When her dad finally turned their motorhome into the campground, Lily had no reason to believe it was haunted. After all, she had just turned twelve years old, and she considered herself very grown up. She didn’t believe in nonsense like ghosts. Not like her brother, Willow, who still tied a beach towel around his neck and called himself Super Twin.
The sign at the campground entrance said William Heise County Park. It had taken them over two hours of twisty roads to get here. That seemed like a long time to drive somewhere just for the weekend, but Dad was set on eating apple pie at nearby Julian. He had towed our Jeep behind the motorhome so that we could ride top down into the historic mining town on Saturday.
“When we get to our site, everyone helps set up camp,” Dad said. “Willow, that means no taking off into the forest.”
“Come on, Dad!” her brother said. “We’ve been stuck in this RV forever!”
“No whining,” Mom said. “Camping is a team activity. Everyone works together.”
Lily gave her twin her best Mom glare. He took a deep chug of his soda and belched in her face.
“Mom, Willow’s being rude!” she said.
“Willow, settle down,” Mom said. “Be nice to your sister for once.”
Willow stuck out his tongue at Lily who had already decided to ignore him.
After he unhooked the Jeep, Dad followed the signs to their site. Mom followed behind us driving the Jeep. Lily had studied the camp map before they left. This camp had three loops for motorhomes and one just for tents. He turned right at the first loop and drove slowly.
“We’re in site 12. Keep your eyes open so we don’t miss it,” he said.
“There it is,” Lily cried. A small wooden post at the side of the paved pad had the number 12 written on it.
Dad passed the site. Mom jumped out to guide him back into the spot.
“Lily, check the level,” he said when he was in.
Lily grabbed the small plastic leveler and set it on the kitchen counter, in the middle of the small motorhome. She looked at the small bubbles inside. One bubble was for front to back level and the other was for side to side. The side to side one was inside the lines. Level. But the front to back one was not.
“Dad, it looks like we need blocks on the back tires,” she said. She was pretty good at checking levels. She was exact in everything she did.
After the motorhome was set, Lily and Willow helped their mom set up the outdoor rug, table, and chairs. Dad plugged in the electricity and hooked up the water. Then he took down their bikes from the rack on the back of the motorhome.
“Let’s go explore,” Willow said, hopping on his bike.
“Wait! Here’s your helmet,” Lily called after him. He zoomed past her, snagging his helmet out of her hand. She rubbed some sunscreen on her nose. Then she pulled on her mini backpack with drinks and snacks. She buckled on her helmet over her blonde hair swept back in a ponytail. Finally, she was ready to catch up with her brother.
“Bye, Mom! Bye, Dad!” she cried over her shoulder.
“Be back by dark,” Mom called after her.
Lily pedaled hard before she saw Willow cruising down the hill toward another loop of campsites. “Wait for me!” she said, although she didn’t have much hope that he would slow down. Suddenly, she raced past him as he stopped at the bottom of the hill.
She slowed down and turned around to join him. Willow stood with his feet down on either side of his bike, staring into a deep green thicket of forest.
“What do you see? Is it a deer?” Lily said, putting her feet down.
He turned to face her. “Wait. Do you hear that?”
Lily listened carefully. Chirping birds, droning insects, faint laughter from a campsite. “What exactly should I be hearing?”
Willow’s curly blonde hair almost hung into his eyes, but she could still see that he was freaked out about something. His mouth scrunched up in annoyance. “Come on, Lily! Can’t you hear it? It’s singing! And a guitar. Some campfire song I kinda remember from summer camp.”
Lily listened again. This time she faintly heard voices singing along with a guitar. It did sound like an old song they’d heard at camp:
Mr. Moon, Mr. Moon, you’re out too soon,
The sun is still in the sky.
Go back to your bed and cover up your head,
And wait til the day is night.
She would have expected to hear this song coming from a campsite at night. Instead, she heard it coming from the forest somewhere beyond them.
“I want to go see who’s singing,” Willow said, pushing down the kickstand on his bike and setting it up on the side of the road. “Wanna come with me?”
Lily looked around. Their bikes would be safely out of the way. There was still plenty of daylight left for them to explore. Besides she was curious about the song, too. “Okay,” she said. She left her bike and followed her brother into the woods.
There was no trail, so Willow had to beat down the underbrush with his sneakers and push branches aside to make progress. Lily defended herself against the branches when they snapped back in her face.
“Who do you think they are?” Lily asked. She had already decided the mysterious song came from some campers roughing it outside the regular campsites. There was something haunting about the way they sang though.
“Ghosts, of course,” Willow said over his shoulder.
“Seriously? How do you get ghosts from a group of campers singing a song?” Lily said with a chuckle. “You are so weird sometimes.”
Willow stopped and held back a branch so he could see her face. “Did you hear Dad talking about it the other night? The reason we were able to get last minute reservations was because campers say this place is haunted.”
“A haunted campground?” Lily said. “Dad must have been trying to scare you.”
“I thought so, too. But then I researched it on the internet. Ten years ago, there was a huge wildfire up here. Almost took out the town of Julian. All the campgrounds were evacuated. Except there were some campers that went out into the woods to get away from other people. They didn’t realize the fire was that close. The wind blew up and none of them escaped alive.”
“Wow! That’s terrible,” Lily said.
Willow nodded. “Yeah, it was. The camp was closed for the rest of the summer, until they could make repairs. The next year when campers came back, they started to complain about hearing strange sounds. Singing in the woods. Some people said they were the ghosts of the campers who got caught in the wildfire.”
“There’s no such thing as ghosts,” Lily said. “Maybe someone is playing a prank.”
“Let’s find out,” Willow said. He pulled out his phone from his pocket. “I’m going to take pictures of the ghosts or pranksters. Whatever. When I post this on Instagram, I’ll get thousands of new followers.” He turned and continued toward the music.
Lily followed behind him, wondering how she allowed her brother to get her involved in another one of his ridiculous schemes. The singing was getting louder, and now she could tell that there was at least one adult and more than one kid singing. It sounded like only one acoustic guitar. She suppressed a shiver. It was chilly in the shade here, compared to riding in the sun. She was glad they were both wearing jeans since it was hard to tell whether they were walking through poison ivy.
They were surrounded by young trees growing close together, the canopy of leaves overhead not yet thick enough to block patchy sunlight from filtering through. Blackened stumps and fallen black limbs poking out through the undergrowth were the only reminders that a wildfire had destroyed this area years ago.
The singing went on, song after song. It was getting louder. Now Lily could also hear the crackling and popping of a campfire. They kept walking toward the sounds.
Willow pulled aside more branches, and a clearing opened before them. A large fire was burning in the middle, contained by a ring of rocks. The singing stopped.
Lily gasped and grabbed Willow’s arm, pulling down his phone.