I stare at the screen, hoping against hope I’ll see Sasha, Krystal, or Miranda come into view, returning from an extended hike, oblivious to all the worry they’ve caused. Instead, I see Casey pass by, leading a group of crying girls to their cabins. Mindy appears next, bringing up the rear. She gives the camera a fleeting glance as she passes.
“The recordings are stored here,” Chet says, using a mouse to open a file folder located on the center monitor. Inside are dozens of digital files identified only by a series of numbers. “The file names correspond to the day, hour, minute, and second each recording was made. So this file—0630044833—means it was recorded on June thirtieth, thirty-three seconds after four forty-eight a.m.”
He clicks once, and the image frozen on the first monitor jerks to life. The door opens wider, and I see myself slip out of the cabin and walk awkwardly out of the camera’s view. I recall that moment well. Heading to the latrine at the break of dawn armed with a full bladder and a swarm of memories.
“What were you doing up at that hour?” Flynn asks.
“I was going to the bathroom,” I say, bristling. “I assume that’s still legal.”
“Are there files from last night?” Flynn asks Chet, who uses the mouse to scroll down and check the folders.
Flynn turns to me. “You said you realized the girls were gone at about five, right?”
“Yes,” I say. “And they were there when I went to sleep last night.”
“What time was this?”
I shake my head, unable to remember. I was too dazed—by whiskey, by memories—to keep track of the time.
“There’s one file from between midnight and four,” Chet announces. “Then there are three between four thirty and five thirty this morning.”
“Let’s see them,” Flynn says.
“This is from a little after one.”
Chet clicks the first file, and Dogwood appears. At first, there’s no movement at all, making me wonder what triggered the camera. But then something appears—a green-white blur just on the edge of the screen. A mother deer and two fawns step into frame, their eyes giving off a chartreuse glow as they carefully cross in front of Dogwood. Twenty seconds tick by as they make their way past the cabin. Once the second fawn exits the frame, its white tail flicking, the camera shuts off.
“That’s it for those hours,” Chet says. “This one is about five minutes before five.”
He clicks, and the first monitor lights up again. It’s the same view as before, minus the deer but with the addition of the cabin door slowly opening.
Miranda is the first to emerge. She pokes her head outside, looking in both directions, making sure the coast is clear. Then she tiptoes out of the cabin, wearing her camp polo and cargo shorts. A pale rectangle is clenched in her hand. Her phone.
She’s soon followed by Sasha and Krystal, sticking close together. Krystal carries a flashlight and a rolled-up comic book stuffed into the back pocket of her cargo shorts. I can make out the edge of Captain America’s shield emblazoned on the cover. Sasha carries a water bottle, which she drops when closing the cabin door. It rolls along the ground, out of frame. Sasha runs after it, disappearing for a second. When she returns, the three of them confer in front of the cabin door, oblivious to the camera’s presence. Eventually they go right, heading toward the heart of camp, vanishing one by one.
First Miranda, then Krystal, and finally Sasha.
I make a note of the order in which they depart, just in case I’ll need to paint them one day. I hate myself for thinking this way.
“This is five minutes later,” Chet says once the screen goes dark and he opens the next file.
I don’t need to look at the monitor to know what it shows. Me emerging from the cabin in bare feet and the T-shirt and boxer shorts I wore to bed the night before. I pause outside the door, rubbing my arms to ward off the chill. Then I walk away in the opposite direction of the girls, toward the latrine. Even though I know what to expect, the footage is a gut punch.
Five minutes. That’s how little time had passed between the girls leaving the cabin and my realizing they were gone.
Five fucking minutes.
I question every thought I had and every move I made this morning. If only I had awakened earlier. If only I hadn’t wasted so much time thinking of reasons for why they’d be gone. If only I had gone to the mess hall instead of the latrine.
In any of those scenarios, I might have spotted the girls retreating to wherever it was they went to. I might have been able to stop them.
Even worse is how guilty it makes me look. Stepping outside mere minutes after the girls departed. While it was a complete coincidence, it doesn’t appear that way. It looks intentional, like I was waiting to follow them at a discreet distance. It doesn’t matter that I went in the opposite direction. Because the next video—the final one from that highly trafficked predawn hour—shows me walking past Dogwood during my wander around the cabins. I stare at my image on the monitor, noticing the hard set of my jaw and the blankness in my eyes. I know it’s worry, but to others it might look like anger as I unwittingly followed the same path the girls had taken.
“I was looking for them,” I say, preempting any questions from the others. “It was right after I woke up and realized they were gone. I searched the latrine first, then looked around the cabins before heading to the other side of camp.”