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Camp Howit

Chapter 4

Wednesday

11

Day three. It started with Greg and his damned overly-loud alarm clock again. And his usual speech. I preferred to go slow and easy as I got up when I woke up in the state I was in that morning. Thankfully I had rolled mostly onto my front, my left leg cocked a bit, keeping me from rolling the rest of the way flat.

And that kept me from lying on it all night. But not from it being awake and perky before I was. My first thought was that it was so hard, if I moved, it might go off. I wondered if it had been hard all night. The dream of the boys in the woods, and James and Robert, and even Holt joining us, faded. I still felt those thrills, though, as my body changed from dormant to active mode in its own languid way.

My brain, the awake-a-day conscious part, followed, but even more slowly.

I wanted a shower, though I had to worry if it was going to go down or not. I usually just rolled over in the morning and went at it. At least since I had started growing since last summer, and the cave and the girl.

That wasn't possible now. At all. Not unless everyone else...

No, I couldn't. Greg wouldn't go to the academy without every one of us on the bus, anyway.

It wouldn't even be possible until this afternoon. I began thinking of places where I could look to find some solitude. It was obvious the woods were crawling with kids until curfew. And I couldn't be out past curfew. I had seen what happened when kids weren't in on time. I went over the map of the camp in my head, trying to find a place, or a time.

Calisthenics, and I didn't notice that Holt wore another pair of boxers that were at least one size too big and allowed him to flop around in them, and for the fly to pop open from time to time as he exercised. Okay, I did notice, I just tried not to and to stare at the window across the cabin instead. When the exercises were over, I lay down on the bunk and acted as if I were exhausted. Robert and James asked if I was going to shower and I told them I didn't know, that I might just nap until the bus left. They went to shower and I was left mostly alone.

I felt like a pervert. I wanted to uproot and make compost out of the gay, not feed it Rapid-Grow and set it out in the sunshine. I had gone to the camp to work on getting rid of those kinds of thoughts and feelings, but instead I found myself in a room with boys who showed off their bodies by not wearing shirts, thought nothing of changing clothes and being nearly naked in front of me, who ran around in tight Speedos, and that exercised in boxers that gave me views that any ordinary boy wouldn't care about or notice. And as a blue-light special, I had ended up with my hands up and in two boys' stuff as if we were gay.

It went down. I got up, got clean clothes, put on the shower sandals, grabbed my towel and shampoo, and headed quickly to the showers. I put my clothes in a locker and stood in line, towel around my waist, trying to imagine what the classes were going to be like. Once it was my turn, I walked around the corner and into the shower area, to an open shower head, turned on the water, hung up my towel, and showered. I tried not to look around, just did what I had to do and walked out. Just like in school. I dried and dressed, then walked back to the cabin.

I didn't get hard and no one seemed to have noticed me. It was perfect.

In a few minutes we were at the academy having breakfast. The food was always good. Some things weren't quite sweet enough, and some things were obviously rigged more for health than taste, but still, it was better than some places I had eaten.

The classes were discussions of what we would be expected to know in high school, and techniques we could use to help learn new material.

Lunch was terrific. I hoped and prayed my high school took lessons from this place.

As James, Robert, and I sat eating lunch, I tried not to look around at the boys, and tried looking at the girls. A table next to ours was all girls, and some were pretty. I knew what pretty and ugly girls looked like, no problem there at all. The problem was that a boy would catch my eye and drag it away, time after time. I kept looking back at the girls, wondering what the other boys found so alluring. I was mortified when a girl saw me looking at her. She half-smiled and looked back at her friends, and I locked my eyes back on my tray.

I was trying to fit in, not stand out. The last thing I needed was for a girl to pay attention to me. Then it struck me, that that was the very thing I needed. If I had a girl around me, and hung out with one, how could the gay stay? And how would anyone suspect?

I looked back at her, and thought that I wouldn't mind if I had to spend some time with her. She wasn't totally hot, but she wasn't ugly at all. I figured that if I went out with her, if she would spend any time with me during the next two weeks, it would go a long way toward establishing a nice, normal persona for high school. I didn't know what I would have to do to hang out with her, or any girl, but I was willing to find out in the hopes that it would draw me out of the phase, or would push the gay away. She noticed me looking again and didn't look happy about it. I didn't want any trouble, especially not any trouble with a girl, so I didn't look back again.

The classes in the afternoon were much the same as the morning ones. Basics of the course were laid out, and we were expected to learn the simple things that they pointed out on the board, and finish the assignment or project we were given. In Astronomy, Robert and I sat next to each other and became partners. It was the only class we had together.

In Outdoor Survival, we were going to be hiking overnight our last weekend, climbing rock cliffs and crossing gaps. We would be learning how to rappel, ascend and descend, and safety tactics in the meantime. We would learn what plants were safe to eat, what ones weren't, and often why. How to find or collect water, what animals and bugs to eat, and what ones to avoid. I thought some of the information was interesting, and the climbing sounded fun, at least.

As we returned to the cabins on the bus, I vowed to slip into the background and not be noticed. If it wasn't possible to hang out with a girl or two, and I doubted that I had the guts to even ask one out even if she had shown any interest in me, I would hang out in the shadows. I would work on getting out the gay, and becoming interested in girls, and maybe sports, but most of all, I would vanish into the background and not be noticed.

As the bus rolled over the smooth, black road and I watched the manicured lawn slide by and the woods grow larger, things seemed to make sense. I didn't have to keep the gay, I could make it go away, and I could get used to liking girls. I could be normal, and just like every other boy. I could never look at Robert, or James, or Greg, or Holt, or any other boy, or talk to them, and I wouldn't have to think those thoughts. Robert was interesting, and so was James, and Holt, and Dennis, and the twins mostly for what I had to do for them. To them. They were all interesting, but I could ignore them. Read alone as often as possible, do assignments and classes, but I didn't have to get to know them, or face rejection by them, or bother them with my faggy worthlessness. I would get along as quietly as I could, including the bare minimum to get along with Robert and do our assignment together, and otherwise stay unnoticed in the shadows.

I could make it through the two weeks of camp, and no one would even remember I was ever there. Then I would use that as practice for my life in high school and beyond. It was perfect, it made sense, it would work.

If I kept to the background, in the shadows, ignored, I would be safe. Right?

As we got off the bus, dark clouds were moving overhead, very quickly, and the smell of rain and ozone was strong. It was all any of us needed to see and smell to know strong weather was moving in from the north and west. It was common in the Chicago area in summer, and the thunder rolling in wasn't lazy, cloud-to-cloud, heat lighting. Summer storms from that direction were usually fast birthed, fast lived, and fast moving. And powerful.

By the time we were all inside, the rain was moving in and the winds picked up. Some of the guys were concerned, but no one seemed scared or really worried. Some of us were actually upbeat. I loved a good storm, and was standing on the porch with the few others who also dared it.

Greg and Kurt were there, along with Robert, two really snobby kids I couldn't stand already, and Peter, who was a fairly normal seeming guy I hadn't talked to. The storm rolled closer and the clouds grew dark and ominous, tinged with green and blues. Someone drove a jeep down the road from the academy rather quickly with the lights on, honking the horn. Greg, Kurt, and what seemed every other counselor from nearby cabins ran up to the jeep and climbed inside or huddled around the windows.

They broke up after a minute or less, and ran off to their cabins. Kurt went inside and Greg motioned all us inside.

"We're under a tornado watch, and a warning. Most of it is coming this way, so we're doing the severe weather huddle, got me?"

We followed his directions and sat facing the wall next to our beds, the little dresser moved to cover our backs, and were told to be ready to tuck in tight and cover our heads and the back of our necks with our hands and arms. Greg turned on the radio and "Renegade" was playing. It was the only station we got out there, so we waited to hear if they said anything about the storm. I loved the song, so it was especially nice to listen to it as the wind picked up further and the thunder grew closer.

Since Robert's bunk was against the wall in the corner and his dresser next to mine, we had to huddle up next to each other. It was all familiar from school, so none of us were confused, except Robert. He looked scared to death as he huddled next to me, nearly touching in the narrow space between our bunks. We were the only ones in the room not huddled alone in the cubby hole formed by a dresser, two beds, and a wall.

"No tornadoes in Germany?"

"Feck nein!"

"Never did this in school?"

"Ja. Fur nuclear drill," he said in near panic. "Tornado can break cabin?"

I looked at the logs, and wondered. I thought it would have to be a huge tornado.

"Only one of the biggest."

"Is dis?" he asked, his worried eyes meeting mine.

I shrugged. There was no way to tell until it was over. Or it tore the cabin to bits, and us along with it. "Renegade" still played, and Greg turned it up, probably hooping to keep us calm and to cover some of the sounds outside as things blew by, the wind howled, and trees groaned.

Lightning struck very close by, probably in the woods or at the academy. Soon, strike after strike pounded the earth around us. I could all feel the building vibrating under my feet and knees, and not only from the thunder. There was a constant humming from the powerful winds as they tore by. What little daylight came in through the windows now did very little to illuminate anything, and the greenish color it cast told me more than I wanted to know, and far more than I thought I should share with Robert as we huddled there.

Then we heard the hail. It sounded like the building cracking and falling down around us. There was no insulation between the roof surface outside and the interior surface above our heads. Lightning hit very close then, and the snap before the lightning made us all jump. I could smell the heated air.

A sound like every window on the planet shattering filled the room as most every window did blow out from west to east. Glass showered down over us, and I brushed at my hair, feeling my fingers and palms being cut. I pulled my hands down and in the flash of another close lightning strike I saw blood on them. I wondered if any of it was from my head, and not all from my fingers and palms.

More lightning so close by that we could hear the precluding crack of the electricity just as the flash lit up the room, then the pounding thunder. Wood splintered, and then a loud crash jolted the floorboards. Then it sounded as if something pounded the side of the building. It seemed like the building was coming down around us.

Someone was crying, and I felt bad for the guy. He was not only scared shitless, he was due for a lot of grief over it.

I huddled in tight, covering my head and neck, and listened as things blew by on the wind, as things cracked and boomed, and the wind tore at the building, and through it as well. Robert huddled next to me, gasping when another lightning strike sounded out very close. I wanted to pat his back and grin and joke and tell him there wasn't anything to worry about, but when I glanced over at the windows across the cabin, the green, black, and yellow boiling clouds I saw proved that there was plenty to worry about.

I felt the hair on my neck rise, and I had time to think about how they said that meant that lightning was about to strike close by, and scoff at the thought that as close as some of that lightning was, I should have already felt something like that happen; but that was all I got to think.

"You okay?"

"Hey! Greg! Help!"

What? Geeze, someone piss his pants, I thought. What happened?

I heard German, but couldn't catch anything useful. I tried to open my eyes, but all I saw was a faint, blurry, red fuzz. I blinked, it went away while my eyes were closed, but it came right back.

"Alex? Man, you okay? Hey!"

I could hear Robert and understand James, but the loudest ringing in my ears - that almost hurt - bled over everything they said.

"Did that lightning hit him?" I heard Greg ask.

"Fuckin' a it did!" James answered.

Who?

"What, Alex?"

"Who?"

"Who, what?"

"Who, got hit, by lightning?"

"You fuckin' did!"

So, that's why I feel so funny. I lived, I guess. But am I blind?

That thought seemed to jump-start my brain. I started to panic.

What if I'm blinded by lightning? I don't want to be blind!

Greg asked me more questions, and I noticed that I could start to tell that it was him in front of me. He asked more questions, and soon I could tell who was who around me. I wasn't going blind.

I sighed, and probably smiled.

After I assured Greg that I was okay, he insisted that I go to the hospital to be checked out. He was mostly worried about the blood in my hair. I told him it was from the glass that cut my hands when I tried to brush it out of my hair. He wasn't sure, so he wrapped a towel around my head anyway. I felt conspicuous and ridiculous.

I want to hide, be invisible, not be noticed. How am I going to do that if I'm the center of attention? And wearing a fucking towel on my head?

"Vow. Zink it come... de vires. Is electrics plug."

He pointed at the wall where we had huddled, and at the electrical outlet there. The plastic faceplate was blackened and partially melted.

"You could've been fried," James said with awe.

"I feel fried," I replied.

My hands were still shaking, as was most of my entire body. I shivered, sort of. And I did surely feel scared. My vision was improving, and it looked like it would return to normal, so I relaxed a little. That ringing, though, seemed far too loud. I knew it was in my head, because no matter where I turned to look or listen, it was in perfect stereo.

The storm was moving on, and only distant lightning and thunder reminded me of it.

Greg and a lead counselor took me to a hospital. I was checked over and let go after they removed some small glass fragments from my hands and fingers, and a couple from my hair. They had enough really hurt people to see to, and I was merely a W.S.W. one nurse said - a walking-slightly-wounded.

"A man a few minutes ago didn't survive his lightning strike. You're a lucky young man," she said as she finished up.

If I'm so lucky, why would I be hit by lightning to begin with? I thought with disgust at her stupidity.

When I got back to the camp, I was taken straight to the main cabin and given the phone. Mom was beside herself. All she knew was that a bad storm had hit the camp, and that I had been taken to the hospital. I convinced her that her only son was alive and, well, mostly well. She told me they would be up to see me Saturday morning and would bring clean clothes, and asked if there was anything I wanted them to bring. I said fine and that there wasn't. She made me say it.

"Love you too," and I handed off the phone.

"You are proving to be a very interesting camper," Greg said as we walked back to our cabin.

"Oh? How so?" I asked, just as my grandmother would have.

"I've never seen someone hit by lightning before. One kid was hit one summer, and he lived, too, but, he, um, well, he changed. I heard a lot of people hit by lightning who live are messed up in the head after, but you're freaking nor-mal."

That word triggered disbelief and scorn, automatically.

"And you helped out some younger kids without razzing them about it. Those brothers think you pretty much saved their lives, but they hide it pretty well. James not so much, but he's the overworked type, anyway. I bet he told that story to every person he talked to all day today. Hope he gets it right every time. Something more than what you guys told us happened, but if that's what the six of you want to say happened, fine.

"Their counselor says they seem fine, laughing, doing everything the same as before, so he doesn't think they were beat up or hurt. They sure don't show any bruises or anything. So, whatever happened, seems it wasn't too bad. But like I said, the way James and those other kids talked about you and Robert today, don't be surprised if the other kids stop ignoring the two of you. You especially, after being hit by lightning."

Great.

"I know you're the quiet, shy type, and you probably won't like the attention you're about to get, but roll with it. It'll go away faster, and you can go back to being the recluse you seem to want to be. Or, you could try making some of those connections I told you to. Some of these guys will be going to your high school, and they are going to know you now. You won't be that kid they barely remember from the academy camp. You'll be that kid that got hit by lightning at camp."

And from there it turned into the usual pep talk. That was no way to conduct a pep talk to me. It did nothing like pep me up.

And he was right. I didn't make it past his room before half the room ran to meet me.

Greg shut them all up with, "He's fine! He'll be okay. He had some cuts from some glass, nothing big, and he got his melon a little microwaved. He'll survive." He parted the crowd as he talked. "Now back off, and let him have some quiet so he can calm his nerves down. He's on edge from that jolt and needs to unwind, okay? So leave him alone and you can ask him about it tomorrow." He pushed them back as he left me, James, and Robert in our little corner. "It's very late and you're all up after lights-out. Now in your beds and no straggling out of them in the morning."

"Well, so, you feeling okay?" James asked.

"Yeah, tired and frazzled around the edges, but I'm okay."

"Zat vas most awesome zing I ever see," Robert said slowly. "Und zo glad okay!"

I didn't feel like trying to correct him. I just wanted to lie down. After getting my shoes and shirt off, I stretched out, and I didn't remember anything after my head hitting the pillow.

Alex - Camp 1 - -4