Level 1 – 2
The Cruiser turned off Custer Road and into the line of cars crawling through the parking lot. Jill moaned while creeping deeper into the purgatory of honking horns, and screaming kids running rampant over the front lawn of Richardson Family YMCA. Her calm Irish-Catholic demeanor began to crumble underneath the weight of all the chaos and the slow crawl into the lot. Her knuckles grew white hot as she gripped the wheel tighter. Her eyes narrowed to fine slits. Every little noise was like having her fingernails peeled off by a pair of industrial pliers.
The incessant tapping of Luke’s foot beside her.
The twins fighting behind her.
The chip tune music emanating from Dylan’s headphones.
Jill finally snapped, “Would you turn that machine off!”
From the far back seat, Dylan paused her game and peeled back one of her head phones, “Did someone say something?”
Jill did not reply. She kept her eyes on the road, waiting for a parking space to open up.
Dylan didn’t wait for Jill to kill the engine before hopping out the back of the Land Cruiser. Grabbing her cooler, she smiled as every inch that was once pink was now covered in black Sharpie save for a Triforce logo she’d stenciled out. Slamming the rear window down, Dylan checked her reflection. She ran a hand through her hair, now buzzed on both sides with a blonde mane that fell halfway down her back. Dylan thought she looked like a wild mustang. Jill thought she looked too masculine. That’s fine, Dylan thought, Dad wanted a boy anyway.
Dylan was fairly confident that she’d make a better man than any of Jill’s kids anyway. She’d find out soon enough too with puberty looming right around the corner. The obvious changes were already starting to become an inconvenience. Her favorite Billy Idol concert T-shirt that used to be a size too big, now nearly hugged chest. Her worn black jean shorts were also almost too short. Was it too much to ask to be comfy? The only thing that fit perfectly was her gun belt.
Dylan made the belt out of thick black leather when Luke gave away his old Game Boy to her: a perfect fit for the holster. She’d added a few pouches with key items for emergencies, and the bullet loops came in handy for holding batteries. Her dad even helped her carve out a metal Triforce belt buckle. All in all, it suited her a hell of alot better than any purse.
Taking her time to catch up to Jill and the the twins, Dylan casually waded through the traffic and approached the main gym. There was a line of parents waiting to sign their kids in at a table manned by a pair of college-age boys wearing white shorts and red polos. Having crossed the street, Dylan lingered on the lawn just outside of the main building. She watched the twins run inside the gym along with a swarm of other kids and preteens. She bit her lower lip and squinted: Dylan was never one for joining a hive.
A sudden sinking feeling crossed Dylan as Jill came jogging at her. Stepping out of the way before she was ran down, the young gamer girl called out over the traffic to Jill, “Hey! When do I get released from this place?”
Jill kept moving toward the Cruiser as she shouted back, “Isaac will be here at five!”
Checking her watch, Dylan sighed to herself, “That’s ten hours from now.” Looking up to Jill who had climbed back into the driver’s seat, Dylan saw that Luke hadn’t moved from the shotgun seat. In fact, he hadn’t even changed his clothes since she saw him this morning.
Jill and Luke continued arguing. Their muted fight was coming to a head, but Luke still refused to budge. He almost looked like he was crying. With a defeated and silent scream, Jill put the car in gear and peeled out of the lot. In the split second the Land Cruiser sped past her, Dylan caught a truly unnerving look from Luke. He wore a ghost white face, and red eyes streaming with tears. It looked like he found out he’d just been drafted.
Dylan shook off her concern. One, there wasn’t a war. Two, Luke was usually like a lion raised in a zoo: the roar that came out of him never quite matched the body it came from. Speaking of annoying voices, a wholly unmanly voice crooned over a megaphone behind Dylan. “Alright campers, everyone head into the gym for morning roll call!”
Everything smelled like feet. Not like your freshly washed, straight-out-of-the-shower feet either, obviously. Dylan nearly gagged as she pushed her way through the crowd of adolescents racing for a spot along the walls of the gym the size of three full basketball courts lined up side by side one another. Making her way towards the fire exit at the furthest end of the gym, Dylan spied a petite black girl with an afro-like cumulus cloud floating over her head. She was subtly nodding her head and tapping her foot with both eyes closed tight.
Leaning her back up against the padded wall on the right side of the black girl, Dylan could hear music coming from the headphones buried somewhere deep underneath the girl’s hair. Following suit, Dylan also pulled out her headphones and unholstered her Game Boy. She flicked on the power button. Green and grey graphics materialized the familiar title card of Link’s Awakening. She could still hear the black girl’s music. It was something familiar, something from home. Dylan didn’t even catch herself singing along…
“Runnin’ with my brothers, headed for the homebase /
With a steady pace on the face that just we raced /
The road ahead goes on and on /
The shit is gettin’ longer than the mutherfuckin’ marathon.”
Slowly, the young black girl peeled back her headphones and turned to Dylan. With her mouth agape, she asked, “How on God’s green Earth does a white girl know N.W.A.?”
Dylan smiled and took off her own headphones as she answered, “When she used to live a few zip codes south of Compton is how.”
“Would’ve thought West Coast brothers would jump someone like you for rapping like that.”
Dylan smirked, “They jump you if you can’t. Besides, N.W.A. ain’t nothing without Cube.”
Pressing down the pause button on her Walkman, Dylan now commanded the full attention of the young black girl. Bawling her fists, the girl shot back, “Cube ’s the one who jumped ship! You don’t do that to your brothers. You don’t up an’ leave friends like that.”
Dylan rolled her eyes, “Friends are suppose to support one another, not release some petty diss track just because–”
“Petty! Oh hell child, who’s the one who said, “White man just rulin’ / The niggas with attitudes, who ya foolin’? / Ya’ll niggas just phony / I put that on my mama and my dead homeys. You don’t call that petty?”
With a smile, Dylan stepped up in the girl’s face, “It was the same guy who said, “You got jealous when Cube got his own company / I’m the man, ain’t nobody humpin’ me / Tryin’ to sound like America’s Most / They yell all day but couldn’t come close.”
Taking a step back, the young girl studied Dylan’s face. After a moment’s thought, she unfurrowed her brow and extended her hand, “Holly. The name’s Holly Annabelle Kennedy.”
Dylan gave Holly five, “Yates. Dylan Yates.”
“This your first day, right?”
“Does it suck as much as I think it will?”
“It ain’t all bad, but most the sucking comes from that trick right there.”
Dylan followed Holly’s finger as she pointed to a stick thin albino girl, “Who’s that?”
Holly snorted, as if just thinking the name summoned a foul smell, “That one there, she’s Isabella Catarina Eklund: the Ice Queen. The chunky one beside her is Peach, and the ginger chick is Daisy. Steer clear of her, and you’ll be able to pretend this place is all a bad dream.”
Once again, Dylan heard the ear piercing shriek of the bull horn and the voice that screamed, “Good morning, campers! Is everybody ready for the first week of camp?” Dylan and Holly both flipped the bird while the Councilors’ backs were turned. The lead Counselor continued over the rest of the kids who roared with enthusiasm, “This summer we’re starting off right. This week’s camp theme is…WAR WEEK!”
Hours later, Dylan was still sleepwalking through the organized camp activities. She did consider herself lucky enough to be grouped together with the only other normal girl in the whole camp. Currently, Dylan and Holly were waiting in line for some massive obstacle course that had been erected outside on the soccer field. With her headphones on, Dylan could vaguely make out something about teams, points, and camp spirit, but it was all mostly lost on her. There was plenty of training to be done in the palm of her hand.
For the most part, Dylan didn’t mind Holly watching her play; she didn’t breathe heavy, smack her gum, or ask a lot of dumb questions. She did, however, ask a few smart ones. Halfway into the Eagle’s Tower dungeon, Dylan felt Holly tap on her shoulder. Pressing the pause button, Dylan removed one of her earphones and raised an eyebrow at Holly’s quizzical face.
Holly pointed at the screen, “Sorry, but what game is that supposed to be?”
Dylan eased up on the snark and tried to answer plainly, “It’s The Legend of Zelda.”
“That supposed to be Zelda?
“No,” Dylan spoke gently as she shuffled forward in line, “That’s Link.”
“Link?” Holly said leaning back and placing a hand on her hip, “Why they call it Zelda if that little boy is doin’ all the work? People who make this game think Zelda helpless?”
Dylan let out a little laugh, “Yeah, the first game Zelda just sat in a castle somewhere while I made Link fight through eighteen dungeons. In the second game she slept the whole time.”
Holly rolled her eyes and let out a huff, “Programmers must think women is just bossy n’ lazy, huh? Next Zelda game that comes out, she better be the one to get her hands dirty.”
“I think you might be a Metroid fan if that’s what you’re looking for.”
“Don’t know about that. You got Tetris? I’ll beat your ass in Tetris any day of the week.”
“Yeah? We’ll see about that. Let me see if I brought it with me.” As Dylan rifled through one of the pouches on her belt, a sharp whistle grabbed her attention.
Out from the megaphone, came the familiar searing voice, “Yates, Dylan Yates, stop holding up the line and get to it!” Dylan locked eyes with the councilor in white booty shorts and red polo shirt. He was built like one of the Hitler youth on vacation, crossing his arms in annoyance.
Once again, Dylan found herself unexpectedly at the front of a line. Staring at the obstacle course ahead, impatient shouts shot up from the campers behind her. Holstering her Game Boy, Dylan took in a deep breath and stretched her legs. The voice of the counselor called out again, “Quit dicking around, Yates, you’re costing your team points!”
Bolting from the starting line, Dylan powered over a wooden wall twice her size. Flinging herself over the top, she kept her momentum, leaping up and swinging hand over hand across rickety monkey bars built over a mud pit. Clearing the pit, she dropped down to the dirt and army crawled under a stretch of mock-barbwire. Back on her feet, she lunged for the rope ladder. Pulling herself to the top of a wooden platform, she dove head over heels into a giant air cushion.
Rolling off the air cushion, Dylan strolled her way toward the locker room with the other campers. She checked her stopwatch: thirty seven seconds. Compared to drills she’d ran with her dad, this was a novice course at best. That’s why Dylan was slightly shocked when she heard the councilor yell out her time, “One minute and forty seconds, Yates. Better luck next time.”
Calling back over her shoulders just loud enough not to be heard, “Isn’t that what your girlfriend said last night?”
“What was that?” Dylan heard the councilor ask. She didn’t respond. She kept moving, and pushed through the door into the women’s locker room.
Dylan finished changing into her black racing one piece. She kept her head down, trying not to stare at the older YMCA patrons shambling about like zombies. It was bad enough they let strangers mingle with all the other campers present, but to Dylan another haunting sensation had gripped her psyche: the lingering presence of death.
To Dylan, each elderly woman that shuffled her way through the locker room stark naked was a grim reminder of the final days her mom had spent in the hospital. Despite only being thirty-six when she died, the cancer took it’s tool on her body. Everything from her skin, her hair, and her eyes looked accelerated by the decay eating away at her mom from within. Closing her locker and clamping the combination lock shut, Dylan tried to keep those memories hidden away with the rest of her street clothes and Nintendo gunbelt.
As she tiptoed her way through the locker room toward the toilet and shower stalls, Dylan’s ears picked up on an unfamiliar accent. Some girl with what Dylan guessed to be an European-ish cadence was taunting someone else barricaded in one of the stalls. A posse of girls was also gathered around laughing as the lead girl threw tampons over the door. Edging her way closer to the scene, Dylan saw that it was none other than the Ice Queen. Isabella threw another tampon, along with another insult into the stall, “Are you afraid you’ll turn the whole pool red?”
The Chunky Girl offered another barb, “Maybe she doesn’t know how to use ‘em?”
The Redhead was next, cackling, “Yeah, maybe she’ll jam it up the wrong hole.”
Dylan tried to stop herself from getting involved but couldn’t, “How about y’all step off before I jam something up your wrong hole?”
The crowd grew silent and slowly turned to glare at Dylan. Whipping around like a runway model, Isabella stepped forward in her grossly inappropriate bikini, “I bet you’d like to jam something in me wouldn’t you, dyke!”
Dylan snapped back, “Did you just call me a dam in Holland?” She knew full well what Isabella was implying, but Dylan also knew the thing about stupid people was when they have to explain why a slur is hateful, their brains explode.
After waiting for a response, Dylan picked up the slack, “How ‘bout y’all get going to the pool, lie out, and soak up some skin cancer, ya ratchet skank!”
With curled lips, Isabella snarled, “How about I slap that grin off your face?”
“I’d like to see you try,” Dylan lied. Unfortunately that’s exactly what happened. Despite five months of biweekly Karate classes, Isabella’s gang of princesses had the numbers advantage. It was probably the chunky girl that shoved Dylan from behind, and once she hit the floor all Dylan could do was curl up to defend her face and chest while the girls kicked, slapped, and pulled at her. Seconds became minutes, became what felt like hours as the girls continued to beat on her, laughing, squealing, and reveling with every hit.
After however long, Dylan heard the gaggle of girls saunter off toward the pool. Isabella’s voice echoed off the locker room walls as she laughed, “Come, ladies, now we may go lay out.” The others’ laughter came to an abrupt halt as the locker room door slammed shut.
Already feeling too sore to move, Dylan stayed curled up on the cold, disgusting tile floor. She attempted to gradually unfold herself, but every muscle movement shot sparks into her brain yelling at her to stop and play dead. Then she remembered her father’s words overriding her natural urge to stay comfortable: ain’t nothing but pain, so get up and try again.
Pushing herself up onto her feet, Dylan hobbled over to the stall the girls had been harassing, With a couple knocks on the door, Dylan wheezed out, “They’re all gone.”
Holly’s voice squeaked out from inside the stall, “Imma kill that bitch when I get out there.”
Dylan tried to laugh, but it hurt too much as she replied, “Get in line. Can I come in?”
As the door opened, Holly gasped, “Sweet Jesus, they kicked the shit outta you. You alright?”
“Fine. I’m fine. Just gonna throw up some blood for a little while.”