A story inspired by a recent stay at a creepy camp ground.
The Ideal Girlfriend.
A weary despondency swept over Jasmine as she drove into the remote campsite, snuggled between bush-clad hills. Ramshackle buildings, a forlorn playground, broken swings swaying listlessly, a rusty slide tangled in strangling vines, a torn trampoline tossed on its side; an unloved place. Dotted amongst the knee-high weed-grass, were several moss-covered brick barbecues and dilapidated picnic tables. High on a hill beside the pool, a water-slide dubbed ‘the kamikaze,’ zigzagged down the slope.
Apart from the glistening hot spring pools, this decrepit place did not match the ‘hidden treasure’ described in Jasmine’s guidebook. Such cruelty – drive for six hours through unrelenting, torrential rain and challenging terrain on the promise of finding paradise, to arrive at a derelict dump. Having neither the will nor energy to keep driving, Jasmine did not reverse her battered motorhome and continue on.
As she exited her vehicle, Tonto, her small mixed-breed canine companion, whined, wanting release from the van. A tall, stooped woman wrapped in a rainbow-coloured tie-dyed skirt, stumbled down the gravel driveway. A wild mop of auburn hair over-shadowed her wizened face.
‘Hello, my lovely, and what can I do for you?’ Her clipped words sounded as if a small animal had chewed off the edges. The woman smiled, showing mismatched teeth; child-like and straight at the front and long, jagged teeth at the sides. Had she acquired dentures belonging to someone else, perhaps a past guest or an old horse?
Leaning heavily on the side-rail, the woman climbed the rickety steps leading to the camp office,
‘I’d like to book a site, please.’ Jasmine followed the woman. Fumbling with a set of keys, the woman opened the door. The room had a decidedly musty smell. An old wooden counter dominated the cramped space, behind which stood a tall free-standing lamp. Dusty, spider-webbed windows bordered two sides of the raised room.
‘How many nights?’
‘One will be enough, thanks.’ The wizened face jerked up, her eyes narrowed.
‘Hrumph. That’ll be $25, pool use included. You can take your choice where to park, second or top level, there are no other campers here tonight.’
As Jasmine zapped her card through the machine, the sound of a muffled voice came from outside the office. The woman turned toward the windows and muttered loudly. ‘Hah! She’ll regret the day she ever came here. She’ll get her comeuppance.’ As the woman turned away from the window, she clicked her tongue in quick succession. Jasmine looked up and jolted at the sight of protruding upper-dentures. The woman sucked the plate back into place.
Through the grimy window, Jasmine caught a fleeting glimpse of two people as they passed by. Only the tops of their heads were visible, one of whom had long, lustrous auburn hair. The woman continued to mutter indistinctly. Jasmine shivered: was she doing the right thing staying in this place?
‘All finished?’ the woman asked in a sweet, dulcet tone. Jasmine nodded. The woman moved towards the door, dragging her lame leg, and ushered Jasmine out.
In the doorway, Jasmine paused. ‘Oh, I forgot to ask, what’s the wifi code?’
With a glint in her eye, the woman replied, ‘No wifi here, deary. No reception, we’re completely cut off from the outside world.’
Jasmine drove her van up the narrow, rutted driveway, past the pool, a utility building and a pen housing chickens, roosters and peacocks, to the second level. She selected a site, plugged in and brewed herself a much-needed coffee. The rain eased. She drank her coffee in the drizzling rain. Tonto happily ran and bounced around on the grassy verge, wagging his tail, dashing from one sniffing spot to the next.
Two woebegone caravans sat on the level above – broken windows, sagging, discoloured exteriors, wheels wrapped in straggly long grass – abandoned. As Jasmine stood, cup in hand, a boy-man wearing a grubby, green hoodie and torn jeans, emerged from one of the caravans. A mop of yellow-red hair stood straight up and sunk in a long, ashen face, dark, hollow eye sockets. His arms gesticulated wildly while he walked around in circles, talking loudly as if with another. There was no-one else there. Entranced, Jasmine watched the boy-man as the intensity of the conversation increased. Abruptly, he paused his rhetoric, threw back his head, and looking to the hovering clouds, laughed eerily.
Jasmine, calling Tonto, scrambled back into her van. The laughing ceased. The boy-man wandered off.
To rid herself of her increasing unease, Jasmine stretched out on her bed, with Tonto snuggled into the curve of her back, and attempted to read. As the clouds darkened, Jasmine’s eyes grew heavy, and her book slipped from her hands.
She was awakened by an angry, strident voice coming from the caravan above. ‘Girlfriend? She’s no girlfriend, she’s no more than a passing fling, and you’ll grow tired off her quickly enough.’
With a start, Jasmine sat up. Tonto whimpered.
A deeper, equally angry voice retorted, ‘She’s everything I’ve ever wanted in a woman: long, slender legs, dazzling eyes and a pretty smile. Best of all, she’s compliant.’
‘Of course, she’s compliant, anyone can see that.’ The woman snorted, ‘but you know she can’t replace me. She can’t give you the passion, the laughter, and the warmth that we shared. And her beauty is plastic, no more than window dressing.’
‘Replace you? You were never my girlfriend, you were only ever a convenience. Compared to you, Marissa is a goddess.’
‘Hah! So now your obsession has a name.’
‘Of course, she’s got a name, now get out before I silence you forever!’
“Heartless! That’s what you are: utterly heartless.’
The rain had returned and crouched on her knees, Jasmine peered through her fogged-up windows. A tall figure scurried away from the caravan above.
When Jasmine returned from a swim later in the afternoon, the rain had ceased. Soft music floated from above. The boy-man, clutching a body wearing a rainbow skirt, waltzed clumsily, often tripping on the uneven ground. The rainbow skirt swirled as he twirled the woman around and around with gusto interspersed with bursts of laughter. Although Jasmine could not see the woman’s face, her stiff body suggested she was not enjoying the dance. As the tune ended, he leant towards her, dipping her low. The woman’s head spun in Jasmine’s direction, her mop of dark-coloured hair fell from her scalp and lay on the ground like a furry animal carcass. Her face wore a dead-blank look. Jasmine gasped – the dance partner was a mannequin.
That night, sleep did not come easy for Jasmine and Tonto. Security lights as bright as football stadium lights blazed into the camper from above. The roosters and peacocks created a raucous cacophony throughout the long night. Heavy rain lashed, and howling wind rocked the van, as spooky laughter filtered through the roof-vent. Jasmine dreamt of mannequins and madmen, of rainbow skirts and dentures, while Tonto yelped and whined in his sleep.
Stillness, quiet and a glimmer of sun greeted Jasmine the following morning. She wiped the moisture from the window and peered outside. She’d walk the dog before packing and leaving this God-forsaken place. As the pair walked back down the bumpy driveway past the nightly-noisome fowls, Jasmine picked up a handful of gravel and biffed it through the wire-netting. The birds, springing into the air, squawked some more.
‘Serves you right, you dumb birds.’
Dapples of sunlight sprinkled through the leaves in the over-hanging trees. Looking skywards, Jasmine smiled, hopeful that this day will be better than the previous one. Tonto ran on ahead, and with tail wagging, sniffed the ground, sniffed the air. He scurried into some bush and began barking frantically. Jasmine called him. The dog growled, then dashed out of the bush past Jasmine. A limp hand hung from his mouth. Jasmine screamed. Tonto paused, tossed the limb in the air, and pounced on it when it landed. He tugged and chewed on the hand before again throwing it in the air, and again, pouncing on it. Jasmine grabbed his collar and wrenched the hand from his jaws. The severed limb bore no blood, the skin was hard, not soft – a plastic hand. Keeping hold of Tonto’s collar, she threw it deep into the bush. Swooping the dog into her arms, she strode briskly back to the van.
Something colourful snagged on a branch, startled Caroline. Tonto growled. The tie-dyed skirt flapped in the breeze, and Jasmine hastened her pace. A strangled howl like a Tom-cat on the prowl pierced the air. Beside the decrepit caravan, the boy-man sat on a camp stool cradling the head of his beloved Melissa.
The severed hand, the flapping rainbow skirt and now the head; had the mannequin met her comeuppance, Jasmine wondered?
The boy-man sprang to his feet. Holding the head above his head and punching the air with his other outstretched hand, he bellowed: I’ll silence her forever!
‘Time to leave,’ Jasmine whispered to her canine companion, unceremoniously bundling Tonto into the van. Jasmine swung herself into the driver’s seat and turned the key.
As the van paused at the main gate, a hazy, smudged light shone from inside the camp office – a tall, shape, silhouetted on the wall. Manageress or lamp?
Should I warn her, Jasmine thought? She shoved her foot hard on the accelerator pedal and swung onto the road with a screech of tires.