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.



I was wrapped like a burrito with the emergency blanket, walking painfully slow back to my cabin – which was going to be just as cold as out here. After being dragged ashore by Thomas, I’d spluttered for a few seconds and couldn’t get my bearings. Had a slight panic attack. Was slapped across the face by Kendra as part of ‘protocol’ to make sure I’d stay awake. Then told I was fine to leave.

                I also unloaded the few slices of toast I’d managed to consume that morning into the bushes aligning the small lake when no one was looking. Kiana came to my side minutes later, rubbing my back leaving Thomas on the ground back in the crowd shivering from head to toe.

                I’d never forget the looks on some of their faces – the laughs and sniggers. It’s what I hated most about people – the norm of breaking people down with snide little comments and pointed stares. It all felt superficial and useless – but it was meaningful and hurtful. They hadn’t outright commented on my spectacle of a failure in the raft race or how much of a flailing girl I appeared but immediately I knew that’s what they thought. None of them offered me a hand when I realised there was ground beneath my feet and I wasn’t drowning… With the exception of Kiana and Thomas – although the latter had his own troubles.

                “You’re freezing! I don’t imagine there’ll be raft racing for a while,” Kiana commented as we unlocked the door. “Lie down and I’ll figure something out,” she commanded, helping me lay down in the cot and tossing a blanket from her own bed over my body.

                In the doorway, Kendra’s stocky frame arrived on scene blocking out the little light. “I don’t suppose you’ll want to come to dinner in a few hours’ time?” She questioned, trying to be humorous.

                I shook my head no, confirming the obvious. Although falling into the water of the lake was inevitable for one of the teams like in any water sport, it felt especially tiring and traumatising on my part. Maybe I was overreacting. I didn’t do water – specifically outdoor bodies - and I didn’t do people. Raft racing was destined to fail so long as I participated. Splashing around in the creek was a different ballpark.

                Kendra sighed. “The first accident report of the summer. There had to be a first sometime,” she muttered, about to turn away.

                I became alarmed at the mention of report. “A report? Will you have to inform my parents?”

                Kendra nodded like there wasn’t an issue. She didn’t know about my family issues – of course, she didn’t have to – she wasn’t a therapist like Anna. “Of course.”

                Suddenly, I didn’t feel so ill anymore. I bolted upright and shoved the covers from my chilled body. “I’m fine. Serious. No need for a report.”

                She looked dubious. “I’m not sure, Mercy, you look a little pale to me…” I felt freezing, light headed, and tired. I was anything but fine, but there was no way she was going to contact my parents especially over a little thing like this.

                I shoved my legs over the cot and pushed myself onto my feet. “See, perfectly fine.”

                Kendra gained this look of understanding and raised her hand to suspiciously point at me and narrowed her eyes. “You heard about the track activity later tonight, didn’t you?”

                She thought I was trying to get out of gym? “Of course not-.”

                Kendra nodded, understanding. “I know sports is hard, but I can see right through you girls. Trying to play me a fool. I’ll make sure you’re running laps tonight with the rest of the camp, don’t you worry, Mercy. Exercise does the body good.” She should have taken a hint herself.

                She had already left before I had conjured anything meaningful to reply and disbelievingly slumped back down on my bed. I’d be running laps tonight? This wasn’t camp West-Bridge.

                It was now nearing one PM. I’d usually be in my kitchen at this time enjoying a PB&J sandwich but at camp Alan-Bridge there was no such joy. The next best thing other than sitting on my rusty cot that served as a home to a family of spiders was have a shower in the vanilla-but-once-white shower block and hope that stopped me from feeling queasy. Yeah, I doubted it.

                Despite the fact that my shower slot wasn’t until 8 today, I decided to take a shower anyway. I mean, they couldn’t expect me to freeze.


                I hadn’t thought for a second that the hot water was only turned on for the shower block during shower slots only – which lasted from 6 till 9 and 4 till 9. Unfortunately that had been the case, and stupidly, I stood within the main stream of water before I had a chance to realise what would happen. I was hit with the icy waters and seconds later knew all about it.

                Feeling worse than I had before, colder, and still stinking of pond water, I made my way back to the cabin for a few hours before dinner rolled around. While most campers were there as soon as the mess hall opened, Kiana and I were still lingering around our cabin half an hour later.

                “I can’t believe she doesn’t think you’re sick – I mean look at you,” Kiana muttered as she stared into a handheld mirror and smoothed out her hair. “I wouldn’t let you out of bed.”

                I shook my head. “No. It’s better this way. I don’t want her to phone home about it.”

                Kiana raised her finger as if it was eureka moment. She set down her mirror and narrowed her eyes. “About that – are we going to talk about it?”

                 I tried to feign like I had no idea what she was getting at. “My parents?” I wasn’t going to tell her much just yet.

                She nodded. “Yeah. It seems like there’s more than a broken home there,” She said, laughing nervously. She got up from her perch and picked up her make-up bag.

                I sighed a I followed her. “I lied. My parents are still together.”

                Kiana didn’t seem phased by the lies unlike what I was expecting. I knew people were sensitive, but thankfully Kiana wasn’t one of those people. “So… What the problem?”

                She turned to face me, looking stern and serious. I didn’t do serious. I smiled sadly up at her and mumbled quietly, “Can we talk about this later?”


                And that was the end of that. Thankfully. I didn’t want to explain to someone who really just was a stranger who slept in the same room as me… And if I did explain, would she even understand?

                We finally did make our way towards the mess hall and was met with the usual sight. Nothing new, nothing off. As we were getting our plates and filling them up, Kendra had peered over my shoulder again and tutted at my plate reminding me that there really was track later tonight. Trust me, I hadn’t forgotten.

                We sat down in what was becoming our usual spot, with a slightly grumpy looking Thomas and preoccupied David and Dean. As I said, nothing was different.

                Kiana muttered a quick hello, but no one said anything back. Kiana didn’t seem to take that to heart and started to dig in. I couldn’t help but crack a smile in her direction. At least someone was happy.

                “There must have been something in the water,” Dean said suddenly, laughing between both me and Thomas. I peered over at him and saw him chase a pea around on his plate with a spoon. It didn’t look like he’d ate a thing.

                “They both look half dead,” Kiana said. “Our camps are running laps tonight as gym. They’re never going to make it.”

                I sourly laughed. “I never would have made it even if I felt fine. You can drag me to the finishing line.”

                Kiana burst into sudden laughter and asked with a mouthful in Thomas’ direction, “So what’s wrong with you then?”

                Thomas didn’t respond for a few seconds before he finally scooped up something to eat. “Tired,” was all he said. He looked a little more than tired to me though.


                The track was located eastwards, on the main ground of Camp West-Bridge. When we arrived an hour after dinner, I soon realised the sharp differences between the two. While Camp Alan-Bridge was trusted and allowed to roam freely in the area, Camp West-Bridge was surrounded by tall fences with only three ways in and out.

                I’d met a few of the campers – they seemed as normal as normal got to me, at least when talking about teenagers. Was there really a need for tall barbed wire fences? I was just as capable of running away.

                Julien let the group in through a tall wired gate. Stepping into their camp grounds, it didn’t look nearly as nice. The cabins were aligned on a long stretch in a row reminding me of figures standing during military drills. There was no grass, only mud. No dirt track, only mud. I took one step into the camp and my white shoes became covered.

                “Our track is right over here,” Julien drawled. “For as long as I can remember, we’ve been doing gym and fitness at the reform camps. I’m sure John and Kendra have told you all about it.” The funny thing was, they hadn’t. I had no idea we were going to be doing gym – surely the hiking and general activity during the day was enough.

                We arrived within view of the track hidden between the trees. Just behind us, I could see a light on in the main office of Camp West-Bridge. Beyond that, the camper cabins. Already on the track running like well trained dogs were the Camp West-Bridge boys… and a handful of girls.

                Andrew – the only other from our camp I was on a name basis with – turned to John and asked him, “Will you be running too?”

                I already knew his answer seconds later when his face paled. “Oh, no – I have some important paperwork to fill out. Julien will be though.”

                Not will be, Julien already was. He had taken off in his khaki uniform sprinting at double the speed than those already on the dirt track. It was marked out roughly in a half kilometre oval in what looked like chalk that was slowly fading with every foot that touched the line.

                Just a John and Kendra were about to prompt us to start, I spotted David on the track running around the closest corner to us. He looked drained. I could only imagine how often Julien had them out here.

                Julien was probably more suited to a fat-camp than a reform camp, let’s be honest.

                “We’ll be heading back now. Julian will be in charge until eight when he’ll send you back in our direction. Behave, alright?” They were more than happy to leave, the mere sight of exercise chasing them off. Was it really so hard to practice what you preached?

                As soon as they were out of earshot and past the cabins through the thinning trees, Julien attacked us with his whistle. “Don’t stand there all day! I don’t let anyone finish early unless they’ve completed their 4 kilometre run or their legs literally give way beneath them. You’ll finish this track if it’s the last thing you do!”

                Julien hadn’t stopped to rest over the whole spiel and continued on again. “You’ll do nine laps of this 400 meter track starting now!” he yelled, prompting all of the uncoordinated members of our camp to clumsily make our way onto the track disturbing anyone who so happened to be passing that point on their own run.

                Kiana clutched my arm as if I was ready to topple over. I pounded my feet against the gritty dirt but I didn’t seem to be picking up momentum. “Will you be alright?” Kiana asked.

                I nodded I was fine, but I wasn’t feeling too great. Julien wasn’t going to keep count of the laps run by every single person, right? I could get away with maybe five if I was careful.

                “I’m sorry, Mercy, but I want to get this over with. I reckon I could run this in ten minutes and be alright. You don’t mind if I go ahead?”

                I told her no and she patted my back, flashing her white teeth in a reassuring smile as she doubled her pace and shuttled ahead. I would like to have thought I’d keep up if I weren’t feeling so bad, but I naturally wasn’t the most athletic. I was small with short legs… I wasn’t made for running.

                With every hop, left foot to right foot, I was barely able to call it running. For the entire ten minutes I managed to do laps, my stomach churned, my head spun. I felt chills overcome me in rolls of cold sweat. My hair became stuck in wisps to my forehead. The other camp seemed to have a higher lap count to complete… Maybe to drain their energy or to punish them. Everyone seemed to pass me twice for every lap I completed… Kiana was bound to be finished already.

                Each time she passed, she tapped my shoulder and held up her thumb. I’d nod, telling her I was alright.

                Screw this camp and their social activities. I just wanted to sit in my pyjamas until twelve in the afternoon and read some books like I normally would. I didn’t want to listen to a camp instructor or any authority when that’s all I done at school or living at home under my parents who thought it was their life not mine.

Gradually, I began to feel my feet catch that bit more and more with every sprint. I was barely moving. I was walking while lifting my legs and arms as if I was wrunning. I felt like I was moving fast, but I wasn’t. My head was light, but feet too heavy.

                Someone hit me from behind, shoving me forward so I fell onto my knees. “Are you alright?” They asked. I looked up. It was that girl from my camp – the ones who looked a little too stuck up to give me the time of day.

                I couldn’t reply. I was breathing too hard to put in a word. Black spots danced over my vision. “Julien!” She screeched, holding her hand over her mouth.

                I felt myself fold in half, my face hitting the dirt over my knees. I couldn’t catch my breath. My lungs felt icy cold. My throat was on fire. I felt so cold but was burning up. 

                A stampede erupted behind me, the earth vibrating as people approached. I didn’t know who.

                My throat felt like it was going to close up. I’d probably ran barely half the laps required. I was probably just too unfit. My own body fitting against my will to run some more. I was even subconsciously stubborn.

                Thoughts didn’t seem to translate into words. Choppy sentences were heaved up into the forefront but none of them comprehendible. I didn’t dare utter a word if I could out of fear of saying something I shouldn’t in the haze of unfiltered thoughts.

                Then, I think I fainted.


                I woke up in an all-white room but at first glance even I knew it wasn’t a hospital. It was empty, apart from a metal trolley and white cabinet with the classical Red Cross over the front. This was a nurses room at a stretch.

                Looking around, I realised… Without a nurse.

                “You’re awake?” A voice asked.

                I looked up and was met with the sharp contrast between white and the black of Kiana’s uniform and mud covered face from running on a wet field. She sighed and parked herself of the furthest corner of the rickety trolley. “You told me you felt fine.”

                “Didn’t want to worry you,” I told her.

                She sighed, looking a little bit fed up. She scuffed her feet noisily on the tiled floor. “How am I supposed to trust anything you say? Be honest with me, that’s all I ask.”

                I didn’t have anything to say to that. Not even an apology. We folded that conversation away soon after not wanting to talk about anything too heavy when Julien arrived on scene towing Thomas in by the hood – literally.

                He looked ghostly.

                They’d caught us midst conversation discussing our mutual favourite TV show out of absolute bordom. The door slammed into the wall in a split second. We didn’t have to look to know it was him.

                “We’ll get some painkillers down the hatchet and you’ll be raring to go for your final two laps,” Julien chimed, letting go of him hood letting him slump against the wall. His head rolled back, his dark hair splaying over the white paint.

                Whatever was in the water had definitely affected him too.

                “He looks worse than you, Mercy,” Kiana muttered, eyeing Thomas against the wall as Julien rummage in the single Red Cross cupboard. He must have felt like he was dying.

                When Julien produced a pack of paracetamol, he turned in our direction. “Oh, you’re awake. You can take some too and you can get back out there too.”

                I somehow didn’t think that’d cut it.

                Suddenly, I’d conjured a lie. “I’m allergic to paracetamol,” I spat. I wasn’t lazy, but I felt so bad I knew only a long sleep would fix it.

                “Me too,” I heard Thomas reply, looking a little desperate.

                Julien’s face transformed. “Look here, Thomas Blakely – you’ve been at my camp for three years straight and really expect me to believe you’re allergic to paracetamol now?”


                That silenced us. Three years in a row? The poor guy must be falling apart. What really was his problem that he was sent to Camp West-Bridge of all place every year?

                “Come on, Julien. Let me off this once?” Thomas asked, looking up like he could barely hold the weight of his head.

                Julien looked like he was about to say no, but thought for a little longer. Nervously, he fleetingly looked between the three of us staring directly back at him.

                Thomas gained a mischievous grin. “You know, there’s still that time three summers ago that I haven’t reported to the-.”

                “Alright!” Julien boomed, his eyes bulging like he had something to hide… “But only this once…” He looked between us all again. “And not a word to anyone.”

                He left seconds later before an awkward but threatening cough. It looked like someone had some dirty laundry.

                Silenced followed, but as we all met each other’s eyes we couldn’t contain the laughter any longer at the sight of a man like Julien… Intimidated by Thomas. We all collapsed in pained giggles at the ridiculous situation. I think even Thomas smiled.


                It felt like some cliché story that I’d bought for a few dollars out a store. Kiana had left and I was once again left with Thomas. Kiana had in her head that this would spiral into a summer romance but I didn’t see it being as simple as that. Thomas didn’t seem as simple as the boys in those stories… Despite how smoothly our stories spiralled.

                We walked through the dark towards the gate. It’d rolled eight PM but no one came to check on us in the nurse’s office and by the time we left to ask around, all the lights were out. Julien was snoring from his office. I could only imagine Thomas’ threat was stronger than it sounded.

                “What exactly did you mean by your threat earlier?” I asked, humour lighting up my eyes. I felt a lot better, but still uneasy. I hadn’t even thought about how I was going to get back to my own camp for the night or if anyone had checked up on me there either.

                Thomas looked mildly proud. “Just something. We know each other pretty well, Julien and I do,” he said, a breathy laugh following.

                “I could see that. At least I know who I can come to if I need some leeway through camp rules.”

                Thomas gave me a stern look but dropped it seconds later. “Funny thing is, I can do what I like.”

                I nodded, thinking about how great that would be. “Then why don’t you? And your friends, do they know you’re a West-Bridge regular?”

                “A west bridge regular,” Thomas muttered with a hint of laughter as if he found it funny. Speaking a little louder as we trailed towards the gate leading to the path between camps, he said, “I don’t want to abuse my power, and no, they don’t know and they’ll not know.”

                I looked up at him curiously but couldn’t see much. The darkness obscured my limited vision – he also had a hood up, shrouding his features in shadows. I wanted to see him expression. Know what was running through his mind. “I want to ask more questions but I somehow think you wouldn’t give me any answers.”

                “Sounds about right,” he replied, his lips only moving ever so slightly in the dark.

                “You’re really strange, you know,” I muttered without realising what I was saying.

                Thankfully he thought nothing of it and replied, “So are you.”

                Moments later we stood directly in front of the gate, but suddenly it him me that it was locked for the night… As were all the other exits from the camp at this time of night. “Crap,” I whispered. “The gate.” I held out my hands and fumbled with the huge padlock for a few seconds.

                Thomas laughed lightly. “You think I didn’t realise the gate would be locked? Look here-,” He got to his knees and grasped a corner of the wire fence. Slowly and patiently, he uncurled it from the ground. “I’ve been here long enough to figure out some things.”

                A small section of the fence curled back – big enough to let a person through but not without a few scratches.

                I looked between Thomas’ figure and his hand still over the opening. “Are you not going?” He prompted.

                Stupidly, I felt worried. “Are you staying here?”

                His face contorted in curiosity. “Well… Obviously. And I have rollcall at six tomorrow morning so I should probably get some sleep.” Roll call?

                “Oh, okay.”

                I got down on my own knees and popped my head through the opening and felt his foot shove my thigh as if he thought I was stuck. He didn’t say a word and neither did I until I finally went right the way through and he removed his hand. By the time I surfaced, my hands were caked in thick brown mud and whatever else was in the mix as well as my calves. Great.

                A thought suddenly struck me through all todays revelations. Thomas was just about to turn away, but there was no way I’d let him leave without asking him. “Hey! Wait,” I said.

                He half turned back within arm reach and raised a curious eyebrow. “What?”

                I help out my finger in accusation and neared the fence between us. “You’ve been here for three years? Definitely?”

                He nodded but didn’t seem happy. “So what?”

                I narrowed my eyes and asked, slightly confused, “So… When we first met at the campfire… You did know your way back to camp?”

                I could have sworn his cheeks had went red, but I couldn’t quite tell. He was quiet for a few seconds while we both thought. I couldn’t understand for any reason why he’d stay outside willingly? “I-,” he began but made himself stop. He turned promptly to walk away.

                I yelled at his quickly retreating figure, “You should answer me now and save me asking you later!” That done nothing for the matter and made him walk faster.

                No matter how much I tried minutes later, I couldn’t open the gap in the fence like Thomas had. I gave up soon after and wondered how I’d ask and get an answer tomorrow.

                I began to notice the ache in my leg and sighed. That was presuming I’d even be able to move tomorrow.

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