This Isn't a Girl Scout Camp
Michaela Varden and Rebecca Jones were the only passengers on the bus, not counting the driver or the guard. The guard sat next to the driver with his seat turned around facing them. A rifle lay across his lap.
Michaela was sitting about ten rows back, handcuffed to her armrest, with the other girl sitting directly opposite. Her backpack lay on the seat next to her. It contained her toothbrush, toothpaste, some clothes and underwear, shampoo & conditioner, a hairbrush, hair bands, light makeup, contact lenses, deodorant, sun cream and her pills. She didn't bother packing a box of stationary. She doesn't have anybody to write to.
She looked out of the window, although there wasn't much to see—mostly fields of hay and cotton. They were on a long bus ride to nowhere. The bus wasn't air-conditioned, and the hot, heavy air was almost as stifling as the handcuffs. Michaela decided to talk to her unknown companion.
"Hey," she said to her, smiling unsurely.
"Hey," replied the girl, smiling back. Her smile was kind, though, but her eyes were guarded.
"I'm Michaela," Michaela told her.
The girl nodded. "I'm Becky. What'd they get you for?"
"Breaking into people's houses, stealing, and bunking school. You?"
"Drug dealing," she sighed.
Michaela's eyes widened. "For real?"
"It was only the once, I swear," Becky told her. "I needed the money to pay for my mom's hospital bills. She's got MS and she had a, err, bad turn recently." She sighed sadly.
Michaela's jaw dropped. "Oh wow, I'm so sorry—"
"But I've had other minor offences like stealing food and such, so it all added up to this punishment I guess," Becky said, matter-of-factly. "Have you got any family?"
"Only my mom," Michaela said quietly. "But she's got a problem with alcohol. My dad left us when I was little."
Becky nodded and didn't press it. "So are ya gonna miss your friends?"
Michaela shrugged. "I don't really have any real friends. Just those people I get into trouble with. I doubt they care. What about you?"
"Yeah—I've got one who I'll miss a lot. Johnny. We've been best friends since before I can remember."
"Aw," Michaela smiled. Becky shrugged and they both laughed a little. "You're not a bad kid, are ya Becky?"
She shook her head. "Neither are you. Bad things have just happened to you."
"Was it scary when you were arrested?" Becky asked her.
Michaela shook her head. "I'm used to it now," she chuckled. "I don't know why I do this to myself. When I've done my time, I'm gonna turn my life around. I think actually getting convicted has finally got it into my head that I've really screwed up."
Becky smiled. "Good for you."
Michaela looked at the guard, wondering if he was interested in their conversation. He was slumped in his seat, making Michaela wonder if he had fallen asleep. The guard was wearing sunglasses, so they couldn't see his eyes. The bus hit a small bump and the guard sat up, instantly alert.
"What do you reckon it'll be like? Camp Green Lake?" Michaela wondered, looking out of the window at the vast emptiness. She watched the rise and fall of a telephone wire.
"Who knows," Becky answered. "Hopefully there'll be a massive lake with lush greenery, though if outside is anything to go by right now I can't see it."
"What did the court tell you about this place?" Michaela asked her.
"That it used to be an all boy's camp," Becky replied. "But they've had a few girls try it out and adjust okay. I don't know what that means, though."
"Yeah, nor me."
"So have you got any brothers or sisters at home?" Becky asked her.
"No. It's just me," Michaela replied. "Have you?"
Becky's face lit up. "Yeah, I've got a little brother, Tommy. He's being looked after by strangers because I'm not there anymore." Her face fell. She stayed quiet after that.
The bus ride became increasingly bumpy because the road was no longer paved. Soon though, the bus was slowing down. The guard grunted as she stretched his arms.
"Welcome to Camp Green Lake," said the driver. Michaela and Becky looked at each other in confusion, and disappointment. Michaela once again looked out of the dirty window. She couldn't see a lake. And hardly anything was green.
Michaela felt somewhat dazed as the guard unlocked her handcuffs and led her off the bus. They'd been on the bus for a very long time. She stepped onto the hard, dry dirt. There was a band of sweat around her wrist where the handcuff had been. Becky stepped down next to her a few seconds later.
The land was barren and desolate. Nobody was around. Michaela could see a few run-down buildings and some tents. Farther away there was a cabin beneath two tall trees. Those two trees were the only plant life she could see. There weren't even weeds.
The guard led Michaela and Becky to a small building. A sign on front said, YOU ARE ENTERING CAMP GREEN LAKE JUVENILE CORRECTIONAL FACILITY. Next to it was another sign which declared that it was a violation of the Texas Penal Code to bring guns, explosives, weapons, drugs, or alcohol onto the premises.
Michaela swerved her head to the sign and muttered, "Duh," to Becky, who laughed quietly.
The guard led them into the building, where they felt the relief of air-conditioning. A man was sitting with his feet up on a desk. He turned his head when they entered, but otherwise didn't move. Even though he was inside, he wore sunglasses and a cowboy hat. He also held a can of soda, which made Michaela more aware of her thirst. The bus guard gave the man some papers to sign.
"That's a lot of sunflower seeds," said the guard.
Michaela then noticed a burlap sack of sunflower seeds on the floor next to the desk.
"I quit smoking last month," said the man in the cowboy hat. He had a tattoo of a rattlesnake on his arm, and as he signed his name, the snake's rattle seemed to wiggle. "I used to smoke a pack a day. Now I eat a sack of these every week."
The guard laughed.
There must have been a small refrigerator behind his desk, because the man in the cowboy hat produced two more cans of soda. For a second, Michaela hoped they might be for her and Becky. But, the man said one was for the guard and the other for the driver.
"7 hours here and now 7 hours back," the guard grumbled. "What a day."
Michaela thought about the long, miserable journey here and felt a little sorry for the guard and driver.
The man in the cowboy hat spit sunflower seed shells into a wastepaper basket. Then, he walked around the desk to Michaela and Becky. "My name is Mr. Sir," he said. "Whenever you speak to me you must call me by my name, is that clear?"
"Uh, yes, Mr. Sir," Michaela said, as Becky nodded – though they couldn't imagine that was really the man's name.
"You're not in the Girl Scouts anymore," Mr. Sir said.
Michaela and Becky were led into a little room that led off from the office, and it stored various items of clothing.
"Undress," he muttered to them. "And put this on—" He gave them two sets of clothes and a towel. "We had ladies sizes bought in. I'll wait in my office."
Michaela and Becky looked at the sets of clothing. The set consisted of a long-sleeve orange jumpsuit, an orange cap (which had a piece of cloth sewn on the back of it, for neck protection), an orange T-shirt, a towel, white sneakers and a canteen made of heavy plastic, which unfortunately was empty. Michaela took her boots and trousers off, and slipped the jumpsuit on and up over her T-shirt. Michaela put her own boots back on, and put her trousers in her rucksack. She took out her own cap and put it on.
Mr. Sir came back in after they had dressed and inspected Michaela. He saw she had good boots on and had her own clothes, and so put the other items away. Michaela was glad she would not be wearing them, but this jumpsuit was still horrible. And a nuisance. It smelled of soap.
He told them that they should wear one set to work in and one set for relaxation. Laundry was done every three days. On that day their work clothes would be washed. Then the other set would become their work clothes, and they would get clean clothes to wear while resting.
"You are to dig one hole each day, including Saturdays and Sundays."
Michaela's jaw dropped. "I'm sorry – but all we're doing here is digging holes?"
Mr. Sir nodded. "And you'll have some touchy-feely counselling sessions, too. Anyway each hole must be five feet deep, and five feet across in every direction. Your shovel is your measuring stick. Breakfast is served at 4:30."
Michaela and Becky looked surprised and a little horrified. Mr. Sir explained that they started early to avoid the hottest part of the day. "No-one is going to baby-sit you," he added. "The longer it takes you to dig, the longer you will be out in the sun. If you dig up anything interesting, you are to report it to me or any other counsellor. When you finish, the rest of the day is yours."
They nodded to show they understood.
"This isn't a Girl Scout camp," said Mr. Sir.
He checked their backpacks and allowed them to keep it. Then he led them out into the blazing heat.
"Take a good look around you," Mr. Sir said. "What do you see?"
Michaela looked out across the vast wasteland. The air seemed thick with heat and dirt. Becky folded her arms and shrugged.
"Not much," Michaela said, and then hastily added, "Mr. Sir."
Mr. Sir laughed. "You see any guard towers?"
"No," they both said.
"How about an electric fence?"
"No, Mr. Sir," they said again, tiredly.
"There's no fence at all, is there?"
"No, there is not, Mr. Sir," Michaela was getting annoyed at the repetition now.
"You want to run away?" Mr. Sir asked the two girls.
They looked back at him, unsure what he meant.
"If you want to run away, go ahead, start running, I'm not going to stop you." Michaela didn't know what kind of game Mr. Sir was playing. He seemed to follow Becky's eyes, who were staring at his belt.
"I see you're looking at my gun. Don't worry. I'm not going to shoot you." He tapped his holster. "This is for yellow-spotted lizards. I wouldn't waste a bullet on you."
"We're not going to run away," Becky mumbled, converting her eyes back to Mr. Sir.
"Good thinking, Jones," said Mr. Sir. "Nobody runs away from here. We don't need a fence. Know why? Because we've got the only water for a hundred miles. You want to run away? You'll be buzzard food in three days."
They could see some boys dressed in orange and carrying shovels dragging themselves toward the tents. Some looked at the two girls, grinned, looked at each other and proceeded to mutter excitedly.
"You thirsty?" asked Mr. Sir.
They both nodded, maybe a little too eagerly.
"Well, you better get used to it. You're going to be thirsty for the next eighteen months."
Michaela and Becky shared a look of alarm. That and a sense of anxiety with the boys entering the compound, filthy, sweaty but also eying them up with great interest.
"I wonder where the other girls are?" Michaela muttered to Becky.
Mr. Sir returned to his office. The girls found out that they were assigned to D Tent, as there were two girls each with A, B and C Tent, and their counsellor was Mr. Pendanski. There were seven large tents, and each one had a black letter on it: A, B, C, D, E, F and G. The first six tents were for the campers, with F being the girls' tent and G being for the counsellors. The girls were to shower behind the Warden's cabin, where some outdoor shower cubicles were apparently situated.
"My name is easy to remember," said Mr Pendanski as he shook hands with Michaela and Becky. "Three easy words: pen, dance, key."
Mr Pendanski was younger than Mr. Sir, and not nearly as scary looking. The top of his head was shaved so close it was almost bald. His nose was badly sunburned. He wore long socks with sandals.
"Mr. Sir isn't really so bad," said Mr Pendanski. "He's just been in a bad mood ever since he quit smoking. The person you've got to worry about is the Warden. There's really only one rule at Camp Green Lake: Don't upset the Warden."
They nodded to show they understood.
"I want you to know, girls, that I respect you," Mr Pendanski said. "I understand that you've made some bad mistakes in your life. Otherwise you wouldn't be here. But everyone makes mistakes. You may have done some bad things, but that doesn't mean you're bad kids."
Michaela nodded. It seemed pointless to try and tell her counsellor that she's done what she's done because of her mom. And she would bet that Becky is thinking the same thing about her crimes, too. It was to help her sick mother.
"I'm going to help you turn your life around," said their counsellor. "But you're going to have to help, too. Can I count on your help?"
"Yes!" they both exclaimed at once.
"Oh, good!" Mr Pendanski said and patted them on the back. Maybe he hadn't received such a positive reaction from criminals before.
Two boys, each carrying a shovel, were now coming across the compound.
"Rex! Alan! I want you to come and say hello to Michaela and Becky, the newest members of our team."
Wow. The response to this story has been incredible. Thank you so much! :) So I am very pleased to announce that I am officially back, re-writing my old stories! I am older now and my writing style has inevitably changed a lot so I am re-booting my stories.
So let me know what you think, old and new readers! I love you all, so much, seriously. Your gracious reception of this story always meant the absolute world to me, and it still does. I will re-write and carry on till the end this time! Nothing will get in my way now :)