"Do you know how many times I've covered for you? Would it kill you to return the favor even once?"
"You covered for me once! And my sister was sick! You just want to leave!"
"I told you this morning, Meg. It's important that I see him. It's just one extra hour of work." There’s a warning in his tone, but I ignore it.
"But I don't even know any scary stories! And-" I lower my voice, "I can't take care of the kids on my own."
"Well, you're in the wrong line of work, then," he snaps. "Listen, if you're not up to it, quit. But all you have to do is recycle the plot from a horror movie and get the kids to bed. I'm guessing I'll hear you whine about it in the morning."
He turns and storms off, and I know I've screwed up. I don't know why every conversation with Michael has to end in a fight. I can't pretend it's not my fault, though. I’ll make it up to him. I won’t even say anything tomorrow. I’m already feeling guilty about it. He’s got other people to deal with, and I’m just adding to his problems. I always do this, and he’s right to be annoyed. I’ll apologize when he gets back. Still, I should hold him accountable for the things he’s said. I would confront him if I didn’t agree with him.
I walk back to the campfire like my shoes are lead. He was right, of course, about me being in the wrong line of work. But it was camp counseling. Anybody who cleared a background check could do it. Obviously, it didn’t require a very solid work ethic.
The kids are looking kind of antsy. Some are bored, the sweeter ones are edging on concerned. I guess it’s not an enriching environment that has its employees bickering in earshot of children. Thank god the kids aren’t here to learn. I take my place on the log bench behind the fire that had been, until now, unsupervised. Shift into further discomfort and let an awkward silence settle. After a few seconds, I clear my throat.
“So. I’m going to take over tonight, so-”
“Why was Michael mad at you?” It’s one of the more obnoxious kids, cutting in as soon as he can. I employ one of my favorite child-care techniques and ignore him.
“I’m telling the story tonight. Um, Once upon a time,” I hear groans. “Once upon a time, there was a man who was conflicted. Tormented. This was because… he had a really pleasing attitude, but only to some people.”
“So he kissed people’s butts!” It was the seven year old heckler again, making the other kids giggle. I go with it, because it’s accurate.
“Yeah, he… kissed people’s butts. All the time. But only to get their respect and validation, and he wasn’t going to get that from those people.” This story really wasn’t for kids. I jump, then sigh at the sudden sound of Michael’s car door slamming.
“This man... he was generally pretty great, but when he worked too hard to please certain people, and they ignored him, he took it out on his friends, who just wanted to help.”
I realize it’s getting way too real when I check the kids’ faces. Even the upstart who had been interrupting me looked worried. Well, I am scaring them. I decide to go for something spooky, rather than terrifying them with real life.
“Well, the man went on making bad decisions until one night, when he was driving too fast.” I can see Michael’s headlights jumping as he swerves around a turn on the mountain road. Please be careful, I think. Don’t do anything stupid. “And that night, on the road, he died! His car crashed!” Even as I say the words, I’m praying that Michael is safe. It registers I’m not scaring only myself as I notice the kids turning to watch the beams coming from Michael’s car, the only sign of him now. “He… he came back to haunt the people he wanted to impress in life.” My voice is shaking now, as Michael approaches the last switchback turn of the mountain. “This… is the story of-”
A screaming, moaning crash shatters the quiet, and I can’t even call his name as he dies.