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Summer of Discovery
As his pulse raced. Ian sat staring at the piano - feeling terribly afraid and terribly excited.

Do ghosts of hymn-singing children haunt a cluster of abandoned buildings on the Saskatchewan prairie?  The story of how the kids from Terry Fox Cabin answer that question will thrill you from page one of this exciting book.  Eric Wilson, author of many fast-moving mysteries, presents here a tale of adventure, humour and the triumph of  the human spirit.

"Summer of Discovery is more than a mystery.  It has something meaningful to say about love, envy, independence, pity, courage and the  problems that people have - visible and the invisible ones."
    Ontario Federation for the Cerebral Palsied "Participaper"
 

Chapter 1
 
        Ian Danoff was afraid.

         As his father slowed the car, he saw a park.  Two boys were tossing a ball, carefree in the summer sunshine.

         Ian watched until they were out of sight, envying their freedom from fear.  If only he was still at home, if only he could delay just one more day.

         If only he wasn’t being forced to attend camp.

         “That looks like it, straight ahead.”

         Ian’s stomach clenched.  I can’t do it, he thought.  I'm going to be sick.  Pine trees appeared, then two large stone buildings and a sign reading CAMP EASTER SEAL.

         Ian’s mother looked at a pool under the pines.  “I hope they have lifeguards.”

         Ian stared at the pool.  What if they forced people to swim?  He wouldn’t go in, not if they held a gun to him.

         “We’ll just get directions,”  Mr. Danoff said, parking the car.  “Be right back, son.”

         Leaving him in the car, they disappeared into a stone building.  A bunch of kids crossed the driveway toward the pool.  Several were in wheelchairs and two were on crutches.  They all looked really happy.  A girl stared at Ian and he dropped his eyes, feeling sad and scared.

         They were all strangers and this was a horrible place.  Sighing deeply, Ian looked at the nearby lake, which sparkled under the hot Saskatchewan sun.

         “All set, son!” Mr. Danoff leaned in the window.  “You’ll love it here.”  He got out Ian’s wheelchair and unfolded it.  As he lifted Ian out of the car, Mrs. Danoff frowned.  “Careful,” she warned.

         “I’ve done this a million times, sweetheart.”

         Mr. Danoff pushed the wheelchair  toward a ramp beside the stone building.  A small bird dashed out of the sky to disappear under the eaves of the building.

         “Are you nervous, son?”

         “A bit.”

         “I can’t believe this is your first time away from home.  Your mother and I will miss you terribly.”

 

         “I’ll be okay,” Ian said quietly, wishing they’d never made him come to this horrible place.  I’m going to hate it here, he thought desperately.  I don’t want to stay!

         The building was cool inside.  They entered a room with an enormous stone fireplace, a mirror along one wall, and skylights high above.  There were a few other kids in wheelchairs, but most of the people seemed to be counsellors in their teens.  Ian felt his fear deepen, becoming a block of ice that trickled cold water into his stomach as he was pushed toward two young women at a table.

         One of them was writing on a form.  The second looked up with a smile.  She had blond hair, gentle eyes and light freckles across her nose.  “Hi, I’m Nurse Elaine and this is Nurse Louise.”

         Ian looked at them doubtfully, wondering how they could be nurses when they wore T-shirts and shorts.

         “Any medications?” Nurse Louise asked.

         “Just Aerie-Phenom,” Mrs Danoff said, handing over a package.  “It should go in the fridge right away.”

         Nurse Elaine wrote something on a form, then looked at Ian.  “Your counsellor will be here in a minute.  While you're waiting, why don’t you talk to those campers?”

         Ian looked at a boy who stared around with scared, unhappy eyes.  He was glad not to be the only camper who was afraid but he still didn’t want to talk.  Wheeling to a chess board, he set up some pawns and then tipped them over and looked at his reflection in the mirror.  A boy with frightened eyes looked back, a boy whose hair was cut too short, a boy wearing a stupid cowboy hat, brand-new jeans, a checked shirt buttoned to the neck, and a string tie that would make anyone laugh.  Yes, Ian thought unhappily, that mess is what people see when they look at Ian Danoff.

         A teenage boy with curly blond hair came rushing into the room.  Right away Ian knew this was his counsellor.  He stared at him, envying the healthy tan, envying the relaxed way he shook hands with his parents, envying him for only wearing shorts and moccasins.

         “Hi there,” he said, coming over with a big grin.  “My name’s Parrish Tavener.”  He shook hands with Ian.  “You’re probably feeling nervous, and so am I.  This is my first day as a counsellor.”

         Mr. Danoff  smiled.  “Then I wish you well.  Don’t make too many mistakes on our son!”

         “He’s very precious to us,” said Mrs. Danoff, stroking Ian’s hair.

         “Aw, Mom.”  Blushing, he pushed away her hand, then felt guilty when she looked hurt.

         “Let me tell you, Parrish,”  Mr. Danoff  said.  “It was a struggle to get Ian to attend camp.”  His voice was loud, booming around the room.  Everyone was listening.  “When I was a boy I attended Camp Stephens for years.  Best thing that ever happened to me.  It made me a man, and I’m sure this camp will do the same for Ian.  He’s been far too protected by us.”

         “He’ll enjoy it here, sir.”

         Just turn our boy into a man,” Mr. Danoff said, then laughed heartily.  “If that’s not too big of an order!”  He knelt down beside Ian.  “Well, oldtimer, it’s going to be an empty house without you.  Your mother and I will be lonely.”

         Ian nodded.  His face was like a beet and his mind searched for words that would  make his parents leave.  “Goodbye,” he finally whispered.

         Mrs. Danoff bent down to kiss him.  “Take good care of yourself, darling.  Get lots of sleep.”

         Ian muttered a reply, and watched with enormous relief as his parents walked away.  They paused by the door to wave goodbye, then were gone.  Immediately he was overwhelmed by loneliness and longed to go with them.

         Parrish put Ian’s suitcase across the arms of the wheelchair.  “Can you support this?”

         “Of course.”

         “Then let’s get moving!”  He pushed the wheelchair into the hot sunshine.  They started toward a row of cabins on a hillside.  “Every kid in our cabin is new to camp this year, Ian, so you’re not alone.  We’re going to have a ball!  Isn’t that right, oldtimer?”

         Ian didn’t answer.  Instead he stare at the cabins, which were made of golden logs in a modern design.  Kids sat outside playing chess.  Some looked up as Ian passed along the ramp in from of the cabins, but no one said anything rude about his checked shirt.

         “Here’s Cabin 8!” Parrish said brightly.  “Most of the guys have arrived.  We’re going to go swimming soon.”  Voices came through the screen door: voices of strangers.  Parrish opened it.

         “A new kid’s arrived!”  This cry came from a Native boy, wearing a brown headband and swimming trunks.  “What’s your name?”

         “Ian.”

         “Where you from?”

         “Saskatoon.”

         “You can call me Greyeyes.”  The boy’s thin right arm and hand were bent up rigidly against his chest, but he grabbed Ian’s suitcase with his other hand and heaved it onto a bed in a corner of the cabin.  “You sleep here.”

         Ian looked around the large cabin.  Beds stood along the walls, the floor was linoleum with lots of open space to manoeuvre wheelchairs, and the ceiling rose to a peak.

         The other boys in the room were already in their bathing suits.  One of them, sitting in a wheelchair, had large black eyes and bony ribs stretching his pale skin.  “Hey, kid,” he said, “what goes up when the rain comes down?”

         Ian shrugged, but before the thin boy could give the answer Greyeyes shouted,  “An umbrella!”  Then he jumped on the corner bed and bounced the springs.

         A teenage girl with short brown hair who’d been putting clothes in a bureau turned around,  looking annoyed.  “Greyeyes, cut that out!”  Then she smiled at Ian.  “I’m Linda Kramer, the senior counsellor in this cabin.”

         “A girl counsellor?”

         She grinned.  “You didn’t expect that, eh?”

         A boy came across the cabin.  Each step was a struggle.  His knees almost touched, his feet were far apart and his arms swung wildly.  A claw-like hand stabbed toward Ian, then the boy’s neck muscles bulged with the effort of speaking.  “Hi,” he said, the word gurgling from deep within his throat.  “My name . . . is . . . Ken.”

         Ian sat frozen, not knowing what to do.  He was frightened of this boy with the twisted limbs and strange voice, but then he saw warmth and kindness in Ken’s green eyes.

         Reaching forward, Ian squeezed the boy’s twisted hand.  “It’s good to meet you,” he said.  Then, for the first time since arriving at the camp, he smiled.

* * *

        Parrish watched Ian and Ken smiling at each other, greatly relieved.  Both boys seemed so quiet that it would help a lot if they became friends.   The front door banged as a counsellor walked in.  “Your last camper’s arrived,” he told Parrish.

         “You kids behave yourselves,”  Parrish said as he left the cabin.  Outside, he paused to look at the lake below.  A wind made the surface choppy and blew whitecaps toward the far shore, where wild grass and trees climbed steep bluffs.

         Parrish sighed as the breeze cooled the sweat on his forehead.  His stomach was in knots, and a massive headache pounded behind his eyes - he was so afraid of making stupid mistakes that would cost him his new job as counsellor.  Taking a deep breath, and trying to pretend the headache wasn’t there, he hurried into the big stone Chalet.

         “Hi,” he said to a small, dark boy who was waiting in a wheelchair.  “You my camper?”

         “That’s right, man.”  The boy flashed white teeth in a big grin.  “Just call me Rico.  All my friends do.”

         Parrish grinned.  “I know I’m going to like you, Rico.”  He put the boy’s suitcase across the wheelchair arms and they went outside.  Feeling a surge of energy, Parrish broke into a run when they reached the ramp in front of the cabins.  Rico laughed with delight as his wheelchair bounced along, then suddenly raised a warning hand.  “Bump ahead, man!”

         Parrish rushed forward until the last second, then stopped dead.  The suitcase went flying and bounced noisily away.  Rico also flew forward, but was stopped by his safety belt.  He gasped for air, and then roared with laughter.

         Grinning, Parrish went to pick up the suitcase.  As he did, he glanced between two cabins.

         Standing there was the camp director, Clay Croxley, with a face like thunder.

         “Not too smart, Parrish.  That boy could have been hurt.”

         “Sorry,” he muttered, his face reddening.  Slowly and carefully he pushed Rico to Cabin 8.

         Inside, he noticed that Ian was the only person not changed into a bathing suit.  “Hey, Ian, why aren’t you ready for the pool?”

         The boy looked at him with fear in his eyes.  “I’m not feeling well.”

         “It’s a bit of a stomach ache,”  Linda said.  “I told Ian he could skip swimming today.”

         Parrish smiled at him. “Will you come along to the pool and be the official towel holder?”

         “I guess so,” Ian murmured.

         “Good.”  Parrish opened Rico’s suitcase and rummaged around, looking for his bathing suit.  “Let’s get you changed, kiddo.”

         “Hey, Ricco,” Norman called.  “What’s brown, with four legs and a trunk?”

         “Beats me.”

         “A mouse going on vacation.”

         Rico laughed.  “Hey, that’s good.  I’ve got to write that down.”

         Greyeyes watched Parrish help Rico undress, tugging his jeans down over legs that were tightly locked together.  “What’s wrong with you?”

         “Cerebral palsy.”

         “What’s that?”

         “Search me.  The doc told me once, but I forget.”

         Ken shuffled slowly across the room, arms swinging, and sat down on another bed.  “It’s . . . a . . . brain injury,” he said, forcing the words out of his mouth.  “I’ve got . . . . CP . . . too.”

         Parrish looked at Greyeyes.  “If a person’s brain is injured, the messages to the muscles get all scrambled.  Rico’s brain keeps telling his legs to stick  together.”

         Rico laughed.  “Hey, man, I like that!  Stick together, guys, and we won’t get lost.”

         Some of the boys left for the pool with Linda, but Rico held up his hand before Parrish could get him out of the cabin.  “Hey, man, take me back to my suitcase.”  Fumbling among his clothes, he found a small radio.  “Can’t forget this.  It’s got my music inside.”

         Everyone laughed, then headed for the pool.  Ian hung back, thinking he’d rather stay in the cabin, but remembering his promise to Parrish to be official towel holder.  There was something about the blond counsellor he liked, so he left the cabin to wheel along the ramp behind the others.  Every face he saw, passing the other cabins, was the face of a stranger.  A lump formed in his throat.

         At the pool, draped in towels, Ian backed his wheelchair into a corner.  He had to admit it looked like fun, the way the campers were churning up the green water, or bouncing around in the arms of counsellors.  But what if there was an accident?  Ian shook his head, glad he hadn’t taken a chance.

          A young boy came slowly toward him, a wooden cane in each hand.  His sandy-coloured hair stood up in spikes, still wet from the pool.  “Aren’t you going in?”

         Ian shook his head.

         “They won’t let you drown.”

         Ian blushed.  Then, to his shame, a lie tumbled from his lips.  “I’ve got an allergy.”

         “That’s too bad,” the little boy said, studying his eyes.

         Trying to avoid the penetrating stare, Ian looked around the pool.  “Hey!”  he said, pointing,   “Look at that guy!”

         A teenager with no arms had walked to the edge of the pool and dived in fearlessly.  Now he was moving swiftly through the water, his powerful legs throwing up white foam as his head bobbed above and below the surface.

         “That’s really something.”  Ian felt deeply envious of the teenager’s courage.  “I wonder who he is?”

         “Winn Morrison.  He’s a C.I.T.”

         “What’s that?”

         “A Counsellor-in-Training.  When I came here last year, Winn was a camper.”

         Ian studied Winn as he rolled and twisted through the water, as sleek as a porpoise.  How did he do it?  Flexing his muscles, Ian rolled his wheelchair back and forth, feeling thankful for his arms.  Then he settled back to watch Winn in the pool.

         A while later, to his surprise and delight, the teenager joined him.  Flopping down on a bench, he grinned.  “New kid on the block, huh?”

         Ian smiled.  There was a strength in Winn’s dark eyes that made him feel safe.

         “Homesick?”

         Ian nodded.  “I’ve never been away before.  Pretty dumb, eh?”

         “You’ll love it here.  I’ve been coming since I was little.”

         “This where you learned to swim?”

         “Nope.” Winn smiled.  “I was terrified of the water until a couple of years ago.  Then I was visiting a friend at her summer cabin on Long Lake.  One day I walked to the end of the pier and just stepped right off.  I made a big splash, right where it’s cold and deep.”

         “Why’d you do that?”

         Winn shrugged.  “The fear was beating me.  I felt like an idiot around Sally, so I made myself learn to swim. The hard way!”

         Ian joined in his laughter.  He was about to admit his own fear of water when a shadow fell across his wheelchair.  Looking up he saw Parrish, soaking wet from the pool.

         “Got yourself a friend, Ian?”  The counsellor sat down and wrapped an arm around Winn’s shoulders.  “This is some man.  He’s going to be helping us, and one other cabin.”

         “That’s great!” Ian exclaimed.

         “I’ll get the other guys, Winn, so they can meet you, too.”

         Soon the entire group was clustered around the teenage C.I.T.  “Isn’t it horrible living without arms?” Norman asked.  “I think I’d hate it.”

         Winn smiled.  “It’s not simple, believe me, but my foster parents never babied me.  They made me cope from the start.”

         “Don’t kids at school tease you?  I get that all the time.”

         “Some do, but most don’t.  I go about my business and people know me as just another student.”  He grinned.  “Of course I’m handsomer than most, and brilliant, but otherwise normal.”

         “Were . . . you,” Ken said, his neck muscles bulging with the effort, “a . . . camper . . . here?”

         Winn nodded.  “I’ve loved every minute of it, except . . .”  He paused, and stared thoughtfully at the green waters of the pool.  Then he shook his head.  “Anyway,” he exclaimed in a voice that was far too cheerful, “this is going to be the best experience of your lives!”

         Ian leaned toward him.  “Except what?”

         “Huh?”

         “You said you’ve loved every minute, except for something.  What’s that something?”

         Looking confused, Winn turned to  Linda.  “Did I say that?”

         “That’s right.”

         “Oh.  Well, anyway, it’s not important.”

         Ian looked at Parrish.  “What happened to Winn?  Do you know?”

         The counsellor shook his head.  “Beats me.”

         “Come on!”  Rico said to Winn.  “Give us the details!”

         “I shouldn’t.  You guys are all new to camp this summer, and I don’t want to spoil it for you.”

         Linda shook her head.  “It’s too late now, Winn.  They won’t leave you alone until you tell.”

         “That’s right!” Ian said.  “So let’s have it.”

         Winn sighed.  “Okay, but remember this isn’t my idea.”  He studied their faces.  “Any of you believe in ghosts?”

         Ian turned cold.  He stared at Winn, then made himself smile.  “Not me.”  All around him, the others nodded in agreement.  Winn looked at them carefully.  “Good - that makes me feel better about telling you my experience.  You see, two summers ago our counsellors took us to a place that’s supposed to be haunted.  I didn’t believe in ghosts, either, until that night.”

         Rico’s eyes were very wide.  “What happened?”

         “Along the lake from here is a cluster of deserted buildings that used to be a church camp.  There are some old cabins and a big place that was probably a cookhouse.  There’s even a tabernacle, where the kids attended church services.  The whole place is abandoned.  The buildings are falling apart, and wild grass grows everywhere.  It’s spooky when the wind blows through there.”

         “Why’s it supposed to be haunted?”

         “Our counsellors told us there was a disaster.   A terrible storm blew up, taking out the power lines and knocking down trees.  The camp’s boats all sunk, so they were completely cut off from civilization.  The storm went on for days.”

         “I bet the kids loved it.  I would have!”

         “I think you’re right, Rico.  At first it probably was a lot of fun, but then it must have turned scary.  Nobody knows, of course, because there were no survivors.”

         “What’s that mean?”

         “When the storm finally died down, no word came from the camp.  People expected the counsellors to come into town for food but no one showed up.  Finally someone phoned the Mounties, and they drove up there.”

         “And . . .?”

         “This is the horrible part.  The camp was deserted.  Everyone had disappeared - campers, counsellors, even the pets that used to wander around.  Not a sign of life.  The Mounties organized search teams, and they even brought in tracking dogs.  Nothing.  Finally a remembrance service was held for the kids and counsellors.  The church tried to keep the camp going but no one would attend.  Finally they had to shut it down and abandon the buildings.  Since then they’ve slowly fallen to pieces.”

         Ian rubbed his cold arms.  “That sounds impossible.  People don’t disappear into thin air.”

         “You’re right, Ian.  It’s a strange story, and I wouldn’t have believed it myself if I hadn’t gone out there.  It’s a freaky place just to visit, but we made the mistake of convincing our counsellors to camp overnight.  That’s when I learned to believe in ghosts.”

         Greyeyes shook his head.  “I don’t believe a word of this, but tell us what happened.”

         “In the middle of the night, carried on the wind, I heard the sound of a piano.  Then the voices of children singing hymns.”  Winn paused.  “I know you don’t believe me, but I heard those voices.  So did every kid and every counsellor.  At the first light of dawn we packed up and got out fast.  I’ve never been back.”

         “I want to go there,” Rico exclaimed.  “I want to see it!”

           “Me too,” Greyeyes said.  “That  place sounds great.”

         Ian said nothing.  He just stared at Winn, feeling a tightness in his throat.

         Parrish shook his head.  “There’s no chance of going there.  Our activities are fully planned, and we’d need permission.”

         “I want to go!” Rico pleaded.  He turned to Linda.  “Please, Linda.  Please!”

         She gave Winn an unhappy look.  “Thanks a lot.”

         “I’m sorry.  I should have never mentioned it.”

         “It’s too late now.”  She turned to the boys.  “Okay, I’ll speak to the camp director about getting the bus.  Maybe we can go tomorrow for a couple of hours.”

         “I want to camp overnight!” Greyeyes begged.  “Please, Linda.”

         “Absolutely no way.”  She held up her hand.  “No more arguments, no more pleading.  Two hours at the ghost camp is all you get.”

         “That’s better than nothing!”  Rico said.  “Three cheers for Linda.”

         All the boys joined in the cheer - except for Ian.

         His mouth was too dry.

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SUMMER OF DISCOVERY. Copyright 2012 by Eric Hamilton Wilson
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