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Welcome to Camp Alan-Bridge, for the emotionally vulnerable and unassertive teenagers of North-West California. Building characters since 1975 *** Mercy Reid is being forced to attend a camp after her mother realises how socially awkward her college-aged daughter has become. She has no friends and has no desire to have friends. At Camp Alan-Bridge, she's forced into social situations on a daily basis, meeting people she'd never have looked twice at before. Sometimes it takes more than breaking out of your shell.

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2. 1 - ARRIVAL

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                Every summer I spent hours devouring away at a book shelf in my room I’d worked my butt off all year to stock. It was my goal, driving force through dull school days and being around people I didn’t want to see – my reward, of which consisted of several consecutive hours huddled in a small corner of my room, organised stacks around me of what I’ve read and what to read next.

                In California, however, that wasn’t considered normal – especially in the height of the summer months. I could barely stand the heat, crippling me at the slightest temperature over 90. To my mom, apparently this was weird, meaning I obviously didn’t live up to her standards and more often than not refused to be her performing pony.

                My salvation of books however now felt like a distant memory, a hundred miles south in my unassuming girl-cave, slap bang in the middle of a white picket suburb. I was not only being deprived of a year worth of rewards, being punished for something I didn’t cause nor remember, but also being dragged outside into what definitely was more than 90 Fahrenheit.

                We’d just passed the bare wooden sign with the words ‘Camp Alan-Bridge’ scrawled on the front. I knew within minutes my summer was officially going to start with the mark of my arrival, something I had planned on stopping at all costs. My mom, over the past week, never gave in to my incessant pleas.

                She even gave me a limit on how many books I was allowed to bring. Now that really crossed a line with me, and because of that I hadn’t properly spoken to her in about three days.

                Pulling into a small dirt car lot by a large wooden fend-gate, we became immersed in the trees right on either side of us. Every space but one was taken.

                My dad put the car in park, but no one made a move.

                “Are we getting out?”

                “No,” my dad replied. “But you are.”

                My brother beside me laughed.

                I groaned at the two of my parents who dared not even look me in the eyes via the mirrors.  “Really? You expect me to haul the bags along myself? What about all the forms you might need to sign?”

                “Your mom’s filled those out already.”

                You could have heard a pin drop. “Of course she has.” My mother and I were obviously not on the best terms right now.

                “We’ll be back to pick you up in two months’ time, honey,” my father called, but I’d already got out the car. I marched along and unlocked the trunk to haul my bags from the back, a deep frown engrained on my face. Inside the car, I heard the hushed but harsh words exchange between mom and dad.

                “Has she said goodbye to her friends yet?” My father asked.

                My mom sighed. “What friends? That’s the reason she’s here.”

                Great. My mom felt like it was her duty to grant her child a social life – one she didn’t need nor want.

                “What about her friend Sophia? They were really-,” my dad tried to inject.

                “Really, Jake? They haven’t spoken since Mercy was twelve.”

                “Oh.”

                I slammed the trunk behind me, earning some form of satisfaction if it pissed off my father, twice as much if it pissed off my mother. The car seconds later began to reverse.

                My mom this time peeked her head out the window. “Call us if anything happens. Don’t ignore us completely.”

                I simply glared, although I knew I’d feel guilty about that later.

                Seconds later, they were out of sight already back on the road back leading onto the highway. They just couldn’t get rid of me faster. I kicked the single bag by my feet in rage – but as it skidded about a meter in front of me I realised I had two bags… But I had only lifted up one.

                “Fuck,” I muttered, realising just my luck that I’d left the more important of the two inside the car – my book bag. Also the bag that contained my phone. At least then I couldn’t receive any random phone calls from my mom and I actually had a valid excuse to ignore any reconciliation attempts over the coming months.

                I spun on my heel towards the gates, realising that was the direction I was probably supposed to head – right into the hands of Camp Alan-Bridge, sold to my mom as a confidence building camp for troubled teenagers, aided by an on-site 24 hour therapist. Wonderful.

                Hauling my light bag, slung lazily over my shoulder, I unlatched the small wooden gate and catching it on a bump of the uneven ground preventing it from slamming shut behind me. Just through thinning out trees ahead, I saw a small cabin, my ears hearing the sound of human voices. At least I wasn’t lost, at least I hadn’t been dropped off in the middle of nowhere right on the door step of a serial killer. Now wouldn’t that be a story to tell.

                People seemed to spot me before I spotted them. “Mercy?” I heard my name from up ahead.

                For a moment, disoriented and unable to tell each trees from the next, I spun around in circles trying to pin point the voice. Stopping me in my spinning, I latched sight of an average height man, balding with a thick moustache to compensate. I looked him up and down, noticing his large smile and khaki camp uniform – letting him blend well into the summer landscape.

                He waved his hand, ducking lower so he could look me in the eyes. “Hello?” He asked, still unsure of who I was. “Mercy Reid?”

                Deciding I shouldn’t leave him hanging and actually give him an answer before he crossed my personal space boundary, I answered, “I’m Mercy Reid.” My flat answer didn’t affect his smile in the slightest.

                “Great!” He replied, his hand reaching out. For a second I thought he was going to put his arm over my shoulder – a definite no-no, and maybe a little creepy – but instead, he lifted my heavy bag from my shoulder. “Welcome to camp Alan-Bridge. You were nearly late – got here right on time, any later and we would have had to turn you away. We’re very strict about schedules here.”

                My mom left that fact out. Probably for the best – because if I had known, I’d have tried to delay the ride as much as I could have resulting in being about five hours late and no camp for me. I bet she was enjoying this. No Mercy to mope around the house for a month. No underachieving daughter to remind you of how bad she turned out.

                A cloud appeared over my emotions, dampening any hint of happiness or freedom. “Induction is just beginning. We have twelve campers total this year – I’m sure you’ll all get along great. We’ve even chosen your roommate for you!” He sounded like he had done me a favour.

                I could only force a closed lip smile in return, a sheepish grin to stop me from talking back. He was already starting to annoy me.

                Through the quickly parting trees, the cabin appeared before us – adjoined to a large patio-type feature standing a few individuals in similar stereotypical camper uniforms on stage, reminding me a lot of girl scouts. I heard the man mutter something I wasn’t paying attention to before he dumped my bag by my feet and rushed off in front of me to the front.

                About a dozen individuals stood in front of the patio, some sitting, with bags similar to mines. These were the campers. Taking in each of them, a split second for each, I realised they’d picked a diverse bunch.

                “Campers! Welcome to Camp Alan-Bridge,” I chirpy blonde woman called off, “We’re a small camp part of a larger scheme in the area consisting of twenty other camp for reforming misguided teenagers. You lovely individuals are here because you all need a confidence boost.” Looking closer, I realised she was an older woman, but she could have fooled me for another camper. “I’m your camp therapist, Anna Tonbridge.” So this was the woman we were expected to confess all to. Like that was going to happen.

                A brunette woman beside her, considerably larger and stockier in build, began to talk. “We’ll introduce ourselves right now and then we’ll proceed with rollcall. I’m Kendra Johnson, camp manager and an aide to the camp activities instructor.”

                She turned to the balding man beside her, the one who’d carried my bag, and he opened his small mouth to announce himself. “I’m John, your first camp activities instructor. I’ll be running events every day on the camp to keep you all busy and occupied.” When he was met with a very silent response, he added, “Exercise not only keeps you healthy physically, but healthy mentally.”

                Some others laughed in response, and not the good kind. John coughed and refused to react, taking a step back into the other instructors shadows.

                I looked around the small camp and noticed the source of the laughter – two short girls in the back who looked like just the type of girls from school who spat on the freshman. I wouldn’t be friends with them any time soon.

                “Seeing as all your forms are filled out, we just need to get you settled in until about six o’clock tonight when we’ll set up a camp fire and meet up with a neighbouring camp. If you’d all like to check the table behind us for your cabin number, you can make your way there after. You have two hours,” Kendra explained, moving off to the left with Anna to reveal a small single desk by the door to the main cabin in front. “Camp Alan-Bridge is pretty small. All activities will happen on the shared land between the other twenty camps – so I have no doubt that you’ll have the opportunity to mean a lot of friends. Please also take a copy of the rules.”

                A few people at a time, they made their way up the steps, ticked their names, received their cabin key, and wandered down a small dirt track that led to a only just visible circular arrangement of small cabins, a small flowerbed in the middle.

                Receiving my keys, picking up a photocopy of Camp Alan-Bridge rules, and pulling my bag over my shoulder, I made my way forward like the rest as one of the last to retrieve their keys. Cabin number 6. The last cabin. I didn’t catch the name of my roommate – that wasn’t important.

                The dirt track dithered into a gravel path running in the clear circle around the small cabin area. My cabin being the last was on the far right – 1 to 6 running anti-clockwise. Each cabin was identical to the next – really boxy, exposed wooden beams, and there didn’t seem to be any sort of thick foundation – if anything, it looked like a garden hut.

                There weren’t many steps to follow up through the door on the right hand side of the cabin. I didn’t even have to unlock me door – my roommate beating me to it. I popped my head around the doorframe before I took any step inside… Just to be careful.

                “Oh my god,” a tortured voice muttered over by the bed furthest from the door. “There’s not even an ensuite.”

                Alarm bells began to ring in my head. “There’s not?” I asked. There better be. Dear lord there better be.

                My roommate who hadn’t noticed me before got up from her bed. Eyes wide, she replied, “There’s not. This cabin’s just one big room.”

                Looking around, I realised she was right. It really was one big room – not a splash of paint anywhere, laminated cold flooring, cob webs hanging from the exposed beams, and old metal framed cots separated by a small chest of drawers big enough to hold maybe half of only one of our belongings. Where were we supposed to put our stuff?

                “This has to be a joke,” I muttered, dropping my bag by the door. I took a few steps in and realised it really wasn’t.

                My roommate sighed. “This is it. For two whole months.”

                At least my roommate seemed agreeable. “I don’t know about you, but I really like my privacy.”

                My dirty blonde roommate turned to me with a sheepish smile and said, “Oh, me too.”

                I decided in the spur of the moment, that if I was going to spend two months with this girl, it was probably time to get the pleasantries out the way. “I’m Mercy,” I said, stretching my hand out to her.

                Taking it into her own, she shook it firmly. “Kiana,” she replied. “I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve already chosen my bed. I don’t like the idea of sleeping by the door – it doesn’t look all that safe.”

                I peered over my shoulder and had to agree – it was a basic wooden door with the most rustic lock they could have used – and it wasn’t even that secure looking. Above it was a broken chain latch – minus the chain.  

                I briefly thought about complaining to the main office, speak to one of the camp instructors, but then I realised this was great; If I slept by the door, it was easier to escape – go out at night without even my roommate knowing. If they thought they’d be able to lock us in at night with those things on the door…

                “I suppose we’ll have to leave our clothes in our bags? There’s no way I’m putting them out on the floor. Who knows what bugs would find their way into them,” Kiana commented, picking up her bag and setting it on the end of her bed.

                I took a step right to my own cot, dumping my bag in the same place. A shiver promptly ran down my spine – from fear or the below freezing temperature inside the cabin? I wasn’t sure. “Don’t even joke about that.” I opened my bag and thought about showering before I left for the camp fire. There had to at least be a shower block. A toilet block. Somewhere private for us to do our stuff.

                Saying a brief goodbye to my new roommate, who seemed preoccupied anyways, I shut the door behind me. I let the sun bask over my features for a few seconds before I hid my face away again and crated a sun visor with my hand to see clearly through the campsite. Squinting, I seen what I thought might just be a toilet block.

                Making my way around the circular flowerbed, in-between the two cabins furthest from the parking lot following a narrow path – shrouded with trees I could distinctly make out the Male and Female sign on two different doors. But only just, because it was coated in an unbelievably thick mound of dirt and dust. I sighed exasperatedly. I was going to catch all sorts of diseases here.

                I was a neat-freak as it was, everything clean in my room that could be cleaned. I didn’t like dirt. It really was that simple. Pulling the sleeve of my shirt over my index finger, I curled it around the handle of the toilets and pushed.

                Hit with the distinct smell of bleach and piss, I tried to grin and bear it. Wasn’t happening. Holding my breath resulted in a spluttering mess and tear filled eyes, before I looked up and set eyes on the dim toilets and shower block.

                The tiles looked old and worn. I wasn’t sure if the tiles were the shade of vanilla or that was just a stain. Revolting. There were a total of two toilets and two showers – the toilets separated like a boy’s urinal would be and only had a metal sheet attached by a bracket on the wall. No privacy in this place. The showers looked just a bad, but at least had a swing door – but only big enough to cover your private parts from everyone who walked in and out of the block.

                I decided then and there that for an entire two months I wouldn’t go to the toilet. Not in here anyways. Or shower, for that matter. I’d stink and I wouldn’t care – because I’d never see any of these people ever again! Who cares what they think?

                A pained laugh escaped my lips, close to angry and frustrated tears – ready to yell at my parents but remember I’d left my phone in the car. I’d have to suck it up, but it didn’t mean I was going to be good with any of this. 

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