Title: The Skeptic of Bracken Lake
Author: sneakers
Date: November 1995

Summary: A night of ghost stories at camp gets decidedly weirder.

Sound of humble college student crossing her fingers that this post reaches a.t.x.c...my stuff never seems to get to the archives, and that's reason enough to assume it might not show up here...

This is dedicated to a different Nancy (or "Ace"), the namesake of the storytelling character, who not only contributed to my obsession with the X-Files but tells a damn good ghost story as well...ask her about Georgette and Paula if you ever meet her...She is, however, MUCH NICER than the Nancy in the story, and imitated only in her ghost stories and not her personality.

Warning: this story DOES NOT CONTAIN MULDER AT ALL It is an attempt at 'female bonding' a'la a ghost story

Dana Scully is created by the great Chris Carter and ten-thirteen (grovel, grovel)...everyone else is my creation, or taken (lightly) from actual people...RR and NWGC people - if you see something you recognize in here, it's probably what you think it is ...


"Hey, Dana, did you hear what Nancy said?"

Twelve-year-old Dana Scully looked up from her book as her friend Janet McCullough came barging into the cabin, pushing aside the carefully rigged towel-door. "I can't believe it...you're reading again Don't you ever do anything else?"

"I..." Dana was beginning to regret this whole summer camp thing. So what if her brothers had *loved* Boy Scout camp since they were Bobcat Cubs? This was different...and she had to share a cabin with boy-crazy girls that sighed over TV stars and screamed whenever they saw a slug.

And were determined to involve her in their little camp traditions Janet stood next to Dana's bed, hands on her hips. "You're coming with me, whether you want to or not." She grabbed Dana's arm, pulling her off the bed as she tried to get a bookmark into Edible Plants of the East Coast.

"You *have* to hear Nancy's ghost story. She tells the *best* ghost stories. And..." Janet lowered her voice "...this one's about *here*."

"Okay...okay... let me put my book away, okay?" Dana found the elusive bookmark, closed the book, put it back in her duffel bag, zipped the bag up, and put her shoes back on.

"Geez, hurry up," grumbled Janet, looking out the hole in the cabin wall that passed for a window. "Nancy's gonna be done before we even get there." Janet's brown hair stuck frizzily out in all directions, making her look like something of a ghost story herself. With her grimy jeans, untied running shoes, and damp 'Bracken Lake Girl Scout Camp' T-shirt, she looked like a stereotypical camper. Quite the contrast to Dana's clean khaki shorts and forest green shirt. "Are you *finally* ready?" asked Janet, hopping impatiently from one foot to the other.

The cabins, arranged in a circle around a fire pit, cast weird shadows in the evening light. Nancy Raleigh sat on the window ledge in her cabin, illuminated by an upturned flashlight set on the floor. "Where'd you go, Timbuktoo?" she asked flippantly as Janet and Dana entered the cabin "Took you long enough."

"Yeah, well, good things are worth waiting for, Nan." Janet sat down again in the circle of girls on the floor Dana took the last available spot, perching on the edge of somebody's bed.

"You don't want to sit there," said one of the girls on the floor suddenly. Dana peered through the darkness but couldn't identify the speaker "Somebody *died* in that bed."

"*Right*," answered Dana.

"No, look It says right there: 'The ghost of Becky Simmons still haunts this bed.' Tell me *that* doesn't mean she died there."

"It says she haunts it, not that she died there."

"Shut up, Linny, Dana," said Nancy unkindly, unwilling to give up the spotlight She looked around, then switched off the large flashlight, creating the proper atmosphere for the story. The only light came from a small squeeze flashlight in Nancy's hands. "One of my counselors told me this story last year...*she* said it was the freakiest story she'd ever heard - not that I think so," she finished quickly "But...you can judge for yourself."

"Is it true?" one of the other girls on the floor asked.

"I wouldn't be telling it if it wasn't true, stupid," answered Nancy She looked around, irritated, at her court of girls spread out across the floor. By the end of the night, she would have them spooking at their own shadows...except, she thought, that dang friend of Janet's that sat there calmly on the haunted bed. Well, she'd just make the story extra special...she grinned in anticipation "Once upon a time..."

A succession of groans rose from the group "Can't you find a better way to start?" asked one of them.

"*Once upon a time*," repeated Nancy, "fifty years ago this week, there was a man here, a man in love with one of the counselors."

"There's men here now," somebody pointed out.

"Yes, but this man was...even worse. He fell in love with this person during the year, and he couldn't bear to be without her over the summer. And, of course, she didn't know he existed. He was desperate. Man, he was crazy enough to try anything."

She surveyed the waiting faces, most seemed confused as to how this was a ghost story. "So, he decided to find a way to be with her. He wasn't very smart, but he did manage to come up with one idea. He dressed up as a girl and got a job as a counselor here." The faces changed from confusion to skepticism. "The director that year had really bad eyesight, okay? The rest of the staff thought he was really weird, but the director wouldn't listen to them."

"Anyway, this guy's name was Joe, so he decided to be Joanna. The counselor he was in love with was Agatha. Fifty years ago, this week, the fifth week of the summer, they worked together, in the same bunch of cabins, for the first time. They lived in..." Nancy leaned out the window and pointed at the empty cabin on the far side of the counselors' cabin. "They lived there. That's why nobody lives in there anymore."

"I thought nobody lived there because of the bees' nest."

Nancy snapped back, but wasn't in time to see who made the sacrilegious comment. "There's bees there *because* nobody lives there," she said. "Anyway, Joanna wasn't a very good counselor, and Agatha knew that. She kept complaining to the director, but she wouldn't do anything. Finally, the director got fed up and gave Agatha a few days off so she would stop complaining. Agatha called her brother to pick her up and take her home."

"But Joanna was watching as her brother picked her up. And he thought she was being picked up by a boyfriend, and he just about went nuts, because he wanted to have her for himself So, he began making plans."

"He grabbed her as she was coming back, after all the campers had left. He tied her to that tree next to the fire pit and furiously began accusing her of betraying him, of cheating on him. Poor Agatha was confused as heck and had no idea what to say. She stayed there for all of Saturday night, listening to him rant on, but she couldn't escape from the ropes that tied her the tree.

"Didn't somebody come by? Didn't anybody notice?" Janet leaned forward, as if straining to hear something.

"They were all at home, and they all thought Agatha was at home too. Joanna started to get crazier and crazier, and eventually he set fire to the tree, thinking that if Agatha was innocent, she'd survive the fire. Obviously, that didn't work. So that was the end of Agatha. Joanna was happy If he couldn't have her, nobody could."

"What happened to Joanna?"

"Nobody saw what happened, so life just went on as usual. Then, one night, Agatha appeared to him. She stood there in his dreams, yelling at him over and over. He began to have a nervous breakdown, talking in his sleep, things like that. Two of the other counselors he was working with began to suspect the he had killed Agatha."

"But, nobody would believe them, so they decided to take things into their own hands. They took him down to the waterfront one night and hung him. After he died, they cut down his body, weighted it with rocks, and dropped it in the lake."

In the dim light, Nancy could see somebody shudder. Good. It was working "So, now they both wander around the camp at night, looking for revenge. Agatha wanders around the campsites looking for Joanna. Joanna is fortunately restricted to area around where he died...except when the moon is full. Then he can come down to meet her...and anybody that's around when they are both out is liable to be found dead the next morning..."

Dana spoke up from the bed. "What about the rest of the time?"

"Well, Agatha's harmless. The poor thing just wanders around. She's harmless, and you can't see her, anyway. But Joanna...he stomps around the tree where he died, moaning and groaning and extracting revenge on anybody that comes near him. But both of them disappear as soon as it starts to get light."

Dana continued, "I suppose there's a full moon coming up, right?"

Nancy glared at her opposition. "No, actually the next one isn't for two weeks...but, it is the fiftieth anniversary of their deaths."

"Have you ever seen them yourself?"

"No...but one of the counselors last year told it to me...she even showed me the tree and all..."

"So, how do you know it's true?"

"My *counselor* told it to me, Dana. Besides, I'll take it on faith."

"Well, I won't. The chances of something like that happening..."

Nancy was furious "Dana Scully, you're just a big wimp! You're too chicken to deal with it, so you don't believe it! If you were *really* brave you'd believe!"

Janet jumped up to defend her friend. 'Nancy, I don't think..."

"You too! You're both wimps! I - I dare you to go down to the tree at night. Do that - prove that he doesn't exist!"

Dana shrugged. "All right, then. Will do."

The girls on the floor were wide-eyed. "You're not going to actually do that, are you?" asked Janet.

"Yeah!" continued Nancy. "If you're so sure that he doesn't exist, take Janet with you. Meet me at the showerhouse at one a.m. tonight. And, for Godsakes, don't wake up any of the counselors." She kicked herself away from the windowsill and stormed out of the cabin.

"Uh, Dana, you're not actually going to make me come, are you?" Janet bit her lower lip. The look on Dana's face convinced her that she was indeed planning on taking Janet with her. "I hope you know what you're dealing with here," she concluded.

"Well, we'll find out, won't we?" Dana grabbed Janet's arm and dragged her out of the cabin before anyone else could convince her to change her mind.


"I can't believe I'm doing this," whispered Dana, as she and Janet snuck down the path to the showerhouse. At one in the morning, it was as dark as it was ever going to be. Dana's black pants and navy blue shirt blended with the night, and her shining copper hair was hidden under a dark purple bandanna, one flashlight gripped in her gloved hands, a spare stuck in her back pocket. Janet's blue sweatpants and black t-shirt stood out a little bit more, but not much.

"No, *I* can't believe *I'm* doing this," said Janet "*You're* the one that doesn't believe in ghosts. *You* don't have to worry about anything besides getting caught."

Nancy, dressed entirely in black, was leaning against the showerhouse, cradling her huge flashlight in her arms. "What took you so long?" she asked. "I was afraid you'd chickened out."

"Never, Nancy," said Janet, scowling into the darkness. "We were giving *you* a little time to back out gracefully, if you were scared."

Dana didn't involve herself in the argument. She watched Nancy, silhouetted in the moonlight. Black shoes, black socks, black jeans, a black t-shirt, and, obviously, black hair. She wondered how many times Nancy had told that particular story, and if anybody else had ever dared to disagree with it. Something occurred to her. "What are we going to do if somebody comes along the road?"

Nancy and Janet turned to look at their uninformed friend. "That's why we're wearing dark clothes, stupid," said Nancy. "They won't see us."

"What if they have headlights?"

"Then we duck into the bushes," said Nancy. "C'mon, are we going to get this over with, or not?" She switched her flashlight to one hand and turned it on. "Here's the plan, 'kay? We take the loop road until we get to the bottom of the hill. We go up to the dining hall, then down to the lake If we get split up, meet on the porch of the boathouse If you get caught, deny everything. Trust no one. Don't reveal who's involved."

Janet and Dana nodded obediently.

"Remember, the truth is out there somewhere. We'll find it."

"Doesn't it seem like she's taking this a bit too seriously?" whispered Janet to Dana, as they walked along the dark loop road. "I mean, it's just a story, right? Look at her." Nancy was walking, flashlight off, eyes flickering from side to side, alert for any sign of motion or hint of sound.

"Has she *ever* done anything halfway?" asked Dana. Whatever Nancy did, whether it was swimming, riding horses, or annoying her cabin mates, she put her whole heart into it.

Janet began coughing in order to cover up the giggles that rose up involuntarily. Nancy's head whipped around. A look of annoyance crossed her face when she saw the source of the sound. "Try to keep it down, okay, Janet?" she asked. "You could be covering up something important, get it?" She snapped her head forward again and continued walking.

Janet *and* Dana succumbed to fits of "coughing." "Boy, it sure is dusty out here," commented Dana, managing to keep a straight face.

Nancy said nothing, simply turned ninety degrees to the right and began climbing the hill to the dining hall. The hill that seemed long by day seemed practically endless by night. It gave Dana a bit of guilty satisfaction to see Nancy drop her official march in order to stagger up the last ten feet of the hill.

Where the head cook's car was parked.

Janet and Dana dashed for the brush at the edge of the hill, while Nancy tried to catch her breath. "Psst, Nancy," whispered Janet loudly. "C'm'over here before someone sees you!"

Nancy didn't answer, so Dana, after looking carefully around, rushed out of the tall grass and pulled Nancy back in with her. "What do you think you're doing?" she demanded angrily. "You'll get all of us caught by the cook!"

"What can she do to us?" asked Nancy sarcastically.

"Turn us into tomorrow's sausage?" suggested Janet. "C'mon, let's go around the back of the dining hall. Nobody'll be back there, and there aren't any lights."

They tiptoed along the edge of the building, keeping in the shadow of the roof. "Crouch down here," instructed Dana as they passed one of the kitchen windows. Nancy scowled at her, and Dana was unfortunately able to make out the expression in the faint light. "Hey, I was just trying to be helpful."

They rounded the corner of the building and crept under the porch, heading down to the lake front. "Be careful, there are stinging nettles here," warned Janet.

"*Not* pleasant to run into," remarked Dana, as she ran into one. Fortunately, the needles didn't go through her thick pants She stood in front of it for a second, shining her flashlight on it.

"Aw, you're just a wimp," retorted Nancy, still angry about being told to crouch down. "Watch this." She switched flashlight hands again, reached out her left hand towards the plant, gingerly touching the top leaf with the tip of her pointer finger. "Do that, Dana Scully!"

"Nancy, be reasonable..." begged Janet, impressed. "Don't do it, Dana...c'mon, we can just go back..."

Dana handed her flashlight to Janet. "I'll do better than that," she told Nancy. She backed up a few steps from the plant, looking for the perfect leaf.

Nancy smirked. "Touch *that* one," she suggested, pointing at a large leaf near the base of the plant.

Dana shrugged "All right, then." She bent down, grasping the leaf where it connected to the plant, and cut through the stem with her thumbnail. Straightening, she held the leaf in Nancy's face. "You mean *this* leaf?" The spikes were less than an inch from Nancy's nose

When Nancy backed up, Dana took the leaf away, and, ignoring the awed look on Janet's face, folded it and stuck it in her mouth Janet and Nancy fell silent as she chewed and swallowed the bitter-tasting leaf. "They're better in tea," she admitted. "Not bad, though."

Janet gulped. "Let me guess, Edible Plants of the East Coast?"

"Nope, my brother."

"Stop dawdling!" commanded Nancy, even angrier at being one-upped by this short redhead that calmly ate nettles. She sidestepped the nettle plant and continued down the hill. Dana and Janet followed at a safe distance.

"You know why she doesn't have to worry about nettles?" whispered Janet, as they wove through rows of plants, some identifiable, some not. "They're too scared of her, that's why. She probably comes out here at night and tortures them. Sort of a nettle boogey-man."

Dana was still "coughing" as they came out on the muddy stretch of lakefront that passed for a beach. Nancy sat on one of the fire circle benches, arms crossed defiantly. "I was *wondering* when you'd show up," she remarked.

Janet ignored her Dana stopped *coughing*. "So, where's this *ghost* supposed to hang out? Not right here in the fire circle, I hope."

Nancy slid down from the bench with infinite slowness and care, wandering in Dana's general direction. "It's at the tie tree," she said, "but you guys took so long that it's probably too light for the ghost to come out *now*."

"Tie tree?" Janet looked out across the lake, puzzled.

"It's a *tree* they *tie* boats to, stupid," answered Nancy. "And *you* just took the point out of going to it, because it's too light now."

"C'mon, Nancy, we got this far...take us to see the tree," whined Janet.

Dana shone her flashlight across the dark water. She could see the tie tree protruding out over the water, a solitary canoe attached by the painter rope. She moved the flashlight along the tree line, past the canoe shed...sure enough, there was a rather distinct trail leading up past the outhouse. Ignoring Nancy, she began walking towards the trailhead. "We'll just go by ourselves, Janet. Nancy, you can go back, if you want to, or you can join us."

"You'll get lost," predicted Nancy ominously. "*I'm* the only one that's been there before, *remember*?" She stood just outside the fire circle, arm obstinately crossed, waiting for the world to fall, begging, at her feet.

Predictably, it didn't. Janet joined Dana at the trailhead, but stopped and looked at Nancy before entering the forest. At the last minute, Nancy gave in, joining them with an exasperated, "If you guys are stupid enough to do this, the least I can do is be kind and help you."

Once past the outhouse, the woods were darker than the ones around the cabins. Dana was in the front, followed by Janet, tailed by Nancy, who was still giving 'tips'. "There's a big drop-off by the tie tree, kind of like a beach, remember?"

Janet turned around and walked two steps backwards "I thought you were the only one that had been here before, *remember*?"

"Anyway, if you stand on top of the drop-off, he can't get you, but you can't see him, y'know? So, if you go down to the flat part by the tree, then you can see him, but you might have to run away, or climb up the hill. But if you get on the tree, you can talk to him, but if he decides he doesn't like you, you'll have to jump in the water, get it?"

"Nancy, keep it down, okay, please?" asked Dana, without stopping. "Somebody could hear us."

"Yeah! The dead guy could hear us," echoed Janet.

"No, the people whose cabins are over there could hear us." Dana took her flashlight off the path and shone it along the lakeshore at the older girls' cabins. "They could still be awake, the counselors over there." She began walking again. "Besides, where we go depends on what it's like when we get there."

"That's right, it could be too light," said Nancy smugly. "But that's not *my* fault..."

Dana stopped again "Right now, I am *not* interested in whose fault it is, Nancy Raleigh. Think you can remember that, and keep accordingly quiet?" Frustration flared across her normally calm face, along with a determination Janet had never seen before.

"Brat," muttered Nancy. "Who died and left *you* in charge? You're acting like a stinkin' Army general."

"Quiet in the peanut gallery, *okay*?" was all that Dana said. Janet watched the whole incident with silent interest. Nancy was used to being in charge, but Dana could hold her own quite well. The short redhead continued along the trail, Janet and Nancy following her silently...until they got to the tie tree. "Hey, where do you think you're going?" asked Nancy, as Dana continued down the trail.

"Looking at it from the other side, maybe?" answered Dana, shining her flashlight down the short drop-off. It looked perfectly normal to her, albeit slightly muddy from being so close to the lake. The infamous tree stuck out over the lake, anchored securely by roots that climbed the drop-off and spread out in long knotted arms.

"That's where they hung him," said Nancy, pointing at a thick branch that hung backwards over the shore. "They tied the rope around his neck and stood him on the edge...then pushed him off.

The distance from the tree to there wouldn't be long enough to hang ant. "His feet would still be able to touch the ground."

"They stretched it, dummy," said Nancy, crossing her arms yet again. "I told you it was too light for him to come out tonight...are you satisfied now?"

"His weight would have stretched it too," Dana pointed out, crouching at the edge of the cliff, resting her flashlight on a moss-covered stump. "When did this happen, anyway? I suppose the edge could have eroded away some..."

"Fifty years ago this week..." said Janet. "- or, at least, that's what Nancy says."

"Hey." Dana snapped her fingers. "Didn't you say that he couldn't be seen unless you went down to the water level?" She looked pointedly at Nancy.

"It's too light to see him, I told you."

"Didn't you?"

"Yeah, that's right, she did," said Janet suddenly. "And you can't talk to him unless you're on the tree."

Dana shone her flashlight around the lower ground. Determined to prove or disprove the ghost theory, she continued talking "How can you be so sure it's too light, if you ca "Just trust me It's too light."

Dana stood up suddenly, grasping Nancy's arm "C'mon, let's go down there and find out.."

"Are you *nuts*?" asked Nancy

"You yourself said he wouldn't come out...so he won't I just want to see what it's like down there...I mean, if he's gonna spend an eternity down there, he's got to have left some mark of his presence. Bad vibes or something."

Both Nancy and Janet relaxed visibly. "Presence is good enough," agreed Nancy Dana carefully crawled down the incline, followed at a distance by a cautious Nancy and a truly nervous Janet. They joined her at the shore, shining their lights around the tie tree, examining its damp roots.

"See, nothing down here," said Nancy smugly, giving the tree one last kick with her boot-clad foot.

"Yeah," echoed Janet, elbowing Dana, then whispering, "Told you it wouldn't be anything."

Unbalanced by being elbowed, Dana slid in the mud. Grasping for anything to hold on to, she reached about her head and grabbed one of the branches, spinning but fortunately staying in relatively the same place. Her face froze in silent horror, too petrified for words. Her eyes fixed on something neither Nancy or Janet could see.

"What is it? Dana, what's wrong?" Janet stared at her motionless friend.

"Oh...my...God..." said Dana slowly She lifted one hand and pointed back at the bank they had been standing on. "Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee..." Her mumbled prayers did not work, did not stop it ...

Janet's jaw dropped Nancy turned and stared. The moss-covered stump Dana had leaned against was...glowing. Harsh white light shone through the holes in the moss, casting flickering shadows on the ground. It seemed to be getting brighter, closer ...

Janet was crying, Dana was praying Hail Marys over and over again.

But Nancy was screaming, a shrill, high-pitched scream that was somehow loud and soft at the same time. She grabbed her flashlight and scrambled up the bank, running frantically in the direction they came from. Janet followed as soon as she could move again, but the incline kept falling out from under her, the soft dirt resisting all her efforts to get up. Tears and sweat ran down her face and she continued her futile climb.

Dana, on the other hand, walked over to the stump and pulled her spare flashlight out of the moss before it slid all the way through and fell.

Janet stopped climbing and slid down to the ground with a soft thump. She took a deliberate breath, trying her lungs out to see if they worked "Dana...I can't believe you." She lifted a mud-covered hand to wipe her face.

Dana pulled her bandanna out of her hair and offered it to Janet, wrapping her exhausted friend in her arms. "I'm sorry, Janet."

Janet was breathing easier "It...it was brilliant, Dana." She took the bandanna and wiped first her face, then her hands. "She'll bring one of the counselors, you know. We'd better get out of here."

"You okay? Nothing broken?" Dana pulled herself up the bank, the helped Janet up. The sun was indeed creeping over the edge of the eastern hills. "We'd better be back in bed when Nancy gets back there."

Janet took a few more deep breaths. "You know, Dana, I'm glad there's not a lot of ghost stories about this place."

Dana grinned "Why?"

"I don't think my heart could stand it. Too much excitement."

Cracking up, they began climbing the hill again. "You know what I'll do if Nancy brings up another ghost story?" asked Dana.

"No, what?"

"I'll tell her to eat a nettle."

THE END


BTW...

The nettle-eating scene has nothing of the slight-of-hand in the cricket scene in "Humbug" (though I did just watch the re-run...) It's a standard counselor procedure for impressing campers, along with running one's hand up the stem of the plant. One problem though...do they grown near there or are they a west coast phenomenon?

Also, the idea of having a man masquerading as a counselor comes from...where else, Ace's ghost stories. Hope I didn't infringe on too many of her ideas...Joanna and Agatha are my take on her Paula and Georgette.

 

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