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Bear Pup

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31 A Little More Kick Ass


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    Relationships, history, constitutional law, Discworld (RIP, Terry), world religions

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  1. Bear Pup

    The Woods at Night

    Karl caught his heel on the tip bar as he tried to escape the tent, falling and recovering quickly. He left at a pace that left little doubt of his physical power and speed. I collapsed back on my bunk and started to remove all I could of the 'white Brylcreem' from my forelock. After days of emotional turmoil and an epic orgasm, I just didn't have the energy to figure out what to do about/for/with Karl. I used my canteen to rinse out his cum-drenched bandana, squeezed it dry and flapped it about for a bit before folding it and leaving it on Karl's pack. I tidied the rest of the tent, picking up the flotsam and jetsam that teen boys inevitably generate. The triangle called us to supper and I trudged to the Mess Hall. Jim was there, bright and energetic as a puppy. He was chattering away about what he and Karl had done in Wilderness Survival and what they would 'get' to do over the next four weeks. I let his piping voice wash over me. I was not frowning or surly, just... numb. Jim finally wound down enough to notice. "What's wrong, Patrick?" "I... Well... It's nothing, Jim. {Inventing wildly} Just down over the nasty food we have to eat." Jim set off on that topic for a few minutes and came to a screeching halt. "You're lying. Why? What happened?" His honest concern was obvious. "I fucked up, Jim." My dropping of the F-Bomb brought Jim up short and I knew I had to give more. I whispered, "Karl, um, Karl got back earlier than I expected and caught me, um, you know..." UBSL (universal boy sign language) substituted for actual words. "Oooooh." A conversational hiatus ensued until Jim broke it with, "So what? He said he did it. You said EVERYONE does it. You saw it b-be, being, you know, done to me. So what?" Before I could even imagine a response, Karl sat his tray down next to Jim. He ate without looking up. Jim stared from me to him and back like a Wimbledon spectator and just as mute, obviously waiting for the tension to break but feeling (I'm guessing) too young to do it. About halfway through what could charitably be called stew, Karl stopped and looked at me. "Why?" I stared for a minute, then looked around. "Can we do this someplace else?" Karl shrugged and grabbed his tray; Jim and I followed. I don't really know why, but I walked to the amazing place that I'd found on my first afternoon, the tiny dell with a cascade that made me think hobbits were lurking around the corner. The 20 minutes gave me time to think, but I had nothing. We sat on some rocks off to the side. Jim stared in wonder. "Whoa." It really was beautiful. The late-afternoon light caused the air to glow. Bees glided from flower to flower. Ferns rustled in a sensual and ineffable dance. The spring burbled and the water flashed reflected-highlights as it leapt from stone to stone. "This is amazing! How did you FIND this, Patrick?" "WHY?" Karl's harsh voice cut across Jim's wonderment. "I don't know Karl," I saw him start to inflate, "No, Karl, that's the real truth. I ran to the tent planning to, you know... and the smell of, well {Karl blushed; my eyes went straight to my shoes and never left them}, your, you know, session hit me. I imagined Sherry and even Darlene, but... thoughts kept interrupting me..." "What thoughts?" Jim was fascinated and puzzled; I ignored him. "Then I saw that bandana." "What bandana?" "Shut up, Jim. Please. Let me get this out. "That bandana that you used to catch or clean up your, um, your stuff. I didn't know, HONEST! I saw it lying there and picked it up and felt your, well, wet stuff. And the scent hit me. I don't know, Karl. I DON'T KNOW why. I just made me, made, made me... lose it." By this point, the tears were dripping onto my shoes. "But... why?" Karl was genuinely confused and perplexed. "I don't KNOW, Karl. I, I, I just, I don't know!" The last thing I expected was a calm and confident voice from Jim. "Well, of course, you doofuses! People are animals! Smells are how animal mark their territory and announce their readiness to mate. Karl, they told us all about that today. Bear and foxes and shit? They scent-mark because, what did the guy say? Nothing makes a stronger impact than smell. How could any guy NOT get excited by, you know, another guy's, um, well, stuff? Why is that weird?" "Because we're both guys!" I found myself whispering. "I'm not a lady bear or a vixen or a... a girl. I'm a GUY! I should never have, ha-have been in-interesting in the smell of a, a guy." Yes, I was pouring tears by then. "Well, now that's just crap." Jim, the satguru was back. "I don't know what smells make guys, you know, ready. How do YOU know? Maybe you would have even been hornier if it had been a girl's, um... Sorry, do girls have, you know, cum?" To this day, I can't tell you want flipped my switch from disgust to hilarity, but I whooped with laughter. I fell off my rock and realised that Karl was trying desperately not to laugh. Jim was red with indignation, sputtering. "WELL?!? DO THEY?" Gales of mirth greeted the question, to the point that even Jim was laughing. When we recovered, Jim's quiet and serious voice whispered conspiratorially, "I mean, seriously... do they?" I looked up and realised he was desperate to know. It was an important question for him. "Jim, I don't know. I know they orgasm {his eyes popped} but I don't know if they, well, if anything, well, you know, comes out." Karl's whopping laughter broke us up again. I recovered first. When the hiccoughing subsided, I looked at Karl and said, "Karl, I don't know why. But..." I steeled myself and then simply let it out, fear and worry loaded into each syllable. "But I never came like that Karl." His laughter vanished like a thrown switched and his eyes, like Ginny Greenteeth's, wide and frozen, became my universe. I went on, "I don't care if you both hate me. I don't care what it means. It was the best, you know, that I ever imagined. I dream of things. I wake up..." I hung my head like I was incapable of looking at anything other than the leaf mould. "... sticky. But I never dreamed that it would be THAT good. That... beyond. That... GOD, I don't even have words! I'm sorry, but I don't care, Karl. It was the best thing that ever happened to me." A preternatural silence enveloped the glen. Not even the bees inhaled. My eyes flicked for a few nanoseconds to each of their faces, trying and failing to pretend that I didn't care. Both looked like the image of a shocked victim after a tornado, interviewed on TV news. If someone broke out with, "It sounded jest lahk a train," it would not have shocked me. It was again Jim's wise-beyond-years voice that shattered the spell. "Then it's stupid and seriously messed up to pretend, don't you think?" Jim's gaze went from Karl to me, back and back, weaving a fabric. Neither of us moved, looked or reacted. I don't care what you think and I don't care if it made me a wuss or a pussy or a baby; I lost it and escaped, weeping and running through the game trails of the island. I was never an outdoorsman or tracker, but I instinctually knew that nothing, no one, nobody could follow as I twisted and jinked through the forest. I ended in the hollow of a giant, ancient tree. Grief, tears and all of my shattered dreams poured out of my rolled-into-a-ball self and onto the leaf mould in the bole of that beech. I jumped as if shocked. "So, what do we DO, Karl?" Jim's voice was rife with fear, awe and concern. I heard someone, Karl? come toward me and my sobs simply redoubled and I curled armadillo-like tighter into myself. The thought of him seeing me here, like this, after knowing, knowing THAT, left me mindless. All I knew was grief and fear and need. "We help him, Jim. Like he helped y-you. Like he help, helped m-m-me." I felt a feather's touch on my shoulder and hadn't the strength to even react. Everything I had was poured into my tears. My fears. The jeers I expected. I was, to put a Shakespearean tone to it, undone and unmanned. I sensed Karl sink to the ground behind me. Moments later, Jim, crouched to my front. I screamed in despair when Karl's arm reached round me, and almost died when Jim's tentatively embraced me from the front. I was enfolded in... in... in caring? Maybe in compassion? May-maybe in... love? I cried myself dry as they held me. Rocking and murmuring. I was destroyed, despairing, desperate. I pulled and struggled at times but neither loosened his grip. I occasionally paused, unable to cry any more, and both continued to tell me they cared and that it would get better. The sobs receded. I finally regained some sense of myself, and unutterable shame washed through me. With a burst of horrified energy, I pushed them off and glared. "You don't have to pretend. You don't have to do this. I'm going to the Major and going home. I do'... don't want, want you to do this, I want, want to..." I broke and cried, "I want to go HOME!" The passion, despair and grief in my voice rung in the tiny clearing. "Are you actually brain damaged?" Jim's voice. It was like ice-water down my spine. "You didn't care when I told you I, I well, I liked it! You didn't care when Karl said that he, he, he did... that to kids. Do you SERIOUSLY thing we'd give a, a FUCK that you blew a load in your own private TENT to the amazing smell of another guy's ORGASM? "Seriously, Karl, I think he may be too stupid to live. It's probably best to leave him here to be eaten by, by, whatever eats kids out here. Creeping barbed wire? One Eyed Jack? Let's go back to the tent and you show me what he smelled, thinking about a sexy guy getting his rocks off a few inches away. Excuse me if I shoot a load after you leave. God almighty! Patrick may really be too dumb to save." The, I don't know, the outrageous unfairness of that broke through my sobs. "You little FUCK! You're like, NINE! You have no IDEA what it's like! You can't, can't, can't IMAGINE..." Both of them had hands to their faces. I was so mad, so worked up, that it took me several spittle-slinging splutters to realise that they were on the knife's edge of hysterical laughter and that they'd done this on purpose. "You, you, you fucking FUCKS!" Admittedly not the best or most grammatical, witty or cutting of comebacks, but I was reeling. Those two fucking FUCKS dissolved in laughter. I sat hiccoughing until I suddenly saw it from their perspective and dissolved in my own mirth. It was odd. All three of us went from gut-knotting laughter to utter sobriety at the same instant. Jim, again, spoke first, voice quiet and tentative, "Are we okay now? Can we be friends again?" "We never weren't friends," I whispered, "and what you just did for me, both of you, is greater than anything anyone ever gave me." I looked at Karl, his face serious, curious, perplexed. "The three of us saved each other, you know?" Karl's voice held a sort of reverence. "I was eaten away inside, like a disease or something. I really did want to die. Patrick made it better." I could not breathe as I listened. "When you were attacked by those three, Jim, you were shredded. I don't know I'd ever seen anyone so lost and alone as you were that morning. Patrick knew exactly what to do, and made it better. When we got back from the boat, though, telling you what I'd done and you forgiving me, that healed me. Without you AND Patrick, I'd be so damaged I don't know if I could really live. I think it was the same for you, Jim, and then it took both of us to heal Patrick." It was by far the longest speech I'd ever heard from Karl. Frankly, it was the longest speech from any of us since we got to Camp Sin that didn't involve wails, sobs and self-hatred. Jim moved forward. Karl and I stood frozen, but Jim came again to the rescue. He grabbed the two of us and pulled us into a three-way hug. "Karl's right," he said in a small but confident voice, "we are each other's heroes." We hugged and breathed together for a few minutes; no thought of sex (shocking for healthy teen boys), no thoughts at all (NOT shocking for teen boys), more lost in the comfort of knowing that someone cared. Sometime later, Karl broke the silence, "Um, guys, I don't know if either of you noticed, but it's kinda starting to get dark?" All our heads snapped up and looked around in surprise. Yeah, we were well on the way to twilight. There was light high in the trees but little else. Both of them turned to me. "Which way back to camp?" "Well, I was running away and crying like a little girl. I have no clue. Which way did I go when I left the dell?" Identical looks of complete confusion stared back at me. Oooookay. "Well, at least you two are in Wilderness Survival," I quipped. Jim look positively alarmed now. "They only talked about what we were GONNA learn, they didn't teach us!?!" Karl smiled grimly and put his arm around the boy's shoulders. "Patrick was just kidding." Karl bug-eyed at me as a cue. "Oh? OH! Yeah, just kidding. We'll be, um, fine. Let me think for a minute." I doubt paintings get stared at as intently; I was the sole object of their attention as they waited for my brilliant and stunning plan for returning to camp. AH-HAH! It finally struck me. "Nope. I've got nothing," the look of panic was too much and I laughed. Jim weakly punched me in the side; Karl not-so-weekly punched a charley-horse into my bicep. "OW! "Okay. Good news bad news. Bad news is, I admit, that we have no frigging clue where we are. The upside is that we are on a tiny little spit of land with water on both sides. One is a lake thing and the other is a river. If we get to the river, we can just, I don't know, throw in some leaves. The camp is near the upstream end. We go the opposite way of the leaves and end up there." Pretending to be far more confident than I felt, I struck out and the two fell into step behind me. It took forever and we never did find lake or river -- game trails vanished in brambles or turned back on themselves. Tiny streams with deceptive voices that bounced off rocks tricked us; where we thought the bank stood was actually the stream itself. Each of us tripped several times, always managing to drag one or both others into a tangled mess. As we faded to full-dark, Jim was quite obviously scared and I could tell Karl was getting nervous. For some inexplicable reason, with light completely gone and the moon just rising, darkness felt comforting and safe to me; I gained confidence as quickly as they shed it. We had just rounded a set of large stones when everything suddenly clicked. This was the spot where that beautiful deer and I had startled each other so badly on that first afternoon. I knew exactly where we were and how to get back now. In fact, we'd very soon reach the point we could see the fire rings and hear the roughhousing. The little clearing brightened a bit with moonlight... and relief. Okay, in retrospect, what I did was stupid, mean and selfish. In my own defence, I had been on an emotional roller-coaster and was, in fact, a teenaged boy (for which stupid, mean and selfish are synonyms). A devilish smile crept across my face as I plotted the perfect setup. A few minutes into the forest, I suddenly came to a stop and gasped. "Shh! Did you guys hear that?" Woods at night are never silent. Breezes tickle leaves, small animals scurry about the business of eating without being eaten and things naturally shift about. Altogether, those tiny noises are far more 'silent' and spooky than the simple absence of sound. Jim and Karl froze, nothing moving but their huge, white-edged eyes and heaving chests. "THERE!" I shout-whispered. "Be real quiet for a minute and don't move." Is there anything worse than telling someone NOT to move? You go instantly from frozen stillness to a state where every muscle and nerve itches to run. I carefully worked around them and saw their horrified gazes follow me as they strove to move nothing but their eyes; my smile widened to evil glee. I took a few steps back along the trail we'd just followed. I had timed it so that we had just passed a kink in the little game trail so I was immediately swallowed by the dark forest when I rounded a tree trunk. I paused and counted to ten, silently turning. I put on my best 'about to be eaten' face, leapt back around the tree and screamed, "RUUUUUUUUN!" It was a Scooby-Doo cartoon. Jim and Karl levitated several feet straight up and their legs were already pumping furiously before they hit the ground. Okay, I may be evil, but I'm not so thoughtless that I would let my buds run further into the forest. I had made sure that the 'run straight ahead like a madman' option would put all of us back in the middle of camp. I kept adding sound affects like, "OH MY GOD!!!" and "NOOOOOOOO!!!" as I followed (adding as many exclamation points as possible each time). I can tell you a couple of things: Karl can move as quick as a snake but has no real endurance; Jim, on the other hand, was a fucking antelope leaping from rock to branch to path and never slowing or tiring. Jim easily outdistanced me and Karl. He hit the back wall of the admin building like a bullet and spun, backed against the structure, seemingly trying to claw his way backwards into the siding. Karl collapsed at Jim's feet, unable to breathe. I arrived and stood with arms on knees desperately trying to regain my breath. "Wh-wh-what was it?" I heaved and panted, perhaps a bit more theatrically than actually necessary. Jim and Karl were fixated on my face, flicking glances to the woods but desperate for me to tell them what murderous nightmare was chasing us. "S... S... Sk...." "WHAT?" they cried in unison, Karl was now standing, he and Jim clinging to each other in abject terror. "S... S..." I let my own eyes go wide with horror. "Squirrel!" And then I lost it. It took them a minute to realise that I'd pranked them, and pranked them hard. They suddenly melted like wax and dribbled to the ground, gasping in ragged breaths. Relief quickly (and justifiably) turned to outrage and they started slapping and smacking every part of me they could reach. I was laughing so hard that I couldn't fight them off. Suddenly, though, Jim -- always the one with his head in the game -- became my worst person nightmare: The Inescapable Tickler. I would have howled but was already breathless with mirth. Karl quickly realised what was happening and gleefully joined in the tickle-attack. Each shallow breath not devoted to a squeal was a plea for mercy. Mercy? Yeah, not even I thought I deserved mercy. I begged in rising panic until I recognised what was about to happen. I hadn't done it since I was twelve and Uncle Dave pinned and tickled me until I.... Karl's hand, having slipped off an assault my ever-so-sensitive knee, happened to be in my crotch right when it started. "Jim! Stop! I mean it." Karl pulled Jim off me but it was too late. I was in full piss flow and still giggling insanely from the tickle-aftershocks. Jim was appalled at what he'd done when I finally came down from the tickle high and looked at the huge, spreading wetness at my crotch. He started to stutter a near-crying apology. "Jim. JIM!" I hollered. "I deserved that. Plus, I expect after what I did to you, you'll both find a little yellow in your own undies. Yeah, well, I'm mortified, but I'm not hurt." My face was glowing scarlet to the point we didn't really need the flashlight we'd all been desperate for before. Karl was laughing quietly and threw his arm around each of us as we walked. Between my assurances and Karl's warm strength, we got Jim calm and smiling again. As we reached the Hygiene Hut, Karl leaned over to Jim and said, "Why don't you head to your cabin, sport? Quiet. I think we're out way later than we should be. If you miss bed-call, you'll get in trouble. I'll help Patrick since we're in the same tent and they don't check us 'til last." Jim apologised again, made us swear solemn oaths that we would meet him for breakfast, then set off at a trot. Karl was right. The fire-rings were dim and there were no shouts and laughter indicative of boys playing. We were after lights-out, probably by quite a bit. Karl and I went into the Hygiene Hut and I stripped off my pants and undies and realised that even my tee shirt was wet with piss. I blushingly handed everything to Karl who busied himself rinsing them out under a tap. Evidently the showers were only heated when it was legal to use them and the water was frigid as I rinsed off, trying not to wail at the cold. I emerged shivering and Karl helped me dry off, each of us with a tiny towel in each hand. Karl was intent on his task and certainly not thinking... I hope. I felt his hands drag one towel up my crack and another up my junk. I sucked in a breath and prayed that he didn't notice that my cold-shrinkage was not just gone, but now strongly counteracted. I stepped away a little, pretending to finish my armpits. An accidental (I swear) glance showed me that Karl was boned, and boned up hard. The horrible thought struck us at the same time and our heads swivelled to where my clothes lay dripping. He'd rinsed out my clothes, which was great -- all my clothes. That meant that I had to choose between sopping wet pants (do you *know* how hard it is to get into wet jeans?) or a towel the size of a handkerchief. It was probably forty yards to the tent. Karl saw the look of abject horror on my face as it went slightly more-red than a setting sun. "W-w-w-what am I g-gonna DO?" "I got this." Karl stepped quickly outside and was gone for no more than a second. "There is no one, I promise. Not a single person anywhere. The other guys are in their tents or cabins and the adults and leaders are making rounds far away from here. It's forty yards to the tent. I'll take the wet clothes so you can run faster. Get to the tent. Get the flaps down. I'll be right behind you." My head was bobbing up and down like a demented dashboard ornament. His plan, ANY plan, was better than I could come up with my mortified, frozen and desperate mind. He stepped out again and held the door for a moment. "GO!" he whisper-shouted. There is a spooky legend told around campfires about a ghost, pale white and glowing red, that moves like lightening through camps on an unknowable and sinister mission. I am the cause of that legend. Even if someone was there to see, the only impression would have been a blurred streak, ghost-white to about five feet and fire-red from there up. When Karl got the tent several years (seconds) later, I was sitting on the cot whispering, "didanyonesee? didanyonesee?" like a gerbil with a mantra. "No, Patrick, no one. It's okay, Patrick. You're fine. I'm the only... only one who saw." Karl was next to me, arm around my shoulder trying to calm me. Why the *fuck* was I so unnerved by a simple naked run? Was it because somebody might see? That didn't 'feel' right. Was it because Karl might see? Also not 'right'. Suddenly I recalled the vocal catch when Karl had said, ' the only... only one' and it struck me. It's because I was terrified that Karl would see *and not care*. I turned to look at Karl. Since it was just off a full moon, the tent was fairly well lit. His eyes were wide and he was staring at me in a mixture of fear and hope. I took his arm from my shoulders. "I cheated, Karl. I got to smell and feel your, um, stuff but you didn't. It's not fair." His eyes widened more. "You mean, you, you mean I can..." I nodded. "Do you want me to go outside or, or, or can I-I-I w-watch?" A sexual energy ran through me like nothing I'd imagined, a shiver and a gasp and a desire rolled into one whole-body sensation. "Please?" He seemed disappointed and leaned toward to flaps. "NO!" His head snapped around. "I mean, please, will {gulp} will you... watch? Please, Karl?" He moved to his cot, his muscled frame shaking like a leaf. I don't think I've ever done anything that brave or stupid in my life, before or since. I saw Karl's eyes fixate on my hand as it moved to my achingly-hard dick. My eyes never left his face, basking in (and terrified by) the hunger I saw there. I laid back and began to stroke, gently, softly. I watched the changing expressions as Karl went from hunger to fear to lust to need to fascination and a dozen other emotions. I was going to go so slow. I was going to make this last sooooo long just to keep his face like that. If you buy that for a nanosecond, you were never a horny teen. I got about two slow strokes in when Karl sucked in a shuddering gasp. My hand began to fly as I flogged my dick with the kind of need normally only seen in people dying of thirst. Up and down, dragging my hand from glans to balls, whipping it frantically. Subtlety and pace and technique could come later in life; right now I needed to seed before my body, mind and soul imploded. My grand plan to stretch this out crumbled to dust when Karl again drew in another ragged gasp and I fucking erupted, my head back, neck stretched, back tight, ass clenching in the eternal rhythm of desperate need, a cum volcano spewing molten lava across the land. Rope after rope, pulse after pulse. Karl was as transfixed as I was. The cum kept coming as I kept cumming. I stayed silent (I never made much noise when I came, but that night I hadn't the breath to spare for more and a squeak). I finally tapered off and noticed that Karl had a massive and spreading wet spot in his pants where his hand had unconsciously scritched and scratched himself through the fabric to his own orgasm. His eyes found mind. I could see his lips trembling, pouty and flushed. He swallowed over and over again, as if trying to control himself. He reached a hand, shaking like palsy, to the head of his own cot and grabbed the bandana that started this whole thing. He leaned forward to wipe at my chest. When his hand touched me, we both let out low "OH!" groan/moan/gasp. He went to pull away. To this day, I don't know where this came from (the guts, the strength, the willpower) but I grabbed his wrist and held it in place.
  2. Bear Pup

    Evaluation Day

    It is a joy to write from Patrick's POV. His internal struggles are the humour he uses to defend himself surprise me constantly.
  3. Bear Pup

    Arrival of the Damned

    One reason I like first-person POV is that reality is supposed to be subjective. No human "really" knows what's going on, only what he perceives. If I'd written the same chapter from Karl's POV, Patrick would have seemed a aloof, arrogant, dismissive ass. I enjoy playing with perspective.
  4. Bear Pup

    Arrival of the Damned

    Thank you for the nice words! I am relatively new to writing (started in December), so anxious to find out what people like and don't.
  5. Bear Pup

    Evaluation Day

    I awoke the next morning in the following condition: Hot, sweaty, sticky (a brain cell named "!!!" awoke and checked: thank god, not *that* kind of sticky), confused (my room is not green canvas), hard as a rock and desperate for a piss. I peeled away the sopping sleeping bag (brain cell "?!?" awoke for that one; oh, lord, thank you! Not *that* kind of wet) and decided to sleep on top of it tomorrow. I started to stumble out of the cot when I realised I was not alone in the tent (return of "!!!" cell). Soft burbling noises were coming from my left. A few more neurons came online and the word Karl dropped into my head, along with Camp Sin, Hygiene Hut, Buggerfur and PISS NOW! I tried to make as little noise as possible. Do you *know* how hard it is to extricate yourself from a sodden, cotton (it was the 70s) sleep-sack when your boner is sticking out of your equally-damp Y-fronts? If you're going for 'quiet', double that. Karl's breathing changed just as I tugged on my previous-day's jeans and (naturally) fell flat on my face after tripping on the tent brace. I jumped up, brushed off what I could and thought of a desperate dash to the Hygiene Hut. Since a lot more brain cells were now mobilised, the fact that I was a boy came to the fore, alongside the words bushes, zip-fly and tree-trunk. I didn't know it at the time, but I have a rare gift. I have always been able to piss through a hard on. Admittedly, the piss emerged in a vertical stream, but the tree didn't seem to care and a deep and satisfied sigh escaped me. About two minutes in, I heard a similar sigh accompanied by a hefty splash on the other side of the tent and smiled. The 6 o'clock clamour of triangle, birds and bellowing erupted below, announcing the day to a bunch of sleepy and recalcitrant boys. It seemed both Karl and I were early birds. We apparently both finished at the same time and rounded the tent-corner simultaneously. We both froze. It was the I Love Lucy Groucho Marks mirror scene. We both gaped with fear/guilt/defiance/fear, mouths slightly open and each with a foot not-quite-touching the ground. The poses were identical. The differences were extreme -- physique, colouring, hairiness, etc. -- but the one that smacked me in the face was the slightly-gapped boxers. There appeared to be a LOT more to Karl than I had realised. BAD PATRICK! No cookie! I wrenched my eyes back up and coughed, breaking the tableau. "I..." "I'm..." "You first..." "You first..." "I mean..." "So I..." "You first..." "You first..." "Shit!" "Fuck!" We both broke into giggles at that point. I recovered quickly enough to say, "I'm sorry we didn't click yesterday. Can we start over? I'm Patrick and I'd really like to spend the next four weeks with a friend in my tent." I know that I was blushing into the vermillion range and didn't care. I also pretended that I didn't see the flinch of pain flash across Karl's face. "I'd like that. If you agree not to hate me, I'll agree not to be a jerk. Fair?" I laughed and reached out to shake his hand. He responded. We were both understandably wary; we'd both hurt the other the day before. I was a bit self-righteous in that I'd never intended to hurt him and he had clearly wanted to wound me with the McJackOff quip, but I did my best to strangle that ugly thought. "It sounds like we both watered the trees. Want to start at the mess hall or the Hygiene Hut?" He said, "Food!" at precisely the moment that my stomach roared its vote. Karl snagged his grubby painter's pants and shirt while I dragged on the sweat-free over-shirt from yesterday (it had become a reverse-apron about ten minutes into my hike, so it could take another day's wear under the not-very-strenuous standards of teen males). We got to the mess hall significantly ahead of the crush. All the adults and those leaders not engaged in malicious awakening were finishing a meeting and sipping coffee. Karl and I grabbed trays. I was shocked and offended to find that both coffee and tea were adults-only options. They wanted me to start a day without caffeine?!? What kind of monsters ran this hell hole? The master chef in residence had produced a truly-impressive spread. Scrambled "eggs" from a dubious powder, runny oatmeal, biscuits that could only be the Tolkien 'cram' ("more of a chewing exercise than a foodstuff") alongside a grey, lumpy gravy with undefined gristly chunks that might, MIGHT have been related to sausage. We would come to call the latter "grey-vee". The only really edible things were those the cook could not ruin: bananas, apples, oranges, corn-flake cereal and milk. Even the libellously-named "orange" juice was vile. It had a duck on the front and we decided that the undeniable orange *colour* allowed the manufacturer to evade false advertising suits. We finished our grand repast before most of the tousle-headed boys even stumbled in. Karl and I cleared our mess and made for Tent Canvas Hell. We gathered supplies for the morning ablutions. There wasn't much. The preparatory materials had been very clear that soap, shampoo, towels, toothpaste and such were provided. All we really needed were clean clothes and toothbrushes. Have you ever noticed that "preparatory materials" is simply a synonym for "bald-faced lies"? We arrived at the Hygiene Hut to find that there were two dispensers next to each sink. One had a picture of a hand, the other of a tooth. The pale goo that erupted from each was indistinguishable. It felt and tasted like school paste and took days to wash off. The showers (a euphemism for pipes with periodic leaky parts) were no better. Each boy found a spot that seemed to leak more hot than cold and pretended to forget anyone else was there. The dispensers for "body wash" and for "shampoo" were equally-interchangeable. Both smelled like a poorly-maintained emergency room and felt like the Grey Oozes of the Dungeons and Dragons franchise. You could easily imagine scalp and skin melting as the goop drained hit points and dissolved the unsuspecting Elvish Druid you'd just managed to get to level 6. The bright spot was the linen situation. A bin just outside the shower room held a large quantity of hand-cloths. We found when we exited that, no, those postage-sized rags were the *towels*. It took an average boy about twelve of them to get dry enough to don clothing. We found later that those who arrived late would find none available. Your choice was to "reuse" the least-sopping ones from early birds or just sit and air-dry while everyone looked askance as if you were delaying solely to perv on the other boys. The activities pavilion, though, was the antithesis of the Hygiene Hut. Both the adult supervisors and the late-teen leaders were helpful, enthusiastic and fun. The equipment was top-shelf and well-maintained. Day Two, that day, was devoted to two things: ability tests and activity sign-ups. The two adults (we nicknamed them Land and Sea; to this day I don't know if they had any other name than "sir" as in "SIR! Bobby's drowning again!") roved the crowd directing boys to tables that they would likely have ignored. I had always been at home in the water, so I immediately signed up for swimming, canoeing and fishing. Mr. Land steered me to archery, which I had been dubious of but really kind of liked, and leatherworking which I never would have considered. I love detail and close-work, so it looked like something I might like, and I added woodworking as well. As chance would have it, Karl loved fishing but was not confident swimming. He signed up for canoeing, fishing, tracking, wilderness survival, archery and woodworking. We shared three subjects and chattered like magpies about the fact as lunch approached. Everyone had mandatory swimming and safety evaluations in the afternoon, so we went to lunch filled with energy and optimism. A metaphoric bucket of ice water descended upon me when we entered the mess hall. Buggers 2, 3 and 4 were there to greet Karl (reverting to the Buggerfur persona) and started in on raucous and ribald comments about the adults, leaders, activities and camp. I was instantly relegated to background. I honestly didn't mind (much) as I really loathed those three boys. I headed to the chow line. Lunch was a train wreck of salad (edible if you avoided the dressing), chili-mac (think bad sloppy Joes mixed with macaroni), hot dogs (stewed into submission but otherwise edible) and a variety of unidentifiable vegetables. The pale, washed-out, depressing palate matched my mood. I saw Karl make a half-hearted (could it be apologetic) move in my direction before the Bugger 3, the one composed of a single giant eyebrow and six-foot-long arms, dragged him off to where they'd set up their Lunch Command Centre. I kept a surreptitious watch and was fascinated by the pattern I saw as I forced the abominable gruel down. The tables around the LCC remained empty. Boys in twos and threes would sit down, but you could see B2, B3 and B4 direct their fire at the newcomers who quickly moved to another part of the mess hall. Those three seemed to take great satisfaction that these triumphs, but I saw Karl acting more and more despondent as any hope of finding a friend outside the Buggers faded steadily. Karl seemed uniquely depressed as lunch ended and we went to the mandatory safety training. As it happened, he and I were in the first swimming proficiency group and the other Buggers were off to either the General Fitness course or the Camp Skills test. Sea was putting us into sets; Karl and I were a couple of the first partnered in sets of four. To this day, I don't know where I got the courage, but I turned to him in a way that the other two could not hear. Why do you let them do that to you, Karl?" He flared and started to bluster then suddenly deflated and started breathing in short gasps. I looked round and saw that none were paying the least attention. I dragged Karl by his shoulder behind the tree nearest. "STOP IT! I think you are really a great guy inside. Why let them alienate the entire camp? Don't you WANT better friends?" Karl's head snapped up, then fell and I saw his shoulders shake. "You can't understand. They are the only ones who'll put up with me. The only chance I have is to be tougher than everyone else. If I'm not, If, if, If I..." and he burbled off into incoherence. I knew we had scant moments. "How many people have you killed so far, Karl?" His head popped up in utter confusion. "How WHAT?" "Did you use an axe or gut people with a fish knife?" "Did I WHAT?" "Can I expect you to kill me tonight in my sleep?" "NO! What the hell?" "Then I don't CARE who or what you are. If you aren't gonna kill me or beat me up... you aren't, are you?" "NO!" "Then we're good. Fuck them. You have a friend until you take that fish knife to me. I LIKE you, or at least I want to. Now let's go swim and to hell with the Buggers." "Who are the buggers? I don't UNDERSTAND!" he near-wailed. "The prick-pack you run with. Never mind. Just come with me." I used my shirt to wipe his face and Karl nearly decked me for the effort, but instead he leaned the tears and snot and we re-joined the group just as Mr Sea started sending groups into the water. We were fifth, which gave Karl time to calm down and begin glowering at me. 'Fuck,' I thought. 'Well, no good deed goes unpunished. I hope I swim faster than he can drown me.' We were tasked with getting all four of our team to the buoy and back. Within a few seconds, it was clear that Karl could take care of himself, but the other two were hopeless. One could dog-paddle but the other was what I call a 'victim-in-waiting'; the character in a teen slasher film who would certainly be the first to "wander off" only to turn up later attached to the boat's anchor. I calmed the kid that I mentally dubbed Second Victim from the Left while Karl took Dag Paddle under his wing. I decided the easiest course of action was to lifeguard-tow Victim 12 to the buoy, and Karl copied me. We weren't the first to return by a long shot, but we were the only ones with two dead weights to make it back. Mr Sea congratulated us both and scratched my swimming course, replacing it with life-saving. Over Karl's strident objections that he really wasn't a swimmer at all, Sea convinced Karl to drop tracking (he said it was pretty boring) and got Karl to agree to join me. We ended up in the same groups for the General Fitness. I was agile and had great stamina; Karl was built for sudden bursts of strength so we balanced each other nicely. Next was Camp Skills. If it had been scorecarded, we would have been in the range between abysmal and laughable; I managed to trap my own foot and Karl's fire-starting skills include setting my pants alight. We had about two hours of free time before the triangle's siren song would lure us with a false hope of an edible meal. We were laughing and poking each other over various foibles at the skills assessments as we returned to the tent to prep for a shower. Before we got to Tent Canvas Hell, however, we were struck dumb. Buggers 2, 3 and 4 were waiting on the path. Bugger 3 was the spoken-asshole. "So, Big Man, you found a little fuck-buddy? You told us he was a jack-off yesterday; is he jerking YOU now, Big Man?" The other two guffawed as Mr Wit (he actually only had half that) smirked. "Actually, Winston," the use of a full name drained all colour from Bugger 3's face, "it turns out that Patrick here is twice as cool as all of you stitched together. Run off and terrorise a 9-year-old. That's more your speed. And as for Mikey (yes, I know your real name is Muriel) and Bobby, you can go fuck yourselves. I've found friends that don't hate and don't get hated in return. So, little bully-babies, BUGGER OFF!" The tableau called 'still life with social awkwardness' broke only when Karl twitched in a pretend rush. All three end up with asses in the dirt before scrambling off. He turned to me. "You know they hate you now more even than they hate themselves?" I was standing in slack-jawed wonder. "You were fucking AMAZING! Karl, you are a comic book hero! You are also a really special person. I am honoured to be hated by that lot if it means I'm liked by you." We both blushed and went silent as we approached the tent. We both froze at the tripping bar. I felt Karl's rush at offing the Buggers fade, leaving him shaken and unsure. "Now what?" I honestly to this day don't know which one of us said it. Maybe both. I do know I said, "Let's clean up and wash the stink of those three off us, Karl." He looked seriously defeated as we gathered our bath kit and headed to the dreaded Hygiene Hut. Neither of us were garrulous as we washed and rinsed. We weren't alone in the showers; frankly, I think I may have been the last lone person in the Hygiene Hut when I was recovering from (and preparing for more) humiliation the day before. Like every boy (I thought), I paid scrupulous attention to the wall and ceiling to avoid accidental visual contact with a cock, ball, ass or pubic patch of any other boy. Many years on, I kick myself for not feasting on the views of boyflesh on parade for me. I learned later that the vast majority of my peers were looking constantly, straight boys (sizing up the competition) and gay boys (building their stable of wanking fantasies); it was only the terminally-shy and those unwilling to face their sexuality (those like me, in other words) who abstained. Karl and I dressed and returned to Tent Canvas Hell, having another hour to kill. I was really beginning to like Karl, and it hurt me to see him so downcast. I decided to make it either much better or much worse. "I was awake, you know," I started weakly. Karl's head snapped up and I could see a rage building at this betrayal. "I was afraid you were going to be mean to me again and couldn't face it, and when you started talking it was too late not to listen." Just as quickly as his face flushed, it paled to a sickly white. I dropped my eyes to the tent floor, utterly ashamed but determined. I continued, "I didn't, you know. Find you useless. I thought you looked like the person I wanted as a friend, but then you hurt me. No. Don't say anything. Let me finish. You looked at me like you hated me, then what you, what, what you said to those three hurt so bad. No. I said shut up! But what you said when you thought I couldn't hear you. It all made sense. You had to be hurting so bad, and sometimes you want, you know, others to hurt so you hurt less. I get it. But what you did today, that took real guts, Karl." I finally had the guts myself to look Karl in the eye. He was transfixed, mouth slightly open, clearly not breathing and no surer of himself than I was. "What you did was right, Karl. You HAVE found friends, well at least one friend, who doesn't hate. I don't hate, well, maybe the Buggers but only a little. I don't think I realised I had ever hated before until you said that to them. But you're braver than me. Will you, you know, let me be your friend, too?" My voice was a small, timid little thing by the end. My lip quivered and I could feel tears building. I had admitted to doing something unforgivable, listening to him last night, and then left myself open for him to destroy me. What the BLOODY HELL was I playing at? Karl remained, stunned immobile, just staring. I don't know what I saw, some shiver or tremor, but I had the presence of mind to snag the tent flaps closed just as Karl dissolved in tears. I sat next to him on his cot and he melted into me, apologising, agonising, begging me not to tell anyone, begging me not to hate him anymore, begging me to help him. I was leaking tears too, but more out of relief. I shushed him and tucked his head on my chest and hugged him like a brother would (or should) and let him cry it out in silence for a few minutes. When the waterworks slowed, I nudged the top of his head with my chin. "Let's help each other, Karl. I am just as messed up. To make sure you understand that I'll never tell anyone or do anything to hurt you, I, I'll tell, I mean..." I took a long and shuddering breath. "I am terrified, Karl. Every day. All day. Every minute. I've been picked on all my life and I am terrified of people. Now, we've even. I know one of your secrets -- that you are a really good person pretending to be tough -- and you know one of mine. We're partners, now. Fair?" Karl looked up at me with red-rimmed eyes. I knew nothing of sexuality in general and certainly nothing about my own, so I had no convenient label on which to hang the elated devastation those eyes wrought in my soul. All I knew was that I would die for Karl right then, just to have him look at me like that again. In that golden, priceless moment, that fucking triangle started clanging to draw us to dinner. I fucking hate that thing.
  6. Bear Pup

    Canvas Hell

    Coming of age can be fun, scary, interesting, devastating, rapturous or horrifying. Sometimes all of the above and more. Canvas Hell brings together several guys on the cusp of manhood, each with his own demons. It is rife with teen angst, and more than a few tears. It is also a true love story, a young adult romance, because coming of age involves sex, but is not about sex. It is about becoming who the man that you will forever be.
  7. Bear Pup

    Arrival of the Damned

    Camp Sinnemahoning was a Boy's Camp in the highlands of Pennsylvania for not-quite-rich teens, 13 to 17 years of age (18-year-olds could return as "Leaders"). All the kids called it Camp Sin, though there was precious little opportunity for sinning (or so I believed when I was a stripling). I had been to camp in the summer of my 13th year, but the last three summers were pre-empted -- the first by the untimely death of my grandmother, the second by my father's promotion and move to a new city, and the third by Mom's paranoia about the Swine Flu in 1976. So unlike the rest of the kids around me, I was a 17-year-old semi-novice. When it came to anything other than the camping aspect, I was certainly NOT a semi-novice. I was a complete one. I was about as impenetrably-naive as it was possible to be; in the 70s, that was quite a lot. My parent were fully-fledged members of the 60s Cultural Revolution and were thus fully aware of all the wonderfully-sinful things from which I needed to be protected. They came to Faith a bit late in the game, so they had a win-win -- a decadent youth and a pious adulthood. Basically, a recipe for a miserable teenager. So... me at barely-17? I was late to my growth. I matured about normal with the startling appearance of hair down there at 12 that spread to you've got to be kidding by 14. What I didn't get in a timely manner was the growth spurt. Apparently, I'd plateaued at 14 and stayed in a nightmarishly-in-between holding pattern until my 16th year. I then grew fast enough that Mom complained of having to buy new pants and shoes every weekend (an exaggeration, but not by much). I went from soprano to baritone to tenor and back more often than a Broadway musical, settling in the middle register as a rich tenor just a few scant months before this tale ensues. I was an utterly-awkward 6' 1" and my weight had yet to catch up to my height. Add thick-rimmed glasses (were there any others in the 70s?) and at 160 lbs I looked more like a praying mantis than anything else. I also had (okay, have) the self-esteem of oatmeal. So, I climbed off the bus at the Camp Sin main gate. The trees were glowing with greens, the river sparkling with whites and blues, the campers were a riot of every eye-watering colour known to DuPont and Dow. I was a head taller than most (I tried to slouch), bespectacled (I stared at the ground) and a naive and intimidated man-child. All I wanted was to find my cabin, stow my crap and hide in the crowd during orientation lectures. Fate, as always, was NOT on my side. "LISTEN UP campers!" a camp aide bellowed. His voice didn't carry; it hoisted with a winch. I wasn't the only one to jump. Everyone congealed in the inevitable circle. "We are, for the second year running, OVERBOOKED. Some of you lucky campers will have the bonus of a REAL camp experience. You won't be stuck in a stuffy and crowded cabin. NO! You'll be rooming with only ONE other guy in your own private TENT!" A few half-hearted cheers greeted this announcement. I was a connoisseur of hiding in a crowd; the idea of trying to vanish in a group of two undid me. The aide started reading the names of the "lucky" guys sharing tents. The first name was… "Kennedy! Patrick!" Sigh. Me. Did I mention that I'm Irish Catholic? With flaming orange hair and more freckles than body hair (a fact true to this day)? Sorry, forgot that juicy detail. Bonus: When I blushed, I turned a shade of red that clashed stunningly with my hair and made my freckles glow like nuclear waste. The first name called. Singled out when already petrified. My face lit up like Times Square. "Mueller! Karl!" A head snapped up about a third of the way round the circle. When I thought of guys with a German background, I had always envisioned the Nazi Youth poster-child: thin, tall, blonde, rosy-cheeked, enthusiastic, chipper. Karl had the rosy cheeks and nothing else. He was a furrow-browed, surly, short, dark, wider-than-tall, hairy, muscle-bound tank. "Patrick and Karl - Tent 9 - See George at the mess hall! OFF YOU GO! Abrams! Eugene…" and the roll-call to hell proceeded as Karl and I fought our way to the back of the crowd. We drew abreast and fell into rough step and Karl finally looked over at me. I hesitantly smiled, an expression that faded to a vacant grimace as I watched him assess me. The final verdict? He gave me the look you'd save for the man who had impregnated your pet poodle. Fucking GREAAAAT! I returned my eyes to close observation of my converse sneakers and plotted a variety of ways to kill myself during classes on macramé and basket-weaving. Some of those had started to flesh out into actual plans before we reached the Mess Hall, a tent-thing of cavernous proportions. The posts and roof were like any real building, but with netting instead of walls to maximize the breeze. I think it was to disperse the stench of camp cooking, but could never prove the hypothesis. We collided at the door as Karl assumed he would go first while I was blithely unaware that a doorway was involved. I think I was somewhere around 'carmine' on the blush-colour scale. George, though, turned out to be a spritely and effervescent youngish man who actually seemed to want to put us at ease. As far as I could tell, that only increased the surly quotient for Karl but it did wonders for me. My blush faded to crimson as we got the location of our new, four-week home. A bit about the layout of Camp Sin. The primary camp occupied a level clearing overlooking the river with the Mess Hall; a boxy and air-conditioned Administrative Building; the "Hygiene Hut" (we'll get to that in a minute); a gargantuan, open-air Activity Pavilion; and six large dormitory-cabins with canvas-and-mesh walls segregated roughly by age. Just above the main camp were a series of smaller cabins for the staff. Tents, we found, were scattered on flat (or kinda flat) spots within hailing distance of the main encampment. Each tent was build up on double-bed of shipping pallets to keep the campers above rain runoff and deter the less-dedicated creepy-crawly critters. Tent 9 lay about 40 yard into the woods behind the shower/toilet/medical cabin euphemistically called the Hygiene Hut. It was between three towering beech trees with branches intertwined above it. We had a clear view to the 'lake' (widening of the river) below us, but rapine quiet plus privacy from the main camp. The air was clear and scented with woodland flowers and dry loam, and zephyr breezes tickled our leafy ceiling. Looking back now, it was heaven on Earth. Looking at it then, it was Siberia, an inescapable prison that would force me together with this, this troglodyte! I hadn't started out with a lot of hope when assigned to a tent. Every one of his glances at me, though, put another puncture in the limp balloon of my enthusiasm and it reflected in my own assessment of my cell-, um, tent-mate. As I stumbled over every rock and root on the path, further humiliating myself, I whiled away the short hike inventing nicknames for Karl. Knuckle-Dragging Nazi was too obvious. I was an aficionado of Tolkien (actually, an adolescent addict), so decided that there needed to be a new Thorin's Company brother of the dwarves Bifur, Bofur and Bombur named Buggerfur. That was the leading contender for Karl's nom de pits-of-Gehenna. It wasn't until we got to Tent 9 that the true horror of the reality hit home to both of us. Apparently, Karl was as experienced an outdoorsman as myself. We envisioned a "tent" as the kind of thing shown on M*A*S*H, open and spacious with a cozy central camp-stove and flaps that you raise to create a light and airy space. Um, not so much. This was a Canvas Hell. Tent 9 was a wedge nominally eight-by-seven (size dictated by the dimensions of the shipping pallets beneath). Simple geometry, though meant that the usable width at cot height was ever-so-slightly wider than the cots themselves, giving us about a foot of "hall" between and about eight inches at the end of each cot. Buggerfur didn't even look at me as he hove his backpack onto the left cot and started to untie his sleeping bag. I didn't think to object to his presuming which to take; first off I didn't care and second, on the rare times we'd walked abreast, that was the side on which he'd walked. I looked over our new gulag as I copied his movements, setting up my own kit. The frame was nine barked striplings, a triangle at each end connected by a slightly-heavier ridge pole and stringers on the bottom of each side. A single panel of canvas ran seamlessly as floor and walls, a sort of triangular tube with flaps on each end. The back was sewn shut with a mesh "window" that could be covered with a flap and the front had both mesh and solid flaps that could be tied closed or rolled to each side. One bonus of this was a nice, two-inch-thick "tripping bar" at the entrance with a delightful six-inch drop to the forest floor, a feature that I would make good and humiliating use of over the four weeks of residence. I proceeded to do so before I even finished sorting my kit; my heel caught and back I went onto my bony ass. A barked laughed and sneer showed Karl's distain. I took that as my cue to exit-stage-mortify and spun toward the Hygiene Hut. I thought I was about to puke, but once inside a rather fetid (and door-less) cubicle, I felt a bit better. My breathing slowed a bit and the tiniest fraction of perspective came back to me. No, I was not some precocious wunderkind. For me as with all boys, four weeks was an eternity and the slightest misstep was a disgrace that would utterly poison my entire future. However, Karl was the only boy who had treated me like an outcast; others had smiled and even waved as I made my way through the camp. Yes, I would have to interact with him more than any other human (using the term loosely enough to include Buggerfur), but he was the only guy amongst the horde to have seen me humiliate myself, and the only one who even seemed to care. Slightly more at ease, I started to feel a bit more human. Since I was in the Hygiene Hut already, I decided to take piss before leaving. I was just shaking off the last drops when Karl and a trio of other campers he seemed to know (I provisionally named them Buggers 2, 3 and 4) came into the facilities. "If you're finished fisting yourself, McJackOff, we need to take a leak." Every ounce of breath left me at this stunningly-unfair attack. The fact that I had actually considered a quiet wank to relieve the tension would have made me blush anyway, but the twin humiliation of Karl's insinuation and his pals' raucous laughter left me in a crimson rage. I made a rush on the door, shouldering Buggerfur into his bum-buddies, leaving them to thrash in a pile as I made my escape. I will admit to some wander-weeping in the hours before the triangle started to peal out the call to food. We'd been told that it would take until dinner to get everyone sorted and settled. As the first to be called for Tent Canvas Hell, Karl and I had the longest to get ready. I had not returned to Tent 9, instead making a several-hour rambling and random exploration of the trails up the hill and down to the river. Camp Sinnemahoning was on a long spear of land between the then-current path of the Sinnemahoning River and a long lake that had once been its ancient riverbed, connected at the downstream end. Between was a series of three hills, each with its own peak. The tallest and most-upstream was high enough to have a tiny rock-strewn bald patch at the peak; between this peak and the next was the area on which the camp was centred. The other two were simply forested slopes with flats and vales caused by stony creeks and seasonal rills. I found a huge stand of close-packed junipers, scented like rich gin and neatly poisoning the ground around it to provide a foothold for its seedlings. Later, a mockingbird erupted from a bramble. She'd taken serious offense at my presence and chased me, dive-bombing, until I'd gotten far enough from her nest. On the other side of a ridge, I found a magnificent if tiny dell, rich in ferns and flowers with a spring-fed cascade. It was as close to a Middle Earth idyll as I would ever find unto this day. The highlight was rounding a large boulder and startling a deer who leapt like a gazelle before vanishing like a magician's trick into the undergrowth. Not a single leaf-ripple marked her escape. All in all, I was as much at peace as I think I'd ever been when that clang-a-ring-a-bong called everyone to mess. I was neither first nor last to the Mess Hall, but a bit before the crush. Others had ranged further afield or been wrapped up in other activities (some quite illicit, I would later find) when the triangle called them. In addition to being the first meal, this was also the orientation lecture and the first chance for the Camp Sinners to interact as a group. I ate without thinking or even registering what was on my platter as I took stock of the residents of my new community. I guessed there were well over 100 people there. Later, based on the camp and staff I learned about, I would guess roughly 148 men and boys; 120 campers, 20 "leaders" (late teens returned to help run the show) and some permanent staff like the doctor, nurse and councillor. Regardless, there was plenty of chaos and cheer to go around that night when the voice of the aide that had brought us to heel earlier rang forth. "OI! Oi! Quiet down! Yes, even you Quincy! Don't you snigger, Lawks! SIIIII-LENNNNN-CE!!!!!" That shut up all but the rowdiest; those were suppressed by the combined weight of the ringing silence and the disapproving glares of their tablemates. An older man stood and smiled at the aide, "Thank you, Lloyd." He turned to the assembled boys, "I am Major Bachgen. I lead Camp Sinnemahoning. You can call me Major (my former military rank) or Mr. Bachgen or even 'HEY, Mr. Whoever!' {laughter}. The soft and dulcet voice you just heard was our Dean of Boys ironically named Lloyd Dean. "George is our Activities Master -- you'll never be bored with George on the job -- and he's our registered nurse. Find him for anything where the bleeding is not excessive and the patient can move most or all of his limbs. If that is not a good description, you need The Doc {pointing to his left}. For issues less physical, see the Dr Eaglas {further right}; he handles everything from homesickness or problems adjusting to the camp lifestyle to serious issues, and he reports to no one, not even me. Not a soul will know what you tell him, I swear. Our two games-masters, one for water and one for land, complete our adult contingent. "You've already eaten dinner, but growing boys need more." A couple of guys rolled up the shutters on a range of pastries and jellies to a ragged cheering. "There are your desserts. Do your worst then retire for the night. You'll be up at dawn (trust me) and you'll want plenty of sleep beforehand. However, I know that none of you will pay a lick of attention to that warnings, so your grueling Day Two is on your own heads. Good night, boys. See you in a few short hours." I was replete with both a thick and rich dinner and a delicious dessert. I staggered to Tent 9 and barely noticed that Buggerfur was close behind. Even after the idyllic ramble and rich meal, I just couldn't take a confrontation. I stripped to my undies quickly, dove into my bag and rolled toward the tent wall. I heard Karl come into the tent and undress more slowly. Some animal instinct told me that he was watching me carefully throughout, and I wondered why. I pretended to sleep -- I'm good at that; mom always checked that I was asleep before my rents went to bed. If I wanted a satisfying bit of solo fun, I needed to convince her I was out cold and then start my self-abuse after they went to dreamland. Karl settled in then tossed and turned. It seemed his body was as restless as my mind. I kept replaying the day, every humiliation and mortifying episode. I cry easily, but silently. I don't really know why that is. Rarely are there choking sobs for me, but a soaking pillow is common. I kept coming back to twin questions: 'Why did Karl take such an instant dislike to me?' 'How can I make friends with other guys if he keeps after me?' I froze for a moment when I heard his voice, and it took a massive effort to return to my fake-sleep breathing. "Patrick?" Karl said in a whisper-voice. "Patrick, you awake?" Needless to say, I kept 'sleeping'; I didn't need or want a scene. "Patrick? Okay, good," he sounded relieved, "I don't know if I could say this if you were awake. I'm sorry, Patrick. Today was a horrible day and I took it out on you. I know you think I'm useless; I could see it when you first looked at me. Then I tried to man up in front of people who I shouldn't even call friends, so maybe you're r-r-right. I'm, I," I heard his voice catch and rise in pitch, "I'm real sorry and I promise to do better. I pray to God that you'll let me and it's not too late. I really need a friend and… Never mind. You can't hear me. Good night, Patrick." Even if I hadn't been fake-sleeping, I would have been struck dumb. My entire worldview just crashed in flames. He thought that I didn't like him? He was desperate for a friend? My eyes drifted shut on my spinning universe as I dropped into a fitful sleep filled with dreams where I was an accidental bully. I think Scrooge's Ghost of Xmas Past came into the story someplace and escorted me on a tour of innumerable times that I came off as a complete dick, hurting others without even bothering to notice. Most of them not real memories, thank God, but dream torments; I'm actually a pretty caring guy when I pull my head out of my ass. 'How do I fix this? More to the point, how do I fix this without him knowing that I'm a sneak and a faker and listened to what he obviously thought was an intensely-private confession?'

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