The wake-up call that usually comes early in the morning was replaced by something else on the morning of the second day. Diana’s usually cheerful voice had now taken on a tone of urgency and seriousness, telling us all to stay inside our cabins with the doors locked until a team of park rangers had verified that it was safe to leave. All three of us were now awake, not bothering to get dressed, waiting around for the announcements to tell us what to do next. Olga was sketching the praying mantis in one of Vira’s bug jars, Vira had captured a fly that had been buzzing around our cabin and was watching the pregnant spider eat it, and I was staring at a blank page in my poetry notebook, tapping the paper with the end of my pen and waiting for inspiration to strike.
“Do either of you girls know about the panopticon?” I say to break the silence.
“What is that?”
“It was a prison building designed in the eighteenth or nineteenth century, designed so a watchman could view any inmate at any time he wanted. The prisoners would not know exactly when they specifically were being watched, leading to plenty of fear and paranoia amongst themselves, but also a sense of self-governing.”
“That’s interesting and all, but why are you bringing it up?”
Olga gasps. “Oh, I get it!”
“I’m bringing it up because the three of us are living in a panopticon right now.” I explain. “Our mysterious book entity or the three-toed wolf are acting as the watchman. Even though the panopticon was never actually built, its premise has been used to metaphorically explain situations like this.”
“Speaking of, where is the book, exactly?” Olga asks.
I dig into my backpack and pull it out. “Here. I haven’t bothered to open it again in case that’s how they see where we are.”
Despite what I had just said, Olga flips open the cover, past the octagon page, and freezes. “Um…can anybody else see this?”
She flips the book around to show Vira and I that there’s some new text on the page, in a different style of handwriting than the one I had been talking to, which had cursed us and caused us to live in fear.
It read, ‘Is anybody there?’
The three of us aren’t sure what to do. The first time we tried talking to a person in this book ended badly, in fact, it’s still going badly. But we all come to a consensus to check if this person is benign. We just have to think of the right question to ask.
“How about, ‘will you tell us your name?’” I suggest. “Our last book guy didn’t even bother telling us theirs. Then should we ask who the first guy was, or ask what their story is?”
“I say ask what the deal is with the first guy.” Vira responds.
Olga had gotten a pen and asked our new stranger’s name. She put the book back on the desk and we crowded around it again, furiously blinking to see when the answer would appear. Eventually it did, this new mysterious person is slower at responding than our other one was.
‘My name is Woodrow. What are yours? I know three of you have been looking at this, and one of them is a Darcy.’
I dish out some pens from my backpack and we all write our own responses. All of our handwritings are completely distinct, so it makes it easy for our new friend Woodrow to tell who’s talking.
‘I’m the Darcy.’ I write, with my neat but simple handwriting.
‘My name is Olga.’ Hers is loopy and gestural, probably the fanciest-looking one of ours.
‘And I’m Vira.’ Vira’s is in all capitals, with the quickest writing strokes.
A few seconds pass. ‘Lovely to meet you all. But I’m sure as you know, you are all in danger. You have done a great job of protecting yourselves so far.’
‘I try.’ Olga writes. ‘But I do not know how effective my magic is against whatever this is.’
‘I guess I have to explain who you’re up against, then.’
He starts to take his time to write another response. But before we can get an answer, there is a frantic knock at our door. Peeking through the window shows that it’s Diana, and she’s looking frazzled and nervous.
I crack open our door and Diana quickly pushes her way in and slams the door behind her. “Okay, good! You girls are all up! Listen, we need your help.”
“What’s this about?” Vira asks.
Diana responds by grabbing Vira’s hand and looking at the marking. “Is this it? The mark that Ian used to save all our asses last night?”
“Wait, what!?” The three of us all say pretty much simultaneously.
“I’ll explain on the way. C’mon.” Diana gestures outside, where a golf cart is waiting for us.
Diana gets in the driver’s seat and turns the engine on, I take the passenger seat while Vira and Olga ride in the back. She does a U-turn and starts driving in the direction of the main building.
“I’m sure you girls know about the mysterious dead animals appearing around Camp Blackthorn. Well, I think last night we figured out what’s causing it. We even managed to catch a clear video of it on one of our security cameras.” Diana gulps, then lets out a breath through her mouth. “It’s an enormous white wolf. Nasty-looking thing, too. Looks vicious.”
The three of us exchange looks. We don’t want to tell Diana that we’ve unleashed some form of unspeakable evil onto the camp, but it’s going to be difficult to avoid doing so.
“Was anyone hurt?” Olga asks.
“No, thankfully. It prowled out of the woods around eleven last night snarling at me, Tasha, and Miguel. I was trying to chew them out for drinking alcohol on camp grounds, but froze up as soon as we all saw it. I don’t want to think about what could have happened if Ian hadn’t burst through the back doors showing it that thing on his hand. I wasn’t a big believer in magic before this, but that symbol of yours made that wolf run off with its tail between its legs!” She paused to think. “Actually, it didn’t even have a tail. Just a nub. I’ll let you guys watch the security video we got of it.”
Diana parks directly in front of the main building where we are quickly ushered inside. All of the camp counselors are stationed in there, or at least most of them. I had never seen this many of them in one spot before, they’re usually scattered around at their assigned stations for the day. But as we pass, everyone looks at us in astonishment. I can hear a couple whispers of, “that’s them!” as we pass. Sometimes it is being said genuinely, other times it’s incredulous.
Bull Ring spots us and waves. “Over here!” He shouts. “Wanna see me kick a wolf’s ass? Quick, rewind it back to my favorite part.”
Him and a bunch of other counselors, Too Much and Gus included, are crowded around a table with a single laptop on it. It is playing a night-vision video of a wolf appearing out of the woods, crawling close to the ground and bearing its teeth. There is no sound, but after a few moments of Too Much and Diana freaking out on screen Bull Ring appears and pushes his way past them, showing off the sigil drawn on the back of his hand. The wolf instantly shrinks back, closing its mouth before turning around and running off.
“So, girls…” Diana says as soon as the clip is over. “I brought you all in because we have a very special activity for just you three right now. Stamp making!”
We are all unimpressed after hearing this. Diana’s perky smile doesn’t fade as she explains even further.
“Look, the Fourth of July is tomorrow, and remember that festival we have planned? The one where everyone’s parents or legal guardians will be coming if they are so inclined? Probably some younger siblings, too? Now, with that many more people coming in to Camp Blackthorn to visit, we have a lot more people to worry about getting hurt by the wolf that’s been going rampant and killing our wildlife. So if that symbol you guys have got on your hands scares it away, we have to put it on everyone.”
“Diana, this is stupid.” One of the other counselors blurts out. “Are you really putting our lives in the hands of middle schoolers?”
“You don’t have to have your hand stamped if you don’t want to.” Diana snaps back. “I know we have people on staff who are trained for this sort of thing, but I choose to believe that this will be effective and help stop our wolf problem.”
Diana turns to us, offering a calm smile. “Here, go grab some breakfast, and I’ll set you up with the stamp making supplies.”
The ‘stamp making supplies’ were just some blank rubber stamps, tracing paper, graphite paper, ballpoint pens, and some X-Acto knives and other sharp tools specifically for stamp making. Diana told us to work quickly, as the campers were getting restless because it was way late for breakfast. Olga, being the artsiest one of us, managed to make three stamps in the time it took Vira and I to make even one. Olga even got creative and carved out the rubber in a way so that the negative space, which would show up blank when inked, was the sigil.
“That was an accident, actually.” She confessed. “That was the first one I made, I was not sure what I was doing.”
“It still looks cool, hon.” Vira reassured.
Diana entered the room as I finished scraping out the last excess bit of rubber on mine. “How many did you want us to make?” I ask.
“Five will be okay for now.” She responds. “If we need any more, we’ll ask. Great job, girls.”
Diana tested a stamp on her own hand, leaving a perfect blue-inked sigil. She took the ones we made, and a couple of ink pads, then gave them to some other counselors to go out and stamp all the campers. Diana had all the counselors line up and stamp those who were willing.
Not a single dead animal was on the camp grounds when it was deemed safe to go outside again. I could hear a couple campers wondering why the ink stamp everyone now had was so important, but since all the weird happenings had stopped after they got theirs, they decided not to question its strangeness. The rest of the camp activities went smoothly that day, and when it was time for lights out, there was a smug sense of satisfaction permeating through our cabin.
“I betcha we don’t even hear it howling tonight.” Vira remarks. “This place is untouchable now.”
“I did not want to say anything before, but I am starting to get worried.” Olga replies. “Now that an entire camp of people are using my sigil, I have to make sure it is extra strong to accommodate. I need the lighter again, Darcy.”
I hold up the lighter again while Olga charges the sigil with the flame. Tonight is clear, with a large, glistening white, almost-full moon. Olga smiles approvingly. “It will be charged by both the moonlight and sunlight tonight. But I still have to be careful.”
She turns to us. “Tomorrow morning, I am going to wake up a bit early. If you see me meditating and in a trance, do not disturb me. And tomorrow night, I am going to burn the paper that has the sigil.”
“Because we won’t need it anymore?” I ask.
“That too, but it is also to give the sigil one last bit of strength before its death. And destroying it with fire will be slow, but dangerous for anything it touches, meaning that we will be dangerous to touch if any outside force tries to harm us.”
“Hey! Wait a second!” Vira blurts. “We never got to see if Woodrow responded to us!”
We crowd around the leather-bound book again, and I flip it open to a page fully covered in text. Perhaps it was a good thing that we got distracted, it gave time for our new friend to write out everything we needed to know.
‘Here in the afterlife, we are ruled by a single monarch: a king by the name of Kurt. He was the one you were talking to in this book before me. You might have figured this out by now, but he was lying to you. The spell he tricked you into doing wasn’t to talk to anyone in the afterlife, it was a spell to break the seal between your world and ours. It required that a single, gullible, non-magical person do it. He didn’t count on you bringing in your friends in on it too, one of whom is even a witch.
So the spell got a little bit botched, which is bad for him but good for you. It did end up breaking the seal, but only as a one-time use, one person only sort of deal. And because your witch friend helped cast the spell, only a person who has some sort of connection to witches can go through. While we have plenty of dead witches down here, Kurt managed to grant himself the ability to use magic through…unorthodox methods. Our royals have the added ability of choosing an animal form to transform into when they so desire. Usually when he encounters a witch, he is in that form. He was only allowed to cross over if he took the form of his animal, which is a wolf.
When he got to the living world, he cursed you three. You already know about that, it’s why you’ve been living in fear for the past few days. I’m afraid to say that even if he doesn’t manage to kill one of you by tomorrow, he will still be stuck in your world, ready to strike whenever he so chooses. You’ve done a great job protecting the innocent bystanders of your world so far, but that sigil you created can only do so much. The seal will close down on him and bring him back to the afterlife only after he learned he’s gotten exactly what he wants.’
The smug sense of satisfaction is gone again. The three of us are at a loss for what to do, and nobody speaks for a long, long time.
“What are we supposed to do now?” Vira asks, incredulously. “We can’t live like this forever!”
“I could keep coming up with new sigils!” Olga suggests
“And have everyone keep stamping their hands every three days for the rest of camp? Summer? Our whole lives? That’s gonna get old real fast.”
“If it works, then it works. I can start thinking of new designs right now.”
Vira and Olga keep bouncing off one another like this for a while, and, absentmindedly, I find my way back to my writing notebook with my pen in hand. When I come back to consciousness and realize that my friends are still butting heads like this, I simply turn my notebook around and hand it to them.
The Panopticon – A poem by Darcy Lilyanne Jay
Perfect circle, endless loop
Of lost hope and arguments
But a quiet mind, a stubborn heart
Proudly remains determinate.
Force or cunning, the choice I was given
When you first had me play your unfair games
Well, let the games begin.
We’ve outsmarted you once, we’ve assessed your mind
And honestly, it’s lacking.
Your strength isn’t good enough, your force not enough
And honestly, we’ve been slacking.
The panopticon you’d hoped to make
Was nothing more than a time-out.
No guards, no bars, no cameras?
Time for an easy prison break.
You only have intimidation
And through our dedication
We will get salvation.
The word is and.
Force and cunning.
You have neither.
“…Did you just write an entire poem saying ‘bring it’ to the guy who wants to kill us?” Vira asks after she was done reading.
“Think about it, girls. What does he actually have on us? He can’t watch us at every waking moment. And it’s like Olga said when she first made the sigil, ‘as long as we are not afraid to go outside, show ourselves off to the world, we will be protected from their evil intent’.”
“Wow…” Olga breathes. “I did say that. Exactly that. You are good at remembering.”
I spin my pen between my fingers. “What can I say? I’m good with words.”
After our good spirits had been restored, we shut the lights off and went to bed. I still knew in the back of my mind that we had to think of a way around this, but I would have all day tomorrow to have fun and think. Vira was right, we didn’t hear him howl at all over the course of the night.
Two days down.