Here's an excerpt of my Summer Camp Slasher Romance!
I got the copyedits back for HIS FINAL GIRL, so here's a first ever peek at the book!
Amteep, Idaho, 1978
Wes Carpenter wiped his brow as he turned the page of the latest issue of 80 Micro Magazine. Only twelve more lines of code and he’d be able to play Scarf Man, a game that was supposed to be an imitation of Pac Man. It was monotonous, typing in hundreds, sometimes thousands of characters into his computer, but some games could not be found on cassette at RadioShack. At least this method had helped him learn the computer’s language.
Wes had gotten the TRS80 computer for Christmas last year, but hadn’t really gotten the hang of it until he’d fallen ill with a monster case of bronchitis, which morphed into pneumonia, then to mono. As a result, he’d spent nearly six months at home. The never-ending sickness had wreaked havoc on his asthma and cost him a school year, but there had also been a silver lining. Huddled in bed with issues of Byte and 80 Micro his father had gotten for him, and in the hours where he had the strength to get up, Wes used his time to gain knowledge and mastery of the computer.
His breath tightened as he typed the final line of code. If Wes missed one character, the game wouldn’t run. Reaching for his inhaler, he waited for the computer to process the code. Once he took a deep puff of acrid, chemical-flavored moisture, the pressure on his lungs loosened, and he was able to breathe again. Still, he remained tense through the endless waiting for the computer to process the commands. Five minutes later, the screen flickered and music began to play as the title and copyright date appeared on the black and white monitor.
“Yes!” Wes pumped both fists in the air.
As his fingers reached for the arrow keys to move Pac— er— Scarf Man, his mother opened his bedroom door.
“Wesley.” Mom’s voice was brusque as she strode into the room. She was probably going to complain that his computer was giving her radio static again. Sometimes his computer did that. But her radio was portable. His computer was not. If she took her radio outside, or even into the kitchen, she wouldn’t have trouble.
“I have some news for you.”
Relief washed over him that she wasn’t going to bug him about his computer again. “I’m a little busy, Mom. Can’t it wait?”
“No, it can’t. You’ve been locked in here with that silly, bleeping thing for months. You can take a moment to talk with me.” Laurie Carpenter was normally an easygoing, cheerful mom, but now Wes heard the rare thread of steel in her voice.
Leaving the Player One screen flashing, Wes turned down the volume on the monitor. “Okay. What’s the news?”
“You’re going to summer camp.” Mom beamed like the wheel-spinning woman on The Price is Right.
“What?” Wes rubbed his eyes, wondering if this was some kind of joke. “I’m too old for that stuff.” His nineteenth birthday was last week.
“It’s tradition up here for the senior class to go to camp and get to know each other before school starts,” Mom explained, ignoring Wes’s protest. “I think it sounds lovely. Especially since you haven’t gotten to know anyone since we moved to Amteep.”
Wes thought it sounded like a stupid tradition. “Spending ten days with my classmates before school starts will feel like going back to school early.” He wanted to spend those last two weeks earning money at his job at the movie theater, and at home with his computer.
“Spending the rest of the summer cooped up inside is bad for you.” Mom wagged her perfectly manicured finger at him. “Furthermore, you could stand to make new friends.”
“I’m older than all of them.” And even if Wes hadn’t been nineteen, it’s not like he’d be well-received. Not with his glasses, asthma, and gangly form. Not with his interest in computers and complete illiteracy in all things sports. He may as well have had “nerd” tattooed on his forehead. On top of all that, he’d moved to this small town in North Idaho from San Diego and was a “city boy” according to the jerks who’d jeered at him in the theater parking lot the other day.
“Only by a year.” Laurie bent to pick his clothes up from the floor. “And probably some less than that.” Suddenly, she frowned. “Are you worried about dating?”
“Mom,” he groaned. “I’m worried about college. I’m worried about how I can convince Dad’s boss to give me a chance at Micron when I graduate. I’m worried about how to then turn that job into a career writing programs that will make me enough money to buy one of those nice beach houses back in San Diego.” At the dismay in his mother’s eyes from mentioning moving away, he switched to a teasing note. “I’m worried about there not being enough of those cookies I smelled you baking left after Janey got to them.”
A smile tilted the corner of Mom’s mouth. “Wesley, I’m being serious. I know the move was rough for you.”
It was. Even worse was he couldn’t object too much because his dad had gotten an amazing promotion at Micron, moving to their new second headquarters in Amteep. All predication pointed to this town booming in the next decade, becoming a stronghold in the growing tech industry. But Wes missed his home in San Diego the moment they’d left. He missed the few friends he’d had, the much bigger RadioShack, the record store, and the multitudes of rock concerts and clubs he would have been able to access to see live bands if he’d been there for his nineteenth birthday. Instead, he had spent his birthday at a bar with his father, playing an awkward game of pool and trying to pretend that the pitcher of beer Dad had ordered had been Wes’s first. He didn’t think Dad had been fooled.
Greg Carpenter was a brilliant man, with a PhD in electronic engineering. For many years, Wes wanted to be exactly like his dad when he grew up. But now that Wes was almost there, he knew he was nowhere near going down his father’s path. And yet, that didn’t bother him so much. Wes’s own path loomed ahead, frightening and exciting all at once. Who he would become, he didn’t quite know. He’d likely leave home after graduation.
Sometimes it was scary to think that if it weren’t for getting sick last year, he might have been on his own already. Those missed months had cost him most of his senior year of high school. Now he’d have to do it all over again. And, apparently, attend summer camp.
“Wes?” Mom interrupted his musings. “There’s a list of things you’ll need to pack for camp, and of course we’ll have to go to the pharmacy and get you an extra inhaler.”
He sighed and leaned back in his chair. “I’m not going to some silly camp. That’s kid’s stuff.”
“Yes, you are.” Mom remained implacable, and somehow smug, like she had an ace up her sleeve. “I already mailed the check.”
Wes bit his lip. “Then you can ask for a refund.”
Mom’s spine straightened and she put her hands on her hips. “Your father and I are taking your little sister to Disneyland, so no one will be home.”
For a moment he was tempted to demand why he wasn’t going to Disneyland too, but he couldn’t. If camp was kid’s stuff, then what was Mickey Mouse? He leaned forward and rose from his seat. “I’m an adult. I can fend for myself.”
Mom’s lips curved in a triumphant smile before she delivered the killing blow. “Not without food, you can’t. I haven’t shopped for groceries all week, instead using up what we have.”
Shit. Wes had been curious about the interesting casseroles and smorgasbord platters she’d been serving lately, but hadn’t noticed that she hadn’t gone to the grocery store in a while. Mom had him there. Wes loved to eat. His parents marveled at where he put it all, since he remained scrawny. And he could put away a lot. More than he could afford with his part-time wages at the movie theater.
It looked like he would be going to camp after all. Holding up his hands in surrender, Wes forced a smile. “Fine. You win. At least I’ll have time to read. Where is this place, anyway?”
“On the other side of Lake Skeetshue. Remember? Where we had that lovely cruise.” She pulled a brochure out of her back pocket. “It’s called Camp Natli— I can’t pronounce it. Another Indian name, I guess.” She handed him the brochure, displaying overly joyous teens paddling canoes on a sparkling lake with a beach and fake totem poles in the background.
Wes squinted at the name of the place. Camp Natliskeliguten. “I can’t pronounce it either. I think it sounds more German.”
“They call it ‘Camp Natty’ for short.” Now that she’d won, Mom had returned to her usual cheerful self. “And aside from the lake activities in the picture, you can learn archery, canoeing, and they’ll even have guided nature walks so you can learn about the forest. By the time you get back, you’ll know more about our new home than the rest of the family.”
Wes did not share her enthusiasm. A lot of that stuff would be hell on his asthma. Also, the idea of wandering around in the woods spooked him a little. As his little sister had proudly announced, there were some scary wild animals in the forests surrounding Amteep. Bears, wolves, mountain lions, and bobcats. And although Wes had swum in the ocean plenty of times, he couldn’t say he enjoyed it. Knowing his luck, he’d tip over a canoe and fall into the cold water, lose his glasses, and maybe get covered in leeches.
Mom continued, ignoring his grimace. “And there will be dances and socials with the girls. Maybe you’ll meet someone special.”
“Maybe,” he muttered, hoping to deter another worried speculation about his lack of interest in girls. Well, it wasn’t a total lack, more that most girls lacked interest in him. Dad had even pulled him aside for a “man to man” talk a little over a year ago.
“You’re not one of those men who are… ah…” Dad had scratched the back of his neck, his ears beet red. “Interested in other men, are you?”
Wes had laughed, though there was a bit of unease. One of his close friends was a homosexual. Would Wes’s father hate him if he swung that way? “Of course not. I like girls. I’m just waiting to meet the right one. Someday I want what you and Mom have.” And that was the utter truth. Except Wes didn’t have high hopes of that ever happening. Something was missing inside him and he didn’t think he’d be ready, much less worthy of love unless he found it.
His mother snapped him back to the present. “Turn off that beeping contraption and come with me. There’s a huge list of things we’ll need to pack for you.”
Wes sighed and pushed his chair in under his desk, giving his computer and new game one last mournful glance. Then his stomach growled. “Are there any cookies left?”
There were. Wes ate four as he sat across from his mother, scowling at the endless list of items he’d need for ten days of camp, half of which he didn’t have. Bug spray, a poncho, a pocket knife, a hatchet, and a flint kit for making fires.
As they checked off the list of things they did have—flashlight, changes of clothes, et cetera—Wes found himself spacing off, half-listening to the PBS program Janey was watching in the living room.
“…after the third mysterious accident, which left four miners dead and seven wounded, the Sundown mine closed for good. In 1948, the land was purchased by…”
Mom heard the TV as well. Her mouth twisted with disgust. “Janey, why don’t you change the channel? Honestly, I don’t understand why you like to learn about such morbid topics.”
Janey’s voice held its usual indomitable cadence. “I just do.”
Mom raised her eyes to the heavens and sighed. “What did I do to be punished with such stubborn children?”
Wes laughed. “We got it from you.”
By the time Mom was placated by Wes’s cooperation with the prep for camp, Dad had come home for dinner. The crock pot beef stew melted in Wes’s mouth. He’d miss this cooking when he was at the camp. His melancholy increased when he returned to his computer only to discover that Scarf Man sucked. If the computer had a joystick, it might be playable, but with the arrow keys? The control was crap. After struggling with the game for two hours, he gave up and put on a Deep Purple cassette.
Lying in bed with his headphones on, Wes realized that next week he wouldn’t be able to do this either. More than ever, he wanted one of those Sony Walkmans that had come out last month. Too bad the things cost a hundred and fifty bucks. Even then, the one that had been available at Amteep’s RadioShack had sold out the day it was released, and future units were on backorder.
At least I have my boom box, Wes thought before he dozed off.
Wes ran through the woods, breath tight and heart pounding as an unseen figure chased him. The grip on his lungs tightened further until his breath came in pitiful gasps and wheezes. Someone grabbed his hand, urging him along. He summoned up the will to keep running, though the underbrush threatened to trip him. Thunder rumbled, despite flashes of clear moonlight penetrating the gaps between the pine boughs. A blessing and curse, because though Wes and his unseen friend could see where they were going, that meant that he could see them too.
But who was he?
They stopped running so abruptly that their shoes sent gravel skittering in all directions. Lightning flashed again to reveal a gaping maw before them. A black abyss threating to swallow them whole. But to go back meant death as well.
“We have to,” his friend whispered.
He couldn’t reply. He couldn’t breathe. Together, they plunged forward and—
Wes woke drenched in sweat and heaving, his chest constricted by an invisible boa. Scrabbling for his inhaler, he knocked his water glass from his nightstand. The shattering sound made him cringe as he took a big puff from his inhaler. This was the worst asthma attack he’d had in months.
Sucking in air until his lungs cleared, he lay there shivering.
April 25th can't come quick enough. Have I mentioned how excited I am for this one!