By Dom Cioffi
Years ago, when I was between the ages of 10 and 12, I attended an overnight summer camp in northern Vermont. It was affiliated with our church. Along with the requisite games of capture the flag, swimming in the lake and s’mores by the campfire, there was also a light smattering of religious theology watered down for young adult minds.
My parents sent me and my brothers to this camp for years, always believing we were having wholesome fun and fellowship within the confines of a positive Christian community.
However, the reality was slightly different.
I can recall several episodes when counselors (usually former campers who were now in the their late teens or early 20s) made it their life’s mission to frighten impressionable kids with devious pranks.
One epic escapade has always stuck in my mind.
The prank was set up days in advance with counselors nonchalantly mentioning a dead nun who had apparently been haunting the campgrounds for decades after she was brutally murdered by a passing vagrant.
Inevitably, campers would begin to ask questions about how she died and if they ever found the guy who did it. The more questions that were asked, the more intriguing the storyline became.
Eventually, one of the counselors secretly led some of the more curious campers to a spot where the murder had apparently taken place and where the “smell of death” still lingered.
I was one of the campers who needed to see further evidence, and as much as I had a gut feeling that the story was bunk, I was still intrigued by the possibility.
I admitted that there was a strange smell in the area where we were led and also conceded that there did seem to be a diminished red stain on the old stone where she was allegedly butchered. However, I had a hard time believing that no one witnessed the crime, given that it supposedly occurred during a Sunday mass with a congregation happily singing nearby.
Those of us who were led to the execution area dutifully returned to the other less courageous campers and related what we saw. The stories we told grew in proportion each time they were repeated until there was a genuine buzz throughout the camp population.
Everything reached a climax at dawn a couple of days later while we were all asleep in our cabins.
Just as the morning sun was breaking the darkness, and while there was still a heavy mist on the meadow at the bottom of the hill below our cabins, a piercing shriek rang out. The voice was of a woman who seemed to be in distress. No words were audible, but the tone and register were undeniably creepy.
I remember waking up not from that sound, but from the raucous movements of my bunkmates jumping up to see what was happening. Soon there was a general frenzy as we all stood at the cabin’s front window staring at an ethereal image moving across the field below.
The woman, dressed in long white flowing linens, moved slowly with an awkward gate, not unlike a common zombie.
I wasn’t frightened at all. In fact, I remember thinking how cool it was and how realistic the ghoulish figure looked (deep down I knew it was one of the female counselors).
But just as I was about to voice my opinion to the other campers, a piercing scream ripped through the cabin. One of my bunkmates had become completely unglued, truly believing that the dead were walking the grounds around our cabin.
No matter what we did, we could not calm this kid down. He screamed hysterically until all the counselors from all the cabins came over out of concern. Eventually they had to call the counselor who was pretending to be the dead nun up to the cabins to prove it was a hoax.
Needless to say, the sermon later that day revolved around being a good shepherd to your flock, with the pastor’s eyes glancing knowingly at the counselors throughout his talk.
This week’s film, “Spotlight,” features a different problem related to the Church and how attempts at covering it up resulted in one of the greatest news stories of the last 20 years.
Starring Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams and Mark Ruffalo, “Spotlight” is the true story of how a group of Boston Globe reporters took on one of the oldest institutions on earth and won.
There’s no doubt this film will be front and center at this year’s awards ceremonies, both in the individual and group categories. The acting is tremendous and the execution of the story is brilliant. Make this one a must-see in the coming weeks – it’s that good.
A riveting “A-” for “Spotlight.”
Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at [email protected].