Darci Miller (17), a timid and sheltered girl, lives on a small farm with her overprotective father. Her mother was accidentally killed on Darci’s eleventh birthday, leaving Darci consumed with guilt. Prior to the accident, she overheard her parents whispering about a disturbing incident her mother incurred when she worked at Camp Chickadee years before, so Darci takes on the same job her mother had in a pursuit to discover what really happened.
When hot dogs explode during the welcoming ceremony, she is drawn into a dangerous game involving playing cards and a red joker. She discovers that the evil pranks are tied to her late mother. As she unravels more clues, her world is turned upside down once again when she discovers that the Joker is related to her, and that he was murdered with poison mushrooms by someone currently working at the camp. Determined to break out of the suffocating bubble that is her life, Darci draws upon her inner strength as she faces one challenge after another.
The story takes place in the summer of ’72 at a girls summer camp on the shores of Lake Secobee in Maine.
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Sunday, March 20, 1966. The best and worst day of Darci Miller’s life.
The living room was abuzz with the chatter of young girls gathered in the little farmhouse, its chipped and faded clapboards pleading for a coat of white paint. Darci’s mother set the birthday cake on the table draped with a red checkered tablecloth, the inviting aroma of sugar and vanilla lingering in the air. The dingy wallpaper faded into the background as the sun reflected off the snow-capped trees, illuminating the balloons and gifts adorned with glittering ribbons and bows. The eleven candles resembled two fish swimming in opposite directions—Darci’s zodiac sign. Her mom smiled as she stared at the fish, knowing her daughter liked to escape into her dream world now and then.
After Darci opened her gifts and the guests said goodbye, she and her cousin Sandy stayed up to style each other’s hair and apply a touch of makeup, which was normally forbidden. A special day called for some rule bending.
“You girls have fun and take it easy on the junk food. I finished the dishes and Dad’s out in the barn. I’m going upstairs to relax,” Mrs. Miller said.
“Okay, Mom. Thanks for the party, it was a gas,” Darci mumbled, her cheeks stuffed with popcorn.
“It sure was a gas, Aunt Kathy. Thanks for everything,” Sandy said, tossing popcorn in the air and trying to catch it in her mouth.
“And cleanup should be a gas tomorrow,” Mrs. Miller chuckled as she climbed the stairs.
The girls curled up in their blankets to watch their favorite show, Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. They loved watching the fairy princess sprinkle dazzling colors across the screen with her magic wand, but this time the lights and TV blinked on and off. A dazed expression washed over them as they stared at each other. “What was that all about?” Darci said.
“Darci! Time to get up. Breakfast doesn’t make itself. I did you a favor and collected the eggs this morning, but don’t get too spoiled ’cause I’m not gonna do that every day.”
“Okay Daddy, I’m coming.” She pulled a tissue from the box and dragged it across her damp forehead, gazing at the alarm clock perched on her aging dresser—5:00 a.m. A puppy graced the front with two keys in the back to set the time and wind it up. It was a gift from her parents on her tenth birthday, one of the last she would have with her mother. She stared at the framed picture of her mom kneeling in front of her prized lilac bushes, the sweet fragrance of the blooms still fresh in her memory. She had her mother’s tall frame and blue eyes, but unlike her mother’s flowing golden locks, she wore her shoulder-length brown hair in a high ponytail. She wrapped her flannel bathrobe around her pajamas, staring at her slippers as she pounded down the stairs. “I’ll start the coffee.”
“Get up on the wrong side of the bed this mornin’, did ya? If you don’t stop shakin’ you’ll dump more water on the floor than in the pot. What’s the matter?”
You don’t understand me, that’s what’s the matter. “I had that dream again, you know, the one I told you about. You should see this monster—his face is all chalky-white and his eyes are pure evil, like black daggers. He’s chasing Mom, and…”
Mr. Miller held up his palm. “Darci, get ahold of yourself. We have no time for such nonsense. Now scramble those eggs and do your chores before the bus comes. You don’t want to be late for school. Dreams,” he muttered, shaking his head.
She dumped cream into the eggs, whipping them into a frenzy before pouring the remaining cream into her father’s steaming cup. “I won’t be late.”
Taking a seat at the table, he saw something poking out from underneath her chair cushion. “What’s THIS?” He ripped the magazine from the chair. “Teen Magazine?” Cheryl Ladd graced the cover. He flipped through the pages. “How to apply makeup? Belly dancing? Birth control? Don’t you have more important things to do than waste your time on this garbage?” His eyes narrowed as he unfolded a newspaper clipping tucked between the pages. “Well, looky here…it’s that horoscope baloney again.”
“It’s not baloney. All my friends read their horoscopes. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s 1972, not 1952!”
“Don’t sass me, young lady. I know perfectly well what year it is. I thought time would heal the hole your mother’s death left in my heart, but each year gets harder. If only—”
“Don’t go there, Daddy. Don’t you think I’m hurting too? Mom meant everything to me. She read me stories, helped with my homework, baked cookies for me and my friends even when she was tired from working all day.” She gripped a chair as heat flushed through her body. “And I know something happened to her when she was my age. I don’t know what it was, but…” She bit her lower lip, catching herself before more words came spilling out. The subject was off limits with her father. A trickle of salty tears spilled onto Cheryl Ladd’s blonde hair.
“Of course I care how you feel.” He ran his hand through his thinning hair, ignoring her comment about her mother. “After your mother died, I knew it was gonna be a rough road, raising a daughter by myself. What do I know about teenage girls—nail polish, dresses, hair ribbons? I know about building barns and milking cows. I tried to raise you like a son, a boy who would help around the farm. That was selfish and wrong. I know that now. I’m sorry Darci. I’ll try to do better.”
“Oh Daddy, I don’t mind cooking and doing chores, and if I say so myself I’m pretty good at it. So don’t worry about the girl-stuff. Sandy and I have that covered. All I ever wanted was for you to hear me and understand my feelings.”
He picked up the magazine and wrapped his arms around her. “I hear you, Darci. I promise to do better,” he said, patting her on the back. He handed her the magazine “Make sure you read the article about money making ideas, we could sure use some,” he winked.
She tapped a fork against her chin, her eyes fixated on an expanding crack in the wooden table. “Thanks Daddy, you just gave me an idea.”