I'm at Olympic College now, starting my freshman year on a basketball scholarship. Not that it's like getting a scholarship to Duke. Olympic is an okay college in a bad conference, but it's good enough for me. Better, really, than what my parents or my sister ever thought I'd do. Better than I ever thought I'd do.
The coaches want to build team chemistry, so that's why we're all together at Camp Casey on Whidbey Island. I'm not complaining—it's one of the most beautiful places in the world. From a lookout one hundred yards from my little room, I can see Puget Sound with the Olympic Mountains as backdrop. Overhead are eagles and hawks; seals bask in the sun on the beach.
We're here for a long weekend. We're all athletes, so nobody's drinking or doing any drugs. In the daytime it's b-ball and workouts. At night it's eating and talking.
Tonight, our last night, the coaches lit up a campfire. We stood around like a bunch of kids roasting hotdogs and then making smores.
Chemistry-bonding thing actually had worked. When I first arrived, I'd been intimidated by the older guys and had hung out only with the other freshman. Now, after two days, I was friends with everybody, including the seniors.
When all the smores had been eaten, one of the coaches threw more wood on the fire. It blazed up, crackled a bit. Pat Haller, the point guard and team captain, leaned forward and rubbed his hands together. "This is ghost story time," he said. "An Olympic college basketball tradition that goes back at least three years."
The guys got into right away, telling stories set in moonlit graveyards and dank dungeons, filled with dead people walking or people walking who wished they were dead. Moaning sounds slid from attics and basements. There were footsteps on creaky stairs, fingers tapping on windows, loud thumps on roofs. Wolves howled. Crows cawed. Owls hooted. Rats crept along walls. Bats dived and swooped beneath flickering streetlights.
I pretended to enjoy them, smiling with everybody else, but from the first, I'd felt apart. Because I had a story, a ghost story, that no one would smile at. It's also the story of how I ended up with a basketball scholarship, at a campfire, on the Olympic Peninsula.
Only I'll never tell it, not to them to anyway.
When it was one away from being my turn, I stood up.
The guys looked at me. "What's up, Nate?" Haller asked.
"Nothing! Dude, you like you have actually seen a ghost."
"I'm just a little sick to my stomach," I said, shaking my head. "One s'more too many. I'm going to lie down."
"But you haven't had your turn."
"I feel like I'm going to puke."
It was true. My stomach felt like a washing machine on the spin cycle.
"Go! Go!" guys shouted, laughing.
I went back to my barrack and lay down on my cot. I could hear them out there, talking. For a while I tried to listen, but soon I stopped listening, stared at the ceiling, and remembered.