Taïga is running some errands for Missy when she literally bumps into a blond boy at the store. All the food scatter on the ground, but the boy helps her to pick everything up.
‘Bună! I’m Toma. Haven’t I seen you before?’
‘Err… I’m Leann’s friend.’ Why did I say that? He can’t possibly know who Leann is! Stupid me…
‘Oh, Leann! I see… she’s the redhead kid who always tries to stare me out?’
Now it’s Taïga who’s staring. ‘You got it!’
They laugh. ‘Hey, I’m one of the activity leaders at the Easter Camp this year. Are you coming?’
‘Yeah, sure!’ But Taïga hasn’t even asked Granny yet…
‘Well, I’ll see you around!’ He winks and leaves.
Taïga just stands there with a stupid smile plastered on her face. Easter Camp…
As soon as Taïga gets home she asks Granny if she can go to Easter Camp.
‘You’re not even back to school yet, you’re still convalescing.’ Granny says. ‘Who told you about the camp?’
Taïga starts to explain…
‘… and Leann is going, and Mitchell and Jen too! Now I’ve told you everything, can I go?’ Taïga searches Granny’s face for approval.
‘I’ll have to contact the other parents about it first. But if Jennifer and Leann are authorized, I can’t see why not.’
‘Yay!’ Taïga dances upstairs…
After a couple of weeks getting her strenght back, Taïga is finally back to school again.
‘Hurry! We’ll miss the bus!’
Her class is going to the Fascinating Facts Observatory this morning and the pupils are excited about the break in the routine.
‘Don’t you think the driver is cute?’
‘Leann! He’s old! He must be at least…25!’
‘Well, that’s old!’
‘Don’t look at him!’
‘Well… just don’t look, OK?’ Leann is creepy sometimes… how can she find an old guy like that cute???
‘Did you know he’s Jen’s big brother?’
Taïga shrugs. ‘Whatever…’
Fascinating Facts Observatory is looming deep in the forest.
‘Hey… look!’ The bus is slowing down in front of the observatory… ‘It’s… Err… Impressive… And creepy!’
Taïga nods, ‘I wouldn’t be surprised if Dr. Frankenstein’s our guide…’
‘Dr. Frankenstein. He was a mad scientist who… just forget it, Leann. It’s too long to explain!’
The visit was interesting but uncanny…
Taïga could swear Dr. Franke has some secret research going on during stormy nights…
The few weeks before the holidays seem never ending, but finally it’s time to go to Easter Camp. The participants from Midnight Hollow’s both schools are rounded up at the School of Hard Knocks before the departure and the schoolyard is filled with children and backpacks.
‘Hi! Are you in our group?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Oh, look! The girl over there is puking! Disgusting…’
Miss Holden calls out for someone to fetch some paper from the bathroom.
‘I’ll go!’ Taïga sprints away and almost runs into Tom. But the schoolyard toilets are locked and after trying all the doors, she continues towards the canteen.
She catches sight of Tom at the cash register. Heart beating fast she continues to the bathroom to retrieve the much needed paper towels.
Tom watches her scurrying past. She’s a funny one… always running…
The toilets in the canteen aren’t locked, and Taïga pushes open the door, already checking for paper towels.
Hurry hurry hurry…
Of course the distributor is empty – with the onslaught of kids waiting to leave outside it would have been surprising if the bathroom was as well stocked as usual.
The toilets are out of paper too, and disgusting… Taïga gets a roll of paper in the last one and hurries back out again.
Miss Holden reads out the lists, directing the groups to the two buses. Taïga, Jenn and Leann hugs and jumps around with joy over being in the same group. Mitchell is with them too, and even if he’d love to hug the girls he doesn’t consider it very manly. He grabs their backpacks and helps the monitors load them.
Toma greets them as they board their bus, ‘I’m Toma Balcescu. It seems I’m your Camp Counselor!’
‘Easter Camp, here we come!’
The two buses filled with laughing, singing, screaming and puking kids take off towards the shores of the Black Sea…
Three hours later, they’ve arrived at the fjord where they are supposed to camp during the coming week. The excited children troop out and start running all over the place while the monitors try to call for attention and help with unloading the buses. Taïga’s group is directed to a spot by the shore with the chairs they are carrying.
‘Do you think we’ll go swimming?’
‘The water looks cold!’
The kids are all talking at the same time, but Taïga is thoughtful. ‘I’m not sure I want to go for a swim, and not because of the cold!’
Three pairs of eyes turns towards her. ‘Why?’
Taïga stares towards the horizon at the still sea. ‘It’s too dark. Just look at the water – it’s almost black! God knows what’s lurking beneath…’
They all fall silent, each of them imagining what the dark water could be hiding…
Mitchell breaks the uneasy silence by leaving.
‘Don’t you want to stay and play with us?’ Jen calls after him.
‘No, I’ll go give Tom a hand with the tents.’
Leann stands up. ‘Great! I’ll help him too!’ Taïga and Jen looks at each other, and starts giggling. Of course Leann will go and help Tom…
As on clue, Tom shows up on the path leading down to the shore.
Gesturing for them to join him he calls out, ‘Jennyfer! Leann! Taïga! Mitchell! Come and give me a hand will you?’
The kids scramble to their feet and laughing they chase each other up the steep path.
The young camp counselor has a surprise for the kids – Fishing rods!
‘If you want to eat, you have to catch something!’ he says cheerfully, handing out the rods.
The kids look at each other and grimaces, ‘Fish for dinner?’
‘But I hate fish!’
‘C’mon, Jen. It tastes better when you catch it yourself!’
While the kids are fishing, the activity leaders set up their separate campsites and put away the last things for the next day’s games.
The water may be almost black, but the fish is colorful.
‘Are you sure we can eat this?’ Taïga is doubtful.
‘Don’t ask me,’ Mitchell says, ‘I’ve never gone fishing in my whole life!’
When Tom comes to check on them a little later, even Jen has caught a bright orange fish.
Tom helps them clean their catch and they barbecue large slices of the salmon-like fish over an open fire pit. Even Jen eats without grumbling…
‘Have you heard what happened here last summer?’
Tom looks expectantly at his little group who shake their heads between bites.
‘Well…’ Tom clears his throat, ‘There was this guy from school. A really good windsurfer, a senior…’
Taïga visualizes Tom windsurfing on the black waters…
‘He came here every weekend as soon as the ice broke. He was really good.’
‘He often came alone, early in the morning. Before the beach got crowded.’
‘Crowded? You’re kidding!’
‘Quiet, Taïga!’ The kids are looking at her disapprovingly.
Tom continues. ‘This morning he was alone as usual. Suddenly his board hit something! It went up in the air, and-’
‘-he fell into the ice cold water! Suddenly there was a splash behind him!’
Tom looks expectantly at them.
Mitchell breaks the silence, ‘A fish that jumped? We saw that this afternoon, when we went fishing!’
The girls hush, ‘Shhhh…’
‘No… It was… A SHARK!… The poor guy swam for his life, but-’
‘Did he get away?’
‘No… He didn’t.’
‘Since then, at nights with a full moon, you can see a shark following a windsurfer out there – but if you look closer you’ll see that the surfboard is empty!’
The sound of distant waves breaking in towards the shore is the only sound to be heard when Tom finishes his story.
Taïga shudders, I’m definitely not going swimming tomorrow…
‘Can you tell us another story?’ Leann peeps.
‘Sure, where’s my pocket light’ Tom looks around him. ‘Ah, there it is!’ He shakes it, but it doesn’t work. ‘Darn lamp!’
Taïga concentrates on the light and…
‘Ah… just a bad connection! OK… Here goes. It was a stormy night…’
Every night before going to bed, Tom tells the delighted kids a story about something terrifying that supposedly will keep them awake…
But the day’s activities soon get the best off them -horror stories or not- and before long the giggling and whispering in the tents are replaced by snoring…
Taïga is usually first up in the morning. She sneaks out of her tent with her toilet bag before dawn, while the other kids are still sleeping.
She has learned her lesson – with only one shower working, and a limited supply of hot water, better be the first one to shower!
The weather has been mild the whole week, and this morning the sun is struggling to break through the usual grey haze.
Tom has tried the water and is waving at his group from the shoreline. ‘C’mon! The water’s not that cold!’
Taïga stops and grabs Mitchell’s arm, ‘Mitch, did you see that’
She points towards a distant point in the water. ‘The splash in the water out there…’
Mitchell shades his eyes and squints, ‘Nooo…’
A gush of wind ripples the water. ‘Are you sure you didn’t see anything, Mitch?’
‘Absolutely positive!’ He continues towards Tom and the girls. ‘Are you coming or not?’
‘Listen! We’ll swim over to the Salmon group.’ Tom points towards their camp site. ‘They’re waiting for us to come and have a water balloon fight!’
‘Yay! A water balloon fight!’
The little group changes into swimming gear and gets into the sea. The water is cold! But after a while you get used to it…
Tom is a good swimmer and quickly outdistances the children.
‘We’ll never catch up!’
‘Stop talking and swim!’
‘What the heck!?!’
A taxi speedboat slaloms past Tom and the kids, dangerously close! Hurriedly Tom gets everybody out of the water and they decide to continue on foot.
They play with the other group until lunch, when they walk back to their own camp.
‘Who’s doing the dishes today?’
‘Not me!’ Jen immediately says.
‘Me neither!’ Mitchell joins her.
‘There’s only one way to find out.’ Tom says.
Four pairs of eyes look questioningly at him. He fumbles under his jacket and draws out a water balloon which he throws at Mitchell.
‘Losers clean the dishes!’
‘Ouch!’ Taïga doubles over.
‘See!?! Gotcha! Hahahahahahahaha!’ Mitch is laughing his head off, but Tom is coming to her rescue.
‘Take this, Mitch!’ They play until there are no water balloons left.
Taïga looks around her. ‘Where’s Jen?’
‘Yeah, where’s Jen?’
‘She’s probably sulking as she didn’t want to play…’
‘I can see her over there! I’ll go get her!’ Mitchell runs off.
Jen is sulking. She didn’t want to participate in the water balloon fight, but at the same time she wanted her friends to insist a little more… She turns her back on Mitchell when she sees him coming running towards her.
‘Jen! C’mon! We’ll make pancakes over the fire!’
But who’s that, hiding in the bushes? Watching the kids… As the shadows grows longer, the maleficent silhouette vanishes.
That night, they all have a pillow fight!
Taïga lingers outside her tent. Something keeps bothering her…
Maybe it’s the fact that Easter Camp soon will end, only two more nights and three days. She feels a little jumpy… What was that?
She looks towards the shore line, but there’s no ghost surfer out there. Probably just a fish…
The uneasy feeling keeps troubling her. She takes a last quick glimpse over her shoulder, then she shrugs and hurries inside the tent she shares with Jen.
The night falls on the little camp by the Black Sea. The only sound is the breaking of waves against the shoreline and the light snoring emanating from the tents…
Taïga’s sleep is haunted by terrible nightmares – monsters grabbing for her…
A beast, looking like Granny, is crawling out from under her bed, making scratching noises as it hauls itself forward…
Taïga tosses and turns…
Suddenly Taïga’s eyes pop open and she struggles out of her sleeping bag. She bursts out of the tent, looking frantically around her but there’s nothing unusual…
Carefully she zips up the tent door behind her and sneaks around to the backside. She listens for a while, straining to see into the darkness.
Suddenly she can hear it again. A strange sound, like something scratching… And it feels like it comes from the ground. Maybe there’s something trapped under the tent!?! Maybe a poor animal?
Nothing… I must have dreamt… But it seemed so real? Better go back to bed again…
Suddenly there it is all over again. A strange sound, like something scratching… Strange, but it feels like it comes from the ground. Maybe there’s something trapped under the tent!?! Maybe a poor animal?
On the other side of the campground, the earth moves like it tries to swallow someone… or is it the other way around?
Taïga puts her head to the ground to try to see under the tent, she can hear the scratching and scraping echo beneath her but it’s difficult to tell exactly where the sound comes from. Fascinated she puts hear ear against the ground to hear better…
Toma has heard someone moving around, and is sleepily emerging from his tent to make sure it’s not a sleepwalking kid, or a raccoon coming for the trash. Instead he sees Taïga on her knees in front of her tent.
‘What are you doing, Taïga? Have you lost something?’
Startled, Taïga hurries to stand up.
Whispering she tells Toma about the scratching sounds. He gets down on his knees, feeling underneath the tent with his hands to verify there’s no animal trapped under the tent.
‘… there’s nothing to be scared of! And there are no snakes at this time of the year…’ He pats Taïga on her shoulder. ‘You should go back to sleep now…’
He makes sure she returns back to bed before checking that the trash is stacked away out of reach of the wild animals.
Consciously he checks all the tents, but everything seems all right. I forgot to put away the ball… Better take it with me…
Toma returns to his tent, the ball under his arm. Yawning he zips it close behind him.
Let’s hope all the kids stay put in their tents until morning. Can’t have them running around the camp in their pajamas…
Part I – End of Chapter 24