Greetings campers! For this week’s blog post I thought it was time I offered a small glimpse of Camp Redblood in action. Below you will find the first Camp Redblood story I ever wrote as prose. Before this, it was all screenplays. Though this story doesn’t feature any of the fantastical elements that characterize the upcoming Camp Redblood and the Essential Revenge, it’s full of the mad, slightly anarchic Redblood spirit. Hope it gives you some laughs!
The bad blood between Camp Redblood and Camp Eagle began with a game of Bombardment. Of course, there was no Camp Eagle at the time, just the assholes who would go on to create it. Those assholes were Louis and Ellen Roche, parents of Redblood campers Jarrod and Jackson Roche.
Dr. Cheevers was never crazy about allowing parents into his camp in the first place. He opened Redblood in 1946 and had shaped many young lives there in the three decades since. Friendships that would long outlive the man were forged within his campgrounds every summer. Lessons that would later be recalled in company boardrooms and foreign battlefields were learned in the cabins, on the fields, and deep within the woods of Camp Redblood. Most importantly, fun was had by all. And yet it seemed to Dr. Cheevers that with every passing year the campers’ parents became a little pushier, a bit more opinionated, and ever so vocal on the handling of the very children they had chosen to dump on him for months at a time.
By the summer of 1976, Cheevers had limited Redblood’s yearly parental exposure to three days: the first day of camp in June, closing day in August, and the second of July, when many parents picked up their kids for the long weekend or a short vacation. Cheevers had even toyed with the idea of mandatory busing into Camp Redblood at one point. It would be nice and clean—campers in, campers out. No overbearing mothers chasing their kids around to wipe faces that would be dirty five minutes later and remain so for three months. No fathers in their Izod shirts and Docksiders loudly coaching their sons from the bleachers at the annual closing day baseball game. Roughly half of Redblood’s campers were bused in already, and the bus drivers kindly never stuck around to offer Dr. Cheevers pointers on how this or that could be improved around his camp.
In the end, Dr. Cheevers realized he didn’t want to cut out the parent element for two reasons. First was the fact that as a New Englander in the 1970s, the idea of forced busing for any reason made his skin crawl. Second was the simple fact that there remained a great many parents whose company he enjoyed, and for good reason—most of them had once been Redblood campers themselves. Regretfully, some of the adults he did not care for had also been Redblood campers. Louis Roche was a member of this small, but expanding group of individuals.
It had been a clear out, if not an especially clean one. At least by Camp Redblood standards it had been. Jarrod Roche, who was nine at the time, made a crazy dash from the back of his Bombardment team, The Ball Busters, nearly to the invisible line that separated them from the opposing team, The Dukes. The Dukes, so named for their collective love and admiration of John Wayne, had been unwillingly rechristened “The Duke’s Pukes” by the rest of Camp Redblood due to their relentless trash-talk, unfailingly communicated by team members in exaggerated Duke-imitation. The present game had begun with one of their more tasteless players hitching his shorts and taunting, “Why, I haven’t seen this many sitting ducks since the last time I visited Nagasaki!” When Jarrod Roche made his crazy dash to the line, patting his mouth and hooting like a wild Comanche to taunt them, the Pukes responded with a barrage Duke-ified wisecracks to accompany the balls they hurled at him.
“Pilgrim’s got a death wish!” cried an unkempt camper known as “Litterbox” as he chucked a ball at Jarrod’s head.
“Ya got the guts of a bull moose, son, and the brains to match!” yelled Emily McKenna, scoring a shot to Jarrod’s shoulder.
“If ya ask me, he runs like a bowlegged chimp in the habit of football-fucking!” shouted Spud Williams. The parents in the stands surely would have denounced this sort of talk, but the campers’ taunting voices blended together and were lost over the roar of the crowd.
As for Jarrod, he took every hit with a smile. As The Duke’s Pukes launched their assault of rubber and Nerf, Roche’s teammates took advantage of the diversion and honed in on them individually. You had to admire the kid; he was fat and slow, but wasn’t afraid to sacrifice himself with panache. By the time the melee was over, more than half of The Duke’s Pukes had made the solemn journey to the sidelines, followed by the one heroic Ball Buster.
Chooch, the beefy Sports and Games director, called the list of casualties, “Spud, OUT! Emily, OUT! Litterbox, OUT! Barry, OUT! Roche, OUT!” The last name was met with renewed cheers from The Ball Busters. However, not everyone was as appreciative.
“Hold! Hold! Time! Timeout!” called a shrill voice from the creaky old bleachers. A short, balding man with zinc oxide slathered over his nose was pulling off his sunglasses as he marched toward the towering form of Chooch.
“Oh brother, here we go,” Chooch muttered under his breath as he watched Louis Roche approach. Chooch was fully aware of what he was in for. Mr. Roche was notorious among Camp Redblood’s staff. At Parents’ Day the previous August, the guy had suggested that the annual baseball game be changed to softball because, in his words, the game was, “more gender accessible. Not to mention parent accessible!” This in spite of the fact that half the players were girls already. He’d accosted Chooch as the buses and family cars were arriving on the first day of camp two years previous, ranting and raving about the shoddy condition of the road into camp. “My Mercedes almost busted an axle!” he’d screamed, as if roads were Chooch’s department. Then there was the controversy over Dr. Cheevers’ decision to discontinue the Camper of the Year award, as well as the rest of the year-end awards the old man had deemed to be “superfluous and lame”. To be fair, many of the parents had complained about that one, but only one had started a letter writing campaign to the governor about it.
“How do you figure, calling my son out like that?” barked Mr. Roche. “He was hit in the head, clear as day,” Roche folded his arms and glared at Chooch, confident a new ruling was imminent.
“Well, Mr. Roche….” Chooch began uneasily. His size may have been intimidating to outsiders, but Louis Roche had dealt with Chooch often and knew him to be something of a gentle buffoon. “Jarrod was also hit seven or eight other times. And besides, head shots count.”
“Are you nuts?” cried Roche. “Head shots don’t count!”
“Sure they do,” Chooch replied, honestly surprised that anyone would ever consider otherwise. He didn’t realize it at the moment, but every game of Bombardment Chooch had ever taken part in had occurred on that field. “And like I said, he was hit several other times. He’s out.”
“Dad, it’s okay,” began Jarrod, who had come over from the sidelines. He was swiftly silenced by a raised finger and a deadly look from his father.
“It’ not okay. He was hit in the head first,” snapped Louis Roche, now swinging the finger at Chooch in a lawyerly fashion. “Thus he was disoriented, thus any ball to hit him within the next thirty seconds was invalid.”
Chooch scratched his head and looked to the bleachers, where quite a few side debates regarding the matter had sprung up. From this crowd came a brisk, gravelly voiced question. “Was he out, Chooch?”
“Yeah, Dr. Cheevers,” replied Chooch, relieved to hear the old voice. It meant the little white-nosed monster before him was no longer his problem alone.
“Jed, you’re out. Good show, son,” Dr. Cheevers called. Roche swung around to see who would dare defy him. It was easy to locate Cheevers among the other faces in the crowd. All you had to do was look for the cloud of cigar smoke. Mrs. Ellen Roche, however, found him first.
“Excuse me, but his name is Jarrod and he’s my son and he’s most certainly not out.”
Dr. Cheevers casually turned around. He was blind, but didn’t need eyes to know where she stood. Her shadow blocked out the sun and cooled his face. “Well excuse me, Mrs. Roche I presume, but this happens to be my camp, my rules, and he most certainly is out.”
“This is ridiculous!” yelled Louis as he strode up to the bleachers. Between the two Roches and the rest of the murmuring crowd, Cheevers was surrounded, yet made no sign that it bothered him in the least. He just went on puffing his stogie. Louis Roche continued in a more restrained, reasonable voice. The old fart just needed someone to enlighten him on the ethics of modern Dodgeball, that was all. “You see, Dr. Cheevers, when you get hit in the head in any form of Dodgeball, including Bombardment, you’re still in.”
Roche looked around to the crowd for support. “Well, I think everyone agrees that’s the modern—”
“I don’t agree,” said Cheevers.
“But that’s the way it’s played! At least in every civilized place on this Earth!”
“This is Camp Redblood,” Dr. Cheevers said simply. “Let me ask you something, Lou–”
“Mr. Roche, please. I haven’t been a camper here in over twenty years.”
“Guess that explains why you’ve forgotten our Bombardment rules,” said Cheevers. “Or maybe it was all the shots to the noggin you yourself took as a youngster here. But let me ask you anyway: what usually happens when a child is hit in the head during Bombardment?”
“They stay in the game!”
“Wrong. They cry their eyes out for five minutes, take another five minutes to cool their jets, then they go back in. By that time another game has begun. In other words, they’re out.”
“So you have a camp full of kids aiming at each other’s heads– that’s real mature!” bellowed Ellen Roche. Jarrod meanwhile, was so embarrassed he wished he had never played Bombardment. So embarrassed, as a matter of fact, he wished he’d never been born.
“Actually, if your husband chose to do so, he would recall that campers who aim at someone’s head are automatically called out as well,” Cheevers said calmly. “Chooch?”
“Litterbox threw it,” responded Chooch. “He’s out.”
“There you have it.” Dr. Cheevers said. “I don’t condone throwing balls at people’s heads, but I also don’t advocate allowing yourself to be hit there. See, out there in the real world, shots to the head are generally more serious than ones to the leg or arm. When someone punches you in the face, for example, they usually don’t give you a nice little timeout to recuperate. Say somebody throws a rock, or fires a bullet at your head, chances are your timeout will be permanent.”
“Oh for God’s sake! This is Bombardment!” cried Mrs. Roche.
“At Camp Redblood,” Cheevers corrected.
Douglas Burke, father of campers Paul and Suzie Burke, could hold his peace no longer. “Times have changed, Dr. Cheevers. I think it’s time maybe Camp Redblood updated her rulebook.”
“No, I don’t think she’ll be doing that,” said Cheevers.
“Then your decision is final?” demanded Louis Roche.
“Chooch is a certified Sports and Games director. He made the call and it was final the moment he made it.”
“Well I’m a certified parent and I think your camp is a disgrace!” yelled Roche.
“You’re a certified idiot,” said Dr. Cheevers. “In addition to forgetting our Bombardment rules, you’ve also gone and forgotten Redblood’s motto as well. Me second. Sound familiar? Your son just managed to turn a simple game of Bombardment into a prime example of that motto by sacrificing himself. Hell, I saw that without a working pair of eyes. What’s your excuse?”
Louis opened his mouth to answer, but Cheevers decided not to let him. “Ah, save it. I’ve had quite enough of you already. If you want your kids to play Pussy Dodgeball…” Several members of the crowd gasped at this while others laughed. Cheevers however, lowered his sunglasses for the briefest of moments. His scarred, empty eye sockets stared a deep chill into Louis Roche. “…Go build your own goddamn summer camp. Game on.”
Louis and Ellen Roche built their own goddamn summer camp. They built it not five miles down the road from Camp Redblood in Westgrove, New Hampshire. The couple was wealthy enough to have it built themselves, but they weren’t stupid enough to believe a victory against a Westgrove institution like Camp Redblood was guaranteed. Thus they enlisted the help of several friends in their venture. Parents from Jarrod and Jackson’s private school, Burke and other like-minded parents who’d been on the bleachers during the Bombardment debacle, and similarly disenfranchised former Redblood campers all invested money into the new camp. Old Man Cheevers would find out the hard way that there was no place in the modern world for Camp Redblood and her barbaric Bombardment rules. Times had changed.
Louis Roche took a leave of absence from his law firm to devote all his time to his new endeavor. Bombardment was only the tip of the iceberg; Camp Eagle would trump Cheevers’ rickety old dump in every aspect. No more hamburgers and hotdogs– the food in Camp Eagle’s dining hall would be as nutritious as it was delicious. Their counselors would hold PhDs in various disciplines like nature, anthropology, and cultural studies as opposed to Redblood’s staff, made up of horny local teenagers jonesing for a trip into town to get drunk, high, and laid. Eagle’s cabins would be state of the art, with air-conditioning for those hot summer nights. There would be partitions in the showers for the shy kids, a 24 hour telephone center for the homesick kids, and “calming centers” for the hyper kids.
It wouldn’t stop there, Roche decided. Camp Eagle would have awards, by God, and every camper would receive one. They’d spring for a computer, or even a lab of them with the help of more investors. Maybe he’d write some letters to Silicon Valley. There would be a game room with televisions and Atari. And an ice cream maker! Most important of all, if you got hit in the head during Dodgeball, Bombardment, or any other ball-throwing game, you would still be very much “in”.
The National Camp Association approved their charter before ground was even broken. Camper’s World Quarterly ran a plethora of stories that built up Camp Eagle as the first in a new wave of supercamps that would spring up across the nation. Motivational speakers, minor celebrities, and traveling acts like the New England Hula-Hoop Wizards were booked to make special appearances. A season spent at Camp Eagle promised to be less a summer and more of a golden era of your life, all for the reasonable price of two grand a kid.
From Camper’s World Quarterly, summer 1978 issue:
CAMP EAGLE HAS LANDED!
Jubilant crowds gathered on the first Saturday of June to celebrate the long-anticipated opening of Camp Eagle in the shadow of the Presidential Range in Westgrove, NH. The first group of beaming youngsters marched proudly into the new “super-camp” after a short ribbon-cutting ceremony performed by Jackson Roche of Wellesley, MA. Jackson is the son of camp founder and CEO Louis Roche, also of the Bay State.
“Times have changed, and it’s about time this part of New England got the summer camp it deserves,” said Mr. Roche between bites of a tofu-dog. “We’re providing a safe, nurturing atmosphere for young people who are tired of the social Darwinism they face at other camps. Camp Eagle is a place to feel good about yourself!”
Despite the good vibes, mild feelings of tension threatened to derail the opening, tension generated by fears of reprisals by Eagle’s neighbor, Camp Redblood.
“I’m honestly surprised they haven’t tried some sort of stunt or prank to ruin everyone’s good time,” said Douglas Burke, parent of two former Redblood campers and currently serving on Eagle’s board of directors. “They’re a notoriously immature staff over there, led by a sick old bully who sees his campers more as young soldiers than the wonderful, unique, innocent creatures they are.”
Mr. Burke went on to add, “While I’m happy to report that Camp Eagle has a full roster already, we did save a few bunks in every age group specially for dissatisfied Redblood campers, and welcome them with open arms.”
When pressed for a response to Roche and Burke’s comments, Camp Redblood founder and camp director Dr. Andrew Cheevers predictably replied using language unprintable in a family publication.
For his part though, Louis Roche bears no ill will to Camp Redblood or its infamous taskmaster. “You know, this all began with what was supposed to be a simple game of Bombardment. I’d like to take this opportunity to formally invite Camp Redblood to a game here at Camp Eagle. Who knows, maybe afterward we can all sit down and laugh about it over some of these tofu-dogs!”
Dr. Cheevers took Louis Roche up on his offer. The day ended with many laughs indeed, but they did not occur over pieces of coagulated soy milk.
Chooch pulled Camp Redblood’s beat-up old school bus, affectionately known as “The Shitbox”, into Camp Eagle at noon on a Saturday in July, a full two years after the infamous Bombardment match. The parking lot was filled nearly to capacity with station wagons and a few shining models of what promised to be the next craze among soccer moms, the minivan. A small space had been left for Redblood’s bus beside Camp Eagle’s own gleaming fleet of long, sleek buses that looked as though they might have been designed by NASA.
“Cripes, Dr. Cheevers, they got silver school busses,” said Chooch as he brought The Shitbox to a sputtering halt beside them.
“Do they, now?” grumbled Cheevers from the seat behind him.
“Never seen a school bus colored anything but yellow. Or rusty brown, like ours. These ones look like they’re from the future or something.”
“Mmm, perhaps they were imported from the year 1984, along with all the adults in this shithole,” said Dr. Cheevers in his dry, craggly tone. He picked up his cane and turned to face the eight Redblood campers sparsely seated throughout The Shitbox. “Ladies and gentlemen of Camp Redblood, we’ve come to play some Bombardment.”
Janey Wessman, the eleven year-old team captain, corrected him. “We came here to WIN some Bombardment!” The Shitbox erupted with enthusiastic cheer.
“That’s the spirit, Janey,” Cheevers said proudly, “but remember what we discussed: we do it by their rules.”
“Their loser rules,” said Frankie MacMasters to renewed cheers and laughter.
“Yes, their loser rules,” agreed Cheevers. “You can laugh about it now as long as you remember it out there. I know I don’t have to tell you this, but I’ll say it anyway: anyone mouths off today or starts any fights will never play another game of Bombardment at Camp Redblood. Matter of fact, you’ll never play another anything at Camp Redblood ever again.”
“But they’ll probably provoke us, Dr. Cheevers,” said Alan Flynn, the co-captain.
“Then let’s continue being better than them,” Cheevers answered. “You can bet your asses Roche will have people here from that stupid magazine. I promise you that if words are exchanged, yours will be the ones that get printed. Just let your playing do the talking.”
“That’s RIGHT!” cried Janey. The others agreed loudly.
“One last thing,” said Cheevers as he exhaled a plume of rich cigar smoke, “Jarrod and Jackson Roche are still part of Redblood, no matter what their idiot parents say. Well, at least Jarrod is. The younger kid’s kind of a putz. All the same, you see them, you say hi and you tell them how bad we miss ‘em over at Redblood. Now let’s get this over with. You guys know what to do.”
Redblood’s team was greeted cordially by Louis Roche, whose zinc oxide-covered nose gleamed in the sunlight. He was surprised when Dr. Cheevers extended his hand. “Good to see you again, Doctor,” Roche said as he shook it. Cheevers’ grip was surprisingly gentle.
“Wish I could say the same,” responded Dr. Cheevers with a grin. Roche’s jovial expression dropped, as did his hand. A moment of uncomfortable silence followed. Already the old fool was starting hostilities. Roche was about to say something reproachful when Cheevers continued, “But I lost my eyes some time ago. Nevertheless, it is good to hear your voice, Mr. Roche.” Roche let out a relieved laugh that only served to widen Cheevers’ grin.
“Umm, aren’t there more?” asked Roche, looking past Dr. Cheevers to the small, distressingly calm group of youngsters with him.
“Well, it’s just that we assumed the rest of your camp would be coming,” Roche said, then added awkwardly, “and perhaps their parents?”
Cheevers began walking, feeling his way with his cane. “Nope. Busy day at old Camp Redblood, I’m afraid. Where the hell am I going anyway?”
“Oh, our field is just this way,” Roche said as he took Cheevers’ arm.
“Ah, thank you, son,” Cheevers said in his most grandfatherly voice.
Roche led Cheevers and his charges to Camp Eagle’s specially made Dodgeball field, where they shook hands again, this time for the benefit of Camper’s World Quarterly’s photographer. Dr. Cheevers clenched his stogie between his teeth as he smiled for the camera, lending his face a rascally quality that Roche did not care for. Even less heartening was the sudden firmness in Cheevers’ grip, which had not been present during their first handshake.
“Sorry, Cheevers, but Camp Eagle is a no-smoking facility,” said Doug Burke as he and the other members of Camp Eagle’s board of directors joined them.
“My apologies, Burke. Alan, dispose of this,” said Dr. Cheevers, handing his team’s co-captain the cigar. Cheevers declined to be seated in the stands with Eagle’s crowds, opting instead for the visiting team bench located opposite the bleachers and home bench.
“Tofu-dogs! Tofu-dogs here!” Dr. Cheevers heard as Chooch led him to their bench.
“Who’s that, Chooch? Is it that woman?” Dr. Cheevers asked his faithful companion.
“Yeah, it’s Mrs. Roche,” Chooch said, spotting her. She was hard to miss. The bright red polka dots on her summer dress vaguely reminded Chooch of the bullseyes on the archery targets back at Redblood. “She’s serving those tofu-dogs at a table over by their stands. Want me to go get you one?”
“Not in this life. Say, what time is it, Chooch old boy?”
“Um, about ten-thirty.”
“Precise, now Chooch. I don’t like to miss my appointments.”
Chooch thought for a moment. “Ten twenty-six.”
Camp Eagle’s Dodgeball team came bombing onto the field as if they were entering the Superbowl. Jarrod Roche, the Redblood campers all noted silently, was not among them. “Wow,” marveled Chooch. “They got uniforms! For Dodgeball!”
“What do they look like?” asked Cheevers.
“Silver, just like the busses,” Chooch answered. Just then, the sun came out from behind a cloud and caught the shirts’ material. “Jeez, Doc, it almost hurts my eyes to look at ’em!”
“Mmm, I’m sure they look like little angels,” Dr. Cheevers said and cackled.
A referee decked out in full black and white stripes blew his whistle. “Listen up!” he shouted. “The game is Bombardment. Head shots are not permitted. If a ball is caught before it bounces, the person who threw it is out. Let’s have a good, clean game.” With that he blew his whistle a second time and the game commenced.
Like most Bombardment games, it was slow at first, with neither team wanting to make the first move. Camp Eagle’s squad threw a few duds while Camp Redblood hung back, unusually reserved. It was as if they were waiting for a sign. A sign from the old fool, no doubt, thought Louis Roche from his spot on Camp Eagle’s bench at the base of the stands, directly across the field from Dr. Cheevers. Burke and the other board members flanked him. “Let’s go, boys and girls!” cried Roche as he clapped his hands, “let’s see some excitement!”
Cheevers heard his voice from across the field. “What’s that time again, Chooch?”
“Excellent, thank you.”
The shouting began at the end of that first match. By that time, Camp Eagle’s silver uniforms no longer gleamed. The uniforms, which had reminded Chooch so strongly of their fancy busses, now bore more of a resemblance to The Shitbox. The game had begun innocently enough. After the initial first-move hesitation, Camp Eagle’s players started their first major assault. They really began to pour it on once they outed their first Redblood camper. Return fire from Redblood had been steady, if not very intense. It hadn’t been until ten minutes into the game with still only the one casualty that Louis Roche started to suspect what Redblood was up to. He got nervous when he saw Peyton Cushing spacing off towards the back of the Eagles’ group. The boy had begun swinging his arms from side to side as his mind wandered.
“Peyton,” Roche had called, “get in the game.” The boy had managed to pull it together for all of two minutes before the boredom returned. Peyton was one of those kids, extremely common at Camp Eagle, whose mind had to be occupied constantly. There had to be action of some sort to keep him busy or off to la-la land it was. He was jumping in place before five minutes had passed.
“Peyton!” Roche had called again, but it was too late. A rocket blasted out of Redblood’s side of the field and connected with young Peyton’s shin while he was in mid-air, knocking his body into a perfect horizontal line. He landed with a thud that stunned Eagle’s players and onlookers. From there on in, it had been a regular bloodbath, and now Louis Roche had taken the field in a rage.
“They’re doing it intentionally!” he screamed from midfield, his bald head a maze of popping veins. The referee stood by to discourage him from advancing any further on the blind gentleman who remained calmly seated on the visitors’ bench.
“Doing what?” asked Cheevers innocently.
“Hitting them like that!”
“Of course they’re hitting them like that. Good God, man, you haven’t removed the hitting with balls part of Bombardment have you?”
“Don’t play coy with me, Cheevers! They’re tripping up our kids intentionally!”
“Tripping them? Unless your kids are tripping over the invisible line, I don’t see what they could possibly be tripping over.”
“The BALLS!” shouted Roche. “Your kids are intentionally aiming at their shins to trip them up!”
“I clearly recall hearing your referee forbidding shots to the head, but I must have been asleep when he mentioned legs. Forgive me; one of the bad habits blind people like me fall into is a tendency to go to sleep undetected when we’re bored. We sometimes forget that no one can tell.“ Redblood’s campers busted up at this. Cheevers even managed to extract a few chuckles from Eagle’s crowd, which only infuriated Roche further.
“Shape up, Cheevers,” Roche spat, pointing one beefy red finger at him, “or this will all be in the next issue of Camper’s World Quarterly!” Roche fumed all the way back to his bench.
“Fuuuck you,” Cheevers said without concern, loud enough that only Chooch could hear. “Speaking of Camper Shithead Quarterly—is their guy still here, Chooch?”
“Tell me again, what’s the ti–”
“Perfect. By the way, Chooch, I really appreciate your little sacrifice for today’s game. I think you will agree that it was worth it.”
Chooch sighed, “That’s fine for me, sir. I get to be here and see it all in action. The other counselors aren’t gonna be happy when they realize one of their most beloved secrets was revealed for a game they weren’t even allowed to come see.”
“I know,” Dr. Cheevers said, slapping Chooch on his broad back. “Necessary though. Can’t be too many of us here today.”
“Yeah, I know,” Chooch said ruefully.
The secret had indeed been one of the staff’s most cherished, going back to the early days of Camp Redblood. It had broken Chooch’s heart to reveal it to campers of all people, but sacrifices had to be made. As soon as Dr. Cheevers had caught wind of the little construction project going on down the road from Camp Redblood, he knew it was only a matter of time before his kids faced Roche’s in a game of Bombardment on the guy’s own terms. Sure enough, the challenge had been made at Camp Eagle’s ribbon-cutting, as reported in that ridiculous article. However, over the course of the two summers between the announcement of plans for the supercamp and its eventual opening, Chooch had been hard at work training a select group of players in anticipation of that game. A week before the previous August’s annual counselors vs. campers game at Camp Redblood, Cheevers had ambled up to Chooch during a practice.
“Chooch, how’re they looking?”
“Pretty good. You sure this new camp will challenge us?”
“Chooch, let me tell you something. I was fresh out of med school when I read about the embargo on Japan in the papers. One of the nurses at the hospital where I was doing my residency was all set to transfer to a military hospital in Hawaii. I told her she’d better put in for a different transfer. Somewhere say, in the Midwest. That woman still writes me a letter every week thanking me for every breath she’s taken since 1941. Those assholes will challenge us.”
“Well, we’ll be ready.”
“Not good enough,” Cheevers said before dropping a bomb of his own. “Tell them about the sweet spot.” He said it almost casually, then turned and walked away.
Chooch’s eyes went wide. “The sweet spot?? No. Sir. You can’t be serious. I didn’t even know you knew about the sweet spot!”
“Tell them,” Dr. Cheevers had said without turning around.
So Chooch had grudgingly taken the eight chosen players aside before the counselors vs. campers game and said, “Listen, every year you guys go crazy trying to hit us counselors with the ball. This year, pay attention to where we throw it.” That was all he said. They reconvened after the game.
“The shins?” asked Janey Wessman.
“The shins. The player has to be either in mid-air or moving, but yes, the shins. The sweet spot,” Chooch said in a numbed voice.
“But why?” asked Alan Flynn.
Chooch struggled internally, but eventually answered. He reminded Janey of a crook in some old movie who’s decided that since he’s spilled most of his guts to the cops, what the hell, he might as well spill the rest. “Because a kid’s shins aren’t very sturdy. Hit them while they’re running, kid goes pinwheeling for twenty or thirty feet before planting his face in the ground. It’s a riot. Get a kid while he’s jumping and it’s like pulling an invisible rug out from underneath him. And the goofier the kid, the funnier the crash. It’s how we take our revenge on you guys.”
“Revenge?” asked Laurie Thompson. “For what?”
“For the three months,” he said, closing his eyes and rubbing his temples. “Three months of shouting, cutting in line, fighting with each other twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. We can’t spank you. Can’t even tell you to shut up. But we can peg the crap out of you with Nerf balls during campers vs. counselors and laugh our butts off after.”
“You tell us to shut up all the time!” laughed Laurie.
Chooch continued as if he hadn’t heard her. “Three months we have to endure your savage, glorious insanity. Three months we spend looking forward to that game.”
“That’s so sick! You spend three months looking forward to beating on kids!” cried Alan.
Chooch opened his eyes and asked, “What game of Bombardment do you get most excited for every year?”
Alan thought about it. He had to be honest with himself. “Counselors vs. campers,” he said at last.
Again Alan had to think about it. “Because it’s so fun.”
“Exactly!” Chooch exclaimed. “That’s what camp is supposed to be about! Rolling around in the dirt, scraping your knees! Rough-housing! Getting bonked in the head with a rubber ball, then learning to dodge it and throw it back! People like Jarrod’s dad and mom won’t rest until every moment of their kids’ precious little lives are planned, approved, and carried out under their direct supervision.” And here Chooch grew emotional, as Chooch sometimes did. “You kids have no idea the sacrifice your parents make. And I’m not even talking about the money to send you here. I’m talking about the moment they let you out of that car or onto that bus. I see it on their faces every year. It kills them to let you out of their sight for three minutes, let alone three months, but they do it anyway because deep down they know they gotta let you go become your own little people for a while.”
The campers had done well by their counselors’ secret. After they’d sent Peyton Cushing flying ass over elbow, Eagle’s other players had sprung into action. Apparently they’d also spent some time practicing, because after Peyton picked himself up off the ground, his nice jersey covered in dirt and grass, they quickly formed two circles that began rotating like wheels, with each kid firing as he reached the front of the wheel. A perpetual ball-firing machine. It was all very impressive. Redblood had to scramble to dodge during the first few seconds of this elaborate two-pronged attack, but once they’d stopped laughing at its absurdity they realized they had exactly what they wanted: Eagle’s kids in telegraphed positions with their legs constantly moving. From there on in, it had been a turkey shoot. Laurie Thompson had been the first to press the advantage, whipping a bright orange Nerf ball at a gangly bastard named Emerson just as he readied to fire. The ball connected dead center between the knee and ankle of Emerson’s left leg, sending him sprawling forward nearly to the line. The ball he’d been readying to fire went tumbling with him before he lost balance. As he went down, the ball sailed over the line to Alan Flynn, who snatched and fired it in one fluid movement. It hit the girl directly behind Emerson, producing more or less the same result. Not five minutes later, Eagle’s players were all out and Louis Roche had taken the field in his hissy fit.
Now Redblood’s players were gathered around Dr. Cheevers for a short word before the second game. “What should we do, Coach?” asked Alan. “If we keep it up with the sweet spot that turd might try to tear your head off.”
“I’d like to see him try,” said Cheevers. “Never underestimate a blind man, Alan, especially when that blind man is me. But knock it off with the sweet spot anyway. If those kids have half a brain they’ll have figured it out.”
“So what do we do?” asked Frankie MacMasters.
“Let’s try some non-violent resistance. Worked for Ghandi– who knows, maybe it’ll work against these jerks,” said Dr.Cheevers with a scary laugh.
It did not work, or rather it did, in that it pissed off Louis Roche something awful. By that point, however, it was fairly obvious to everyone present at Camp Eagle that pissing off Louis Roche had been Dr. Cheevers’ intention all along. This time the referee actually did have to restrain him. “You’re a pathetic, mean old man!” he yelled. Sunlight glistened on the beads of sweat covering his pulsing forehead and on the drops of spittle that flew from his big mouth. “We all know what you’re up to!”
“Call me crazy,” Dr. Cheevers began–
“You ARE crazy! Crazy and senile and a relic of days gone by!”
“–but did your referee not say: If a ball is caught before it bounces, the person who threw it is out?” Cheevers asked in a smug voice.
“You’re taking advantage of the rules! Nowhere does it say your kids can just sit there catching the balls without throwing anything!”
“Nowhere does it say they can’t,” shrugged Cheevers. “And at the moment, that’s what counts, son. Frankly, I’m disappointed. I didn’t expect to have to explore the vagaries of Dodgeball rules with you of all people. Didn’t you grow up to be a lawyer, Lou? Lawyer Lou, heh, that sounds like a TV show or something. A comedy.”
Roche charged at him, but the ref caught him again. Doug Burke jogged over, threw an arm around Roche and spoke some calming words as they returned to Eagle’s bench.
On the other side of the field, Dr. Cheeveres cackled. “Chooch, my boy, the times– have they a-changed?”
Chooch had a look around the field. He sighed. “No sir, they haven’t.”
“Then go start The Shitbox.”
“Right away,” Chooch said and rose. He turned and looked back uneasily, “You sure you can make all those… er, appointments? You know… by yourself?”
“Never underestimate a blind man, Chooch. Especially when that blind man is me.” Chooch mumbled something with a disapproving tone, but went off to do his duty nonetheless. Redblood’s players remained on the field holding the balls they’d so expertly caught.
“Janey,” whispered Alan Flynn, “what’s our next move?”
“No idea,” she replied, sounding tired. “If the old man’s found a another loophole to their rules, it’s news to me.”
“Who needs a loophole? We can beat ’em even with their baby rules,” whispered Laurie Thompson.
“I think it’s what the grown-ups call the principle,” said Janey. “But if you ask me it sounds more like plain old revenge.”
“Oh well, I’m down for that too,” said Laurie.
“What’s it gonna be, Cheevers?” called Burke from across the field. “Are we going to play at least one fair game here today?”
“By my count we’ve played two already,” Cheevers answered. His cheerfully coy tone had given way to something more sincere, but much darker. “We’ve broken none of your rules. Twice your camp director– I’m sorry, your CEO– has disrupted an otherwise pleasant day, and done so without cause.”
Somewhere in the distance The Shitbox grumbled to life.
Cheevers continued, “Rules are rules, friends, and I don’t break them, either at Camp Redblood or your Camp Eagle. And I don’t choose to follow them only when it suits me.” Cheevers stood. “Good day. Let’s go kids, leave those balls over here.”
“Oh no you don’t!” called Roche, rising again from his spot on Eagle’s home bench. “You’re not leaving this camp without giving us an honest game!” Redblood’s campers all filed past Cheevers, placing their balls at his feet as they passed, and lined up by the side of the field. Cheevers picked one of the balls up while Roche went on yelling. It was a red kickball, about the size of a soccer ball. He began bouncing it casually. “Good playing today, campers,” he said, reaching into his pocket.
“DON’T YOU TURN YOUR BACK ON ME!” screamed Roche, still approaching.
“Chooch pulls up with that bus, I want you kids to get on right away,” Cheevers said as he produced a fresh cigar and placed it between his teeth.
“Chooch is picking us up right here?” asked Alan.
“I SAID I WANT A FAIR GAME GOD DAMN IT!”
Dr. Cheevers palmed the ball. “Yuh.”
“A FAIR GAME!”
“I got your fair game,” Cheevers said and swung around with startling speed. “Right fuckin’ here!”
He gunned the ball. It shot across the field in a perfect line and hit Louis Roche right between the eyes. He stumbled backwards and tripped over the home team bench as the ball bounced before him. A little white smear of Zinc Oxide decorated its surface like a wisp of whip cream on a very large cherry. The crowd gasped, and that’s when The Shitbox barreled onto the field. “On the bus!” yelled Cheevers.
The photographer from Camper’s World Quarterly raised his camera to document the outrageous spectacle. He was able to get off a single picture, but all it caught was an image of a rubber ball suspended in midair about a foot from the lens, obscuring all else. The next thing that photographer knew, he was flat on his back with a very sore indentation of the back of his camera imbedded onto his face. The camera itself lay in pieces around him.
By that time the crowd was screaming and scrambling to find balls to throw back at the madman, but to no avail– Redblood’s kids had caught them all. Cheevers himself let out a terrifying laugh as he let fly another of the balls. It clanged on the shiny new metal bleachers as spectators dove out of its way. Cheevers launched another and the food on Ellen Roche’s table exploded as if hit by a cannonball, spraying her polka-dotted dress with pieces of tofu and various condiments.
“Yeah! Let’s get ’em!” roared Frankie MacMasters, snatching a ball of his own and launching it.
Cheevers heard the boy behind him and swatted his arm blindly. His fingers tipped the ball just enough to send it off course. “BUS! NOW!” Cheevers snapped. Frankie knew that if the old man had possessed eyes at that moment they’d have scared him so bad he’d have peed his pants. Cheevers heard the boy running away in one direction as heavier footsteps rapidly approached from another.
“Doc!” Chooch called from the driver’s window of The Shitbox. “Appointment coming at you! One twenty-four!”
Cheevers aimed low. The ball hit the man’s shin, his sweet spot, with enough force to send him into a wild, staggering crash course he was powerless to stop until his chin was firmly planted in the dirt. Cheevers tapped his way towards the grumbling sound of The Shitbox with his cane. “If you want to lie down, Burke,” said Cheevers, lighting his cigar as he passed him on the ground, “why not just do it in one of those nice beds you reserved for my campers?”
His cane found the wooden back bumper of The Shitbox. The kids opened the back door for him and he hopped up. “Hit it, Chooch!” Dr. Cheevers called as his hand found the back door’s handle. Before swinging it shut he turned to face the mob that was now surging madly towards the old bus throwing rocks, bottles, pieces of discarded tofu, and anything else they could aim at the old villain’s head.
Cigar clenched firmly in his grinning maw, Dr. Cheevers hissed, “Au revoir, Camp Pussayyyyyyy!”
As the bus tore away, its passengers hooting and hollering like wild Comanches, Ellen Roche was already thinking ahead to the lawsuit. Louis Roche, however, knew it was a moot point. When he told her so, his wife screamed, “Are you crazy? After what he just pulled?”
“No jury would ever believe a blind man could wreck that kind of havoc,” he said, defeated.
“You don’t honestly believe that old fucker’s blind, do you?”
“Trust me,” Louis said, recalling with a chill a pair of scarred, empty eye sockets that had somehow still managed to see him. “The man has no eyes.”
The Shitbox careened through Camp Eagle’s main gate, shattering it to splinters, and sped up the freshly paved private drive that led to the main road. “Who’s up for some burgers and chocolate frappes on me?” called Cheevers over the din of his campers’ voices. They roared with approval. Cheevers listened with unvarnished glee as they yelled and hollered and talked over each other, recounting the unbelievable events that had just taken place. As he listened, he took a mental head count, something he routinely did, using the kids’ voices to pick them apart. One voice was missing. He rose from his seat and began to walk down the aisle, patting their heads as he went along. In their excitement they barely noticed him. At last his palm rested on a head far removed from the others.
“Frankie, that you?”
“Yuh,” a choked voice answered.
“What’s the matter, soldier?”
“You’re gonna kick me out of camp, aren’t you?” the kid said with an audible sob. “Because I disobeyed you?”
“Nah, I’m not gonna boot ya,” Cheevers said, sliding down next to him on the seat.
“You’re not?” Frankie asked, and though Cheevers had none of his own, he could tell the boy’s eyes were wide with relief. It made him happy.
“Do as I say and not as I do is Camp Eagle’s creed. Ours is Me second. That’s why I couldn’t have you kids getting involved in all that mayhem. If anyone was gonna catch heat for this little stunt, it was me,” Dr. Cheevers said and let out a sad little sigh. “I only wish the kid who proved to me that you could express that sentiment in a simple game of Bombardment was still at my camp. Did anyone happen to catch sight of Jarrod today?”
“Isn’t that him right there?” asked Chooch as he slowed the bus down.
Jarrod Roche stood by the side of the road with suitcase in hand. Cheevers got off The Shitbox and found his way to the boy. “Where ya headed?” he asked.
“Running away,” he said. “I can’t stand my parents and I hate their stupid camp. They kicked me off the Bombardment team because they said my psych-out move was culturally insensitive. With your permission, sir, I’d like to come stay at Camp Redblood.”
Cheevers took a knee beside Jarrod and clapped his shoulder. “To be perfectly honest, I can’t stand your parents either, but I want you to listen to me, Jed,” said Cheevers in a voice low enough for only the boy to hear. “They do love the shit out of you. The built a goddamn camp for you.”
“They built it to get back at you.”
“Only because they wanted what’s best for you and didn’t think I was providing it. Granted, their idea of what’s best is to wipe your ass for you until you’re my age, but their hearts are in the right place. It’ll be a drag, but you have to stay. Besides you’re still a member of Camp Redblood.”
“Yeah, yeah. I just happen to be miles away with none of my friends,” Jarrod said in a pissy voice. “But sure, I’ll always be a part of Camp Redblood! If you ask me, that sounds like something out of those stupid After School Specials mom’s always making me watch.”
“Ah, cut that shit out,” replied Dr. Cheevers. “They say shit in those specials? What I was about to say, if you’d let me continue, was that after what we just pulled, Redblood’s likely to be at war with Camp Eagle for some time, and wars aren’t won without spies.” Jarrod looked up at Cheevers with devilish excitement in his eyes. Cheevers extended his hand. Jarrod shook it furiously. “Excellent. I’ll contact you within the next seventy-two hours with your first orders. Now get the hell outta here before some Camp Eagle loser sees us together.”
© 2014 Patrick Hines