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Stories from the Verse
Old Verses New
Chapter 39: Brown 13
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Previous chapter: Chapter 38: Kondor 54
Derek had never been to summer camp; he preferred to spend his summers playing video games, and had always resisted his mom's efforts to take him even to the lake to go swimming. But with all the nightmares through which he had lived over the past few days, this seemed like entering a pleasant dream. He decided to enjoy it.
David made him feel quite welcome. When they got back to the cabin, he introduced Derek to the other guys, explaining that Derek was on a bicycle trip but had broken down so they'd be keeping him overnight while the bike was fixed. The other guys, although mostly older than he, seemed cool with that, and helped him get settled in the open bunk. Then a bell rang, and everyone dragged him along to the mess hall.
Derek stayed close to David through the meal. It was a cafeteria-style line, very like school, in which the choices were basically, "do you want this, or not?" Derek was hungry, and wanted whatever they gave him. At one point someone in the kitchen line actually looked up and spoke to him.
"You're a bit young for high school, aren't you?"
Derek froze, not at all certain what to say. Mercifully, he had just taken a bite of a carrot, so his mouth was full. David stepped in to answer.
"He skipped a grade. He's a pretty smart kid."
That seemed to satisfy the server, so Derek smiled, mouth still filled with carrot, and continued down the line and on to the table with the other guys. The room was filled with conversation, everyone talking at once, so Derek had to cock an ear toward the one who asked him, "So, what have you seen on your trip?"
"Oh, a lot of stuff, but not much, if you know what I mean. I saw a couple of really neat houses. One was an old mansion, the kind of place where you'd expect there to be some kind of murder mystery, or a ghost or something. And another was so big, it was like a castle. I thought there might even be a vampire there, or like a mad scientist or something. And at one point I got really lost and spent the whole night in a swamp."
"Cool," the guy said. "So, where're you going?"
"What?" Derek asked, above the din.
"Where are you going?" he repeated, louder and more slowly.
"Oh. Nowhere, actually. I just thought it would be neat to get out and ride around to see places."
"Wow, and your folks let you do that?"
His folks–he hadn't thought about them for quite some time, or it seemed like some time. "Actually, I spend so much time with video games, mom's probably glad to have me out of the house."
"I know what you mean. My mom is always like, 'Aren't you going to do anything this summer, or are you going to just sit there in front of that T.V.?' Give me a break. But hey, a bike trip sounds cool. Wish I'd thought of it."
The others sort of assented.
"Camp seems pretty cool, too," Derek said. "Makes me wish I'd gone when I had the chance."
A couple of the kids laughed. "When you had the chance? You're still pretty young–you could come here next year."
"Yeah, maybe." He stuffed more food in his mouth, and let the talk wander into things the others were doing, and their hopes of winning the treasure hunt that evening.
No one seemed to notice that he didn't belong here; when he took his tray back, the guy behind the window snapped at him to put his silverware in the rack where it belongs, but he seemed to snap at everyone so Derek didn't pay much attention to it. After the tables were cleared and wiped down, some guy stood up and led them in a bunch of songs Derek did not at all recognize. There was something about Bill Grogan's goat, and another about the ladies of the harem of king somebody or other, and a goofy thing about a rabbit and a cabin, in which you kept singing the same verse over and over, but each time you replaced a couple of words with hand motions until at the end you just did all these weird gesticulations in time to unheard music. That, Derek thought, was really frightening. He had a good time, and actually knew the song about the magic dragon. Then they were dismissed for something called F.O.B. Derek just followed the others back to the cabin, where he discovered that that stood for Flat On Bunks, a half hour rest period during which you were supposed to write letters home and stuff. To avoid having to answer too many more questions, he preemptively asked everyone what they liked and didn't like about camp, suggesting that he was thinking about trying to get his mom to send him next year, and should know what he was asking.
Bob said that he liked getting up before breakfast and going fishing out on the lake when no one was awake, and there was that quiet mist over the water and on the lawns. Bill was looking forward to "rough-it night", when they would hike out into the woods and sleep under the stars; he had brought a very nice nylon backpack on an aluminum pack frame complete with pup tent which looked like much more than was needed for the job. He didn't care for getting up early for breakfast, though. Pete enjoyed the archery and other outdoors things that he couldn't do at home, but thought they shouldn't do so much to plan his day for him. The arts and crafts appealed to Ralph, who said you could make this cool copper enamel jewelry which he thought his mom and his sister were really going to like. All of them agreed that the best part was being away from home for a week, out of the house and away from the routine.
Then David said, "So, are we going to play today, or what?"
"I'd really rather you didn't," said Michael from his bunk. "I don't like being around when you play. It's the devil's game, you know."
"Oh, chill out, Mike," Ralph said. "Yeah, we'll play. Yesterday you guys had just come to a door," Derek abruptly heard papers shuffling from all directions, "and Corlin had decided he could probably pick the lock. Belatroph is holding the torch."
"With my other hand," David said, "I'm going to get out the bitumen I need for my fire flash spell."
"Anyone else doing anything?" Ralph asked.
"Uh–yeah," said Bill. "I'll draw my axe out of the loop on my belt, and set it down with the handle leaning on my leg, and then I'll ready my crossbow."
"I'll put an arrow to the string," Pete added.
Finally John said, "Then when everyone's ready, I'll pick the lock."
"And just in case it's something undead, I'm going to get out some holy water," Bob added. Would that it were so easy, Derek thought. But he listened with fascination as the five boys became characters from a fantasy world. He'd heard of these games, but had never seen one played. For the next half hour, David talked about throwing fire and using magic, Bob did a lot of pretend prayers and religious stuff, Bill swung his arms in illustration of fighting with an axe, Pete used up a whole quiver of imaginary arrows, and John quietly sneaked around sticking a knife in the backs of various monsters, while Ralph described what they all saw and rolled dice. Sometimes he would toss a die across the room when one of the guys wanted to roll his own fate, as they said. It looked like a great deal of fun.
And all the while Michael sulked quietly in his bunk. As soon as the bell sounded for the end of F.O.B., he was out of the cabin, while the others continued to play for probably another twenty minutes until Ralph said it was a good place to hold until tomorrow. Then everyone hid their papers and got up to leave.
"Well," David said to Derek, "I've got to get down to the waterfront. I've got this deal where I get to come here free, but I have to lifeguard for two hours every afternoon. But I'm sure these guys will hang with you."
"That's cool. They let you work off the cost?"
"Yeah," John said, "I do it, too. I've got to get up to the mess hall and help in the kitchen. You're welcome to join me, but I don't think mopping floors would be your first choice for afternoon activities. I should have been a lifeguard." And he smiled somewhat sardonically.
"I'm going to the archery range," Pete said. "You're welcome to come with me."
Ralph said, "I'm sure you could do something with me at arts and crafts; there are a lot of things you could finish in a day."
"Bob and I are going to go explore some of the trails in the woods," Bill added. "We don't mind the company."
"Yeah," Bob said, "Bill is hoping to find a neat place to take Marybeth Healy tomorrow night."
"Shut up," Bill said, blushing.
Derek decided to go with Pete, who showed him how to handle a bow and fire an arrow. Despite his years of video games, he had no idea it was this difficult to hit a target. He kept at it for the afternoon, and before long he was getting the hang of it. In what seemed no time at all, the bell was ringing for dinner.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with eight other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #89: Novel Confrontations. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: