By Ekta R. Garg
Prompt: You and your three closest friends decide to go camping. You arrive and set up camp nearly three miles away from where you left your car. Late that evening, as you sit around the campfire roasting marshmallows, one of your friends reveals a deep dark secret that turns what was to be a fun weekend into one of the scariest weekends of your life.
I grabbed the metal skewer and threaded four marshmallows on the end of it.
“I thought spring break would never get here,” I said to Angela, and she nodded and smiled with the relief I felt evident in her face.
“I know,” she said. “That’s why I figured camping would be the best getaway of them all. We really just leave everything else behind.”
I nodded myself and handed her the skewer.
“Hey, what about me?” James said from the other side of the fire. “What is this, marshmallows-for-girls-only night?”
“Pipe down, Martin,” I said, addressing him by his last name and grinning him. “I’ve got yours coming next.”
“And mine?” my boyfriend, Sajid, asked as he leaned into me and kissed me on my neck.
“Aw, come on, guys, no PDAs, please!” Angela said with a groan. She rolled her eyes but smiled.
“Oh, let them enjoy it while they can, Angie,” James said. “After tonight they may not get much of an opportunity to be together.”
“Why?” I asked in amusement. “Are we going to be abducted by aliens or something?”
Sajid and Angela chuckled, and I laughed a little myself. But James didn’t.
“Aliens, no,” he said gravely, his expression suddenly serious. “Abducted, yes.”
“Come on, man,” Sajid said, laughing again. “What are you saying? Someone’s gunning for us tonight?”
He tried to make it sound funny, but I couldn’t help noticing that his laugh didn’t sound completely natural. I glanced at him, and I could see tension in his eyes.
“I wouldn’t say gunning, necessarily. If you three just do what you’re told, no one will need to use a gun.”
“James, what are you talking about?” Angela asked. “This doesn’t make any sense.”
“I’m talking about losing my father in the 9/11 attacks,” he said quietly. “I’m talking about understanding that it was those filthy Muslims who ruined my life. They took my dad, and they made my mother go into depression. I was eleven years old. Eleven! How do you think I handled everything by myself at eleven?!”
“But what does that have to do with us, James?” I asked quietly. “We were all the same age at that time. We were all as shocked as you were, and none of us understood it any better. But just because Sajid and I are Muslim doesn’t mean that—”
“It doesn’t matter, Alia!” he said, cutting me off. “It was your people who came here and destroyed any sense of security that us Americans had. And when I got old enough to understand who was responsible for the attacks, I promised myself that I would get rid of every filthy Muslim living here.”
My breath caught, and for a few minutes I didn’t know what to say.
“James, we’re just as American as you are,” Sajid stated quietly, standing up. “The only difference between you and us is that your skin’s a lighter color.”
“Screw you, Sajid!” James said loudly, rising from his own crouched position. “This is over now!”
He practically yelled the last word, making Angela and me jump to our feet in fear. Just then several men in masks jumped out from behind the trees that bordered the edge of our camp. They began walking toward us with determined hatred in their eyes.
“Take all of ‘em,” James said. “Even the little Muslim-loving whore.”
“James!” Angela exclaimed. Before she could say anything else, though, a man grabbed her roughly and began tying her hands behind her back. I screamed and tried to move toward her, but just then someone else grabbed me and jerked me backward. After another moment the world went black as a blindfold covered my eyes.