The Safest Summer Camp in the World: The End

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*Part 7 and final part of The Safest Summer Camp in the World. If you haven’t read other parts, click HERE.

I didn’t sleep all last night. I was confused, but mostly impressed with myself for understanding so much of what went on in Russian.

S wakes me up in the morning. He looks sad.

“Today we go home.”

I sit up.

“What is K going to do?” I ask.

S shrugs. “There is nothing to do, we are–hm,” he frowns.

“Trapped?” I ask.

He nods.

“Breakfast,” he says, walking out. I pack my things up and follow a bit later, missing breakfast. The kids are all crying, or looking about to cry. They keep scratching their heads, running fingers through each other’s hair. One girl is wearing a hat. I don’t see K anywhere.

Ivan looks worst of all. He isn’t speaking to anyone, kicking stones around a dirt path. At two, the bus arrives. All of the students gather around. A man steps out of the main office. It takes a moment before I realize, it is K. All of his hair and beard has been shaved off. He looks like an egg. In each hand he holds an electric razor.

“Line up!” he calls. The kids do. One by one, K buzzes their hair straight down to the scalp. Many of them cry harder. One girl says something about Instagram.

“You too,” K says to S and I. We don’t protest. When the pile of hair is made in the center, K says a lot of things in Russian over it, philosophical things about life and beauty.

He walks into the office and brings out a guitar. S takes a match and sets the hair aflame. We all stand around it. K starts singing the camp song.

Tears start to dry, some of the kids start singing along. They hug each other and rub their bald heads together, even Ivan.

By the end of the song everyone is smiling.

There is no candle but many of the students say something anyways. Things about friends and family and how much they’ll miss everyone. No one mentions Baba Yaga. S comes to me, rubbing my head.

“We are brothers!” he says. Then, pointing from my head to his, “you call this, bald?”

I nod, “yep.”

“Bald brothers!” he cries, and hugs me.

The bus driver, looking at his watch, pissed, calls over to K. K nods, putting his guitar away.

“Everyone on the bus!” he calls.

The children pack all of their bags into the storage bay and climb on.

We make our way back to Russia, bald and stinking of burnt hair. It isn’t till I’m back in Saint Petersburg, undressing for bed that a thought occurs to me. I find my phone amongst my strewn about clothes. I don’t have K’s number, but I find his profile. I message him.

“Hey man, my Russian is pretty bad but did Baba Yaga say anything about body hair?”

He doesn’t respond right away. I pace, stressed, missing the mindless peace of death. It is twenty minutes before my phone buzzes. It’s K:

“…ah, shit.”

THE END.

The Safest Summer Camp in the World 6

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*Part 6 of The Safest Summer Camp in the World. If you haven’t caught up, click HERE.

The night before the bus comes the kids are tasked with coming up with and presenting their own religions. They spend the whole day preparing so I take a long walk to the closest shop two kilometers down the road.

At night everyone is gathered in the main hall. I don’t understand much but I am no less impressed by the things the children have made. One group comes out all taped up with pillows.

“We are the church of Pillowism!” They declare.

They sing a song and then everyone smothers each other. It goes on for maybe an hour; Instagramism, David bowieism, Dancism. Finally, the last group is up. They are dressed in tribal gear. They sit in a circle and sway and chant. The room goes silent and somehow, darker.

“What is going on?” I whisper to C. But, C is transfixed a sick, unreadable, look on her face. No one in the hall is moving, even the pillow people who’ve already come back to life. I listen close, in and among the chanting I keep hearing the same words over and over.

“Baba Yaga…Baba Yaga…”

“STOP!” K cries, standing up and throwing himself into the middle of the circle. The kids fall back, dazed.

“Hmm,” C whispers beside me. K turns and looks at us.

“C, stay here. Don’t let anyone leave. You, come with me.” he dashes out of the hall. I run after him.

“Where are we going?” I ask, trying to keep up. He doesn’t answer.

“I knew it, I knew it–stupid!” He berates himself in Russian.

Soon we find ourselves outside the disco hall. It sits there, no longer black sticks and ash. I frown at it, something is wrong. Then, I realize. There is no door. It is just a blank slab of wall.

“Hut, Hut!” K calls. “Turn your back to the forest and your front to me!”

I watch as the disco hall starts to turn. K doesn’t wait for it to get all the way around. He runs, pale. I don’t even bother trying to keep up with him. When I get to the hall, I can feel the fear and tension. K is looking around the room, counting heads. He is just finishing as I enter.

“Did you see Ivan outside?” he asks.

I shrug, “which Ivan, there are like five.”

“Did you see anyone outside?”

I shake my head.

“Who hasn’t died five times?” he calls over the crowd, in Russian. Two of the campers raise their hands. he pulls out a gun and shoots them. He sighs.

“Does anyone remember, did Ivan die five times?” Is what I think he says.

None of the campers say a word. He turns on the group all dressed in tribal gear.

“Who taught you!” he demands. One of the girls, the youngest, begins to cry. They look scared. Another, a boy named Roman lifts his hand to point. I follow his finger.

C sits on the couch picking something out of her teeth. They look wrong for some reason. Everyone in the room is watching her.

“What?” she asks, innocent. Then she smiles, “oh, right” she stands, stretches and begins to grow. Her teeth, now full and iron, jut out from her mouth. Her two eyes pop like blowfish. She is laughing. She stands up and starts walking through the crowd of children. She reaches down and scratches the top of one of their heads. K stands on the other side of the crowd.

“You,” she points at him, “are going to bring me back to Russia. Or, you will never leave this place.” She raises an eyebrow, “You suspected too late my dear, I’ve spent years pushing myself into this girls mind,–” she shudders, “every time she died, I got a little more, and a little more–” she smiles her great ugly iron teeth, “me.”

K doesn’t look angry, he looks defeated.

“Where is Ivan?” he asks.

Baba Yaga shrugs, patting her belly.

“What do you want?”

Baba Yaga smiles, “it is simple, you will smuggle me back into Russia and I will give you your Ivan back. If not, well I think being trapped for eternity with a bunch of tasty kids doesn’t sound so bad to me.”

“How,” K growls.

“Hair, I will turn myself into a single strand of hair on a single child. You won’t know which one. There I will stay and when we get to Russia you will bring all of the children to the forest. Someone will come and retrieve me.”

There is silence in the room. K nods. With that, Baba Yaga takes a breath, she coughs twice, grunts once, and vomits Ivan out onto the floor.

“Pity,” she grumbles. Then, vanishes. Ivan, covered in slime, rolls onto his back.

K, scratching just under his beard, walks up and shoots Ivan between the eyes.

“Everyone go to bed,” he says.

As he walks out he turns, “no snacks tonight,” he tells everyone. A few students pout but no one dares to argue.

TO BE CONTINUED…

The Safest Summer Camp in the World 5

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*Part 5 of The Safest Summer Camp in the World. If you haven’t caught up, click HERE.

It’s been half a week now. We went to the Zoo in Helsinki yesterday, so no one died. After dinner every night, the kids all gather while K tallies the number of deaths each person has and gives out rewards for creativity. It seems everyone is at four deaths except two. Ivan, a boy who was in the bathroom while everyone was poisoned on the first night, and Dasha who, after seeing me get electrocuted by the fence, ran into it herself, making her the first to five deaths. K gives her a sticker.

K and I sit by the river while the kids get ready for the next event; a disco.

“Why don’t you just shoot them all five times on the first day?” I ask.

He looks out over the lake, scratching his neck. “We tried that, but kids didn’t want to come back. It’s no fun just to die. So, we started making games and events and, well–as you can see, the kids love it.”

I light a cigarette, not able to have many throughout the day.

“Tomorrow, you can decide how to kill them, American style!”

I laugh. “You’ve already shot them enough.”

He chuckles, “You’re a funny g–” he looks past me. I turn. There is something between the trees. K stands and starts walking, I follow. He gets to the edge of the woods and frowns.

I stand next to him. After a few seconds he smiles. “Just Russian superstition.”

“Uh, okay,” I say.

He waits for me to finish my cigarette and we walk up to the disco.

The disco hall is up the road a bit. The windows are dark. There are strobe lights inside, a few kids outside. It is small, cottage-like. K stops at the door, looking around.

“If you could describe this building in one word, what would it be?” he asks me.

I look up at it. The building is small, more of a cottage.

“Cottage?” I ask.

He looks at it too.

“You’re sure?”

I take a second look. “Sure,” I decide.

“Hm, it is new,” he says, and walks in,

C is outside, talking with some kids.

“How’s the disco,” I ask.

She shrugs, “We have to be inside in ten for when K blows it up.

One of the kids groans, whining about something in Russian.

C tells him to get inside.

“What was that about?” I ask.

She rolls her eyes. “He says he died in the fire the other day so he doesn’t want to get blown up.”

I nod, it seems fair to me, but I leave it at a nod.

K comes out and calls us all in. The bomb is in the middle of the dance floor. S is the DJ. He is playing English songs from my school days;

To the window! To the wall! Till sweat drips…

I can’t help laughing. The kids are dancing like wildfire. I join in.

The countdown starts at ten minutes. Everyone dances, then, the whole place blows to bits.

Being blown up is quite different from dying in a fire, as it turns out.

TO BE CONTINUED…

The Safest Summer Camp in the World 4

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*Part 4/7 of The Safest Summer Camp in the World. If you haven’t caught up, click HERE.

Over the past day I’ve gotten to know the kids a bit better. Most come from well-off paranoid families.

K finds me at night.

“The kids really like you,” he says. ”

I nod, “good.”

“Yes, they said you electrocuted yourself on the fence. That’s good!”

I shrug. “I’m coming to terms with it.”

“Coming to terms?”

“I’m good.”

He smiles. “Good, it’s nice to find an American who really cares.”

He shakes my hand before he goes. He stops and turns, “oh, tonight the kids are making museum exhibits in their rooms, do you want to come?”

“Sure. In a minute.”

I stay down by the river, smoking a cigarette. It is beautiful. I’ve been in a city so long I forget–

“Hey you.”

I turn, C is standing, leaning against a rock, she is picking something out of her teeth. I jump a little, tossing my cigarette aside. She laughs.

“Oh don’t worry, I’ve done much worse here,” she says, smiling.

I chuckle, “good.”

She looks at me, longer. “This camp is special, you know?” she says.

I nod. “How long have you been working here?”

“Oh, too long, much too long, longer even than K,” C sighs.

I frown, “that means you must have died–like a lot?”

C nods.

“Does it get any easier?”

C looks out over the water, she looks about to cry then, she snaps a smile, her teeth glint in the soft sunset. “Yes. So did K tell you about the museum?”

I nod.

“Alright, I’ll see you up there.” She turns, taking a path through the trees I hadn’t noticed prior.

A few hours later I am with the other councilors. We start in a room of boys. They are having a rap battle, it is all in Russian but it’s intense either way. It is pretty aggressive. Eventually they are yelling, just like those rap-battles on YouTube. K is clapping, S sits next to me, nodding along. As it gets to its most intense, both the boys pull out handguns and blow each other away. One of them even says “Bang-bang!” as he is firing.

The councilors all clap. I do too, my hands a little wet with blood. The rest of the rooms are similar. Some horror–one, a hospital room, another is a war of cowboys and Indians. One of the rooms is an alphabet search, I am apprehensive to elaborate on how they made the letters.

We move on to the next cabin. The first room is a bit light hearted; a commercial for instant noodles. At the end of it, they all stand there. No one claps. K frowns. He starts yelling at them in Russian, I don’t understand, but they don’t seem happy.

He shoots each of them between the eyes and we move on. The last room we come to has been turned into a giant fort. The kids all sway and there are candles everywhere. One of them plays guitar, another reads a story.

C is sitting next to me and she whispers in my ear to help me follow along.

“Once upon a time there was a peasant who fell in love with a princess. The princess, seeing him as so weak and unworthy, cast her from the kingdom simply for taking sight of her. This peasant began to study magic, the most powerful magic; fire. Each day this peasant burned a piece of himself away in the flames, only to replace it, little by little with fire. His power grew and he burned so brightly that the princess could see the light from her kingdom far away. She sent men to retrieve the source of that power. They brought the peasant to the princess, aflame. He had burned away every piece of himself. He stood there, a God. The princess fell in love, and she proclaimed it, prostrated. But the God of fire could not love a creature so weak. He answered with a whisper that burned her kingdom to ash.”

At the end, everyone claps just before the girls knock over the candles. The whole room goes up in flames.

Burning turns out to be my least favorite way to die so far.

TO BE CONTINUED…

The Safest Summer Camp in the World 3

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*Part 3/7 of The Safest Summer Camp in the World. If you haven’t caught up, click HERE.

Sunlight on a lake puts everyone in a good mood; kids, doubly so. There are about fifty of them, My Mother used to sing a song when we’d go to the beach as a kid:

Beach-beach,

We’re going to the beach!

I love the beach- weee…

She was a lawyer. A group of kids have a Frisbee. The tell me in Russian that it is called “Flying Plate.”

I play a bit. A few of them are doing gymnastics on the side. We are beside a horse farm, occasionally the Frisbee will go over. One kid or another chases after it to the tune of “Oh come on!”

They duck under the fence. There is a sign with a lightning bolt on it, something written in Finnish. The kids are allowed to swim in shifts. Eventually the Frisbee players are called into the water. I walk to the shore. S is splashing about among them with a floating Go-Pro.

“Come!” he calls.

I shake my head. He gives me a disappointed look. He rallies the kids until all are chanting for me to get in. I sigh, take of my shirt and walk over to where S is standing.

“Yay,” I say–toneless and shivering.

I splash about a bit, go under. It feels nice. Then, someone cries out. I turn to find all of the kids holding each other under, one by one. I look at S, he is coming toward me, arms outstretched, smiling.

“You’re turn,” he says. His hands are on my shoulders. The body of a kid named Misha floats by.

“Wait–no!” but it’s too late, he has me under. I struggle and manage to get loose. I come up, choking. S is advancing.

“Oh–fucking wait!”

He looks confused–a bit sad.

“What?”

“Just–no.”

“But, didn’t K tell you?”

I don’t respond.

“So you must?” he says. I sigh and don’t move. He takes it as a sign and comes closer. I am under for forty-five seconds–it’s hell. Then, I’m being pulled up. The water is blurring my eyes. I hack up a bunch of water. S is still holding my arms.

“Sorry–” he says, “but what is this called?”

“What?”

“This.” he pushes me back under the water, then pulls me up.

I claw at his arms and back away. “Drowning! it’s called freaking drowning, man.”

S smiles. “Ah! I like that word.”

He comes closer. I hold up my hand.

“No! Hell no,” I start walking to shore, nudging the corpse of Misha out of my way. S calls after me. “Wait! We have to.”

I turn with some pretty dark language loaded into my tongue. But, from behind S, one of the other councilors dunks him under. I watch him die, shaking my head. I walk back to the kids playing Frisbee. It’s a group that have all died already. They are looking at me, disapproving. No one throws me the Frisbee. So, I go and stand beside the horse pasture. One of the younger students, a girl with glasses named Dasha, comes up beside me.

“Why didn’t you–” she points at the lake. I sigh.

“I just don’t like it,” I say, controlling my tone.

She frowns. “You’re not a fun teacher, are you?”

She walks away before I can respond. I feel somehow guilty. I look at the fence–the kids, the fence.

“Dasha?” I call. She turns.

“Check this out then,” I say, managing a small smile.

I grab the fence.

I am dead in seconds.

TO BE CONTINUED…

The Safest Summer Camp in the World 2

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*Part 2/7 of The Safest Summer Camp in the World. If you haven’t read part 1, click HERE.

I open my eyes in bed. S stands over me.

“You were–” he coughs a few times. He holds out a spray bottle.

“For your,” he rubs his throat. Everything is a haze. I spray the bottle down my throat. The itch cools. I close my eyes. I feel S place a blanket over me.

“It often happens the first time,” he says. Then, I fall asleep. I have no dreams.

When I wake, S is gone. I step out into the main den. All the campers are mulling about. One camper is playing some Russian hip-hop on a portable speaker.

“Good morning,” one of the braver campers says to me. I wave, almost vomit–step back inside my room. After twenty minutes of swearing at a wall and coughing, someone knocks on my door. I crack it. K is standing there putting ice cream into whatever is hiding behind his beard. He takes one look at my face.

“Shit,” he says. “They didn’t tell you.”

It wasn’t a question, so I didn’t answer.

“Can I come in?” he asks, holding out his half-eaten ice cream as a peace offering. I step back. He doesn’t come in but instead speaks from the door.

“So–uh, what did they tell you?”

I sit down and look at my hands. They are shaking.

“Oh,” he says. “I see. Hm, okay well this camp is kind of like, spelled?”

I look up at him, “huh?”

“A bad spell.”

“A curse?”

“Ah!” he snaps his fingers. “Curse, yeah. It is cursed. No one under thirty can stay dead here.”

His eyes go wide. “You’re not thirty are you?”

“Twenty-eight,” I mumble. He sighs.

“Oh good. Well, while we are here we all have to die at least five times. And the curse will keep going. Parents send their kids here to prepare them for different deaths. So they will, well, know–you know? Not only that, but they can die as many times as they want, making us the number one safest summer camp in the world.” He swells with pride.

I try very hard to make my face show clearly that no, I do not know. He doesn’t seem to get it.

“So, you understand.”

I shake my head. “Shit, no–I’m leaving.” I stand up. My bag is still sitting on a chair, packed. He holds his ice cream out at me, like a shield.

“Ah–well, see, you already died once, and so you have to die at least four more times. If we do not all die at least five times by the end, we will not be able to leave this place.”

“Like, ever?”

He nods. “Like ever.”

He notes the look on my face. He steps closer, places a hand on my shoulder and says, “don’t worry, it will be fun. Today we go to the lake!”

I put my face in my hands.

“It will be fine, and look–it will prepare you for when the time comes. Just try to enjoy it. Set a good example for the kids? Okay? Other Americans who have come here have been pretty bad, we had to shoot one of them five times on the last day.”

I look up at him, trying to make my face do something. Instead my mouth just says “uh-huh.”

K looks guiltily at his ice cream. He sighs.

“What?”

He nudges one foot with the other. “Well–you weren’t at breakfast but we had a choking competition.”

I frown, sliding back away from him as he pulls a gun from his pocket.

“Oh come the fu–”

But he shoots me between the eyes before I can finish the sentence.

TO BE CONTINUED…

The Safest Summer Camp in the World

 

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The summer camp I was hired to work at looks like every summer camp from every movie I’ve ever seen just before everyone gets murdered by one urban legend or another; except in Finland. And Finland looks like a topographical map I made in the seventh grade.

On the five hour bus ride from St. Petersburg, Russia to the middle of Where-The-Fuck, Finland, I met the camp leader, K. He had a beard–a big one.

When we arrive, the campers from the previous session are there, crying, hugging–crying again. I take to the outskirts of the crowd. A man, another camp leader, finds me. His name is S. His English isn’t as good as K’s but he’s got a better smile. He shows me to my room, which is also his room.

He smiles. “We will be–what’s the word?” He points at himself, then me.

“Roommates?”

“Yes,” he says, “roommates. Good.”

He leaves me to unpack. I go outside to look around. The bulletin board is all in Russian, the leaders, the campers, the food and the clothing, Russian. The trees are Finnish. I stand there, American, confused.

Dinner time makes its way around. The food is good, though Russian. There are other counselors. One, a woman, speaks English quite well; her name is C.

“How do you like the food?” C asks.

“Good,” I say. She frowns. “Do you live in Russia?” she asks.

I nod.

“Why?” she asks.

I look around the table of camp counselors. The eating has slowed.

“Uh–I like it,” I tell her, then add, “so, what do we do tonight?”

“Some games to learn everyone’s names, some dancing,” K tells me.

So, after dinner we all make our way into the main hall of a large cabin. Everyone stands in a circle. There are a number of instructions that get given out in Russian; most of which fly past my ears without bothering to stop. S is the DJ. In every moment where silence might make its way in, S plays some hip-hop song.

The campers start stepping out onto the floor one by one. They say their name, do a dance, and step back. Then everyone says hi and repeats their name. S hits play on the music after each one. After six or seven students I slowly start to realize the song being played.

One student steps out, a boy, “Misha,” he says.

“Hi, Misha!” the campers call.

Then, over the speakers, the song plays: “Damn, who’s a sexy bitch…”

S pauses it. I frown. The next student steps forward.

“Sasha!” she says.

“Hi Sasha!” the campers call.

Damn, who’s a sexy bitch…”

I look over at S. I look around the room. Everyone is smiling, dancing a bit; excited.

“And I am K!” K cries, throwing open his arms.

“Hi, K!”

Damn, who’s a sexy bitch…”

I stand back, shrug and do a dance when my time comes.

Then, things slow down. Everyone sits. K lights a candle and it starts getting passed around the room. Everyone speaks a bit, in Russian. C sits next to me.

“You need to talk about how you feel,” she whispers.

“Uh-huh,” I tell her, not having a damn clue what that means.

She taps me, “and when you agree with something someone says, rub your hands together,” she tells me.

“Mhm,” I say, noticing the room do just that. Then, before I realize what is happening, the candle is in my hand. I stare down at it.

“Wait, what?” I ask C.

“Talk about your feelings,” she tells me.

“My feelings?”

“Yes.”

I look around the room. Fifty Russian teenagers wait, polite.

“My feelings about what?” I whisper.

“Camp,” she says.

I sigh. “Hmm, well, Uh–I feel confused. And–uh, old, yeah you all make me feel old,” I say, then, looking away I mutter, “that was a weird thing to say.”

“The food is good,” I add, louder. Then I pass the candle quickly away, as though it were on fire. C takes it. Then, from my left someone whispers, “your hobbies!”

“His hobbies!” someone adds, from my right.

The candle is back in my hand, it burns.

“Your hobbies,” C tells me.

“Oh-uh, I like to read and uh…”

I look around. K saves me by rubbing his hands in the air. The rest of the students do the same. I take the opportunity to pass the candle on. I take a breath and sweat for the rest of the candle-time.

At the end K places the candle in the center of the room. All the campers gather around it, then on three, everyone blows it out together. There is cheering, there is music.

Damn, who’s a sexy bitch, damn, who’s a sexy bitch…”

Someone brings in snacks, juice. Everyone eats first. A drink is put in my hand, it is red, sweet. Ten minutes later everyone lays on the floor, dead. The smallest ones fall first. I am one of the last, confused, unable to breath. S is one of the last as well. We lay next to each other. With his last breath, he frowns.

“What do you call this?” he asks.

I choke on nothing, everything is going black.

“Dying?” I manage, no longer having the energy to panic.

He smiles, fading away with an ‘ah-I-knew-that’ look on his face.

TO BE CONTINUED…

**Hi everyone, so just wanted to note that this will be my longest sequential series. It will be a series of 7. It will start today. If you want you can wait till next week and binge it in one go but, if you trust me, let it come together slowly. Either way, I hope you enjoy how it all comes out. Be warned…there is some pretty dark humor on the way.