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There I was, at the front entrance to Camp Slenderwood. The beginning of my 7 day long prison sentence had begun. I never was into the outdoors; I much preferred staying inside browsing the internet. The only reason I was there in the first place was because my parents wanted some privacy to do their “taxes”. I was almost 18, and I knew what that really meant. I figured it would be better to just go with their plan than interrupt their alone time.
Still, I had to admit to myself that the camp didn’t look particularly unpleasant. The weather was nice, the trees were fresh and filled with green, and there was a crystal clear lake nearby the cabins. I figured it would at least be tolerable to stay there, even without a Wifi connection. I decided I would give it a fair chance and keep an open mind about the new experience. In the middle of the camp, between the lunch benches, was a stage with a mustached man wearing a Camp Slenderwood T-shirt. Dozens of campers had already begun to surround the stage while the man yelled through the microphone.
“Welcome to Camp Slenderwood, kids!” he shouted, “My name is Elwood Dolcy, but you can all call me Elwood. I’m the owner of this place and I live here all season to help run the camp and answer any questions. We had an amazing turnout this week! There are 64 teens here ready to learn what it means to survive!”
I wondered to myself what he meant by survive. There was nothing in the brochure about this being a survivalist camp; we were supposed to be provided sleeping quarters and three meals throughout the day. Was I going to be expected to hunt a boar or something? I figured he must have been exaggerating and let the thought go after a few moments.
“We’ve already assigned everyone their cabins.” Elwood continued, “Just grab your camp ID cards from Lexi over there and she will point you in the right direction.” He pointed to a pretty blond in her twenties who was also wearing a Camp Slenderwood T-shirt. She looked cheerful, almost overly cheerful, and was waving ID cards in her hands enthusiastically.
Kids began rushing over to Lexi to grab their ID cards and get their assigned cabins. I followed as well, tuning out the rest of Elwood’s speech. With any luck, I’d find someone to spend these 7 days with that felt just as out of place as I did. Fortunately, not long after that I bumped into a quiet looking guy trying unsuccessfully to load up my favorite forum on his phone. His name was Bryan and we hit it off instantly, spending most of the first day talking about how dorky all of the camp supervisors looked. They all were over-the-top friendly, and seemed to care just a little too much about what kind of day everyone was having. Two counselors had already asked me if something was wrong when I had not finished all of my Salisbury steak. One of them even offered me cold medicine when I cleared my throat. The only worker there who seemed normal was Mr. Todd, the cafeteria supervisor and cook. He wasn’t quite as talkative but at least he didn’t constantly patronize us.
Bryan and I wound up getting separated after dinner. I got to know a few more of the campers at that point, as well as see the camp supervisors put on a show and dance with no background music. When I got to my cabin that night, I was disappointed to see that Bryan was not in the same one. There were three campers inside who apparently were my room mates. They seemed like alright guys, but none of us talked much before going to sleep. I was actually excited about what was in store for the next day.
Morning came very quickly, and it wasn’t long before I found Bryan sitting near the cafeteria. The benches were less full than yesterday, but it was still early. At first I thought most of the campers were still in bed, but by late afternoon it still felt like half of them were missing. I went up to Mr. Todd and asked him if all of the kids had come for breakfast and lunch. Mr. Todd shook his head and plopped a burger on my plate. I couldn’t shake the feeling that something odd was going on. Everything felt much more active yesterday. There were only a few people circling the Camp Slenderwood puppet show, and even fewer were spread out in the woods area. I became more suspicious when I realized that a good amount of campers were still missing by dinner time. What was going on here? I wished I had gotten to know everyone better the first day, so I could figure out who was still here and who wasn’t.
When I got back to my cabin, all three of my room mates were already inside. It comforted me a little to see all of them, perhaps I had just made a mistake. I decided to check with them to see if they had noticed anything strange. To my surprise, they all shrugged my question off and acted like they didn’t know what I was talking about. Was I just making myself go crazy? How could over 30 kids just up and vanish without a trace, or without anyone saying something? The thought was ridiculous, and I laughed about it to myself as I fell into a deep sleep.
The third day things got even weirder. I guess my nerves were pretty worked up, because I woke a little before daylight. The camp looked much more foreboding under the darkness, the slender trees wrapping around the sky until all you could see were shrouds. Even creepier was the fact that I could see all the camp supervisors standing in a circle outside. I couldn’t tell what was going on, but several of them were hunched over awkwardly. The sight was very unsettling, and I quickly hid away from the window so they wouldn’t see me. It was at that point that I realized that two of my room mates were not in the cabin. I had seem them go to bed that night, but now their beds were fully made and their belongings were nowhere to be found. Out of panic, I woke up my remaining room mate to get some answers. When I told him our room mates were gone, he got agitated with me and said we had no room mates before going back to sleep.
When day came I left the cabin to investigate. Now there were only one or two kids near the cafeteria, but none of them seem alarmed in any way. I kept repeating what my remaining room mate said to me in my head. Was he pulling some kind of sick joke on me? The camp supervisors were acting completely normal, but I didn’t dare ask them anything. I started asking every kid I could find where the other campers were, and each time they said there were only 16 of us. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. There were definitely more than 16 campers the first day; Elwood had said there were 64. Were they abducting some of us during the night? If so, why was I the only one who could remember anything? Something wasn’t right here, and I had to figure out what it was.
I was beyond relieved to find Bryan out by the lake. At least there was one person here who would listen to me. When I got to him I frantically started explaining everything that I had seen. The more I told him, the more concerned his expression got. By the time I finished, he was actually sweating and he had completely lost eye contact with me.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” he said blankly. “There were only 16 of us that registered to stay. Maybe you just got confused when all the families were here.”
Bryan was staring at the ground so hard you’d think there was a snake there. My heart sank as I realized that I couldn’t trust him anymore. I had never felt so utterly and completely alone. Without saying another word I got up and left. I was walking in a fog, not even aware of where I was headed. Fear and dread was beginning to take over me; I had to find someplace to hide. Eventually I wandered back to my cabin, where I stayed under my covers for the remainder of the day. I didn’t know what else to do, so I laid there helpless until I miraculously drifted to sleep.
I wasn’t surprised at all when I woke up to see my cabin completely empty. Sure enough, the few campers I managed to track down believed there were only 8 of us. This was way too much for me to handle. My survival instincts were beginning to kick in. I made sure no one was looking and darted off as fast as I could towards the exit of the camp. I was surrounded by at least 70 miles of wilderness, but it was better than just waiting to disappear. But they must have been watching me, because I was intercepted within less than a minute by Elwood and three supervisors. Elwood had a huge grin on his face and was staring at me with his eyes wide open.
“Whoa there, little buddy! Where ya runnin off to? I’d sure have hell to pay from your parents if I lost one of my only 8 campers!”
An impulse told me to fight, but I knew I was outmatched and outnumbered. They started closing in on me, causing me to back up slowly. Suddenly Elwood stopped.
“I know what you need.” He smiled ominously at me. “You need to play charades with us! Come on, it’s just about to start!”
Feeling trapped and violated, I reluctantly agreed and followed him to the bench area. I played charades all day, feeling sick as I pushed down my desire to yell for help. I didn’t sleep at all that night. I didn’t look out the window either, I didn’t think I could handle seeing any more late night gatherings by my prison guards.
When the morning of the fifth day came, I felt hungover from stress. My eyes had sunken in and my skin felt dry. There were now only four campers left, which didn’t even make sense anymore. As I got my breakfast, I looked up at Mr. Todd and remembered how he had been the only one that I felt was normal. Now that I was thinking about it, I didn’t see him in the circle of supervisors outside either. He was my only chance, so I very quietly whispered to him.
“Mr. Todd, please help me. They’re going to take me if you don’t do something.”
Mr. Todd didn’t look at me, but I could see him trying hard to keep his composure. His eyes looked like they were slightly watering and he was shaking. It reminded me of the way Bryan reacted when I reached out to him.
“If you need to talk, come see me by the lake this afternoon.” He responded after what felt like an eternity. I could tell by the way he said it that he wanted to end the conversation for now, so I quickly headed out to eat. I waited by the lake for the entire day but Mr. Todd never showed up. I waited until dark, when a supervisor came and escorted me back to my cabin. I felt defeated, and due to not having slept in two days I felt exhausted. I fell asleep within minutes and enjoyed the temporary peace.
It was the sixth day now. The week was almost over. I wondered to myself if I would survive it, which made me appreciate the speech Elwood gave the first day. He hadn’t been exaggerating when he said I would learn what it means to survive. I knew that if I somehow made it through this, it would be a miracle. To my disappointment, Mr. Todd was not in the cafeteria serving breakfast that day. The new cook was Mr. Beardsley, and he had never heard of Mr. Todd.
It was now down to 2 campers, but what really shocked me was that the only other camper left besides me was Bryan. I hadn’t spoken to Bryan since he had lied to me. I still felt uneasy about him, but I was beginning to accept that there may be nothing more I could do. Perhaps as a way to make peace with my situation, I sat down with Bryan and began to talk.
“You may be hiding something from me, but you are the closest thing I have here to a friend. I don’t want to try to force the truth out of you, I just want one last day to enjoy. Can you give me that?”
Bryan looked at me, his eyes lighting up a bit.
“I knew you’d come around, there’s no need to be depressed during your whole vacation.”
The two of us talked about Sci-fi shows and website design for the rest of the day, and I actually felt some comfort in taking my mind off my grim reality.
I awake on the seventh day with a heavy heart. I knew Bryan would be gone, and it would just be me and the supervisors. My parents were due to pick me up early tomorrow, so I didn’t completely let go of the hope of getting home. I felt genuinely spooked walking around camp. The workers were all fixated on me and staring at me obsessively. They kept calling me their “favorite little camper”, and tried to put on show after show in front of me. The new cook still made all the meals in bulk, and just left the food I didn’t take sitting out to rot. I tried jogging as a distraction, but Elwood would just follow right behind me and compliment me on my form. I was thankful when the sun finally went down and I was left alone in my cabin. There was no way I was falling asleep tonight; I couldn’t risk being abducted like all the others.
I started drinking from a mug of coffee that I had gotten from the cafeteria. I expected to feel energized quickly, but it felt like it was making me more tired if anything. I drank more to try to wake up, but it only made my eyelids feel heavier. Something was in that coffee…something was…….
“Welcome to Camp Slenderwood!” Elwood shouted through his microphone. “We have a great turnout this week, 64 teens have come to learn what it means to survive!”
“I didn’t see anything in the brochure like that.” A freckled face kid whispered to another camper in the crowd. “You don’t think that has anything to do with that missing kid from last year do you?”
“Nah, this place is totally safe.” The second camper answered back. “By the way, I’m Bryan.”