His name was Lucian LaCroix. He was thirteen, and with his shirt as a pillow, he was indulging in the act of star counting. It wasn’t fun or simple, but it was his project, and he did it when the weather permitted. His goal was to count them starting from the north star and spiraling outwards, counting without moving his steel gray eyes from their starting position until all stars in his field of view had been counted. He had become remarkably good at it though he had never completed the task. His mother, Lucille, owned the summer camp whose dock he was enjoying, albeit at a much later time than she would have approved. He wasn’t a disobedient child so much as a pensive one, and at times his wants and her wants clashed, leaving him with few choices that would make them both happy.
The camp was old and the dock with it, so its construction lacked the integrity most would prefer. It had been patched in places, and a few of its older supports had demanded a replacement, but it had never been entirely rebuilt which gave it a distinct personality. Since the dock and the boy were old friends at this point, it was relatively vocal about the approach of anyone that might interfere with their conspiratorial bonding sessions. Even now, the old dock grumbled in its manner that a visitor was approaching that was familiar and welcome.
“Hey, man,” the visitor called out.
“Hey, Rowan,” Lucian greeted his friend who made it a point not to step into his field of view.
“How many have you counted tonight?” Rowan asked as he slipped off his sandals. He sat down next to Lucian, his feet hanging off the edge of the dock.
“Four hundred and thirty-seven.”
“Cool,” Rowan said.
The pair sat in silence enjoying the simple joys of nature. A cool breeze danced across the lake, filling their noses with the smells of the pine and cedar from surrounding woods. Bats wheeled in the moonlight, seeking their nightly meals. Stars twinkled and shined, whispering a story that was as old as it was unique to its viewer. In a few weeks, autumn would supplant summer and mother nature was urging her children to drink in what they could. After a few moments, Lucian blinked hard and sat up, rubbing his eyes. “I thought you were gonna stop sneaking out after the last time.”
“I was. I don’t know why I came out tonight,” Rowan muttered. “I just woke up and wanted to come out here. Needed to, I guess. Is that what it’s like for you?”
“I guess. I just like it. I don’t get in trouble though. Well, not a lot of trouble.” Lucian regarded his friend. Rowan was a lithe boy the same age as Lucian. He had fluffy, sand-colored hair, an olive complexion, and dark brown eyes. It was his second year coming to the camp, and the boys had gotten relatively close.
“The wrap-up games start tomorrow, don’t they?” Rowan asked.
“Yup,” Lucian said, his voice betraying his true feelings on the matter.
“I guess it’s boring to you since you’re better than everyone else at them. You living here gives you an unfair advantage,” Rowan said.
“No, that’s not it. It means camp is over and everyone is leaving,” Lucian said.
“I got you. Summer will be over soon, and we have to go back to school. I bet I’ll have to write a paper first thing when school starts.”
Lucian grunted in acknowledgment. “Do you want the trophy?”
“From the games? Yeah!” Rowan said, excited. “Are you gonna be on my team? I thought everyone had to stick with whoever was in their cabin.”
“I get to pick someone to be on my team. If you want, I’ll pick you,” Lucian said matter-of-factly. “You have to do one event, and I’ll do the rest and give you the trophy.”
“Cool! I’ll do one of the swimming ones. I’m good at those. Or I can do the rifle one.”
“If you want to do more than one, it’s cool,” Lucian said as he rolled backward onto his feet. “You could lose all the swimming ones, and I could still carry us. The rifle one you can have since my mom always gets this look when I shoot.”
“I’m good with guns. My dad is a marine, remember?” Rowan beamed. “I’m gonna join when I get old enough. I still think you should too. You’d be an awesome marine.”
“I don’t think my mom would like that. She said my dad was Army and died overseas. She’s really anti-military. I don’t know. I kinda want to so I can see the world. All this woodsy stuff doesn’t work anywhere else.”
“Well, when we get old enough, we can both join. It’ll be fun. We can be friends on Facebook since I move around a lot,” Rowan suggested brightly.
“Mom doesn’t let me use Facebook,” Lucian mumbled.
“Just email then.”
“I can’t use the internet at all. She’s super paranoid about predators and stuff. It’s stupid.” Lucian sighed. “I swear she wants me to stay in the woods with her and my uncle forever.”
“Yeah, pretty much.” Lucian scratched absently at a bug bite on his stomach. “You should get back before these stupid bugs eat you alive.”
“I’m just gonna hang out for a little longer.”
Lucian nodded and turned to leave. He had taken no more than a few steps when he felt it. It was like a chill in his chest. A creeping sensation that grabbed his heart and held fast. Something was wrong. Something was there. He turned to face his friend, his eyes darting all around, trying to see the thing he was feeling. Nothing was there but Rowan, staring at the lake.
Rowan seemed to feel Lucian’s eyes and turned to look at him. “You cool?” he asked, confused.
“Yeah,” Lucian stammered. “You cool?”
“Yeah, man. Quit being weird.” Rowan chuckled and went back to gazing at the lake.
Lucian turned and started the short walk home, all the while trying to shake the alien dread that had taken root in his heart.