I'm listening to The Knux...yeah. They're okay.
Alright, well you didn't ask for it...so you're getting it! More BTBBN!!!
The Sorting Bat
Being woken up with his head bumping against the window was bad enough, but this time was worse. The entire bus was convulsing and leaping as it barreled down some back woods road, unpaved, with potholes the size of cows. Jacob looked around the bus; it was a scene of horror and confusion, children clinging to the backs of seats to keep from being flung out of them. Jacob’s backside hurt from the bucking which was so severe he hit the bar beneath the seat through its cushion. Somehow Ozzie remained asleep and mostly upright, and Jacob had no idea how Ozzie managed to stay in place when it was everything he could do to keep from being flung out of his seat entirely.
In fact, the rear wheels coming out of a deep pit somehow sent Jacob veritably flying over two seats and into the lap of the goth girl. With all the jostling and rocking they became entangled, and even though he was being constantly bruised and was horribly embarrassed at this upending, he was also touching a girl, and she was none too keen on it. “Get away from me you perv!” she yelled. Now there were two situations going on, and Jacob found it difficult to concentrate on both of them; blushing violently he managed, with the help of another pot hole, to roll overtop the seat in front of them. He wanted to catch his breath, but despite extricating himself from the embarrassing situation, he still had the bucking bus to contend with.
Eventually, and in the nick of time, the road seemed to smooth out. Jacob took the opportunity to move back into the seat with Ozzie, but instead of going up the aisle or over the seat, he decided to go under. He didn’t want to be seen by the girl just now; in fact, he thought it’d be best to never see her again.
He tried first to slide under head first, but the floor was disgusting, and as tight a fit as it was, he didn’t know how he could go head first and then manage to come back up; he would have to come back up feet first! So he went feet down instead, sliding himself under the seat. Jacob should have looked around before going under; if he had, he might have seen the cabins and surmised that they were near their destination. However, he was midway on his journey when the bus slowed and lurched to a stop, his feet below Ozzie and his head still in the seat behind. What slowed him down most was probably deciding which way would be the best to go; time was running short, and his primary aim was to avoid being seen by the goth girl.
He looked up, that is toward the back of the bus, and saw her white sneakers on the floor; she was standing it looked like, picking up her things. Why was she wearing white sneakers if she was goth? What types of shoes did goth kids usually wear? Jacob wasn’t sure that he knew. More immediately, kids were getting up and beginning to shuffle toward the front of the bus. At any moment somebody might look down and see him lying on the floor and immediately he’d be branded the weirdo of the camp. He couldn’t bare it; he covered up his face with his hands and prayed for it to just be over soon. If he didn’t see them looking at him, he could just deny it was him later. It made no sense, and yet he hoped it would work.
He could hear the kids passing by, and thankfully nobody was saying anything, then suddenly there was a strong tug on his pants leg and he was dragged forward swiftly until he was under his original seat.
“What were you doing down there?” asked Ozzie.
“Shhh!” shushed Jacob. Some short kid in a baseball hat with glasses was looking at them as he passed. Jacob tried to stand up as fast as he could, but it wasn’t easy; there was so little room between the seats he couldn’t figure out exactly how to get up. Once he managed to get back into his seat, Jacob just curled up into a ball and hid his face again.
Ozzie eventually coaxed him up and out of the bus. They were in the middle of a clearing surrounded by scrubby cedars and oak trees. Well, at least Jacob assumed they were oak trees; he actually couldn’t tell the difference between all the different sorts of trees that there were. The other kids were all out of the bus and seemed to be coalescing around a short old guy; he had no hair, and his face was wrinkled. He struck Jacob as being funny looking, because old people should be tall whereas this man wasn’t much bigger than most of the kids there. He wore a light cotton shirt, button up and short sleeve, with an A-shirt under it. There was a dark spot on his arm that Jacob could just see peaking out from under his sleeve, but he couldn’t tell if it was a birthmark or a worn out tattoo.
“Alright, kids,” he said in a voice at once high-pitched and gruff. “First things first; you’re gonna get your shit off that bus and stow it in those cabins over there, because the bus has to go pick up some more of you little shits. Then you’re gonna eat breakfast. Then you’re gonna get your shit out of those cabins, because that’s not where you’re gonna be staying.”
When the kids turned around, they saw that the bus driver and another man were already pulling the bags from beneath the bus and tossing them on the ground, kicking up clouds of dirt. The whole clearing was packed dirt and mud, with just a few ornery weeds sticking up on the tiny hills of dirt they managed to secure with their roots. None of the children were too pleased to see their belongings so rudely treated, but they were exhausted and in too much awe to complain. Also, despite his rough message, the old man seemed nice, and they didn’t want to make trouble for him.
Breakfast was strange, not least because it was really a very early lunch. Jacob had never had anything like it. He had expected one of two things: the same sort of cafeteria fare that was at school, or more sea cucumber. It wasn’t either. Instead, he had an ample portion of vegetables along with the tastiest hamburger he had ever eaten. The veggies were all cooked along side the meat on a griddle, it seemed, and they had picked up the meat’s flavor.
“I don’t understand this stuff,” said Ozzie, who Jacob was now glad to have as a friend, seeing as how he had embarrassed himself in front of a lot of the other kids. “It doesn’t taste anything like McDonalds.”
“No, it tastes…it tastes…good,” said a girl who was sitting with them. Her name was Betty. She was heavy set and looked older than Jacob and Ozzie, but middle school girls often did. She must have been four inches taller than Jacob and probably twice as heavy. She was not a small girl.
“It’s like it’s got…texture to it, or something,” said Ozzie, confused by the strange culinary experience.
Jacob ate most of his veggies, which when grilled up with the meat tasted far better than anything he ever remembered his mom fixing. Her vegetables always seemed mushy and somehow homogenous all the way through; eating broccoli was like eating a sponge. Still, he hesitated on the okra. He had never liked okra the few times he had it, but when all was said and done, he was still hungry when that was all that was left. He lifted one up on his fork; the outside was crispy and browned, all the usually offensive hairs seemingly seared off. He held his breath and took a bit. It was crispy, and the inside was a little gooey, but not as bad as he remembered. He still wasn’t sure that he liked it.
“Hey,” the kid beside him said, “are you going to eat the rest of your okra?”
“Y-yes!” said Jacob, guarding his plate from prying forks. He guessed he must like it enough.
The kid who had asked for his okra was named Willy. He was the same kid with glasses who had seen Jacob lying on the floor of the bus. He seemed pretty nice, all in all, if not a bit obviously geeky. Jacob pondered briefly if geeky looking people were just naturally interested in geeky things, or if they just got pigeonholed into that sort of thing because it’s what everybody expected of them.
“Alright you maggots,” said the old man in his gruff yet eerily friendly voice, having suddenly appeared at the door, “bus your plates and let’s go sort you out. The bus is coming back with more kids.”
In fact, the bus was driving up just as Jacob was putting his plate in the bin with the other dirty dishes; he heard it pull up outside and could see it through the big screen windows. There was a trashcan beside the bus station for scraping, but he had absolutely no food left to scrape. That was a first. Even meals he liked okay he usually got tired of.
They bustled outside. For no particular reason, everybody seemed eager to see the new kids arriving. They practically fell off the bus; their ride must have been even more exhausting than Jacob’s. They gathered around the old man who barked instructions fearsomely at them and then moved their things under the porch of the building that had just been used as a cafeteria while Jacob’s bunch stood nearby. Something about being there before them, even if it was only for half a morning, gave all the early morning kids a feeling of being old hands.
Jacob had no idea what time it was; he didn’t wear a watch and his phone (as per camp rules) had been left at home, leaving him feeling naked and alone. Maybe it was nearer lunch time after all; the day was hazy, but it seemed like the glare of the sun behind the clouds came from somewhere near the top.
Perhaps it was because they were tired, but all the new kids seemed pretty bland to Jacob. Nobody really stood out from anyone else. Even Ozzie, as dopey as he looked, had his own something special about him. None of these kids even seemed real. With the exception of one kid. There was this short kid with blond hair. The hair was cut short, and it looked like he had a faux-hawk except for that it appeared to do whatever it was doing naturally. Most striking were his eyebrows, which arched and were pointed at the top like some sort of owl. What got really Jacob’s attention, however, was the fact that as soon as he got off the bus, the boy was glaring at him. Straight at him. And scowling.
“So,” said the old man, once everybody was gathered in one big group, “we’re going to break up into teams.”
There were now at least forty kids in all, and just the one old man there, seemingly, along with this really non-descript guy. Jacob could never remember what the non-descript guy looked like when he wasn’t around. Sometimes Jacob would even forget that he had been around at all.
“Alright, so, you go over there, and you go over there, too. And you, go over there,” he said, pointing at Jacob.
“Hey, that’s the kid from the bus who jumped on me with a boner!” shouted the goth girl.
In a split second Jacob’s cheeks were roasting. “I did not!” shouted Jacob. It was a lie, but what else was he supposed to say. He looked around. Some of the girls looked at him with disgust, others with curiosity, still others as though they didn’t know what a boner actually was. The boys mostly looked down, the very idea of such an occurrence enough to stir their own pubescent impulses.
“Alright, perverts over there,” said the old man, pointing. Jacob walked over and stood alone by one of the scrubby weeds growing out of the packed dirt.
Once everybody was finally broken into two groups, he sent them away in different directions, but Jacob couldn’t hear well enough to know where. The old man turned around, “Oh, are you still there ya pervert? I was just kidding, go after that group over there.”
“Yes, sir,” said Jacob, not sure if he was relieved or not. He trotted away, after the other kids.
Laura Caffrey and B. Shawn Cox at Brick Oven
4 months ago