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Crimson Summer - Chapter Three


The level of excitement that Carol awoke with was nearly too much for her to handle. Endorphins pumped and her nerves went on edge. The day was finally here. The day she had waited for all year long. The one she thought about constantly, sitting at her boring receptionist job at the university, twiddling her thumbs and just picturing all the great things that would start this day. This was like Christmas to her. No, this was bigger than Christmas; this was the first day of Summer Camp.
It didn't matter what anyone thought about her excitement, she showed it without shame. She had been there for several weeks helping to prep the camp with most of the other counselors and it was hard enough to get the smile off her face. And while she certainly enjoyed that -- one of the only counselors that did -- this trumped everything else. No one else understood the camp like she did. Except maybe Al, whose enthusiasm was more contained than Carol's. The day of campers’ first arrival was the true beginning of all the fun for her.

The last few nights had been spent carefully preparing her routine. Every year she would follow a basic structure but there were always tweaks and areas to improve. First, she'd wake up at 5:30am, get out of bed and immediately wash her face with cold water. Then apply a cleanser and wash it off. She'd then wipe her face with Stridex pads and allow the exfoliant to work its magic. This was valuable time that she combed her hair. Getting all knots out of her mane transitioned smoothly into the ponytail she'd put it into.
After making her way to the bathroom at 6:00, she would take only a two and a half minute shower, as to not take all the hot water from the other counselors. Not to mention the annoying showering plumbing that would sometimes go ice-cold out of nowhere. The longer you were in, the higher your chances of getting iced. Simple fact of camp life. Carol tried to fix it but given that she had no experience in the subject whatsoever, she did more harm than good. Big Al certainly wasn't appreciative of the $2,000 bill from the plumber.
Spending twenty-two-and-a-half minutes adjusting her make-up, which looked shockingly similar to how she looked without said beauty products, she put her hair into its signature ponytail and started the strangest part of her daily routine. She'd stare at the mirror for a good two minutes, pumping herself up, much like a coach does to their players before a big game. She did this every morning. That was it for her personal routine. Then it came into the fun stuff: the counselor routine.
First she'd go to her campers’ bunk at precisely 7:30, waking them up with the rapid clanging of the bell, hung outside the cabin. They'd wake up on the grouchy side, but nothing Carol couldn't fix with a massive smile and interesting fact, usually regarding sleep and often more opinion than fact. Her go-to on the first morning was always, "The natural human sleep cycle follows the sun, and the more you do too, the more likely you'll grow up to be big and bright." Lots of opinion.
                After shuffling the campers off to the showers, an activity she allotted 45 minutes of time for, she'd calmly read her school books in front of the cabin. Sometimes she'd peek in on the girls and tell them to hurry up, just to keep them in line and maybe hear some choice gossip.
Once the campers were all showered and dressed, it was time for the meeting at the flag. Here, every group would stand in line and say the pledge of allegiance as the American flag was risen high in the sky. They used to have a prayer at the end but that changed in the 90's to a moment of silence, then finally in the 2000's, it was dropped completely.
The Camp Watanka song would follow. Carol, accompanying on the guitar and easily the loudest voice at the camp, would stand near the front and sway back and forth, like she was on a stage in front of thousands and thousands. She really liked that damn song. 
With the campers' stomach's grumbling, it was time for breakfast. This would usually happen at 8:30 but given Al's looseness with scheduling, it would sometime go over or under by several minutes. No matter though, Carol always kept a spare hacky sack on her when she needed to fill time and build bonds of friendship in her group.
Giving a helping hand to Marjory, the camp cook and a staple of Camp Watanka since 1973, Carol would stand behind the counter and serve food.  It was her way of making sure every camper had their meal for the day and no one went hungry. Carol had read long ago that an easy way to avoid a grouchy teenager was to give them plenty of fuel for the day ahead, something she treated like it wasn't common knowledge to society. It was.
It took almost thirty minutes to get all of the kids through the line, then an additional thirty minutes for them to eat -- thirty five if it was omelet day. This meant that by the time they were ready to separate into groups and begin the day’s activities, it was already 9:30. Carol repeatedly told Al that the kids were slow and should be faster so that they can start the activities by 8:30 but Al just wouldn't budge. He claimed, "The kids needed their sleep and don't need to be rushed everywhere," or something stupid, at least Carol thought so. She had far too much to do to have such a late start.
Once separated into groups, this was when the day really began, or so Carol believed. This was when all her hard planning paid off. See, she didn't treat the day’s activities like most other counselors; an unfortunate fact given the amount of time Carol spent lobbying for her system to be implemented camp-wide.
From health books on physical fitness for youths, to psychology books about mental stimulation through problem solving, each book was a tool in her overall plan to make these kids, at the end of the two month period, better in every way possible. These were the minds of tomorrow, and Carol needed to do everything she could to nourish them and let them flourish.
The other counselors found her odd for some reason.
The three hour period of activities before lunch ranged from scavenger hunts, hide and seek, word association games, eventually culminating in a trust fall for each of the group members. This was Carol's favorite activity because it showed how much the kids got more comfortable around each other, and more importantly around Carol, who needed their approval.
Then at 12:30, lunch would follow a similar structure to breakfast, with Carol assisting Marjory with food. Given that the campers were more awake from all the physical activity, Carol would bust out her guitar and sing upbeat poppy music. Carol could sometimes see certain campers bobbing along to the tune. That was enough for her to consider her job well done.
After lunch at precisely 1:30, all of the groups would remain as one and do a massive activity. This would range from rock climbing to baseball to basketball to capture the flag, all depending on the day. Marion would usually take the reins here but Carol would end up taking over naturally throughout the course of the session. For some reason, Marion would often look at Carol, annoyed as she yelled out commands, trying to make the game more fun. Some people just don't understand how to have fun, Carol thought.
Next came the time of the day that Carol tried to get rid of year after year, considering it was nothing other than hormonal fraternizing and nonsense: swimming time. The entire camp would venture to the lake and enjoy the water and sunshine. Carol claimed it was nothing other than a chance for the boys to oogle the girls who are themselves being inappropriate by wearing such scantily clad clothing. Carol would watch over them on top the lifeguard stand, with her custom made one-piece bathing suit; an item of clothing that looked popular in the 1950's.
5:30 the groups would separate into whatever specialty class they wanted to take. These included kayaking, archery, pottery, and woodworking. Carol taught pottery and her attendance numbers were well below the average for the other groups. Al always told Carol she needed to come up with a different one.
"Kids just aren't that into spinning clay," he once said.
Carol scoffed at the notion, refusing to believe such an art-form would go unappreciated. It just gave a cause to her pottery class. Last year she had two campers sign up.
Dinner time would spring up around 6:30 and the groups would converge much like lunch and breakfast. This time, however, Carol wouldn't join Marjory to pass out food. Since dinner had a much looser feel given the lack of planned activities afterwards, Al told Carol it was unnecessary for her to help out. Carol refused, but when Al said that dinner was valuable bonding time for the counselors, she shut up and did as told. So instead she sat at the counselor's table, trying her hand at bonding with her coworkers. It usually resulted in silence while she judged whatever the others were talking about.
Once dinner finished, it was considered "free-time" though really, it depended on your age. The older campers were allowed to either go to the campfire pits, stay in the mess hall for board games, or return to their cabins. Most would split their time between the fires and the cabins. The younger kids would be forced to stay in the mess hall. Carol remained in the hall and played board games with those that stayed. 
Once 9:00 hit, Carol would close up shop in the mess hall, sending the campers back to their cabins in order to keep the 9:30 curfew. Usually she'd have some difficulty getting some of the older kids to leave the campfire, but then Marion would come along and deal with it. Carol resented the position Marion had, but she was at least thankful for the respect she commanded. It was always something that Carol strove for.
At precisely 9:35, Carol would enter the cabin she shared with Marion who, unless she was suffering from an illness or invested in a really good book, wouldn't be back in the cabin for several hours. She'd be hanging out with the other counselors from times ranging anywhere from 12:00 to 3:33am. Once Marion didn't even come back to the cabin. Carol was shocked at Marion's pure disregard for her own mental health.
After a fairly quick routine of removing her makeup and brushing her teeth, she'd rest her head on her pillow and fall asleep, no later than 10:00pm. Usually.
These were her days. This was her routine. This was the only way she knew how she live at the camp. It may have made her predictable but that's how Carol liked it. Old reliable Carol.

The 16x16 structure that Carol called home during her time at Watanka had become more of a home to her than even her childhood house. This was where she actually enjoyed spending her time. A place that always seemed to represent something better. At least that's what Carol would often tell herself when she was away from it. It wasn't like her cabin was anything special. She shared it with Marion, the head counselor, a person Carol both looked up to and despised. So space was tight. And outside of beds, they had to share everything else. Even drawers, which sometimes lead to the wearing of each other's clothes on accident. Marion didn't care much about it. Carol did. Still, it had a comfort to it that Carol just couldn't seem to replicate anywhere else. 
Carol's appearance completely encapsulated her personality: her strawberry blonde locks almost too perfect and full of volume. Her flawless skin glowed in the most doll-like of ways. Carol clearly took good care of herself in every way. In fact, she may have even been considered attractive if she actually dressed the part.  Instead she often looked closer to that of a Mormon intent on never having sexual relations.
In the bunk next to her own, Marion stirred awake, immediately grabbing the small cartridge next to her bed and taking a small puff. Those damn electronic cigarettes, Carol thought to herself, being a person that despised all smoking. Eyes still closed, Marion exhaled deeply, opening her eyes to see Carol, her eyes already meeting Marion's gaze. Those wide, blue, doll-like eyes.
"You have to stop doing that. One of these days I'm gonna have a heart attack or you're gonna accidentally get socked in the face.  Either, or," Marion said, covering up her mouth to yawn.
"Well wake up, boss," Carol smiled obnoxiously.
"I don't know how you do it," Marion said, barely getting the words out through another yawn, "5AM and you're as chipper as ever. And no alarm clock, even."
"You don't have an alarm clock either," she said with a ridiculous amount of pep.
"You are my alarm clock, Carol," Marion sighed, clearly not impressed with the situation which would repeat itself for the next month.
"Well, you're welcome then," Carol responded with a big smile.
"Yeah, waking up to Princess Peach staring at me is a wonderful way to start my day. Not terrifying in the least." Marion laid the sarcasm on thick.
"Oh come on! Don't be a sour puss. The kids arrive in just a few short hours! We're about to change lives," Carol said playfully. Her voice was light and flowing, taking cadences from nearly every Disney princess, forming a unique and even ridiculous speech pattern. Marion ignored it easily, given her many, many years of practice.
"Yeah and I have paperwork to file for two last minute applicants, a phone call I need to make to Steve to figure out what's wrong with payroll since currently no one is being paid and I can't really corral a bunch of irresponsible college kids to work without reward," Marion said, catching her breath. "That's all prior to when a hundred kids join us, where they need to be separated into bunks, hopefully ones that don't cause problems but you know how that goes, it's pretty much just luck. Then we have to set up the whole schpeal about what to expect and sing that stuuuupid song. God I hate that fucking song."
"I love that song," Carol slipped right into it before Marion could even react.

"Ohhhh I looove, Camp Watanka
It's the best camp in the whole United Staaaates.
There's no sad place, on our campers face
Because with all the fun to be had youuuu must embrace,
And brace yourself, for days of fun.
Cause it’s all right here for eeeeeeveryyyyyoooooone!
Camp Watanka!"
Marion was out of the cabin to go shower before Carol was even done singing. 


Crimson Summer - Chapter Two

Read Chapter One HERE


        Another year. That's the only thought that ever seemed to go through Liz's head as she boarded the bus for another journey into what felt like an oddly familiar alien world. Another year spent listening to Big Al tell stupid jokes, Carol act overly excited for anything going on in the camp, and that stupid "unity bash" at the end. I hate all of it, Liz thought. She walked down the cramped bus aisle, laughing at the yet-again chipping and in need of a paint job interior.  The bus driver always claimed, "He'd get to it after he dropped them off at camp."  It never happened.  The driver was just a lazy jackass, Liz had surmised. Probably not far off given his faded “Class of ‘89’” T-shirt from what must have been high school.
Even with the chipping paint, Liz probably would have been disappointed had there been a fresh coat of paint present for nostalgia’s sake. It was all part of the package and the routine of it all. Summer camp was just such a routine in and of itself that even the things she used to hate about going became things she looked forward to. She just had to go through fits of annoyance with the process to get there. Going to Watanka had become such a big part of Liz's life that she stopped complaining to her parents about it long ago. It didn't matter what she said anyway. They were sending her and that was that. Oddly enough she couldn't help but be a little grateful about the whole ordeal. The idea of staying around her parents was more torture than spending 36 days at Camp Watanka.
Taking her seat, her eyes scanned the crowd on Bus 2, trying to see if she spotted any familiar faces. Was that the cute boy from Bunk Barracuda last summer? No, he said his family was moving back to Arizona. Oh wait, Liz thought, that's definitely Molly Austin near the back. Her hand quickly rose to greet her but stopped the moment the realization came to her that Molly had a very distinct mole on her left cheek. This girl had no mole. Fuck. That girl always would sneak in whiskey.  So much for that, Liz sighed. Her eyes continued to scan, trying to figure out if this would be another summer she had to completely start over with friends.

It wouldn't be the first time that she had to start anew. Outside of the Belar Twins, she was the only consistent camper that Camp Watanka had. And that was probably for good reason. Summer camps had their hey-day in the 1980's and had casually fallen off ever since. Nowadays, the only kids that went were those that either A) wanted to try it out once or B) their parents wanted them out of the house so they were going to be leaving for the summer regardless of their own opinion. Didn't exactly leave the ripest friends for the picking but Liz made do.
No, what scared her more than the prospect of new friends were the counselors treating her like she was the teacher's pet. Given that the Camp only had three consistent campers, it was hard to not be labeled as such when every counselor and the big boss knew your name. Early on Liz had even begged her parents to let her just go to a different camp. Anywhere that would help out her social standing. They refused, despite intense whining and rebellion. Didn't matter to them. Not like they wanted a daughter to begin with.
Another year she tried to convince her parents to sign her up under a different name, and surprisingly she succeeded. Her new wardrobe, haircut, and voice lasted all of two seconds; the illusion shattering the moment she stepped off the bus. Crazy Carol was able to sniff her out in a heartbeat, making an even bigger deal about her appearance and odd trickery. She didn't make any friends that summer. In fact, that summer was definitely the worst.
        Not having learned her lesson, two years ago Liz made a scene during the opening speech, cussing out Big Al in front of the entire camp. It wasn't Liz's finest moment but she thought it would prove a point. Instead, Big Al took it upon himself to treat her as a pet project. His grand plan was to make Liz fall in love with the camp and all it offered, just like Carol did. He had her do all sorts of things: set up game nights and arts and crafts for other campers, helped serve food during all three meals, and lead the campfire songs, most of which consisted of non-participation and one person singing -- usually Carol. Liz just saw it as Al training her to be the next Carol, something all campers wanted to avoid.
While this clearly wasn't the end result, it did help Liz gain an apathetic approach to her feelings on the camp. Instead of hating everything about Watanka on the outside, she just hid those feelings on the inside, rather than ruining the time for other campers. The camp would do that job on its own. 

Liz found an empty seat near the middle of the bus that wasn't completely falling apart or covered in old gum. She sat down on it with a grunt, bringing up a cloud of dust that joined the mixture of body odor and "country air" that filled the bus. Other kids, ranging anywhere from nine to eighteen, congregated towards the back, which prompted an "I've got my eyes on you back there" from the bus driver. Staring out the window, Liz looked through the crowd of parents, searching for her own mother and that ridiculously large hat of hers. Nowhere to be found. How the hell can I not see her in that -- Just when she was going to give up the search, she spotted her mother's car speeding off down the road, blowing up dust behind her. The other parents looked at the car, then at each other, clearly disapproving of her mother and her actions. Liz just shook her head, If you only knew.
        Hearing more ruckus from outside, Liz looked out, seeing another vehicle, driving extremely fast as well, and coming directly towards the bus. The car skidded to a halt, some of the parents backing away a little, as a disheveled teenage boy stepped out. The driver didn't even get out, yelling something out that Liz could only catch part of: "Jeannie." Odd name for a boy, Liz pondered, wondering if she even heard it right.
Just as quickly as it had arrived, the car sped away, leaving the boy and his bag of luggage behind. Those may be worse parents than mine. Maybe. The boy made his way onto the bus, his eyes looking down at the floor. He was clearly close to Liz's age, so that was a plus, and his messy brown hair, parted to the side, reminded her of that cute boy from a couple years back. Liz scanned the seats around her, mostly full up. Those with one free seat had a bag next to them, sending a clear anti-social message. Liz, on the other hand, had her bag snugly between her legs, and plenty of room on the seat next to her. 
It didn't even seem like the boy was paying attention when he plopped down in the seat next to Liz. She greeted him with a smile but his eyes darted right down to his lap, holding tightly onto the phone in his grasp.
"I doubt you're really gonna to need that," Liz laughed. The boy's eyes darted up at her, defensive before he even got a word out.
"What?" he proclaimed, even though he clearly knew what was happening.
"They don't allow cellphones really," she stated, "They started it a couple years ago. I think some kid got his MacBook dropped in a lake or something. The parents sued, and the camp almost went under. Now they just don't let people bring expensive electronics. I think Al just really hates technology and doesn’t want us all on our phones throughout the summer. It all gets locked up in the main office. Two years ago this girl brought a vibrator and Carol thought it was a massager so she just kept it locked up with the laptops and the iPhones. Yeah . . . Al wasn't too impressed with that."
"Uh…" before the boy could even answer, Liz was at it again.
"Oh sorry, yeah, of course you don't know names. Marion is head counselor and Al is the owner. You'll randomly see him all the time. He's cool though. Just likes to get drunk and hit on the older counselors. Typical lonely bachelor stuff but he's really harmless. And Marion is pretty much the coolest person on the planet. She's the big sister you always wish you had -- do you have a sister? Doesn't really matter, she still fits that role. She's super cool. As long as you don't do something too stupid, she'll be your best friend. One summer when I had a boyfriend back home, she let me sneak off and text him at night. May not seem like much but it was the world then. That lasted until Carol tailed me and tried to get me kicked out. Sometimes I wish I had just let her. Oh and --" Liz stopped, realizing just how much she had been going on about stuff that was clearly, judging by the blank look on the boy's face, of no interest to him. She tried to make up for it with a, "Sorry, I talk a lot," but the boy still just stared at her blankly. Trying to avoid any second further of awkward silence, Liz asked quickly, "I'm Liz.  In case you couldn't tell I'm kind of a veteran."
"Yeah, I think I sherlocked that myself," the boy squeamishly said.
"And you are…" she asked, not knowing whether she'd even get a straight response. Everything about his body language was awkward and uninviting.
"Oh, sorry. Chase! My name is Chase. Chase is . . . yeah, that's my name." He was uncomfortable and stumbling over his words. Liz couldn't help but be drawn to it, as she could relate.
"You sure about that?" she smiled as Chase had seemed to finally be a little more social, even in an unconventional sense.
"According to . . . mother," he blushed a little as he struggled to even get out the words, which he didn't manage fully.
"Mother?  What are you, Norman Bates?"
Chase looked over at her, turning his head and smiling sadistically; he was a carbon copy of the ending shot of Psycho and Norman Bates' terrifying gaze into the camera. God, I fucking love that movie, Liz thought, but was careful not to say. She had to bust his balls more than that. How else would she test him?
"That is beyond creepy," Liz said.
"Sorry, people don't really get my sense of humor..." Chase trailed off towards the end, looking out the bus, away from Liz, clearly embarrassed and wanting to focus elsewhere.
"Hey, I got it. I still found it creepy though. Don't worry, funny to the max. Just, you know, in that non-laughter sort of way," Liz joked with him. She's not sure he got it though, as it was immediately met with a turn of the head and obvious signs of ignorance: eyes down, appendages facing away, and bad vibes aplenty. Liz didn't care though. She liked a good challenge.
"We're about to spend the next two hours on a bus together, do you really want to spend it acting like I'm not here? I promise, I can be a lot cooler if you don't act self-conscious about everything," Liz said, trying to convince him of anything, "Quit overthinking anything I’m saying.  Just react accordingly."
Chase waited a moment, not really knowing what to do. Didn't seem like many people called him out on his bullshit, a specialty of Liz's. And just like that, he broke out of his shell, "Sorry, I guess I just have a sort of defense mechanism where I try and test people.  Don't really put myself out there until I get a good idea of who they are. Make them prove that they're worth putting the effort into for a friendship.  I'm an introvert, so I go to the extreme to see how they react.  See if they can handle me at my worst – annnnd I just randomly spilled my guts out to a random stranger. Good start to camp."
Liz smiled wide the entire time.  It was hard not to.
"You and I are gonna get along all right," Liz said smiling as she finally had it confirmed:  Chase passed the test.

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The Crimson Summer - AVAILABLE NOW!!!

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