Summer of Screams: Crime of Passion at Camp Melodic Cove by Kristin Rivers
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Crime of Passion at Camp Melodic Cove
BY Kristin Rivers
It was supposed to be a beautiful wedding that summer evening in July for Sonia and Robert with family and friends as their witnesses; until the girl turned it into a bloodbath. They had prepared for this occasion for months, receiving permission from the Christian camp belonging to Melodic Cove Community Church to hold the ceremony. Around for eight decades, the camp and church has had its ups and downs economically, spiritually after the decline of religion going into the new millennium and physically as camps became obsolete to a world obsessed with smartphones and tablets.
The wedding was an opportunity to keep the camp alive and show neighboring towns that Christian camps were not obsolete, especially when people came together before God to be wed.
Now, as Sonia sat on the back of a firetruck covered in a scraggly gray towel and her wedding dress smeared in blood, that illusion was history. The stench of bodies beginning to decay filled the air as nearby policemen interviewed survivors. Sonia covered her head with the blanket.
Beyond the woods, a wave of brown hair poked out from the darkness. Her eyes scorched blood red blinking at the flashing sirens and first responders helping everyone evacuate the camp. She heard the pastor, Doug; mourning after the Sheriff suggested shutting the place down. There was no way the camp would recover from this PR nightmare, not with twelve bodies strewn across the camp’s chapel and fires burning from the paper lanterns hung outside for the reception knocked over in the chaos.
“I said you would rue the day you took him away from me. Enjoy marital bliss, Sonia, or what’s left of it.”
One month later…
Hannah Miller was used to hearing horror stories from her clients. After all, she was a therapist for almost twenty years. Abuse, alcoholism, drugs. One client had escaped a cult and was still recovering from the twelve year ordeal.
This one, however, topped them all.
“Have you ever gone camping Ms. Miller?” a young girl with curly dark brown hair asked. “People are so mean at those camps, especially the religious ones. They say they want to help you, but in actuality, they lie to your face and talk behind your back.”
“I see and no I haven’t gone camping since I was a child,” Hannah said while scribbling her notes. “Sadly, your point about religious people is correct. They become so corrupted by power that they do the very things they preach against.”
“Exactly,” the girl whispered. “The Christian camps are the worst. They take away things, too. Things that should belong to you.”
Hannah stopped writing. Where is she going with this? She waited for her patient to continue. Instead, she rolled onto her side. “Did you have a bad experience at a Christian camp?”
“Yes,” she whispered again, trying to hold back tears.
Hannah’s eyes softened. “Tell me about it, Cornelia.”
“I don’t want to,” she said. “Besides, the camp closed down. Best thing that ever happened to the place.”
Hannah arched an eyebrow. During her lunch break, she had read in Garden of Melodic Weekly that another survivor of last month’s massacre, a 94 year old woman, succumbed to her wounds. She was the bride’s great-grandmother and had suffered a near-fatal heart attack.
“Were there ever any therapists onsite at the camp? You know, in case there was something beyond the counselors’ expertise?”
“No. Maybe that would have made a difference, I don’t know.” The patient turned to face Hannah again. Her red eyes darkened. “Do you believe in God avenging His bullied children, Ms. Miller?”
“I’m not sure. I haven’t attended church since I was ten.”
“Do you believe in God, though?”
“Good. That’s the only thing you can rely on in such an unforgiving place. Maybe you’re the exception.”
“What do you—?”
“I believe our session has concluded for today?” The girl got up, smoothing the wrinkles of her long brown dress with rubies at the collar, waist and skirt. Nodding respectfully, she walked out of Hannah’s office.
“Mrs. Fishman?” Hannah was at the Melodic Cove Library. Noisy kids were running for the children’s section while their parents tried to quiet them. Adults flipped through issues of People and Newsweek near the bestsellers shelves. Teens were on the computers taking notes for summer reading assignments. Another librarian was helping a patron find books he wanted to read.
Mrs. Fishman, a fifty-two year old mother of three with long gray hair and soft, blue eyes looked up. “Oh! Hannah, good to see you! How can I help you today?”
“Do you happen to have a copy of last month’s paper? I know it might be impossible to find but—”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Mrs. Fishman searched the computer. “So how’s therapy going?”
“Same as usual,” she shrugged. “Draining. I was thinking during my next vacation to visit a retreat.”
“Good idea! In fact, why don’t you go to Melodic Cove Community Church’s Christian camp next week? There’s a signup sheet downstairs.”
Hannah stiffened. “I thought the camp was closed down after—”
“It was,” Mrs. Fishman explained, “Doug decided to try one last time to keep the camp, and church if you ask me, afloat. Despite what happened, Mayor Saunders convinced the Sheriff to a trial run lasting a week. If there’s a good turnout and no weddings held, the camp can reopen next season. So far twenty kids signed up and we got at least thirty counselors on board. I think they’re all from the church, though. Doug hopes the community can step up.”
“How does Sonia feel about it?” Hannah had a few sessions with her future mother-in-law, Jean, before the wedding about her reservations.
“That girl is a snake in the grass. I wish Robert could see that, hopefully before it’s too late.”
“Sonia is actually for the reopening,” Mrs. Fishman said. “I was surprised. I thought she would have wanted it to stay closed to prevent another tragedy.”
“How is she?”
“Better most days, worse some. She hasn’t been the same since losing Robert. He was her world. She’s convinced herself that he would have wanted the camp to remain open. Even suggested one of her campers should get married there to save her soul! I don’t know who she’s trying to kid.”
Hannah shook her head in agreement. “I don’t think his family would approve either—”
“Here we are!” Mrs. Fishman went to the backroom and found a copy of the paper. “Last month’s copies of Garden of Melodic Weekly.” Hannah skimmed the front pages of each paper. Coming to the week of the massacre, she recognized Sonia talking with a firefighter at the scene and the bodies of relatives, Robert and her future father-in-law sprawled throughout the chapel. The Sheriff had later confirmed they all died from blunt force trauma caused by flying crucifixes. The person of interest was never found but witnesses claimed a young girl was seen running off with blood in her matted dark brown hair—
Wait, dark brown hair?
Why did that detail stick out to Hannah? “Mrs. Fishman? Was there ever a composite sketch released of the suspect?”
“I don’t believe so. Whoever did it though was out for revenge against Sonia. I can guarantee it.”
Children under ten screamed merrily running around Melodic Cove Christian Camp with sticks pretending they were wizards. Some of the counselors tried to dispel that claiming it was evil.
Hannah shook her head. She understood the counselors were simply doing their job, but really? Open a Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings once in a while and you might think differently. Nearby, two counselors were leading two groups of six teens in canoes on the lake. They were shouting words of encouragement and told them no matter what, God loved them. She smiled at the thought.
Maybe hope for the next generation yet.
“Ms. Miller?” Pastor Doug asked.
Hannah turned. “Yes hello, Pastor. I just wanted to come by to make sure you have taken the necessary precautions?”
“We have, and please call me Doug. I’ve talked it over with Sonia. She’s coming later tonight for the—”
“Pardon me Pastor, but why on earth would you reopen this camp after the massacre? You’re putting children’s lives and, frankly, your congregation’s at risk. Are you that desperate for money?”
Pastor Doug stiffened, his eyes narrowing in disgust. “I will not be talked to that in this manner—”
“Then maybe you should listen to God more,” Hannah continued. “Because the girl who did this will come back to finish what she started or start something new entirely—”
“Then what have you done to prevent such a travesty from occurring again?”
Hannah stopped. Glancing over at the outdoor auditorium where the worship band was practicing for tonight’s bonfire, she said, “I spoke with the local Sheriff for backup and to keep an eye out. I hope that maybe if we catch her and have Sonia talk we can—”
“God help you for dragging Sonia back into this—”
“Pastor Doug. I am a professional and have been trained in mediation. I believe the suspect wants Sonia to suffer and if my hunch is right, she isn’t finished and will come back, thanks to you. We catch her, we could get her calm enough to speak with Sonia and end this peacefully. The Lord gave us free will and a choice to do good or evil in this world. I’m trying to stop the evil.”
“Do you believe in God, Ms. Miller?”
“Yes—” Hannah froze mid-sentence in realization. Cornelia.
“Please don’t do this. I have one more chance to keep this church afloat—”
A blood-curdling scream interrupted his thoughts. Turning, Hannah and Pastor Doug watched in horror as the children ran from an effigy of a calf painted gold spouting fire. Pastor Doug grabbed holy water to dispense the “demon” while Hannah watched the lake turn blood red. The counselors and teens on the canoes paddled quickly. Hannah called the Sheriff with more information and to send more reinforcements.
“It’s just like last time.”
Hannah turned to see Sonia with a dazed look in her eyes. “Last time? What do you mean?”
“Right before Robert and I were gonna get married, an effigy of that same calf used for a lesson about idolatry came alive and began breathing fire at the kids. Later, the lake was turning blood red before nightfall—”
“Did you have a bonfire before the wedding took place?”
Sonia shook her head. “No. The campers two weeks before us did. Nothing happened then.”
“Sonia, I know this is too soon to ask, but why did you want to get married here?”
“I grew up. I used to be such a bully to people and ruined so many lives with my gossipy mouth and poking fun at those with ugly fashion sense. I mean, can you imagine—”
Hannah gave her a dirty look. Another counselor, Dave, and twenty kids returned from going up one of the hiking trails. When he saw the lake, he ushered them away from the sight. Sonia wiped a tear watching the children start crying and asking Dave questions. “You were a counselor, weren’t you Sonia?”
“That’s how I met Robert. He was one, too.” Sonia shuffled her feet against the dirt anxiously. “My parents wanted me to learn respect and kindness so they had me work here one summer. I hated it. But, eventually, I grew to love it.”
“Was one of your campers named Cornelia by any chance?”
Sonia’s feet stopped moving. “She was assigned to me.” She began laughing. “Oh how I hated how beautiful her hair was! Robert was smitten from the start, three years apart—”
Hannah’s eyes widened as a look of disdain formed on her face. “She stole your man. Plus, since you just admitted to me about your ‘gossipy mouth’, you probably bullied her through rumors to make Robert stop loving her. I don’t know what you said and, frankly, I don’t even wanna know. I’m not sure how God feels, but you deserved to lose everything.”
The effigy was smoldering from the holy water as the counselors and Pastor Doug chopped it to pieces and threw it in the lake, now blue again.
Sonia’s eyes watered. “But I’ve changed, honest!”
“Did you really, Sonia? Your mother-in-law certainly didn’t think so—”
“She was a witch,” Sonia blurted out. “Some family that traveled in an RV who didn’t have much I don’t know. I called her cursed of God to make her change her ways. They don’t even belong here; they just travel around and invade people’s lives. She was a weed in a field of wildflowers. They—or she, rather— hated our Christian values and left that atrocity—”
“I thought you just said the camp used that effigy as a lesson about idolatry? If she and her family wanted to learn about God and His goodness, there was a better way to approach it. I may not have attended church for a long time, but even I am not that judgmental and stupid.”
Sonia’s eyes widened. She began blubbering, “They didn’t care! She didn’t care about my feelings; the little witch knew what she was doing! They could care less about others for that matter! I gave up after two days—”
“Maybe that’s the thing, Sonia. You didn’t take the time to care about them.”
The bonfire went on without incident and the calf effigy kept quiet. The band sang their praises as children swayed to the music and lifted their hands up to the starry skies above. In the camp’s chapel, Pastor Doug was tidying the pews after the evening’s service, asking God to bless and protect everyone at the camp. By ten p.m., the lights of every cabin went dark.
In the lodge where the Pastor and some guests slept, Hannah read over her notes about Cornelia. Shaking her head, she added another note:
“Cause of pain: Jealousy and Bullying
Solution: Murder and Suffering”
But there was still one thing Hannah didn’t understand. If Cornelia wanted revenge on Sonia for taking Robert from her—
—why was she left alive?
A few doors down, Sonia tossed and turned in bed. She was glad the camp was open again but her earlier dispute with Hannah soured the mood. How dare she judge her? Either way, she tried to be hopeful. After all, the kids loved it and were enjoying themselves. She could just picture them singing in their cabins and saying their evening prayers. Everything was going to be fine—
Sonia started. Before she could think, the door slowly swung open. “You.”
“Yes, me. Have you ruined more kids’ lives yet?” Cornelia slammed the door shut.
“If you wanted to kill me, why’d you spare me?”
“I feel the greatest punishment in the world is leaving a victim alive while others suffer agonizing deaths. Why kill the damned when you can make them suffer hell on earth?”
“You loved Robert!! You didn’t have to kill him!”
“I didn’t have a choice,” Cornelia sniffed from regret. “He chose you. I was dead to him the moment you started those rumors about me. He wouldn’t have loved me after what I did, so I had to kill him. What did I ever do to you?
“You were pretty and a man I loved wanted you instead. Cursed among God, remember? Or should I say, cursed weed?” Seizing an opportunity, she grabbed the bedside lamp and smashed it against Cornelia’s head, who dodged just in the nick of time. Glass shattered to the floor as Cornelia kicked her in the face, making Sonia stagger. She then tripped her again.
Tying her to the bed with the sheets, Cornelia cackled. “I think I’ll just leave you like this. I guess the saints really do turn out to be the greatest of sinners.”
A commotion of voices and footsteps were heard outside the door. Sonia screamed for help. Cornelia opened the nearby window to escape. “Peace at last,” she breathed.
Sonia struggled against her binds, until one hand slipped out. She quickly untied the others and pulled the nearby crucifix off the wall. Cornelia turned in shock as Sonia screamed, “This is for ruining my wedding! YOU RUINED MY LIFE!!”
Blood splattered against the walls, her clothes and face as Cornelia struggled to fight back. The door broke down as Pastor Doug and the counselors restrained Sonia. The crucifix fell to the ground in a heap, covered in blood and strands of Cornelia’s hair.
Hannah didn’t enter the room. Instead, she closed her eyes at Sonia’s screams of anger. She dialed the Sherriff. “You might need to come down here. There’s been another incident,” she said.
Sonia sobbed the names of Cornelia’s victims as she was being handcuffed. The children were ushered away by the counselors and asked to collect their things. Crowds formed outside the crime scene.
Summer camp was over, and so was Melodic Cove Community Church.
Hannah looked down at the deformed face of Cornelia, her mouth slightly open and eyes closed forever. The EMT covered her remains with a white sheet. The autopsy would later pinpoint the exact cause of death: blunt force trauma by crucifix.
Pastor Doug wept. Grabbing her suitcase, Hannah left the camp without speaking to him.
The camp was shuttered for good after the weeklong trial. The children were actually sad about it, being young enough not to understand what had gone on the month prior. Pastor Doug left his flock overnight, wanting to avoid any more scandal ruining his name and church forever. Everyone who belonged to the church scattered among nearby groups or left town entirely.
Hannah stood outside the yellow tape closing off the camp from the outside world two weeks after the trial. Sonia received life in prison for the gruesome murder of Cornelia. Her remains were delivered to her family, where they chose to have a Christian burial. Hannah spoke with both families during long, agonizing therapy sessions. After one session where Robert’s mother-in-law threatened the life of Sonia’s mother, she called time and had someone else take on the case.
She was done. She saw the signs too late. But, maybe deep down she knew what was coming, and just wanted everything to sort itself out.
She hoped God would one day forgive her.
Hannah turned to see a thin built young woman with mousy brown hair down her back, a long blue dress and green eyes step forward. “Hello, Charity.”
“So, this is the camp?” Hannah nodded solemnly. “How can you still say you believe in God after this?”
Hannah turned to the empty chapel, pristine from the recent renovation during the trial run. “I just do. Sonia got her due in the end. Cornelia…”
“In a strange way, she did. They both did. I could have done more.”
“But you didn’t. Sonia, in a way, deserved it. Maybe you just wanted them to sort it out like you had hoped. There is a lesson to be learned, I guess.” Charity coughed. “Will you be able to help my child? I know this is a difficult time but I heard you were the best out there with helping people.”
Hannah turned to Charity. “I pray to God every day that I still can.”
“Then do it. Try again.”
“You’re right. After all, we have free will.”
About the Author
Kristin Rivers is a fiction/short story writer, blogger and aspiring playwright. She is a 2016 graduate of Smith College with a Bachelor’s in English Language and Literature and also holds an Associate’s in Creative Writing from Holyoke Community College. Since graduating, she has kept herself busy job searching, networking, keeping up-to-date on happenings at her alma mater and starting her own writing blog, The Writer’s Soul. Other recent endeavors include contributing blog posts, submitting short stories online for writing contests, tutoring and becoming a Content Creator for creative marketplace, YAYWORLD. She currently lives in Massachusetts as she continues working on her first novel, exploring other writing opportunities and hoping to one day move to Nashville, Tennessee. You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram.