The argument was over before it even really got started. Like the year before, and the year before that, they told her she was going to camp, to one of those end of the world survivalist camps where she would learn those things no one needed to know to prepare for something that, if it came, knowing wouldn’t matter anyway. Why they kept doing this to her, she couldn’t understand. If they were so worried about the end of the world, why didn’t they come to the camp and leave her at home?
But still, here she was, sitting at another worn-out, bought-used picnic tables, the wood weathered to a flesh dimpling discomfort reserved for the torture victims of dumb ass parents. With a finger, she traced the scrolled names of other victims or at least others who sat here before her, sometimes written in initials, most marked with a two-digit year. Some bore the obligatory declaration of ‘was here’, as though having scratched their name into the surface of a table somehow did not indicate they were, at least at some point, there. More dumb asses, some carved so long ago, she was sure they were now dumb ass parents. On a whim, she searched through the initials and names again, but did not see any that might be her own parents.
She shifted her legs a bit, trying to change the flow of blood. She was not the only one here, but none of the others seemed talkative or even friendly enough to see if they could be talkative. There was a dark brooding black man at the front of the row of tables. He wore a letterman jacket from some high school, and hung his head to the table as if asleep or meditating.
In the row across from him sat a red haired rodent faced kid with yards of freckles crammed into on square foot of ugly, just enough ugly to hold up his nose. He wore a flannel shirt and a wicked smirk and stared hard at a pretty blond sitting behind the letterman athlete.
The blond was pretty in her way with full cheeks, curly hair and ample breasts all on a whip-thin frame. Her red and white checked flannel strained across her chest, but hung limply below that. She ignored everyone as she pummeled the snot out of some small smart phone with both thumbs.
Next to the freckled wreck sat another kid, very much like the other but with no freckles. He was smaller but fit, and wore the same Sears flannel shirt as the others. But this kid, he looked like a mile of rough road. Dakota could not guess what he might have gone through over the past few days, but he was all but worn out and ready for the trash.
There was one other girl, behind her and on the opposite row, but she only got one look at her as she stalked by. A glimpse of holes recently vacated of jewelry in every conceivable place on her face, the dark hair with a light purple highlight, the black brooding eyes of the self-fatal told her she was Goth regardless the conservative wool shirt and tight Levi jeans. She thought it would be a bad idea to turn for a better look. Her curiosity would be too obvious, and she had enough trouble with the Goths at school.
Forget her, and forget these others. She was hoping for a camp buddy she could complain to, but not this time. Two months of hermit rage. That was just awesome.
She did not know how long she sat there with the silent others, but it was getting dark, and she was getting hungry. Her parents gave her a fist-full of whole grain peanut butter cranberry crap bars, you know, just in case, but she was not that hungry. Not yet. But this idle silent sitting was becoming annoying.
At least, this time, she did not leave a boyfriend behind like last summer. That went over real well. In three weeks, she had gotten to know him socially, personally, and even intimately–to a point that is. But the dumb ass parents killed that off quick. No warning, no mention of another summer camp, and she barely got time to call him one last time. Then off she went in the back of some minivan style SUV thing to the deep woods, tents, and holes dug to crap in. She hated digging holes almost as much as she hated using them.
The cabin door across the way finally opened, and a studious little woman marched from the cabin to the large trailer followed by a little girl–at least she looked a lot younger. Dakota recognized the woman as the one who signed her into camp and waved her parents off to their own summer vacation without the burden of a teenaged daughter. She had the personality of a thick needle with frameless glasses, tight ponytail and screeching blue eye shadow. The makeup would have been sad if it wasn’t so ridiculous. Women as old as her shouldn’t even bother, but she did. Really, once you make thirty, it’s time to give up. It really was just sad.
The girl had to jog to keep up with the needle. Her hair was tied back as well, but not so tightly, and she had a military backpack bouncing on her back. They both vanished into the confines of the metal-skinned trailer, the door self-slamming behind them. The trailer looked like every other trailer Dakota had seen in every trailer park in America–if it was still the seventies that is. Its skin was shiny silver but pockmarked with samplings of corrosion or rust here or there. It looked well maintained, but within the confines of a strict budget. The tires were flat, and the tow gear up front was rusted and scrubbed almost to uselessness. That trailer had sat there a long time, and Dakota guessed it would be sitting there forever. At least the two provided a moment of excitement. Now back to tracing the scrawled initials on the picnic table.
The freckled wreck sighed loudly and shifted on his bench, drew his canvas backpack to close, and laid his head on it. “This fucking blows.” He said, just under his breath but loud enough for everyone to hear.
The kid next to him chuckled, “Yeah.” and then pulled his pack close to use as a pillow.
The trailer door burst open again, and a tall older man came out, tailing the same younger girl. He was an impressive man, if not ancient. He had to be in his thirties, like the Needle, maybe even forty. He was well built and cut, but not over muscled. He wore a pair of black tactical pants over black boots, and an olive drab sleeveless t-shirt, all which fit so perfectly, it was as though they were made just for him. He had a tight crew cut gone silver on the sides, a tight goatee speckled silver and a metal clip board under one arm. He did not walk as much as march with purpose. But what Dakota found so impressive was his mere presence. He strangled the authority out of the room, even this room with no walls, and focused all attention on him, just by walking. Dakota wished like mad she could do that.
He stopped in front of the tables, and the young girl moused her way beside him.
The man looked down at her, then took her shoulder and directed her towards the benches, “Go and have a seat and we’ll get started.” He returned his gaze to those seated and locked eyes a long while with the freckled kid until he sat up straighter.
The girl came toward Dakota, eyeing the tables as she went by, measuring those sitting there with what seemed like ancient eyes. Dakota wondered how old the kid actually was when she was suddenly before her, smiling once, and then sitting next to her, “Hi, I’m Maggie.” She said with a bright somewhat North Eastern accent.
“Hi, I’m Dakota.”
“Alright, listen up people.” The impressive man said, drawing each pair of eyes to him with his booming voice. “I am Staff Sergeant David Daniels, and I will be your councilor for the next two months.” He hung this in the air like a sledgehammer before continuing, “Some of you are here because you want to be….”
The freckled kid cut him off with a snort, and then looked surprised and fell silent.
“Others of you are here well, because you have to be. It doesn’t matter to me why your here, only that you are. During the next two months, you are going to learn a lot of things, from foraging, fire starting, trap setting, to first aid to name of few. But the most important things you will learn are the things you will learn about yourself.
“This can either be fun or hard, it is entirely up to you. But from this moment on, I look at all of you as one thing. You will celebrate your success together, or you will be punished together. If one of you falls behind on me, you all suffer, so think hard before you give up. Should one of you decided to break a rule you will all be punished as well. Keep in line, people. Fall in, become a team, and you will enjoy this time. I promise.”
Dakota looked around the room at the others. The kid up front, the Goth in the back, the ass kiss, the flannel fashion model next to her, they were all problem kids. Was this a camp for troubled kids? What the hell was she doing here? Her dumb ass parents weren’t that dumb ass, were they? She raced through the memories of last year, thinking of all the times they butted heads, but could come up with nothing. She didn’t use drugs, didn’t drink, didn’t stay out late, hell she even carried an A minus average in school, and most of her classes were college prep.
“For the first three days,” Sergeant Daniels continued, “I will feed you. Every day after that, you will feed yourselves… or, not. That is entirely up to you.
“I will supply you shelter for the first six days. After that, you’re in your own shelter… or, not. Again, this is entirely up to you.”
No food? Not even a fucking tent? What the hell was this guy talking about? She wanted to say something, to protest or even just raise her hand, but something about the man’s presence froze her tongue, made her wait. She decided if she called the man out in front of everyone, he would be forced to put her down, just to save face. This sounded like a good enough reason to keep quiet, that and the icy wad in her lower gut.
“I will work alongside you, I will suffer alongside you should you fail. And that includes our first challenge, which we will face tonight. First, we will have searches of person and bags, and then we hike. Fifteen miles from here is our camp. It is an easy walk, but we will be making it in the dark, and we will have dinner only when we get there. So let’s get through the searches as quickly as we can and head out. Boys over to the cabin door, girls head over to the trailer. Mrs. Daniels will take care of you. Any questions?”