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I Was Sent Away to a Young Offenders Camp, Something’s Very Wrong Here.

It was the final straw for everyone involved. My mother; father; principal; peer worker—they were all sick of me and my destructive behaviour. At 17 years old, I had a pretty impressive résumé: property damage; anti-social behaviour; aggravated assault and my most recent addition: arson. I really screwed up—well and truly—for the last time. I thought for sure I would be sent away to juvy. I wish I could lie to you all and say I came from a broken home, that I got in with the wrong crowd, that I was just a lost soul who needed guidance. That wasn’t the case.
I burnt my high school to the ground after my permanent exclusion. Call it rage or anger—call it petty if you want to. I was actually trying to finish school with good grades, but the principal would never let me be anything but a ‘thug’. I never stole the money from the school accounts like they said, I’m not as tech-savvy as they made me out to be. It was an obvious set up from the principal to gain some payback for all the hassle I caused him over the years. And of course to get me out of school for good. That I take no responsibility for.
I tried to convince my mom—begged her, in fact, to hear me out. She shook her head when the police cuffed me. ‘I’m sorry Brody, but I just don’t believe a word you say anymore.’ And then they dragged me away. It was the last time I would see my home after I was sentenced. My lawyer, Mr Fairhurst, was actually pretty good, and made a sympathetic case for me. The judge, however, had well and truly had enough of seeing my face. There was no winning situation in that scenario at all. Of course I didn’t show it, but I was terrified of being sent away. I didn’t know what to expect.
To my surprise, I wasn’t to be sent away to juvy. ‘You have a chance, Mr Jackson, to redeem yourself.’ The judge said when he passed down his judgement. ‘One year at a reform facility to prove you can be an outstanding citizen to society. Don’t make me regret my decision.’
I was initially confused what the reform facility actually was. I eyed Mr Fairhurst while the judge continued talking. After the sentencing had finished, he slid me a leaflet.
STANLEYSIDE CORRECTIONS CAMP A place of redemption and forgiveness
Feeling lost? Feeling like there’s no way back from your mistakes? Praying for a miracle? Stanleyside Corrections Camp is here to help you reform!
‘Is this a fucking joke?’ I said, scoffing at the pictures of overly happy young men and women raft-building, kayaking and sitting with an acoustic guitar by a camp fire. Not to mention that they all looked like models. I wasn’t fooled by the fancy advertising. ‘They’re seriously sending me to a kiddy camp to sing Kumba-fuckin’-ya for a year?’
Mr Fairhurst sighed, I could tell he was exhausted by me and was glad he didn’t have to represent me anymore. I don’t blame him, I know I’m hard work and I didn’t make any of it easy for him . . . or myself. ‘It’s no joke,’ he said, sternly, ‘and it’s no walk in the park either. You got very lucky, Mr Jackson. This isn’t a vacation.’
‘It sure as hell looks like one,’ I said.
I was to be escorted to Stanleyside right away. I didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye to my parents. My dad sat in the courtroom with both his arms crossed, he was only there as support for my mom who sat as still as a statue after my sentence was passed. She just stared at me when I got took away without even a welling in her tired eyes. My mom used to be my biggest supporter and defender. She was the reason why I tried to change and become a better person. I was doing well in school and I even got most of the teachers on my side by working hard and applying myself. I proved I could do it—that I could be someone else. But it was one last screw up too many for my mother. It broke my heart to see the way she looked at me. It was like I was the biggest disappointment—and regret—of her entire life.
——
I was surprised to find I wasn’t travelling to Stanleyside in a prison van. When the guard escorted me to my transport, it was silver car. I wasn’t allowed to bring any personal items with me—not even books. Everything I needed would be provided for me at the camp, I was told. It’s not like I had anything worth taking with me anyway.
When I got into the car, the driver turned to face me. He was a young guy, if I had to guess early 20s. All white teeth, blond hair and chubby cheeks. He smiled at me as I clipped in my seatbelt. I noticed but didn’t make any attempt to return the gesture back at him. ‘I’m Bart,’ he said.
I fluttered my eyelids. ‘That’s seriously your name? Is your last name Simpson too, or would that just be too much of a coincidence?’
‘Oh, he’s a joker,’ Bart said, nodding his head, genuinely impressed. ‘I think we’re going to get on just fine, Brody.’
I leaned my head back and closed my eyes. I couldn’t remember the last time I slept properly. Bart put on some song I’d never heard before and began to drive away. He hummed along to the tune of the song, much to my annoyance. I tried to sleep for half an hour into the journey, but too much was racing through my head, and Bart still continued to hum away song after song.
Since I couldn’t sleep I decided to talk to Bart. I wasn’t really in the mood for talking, but I was curious about Stanleyside so I asked what it was.
Bart shifted his eyes to the rearview mirror to meet my own. ‘Didn’t you read the leaflet?’
‘No,’ I said. ‘I’m asking what it really is? You can’t tell me that it’s going to be all fresh air and marshmallows by the fire every night.’
‘Well, that’s exactly what it’s like,’ he said, using one of his hands to emote his point. ‘Redeeming yourself doesn’t have to be an unpleasant experience.’
I still wasn’t convinced. ‘Bullshit. You know what I did, don’t you? They don’t send people like me to somewhere that isn’t unpleasant.’
‘You’re wrong,’ he said, and seemed lost for words for a moment. I was about to close my eyes again when he carried on. ‘I think Stanleyside is exactly what you need. Being in that environment will do you the world of good. No internet, no phone, no excuse to get into any trouble. Everyone there loves it.’
‘Your pitch is good, but I’m still not convinced on the product,’ I said, shrugging. ‘What do you do there anyway? I’m assuming you’re not just a driver.’
‘You’re right,’ he said, ‘I’m one of the camp counselors.’
I sneered, rubbed my hand over my face. ‘Jesus-fucking-Christ.’
We drove for hours—or so I assumed. I didn’t have a phone, let alone a watch to tell me what the time was. I guessed it was well into the afternoon. My stomach rumbled and I tried to convince Bart to stop off somewhere but he refused. All he could offer me was a bottle of water that rolled around on the floor of the backseat. It had clearly been there for a while. I found myself getting bored again, no longer able to take the awkward silence between myself and Bart.
‘So if you’re a counselor, why did you drive all that way to pick me up?’ I asked.
He adjusted the volume of his radio. ‘We always pick our campers up.’ His answer made me laugh and he squinted at me in the rear view mirror. ‘What?’
‘God, Bart. Really, ‘campers’?
‘Well it’s more endearing than the alternative term, isn’t it?’
I didn’t answer him, but his question was food for thought. Anyone could dress it up how they liked. The matter of the fact was that I was going to be spending the next year of my life as a prisoner. I was more or less dead to the world.
‘We’ll be there soon,’ Bart said, breaking me away from my deep thought. The reflection of his smile in the rearview mirror was actually comforting.
Bart kept his promise. 20 minutes later we drove through a large frame made from tree trunks which—to my surprise—had no gate. The area around the entrance was surrounded by tall oaks that seemed to go on for miles. I leaned forward from my seat to peer up at the high wooden frame. It also had a sign at the top, it read: Camp Stanleyside.
Until I saw it with my own eyes, I didn’t believe Stanleyside would look like an actual summer camp. But there they were: the rustic red cabins; a mess hall; a playing field with archery targets and a huge lake. I observed the ‘campers’ through the window. The campers stared back at me with a mixture of grins and general curiosity. They were all dressed just like kids at a camp, and considering the age of them all, it made them look like they were attending an 80s themed college party. The standard uniform seemed to be: grey t-shirts with Camp Stanleyside printed on them, tube socks, white sneakers. And much to my chagrin . . . black short-shorts. I was expecting a lot of the campers to look roughed up, but they really did look like the people in the leaflet. It was fucking weird.
After he pulled up, I said to Bart: ‘There is absolutely no fucking way I am wearing those shorts.’ He didn’t say anything when he got out of the driver’s seat, and after he did I caught the cheeky grin on his face as he slammed the door. ‘I’m not joking,’ I said to myself in the empty car, crossing my arms.
Outside the window, I saw a group of people walk over to meet Bart. They were dressed like the campers too, but they were older and wore red t-shirts instead of grey—the other counselors, I assumed. A mixture of guys and girls, six of them in total. Bart was talking to the man in the middle of the group, who I guessed was around forty. Their conversation was inaudible to me with the distance and the window between us. It wasn’t hard to figure out that the guy Bart was talking to was the big boss. I noticed there was a lot of nodding going on. A lot of smiling. The man in the middle looked over at me briefly and bowed his head at me then carried on talking away.
I was disturbed from my casual observation of the conversation when there was a knock on the window. I was so immersed in what the counselor’s could possibly be talking about that I jumped from the shock interruption. I rolled the window down to see a guy leaning over to meet my face through the window. He was really tall and looked like he belonged in an Abercrombie ad—or a porn video, I couldn’t quite make my mind up on which one. ‘Can I help you?’ I asked, making it known I was annoyed by his disturbance.
The tall guy gave me a half-hearted smile. ‘I’m Luke,’ he said, ‘I’m supposed to show you around.’
Initially, I didn’t move. I just stared him out, thinking that eventually he would look away and piss off. But he didn’t, he waited patiently. ‘Lucky, lucky me . . .’ I said, bobbing my head side-to-side.
When I got out of the car my legs felt like jelly from sitting down for so long. Luke had already marched off, assuming I would follow him. It was clear to me from the moment we met that Luke saw himself as a leader and expected me to be a follower. Showing me around was the only exception—I was no one’s follower. Nevertheless, I dragged myself behind him, begrudgingly.
‘What’s your name?’ Luke said as he paced on. I knew full well he already knew what it was, because he’d been instructed to carry out my induction.
‘What do you want it to be, pretty boy?’
Luke stopped and faced me. I was grateful, because I was out of breath and it was hard to keep up with the speed of his long legs. He folded his arms and raised his left brow. ‘Are you going to be a problem?’
I couldn’t take him seriously—the way he tried to be authoritative in those shorts. I smirked and tried not to laugh. ‘Jesus, take a joke. It’s Brody.’
Luke didn’t give me any indication that he registered what I said and continued to walk ahead. I sighed, rolled my eyes and carried on.
I was given the tour of the grounds. There wasn’t anything that I didn’t expect to see, and it wasn’t a hard place to navigate, which I guess was the point. After all Stanleyside was a dressed up prison, so it’s not like they would want their prisoners to go far or be out of sight. Luke wasn’t an enthusiastic tour guide, so probably wasn’t doing it justice. I had a feeling I was getting the abbreviated version because I was so disinterested in everything he showed me. It was a camp, with grounds big enough for various activities—what else was there to say? The only thing I couldn’t help but notice was how happy everyone looked. The campers looked and acted just as artificial as the place itself. At the end of the tour, Luke finally showed me to my cabin. It was a duplicate of all the others that surrounded it—the same shade of red.
The cabin walls were made of wood, matching the exterior and overall aesthetic of the camp. There was six beds in total, and overall it was very bare, just as I expected it to be—no luxury here. ‘This is your bed,’ Luke said, and pointed to the bed in the far corner. It was dressed in baby-blue sheets, just like all the others. The required uniform was folded neatly on my bed for me. I eyed the shorts and rolled my eyes. The air in the cabin was muggy and stale, it was actually suffocating. I began to sweat and decided that maybe the uniform wasn’t so unappealing if it was going to that hot most of the time .
‘It’s my cabin too, so we’ll be rooming together,’ Luke said, with distaste. ‘I think this would be a good time to go over some expectations.’
‘Wait—so you’re not a counselor?’ I asked with relish.
‘Your bed should always be made when you’re not in it,’ Luke proceeded, ignoring my question. ‘You should always be hygienic and well groomed, in the camp uniform. So you may as well get rid of your clothes. You won’t need them anymore.’
‘Except for when I leave here,’ I said, defiantly. ‘So I’ll keep them, thanks.’
Luke ignored me again. ‘In your storage, you have plenty of spares to wear. As well as sweatshirts and such for when it’s cold. Always be respectful to everyone, that includes your fellow campers.’ And he said that with emphasis. ‘No smoking, drinking, drugs. All meals must be eaten in the mess hall—‘
‘What are you in for?’ I asked, bored of his rambling.
Luke’s face hardened. ‘And never ask another camper why they’re here. It’s forbidden,’ he said. ‘Dinner is in an hour, showers are two doors down. No time like the present.’ Then he twitched his nose before turning on his heels.
‘Weirdo . . .’ I muttered when he walked out the cabin.
I tugged at the front of my t-shirt when I walked into the mess hall later, conscious that it was a little too tight. I felt like an imposter wearing the camp uniform, and also a little bit ridiculous. But I thought it was better to blend in than stand out in this place. Perhaps that’s what they were all already doing, I wondered, sure that everyone’s true colours would come out sooner or later. The noisy atmosphere in the mess hall made my head pound. Campers laughed and talked away, shovelled large bites of food into their mouths, sat in their little cliques. I just wanted to go to sleep but I hadn’t eaten since the day before so I walked in with the intention of grabbing a quick bite and sneaking back out.
I made my way through the rows of smiles, nods, waves and intrigue from the strangers before me. I made no intention to grace them with the same courtesy, I just held my head high and marched to the serving area. The staff looked like they were closing up for the night, but the cook served me a burger—that might as well have been charcoal—and cold, concrete fries. ‘Looks delicious,’ I said to her when she passed it to me. My sarcasm didn’t phase her.
I managed to find an empty bench, hoping to stay invisible from everyone. Of course, that didn’t happen. The way some of the campers looked at me was making me lose my appetite more than the food was. I spotted Luke with his little entourage. They talked amongst themselves as he stared at me with his chin resting on top of his clasped hands. I wanted to tell him to fuck off, but I thought it was best not to cause a scene on my first day.
I saw Bart approach me from the corner of my eye, dressed in his red counselor t-shirt. Now he fitted in with the rest of the clones. I couldn’t help but notice how thick his body was, and how muscular his legs were. It gave me serious body envy. ‘You should try making some friends,’ he said. ‘Luke’s a great guy, he’ll be a good influence on you.’
Bart sat down, but I didn’t meet his eyes, I just picked at my food. ‘I don’t need any friends and I don’t need anyone to influence me. I do a good job of influencing myself.’
‘So you’re going to sit alone for the rest of the year?’ Bart asked. ‘Everything here is built on team work and bonding. You’ll have to get along with people sooner or later.’
I was tired and couldn’t take anymore bullshit. ‘I can get along with people, I just don’t need to make friends with the poster child over there,’ I said, nodding my head in Luke’s direction, which seemed to amuse him.
I bit a big bite out of my burger which Bart took as an indication I was done talking. He got up to walk away, but I stopped him. ‘Bart, can I call my mom?’
His faced dropped. ‘I’m sorry, but there’s no phone calls here. For anyone. Uncle John’s rules,’ he said, shrugging.
‘Uncle John?’ I sneered, finding the name not only hilarious but downright creepy.
Bart pointed over at the man he was talking to earlier when we first arrived. Uncle John waved over to us, confirming that he had been watching us talk. ‘He’s the camp leader.’
Before any of my fellow cabin buddies came back from the mess hall, I grabbed a hoodie from my drawer and went for a walk on the grounds.
I made my way past the rows of cabins, looking over at a couple of people sat around a fire. I couldn’t understand how everyone was so happy. The matter of the fact was that this was a prison. I was angry and I had so much rage bottled up inside of me. I just wanted to go home and move on from all my mistakes.
I walked out of the main camp, past all the cabins into an area surrounded by trees. The smell of the damp wood that filled my sinuses was satisfying—I suppose the fresh air was one advantage to being at the camp. I found myself wondering towards the lake. It was a big open space, surrounded by more trees on either side and the moonlight shined on its rippling surface. Occupied near the dock was some kayaking boats and oars, and I wondered how long it would take me to kayak my way out of Stanleyside. I guessed I wouldn’t make it far, they probably had security somewhere around here to stop us getting away—they just weren’t making it obvious. It was peaceful to be alone without other people around, just the faint sound of crickets, which soothed me. I walked further out onto the dock and took my shoes and socks off to rest my feet in the water. It was ice-cold but it felt amazing.
I was daydreaming for a while, just staring out into the lake, thinking about my mom and how much I let her down. I wanted to call her, I wanted to tell her I was sorry and that I never meant to hurt her. Then I remembered the way she looked during my sentence. Deep down I knew she was done with me, even if she never said it. She didn’t have to say it—I saw it. My eyes welled up. I tried to fight it but in the end I just let the tears come.
My tears stopped at a halt when I witnessed something large briefly rise to the surface of the lake, making an almighty splash from its impact. The heavy sound made me jump up and pull my feet out of the water in a flash. Whatever it was, it was just as quickly back below the surface. It was dark, and the moonlight only made the thing’s silhouette more mysterious. I briefly thought it might have been an alligator, but it seemed far too large, like it wasn’t even exposing its whole exterior. I didn’t even know if they had alligators around there, because I had no idea where I actually was. After my heart stopped pounding, I watched closely as the ripples in the water settled under the moon. My trance was broken when someone called my name.
‘Brody!’ I recognised the voice, it was Bart calling behind me. I turned around sheepishly, he looked angry and worried at the same time. Even though it was dark I could see the pink flush on his chunky cheeks. ‘You can’t be out here alone—ever. Did Luke not explain that to you?’
I shrugged. ‘He must have missed that part out.’
Bart shifted his eyes from me to the lake. ‘Come on, let’s get you back to your cabin. If you ever do this again, I’ll have to write you up.’
I jumped off the entrance to the docks, dodging the three tiny steps below. ‘So you’re letting me off? How generous of you, counselor.’
Bart grabbed my arm with a little more force than I liked. If it had been anyone else, I would’ve smacked them square in the face. He was even more flushed when he pulled me closer. ‘I’m not fucking around, Brody. Don’t ever come out here alone ever again, do you understand me?’
Bart’s insistence actually frightened me. His wide eyes looked over at the lake once more. ‘Come on, let’s go,’ he said, still holding a firm grip on my arm.
We walked away from the lake in silence, and we stayed that way until he escorted me to the outside of my cabin. I went to open the door and stopped. ‘Bart, are there alligators around here?’
‘No,’ he said, shaking his head. ‘Why?’
‘I saw something in the water.’
His face was only slightly pink now. ‘It was probably just a big fish.’
‘Okay,’ I nodded, knowing full well it wasn’t but there was no use in trying to explain something I couldn’t actually see. But whatever it was, it didn’t look . . . natural. I knew it would only make him dismiss me or say I was imagining things, so I just kept my mouth shut and turned to open the door to the cabin. Inside, Luke eyed me suspiciously. The other boys smiled my way and said hello. I gave them a quick, small smile before I turned around one more time to say goodnight to Bart.
‘Goodnight, Brody,’ he said, and he remained there until I closed the door.
Despite my exhaustion, I couldn’t sleep at all that night. I kept thinking about how I was going to cope with being away for a year and also what I saw in the lake. I couldn’t get it out of my mind, and eventually it became the only thing I could think about. It began to rain outside, and the pitter-patter sound it made on the roof was comforting. It also drowned out the sound of Josh’s snoring—one of the boys in my cabin. But soon, the snoring stopped and all six of us shot up in our beds. The sound that came from outside was like a loud horn; an air siren; an almighty repetitive roar. It was so clear and so loud that it felt like it was coming from just outside the door.
‘What the fuck is that?’ I said, panting.
Another boy called Rich went to answer me, but Luke spoke before he could. ‘It’s an escape siren. Someone’s tried to runaway.’
‘They’ll be gone in the morning . . .’ Josh said, which made Luke purse his lips. Josh looked away from Luke and shook his head before placing it on the pillow. Pete and Ricky, the other two boys followed his lead.
‘It’ll stop soon,’ Luke said to me. ‘Go back to sleep.’ and then he turned on his side.
I stayed sat up and listened until the sound finally faded out. My heart continued to pound moments later and even if the boys were used to this sound, I couldn’t help but notice that they all seemed terrified. Even Luke, though he was better at hiding it. I wished to be anywhere else in the world before I finally found sleep.
Breakfast the next morning was unusually quiet, a far contrast from the night before at dinner. I sat on the end of a bench and observed glum faces, occupied with their deep thoughts. I knew the looks on their faces. They were troubled or worried. Eventually, Uncle John stood before us all near the serving station.
‘I’m going to call an assembly to address what you’re probably all already aware of,’ he began. ‘Last night, Jessica sadly left us. She was caught with contraband and had to be dealt with accordingly. We will all miss Jessica, but please, don’t let her ignorance dampen our spirits.’
Dealt with accordingly?, I thought. What did that even mean?’ I didn’t have a chance to even know who Jessica was. Whatever she was caught with must have been bad. But Luke said the siren was for an escapee. Something didn’t add up.
‘It’s a beautiful day,’ Uncle John continued. ‘So let’s embrace the beautiful weather! I want us to feel joy, express laughter and enjoy the rest of our day!’
‘Here, here!’ Luke shouted, banging his cutlery on the table. Everyone else followed suit.
Uncle John sat down with the counselors in a brisk fashion, they all smiled at him as he did so. I briefly caught Bart’s eyes and even though he was smiling, he eyed me cautiously.
The volume slowly went up amongst the campers, until they were back to their old selves from the night before. It was like nothing had disturbed them and they weren’t phased by this Jessica girl’s absence anymore. The whole thing felt very off to me.
I glanced over at Luke and wondered why he lied to me about Jessica.
I’d been at Stanleyside for a week and started participating in the activities, despite my initial reluctance. It turned out I was really good at painting. I started off slow by painting stupid things like fruit, and then started painting trees in abstract colours. It relaxed me and took my mind off everything. I still hadn’t come round to the idea of the camp, but I tried to make the most of my time and keep a low profile. I also warmed to pretty much everyone in my cabin, except for Luke.
One day we got into an altercation over my bed of all things. He came strutting in like he always did, thinking he was the king of the cabin and demanded I make my bed.
‘I’m sick to death of telling you,’ he said.
‘That’s funny, because I’m sick to death of hearing you tell me.’
He placed both his hands on his hips and towered over me. ‘I’m serious. I told you how we need to keep our beds made, or there’s consequences.’
I took this as a threat and stepped up to him. Sure I was a hell of a lot shorter than him, but I didn’t find him intimidating just because he was praised as the golden child. ‘Luke, if you really want to have a dick-measuring contest then come on, let’s fucking go. But I guarantee I’ll win.’
All the other boys watched with anticipation. Josh even stood directly behind Luke with his arms folded, daring me to do something. Even if we had been getting along, it was easy to see where his loyalties lied. I moved even closer to Luke, and tip-toed so my height nearly matched his.
‘Your mess has an effect on all of us,’ Luke said. ‘And my cabin is always spotless, got it?’
‘If you really want to make the bed, then do it yourself,’ I said, then blew him a kiss with my pout. This provoked him to snap and grab me in a headlock. I managed to tackle him to the ground and went to punch him until the other boys got me off him.
‘No, you cant do that!’ Rich pleaded. ‘Luke’s right, just—please just make your bed!’
Luke and I were both out of breath. He sat on the floor, eyes in fury. I offered him my hand, no point in starting a war over an unmade bed. ‘Fine, I will,’ I said, continuing to hold my hand out. He pushed it away and got to his feet.
‘Everyone out!’ Luke yelled in the direction of the other boys. I stayed put as they left without question. ‘You need to realise what’s going on here, Brady.’
‘Look, I’m not here to piss on anyone’s shoes. I’m just here to do my time and leave.’
He laughed and shook his head. ‘I don’t want you to fuck up our lives just because you can’t stay in line.’
‘Awh, thanks for the concern,’ I said with a sly wink, ‘but I’m hardly doing drugs behind the mess hall, am I?’
Luke got in my space this time, his eyes were on fire. ‘If you carry on the way you are, leaving a mess everywhere you go, isolating yourself from everyone and cussing after every other word, you will be gone just as easily as if you were doing drugs.’
‘Like Jessica?’ I asked.
‘Exactly.’
I watched his face relax and he went to leave without another word until I said: ‘You said the siren was for escapees the night it went off.’
Luke didn’t turn around. ‘So?’
‘Jessica didn’t run away, she was caught with contraband. So why did they raise the siren?’
‘It’s not a siren,’ he answered.
‘What was it then?’
Luke’s body suddenly started to quiver. ‘You’ll find out,’ he said, then he left the cabin abruptly.
A week later I started to sit with my cabin buddies during meals. I always sat on the opposite end of the table, away from Luke and we never conversed. Pete was a talker, and didn’t know when to shut up. It was like he was a broken record and kept talking about the same things he thought were funny. And they all laughed along. After the second or third time, it just got annoying. But I tried to reserve my usual sarcastic nature to show them, and Luke, I was making an effort. I didn’t bother to quiz Luke anymore about the siren—or whatever it was. It was clear we were never going to be best friends, so even if we did some of our activities together, we went back to ignoring each other once we were in our cabin.
I got bored of archery, playing baseball and painting every day. I decided I wanted to do something new. We were in the cabin one morning when I said: ‘Who wants to go kayaking?’
It was like I just told Rich that someone had died, he started hyperventilating and I thought he was having a heart attack. The boys rushed over and Luke met him at eye level. ‘Rich—Rich, look at me,’ Luke said, pointing his fingers to his eyes. ‘You don’t have to go to the lake, okay? It was just a suggestion.’
Despite Luke’s calming technique, Rich continued to panic, shaking his head. ‘The eyes,’ Rich said breathlessly, ‘the eyes . . .’
My mouth was wide open. I looked at Josh In confusion, holding my hands up. ‘I’m—I’m sorry I didn’t know it was a trigger . . .’
To my surprise Luke answered me, amicably. ‘It’s fine, don’t worry. Rich has a fear of water.’
I kneeled down next to Luke. ‘I’m really Sorry, Rich. I didn’t know. We can do something else, okay?’
His breathing started to slow down after a while. ‘Sorry guys, I dunno what came over me.’
‘It’s fine,’ Luke said. ‘Brody, why don’t you show us how to paint today?’
The request came as a surprise. I saw it for what it was, an extension of his hand. He wanted to start getting along. ‘I’d love to,’ I said, and he smiled—genuinely, for the first time.
I hadn’t thought about the lake much since the one and only night I went there. I remembered that thing I saw and wondered if Rich had also seen it. Maybe that’s why he was scared of the water. He said: the eyes, the eyes like it wasn’t the water itself he was scared of, but what might be in it.
—-
After dinner that night, Bart asked me if I wanted to go for a walk. We didn’t talk much since he caught me sitting by the lake. I agreed, and I thought it would be nice to get away from hearing one of Pete’s repetitive stories.
The evening was cool and crisp, and it amazed me how the camp I found so alien when I first arrived, became so normal to me. A group of people sang by the fire, and I actually found myself smiling at them. So far, I couldn’t complain about Stanleyside. It really was a good place for reflection and to do things I never in a million years would of done before.
‘You’ve conformed,’ Bart teased, ‘I saw that smile, Brody Jackson.’
He actually made me blush from the embarrassment of being caught. ‘Well, it is exhausting being cynical every waking moment. I suppose I can let me guard down a little here, right?’
‘I’m glad you’ve made some friends. Even Luke, if I’m not mistaken?’
‘Hmm,’ I hummed. ‘He’s not so bad, I guess. Even if he is a people pleaser.’
‘Well I’m glad you’ve come round to him,’ Bart said. ‘He’s a good guy.’
I noticed Bart shivered, he was wearing nothing but a t-shirt and shorts. I knew it wouldn’t fit him, because he was much broader and bigger than me, but I took off my hoodie and passed it to him. ‘Here,’ I said.
He looked surprised. ‘Look, Brody. I think you’re a great guy but—‘
‘Dude, don’t read too much into it,’ I said. ‘I’m just offering you my hoodie. It’s cold and I’m pretty warm, so just take it.’
He nodded and put it on, even though it tightened around his arms.
We carried on walking down the row of cabins, until the sound of someone blowing a conch blared through the entire camp. My face dropped and everyone around us stood to attention. Campers came out of their cabins, with dread written allover their face. I looked at Bart as he bit his lip and closed his eyes.
‘Follow me,’ he said.
He started to walk away. ‘Wait, Bart. What is it?!’ I said, as people rushed past us in a hurry.
Bart continued to bite his lip and considered me for a moment before he turned and followed the crowd.
I saw Luke running out of the mess hall, and he spotted me. Josh, Ricky and Pete followed behind him.
‘Where’s Rich?’ I asked, but they followed the herd without saying a word.
Everyone was heading to the lake.
When I arrived, all the campers, the counselors and Uncle John stood on the mound near the dock. Bart stood with his hands together, looking at his feet next to Uncle John. Everyone stood anxiously awaiting Uncle John to speak as he walked to the top step of the dock and opened his arms out to us all.
‘We provide an excellent environment here at Stanleyside. All of you are lucky to be here, you are all lucky to have escaped a much worse fate. And yet . . . yet some of you show your gratitude by deceiving us!’
The blood rushed to his face, and a vein popped out of his neck. Gone was the enthusiastic leader, encouraging us to bask in the joy of the day. What stood before us was a man striking us down, expressing his anger. He reminded me of a God, ready to cast down his infinite power.
‘Here! Here!’ Luke chanted, raising his fist in the air. The others followed, even the counselors—even Bart, reluctantly it seemed. I didn’t move, I just listened and took in the camper’s reactions.
‘One of your fellow campers has let you all down, and shamed you all with his deceit!’ Uncle John continued, my heart sunk when he said he. The only person missing from the crowd was Rich. ‘He tried to leave us, tried to run away from this little corner of paradise we created just so you can all redeem yourselves in an environment where you can forget the disgusting human beings you used to be!’
Uncle John’s ramblings made my blood boil, I wanted to run from the crowd and hit him. Knock some sense into him. His phoney demeanour shined through, and so did the demeanour of Stanleyside in general. It wasn’t a reform facility, or a prison. It was a cult and everyone had been sucked in by it.
Bart and another counselor walked away briefly during Uncle John’s speech, and returned after he finished. They were grabbing Rich forcefully by his biceps. He yelled, and struggled. ‘Please! No!’
I saw the terror in his face, and wondered why nobody was doing anything, saying something. Bart gritted his teeth the more Rich struggled. At any moment I thought he was going to swipe him across the face. I felt my feet ready to fly off the ground until Luke appeared next to me.
‘We can’t do anything, or it will be us next,’ he whispered. ‘Don’t. Fucking. Move.’
I shook my head. ‘I’m not gonna stand here and do nothing,’ I said. ‘They’re fucking hurting him.’
I went to march up to Uncle John, but Luke grabbed my arm and held me back. Bart glanced over at us, noticing the commotion. I glared back at him with utter hatred. How could he participate in this? I thought. It was all just an act, being mr nice guy. This public scrutiny was vile. Poor Rich didn’t deserve it. No one did.
‘Richard,’ Uncle John began, ‘you have broken your promise to become a better citizen of society, you have betrayed all of us and for that you must face the consequences. You’ve ruined your chance, and now you must walk the dock.’
Rich struggled even more, and screamed hysterically as Bart and the counselor dragged him up the dock looking out over the lake.
‘Here! Here!’ Luke bellowed again behind me, and everyone followed his lead.
I tried to run again, but Luke wrapped his arm around my stomach and tightened his squeeze. He was ridiculously strong. ‘You can’t save him.’
Rich was repeatedly pushed forward until he was at the end of the dock. He looked back at us all—a blubbering mess. My stomach tightened from the anxiety, which wasn’t being helped by Luke’s grip. Bart and the other counselor stood back as Rich cowered. Uncle John stood patiently.
I convinced myself they were going to push him in the lake, like he was on a plank in a pirate story or something. His biggest fear is water, I remembered. But then I thought about what I saw on my very first day. It clicked.
‘Luke, what the fuck is in that lake?!’
He didn’t respond, he just tightened his grip even more, making me feel like I was going to puke.
And then the sound came. That horrible air siren—that big almighty roar. And it deafened us all, some of the campers looked away like it just hit them in the face. When it stopped, there was a momentary silence. Not a gasp or a breath could be heard.
And before my eyes, it erupted from the lake—erect, towering high above Rich like a skyscraper. My eyes expanded. Every fear I’ve ever had hit me all at once like a cluster of stones. Before all of us was a black, shiny scaled, giant cobra stretching out its diamond-shaped hood.
‘Jesus-fucking-Christ,’ I managed to whisper.
Its blood-red eyes reflected in the moonlight with a menacing gaze as it expanded its jaw, and hissed its forked tongue, revealing two extremely long, extremely sharp fangs. Rich’s scream deafened my eardrums as the giant serpent crashed down on him, in the blink of an eye, and instantly impaled him with its fangs.
My mouth trembled. The rest of my body went numb. I wanted to scream, but nothing came out. Everyone watched on—some in shock, others with no remorse. The black cobra slid its giant head off the dock, back into the water. It took Rich’s mangled body with it.
Uncle John turned to us all, grinning with both arms out. ‘The judgement has been cast.’
‘Here! Here!’ Everyone around me chanted before they started to scatter away and walk back to camp.
Luke let go of me and followed them without saying a word. I wiped away the tears that fell from my eyes, which Uncle John saw. He bowed his head, like he just committed a good deed. I didn’t look at Bart when he approached me. He opened his mouth, and I was ready to go ballistic, but he decided not to say anything. I was the only one left standing as I looked at the ripples on the lake, trying to come to terms with what I just witnessed.
When I returned to the cabin, no one else was there. I couldn’t even look at Rich’s bed. I went to sit on my own bed, and noticed the hoodie I gave to Bart earlier was folded on the end of it. I threw it off my bed and kneeled on the floor, attempting to rip it to shreds until it gave my hands friction burn.
__
The next day I walked into the mess hall and all actions stopped. There was a silence from everyone. Uncle John waited with patience, Bart couldn’t even look in my direction. They all stared at me, and anticipated what I would say, or do. But I just smiled brightly at Luke, and his grim face.
‘It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?’
When I sat down, the laughter and joy resumed and echoed throughout the mess hall.
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