I started working on a short story that I wanted to share here, but it’s turning into something else. As a writer, I feel this often happens; I start out with an idea and it branches off into something beyond the original scope of my vision. Well, that happened this time, too! What started out as a simple story about a strange camp turned into more of a social commentary.
On what you ask? Well, it’s a social commentary on our school system and how they keep pushing people through, almost as though people are worried about hurting kid’s feelings should they get held back for bad grades. This, and I am oversimplifying this, ‘touchy feely’ approach is what led me to create this short story (with many additions to come, I’m sure). I hope you enjoy it!
My eyes glazed over as I numbly munched on a plain, flavorless bagel. It was too early in the morning for me to deal with any of the nonsense that was happening. I wasn’t even awake at this time during the school year, and that had ended a while ago. I tried thinking how much time had passed since school let out for summer, but I was too tired.
Around me was chaos. Some adult, probably the cabin’s counselor, droned on and on at the back of the cabin as he explained Positivity Camp’s rules, the layout, what parents could expect, and so on. While he talked, the parents fumbled with suitcases, sleeping bags, pillows, and other camping gear as their children cried, screamed, begged, complained, or ignored them. It was clear none of us campers wanted to be here, and it was doubly clear the adults didn’t care.
I ignored my cabin’s counselor as he rambled. I’d already heard the sales pitch from my school counselor. This camp would change bad kids. Actually, they’d specifically avoided saying bad kids. Instead, they’d said the camp would change misguided kids and help them become better, kinder, and more aware individuals – whatever that meant. It sounded more like a reform school than an actual camp.
I probably should have paid better attention. If I’d known I’d actually be sent here, I would’ve stood up for myself more. It figured that the real bully had escaped punishment. Lame.
A paper was thrust into my empty hands. I didn’t even remember finishing the bagel.
“Pay attention,” my father growled at me.
I wasn’t sure if he was upset with me or if he was just as grumpy about being up at this hour as I was. I did my best to look like I cared as I stared at the paper. It was some sort of schedule.
“As we like to say,” the counselor said, sounding as though he were wrapping things up, “the skills acquired here last far past the final campfire.”
“It’s already past 7:45,” my mother groaned as she stared at her phone. Several other parents also commented on the time.
“Alright, campers,” our cabin’s counselor called out. “It’s just about time for the parents to head out. Please hand your cell phones and other electronic devices over to them. You’ll have stationery to write to them later.”
We did a collective groan as parents took our one lifeline away from us. It was too early in the day for us to put up much of a fight. I wondered how the other cabins were handling the sudden technology deprivation.
“Now, it’s time to say your farewells. You’ll see them and your phones when you graduate in three days. Now, let’s turn those frowns upside down.” His lack of enthusiasm only made the phrase worse.
We did a collective groan, which went without comment by the adults. Then our parents said their goodbyes and rushed out the door. Before we knew it, we were alone with the counselor. He told us to keep our schedule on us and to prepare for the day’s first activities. We had a few minutes where we could finish settling in, but once those minutes were up, he ushered us out the door.
My mind was a foggy mess as we left the cabin. As we stood outside in a mostly single file line, I saw other campers doing the same outside their cabins. From what I could tell, there were other twelve-year-olds in my cabin, but I thought others looked closer to eight. The other cabins looked like they had a range of ages as well. No one looked younger than seven or older than fourteen, though I wasn’t sure. I had the vaguest memory of seeing girls, but there weren’t any now.
Thinking hurt, so I stopped trying to make sense of things. Our counselor was talking about something, but the only thing I caught from the conversation was House Joy. I groaned as I realized that was our cabin’s name and he was telling it to us so we wouldn’t forget later. I let the thought go. For now, it was easier to accept that I’d been abandoned with a bunch of strangers.
I don’t know how long we stood there waiting, but we eventually moved out down a path. Each cabin kept to itself as we marched. I lost track of where we were, mostly because I wasn’t trying. When we stopped, I saw that we had assembled under a flagpole. We pledged our allegiance to the American flag as it was raised, then everyone went silent as someone began speaking.
Soon after, we were divided into groups based off our schedules and sent off with a new counselor and group of kids.