This week’s random rejection happens to be another one from E-scape, which you may remember from such other random rejections as “Comfort“. Once again the editor has nice things to say about the story, but once again, she doesn’t like it enough to publish it, thus continuing my long tradition of entertaining editors for free.
This rejection is for a short story called “Pinch Bobby ‘Til He Bleeds”, a nasty little tale of unpleasant goings-on at a summer camp. “PBTHB” got its start in a story a coworker once told me about a prank her son had played (or had wanted to play; I don’t quite remember now), but the camp itself is based on one that I went to one (and only one) summer when I was a kid. I even remember a song we used to sing about one of the counselors:
One two three four
General Huey is a bore
Five six seven eight
General Huey’s far from great
Nine ten eleven twelve
General Huey has a bad smell
It’s doggerel, but at least it rhymes. Mostly. I borrowed the name General Huey for one of the characters in “PBTHB”, but nothing else about him is the same; nor did anything quite this bad happen at the camp I went to. There was plenty of nonsense, but there were no murders. At least, none that I know of.
Warning: As you may have surmised, bad things happen to children in this one. In fact, reading it now, even I find it disturbing. I guess that means my decision to quit writing horror was the correct one …
Pinch Bobby ‘Til He Bleeds
“Let’s pinch Bobby ’til he bleeds.”
Randy looked at his friend Sean. His head was turned toward Precious Bobby, who sat at a picnic table with the camp counselors. While the rest of them had to tromp through the woods in the summer heat, Bobby got to sit in the shade all day drinking lemonade. While the rest of them had to learn about bugs and crawl through swamps and gather more firewood than they would ever use, Bobby got to float on Briar Castle Lake on an inner tube. And most heinous of all, while the rest of them had to share a common bedroom and bathroom, Bobby got a room to himself in the counselors’ cabin.
It was common knowledge that all this was because his parents were rich and had paid for him to have special privileges.
“How do you pinch somebody so they bleed?” Randy said.
“You grab the skin with your fingernails and squeeze really hard. Sometimes you gotta twist. Like this!” Sean suddenly pinched Randy’s leg. It felt like a hornet sting. Randy yelped and dropped his sandwich. Sean keeled over, giggling.
“That hurt, you dickhead!” Randy shouted. He had a bright red jagged blotch where Sean had squeezed him. “And anyway,” he added, “it’s not even bleeding.”
Sean sat up. “Want me to try again, Four-Eyes?”
“No!” Randy shoved him and he collapsed, laughing.
The shadow of a counselor fell over them. Randy looked up at him, squinting against the sun. “Everything all right, boys?”
“Everything’s just fine, General Huey,” Sean said.
“Yeah, everything’s cool,” Randy said.
“Okay,” General Huey said. “But let’s cut out the rough stuff.” He stood there for a few seconds, then went back to the picnic table near the cafeteria. He sat down next to Precious Bobby and ruffled his hair lightly. The kid beamed at him, and Randy noticed that they looked similar, with their red hair and their freckles. Maybe that was another reason Huey went so easy on him.
Randy punched Sean in the foot. “How do we get Bobby alone so we can pinch him?”
“It’ll happen,” Sean said. “We just have to wait for it.”
The next evening they had a Campfire Tales session, when all the counselors-General Huey, Vic the Tick, Wild Bill Hiccup, and Lester the Molester, with Precious Bobby in the middle of their group-made a huge bonfire and sat around it telling lies. Tonight’s falsehoods, told mainly by Vic, concerned the numerous children who had been murdered at Camp Briar Castle. It was apparently routine for the counselors to go into the woods to take a leak and find some kid hanging in tatters from a tree or lying in pieces on the ground.
“Hey, Vic!” Sean yelled. “How come so many kids get killed around here, anyway?”
“Well,” Vic said, “some people say that the killer is really a camp employee, and when parents sign their kids up, they use a special code to tell him if they want them to come home again.”
After a moment General Huey gave a strained little laugh and said, “Okay, Vic, I think that’s enough for one night.”
Sean nudged Randy. “Vic the Tick’s in trouble.”
Lester tried to lighten things up with a story about a leprechaun who lived on the other side of the lake, but Randy thought the tale was pitched at children much younger than his own thirteen years. Before long, General Huey interrupted Lester to announce that it was time for lights out. Vic the Tick and Wild Bill escorted them back to the dormitory.
As he entered the big cabin, Randy noticed Precious Bobby heading toward the counselors’ house, casting longing glances at the big hall, as if he’d rather sleep with twenty other guys than by himself.
There must be something wrong with his head.
Early the next morning, as steam rose off the waters of Lake Briar Castle, the campers gathered on the shore. Twelve fiberglass canoes of various colors lay on the pebbly beach. Sean and Randy were the last to arrive and were assigned the hot pink canoe as punishment. Grumbling, they took life jackets from the pile next to General Huey. Precious Bobby stood between Huey and Lester the Molester, looking smaller than ever inside the big orange vest.
General Huey lifted his battered megaphone. “Okay, kids,” he boomed. “Let’s try to remember what we learned about canoeing! There will be no standing up or rocking! No horseplay! No splashing! No beating each other with the oars! Can you handle all that?”
The boys cried, “Yes, sir, General Huey, sir!”
“Okay! Lester and I will be out on the lake to assist you! Holler if you need us!” He lowered the megaphone and turned to Precious Bobby. “Bobby, you’re with us.”
“I don’t wanna go,” Bobby said.
“Look, Bobby, I told you a million times, Vic was just fooling around. Nobody pays us to kill kids.”
“I wanna go with somebody else.”
General Huey sighed. “Fine. Your dad will kill me, but have it your way.” He turned back to the crowd and raised up the megaphone. “Guys, who wants to take Bobby out? He can’t row-he’ll just have to sit in the middle of the canoe.”
“Great!” somebody yelled. “Deadweight!” Everybody laughed. Precious Bobby shifted uneasily from one foot to the other.
Sean stepped past Randy and said, “He can come with us, I guess.” General Huey gave him a dismayed look, and Randy suddenly realized that he hadn’t expected anyone to take the kid. If he had, he wouldn’t have made the request. And now he was stuck.
“Okay,” Huey said at last, “but I’ll be keeping an eye on you.”
They paddled out onto the lake. The low, pine-shrouded mountains boxed them in, echoing back the cries and laughter as the other kids splashed each other, stood up, rocked the canoes, and beat each other with the oars. Despite Huey’s pledge to watch them, he quickly became distracted by the other campers’ misbehavior; and once that happened, Randy and Sean quickly headed for the bay, a shallow arm of the lake that intruded into the forest. They glided silently toward shore, fallen trees skimming by just beneath the surface. Precious Bobby leaned over to watch the lake floor pass. He didn’t look up until they beached the canoe at a small sand beach at the far end of the bay, when he said, “What’re you doing?”
Sean said, “We’re gonna go exploring.”
“We’re not supposed to get out of the canoe.”
“Come on, Bobby, don’t be such a wimp.” Randy stepped out and splashed through the water to the beach, where he helped Sean pull the canoe up onto the sand.
Precious Bobby said, “I’m staying here.”
Randy looked at Sean.
Sean looked at Randy.
Then they reached down, grabbed Precious Bobby’s arms, and hauled him out of the canoe. He screamed and cried as they dragged him into the woods. “Stop! That hurts! Stop!” When they were out of sight of the lake, they let go of him. Dark blotches were spreading across his skin where they had held him.
“Look,” Sean says. “He even bruises like a fruit.”
Bobby, his face all teary, said: “You can’t treat me like this, you can’t, you gotta take me back to camp now-”
“Your rich daddy’s not here, Precious Bobby,” Sean said. “Your big old counselor friends aren’t here either.”
“My father’s not rich.”
“Bullshit he’s not,” Sean said. He looked so angry that Randy began to worry that he might do something worse than pinch. They’d only just met at camp; for all Randy knew, Sean could be some kind of psycho. “We know he paid extra to get you out of having to do anything hard.”
Randy eyed the bruises on Bobby’s arms. They were getting large and ugly, really fast.
Bobby snuffled and said, “Is that what everybody thinks? It’s not that at all, it’s because I’m-”
“Rich and spoiled,” Sean said. “Get him, Randy!”
Sean fell on Precious Bobby like a little vampire, pinching and squeezing. It seemed like only a few seconds before the smaller boy was covered with red splotches, some of them bleeding like stab wounds. Sean finally backed off. Wailing and sobbing, Bobby fled deeper into the woods, leaving a trail of blood-smeared vegetation behind him.
Sean started to giggle. “Did you see him bleed? What a wuss!”
“Yeah,” Randy said.
“Where were you, anyway? I thought you were gonna help me pinch him.”
“You didn’t need any help.”
“Yeah.” Sean laughed once more, then got all serious. “Well, let’s go find General Huey and Lester,” he said.
They paddled, alone, out of the bay. As they rounded the corner, Randy saw that most of the canoes had been beached; the only ones left on the lake were the counselors. General Huey spotted them at once, raised the megaphone, and boomed, “Where have you two been? Where’s Bobby?”
Sean yelled, “He wanted to go to the bathroom so we beached in the bay.” He sounded choir-boy innocent, Randy thought. It was actually a little scary.
“Where the hell is he then?”
“We waited but he didn’t come back,” Sean said. “We thought we better come tell you.”
General Huey lowered the megaphone and stared at them for a second. Then he shouted, “Show us where!”
Lester the Molester had called the other counselors on his walkie-talkie, and only minutes after beaching they were joined by Vic the Tick and Wild Bill and the other twenty boys. Each counselor took four or five kids and they all fanned out into the woods to look for Precious Bobby.
Randy and Sean went with General Huey’s group. Randy was getting nervous about the whole thing. Sure, Huey seemed to believe Sean’s story about what had happened; but when they found Bobby he would tell them the truth and it would be all over.
Suddenly, Wild Bill’s voice cut through the forest: “Huey! Over here! Quick!”
General Huey took off through the woods. Randy and the others had to run at top speed to keep from losing sight of him. When they caught up he motioned for them to stop. “Stay back there, kids,” he said. “Just … don’t come any closer.”
Precious Bobby’s flight from Sean had carried him over the brink of a steep ridge. Randy could see where the lip had crumbled under his weight and sent him tumbling into a huge briar patch at the bottom, leaving bloody smears on the outer leaves and tendrils. He looked at Sean, who seemed totally unconcerned about the situation. In fact, he was picking blackberries off the brambles and eating them like popcorn.
“Is the ambulance on its way?” General Huey asked in a soft voice.
“Yeah,” Wild Bill said. “Won’t do any good though.”
Vic the Tick and his group arrived. General Huey didn’t look at him. “Take the kids back to camp, Vic,” he said. “Put them in the dorm and keep them there.”
Sean picked a handful of berries. He saw Randy staring at him, and said: “To eat on the way.”
They brought Bobby back in a canoe and loaded him into the waiting ambulance. It drove away without using its siren. Sean and Randy had to talk to the police, but by the time they were taken in Sean had already told Randy exactly what to say so their stories matched. Sean had said the cops would interview them separately to try and trip them up, but they didn’t. Afterwards Sean said that was good. It meant they didn’t suspect foul play.
That evening, Campfire Tales consisted of General Huey explaining what had happened. Bobby, he said, was what they called a hemophiliac.
Sean nudged Randy. “I knew he was a homo.”
A hemophiliac, Huey explained, was somebody whose blood didn’t clot. People like Bobby were extremely susceptible to injuries and internal bleeding and could die from even a tiny cut if it was left untreated. Bobby had blundered onto the ridge and taken a tumble into the brambles, causing numerous small gashes; and then he had sliced his leg open on a sharp rock in the middle of the thorn bush. He had probably bled to death in a few minutes.
Randy thought he was going to be sick. Sean nudged him again. “Bet his rich daddy spent a lot of money on Band-Aids.”
General Huey said, “We’ve contacted everyone’s parents to let them know there’s been an accident. The bus will be coming tomorrow to take everyone home. And that’s all for tonight. I hope you all enjoy the rest of your summer.” As the session broke up, General Huey came over to them. “Sean, no one answers at your house,” he said. “Is there another number we can call?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Sean said. “My folks are probably just passed out on the couch. It’s no big deal.”
“Okay, well … let me know if there’s any problems, okay?”
“Sure,” Sean said. He walked down the hill toward the dormitory, whistling.
General Huey, watched Sean leave, then crouched down and said softly, “Randy, that applies to you, too. If there’s anything you want to tell me … anything you can’t say in front of Sean …” He trailed off.
Randy glanced at the dormitory.
Sean was standing on the porch, watching them.
“Uh, no,” he said. “Thanks.”
He ran down the hill, feeling both of their stares, not sure which one scared him more.
Randy slept fitfully in the bunk beneath Sean. He kept thinking about Bobby. All he had wanted to do was get away from the city for a while, spend some time in the woods, float on the lake. Instead he’d ended up dead in a briar patch.
Randy also thought about Sean. What scared Randy the most was that Sean didn’t seem to feel sorry about what he had done; he acted like he had enjoyed it, like he would do it again if he got the chance. How did he know Sean wouldn’t do something to him to keep him quiet?
He finally decided the only way to be safe was to tell. Then Sean would have nothing to gain by hurting him, and if anything did happen everyone would know who did it. Randy got out of bed and peeked into Sean’s bunk. He was just a lump beneath the sheets. Randy slunk out of the dormitory and walked quickly to the counselors’ cabin.
Just as he climbed the steps to the door, a voice from the darkness said: “I knew you would tell on me, you chickenshit.”
Randy froze. Sean stepped up onto the porch, between him and the door. “I, um, I couldn’t sleep,” Randy said.
“Oh, boo-hoo. Did you come to get a lullaby from General Huey?” Sean took a step toward him. Randy hopped off the porch.
“I thought maybe they would have something to help me fall asleep.”
“Bullshit! You were coming to tell on me!”
No point denying it. “You can’t do anything to me,” Randy said. “They’ll know it was you. General Huey already thinks you did something.”
“They don’t know shit,” Sean said. He jumped down and tried to grab him, but Randy dodged and raced around to the back door of the cabin, which opened directly onto General Huey’s room. He banged on it with both fists.
Then Sean flew out of the night and tackled him. Randy’s head hit something hard, and everything went dark.
He woke up out in the woods, well away from the lights of camp. He lay on his stomach, with his wrists and ankles tied behind his back. Something-it felt like a sock-was stuffed into his mouth. He managed to flop onto his side, losing his glasses in the process; his hands and feet seemed to be tied together and he couldn’t really move.
Sean appeared and crouched down next to him. “You didn’t know General Huey went into town to talk to the lawyers, Randy? Too bad. Hey, don’t you think I deserve a black bead for knot-tying?”
Randy started to cry.
“Don’t worry, Randy,” Sean whispered. “I’m always here to help you out in a … pinch.” A sharp burning pain shot up Randy’s arm. After a few seconds the skin burst and blood began to flow. Sean let go, giggling. He sat back and sighed. “Well, we had fun this summer, didn’t we, buddy? Too bad you couldn’t keep your mouth shut.”
He disappeared into the darkness again.
He came back staggering under the weight of a big rock. He carried it around to Randy’s head. Randy started squirming wildly. “Hold still or I might only squash half your head,” Sean said. “Then you’d be a retard. You wouldn’t want that.”
Randy saw something come out of the woods; without his glasses it was just a blur. It grabbed Sean around the waist and swept him off his feet. The big rock thudded to earth a few inches from Randy’s nose. He heard something being dragged through the underbrush, and then, silence.
A little while later, there was a distant splash.
Then someone was behind him, breathing hard. He felt a hand on his shoulder. It rolled him onto his back. His vision was blurry, but he saw a pale, freckled face, and skin covered with dozens of little bleeding cuts.
Through the sock, Randy screamed: “Bobby!”
Then he passed out.
When he woke up again, it was morning, and someone was crashing through the woods nearby. He began to scream, making wild noises through the sock in his mouth. After a few seconds the blurry form of a person burst out from a bramble patch.
“Randy?” It was General Huey. He approached and pulled out a pocketknife. He pulled the sock out of Randy’s mouth and said, “What happened?”
As General Huey sawed through the rope, Randy told him everything, even how Precious Bobby came back for revenge. Huey listened and nodded, but didn’t say much. He found Randy’s glasses and helped him walk back to camp.
The police were waiting.
“We called them when you and Sean turned up missing,” Huey said. “They pulled Sean’s body out of the lake a little while ago.”
“Bobby came and grabbed him. Bobby drowned him!”
General Huey gave him a long, sad look. “Well, you should probably keep that to yourself,” he said, “or the cops will think you’re crazy.”
He was right, Randy realized. He couldn’t tell them that or they’d put him in the loony bin. A couple of cops were already coming over. He told them what had happened but left out Bobby’s ghost, simply saying that Sean had gone away and didn’t come back. When he was finished, one of the policemen helped him into the back of a patrol car.
Just before the door slammed shut, he heard the other cop say, “Sorry about your cousin, Huey.”
Randy looked at General Huey, startled.
Huey was looking back with a tiny, satisfied smile.