Cameron sat there on the bus full of boys heading to summer camp. All the boys were about his age. He guessed that some of them were a bit older. Everyone was chattering excitedly about the trip. Some of the boys boasted that they had been to camp last summer.
Cameron noticed that there were a couple of camp counselors on the bus to keep the boys in check. A few of the boys were playing games on their mobile phones, though one of the counselors made it clear that they would have to hand them over when they arrived at camp.
Some of the boys were singing along with one of the counselors while he played his guitar. He seemed nice. Cameron remembered that his name was Kenny. The trip to the camp would take a few hours. Cameron was not thrilled about going to camp. His Father had been adamant that he should attend. Hunter thought it was time for Cameron to be a man and face his punishment. Cameron knew his dad was distraught. Heck, he was upset with himself.
Cameron had called Danny’s Mother the day after the incident to apologize. He had hoped he would be able to speak with Danny. Mrs. Pinkett had refused to let him talk to Danny. She told him that he would no longer be able to socialize with Danny at all. Cameron hoped that after the summer when things had calmed down that he and Danny would be friends again.
Cameron had not been the same since he had that strange dream. He couldn’t forget it. It was still fresh in his mind. Sometimes, he thought he could hear strange voices calling out to him while he slept. It seemed like he was not alone at night. Mother still told him stories about Dreamland, but it wasn’t the same. It was as if she was afraid that he would ask too many questions that she couldn’t answer.
Cameron seemed to know more about the stories than Penny did. Cameron did not understand why his Mother insisted on telling him that it was all just a dream, especially since Mother Nature had said to him that he should start working on making the Earth a better place. Wasn’t his mother supposed to help him with that? Now he was in trouble and wasting his entire summer going to camp in Florida.
The bus pulled off the highway and headed down a long bumpy dirt road. The suddenly bouncy bus woke Cameron from his nap. He sat up and looked out the dirty bus window. All he could see were pine trees and oaks. Cameron wondered where the palm trees were. He thought Florida had palm trees.
He was nervous but anxious to get off the bus. It had been a long ride from South Carolina. He had never been so far away from home. The bus rumbled down the road and turned around a bend where Cameron noticed a large lake. He could see rustic cabins set in rows across the lake.
It was a beautiful sunny late afternoon when they arrived. A few minutes later the bus pulled up next to a large pavilion that had lots of picnic tables and a massive stone fireplace, that was billowing with smoke.
As Cameron exited the bus, he could smell the pleasant aroma of smoked barbecue. All the boys were directed to have a seat at one of the many picnic tables. It was time to eat, and the boys were hungry. Cameron sat at one of the nearest tables he could find. All the boys had already made friends on the bus, but not Cameron. He had sat alone on the bus and slept most of the way there. Now he wished he had been a little more social. He didn’t want to be known as the weird loner guy.
Once everyone was seated, Kenny, the guitar playing counselor from the bus stood up on a wooden box at the far end of the pavilion and rang a triangular bell loudly.
“Everyone please listen up!” Kenny bellowed. “Listen, before we get started with this delicious barbeque feast that these hard-working cooks have prepared for us, I need to get everyone up to speed on the rules here at Camp Chatawa."
You will all be assigned one of those lovely cabins over there by the lake. After dinner, you will all go over to that wall at the other side of the pavilion. That is the central office, and this is where you will go to get help or guidance if you need it. You will find your name on that wall. When you see your name, you will find the number of your cabin. That will be your assigned cabin for the duration of your time here at Chatawa.” Kenny explained, pointing toward the charts on the dingy wall.
“You may choose any bunk that you want once you get inside, and that will be your bunk for the time that you are here. Each cabin is assigned a counselor that will stay with you overnight. Lights will be out at ten o’clock every night. We will go over the programs here after you eat and get settled into your cabin. Get used to hearing this bell. When you hear this bell, it will be time for assembly here inside this pavilion. Now everyone, bow your heads and let us be thankful for our food.”
Cameron felt stuffed. He loved the barbeque, and that was the best he had ever eaten. During dinner, Cameron had made a few friends at his table and was feeling much better about this camping trip. He was looking forward to going over to check out his cabin. Two of the boys that he met at dinner got assigned to his cabin, and that made him feel a lot better.
Cameron ran over to his appointed cabin and swung the door open. He was relieved the cabin had air conditioning. It was sweltering in the pavilion with the giant grill smoking meat. Cameron walked into the cabin and looked around.
The cabin was rustic but clean and tidy. The walls constructed of logs and mud. It had a high ceiling made from oak beams that ran the length of the cabin. On the wooden floor, there was a large, worn braided rug. There were bunk beds set in rows on either side of the room. Each bunk had a pillow and a thin cotton blanket.
Cameron saw one of his new friends, Chucky stuffing his duffle bag under his bunk like they were instructed to do, so he headed over there to grab the cot next to his.
“Hey,” Chucky said. “I don’t know none of these kids here. Not one of them is from my school. Do you know anybody here?”
"No, I don’t know any of the kids here either.” Answered Cameron.
“Well, let’s hang out together then,” said Chucky with a big grin on his face.
Cameron was relieved to have a friend, and they were the same age. The boys finished settling in and pinned their assigned number to their bunks, so everyone would know they had claimed their bunks.
Cameron and Chucky headed outside to see what was going on. The kids were supposed to meet at the campfire circle down by the lake. They could hear some of the other campers hooting and hollering and having fun in the distance.
“Let’s go, Cameron!” Chucky exclaimed. They both ran down the dirt path, which led to the lake to join in on the fun.
It was getting dark out, and all the boys were seated around a massive fire. It was scorching and muggy, and Cameron thought it was just too hot to enjoy a fire. All of them were sweating profusely. One of the counselors suggested that they all jump into the lake to cool off.
No sooner had he suggested this, when shirts went flying off, and boys went running to the edge of the lake and jumping in and splashing about, laughing wildly.
Cameron and Chucky took turns dunking each other into the water. It was fun, and Cameron liked his new friend. The counselors were lighting tiki torches along the shore, and it looked awesome.
The group of boys sat around the fire drying off from the night swim. It was much more comfortable now. Kenny was playing his guitar, softly strumming the strings. It sounded nice.
Everyone was getting sleepy from the long trip of the day, and it was quiet. Some of the boys were yawning and stretching out, watching the fire crackle and pop, throwing sparks up into the night sky. Kenny stood up abruptly and announced that it was going on ten o’clock and time for bed.
He reminded everyone that breakfast was at seven o’clock in the morning and to be at the pavilion on time fully dressed and ready to take on the day. A woman named Mrs. Weatherby was going to make announcements after breakfast.
There was a bustle of excitement in the pavilion as boys came together for breakfast. It was morning, and Cameron was looking for a place to sit. He looked around the large group for a familiar face. He saw Chucky and some of the other boys from his cabin sitting at the far table and headed over there.
“Hi,” said Cameron.
The boys looked up at him and motioned for him to sit down. “hey, man” Chucky said. “Are you okay?”
Cameron was puzzled. “yeah, why? He answered.
“Well, you woke everyone up last night. You were talking in your sleep, you even got up and walked around in circles,” said Mark.
“We tried to wake you up, though we couldn’t tell if you were awake or asleep. You wouldn’t answer us. You kept talking to someone about getting ready to save the world or some kinda weird stuff.” Chucky said.
Chucky seemed concerned. All the other boys just stared at him as if he were a weirdo.
“I don’t know, I didn’t know, oh, I’m sorry. I don’t remember any of this.” Cameron stammered.
All the loud group chatter quieted down when Kenny rang the big triangle bell loudly.
“All right, all right! Let’s settle down. Everyone be quiet now!” Mrs. Weatherby is the new owner of Camp Chatawa. She comes to us from the Florida School for Boys. She will be working with each one of you boys. So, let’s give her a round of applause to welcome her.” Kenny started clapping his hands excitedly.
Mrs. Weatherby walked toward Kenny and sternly motioned for everyone to be quiet. She was a thin rail of a woman with an unpleasant pinched face and glasses. The woman had her grey hair pinned up tightly into a bun on top of her head.
Cameron thought she looked quite unfriendly. She wore khaki shorts down to her knees and a dark green polo shirt tucked into her belt.
“Quiet!” she shouted.
All the boys stopped what they were doing and silently looked toward Mrs. Weatherby. She had their attention now.
“I am Mrs. Weatherby, and you boys are here for one reason, and one reason only. You are all troublemakers. There will be no trouble here! You won’t have time to get in trouble here! You can bet on that! I will not tolerate any misbehavior, and you will learn discipline at my camp. Today is a new day, so after you eat your breakfast, I expect you to work! Oh yes, I mean work!” Mrs. Weatherby screeched.
“Now get up and get yourselves a bowl and a spoon off that table over there where you see those servers. You will form two lines and wait your turn to get your food. You will have twenty minutes to eat." The nasty woman had a look on her face that would frighten a bear.
"Kenny, you get all the counselors to meet with me now. I have news for all of them. There will be a new program to follow here. I know what needs to be done to reform these boys. When they get home, they will stay out of trouble for good!” Mrs. Weatherby sneered menacingly at the frightened group of boys.
Kenny stood there, with his mouth gaped open. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing from this nasty woman. He muttered a” yes mam” and went to go and round up the other councilors.
All the counselors that volunteered their services every summer were teenagers. Every one of them had been sent to this camp when they were young and in trouble. None of these boys were criminals. They were just kids that had gotten into minor trouble. He hoped that Mrs. Weatherby wasn’t as nasty as she seemed, but Kenny had a bad feeling about this.
“How could Harold, allow this woman to take over his camp? He always loved the children. Perhaps Harold didn’t know this woman was a tyrant.” Kenny muttered as he left to find the other counselors.
Carla and Gina looked at each other in total disbelief. They weren’t servers. They were senior counselors. They had volunteered at Camp Chatawa for years. They knew there was to be a new owner, but they couldn’t believe how awful this woman was.
Carla and Gina silently spooned ladles of oatmeal from the massive steaming pots into each boy’s bowl as they passed through the line and held out their dishes. They tried not to make eye contact with any of them for fear that they may burst into tears. This camp for boys had always been a good experience for them. It was not a prison.
The boys were sitting at the picnic tables. There was a nervous silence as they tried to eat the sticky oats. Every face was beet red from the climbing heat. Some of the boys were in tears. No one dared to speak.
Tony and Greg were sitting out on the shore of the lake. It was only about eight o’clock, but it was already getting sticky hot. They were just about to go into the fresh water when they heard Kenny calling out to them. “Hey, guys! You need to get over to the pavilion. We got trouble.” Tony and Greg turned around to see Kenny running toward them, waving frantically.
“What’s goin’ on, man?” Tony asked, a bit startled by Kenny’s look of panic.
“That new owner lady, Mrs. Weatherby wants us all to meet in the office right away.”
“You guys won’t believe how terrible this woman is. you better brace yourselves for trouble!” Kenny yelled out.
“What?” “what are you talkin’ bout, Kenny?” Greg stammered.
” Just come on, hurry!” Kenny yelled as he turned to run back to the pavilion.
Tony and Greg caught up with Kenny at the Pavilion. The Guys had never seen such a large group of boys so quiet. It was nerve-wracking. Kenny motioned the other counselors to follow him to the office. Carla stayed to keep an eye on the boys as Kenny had asked. She hoped it wouldn’t be too long. She needed help getting the breakfast dishes done.
“What do you mean,” Mrs. Weatherby?” Kenny asked. “You can’t fire us. We are volunteers here.
We have been here every summer for at least five years!” yelled Greg.
“Enough!” hollered Mrs. Weatherby. “I am not running a nursery school here. These boys are here because they are troublemakers! I expect to teach these boys a lesson. If you people want to treat those boys like babies, then you can leave, I don’t need you. I can find your replacements. I expect, you to lead these boys and that means putting them to work. I want them to clean this place from top to bottom!" Mrs. Weatherby was shaking her fists in a rage that seemed out of place.
"That means picking up trash, cleaning those nasty toilets and scrubbing floors. Don’t even get me started about that greasy kitchen. It must get done today! A little hard work will make those boys appreciate what they have at home. Maybe they won’t be so quick to get into more trouble at school or home.”
Mrs. Weatherby looked each one of them in the eyes. “So, what will it be? Are you staying or going? It’s up to you.” She screeched.
Kenny spoke first.” Mrs. Weatherby, I want to stay. I care about these kids, and I will not leave them to be mistreated by you or anyone else.” I will make sure they do what they need to do, but I will not let you hurt them.”
Mrs. Weatherby sneered at Kenny. “Well, you make sure that everything on this list gets done. Anybody else?”
Greg and Tony looked at Kenny. He was standing, rigidly staring at Mrs. Weatherby’s long list of chores, a look of disgust on his face.
“Well, if Kenny’s stayin’, I’m stayin’,” said Greg, puffing out his small chest.
“Me too!” answered Tony.
“I won’t leave them either,” Gina answered, trying to keep the tears from welling up in her eyes.
“Well then, get on those chores. I expect a full report at the end of each day. You will hand in your lists with a check next to each chore, so I know you got it done. I will be watching you.” she sneered.
“Now get out of my office and get those brats to work!” Mrs. Weatherby screamed at the top of her lungs.
Carla couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Gina told her everything. The guys had split the boys up into three groups to tackle the long list of chores for the day. Carla and Gina were washing the breakfast dishes, both in tears over the terrible turn of events. “How can she be so cruel, they are only children,” said Carla, weeping as she swirled a dishcloth over a dirty plate.
“If you don’t like how I run things here, you are free to go!” Mrs. Weatherby was standing right behind them. They never heard her enter the kitchen and they were not sure how long she had been standing there. The girls whirled about almost dropping the dishes they held.
“You heard me, this kitchen is disgusting! I have a list for you girls. Take it and get busy. I want everything you see on that list done, now!” With that, she turned on her heels and stomped out of the kitchen and slammed the door shut with a loud bang.
Gina had already agreed to stay for the boy’s sake, but she had not heard from Carla. She hoped Carla would stay, but she wouldn’t blame her if she wanted to leave. “Oh Carla, please stay with me.” Gina pleaded. Carla’s head was down looking at the floor. No one had ever spoken to her like that. She was getting angrier the more she thought of how this awful woman was treating them.
“No, Gina! I will not be leaving. I need to be here. We will work together, and hopefully, things will get better once we get these chores done.” Carla suddenly looked very brave standing there with her fists clenched in anger. Gina was relieved that Carla would not leave her behind. She didn’t know how she would get through this without her. So, the girls got busy finishing up the dishes, so they could get started on the endless list of chores.
Cameron was hot and tired. He had been scrubbing the floor of the cabin for what seemed like a very long time. Chucky and some of the other guys were cleaning the bathrooms. He was glad to be assigned to Kenny’s team. He liked Kenny. He was very kind to the boys and had promised that as soon as they were done cleaning that he would take them to the lake for a swim.
“Okay, boy’s!” Kenny shouted. “It’s almost time to break. Carla and Gina will have a nice lunch prepared for all of us in the pavilion. Listen for the bell guys!”
Cameron was hungry. He was ready for a break. A few minutes later, the bell rang, and the boys all stopped what they were doing and headed out of the cabin and over to the pavilion to eat. Carla and Gina were handing out sandwiches to the hungry boys as they sat at the picnic tables.
The boys had been working hard, though they did seem happier than they had been that morning. The counselors had broken the large group of boys into teams after they held a meeting to let the boys know that they would all be working together to get the long list done by the end of the day and everything would be okay.
“You can’t do this!” Kenny shouted at Mrs. Weatherby.
“those boys are exhausted. I promised them that we would go to the lake after we got your ridiculous list of chores done. They did their part and worked hard today.”
Kenny was standing in front of Mrs. Weatherby’s desk. He had come to turn in the checked off lists from all three groups that had worked so hard that day. It was seven 0’clock, and they had all been working since morning.
“I told you, I am not running a daycare. These boys will work while they are here. There will be no swimming and no fun and games. These troublemakers will be punished." She spat.
"Be advised that from this day forward there will be no air conditioning in the cabins, they are here to suffer the consequences of their actions, and it will be harsh!
Tomorrow I want you to take the brats on a ten-mile hike after they get done with their chores. Here are the lists. I expect them to get done!” Mrs. Weatherby spat.
Kenny couldn’t believe what he was hearing. This woman was crazy. How could she expect these kids to suffer in the stifling Florida summer heat? It was inhumane. Kenny was furious, and he was going to do something about this.
Kenny left the office without another word spoken. He knew it would only agitate Mrs. Weatherby. As Kenny walked down the path, he could see Greg and Tony standing outside their assigned cabins.
“hey, man!” Tony called out. “What’s going on here? It’s hot as blazes in the cabins.”
Kenny shook his head. “That old witched turned off the air to the cabins, part of her blasted punishment, not to mention it saves her money on the electric bill.”
Greg and Tony couldn’t believe what they were hearing. “What? What are we going to do?” Asked Greg.
“Let’s get the windows opened. There are fans in the shed out back. Let’s go!” Ordered Kenny, leading the way toward the sheds out back.