cool?” he asked. “Let’s check out the camp.”
Meadow shook her head. “No way.”
“Aw, come on. It’ll be fun. We’ll see all the broken down old cabins. It’ll be a good story.”
Wind swept across the road, and the trees creaked and rustled.
He started the car, but she grabbed the steering wheel. “I am not getting killed by some creepy old loser because you’ve got something to prove.”
“Sunshine Sam is bullshit, babe,” he said.
“What if, like, he’s not?”
Emmett was never the brightest guy, but part of the reason she liked him was that he didn’t go in for that macho bullshit most the other guys at school did. She could usually talk him out of stupid ideas.
“I don’t want to do it,” she said.
“All right, babe. All right.”
He put the car in reverse. She put her hand on the stick shift. She grabbed him by the collar and pulled him closer. They kissed. He was an adequate kisser at best. Too wet. Too much tongue. But he made up for it in other ways.
If he’d been in the right mind, he would’ve noticed that she was always more willing to put out when he listened to her. She thought about telling him but wanted him to figure it out on his own.
They made out for a while. Clothes came off. First his jacket. Then his shirt. Then her shirt. They hit a stumbling block at her bra. It was always a challenge for him. He wrapped her arms around her, shifting to get a better position in the front seat. This was easier in the backseat, but events were in motion.
After having him grunt and swear right into her ear, she nudged him back with her knee and undid the clasp herself. She let the garment fall loose without revealing her breasts. She loved teasing him. He loved it too.
A spotlight bathed the car in bright white light. The radio blared with the Polka Variety Hour before the speakers popped.
“Oh shit.” She hastily redid her bra and searched for her shirt.
Emmett stubbed out his joint in the ashtray before tossing it out the window. It was a brilliant plan if whoever was there didn’t look six feet to their left. He had his jacket over his shirtless torso when Meadow grabbed his arm.
“What is that?” she asked.
“Just be cool, babe.” He smoothed his hair.
She shook him. “What is that?”
He squinted into the bright light. It was coming from an oblong spheroid as big as a school bus. It stomped forward on three thin mechanical legs, hovering over the car. A dozen silver tentacles extended from its underside, feeling along the automobile’s roof and windows.
“Fuck this fucking shit.” Emmett started the car, struggled with the gearshift.
A tentacle smashed the passenger side window and reached for Meadow. They screamed as he found first gear and slammed the gas pedal. The car shot forward, away from the highway and down the old dirt road because that was the way it had been facing. He fishtailed the turn deeper into the woods, nearly rolling the car over, but he didn’t slow down.
“What was that?” he asked this time.
The spotlight followed behind them as the tripod pursued.
“Who cares?” she said. “Just drive!”
The forest opened to the broken down archway sign for Camp Sunshine. He hit a dip in the road and careened toward several trees. The tripod trundled out ahead of them. It kicked the car away. Emmett lost control. The car collided with a half-collapsed cabin, finishing the job.
The tripod glided forward. It swept the wreckage with its spotlight as its tentacles worked on clearing the mess.
A door opened in its base, and two reptilian creatures descended from a beam of light.
“The specimens aren’t dead, are they?” asked Gort.
“Sensors indicate they remain alive,” said Bort.
“Thank the Grand Intelligence for statistical graces,” said Gort, swishing her tail with relief. “Living specimens are worth more. More data to study.”
Bort flicked his tongue. “You know I love it when you talk about data.”
She hissed her amusement. He was always aroused by an impending bounty completion. The Empire would pay well for the coordinates to a new world, ready to be conquered. Normally, she would’ve reminded him to focus, but she was feeling a bit rambunctious herself. It must have been the high nitrogen content of the atmosphere.
While the tripod worked on automatic to dig out the specimens, Bort pulled a flask of glowing blue liquid.
She glanced around. “Where did you get that?”
“Relax. It’s fine. Nobody from the civilized universe is around for lightyears. Just you, me, and a planet full of future slaves to the glorious empire. Who’s going to care?”
He unscrewed the cap and took a long drink. “Oh yeah. That’s the stuff.” His scales flashed a rainbow of colors, and his scent glands sprayed the enticing mating musk in the air.
“Oh, we really shouldn’t.” She moved closer, flaring the plumage along parietal bone.
She entwined her tail around his, as he ran his tongue along her neck.
“I suppose one drink couldn’t hurt,” cooed Gort as Bort unzipped her suit.
They mated under the light of the full moon. Their screeches of passion carried into the night, and they coiled together in the afterglow.
“It’s a nice planet,” she said.
“Yes, shame it has to be conquered,” he agreed.
A meaty hand grabbed him by the back of the neck and yanked him into the air. Bort hissed and spat as Sunshine Sam threw him to the ground. With a sweep of his rusty machete, he decapitated Bort. Reptilian physiology made his body twitch. He was dead, but Sam stabbed him several more times for good measure.
Sam was tall and lean, dressed in stained rags. He wiped the acidic blood from his weapon to his forearm. It sizzled against his deeply scarred flesh. He turned toward Gort, giving her a clear look at the mask he wore. The cracked, decayed rubber sun barely held together. A broken plastic lens of its sunglasses revealed one dead white eye.
Gort reached for her weapon, but her unzipped suit slipped around her shoulders, getting in her way. Sam caught her tail. It broke off in his hand, and she made it a few steps before he threw the machete into her back. She fell to the ground, crawling away. She only had time to scream and press the tripod override on her belt before Sam crushed her head underfoot, spilling brains across the dry earth.
Sam stood over the corpse without satisfaction. There was no joy in this, no reason for it other than the savage malice within his heart. A malice that would not let him die, that offered him no peace.
Coughing, Emmett crawled from the car. He spotted the dead aliens.
“Uh, thanks, man,” he said.
Sunshine Sam turned his hateful gaze onto Emmett.
“Hey, man,” said Emmett. “We’re cool, right?”
Sam raised his machete and took a step toward Emmett.
“Son of a bitch.”
The tripod turned its light on Sunshine Sam. It extended its tentacles to wrap around this newest subject. He hacked at it, but they dragged him up into its belly. The tripod sealed shut, a hundred lights flickered across its chassis. Its legs withdrew, and it rocketed into the atmosphere.
Emmett pulled Meadow out of the car, helping her climb through the cabin rubble. Bort’s body was still twitching, and Gort’s tail flailed limply.
The scout craft was little more than a twinkling light in the night sky, and by the time they walked back to the highway, it was gone.
The scout craft, on autopilot, rendezvoused with the klurarian mothership on schedule. The distress call that came soon after was nothing but screams, silenced when the ship crashed on Mars.
Even in this uncivilized portion of the galaxy, the promise of salvage was too much to turn down for some.
One salvage crew disappearing was just a thing that happened. Two was an unfortunate coincidence. Three was enough to discourage all but the most determined fortune seekers.
Sunshine Sam waited, kept alive by a malice that would not let him die, that offered him no peace, surrounded by as many corpses as the universe was willing to send to join him on the angry, red planet.