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Excerpt from “Camp”

Hi, Everyone.

This is one of the new stories I’m working on for Long Distance Dedications.  It’s obviously not done yet, but I’m working on it.  I’ve drawn a line between the two sections of the story I want to draw together.  There’s going to be a third section for the trip to the general store.  Anyway, any comments are welcome (as long as they’re not spam, that is ;)).


By: Brian Hartman


Dave sat at the table in the dining hall – the same rustic table he’d sat at for the week so far. The second week of this, his eighth year of coming to Camp Sunshower. Dessert was done, and it was mail call.


The camp director, a portly woman of probably fifty (although Dave didn’t know) called out the names enthusiastically.


“Jessica Ramsey!” She got a letter. Jessica bounced up and down in her wheelchair excitedly.

“Steve Randall!” His counselor got up and got his package. Steve was autistic, and didn’t show much interest.


“Dave Riggler!”


Dave saw the pink envelope and immediately shot up his hand. He knew what it was.


Dave tore open the envelope, trying to be careful not to rip the letter inside. Lisa had sent a long one this time. Six pages, front and back, on notebook paper. Lisa had this girly, balloony handwriting that Dave loved.


The director announced, “Alright, rest period! See everyone at 1PM for afternoon activities.”


Everyone filtered out of the dining hall and started back to the cabins. The cabins were named after the towns the donations to build them had come from, or from the organizations that had donated. Dave stayed with about a dozen other guys in Lakewood.


Kirk, Dave’s counselor, had two other kids assigned to him. There was Jimmy, 9, who had Downs Syndrome, and Carl, 18. Carl had CP and used a stick strapped to a helmet to communicate. He’d point to a word or a letter on a board on the tray in front of his chair. Carl needed constant care, and kept Kirk (who was only 18 himself) pretty busy. Jimmy was a good kid, but he was a bundle of energy and questions about everything. Rest hour was more for the counselors than the campers.


Dave laid down on his bed and got out the letter.


The first couple of pages were filled with how Lisa was doing in her classes (she hated Math and liked History) and the boy she liked in school. (Josh had smiled at her between classes, and she’d heard he wanted to ask her out.) The next page was the lyrics to a Poison song she liked, “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”. There were hearts and flowers interspersed with the verses and chorus. The next couple of pages were about her parents, her brother, and the girls at school who teased her about not being ready for “It” yet. At fourteen! Dave was only 3 years older, but he was still surprised by how fast kids were growing up these days. Fourteen!


In the final page, she asked about Jessica, about his powerlifting, and whether he’d written any poems lately. (Dave hadn’t included one in his last letter.) She also asked when he was getting the new chair. That wouldn’t come for a while, since his parents were still fighting with the insurance company.


He looked at his watch, wrote the time and date on the letter, and started writing.


It generally took two or three days for Dave and Lisa to write letters to each other. Each writing session had a time and date. Sometimes Dave would write six times before he sent a letter. Sometimes he’d only write one very long letter. It all depended on his mood and what was going on.


Dave spent about a page commiserating about Math class and describing the fun he had in History with Mr. Mazzano. He told her how much he liked the song, and told her there was no rush for “It”.


The Jessica situation took a little longer to explain. They weren’t broken up, but the phone calls had gotten less frequent – both because long distance was expensive, and because they were reaching a point when they didn’t have much to say. They needed to see each other again, but it would have to wait until school started and there was a dance or something. That was the main time they saw each other – when Dave’s brother would drive him up there and back to take her to the dance.


The bugle signaling the end of rest hour blew, and Dave got back into his chair.


Kirk had scheduled them for the afternoon arts & crafts activity, but Dave wasn’t interested. He sat in the arts & crafts garage and started again on the Lisa letter while the other campers fingerpainted or made god’s eyes.




The older kids always stayed up a little later. Especially if they could talk. If you were retarded, or just couldn’t talk, then you were in bed by 9, but if you connected with the counselors, then you stayed up later. That’s just how it was.


Dave was there in the bathroom with five other kids – his friend Tony (another “bif”, as the counselors called the spina bifida kids), Steve, who had mild CP and used forearm crutches, Irving, who used a wheelchair (but Dave’d never asked why), and Tyrone, a kid with severe CP. He didn’t have the kind of CP that required an electric chair, but he could only push his chair with his feet. And he couldn’t really talk well.


Dave turned to Steve. “Hey, I think that girl Michelle really likes you.”


Steve shifted his weight on his crutches. “Y’think so?”


Tony laughed, tilting his chair back, leaning against the bathroom wall.. “Yeah, I think she does, too. But watch out for that one. I dated her at camp last summer. A little crazy, if y’ask me.”


Steve chided him jokingly, “Nobody asked you, jerkwad.”


“Hey, watch it, Tubbo!”.


Steve shifted his considerable weight forward, but smiled.


“Sh’ doeshn’t like ‘ou anywah…Sh’ like meh!”


Irving clasped his shoulder. “C’mon man. Take it easy.”


Tyrone practically bounced out of his chair, his legs and arms going stiff, his head tilted to the left, face contorted. “Sh’ like s’meh!”


Tyrone took an awkward swing at Steve.


Steve tilted to the left, almost losing his footing with his crutches. “Hey! What the hell?!”


“Y’mthrfk’r!” Tyrone started rolling after him, shuffling his feet to make the chair move.


Dave blocked him. “Hey, cut that shit out, okay? Relax!”


“Sh’up, y’pusshy! I kick y’assh, righ’ nah!!”


“Hey, man. I don’t wanna fight you, okay?” Dave started to back away.


“I ‘ate you! Mthrfk’r!” He swung at Dave’s chest, his spastic fist connecting. Hard.


“Jus’ you’n meh! Jus’ you’n meh!” He took another swing, but missed. “You chkn?”


Steve gestured at Tyrone with his crutch. “You better kick his ass. Shut him up, for once.”


“I’m not gonna fight him! He’s spastic, fer Chrissake!”


“I kick y’r assh, boy! I kick y’r assh!” He took another swing, almost hitting Dave in the head.


Irving took out ten dollars. “Spastic guys’re pretty strong. I bet he kicks your ass.”


“Yeh! I kick y’r assh!”


Tony took out some money from his front pouch. “Ten bucks says Dave wins.”


Tyrone took another swing, hitting Dave’s ear.


Dave shook his head. “Alright. That’s it. You’ve been a pain in the ass the last week and a half. Now you’re done.”


Dave took a swing, connecting with Tyrone’s chest, pushing him back an inch or two. Tyrone rolled right back.


“Tha’ all y’gah?” He swung again, this time hitting Dave’s shoulder, sending him spinning to the right. Dave quickly corrected and swung back to face him. Tyrone swung again, grazing his chin.


Tony yelled, “Go for the face! The face!”


Dave shook his head. “I don’t wanna break his nose! I just want him to stop.” He took another swing at Tyrone’s chest, pushing him back harder, almost flipping the chair.


Tyrone pulled forward with his legs, smashing his footrests into Dave’s. They locked together in combat. Tyrone swung and hit Dave’s jaw.


“Alright. That’s it. That’s how it’s gonna be, huh?” Dave swung with all his might at Tyrone’s jaw. He saw his head turn, felt the rigidity of the spastic muscles.


Nothing happened.


Tyrone turned back, looked at him, and laughed. “Tha all you gah?” He swung again, hitting Dave in the neck.


Dave could feel himself breathing harder, his body getting hotter.


Irving yelled, “Hey, be careful, Tyrone! He’s got a shunt. You hit it, he’ll have a seizure.”


Dave turned to Irving, wide-eyed. “I’ll have a what? Hold on…”


“I don’t caeh!”. Tyrone took another swing, but missed.


Dave swung with new urgency at Tyrone’s face. He hit him square in the mouth.


Nothing. Tyrone didn’t even blink.


Tyrone’s next punch connected with Dave’s shunt. He started hearing the rushing, pumping sound he always heard when his shunt worked too hard. He swung at Tyrone again. Hit his face, again. Then, Tyrone swung back. He hit Dave’s head harder. “Motherf’k’r!”


Dave started breathing really hard. And he couldn’t stop. The air passed inconsequentially in and out of his lungs, but he couldn’t catch it. It just kept passing, making his throat colder, dryer. And he was sweating. A lot.


Irving rolled over to Dave. “Hey, man. You okay? You okay, man?”


Dave didn’t respond. He just gripped his wheels, breathing hard.


Irving rolled over. “It’s okay, man. Calm down. It’ll be okay.”


“Can’t. Stop.”


Tony was in a panic. “We’d better get the counselor..”


Irving looked around. “We’ll get in trouble. He’ll be okay. He just needs to calm down.”


Tony shook his head. “He could die.”


Between breaths, Dave managed, “What??”


Tyrone’s fist took a jagged stab at the air. “Kicked y’r athsh, bith! Kicked y’r athsh!”


Dave flipped him the one-finger salute, doubled over, trying to get his lungs to stop. Just stop.


Steve shook his head. “We can’t let him die. I’m going.” He walked out to get the counselor on duty.


Coz (none of the campers really knew why they called him that) rushed in. “What the hell happened?” Steve pointed at Tyrone, Tony saying, “He did it. He was spoiling for a fight.”


Coz looked at Tyrone. “You’ve been nothing but trouble since you got here.” He took Dave’s push handles and rolled him outside onto the porch.


The July air seemed surprisingly cold, even for being higher up in the hills, and Dave’s teeth chattered. Coz put a blanket over him. “Just relax. It’s over now. You’re overheated, but you’re gonna be okay.”


Dave’s breathing started to slow…”Did I…have…a seizure?”


“Not that I know of. I think you woulda fallen outta your chair or something. I’ve never actually seen a seizure. Some’a the other counselors have. What was all that about?”


“He was being an ass. He was going at it with Tony.. I wanted to shut him up.”


Coz smiled and put his hand on Dave’s shoulder. “Didn’t quite work out that way , huh?”


Dave shook his head, embarrassed. “No, not really.”


“Don’t worry about it. Look, you’re handicapped. You’ve got lots of fights ahead of you. So does he.”


“Yeah, I guess…”


“The trip to the general store is tomorrow. You still want to try to roll there?”


“Yeah. I do. I can do that.”


“Even the hill?”


“Yeah. I want to do the Big Hill, too. Only one guy’s gone the whole way in a chair in the history of the camp, right?”


“Yeah. One guy. Keith. He’s a little older than you. Did it a few years ago.”


Dave nodded. “Then I’m in. I’ll be the second. Let Tyrone suck on that.”


“Okay. Let’s get you inside. You need your sleep for the trip.”




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