Volume 30, Number 4

Camp Reconsideration

Megan Franzen

She was sitting in the very front seat of the old-fashioned school bus—the one stationed directly behind the driver. The benches were made of a rough, green leather and were just large enough to sit two people, with one person still having their leg splayed in the aisle. These kinds of buses had been decommissioned nearly 10 years ago in 2039, but Charlie supposed that the Reformation was seeing such an influx in “patients” that they had to take whatever they could get.

She found herself hyper-aware of every noise that surrounded her, despite the fact that she was encapsulated almost entirely in absolute silence. The only sound that filled the inside of the bus was the roaring growl of the engine, and the occasional thump when the wheels ran over a pothole.

Charlie heard a sigh come from her right, and out of the corner of her eye she saw the young woman it came from. They sat directly across the aisle from each other, with two large, burly men in white jumpsuits sitting between them. The woman looked to be in her early twenties, and her face was pale and drained from life. When she reached up with her left hand to tuck her dark hair behind her ear, Charlie saw three long lacerations circling her wrist.

“Fuck you,” the woman snarled, glancing up at the man sitting next to her before turning her gaze to the grime-covered window. “Fuck all of you.”

The woman had muttered the words quietly, but they echoed across the bus like a haunting melody. Charlie wondered almost humorously if this was what the “school bus” had been like for her parents as they were growing up. Had they felt every morning the way she felt now? Had their ride to school been characterized by the same gut-wrenching nervousness that plagued the very air she breathed?

Charlie thought not, but it was a comforting thought nonetheless. It felt good to think her parents might have understood how she felt, even if they hadn’t felt it since they had been the very age she was now.

“Where are we going?”

This time the voice that spoke was young and anxious, coming from some boy that was seated a few rows behind Charlie. She felt the urge to turn around look for the face that had asked the question, but a stronger force kept her sitting still. She imagined that he was barely 13, though, and his innocent face was shaking with fear. He didn’t want to be here, after all—none of them did. They wouldn’t be here if they had.

The boy’s question was met with nothing but agonizing silence. The patients that littered the bus gazed sorrowfully at the ground, and the wardens that sat next to them stared forward in boredom. A ringing began in Charlie’s ears as her anxiety pulsed more heavily through her veins.

“Where are we going?” The boy’s voice was louder now, laced with an uneasy desperation. Charlie felt a pang of pity for the child, and she found herself imagining what his parents must be doing right now. She figured that they would probably be standing in the doorway of his bedroom with their arms wrapped around each other. Crying.

“Camp,” a gruff voice finally snapped back. This was not the voice of a patient; this was the voice of a warden. “You are going to camp.”

The voice sounded eerily similar to the man who had brought her to the bus only hours before, and Charlie wondered numbly if it actually was. His face had been long and gaunt, characterized strongly by his large, black eyes. He had a tall and slender body, but the white jumpsuit he wore gave him an air of intimidation that sent chills down Charlie’s spine.

She had been alone in the bathroom only moments before first seeing those black eyes of his. Standing next to the bathtub, holding a razor to her right wrist, she began to cry. It wasn’t clear why she was crying, but she assumed that they were close to tears of happiness. It was finally happening, after all; she was finally going to be set free.

Just as she was about to swipe that blade across her wrist and escape from the pain of it all, a loud thump had come across the bathroom door, forcing it open. Two men in jumpsuits had entered, but Charlie only remembered the thin one with the black eyes. He had ripped the blade from her hand and grabbed her firmly by the elbow, dragging her down the stairs so quickly that she never once laid an entire foot on the ground.

Her parents had been sitting at the kitchen table. Her father was sitting with his hands folded in front of him, his eyes red and vacant, and her mother was hiding her face in her palms, her shoulders moving up and down as she sobbed. The wardens had brought her into the kitchen and sat her down across from her parents, explaining in monotone that she had fifteen minutes to talk to them before they took her away.

She was shaking, and everything was happening in such a blur that she had sat there looking at her parents for what felt like hours before finally saying a word. She looked to both of them, but it was only her father who would make eye contact with her.

“I’m sorry,” Charlie whispered, salty tears running across her lips.

Her father’s eyes were still vacant as he began to shake his head. “How could you?” His voice was hoarse and hollow. “How could you do this to us? After all that happened with Cliff?”

Charlie’s tears were coursing down her cheeks, now, and she found herself unable to find words. She hadn’t meant to hurt them. How could she say that, though? How would they believe?

Minutes more of sobs and apologies progressed before Charlie’s mother finally lifted her head and looked at her daughter. Those eyes haunted her when she closed her eyes, and she figured they would continue to haunt her for the rest of her life. When accompanied by the last thing her mother spoke to her, Charlie assumed she now had the content for every nightmare that would come to disturb her every dream.

“You mean we’re going to hell.”

The response of another young woman pulled Charlie from her trance and reminded her of where she was. The voice bounced ominously around the school bus as it conversed with silence, and it wasn’t long before it was replaced by the familiar sound of the roaring engine.

Charlie looked out the window at the passing buildings as she contemplated the meaning of the word “camp.” The warden’s voice echoed in her ears as she heard the word on repeat, and images of popular commercials came back to her memory.

The commercials were always cartoons, as it appealed more widely to a younger demographic. It would always start off with two kids who were very sad. One was usually holding a rope, and the other was usually holding a razor. Pretty soon a large figure in a white uniform would appear and bring the two children to a school bus (much like the one Charlie found herself on now.) The kids would disappear into a large, gray complex, and they would emerge with glowing smiles. They would return to their families, greeted with hugs, kisses, and love.

The commercial was meant to bring hope to those who had lost loved ones to “camp,” as well as to break the stigma behind this mysterious complex. It worked pretty well concerning younger children, but the mirage was usually shattered by the time one reached high school. That was when some of the younger camp-goers would return, and there were never any smiles associated with them.

When Charlie was 12, her best friend Miranda had disappeared, supposedly shipped off to a nearby “camp.” Charlie had thought that this was fantastic, as she knew her friend would return soon without a single thought of suicide in her head. When Miranda had returned three years later, though, she was hardly the girl Charlie had known before. Miranda had gone through such an intense “reprogramming” that she was barely even able to speak in full sentences. Her eyes were always glazed over in a vacant stare, and she refused Charlie’s offers to go out whenever they were presented.

Miranda was the closest example Charlie had to the effects of The Reformation’s actions, but she wasn’t the only one. A large portion of Charlie’s high school was filled with these zombies who seemed to return from the dead, and she supposed she was soon to be one of them. Maybe when she returned she would be greeted by others who were yet to come back; many of her peers had disappeared in the last couple of years and were still missing—one of which was her older brother, Cliff.

“How could you do this to us?... After all that happened with Cliff?”

Her father’s voice rang through her ears again, and she pinched her eyes closed in an effort to force it out. She felt her mother’s voice pushing to come through, but she fought against it with all of her strength. She didn’t want to hear it—she couldn’t allow herself to hear it. Not today.

She preoccupied herself by allowing those commercial strips to run through her mind again. Maybe this would be good for her. After all, at least she would still be around. At least she wouldn’t be like Katherine or Jacob, her two close friends, who had finished the act before the wardens could get to them. She was being given a second chance to “reconsider.” Perhaps a blessing in disguise.

“We’re all just going to be rats in your fucking experiments, aren’t we?” The voice that spoke up was the same voice that had spoken last, and the strong words came flooding from behind Charlie to the front of the bus and back again. “You’re going to drill holes in our heads and lock us in cells, just like the shitheads scientists did back in the 1950’s, aren’t you?” The woman scoffed. “And I thought the Reformation was all about progress.”

Charlie waited for someone to reply, but nobody got a chance. The woman’s words were met with a loud thunk, of which sounded like bone forcibly meeting bone. Charlie’s heart began to race slightly faster as she sank in her seat. She knew exactly what had happened just a few seats behind her, because she had seen it happen before. If one speaks poorly of The Reformation, the wardens have a right to “silence” them. It usually won’t kill a person, but usually doesn’t mean that it can’t.

The rest of the passengers rode in agonizing silence until the bus finally came to a halting stop. Charlie peered out the window at the same large, grey complex that had been depicted in the cartoon commercials. It was darker than they had portrayed, and it emitted an aura that brought tremors to her body.

The wardens on the bus all stood up at once, grabbing the arms of the passengers sitting next to them. Charlie felt a firm hand grab around her elbow, and in a moment she was brought to her feet as well. As they began loading off of the bus, Charlie heard her mother’s last words to her pounding through her head with every pulse through her veins. She had tried her hardest to suppress them, but now the voice screamed with such ferocity that it brought on a horrific headache.

“Your only job in this life is to live.

They were simple words, but the malice behind them was sinister. Everyone made existing sound easy, but why did existing have to be associated with pain and emptiness? Their generation had been catapulted into the void of modern living, and that consisted solely of the miserable journey of finding meaning. Why couldn’t an adult tell them the meaning? Why couldn’t somebody show them?

The wardens gathered the passengers of the school bus at the gates of the complex, and they watched silently as a tall woman in a grey suit opened it and approached them. She greeted them with a smile and an extravagant wave of her arms.

“Hello to you all,” she said clearly, her smile sustaining through her words. “Welcome to Camp Reconsideration. I’m sure you have heard of us, and I am also sure you all know why you are here.” Her eyes glanced over all of them with a flicker of disappointment that made Charlie uncomfortable. “My name in Miss Kelly, and I am the head liaison here. My job is to make sure you are going through our camp’s journey as efficiently and as accurately as possible. Now, you will all follow me inside where we will get you tagged and situated.”

The woman turned her back on the group as she motioned for them to follow, walking through the open gate with a strong stride. The passengers were all grabbed by the warden who had sat with them, and one by one they began walking in the same direction. As Charlie passed under the large arch of the gate, she looked up and read the fading letters that were inscribed in the stone:

The greatest adversities call for the greatest adaptations.