Wikia

Total Drama Fanfiction

The Legend of Total Drama Island

Talk324
4,324pages on
this wiki
Gildedchris

This story won five categories, including Best Reimagining, at the 2012 Wiki Awards!
Gildedchris
This story is rated PG-13.
There is some language or violence that may not be appropriate for people under thirteen years of age.


A TDI reimagining from the author of Legacy. Rated PG-13 for mature subject matter, adult situations, suggestive dialogue and mild profanity.

This story has a page on TVTropes.org


Announcements

The Seventeenth Night chapter has been posted. The Eighteenth Night chapter is scheduled for Saturday, 1 November. New chapters are normally posted bimonthly, usually on or about the Saturday nearest the end of the month.


Previous updates:

  • 3 September 2011: Official launch. First Night posted.
  • 4 September: Set up the Guessing Games on the talk page
  • 11 September: added picture & footnote for Cody's self-image
  • 29 October: Second Night posted
  • 20 December: added theme song videos (Appendix B) for Courtney, Ezekiel and Owen
  • 30 December: Third Night posted
  • 2 January 2012: added theme song videos for Harold and Katie/Sadie
  • 26 February: Fourth Night posted
  • 25 March: Won five Wiki Awards, including Best Reimagining, out of eight nominated categories
  • 31 March: Added theme song videos for Bridgette and Geoff
  • 28 April: Fifth Night posted
  • 9 June: added theme song videos for Justin, Lindsay and Trent
  • 30 June: Sixth Night posted
  • 3 September: Seventh Night posted
  • 28 October: Eighth Night posted
  • 24 November: added the elimination table (Appendix A) which has its own subpage to reduce the potential for late arrival spoilers
  • 28 December: Ninth Night posted
  • 2 March 2013: Tenth Night posted
  • 4 May: Eleventh Night posted
  • 9 June: Caught the TV Tropes page up to the story.
  • 30 June: Twelfth Night posted
  • 7 July: added theme song videos for Brett & his mother, Chris and Cody
  • 2 September: Thirteenth Night posted
  • 5 January 2014: Fourteenth Night posted
  • 30 March: Fifteenth Night posted
  • 17 May: Sixteenth Night posted
  • 1 September: Seventeenth Night posted


NOTE: Most if not all chapters will have polls on the talk page.


.

Dramatis Personae

Characters will be added to this section as they appear.

Staff

  • Chris McLean: the host
  • Chef Hatchet: Chris' aide
  • Millie Stacey: Hostess of the TDI Aftermath show
  • Alejandro: de facto Intern in Chief, and a former contestant on a failed elimination game show
Other interns (mostly college age), in order of appearance
  • "Lightning": A tall, athletic black man
  • Scott: A redheaded redneck
  • Cameron: A little black man with a Ghandiesque look
  • Staci: A heavyset woman with a thick German accent
  • Jo: a faintly androgynous woman, apparently a formidable fighter
  • Dawn: A tiny, wraithlike blonde girl with magical powers
  • "Beardo": A hulking black man with a vikingesque look
  • Ella: A beautiful, Disneyesque woman whose singing has magical properties


Contestants

Alphabetically by team

The Screaming Eagles
  • Cody: the science geek
  • Gwen: the Goth
  • Heather: the queen bee. Also called "the dragon girl" or "the Dragon Queen" in reference to her ethnicity, and additional terms in later chapters
  • Justin: The Embodiment of Manly Beauty. Also called "The Incredible Hunk" or "the uberhunk"
  • Katie: the strong BFF. Also called "the Thin Twin"
  • Leshawna: the homegirl. Also called "the dusky daughter" in reference to her skin tone
  • Lindsay: the brainless blonde bombshell. Also called "the uberbimbo"
  • Noah: the bookworm
  • Owen: the huge fat guy. Also called "the man-mountain", "the gregarious gargantua", etc.
  • Sadie: the smart BFF. Also called "the butterball" (originally on the Muskies, switched during the first challenge). 2012 Wiki Award winner for Best Competition Story Portrayal of a Canon Character
  • Trent: the guitar player. Also called "the axboy"


The Killer Muskies
  • Beth: the nerdy farm girl (originally on the Eagles, switched during the first challenge)
  • Bridgette: the surfer girl
  • Courtney: the Type A Renaissance girl (sort of like a Mary Sue without the perfection)
  • D.J.: the kind-hearted brickhouse. Also called "the gentle giant"
  • Duncan: the juvenile delinquent. Also called "the Juvenile Hall alumnus" and "the scorner of laws"
  • Eva: the sullen she-hulk. Also called "the musclegirl" and "the steel maiden"
  • Ezekiel: the home schooled boy. Also called "the farm boy", "the prairie boy" and "Bible boy"
  • Geoff: the party king. Also called "the urban cowboy"
  • Harold: the walking encyclopedia. Also called "the beanpole"
  • Izzy: the fireball. Also called "the manic redhead", and additional terms in later chapters
  • Tyler: the unskilled jock. Called "Red Jock" and "the jock of all trades"


Other

In order of appearance

  • Brett: a future camper, selected to compete in the first season of Total Drama Island: the Next Generation. He is near his 16th birthday when the story begins.
  • The Storyteller: Brett's mother, 33 years old, a former camper, competed in the first season of Total Drama Island. Featured Character for December 2013
  • Sunshine: Izzy's (presumably) imaginary friend
  • Ravi: Sunshine's sister


.

Prologue

Brett Tomlinson was playing a video game when his mother came home from work. Normally, they would have greeted each other simply; but on this day, Brett had news

“Guess what, mom?” he began excitedly. “I got accepted to that reality TV show I auditioned for!”

“Good for you!” his mother replied as cheerfully as she might. In truth, she had some reservations about what her son might be getting himself into, but she didn’t want to seem a wet blanket. After all, she had once been young.

“So,” she prompted, “Have they told you anything more about the show?” When Brett had made his audition tape three months before, the producers had revealed only that the show would be some type of elimination game, it would be produced the following summer, and only high school sophomores were eligible to apply. The producers hadn’t even revealed what the show would be called.

“Not much,” Brett admitted. “The acceptance letter did say that the show will be called Total Drama Island: the Next Generation—”

His mother cocked her head at that name, but Brett did not notice.

“—and that the host will be some chick named Christin McLean,” Brett added.

“Christin McLean,” his mother repeated with a thoughtful look. “I wonder if she’s any relation to Chris McLean.”

“The letter mentioned that Chris McLean is Christin McLean’s uncle, and that he was the original host. I guess that’s where the ‘Next Generation’ part comes from.”

Brett’s mother nodded absently. She had heard that Total Drama Island was being revived after a seven-year run and a ten-year hiatus, but there were so many elimination game shows out there that she hadn’t made the connection to Brett’s audition.

“Lord, deliver us from the Chris McLeans of the world,” she intoned in mock prayer. Noticing her son’s quizzical expression, she explained, “He was so sadistic, you have no idea. It did boost ratings, though, I’ll give him that.”

“You watched the original?” Brett asked, noticing his mother’s apparent familiarity with the show.

“I didn’t just watch it,” she explained, “I was there. In the very first season, when no one knew what to expect.”

“Coolio,” Brett exclaimed slowly. Recovering from his surprise, he asked, “Did you win?”

“No,” she admitted. “I did pretty well, but I didn’t win.”

“What was it like?” Brett asked. He was more than normally curious, for he saw that he now had an unlooked-for chance to gain an advantage on his future rivals. He doubted that any of the other contestants would have personal access to someone with first-hand knowledge of what they were likely to encounter.

“It’s a long story,” his mother warned. “A lot longer than I can tell you in one night.”

“Tell me,” Brett pleaded. “Tell me everything!”

Brett hadn’t been this excited to hear his mother tell stories since he was a toddler. It wasn’t just that he stood to gain a competitive advantage on the show, either. The other—the greater—reason was that, although mother and son had always been close, this was an aspect of her past that she had never told him about, nor even mentioned in his presence. Brett was not going to let her wriggle out of this.

His mother had no intention of wriggling out of it. True, she had never told her son about her experience at Camp Wawanakwa, but now the time seemed right. “Go do your homework,” she told him, “and I’ll start after dinner.”

After they had dined and Brett had finished his homework, he reminded his mother of her promise. Brett sat in his favorite chair, and his mother sat on the sofa. She took a few moments to collect her thoughts, and then she began to speak.


.

First Night

It is my desire, it is my wish
To set out to sing, to begin to recite,
To let a song of our clan glide on, to sing a family lay.
The words are melting in my mouth, utterances dropping out,
Coming to my tongue, being scattered about on my teeth.

Beloved friend, my boon companion, my fair boyhood comrade,
Start now to sing with me, begin to recite together
Now that we have come together, have come from two directions.
Seldom do we come together, meet one another
On these wretched marches, these poor northern parts.
Let us clasp hand in hand, fingers in fingers,
So that we may sing fine things, give voice to the best things
For those dear ones to hear, for those desiring to know them
Among the rising younger generation, among the people which is growing up,
Those songs got about, those lays inspired by
Old Chris McLean’s false tongue, the depths of Eva’s fury,
The point of the knife of Chef Hatchet, a man with a far-roving mind, the range of Duncan’s bow,
The remote corners of Wawanakwa’s fields, the heaths of the Muskoka District.
These my father formerly sang while carving an ax handle,
These my mother taught me while turning her spindle,
Me a child rolling on the floor in front of her knee,
Miserable milkbeard, little clabbermouth.
There was no lack of songs in the Dock of Shame, nor did Heather lack magic charms.
In the songs the bonfire grew old, in the charms Lindsay disappeared,
In the lays Cody died, Bridgette in her frolics.

There are still other songs, magic words learned of,
Plucked from the wayside, broken off from the heather,
Torn from thickets, dragged from saplings,
Rubbed off the top of hay, ripped from lanes
When I was going about as a herdsman, as a child in cow pastures,
On honeyed hillocks, on lovely knolls,
Following dusky Bunny, going along with spotted Petey.
The cold recited me a lay, the rain kept bringing me songs.
The winds brought another song, the waves of the sea drove some to me.
The birds added songs, the treetops magic sayings.
These I wound up in a ball, arranged in a clew.
I thrust the ball into my sled, the clew into my sleigh;
I pulled it home on my sled, on my sleigh to the threshing barn,
Put it up in the storehouse loft in a round copper box.

For a long time my lays have been in the cold, housed in darkness.
Shall I pull the lays out of the cold, draw the songs out of the frost,
Bring my box into the house to the end of the long bench
Under the fine ridgepole, under the lovely roof?
Shall I open my chest of words, unlock my song box,
Clip the end off the ball, undo the knot in the clew?
Thus I will sing a really fine lay, intone a beautiful one
Out of rye bread, barley beer.
If no one happens to bring any beer, serves no table beer,
I will sing from a leaner mouth, intone on water
To gladden this evening of ours, to honor this memorable day
Or to delight the morrow, to begin a new morn.


Episode #1: The Tale of the Gathering

Original tltle: The Not So Great Outdoors (or Not So Happy Campers), Part I


In the Muskoka district of northern Ontario, about a three-hour drive and a twenty-minute boat ride from Toronto, there is a summer camp called Camp Wawanakwa. This camp served the youth of Ontario for a generation, but eventually fell into disuse as population patterns shifted and better-equipped and better-located competitors emerged.

In The Year of Our Lord Two Thousand Six, a television studio scouting locations for a new reality show rediscovered the camp. Its location, on an island in a large lake, was of particular interest to the show’s producers, who wanted to limit the cast’s contact with the outside world. So it was that Camp Wawanakwa echoed with the sounds of human activity for the first time in 14 years, as a team of laborers cleared away undergrowth and refurbished the derelict camp to make it at least marginally fit for human habitation.

The next year, on a warm day in late spring, a camera crew and its subject stood on the camp’s decaying dock. The crew was focused on a dark-haired man of thirty-odd years. His longish hair had a windswept look, his face sported perpetual three-day stubble, and he was dressed in a grunge style. This was Chris McLean, an actor who was then at the height of his fame and who is still well known today.

Speaking to the camera, McLean addressed his future audience directly, speaking grandly about “the hottest new reality show” and identifying himself as the host. He briefly described the nature and structure of the show (an elimination game, although he never explicitly said so) and revealed that the winner would receive, in his words, “a small fortune which, let’s face it, they’ll probably blow in a week.” That was certainly a good bet, for the game’s grand prize was $100,000—a nice chunk of change, but not enough to change a person’s lifestyle, especially after taxes. A dollar isn’t what it used to be; and even then, even a million pretax dollars, which was the grand prize in later seasons, wouldn’t have supported more than a lower-middle class lifestyle if you wanted the money to last a lifetime. No, most of the contestants weren’t in it for the money. They were in it because they wanted to be famous. Indeed, the show’s theme song was a vocal titled, “I Want to Be Famous”.

A well-appointed yacht approached the dock as the host completed his introduction by confessing that the contestants were about to discover that they had been deceived. These 22 teenagers, fresh out of their sophomore year of high school, had been led to believe that they were the finalists in a talent competition to be held at a five-star resort. They were not expecting to be living in a dilapidated summer camp for the next 13 weeks, nor did they have any inkling that the competition itself would actually be an elimination game. “So if some of them seem a little pissed off,” McLean confided to the camera, “that’s probably why.”

The boat docked, and the first contestant answered the muster call. This was Beth, a short, pear-shaped girl with a strange fashion sense. She wore her shoulder-length, light brown hair in a high ponytail—more like a pony leg, really, for it jutted from the side of her head instead of from the back. She wore an oversized, green and gold shirt festooned with a variety of pin-on buttons, and pale pink slacks.

From head to toe, Beth’s appearance signaled “nerdette” —mousy and plain, but not truly ugly. Emphasizing Beth’s nerdiness were her Coke-bottle glasses and railroad-track braces, her family apparently being unable to afford modern orthodontia. Beth would later reveal that she grew up on a farm, which explained her family’s limited means.

Beth’s manner was as awkward as her body. When McLean welcomed her to the island, the first words out of her mouth were, “Wow, you’re much shorter in real life.” Beth’s observation was true enough, but it demonstrated that she had much to learn about tact.

In conjunction with Beth, the next arrival served to illustrate the physical extremes of humanity. Whereas Beth was short, fair and dumpy, Devon (or “D.J.”, as he preferred to be called) was tall, dark and muscular, with a close-cropped beard of a thickness unusual in a boy so young. Muscular, in his case, did not mean muscle-bound, for he moved with the grace of a cat. D.J.’s size and ripped physique gave him an intimidating appearance glaringly at odds with his shy smile, soft voice and gentle manner. He wore a white skullcap over hair that was as short as his beard, but was otherwise dressed simply and unremarkably.

“Chris Mclean! It’s an honor to meet you,” the starstruck brickhouse said when he reached the host’s position.

“D.J.!” Chris replied as he fist bumped the huge lad. “Welcome to the show.”

Noticing the ramshackle buildings beyond the dock, D.J. asked uncertainly, “This is it?”

“You got it,” Chris replied.

“It sure looked a lot different in the recruiting brochures,” D.J. said, fishing for an explanation.

“Yes, it did,” the host replied unhelpfully.

“Whatever,” the gentle giant said, shrugging his shoulders as he continued down the dock. He was tempted to complain, but his momma had taught him to not talk back to his elders.

The next girl off the boat was a softcore Goth. Her short hair was dyed pitch-black and highlighted in teal, although her highlights tended to look green on camera. Her dark, cool-colors outfit consisted of a sleeved corset top that arranged her modest chest to its best advantage; a short skirt with a patchwork look; forest-green hose; and black, knee-high platform boots. Her pasty complexion was not the artificial, chalky white of a hardcore Goth, but the natural pallor of fair skin that rarely feels the sun.

Unlike Beth and D.J., she carried no luggage. The contestants had been given that option, for some had brought more than they could carry in a single trip, and anything they didn’t bring off the boat in their disembarking shots would be offloaded later. The decision of which luggage, if any, the teens carried off the boat themselves would therefore depend on how they wanted to look to the viewing audience.

“Our Goth girl, Gwen!” Chris cheerily announced to the camera.

Gwen, surveying the ramshackle structures beyond the dock, could not believe her eyes. This place did not even faintly resemble the resort where she was expecting the contest to be held. “We’re going to be living in a summer camp?” she asked incredulously.

“No, you’re going to be living in a summer camp, McLean corrected. “I’ll be living in that tricked-out trailer over there,” he added, casually motioning to the accommodations in question.

Gwen did not have a sunny disposition under the best conditions, and this unpleasant surprise did not improve her mood. She knew how to be tactful, but was not now inclined to make use of that knowledge, so she came right to the point.

“I did not sign up for this,” she declared.

“Actually, you did,” Chris corrected again, as some intern of little note nor long remembered handed him what was presumably the standard contestant’s contract. Thanks to the magic of postproduction editing, the finished episode would make it look like the host had casually pulled the document out of his back pocket.

McLean opened the contract at a bookmark. Clearly, he had been expecting someone to react as Gwen had.

“Here it is,” the host pronounced rhetorically. Turning the page to Gwen, he asked theatrically, “Would you be good enough to read this bit for the camera?”

With the air of one calling a bluff, Gwen read aloud the clause Chris had indicated. The Goth smugly read the name of the resort where she had expected the competition to be held, but her heart skipped a beat when she came to the damning caveat:

…or such alternate venue as the Producer may designate.

Gwen’s first impulse was to flip to the back page, to see if it had been signed in blood. Her second impulse was to tear up the contract before Chris’ eyes. That would be futile, she knew, since this cruel document was surely just a copy. Still, the host seemed to be enjoying Gwen’s discomfiture far too much, so she decided to get what enjoyment she could, as well. She snatched the contract from Chris’ hands and tore it up. It wasn’t easy, given that the contract was a substantial stack of paper, but Gwen managed it by imagining that she was actually rending McLean’s head from his body. She gave the host an evil smile as she did this, hoping to give him a hint of what she was actually visualizing.

Chris was not impressed. Receiving another copy of the contract from the same nameless intern (McLean having apparently expected someone to commit contractricide) the host flourished the undead document again.

“I am not staying here,” Gwen declared, turning back to the boat. The boat, however, had already left the dock and was even now receding in the distance.

“Fine,” replied the unperturbed host. “But assuming you can swim all the way back, you do realize that there are some pretty heavy financial penalties if you back out now. Do you think your single mother can afford a long and costly legal battle which we will win?”

That hurt. Gwen’s mother was, indeed, raising two children alone. She was able to make ends meet, but little more; and part of Gwen’s motivation for this competition was to ease her mother’s burdens, most notably by being able to pay for her own college education. For anything Gwen knew to the contrary, the threatened litigation could have them all living under a bridge.

Defeated, the Goth trudged sullenly down the dock to where the other contestants stood. “Steaming little pile of crap,” she muttered.

Beth cocked her head. “Did you just say the camp was a ‘steaming little pile of crap’?” the farm girl asked innocently.

“No,” Gwen replied acidly, “the camp is a big steaming pile of crap.”

The boat came about and returned to the dock. The finished episode would suggest that the boat was shuttling between the mainland and the island, fetching the contestants one by one, but that would have been grossly inefficient. The truth was that, when the boat docked for the first time, all 22 contestants were on board, under virtual lockdown so they wouldn’t even see each other or the camp before disembarking. The boat would dock, deposit a contestant, steam away from the island for a few hundred meters, come about, head back to the island, and repeat the process. The only reason the boat left the dock at all after discharging its first passenger was so the finished episode could include a few shots of one contestant or another standing on the prow as the boat approached. The contestants chosen for this role were those who, based on their personality profiles, seemed the least likely to react negatively to the revelation that they would be staying at a dilapidated summer camp rather than a fancy resort.

The fourth contestant to arrive was a faux cowboy type who had probably never spent a day in the presence of livestock in his life. He wore sandals, jeans, a pink silk button-down shirt, and a ten-gallon hat. His shirt was completely unbuttoned, the better to show off his washboard abs. He would later reveal that he played football at his school, which explained his ripped physique, as weight training is par for the course in most football programs.

“And here’s our party king, Geoff!” Chris pronounced as the “cowboy” reached him.

“It’s great to be here, man!” Geoff exclaimed in turn.

“It’s great to have you here, man!”

“I’m totally psyched for this contest, man!”

Chris and Geoff continued in this manner for far too long, ending every single sentence with the word, “man”. They eventually tired of trying to out-“man” each other, and Geoff ambled down the dock to where the other contestants stood.

The boat docked again and a tall, model-thin, drop-dead gorgeous girl stepped ashore with regal bearing. Her straight, waist-length hair was unbound, and as black and glossy as jet. She wore a stylish maroon top that was little more than a sports bra, barely legal shorts, and open-toed, spike heel shoes. This was clearly a girl who could turn heads and enjoyed doing so.

Dramatically removing her sunglasses, the new arrival took in her surroundings. She appeared to be of mixed blood, with Asian features but pale skin, the vast majority of which was on display.

This “dragon lady” made no attempt to hide her displeasure. She stormed up to the host; and when she spoke, it was clear that she was used to getting her way, and that she was used to having others do her bidding.

“Welcome to the island, Heather,” McLean said with the bland smile that the contestants would get thoroughly sick of over the next 13 weeks.

“You cannot make me stay here,” Heather snapped as she stalked past. “I’m calling my parents.”

“Calling them with what?” the host asked with false pleasantness. “Have you forgotten that you will have no contact with the outside world?”

Heather did not turn back to face McLean, but she stiffened for a moment before her shoulders slumped in defeat. The host was right. Even if she still had the cell phone and other modern communications gadgets that she had been forced to surrender before boarding the boat, and even if the camp’s location didn’t turn out to be too remote for said devices to work, Heather wouldn’t have put it past the apparently unscrupulous producers to have a jammer or an “evil twin” going.

At least we’ll still be on camera, Heather told herself, noting the camera crews scattered about the dock area. That meant that the opportunity to become a celebrity—the main reason why she and most of the others had signed up for the show—was still intact. Somewhat mollified, the teen queen resumed her haughty bearing and glided along the dock to where the other contestants stood.

The boat next deposited a punk type with a wiry build. He wore a black T-shirt, emblazoned with a large skull design, over a long sleeved yellow undershirt. (Those long sleeves were there for a very good reason, which would be revealed soon enough.) His dark hair was styled in a green fauxhawk, and his face was heavily pierced. His skin was not pale, and this detail revealed him as a punk, as opposed to another Goth.

Duncan, for that was the boy’s name, was even more abrupt than Heather had been. “I don’t like surprises,” he told Chris, ominously pounding his fist into his open palm.

Chris’ smile lost none of its wattage. “Yeah, your parole officer told me that,” he acknowledged amiably. “And if you go around beating people up, or even threatening to, that’s a parole violation, right? And with your every move being recorded on camera, it’s not like there would be a lack of evidence, would there?” The host’s smile hadn’t changed one iota.

Duncan had been in enough fights to know when he was overmatched. Mustering a wry smile, he replied, “Okay, then.”

Duncan sauntered down the dock to where the other contestants stood, and sidled up to Heather. “Meet you by the campfire, gorgeous?” he suggested with a leer.

“You’re kidding, right?” Heather sniffed. “Try Weird Goth Girl, ‘cause you’re not getting any from me. Got it, Ugly Thugling?”

With a smirk and a voice dripping sarcasm, Duncan replied, “Wow, what a winning personality! Has anyone ever told you that you’re as beautiful on the inside as on the outside?”

“Get bent,” Heather snapped.

“I think that’s your role. We don’t have the right, er, ‘equipment’ to do it the other way around,” Duncan suggested, with another leer that left little doubt as to what he proposed to do if Heather were indeed to “get bent”. Duncan wasn’t normally quite so crude toward girls, but he had decided that he didn’t really like Heather, her hotness notwithstanding, and he wasn’t willing to let her have the last word in any case.

“Can you possibly get any more vile?” Heather sneered.

“Hey, toots, if that’s what turns you on, I can get as vile as you want.”

Heather did not deign to reply, turning back to face the arrival point and studiously ignoring the juvenile delinquent. Her wordplay on “ugly duckling”, though, had been more apt than she knew; for the day would come when Duncan would show himself to be more than just piercings and attitude, but that is another story for another time.

The boat approached the dock again, and the girl who now stood at the prow was obviously a surfing enthusiast. Tall and willowy, she was pretty in a “girl next door” sort of way. She wore her long, naturally blonde hair in a low ponytail that was more functional than fashionable; and she wore no makeup, for she held the view that all beauty is best the way Nature made it. She was dressed simply, with a sky-blue hoodie, jorts and sandals, and she carried a red and gold surfboard.

“Glad you could make it, Bridgette,” Chris said when the new arrival reached him.

“Great to be here,” Bridgette replied with a friendly smile. That smile faded, though, as she glanced around. “I thought we were going to be on a beach,” she said uncertainly.

“You are,” Chris pointed out, for the island did indeed have a beach of sorts—two or three meters of sand between lake and greensward. The beach was littered with detritus, some natural, some not.

“I mean a surfing beach,” Bridgette explained.

“Sorry, can’t help you there,” Chris replied, his bland smile suggesting that his inability to help didn’t really bother him. “I don’t recall the brochure ever mentioning surfing”.

“Oh, well,” the surfer girl said, sighing at this disappointment, “If I can’t surf, I guess I’ll just swim.”

“That’s the spirit,” Chris said.

As Bridgette hoisted her surfboard over her shoulder, the end of the board brushed against the side of Chris’ head, and he reacted as if he’d received an electric shock.

“Gaah!” he cried, flinching in fear, his hand at his temple. “Watch the hair, dudette!”

“Oh, I’m sorry!” Bridgette cried, as she reached out to smooth the tiny perturbation in Chris’ otherwise perfectly groomed hair. As she did so, she unwittingly swung her surfboard round and smacked the host painfully on the elbow.

“Darn it, that hurt!” Chris complained, sounding more like a seven-year-old boy than a grown man. Shooing Bridgette down the dock with hand gestures, he added petulantly, “Just go stand with the others and look pretty. And try not to hurt anyone else.”

As the chastened surfer girl moved to join the other contestants, Chris rubbed his injured elbow and grumbled, “I don’t get why they call it a ‘funny bone’. That was not funny.”

The boat docked yet again, and a beanpole who probably didn’t weight 50 kilos stepped forth. He, like D.J. before him, was dressed simply and unremarkably; and like Beth before him, he wore eyeglasses with thick lenses. Below his lip were a few wisps of hair that were presumably meant to be a soul patch; and upon his head, that great storehouse of useless trivia, was a crop of brick-red hair, for such records as are known hold that his line originated in the Orkney Islands, off the coast of Scotland.

This was Harold, son of Alan, who had taught his son well in wilderness lore, son of Gavin, son of Douglas, who was the first of his line to make his home in the New World, son of Lindsay, who found his fate on the banks of the Marne in the early days of the Great War, son of Bruce, son of Stuart, speaker of laws, son of Neil, son of Donald, who fought under Lord Nelson at Trafalgar, son of Kenneth, son of Malcolm, son of Scott, skilled in the ways of the sea, son of Wallace, son of Colin, who was well-versed in ancient lore.

“I thought this was supposed to be a talent contest,” Harold said uncertainly, with an asthmatic wheeze.

“I’m sure you did,” Chris agreed.

“So why are we at a crummy old summer camp?”

“Because you’re actually going to be doing summer camp-y stuff.”

“Excellent!” Harold cried, pumping his fist. “Prepare to gape in awe at my mad wilderness skills!”

“Whatever, Harold,” Chris said as Harold the Skinny sauntered down the dock.

The next contestant was, to make no bones about it, gigantic. He dwarfed all who had come before, except for D.J., and that dusky brickhouse was comparable only in height. Not only was this boy two meters tall if he was a centimeter, but he was also grossly fat, tipping the scales at a good 180 kilos. He was dressed simply, in shorts, sneakers, and what looked like a faux team shirt of some kind. He had a scraggly little mop of unkempt blond hair.

Owen, as this giant’s parents had christened him, had an uninhibited personality, to put it mildly. Picking Chris up like a rag doll, Owen cradled the host to his bosom and loudly proclaimed, “This is great”, “I’m so psyched to be here!” and many other exclamations of like kind. When it became apparent that Owen was likely to exult in this vein indefinitely, Chris pointedly asked the gregarious goliath to take his place with the others so that the contestant introductions could continue.

.

Send In the Clones

The boat docked again and decanted, not the expected contestant, but two contestants. One was as skinny as a rail, with black hair and bronze skin, although whether her skin tone came from ancestry or lifestyle was not immediately clear. The other new arrival was shorter, very fat (albeit not as fat as Owen) and very fair. Her hair was dyed black and styled in the same high pigtails as her companion, for companions they clearly were.

These Bobbsey Twins wore matching outfits, with pink shorts almost as skimpy as Heather’s and black and white “prison striped” shirts. Even their luggage matched.

It is said that, “Growing old is mandatory, but growing up is optional,” and Kathleen and Sarah (or “Katie” and “Sadie”, as they preferred to be called), had not grown up. They saw the world with the innocent wonder of small children, and their personalities were even bubblier than Owen’s, if that was humanly possible. They were inclined to squeal in delight at one thing or another—a trait everyone else found grating until they learned to tune it out—and it took little to delight them.

After disembarking, Katie and Sadie paused a moment to take in their surroundings, and then began to chatter. When either spoke, the other tended to echo the thoughts of the first. Unquestionably, they had grown up together and had been inseparably close for a very long time.

“Oh, my gosh,” Katie gasped, unabashed joy writ large on her face. “Sadie, look! It’s a summer camp!”

Sadie’s face lit up like the sun. “Oh, my gosh, how awesome is that? I’ve always wanted to go to summer camp!”

“Oh, so have I! Don’t you love that about us?”

“Oh, I totally love, love, love it! I mean, it’s like we—“

“—like the same things, and we—“

“—each know what the other is thinking, and we—‘’

”—can tell each other all—“

“—our secrets, and we—“

“—can totally be ourselves—“

“—with each other, and—“

“—now we get—“

“—to be at—“

“—summer camp—“

“—together—“

All summer long!” they finally exclaimed in unison.

This remarkable display concluded, the “twins” dropped their luggage and hugged each other, squealing in delight for the first time of many. Retrieving their luggage, they finally, mercifully, pranced down the dock to join the other contestants.

It’s official, Gwen thought morosely. I’m in Hell.

As Katie and Sadie passed Chris, he looked toward the camera and genially admitted, “Well, I was going to introduce Katie and Sadie, but there really isn’t a lot left to say.” In a lower voice and a less congenial tone, he muttered, “Way to steal my thunder, girls. Sheesh.”

On the boat’s next stop, a short, somewhat skinny boy strutted off the gangplank like he owned the world. This legend in his own mind had short brown hair with long bangs nearly obscuring his green eyes. His most notable physical feature, though, was the All-Pro spitting gap in his teeth.

Gabe Patterson original

Cody's self-image (Illustration by Freefalling Lilacs

This was Cody, the troupe’s science geek. He projected an aura of coolness, or at least of what he perceived coolness to be, but it didn’t quite go with his outfit: a short-sleeved sweater, with a couple of stripes across the chest, over an off-white button-down shirt, the tails of which hung out over his cargo pants.

“The Codester! The Codemeister!” Chris declaimed as Cody approached and they flashed trendy hand gestures at each other, for Cody thought that he needed a “cool” nickname, and he was hoping that one of his suggestions would catch on by virtue of Chris using it for his introduction.

“Great to be here, Chris!” Cody replied.

As the cool geek, if there is such a thing, strutted down the dock toward the other contestants, he was mainly checking out the girls. There was a pretty, athletic looking blonde carrying a surfboard, for what reason Cody couldn’t guess; a dumpy, mousy, nerdy-looking girl who nevertheless was not without her charms; an identically dressed pair, one thin and one fat… threesome material, Cody thought, for he was nothing if not confident in himself; a hot Asian chick with a “master of all she surveys” air; and… well, Cody stopped there. He did not notice Gwen, who was standing at the back of the crowd. If he had seen her now, instead of later, events might have played out differently.

“I see the ladies have already arrived,” Cody said in what he imagined to be a suave tone. Assuming that he would have the pick of the crop (for who else here would be able to match his manly charms?) he strutted up to Heather.

“Out of your league, alpha geek,” Heather sniffed before Cody got too close, for she had guessed that he intended to chat her up.

Having struck out with the dragon girl, Cody decided to try his luck with Bridgette. She responded to his chat up lines politely and amicably, but nevertheless made it clear that she was currently more interested in meeting the remaining contestants.

Next off the boat was the obligatory blonde bombshell. This superabundantly endowed sun goddess, even prettier than Heather, sported a warm-colors ensemble consisting of stylized cowboy boots, a short skirt, and a halter top that seemed ready to fail at any moment beneath its titanic burden. Her only cool-color garment was the baby blue bandana that would serve her so well not two weeks hence, but that is another story for another time. Her long, straightened hair shone like sunbeams given form. Her skin was fair and flawless, and her face was made up subtly and skillfully.

As Her Cytherean Hotness approached Chris, she flashed a dazzling smile for the first time of many, for hers was a sunny disposition not unlike Katie and Sadie’s, although her tastes were more sophisticated. She walked with grace, despite her top-heavy build.

It is said that the Creator suffers no mortal to be perfect. When Lindsay spoke, her voice was as pleasant as wind chimes, but her words suggested that her many gifts had included precious little in the way of brainpower.

“Ladies and gentlemen, Lindsay!” Chris announced to the camera.

Lindsay’s high-wattage smile gave way to an uncertain expression and a furrowed brow—even that looked pretty on her—as if she was trying to remember something.

“Okay, you look familiar,” this ethereal vision said to Chris, a famous actor whose face was probably more widely recognized than the Prime Minister’s.

Dear God, Chris thought, although he said only, “I’m Chris McLean.”

Lindsay did not react.

“The Host?” Chris prompted helpfully.

Still nothing.

“Of the TV show you’re on?” the now-exasperated host added.

“No,” Lindsay answered slowly, “That’s not it.”

Finally, something flickered to life behind Lindsay’s pale blue eyes. “I know,” she beamed in satisfaction, “You were the funny guy in that tennis movie! You were a lot taller then.” The haze of confusion passed over Lindsay’s face once more. “Are you the host or something?” she asked.

Chris was losing patience. “That tennis movie” (actually a movie about badminton) had been Chris’ big break, and his role therein was decidedly not comedic.

“Look, bra,” he began.

Lindsay looked down and inspected her straining halter top. For the first and last time in the 13 weeks the show would take to shoot, the other contestants were sympathizing with Chris, who looked ready to scream. After a seemingly eternal moment, the microcephalic goddess looked back up at Chris, satisfied that her clothing was in order, and smiled contentedly.

Chris chose his words with more care this time, avoiding anything that could be misinterpreted as an instruction. “Linds, you’re here because you’re pretty and sweet,” he told her. “Just try not to get yourself kicked off too early, OK?”

“OK,” Lindsay agreed, with an endearing smile. And with that, Princess Lindsay her Hotness, heir to the throne of Bimbonia, took her place with the other contestants.

The next boy to arrive had a rustic, unsophisticated air about him. His unstylish but practical outfit consisted of work boots, jeans, a heavy greenish hoodie variant, and a toque. He wore his hair in a mullet, and had a downy proto-beard on his chin. Lindsay and Sadie cringed at the sight of the newcomer, although the other teens either didn’t notice this or didn’t know what to make of it.

“Our homeschooled country boy, Ezekiel,” Chris announced to the camera. Turning back to the new arrival, McLean said, “What’s up, Zeke?”

“I am, Mr. McLean,” Ezekiel replied. “I’m so up for this contest, I can’t even describe it, eh?”

“Hmph,” Chris grunted in surprise, “I didn’t think you’d know what that meant. I mean, homeschooled your whole life, raised by freaky prairie people… to be honest, I figured you’d be our one-and-done guy.”

Ezekiel lifted his eyes to the heavens in mock supplication. “Just because I’m homeschooled doesn’t mean I live in a cave, eh?” he replied in the exasperated tone of one who has gotten sick of explaining the same thing over and over. “We have Internet. It’s just dialup, but still… I understand trendy expressions, even if I don’t use them. And I don’t plan to be your sacrificial lamb, eh?”

“O…kay,” the nonplussed host said, buying himself a moment to recover from his surprise. “And you can call me ‘Chris’. Everyone else will.”

As Ezekiel continued down the dock to join the other contestants, Chris turned back toward the camera. “Well, well,” the host said with that bland smile of his, “It seems our lamb may actually be a lion. That’d be cool.”

Ezekiel’s handling of his introduction impressed at least one of the other contestants, for Duncan smirked and stepped up to meet the new arrival. “Dude, way to tell off the Man!” the delinquent exclaimed, offering a high-five that Ezekiel hesitantly met.

The boat departed, but failed to turn around at the usual point and continued on its way until it was nearly out of sight. This break from the routine left the teens that had already arrived some 20 minutes to chat and get to know each other a little better.

When the boat finally returned, it was moving at its top speed—much faster that it had on the previous trips. The reason became apparent when the sharp-eyed Geoff spotted a speck in the sky. As the boat approached, the urban cowboy was also the first to identify the growing speck as a hang glider, connected to the boat by a towline.

The boat was now as close to the dock as it could safely get at its current speed, so its pilot throttled back and turned aside. Whoever was on the glider dropped the towline and began to descend in wide, lazy circles.

The glider was now close enough for the people on the dock to make out a few details. Most notably, at this point, was that the glider pilot seemed to be clad almost entirely in red. A couple of minutes later, the spectators could see that the pilot was a brown-haired boy wearing a red tracksuit, white sneakers, and a headband.

“Our jock of all trades, Tyler!” Chris announced dramatically.

Tyler was now low enough to hear McLean’s announcement, and to make himself heard as well. “Great to be here, dude!” He called down, waving for the cameras. “Clear the runway!”

Chris retreated to join the contestants at the base of the dock. After a couple more circles, Tyler was low enough to make his landing approach. Waving once more for the cameras, he brought his legs down and forward in a landing posture.

And slammed squarely into the end of the dock, folding over it like a jackknife.

“Guh-dunge,” Ezekiel said, wincing in vicarious pain.

“That’s going to leave a mark,” Duncan smirked.

“Wicked crash, dude!” Chris called from the base of the dock.

Tyler could not speak, for he’d had the wind knocked out of him, but he gave a “thumbs up” to let everyone know that he was not seriously hurt.

Next to arrive was a short, stocky, buxom girl clad in a blue leotard and matching gym shorts, with white sneakers. Her arms were noticeably muscled, even at rest, and she wore her black hair in a short, midlevel ponytail. Her expression was sullen.

Eva, as this tough-looking lass was called, could have been a pretty girl. She had a classic hourglass figure, with legs that were reasonably shapely despite being as hard as iron, and she even had a beauty mark on her lip, but she didn’t seem especially interested in her appearance. She was content to keep the unibrow that Nature had given her, although even normal eyebrows might have looked like a unibrow with her perpetual scowl. The severe ponytail she wore probably wasn’t the most flattering look for her, and she wore no makeup beyond lipstick that matched her hazel eyes.

Eva acknowledged Chris’ greeting with naught but a grunt, her sullen expression as unchanging as McLean’s smile, and trudged down the dock. When she came to Cody and Harold, she thought that a good place to await the arrival of the remaining contestants. As she turned to face the end of the dock, she dropped her bag, which fell to the dock with a heavy clunk.

“What’s in there?” Cody asked, trying to make conversation. “Dumbbells?”

“Yes,” Eva replied in a tone that was equal parts, “What else would it be?” and “Go away and leave me alone.”

“Cool,” Cody said in an aside to Harold, as Eva turned her baleful gaze back to the arrival point. “A Klingon chick.”

Eva overheard the science geek’s comment, and smiled a bit—a rare occurrence, as her new colleagues would learn in due course. The musclegirl knew little about the Star Trek franchise, but she had heard enough about it to know that the Klingons were postulated as a warrior race. Since that fit reasonably well with her self-image, Eva regarded Cody’s assessment as an honest compliment. He would never hear that from her, though, because it wouldn’t do for this pipsqueak to get the idea that she might be into him.

The boat steamed in once more, with a slim girl standing at the prow and waving excitedly. Her long, somewhat curly hair was a fiery Scotch orange-red, and her eyes were green. This is a very rare combination, but that was only fitting, for this girl was a nonesuch.

She wore a green halter top with a collar and a cleavage window. She was the only girl with a long skirt, reaching almost to her knees, but the skirt was of a curious design—covering most of her thighs on the outside but “barely legal” on the inside, it was knotted on one side and hung low on her hips, only partially covering her green, bikini-like panties. All in all, it looked like Izzy, as the new arrival was called, had simply wrapped a yellow-green towel around her hips.

When the boat came to a stop, Izzy rushed to the gangplank, but stubbed her toe and took a header off the boat. Recovering quickly, she executed a flip and landed catlike on her feet, just about as close to the end of the dock as she could have done without falling into the water. She straightened up from the deep crouch she had landed in, with an “of course, I planned that” look on her face, and then dashed up to Chris, for she was a bundle of energy.

“Izzy, glad you could—“

“Oh, it’s so great to be here, Chris!” Izzy interrupted, with a delivery slightly slower than an American-style auctioneer’s. “This isn’t really what I expected, but that doesn’t matter. I’ll knock ‘em dead no matter what, or I should actually say, no matter where. Is this a summer camp? I thought you were taller. Are these the other contestants? They look nice, well, most of them, anyway, but I’ll overcome them all. When do we eat? Oh, wow, did you see that mosquito? It was the size of a pterodactyl! Don’t you go biting me, Skeeterzilla, ‘cause I bite back! Grahr!”

Izzy bounded down the dock, leaving Chris to grumble about contestants who wouldn’t let him do his job. When the manic redhead reached her new colleagues, D.J. said, “That was a sweet flip you did when you came of the boat.”

“Oh, I can do back flips, too,” Izzy replied, demonstrating with a flawless back flip. “See?”

“Cool,” Tyler said. “I can do those, too.” The jock demonstrated, as Izzy had; but unlike Izzy, who had executed a flawless full rotation, Tyler executed a flawless rotation and a quarter, and so landed flat on his back.

“Oh, are you all right?” Bridgette cried as she rushed to Tyler’s aid, for hers was a heart of gold. Unfortunately, as she went to help Red Jock, she accidentally bumped Duncan. The delinquent flailed his arms desperately for a moment or two before toppling into the lake.

As Tyler clambered to his feet, seemingly none the worse for his second unfortunate encounter with the dock, Duncan began to muscle his way back onto the dock. The delinquent looked more bemused than angry, for he understood that Bridgette had meant no harm, and it wasn’t like he was going to melt.

“That’s what I get for standing so close to the edge,” Duncan said rhetorically.

As Izzy watched Duncan haul himself out of the water, his arm and shoulder muscles rippling beneath the soaked shirt that now clung to his wiry frame, the redhead suddenly looked to her side and said, “Sunshine, put your tongue back in your mouth. What will the viewers think?”

“Who’s Sunshine?” Bridgette asked.

“She’s me bud,” Izzy informed her.

Bridgette was confused for a moment, for there was no one in the direction that Izzy had been looking when the redhead had addressed “Sunshine”. Then, understanding dawned.

“Oh, I get it,” Bridgette said. “An imaginary friend.”

“She gets that a lot,” Izzy replied enigmatically.

On its next stop, the boat disgorged a boy who looked every centimeter a brain. A brain with no fashion sense. He had longish, dark brown hair in no identifiable style (for it is a common quirk amongst intellectuals to have little interest in personal grooming) and a generically brown skin tone suggesting native or Hispanic extraction. He wore high-top sneakers that didn’t quite reach his high-water cargo pants. His layered top (a combination he probably hadn’t changed much since his mother was dressing him) consisted of a white, long-sleeved undershirt; a short-sleeved, misbuttoned blue button-down shirt, and a red, lightweight sweater vest.

As the boy approached, Chris declared, “Our bookworm, Noah!”

Noah gave no greeting, but came right to the point. “Did you get the memo about my life-threatening allergies?” he asked. This was no small thing to Noah, for some of his allergies—most notably to formic acid, the active ingredient in certain insect stings—were indeed life-threatening, as the other teens would learn before the contest was done, but that is another story for another time.

“I’m sure somebody did,” Chris replied unhelpfully.

Noah quickly scanned the decrepit buildings beyond the dock. “This doesn’t resemble the pictures in the recruiting brochures,” he pronounced.

“No, it doesn’t,” Chris replied, as if they were discussing the weather.

“So, then, we’re here because…?” Noah prompted.

“Because this is where the contest is being held,” Chris replied matter-of-factly.

Noah decided that he would get nowhere with this line of conversation. Having established that Chris had no shame, Noah decided to see if he might score points with some of his competitors.

“I see that’s not the only thing you’ve deceived us about,” Noah began enigmatically.

“What do you mean?” the host asked, his curiosity aroused.

“There was a pretty strong suggestion that only mortals would be competing,” Noah explained, as he moved to join the other contestants. “You’ve got half the goddesses of Olympus here. This, for example,” he continued, indicating Eva, “Is surely none other than Pallas Athena, goddess of war; and this,” he added, motioning to Gwen, “can only be Hecate, goddess of the night and patroness of sorcerers.” Coming to Heather, he turned and asked, “And who is this, if not Queen Hera?” Looking to Bridgette, who was once more holding her surfboard, Noah added, “I seem to have missed Aphrodite rising from the sea. I hope the finished episode shows that bit.”

“Silver-tongued devil,” the visibly blushing Bridgette said to no one in particular.

Nerdling knows how to spin a compliment, Heather thought. The finished episode would have her and others saying as much in confessional spots. The girls thus flattered savored the moment, and it was well that they did; for this was the last time that most of them would hear anything complimentary from Noah’s lips.

Noah came to Lindsay and declaimed, “Was this the face that launched a thousand ships and burnt the topless towers of Ilium? Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.”

“My name’s Lindsay, silly,” the uberbimbo deadpanned.

“Oh, me, me!” Izzy interjected, waving her arms to attract Noah’s attention. “If you want topless towers burned, I’m your gal!” With her characteristic rapid-fire chatter, the motormouthed redhead added, “Actually, they don’t really need to be topless. They don’t even need to be towers, come to think of it. Really, if you want to burn pretty much anything, I’m the chick you want to talk to.”

“Dude,” Geoff said to Noah, “You picked the wrong chick to butter up with fancy talk.” The urban cowboy didn’t know Noah’s reference to Helen of Troy (said to have been the most beautiful woman in the world) but he correctly surmised that it was a reference to something that was supposed to be flattering. “If you’d been here when Lindsay arrived, you’d understand,” Geoff explained.

Noticing the murmured chorus of agreement, Noah concluded that Lindsay’s arrival must have been something “special”. As the contestants waited for the boat to return, Geoff drew closer to Noah and told the bookworm about the uberbimbo’s entrance, but nothing would be gained by repeating it here.

.

Lust(in) At First Sight

The boat returned and decanted a sturdy-looking girl of African descent. She was dressed simply, in jeans and a T-shirt that might have come from a mall kiosk. She was one of the stouter girls in the troupe, but not truly fat. She wore her shoulder-length hair in a fine weave, with the strands pulled back in a ponytail.

“Our homegirl, Leshawna!” Chris announced to the camera.

Turning to said homegirl, the host greeted her in schoolboy French, for Leshawna was the show’s token francophone. Born and raised in Montreal, she was fully bilingual, but French was her first language, and she would occasionally lapse into it when she was angry or afraid. On more than one instance during the course of the competition, she would find it necessary to ask other contestants to “pardon her French”, literally as well as figuratively.

As this minority “double play” strutted down the dock toward the other contestants, she called out, in a booming voice and a jive turkey manner, “What’s up, y’all? Leshawna’s in the house! Feel free to quit now and make it easy on yo’selves, ‘cause I came to win!”

“And the rest of us didn’t?” Noah smirked to Heather, who happened to be the one he was standing closest to.

“Lame,” Heather pronounced, as the homegirl reached the leading edge of the crowd.

Cocky though she was, it quickly became clear that Leshawna was also friendly, with an eye for the boys. “Yo, baby, how’s it shakin’?” she asked with a wink as she passed Geoff. Not waiting for an answer, she came to D.J. and offered a high five, saying, “Give me some sugar, my brother.”

“How’s it hangin’ Red Dude?” Leshawna asked Tyler, with a hand sign and a wink suggesting that she might be open to the possibility of getting to know the jock better. Coming to Cody and Harold, the jovial homegirl demonstrated her ability to walk and chew gum at the same time by fist bumping Cody with one hand and pinching Harold’s butt with the other.

“Where did you learn English?” Noah asked in a tone that suggested he wasn’t really interested in the answer. “From 1970s ‘blaxploitation’ movies?”

“Excuse me?” Leshawna demanded in a tone that implied, “You really do not want to go there.”

Undeterred, the bookworm snarked, “The producers will probably manipulate the editing to turn us all into stereotypes, but you seem intent on saving them the trouble.”

“What did you just say to me?” the homegirl asked, rolling up her sleeves to reveal biceps that were probably bigger around than Noah’s thighs. “Oh, no you didn’t! I’ll show you stereotypes, sucka!” she added as she advanced on the bookworm, with the apparent intention of beating him to steaming pulp. It was all that Bridgette and Eva could do to restrain her.

“Easy, girlfriend,” the straining Eva hissed through gritted teeth. “Flying off the handle is my shtick.”

“Okay people, settle down,” Chris called down the dock, having noticed the altercation but not the words that led to it. “There’ll be plenty of time for infighting later.”

“Whatever,” Leshawna said to no one in particular. She stopped trying to approach Noah, which was Bridgette and Eva’s cue to release her, although the girls kept covert eyes on the apparently volatile homegirl until they were satisfied that the incident had truly blown over.

Leshawna, for her part, cast a sidelong glance at Noah and saw that the bookworm had turned his attention back to the end of the dock, awaiting the next contestant. Having apparently made his point, he now seemed content to ignore Leshawna, so the homegirl decided to let the matter drop.

The next boy off the boat was clearly an ax man—a guitar player. He was dressed casually, his most remarkable garment being a semi-camo shirt featuring short, camo-pattern sleeves but a solid, light greenish torso. Emblazoned on his chest was a black handprint, the significance of which he never bothered to explain. He wore a large backpack in lieu of luggage, and carried what could only be the case for an acoustic guitar.

His manner was laid-back and unaffected. His black hair, longer in the bangs than elsewhere (the better to cover his high forehead), went oddly with his green eyes, which is not to say that the effect was in any way unpleasant. Like Geoff, he sported a cleft chin.

“Our ‘wandering minstrel’, Trent!” Chris announced to the camera. Turning back to the “minstrel”, Chris said, “Glad you could make it!”

“Great to meet you in person, Chris!” Trent replied. “I’m a big fan of your work. Not to be a suck-up or anything, but I still think you got robbed when you didn’t win Best Supporting Actor for Badminton: The Movie.”

“Ah, a connoisseur of great cinema,” Chris declaimed, offering a fist bump which Trent happily accepted. “I can see that we’re going to get along great.”

Trent finally looked past Chris, and immediately wished he hadn’t.

This is it?” the musico asked incredulously.

“You got it,” Chris replied affably.

“But there isn’t even a stage,” the perplexed axboy pointed out.

“Actually there is,” the host corrected, “but that’s not where most of the competition is going to be.”

Seeing that Trent was about to say something else, Chris cut him off. “Long story, but we’re on a schedule. I’ll fill you all in after everyone gets here, so how about you go to the end of the dock and wait with the others?”

“Okay, then,” Trent said uncertainly.

Walking down the dock toward the other contestants, Trent quickly scanned the crowd. There would be plenty of time to get to know everyone, he thought, so he was mainly sizing up the girls, to see if any appealed to him enough that he should try to stake an early claim.

He found one.

Stopping beside Gwen, Trent smiled at her. “Dark as night and pale as moonlight,” he said, with frank admiration in his voice. “It works for you.”

Gwen quickly looked away. In truth, she found the sincere admiration in Trent’s voice—so very different from Noah’s faintly theatrical tone when the bookworm had compared her to a Greek goddess—deeply flattering, but it was too soon. Being something of a loner, she’d never had anything resembling a boyfriend before, and precious few admirers, so she was unsure of how to proceed; and it wouldn’t do for anyone to think she was easy. The safest thing to do, therefore, if not the most satisfying, was to retreat into her shell.

Whoa, Cody thought as he looked toward this pair, for he had overheard Trent’s remark. I can’t believe I didn’t notice that Goth chick before.

The boat approached yet again, with the 11th and final girl standing at the prow and waving politely.

“Our Ms. Do-it-all, Courtney!” Chris announced.

Chris offered Courtney his hand as she stepped off the gangplank, for her profile suggested that she would be appreciative of such a gesture without merely accepting it as her due or interpreting it as condescension. Sure enough, Courtney politely thanked the host for his gratuitously chivalrous gesture, although she seemed to have little to say to him otherwise.

Courtney was not the spectacular beauty that some of the other girls were, but nevertheless managed to turn her share of heads. She spent a good deal of time outdoors, judging by her well-tanned skin and the touch of sunbleaching in her shoulder-length, chestnut-brown hair, which she wore loosely.

Courtney did not appear to be especially fashionable. She wore a short, lightweight grey sweater over a more expansive off-white blouse, the combination bearing an unfortunate resemblance to a chambermaid’s uniform. At least her calf-length, olive green pants didn’t reinforce that image.

Courtney also wore high-heeled sandals, but even with this enhancement was one of the shortest contestants in the troupe. That meant little, though, as the others would learn quickly enough. Napoleon was short, too.

Courtney joined the other contestants and engaged in polite introductions with a number of them. The girl knew how to work a room. When she revealed later in the competition that she planned to run for public office one day, that revelation would come as a surprise to no one.

Courtney’s glad-handing and amiable chitchatting ceased abruptly, as did all other conversation, when the last contestant arrived.

The 11th and final boy was, for want of a better description, a god among men. He had a ripped physique—not the exaggerated muscle definitions of a bodybuilder, but perfectly toned and proportioned manliness—that rippled under his tight T-shirt. (He also wore old, nondescript blue jeans and sneakers, but none of the girls noticed those until later.) His shortish hair was straight, glossy and raven-black. His skin was a flawless bronze, his teeth a flawless white, and his eyes—oh, those eyes—beckoning sapphire wells that a girl could drown in if she wasn’t careful, and maybe even if she was. In short, every girl present desired him on sight.

The boys’ reactions to the new arrival were mixed. Some were disdainful of the “pretty boy”; some admired his ripped physique, knowing that a guy didn’t get that way without a lot of work, whatever his natural gifts; and some saw a dangerous rival who might damage their own chances of hooking up with someone. Nobody was concerned that the newcomer might easily recruit girls into alliances, but that was only because everyone still thought that the coming competition would be a talent contest, rather than an elimination game.

Chris introduced Justin, for that was the name of this unearthly vision, and conversed briefly with him, but none of the girls noticed anything more than his name. Justin’s voice was unremarkable, for the Creator does not suffer true perfection in mortals.

As Justin concluded his business with the host and moved to join the other contestants, it quickly became clear that he was aware (for how could he not be?) of the effect he had on others. Indeed, the way he walked seemed to be not so much “walking” as the continuous, flowing striking of a series of poses. As he passed the girls, Sadie fainted dead away, and more than one other looked ready to follow suit. When the Incredible Hunk reached Lindsay, his “runway walk” came to an abrupt end.

Oh, wow, Lindsay thought, suddenly feeling weak in the knees yet unable to tear her gaze from that sapphire abyss that was Justin’s eyes, a guy as hot as me. Never thought I’d see the day. Could he be The One?

Oh, wow, Justin thought, suddenly feeling weak in the knees yet unable to tear his gaze from that cerulean abyss that was Lindsay’s eyes, a girl as gorgeous as me. Never thought I’d see the day. Could she be The One?

Chris whistled sharply to get everyone’s attention. “All right, dudes and dudettes,” the host announced, “now that we’ve introduced everyone, we need a cast photo for Marketing. I want you all to come out onto the dock, right about to where I’m standing now, and arrange yourselves however you like. Just make sure we can see everyone.”

As a cameraman traded his video camera for a still camera and began to set up on the prow of the yacht, Chris directed traffic on the dock to ensure that the 22 teenagers were packed closely enough for the camera’s field of view to cover everyone. The shorter contestants (mostly girls, naturally) sat in the front row, in a variety of poses. Most of the others knelt or stood, with some leaning in toward the center of the camera’s field of view. Owen and D.J. stood in the back because they towered over everyone else.

With everyone packed in together, the decrepit old dock was sagging alarmingly, especially around the titans in the back. As Chris took up a position in the foreground, intending that the cast shot should include a headshot of him, the contestants were listening nervously to the noises issuing from beneath them. In their minds’ eyes, they had vivid images of the decaying dock collapsing and dumping them all into the lake.

The cameraman took his sweet time preparing. When he was finally ready, he called to everyone to smile. Most of the teens managed smiles, despite their misgivings.

The cameraman called for a second picture, then a third. By this time, most of the contestants were convinced that the dock would fail at any moment, but the ancient timbers were apparently stronger than they looked. Or felt. Or sounded. When the cameraman was finally finished, the teens gratefully and hurriedly quit the dock for the safety of solid ground.

As the yacht left the dock for the last time, Chris led the contestants through a short stretch of woodland to a clearing dominated by a large campfire pit. There were 11 tree-stump seats to one side of the fire pit, and the host invited his charges to take seats if they wished.

“Some of you,” the host said, “have asked why we’re at this crummy old summer camp instead of the five-star resort that you were expecting. The short answer is that your ability to adapt to unexpected twists is one of the things you’re being tested on.”

“But what does that have to do with a talent contest?” Trent asked. More warily, he added, “This is a talent contest, isn’t it?”

“Actually, no,” Chris replied. “Despite what you were told, this competition is actually an elimination game.”

It was all Heather could do to stop herself grinning from ear to ear. While she was confident that she would have done well in the talent contest that everyone had been expecting, she was even more confident now, for she was an aficionado of elimination game shows. They might as well write me the check now, she thought with elation. Living in this lame summer camp is going to be worth it.

After pausing briefly to let his revelation sink in, Chris continued. “In a few moments, you will be divided into two teams. Every three days, your teams will compete against each other in various types of challenges. The winning team will get a reward, and the losing team will have to decide which of its members to send home. Eliminations will be by plurality vote. In the event of a tie vote, I'll decide how to handle it. There is no set tie-breaking procedure.

“Any questions?”

Katie raised her hand and asked, “What’s a plurality?”

“Do you know what a majority is?” Cody asked the “thin twin” in turn, before Chris could respond.

“Sure. It means more than half.”

“Well, a plurality is similar, except that you don’t need more than half. You just need more than anyone else has.”

“Okay,” Katie said, with a nod of her head.

“Somewhere around the midpoint,” Chris continued, “or when one of the teams gets too small, the teams will be merged, at which point it will be every camper for themselves.”

“Camper?” Lindsay asked.

“You’re living at a summer camp, so you are now officially campers,” Chris explained. “At the end, the last camper standing will win the grand prize of one hundred thousand dollars.

“We’ll mostly be running on a three-day cycle. The first day will usually be downtime, so you can just be yourselves for the cameras. Today is an exception, because you have to get oriented and settled in. The challenge will be on the second day, with the voting and elimination ceremony on the third day. There will be a few cases where the elimination is on the same day as the challenge, but we’ve tried to give you the extra day whenever possible so you’ll have time to consider your decisions, because you don’t get mulligans here.”

“What’s a mulligan?” Lindsay asked.

“It’s a golf term,” Harold explained. “Basically, it means a do-over. Its origin is unknown, but the story I’ve heard is that a foursome compensated their carpool driver—named Mulligan—by giving him two shots off the first tee.”

“Fascinating, Harold,” Chris said in a tone suggesting that he wasn’t the least bit fascinated. “Now, when I call your name, I want you to stand over here,” the host continued, indicating a space to his right. “Beth… Cody… Gwen…”

The dumpy farm girl, the science geek and the Goth did as they had been instructed.

“Heather… Justin… Katie… ”

The dragon girl, the Incredible Hunk, and the skinny girl-child likewise took up positions at Chris’ right hand.

“Leshawna… Lindsay… Noah…”

The ample homegirl, the brainless blonde beauty, and the bookworm took their places with their new teammates.

“Owen… and last but not least, Trent.”

As the man-mountain and the axboy joined their new teammates, Sadie’s eyes widened in horror.

“There must be some mistake,” Sadie cried desperately. “Katie and I have to be on the same team! One on one is one thing, but we’re never on opposite teams. We can’t do it!”

“It’s true,” Katie added, her own eyes wide now that the awful truth had sunk in. “There’s no way we can play tough against each other! It’s like having to play with one hand tied behind our backs. How can we help our teams like that?”

“Not my problem,” Chris replied unsympathetically.

“It’s so unfair,” Sadie complained, tears welling in her eyes. “You’re just setting us up to get kicked off first!”

A sudden thought seemed to strike the butterball, and she regarded the host with narrowed eyes. “It’s because I’m fat, isn’t it?”

Chris’ seemingly permanent bland smile vanished. He had shown irritation a few times before; but now, for the first time, he looked genuinely angry. “If you play the ‘oppressed minority’ card on me again,” he warned darkly, “you’ll be out of here so fast it’ll make your head spin. Capisce?

Realizing that Sadie had provoked the host to the point where he might do something rash, the clones said no more, but looked sadly at each other, resigned for the nonce to one or both of them being early outs.

“Don’t sweat it, hon,” Leshawna said as she gave Katie’s shoulder a light, reassuring squeeze. “It’ll be all right. When this game is over, you’ll still be tight, right? Besides, you can be tough without being mean.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” Katie sighed, accepting Leshawna’s reassurance but not really convinced.

Chris turned to the newly constituted team. “As I was about to say, before I was so rudely interrupted,” he said, with a quick warning glare at Sadie, “You are now the Screaming Eagles!”

An intern planted a battle standard in front of the Eagles: a red banner with a silhouette of an eagle, wings back and talons outstretched as if to grab some terminally unlucky gopher.

“Eagles,” Noah observed disinterestedly. “A popular, traditional mascot.”

Chris turned back to face the remaining 11 teenagers, some of whom had now claimed seats recently vacated by members of the Eagles.

“Now, when I call your name, I want you to come up and stand over here,” the host said, indicating a space to his left.

“Bridgette… Courtney… D.J.…”

The surfer girl, the diminutive dynamo, and the dusky brickhouse took their places at the host’s left hand.

“Duncan… Eva… Ezekiel…”

The fauxhawk-crested delinquent, the dour musclegirl, and the homeschooled farm boy did as they had seen their new teammates do.

“Geoff… Harold… Izzy…”

The urban cowboy, the beanpole, and the manic redhead likewise did as they had been bidden.

“Sadie… and, last but not least, Tyler.”

The butterball and the jock of all trades joined their new teammates, Sadie with a dejected look across the way to Katie.

“You,” Chris said to the second team, “are now the Killer Muskies!”

The intern now planted the Muskies’ battle standard, a green banner sporting the Muskies’ logo: a slim, torpedo-like fish, wheeling about and with its jaws agape, its mouth filled with large, needle-like teeth.

“What’s a muskie?” Sadie asked.

“It’s short for ‘muskellunge’,” Harold began.

“Do you know what a pike is? The fish, not the weapon?” Izzy asked before Harold could continue. Not waiting for a response from Sadie, Izzy explained, “Well, a muskie is the biggest, baddest type of pike. They can get as big as a man, sometimes. They’re ambush hunters that skulk around and when they see a tasty little fishie, they dart out and it’s down the ol’ muskie hatch. Bye, little fishie!” The motormouthed redhead said all this in slightly more time than it had taken Harold to say, “It’s short for ‘muskellunge’.”

The teams assigned, Chris led the campers to the camp proper. As they walked, Duncan sidled over to Courtney.

“Hey, Princess.”

“My name’s Courtney. I would prefer that you call me that… Duncan, is it?”

“Yeah. Anyway, teamie, we have to keep Malibu Barbie and Iron Klutz apart at all costs.”

“Okay, I assume that by ‘Malibu Barbie’ you mean Bridgette, but who’s ‘Iron Klutz’?”

“Tyler,” replied the Juvenile Hall alumnus. “The guy in the red track suit.”

“Why would having them together be a problem?” asked the puzzled princess. “They both seem nice.”

“Nice isn’t the problem,” Duncan explained. “The problem is that they’re both majorly clumsy. Put them together, and they’ll be a disaster waiting to happen. If you hadn’t been one of the last people off the boat, you’d understand. I don’t know what McLean was thinking, putting them on the same team.”

“Thanks,” Courtney replied uncertainly. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

Reaching the camp, Chris motioned to two large structures with the campers’ luggage piled in front and said, “These are your cabins. Boys have the one on the left, and girls have the one on the right. Now, some elimination games keep the teams separated between challenges, but we don’t have that kind of budget, so you’ll be able to mingle with your rivals if you’re into that sort of thing.

Katie and Sadie’s spirits rose noticeably at that. They might be stuck on opposite teams, with the likelihood of being early outs, but at least they could still do what BFFs do between challenges.

As Heather and Lindsay headed into the girls’ cabin to stake early claims to the best beds—ideally something with a view of the lake, if such was available—Geoff cast what he thought was an unnoticed eye toward Bridgette and called, “Yo, Chrismeister! Will there be a chaperone in this facility?”

Chris replied, “You’re all 16 years old, the same age as—“

“I’m only 15,” Sadie corrected, raising her hand to be sure the host noticed her.

“That’s true,” Katie confirmed. “Her birthday’s not ‘til almost Midsummer.”

Chris did not acknowledge the Bobbsey Twins directly. “As I was saying,” he began testily, with a glare at the clones who were getting on his last nerve by this point, “you’re all 16 years old or will be turning 16 during the course of this competition, which is the same age as a Counselor In Training at a regular summer camp; so, apart from me and my aide, whom you’ll meet later, you’ll be unsupervised.

“You’ve got one hour to get settl—“

A tremendous scream suddenly erupted from the girls’ cabin. This was no mere, “Eek! A mouse!” scream, but the scream of a girl in mortal peril, and with an ungodly set of lungs into the bargain.

For a moment, the campers were stunned into inaction. Recovering their wits, the teens ran for the cabin. Chris shrugged his shoulders and headed for the main lodge.


The hour was growing late, so Brett’s mother left off her tale and suggested that he prepare for bed.


.

Second Night

In the morning, after they had breakfasted, Brett went to school whilst his mother, who had neither spouse nor partner, went to earn their daily bread. That evening, after they had dined and Brett had attended to his homework (for that was the price his mother had set for continuing her tale), Brett asked his mother to tell him more about her experience on Total Drama Island. Brett sat in his favorite chair, and his mother sat on the sofa. She took a few moments to collect her thoughts, and then she began to speak.


The rescue force arrived at the threshold, as ready as they would ever be to face whatever awaited them.

Heather had taken refuge on an upper bunk. At the far end of the cabin, Lindsay stood cowering on a chair, and her manner suggested that it was she who had uttered that terrible scream. Standing in front of the chair was an enormous black… something, rearing menacingly and displaying its gigantic mandibles. It was a large male stag beetle—harmless, but looking like something straight out of Hell. It was probably more afraid of Lindsay than she was of it, if such a thing was even possible.

“What is it? Kill it! Kill it!” Lindsay cried desperately.

D.J. was one of the first on the scene. Taking one look at the beetle, he turned to flee. Finding the door blocked by people who had arrived after him, the apparently fainthearted brickhouse wedged himself into a corner and tried to appear as inconspicuous as possible.

Most of the would-be rescuers seemed unsure of what to do. The beetle looked too large to easily crush underfoot, especially with so many of the teens wearing only sandals or other light footwear. Besides, most of the campers didn’t know what those evil-looking mandibles might be capable of, and weren’t keen to find out. Ezekiel’s heavy boots would have filled the bill nicely, and Eva wouldn’t have hesitated to pound it flat with one of her dumbbells, but those two were stuck at the back of the crowd that had gathered around the doorway.

Duncan presently broke the glass on a box containing a fire axe. Apparently, he proposed to cleave the insect with it.

He never got the chance. As Duncan moved to fetch the axe, Harold reached into his pocket and pulled out a soft pleather case. Opening it, he withdrew a shuriken. As the beetle spread it wings to take flight and Duncan began to approach with his axe, Harold nonchalantly flicked his wrist and sent his spiked messenger on its errand.

It is not clear whether Harold’s shuriken would have pierced the beetle’s tough outer shell; but with its wings spread, the insect was vulnerable. The shuriken skipped off the floor several centimeters behind its target, caught the beetle on the upswing, and transfixed it to the chair leg. The beetle struggled briefly, and then was still.

I’m going to have to watch this dork, Duncan thought, as he would later reveal in the confessional. There may be more to him than meets the eye.

Lindsay was suitably impressed. Hopping down from her chair, she embraced her knight in shining T-shirt. “Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you,” she said, before planting a lipstick imprint on Harold’s flushed cheek.

“Any time,” Harold replied, somehow managing to sound at once smug and humble. He meant it, too. For “rewards” such as Lindsay had just given him, he would have moved mountains for her.

Releasing her rescuer, Lindsay turned, crouched down—not bending over, for her skirt was very short—and curiously inspected the late beetle. “What is that thing, anyway?”

“A stag beetle”, Harold informed her didactically, “so named because the male’s mandibles resemble a stag’s antlers. The name actually refers to any of a number of species of the genus…”

As Harold discoursed in a professorial tone, Lindsay’s interest quickly faded and her eyes began to glaze over. Her face took on the look of childlike confusion that the other teens would come to know so well.

The late-arriving Geoff interrupted Harold, who was continuing his lecture seemingly unaware of Lindsay’s reaction. “Dude, I think you’ve lost her,” the party king told The Answer Man.

Harold looked at Lindsay, possibly for the first time since he began answering her question, and seemed to deflate. “Yeah, I guess you’re right,” he sighed.

“Cheer up, dude,” Geoff said, giving Harold a fraternal swat between the shoulders as he led the beanpole away. “She’s on the other team, so it probably wouldn’t have worked out anyway.” When they were out of the cabin, Geoff added, “And there’s no way she’s making it to the merge. She’s crazy hot—”

“Tell me about it,” Harold interrupted, remembering Lindsay’s “repayment”. Her embrace and kiss had been clearly platonic, expressing gratitude rather than affection, but it had been an embrace and a kiss nonetheless.

“—but she’s so dumb, I’m surprised she doesn’t forget how to breathe,” Geoff continued. “She’d be great for a fling. For a steady girlfriend, not so much.

“Now, Bridgette, she seems like the real deal. Courtney, too.” Geoff seemed to be struck with a sudden thought. “In fact… Harold, is it?”

“Yeah.”

“Mind if I call you ‘Harry’?”

“To be honest, I prefer ‘Harold’.”

“Fair enough.” Geoff’s brow furrowed. “Now, where were we?”

“I think you were about to say something about Bridgette and/or Courtney,” Harold informed the urban cowboy.

“Oh, yeah.” Geoff rummaged through his memory for a few moments and retrieved the interrupted thought. “Anywho, I think Courtney might be more your speed. She seems like the kind of chick who might appreciate a dude with a lot upstairs.”

This seemed to Harold a most fruitful line of discussion. Although he loved to play the professor, he could also be an attentive student. Geoff seemed like he would be popular with the ladies, so Harold thought he might learn a thing or two on that topic by picking the party boy’s brain.

“Speaking of the distaff side of our team,” Harold prompted, as he and Geoff headed back to their cabin, “What do you think of Izzy?”

“I don’t really have a read on her, yet,” Geoff admitted. “She seems nice, but something seems a little off. I’m not sure what. Whatever, she’s obviously a real fireball. I doubt you’d be able to keep up with her. I’m not even sure I could. She is hot, though.”

“Eva?”

“Eva’s good. Not the prettiest face on the block, but she’s got great curves. But the first time you got her mad, she’d snap you like a twig. Leave her to dudes who can take some punishment.”

“And, for the sake of completeness, how about Sadie?”

“Seems like a sweet little butterball, but I have a feeling there might be more to her than meets the eye. You saw how she tried to guilt the Chrismeister into giving her what she wanted. Accusing him of having it in for her because she’s fat… that’s hardball. She is fatter than hell, but she’s pretty enough if you don’t mind that. Kind of an ‘anti-Eva’, if you know what I mean. And she is on the rebound, sort of. If you see something you like in her, I’d say, ‘Go for it.’ The worst she can do is say, ‘no’. Not like Eva. She could do a lot of things worse than say, ‘no’.”

Geoff and Harold reached the boys’ cabin and found the settling-in process in full swing. Most of the boys had claimed their beds and were unpacking, making small talk as they made themselves at home. The cabin had 12 bunk beds, so questions regarding the berthing arrangements had focused mainly on who would have upper bunks and who would have lower. The boys quickly decided that Owen should have the 11th and 12th beds to himself because Owen was huge, the beds didn’t look especially sturdy, and nobody wanted an upper bunk that might collapse beneath them at any time.

Presently, Owen and Tyler heard the call of nature and went looking for a restroom, for the cabin had no toilets. Cody, meanwhile, returned to the girls’ cabin to see if he might rectify an earlier oversight and chat up that cute little Goth.

In the girls’ cabin, meanwhile, Heather and Lindsay’s plans to grab the best beds had come to naught. Even without the Beetle Incident cutting short their scouting time, one bed was much like the next and none had a view that was in any way remarkable, so there was little to choose. As a result, the main berthing question was who should bunk with whom.

When the question of what to do with the twelfth bed arose, Izzy immediately said that the answer was obvious because there were, in fact, twelve girls.

“Who’s the twelfth?” Bridgette asked, although she suspected that she knew the answer.

“Sunshine, of course,” Izzy replied. “You met her. Don’t you remember?”

Anticipating the other girls’ questions, Bridgette explained, “Izzy has an imaginary friend named Sunshine. Apparently, ‘Sunshine’ is hot for Duncan.”

“Whatever,” Leshawna said as she tried and failed to picture Izzy making out with Duncan, for the homegirl assumed that “Sunshine’s” attitudes were merely a proxy for Izzy’s.

“Since when do imaginary friends need real beds?” Heather asked with a roll of her eyes.

Izzy shook her head sadly and said, “People are so intolerant.”

“Be fair, girl,” Leshawna admonished. “This ‘Sunshine’ isn’t even a contestant, so by rights she shouldn’t be here at all.”

“Sorry, Sunshine, I tried,” Izzy said to the air. “Yes, the boys probably do have an extra bunk. No, you can’t sleep there. Trust me, you don’t want that kind of reputation. Yes, I know you’re into Duncan, but you have to be realistic. You just met the guy.”

“I know, guys,” Courtney said, “We could use the twelfth bed as a luggage rack. With all due respect to ‘Sunshine’, an imaginary girl should be just fine with an imaginary bed.”

“You just don’t get it, do you?” Izzy pouted. She said no more, for she could see that this was a fight she couldn’t win.

“It’ll be okay,” Courtney reassured the grumpy redhead. “Nothing against Sunshine, but Leshawna’s right. She’s not a contestant. In any case, I’m sure the luggage won’t bother her, and I don’t imagine she weighs much, so the bed should be able to take it. But don’t take my word for it. Why don’t you ask Sunshine?”

Looking skeptical, Izzy said, “What do you think, Sunshine?” There was a moment’s pause.

“Well, I still don’t like it, but Sunshine says it’s okay,” Izzy grumbled with the air of one making a major concession.

Heather and Lindsay wound up monopolizing the spare bed’s storage capacity because, as the camp’s fashionistae, they had brought far more luggage than the other girls. They would get few chances to show off their mammoth wardrobes, though, because the producers’ need to be able to splice stock footage into the episodes as filler, not to mention their plans to manipulate the editing to tell whatever story might strike their fancy, meant that the campers would be required to wear the same outfits most of the time.

After the girls had finished unpacking, most left the cabin. Some went looking for anything resembling a washroom, for purposes ranging from makeup touchups to answering nature’s call. Others went looking for Chris, to see what might be next on the agenda.

Gwen was one of those who had remained in the cabin. She had one of the lower bunks, and now sat on the edge of her bed, brooding. Although meeting that guitar player had been nice, the day had thus far been mostly a string of disappointments. Perhaps the worst of these was finding herself in an elimination game. Although Gwen wasn’t especially knowledgeable of the genre, she did know that such shows tended to stress social interaction, and that loners usually fared poorly.

Gwen sighed. Chris probably thought that she had “early out” written all over her. So much for becoming famous, she thought bitterly.

“Hi, Gwen.”

Gwen gasped and all but leapt to her feet at the unexpected sound of a male voice in the girls’ sanctum.

Recovering her wits, and embarrassed at her reaction, the Goth glared at the skinny little geek who had startled her. Noah? No, not Noah, he had bronze skin. Cody, that was it.

“Shouldn’t you be in the boys’ cabin?” Gwen asked caustically, her hands on her hips and ice in her voice.

“I never really got a chance to meet you earlier,” Cody admitted, with his goofy gap-toothed grin. “That was a terrible oversight on my part, and I wanted to fix it.”

Cody’s eyes widened as he suddenly felt an iron grip on his neck, and he whimpered a little as his feet lost contact with the ground.

“Boys allowed by invitation only,” Eva pronounced, her voice betraying only the slightest strain at the effort of hoisting the science geek aloft. Turning her gaze to Gwen, who was looking a little nervous at Eva’s display of power, the musclegirl asked mildly, “Is this guy bothering you? Because if he is, I’ll be happy to show him the door.”

“And if I’m not bothering her?” Cody asked hopefully, with a nervous chuckle.

“Then I’ll open the door first.”

“Uh, that’ll do,” Gwen told the self-appointed palace guard, her expression uncertain. “I don’t think we need to hurt him. Thanks, Eva.”

“Any time,” Eva replied. Despite her suggestion that she was inclined to throw Cody bodily out of the cabin, she lowered him to the ground and allowed him to leave under his own slightly unsteady power.

The camp was equipped with a public address system and, when the settling-in period had expired, Chris turned it on, making sure there was plenty of feedback squeal to get everyone’s attention.

“Attention, campers,” he announced over the loudspeakers, “Meet me in front of your cabins, and we’ll continue the orientation with everyone who’s still alive after that little emergency in the girls’ cabin.”

About ten minutes later, Chris brought his young charges to the washroom.

“Some of you have already discovered the communal washroom,” the host began. “It has a few Bronze Age flush toilets, sinks and no-frills shower stalls. It does have hot water, sort of, but I pity anyone who happens to be taking a shower when someone turns on a faucet.”

Lindsay raised her hand and Chris, anticipating the brainless beauty’s question, said, “The ‘communal’ part means that you’ll all be using the same facilities, so anyone who has a problem with that will just have to deal with it. Likewise, you’ll have to work out the scheduling, if any, for yourselves. If that happens to involve some over the top drama, then so much the better.

“You may have also discovered that the cabins don’t have electrical outlets. The washroom does, for those of you who use powered beauty aids. Likewise, if any of you have basic MP3 players or other types of noncommunication gadgets that the producers didn’t see fit to confiscate, you can charge them here.

“Speaking of confiscating gadgets, if any of you managed to get anything past ‘customs’ that you’re not allowed to have here, this is your last chance to surrender it. If you try to keep any contraband and we find out later—and with cameras recording your every move, we will find out—that will mean instant elimination, forfeiture of any prize money you may have earned, and a lawsuit. If you come clean now, though, the only penalty is to be embarrassed on national TV, and you’re going to have plenty of that this summer, anyway.

“As you know, you’re not allowed to have anything with any capacity for communicating with the outside world, whether it's a smartphone or a semaphore flag. So, does anyone want to take advantage of this amnesty offer? Anyone like, for instance… Courtney?”

Courtney jumped as if she’d been jabbed with a cattle prod. “Me?” she asked incredulously. “I wouldn’t try to…”

The Type A half-pint’s eyes widened in horror as realization hit. “Oh, gosh, my PDA! I forgot all about it! You have to believe me, I’d never try to cheat like that!”

“Sure, you wouldn’t,” Duncan retorted with a knowing smirk. “I know your type. You’re not the first goody-goody girl with a wanton wench on the inside screaming to get out.”

“That’s okay, Courtney, I believe you,” Chris assured her. “The producers deliberately let a few contraband items slip by so I would get to call people out. You should have seen the look on your face. It was priceless.”

Ignoring Courtney’s death glare, Chris asked, “anyone else?”

“That presumably explains why I still have my cell phone,” Noah suggested with a bored look, refusing to be embarrassed.

“Anyone else?” the host prompted again.

There was a pause, and then Katie hesitantly raised her hand. “Uh, Chris? Sadie and I still have our iPods,” she said, with all the contrition of a girl about to face the Last Judgment.

“Girls, girls, girls,” Chris clucked, shaking his head in feigned disappointment. “What am I going to do with you two? You’re running out of wrong feet to get off on.”

Even without this reminder, the clones knew that they were on thin ice with the host, so they said nothing and just stood there, looking apologetic.

Turning his attention back to the campers as a whole, Chris said, “Okay, that should be everything that the producers missed on purpose. If anyone else has any ‘forbidden fruits’, now’s the time to come clean.

“Yes, Lindsay?”

“I brought a pomegranate off the boat. Does that count?”

As Chris brought his hand to his forehead, Gwen sniped, “Wow, a four-syllable word. I’m impressed.”

“Thanks, Glenda,” Lindsay said, hearing but not understanding.

Chris’ shoulders were heaving slightly, and he was making little whimpering noises. It looked and sounded like he might be sobbing, but in truth he was trying to stifle laughter.

Before Chris could finish his facepalm and answer the brainless blonde bombshell’s question, Noah asked, “Did you eat any of it?”

“Part of it,” Lindsay told him obliviously. “I was saving the rest for later.”

“Well, then, you’re in luck,” the bookworm assured her. “That means you won’t have to stay in the underworld year round.”

“Is that a hotel or something?”

As Noah mimicked Chris’ facepalm, Harold sidled over to Geoff and said, “I see what you meant.”

Bridgette, not hearing Harold’s comment or not knowing what to make of it, said, “What Noah meant, Lindsay, is that you don’t have to give Chris your pomegranate.”

“Cool,” Lindsay replied with an endearing smile.

As soon as Chris trusted himself to speak normally, he instructed Courtney, Noah and the Bobbsey Twins to fetch their forbidden electronics. After they had done so and surrendered these items to an intern, Chris led the campers to an outhouse that had a general appearance of advanced decay.

“This outhouse is very important,” the host said, “and not just because it’s an auxiliary toilet for when you get the runs and can’t get into the washroom.”

Leshawna opened the outhouse door in the wistful hope that the interior would look more inviting than the exterior. Seeing something that she was certain didn’t belong there, she turned to the host in shock.

“There’s a camera in the potty?? What kind of perverts are you people?”

“As I was about to say,” Chris told the campers, expecting Leshawna’s reaction but not caring, “the real importance of this outhouse is that this is where you will record your confessionals, which no elimination game would be complete without. You can go in there to record your innermost thoughts, or just to get something off your chest. Confessionals are a great way to get screen time, so don’t be shy.

“Press that red button to remotely turn the camera on, and again to turn it off. That’s the only control you can access, because the camera’s settings have been pre-optimized and we don’t want you fiddling with them.”

The next stop was a large tent that housed two cots and a variety of medical supplies and equipment.

“This,” Chris said, “is the infirmary. This is where you can come to get fixed up if one of the daily hazards of camp life gets you. In addition to treating things like burns, sprains and dislocations, which more than one of you will probably have before the game is over, we can remove porcupine quills, lance boils, set broken bones and resuscitate drowning victims; and we can also treat life-threatening allergic reactions, food poisoning, arrow wounds, bear maulings, recreational pummeling by the local Sasquatch (whom we like to call “Sasquatchanakwa”), snakebite from the deadly Eastern Diamondbacks that frequent these parts, accidental impalement (assuming you’re not killed outright and all your internal organs are intact), bubonic plague from flea bites, West Nile from mosquito bites, Lyme Disease from tick bites, Flesh Eating Disease from horsefly bites (and if you thought that mosquito was big, Izzy, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet), Muskoka Meningitis from leech bites (and the lake surrounding this island is called Leech Lake for a reason)… all the everyday hazards of camp life. Totally routine stuff, really. It’s so commonsensical it hardly seems worth mentioning, but Legal said we had to tell you.

“The infirmary’s not set up for major surgery, though, and we’ve got a couple of half-liters of blood on hand, but not enough to give anyone a transfusion; so if a bear slices your arm off, or if a pack of wolves pulls out your intestines and plays tug-of-war with them, or if you’re making out in the woods and a chainsaw-wielding psycho slashes you, or if one of the giant man-eating Leech Lake lampreys gets hold of you and sucks you dry, we probably won’t be able to help you.”

As Chris recited the litany of mishaps that were beyond the infirmary’s capacity to set right, his usual bland smile gave way to a dazzling full smile of the sort that television news anchors use for major disaster coverage.

“What’s a lamprey?” Justin asked Owen, who happened to be standing next to him.

“They’re like leeches on steroids, except that leeches are worms or something, and lampreys are a type of fish,” Owen explained, for he was a hunting and fishing enthusiast. Moreover, the blond behemoth was very knowledgeable about animals that are good to eat, which it so happens that lampreys are. “They look kind of like eels, but their mouths are really weird. They don’t even have jaws.” With a shrug, Owen added, “I didn’t think they attacked people, though. Maybe the ones they have here are different.”

Chris then led the campers to a nondescript building that was larger than the washroom but smaller than the cabins.

“This,” he informed them, “is the Tuck Shoppe. Basically, it’s an on-site convenience store. You can get all sorts of stuff here to make your lives a little easier. You’ll pay captive audience prices, but this isn’t a perfect world.”

Chris led the campers away from the campsite proper, a little ways up the shore to a small building with a secondary dock.

“This,” he said, “is the boathouse. This is where we store canoes, life jackets and suchlike when they’re not in use, and it also serves as a general maintenance shed. You probably won’t be spending a lot of time here, but a couple of challenges might bring you here.”

Gwen opened the door to see what sort of gear the boathouse held, and recoiled. The place looked like a medieval torture chamber, with chains, huge hooks, harpoons, claws and teeth and other body parts from various dangerous animals that were probably trophies, things that were probably bottom fishing pots but which bore a disturbing resemblance to iron maidens, worms that were probably meant for live bait but didn’t really look like familiar earthworms… and the unmistakable stench of blood, from Gwen could only guess what.

“What’s wrong, Gwen?” Trent asked solicitously.

Fighting to control her gorge, Gwen replied weakly, “It’s a little more ‘Gothic horror’ than I was expecting.”

“No offense, but I thought Goths were into that sort of thing.”

“Not like this. Well, the hardcore Goths, maybe,” she assured him, finally starting to regain what little color she normally had. Most of the other campers were looking on with varying degrees of curiosity and concern.

Chris noticed this byplay and found it good. “Gwen’s reaction,” he explained “illustrates why we will also be using the boathouse as a detention facility if any of you step too far out of line. Sadie, for example,” the host added, remembering their altercation at the bonfire site.

“That explains the harpoons,” Duncan quipped.

“And you think putting your teammates down will help us win… how, exactly?” Courtney asked Duncan with a glare, but the delinquent pretended not to hear.

.

Leave All Hope, Ye That Enter

Finally, Chris led his young celebrities-in-the-making to what proved to be their final stop. The largest building in the camp, this could only be the main lodge. It was the most inviting-looking building the campers had seen since arriving on the island, and it appeared to be better maintained than the camp’s other structures. It didn’t hurt the campers’ first impression that the sun was low in the sky, so the teens assumed that Chris had brought them here for dinner—their first meal as reality show stars.

Chris led the troupe into the lodge and, when everyone was inside, called out, “Yo, Chef, come out and meet our vic… er, contestants!” Noticing that many of the campers were now eying him warily, Chris looked up at the rafters and whistled innocently.

Inside the lodge were two long tables with bench seating. At one end was a large, rough-hewn stone fireplace with an enormous set of moose antlers displayed above. The wall opposite the entrance was largely cut away, although this opening was currently shuttered so the campers couldn’t see the kitchen that presumably lay beyond. A long counter was affixed to the far wall, just below the cutout area. There was a double door to the kitchen, a swinging door for when the kitchen was in use and a lockable door for when it was not.

The cutout shutters slid aside, and several pairs of eyes widened at the sight of the camp chef. He was a tall, hulking, black (“I’m Canadian, so don’t call me African-anything,” he would later say) mesomorph, even more muscular than D.J. He appeared to have a shaved head, although his traditional chef’s hat made it difficult to be certain. He also sported a deeply cleft chin and an All-Pro spitting gap in his teeth. He looked over the campers with a scowl, for his was a sour disposition not unlike Eva’s.

Although many of the campers were taken aback at the chef’s appearance, those who had been to summer camp before reacted with more aplomb, for they had known what to expect.

“Why do summer camp chefs always look like escaped serial killers?” Courtney asked rhetorically—and softly, lest the chef hear her and slip “a little something extra” into her tea.

“I don’t know, why?” Lindsay replied innocently, for she was standing close enough to hear Courtney’s remark.

“I was speaking rhetorically,” Courtney informed the uberbimbo.

“What does ‘rhetorically’ mean?” Lindsay asked, struggling with the pronunciation.

“It means I wasn’t expecting an answer.”

Lindsay looked confused. “So why did you ask, then?”

Although Courtney was well bred and polite, she did have a bit of a temper. She was also very bright, and highly intelligent people tend to regard sarcasm as a virtual birthright, so her first instinct was to respond caustically. As she opened her mouth to fling a barb, though, she caught herself. If Lindsay was truly as stupid as she sounded, the poor girl couldn’t help that, and in any case probably wouldn’t recognize sarcasm when she heard it. Courtney therefore bit her tongue and said only, “I was just thinking aloud.”

“Oh. Sorry, Connie.”

“It’s Courtney.”

“That’s what I said, wasn’t it?” Lindsay replied, looking confused.

Courtney resolved to avoid conversing with Lindsay whenever she could do so without giving offense. The uberbimbo would probably be gone soon enough, and wasn’t worth the aggravation in the meantime.

“Ahem,” Chris cleared his throat theatrically, with a glance at Courtney and Lindsay. “If you gossip girls are finished… .”

Chastened, the girls gave the host their attention.

Now addressing the entire troupe, Chris said, “This is Chef Hatchet, so called because… well, I don’t want to spoil the surprise. In addition to preparing your meals, he's also my aide, so you’ll see him doing support work at most of the challenges. He’s perfect for this show because he’s a real ‘jack of all trades’. That means he can do the work of 20 people, but we only have to pay him one salary. That’s how a low-budget show like Total Drama Island could afford a host as illustrious and expensive as me.”

“Here’s how it works,” Hatchet said gruffly and loudly. “I make it three times a day, and you’ll eat it three times a day. And I don’t want to hear about ‘special dietary needs’. This ain’t no five star restaurant, so you eat what I give you, or you don’t eat.”

Bridgette raised her hand and said, “Does that mean I’ll have to eat meat? I’m a vegetarian.”

“Girl, did you hear a word I just said?" Hatchet thundered. “’Cause I don’t recall saying that I wanted to hear about special dietary needs, and that goes double for preferences! It won’t kill you to stuff down a few animal byproducts!”

Hatchet’s expression then softened, and his glare gave way to an unpleasantly expectant smirk. In a normal tone, he said, “Trust me, the carnivores won’t have it any easier than you.”

After giving the campers a moment to make of that statement what they would, the hulking chef said in a drill sergeant style, “Tonight’s main course is sloppy Joes. So grab a tray, get your grub, sit your butts down, and don’t give me no lip! Y’hear?”

“The teams will sit together at meals,” Chris added. “Eagles at the table nearest the door, and Muskies at the table nearest the kitchen.”

The campers dutifully queued up, grabbed their buns and other peripherals, and filed passed Hatchet as he doled out the sloppy Joe filling and the sides, olive drab beans and something that probably used to be potato salad.

As Noah received his portion and turned away to find a seat, Chef said, “Not so fast, Scrawny. Give me your plate.” Noah did as he was bidden, and Chef gave him a second scoop of filling. Hatchet apparently intended that the skinny campers should bulk up, for he also gave extra portions to Cody and Harold in due course. Nor was this treatment limited to boys, for Hatchet likewise gave larger portions to Heather and Katie, probably because he suspected them of being anorexic.

As the queue moved along, several of the campers got the feeling that something was not quite right with the filling. Proper sloppy Joe filling consists of ground beef in enough sauce to give it a slushy texture. Chef’s filling, though, had more of a semisolid texture, solid enough to require a scoop instead of a ladle, and solid enough to somewhat retain its shape on the bun. Likewise, the sauce didn’t seem to be impregnated evenly throughout. All in all, it looked like Chef had used “mystery meat” instead of ground beef. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite mysterious enough.

“Is this dog food?” Tyler asked with a grimace as he and Harold took their seats, safely out of earshot from Hatchet. “Because it sure looks like it.”

“It might be,” the beanpole replied, warily eyeing his own sandwich. “But if it is, it could be worse, I guess.”

“Worse?” Tyler repeated incredulously. “Dude, we might be eating dog food. How could it be worse?”

“Years ago,” Harold explained, “the government heard that a lot of poverty-stricken old folks were having to eat dog food because they couldn’t afford anything better, so Parliament passed a law saying that dog food has to be fit for human consumption.”

“So you’re saying it’s okay to eat this slop?” Red Jock asked dubiously.

“Yeah, I guess so. It’s gross, but it won’t actually hurt us.”

As Hatchet plopped a scoop full of “sloppy Joe innards” onto Gwen’s bun, the Goth did a double take. It was surely nothing more than a trick of the light, but…

“I hate to be predictable and complain on the first day,” she said, warily eyeing her tray, “but I think mine just moved.”

“You have a fork. Work it out,” Hatchet replied gruffly, as he plopped a measure of goop onto Izzy’s bun.

“Cool! Mine just moved, too!” the redhead cried. Spreading her right hand under the tray to free her left, she snatched up her fork, held it poised high over her head in an exaggerated combat readiness pose, and exclaimed, “En garde, Sir Joseph of Sloppia!” With that, Izzy plunged her fork into the mass, which convulsed once and was still.

Izzy quickly licked her fingertip and made a “chalk one up for me” gesture, then turned to face Gwen, who was looking more than a little disturbed at this tableau.

“Camp food’s not so bad,” Izzy informed the Goth with a reassuring smile. “You just have to show it who’s boss.” The possibly unstable redhead then strode to her seat, humming the triumphal march from the end of the original Star Wars movie. thumb|250px|right|Triumphal march (Throne Room scene) from Star Wars episode IV

As the campers sat, warily regarded their dinners, Geoff elected to tempt the gods. Turning toward Chris, who had returned to the lodge after a brief departure, the urban cowboy called, “Yo, my man! Can we order some pizza?”

Hatchet gave no sign that he had overheard Geoff; but as the hulking chef turned away from the common area, he abruptly swept his arm in the campers’ general direction. There was a metallic glint in the air, and Geoff suddenly felt a breeze where he was not used to feeling one.

The campers, looking disconcerted, looked toward the doorway. Next to the door, a butcher knife yet quivered slightly, its point embedded in the wall. Impaled upon that knife was Geoff’s hat. Only now did Hatchet look in Geoff’s direction, fixing the urban cowboy with a “don’t mess with me” glare.

Hatchet had extensively practiced that backhand, no-look knife throw, for he was a summer camp veteran and well knew how to impress the younger generation. Nor had it truly been a “blind” throw, for Hatchet had a wider field of peripheral vision than most people and so could fix his eye on a target without appearing to do so. The campers, though, would learn none of this until much later. In the meantime, Hatchet’s demonstration had the effect he desired, and it would be some time before any of the teens dared to cross him again.

The campers ate without further incident, the legendary teenager’s appetite eventually overcoming any concerns about the food’s uncertain origins. Conversation flowed freely as the campers got to know their teammates better and speculated on what lay ahead.

“What do you think they’ll make us do tomorrow?” Bridgette asked Geoff, who was sitting catty-wampus to her.

“I dunno,” the urban cowboy replied easily. “But it’s the first challenge. How hard can it be?”

“You’re tempting fate,” warned Courtney, who was sitting next to the surfer girl, two seats down from Geoff.

Even as those Muskies spoke, a similar tableau played out at the Eagles’ table, with the genre-savvy Heather warning Katie and Trent against assuming too much.

Courtney and Heather’s dismal warnings, though, went largely unheeded. The consensus was that the campers would probably be eased into the game, since none of them had really wanted or expected to be in an elimination game in the first place.

By the time the teens began to return to their cabins, night had fallen. As Leshawna reached the door, she turned back to look once more at the lodge’s common area. As she did so, she noticed Eva approaching, looking sullen as usual.

“Hey, what’s up, girl?” Leshawna asked pleasantly.

Eva passed by without acknowledging the homegirl’s salutation in any way, her perma-scowl as unchanging as a mask.

“Oh, it’s going to be that way, is it?” Leshawna huffed indignantly.

That was all that the finished episode showed. The producers thought the game would seem more dramatic if it looked like the campers—especially the opposing teams—were at each other’s throats most of the time, and they pegged the largely unsocial Eva as a natural to wear one of the black hats. In truth, though, this is what happened next:

“Wha—?” Eva said, as if coming out of a fog. Realizing that she had just snubbed someone terribly, she turned back to Leshawna and said, “Oh, sorry. I was lost in thought.”

“A penny for them.”

“Probably the same sort of thing as everyone else is thinking, wondering how we got stuck in a lame summer camp playing a lame elimination game, when we were supposed to be trying to become rock stars or whatever.” With a small, sardonic smile, the musclegirl added, “I’ll bet I could do a guitar smash for the ages.”

“That wouldn’t surprise me a bit,” Leshawna said with a grin. “Just don’t tell that to Trent.”

As they headed out the door, Leshawna added, “Anyway, if you don’t mind my saying so, you looked like you could use a friend, even if we are on opposite teams.”

“I don’t think it would work out,” Eva replied simply.

“Why not?”

Eva sighed. “I’ve seen your temper. Mine’s even worse—a lot worse. At least you had a decent reason for going after Noah on the dock. I’ll do that for much less. I’m a little surprised that I’ve never put anyone in the hospital.”

“’Roid Rage?” Leshawna asked uncertainly. “I’ve heard of it.”

“I get that a lot,” the musclegirl confessed, “but no, I don’t take steroids. It would be a convenient excuse, but I had anger management problems before I was working out. Fact is, I started working out because I was hoping to channel that anger into something more productive. It didn’t really help, but I keep working out because it turned out that I enjoy it. As for the steroids, just because I want to out-pump guys doesn’t mean I want to become one.” In a rare moment of whimsy, Eva struck a preening pose and added, “It wouldn’t be good for my girlish figure.”

“I hear you. If I had goods like yours, I’d want to keep them, too.” Striking the same pose Eva had struck moments before, Leshawna clarified, “Not that there’s anything wrong with what I do have.”

Eva didn’t actually share that opinion, but managed to bite her tongue before she could say so. Leshawna had offered her friendship; and even though Eva wasn’t inclined to accept that offer, there was no reason to throw it back in the homegirl’s face.

“You know,” Eva said, when she had thought of something diplomatic to say, “You could be a bodybuilding champion if you set your mind to it. You’ve got the frame for it.”

“Yeah, but I don’t like to sweat. Well, not from that, anyhow,” the homegirl added with a wink.

“Yeah, I saw how you were working the guys when you got here.”

“You should try it sometime. You might like it.”

“Sometime,” Eva agreed, “but not here. It would just be a distraction. Just because this game isn’t what we were expecting doesn’t mean I’m not in it to win it.”

“So, you’re going to stick to your own team?”

“I think that’s for the best. If we both make it to the merge… we’ll see.”

“Have it your way,” Leshawna said, with a little shake of her head and a note of disappointment in her voice. “If you change your mind, you know where to find me.”

“Yes, I do. You’re kind of hard to miss.”

“That’s me, all right. Big, loud and proud,” Leshawna proclaimed with a grin as they entered the girls’ cabin.

“To each, their own,” Eva replied.

A few hours later, the boys were in their cabin, changing into their sleepwear after an evening bull session. As Duncan removed his shirt, D.J. noticed that the delinquent’s arms were covered with long, thin, straight scars, mostly on the outsides.

“Hey, bro,” the brickhouse inquired curiously, “Where’d you get all those scars?”

“Knife fighting,” Duncan answered matter-of-factly.

With D.J. looking like he was about to faint, Noah snarked, “Looks like you could use more practice.”

“That’s a great idea,” Duncan agreed with a wolfish grin. “Thanks for volunteering to be my practice partner.”

“No, thanks, I’m good,” Noah replied as nonchalantly as he might. In truth, the bookworm was sore afraid, for he sensed that Duncan’s threat was not idle.

“So, you really are as smart as you look,” the delinquent said with a more genial smile, suggesting that Noah had been wrong and the threat had, indeed, been idle. In a conversational tone, Duncan confided, “Let me tell you something. If you’re in a knife fight, and you get out of it without getting cut, that doesn’t mean you’re good. It means you’re lucky.”

“That one’s not from a knife, eh?” Ezekiel noted, pointing to a thicker, irregular keloid below Duncan’s left shoulder. “How did you get that?”

“That one’s from a broken bottle.”

Unsure of whether he really wanted to know the answer, Trent asked, “Have you… have you ever killed anyone?”

“Nah,” the Juvenile Hall alumnus assured him. “Don’t get me wrong, I could if I had to, and knife fights always have that potential, but it usually doesn’t come to that. Usually one fighter gets cut a few times, can see that the other guy’s better than he is, and either gives up or runs away.”

“Do you ever give up or run away?” Noah asked, feeling brave again.

“I might not be around today if I didn’t. It’s like poker—you’ve got to know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em. Let’s just say that I win more than my share.”


Brett was confused. “Mom?”

“Yes, dear?”

“You said you were on the show, but you haven’t mentioned yourself.”

“Actually, I have. In those days, I was still using my first name. I started going by my middle name when I entered college, and that was before you were old enough to have permanent memories.”

Although Brett knew his mother’s first name, he almost never heard or saw it, so it hadn’t come to mind unbidden. Thinking about it, Brett now recalled that this long-unused name did, indeed, match one of the contestants.

“So, why were you talking about yourself in the third person?” he asked uncertainly. “You don’t usually do that.”

“I was a different person then,” his mother explained. “You made me grow up before my time. That’s partly why I started going by my middle name. Besides, I think it makes a better story this way. Just humor me, okay?”

“Sure. Whatever,” Brett conceded. It was no skin off his nose, and in any case he didn’t want to discourage his mother from telling him the rest of her tale.

The hour was not late, so Brett’s mother paused a few moments to collect her thoughts, then resumed her tale.


.

Episode #2: The Tale of the First Challenge

Original title: The Not So Great Outdoors (a.k.a. Not So Happy Campers), Part II


The next morning, their first at Camp Wawanakwa, the campers awoke to the end of the world.

Reality show producers don’t like their contestants to be well rested, because sleep-deprived people have less emotional control. Likewise, a harsh wakeup call makes people feel less rested, other things being equal. And so, at the crack of dawn, Chris played the “Dies Irae” (“Judgment Day”) section of Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem over the P.A. system, at cabin-shaking volume. thumb|300px|right|First wakeup call

Dies Irae, Dies illa
Solvet saeclum in favilla:
Teste David cum Sybilla.

Quantus tremor est futurus,
Quando judex est venturus
Cuncta stricte discussurus.


(This day, this day of wrath
will consume the world in ashes
as foretold by David and the Sybil.)

(What trembling there shall be
when the judge shall come
to weigh everything strictly.)


Not long after, the campers, some still wide-eyed and twitchy from their apocalyptic wakeup call, filed into the lodge for breakfast. Chris was at the door to greet his young charges, his carefully practiced bland smile concealing his glee as he looked on his handiwork and saw that it was good.

Breakfast consisted of eggs runnyside up, with delicately carbonized bacon and heavy bread toasted golden-black. The beverage options were lake water that still tasted of the disinfecting chemicals, horrifically bitter grapefruit juice (the news of “Ruby Red” grapefruits having apparently never come to this corner of Muskoka) and milk that was noticeably over the hill. As the teens ate, Chris called for attention, and announced that they were to assemble in front of the lodge in one hour, to begin the first challenge.

“Some of you,” the host noted, “have suggested that the first challenge won’t be anything too hard. And you’re right, it’s not all that hard, if by “hard” you mean physically strenuous or tough to figure out.

“The problem with easy challenges, though, is that they’re not good for ratings; and since Total Drama Island is a new show, we need to do something to grab the audience’s attention. One way to do that is by showing a lot of female skin and feminine curves, so you’ll need your swimwear. As for the other way we’re going to goose ratings…”

Chris paused a few moments for dramatic effect, and then dropped the other shoe. “You are about to find out why you had to sign all those waivers to be on the show. Your first challenge will be one of the most dangerous of all.”

At the appointed time, the swimsuit-clad campers assembled in front of the main lodge. Most of the girls wore bikinis, some more revealing than others. Leshawna, Beth, and Eva, though, wore one-piece swimsuits, and Bridgette sported a short-sleeved wetsuit designed for cold-water surfing. Leshawna’s swimsuit, monogrammed with an “L” above her bosom, nicely flattered her ample yet feminine frame; Eva’s swimsuit might as well have been her leotard; and Beth sported a ruffled, all-covering bathing suit that would have been at home in her great-grandmother’s closet.

The boys all wore standard, discreet swim trunks in various color schemes. Justin had originally appeared in a barely-there male bikini; but the sight of The Incredible Hunk wearing nothing but bikini briefs had left the distaff side of the camera crews and the intern corps (not to mention the female campers) unable to function, so Chris had ordered Justin to change into something less revealing. One of the interns, a strapping Latino lad named Alejandro, happened to wear the same size of trunks as Justin and had a pair on hand, so Justin borrowed that.

For the same reasons that the campers would be required to wear the same outfits most of the time, the producers didn’t want anyone tanning over the course of the game, so a platoon of interns now slathered the fair-skinned campers with enough sunscreen to shield a nuclear reactor.

Another intern, recognizable as such by the bright red pullover shirt that all interns wore, presently appeared driving a two-seat ATV. Before settling into the empty seat, Chris said to the assembled campers, “The challenge venue is about four clicks up the trail. Alejandro and company will show you the way. And don’t feed the bears.” Chris and his chauffeur then headed up the trail in their ATV, leaving the campers and their intern escort to walk.

Not quite an hour later, the campers and the surviving interns escorting them arrived at the place where their host awaited them. Most of the campers were out of breath, for they had been running for their lives over the last 300 meters or so after one of the interns became bear bait. Only Tyler and Eva seemed none the worse for their terrifying sprint, for the former was a star sprinter at his school and the latter had the constitution of Wolverine. On the other extreme was Owen, who, being badly out of shape, had been severely overtaxed to the point that he dropped to all fours and yielded up his breakfast.

When most of the campers were again breathing normally, Chris said, “Okay, everyone, here’s how your first challenge is going to work. You’re going to dive off this cliff into the lake. Simple, right?”

The campers nodded or murmured in agreement. While diving from the cliff might be scary, depending on how high the cliff turned out to be, it seemed very simple and straightforward.

“Good,” Chris continued. “To make this more interesting for the viewing audience, we’ve stocked the lake with psychotic, man-eating sharks—”

“Sharks are neither psychotic nor sane,” Harold broke in didactically. “They don’t have that kind of brainpower.”

“Don’t interrupt me again, Harold. Now, as I was saying—”

“I was only trying to help,” Harold complained petulantly, “and it’s just as easy to get these things right. Gosh!”

The host’s seemingly perpetual smile gave way to a scowl. “Harold, do you want to be thrown off the cliff instead of jumping? The interns haven’t had a lot of practice, and I can’t guarantee their aim.”

“Fine, have it your way. Gosh!” the walking encyclopedia exclaimed again, throwing his hands in the air.

“Maybe Harold just wanted to see what it took to get that pasted-on smile off your face,” Gwen suggested.

“But why bother stocking the lake with sharks?” asked Noah, who wasn’t the type to respect effort when a reasonably similar result could be had with less work. “Wouldn’t it have been a lot less labor to just let a luckless leaper live with the likelihood of leaving the land of the living as a light lunch for those allegedly legendarily large Leech Lake lampreys? Oh, silly me, it’s not like they’re actually real, LOL.”

“Now look, you lame little loser,” Izzy replied without missing a beat, with a smile and a wink to inform Noah that she was playing along and not insulting him, “I’ll allow that I like to let loose a long alliterative line as well as anyone, but just because this is supposed to be a kid’s show doesn’t mean we need to turn it into a Dr. Seuss routine. But if Lady Luck likes you, and you live through the ‘life in the balance’ leap and Leech Lake’s legendary lampreys don’t lunch all your scarlet life liquid and lap up the last of your lymph, you’ll laugh last, ‘cause I’ll let you alliterate as long as you like.”

Chris, forgetting that he had been about to chastise Harold for interrupting him and Gwen for snarking at him, said, “Okay, bro and bra, it’s not like I wouldn’t love to listen to your little alliter-off, but we’re on a schedule.

“As for the lampreys, they’re definitely real, but all they do is suck out all your bodily fluids. That’ll kill you, of course, but it’ll leave your corpse pretty much intact, and that’s not photogenic enough for reality TV. If anybody does meet their maker here, the viewing audience will expect a spectacle—blood in the water, floating body parts, blood-curdling screams, desperate hopeless flailing, slo-mo instant replay, the works.

“Now, as I was about to say before we got off track, if you don’t want to become shark chow, you’ll need to dive into the safe zone that we’ve cordoned off. It’s called a ‘safe zone’ because we’re reasonably sure that the sharks haven’t figured out how to get into it. If they have, well, then I guess I told you a story.”

“Excuse me?” Leshawna challenged. The host’s “assurances” had contained far too many qualifiers and caveats for her peace of mind.

Chris ignored the homegirl and continued. “For each one of you who jumps and actually survives, your team will receive one crate of supplies for the second part of the challenge: building a hot tub. One crate per diver means that, if too many of you chicken out or get eaten, your team runs the risk of not having enough supplies to complete the challenge.

“As a bonus, the team with the most dives into the safe zone will get carts to haul their crates back to camp for the building phase. The losing team will have to haul their crates to camp using nothing but good, old-fashioned muscle power. That’ll be a lot slower, and you won’t have unlimited time to build your hot tubs, so you want those carts.

“Tonight, the team with the best hot tub will get a wicked hot tub party. Tomorrow night, the team with the suckiest hot tub will be sending someone home.” All was silent for a moment, save for the host’s evil stage laughter.

The campers peered over the cliff to see what they were up against, and were taken aback when they saw that the diving cliff was a good 300 meters high. To make matters worse, with the midmorning sun slanting into deep water, the campers could see that Chris hadn’t been joking about the sharks. The waters outside the safe zone seemed thick with them, ranging from nasty-looking little buggers no bigger than a man to leviathans that looked like they could down a fully loaded canoe at a gulp.

“Killer Muskies,” Chris announced, “Since Owen’s not finished puking his guts out—”

“I’m right here!” the overexerted Owen gasped between dry heaves.

“—you’re up first,” Chris finished, without acknowledging Owen’s protest.

Not surprisingly, none of the Muskies seemed particularly eager to take the lead. Finally, Eva volunteered Bridgette.

“I think Surfer Girl should go first,” the musclegirl suggested. “She’s the one who knows water sports.”

Bridgette accepted Eva’s charge without protest. “Fine. It’s no biggie,” the surfer girl said, projecting confidence that she did not feel as she peered over the cliff to gauge the distance. “It’s just… an insane cliff dive… into… shark-infested waters.”

Bridgette backed up a few steps, held her arms out, took a deep breath, and stood still for a moment to mentally prepare herself.

“Show us how it’s done, girlfriend!” Eva called in encouragement.

Dropping her arms, Bridgette ran forward and launched herself off the cliff in good form, splashing down gracefully in the middle of the safe zone.

“Bull’s-eye! Nice work, Bridgette!” Chris announced over his bullhorn, mainly for the benefit of those campers who weren’t able to get close enough to the edge to see the dive. With Bridgette in the water to provide scale, the campers noted with relief that the safe zone, which looked so tiny from atop the cliff, was actually large enough that it probably wouldn’t be especially hard to hit.

After Geoff and Eva made their dives without incident, Izzy took the plunge, and became the first to miss the safe zone. When she splashed down, the sharks quickly swarmed through the area. Izzy did not resurface.

“Come on, Izzy,” Bridgette urged, her voice scarcely above a whisper.

Almost a minute had passed. There was still no sign of Izzy.

With the three Muskies on the boat fearing the worst, a shark breached the surface, leaping like a salmon, with Izzy astride its back like a daughter of Poseidon. Izzy and her reluctant steed splashed down and disappeared, only to breach again moments later, then disappeared and breached yet again.

“Yee-ha! Ride ‘em, cowgirl!” Geoff shouted in encouragement, as the Muskie and the shark continued their duel.

After a good two minutes of this aquatic rodeo, the shark finally breached close enough to the boat for Izzy to vault safely aboard. She “stuck the landing” as gymnasts say, turned to the camera, and curtsied.

Chris next summoned Ezekiel. The homeschooled farm boy peered over the cliff, backed up a few steps, took a deep breath, and quietly recited a Biblical passage that he later identified as Psalms 23:4: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” He then took another deep breath, ran to the edge of the cliff, and completed his dive without incident.

Next up was Duncan. With a shrug of his shoulders, the delinquent jogged to the cliff edge without protest and launched himself as casually as he might. Truth be told, the only reason he didn’t simply step off the cliff was because the safe zone—indeed, safe water depth—was too far away for that, and suicide wasn’t really conducive to looking cool. Once airborne, though, Duncan did his best to maintain a blasé attitude, keeping his arms at his sides and maintaining a “standing” posture as best he might. (This is actually the safest way to dive from a great height, but Duncan didn’t know that.) He splashed down feet first in the safe zone—a little too close to the near edge for comfort, but in the safe zone nonetheless.

When Duncan was safely on the boat, Chris announced, “D.J. You’re next, big guy.” The brickhouse dropped to his hands and knees, peered over the edge of the cliff, and shuddered. “I can’t do it,” he said, hanging his head as he regained his feet.

“Afraid of heights?” the host speculated.

“Yeah, but that’s not the real problem,” D.J. confessed. “I’m afraid of the water. Have been since I was a little kid. Besides, if I jumped and missed the safe zone, I might have to defend myself against the sharks. I might even have to…” Tears began to well in his eyes. “I might even have to hurt them,” the gentle giant finally managed to gasp out. “I couldn’t bear that!”

“Fine. Here’s your chicken hat,” Chris replied unsympathetically, placing said hat on D.J.’s head. “The Chicken Walk is thataway,” the host added, motioning to the trail they had taken earlier that morning to get to the cliff top. Alejandro waited patiently at the trailhead, for Chris had stationed him there on the assumption that at least one camper would refuse to dive. The campers did not know the way to the bottom of the cliff, so any “chickens” would need an escort. Later in the season, when the campers better knew the lay of the land, Chris would become more inclined to leave them to their own devices in such situations.

As D.J. began his “chicken walk”, Chris said, “Courtney, you’re up.”

Courtney took a deep breath, ran a few steps, and arced gracefully off the cliff. Her form proved to be better than her eye, though, and she missed the safe zone, splashing down to the right and a little short.

Strangely, the sharks seemed to take no notice, even though one happened to be fairly close. They continued to ignore Courtney as she swam placidly to the boat.

After Courtney’s teammates pulled her onto the boat, Bridgette asked, “Not that I’m complaining, but what’s with those sharks?”

“Professional courtesy,” Courtney explained smugly. “I’m going to be a lawyer someday.”

Chef Hatchet, piloting the boat, overheard this exchange and informed Chris by radio.

“Note to self,” grumbled the irritated host, “Next time, use crocodiles.”

Returning to the business at hand, Chris called on Tyler to jump. With an enthusiastic shout, the jock of all trades took a long running start and launched himself into the air.

Tyler had very strong legs, more enthusiasm than skill, and had made little effort to learn from those who had gone before. As a result, he badly overshot the safe zone. As he entered the second stage of his descent, he could see just how badly he had misjudged the distance; for below him lay, not the safe zone, but the boat, its deck crowded with terrified Muskies.

“Incoming!” cried Duncan. He and his teammates would have taken cover, but there was nowhere for them to go. Courtney abandoned ship, but she was the only one who could do so safely. Izzy considered following Courtney’s lead, but then thought better of it. The other Muskies could do nothing but await destiny.

Hatchet, piloting the boat, could not see above him, so he had only the teens’ reactions to tell him what was wrong. He gunned the engines, but the overloaded boat responded sluggishly. Depending on where Tyler landed, there was a real possibility that he might have an unfortunate encounter with the propellers, but that was a chance that Hatchet would simply have to take.

Tyler splashed down in the boat’s wake, barely three meters astern. Hatchet quickly cut the engines back and began to bring the boat about. The boat was close enough that, with Courtney pushing and others pulling, the Muskies were able to get Tyler aboard almost before the sharks realized what had happened.

Safely aboard, the “human cannonball” found himself confronted with a sea of angry glares. Out of the frying pan and into the fire, he thought, and decided that his best course of action was to play dumb. Tyler looked at his teammates and, as innocently as he might, asked, “What?”

“Dude, what were you thinking?” Duncan asked. “If you’d hit this decrepit little tub, you’d have gone through it like tissue paper.”

“Dumping the rest of us back into the water with the sharks,” Eva added.

“They’re right,” Bridgette said. “This boat isn’t very big, and it’s just made of wood. If you’d hit it, you’d have probably sunk it.”

“Not to mention getting yourself killed—literally—in the process,” observed Courtney, who was now back on board. “Broken neck, fractured skull, take your pick.”

Suitably chastened, Tyler hung his head. “I guess I should have paid more attention to you guys’ dives,” he offered limply.

“Gee, you think?” Izzy asked with a sniff.

Geoff, who didn’t like to see people picked on, rose to Tyler’s defense. “OK, guys,” he said, “I think that’s enough piling on. Yeah, he could have gotten us all killed, but the point is, he didn’t.” The other Muskies, having made their points, let the matter drop.

At the top of the cliff, Chris had beheld the spectacle and found it good. Turning to the camera, he declared, “That is awesome television!” He then turned to face the Eagles and the remaining Muskies.

“Okay, guys,” he said, “Learn from Tyler’s mistake. We can’t afford another boat.”

Chris’ failure to mention the contestants that Tyler’s blunder had put at risk did not escape the teens. “Your concern is touching,” Noah sneered.

“Oh, yes,” Gwen sneered, as caustically as Noah had. “It’s not like human life is worth anything, but we can’t have anything happen to the boat.”

“I’m glad you understand, Gwen,” Chris responded cheerily.

“You don’t care about us at all, do you?” Heather challenged.

“Do you really want me to answer that?” Chris asked with a smile, clearly enjoying the repartee.

Nobody rose to the bait, but the campers on the cliff now respected Chris less than before.

“Whatever,” the host finally said, deducing that the teens weren’t going to say anything else camera-worthy. “Back to business. Harold, you’re next.”

Harold misjudged his dive and missed the safe zone by a fair margin. The sharks swarmed, and then all was still. There was no sign of blood or struggle, but neither was there any sign of Harold.

The hour was growing late, so Brett’s mother left off her tale and suggested that he prepare for bed.


.

Third Night

The next morning, after they had breakfasted, Brett went to school whilst his mother went to earn their daily bread. That evening, after they had dined and Brett had attended to his homework, Brett asked his mother to tell him more about her experience on Total Drama Island. Brett sat in his favorite chair, and his mother sat on the sofa. She took a few moments to collect her thoughts, and then she began to speak.


When Mr. Beanpole did not resurface after what seemed a reasonable amount of time, Courtney announced, “I’m going in,” and dived in to search for him. No one tried to stop her, for they had seen that the sharks would not harm her. The water was clear, so visibility was good.

After a brief eternity, Courtney resurfaced a little way off, took a few deep breaths, and sounded. She repeated this cycle several times, hopscotching about the area.

Finally, Courtney surfaced next to the boat. She said nothing, but slowly shook her head. Her expression was bleak.

Eva looked like she was going to be ill. Bridgette, who had seen this sort of thing before, closed her eyes for a moment, lowering her head slightly in silent tribute. Duncan grinned wolfishly and thought, Let’s see Mr. Ninja get out of this! Tyler seemed to be at a loss for how to react. Izzy actually looked bored, as if she saw people eaten by sharks six nights a week and twice on Sundays. Ezekiel closed his eyes and crossed himself, muttering a brief prayer.

Only Geoff spoke distinctly enough for the microphones to pick up. The party king was not known for eloquence, but at this moment his simple pronouncement somehow said it all:

“Aw, man! You need a new word for how much that sucks!”

From his vantage point high above, Chris clearly saw what had befallen Harold. “Ooh, hate to see that happen,” the host said, as if he was reading a weather report. When Courtney began her search, Chris, seeming pleased, ordered a camera crew to get into position near the boat to record the Muskies’ reactions when her search proved futile.

None of the teens on the cliff spoke, sensing that it would do no good. Whether Chris was truly that uncaring, or was baiting them again, seemed beside the point.

When Courtney finally returned to the boat, Chris turned to Sadie. “You’re up, Sadie,” he said, as if nothing had happened.

The butterball peered over the cliff to gauge the distance. She had a little diving experience, so she was fairly confident that she could hit the safe zone; but if she didn’t…

Sadie’s heart suddenly filled with a steely resolve that was most unusual for her. If she was going to die here, by Jiminy, she wasn’t going to die alone.

Sadie turned away from the precipice and walked up to Chris. “Chickening out, are we?” the host needled.

“I have to be on the same team as Katie,” the butterball declared in a tone that brooked no argument.

“No can do,” Chris replied with that ubiquitous bland smile. “The teams were scientifically selected according to your skill sets and personality types. You and Katie won’t generate enough drama if you’re on the same team.”

Sadie exploded. “You want drama? I’ll give you drama!” she cried as she locked eyes with the host, her fists balled at her sides. As one of those fists opened into a hand signal that Chris didn’t see and wouldn’t have known how to interpret, the butterball added, “Don’t say I didn’t warn you!”

In response to Sadie’s signal, Katie sprang from the cluster of Eagles and barreled into Chris from behind, even as Sadie stepped out of the line of fire, leaving a conveniently placed foot for Chris to trip over.

Chris McLean was an athletic man and would normally have had little trouble repulsing Katie’s charge, but the hive mind had achieved complete surprise. Nothing in the girls’ profiles had given any sign that they would respond with physical aggression to anything. When people believe they have nothing to lose, though, they become capable of any outrage because the connection between cause and effect is lost.

In a flash, Sadie was sitting on Chris’ shoulders as he lay prone on the ground. Katie, meanwhile, straddled his hips. Unable to get any leverage to buck the girls off, and with his arms pinned at his sides, the host was helpless.

Cold terror gripped Chris as he felt Sadie’s first touch on his scalp. Fearing the worst, he pleaded, “No! Not my hair! Dudettes, please!”

As Katie began tickling Chris on his ribs to stop him trying to mount a defense, Sadie began running her fingers through his hair. Chris made liberal use of gel in styling his hair, which made his “windswept” look easy to maintain; but Sadie now revealed the other edge of that sword, as her against-the-grain finger combing transformed Chris’ perfectly groomed coiffeur into an irregular, spiky mane, the likes of which is rarely seen outside of anime.

“Oh, yeah!” Justin cheered, pumping his fist. “Hit him where it hurts!”

“Mr. Hot Stuff ain’t so hot now, is he?” Heather jeered.

“Can we be on the same team?” Katie and Sadie asked their hostage in unison.

“If you don’t… let… me go,” Chris gasped through Katie’s skillful tickle torture, “you won’t… have… a team… at all… I’ll… kick… you both… off… the show!”

“And throw away all this perfectly good drama?” Sadie retorted derisively. “I don’t think so.”

“Besides,” Katie added, as Chris continued to writhe beneath her, “if we can’t be on the same team, we’d rather not be on your show anyway.”

“You go, girls!” Leshawna cried. “Show him who’s boss!”

“Yeah, it serves Chip right for being so mean,” Lindsay sniffed.

“I know, right?” Beth seconded.

Cody intoned solemnly, “Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.”

Katie, seeing no sign that Chris might be about to relent, leaned forward and quickly slipped her arms under his belly. She pinned the host’s arms to his sides below the elbows to supplement Sadie’s pin near the shoulders, and cried, “Double team!”

In an amazingly nimble move for such a heavy girl, Sadie pushed off on Chris’ shoulders and launched herself a little way into the air, wrenching her body violently about.

Katie was stronger than she looked, but she was no match for Chris. Without Sadie’s substantial bulk pinning him down, Chris needed only a few seconds to break Katie’s grip. His problem was that he didn’t have a few seconds. Scarcely had he sensed his chance when Sadie came heavily down upon him once more. Now, however, she was facing Katie, giving both girls unfettered access to those unprotected ribs, and Sadie promptly demonstrated that her tickle torturing was no less adept than Katie’s.

As the Eagles watched these BFFs demonstrate the gentle art of persuasion, Owen began to chant, “Katie… Sadie… Katie… Sadie…” The rest of the Peanut Gallery quickly took up the chant.

Chris knew then that he dared not make good on his threat to throw the clones out of the game, lest the other campers on the cliff back them up; for although Katie and Sadie were expendable, a “sympathy strike” could kill the fledgling show. If that happened, Chris would have to get a real job.

“Dudettes… please… no more!” the helpless host gasped desperately.

“Can we be on the same team?”

“The teams… are set… There’s nothing… I… can do!” the host pleaded, as he writhed helplessly and tears of agony began to trickle down his face.

“I don’t believe you for a minute,” Katie retorted, as she continued to tickle.

“It’s so not nice to tell people stories like that,” Sadie added, likewise giving Chris no respite.

“We can keep this up all day, you know” Katie said, her threat all the more chilling for its matter-of-fact tone. “It takes a long time for our fingers to get tired.”

“We used to have tickling duels all the time when we were little,” Sadie explained, “and we’ve tickled people into submission before.”

Finally, inevitably, Chris yielded.

“Okay, okay… you win… You can both… be… on the same… team!”

Katie and Sadie stopped their tickle torture, but kept him pinned for the nonce. “Promise?” the clones challenged in unison.

“I promise!” Chris cried, his tone a naked plea.

“That’s all we wanted,” Sadie said, as she and Katie released their prisoner and rose to their feet. The girls then hugged and squealed in delight.

“Wow,” Trent exclaimed softly, still scarcely able to believe what he had seen, “They look so sweet and innocent.”

“Well, now we know better,” Gwen observed with a smirk. With an effort, she had managed to suppress laughter, but her eyes were dancing.

“Hell hath no fury like BFFs scorned,” Noah said, his eyes still wide and his face a bit flushed.

There was a delay of a few minutes whilst Chris regained his composure after the attack of the clones and a valet team restyled his hair. The finished episode spliced in a confessional spot at this point.

“The profilers were seriously asleep at the switch,” Chris pouted in the confessional. “First Ezekiel, now Katie and Sadie, all the early-out cannon fodder is turning out way different from what I expected. What’s next? Gwen masterminding a grand alliance? Lindsay unleashing a third brain cell? Oh, well, all the more drama!”

On the diving cliff, Chris was once more camera-ready. “Katie, Sadie,” he said, “You’re both on the Eagles. Beth, since you’re the most similar to Sadie, you’re on the Muskies. Which means, Beth, it’s your turn to dive. You’re the last Muskie.”

“Goodbye, Beth,” Justin said, fixing the farm girl with his hypnotic gaze. “I wish I’d been able to get to know you better.”

Katie and Sadie started to protest, but Justin silenced them with a wink. The Bobbsey Twins nodded slowly, their mouths forming an “O” of understanding.

Heather also understood what Justin was up to. “I’ll miss you, Beth,” the dragon girl said with an apologetic look on her face. “You’re okay, for a nerd.”

As Beth’s resolve began to waver, some of the other Eagles joined in this mind game, crowding around Beth to say goodbye. It was a terribly callous way to treat Harold’s memory, and most of the Eagles would be mortified later, when they realized what they had done; but for now, they had a challenge to win, and all methods were fair. Besides, although they all knew what had happened to Harold, they hadn’t seen it close by, so it hadn’t really sunk in yet.

“Goodbye, Beth,” Trent said with a wistful smile. “I’ll write a song about you. I promise.”

“Maybe you and Harold can hook up on the other side,” Noah suggested. “You seem like his type.”

“Oh, that would be so sweet,” Lindsay cooed. Unlike the others, Lindsay was completely sincere, for she liked Beth and hadn’t the wit to understand mind games, much less play them.

“Aww, that would be totally sweet,” Katie and Sadie cooed in unison.

Go ye heroes, go to glory,
Though ye die in combat gory,
Ye shall live in song and story.
Go to immortality!
Go to death, and go to slaughter;
Die, and every Cornish daughter
With her tears, your graves shall water.
Go ye heroes, go and die!


Had any other Muskies still been on the cliff, they might have been able to counter the Eagles’ tactic. As it was, though, Beth had to face the onslaught alone. The farm girl wasn’t particularly courageous or self-confident under the best conditions, so the outcome was never in serious doubt.

“I can’t jump,” Beth admitted to Chris. “I’m too scared.”

Chris placed a chicken hat on Beth’s head and directed her to the trailhead, where Alejandro waited to escort her to the base of the cliff; for the delays caused by Courtney’s search and Katie and Sadie’s persuasiveness had given the big intern time to return to the summit after escorting D.J. to the lakeshore.

“Cheer up, senorita,” Alejandro said as they hiked down to the base, “I’m sure you’ll get a chance to redeem yourself. But if you don’t mind my asking, what was with everyone saying goodbye like that? It sounded like they weren’t expecting to ever see you again.”

“Don’t you know?” Beth asked incredulously, but then realized that he probably didn’t. “Oh, yeah, you hadn’t gotten back from taking D.J. to the bottom.

“Anyway, Harold never came up from his dive.” Beth’s voice was quavering. The only reason she wasn’t in tears was because she still couldn’t quite believe what had happened.

“I see,” was the only response Alejandro could think of.

“And then, after Chris switched me and Sadie so she could be on the same team with Katie—”

Beth’s dolor fled for a moment as she remembered how the clones had convinced Chris to allow the switch. “You should have seen them own Chris. It was awesome!”

“I wish I could have,” Alejandro admitted with feeling. “McLean doesn’t treat the interns very well. He treats us like supplies instead of people.”

“Well, now we know that it’s not just the interns. He actually seemed happy when Harold… when Harold…” Beth left the thought unfinished, unable to say it.

“It was pretty much the same way when we were setting up the challenge,” Alejandro confided. “McLean had a bunch of us test the dive, but the safe zone was originally a lot bigger than it wound up being. There also weren’t as many sharks at first. The first few times we dived, we all hit the safe zone, or came down close enough that we could get into it or to the boat before the sharks got us. McLean kept making the safe zone smaller and smaller, a little bit at a time, and a couple of times he added more sharks. He said he was looking for ‘that little something extra’ that would goose the show’s ratings.

“As it turned out, that ‘little something extra’ was apparently blood. Finally, one guy dived and missed by wide enough a margin that he didn’t make it. All McLean said was that the challenge was good to go. So believe me, I know exactly how you feel.”

They walked in silence for a time, until Beth’s interrupted train of thought returned to the station.

“Anyway,” she said, “when I suddenly got put on the Muskies, I was the last one. I guess that’s where you came in. It was like everyone was expecting me to get eaten. I get that they were probably just messing with me so they could win the challenge, but how could they be that callous?”

“Like it or not,” the strapping intern counseled, “that’s the way these elimination games are played. If you’re serious about winning, you have to be ruthless. Alliances are fluid, and you can’t trust anyone for very long. On the other hand, you can’t win as a ‘lone wolf’, either, so you have to trust someone. The immunity you get for winning a challenge helps, but nobody’s going to win every challenge; and from what I’ve heard, you’re not going to be able to ‘bank’ immunities for when you need them.”

“Wow, you sure know a lot about these things,” Beth said admiringly. She wasn’t just admiring her escort’s genre knowledge, either, for Alejandro was ruggedly handsome and well-mannered.

“I should. I was on one of these shows a few years ago, and I also like to watch them.”

“Did you win?”

“Actually, we didn’t have a winner,” Alejandro confessed. “The ratings were bad, so the network pulled the plug on us just a couple of episodes after the teams merged. My show was a lot like this one, but the challenges weren’t as extreme. We also had to dive into shark-infested waters, but the sharks were really just for show. Our cliff was only about 20 meters high—I think the one here is something like 300—so the safe zone was easy to hit.

“Part of the ratings problem might have been that our show had a bland name. This show is called Total Drama Island. The show I was on was called Camp TV. Which one would you rather watch?”

“Yeah, I see your point,” Beth agreed.

“We had the same producers this show does, so they obviously think they’ve learned their lesson. Unfortunately for you guys, it looks like they may have learned the wrong lesson,” Alejandro added with a shake of his head.

“You said that we have to be ruthless to win this type of game,” Beth reminded her escort. “Were you ruthless on your show, or was that something you figured out later?”

Alejandro grinned broadly and chuckled at the memory. “Oh, you need a new word for how ruthless I was, but there’s more to it than that. The trick is to not look like you’re enjoying it too much, or you’ll lose the respect of the jury. If that happens, then you’re basically playing for second place. Of course, you might get lucky and end up in the finals against someone who’s even more despised, but you can’t count on that.” thumb|300px|right|Alejandro counsels Beth

“I didn’t know we were going to have a jury,” the nerd girl admitted. “Chris didn’t say anything about that in the orientation.”

“Hmm. If he didn’t say anything about it, then I probably shouldn’t either, but I’ve heard that you will indeed have a jury vote. From what I’ve heard, though, the jurors won’t be just the contestants who get to a certain point. Apparently, all of the losing contestants will vote, so it’s even more important to not burn bridges when you find it necessary to backstab someone. And I do mean when, not if. The time will come.

“You might have an advantage, though. I heard that none of you were expecting to be in an elimination game in the first place.”

“Well, I sure wasn’t,” Beth admitted.

“So, there might not be a lot of people strategizing, at least in the early stages,” Alejandro continued, “which means that if you can, you might have a leg up. Watch that Heather chick, though. She’s got ‘conniver’ written all over her. On the other hand, you can’t necessarily trust the ones who look innocent, either. They really have the potential to blindside people, not to mention that they can get deep into the game just by flying under the radar.”

Beth shook her head as if to clear it. She was reasonably intelligent, but not remarkably so, and her escort’s info dump was a lot for her to digest.

“Wow, that sounds like a heck of a balancing act. How did you manage? Or did you?”

“I can guess what you’re probably thinking: ‘sadder but wiser’. But, no, I had it down to a science. You see, my father’s a diplomat, and he’s taught me a thing or two about how to manipulate people. Do you know the difference between being witty and being charming?”

“I don’t think so,” Beth admitted. “What?”

“A witty man can make you think that he’s the smartest person in the world,” Beth’s hunky escort-cum-tutor explained, “but a charming man can make you think that you’re the smartest person in the world.

“As for the balancing act, my competitors never knew what hit them. It didn’t hurt that I was also strong and athletic and able to charm the…"

Alejandro stopped short for a moment, a strange look on his face. Then he burst into laughter.

“What’s so funny? Beth asked.

When Alejandro had composed himself well enough to answer, he explained, “I was about to say, ‘I was able to charm the pants off the ladies’, but that would have been the mother of all epic fails.”

Beth’s eyes widened for a moment, and then she likewise cracked up at the absurdity of someone who supposedly understood diplomacy making such a ridiculous blunder.

“You can say that again!” she gasped between guffaws.

When the farmer’s daughter had somewhat composed herself, Alejandro’s demeanor turned serious and he said, “I assure you, that’s not what I was after—then or now!”

Beth was still grinning like an idiot. “Well, I’m not that kind of girl, anyway, so… so let’s not and say we did,” she suggested impishly.

“Works for me, amiga” Alejandro replied, giving Beth’s shoulder a quick, playful squeeze.

“Now, where were we?” the Latino lad asked rhetorically. “Ah, yes, owning my Camp TV rivals. In addition to being the most socially adept player, I was also very strong in the challenges. All things considered, I was so dominant that if Camp TV had been a fictional narrative instead of a reality show, people would have called me an unrealistic Gary Stu. Well, probably a Villain Stu. A shame that so few people saw it.”

A painful thought suddenly seemed to strike Alejandro, and he sighed. “I’ve just forced myself into a confession,” he added wistfully. “That same dominance that I was so proud of might have been part of the reason why the show’s ratings were so poor. People don’t like to watch one guy win at everything unless he's representing them in some way. It gets boring pretty quickly.”

The camper and the intern walked in silence for a time, with Alejandro now looking as dejected as Beth had been mere minutes before. The hunky intern finally broke the silence.

“Now I’m the one who needs cheering up,” he admitted. “So tell me, how did Katie and Sadie convince McLean to let them be on the same team? From what you said before, it sounds like my summer is diminished for not having seen it.”

Beth then told her escort about how the clones had bent Chris to their will, but nothing would be gained by repeating it here.

Soon after, these newly minted friends reached the lakeshore. Seeing the other Muskies assembled nearby, Beth went to join them and to explain how she’d come to be their new teammate. At about the same time, Alejandro received a call from a fellow intern, relaying Chris’ instructions to remain at the lakeshore until the diving phase of the challenge was finished. With nothing better to do for the nonce, the former reality show star sat down on a fallen tree to watch the remaining Eagles dive.

The finished episode showed nothing of Beth and Alejandro’s conversation, because the interns and the contestants weren’t supposed to socialize with each other. When the interns appeared on camera at all, they were expected to be little more than living furniture, and weren’t supposed to speak on camera except in emergencies.


.

Where Eagles Dare

As Beth and Alejandro began their hike to the lakeshore, Chris totted up the numbers on his clipboard. “Okay,” he announced, “Final totals for the Killer Muskies: eight successful dives, one failed dive and two chickens, with five divers hitting the safe zone.

“Eagles, let’s see if you can beat that. Heather, you’re up first.”

“No way,” Heather declared. “I’ll get my hair wet.”

“Excuse me?” Leshawna asked incredulously. “You can’t be serious!”

“Hello, Homie,” Heather retorted, “We’re on National TV. I have to look my best.” With a sniff, the dragon girl added, “It’s a hotness thing. You wouldn’t understand.”

“Ooh, them’s fightin’ words,” Justin pronounced with an expectant smirk, for he sensed an imminent catfight. No one heard or answered, though, for everyone’s attention was on Heather and Leshawna.

“Can you get any more full of yourself?” Leshawna challenged. “If you were afraid to jump, that would be one thing, but we’re not losing this challenge just ‘cause you had your hair did!”

“If she’s not jumping, then I’m not jumping,” Lindsay announced, and favored Heather with a glance and a curt nod that silently added, so there!

With a smirk, the dragon girl returned Lindsay’s glance and nod in kind, seeing that the blonde bombshell well understood this “hotness thing”.

“Oh, she’s jumping, all right,” Leshawna declared, addressing Lindsay but glaring at Heather.

“Back off, Ghetto Glam rap star wannabe!” the dragon girl demanded.

“Your mouth is writing checks your body can’t cash, call girl in training with shorts the size of an eye patch!” the homegirl retorted.

“You’re a great one to talk, you morbidly obese cow who can’t keep her paws off any guy with a pulse! Not that they’d want you.”

“Eating disorder poster child with collarbones that can cut glass and ribs that stick out farther than your boobs!”

“And me without my popcorn,” Noah quipped to Gwen, as the homegirl and the dragon girl continued to trade insults concerning each other’s tastes, attractiveness, sexual proclivities, intelligence, ancestry, social standing and probable place of residence in the afterlife.

“The popcorn isn’t the half of it. We should be selling tickets,” replied Lady Snark to Lord Snipe. “If push comes to shove, though, my money’s on Leshawna.”

“I doubt you’d find many takers,” Noah opined. “That’s a sucker bet if I ever saw one.”

“Well, at least I’m popular,” Heather declared in a tone implying that she expected this revelation to be the unchallengeable last word.

“You probably are, with people who don’t actually know you,” Leshawna shot back. “But I don’t care how many toothpick lovers want the only thing you’re probably good for, you’re jumping!”

Heather then spoke the Famous Last Words, “Make me.”

Leshawna said no more, but advanced on the dragon girl with grim determination. Heather instinctively gave ground, realizing that she was physically no match for Leshawna and fearing that the powerful-looking homegirl might throw her bodily off the cliff.

Step by step, Leshawna advanced and Heather retreated. So concerned were these adversaries with each other, that they lost track of their position.

“Uh, guys?” Sadie began uncertainly.

“Guys?” Katie repeated, with more urgency, a few seconds later.

Heather and Leshawna did not hear their teammates, so intent were they on each other. Moments later, Heather stepped back onto… nothing. She had reached the edge of the cliff.

Thrown off balance, with only her toes on solid ground, the dragon girl fell over backwards and plummeted, screaming, to the lake far below.

Heather!” Leshawna cried helplessly, instinctively extending her hand although Heather could not possibly have reached it.

Those toes on the cliff, while not enough to support her, may have saved Heather’s life, for they stopped her falling straight down and possibly hitting the beach. Instead, her trajectory carried her slightly away from the cliff face. She still landed well short of the safe zone, in dangerously shallow water, but she was unhurt. Cursing under her breath, Heather scrambled ashore before the sharks could close.

Atop the cliff, the mortified Leshawna breathed an immense sigh of relief, for she understood only too well how close she had come to exacting a terribly disproportionate price for Heather’s vanity.

Heather had not technically been forced to dive, and that was apparently good enough for Lindsay. After taking a few moments to steel herself, the blonde bombshell dove gracefully from the cliff.

Gracefully at first, that is. When she saw that she was over-rotating, Lindsay’s composure deserted her. Abandoning her diving posture, she began frantically flailing her limbs in a desperate and not particularly effective attempt to control her orientation. Screaming the while, she completed her descent, ending with an utterly graceless splashdown. Chris wasn’t awarding style points, though. Lindsay was unhurt and in the safe zone, and that was what mattered.

Leshawna followed. After a short running start, she hurtled off the cliff and assumed a cannonball position.

Although not obese, Leshawna was not a slim girl, and the others would learn in due course that her weight was sometimes a sensitive issue with her. This was not one of those times, though, for she had thought of a way to put her bulk to good use. From this height, and with the cannonball posture, the homegirl looked to make a truly mighty splash. That way, if she happened to miss the safe zone and land near a shark (as long as it wasn’t one of the really huge ones) it might be scared off. This precaution proved useful, but not for the reason Leshawna had anticipated. The dusky daughter hit one of the floats marking the far edge of the safe zone, but her protected position made the impact a good deal less painful that it might otherwise have been.

Trent, Gwen and Cody followed. Trent made his dive without incident, but Gwen and Cody both missed the safe zone. Gwen, seeing that she was much closer to the safe zone than to the boat, quickly scrambled over the boundary. Cody was not so lucky, and nearly lost a couple of toes as his teammates hauled him onto the boat, snatching him from the jaws of the piscine predators.

Katie and Sadie were next to get the call. Having won the concession of competing on the same team, they actually made their dives together. The others thought this strange, but only because they didn’t yet know these two well. Although Katie and Sadie had their physical differences, psychologically they were virtually the same person—a fact that would become painfully obvious in due course.

The clones splashed down, seemingly without incident, into the safe zone. After a few moments, though, the water around the safe zone suddenly began to boil with activity. The sharks seemed to be in frenzy, enough so to complicate retrieval of the divers.

“What’s with those sharks?” Katie asked when she and her BFF were safely aboard the boat.

“I don’t know, but they seriously need to chill,” Sadie declared with a sniff.

“I know, right? They’re like totally having a cow,” Katie replied with a sniff of her own.

“Oh, totally,” Sadie confirmed.

“Uh, ladies?” Cody asked, interrupting the clones’ chatter. “If it’s not too personal, are either of you in… er, you know… your time of month?”

“If it’s not too personal?” Sadie repeated in disbelief. “How much more personal can you get? But anyway, I am… if you must know.”

“Oh, I totally am, too,” Katie squealed to her BFF. Turning to the science geek, she looked down her nose at him and said archly, “So now you know. Are you happy now?”

“Sorry to probe,” Cody offered contritely, for he couldn’t bear to have a girl mad at him. “The reason I asked is because I thought it might explain why the sharks got so worked up. They probably smelled traces of your, er… ’periodness’?”

Katie and Sadie blanched and their eyes widened in horror as the implications of Cody’s conjecture sank in. The clones realized with a qualm that, had they missed the safe zone, they would surely have met the same fate as Harold, and far more messily into the bargain.

Atop the cliff, Justin now answered the call with a beautiful swan dive that had everyone oohing and ahhing. Unfortunately, he, like Courtney before him, had better form than aim. The Incredible Hunk looked irritated with himself for missing the safe zone and thereby failing to score a point toward the winning team’s reward, but he didn’t seem concerned about the sharks as he swam calmly toward the boat.

The sharks swarmed around Justin, but instead of attacking, they playfully butted him and gamboled about him, as dolphins might. Indeed, these bloodthirsty creatures actually seemed smitten with Justin’s preternatural beauty. Justin smiled knowingly, as if he had been expecting this reaction, as he continued his leisurely swim to the boat.

His attitude changed abruptly, however, when a shark brushed affectionately against him, as an attention-seeking cat might. A shark’s scales are hard enough and sharp enough that sharkskin makes decent sandpaper; so even though the sharks still seemed to mean him no harm, Justin suddenly feared for his perfect, perfect skin. No longer calm, The Embodiment of Manly Beauty swam to the boat as if the devil himself were at his heels.

Only Noah and Owen now remained for the Eagles. Chris called Noah for the next dive.

“What’s the point?” the calculating bookworm asked. “We’ve already beaten them.”

“You can chicken out if you want,” Chris acknowledged, “But remember, each successful diver gets a crate of supplies for the hot tub. If you deprive your team of the 11th crate, and that crate contains something important, it could cost your team the challenge. And then they’ll hate you. Besides, if you want the carts for your crates, you’re still tied for that.”

“It’s a calculated risk,” Noah replied. “I’m not in the mood to get et today. Besides, my teammates wouldn’t vote me off. I’m the only one with any brains.”

“Are you sure about that?” Chris needled. “Cody seems pretty smart, and he took the plunge.”

“Exactly,” the bookworm parried. “He dived, even after he saw what happened to Harold. How smart can he be? Besides, there has to be some redundancy in the supplies. Otherwise, you’d run the risk of neither team being able to complete the challenge.”

Chris, with one eye on the production schedule, decided that he’d had enough of this debate. “Fine,” he said, placing a chicken hat on Noah’s large (in more ways than one) head. “Your funeral.”

Noah, on the other hand wasn’t done yet, and seemed intent on having the last word. “No, it won’t be my funeral,” he sneered. “That’s the whole point of my not diving.”

“Whatever,” Chris replied, effectively ending the discussion. In the finished episode, a spliced-in confessional spot would reveal that the host had decided at this moment to make an example of Noah. Chris didn’t like being talked back to, and he had resolved to see to it that the Eagles’ 11th crate contained a critical and unduplicated part. Then, after the Eagles’ hot tub failed, but before they cast their elimination votes, he would show them the footage of his clifftop discussion with the pretentious bookworm.

“Okay, Owen,” Chris said to the Jolly White Giant, “you’re the last one.”

Owen, like Noah, might have chickened out with 10 crates in hand. With Noah having already balked, though, Owen decided that leaving two crates on the table would be leaving too much to chance. He would have to take one for the team.

Steeling himself, Owen ran to the edge of the cliff and launched himself. He had seen Leshawna’s dive, and thought her “shark repellant” tactic a good one, so he decided that he would also make the biggest splash he could. Being bigger and fatter than the homegirl, though, Owen decided that he could do better than a cannonball. As he plummeted, and realized that he was probably going to miss the safe zone, Owen spread himself out and prepared for a belly flop. It would be painful, he knew, but he thought it was for the best.

Owen missed the safe zone by perhaps five meters, but he hit the water with the force of an exploding depth charge. His splash was not especially large—certainly not the skyscraping plume that everyone was expecting—but the water around him went white. Most of the sharks fled in terror, but those closest to the man-mountain did not, because they could not. Stunned, they drifted insensible into the depths.

Noah was still on the cliff top, and saw his chance. “Chris,” he offered, “I’ve changed my mind. I’ll dive after all, if I can still get credit for it.”

“So, you’ve grown a pair now that the sharks aren’t a threat?” the host needled.

“The odds have changed, that’s all,” Noah parried.

Chris considered for a moment, and passed judgment. “Well, I really shouldn’t allow it, but I’m too nice for my own good. Since you want special rules, though, I’m going to give you one. After all, there still has to be some risk.”

Noah eyed Chris warily, waiting for the host to drop the other shoe, and Chris did not disappoint. “You have to hit the safe zone to get credit for diving at all,” the host pronounced.

“Fine,” Noah agreed. The bookworm thought that he had gotten the better end of the deal, and was willing to admit that Chris had a point.

Chris removed Noah’s chicken hat. The bookworm turned toward the cliff’s edge, steeled himself, ran a few steps to the edge, and jumped. Chris looked disappointed when Noah splashed down in the safe zone to give the Eagles a perfect record of successful dives and a 6-5 win for dives into the safe zone.

After Noah had swum to shore, for Hatchet was under orders to not pick him up, the campers cooled their heels for a few minutes until Chris and his chauffeur arrived.

Chris led the campers a short way along the lakeshore, until they came to two piles of wooden crates. Each pile had eleven crates, all of the same size. Alejandro and a team of his fellow interns now wheeled some carts to one pile and removed three crates, apparently chosen at random, from the other.

Chris said to the campers, “Everyone on the Eagles dived, although some did need more ‘encouragement’ than others, and they also had more divers hit the safe zone, so they get the big pile and the carts. The Muskies had three people who either didn’t dive or didn’t survive, so they get the smaller pile.

“Take these crates back to camp. You’ll get additional instructions there. Don’t even think about trying to open any of your crates ahead of time, unless you want to be disqualified.

“You have until sundown to build your hot tubs, so don’t dawdle. And Killer Muskies, good luck. You’re going to need it.”

With that, Chris departed and the teams began to inspect the crates. Most weren’t very heavy, but were bulky enough that only Owen and D.J. could lift one without assistance. Most of the other boys, and a few of the girls, had the strength but not the “wingspan”.

“We need a team leader,” Courtney declared to her fellow Muskies. “Since we’re living in a summer camp and I used to be a CIT, I think I’m the most qualified. Any objections?” She was met with a collective shrug.

The teams set to work. As Duncan and Ezekiel pulled a crate off the pile, the farm boy said, “I don’t get why we lost the first part. They’re the ones with six girls.”

“And what’s that supposed to mean?” Bridgette challenged. She and Eva had also been pulling a crate from the pile, and so had overheard.

“Yeah, enlighten us, Homeschool,” Eva added as the girls set down their crate.

These three had spoken loudly enough to get most of the campers’ attention, and the challenge was forgotten for the moment.

“Well, boys are much stronger and better at sports than girls,” Ezekiel explained innocently.

“Gee, I wonder who’s going home after we win the challenge?” Heather asked rhetorically.

“I don’t know. Who do you think?” Lindsay replied innocently. Heather rolled her eyes and bit her tongue.

Courtney stepped in to try to defuse the situation before it got out of control. “Even if that were true, which I’m not conceding, cliff diving doesn’t really play to those strengths,” she observed.

“Sure, it does,” Ezekiel replied. “Outdoorsy, action-y stuff is guy stuff. Boys have better eyes for distance, because back in the days of hunter-gatherer societies the men were the hunters and the women were the gatherers. We still are, really. And I can see girls chickening out of that dive, because it was scary and girls aren’t as brave as boys in most things, but…” The farm boy left the thought unfinished, for he had finally noticed Bridgette’s death glare but was unsure of what had brought it on. “What?” he said obliviously.

“I am going to make you eat… every… word,” the surfer girl vowed.

Several campers were backing away nervously, looking for all the world like they expected the two Muskies to call for dueling pistols.

“Would you like a glove to slap him with?” Gwen quipped.

Before Bridgette could respond, Eva stepped in. The musclegirl was in position to grab Ezekiel’s neck from behind, as she had with Cody the day before, but she wanted Sexist Warthog Boy to see her coming; so she interposed herself between Bridgette and Ezekiel, fastened both hands on the farm boy’s chauvinistic throat, and hoisted him aloft.

“I find this lack of faith disturbing,” Eva said. Her tone was mild and even, but her face was beet-red and her teeth were gritted—not from the strain of lifting Ezekiel, but from murderous fury only barely controlled.

“Still think we’re weak and cowardly?” Eva taunted after a few moments, in the same deceptively mild tone.

Ezekiel’s only response was some gurgling noises and increasingly frantic struggles to break Eva’s adamantine grip. Despite her rage, the steel maiden had enough presence of mind to relax her grip to the point where her prey could at least breathe, but she still denied him the grace of feeling solid ground beneath his feet.

When the Himalayan peasant meets the he-bear in his pride,
He shouts to scare the monster who will often turn aside.
But the she-bear thus accosted rends the peasant tooth and nail,
For the female of the species is more deadly than the male.

When Nag, the wayside cobra, hears the careless foot of man,
He will sometimes wriggle sideways and avoid it if he can,
But his mate makes no such motion where she camps beside the trail—
For the female of the species is more deadly than the male.

When the early Jesuit fathers preached to Hurons and Choctaws,
They prayed to be delivered from the vengeance of the squaws—
‘Twas the women, not the warriors, turned those stark enthusiasts pale—
For the female of the species is more deadly than the male.


“Okay, you little trilobite,” Eva demanded, dropping her mild tone in favor of one that better reflected how she truly felt, “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t dropkick you to the sharks!”

Hasn’t there been enough blood today??

All the campers (except for Ezekiel, of course) silently turned to Beth, for everyone had been taken aback at the intensity of the unassuming nerdette’s outburst. Although Beth looked more distraught than angry, her face was as red as Eva’s, and the tears that would not come during her conversation with Alejandro had finally begun to flow.

“Sorry,” Eva said, as she flung Ezekiel to the ground and her face began to return to its normal color. “Poor choice of words.”

“I know, right?” Bridgette said quietly, her own anger likewise blunted at the reminder of what bear and shark had wrought that day.

Eva turned back to Ezekiel. “This isn’t over, Homeschool,” she warned darkly, before returning her attention to the crate pile. Bridgette flashed Ezekiel an “I’m watching you” sign, followed by Courtney and some of the Eagles girls.

Courtney then went to the farm girl and asked, “You okay, Beth?”

“Do I look okay?” Beth asked in turn, for she looked and sounded perfectly miserable.

“I understand,” Courtney replied wistfully, “but we need everyone’s head in the game. We’ll have time to mourn later, but right now, we’ve still got a job to do.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” Beth conceded, and her tears began to abate.

Seeing that the Muskies were getting back to business, albeit with a more melancholy air than before, Heather called on the Eagles to do the same. “Okay, everyone, let’s get moving. Ownage over, nothing to see here.”

As the other campers turned their attention back to the challenge, Duncan pulled Ezekiel aside. “Dude, you’ve got a lot to learn about the real world,” the delinquent said with a shake of his head.

“I don’t get it,” Ezekiel admitted. “All I did was call ‘em as I see ‘em. Back home, people appreciate that, eh?”

“You’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto,” Duncan replied. He looked quickly around to make sure that no one would overhear, then lowered his voice and added, “To be honest, I don’t necessarily think you’re wrong, but you won’t catch me saying that in front of the chicks.”

“Why not? Sure, that Eva’s a brute—she reminds me of Fat Broad in the B.C. comic strip—but I’ll bet you could take her if she wanted a fight, eh? Not that I actually think boys should go around beating up girls or anything.”

“That’s not the point,” the delinquent explained. “The point is that the chicks get to vote, too, and our chances of winning this challenge don’t look too hot right now. You’ve got a cool dude inside you screaming to get out, but you have to let this go. Otherwise, you might be setting yourself up to be the first one kicked off. We don’t outnumber the chicks anymore, and even if we did, it would only take one guy brownnosing for dates to give them the majority.”

“Gee, you’re right. I hadn’t thought of that, eh?”

No, of course you hadn’t, Duncan thought; but what he actually said was, “It would be a good idea for you to lay low for a while. Let Miss Goody Twoshoes be the team leader, since she’s the only one who seems to want to, do your part in the hot tub building, and maybe this will blow over.”

“Thanks, Duncan. Don’t get me wrong, but you’re not what I expected from a street tough. You’re actually kind of nice.”

Duncan’s comradely air vanished. “Let’s get one thing straight,” he said, glowering at Ezekiel. “Do not go around calling me ‘nice’. It’s bad for my street cred. Besides, just because I don’t respect law and order doesn’t mean that I don’t understand teamwork. I’m just a little more selective about who I call a teamie… teamie.”

Meanwhile, the Eagles were loading their crates onto the carts. Heather took it upon herself to direct traffic, for she was a “queen bee” at her school and so was used to wielding social authority. Most of the Eagles were as indifferent to Heather’s power grab as the Muskies had been to Courtney’s, but Heather’s presumption did not sit well with Gwen.

“Who died and made you the Grand Pooh-bah?” Gwen challenged.

“Shut it, Weird Goth Girl,” Heather snapped. “I don’t see anyone else stepping up.”

“That’s not the point. The point is that you can’t just declare yourself Queen of Hearts and boss us around.”

“We need a leader, so you would you suggest?” Heather asked with a faint but noticeable sneer. “You? That’d be a laugh.”

“Heather’s popular. What more do you want?” Lindsay added. Having recognized a fellow fashionista, Lindsay was sticking close to the dragon girl, as she had during most of their brief time on the island.

“Being popular doesn’t mean—” Gwen began.

“So, do you want to be the leader?” Heather interrupted. “No? Then what’s your damage?”

Before Gwen could answer, Heather raised her voice to address the Eagles as a whole. “Everyone’s okay with me being the leader, right? Right.” Turning back to Gwen, the dragon girl tossed her head and declared, “Sorry, Gothie, but the people have spoken. Silence equals assent. So go with the flow like a good little gutterpunk, and maybe you won’t get voted off the first time we lose a challenge.”

As the Eagles turned their attention back to the task at hand, Heather said to Lindsay, “We’ll have to keep an eye on her. Ugly clothes and ugly hair mean an ugly mind.”

“I know, right?” Lindsay replied. Being a gentle and goodhearted person, Lindsay didn’t actually dislike Gwen, but was in full agreement with Heather on the value of fashion sense as a predictor of character.

Heather returned to overseeing the cart loading operation, her leadership now unchallenged.

“Uh, Heather?” came a voice that was all too familiar, yet oddly subdued, as the Eagles loaded the last crate.

“What do you want, Ghetto Girl?” Heather snapped as she turned toward the voice. The queen bee’s resentment softened a bit when she saw the hangdog look on her adversary’s face.

“Look, I’m real sorry about what happened on the cliff,” Leshawna offered contritely. “All that stuff we said… none of that was anything a girl deserves to die for. I just lost track of how close we were to the edge.”

Heather answered, “Well, no harm, no foul, I guess. Apology accepted. Besides, it turned out for the best. I don’t know what I was thinking, being more worried about getting my hair mussed than about getting eaten by sharks, especially after we’d seen that it could happen. I just needed some, ah, ‘encouragement’. Your methods may have been a little unorthodox, but you can’t argue with success.”

“Truce, then?” Leshawna asked.

“Sure, truce. Just tell me one thing, though.”

“What’s that?”

“Would you really have picked me up and thrown me off the cliff? You looked like you were ready to.”

With a booming belly laugh, the homegirl admitted, “I just might have. But that’s all in the past. If you can forgive and forget, then so can I.”

“Deal,” Heather pronounced. “Now, we’d better get to hauling these crates back to camp. Let’s put that muscle of yours to better use than chick chucking.”

After Leshawna had left them, Lindsay asked, “Did you really mean that? That you’re going to be friends with Madonna?”

“Leshawna,” Heather corrected. “And no way. She’s going down. I’m not about to forget that she almost got me killed—literally.”

“Then why were you being all nice to her?”

“Have you ever seen one of these shows?” the dragon girl asked her microcephalic companion. When Lindsay confessed that she had not, Heather explained, “There’s an old saying: ‘Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.’ Besides, Homie did apologize like she meant it, so that gave me a good cover to make nice… for now.”

“Oh, I see,” Lindsay said. “I think. But, I’m your friend, right?”

“Of course,” Heather assured the uberbimbo. “As long as I don’t have a reason for you not to be.”


.

Build It, And He Will Come

Aided by their wheels, that most storied of the Five Simple Machines, it wasn’t overlong before the Eagles arrived at the camp and began unloading their carts. Their host and overlord was there to meet them.

“You’ve made good time, dudes,” Chris noted approvingly. “Before you get started, though, there’s something you should know.”

“And what’s that?” Heather asked, unsure of whether she really wanted to know.

“You can’t use your hands to open the crates,” Chris replied.

“So what are we supposed to do?” Leshawna challenged, “Tear them open with our teeth?”

“That’s one possibility,” the host replied unhelpfully.

“You’re frontin’ me,” the homegirl shot back. “What do you think we are, termites?” Chris did not deign to reply.

This conundrum had the Eagles stumped for a time, until inspiration came to Cody. The Science Guy told Owen about his idea, for the man-mountain was vital to the plan. It was possible that Owen could be in for some pain, and Cody didn’t want to run the risk of embarrassing him in front of everyone by announcing his plan without getting the larger boy’s buy-in. Diplomacy aside, Owen was immensely strong despite his poor physical condition, and he could probably have put Cody in the hospital without breaking a sweat, were he so inclined.

Owen thought Cody’s idea a good one, but also recognized the potential for serious pain if things didn’t go according to plan. The whale and the shrimp talked for a few minutes, fine-tuning the plan. At last, Owen agreed to try it. The two boys then approached Heather, who likewise thought the plan a good one.

“Okay, guys, here’s the plan,” Heather suddenly announced to the Eagles. “We’ll use Owen’s fatness.”

“Er, it was actually Cody’s idea,” Owen replied hesitantly.

“I didn’t mean to suggest otherwise,” Heather assured him. The truth was that she had intended to take the credit for herself if she could, but her wording was ambiguous enough to give her a face-saving out if she was called on it.

Heather gestured toward a large boulder protruding from the side of a small hill. This immense rock was perhaps three meters high, but easily scaleable from the buried side. “See that boulder over there?” she asked. Not waiting for a response, because the great stone was hard to miss, Heather explained, “Owen will climb on top of it. We’ll put a crate in front, and set it on its side. Then Owen will jump on it, and the lid should pop right off.”

The other Eagles expressed varying degrees of optimism about this scheme, and Heather continued. “We’ll need a mattress to put on the crate, because otherwise Owen might go right through the side and kill himself. More importantly, he might damage the contents. According to our science geek, the positioning is a little tricky.

“Trent, Justin, you’re with me. Everyone else, get one of the crates into position.”

As the other Eagles moved the first crate over to the boulder, Heather led the two boys into the girls’ cabin and pointed to one of the lower bunks. Gwen’s bunk.

“That one,” she said.

“Why that one, especially?” Trent asked. “Why not one of the beds closest to the door?”

“Because those belong to our teammates. This one doesn’t,” Heather lied.

Trent and Justin were satisfied with this explanation, having no reason to doubt it, and hauled Gwen’s mattress out without further protest. Indeed, the reason why Heather had chosen boys for this task was because the boys did not know which girl had which bed.

By the time Heather and her porters returned to the crate-opening site, both Owen and the first crate were in position. Trent and Justin laid the mattress atop the crate and retired to a safe distance.

“Remember,” Cody said to Owen, “You want to land as close as you can to the top edge of the crate. If you land too close to the center, you’ll just stave in the side. Could be messy.”

“Right,” Owen acknowledged. With a cry of “Geronimo!” the Human Wrecking Ball jumped into the air, assumed a cannonball posture, and came down like the proverbial ton of bricks on the crate. He landed just where he wanted to, and the crate lid popped off like a champagne cork, breaking in two against a nearby tree trunk. Fortunately, no one had been in the line of fire.

“Awesome, dude!” Trent exclaimed, a sentiment echoed by several of his teammates.

“Clever,” Chris said, sounding pleased.

“All right,” Heather said. “Boys, get the next crate into position. Girls, we’ll go over the inventory.”

A few of the crates required a second or even third pounding before they opened, but the operation otherwise went off without a hitch. When the last crate had been opened, Owen excused himself, waddled painfully to the boys’ cabin, and took to his bed; for even with the mattress cushioning his falls, the man-mountain’s derriere was now sore from the constant pounding, and he was still feeling the effects of his cliff dive, as well. None of the Eagles begrudged Owen his early departure from the challenge, for they weren’t going to need everyone to build the hot tub, and Owen had done his part.

Heather, meanwhile, went back to the girls’ cabin with Trent and Justin and replaced Gwen’s badly battered mattress, which was now very lumpy and had a couple of springs exposed. As the boys left the cabin to rejoin their teammates, Heather stayed behind to make up Gwen’s bed to more or less match its previous state, which Heather had been careful to note.

Construction of the Eagles’ hot tub was well underway when the Muskies arrived, hot and tired from carrying and pushing their crates all the way from the diving cliff without the benefit of carts.

With tongue in cheek, Chris chastised the Muskies for their slowness and gleefully pointed out that the Eagles were far ahead of them. The host also informed the Fatal Fishies that they would have to open the crates without using their hands, assuring them that the Eagles had faced and overcome the same restriction. Naturally, Chris did not tell the Muskies how their rivals had done this.

The Muskies pondered the question of how to open the crates, but did not have to ponder long before inspiration came to Courtney. She got her teammates’ attention and explained her plan, which relied on the strength of D.J. and Eva.

“Think you can do it?” Courtney asked.

“No sweat,” Eva assured her.

“What she said,” D.J. seconded.

The Muskies set a crate on its side, and D.J. and Eva took up positions on either side, near the lid. On Courtney’s signal, both delivered powerful roundhouse kicks to the crate sides, just below the lid. Courtney’s plan was similar in principle to Cody’s, and the results were just as satisfactory, if less spectacular. With the crate squeezed between the opposing kicks, the lid popped neatly off and fell to the ground.

“Just like popping a pimple, eh?” Ezekiel observed.

“I know, right?” Beth replied.

“Well done, Muskies,” Chris said. “For what it’s worth, you came up with a plan faster than the Eagles did, so you’ve made up a little time.”

Like Heather before her, Courtney set the boys to moving the remaining crates into position and the girls to taking inventory of the opened crates. The crate kickers would do nothing else during this phase, because Courtney wanted them to save their strength; for although they had dealt with the first crate easily enough, it might be a different story by the time they got to the eighth.

After D.J. and Eva had opened the last crate, the Muskie girls finished checking their inventory against the parts list in the manual that they had found in one of the crates. Uncertainly, they checked the list a second time, and then frantically checked it yet again.

The boys, who had taken a breather after finishing with the crate hauling, rejoined their teammates and asked why the girls looked so uptight.

“We have a problem,” Courtney informed them. “We don’t have all the parts.”

“Can’t we work around it?” Geoff asked.

“I don’t think so,” Bridgette replied. “It’s a critical part.”

“Think outside the box,” Duncan counseled. He added softly, against any possibility that the Eagles might overhear, “Maybe we can swipe our missing part from the Birdies.”

“Absolutely not,” declared the scandalized Courtney. “I’m not a thief.”

“Well, I am, so you’re in luck,” Duncan countered. “This is no time to stand on principle, Princess. Do you want to win this or not?”

“Not at that price,” Courtney sniffed. “In any case, they got all their crates. Don’t you think it would be just a wee bit suspicious if they wound up missing something important?”

“What makes you think McLean is going to care?” Duncan countered. “His opinion is the only one that would really matter.”

“You do have a point,” Courtney admitted, “but it’s beside the point. Besides, even if it weren’t wrong in and of itself, I’m going to be running for office someday, and nobody’s going to dig up a video of me condoning theft.”

“If it turns out that they have an extra, would it be okay then?” Tyler asked. “They wouldn’t miss a spare, but they wouldn’t have any reason to hand it over willingly.”

“Besides,” Duncan pressed, seeing signs that Courtney was beginning to waver, “If you’re going to go into politics, you’re not going to get very far if you’re not willing to get your hands dirty. We don’t have all day. Once they install it, it’ll be too late. I won’t be able to lift it without being noticed.”

“I hate to side with the walking rap sheet,” Bridgette chimed in, “but he’s right. They say the first rule of politics is that if you have to choose between what’s right and what’s expedient, you do what’s expedient.

“Which is not to say that I approve of his plan,” the surfer girl added with a glare at Duncan, who seemed about to say something. “We made our bed, and we have no one but ourselves to blame if it’s hard to lie in.”

Courtney’s seeming indecision passed. “No,” she said with fresh resolve. “Bridgette’s right. We’ll work with what we’ve got, and let the chips fall where they will.”

“We won’t have a chance,” Duncan warned, “so why bother? We can just take it easy. Get a shower, take a nap, raid the kitchen and see if Hatchet keeps any actual food around….”

“Sounds good to me,” Geoff seconded. “It’s a nice day, and this is a beauteous island if you don’t count the camp. Maybe we could get to know each other a little better,” the party king suggested with an admiring glance toward Bridgette, who reacted shyly.

Eva countered, “You’re assuming the Eagles will do a good job with their hot tub. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”

“Eva’s right,” Izzy chattered. “We’ve got nothing to lose by trying, and we don’t know that Chris won’t make allowances for the fact that we don’t have all the parts, so let’s do this. All this talk is getting kind of boring.”

With that, the Muskies set to work, knowing that the odds were against them but determined to do their best. Izzy and Ezekiel would be primarily responsible for the grunt work of building the tub body—Ezekiel because farm life had given him plenty of experience with simple construction projects, and Izzy because Courtney was hoping to burn off a little of the redhead’s manic energy. Courtney also assigned Tyler to help with the tub body, but after several accidents with the hammer, Courtney thought better of it and “demoted” Tyler to ferrying parts and tools as needed.

The Muskies, like the Eagles, didn’t need everyone, so Courtney asked the crate kickers whether they wanted to knock off early, for she didn’t know how much all that hard kicking might have taken out of them. Neither D.J. nor Eva were willing to “slack off”, as Eva put it, so Courtney assigned them to carry parts or work on the tub body at their discretion.

Courtney initially assigned Duncan and Geoff to work on the tub’s systems. This proved to be a mistake; for although Geoff meant well, he was very distractible and spent more time rambling about trivialities and admiring girls (especially Bridgette) than working. Finally, Courtney replaced Geoff with Bridgette on the systems detail and sternly told the party king to stay out of everyone’s way.

“Harsh-ness,” Geoff complained, but he did as the tiny tyrant commanded.

At the crack of dusk, everyone jumped as Chris blew an air horn amplified by a bullhorn. The campers would learn all too quickly that this was their host’s preferred method of getting everyone’s attention, especially as a wakeup call.

“Okay, time’s up,” Chris said. “Eagles, fetch Owen and we’ll see what you’ve got.”

No one spoke as Chris inspected the Eagles’ hot tub, which now had steam rising from it. Everything appeared to be in order, and the craftsmanship looked good.

“This,” the host pronounced at last, “is an awesome hot tub!”

The Eagles cheered, and several exchanged high fives. With characteristic exuberance, Owen picked up the rail-thin Katie and the model-thin Heather like rag dolls; and after initial protests, they now perched contentedly on his meter-wide shoulders.

“Okay, Muskies,” Chris challenged, “let’s see if you can top this.”

As the Killer Muskies stood nervously by, waiting for the axe to fall, the host inspected their tub. It, too, appeared to have been assembled competently, but Chris had noticed something. He tested the water and rendered his judgment.

“The water’s cold. You were supposed to build a hot tub, not an aboveground pool.”

The Muskies’ incomplete supplies had not included a heating element.

The Eagles let out a collective sigh, only now realizing that they had been holding their breath during much of the inspection.

“The winners are… the Screaming Eagles!” Chris declaimed.

“Killer Muskies, what can I say?” the host asked rhetorically. “It sucks to be you, but we all knew this could happen when you left three crates of supplies on the table. I was kind of hoping that you’d try to steal the Eagles’ heating element like Duncan wanted to. That might have made for some good drama, especially if you’d gotten caught.

“But, what’s done—or not—is done. At tomorrow night’s elimination ceremony, one of you will become this game’s most pathetic loser of all.”


At dinner, Harold’s fate dominated conversation. A single question, with variations, was on everyone’s minds and lips:

What have we gotten ourselves into?

After dinner—a vile excuse for Salisbury steak with slimy gravy and greasy, gristly meat—the Eagles departed for their hot tub party. The Muskies remained in the lodge and began to discuss the next night’s elimination.

“Do we even know that we’ll have to do this?” Bridgette asked. “We’ve already lost Harold, may he rest in peace. Isn’t that enough?”

“I asked Chris, and he just said, ‘The show must go on’,” Courtney replied, rolling her eyes.

“Great. We’re going to be down two players right off the bat,” Bridgette said, shaking her head.

“But that’ll leave the producers with an empty episode slot, won’t it?” Geoff asked.

“Maybe they’ll do a return at some point, or an extra reward challenge,” D.J. speculated.

“Maybe,” Courtney conceded. “But none of that’s relevant right now. We need to decide who to vote off.”

“Homeschool, obviously,” Eva suggested.

Before Ezekiel could rise to his own defense, Duncan asked, “Why ‘obviously’? He did everything we asked of him in the challenge. What more do you want? It wasn’t his fault that we didn’t have all the parts.”

“What we want is for him to treat us with respect,” Bridgette shot back before Eva could.

“How can he treat you with respect if he isn’t even here?”

“You know what I think?” Eva snapped. “I think the reason you’re defending him is because you’re as bad as he is. I heard about how you propositioned Heather when we first got here. If it had been me, the crawdads would be picking your bones clean as we speak.”

“You've got it backwards,” Duncan replied with a smirk. “I didn’t proposition Heather, she propositioned me. Her ideas were too kinky, though, so I turned her down. And why would I ever want a Neanderthal Woman like you? At least Heather’s hot.”

In a trice, Eva was on her feet, as were Bridgette and Izzy a moment later. As the surfer and the redhead struggled to restrain Eva, the musclegirl shouted at Duncan, “Let’s see if you have a little more respect for girls after you’ve become one!”

Courtney stepped in and asserted her authority. “Guys, this isn’t getting us anywhere! Eva, you’ve got to try to control your temper!” Duncan, quit baiting her, or next time we might not try to stop her!”

“That’d be worse for her than for me,” the delinquent smirked. “If she wants to bring it, let her.”

Enough!” yelled Courtney. “Unless you want to be voted off! Everyone can see that you’re just making trouble!”

“Fine,” Duncan grumbled, for he sensed that Courtney’s threat was not idle. “Sorry, Eva. Truce?”

Sensing that she was perhaps not entirely blameless in this matter, Eva nodded curtly but made no other reply. Bridgette and Izzy released her, but continued to keep a wary eye on her.

With cooler heads having prevailed for the nonce, the Muskies returned to the question of whom to vote off. Several names were suggested, and the discussion grew heated at times. In the end, though, the Muskies failed to reach a consensus and decided to sleep on it.

The next evening, as the last vestiges of twilight faded on the western horizon, the Killer Muskies gathered at the bonfire pit for the elimination ceremony. When they were settled in before the blazing fire, Chris appeared before them, holding a tray of marshmallows in his right hand. He spoke solemnly:

“Marshmallows are a summer camp staple, toasted over the fire for a tasty, gooey treat. At this summer camp, however, the humble marshmallow is something far greater, for it represents life.

“Figuratively speaking, you are all on the point of death at this very moment, and only these marshmallows can save you. On this tray are nine tasty tokens of life, but there are ten of you, which means that someone will be left without. That person has, for the purposes of this contest, been ‘condemned to die’. That pathetic reject must walk the Dock of Shame, board the Boat of Losers, and depart this Isle of Tears—forever.

“When I call your name, come up and claim you marshmallow, and rejoice that you have lived to fight another day. I will first call, in no particular order, the names of those campers who had no votes against them.

“The very first marshmallow ever awarded on Total Drama Island goes to…”

Chris paused for dramatic effect. He had already said that the order wasn’t significant for the first group, and it was pretty clear who was probably safe and who was at risk, so it wasn’t clear why he thought there was much dramatic tension to milk at this point. Most likely, he just wanted more screen time for himself, although the campers didn’t yet know that he was a dyed-in-the-wool narcissist.

“Eva. Come and get your marshmallow.”

The steel maiden rose and strode to Chris, then stopped to await further instructions, for she didn’t know whether the host had any ceremonial flourishes planned. As it turned out, he did. Motioning to Eva to present her toasting stick, Chris impaled a marshmallow upon it and told her to stand behind him.

The camera-mugging host took his sweet time calling forth the next survivor.

“Geoff.”

The urban cowboy did as he had seen Eva do.

“Duncan.”

The street tough followed his teammates’ examples, meeting Eva’s glare with a self-satisfied smirk.

“Courtney.”

The Muskies’ nominal leader received a well-wishing gesture from Izzy as she rose, then walked over and collected her “life is sweet” token.

“Bridgette.”

Bridgette rose, and stumbled slightly as she began the short walk to Chris’ position. Although no one could have known, this was a portent of things to come, but that is another story for another time.

“Izzy.”

The manic redhead all but vaulted up to Chris.

Chris surveyed the remaining campers for a moment, and then intoned, “Only three marshmallows remain. Each of you four had votes against you. Beth, D.J., your refusal to dive contributed to the parts shortage that wound up costing your team the challenge. Ezekiel, you did your part in the challenge, but your sexist remarks pissed a lot of people off. You may have made some enemies today. Tyler, you also did your part in the diving phase, but you nearly got most of your teammates killed in the process, and you were pretty useless in the hot tub building.

“I will call the remaining survivors in order of increasing vote totals. With one vote against, the seventh marshmallow goes to…”

Chris paused again to build tension. Although some of these pauses would be shortened or omitted in the finished episodes, he couldn’t know in advance where this would be done, so he usually erred on the side of more screen time for himself. Finally…

“D.J.”

The gentle giant collected his prize and joined his fellows.

“With two votes against, the eighth marshmallow goes to… Ezekiel.”

Bridgette and Eva glared at the prairie boy as he joined the ranks of the blessed, although Eva had not actually voted against him.

The finished episode had a spliced-in confessional spot at this point. “I’ve had problems with my temper for as long as I can remember,” Eva admitted in the confessional. “When Homeschool made those chauvinistic remarks about boys being better at sports and all, I was ready to personally throw him to the sharks. I know that sounds harsh after what happened to Harold, but that’s how I felt. But he did do his part in the challenge, like Duncan said, and I’ve had time to cool down. Plus, Courtney was telling us that most sexism and racism and all those other ‘-isms’ come from ignorance, not malice, so I guess he deserves another chance.

“But if he keeps it up,” Eva added, now affecting a bad imitation of a Southern U.S. accent, “ah do declare that ah will most surely beat his little country bumpkin face in.” Eva’s attempt to imitate a demure, antebellum Southern belle was unconvincing, to say the least, and the effect was rather grotesque.

At the bonfire, Chris looked sternly at Beth and Tyler, both of whom were looking suitably nervous. “One of you,” the host intoned solemnly, “is about to become that most pathetic of God’s creatures: the very first to be eliminated from an elimination game show. The other will survive to ponder what might have been.

“With three votes against, the final marshmallow goes to…”




























The hour was growing late, so Brett’s mother left off her tale and suggested that he prepare for bed.


.

Fourth Night

The next day was not a school day, so Brett and his mother spent the day engaged in their own affairs. That night, after they had dined and Brett had finished what homework he had for the weekend, he approached his mother and asked to hear more about her experience on Total Drama Island. Brett sat in his favorite chair, and his mother sat on the sofa. She took a few moments to collect her thoughts, and then she began to speak.

Now, there was real tension for Chris to milk, and he certainly wasn’t going to waste the opportunity. He took a deep, theatrical breath, and slowly lifted his free arm. In the finished episode, dramatic music began at this point.

Ten seconds had passed since the host had last spoken. With his arm now extended, Chris’ forearm continued its upward journey.

Twenty seconds. Chris’ forearm was now vertical. The music swelled.

Thirty seconds. Chris extended his arm again and pointed at Beth for a moment, before pointing at Tyler, and back at Beth, and back at Tyler. In the postproduction soundtrack, the dramatic music segued to ominous choral chanting.

Forty seconds. Tyler looked ready to scream, and Beth looked ready to faint.

Worthless are my prayers and sighing,
Yet, good Lord, in grace complying,
Rescue me from fires undying!

With thy favored sheep O place me;
Nor among the goats abase me;
But to thy right hand upraise me.

While the wicked are confounded,
Doomed to flames of woe unbounded,
Call me with thy saints surrounded.

Low I kneel, with heart submission,
See, like ashes, my contrition;
Help me in my last condition.


Finally, Chris handed down the verdict.

“Tyler,” quoth the host.

As the jock breathed an enormous sigh of relief and collected his treasure—never before had a simple marshmallow tasted so sweet to him as it would this night—Chris turned once more to Beth.

“Beth, you have been voted off, so—”

“But the team’s already a player down,” Beth pleaded desperately. “Shouldn’t I get to stay, since Harold didn’t survive the challenge?”

“IF I MAY CONTINUE?” Chris thundered testily, “Assuming you’re quite finished stealing my scene?” The chastened nerd girl fell silent, hanging her head.

“As I was saying,” the host explained, his voice now at normal volume but still carrying a testy tone, “you have been voted off, so you would normally be out of the game at this point. However, comma, the Muskies are already a player down because Harold was a ‘casualty of war’.

“Now, Beth, I should let the vote stand because you stole my line,” Chris said sternly. “But because I’m such a nice guy,” he added (a claim that would have drawn open laughter by the end of the competition), “I will overlook your egregious breach of reality show etiquette. This time.”

Chris reached into his shirt pocket and withdrew what appeared to be a wad of paper towel. Slowly, theatrically, he opened this wad to reveal the tenth marshmallow.

“Beth, come and get your marshmallow,” Chris commanded. Grateful beyond words, the nerd girl did as she was bidden.

As Chris impaled the “bonus” marshmallow on Beth’s toasting stick, he smiled slightly and told her, in a tone that almost sounded as though there could be real humanity behind it, “You have your reprieve, Beth. Make the most of it.”


His brow furrowed in puzzlement, Brett asked, “But if Beth knew what happened to Harold—I assume he got eaten, although I don’t recall that you ever actually said so—then why would she be so desperate to stay on the island? It seems to me that she would have jumped at the chance to escape.”

“Remember,” his mother replied, “Chris told us that most of the later challenges wouldn’t be as dangerous as that one. He’s not the most honest guy you’ll ever meet, but we didn’t know that at the time. Besides, after seeing where his priorities lay, I think we were afraid of what he might have done to anyone he thought was trying to get voted off.

“And, we were still desperate to be famous. Beth, probably more than most.”

The night was still young, so Brett’s mother paused a few moments to collect her thoughts, and then resumed her tale.


Episode #3: The Tale of Campers vs. Somnus

Original title: The Big Sleep


The day following the elimination was an off day. The campers were invited to partake in various aspects of summer camp life—swimming, arts and crafts, exploring the woods around the camp, and so on—but there was nothing on the agenda related to the competition. When someone asked Chris whether he was going to do anything to memorialize Harold, the host replied, “He paid his money and he tooks his chances. Besides, he got what he wanted, even if it was posthumous. The episode got great ratings, so he’s famous now.”

That response didn’t sit well with the campers. True, they had barely known Harold, but they didn’t like the idea of him being treated with no more respect than a paper towel that has served its purpose. Was this how they could expect to be treated if they should meet with an accident on the show? Where was the fame in that?

Only Duncan and Izzy didn’t seem to have a problem with it. Duncan didn’t mind because he cared little about ceremony. “Death is a reality of life,” was all he said. Izzy had no objection because… well, nobody really knew what that one was thinking. Weird Red did seem to be of two minds about it, though, and argued the point at some length with “Sunshine”, during which she appeared to change her opinion several times.

Failing to get a satisfactory response from Chris, the campers approached Chef Hatchet, for they had learned that he was a Special Ops veteran and were hoping to appeal to the “leave no man behind” mindset. Chris’ hulking aide wasn’t sure he could do the task justice, since he hadn’t known Harold any better than the campers had, but he agreed to conduct a memorial service that afternoon. He also suggested that the campers make a memorial marker of some kind in the meantime, and they thought that idea a good one.

So it was that the campers spent the rest of the morning making the marker. Ezekiel made a sturdy wooden cross, using parts from the Muskies’ failed hot tub. Noah suggested an inscription and Izzy burned the words into the wood, using a large magnifying glass that she had brought to the island with her. (“You never know when you might want to burn stuff,” she said.) Everyone marveled at how nimbly and effortlessly the redhead wielded that beam of burning light as she seared in the inscription, not in simple block letters, but in florid Edwardian script.

Whilst all this was going on, Cody remembered something that Eva had mentioned during their first day on the island, and that gave him an idea. The science geek offered his brainchild to Eva for her inspection, and the musclegirl granted her services for it. Cody then told everyone else what he had in mind, and his proposal met with general approval. Ezekiel set to work altering the cross to fit the new plan, shortening and reinforcing the crosspiece and adding another section to the bottom.

Cody’s plan required a length of heavy chain, or something comparable, so Courtney—selected for the task because her polite yet assertive demeanor seemed the likeliest to get a favorable response—told Hatchet of the plan and asked if a suitable chain was available. Hatchet directed her to the boathouse, giving her a hacksaw and permission to cut to length any suitable chain that she might find there.

After Courtney had rejoined her fellows, Chris, who had by now got wind of the planned service, gently chided his aide. “You’re going soft, Chef,” he needled.

“Chris,” Hatchet replied equably, “Let me put this in terms you can understand. Those kids aren’t robots. If they’re preoccupied with what happened to Harold, they might just go through the motions for the next few challenges. That probably wouldn’t be good for ratings, am I right?”

Chris’ reaction plainly showed that this unpleasant possibility had never occurred to him.

Seeing that he had flummoxed his boss, Hatchet smiled ever so slightly as he finished his point. “On the other hand, they barely knew the guy, so it’s not like they’re going to wear sackcloth and chant laments all summer. If we give them their memorial service, that’ll help them to move on and get their heads back in the game.”

“I see what you mean,” was the only response Chris could muster.

Not long after, Izzy finished the inscription, which read:

HAROLD
McGRADY V
1991 - 2007
Met with the first day, taken from us the next


And below that was the famous Lord Byron quotation,

God grants his favorites early death


this being the line frequently misquoted as, “Only the good die young,” which doesn’t really mean the same thing.

Tombstone

[S]he seared in the inscription, not in simple block letters, but in florid Edwardian script

Courtney organized a detail for the short jaunt to the boathouse. Cody and Eva would both go, because they knew best what was needed. They would need the cross, which wasn’t all that heavy but was fairly bulky, so D.J. volunteered to carry it. A few others would carry various tools and fasteners from the hot tub challenge, on the chance that they might prove useful.

Cody, noticing that Gwen was not assigned to the boathouse detail, asked her to join them; for he, like Trent, was smitten and was hoping to get to know the Goth better. Gwen agreed, having no reason to refuse; and at that, Trent quickly offered to join the detail as well.

As the detail walked to the boathouse, both Cody and Trent tried to chat Gwen up. The Goth responded civilly but coolly to Cody, showing a clear preference for Trent’s company. Her reaction to Trent was warm but shy, for she had little experience with admirers and was certainly not used to being the apex of a triangle.

As luck would have it, the boathouse inventory included a long chain that seemed heavy enough for Cody’s plan, but not too heavy to handle. D.J. cut off three meters of this chain, and Ezekiel fastened it at its center to the bottom of the cross using a long, heavy bolt the campers found in the boathouse. Another such bolt connected the ends of the chain, providing a handle that was easy to grasp tightly.

When the campers tested the assembly, the chain turned out to be too heavy, so D.J. cut off some links from each end and they repeated the test. On the third try, the test results were satisfactory, and the marker was ready.

Whilst Cody and Eva supervised this work, Trent continued to chat up Gwen, since their assistance wasn’t currently needed. They talked mostly about their hometowns and their schools, for Trent could see that Gwen wasn’t very outgoing and didn’t want to drive her back into her shell by getting too personal too quickly.

When the boathouse detail returned to camp with the finished marker, the campers ate a pasty gruel that passed for lunch, and then pursued their own interests for a time whilst Hatchet made simple boxed dinners for everyone.

In the midafternoon, Hatchet called the campers to assembly and the group hiked to the diving cliff, arriving to find that the interns had set up a lectern and folding chairs for the service. The lectern was equipped with a wireless microphone and small loudspeakers. Hatchet bade the campers take seats, propped the marker against the lectern, and began the service with little preamble.

The scripted part of the service was somewhat generic because nobody, least of all Chef Hatchet, had known Harold well enough to personalize it properly. In any case, the campers were mourning Harold not so much because he had been Harold as because he had been one of their own.

When Hatchet finished, he offered the microphone to anyone else who wished to speak. Most of the campers had little to say, although several felt the need to say something.

Only Courtney and Lindsay spoke at length. Courtney, that aspiring politician, gave a long-winded speech full of generalities and platitudes that she thought would fit the occasion, because she, like everyone else, hadn’t know Harold well enough to get any more specific. Lindsay, looking fetch in a modest black bikini (for she had come to the island armed with bikinis for every conceivable occasion), spoke glowingly about how “Gerald” had rescued her from the stag beetle on the first day at camp. Recalling the incident as best she could through the filter of her terror that day, the uberbimbo’s account of Harold dispatching the insect made it sound more like a pitched battle against a thousand-kilo, armor-plated killing machine.

When there was nothing more to say, Hatchet took the marker and, after laying it on the ground near the edge of the cliff, returned to the lectern and bade everyone stand. Eva then stepped forward and strode to the marker.

Like Tyler, Eva was a track and field star at her school; but whereas Tyler was a sprinter, Eva competed mainly in the “field” side of the sport, with the hammer throw being her best event. It was that revelation that had given Cody his idea for placing Harold’s memorial marker. Dropping it from the boat would have been simpler and more precise, but the boat wasn’t big enough to accommodate everyone.

Grasping the marker assembly by the makeshift handle that linked the two ends of the chain, Eva twirled it around a few times to build enough momentum so the crosspiece wouldn’t scrape the ground. Then, after the elaborate windup characteristic of competitive hammer throwing, she cast the marker out over the lake, toward the descending sun whose afternoon gold was now showing the first touches of sunset orange.

The marker hit the water somewhat farther out than the spot where Harold had been last seen, but reasonably close. Within a few moments, the weight of the chain pulled the bottom of the cross down, and the cross now bobbed upright on the water. Satisfied with her handiwork, Eva rejoined the others.

Some interns handed out the boxed dinners, and the campers ate their simple meals as they watched the sun set, chatting or contemplating according to their mood. When the color had faded from the sky and the light began to fail, the interns fired up some lanterns and escorted everyone back to the camp.

Due to time constraints, the finished episode reduced the day’s activities to a montage, set to an abridged version of “Siegfried’s Funeral Music”. Over the next few weeks, Harold’s memorial marker slowly drifted until it contacted the edge of the safe zone, where it remained.

thumb|300px|right|Siegfried's Funeral Music (Warning: visual includes artistic nudes)


The next morning, Bridgette awoke before dawn. The sky was getting just light enough to see inside the cabin, so sunrise couldn’t be too far off, but neither was it imminent.

Bridgette briefly considered her options, then swung out of bed and dropped to the floor as quietly as she might so as to not disturb Beth, who had the bunk below hers. Although sunrise was still almost half an hour away, the surfer girl had decided against trying to fall back asleep because, courtesy of Chris, she had experienced a variety of harsh wakeup calls since coming to the island. Better to start the day on her own terms, she thought, even if that meant losing a few extra minutes of sleep. Besides, she felt rested enough, despite tossing and turning all night.

Bridgette quickly dressed and tiptoed toward the cabin door. About halfway to her destination, she stubbed her toe, stumbled and nearly fell.

Somehow, she managed to not cry out that this unpleasant surprise, but couldn’t stop a whispered oath escaping between her gritted teeth. Worse, in the course of catching herself, her other foot had come down heavily onto the uncarpeted wooden floor, and that graceless footfall echoed like thunder, or so it seemed to her.

She froze for a few moments, listening. When none of the other girls showed any reaction, she resumed her sneak to the door, hopeful once more that she might exit the cabin without awakening anyone.

“Brynhild?” queried a familiar sweet voice.

Too late.

“Shh. Keep it down, Lindsay,” Bridgette whispered urgently. “We don’t want to wake up anyone else.”

“Oh, right,” Lindsay whispered back. “What are you doing up?”

Bridgette skulked closer to Lindsay’s bunk, which was just below Heather’s, so she could whisper more quietly and still make herself heard. “I just happened to wake up early, that’s all,” the surfer said. “Chris is probably going to wake us up soon, anyway, so I thought I might as well go out and watch the sun rise, or something.”

“Cool,” the uberbimbo replied. Then her face lit up like the coming sun, and she added, “Ooh, I just thought of something. As long as I’m up, I can get a shower with all the hot water I want!”

“Go for it,” Bridgette encouraged, then crept out of the cabin without further incident.

Safely out of the cabin, Bridgette began to stroll around the camp, pondering on where the best vantage point would be for sunrise viewing. Just as she decided that the dock would do as well as anywhere, she spotted Ezekiel emerging from the washroom. Well, Bridgette thought, the homeschooled boy did live on a farm, so he was probably used to getting up early. Lindsay was going to be disappointed, though, if he had used up all the hot water.

Bridgette began to walk briskly toward the Arts & Crafts tent, hoping to hide behind it until Ezekiel went elsewhere; for she had no desire to socialize with him, but neither did she want to be rude about it. She had almost reached the tent when she heard him trotting toward her in those heavy boots of his.

Bridgette sighed. This was apparently not going to be her day to do anything unnoticed.

“Morning, Bridgette,” Ezekiel called softly. “You a morning person, too?”

“Not especially,” she admitted, trying to think of a polite way to get rid of her unwanted attendant. “I just happened to wake up early this morning, that’s all. Of course, Chris seems intent on turning us all into morning people.”

“Early to bed and early to rise,” Ezekiel recited, “makes a man healthy and wealthy and wise.”

“That sounds like a line from something.” Bridgette prompted.

“Ben Franklin. Poor Richard’s Almanac.”

“I should have known,” the surfer girl admitted, for in truth that collection of simple sayings did seem like something a farm boy might be familiar with.

“So,” Ezekiel asked, “are you out and about for a reason?

“No, not really,” Bridgette answered simply. She didn’t want to tell him her purpose, such as it was, lest he ask to join her.

“Me neither,” the farm boy admitted. “I’m used to being up before the sun, but since this isn’t our farm, there really ain’t nothin’ for me to do ‘til everyone else gets up, eh?”

“No, not—would you look at that!” Bridgette exclaimed softly, eyes wide with wonder.

Ezekiel turned to follow the surfer’s gaze just in time to see an adventurous lynx duck back into the forest from which it had briefly emerged. “That’s one big pussycat, eh?” he said.

“Now that was worth getting up early for,” Bridgette pronounced. She had never seen a lynx in the wild and had never expected to, for she had heard that they were very shy.

“What was worth getting up early for?” Geoff asked as he approached. He had just emerged from the boys’ cabin and had spotted his teammates. Having sharp hearing, he had been able to make out part of their conversation. “What’s this about a big cat?”

“A lynx, I think,” Bridgette explained, motioning to where the beast had been. “Right over there at the edge of the woods, just for a few seconds.”

“Coolio,” the urban cowboy said. “Wish I could have seen it. So, guys, what else is up?”

Bridgette much preferred Geoff’s company to Ezekiel’s, and the urban cowboy’s arrival had given her a reasonably polite way to ditch the prairie boy. Besides, three was a crowd.

“Hey, Geoff, do you like to run?” she asked.

“Depends on who I’m running with,” he replied, cocking his ten-gallon hat at what would have been a rakish angle with smaller headgear, but which wound up looking comical. “So, that’s a ‘yes’, bra,” he added over Bridgette’s poorly suppressed giggle.

“I can run pretty well, too,” Ezekiel volunteered.

Bridgette hadn’t expected Ezekiel’s remark, but it wasn’t likely to derail her plan, so she said, “I was thinking that we could take a run along the lakeshore. If we push ourselves, I think we can get to the diving cliff and back without missing whatever slop Chef is going to call ‘breakfast’ this morning.”

“So, basically a race,” Geoff surmised, with an appreciative glance at the surfer girl. “I’m cool with that.”

“I was hoping you’d be,” Bridgette replied with a smile that could have meant any number of things.

“Mind if I join you?” Ezekiel asked, sensing that he was about to get left out.

“Dude,” Geoff replied, “I hate to be cruel, but three’s a crowd.”

“Now, Geoff,” Bridgette admonished with a wink, “If he thinks he can keep up, we shouldn’t freeze him out. After all, he is on our team.”

Turning to Ezekiel, Bridgette added, “You can race with us on one condition. If I win, we don’t hear any more about how boys are supposedly better at sports than girls. Deal?”

“Sure.”

“Then let’s get started.”

Despite his assurance that he could run well, Ezekiel quickly fell behind. He was physically fit, but that’s not the same thing as being athletic, and his five-kilo work boots weren’t designed for running. Geoff and Bridgette, by contrast, were highly athletic and were wearing sneakers. Furthermore, Bridgette had set an aggressive starting pace precisely so that she and Geoff could be more or less alone. Geoff might have been able to go even faster, but he was content to pace Bridgette because she had dropped enough hints that he could guess her true intentions. And so, when the surfer girl glanced back to see that Ezekiel was a good hundred meters behind, she and Geoff slowed their pace enough to allow something resembling normal conversation. Ezekiel thus fell no farther behind, but neither could he close the gap without the risk of burning himself out.

Most of the island was bathed in the orange-yellow light of early morn, but the three Muskies remained in shadow as they approached the base of the diving cliff. They had felt the sun for a time, for the camp was on the southern shore; but the island was laid out like a tilted board, with lowlands in the east and highlands in the west. It would be late morning before the sun was high enough to illuminate the entire western shore.

Chris had exploited this unusual topography for the cliff diving challenge. He had set the campers on a long, circuitous trail that masked how much elevation they were gaining, the better to shock them when they reached the top and saw how high the cliff really was. That was in the past, though. In the present, the island’s sundial-like profile kept the western shore in predawn chill, although the runners’ brisk pace stopped them feeling any discomfort.

“Geoff, hold on,” Bridgette said as she suddenly pulled up.

“What’s wrong?” the urban cowboy asked as he came to a stop and saw the uncertain look on his companion’s face.

“I smell smoke.”

Geoff experimentally sniffed the air. “I think you’re right. Something’s burning.”

As Geoff and Bridgette began to scan their surroundings for signs of fire, Ezekiel arrived and asked, “Is something wrong?”

“We smelled smoke,” Geoff informed him. “If there’s a fire around here, the Chrismeister probably needs to know.”

There was a light breeze, so the three moved cautiously upwind, toward the diving cliff. Thanks to said breeze, they could be fairly certain that they were approaching the fire source, but they still couldn’t see any sign of it. Finally, Ezekiel spotted something.

“There,” he said excitedly, pointing to a cleft in the cliff base. “I think that’s it. Looks like a campfire or something, eh?”

“I don’t see anything,” Bridgette confessed.

“It’s hard to see. The smoke’s about the same color as the cliff, but it’s right over there.”

Bridgette and Geoff stood behind the farm boy and sighted along his extended arm. Sure enough, they could now make out a thin, wispy plume of smoke rising from the bottom of the cliff. What might be generating that plume, though, was not visible from their current position.

The campers approached at a jog and scrambled over a large, flat boulder that was high enough to conceal a nook in the cliff face, as well as to provide a measure of protection from the elements. In the center of this space was a small, banked, driftwood-fueled campfire. Curled close by the fire, presumably for warmth, was—

“Harold?” Bridgette gasped. “It can’t be!”

“God be praised,” Ezekiel said softly.

Bridgette, Geoff and Ezekiel dashed up to their teammate and gently prodded him awake.

“Dude! We thought you were a goner,” Geoff admitted.

Harold, who was by nature a light sleeper, had begun to awaken even as his teammates arrived, and was already reasonably lucid. “And why would you think that?” he asked sourly. Not waiting for an answer, he added, “I told you that I have mad skills. I told you that I know how to take care of myself. But did anyone listen? Did anyone even consider the possibility that I might be able to handle sharks? No, you just left me for dead in the middle of the lake. Gosh!”

“But Courtney looked for you, and she couldn’t find you,” Bridgette protested. “And everyone who was still on the cliff saw you get eaten. We had no hope!”

The morning air still had a bit of a chill and Harold began to shiver slightly, for he was dressed only in his swimming trunks. Seeing his teammate’s distress, Ezekiel removed his hoodie and offered it to Harold, who accepted it with thanks. Ezekiel had dressed in layers, so he would be warm enough without it.

“Maybe that’s what they thought they saw,” Harold speculated, “but I can do a wicked remora impression.”

“Whatever, dude,” Geoff replied, although he was as curious as the others. “We’ve got to get you back to camp. A lot of people are going to be stoked to see you.”

As the reunited teammates began the hike back to camp, for Harold’s bare feet were not equipped for running in the local terrain, Bridgette said to Harold, “Okay, so you were holding onto the shark like a good little remora, but Courtney was searching for a long time. How did you manage for so long without being able to come up for air?”

“It’s really very simple,” Harold explained. “You see, all I had to do was—”

Bridgette banged her head painfully against the low cabin ceiling as an amplified air horn blast jolted her and the other campers awake.

“Rise and shine, everyone!” Chris called with disgusting cheerfulness. “Challenge today! Anyone who’s not out here in ten minutes will be disqualified!”

When the campers, most of them still drowsy, had assembled in front of the cabins, Owen asked, “So, what’s for breakfast?”

“You’ll find out,” Chris assured him, “after you complete a 20-kilometer footrace around the island perimeter!”

Even as several campers drew breath to protest, the host added, “Time’s a-wastin’! The sooner you finish, the sooner you’ll eat. Not to mention that team glory is at stake. Go to the dock, turn right, and just follow the shoreline. The dock is also the finish line. Come to the main lodge when you’re done.”

“Wha—what, you mean we don’t get breakfast first?” asked the appalled Owen.

“Ask one of your teammates who actually listened,” Chris replied with a condescending air. “I don’t like to repeat myself.” Seeing that all the campers were still standing where they were, he testily motioned toward the dock and said, “Like, now, dudes.”

“Can’t we at least change into proper running shoes?” Heather asked.

Chris said only, “You were supposed to be prepared. If you’re not, that’s your problem, not mine.”

Resigned to their fate, the campers jogged to the dock to begin the race. Heather noticed that Justin and Lindsay had found each other, and gave every sign that they might stay together over the entire course. That wouldn’t do, the dragon girl thought, so she joined them after a brief sprint.

“Hey, Hunkstin, you’re not going to stay with Lindsay the whole way, are you?” Heather asked in a tone of veiled disapproval.

“What’s your damage if I do?” The Incredible Hunk replied, for in truth that was more or less his intent.

“This is a race, remember? And you look like our best chance to win. If you let Lindsay slow you down, that would be bad for our team and probably bad for you.”

“I see your point,” Justin confessed. “See you at the finish, Linds?”

“Oh totally!” Lindsay assured him. “See you later, alligator!”

“In a while, crocodile!” Justin called back as he left her and Heather.

“I don’t get it,” Lindsay confessed to the dragon girl.

“Never mind. It’s not important,” Heather replied, resisting the urge to roll her eyes.

Trent and Cody quickly located Gwen, and the three of them ran as a group for a time, with both boys trying to chat up the Goth. After a while, these three passed Tyler, who had slowed to a walk whilst he tried to catch his second wind; for the overenthusiastic sprinter had sprinted (naturally) to a big early lead, only to burn himself out in short order.

Red Jock’s distress gave Gwen an idea. She saw that Cody was having more trouble than Trent in keeping their current pace, so she began to pull ahead of her suitors. Gwen had excellent endurance but was no athlete, so there was some risk that she might burn herself out as Tyler had; but she saw an opportunity to politely ditch Cody in favor of her preferred companion, Trent (much as Bridgette had done, or rather had dreamed of doing, with Ezekiel and Geoff) without looking too eager to the axboy.

The plan worked like a charm. Both boys matched Gwen’s new pace, but Cody proved unable to maintain conversation at that pace; so as the three passed Courtney, he slowed his pace to match the onetime CIT and began to chat her up. The tiny Muskie made a nice consolation prize, Cody thought, and he saw nothing wrong with an idle “sleeping with the enemy” fantasy. Granted, there would be no sleeping and Courtney wasn’t really an enemy, but that’s the way it is with figures of speech.

Cody’s Plan B, though, went no better than his Plan A. When Courtney realized that she could converse with Cody at their current pace, she quickly concluded that it meant she wasn’t pushing herself hard enough, so she too left Cody in her dust.

Shot down a second time, Cody slowed to a walk. He saw no realistic chance of winning the race, but neither was he in any real danger of finishing last and thereby becoming an elimination target. Nor did he see any appealing girls in the vicinity. Cody did a quick mental calculation and realized that he could simply walk the rest of the way and finish the course in time for lunch, so that is what he decided he would do. Unless, of course, another winsome girl—Leshawna, perhaps—happened to catch him from behind.


Déjà Vu

Bridgette, Geoff and Ezekiel had run together for a time, with Geoff taking the opportunity to chat Bridgette up and Ezekiel remaining silent, apparently content simply to tag along. The homeschooled lad wasn’t a particularly strong runner, though, and had gradually fallen behind.

Once, twice, now thrice Geoff had detoured to inspect natural features that he found particularly fascinating. The first time, Bridgette humored him and made the brief detour with him. The second time, she reminded him that they were in the middle of a challenge, but again made the detour with him because she had a reason beyond the obvious for wanting to keep the urban cowboy with her. When Geoff began a third detour, though, Bridgette’s patience was at its limit.

“Geoff,” she admonished as they began to veer from the shoreline, “We’re in the middle of a challenge. I don’t mean to harsh your mellow, but if you want to run with me you’re going to have to keep your head in the game.”

“It won’t take a minute,” the party king protested.

“A minute could make a difference,” the surfer retorted, “and this isn’t the first time. All those minutes could be adding up.”

“Come on, Bridge, don’t be so serious.”

“Oh, all right,” Bridgette answered with a sigh. “But this is the last time.”

Almost since the race began, Bridgette had felt an uncanny sense of déjà vu. The morning run toward the diving cliff, Geoff and Ezekiel running with her, Ezekiel being unable to keep up… except for Geoff’s distractibility, everything was very much the same as she had seen it in her dream. Bridgette believed in certain paranormal phenomena, and she was hoping against hope that if she could hew as closely as possible to the events of her dream, then she might get the same payoff.

So it was that, as they approached a certain place at the base of the diving cliff, the surfer girl asked Geoff to make a small detour with her.

“Now who’s not keeping her head in the game?” the party king needled.

Touché,’ Bridgette replied. “But this is important to me. I really think we need to check it out. Both of us.”

His curiosity aroused, Geoff assured his running partner, “I’m cool with that.”

The two Muskies approached at a jog and scrambled over a large, flat boulder that was high enough to conceal a nook in the cliff face, as well as to provide a measure of protection from the elements. Although Bridgette was quite certain that she had never been to this spot, everything looked exactly as she has seen it in her dream.

With one exception: there was no sign that any human had ever been there.

Bridgette lowered her head and closed her eyes for a moment. As she dropped a tear or two, she whispered, too softly for Geoff to hear, “I tried, Harold. Rest in peace.”

As Bridgette wiped away her tears and she and Geoff returned to the racecourse, the urban cowboy said, “You looked disappointed. What were you expecting to find?”

Bridgette then told Geoff about her dream, but nothing would be gained by repeating it here.

“Aw, that’s a bummer,” Geoff said, trying to console her. “Well, you tried. I’m sure Harold appreciates it, wherever he is.”

Four hours after the race began, most of the campers had completed the course and were now killing time in the main lodge, where Chris had told them to wait until everyone finished. Izzy had finished first, nipping Justin at the proverbial tape after tailing the Embodiment of Manly Beauty for most of the course so she could watch the undulations of his manly can for an hour and a half. Chris did not declare a winner at that time, though, meaning that victory would apparently go to the first team to have all its members finish. By this measure, the Muskies still appeared to have the advantage, as long as the chubby Beth could outrun either Sadie or Owen, but it was by no means a certainty.

Courtney was pacing in the space between the benches, impatiently waiting for her team’s stragglers and mentally preparing a suitable tongue-lashing for when they finally did arrive. The fact that there had been no breakfast waiting for the campers when they finished their appetite-building run only added to her irritation. Apparently, nobody would get to eat until everyone had finished.

Geoff was chatting up Bridgette and Izzy, although the redhead appeared distracted. Perhaps she was trying to listen to her imaginary friend as well as to her teammates, or perhaps she was trying to listen in on Trent telling Gwen about the song he’d written the day before.

Duncan, D.J. and Ezekiel were sitting together, with the delinquent teaching his teammates how to play five-finger fillet. D.J. proved a formidable opponent in Duncan’s knife game despite his timid manner, for the brickhouse had excellent hand-eye coordination and, being a football player, was accustomed to dealing with minor injuries. Ezekiel had less natural talent than the gentle giant, but farm life had given him tough hands and he was willing to face the prospect of a few superficial wounds for the sake of fitting in.

Katie had rested for a few minutes and then, after getting assurances from Chris that she wouldn’t lose credit for her seventh-place finish, had returned to the course to encourage Sadie.

Over the next hour or so, the stragglers came in. Tyler, after recovering from his early burnout, had eventually settled on an interval sprint technique, sprinting for a couple hundred meters and then walking until he felt ready for his next sprint. By somewhat curbing his enthusiasm, he had made decent time over the latter two-thirds of the course.

Next in was Sadie. With Katie at her side to set a pace that would require the butterball to push herself, Sadie was able to not only complete the course, but to do so in a time that wasn’t entirely disgraceful. More importantly, she came in several minutes ahead of Beth, who was the last of the Muskies. Upon reaching the finish, Sadie dropped to the ground for a bout of dry heaves, but after that she was proud of herself for accomplishing a feat that she would never have thought herself capable of.

Some 15 minutes after Beth finished, Noah sauntered in. The bookworm was not the sort to physically exert himself a whit more than any situation required; and he, like Cody, had realized that he could safely walk most of the course. After Noah came the last two walkers, Heather and Lindsay. These two had run for a time, but between their running-unfriendly shoes and the fact that they were poor runners in any case, they had eventually decided that they had little to lose by just walking the rest of the way.

Owen failed to finish. The man-mountain had collapsed some five clicks from the finish, complaining of shortness of breath, nausea and numbness in his arm, so a squad of interns had borne him on a stretcher to the infirmary tent. There, Chef Hatchet, whose talents were as diverse as Chris had claimed, examined him and determined that Owen was not, in fact, having a heart attack despite showing most of the symptoms. Owen was discharged from the infirmary and came to the lodge at about the same time as Noah, seemingly none the worse for his ordeal.

All in all, the 20-kilometer race was a decisive victory for the Killer Muskies.

Noticing that Chris hadn’t said a word since the last campers finally arrived, Courtney prompted, “Well, are you going to announce the challenge winner?”

“I don’t recall ever saying that was the challenge,” Chris pointed out.

“Excuse me?” Leshawna challenged in a dangerous tone, with a glare suggesting that Chris shouldn’t get too comfortable with his face the way it was.

“Maybe it should have been, seeing as some of you weren’t trying very hard,” the host admitted, “but the truth is, I was just messing with you.”

“Oh, so you’re funny now,” Eva snarled. “Well, Katie and Sadie showed us how to deal with you, but tickling’s obviously too good for you. Maybe you’ll learn some manners if Leshawna and I pound you into the dirt!” The musclegirl glanced at the homegirl, who responded with a look that said, Count me in.

“If you try that,” Chris warned, “then you won’t get your share of this!” He gestured to the serving counter, where a couple of interns pulled back the shutters to reveal a glorious turkey buffet with all the trimmings. It would have been mouth-watering in almost any setting; but in this excuse for a summer camp, after four days of the slop that Chef Hatchet called “food”, it seemed like the ambrosia of the gods.

Chris’ prank forgotten, the campers fell upon this bounty like a pack of wolves.

Almost 90 minutes later, even the legendary teenager appetite could take no more. As the campers lounged in the lodge, with several groaning at the realization that they had overdone it, Chris appeared before them.

“Now that you’ve had breakfast, lunch and dinner all at once,” the host announced, “it’s time for the physically demanding challenge!”

“Must… control… Fist of Death!” Leshawna groaned. The implied threat was an empty one, for at the moment the homegirl could barely stand.

“You’ve got to be kidding!” Heather protested. “We’ll be puking left and right!”

“You say that like you’re not used to it,” Gwen sniped.

“Shut it, Weird Goth Hag!”

“Settle down, campers,” Chris said. “‘Demanding’ isn’t the same as ‘strenuous’. In fact, this will be the easiest challenge you’ll have all summer, so nobody’s going to be puking, which is good because anyone who does will be disqualified.”

Seeing that he had everyone’s attention, Chris let the anticipation build for a moment before revealing the challenge: “Whoever can stay awake the longest will win invincibility for their team.”

Noah, irritated that he’d been suckered so easily, asked, “So you mean the 20K run and the turkey-eating frenzy were all part of your evil plan to make it harder for us to stay awake?”

“You got it, dude.”

“Have fun at your first elimination ceremony,” Duncan taunted. “I can do three days standing on my head.” With a smirk, the delinquent added, “And my dad said I’d be sorry for all that late-night partying.”

“Yeah, I figured some of you might last a long time,” Chris admitted. “The thing is, we don’t have a long time, so we laced everything in the buffet with a mild sedative.”

If Chris felt the 21 angry glares burning into him, he gave no sign until Bridgette said what everyone was thinking. “Let me get this straight. You’re saying that you drugged us?” Miss All-natural-all-the-time asked indignantly.

“That’s right, bra,” he affirmed. Finally appearing to notice the phalanx of death glares, the host added defensively, “What? We’re on a schedule. Anyway, that’s why we had to put in the ‘no puking’ rule, so that nobody would try to purge before the sleepytime stuff can kick in. Toss your cookies for any reason, and you’re out. Also, that buffet is the only food you’re getting until we have a winner, so if you lose your lunch it won’t be replaced.

“The challenge begins now. Come with me to the fire pit.”

As the campers stood and began to file out, Izzy’s stomach entered full insurrection mode. She had matched Owen almost bite for bite, the difference being that Owen was an obese giant and Izzy was a slim girl of medium height.

“Emergency! Make way! Comin’ through!” the unstable redhead shrieked desperately as she dashed for the door. The others immediately cleared a path, for they could well guess the nature of the emergency and didn’t want to be caught in the blast.

Izzy had barely reached the cabin threshold when she lost her hopeless battle and projectile vomited a stream of buffet components that looked bigger than she was. Most of the other campers—especially those who feared that they, too, had overindulged—had averted or closed their eyes and covered their ears, lest the power of suggestion overwhelm them.

Crap!” cried Izzy, now on all fours, as she pounded her fist upon the earth in impotent fury. She actually used a far stronger word, but nothing would be gained by revealing it.

“Well, that was quick,” Chris observed with a shake of his head. “And I thought Izzy would be one of the contenders, being such a bundle of energy. But rules are rules. I said ‘no puking’, and I meant no puking.”

Izzy saw one chance. “Can’t you cut me some slack since I won the race?” she pleaded as she rose to her feet.

“You’re kidding, right?” the host answered with a sniff. “But you still have to come to the fire pit with us.”

“Crap!” Izzy cried as she stamped her foot upon the earth in impotent fury, although this time “crap” was the word she actually used.

The campers exited the lodge without further incident, but they hadn’t gotten far before another crisis arose.

“Oh, my gosh,” Katie exclaimed desperately, her breathing ragged and her face drawn and ashen, “I think I’m going to lose it!”

Justin immediately moved to stand before his teammate. Gently cupping Katie’s face in his hands, he looked into her eyes and said, “Stay with me, Katie.”

Suitably distracted by Justin’s beautiful face and heavenly touch, Katie’s face began to return to its normal complexion and her breathing to its normal rhythm as Justin began to lightly stroke her cheeks. He then said in a gentle, honeyed tone, “You can do this. Stay with me. Think… think about what you’d like to do with me.”

Justin was no longer looking into Katie’s eyes, for her eyes were now only half-open as those magic fingers moved from Katie’s cheeks to her scalp and ran lightly through her jet-black hair.

“Oh, wow,” Katie cried softly, too rapt to say anything more articulate.

‘Oh, wow’, indeed, the other girls thought, for none were immune to Justin’s spell.

Cody sidled over to Noah and asked, “Taking notes?”

Noah nodded and said, “Believe it. That’s how it’s done. I’ve read about these techniques, but I’ve never seen them demonstrated live.”

Justin’s fingers moved from Katie’s scalp to her neck, from her neck to her flanks, always stroking from top to bottom, relying partly on distraction and partly on the power of suggestion to convince Katie’s gorge to be content where it was.

The afternoon sun was warm, and Justin had broken a light sweat. He was close enough to Katie that she could smell his manly scent as she closed her eyes and abandoned herself completely to his touch. Her breathing had again become ragged, but not from her forgotten gastric distress.

Justin had moved in a little closer when he began to stroke Katie’s flanks. Forgetting where she was, Katie was now emboldened to lean in, hoping for a kiss. When she did so, though, Justin lightly put a finger to her lips.

“I’m sorry, Katie, but I can’t do that,” he said gently. “Nothing personal, but my heart is already set on someone else. You understand.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” she replied with a sigh, not even trying to hide her disappointment now that the spell was broken. Placing a hand on her belly, which was now becalmed if still uncomfortably distended, the Thin Twin brightened and said, “Thanks, anyway. I feel a lot better now.”

“Glad I could be of… service,” Justin replied with a wink.

Chris turned to a camera and said, “Ratings gold.”

As the campers reached the fire pit and began their vigil, Sadie asked her BFF, “What was it like with you and Hunkstin? You’ve got to tell me everything!”

“Believe me, I’ll tell you everything,” Katie assured her BFF, “as soon as I can think of a way to describe it. It wasn’t like anything I’ve ever felt before. His ‘someone else’ is so lucky, I can’t even tell you.”

Lindsay, meanwhile, had gone to The Incredible Hunk and, grasping his arm, led him to the edge of the clearing. “Justin, that was really sweet how you kept Carrie in the game,” she said admiringly, “especially with the chance that she might barf all over you. And it was even sweeter how you stayed loyal to your ‘someone else’.

“So tell me, is this ‘someone else’ someone I know?” Lindsay cooed.

As Justin’s gaze met Lindsay’s, he replied, “I think Your Ultimate Lady Gorgeousness knows the answer to that. Katie’s sweet, but she can’t compete.”

“Yes, I did know,” Lindsay admitted coyly, “but I wanted to hear it from Your Ultimate Lord Hotness. So… any chance you could show me what you did for Kayla? I mean, of course I saw it, but I’m sure that’s not the same.”

“Believe me, I’d love to do that for you sometime. Lots of sometimes. But not here, not now,” Justin replied softly.

“Why not?”

“Because it’s relaxing. This challenge is about staying awake, so we don’t want to get too relaxed.”

“Katie didn’t look too relaxed at the end, there,” Lindsay suggested impishly.

“Yeah, she was getting pretty excited,” Justin admitted, “But for this challenge, I’m not sure that’s a good thing, either. It uses up energy. Katie had nothing to lose because she was about to be DQ’ed.”

“Oh, there you are, Lindsay,” Heather said. “I was thinking, we could talk and keep each other awake.” Only now seeming to notice His Gorgeousness, Heather added, “Oh, hi, Justin. Way to take one for the team.”

“Believe me, it…” Justin began, but checked himself. He had been about to admit that he had enjoyed rescuing Katie, but feared that such an admission might alienate Lindsay (which might well have been Heather’s intent) and that was something he couldn’t bear. Justin had naturally had more than his share of girlfriends; but because he insisted on having only one at a time, he was used to seeing girls be catty for his sake. He didn’t like that, but neither did he worry much about it, as a rule; he merely accepted it as the price of being God’s gift to women. It was different with Lindsay, though, and Justin was determined to do whatever he must to stay in her good graces.

“…it’s important to put the team first,” Justin finished. Nice save, he told himself.

“You can go with Heather, Linds,” Justin assured his crush girl. “I’ll be all right. I have my own plan for the challenge.”

“Cool. See you around,” Lindsay replied. Then, without warning, she wrapped her arms around Justin’s neck and gave him a quick peck on the cheek before going with Heather.

Trent had naturally sought out Gwen and suggested that they could more easily stay awake by talking to each other. So it was that they sat upon the ground, and talked and talked and talked. They talked about their hometown friends and the friends they’d made on the island. They talked about historical events and current events. They talked about the arts and popular culture. They talked about hopes and dreams. They talked about the sun and the moon and the stars. They talked, in short, about pretty much every subject under heaven.

‘The time has come,’ the Walrus said,
‘To talk of many things:
Of shoes—and ships—and sealing wax—
Of cabbages—and kings—
Of why the seas are boiling hot—
And whether pigs have wings.’


Most of the campers became drowsy over the rest of the warm afternoon, for they had nothing at all to do. The only entertainment options available to them were the society of their fellows or simple games that they could devise on the spot. For all that, only one camper fell during this time: Owen. He had barely lasted an hour, having virtually eaten himself into a coma at the buffet. He and Izzy had wolfed down so much, in fact, that the producers had been obliged to hastily bring in more food so that everyone else would be able to eat their fill.

When night fell, and there was little to look at save the mesmerizing bonfire, and the sedative began to take hold… that was when campers began to drop like flies.

Surveying the area, Ezekiel noticed that Courtney had begun walking in place. Actually, he thought, that didn’t do it justice. She was virtually jogging in place.

The prairie boy rose from the log he had been sitting on and walked over to the former CIT. He knew that he was in hot water with the Muskies’ girls, and he realized that he would have to redeem himself somehow if he expected to get deep into the game. Courtney seemed as good a place as any to start.

“Hey, Courtney?”

“What is it?” she answered, a bit more shortly than she had intended. Although Courtney believed that Ezekiel was guilty of mere ignorance, not malice—indeed, it was she who had argued that Ezekiel’s sexist remarks weren’t reason enough to vote him off after the first challenge—that didn’t mean she particularly wanted to socialize with him.

“You’re going to wear yourself out if you keep that up, eh?”

“Why? Because I’m a ‘weak, helpless girl’?”

“I didn’t say that,” the Bible boy protested.

“It so happens,” Courtney sniffed before Ezekiel could say anything more, “that I think the best way to stay awake is to keep moving.”

“Sounds good, eh?” her teammate agreed, “But you’re spending a lot more energy at it than you need to. Like I said, you’re going to wear yourself out. Besides, if you exert yourself too much, get the blood really pumping, the sedative will hit you that much harder. Better to take it easy, and take our chances with a gradual effect.”

Courtney didn’t know what response she had expected from the farm boy, but that wasn’t it. Disarmed, she left off her semi-jogging and asked, “So, what would you suggest?”

“Well,” Ezekiel offered, “we could just stroll around and talk, if the other girls haven’t convinced you that I’m the devil incarnate.”

Courtney considered his offer for a few moments, and then accepted.

“Maybe we misjudged Ezekiel,” Courtney would later say in the confessional. “Sure, some of his attitudes are kind of medieval, but he seems to mean well and he does seem to be thinking of the team. With a little re-education—okay, a lot of re-education—he just might make a teammate that we’d actually want to have around.”

As the other campers tried to stay awake in whatever ways seemed best to them, Courtney and Ezekiel strolled sedately around the Muskie side of the clearing, talking mainly about things that related in some way to the homeschooled lad’s perception of gender roles. It didn’t take Courtney overlong to discover that Zeke (as she had asked, and been granted, leave to call him) had a sharp mind, although that virtue was well camouflaged beneath his unrefined speech and mannerisms.

As they talked, Courtney quickly learned that Ezekiel was not merely parroting doctrine. He had actually given thought to why gender roles in farm country were the way they were, and he had some skill in defending them. Most notably, he had a perfectly good reason, namely the biological phenomenon of sexual dimorphism, for his earlier and now infamous statement that boys were “much stronger and better at sports” than girls.

Courtney had taken biology and so understood the concept of sexual dimorphism, but she hadn’t been joking when she told her teammates that she was going to be a lawyer one day. She was a debater on her school’s speech team, honing the rhetorical skills she would need to succeed as a trial lawyer, and she knew how to acknowledge the reasonableness of an opponent’s point without conceding the point.

Courtney acknowledged that boys, in general, were stronger than girls. This was a readily observable fact, and there was nothing to gain by trying to deny it. In turn, Courtney was able to convince Ezekiel that there would always be exceptional individuals like Eva. Courtney was not willing to concede that boys were inherently better at sports than girls, but that was another battle for another time.

When Ezekiel suggested that boys’ and girls’ intellects were suited to different pursuits, Courtney acknowledged that girls were not as likely as boys to be attracted to the sciences, for example; but she pointed out that lack of interest was not the same as lack of aptitude, and she questioned whether he might be confusing the two. Courtney further questioned whether the well-documented gender gap in such fields was really a matter of predisposition or of cultural expectations. Ezekiel, for his part, offered arguments such as the fact that boys, on the whole, are known to have better spatial perception skills than girls, whereas girls tend to have better language skills. Girls were certainly inclined to talk more than boys, he observed.

From time to time, their debate would grow heated and their voices would begin to rise. Each time, one of these teammates would notice and warn the other; for although it was one thing for their fellow Muskies to overhear and more easily stay awake thereby, it would not do to offer the same benefit to the Eagles on the other side of the campfire.

The two Muskies did more than just debate. They also talked of what life was like in their hometowns, and Courtney used this “compare and contrast” discussion to instruct Ezekiel on how to profitably conduct himself with girls who were more cosmopolitan than the farmers’ daughters that he was used to dealing with.

Heed my words, Loddfafnir, listen to my counsel;
You’ll be better off if you believe me;
Follow my advice, and you’ll fare well:
If you have faith in a friend of yours,
Go to find him often;
Brushwood and grass will soon grow
On a road no travelers take.

Heed my words, Loddfafnir, listen to my counsel;
You’ll be better off if you believe me;
Follow my advice, and you’ll fare well:
Always be faithful, never be the first
To fail a friendship;
Grief consumes the heart that must take care
To keep itself concealed.

Heed my words, Loddfafnir, listen to my counsel;
You’ll be better off if you believe me;
Follow my advice, and you’ll fare well:
If you are wise, you’ll exchange no words
With fools you find on your way.

If a man’s no good, he will never give you
Your rightful reward;
A worthy man will help you win
Favor and fame.

True bonds are formed where men keep faith
And don’t hide their hearts.
Anything is better than a breach of friendship—
A real friend will say what you’d rather not hear.

Heed my words, Loddfafnir, listen to my counsel;
You’ll be better off if you believe me;
Follow my advice, and you’ll fare well:
If you want to win a woman’s friendship
And be in her good graces,
Make fair promises and fulfill them—
Who tires of treasure if he gets it?

Heed my words, Loddfafnir, listen to my counsel;
You’ll be better off if you believe me;
Follow my advice, and you’ll fare well:
Don’t mock a guest, and never make fun
Of a man you meet on the road!

Those already arrived are often unable
To tell a newcomer’s kin;
You’ll never find a man without a fault
Or one so evil he’s no use at all.

The sayings of the High One heard in her hall
Are helpful to sons of men, harmful to giants.
Hail to the speaker, hail the one she taught!
They’re lucky who have the lore,
Happy if they heed it!


Alliance

As Courtney and Ezekiel continued their “nature vs. nurture” colloquium, Heather scanned the clearing to see how her teammates were faring. Gwen and Trent were chatting softly, not in the furtive tones of secrecy but in that soft, gentle tone that signals strong attraction. The first hookup of the summer, Heather mused. Guitar Boy could do better. Oh, well, there’s no accounting for taste.

Cody and Noah had been sitting together, presumably talking about whatever nerd boys like to talk about. Nuclear physics, maybe, or perhaps girls who were hopelessly out of their league. No matter, because they weren’t talking anymore. Noah looked like he wouldn’t be in the running for long, and Cody was already down.

Owen was snoring loudly. Leshawna had almost fallen early, as well, but Heather had noticed and had talked with her a while under the false guise of friendship. They parted company after a time, but their conversation was apparently just what Leshawna needed. The homegirl had rallied, and now seemed to be going strong.

Justin stood at the edge of the firelight, facing away from the fire. He and Lindsay would have been the first hookup, if their reaction to each other at the Gathering was any indication, but Heather had no intention of allowing that. Heather had a plan, one that could be damaged if Lindsay and Justin were allowed to finish falling in lust, so the dragon girl had been doing her best to keep Lindsay occupied. Heather had been able to do this subtly thus far, but could see the time coming where she would have to interfere more directly. With Justin apparently preferring to be alone with his thoughts for this challenge, Lindsay was sticking close to Heather for the nonce. The two fashionistae had been talking about… well, fashion, mostly. And cosmetics. And hair care.

Katie and Sadie’s chatter had dried up, and they were starting to nod gently. Suddenly, Sadie shook her head as if to clear it, and then prodded her BFF into alertness. The Bobbsey Twins had managed to keep each other in the running so far, but appeared to be fighting a losing battle.

Heather decided that it was time to make her move, whilst the clones were still lucid.

“Lindsay,” Heather said, “I have an idea. Go get Katie and Sadie for me.”

“Sure, Helen.”

“It’s Heather.”

“That’s what I said, isn’t it?”

Heather gritted her teeth as she summoned the willpower to not facepalm in front of Lindsay, but managed to keep her voice mild. “Just go get them.”

Lindsay went over to the Bobbsey Twins and began to converse with them. After a solid 20 minutes of nonstop chatter, Lindsay finally remembered why she had gone to see the clones, and brought them to Heather.

“Hey, Heather, what’s up?” Katie asked.

“I’ve been thinking,” Heather began. “In these elimination games, there’s safety in numbers, and I’ve watched a lot of these games, so I know how the strategies work. If you guys join Lindsay and me, we should be able to cruise all the way to the Final Four, as long as our team does decently in the challenges.”

“What if someone else makes an alliance, too?” Sadie asked.

“That’s not likely to happen for a while. Remember, none of us were expecting to be here in the first place,” Heather pointed out. The Bobbsey Twins nodded and rolled their eyes at this.

“So, there probably won’t be much strategizing going on for a while. We’ve got a chance to take control of this game if we act now,” the dragon girl continued.

“Gee, Heather, I don’t know,” Katie protested. “Isn’t it kind of underhanded to be plotting our own teammates’ demise?”

“I know, right?” Sadie seconded. “It’s not like we’ll get to vote off any of the Muskies.”

“That’s why no one will see it coming if we act now,” The Girl Who Would Be Queen explained. “By the time people get wise, it’ll be too late. Don’t get me wrong; I get the ‘one for all and all for one’ bit. It sounds great in theory, but in practice it’s shortsighted. Let everyone else be shortsighted and wait until the merge to start making alliances, and we’ll have the advantage.

“Besides, the other team looks more athletic than ours. That hasn’t hurt us yet, but it still could. If we start sucking at the challenges, we’ll have to ‘plot our own teammates’ demise’ anyway. Would you rather decide who goes, or have it decided for you in a way that you might not like? That’s why we have to do this now, so we can be safe.”

Katie and Sadie found this argument persuasive, and it wasn’t long before they agreed to join forces with Heather. Only then did the queen bee, seemingly as an afterthought, formally ask Lindsay if she wanted to join. The uberbimbo agreed with the unthinking enthusiasm of a puppy.

“Now, remember,” Heather admonished her new posse, “Don’t go around telling people that you’re in an alliance. They’ll figure it out sooner or later, but advertising it won’t get us anything.”

Katie, Sadie and Lindsay dutifully pledged that they would not.

“One more thing,” Heather said, “I should be the captain of our alliance, since I’m the one with the genre knowledge and the strategic skills to get us through.”

Katie, Sadie and Lindsay agreed to this as well, for the queen bee’s sales pitch had given them no reason to doubt her.

“Final Four, here we come!” Heather declared.

Katie, Sadie and Lindsay swept their captain up in a group hug and squealed in delight. Heather would have covered her ears, but her arms were pinned at her sides, so she could do nothing but endure the sonic daggers in her brain as best she might.

Heather later recorded a confessional spot, which the finished episode placed immediately after the scene where she forged her alliance. “I can’t actually take my three stooges all the way to the Final Four,” she admitted. “Tweedledum and Tweedledumber will probably back each other no matter what, so it would be too dangerous to have them both in the Final Four with me, and it would be suicidal to have them in the Final Three. One of them will have to go before then. Probably Fatty Lumpkin, since she’s out of place in my little clique. After all, I’m hot and fashionable, Lindsay’s hot and fashionable, and Katie can be made hot and fashionable. But, we’ll see."

Heather then winced and rubbed her temples, adding, “Note to self: never do anything that will make all three of them happy at once!”

Cody had been an early casualty in the Awake-a-thon. He had initially planned to sit with Gwen, but Trent had beaten him to her, and the science geek had begun to sense that he had no chance with the Goth in any situation where Trent was around. Admitting defeat, Cody had sat with Noah and talked with him, mostly about the girls in camp, until the science geek lost his battle to stay awake.

Having slept for a time, Cody was now awakened by someone nibbling on his ear. Not only that, but this unidentified campmate also appeared to be spooning him. Cody at first entertained the thought that perhaps Gwen was having her way with him. That fantasy crashed and burned when the nibbler spoke softly… in a male voice!

In a fluidly athletic move that no one in camp—least of all Cody himself—would have thought him capable of, the science geek was on his feet in a flash, spinning around and instinctively assuming a defensive crouch. On the ground before him, right next to the spot where Cody had been sleeping, was Noah.

Previously lying on his side, the bookworm was now propped up on one elbow, his head raised and his eyes half-open. Looking toward Cody, he said:

“Wha—?”

Then Noah sank back to the ground, his eyes closed, and he began to snore.

Cody relaxed. Noah, it seemed, was “guilty but not responsible”. He had clearly been dreaming.

Why does my lady eye me circumspectly—
With piercing glance, as though she would dissect me?
I swear by heaven, and may God’s truth protect me,
I shun that vice of which she may suspect me.

The sky will flood to harvest corn and wine,
The air engender tangled elm and vine,
The sea throw game to huntsmen from the brine—
Before the sins of Sodom count as mine.


Satisfied that he would not have to defend his honor, Cody now recalled what the sleeping Noah had whispered into his ear. A name had been on the bookworm’s lips—a girl’s name. Not just any girl’s name, though, but the name of a girl on the island. A common name, to be sure, so it wasn’t clear whether he had been dreaming about one of their campmates or someone in his hometown, or perhaps some celebrity.

Cody resolved to find out, if he could. Noah was not known to be crushing on anyone in camp. If he was doing so secretly, that might be a useful thing to know.

As the sky on the eastern horizon began to lighten, heralding the approach of a new day, eight Eagles and six Muskies had succumbed, but the Eagles had started with a one-player advantage. The fallen included all three of Heather’s new allies, which the queen bee found irritating but neither surprising nor disturbing. Heather had recruited Lindsay and the clones because she thought she could dominate them, not because she thought they would be especially strong in the challenges. In any case, Heather was still feeling reasonably good about the outcome, despite the weakness of her vassals, for who would have blamed her for failing to anticipate what none could have foreseen?

Owen, you see, had a particular fondness for baked beans with maple syrup; and when he spotted that dish in the buffet spread, he had assaulted it with abandon. The man-mountain had an inefficient digestive system under the best of conditions; and with his gut full of beans, you could almost have run a car on the gas he generated.

This dish also had the curious effect of predisposing Owen to sleepwalking. So it was now, as the gregarious goliath rose to his feet and strolled away from the campfire. As it happened, his path took him past the place where Gwen and Trent were keeping each other awake.

The Goth and the axboy were still conversing on whatever topics struck their fancy. They were already sensing a real bond between them, and Trent was starting to wonder whether it was too soon to ask Gwen out on a date. As they chatted about increasingly personal matters, they took little notice of Owen. That would be their downfall, for as the man-mountain passed them, he expelled a cloud of Baked Bean Byproduct.

Under normal circumstances, Gwen and Trent would have found this development revolting, nothing more. These were not normal circumstances, however, for their sleep deprivation and the sedative had weakened them more than they knew. Furthermore, Owen’s fart on this occasion was unusual in that it was nearly silent, belying its toxicity, so the budding couple had no warning. In short, both were overcome and slumped to the ground. The challenge rules did not distinguish between sleep and gas-induced unconsciousness, so Gwen and her would-be beau were “out” in more ways than one.

Earlier in the night, Heather had eavesdropped on Gwen and Trent—just to help her stay awake, she told herself—but had found their conversation largely uninteresting, so she had stopped listening in lest it start to do her more harm than good. She was close enough that she could hear the Goth and the axboy talking, but far enough away that she had to listen intently to understand what they were saying, so their conversation became white noise.

When Gwen and Trent abruptly stopped generating “white noise”, Heather’s attention snapped back to them. She turned just in time to see the luckless pair keel over as Owen walked by. Moments later, Heather flinched and wrinkled her nose in distaste as Owen’s bean residue reached her. It packed a punch even at this distance, and the dragon girl had a nasty feeling that she knew what had happened to her teammates.

With Gwen and Trent down, things were suddenly looking bad for the Eagles. Four Muskies were still awake: Courtney, Duncan, Eva, and Ezekiel. For the Eagles to pull this one out, Heather would somehow have to outlast them all. Alone.

No, Heather realized, she was not alone, after all. Justin was still awake, facing away from the others, standing stock-still at the edge of the firelight. Come to think of it, The Incredible Hunk hadn’t so much as moved a muscle in some time.

Just then, a light breeze arose. As this zephyr swept fresh, clean air over the camp, Heather could hear Gwen and Trent beginning to revive. She paid this little heed, though, for another event commanded her attention. Before the horrified queen bee’s eyes, Justin silently toppled over. He had been literally asleep on his feet.

Now, Heather was truly alone.


The hour was growing late, so Brett’s mother left off her tale and suggested that he prepare for bed.


.

Fifth Night

The next day was not a school day, so Brett and his mother spent the day engaged in their own affairs. Brett had no homework, having dealt with it the day before; so that night, after he and his mother had dined, he asked to hear more about her experience on Total Drama Island. Brett sat in his favorite chair, and his mother sat on the sofa. She took a few moments to collect her thoughts, and then she began to speak.


The remaining campers gained a respite as dawn came and went, for the natural rhythms that induce a person to awaken when morning comes and to sleep at night was now their ally after being their foe for so long, and the sedative had largely run its course.

Just as dawn broke, Chris, looking fresh and chipper, arrived for his second turn at supervising the challenge. He and Chef Hatchet were watching over the campers in shifts, Chris during the afternoon and evening, then Hatchet during the late night and the small hours, and now Chris again for the morning.

Not long after Chris returned, some of the fallen campers began to stir. The host dismissed the losers as they awoke, with orders to wait in the main lodge until the challenge was done.

The dawn of a new day and the increase in activity around the bonfire did not come in time to save Courtney. The sedative had hit her hard, just as Ezekiel had warned her that it might. When she could no longer keep her feet, the onetime CIT had parked her sofa warmer on a rock that looked nice and uncomfortable in a last-ditch attempt to remain conscious. Ezekiel, who was still holding up well, stayed at her side and tried every trick he could think of to keep his etiquette tutor awake, with limited success. For almost three hours, Courtney persevered through sheer willpower, but there comes a time when the body says “enough”; and when that moment comes, even the most steadfast will counts for nothing. So it was that Courtney fell scant minutes after Justin.

After Courtney succumbed, Ezekiel carried the pocket princess to a more comfortable spot a little closer to the fire to better protect her from the predawn chill, and gently laid her down there. If anyone noticed this gesture of rustic chivalry—the softer side of his sexism—they gave no sign. After doing what he could to make his teammate comfortable, the farm boy joined Duncan.

Despite Chris’ earlier statement that no one would eat until the challenge was done, the losing campers filtered into the lodge to find a no-frills breakfast waiting for them. Whether this surprise was pleasant or otherwise was very much a matter of opinion, for the meal’s quality was in line with what the campers had come to expect from Chef Hatchet. That is to say, most of the teens wouldn’t have fed it to their dogs if they wanted their dogs to be happy and healthy.

As the campers contemplated their failure, Lindsay, Katie and Sadie sat together and talked about the elimination that they now seemed likely to face.

“It looks like Heather was right,” Sadie observed. “We’re going to have to vote somebody off.”

“But who?” Katie asked. “Having an alliance means we should vote together, but I don’t know who she’ll want to kick off.”

“I know,” Lindsay said, “I’m pretty sure Helen wants to get rid of Jen.”

“You mean Gwen?”

“Yuppers.”

“Makes sense,” Sadie mused. “They don’t seem to get along, and I can’t really think of any reason to keep Gwen around.”

“Me, neither,” Katie seconded. “Apart from the fact that she’s into Trent, I don’t think she really wants to be here anyway.”

“Do any of us, really?” Sadie countered. “I mean, seriously.”

“Well, there’s the money,” Lindsay suggested, “and the chance to be famous.”

“Yeah, but you know what I mean,” Sadie replied.

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“Anyway, sounds like a plan,” Sadie concluded. “Unless we hear differently from Heather, we’ll try to send Elvira back to whatever castle she crawled out of.”

Vampira?” the incredulous Lindsay later said in the confessional. “And people say I’m bad with names!”

At the bonfire pit, Heather could see the proverbial handwriting on the wall. She had already caught herself starting to nod off more than once. On the other side of the clearing, Eva was sitting alone. Iron Woman also appeared to be fading, but still looked like she was in much better shape than Heather felt.

Ezekiel and Duncan were now sitting on a log, talking about Heather could only guess what. The homeschooled farm boy still appeared to be in decent shape, and Duncan…

That’s weird, Heather thought. Not only was Duncan showing no sign that he might fall asleep any time soon, but he actually looked more awake now than when the challenge began. The delinquent looked restless and fidgety.

Even though it was now full daylight, Chris had ordered the interns to continue tending the fire, presumably in the hope that its warmth would make the last four campers drowsier. Heather, deciding that she had no chance if she continued to sit, rose to her feet and began to pace. A few drowsiness-induced stumbles later, the queen bee decided that mental, not physical, stimulation was what she needed.

Heather crossed the clearing, intending to join Duncan and Ezekiel. She had no real desire to socialize with either of them, but was hoping that conversation might help her stay awake. Eva might have been a more pleasant companion (or less unpleasant, at least), but she was currently sitting alone. Conversation would be as likely to help Eva as Heather, and Heather didn’t like her chances against the steel maiden if it came down to a matter of strictly physical endurance. The boys, on the other hand, were already conversing, so they would presumably gain nothing if Heather joined them. Heather, on the other hand, would gain not only the stimulation she needed, but possibly also some insight into the two Muskies that might enable her to manipulate them if the need should ever arise.

“Heather, where are you going?” Chris asked.

“I’m going to join these manly dudes over here,” the dragon girl replied sweetly. “They look lonely.”

“I don’t think so,” Chris retorted dismissively.

“Oh, we don’t mind,” Duncan assured the host with a leer. With his best imitation of Heather’s voice (which is to say, a bad one) and a stereotypical Far Eastern accent, the delinquent added, “She so horny, love us long time.”

It was all Ezekiel could do to stop himself laughing aloud as Heather treated Duncan to the frostiest scowl in her repertoire. The boys also got an unnoticed death glare from Eva, although the musclegirl remained silent.

“You’re not looking at the big picture, dude,” Chris explained. “Seriously, we can’t have the viewing audience thinking that the teams actually get along with each other, can we? Where’s the drama in that?”

Four flabbergasted campers stared at Chris as though he had just grown another head until the host said to Heather, “Go back to where you were.” Heather, sensing that resistance would be futile, stalked back to the log she had been sitting on most of the night.

“Anyone with half a brain could see that Heather was about to go down for the count,” Chris sniffed in the confessional, “and that the only reason she wanted anything to do with Duncan or Ezekiel was because she was hoping to stay awake by talking to people. But we’re on a schedule here. We have an elimination tonight, so we have to get this challenge over with.”

By mid-morning, it was over. When Heather finally fell, Chris escorted Duncan, Eva and Ezekiel to the lodge, leaving a couple of interns behind to keep watch over those campers who were still asleep. At the lodge, Chris formally announced that the Killer Muskies had won the challenge, and told those Eagles who were present that they had to decide whom to vote off that night. He then left the campers to their own affairs.

Having found breakfast unsatisfying, Owen decided that it couldn’t hurt to ask for more. The shutters to the kitchen were open, so he thought it likely that Chef would be able to hear him.

“Hey, Food Dude,” the blond giant called into the kitchen. “You got any of the baked beans with maple syrup left over from the buffet?”

From somewhere within the kitchen, Chef Hatchet called back gruffly, “You need to lay off the beans, fat boy. Your gut gas put Ghoul Girl and Ax Boy down for the count last night. Might have cost your team the challenge.”

Oh, crap, Owen thought. Suddenly feeling intensely nervous, he turned round and confirmed his fear: most of the other campers in the lodge had overheard, and some of his teammates were not reacting well.

His skin crawling from the angry glares boring into him, Owen turned back toward the kitchen and petulantly called, “Nice of you to hang me out to dry in front of everyone!”

“Your problem. Deal with it,” came the disembodied reply.

“Ladies,” Sadie said to her allies, with sly smile and furtive tone, “I think we have a fifth vote.”

“Who?” the microcephalic Lindsay asked innocently.

Sadie explained patiently, “Owen. Right now, he’s got to be feeling pretty nervous about his chances of staying in the game, so we’re going to show him that he can save himself by voting with us. I’ll talk to him as soon as he leaves the lodge.”

“I’ll come with,” Katie volunteered.

“Sure, I’ll come, too,” Lindsay offered.

“Sorry, Lindsay,” Sadie replied, “but I don’t think you should. Remember, Heather doesn’t want us to advertise that we have an alliance. It might look suspicious if all three of us cornered Owen. He’d probably like it, but still. With just Katie and me, no one will bat an eye because we do everything together anyway. What you can do, Linds, is talk to Justin when he wakes up. Just ask him to vote with you against Gwen.”

“Piece of cake,” Lindsay assured the butterball. “He’s into me, so I’m sure he’ll want to help me.”

“Great,” Katie broke in. “That’ll make six votes, which is all we need.”

“Just don’t tell him about Owen,” Sadie warned. “You don’t want to give him a reason to not vote with you. Got it?”

“Got it,” Lindsay assured the butterball again. “I ask Justin to vote against Glenda, and I don’t tell him what Odo did.”

Sadie’s warning struck Katie as unnecessary, and it got the Thin Twin to thinking. “You seem awfully worried about Owen,” Katie told her BFF.

“Heather’s put a lot of faith in us,” Sadie explained. “We need to show her that her faith isn’t misplaced. Besides, Owen’s as strong as an ox. We might need that in a future challenge.”

“Are you sure those are the only reasons?” Katie needled.

“What do you mean?” Sadie asked, in a tone that seemed a little defensive to Katie.

“Admit it,” Katie challenged, a knowing smile softening her words. “You like him.”

“And if I do, so what?” Sadie challenged in turn. “He’s nice, he’s a lot of fun, and he’s big and strong. And he can’t help it if his digestion is bad.”

“I know, right?” Katie admitted, having gotten the rise that she wanted out of her BFF. “It’s not like I said there was anything wrong with it.”

“Oh, there’s totally nothing wrong with it, if that’s what you like,” Lindsay seconded. “We can’t all be hot, or else how would anyone be able to appreciate hotness? Besides, he is a lot of fun. And like you said, he’s strong as a fox. Or is that crazy like an ox? I can never keep all those sayings straight.”

“There goes Owen,” Katie said, effectively ending the discussion, for she had spotted the man-mountain leaving the lodge. “C’mon, Sadie, let’s go talk to him.”

By early afternoon, all the campers had awakened, although some then went directly to their cabins to sleep in an actual bed. Heather was one of these, skipping lunch because she was not hungry. Not bothering to change out of her normal clothes, she slept fitfully through most of the afternoon in what was little more than a series of catnaps, until Katie and Sadie finally awakened her for good.

“Sorry to wake you up,” Katie said, “but we need to know who you want to vote off.”

“Not to mention that you still have to vote, too,” Sadie added.

In no mood for a lengthy discussion, Heather sighed and said, “I guess we’ll get rid of Gwen,” as she turned on her stomach and buried her face in her pillow.

“Good,” Sadie said. “That’s who Lindsay thought you’d want to vote off.”

“Chef told everyone that Owen might have cost us the challenge,” Katie added, “so we talked to Owen, and he’ll vote with us.”

“Lindsay went to talk to Justin,” Sadie chimed in, “so he should be the sixth vote.”

Heather suddenly sat bolt upright, banging her head painfully on the cabin’s low ceiling. “I’d better check on them,” the dragon girl said, as she jumped down from her bunk and was out the door before either clone could say another word.

Heather’s concern, of course, was that if Lindsay and Justin were alone for any significant time, they wouldn’t be discussing voting strategy. As the dragon girl dashed around the camp, the thought occurred to her that she should have asked the Bobbsey Twins if they knew Justin’s whereabouts, but it would be a serious loss of face to go back and ask them now. Luck was with her, though, and she spotted Lindsay and Justin near the dock. They were sunning themselves and conversing idly.

“Oh, there you are Lindsay!” Heather exclaimed as she approached. “Don’t you need to get ready? You have to look your best for the ceremony.”

“The ceremony isn’t until after dinner,” Justin pointed out. “And that’s not for another two hours—”

Two hours?” Lindsay repeated in alarm. “Oh, my gosh, I do have to get ready!”

As the uberbimbo fairly sprang to her feet, she said to her lust interest, “Sorry, Justin, but it takes time for a girl to fix up right.”

“No apologies needed,” Justin assured her. “It’s a little different for dudes, but I totally understand. After all, if being as gorgeous as we are were quick and easy, then everyone would do it.”

As Heather tugged Lindsay’s arm in a not-so-subtle suggestion that they take their leave, the uberbimbo smiled her endearing smile and said to the uberhunk, “From the moment I first saw you, I knew we were meant for each other.”

“Me, too. See you around.”


That night, after dinner, the Muskies departed to enjoy their reward—a bed and breakfast stay aboard the same luxury yacht that had brought them to the island—and the Screaming Eagles assembled at the bonfire for their first elimination ceremony. Chris appeared before them and, because it was the Eagles’ first elimination, gave the same introductory speech as he had given to the Muskies three nights before, but nothing would be gained by repeating it here. As he had on that earlier occasion, the host first called forth those fortunate souls who had no votes against them.

“Sadie.”

With a squeal of delight, the butterball bounded up to Chris. She needed no prompting to present her toasting stick, for all the Eagles had by now heard about the ceremony’s mechanics through the grapevine. Upon receiving her marshmallow, she took her place behind Chris.

“Justin.”

The Embodiment of Manly Beauty rose to his feet and strode forward with his distinctive series-of-poses gait. After receiving his talisman of life, Justin moved to take his place behind Chris, and favored Sadie with a polite smile as he did so. The butterball’s eyes fluttered as if she were about to faint.

“Lindsay.”

The sun goddess bounced up to Chris and received the blessing that was due her, and then moved to stand immediately in front of Justin. A moment later, she playfully leaned back into him.

Justin took the hint, and placed his hands on Lindsay’s hips. Since he was a good deal taller than she, Lindsay’s gesture afforded Justin a birds-eye view of her cleavage-intensive chest, although whether this was by accident or by design was not clear. Neither of the budding lustbirds noticed Heather’s glower.

“Trent.”

The guitarist ambled forward and collected his survival prize.

“Cody.”

The science geek imitated Trent as best he could, but the difference wasn’t hard to see. Whereas Trent had the relaxed gait of the naturally mellow, Cody’s was the rehearsed, self-conscious strut of the poseur.

“Heather.”

The dragon girl was still notably sleep-deprived. Although she had been able to cosmetically conceal the bags under her eyes reasonably well, she now trudged stiffly up to get her marshmallow, in stark contrast to the elegant glide with which she had first stepped onto the island less than a week since. Months later, when she saw the finished episode, Heather would cringe at this moment.

“Noah.”

With a self-satisfied smirk, for he had regarded his safety as a foregone conclusion, the bookworm collected his prize.

“Leshawna.”

The homegirl swaggered up to Chris. Presenting her toasting stick, she declared, “Put her there!” and received what she had earned.

“Katie,” Chris finally pronounced, summoning the last of the voteless wonders. He had called Sadie first and Katie last in an attempt to make them sweat a little, as well as to see if they could bear to be apart that long. It didn’t really work, though, because the Bobbsey Twins knew perfectly well that they weren’t at risk. Not this time, anyway.

Katie bounded puppylike up to Chris and received her marshmallow, then bounded over to Sadie. The BFFs then hugged each other, squealing in delight.

Chris fixed the last two Eagles with his gaze. “I have only one marshmallow left,” the host intoned solemnly. “The one who gets it will remain in the game. The one who doesn’t must walk the Dock of Shame, board the Boat of Losers, and make the Voyage of the Damned all the way to Loserville—population, you.

“Each of you racked up a lot of votes. Owen, you’re in the bottom two because some people think you cost your team the challenge when you gassed Gwen and Trent. Gwen, you’re in the bottom two because… well, because some people just don’t like you very much. That’s the only reason I can see.

“Whatever. The Boat of Losers awaits its first passenger—Total Drama Island’s most pathetic loser of all. And so, the final marshmallow of the night goes to…”

This being the Eagles’ first elimination, Chris drew it out and hammed it up every bit as much as he had done for the Muskies’ first elimination ceremony three nights before. This time, though, there were no special circumstances to save the unlucky camper who was voted off. As Chris mugged the camera, Owen was sweating bullets, but Gwen just looked resigned.

After milking the tension for a solid 45 seconds, Chris finally called Gwen forward. “Next time,” Heather muttered softly as the Goth received her sugary benediction.

After dispensing the final marshmallow, Chris said to the condemned giant, “Owen, the Dock of Shame awaits. It’s your last scene, so don’t be shy about milking the drama." Turning to the survivors, the host added, “The rest of you, enjoy your marshmallows. You’re all safe… for tonight.”

As Owen approached the “Dock of Shame”, which was the same dock the campers had arrived at five days since, he could see that it was lined with tiki torches for the ceremony. At the end of the dock waited the same small, tug-like boat that had retrieved the divers during the ill-fated first challenge. Now, as then, Chef Hatchet was in the pilothouse.

The Boat of Losers was equipped with a bell, which Hatchet slowly rang in imitation of a funeral bell as Owen made his way down the dock. The small boat listed visibly as the scion of Brobdingnag stepped on board.

The prisoner comes to meet his doom;
The block, the headsman, and the tomb.
The funeral bell begins to toll—
May Heaven have mercy on his soul!


For most of the eliminations, the producers spliced in a confessional spot either immediately before or immediately after Chris announced the verdict, with one (or occasionally more) of the campers giving their thoughts on the elimination or explaining why they voted the way they did. Eva had that role for the first ceremony, as has been told of before. For this night, the role fell to Heather.

“I would rather have gotten rid of Weird Goth Girl,” Heather admitted in the confessional, “but booting Owen is a pretty good consolation prize. He’s nice, but he’s also a fart machine, so it’s sure going to smell a lot better around here.” As Heather grimaced at a particularly noxious outhouse odor, she added, “And this place needs all the help it can get.”

After the Eagles had toasted and consumed their marshmallows, they did not linger at the fire as they would after some later ceremonies, for most of them wished to catch up on lost sleep. As the survivors dispersed, Heather collected her posse and berated them—not too loudly, for she did not wish to be overheard—for failing to oust Gwen as they had assured her they could.

“I don’t get it,” Katie admitted. “We should have had six votes. The four of us, plus Owen and Justin.”

“Did they actually say how they would vote?” Heather asked.

“Owen did,” Sadie replied.

“And what about Justin?” Heather asked again, with the sinking feeling that she may have interrupted Lindsay when the uberbimbo was actually doing something useful.

“No, he didn’t mention it,” Lindsay answered with a shake of her head.

“Did you ask him to vote against Gwen, like we talked about?” Katie asked.

“Oh... I knew I forgot something!” the uberbimbo admitted. “But I did remember to tell him about Odin.”

Sadie groaned in disappointment and whined, “That’s the part you weren’t supposed to tell him!”

“Oh, no!” Lindsay exclaimed, as she realized what she’d done. “Sally, I’m so sorry. I know you liked him.”

“Well, that changes things,” Heather admitted. “We can take out Gwen next time. Sadie, if you really were into Owen, then it’s just as well that he’s gone. If we’re serious about winning this game, then we don’t need that kind of distraction,” the queen bee explained, looking pointedly at Lindsay. “Keep your eyes on the prize.”

With nothing more to say on the matter, the four retired to their cabin to catch up on lost sleep.


“Mom?” Brett asked.

“Yes, dear?”

“From what you said, Harold’s funeral was like, the day after the first episode. How would Chris know if the episode got good ratings? Or was he just saying that because he didn’t want to be bothered?”

“The show aired five nights a week, with half-hour episodes in the time slot between the evening news and the start of prime time,” his mother explained, “except for the introduction episode, which was an hour-long special on a Sunday night. Once the network got into the regular schedule, Monday’s episode showed a challenge, and Tuesday’s showed the elimination along with whatever politicking there might be and enough personal byplay scenes to fill the time slot. Wednesday’s episode was a review called “TDI Aftermath” that was shot in a studio and hosted by Millie Stacey, as she was known in those days. That was before success went to her head and she changed her first name to ‘Blaineley’ because she didn’t think ‘Millie’ sounded diva-ish enough, I guess. That was also before her first marriage, so she was still using two names instead of four like she does now.”

“Blaineley Stacey Andrews O’Halloran?” Brett asked.

“The one and only. Anyway, that episode would have things like exit interviews with contestants who’d been recently eliminated. Thursday’s episode was the next challenge, and Friday’s was another elimination.

“The show eventually built up some lag time, but the earliest episodes aired almost as they were shot. The first challenge episode aired the next day, probably at about the same time as the first elimination ceremony was actually taking place… so, yeah, Chris might have had time to find out what kind of ratings the first challenge got. Or, he might have been guessing based on the premiere’s rating, which would certainly have been available by that time. Or, like you said, maybe he just said the first thing that popped into his head because he couldn’t be bothered.”

“Funny,” Brett mused. “From the way you talk about him, it sounds like Chris was pretty wrapped up in himself, what with chewing Beth out for ‘stealing his scene’ and all. You’d think that he might have done the service to get more screen time for himself.”

“That’s a good point, now that you mention it,” his mother conceded. “He probably hadn’t thought of that. Or maybe he had, but still didn’t want to do it because preparing the service would have required him to do actual work. We’ll probably never know.”

The night was still young, so Brett’s mother paused a few moments to collect her thoughts, and then resumed her tale.


.

Episode #4: The Tale of the Dodgeball Match

Original title: Dodgebrawl


Two days had passed since Owen’s elimination, and Sadie was once more her sunny self. While she had hoped that she could get to know Owen better, she had accepted his untimely departure as something that could happen in an elimination game. She could be separated from a boy she liked, she could—indeed, almost certainly would—be separated from friends she would make here, she might even be separated from Kat—

No, Sadie refused to think of that. On an intellectual level, she knew that it was possible and even likely, but on an emotional level it was too horrible a prospect to contemplate. She would deal with it if it happened, but she would lock it out of her mind until then. “Live for the moment,” as Geoff often counseled.

Besides, Owen’s departure meant one less distraction from her Justin-watching. The gregarious goliath had his charms (charms which, in truth, Sadie had started to fall for), but he wasn’t much to look at. Justin, on the other hand, probably had his picture in a dictionary somewhere, next to the definition of “eye candy”. Sadie knew and accepted that Justin “belonged” to Lindsay, but a girl could dream, and Sadie knew how to dream big.

More troubling was Heather’s attitude toward her, Katie and Lindsay. After forging their alliance, it hadn’t taken the queen bee long to lay down ground rules for it. Some seemed reasonable, or at least defensible. Clearly spurred by Justin and Lindsay’s obvious mutual attraction and the revelation that Sadie had been making eyes at Owen, Heather had forbidden any further romantic entanglements. “If we’re serious about winning this game, then we don’t need that kind of distraction,” Heather had said; and in truth, Sadie had to admit that her liege had a point.

Other rules, though, seemed to range from the pointless to the blatantly self-serving. Most notably, Heather had claimed the right to borrow her allies’ stuff without asking, but had declared her own things strictly off-limits. When Katie had protested, Heather had explained that she needed to be as comfortable as possible to facilitate her strategizing—strategizing which, she reminded them, was going to take them to the Final Four. Lindsay had accepted this justification without a second thought, possibly because she understood the “pampering is a birthright” mentality. Katie and Sadie were more skeptical, but couldn’t deny that Heather’s strategy seemed to be working so far. The clones decided that they could endure a few minor indignities to improve their chances of winning a hundred thousand dollars and lasting fame.

As the teams sat down to another unappetizing breakfast, Heather was keeping her allies close, the better to enforce the “no romancing” rule. At the Muskies' table, Courtney was keeping Ezekiel close, likewise to shield him from what she regarded as bad influences. Courtney was pleased with the progress that she’d apparently made during the Awake-a-thon, but she harbored no illusions that the homeschooled farm boy could be re-educated in a single night, especially since Duncan was also “tutoring” Ezekiel in certain things and seemed intent on pulling him in the opposite direction from where Courtney wanted to take him.

As the campers ate, Chris entered the lodge, walked to one end of the dining hall, and called for attention. The campers knew that the second day after an elimination would normally be a challenge day, so it was possible to guess what the host was going to talk about.

“Okay, campers,” Chris said, “Challenge today. We’ve set up a playing court on the other side of the Arts & Crafts tent. We lost two interns building it, and I’m sure you won’t want their deaths to be in vain,” he added with a dazzling smile, “so be prepared to bring it! It’s going to be strenuous, so I’ll give you half an hour to digest your brekkie. Don’t be late!”

At the appointed time, he campers assembled on a wood-floored playing court which had Plexiglas retaining walls on all sides. The court had no markings except for a centerline and the boundary lines. On one side of the court were two small sets of bleachers and a small tower for Chef Hatchet, who would officiate the match, to stand on.

Chris presently called for attention. “Is there anyone here who’s never played the bloodbath game called dodgeball?” he asked, and was met with silence. “Good,” he pronounced. “As you may know, there are a lot of variations in the rules, so listen carefully while I tell you the rules for this house.”

“Throwing balls,” Noah sneered. “Another mentally taxing challenge. Oh, how will I ever manage?”

Lindsay didn’t know sarcasm when she heard it, even when it dripped like battery acid. “I’ll help you with that. That’s what teamies are for,” she offered cheerily.

A wave of laughter, some open and some poorly suppressed, swept through the throng, for Lindsay’s innocent and completely sincere offer of assistance had put Noah down more effectively than any rival snarker ever could. Not even Chris or Hatchet were able to keep entirely straight faces.

“I’ll keep that in mind, Lindsay,” Noah replied dryly, accepting his accidental defeat in good grace. What do guys see in her, anyway? he wondered, besides the obvious?

“Now that that’s settled,” Chris continued, “here are the rules.

“You’ll start six on six, and the game ends when one team has no players left. Each team must start at least three girls in every game, and each team can sit out up to two players per game. We might change those limits or the starting number later if enough people get hurt,” the host added with a wolfish grin.

“You’ll start with three balls on each side. We won’t be using the opening rush to center court here, at least not in this game. We might do that in a later game, though. Heck, we might even change the rules every game, just to mess with you. The match is best three out of five.

“If a ball hits you without touching the floor or anything out of bounds first, then you’re out. The head is fair game. A ball that hits another player is still live, so you can have double kills. But if you catch a live ball, then the person who threw it is out and you can bring in one person off the bench. More on that in a minute.

“If you catch a ball that’s already hit one of your teammates, then the catch counts but the hit doesn’t. If you’re holding a ball, you can use it to deflect an incoming ball; but if you drop your ‘shield’ ball, you’re out. You can dodge a ball any way you like, but you have to stay at least partly in bounds. The lines are considered ‘in’. You also have to be in bounds to throw. You can leave the court to catch a live ball, but you’ll be out if you don’t make the catch. You can’t cross the centerline or pick up balls from the other team’s side.

“As I said, if you catch an opponent’s throw, then you can bring in someone off the bench if you don’t have six players on the court already. The player you bring in can be either the one who’s been out the longest, or someone who hasn’t been in yet. After everyone’s been in, not counting anyone you might be sitting out, then a catch will bring in whoever’s been out the longest.

“Any questions? No? Great! Play ball!”

In the finished episode, a spliced-in confessional would reveal that the host had a surprise in store for the campers. “There’s one other thing that I decided I wouldn’t tell them about unless it actually comes up,” Chris confessed in the confessional. “If I decide that a game is going too quickly, and that we might not be getting enough good footage, or if I just want to extend what seems like a good game for the sake of getting more footage, or even if I just want to mess with these kids, I can order the teams back to full strength whenever I want. It’ll also help to insure that everybody plays. Of course, I could have just made a rule that everyone has to play, but it’s more fun for me this way.”

On the court, Heather cried, “Coach! I called it!” as the Eagles moved to their bench. None dissented, either because they didn’t care or because they sensed that it would be futile to argue the point. Her power secure, Heather said, “For the first game, we’ll start Justin, Trent, Cody, Katie, Lindsay and Leshawna.”

On the Muskies’ side, Courtney said, “I’ll be the coach, unless somebody thinks they can do a better job.” The lawyer-to-be likewise met with no resistance, so she assigned Duncan, Geoff, D.J., Bridgette, Eva and Izzy to start the first game.

The starters took their places on the court, and a couple of interns distributed the teams’ starting allotment of balls. Hatchet mounted the referee’s tower, looked the teams over, and said, “All right, everyone, let’s make this a good, clean bloodbath. Remember, the nation is watching.” He then gave a hand signal and a blast from his whistle; and with an enthusiastic shout, the Death-and-Glory Teens sought their fates. On the Eagles’ bench, Noah pulled a book out of one of his cargo pockets and began to read Troilus and Cressida.

Tell me, O Muse, who dwellest in the halls of Olympus and makes nimble the tongue of the poet, who was the first to strike, the first to fall, and the first to gain glory in the eyes of gods and men? D.J., the dusky brickhouse, the giant with the heart of a child, who looked kindly on even the humblest beast of the field, drew back his arm as he grasped his ball of foam rubber sheathed in soft plastic. This he flung at Justin, with the intent to smite him upon his breast. But the Embodiment of Manly Beauty sidestepped the azure spheroid as it streaked toward him and Trent, learned in the ways of music and the favorite of the Goth, threw his own ball at D.J., intending to exploit a momentary vulnerability as the brickhouse completed the follow-through to his own throw; yet the gentle giant was not without protectors. Bridgette, who like D.J. was friend to all living things, stepped in front to shelter her huge teammate and deflected Trent’s ball with her own.

Yet Bridgette’s defense did not suffice; for she had not noticed that Lindsay was also preparing to throw, hoping to take advantage of the same window of opportunity that Trent had seen. Bridgette could not have dealt with both, even had she known the truth, but her ignorance of Lindsay’s move would be her downfall. Lindsay threw at D.J., but missed her mark and struck Bridgette instead, and the golden-haired wave rider retired to the bench.

“I got one! Yay!” Lindsay cried in her joy. Before anyone could warn the blonde bombshell to keep her attention on the battle, Geoff stepped forward, brave and tall. In place of the ten-gallon hat that he normally wore, he now sported a small visor that he had acquired from the Tuck Shoppe to shade his eyes; for in this challenge, his enormous hat would have done nothing but make him a bigger target. He picked up the ball that had been Bridgette’s and threw Lindsay out, exacting the vengeance that was due his fallen comrade.

And so the battle raged. Cody threw at Duncan, for the disciple of the sciences sought to win honor and street cred by showing that he did not fear the street fighter and by removing an opponent whom he supposed was a fearsome threat. But Duncan moved like a sick old man, and made only a token effort to dodge Cody’s ball. The scorner of laws was struck fairly, so he tottered to the bench and sat down, looking perfectly miserable.

Having acquired a ball, Eva now stepped forward. The tactic she favored was to target the groin area of boy and girl alike. This she did not from any desire to hinder her opponents’ ability to bring forth a new generation to replace the last, as spring brings forth new leaves to replace those lost in autumn. No, the bronze maiden’s motive was far more pragmatic. Under dodgeball rules, the groin is simply a difficult spot to protect well—low enough that the ball would be hard to catch, high enough that it would be difficult to jump over, one of the last parts of the body to move when a warrior tries to dodge to the side, and far enough from the eyes to make it difficult to reliably place a shield ball for a deflection attempt. The intimidation factor didn’t hurt, either. If someone happened to be overprotective of their groin, then the hips would work nearly as well. Eva threw out Justin in this way, then picked up another ball and threw at Trent, but the wiry young minstrel was more nimble and dodged the throw.

Armed with the ball that had been Eva’s, Trent now threw at Geoff, but that happy warrior caught the ball and Courtney summoned Tyler to do battle even as Trent’s song was halted for the nonce.

The lean, wiry Tyler, resplendent in his bright crimson tracksuit and matching headband, which had been given him by his father to bring him luck and photo ops on the show, dashed onto the court with a mighty war cry. Picking up a loose ball, he flung it at Katie from near the back line.

He hit Ref Hatchet.

Resisting the urge to shake his head in pity at the folly of this eager but blundering youth, Hatchet glowered at Red Jock and said, “You’ve just made a powerful enemy, son.”

Undaunted, Tyler picked up another ball as Eva said to him, “Not bad. Now let’s see if you can hit an actual player.”

“They’ll never know what hit them,” the Dude in Red assured her, as he wound up and hurled the ball at Cody.

The speeding missile struck Geoff in the back of the head, knocking the disciple of Dionysus to the ground and leaving him dazed for a moment; for Tyler had again thrown from the back line as was his wont, Geoff had been standing closer to the centerline in accordance with his preference, and Tyler’s arm was strong.

“I should have been more specific,” Eva muttered to herself with a shake of her head, resisting the urge to facepalm lest it expose her to attack from the remaining Eagles. She need not have worried, though, for everyone was too engrossed in Tyler’s ineptitude to take advantage of it.

“Are you finished?” D.J. asked Tyler.

“I haven’t even started—” Red Jock began, but Eva cut him off.

“Yeah, we can see that,” the mighty maiden retorted, with no hint of a smile to soften her words. “Were you planning to start sometime?”

“I can dominate this game!” Tyler insisted. “Give me all the balls, and you’ll see!”

“Whatever,” Eva sighed, and she and D.J. did as the legend-in-his-own-mind demanded. At one point, Eva and D.J.’s eyes met, and they could guess that they were thinking the same thought: If we lose this challenge, Duncan’s going to have competition in the Bottom Two.

Tyler’s teammates stood back as the boastful boy proceeded to hoist himself by his own petard. Tyler threw as fast as he could put each ball into his right hand and draw back his arm. He threw high and hard—and wild. The first thudded hard against the back wall, at least two and a half meters up, and landed back in Muskies territory. The second scattered the Eagles’ bench, although Noah took no notice, so engrossed was he in his book. The third sailed completely over the back wall.

Tyler’s fourth and final ball sped directly for Leshawna’s forehead, which doesn’t sound bad until one realizes that he was aiming for Cody, who was halfway across the court from the ebon homegirl, born and bred in the mean streets of Montreal’s less savory districts. With no time to think, Leshawna instinctively put up her hands to shield her face.

Ostie!” she swore as the ball smacked painfully into her hands. She held on, though, and Tyler was out.

At the Muskies’ bench, the disgusted Courtney muttered, “Thank you, Leshawna.”

On the Eagles’ bench, Heather turned to a certain bookworm and said, “Noah, you’re in.”

“Sports aren’t my thing,” Noah replied as if that would end the matter. He didn’t even look up from his book.

To Heather, this sounded like a direct challenge to her authority, and that was simply intolerable. “I’m the coach, and you’ll go in when I say!” she insisted.

“I think not.”

“Are you defying my authority?”

“What authority? The only reason you’re the coach is because you called it.”

“You know, you could at least pretend like you care about this team,” Heather challenged, her patience sorely tried.

“As a matter of fact, I do care,” Noah replied, “but my caring won’t affect the outcome of this challenge,” He then repeated, “Sports aren’t my thing.” The bookworm still hadn’t looked up from his book, and appeared to have read at least two more pages during the argument, assuming that he hadn’t simply turned the pages for dramatic effect.

By this time, the Eagles on the court had come to the bench to find out what was going on, and they were none too pleased when they learned what the argument was about.

Hatchet was getting impatient. “Eagles, you need to decide who to send in,” he called from his tower.

“Whatever,” Heather muttered, conceding defeat for the nonce. “Gwen, you’re in.”

When play finally resumed, Geoff, who was prone to prowl near the enemy lines as has been told of before, threw at Leshawna. The dusky homegirl, descended from a lineage of the Dark Continent, had a ball of her own and now held it before her, intending to deflect the speeding bullet Geoff had sent her way. But the urban cowboy was a star quarterback on his school’s football team, and what this meant Leshawna now learned to her cost. Geoff’s blast knocked Leshawna’s shield ball from her hands and struck her above her bosom besides, and she retired to the bench.

Gwen now tried her luck. Her arm was not strong, though, and Izzy dodged her throw easily. Eva then threw, and Gwen dodged by a mere hair’s breadth.

Katie, meanwhile, had dodged D.J.’s throw and, playing the ball off the retaining wall, threw at Eva, but the ball sailed harmlessly overhead as the raven-haired Amazon ducked. Cody then threw at Geoff, who stood his ground and made to catch the fell spheroid; but the science geek had put an odd spin on the ball so that it squirted from Geoff’s grasp, and the disciple of Dionysus was out.

Izzy then threw at Gwen, who sought to catch it, but the Goth misjudged and failed to hold the ball, so she was out. Yet she did not fall in vain, for Izzy’s throw left her out of position to defend herself against Katie’s throw. The slim lady of the motor mouth and hair of flame was struck cleanly, so she likewise retired to the bench.

With two players remaining per side, Chris signaled to Hatchet, who called an official’s timeout. As the remaining players went to the sidelines, Chris came onto the court and stood astride the centerline, then addressed the teams.

“This game is going too fast,” the Lord of Wawanakwa declared. “There’s too much hitting and not enough dodging. The camera crews aren’t getting enough good shots, so I’m going to invoke a little rules twist that I didn’t tell you about at the start.

Chris saw that the campers were mystified, and he was pleased at this. After letting the campers speculate for a few moments, he decreed, “As the host, I can restore both teams to full strength whenever I want. And now, I want.”

He was met with a collective gasp, and this pleased him as well.

“The four who are on the court now will remain on the court, but you can add anyone you want to get back to six. The only thing you can’t do is put in the same six who started the game. I want to see you mix it up a little. And let’s see a little more drama, dudes and dudettes! This game has been looking like a tea party.”

Courtney replied, “Translation: if we don’t run ourselves into the ground, you might keep starting the games over until we collapse.”

“Pretty much,” Chris replied with that disgusting bland smile of his.

Faced with the prospect of the match turning into a more strenuous version of the Awake-a-thon, the campers (except for Noah) resolved to do what they could to step up their games. Only the viewing audience would know that Chris wasn’t really dissatisfied with the way the teams had been playing.

Play resumed, and the reconstituted teams tested each other with renewed vigor. The lineups were mostly as they had first been; but in deference to the directive that there had to be some changes, Heather had sent Gwen back into the fray, in place of Lindsay. Courtney, meanwhile, had summoned Ezekiel to battle for the first time, replacing Geoff.

Ezekiel took aim at Trent, for the prairie lad’s beliefs were not matters of convenience and his sexism cut both ways, so he thought it unfair to throw at girls when boys were available. The gods did not choose to reward his scruples, though, and the young bard dodged his throw.

D.J. then took aim at Leshawna and hurled his ball. Bridgette, as it happened, had likewise sought to retire the boisterous homegirl, and threw from the other side of the court. Nor did this catch the homegirl unawares, for she was blessed with excellent peripheral vision that had helped her to survive and thrive in the rough neighborhood of her youth. Seeing both throws, though, she was for a moment uncertain of how to react, and this moment of indecision cost her dearly; for in hesitating to decide how she would dodge both throws, she failed to dodge either, and so retired to the bench.

Gwen knew that her arm was not strong, so she had taken to “scavenging”, waiting for a teammate to throw and then throwing at the selfsame foe, in the hope of catching them unawares, for she thought this the way that she was most likely to be effective. She did succeed in throwing out D.J. in this way, piggybacking on Justin’s throw that the gentle giant had dodged. She did not fare as well, though, when she followed Cody’s throw at Izzy, for the manic redhead had a ball of her own.

With a Bacchic cry, Izzy dodged Cody’s throw and then deflected Gwen’s ball high into the air and over the Muskies’ bench. The neutered missile did not fly so far nor so fast that Bridgette could not run it down, though, for the surfer was fleet of foot. Racing madly, she caught the ball barely half a meter from the earth and then crashed painfully into the retaining wall; but she was not hurt and neither did she lose her grip on her prize, so Gwen was out and Tyler of the loud war cry returned to battle.

As he had before, Tyler insisted that he could dominate the game and demanded all the balls. This time, though, his teammates refused, and told him that he would have to gather his own balls. So that is what he did, for he was determined to show everyone what he could do and to set friend and foe alike trembling in awe.

As the battle raged around him, the crimson-clad track star gathered into his hands any ball he could reach. When he had four, for that was the most he could effectively hold at once, he unleashed a fusillade as furious as he had before, and with similar results. He did grant an indirect boon to his team, though; for Izzy, at home in the midst of chaos, took advantage of Tyler’s spectacle to throw out Justin.

As Tyler set to gathering balls again, Chris decided that enough was enough. There were only six balls on the court, of which Red Jock would hog four for himself, and Chris thought that Tyler’s tactics were slowing the game down too much. Seeking to pick up the pace, the host sent two more balls onto the court, one to each side, for at this moment he did not wish to favor one team over the other.

Trent ran down one of the new balls and quickly threw at Tyler. With three balls in hand, that brave but seemingly delusional warrior could neither dodge nor shield effectively, so he was helpless. Trent’s throw struck him amidst his balls—those he carried in his arms, not those with which he had emerged from his mother’s womb those long years before—and scattered them upon the ground, and the crimson-clad track star retired to the bench.

Katie had been playing competently but unremarkably as Sadie warmed the bench. But when Heather finally sent the butterball in, after Trent caught Duncan’s strangely shaky throw, the clones went on the attack.

The neo-Gemini Twins favored a one-two punch, which they didn’t even need to discuss beforehand. Sadie would throw first, at an opponent’s knees. As the foeman jumped to avoid Sadie’s ball (for that is the easiest way to dodge a low throw), Katie, who had the better arm, would throw at the spot where she expected their prey’s groin or hips to be. Katie did this for the same reasons that Eva did, albeit without the same level of intimidation; for although Katie was no weakling, yet she did not possess Eva’s vast strength.

Proving that they feared no one, Sadie and Katie first felled Eva, who retired to the bench cursing under her breath. Nor was Izzy immune to their onslaught. Then Ezekiel fell before the attack of the clones, and just like that, what had been a 3-5 deficit for the Eagles before Trent’s catch had become a 4-1 advantage, with Bridgette as the Muskies’ last hope.

The Eagles on the bench were on their feet. All except for Noah, who still had his nose in his book, seemingly not caring whether his team won or lost.

Bridgette threw at Sadie, who had already broken a light sweat, for she was prone to tire easily. The butterball was not yet spent, though, and dodged the throw because, as Chris could attest all too well, she was more nimble than she looked. Cody retrieved the ball and brought it to Sadie.

“You ladies do the honors,” he said. “You’ve earned it.”

“Thanks, Cody,” Katie replied. “We won’t disappoint you.” The Thin Twin then glared at Chris, as if daring him to reconstitute the teams again, but the Lord of Wawanakwa seemed content to let events take their natural course.

Then Sadie threw for the last time, and Katie a moment after. They grinned broadly as they did so, for in their minds’ eyes they could see the adulation that would soon be theirs.

Bridgette, scion of the sea and beloved of Poseidon, was rather like certain types of seals—graceful in the water, but clumsy on land. That curious handicap did not extend to the field of battle, though, and it was not the gods’ will that she should fall easily. The water nymph jumped to evade the first ball, just as almost everyone expected her to (though Noah neither expected, nor noticed, nor cared); but when Katie threw, Bridgette caught that ball, pirouetted in mid-air and, even as her foot touched down again, threw out the dumbfounded Sadie. D.J. returned to the fray, and suddenly the Muskies had a fighting balance.

With two players per side, it was over quickly. Trent and Cody both threw out Bridgette, but this left them unable to defend against D.J.’s throw. The dusky titan, as it happened, had taken aim at Trent, so the bard and the wave rider retired to the sidelines.

D.J. and Cody retrieved loose balls and faced one another, carrying their teams’ hopes and fears on their shoulders.

“Easy out!” Courtney called.

“Show that weenie who’s boss!” Duncan encouraged, but with an odd tremor in his voice.

These boasts reflected the confidence of the ignorant, for the “weenie” was wily in the ways of war. As the final combatants faced each other and time seemed to stand still, Cody stealthily gashed his ball on his belt buckle of brushed stainless steel, and tore out a chunk as he did so.

Moments later, D.J. threw.

Cody was skilled at evasion—he would later say that he had much practice from dodging spitballs in math class—and he ducked the brickhouse’s bullet. He then reared back and threw his own ball high and hard, and D.J. ducked in turn.

A pitched baseball breaks, if the pitcher knows the proper technique, because of the way the Four Winds play upon its asymmetrical stitching. Pitchers who are unwilling to play within the rules may seek to exaggerate this effect by scuffing the ball unbeknownst to the umpire. Cody had the same aim when he surreptitiously defaced his ball; for the break in its normally smooth surface allowed him to throw a curve ball. So it was that, as D.J. ducked and Cody’s throw seemed about to pass harmlessly overhead, the ball broke sharply downward and struck the gentle giant on his back, just above his kidney.

Hatchet blew his whistle and thumbed D.J. out. “Game, Eagles!” he cried, as the jubilant Cody pranced to the bench.


.

Intermission

At the Muskies' bench, Courtney was not happy, and she had no qualms about showing her displeasure. “This is just wrong,” she fumed. “We’ve got all the jocks. We’re supposed to win this challenge easily! Most of you seem to be doing your jobs, so why don’t we have more to show for it?”

Bridgette, Geoff and Eva made no response, for they sensed that Courtney’s question was rhetorical, and in truth they were as mystified as she. D.J., on the other hand, had something to get off his chest.

“If you ask me, I think we just underestimated them,” the brickhouse speculated, irritated that Cody had thrown him out to end the first game. “Curve balls just don’t happen in this game. Who’d have thought that Cody could throw one? I should have tried to catch his ball instead of trying to dodge it.”

“But we’ve seen their moves now,” Tyler chimed in. “They may have fooled us once, but they won’t fool us again!”

“I’ll hold you to that,” Courtney replied with a curt nod of acknowledgement. “And Tyler,” the future speaker of laws continued, “Your enthusiasm is great, but it doesn’t help us unless you can control it. You were throwing balls all over the court, and you were hitting everything except the opposing players. That doesn’t get us anything. I’ll trade some of your enthusiasm for a little more accuracy.”

Courtney then turned her baleful gaze on Camp Wawanakwa’s resident juvenile delinquent. “Duncan, what’s going on?” she demanded. “You’re playing like you’re on crutches.”

“Yeah,” Ezekiel added. “You’re playing like a girl.”

“Watch it, Homeschool,” Eva snarled.

“Sorry,” Ezekiel offered contritely. “Old habits die hard, eh?”

“Where Zeke’s wrong,” Courtney continued,” is that you’re playing worse than any girl I know. You probably couldn’t have beaten Sadie one-on-one, and you should be one of our best people at this. Where’s that killer instinct honed by years of street fighting?”

“I’m fine, so just get your royal CIT-ness off my back, okay?” Duncan snapped.

“Dude, you are not fine,” Geoff countered. “I can see you shaking from here. What’s wrong, bro?”

Duncan sighed, seeing that he could no longer deny what had apparently become obvious. “If you must know,” he confessed, “I think it’s nicotine withdrawal. I’ve used up the smokes I brought with me, and I can’t get any more. McLean said the Tuck Shoppe would have some, but it doesn’t.”

“I get the impression that Chris says a lot of things,” Courtney replied, with a note of sympathy in her voice. She didn’t approve of smoking, let alone underage smoking, but she could see for herself what her teammate was going through.

”But that’s social engineering for you,” Courtney continued. “The Tuck Shoppe doesn’t carry tobacco, but it does carry contraceptives. Like any of us are going to get busy on national TV with someone we’ve only known a few weeks.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Ezekiel mused in a misguided attempt to lighten the mood. “Sure, it’d be embarrassing, but with the right girl I could probably manage it, eh?”

Eva was not amused, which isn’t saying much because the musclegirl was probably the most perpetually unamused person since Queen Victoria. “Yeah, but who’d get it on with you?” she sneered.

“You’d be surprised who I get fixed up with,” the farm boy replied matter-of-factly.

“How about keeping us in suspense on that, okay?” Bridgette suggested. “That’s a mental image I so don’t need right now.”

“Sex is awesome television,” Geoff said. “I doubt that the Chrismeister is really expecting anyone to get it on while we’re here, but I’ll bet he’s hoping that somebody does!”

The second game was about to start, so Courtney reasserted her dominance. “Guys, I think we’re getting off track. Duncan, since you can’t play effectively, we’re going to sit you out this game. If I were you, I’d start looking for other ways to help this team, because if we lose this challenge as things stand now, your head is liable to be the one that rolls.”

Duncan made no response. He didn’t like being bossed around, especially by the likes of Prissy McGoodygoody, but he couldn’t deny that she had a point. It is the body, not the mind, that cries loudest in nicotine withdrawal, and the physical toughness that was Duncan’s pride had failed him utterly.

On the Eagles’ bench, Heather said, “That was a long game. For the second game, I think Katie and Cody could use breathers, so we’ll start Justin, Noah, Trent, Leshawna, Lindsay and Sadie. We’ve got the advantage now, so don’t let up.”

As the Eagles’ starters took the floor, Heather noticed that there were only five. “Earth to Noah,” she said to the bookworm with audible irritation, “You’re starting this game.”

“I think not,” Noah replied, not looking up from his book.

“I say you are,” Heather snapped. “And I’m the coach, so what I say goes!”

“We’ve been over this,” Noah replied with no more passion than he had shown all along. “Sports aren’t my thing.”

“Look at me when I’m talking to you!”

“Why? Are you going to flash me or something?” Noah asked sarcastically, his nose still in his book.

“In your dreams, loser!” Heather huffed.

Getting no response, Heather made one more attempt. “I’m warning you, dweeb! Get out there now or you’ll regret it!”

“I don’t see you playing,” Noah replied indifferently, not that he was likely to have seen anything beyond the pages of Troilus and Cressida.

“I’m coaching!” Heather retorted, her face now noticeably red. “The coach belongs on the sideline!”

Heather’s voice had been rising, and this attracted Hatchet’s attention. He came over to the bench and asked, in a deceptively mild tone, “Is there a problem?”

“Not for long,” Heather replied darkly. Seeing that Noah had once again successfully run out the clock on her, the queen bee turned to Cody and said, “Sorry, Cody, but we need you.” With an unnoticed glare at Noah, the science geek took the field.

As the teams joined battle once more, Heather continued to stew. Where does that little snot get off defying me? she indignantly asked herself, for she had called the coach’s job fair and square.

As the dragon girl continued to fume, she noticed a pile of miscellaneous sporting equipment behind the bench, in a corner formed by two retaining walls. Don’t get mad, get even, she thought.

“Katie,” she said, “Excuse me a minute. If we have a chance to send someone in, Gwen goes in first, then you.” Heather then went to the equipment pile to see if she could find anything that would help her wreak her vengeance.

Luck was with her, and she found a football. She picked it up, then walked back to the court and stood near the sideline. Taking aim, she flung the football at Noah with all her strength, catching the unsuspecting bookworm squarely on the cheek and knocking him from his seat.

“You’re right,” Heather said sweetly, as she came back to the bench. “Sports aren’t your thing.”

Noah glared at the dragon girl, but said nothing as he rubbed his cheek. Not only had the end of the football imprinted an angry-looking red “X” upon his cheek, but the blow had also been hard enough to cause bruising, so Noah would bear the mark of Heather’s wrath for four days.

In the second game, the teams’ fortunes ebbed and flowed. The warriors threw, dodged, and caught. Players fell, were reinstated, and came off the bench. Fortune first favored the Muskies, then the Eagles, then the Muskies again, with neither team able to gain the upper hand for long.

With the teams standing at four players each, there came a momentary lull in the action, where by chance almost everyone was either standing empty-handed and awaiting a throw, or was retrieving a ball, or had acquired a ball but had yet to select a target. Eva took this moment of calm to step forward, ball in hand, and stand proudly near the centerline.

“Okay, birdies,” she challenged, “Do any of you have the guts to face me one on one?”

From the back line, Katie drew a bead on Eva, for the posturing Amazon seemed to her an easy target; and while the Thin Twin was a goodhearted girl, she was not learned in the customs of martial chivalry. Before Katie could throw, though, Leshawna stopped her with a gesture, asked for her ball, and stood forth to take up the challenge.

“Bring it, Macho Mama,” Leshawna challenged in turn. “You may have butt cheeks tighter than my weave and biceps with their own zip code, but you can’t scare me with mean looks or tough talk. We could have been tight, but you turned me down. That’s your loss, and you’re about to find out why.

“I lived in the projects for ten years before my father’s fortunes improved and we graduated to a middle-class neighborhood. You don’t survive for long on the mean streets if you talk tough and can’t back it up, so take your best shot. I can take whatever you can dish out.”

Eva nodded approvingly at the homegirl’s trash-talking skill, and gave a grim little smile. “No, Homie,” she said, “We’re more alike than you know. Before my family came to Canada, we lived in what used to be called East Germany. I spent my childhood there, in the chaotic years that followed the razing of the Berlin Wall and liberation from Communist rule, and I learned a lot about taking care of your own. You talk the talk epically, and I’d love to see if you can walk the walk, but we shouldn’t go head to head as long as we have other targets. I’ve had reason to reconsider your offer of friendship. I like you better than I realized at first, and during the Awake-a-thon, Chris said something that got me to thinking.

“When Heather was about to go down, Chris wouldn’t let her talk to any of us because he wants the finished episodes to look like our teams are blood enemies or something. He thinks it’s better ‘drama’ that way. But when we lost Harold, may he rest in peace, we saw that we have to look out for each other because we can't count on Chris or the producers to do it. You saw it, too. Better than I did, I’ll bet, because you were on the cliff and heard what he said with your own ears, whereas I only heard about it second-hand.”

Leshawna saw where Eva was going, so she completed the thought. “Well, I did say that you knew where to find me if you changed your mind. My offer still stands, and I’m glad to see that you’ve come around.”

“I have,” Eva replied. “This isn’t the time for us to go head to head. But if the time does come, then for that moment we don’t know each other. After all, our teams are still counting on us. Got it?

“Meaning,” the homegirl translated, “that if I’m the last of my team on the court, and you have a chance to take my head off, the fact that we’re tight isn’t going to stop you.”

“Smart girl,” Eva said.

“So it shouldn’t stop me, either,” Leshawna added.

“Exactly. A proper athlete has to be able to play tough against friends,” the bronze maiden explained.

“You’re my kind of sister,” the homegirl concluded. “Put ‘er there.”

The girls sealed their compact with a fist bump, and then turned away to rejoin their teammates.

Whilst Eva and Leshawna talked, Lindsay happened to be holding a ball and standing near the sideline closest to the Eagles' bench. When it became clear that the confrontation at center court was likely to end amicably, Heather came off the bench, walked up to the sideline, and called Lindsay to her as quietly as she might, in the hope that nobody else would notice.

“Lindsay,” said the queen bee quietly, her voice scarcely above a whisper, “I don’t know what kind of trash-class ritual this is, but all this sweetness and light is going to give me diabetes. Eva might be their toughest player, but she’s not paying attention right now, and no one ever called time out. You’ve got a perfect chance to take her out. It’ll show those losers that you’re not to be messed with, and it’ll really make the viewing audience respect you for more than just your hotness and your fashion sense.”

Any person of average intelligence would likely have seen at least one problem with Heather’s proposal, and possibly several, but Lindsay was not a person of average intelligence. Eager to please the Dark Queen, and not having entirely worked out the concept of actions having consequences, the blonde bombshell needed no further encouragement. So it was that, as Eva turned her back to rejoin her teammates, Lindsay saw her chance, reared back and threw with all her might—a high throw intended to smack the bronze maiden squarely between the shoulders.

But the Spirit of Friendship, having softened Eva’s hard heart, did not leave her defenseless. Most eyes were still on Eva and Leshawna; but as Lindsay wound up for her throw, Tyler spotted her from the bench. As the uberbimbo threw, Tyler yelled, “Duck!”

Eva did more than just duck. Even as she went down into a defensive crouch, she whirled about in the hope of spotting her would-be backstabber. Not a moment too soon, either; for while Lindsay’s arm was not particularly strong, neither was it weak. With reflexes so quick that they seemed scarcely mortal, Eva brought up her own ball as a shield and deflected Lindsay’s throw high over the back wall. Having identified her assailant, the enraged Amazon quickly stood and threw with all her tremendous might. That fury-fueled missile caught Lindsay full in the face, bloodying her nose and gashing her lip on her teeth. The golden-haired bombshell crumpled like a puppet does when its strings are cut.

Seeing Lindsay savaged in this way, Justin knew fury such as he had never known before. With a great, inarticulate war cry, the normally mild-mannered embodiment of manly beauty served Eva in much the same way as she had just served Lindsay. Eva was a powerful girl, seemingly the equal of any boy, but Justin struck her down just the same. He did have enough presence of mind to not aim for the face, as Eva had done; for the face is the center of a person’s outer beauty, and even in the grip of Ristrand-rivaling rage, Justin could never forget that. Instead, he left the bronze maiden gagging from a hit to the throat.

Nor did humbling Eva suffice to slake his vengeance lust. Snatching away first Leshawna’s ball and then Trent’s, the gorgeous lord of war threw out the remaining Muskies faster than you could say “Camp Wawanakwa”, first dispatching D.J. and then felling Geoff and Izzy with the same thigh-high throw to seal Game 2 for the Eagles.

Justin was now himself again, but he did not bask in his mighty deed nor savor the cheers of his teammates. Instead, he gathered the bawling Lindsay into his arms and quickly carried her to the Eagles’ bench.

“That,” Gwen pronounced, as Chef Hatchet came over to see how badly Lindsay was hurt, “was amazing.”

“I don’t know what came over me,” Justin admitted. Then he looked again on Lindsay’s bloody face and said, “On second thought, maybe I do.”

Hatchet opened a first aid kit, which he had brought to the match for just such an emergency, and stanched the blood. He then verified that Lindsay’s teeth were intact—not that a dodgeball ball should be capable of damaging teeth, but the power behind Eva’s throw had bordered on the unnatural—and finally inspected the cut on Lindsay’s lip.

“Nothing serious,” Hatchet assured her at last. “You should be good as new in a week.”

Lindsay finally noticed that the court was vacant, and asked, “Did we win?”

“We won, alright,” Sadie assured her. “You should have seen Justin mow them down. They never knew what hit them.” The butterball then told Lindsay how Justin had avenged her, but nothing would be gained by repeating it here.

Lindsay looked admiringly up at Justin, managed a pained smile, and said, “My avenging angel.” In return, he favored her with a radiant smile that sent a shiver down her spine.


The hour was growing late, so Brett’s mother left off her tale and suggested that he prepare for bed.


.

Sixth Night

In the morning, after they had breakfasted, Brett went to school whilst his mother, who had neither spouse nor partner, went to earn their daily bread. That evening, after they had dined and Brett had attended to his homework, Brett asked his mother to tell him more about her experience on Total Drama Island. Brett sat in his favorite chair, and his mother sat on the sofa. She took a few moments to collect her thoughts, and then she began to speak.

On the opposite bench, the Muskies were in shock at how swiftly the tide of battle had turned. “You okay, Eva?” Courtney asked, as the wounded Amazon came to the bench.

Rubbing her throat and swallowing experimentally, Eva barely managed to croak out, “I will be.”

Duncan had little love for Eva, and now saw a chance to kick her whilst she was down, not to mention playing off one enemy against another. “Where do you get off smashing Lindsay’s face like that?” he chided. “It’s just a game.”

Eva said nothing as she continued to rub her throat, but the glare she fixed on the scorner of laws plainly said, You have got to be kidding me.

“Sure, she tried to backstab you,” Duncan admitted, “but it’s not like she’s smart enough to think of something like that on her own.” Seeing that he had aroused Eva’s curiosity, the scorner of laws explained, “While you and Leshawna were settling your affair of honor, I saw Heather talking to Lindsay. I’d bet good money that she’s the one who put her up to it. Heather’s the one who could stand to have her face rearranged, if that’s what floats your boat.”

“Leave revenge for another time,” Courtney broke in hurriedly. “Right now, we’re in trouble. We’re down two games, and if we lose again, one of us is going home. Our tactics aren’t working. We need something else.”

“I have an idea,” Duncan suggested, “if nobody minds my taking over as coach. Right now, I can’t play worth crap, and you’re the one who said I needed to find another way to help.”

Courtney was torn, just as Duncan suspected she would be. On one hand, the future speaker of laws was every bit as much a control freak as Duncan has supposed; but on the other, she understood that he wanted to win, too, and in truth the Muskies had little to lose by doing whatever Duncan might suggest. Besides, Courtney had been so busy coaching that she hadn’t played yet, and she was reasonably athletic. A fresh player, she thought, might help turn the tide.

“Fine,” Courtney agreed, projecting a nonchalance that she did not feel. “What’s the plan?”

“A trick I learned on my first stay in Juvie,” the scorner of laws replied. “It’s called, ‘Crush the New Guy’.

“Basically, we’re going to concentrate our fire. We’ll let them throw at us, but we won’t throw back until everyone has a ball. Then, everyone will throw at the same person, at the same time. They won’t be able to dodge very well, because you can cover an area with multiple balls. You can’t shield against more than one ball at a time, so that won’t help them, either. And with several balls coming in at the same time, it’ll be hard to pick one to catch.

“Remember, though, that you can’t all aim at exactly the same spot, because that would make the spread easier to dodge. Besides, you’d run the risk or your balls bouncing off of each other. You’ll need to coordinate on who’s going to aim where.”

“I’ll handle that,” Courtney said. It wasn’t a suggestion.

“Alright, Princess, you can be my Field Marshal,” Duncan agreed. “Geoff, you’ll be her backup if she gets thrown out or something.”

“No sweat,” the urban cowboy replied.

“Go for the highest-value targets first, if they happen to be in. Top priority is Justin, because he’s the closest thing they have to a real jock, and we’ve seen what he can do. Your second priority is Katie, if she and Sadie are both in.” Duncan’s brow furrowed in uncertainty as he asked, “Katie’s the skinny one, right?” Upon receiving confirmation, he continued. “Anyway, those two are brutal together, but I doubt that Tubby will be worth much on her own, so we can kill two birds with one stone. Third is Cody, because he knows all the tricks. Fourth is Heather, because she’s Heather. Beyond that, there’s not much to choose. You can save Sadie for last.

“They won’t know what hit them,” Tyler declared enthusiastically.

“We have to strike hard and fast,” Duncan warned his troops, “because if the Birdies are smart, they’ll eventually either copy our tactics or figure out a way to defend against them. Seriously, if any strategy always worked, then everyone would use it.”

Eva’s condition was improving, but she had not yet fully recovered from the blow she’d received in the second game, so Duncan said, “Geoff, Courtney, Izzy, Bridgette, Zeke and Beth will start. Take ‘em to school, gang.”

“What about me?” Tyler asked. “I can dominate this game!”

“That’s the thing, Ty,” Duncan replied with a shake of his head. “This strategy is about quantity, not quality. It won’t work if one guy tries to dominate. Besides, this will let us rest some of our big guns.”

Hatchet’s whistle summoned a dozen eager warriors to proverbial death and not so proverbial glory. When everyone had taken their places, the Muskies saw that Heather had sent Katie, Justin, Cody, Leshawna, Trent and Gwen against them. The queen bee was resting Lindsay to give the uberbimbo more time to collect what wits she had. Heather likewise held Sadie in reserve because the easily winded butterball had to be used sparingly. It wasn’t that Heather had any qualms about sending her vassal into battle, for she had seen what Sadie could do; but the butterball was suited to brief bursts of activity, so Heather supposed that she would be more effective coming off the bench, ideally after everyone else had begun to tire. Noah had once again refused to play, although the bookworm’s attitude was now more sulking than indifferent.

Trent, Leshawna and Justin picked up the balls that were on the Eagles’ side of the court. On the Muskies’ side, Beth and Ezekiel armed themselves at Courtney’s command, with Courtney taking the third ball herself. Courtney had chosen the farm girl and the farm boy because she thought they might not be as good at dodging as their comrades, so she wanted them to have shield balls as an additional line of defense. Hatchet gave a hand signal and a whistle blast, and the hosts joined battle for what the Eagles hoped would be the last time.

The Muskies assumed defensive postures as the three armed Eagles chose their targets and threw. Katie threw first, seeking to humble the chauvinistic Ezekiel and cover herself with glory; but that tiller of the soil, scion of a family rich in corn and oil, dodged the missile that was meant for him. Trent then threw at Geoff, as did Gwen a moment later; but the disciple of Dionysus dropped to his knees and caught Gwen’s low throw, even as the young bard’s ball sailed harmlessly overhead, so the Goth retired to the bench. Geoff’s feat brought no brave brother into the breach, though, for the Muskies were already at full strength.

Bridgette and Izzy fetched the remaining balls and Field Marshal Courtney said, “Justin’s our man. Bridgette and Geoff, aim high, around shoulder level. But don’t look him in the eye, Bridgette, because he has powers. Beth and I will throw low, around thigh level. Izzy, center of mass. Zeke, you’re the headhunter. For future reference, this is the ‘coffin’ pattern. On my mark.”

The six Muskies cocked their arms and threw as one at Courtney’s command, and “attack pattern Coffin” worked just as she had drawn it up. Based on the fact that the Muskies had gathered all the balls, the Eagles suspected that they might all throw at once for intimidation effect, but they hadn’t counted on the Muskies all throwing at the same player. Justin was stunned into inaction at the sight of six spheroids streaking his way, for this was simply too much information for a mortal mind to process in the eye’s blink that was given him; and this was a time when his godlike gorgeousness gained him nothing. Justin was struck fairly five times, with only Ezekiel missing because the head is hard to hit, and the Embodiment of Manly Beauty retired to the bench.

Recovering their wits, the four remaining Eagles armed themselves and threw, but again the Muskies dodged and ducked and came to no harm. Heather appealed to Ref Hatchet, believed that Leshawna had nicked Bridgette; but the hulking arbiter denied her claim, having weighed the homegirl in the balance and found her wanting.

Whilst Heather was making her appeal, Katie and Cody retrieved the remaining balls. Cody, who never met with a girl whom he did not wish to please, chivalrously presented his ball to Leshawna. “My best defense is to dodge,” he explained, “but Lady Large and In Charge is probably better off with a shield ball.”

The ebon Amazon accepted this offering and thanked her benefactor by ever so briefly—fleeting as the blink of an eye, for no longer than it takes a god to ascend to Olympus—puckering her lips at him. Cody was well pleased at this playful “acknowledgement” of his “manly charms”, as he would have put it, as the two Eagles turned their full attention to the Muskie line.

As Katie cocked her arm to throw, Leshawna counseled, “Hold on girl. If we throw now, and they dodge, they’ll just throw all the balls back at once. Make ‘em do it with four.”

Katie saw the wisdom in the dusky daughter’s words, and the two Eagle girls assumed defensive crouches, holding their shield balls in front. On their flanks, Trent and Cody stood ready to dodge.

Courtney understood self-discipline—she had lived her life by it—so she told her teammates to hold their fire. Duncan’s “shock and awe” strategy might be less effective with fewer warriors, so Courtney wanted all six Muskies participating and was prepared to wait as long as it took to realize that aim.

With both teams now waiting for the other to commit itself, Chris grew impatient. Seeking to move the game along, the Lord of Wawanakwa sent four more balls onto the court, two on each side, so that everyone who wanted a ball could have one.

With the Muskies now fully armed, they drew a bead on Cody and again unleashed “attack pattern Coffin”, so named because the pattern marked more or less the points of a hexagonal coffin when properly executed. Cody was well skilled at dodging, as has been told of before, but the area covered by the Muskies’ spread was simply too great. Cody reacted quickly and lunged to one side, but two balls nevertheless found their mark, so he was out. Yet the gods avenged him well, for one ball struck him where the shoulder meets the collarbone and bounced high into the air. The Muskies had held nothing in reserve, so they could only watch helplessly as Trent settled under the ball like an infielder under a popup and calmly waited for it to come down. The young bard plucked the spent missile from the moving air, and Heather sent Sadie into the game even as Cody took his seat on the bench.

There was a brief delay, then, whilst Hatchet reviewed the video footage to determine whose ball Trent had caught. Finally, he sent Bridgette off. That scion of the sea accepted her lot—for who can stand against the whims of Fortune?—and retired to the bench as play resumed.

With Sadie in the fray, the clones went on the attack. Not for long, though, for Duncan had decreed that Sadie’s presence on the court would make Katie a priority target, as has been told of before. The neo-Gemini Twins did succeed in throwing out Ezekiel, whom they had targeted once more for the sake of making a “girl power” statement, but Courtney had caught Leshawna’s throw in the meantime. The Eagles thus succeeded only in trading Ezekiel for the Amazon Eva, who was once more eager for battle, no longer troubled by her wound.

Courtney then instructed Izzy to take Bridgette’s former place in the pattern, throwing at the target’s shoulder, and charged Eva to throw at the center of mass. Queen Courtney dubbed this pattern “Die Five”, for it matched the pips on the five-point side of a gambling die, and the future speaker of laws thought it an amusing double entendre into the bargain.

With the Eagles down to half strength and still facing five Muskies, the third game came quickly to the end that Destiny had set for it. Katie fell first, struck by Eva at that most vital of places, the base of the breastbone, a resounding smack announcing her fate to the world. The Thin Twin was struck with other balls as well, but Eva’s throw was the one that people remembered and talked about afterward. Trent fell next, and finally Sadie. The butterball did not even try to dodge, for she sensed that it would be futile and that she was better off conserving her strength.

In a last-ditch attempt to provide for someone to succeed her even as she fell, as the phoenix rises from the ashes, Sadie tried to catch Izzy’s shoulder-high throw. For a fleeting moment it looked like she would succeed, but the distraction of multiple other balls defiling her flesh proved too great, and Sadie could not hold on. The stout-hearted and stout-bodied girl returned to the bench, concealing as best she might a slight limp from a hit to her knee, and the jubilant Muskies were back from the brink.

“Worked like a charm,” D.J. said, as the Game Three players returned to the Muskies bench.

“I know, right?” Duncan replied with a self-satisfied smirk. Turning to address the team as a whole, he added, “The Birdies started to adjust quicker than I thought they would. We’ll stick with the same tactics for now, but be ready to shift gears if they come up with an effective defense. We’re not out of the woods yet, so keep the pressure on.

“Bridgette and Geoff have seen a lot of action, so I think they could use breathers. D.J. and Evil have had rests, so we’ll play them instead.”

Duncan turned to the Dude in Red and said, “Ty, I’d like to rest Izzy, too, and that means putting you in.” Before Tyler could vow to crush the Eagles single-handed, Duncan added sternly, “But you have to promise me that you won’t try to do it all yourself. You do what Courtney or Geoff say, when they say. If you go off half-cocked like you did before, and it costs us the game…

“We’ll have a score to settle.” Lest there be any misunderstanding about his meaning, Duncan had drawn his knife from his pocket and was now absently playing with it.

Tyler swallowed hard at that, but quickly put on a brave face. “No sweat,” Red Jock assured the scorner of laws. “I can do teamwork.”

On the Eagles side, Heather was trying to rally her troops. “Okay, that was seriously ugly,” she said, “but we still have the advantage. We need to figure out how to defend against their everybody-pound-one guy attack. But in the meantime, we can give them a taste of their own medicine. Take out D.J. first, then Eva if either of them are in. If they’re not, I’ll pick someone else.”

For the fourth game, Heather decided to rest Cody and Trent, for the romance rivals were not especially athletic and had played extensively in every game. She called Noah to battle, expecting him to refuse again, and sure enough, the bookworm did just that. This time, Heather wasted no breath in arguing, for her real aim was to keep the shirker’s disloyalty fresh in the Eagles’ minds. The Dragon Queen instead called Lindsay, who was once more battle-ready, and Sadie, who had assured her liege that she could continue. That this would mean putting five girls on the court at once troubled Heather not; for like Duncan and Courtney, she understood that ganging up on a single opponent was about numbers, not individual prowess. And so, at Hatchet’s whistle, Justin and the Valkyries took the field.

The warriors found a surprise waiting for them. During the intermission, Chris had put yet two more balls on the court, so that instead of the six balls in toto that the match had started with, there were now six per side, so that the hosts could arm themselves fully at once. The reason seemed clear enough to everyone: the Lord of Wawanankwa was determined that ball hoarding should not slow the game down and thereby diminish the spectacle.

At Hatchet’s signal, Game Four began. The teams threw en masse, and D.J. and Justin fell in the fusillade. Heather, though, had not seen fit to appoint a lieutenant to direct traffic on the court. The Muskies, under Courtney’s direction, thus responded more quickly than the Eagles and threw out Katie before the Eagles could prepare another barrage.

Playing the hand she was dealt, Courtney had assigned Tyler to be the headhunter. Tyler tended to throw wildly, as has been told of before, but the head is hard to hit and so whoever threw at it was as likely as not to miss anyway. Courtney thus reasoned that Red Jock’s wildness would do little harm in this role, and indeed might help by distracting the target. Sure enough, Tyler did the Muskies’ cause no harm.

The four remaining Eagles then tried their hand, hungering to humble Eva. Their salvo was random, though, for they still did not realize (and in fairness, it was by no means obvious) that the Muskies were throwing organized patterns. In short, they left the musclegirl an opening, and she dove and slid and emerged unscathed.

As Eva sprang to her feet and hustled back to rejoin her teammates, Courtney urged the Muskies to arm themselves with speed, for she sensed that they had the Eagles reeling and wanted to press that advantage. The diminutive dynamo had the extra ball, so she gave it to Eva and named Leshawna as the next target.

For the second time, the Muskies were able to loose their salvo before the Eagles could ready theirs. Leshawna had no chance; and to make matters worse, the timing was just right to disrupt the valkyries’ coordination (for that goddess who controls matters of chance had smiled on Courtney’s generalship) so the Muskies again suffered no casualties.

Must…not…facepalm, Heather thought as she paced along the Eagles’ bench.

The Muskies quickly readied for another assault. They no longer had enough balls on their side of the court to go around, so Courtney decided to wait for Eagles to commit themselves. Appealing to Tyler’s inflated assessment of his talents and his desire to cover himself in glory, the aspiring politician asked him to give up his ball and stand ready to catch an incoming ball from would surely be a three-ball salvo, and Tyler saw wisdom in this.

Wisdom there was indeed, but not what Tyler thought. Courtney knew that, depleted as the Eagles were, three balls coming in at once would still be dangerous; but with a two-player advantage, she was perfectly content to trade soldier for solder. It was Courtney’s intention to sacrifice the nigh-useless Tyler to shield whomever Gwen, Lindsay and Sadie were actually gunning for. If Tyler defied her expectations and actually caught one of the balls, then so much the better.

Although Heather’s orders were to go after Eva once D.J. was out of the way, Sadie thought it better to seek easier prey, and neither Gwen nor Lindsay saw fit to say her nay. After all, Eva had dodged one salvo already, which was part of the reason why the Eagles were now at a disadvantage. Numbers were what mattered with their current tactics, so it was now critically important that they get someone. Anyone. They were tempted to go after the sexist Ezekiel yet again, but Gwen suggested that Courtney seemed to be actively leading her team (Gwen’s actual words being “bossing them around”) and so would be a greater prize.

So it was that the three Eagles threw at Courtney in a bid to deprive the Muskies of their general. It mattered not, though, for Tyler rushed in where angels fear to tread, just as Courtney expected him to. For a fleeting moment, it looked like he would actually catch Gwen’s ball, but he couldn’t hold on. This, too, mattered not, for the other four Muskies threw as one and sent Lindsay to the bench.

Ref Hatchet called an official’s timeout, for Chris had seen enough. “This game is going too fast,” the Lord of Wawanakwa pronounced, and ordered the teams back to full strength.

Having been “saved by the bell”, as it were, Heather and the Eagles were at a loss. Their attempt to mimic the Muskies’ tactics had gone poorly, but with no one clearly at fault. The only thing Heather could think of to do was to change the lineup, although she didn’t really see how this would address anything but her need to do something.

“Cody, you’re in for Sadie,” she called.

Cody came to Heather and replied quietly, “Normally, I’d be happy to, but I’m going to try to talk some sense into Noah.”

Heather did not acknowledge Cody directly, but called, “Trent, you’re in for Sadie.” Turning back to the science geek, Heather said, “I wish you luck. I sure haven’t been able to get through to him, so maybe he does needs a good nerd-to-nerd talk. No offense.”

“None taken,” Cody assured her.

As a couple of interns redistributed the balls and the reconstituted teams returned to the court, Cody ascended the small bleachers and sat down next to Noah, who did not acknowledge him in any way.

“Hey, dude,” Cody began. “If you don’t mind my asking, why are you so dead set against playing?”

With a sigh of exasperation, Noah replied, “Sports aren’t my thing. I keep telling people.”

“Yeah, you keep saying that,” Cody said with as much patience as he could muster. “I get that you’re not into physical stuff because you’re a brain. Well, I’m a brain, too, and I’m playing. Well, not right now, but you know what I mean.”

“The reason you’re playing is because you can actually do some good out there,” Noah countered. “Your reflexes are better than mine. Your arm, too, probably. Trust me, you don’t want me playing. You have nothing to gain from it, and neither do I.”

“Dude, can’t you see what’s happening out there?” Cody asked. “It’s looking more and more like this challenge could get away from us. If it does, people are going to be looking for a scapegoat. Do you really think they’ll respect your smarts enough to keep you around if they don’t see any effort? I mean, look at Sadie. She’s probably in the worst shape of anyone here. She can’t do much unless she can coordinate with Katie, and she looks like she’s about to collapse, but she’s playing. She’s trying.”

“You’re not giving her enough credit.” Noah explained. “We’ve known ever since the cliff diving that she’s quicker than she looks. And in the 20K around the island, she actually tried to run most of the way, which is more than either of us did. I don’t think Sadie playing really makes your case. Trust me, you don’t want me playing.”

“Okay, maybe you can’t play worth crap,” Cody shot back, trying to keep his voice from rising. “If people can actually see that, they might cut you some slack. If they think you just don’t care, then probably not. You’re setting yourself up to get kicked off if we lose this.”

“And why would that bother you?” Noah retorted dryly. “If they’re dumb enough to kick off their smartest player, then you’d be the only brain left. That’s job security.”

“That’s not the point,” Cody shot back. He was becoming increasingly flustered at Noah’s stubbornness. “The point is that we brains have to stick together. Like they say, two heads are better than one.”

Noah had no answer to this. He put his book away and, with the timeless petulance of people being forced to do things that they don’t really want to do, began to pay close attention to the game.

The second Game Four battle went no better for the Eagles than the first. They fought with no less heart or vigor than their foe, but they had nothing comparable to Courtney’s on-court leadership; and their less-coordinated barrages combined with the Muskies’ superior athleticism meant a lower kill ratio. The Eagles did succeed in throwing out Courtney in a bid to “decapitate” the Muskies, but Duncan had named a backup for precisely that situation. By the time the Eagles realized that Geoff had stepped into the leadership role, the Muskies had gained the upper hand.

When the dust had settled, Lindsay stood alone against three Muskies. Geoff, Beth and Eva threw a triangle pattern, two high and one low, expecting to quickly dispatch the bombshell; but it was not Lindsay’s fate to fall easily.

Despite her top-heavy build, Lindsay was an accomplished gymnast. As a mere sophomore, she was the MVP on her school’s gymnastics team, earning all-conference honors and even an all-province honorable mention. Not only that, but she had also placed fifth on the floor exercise at the Province meet. In short, a three-ball salvo was not too many for her to deal with. Reacting quickly, she dove aside seemingly without effort. Soon after, the Muskies threw again, with similar results; and this time, Beth barely managed to dodge Lindsay’s return throw.

Lindsay frustrated the Muskies for a long time in this way. But in the end, Geoff caught her throw, and the stage was set for a deciding fifth game.


.

The Prodigal Son

“Okay, guys,” Heather told the assembled Eagles. “We’ve come too far to let this get away from us now. I know it’s been a long match, but you need to suck it up. Just because we know who to vote off if we lose doesn’t give us a reason to lose.” The Eagles nodded in agreement, emphasized with various affirming statements.

“But, darn it,” Heather continued, “We still need a defense against those mass barrages. The Fishies are escaping sometimes, so why can’t we?”

“I think I might have an answer,” Cody replied.

“Well, don’t just stand there,” Leshawna prompted. “Let’s hear it.”

“When they pick a target, they’re not just throwing randomly like we are,” Cody explained. “It looks like they’re throwing organized patterns. The same people usually throw at the same spots, depending on how many players they have.”

“That makes sense,” Heather admitted. “But that’ll just help our attacks. What about defense?”

“It looks like their patterns are designed to nail us if we try to dodge to the side,” Cody answered. And if we try to duck, we’ll usually still have two balls hit us. But suppose we go low and to the side? Go to the corner of the pattern. That way we’ll only have one ball to deal with. We wouldn’t be able to dodge it, but maybe we could deflect it if we have a ball of or own, or try to catch it if we don’t. Sort of like what Geoff did to Gwen that one time.”

This plan met with general approval, including Heather’s, so she appointed Cody to coordinate on the court, with Katie as his backup.

“I think we also need to shake things up a little,” came a nasal voice.

From the way the Eagles reacted, one would have thought that they’d never expected to hear that voice again. In an instant, all eyes were on Noah, for it was he who had spoken.

“I think Heather should play this game,” the bookworm explained. “I’ll coach.”

“You’re not muscling in on me, you little twerp,” Heather shot back. “If you’re finally willing to play, that’s great, but I’m the coach. I called it fair and square.”

To this Noah replied, with more passion than anyone in camp had ever heard from him and accompanied in the finished episode by a swell of dramatic music:

Henry V - Speech - Eve of Saint Crispin's Day - HD05:41

Henry V - Speech - Eve of Saint Crispin's Day - HD

Noah replied, with more passion than anyone in camp had ever heard from him and accompanied in the finished episode by a swell of dramatic music

That may not be if we’re to win this fight.
To seize the day against their greater power,
We cannot let out talents be misspent.
If you would lead this team, then lead us not
From the rear, nor hold aloof from battle;
But rather, lead us boldly at the fore.
Your strength of arm says that your place is there.
And you are fresh—and that could turn the tide.
My flesh is weak. My brain—now that’s my strength.
You said yourself, the coach’s place is not
Upon the field, so let me serve us here
As he who thinks for us but cannot act.
And with our purpose thus as one, then let
The nation gape in awe and wonderment
As it beholds the marvels we have wrought
And yet shall do before this day is done.
In times to come, when people talk about
This day and how we earned our fame and honor,
Whether as gloried victors or as valiant
Vanquished, we shall recall our deeds of yore.
Then we will bare our arm or breast and say,
‘These wounds I got that fateful day as we,
Upon the court on Wawanakwa’s isle,
We band of brothers faced our foe who thought
It not too prideful to deem us not their match.
Nor did the world think it wrong to judge us so.
And yet the way we fought and persevered
Poured us the cup of fame we now enjoy.’
Then will the Eagles names come gladly for
Our lips to savor: Heather the Queen, Justin
The brave; Katie, Sadie, the yin and yang;
The wily Cody, the bold Leshawna,
And Trent and Gwen and Lindsay and Noah.
Then men will say our fame was fairly earned,
And women tell their children on their knees
The tale of how we fought on Dodgeball Day.


“Can’t argue with that,” Leshawna admitted. “Wouldn’t even know how to.”

“I know, right?” Katie seconded.

“And Noah did help me to come up with a way to counter their mass barrage tactics,” Cody admitted. “Credit where it’s due.”

“As you like to say, Heather,” Noah reminded the queen bee, “The people have spoken.”

“Fine,” Heather replied with a sigh, wondering what it took to win an argument with the bookworm. “We’ll see if your coaching is as good as your speechmaking.” At least he cares about the challenge now, she later added in the confessional.

Turning back to the team as a whole, Heather said, “I’ll coordinate on the court, then. Cody, you’re my backup.”

Meanwhile, as the Muskies huddled at their bench, Courtney was rallying the troops. Duncan remained the coach, but he had no tongue for rousing pep talks, so he let the aspiring politician listen to the sound of her own voice.

“Okay, guys,” Courtney urged, “We’ve come back, so now it’s time to finish this. I know it’s been a long match, but most of us are in good shape, so they’re probably feeling it more than we are. It’s time to strain those birdies through the floorboards. Show them why we’re called the Killer Muskies.

“And don’t forget that we’ve got more to fight for than they do. Rewards are nice, invincibility is great, but we have a higher cause. Keep that in mind, and we’ll have the edge.”

With that, Courtney extended her arm into the huddle, which was her teammates’ cue to place their hands on hers.

“For Harold,” she said.

“For Harold,” the Muskies replied.

The fifth game was a protracted affair. With both teams inspired, and neither wanting to come so far only to come up short, those noble warriors did more brave deeds than can be recounted here. Even Tyler scored a legitimate hit, on Cody. With Heather coordinating on the court as a counterpart to Courtney, and now having a reasonably effective defense, the Eagles no longer feared the Muskies’ barrages and the Muskies could not gain an advantage.

Chris reconstituted the teams once, twice, thrice, always saying that he needed more footage. After the second restoration, the teams took the hint and abandoned their mass barrages, returning to the more conventional—and, more to the point, more photogenic—freeform tactics that had characterized the first two games. Chris responded to this change by having the extra balls removed from the court, leaving only the original six, at the third restoration.

In the end, the stage was set for a winner-take-all clash of titans; for Justin stood alone, carrying the Eagles’ hopes and dreams on his broad shoulders. Across the court, only Eva remained for the Muskies.

Several players on the benches called out encouragement to their champions, but one cry stood out:

“Show him who’s boss, eh?”

Justin and Eva heard none of these encouragements, so focused were they on the task at hand. Most of the other Muskie girls, though, turned toward Ezekiel, their faces bearing expressions ranging from mild amusement to mild shock. The home-schooled farm boy, though, was still looking out onto the court as if he hadn’t expected anyone to see anything unusual in his outburst.

“Ezekiel,” Bridgette said, “Not that I’m complaining or anything, but for a guy who doesn’t expect girls to be able to keep up, you sure seem to like Eva’s chances.”

“What can I say?” Ezekiel replied with a shrug. “Sure, I’d rather have Geoff or D.J. out there, but I’m not feeling sorry for us just because it has to be Eva. We’ve all seen what she can do. Just because boys are usually better at sports than girls doesn’t mean I’d deny the evidence of my own eyes when I see an exception. It wouldn’t have bothered me if it had been you, either. You’ve been playing pretty well, eh?”

Although Ezekiel’s sexist subtext was unmistakable, it did not escape Bridgette’s notice that he had said “boys are usually better at sports” when a few days before he had said simply, “boys are better at sports” without the qualifier. The surfer considered this a step, however small, in the right direction. Furthermore, she saw no trace of insincerity or condescension in his compliment to her. It sounded just as it was meant—an honest appraisal that he didn’t expect anyone to dwell on.

With a smile and an approving nod, Bridgette said, “There’s hope for you yet.”

“I know, right?” Courtney replied.

On the court, Justin and Eva regarded each other for a few moments, each holding two balls. Then, as if on cue, both threw as one. Their balls met near mid-court and bounced harmlessly away. Moments later, they threw again, with similar results.

The two champions retrieved their balls and glowered at each other again. Justin, for all his perfectly ripped physique, was not a bodybuilder like Eva appeared to be. Bodybuilding tended to give little attention to stamina, so Justin guessed that Eva might be vulnerable there, and decided that he would try to wear her down.

Eva, for her part, had an ace up her sleeve: a maneuver that she had not used the entire match, so Justin should not be expecting it. Eva also had a plan, but executing it meant that she would have to wait for Justin’s throw.

Moments later, Justin threw. Eva ducked the throw and listened. When she heard the ball hit the retaining wall behind her, she counted to two and made her move.

Taking a single step toward her adversary, she threw both her balls a scant moment apart, for both her arms were as her right. She threw the first ball at Justin’s knees, and the second at the spot where she expected his hips to be when he jumped to avoid the first, for she had seen how effective that tactic could be when Katie and Sadie had employed it. If they can do it, then so can I, she reasoned.

Neither Justin nor anyone else in camp had known that Eva was ambidextrous, so while it didn’t surprise him that the Amazon warrior would throw her second ball as quickly as she might on the heels of the first, he had not counted on the second throw coming so quickly. Justin jumped to avoid the first ball, just as Eva had expected him to, and realized too late that he had been duped. Contorting violently, the Incredible Hunk somehow managed to avoid the second ball as well.

Eva, however, had not been idle. The follow through on her twin throws left her in perfect position to pick up the ball that Justin had thrown, which was right where Eva expected it to be. She grabbed it and hurriedly shoveled it at her writhing opponent.

This hasty half-throw had little force behind it; but with Justin helpless for the moment, force was not required. The third missile tapped the Eagles’ last, best hope squarely on the point of his shoulder, and he was out.

Hatchet blew his whistle and thumbed Justin out. “Game and match, Muskies!” he declared, and the Muskies’ improbable comeback was complete.

Chris took center stage “Was that an epic finish or what?” he asked rhetorically. “After tomorrow night’s dramatic elimination ceremony, the Screaming Eagles will be a player down for the first time. As for the reward…

“Muskies, pack your overnight bags. Tomorrow night, while the Eagles are brutally hanging one of their own out to dry, you’ll be in Toronto catching a Blue Jays game! Remember, though, the communications blackout will remain in effect, so don’t even try to get around it if you want to stay in the contest. We will be watching.”

Chris then left the campers to their own affairs. As the Eagles pondered what lay in store for them, the Muskies hoisted Eva onto their shoulders and carried her off the court.


Lunch was late that day, because the match had been a long one and even the jack-of-all trades Hatchet couldn’t be in two places at once. When their meal was finally ready, the ravenous campers wolfed it down, barely noticing how disgusting it was.

As Gwen and Trent put their trays away, Trent said, “Hey, Gwen, would you like to go hang out on the dock? And later on, after we’ve digested our lunch, maybe we could go for a swim.”

“Sure. Sounds nice,” Gwen replied with a blush so faint that it wouldn’t have been visible on a girl less pale.

Perhaps two hours later, as Gwen and Trent took their ease on the dock after their swim and inspected each other (more closely than they needed to) for leeches, lampreys and other such interlopers, Cody sat a way off, gazing at Gwen and brooding. Part of him realized that it was selfish of him to not simply want Gwen to be happy, but another part countered, I do want her to be happy. But darn it, why can’t she be happy with me?

As Cody continued to brood on what might have been, the subjects of his baleful gaze passed the afternoon blissfully unaware that they were being watched. Gwen and Trent knew, of course, that they were surely on camera, but that was easy to ignore. This was the beauty of the show’s heavy reliance on remotes as opposed to camera crews. While the producers used remote cameras whenever possible mainly for budgetary reasons, the remotes had the happy side effect of encouraging greater spontaneity among the campers. Out of sight meant out of mind, for cameras and for rivals.

As the lazy, warm afternoon wore on, it seemed to Cody that tension was building between the budding couple. Even at his distance, he could feel it crackling like static electricity. His skin crawled under this torment as he surmised what must be happening: Gwen and Trent had had enough of the preliminaries and were ready to take their relationship to the next level. Both were longing for a kiss, yet both were afraid to make the first move—Gwen, because she was timid in what for her were uncharted waters; and Trent, because he feared scaring her off if he moved too fast. Cody, meanwhile, was certain that he would rather tear his eyes from their sockets than see that kiss if it did come to pass; yet he couldn’t look away.

“Hey, Cody, got a minute?”

His gloomy reverie interrupted, Cody looked up toward the now-familiar voice, and saw the now-familiar half-Asian face that went with it.

“Sure, Heather. What’s up?”

The queen bee sat down beside him and said, “I have a business proposition for you.”

“I’m listening.”

“You’ve made it pretty clear that you’re into Gwen. I don’t pretend to understand why, but I’m willing to help you there.”

“Cool. What do you have in mind?”

“I’ll admit that it’s looking like Trent’s aced you out,” Heather began. “But let’s suppose, hypothetically, for the sake of argument, that Guitar Guy were to go home tomorrow.”

The hour was growing late, so Brett’s mother left off her tale, and suggested that he prepare for bed.


.

Seventh Night

The next morning, after they had breakfasted, Brett went to school whilst his mother went to earn their daily bread. That evening, after they had dined and Brett had attended to his homework, Brett asked his mother to tell him more about her experience on Total Drama Island. Brett sat in his favorite chair, and his mother sat on the sofa. She took a few moments to collect her thoughts, and then she began to speak.

A knowing smile spread across Cody’s face. “With nothing to distract her, I could woo Gwen with my manly charms.”

“Exactly,” Heather said, resisting the urge to roll her eyes.

“And then, when I won her heart, we’d totally owe you one for helping to bring us together.” Cody added.

“I like the way you think.”

“You said this was a ‘business proposition’,” Cody observed, “so I’m guessing that there’s a price for your kindly assistance. Did you have something specific in mind?”

“Let’s just say, ‘future considerations’,” the Dark Queen suggested. “Like you said, you’ll know when it’s time to pay the piper. As for what I want now, the ‘price’, if that’s what you want to call it, is built in because I’ll be getting something I want at the same time. And before you ask, I don’t want to go into the details. Let’s just say that I have my own reasons for wanting Trent gone.”

“Then it sounds like we have an agreement. How many votes do we have?”

“Dumb, Dumber, and Dumbest will do as they’re told, so you’re Number Five. That’ll probably be enough, but we need six to be sure.”

“Leave that to me,” the science geek assured his partner in crime. “I think I know where we can get the sixth vote.”

Let’s hear it for jealousy, Heather thought, but she said only, “Great. Let me know how it goes.”

Cody and his unlooked for benefactress made small talk for a time, until the Dark Queen felt the need to check on her vassals. Cody, now in good spirits, rose to his feet and left, so he was spared the sight of that fatal kiss and those that followed.

As Gwen and Trent began to gently, hesitantly make out on the dock, Heather smirked and muttered to herself, “Enjoy it while you can, Gothie.” She then rose to her feet and went to make sure that Lindsay wasn’t doing anything similar with Justin.

Heather hadn’t revealed her reason for targeting Trent because she suspected that Cody wouldn’t like it. She wanted to oust Trent, not to help Cody, but to hurt Gwen. Two ways, in fact. Eliminating Trent would deprive the Goth not only of a boy whom she clearly liked, but also of her shield against Cody’s unwanted attentions.

In truth, Heather didn’t want Cody to hook up with Gwen; for in the context of the game, Heather saw romantic pairings as nothing more than a form of alliance, and any alliance that she wasn’t a part of was a threat to her. She would support Cody’s pursuit of Gwen for the sake of annoying the Goth, but if it started to look like he might actually win her over…well, Heather would cross that bridge if and when she came to it.

After dinner, Cody pulled Noah aside. Ever since the incident during the Awake-a-Thon, Cody had been keeping a close but clandestine eye on Noah, hoping to determine whether the bookworm was indeed crushing on one of their campmates. Cody had seen enough over the last few days to strengthen his suspicions; and if he was right, then Noah would be the likeliest place to get the sixth vote to expel Trent.

Cody led his fellow brain to a secluded spot where they would not be overheard.

“So, dude, have you thought about tomorrow’s vote?”

“Yeah,” Noah answered, “but I’m not sure yet what I’m going to do. We don’t really have any obvious candidates this time. Nobody really cost us the challenge or got everyone mad at them.”

“Except maybe you, you know,” Cody reminded the bookworm. “You finished strong, but some people might remember the first part of the match, when you couldn’t be bothered to play, or even to watch.”

Noah favored the science geek with a faint sneer of irritation. “Is that why you brought me here? To remind me of how the Fu King master put a treasure map on my face?”

“No, it’s because I think we might have a common problem.” Time to put the theory to the test.

The bookworm cocked an eyebrow. “Do tell,” he prompted in a tone of studied boredom.

“I understand that you have the hots for Katie.”

Noah’s eyes widened, pushing his semipermanent sneer off his face. “How…how did you know?” he stammered.

Bingo.

“Sunshine told me,” Cody replied, thereby signaling that he did not wish to reveal his source. “Funny, though, Katie doesn’t really seem like your type, unless you had a domination fantasy watching her and Sadie own Chris on the diving cliff.”

OH NO I'VE BEEN CAUGHT

"Sunshine told me", Cody replied

“Tell me something I don’t know,” the other boy retorted. “Everything about her is wrong. Too skinny, too shallow, too little-girly…not especially bright…less fashion sense than I have, which is saying something…But when you put it all together, somehow it works. But then, you’d know all about that.”

“I hear you,” Cody conceded. “Gwen’s smart, but beyond that, I can’t explain why she turns me on. But you’d better believe that she does!”

With a reflective air, Noah ventured, “Marcel Proust said it best: ‘Let us leave the beautiful women to the men who have no imagination.’ But what does it matter? Even if Katie wasn’t under Heather’s thumb, you couldn’t pry her away from Sadie with a crowbar, and I’m not into threesomes.”

“Whyever not?” Cody asked with his goofy grin and an exaggerated tone. “I thought all dudes lived for threesomes.”

Noah recognized the jesting, of course, but chose to play it straight. “It just seems to me that any bird worth making out with in the first place would be worth my undivided attention, that’s all.”

“You do have a point,” Cody admitted.

“As for the domination fantasy,” Noah added with a wry smile, “I suppose we could go with that, since I certainly don’t have a better explanation. Just don’t tell me that I was the only one.” Cody’s only response was another grin.

Enough chitchat, Cody thought. Time to get down to business.

“Anyway,” the science geek said, “about our common problem. I can’t get close to Gwen while Trent’s around. Luckily for me, Heather wants to get rid of him for some reason. I didn’t ask why. ‘Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,’ as they say.”

“You have an alliance with Heather?” Noah asked, hiding his concern as best he might. Although the queen bee hadn’t advertised it, the way she lorded it over Lindsay and the clones made it clear that those three were under her sway. That was bad enough, but if Cody had joined forces with that quartet, then the prospects for any other Eagle to reach the merge were bleak unless the team could dominate the challenges.

“Not really,” the science geek admitted, “although I wouldn’t be averse to the idea. It’s just an ad hoc coalition to get rid of what’s apparently a common problem for us.

“Speaking of which, if you help me get Ax Dude out of the picture, maybe I could help you get closer to Katie.” Cody actually had no idea how he was going to keep this promise, although he had every intention of doing so if he could think of something.

“So,” Noah observed with a calculating air, “If all of the Dragon Queen’s thralls are on board, that would give you at least five votes already.”

Cody nodded. “That’s right. Five now, and you’d be the clincher.”

Noah thought about Cody’s proposal. Despite his irritation at the science geek’s reference to the dodgeball match, Noah couldn’t deny that his seemingly uncaring attitude might indeed have made him a target. Noah suspected that there weren’t a lot of long memories on the Eagles’ roster, though, so this might be just what he needed to weather the storm until it blew over.

“Okay, I’ll do it” the bookworm agreed. “While we’re at it, if you don’t have a formal alliance yet, maybe we should make one. Like you said, we brains have to stick together.”

“Sounds good,” Cody agreed. Lifting his hand in a mock toast, for he had nothing to toast with, he pronounced, “To the Brain Trust! For honor! For glory!” With a grin, he added, “For babes!”

“To the Brain Trust!” Noah echoed, mimicking Cody’s air toast with a wry smile. “To get the gold and get the girl!”

“There’s one other thing,” Cody said with the apologetic air of one who wishes to spare another’s feelings when forced to say something unpleasant. “I don’t know if anyone else noticed it, and I’m satisfied that it wasn’t what it looked like, but I wouldn’t put it past the producers to put it in the finished episode. If they did, I assume it would embarrass you, so I thought it would be better if you heard it from me first.

“I think you should know how I found out that you’re into Katie.”

Cody then told Noah about the Awake-a-Thon Spooning Incident, but nothing would be gained by repeating it here.

Their business concluded, the new allies returned to the camp by different routes. Cody tracked Heather down and told her, without elaboration, that he had secured the sixth vote against Trent.

“A pleasure doing business with you,” Heather said, silently adding, I can’t wait to see the look on Freakenchick’s face when Trent gets his walking papers.

Chris held the elimination ceremony the next night. Heather, Noah and Trent had votes against them. Noah had been the weakest performer in the challenges to that point, but it was Trent who was left without a marshmallow. The axboy’s face made it plain that he hadn’t seen it coming, and Gwen looked like she’d been punched in the gut.

Because Trent had been voted off through no fault of his own, his ex-teammates gathered at the base of the dock to see him off. After the boat departed, most of the Eagles returned to the bonfire to chat over toasted marshmallows, but Gwen remained at the dock for a time, watching the boat recede into the distance. She could vaguely see Trent make a gesture that might have been “thumbs up”, so she returned the gesture without enthusiasm.

When Gwen finally left the dock, she still did not go to the bonfire to join her teammates, instead trudging listlessly to the girls’ cabin. The initial shock of Trent’s elimination had passed, leaving an all-encompassing numbness. She didn’t feel sad, or even disappointed. Just…numb.

Gwen reflected, through this haze, that she had fallen for Trent far harder than she had realized. And why should she have suspected the truth? After all, while liking Trent was perfectly reasonable, and even puppy love wasn’t out of the question, she’d barely known him a week. Pathetic, she told herself, albeit with no real feeling behind that self-chastisement.

The cabins were dark and empty, for the Eagles were still at the bonfire and the Muskies were off enjoying their reward. Gwen entered the girls’ cabin but didn’t bother to turn on the lights, for there was a little moonlight coming through the windows and she knew the way to her bunk. Plopping down on the edge of her lumpy bed, Gwen stared blankly into the darkness for long minutes. Then the emotional dam burst at last, and she wept bitterly.


“What is it with girls and guitar players, anyway?” Brett asked.

His mother shook her head. “I really don’t know. It’s common enough to be a cliché, but…I just don’t know.”

The night was not far advanced, so Brett’s mother paused a few moments to collect her thoughts, and then continued with her tale.


.

Episode #5: The Tale of the Talent Show

original title: Not Quite Famous


The next morning, as the other girls were filing out to get what passed for breakfast, Gwen sat on her lumpy bed and moped. Leshawna noticed, and stayed behind to find out what was troubling the Goth, although she had a fair idea.

“What’s wrong, baby doll?”

Gwen didn’t particularly like being called “baby doll”, but she understood that the amiable and outgoing homegirl meant well, so she let it pass and said only, “I still can’t believe last night’s elimination. Why did it have to be Trent?”

“I hear you,” Leshawna admitted. “He was one of our strongest players, and he totally rocked the dodgeball match. Why would anyone want him gone so early?

“I don’t know,” Gwen whined. “Why would anybody want to get throw off someone so talented and nice and helpful and…nice and smart and…nice and…?”

Leshawna shook her head and said, “I hate to say it, but I think somebody’s putting other things ahead of the team. I don’t mind telling you, I sure as heck wasn’t happy when we found out that this was going to be an elimination game and not a talent contest. I’ve seen some of these shows, but scheming and backstabbing aren’t my thing. That’s why I usually lose interest in those games when it becomes a bad thing to be the best. I deal straight up, and I expect the same from others, may the best homie win. That’s why I like you, girl.

“Point is, Trent got jobbed. Maybe whoever’s behind it will get theirs down the road, but for now all we can do is carry on. I know you liked Trent, but you’ve got to get him out of your head.”

“I know, but I miss him so much,” Gwen lamented. “I know it sounds lame, but I fell for him so hard, I left a crater in the ground.”

“And tears on your pillow,” Leshawna added, for she had noticed the telltale puffiness in Gwen’s eyes. “But you can’t go on moping about it. If you can’t keep your head in the game, you might be the next to go.”

Gwen despondently replied, “Maybe that wouldn’t be—”

“Don’t go there, girl,” Leshawna broke in hastily. “A broken heart’s a bad guide. I’ve seen what it can do to people. This game may not be what we expected, but we’re still here to get rich and famous. Would you really throw all that away just to be with a boy for a few extra weeks? There are other homies in the hood, and you’re tougher than you think.”

The Goth sighed deeply in her despair. After a moment, she confided absently to the homegirl, “I had my first kiss with Trent the other day. I’d never been kissed before I came to this island.”

“Losing your first is always hard,” Leshawna conceded. “You think there’ll never be anyone else. But it’ll pass. Take it from a sister who’s been there.”

Gwen brightened a bit at that. She still looked far from chipper, but she rarely looked chipper in any case. “Thanks, Leshawna,” she said. “I still feel like crap, but I appreciate your trying to help.”

“No sweat, baby doll,” Leshawna replied, “And you can call me ‘Shawnee’, if you want. Most of my friends do, and you look like you could use a friend.”

“Thanks…Shawnee. And you’re right. I’ve never had a lot of friends. A few buds back home, but not really anyone here. Until now.”

Leshawna looked thoughtful. “Let me tell you something straight up. If you just try, I think making friends is something else that you’ll be better at than you think. You managed to be at the top of a love triangle without even trying and…

“A triangle.” The homegirl’s eyes widened as realization dawned. She locked eyes with Gwen and saw that the Goth was having the same epiphany.

Cody.” Gwen all but spat the name.

“Mm, that’d be bad news,” Leshawna mused. “He doesn’t really seem like the backstabbing type, but jealousy can seriously mess people up.”

A knowing and not particularly pleasant smile then spread across the homegirl’s face, and she added, “But if it was Cody…well, you know what they say. Nothing heals a broken heart like revenge.”

Gwen’s reply was lost as the blast of a ship’s horn reverberated through the camp.

As the well-used yacht made its final approach, the curious campers began to assemble near the base of the dock to find out what was going on. The yacht wasn’t used for supply deliveries; and while some elimination game shows featured “second chance” returns for selected contestants, it seemed far too early for that. After all, only three campers had been eliminated to this point, and only two of those had left under circumstances that allowed any question of a possible return.

The yacht tied up at the dock, and a collection of young men and women filed off the boat. Most of them appeared to be college-aged, although a couple looked like they might be older.

Chris came to the dock and shooed the campers away, but not before revealing that the newcomers would be serving as interns. The show had started with 13, the host explained, but four were already dead, and he was afraid that he soon wouldn’t have enough to handle the workload. The notion of finding ways to make the interns’ work less hazardous appeared to be completely alien to him.

Beth had a nagging suspicion, and confirmed it with a quick head count. Just like the original intern corps, the new arrivals numbered 13.

“Uh, Chris,” the farm girl asked hesitantly, “There are 13 of them. Couldn’t you have picked a different number?”

“Why, Beth, you’re not superstitious, are you?”

“Uh, kind of,” the embarrassed nerd girl admitted.

“There’s nothing wrong with that,” Bridgette protested, rising to the defense of her teammate, for she believed in certain paranormal phenomena as has been told of before. “But do those guys know what they’re getting into?”

“They’ll be up to speed soon enough,” Chris replied.

“That’s a ‘no’, then?” the surfer asked warily.

Chris’ only reply was a rhetorical, “I love this show.” Since he didn’t want the campers hanging around the dock at the moment, Bridgette sighed and went to the confessional to unburden her soul.

“I think I understand now why Chris doesn’t want us to socialize with the interns,” Bridgette speculated in the confessional. “At first, I thought that maybe he just didn’t want to have them on camera all the time. I’d be cool with that, since the show isn’t about them. But now…but now…”

Bridgette fell silent for a few moments, trying to find a reasonably diplomatic way to say what she felt had to be said. Finally, though, she gave up and just blurted out her indictment:

“I think the real reason he doesn’t want us getting chummy with the interns is because he doesn’t want it to bother us when they die. It seems pretty clear that he doesn’t care about them at all. He doesn’t even seem to care if we die, as long as we do it with ‘drama’. I heard from Beth and some of the Eagles how he pretty much just blew it off when the sharks got Harold, may he rest in peace. He couldn’t even be bothered to give Harold a proper funeral. I can just imagine how he reacts when a ‘mere intern’ buys it.”

Bridgette gave a bark of bitter laughter, and continued. “I’m kind of surprised, really. Considering how broken up we were over Harold, I’d have thought that Chris would have tried to desensitize us by showing us as much bloodshed as his sick little mind could arrange, since I have a bad feeling that Harold won’t be the last. Maybe Chris could…no, I’d better not give him ideas.”

Bridgette sighed, and wiped away the tears of rage and sorrow that had begun to well in her eyes. She then leaned forward and looked straight into the camera with fresh resolve. “You don’t want us to care what happens to the interns? Well, it’s too late, McLean! I do care! I’ll always care! If the pointless death of one person—and I’m sure they were all pointless— ever fails to move me, then you can just throw me to the sharks, because I’d be no better than you!”

The surfer sighed again, as she closed her eyes and leaned back against the wall. When she spoke again, it was in the disillusioned tone of one who has lost too much innocence before her time. “I don’t care what Ezekiel says, Hell isn’t fire and brimstone. It’s people having to do what Chris McLean tells them to do. And this was such a pretty island.”

Bridgette was something of a flower child and had a wholesome, well-scrubbed look, so the producers had pegged her as a natural to wear one of the white hats and had adjusted her edit in the finished episodes accordingly. It was thus inevitable, perhaps, that her bitter confessional spot would never see the light of day.

The next morning, after breakfast, the campers assembled in the camp’s small amphitheater at Chris’ command. The bleacher seating was divided into two sections to segregate the teams, although actual separation between the sections was minimal. This being the second day after an elimination, everyone assumed that their Tormenter in Chief would announce the next challenge. Well, almost everyone.

“Are we going to see a musical?” Lindsay asked innocently. “I just love musicals! Maybe they’ll show ‘Cats’.”

“I don’t think so, Linds,” Sadie answered. “Today should be a challenge day—”

“—so if anyone has to dress up as cats today, it would probably be us,” Katie finished.

Duncan, among others, was close enough to overhear this exchange. With a leer, he leaned over and opened his mouth as if to say something to Ezekiel.

“Don’t say it, Duncan,” Eva warned with a glare and a pointed finger from her perch on a higher row. “We don’t need to hear about your ‘cat girl’ fantasies. We’re not objects for your entertainment.”

“Well, you sure aren’t,” Duncan replied with a sneer. “Sure, you’ve got a big rack, but that’s the only reason I didn’t think you were a guy.”

“Leave my ‘rack’ out of this, caveboy,” the musclegirl shot back. “Every girl here is out of your league. Even Lardball.”

Duncan smirked and said, “Shows how much you know. I could have pretty much any chick here that I wanted.”

“By force, maybe,” Eva retorted, “if you thought it was worth having me rip your pecker off and shove it down your throat.”

“Guys, please,” Courtney interjected from her seat on Ezekiel’s other side. “We’re finally a player up. We have to work together, as a team, if we want to keep that advantage.”

“He started it,” Duncan and Eva replied petulantly and in unison. And yes, Duncan said “he”, not “she”.

“It doesn’t matter who started it,” the tiny tyrant retorted, “I’m ending it. Unless one of you wants to go home the next time we lose a challenge.”

For all his toughness and swagger, Duncan squirmed under Courtney’s withering glare, although he managed a show of indifference. “Whatever,” he said after a pause. Courtney then turned her baleful gaze to Eva, but the steel maiden had already turned her attention elsewhere.

Courtney then said to Ezekiel, softly so that Duncan would not overhear, “That’s why you should be careful about hanging out with Duncan. You’re still on thin ice with some of the girls, and you might be judged by the company you keep. I’d hate to see that happen to you, because I think you can be better than what Duncan would make you.”

“But I like him,” Ezekiel protested. “He’s neat.”

“I won’t judge you on that, as long as you don’t start picking up his habits,” Courtney replied, “but some of the others might. Just be careful, okay? If you want to be like the “cool” kids, there are better role models here.”

At the other end of the bleachers, Cody had managed to get a seat next to Gwen and promptly tried to chat her up. The Goth would normally have made some effort to be reasonably civil, but on this day she was giving him the silent treatment. Cody seemed not to notice.

Chris presently appeared on the stage. “Attention ladies and gentlemen, bros and bras, dudes and dudettes,” he called. “As I’m sure most of you have guessed, it’s time for another challenge!

“Today’s challenge is a summer camp favorite—a talent show! Each team will have eight hours to choose and, if necessary, rehearse three acts of up to ten minutes or so each. This evening, right after dinner, the ‘chosen ones’ will strut their stuff for the camp, the world and our judge: former DJ, VJ and rap legend, Grandmaster Chef!

“Chef will score each act on a ten-point scale. The highest team total wins. In case of a tie, the highest-scoring act wins. If that’s also a tie…I’ll think of something. Any questions?

“Katie and/or Sadie?”

“Do these all have to be solo acts, or are groups okay?” one of the Bobbsey twins inquired hopefully.

“An act can have as many people as you want. You could even do something with your whole team, if that’s what floats your boat.”

“Cody?”

“What if we need something that we didn’t bring with us?”

“Tell us what it is, and we might be able to get it for you,” Chris assured him. “In any case, you were all supposed to list talents on your profiles, so that gave us a pretty good idea of what you’d be likely to need for this challenge. Check backstage, and you’ll probably find whatever you need.

“Ezekiel?”

“Can one person be in two acts?”

“Yeah, I kind of implied that,” the host replied. “One camper can’t have lead roles in two acts, but if someone has a solo act and also wants to assist in a group act, that’s cool.”

The host surveyed the assembled campers. “Anything else? No? Awesome.” With a genuinely warm smile—a notable rarity for this plastic man—Chris added, “I have to admit, I’ve been looking forward to this. As you know, you came to this island thinking that you were finalists in a national talent search, and some of you showed off on your audition tapes, so I’m expecting tonight’s show to be something special. Should make for great ratings.” With that, the Lord of Wawanakwa left the stage and left the campers to their own affairs.

“All right,” Courtney said to the Muskies, “Let’s see what we’ve got. Who wants to go first?”

Duncan immediately saw a flaw in this plan. “What, you’re going to hold tryouts right here in front of the Birdies?”

“I don’t see why not,” Courtney explained, projecting so the Eagles could easily hear her. “If they want to scout us, there isn’t really any way we could stop them. But what would it get them besides feelings of inadequacy that would leave them totally demoralized? The challenge would be over before it started.”

“Ooh, All-Pro trash talking,” Heather cooed in exaggerated but not entirely feigned admiration. “Is that your talent? You simply must give me your coach’s number before you get voted off tomorrow!”

“I’ll have Al put it on the Loser Boat tomorrow night when it’s your turn to make the Voyage of the Damned,” the Muskies’ de facto leader assured her counterpart.

“As long as you’ve got a backup plan. Anywho, we’ll just go somewhere else for our tryouts, because I wouldn’t want you to be so filled with fear and trembling that you can’t even pick your acts,” said the queen bee to the CIT. “It wouldn’t make for a very interesting challenge, and you can just imagine what Chris would say about that.”

“Walk the walk,” Courtney shot back. “Tonight the Eagles will be dining on crow.” With a flourish, she added, “Chef Hatchet’s secret recipe, banned by the Geneva Conventions.”

With a smirk, Heather led the Eagles away, for there was business to attend to. She regarded Courtney as lacking fashion sense, and Courtney regarded Heather as shallow, but in truth they got along reasonably well; and for all their talk about each other’s imminent elimination, neither girl expected the other to be leaving anytime soon. Unlike the Muskies’ benevolent despot, though, the queen bee did see value in keeping her lineup for the show secret if she could; and since the Muskies apparently intended to remain at the amphitheater, it was the Eagles’ lot to go elsewhere.

Without further ado, Courtney called her teammates one by one to strut their stuff. The Muskies’ talents were many and varied; and because the show’s producers had to choose only contestants with real talent in order to preserve the fiction of a talent search, there were no weak acts.

Except for Duncan. The delinquent was still feeling the effects of nicotine withdrawal, and although the worst of his symptoms were past, his hands still shook noticeably. That was enough to spoil his knife throwing tricks.

Geoff wowed his teammates with death-defying skateboarding tricks. Bridgette amazed them with a contortionist act, during which she stuffed herself into a small box and danced on her hands with her legs jammed beneath her armpits and crossed in front of her throat, among other things. D.J. thrilled them with an acrobatic yet eminently graceful ballet dance.

Everyone expected Eva to do something powerfully athletic, but she surprised her teammates with an interpretive dance, using a ribbon as a prop, emphasizing grace and flexibility. The steel maiden explained that she didn’t want her weight training to make her muscle bound, so she danced to maintain agility and flexibility. The ribbon prop, she said, came from rhythmic gymnastics, which is a niche sport in Canada but big in her East European homeland.

Beth and Izzy both twirled fire batons, with Courtney deciding that Izzy was better. Tyler’s feats of strength astounded his teammates; for although Red Jock had a well-toned body, he didn’t look like he would be exceptionally strong. Some of the strongest people are wiry, though, and Tyler was one of these. That strength would mean life or death, but that is another story for another time.

In the end, Courtney announced that the Muskies’ program would open with Ezekiel’s bullwhip tricks, with Izzy’s fire baton routine as the second act. Courtney herself would close with a violin solo.

“Wait a minute, Princess,” Duncan protested. “Who died and made you Queen? Why don’t you have to try out like everyone else?”

“You want an audition? Fine,” Courtney sniffed. Alejandro, who had been instructed to see to the Muskies’ needs on this day, brought Courtney a violin, and the former CIT began to play the “Dance of the Comedians” from an opera called The Bartered Bride.

AYP Performs 05:02

AYP Performs "Dance of the Comedians" from The Bartered Bride by Bedrich Smetana

"You want an audition? Fine," Courtney sniffed.

“Okay, okay, you’ve made your point,” Duncan admitted after about ten seconds of this. “Sheesh.” Courtney then looked to the other Muskies, who wordlessly confirmed that they had no objections to her being the closing act.

Izzy noticed Beth sitting dejectedly a little way off and went to see what was troubling the farm girl, although she had a fair idea. It was one thing to be passed over for a different type of act, but it was quite another to be upstaged by someone with a similar act.

“Hey Beth,” the manic redhead said, “Tell you what. We’ve got time to rehearse, so how about we do fire batons together? Twice the fire, twice the fun.”

Beth’s self-pity burned away like fog in the morning sun. “That’d be awesome!”

“Then let’s get to it. No Time Toulouse!”

Meanwhile, Heather had led the Eagles to the dodgeball court to conduct the auditions, because some of their acts—not least Heather’s own—would benefit from a smooth, flat surface.

“Okay, everyone,” said the queen bee, “show me what you’ve got, and I’ll decide who we’re going to use.”

“And why do you get to decide?” Gwen challenged.

“Lindsay, Katie, Sadie and I took a vote, and I won,” Heather replied, as if they were discussing the weather.

“You mean you lorded it over them like you always do,” the Goth translated.

“Don’t argue with success. Besides, who would you suggest? You? Yeah, right.”

“No, I don’t want to be the leader,” Gwen shot back. “You know that. But that’s not the point.”

“Then what is your point, Gwennie dear?” Heather asked, abruptly switching her tone from “catfight” to a patronizing, overdone sweetness. Returning to a normal tone, the queen bee asked, “Cody, you’re okay with me leading this challenge, right?”

“Sure, if Gwen doesn’t want to,” the science geek replied.

“Leshawna?” Heather asked.

“No skin off my booty,” the dusky homegirl replied with a shrug. “Sorry, Gwen, but Heather’s my friend, too.”

Heather looked back to Gwen and said, “That’s six votes. Majority rules.”

“Fine,” Gwen huffed. “No point in me auditioning, then, since you’d obviously never pick me.” With that, the Goth stalked off.

“Where are you going?” Heather called after her. “Nobody said you could go!”

“Anywhere that’s not here,” Gwen replied without turning around.

“Your funeral,” Heather called after the departing Goth. “You probably don’t have a decent talent anyway!”

A team of interns had followed the Eagles to the court, carrying the equipment and accessories that the Eagles’ profiles had suggested that they might need for their talent show acts. As the campers took inventory, Heather turned to the tall, muscular black intern whom Chris had assigned to valet the Eagles for this challenge, just as Alejandro was doing for the Muskies.

“Could we get a couple of walkie-talkies or something like that?” the queen bee asked. “And a pair of binoculars? We need them right away.”

“No sweat,” the African Adonis replied in an incongruously high voice. “Lightning is on the case!”

As “Lightning” hustled off on Heather’s errand, the queen bee turned to Lindsay and said, “Gwen still doesn’t get that I’m the boss around here, and I’d bet good money that she’s up to something. I need you to tail her as soon as that intern gets back.”

“What about my audition?” Lindsay asked. “I want to be in the show, too.”

“You’ll get your chance,” Heather assured the brainless blonde bombshell. “I’ll have Katie and Sadie go first, so they can come get you when it’s your turn.”

“Cool,” Lindsay replied, smiling contentedly.

“Lightning” returned as fast as, well, lightning. “Sha-score!” he announced proudly, as he presented the items that Heather had requested. The queen bee gave Lindsay the binoculars and one handset, and sent her on her way. She then turned to her teammates and said, “Katie, Sadie, I’m guessing that you’ll be doing something together?”

“Of course,” the Bobbsey Twins replied in unison.

“Okay, then, let’s see what you’ve got.”

The Eagles’ talents were less diverse than those of their rivals. Whereas the Muskies had an eclectic mix, nearly all of the Eagles were either dancers or musicians. The only exception, apart from the absent Gwen, was Noah. No one could even pretend to be surprised when the bookworm performed a dramatic reading from The Call of the Wild.

Katie and Sadie played a piano piece, sitting side by side in the arrangement known in the business as “piano four hands”. Cody was also a keyboard man, but he played an electronic keyboard instead of a piano, and he played a show tune instead of a folk dance. Leshawna was a break dancer, Justin was a PG-rated (well, maybe PG-13) pole dancer, and Heather herself was a ballet dancer.

Heather was as good as her word and, after Katie and Sadie had played, she sent them to relieve Lindsay. When the bombshell returned, she reported that Gwen had stopped by the girls’ cabin to pick up a book of some kind, but seemed to still be deciding where to go with it when Lindsay had been recalled.

“Whatever,” Heather replied. “You’re up. Everyone else has had their turn.”

“Cool.” Lindsay replied. After taking a few moments to stretch, she performed an erotic yet reasonably family-friendly pole dance that, unbeknownst to her, was very similar to Justin’s.

“All right, everyone, listen up,” Heather called. “Our first act will be Katie and Sadie on the piano. I’ll have the closing act. Justin and Lindsay didn’t give me much to choose between them, but I think it’s better to go with Lindsay for the middle act since we’re going to have a male judge.”

“I’ve got an idea,” Justin said. “Maybe you won’t have to choose.”

“What, you mean like synchronized pole dancing?” Cody asked. “That’d be cool.”

“Equal opportunity titillation,” Noah quipped.

“Actually, I had something else in mind,” the Incredible Hunk corrected. “And like Noah said, it’ll cover all the bases.”

“I’m listening,” Heather prompted, torn between her desire to keep Lindsay away from Justin and her desire to see Justin dance again.

Justin turned to Lindsay and asked, “Linds, have you ever danced ballroom?”

“Huh uh,” Lindsay admitted. With a sultry look, she added, “But I’d love to learn. Do you know how?”

“It’s my best style,” he assured his lust interest with a wink.

“I’m not so sure about this,” Heather objected hastily. “Lindsay, I don’t think it’s a good idea to tease yourself like that. Besides, the challenge is tonight. I don’t think ballroom dancing is something you could pick up in a few hours.”

“What have we got to lose?” Justin challenged. “If it doesn’t work out, she can still do her pole dance. But I think it can work. Sure, Lindsay doesn’t have geek-level brains, but she’s a good gymnast. That means she knows how to follow instructions, and we’ve already seen that she’s coordinated. I’ll bet she’ll pick it up in no time.”

Heather’s first instinct was to seize on Justin’s “I’ll bet” and challenge him to a formal wager because, assuming that it wasn’t just a ruse to give him an excuse to spend the day making out with Lindsay, she thought his proposal had “crash and burn” written all over it. The queen bee bit her tongue, though, because she feared that the stakes of such a wager might be too high. More to the point, Heather feared that Justin might respond to a wager challenge by demanding unrestricted access to Lindsay if he should win the bet. That could be a serious blow to Heather’s strategy, and she wasn’t willing to risk it. She planned to win by calculating, not by gambling.

“All right, then,” Heather agreed. She then looked pointedly at Lindsay and added, “as long as all you do is dance.”

“As opposed to what?” Justin asked obliviously. Realization dawned and he said, “Oh, that. Don’t worry; dancing is something you do vertically. Mostly.” He winked at Lindsay.

“Justin!” the blonde bombshell cried in mock outrage, although her giggle diminished the effect.

Heather was not amused, and flashed the lustbirds an “I’m watching you” sign. She then went out of earshot to find out if Katie and Sadie had anything to report.

The Eagles began to disperse, for nobody except Justin and Lindsay had any real reason to remain at the court. Having checked in with the clones, Heather caught up to Cody and told him where he could find Gwen. As the science geek hustled off to make his move on the now Trentless Goth, Heather circled around through the woods and approached the dodgeball court from another direction. She sat down on a fallen log, close enough to see the dancers but far enough away that she wasn’t likely to be seen or heard herself, and kept her vassal under surveillance for a time.


.

Confession and Penance

Gwen had wandered for a bit in the general direction of the diving cliff, until she chanced upon a large, flat rock that was a good height to sit on. She sat upon it, opened her book, which was actually a diary, and began to write.

Katie and Sadie had dutifully noted this and, when Heather checked in with them, they assured their liege that Gwen was apparently “up to” nothing more than trying to be alone. Heather remained skeptical, though, and ordered the clones to continue monitoring the Goth.

“But this is boring,” Katie protested.

“It’s totally boring, Sadie chimed in.

“I think I can arrange some entertainment,” Heather assured them. “All I have to do is tell Cody where Gwen is. I’m sure he’ll try to chat her up, maybe even ask her out, and you can watch him get shot down. And if she’s figured out that Cody helped to vote off Trent, you might see some real fireworks.”

Not long after, Cody found Gwen, just as Heather had predicted he would. The Goth noticed his approach but gave no sign, hoping against hope that he wasn’t coming to bother her. But of course, he was.

“Hi, Gwen.”

“Beat it,” the surly Goth snapped, without looking up from her book.

“I just thought you might like to know who we’re putting in the talent show.”

“Let me guess,” the surly Goth sneered. “Heather and her stooges will be doing all the acts.”

“Uh…yeah.” Cody admitted, for in truth he hadn’t really noticed at the time. “But Lindsay might be doing her act with Justin. He’s trying to teach her ballroom dancing.”

Gwen cocked an eyebrow. “That might actually be worth watching,” she admitted, “but I’m surprised that Heather would let Lindsay get anywhere near him.”

“So was Heather, I think,” Cody replied with a snort of amusement as he sat down next to Gwen. “So anyway, what’s your talent? I’m a keyboard man.”

“I draw,” Gwen replied with a sigh, as she resumed drawing or writing or whatever she was doing.

Cody motioned to Gwen’s book and asked, “So, is that a sketchbook? Can I see?” Without waiting for an answer, the science geek craned his neck, trying to get a look, and immediately wished that he hadn’t.

Gwen was drawing a picture of Trent.

Gwen said, “It’s a diary, if you must know, and you’ll keep your nose out of it if you know what’s good for you.”

A thought seemed to strike the Goth, and she said, “Actually, my talent show act would have been quick sketch caricatures.” She turned her diary to a blank page and drew something so quickly that Cody could barely follow the movements of her hand.

“See?” Gwen asked as she revealed a good quality caricature sketch of Cody impaled on a bloody stake.

“Harsh,” was all the science geek could say.

“Says the guy who got my boyfriend voted off,” the Goth retorted bitterly.

“I’m sorry, Gwen, I really am. But how did you know?”

“Sunshine told me,” Gwen replied. This had become an in-joke among the campers. When they wished to conceal a source of information, or if they wished to suggest that things they’d seen or heard themselves had actually come from an informant, the campers would say, “Sunshine told me” in the same way that an angry mother might say to her misbehaving child, “A little bird told me.” The campers didn’t seem to realize, or perhaps they simply didn’t care, that their in-joke had the side effect of painting Izzy’s imaginary friend as an incorrigible gossip.

Sunshine the Gossip

This had become an in-joke among the campers.

“Trent had six votes against him,” Gwen explained coldly, “so Heather obviously had to be involved; but if it had been her idea, I’d have been the one kicked off. So tell me, what did you offer her? What could you offer her that she would want?”

“It’s not like it was my idea—” Cody began, but he caught himself and said no more. He didn’t want to tell on Heather, not out of any desire to protect her, but because he thought it unchivalrous to badmouth a girl.

Gwen looked at him with narrowed eyes and asked, “What do you mean?”

Cody shook his head. “I’ve already said too much. Okay, I voted against Trent because I was jealous. I didn’t want you to hook up with him. But you have to believe me; I’d never have done it if I’d known that you would take it this hard. I really like you, Gwen. Really, really. I’d never do anything that I thought would hurt you. If there’s anything I can do to make it up to you…anything at all…”

Gwen looked into Cody’s eyes and saw that, indeed, he just might be willing to do anything for her. She was still angry with him, for she missed Trent and held Cody responsible, but her desire to do the science geek real harm melted away like a late frost under the spring sun.

“Maybe there is,” she said reflectively. “Promise me that you’ll never vote me off for any reason—not even to save yourself. And if Trent ever gets to come back into the game, you’ll never vote him off again, either. Not even to save yourself.”

“Wow, Gwen, that’s pretty harsh,” Cody protested, and then seemed to deflate. “But yeah, I probably had it coming. Okay, I promise.” Cody would prove to be as good as his word, but that is another story for another time.

At the amphitheater, Izzy and Beth were on the stage practicing moves for dual baton twirling, and Ezekiel was watching them. Most of the other Muskies were relaxing in the backstage area, having stayed together because they generally had a better esprit de corps than the Eagles. Alejandro was also relaxing backstage, in case any of the Muskies needed anything. Courtney was practicing on her violin, trying to decide which of several pieces would be best to play in the talent show, although in truth she did not intend to make her choice until the last second.

Geoff said, “Bridge, I really thought you should have been one of our acts. Sure, I can do wicked skateboarding tricks, but a lot of people can do those. Those contortionist tricks of your are something you don’t see every day.”

“That’s not all I can do,” Bridgette replied with a self-satisfied smirk. “I can also walk on my hands for like 20 minutes. I can even run on them.”

“No way,” Eva retorted. “That’s like, nearly impossible.”

“Nearly,” Bridgette emphasized.

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” Eva challenged.

“Want to bet that I can’t?” the surfer girl challenged in turn.

“You’re on,” Eva replied, with the air of one calling a bluff.

“I want some of that action,” D.J. said.

“Me, too,” Duncan added.

“Me, three,” Geoff chimed in.

Alejandro said, “I’m probably not supposed to get involved, but I’d like a piece of that wager, too.”

“Ante up,” Bridgette prompted. As her teammates did so, she thought, like sheep to be shorn.

With the bets in place, Bridgette bent forward until her hands and feet were all flat on the ground, then raised her legs above her and began to strut her inverted stuff. Courtney took no notice of this, so focused was she on her music.

Bridgette showed off some tricks, such as pirouetting on one hand like a topsy-turvy ballerina, and hand running across the backstage a couple of times.

Tyler said, “Maybe she should have made this her audition.”

As Bridgette approached the 15-minute mark, she also demonstrated the odd clumsiness that sometimes plagued her. Perhaps she was beginning to tire, or perhaps some malevolent Power begrudged this purehearted girl success and acclaim, or perhaps it was simply bad luck. Whatever the cause, Bridgette suddenly found her foot tangled in something as she hand-walked along the back wall. Whatever this thing was, it held Bridgette’s foot fast, despite the surfer’s best efforts to free it. Indeed, all her maneuvers to free herself merely bound her foot harder.

Finally, she accepted the risk of being thrown off balance and yanked on her unknown restraint with all her inverted might. That got her loose…sort of.

Bridgette shrieked as she was pulled into the air by her bound leg. A moment later, she heard something heavy hit the floor, and something less heavy a moment after. Reaching up to her foot, she saw that a rope had somehow become wrapped around it. The surfer then grasped the rope above her foot with both hands and, now able to see what she was doing, quickly uncoiled the rope from around her foot.

Bridgette jumped down and saw that the other end of the rope was fastened to a heavy stage light, which was presumably what she had heard crash to the ground. Courtney lay just beyond, motionless except for some twitching. Bridgette could not see Courtney’s head.

Oh, gods, no!” Bridgette whispered desperately, in an instinctive appeal to uncaring Fate. Her teammates, likewise realizing what had happened after having been distracted by the surfer being hoisted aloft, rushed to Courtney, fearing the worst. A moment later, Beth, Izzy and Ezekiel appeared back stage, having heard Bridgette’s shriek.

Bridgette said nothing as she rushed to her fallen teammate, but her mind was screaming. Blood on my hands!? I can’t! I can’t!

When the Muskies and Alejandro reached Courtney, they could see that her head and neck appeared to be intact, so at least there was hope. Alejandro, who was the only one of the lot with even rudimentary medical training, knelt down and checked Courtney’s wrist for a pulse. He looked up at the Muskies and nodded, flashing a reassuring smile. He then called another intern by radio and asked for equipment to transport a possible broken neck patient.

A groan informed everyone that Courtney had regained consciousness. As she began to stir, Alejandro her in place.

“Easy, senorita,” he said gently. “Just lie where you are. We have to make sure your neck isn’t broken. Until we know for sure, one wrong move could leave you paralyzed or worse. Can you move your feet? Your hands?”

Courtney tried, and said that she could. “What happened?” she asked.

“Malibu accidentally dropped a stage light on you,” Duncan explained. “You nearly bought it.” He then told her about the hand-walking wager, but nothing would be gained by repeating it here.

“It looks like it was just a glancing blow,” Alejandro said, “which is why you’re still with us.”

Tyler and D.J. hoisted the heavy stage light high enough for Courtney to see without moving her head. The onetime CIT shifted her eyes to get a look, and her eyes bugged. No wonder they’re not taking any chances, she thought. Then another thought struck her. “Oh, my gosh, my violin!” she cried. “Where’s my violin?”

Geoff replied, “I’ve got it, Court. Looks like it’s okay.”

“Let me see!”

The urban cowboy held Courtney’s violin in front of her eyes, slowly turning it to display various angles, and then showed her that her bow was intact. Courtney blinked hard several time and said, “Damn! My vision’s a little blurry.”

Alejandro surmised, “Sounds like a concussion, but we already knew that.”

Bridgette knelt down beside her stricken teammate. “Courtney, I’m so sorry. If there’s anything I can do…”

“Actually, there is,” Courtney informed her. “Zeke could use an assistant for his act. Tradition demands a pretty girl, so I want you to work with him.” And if you get lashed a few times during rehearsal, then so much the better, Courtney thought bitterly.

With the drama done for the nonce, Beth and Izzy returned to the stage to continue practicing. A few minutes later, a wiry, redheaded male intern with a high-pitched, nasal voice arrived with the transportation equipment that Alejandro had called for. The two interns carefully lifted Courtney onto a gurney, strapped her down, and gingerly wheeled her off to the infirmary. Once there, an X-ray revealed that Courtney’s skull and vertebrae were intact, and additional tests revealed no significant injuries beyond a mild concussion.

“So I can do the challenge tonight?” Courtney inquired hopefully.

“That depends,” Hatchet replied. “What’s your act?”

“I play the violin.”

“Then you should be fine. If it had been something athletic, you’d have had to sit out. Safety first.”

“I’ll bet that’s not what Chris would have said,” Courtney suggested impishly.

“I’m not Chris. And you’re probably right.”

Hatchet kept Courtney in the infirmary for two hours, checking on her periodically, and then discharged her.

Meanwhile, Gwen had returned to the girls’ cabin, with Cody trailing behind like a puppy trying to follow her home. Heather was lounging nearby, finally convinced that Lindsay and Justin did not intend to do anything but practice their dancing. Katie and Sadie had returned to the cabins ahead of Gwen and Cody, and had just finished giving their report to Heather.

As Gwen approached the cabin door, Cody stepped in front to open the door for her. Gwen did not acknowledge this gesture, but Heather did.

“I’m impressed, Gwennie,” she called. “A new hookup every week. I didn’t think you had it in you.”

Gwen turned to her nemesis and said, in a voice dripping sarcasm caustic enough to kill house plants, “Oh, yeah. We were going at it big time. I need a swim just to cool off.”

“Better hope the lampreys aren’t heat seekers,” Heather shot back.

Once in the cabin, Gwen stowed her diary and changed into her bikini, which was relatively modest by bikini standards. She exited, passed Cody without acknowledging him, and headed to the dock. Cody naturally followed.

When Gwen was safely out of sight, Heather looked into the cabin and verified that no one was present. She then turned to the clones and said, “Girls, we have a diary to find. Gwen still doesn’t know her place.”

Katie and Sadie had no great love for Goths in general or Gwen in particular, so they agreed. Heather would conduct the actual search, with the Bobbsey Twins standing guard on the porch.

With all the girls sharing one cabin, there weren’t all that may places to hide a diary, so Heather found it with little trouble. It had a lock, but diary locks are mostly for show, so Heather had little trouble picking it with a hairpin. She skimmed the contents for a few minutes and said to the absent Gwen, “You are so dead.”

At that moment, Heather’s luck ran out. Having no way to know that it was coming, she cringed at the familiar, ear-splitting squeal announcing that Katie and Sadie were happy about something. “Look, it’s Shawnee!” one of them said.

“Hey, girls, what’s up?” the unsuspecting homegirl greeted in return.

Heather quickly climbed into her bunk and secreted her prize under the pillow. When Leshawna finally came into the cabin, she saw the unremarkable sight of Heather resting in her bed.

“Getting a little snooze before the big show?” Leshawna asked amiably.

“You know it,” Heather replied in the tone of artificial friendship that she now used when dealing with the dusky homegirl. “Big night tonight.”

“Knock ‘em dead,” Leshawna replied. She then left the cabin, having retrieved the item that she had come for.

With Katie and Sadie still standing guard, Heather pulled Gwen’s diary out from under her pillow and began to read.


.

Showtime

After dinner, the campers assembled at the amphitheater. Most of the performers went backstage, but the others took seats in the bleachers. Once everyone was seated, the tuxedo-clad host sauntered onto the stage.

“Welcome to the first annual Total Drama Island talent show!” Chris announced grandly. “We’ve got quite a show for you tonight. Invincibility is at stake, so you know that nobody’s going to be holding back.

“To kick things off, let’s give it up to…Ezekiel, Master of the Bullwhip!”

Bullwhip tricks fall into two major classes: power and precision. Ezekiel showed off a few power moves, but spent most of his routine doing precision tricks, which in truth tend to look more impressive. His routine was an educational one, with a fair amount of explanation regarding the bullwhip’s properties, for that is common when dealing with audiences who know little about whips.

Extreme Marksman03:13

Extreme Marksman

Ezekiel showed off a few power moves, but spent most of his routine doing precision tricks

After Courtney assigned Bridgette to work with Ezekiel, he had rehearsed extensively with his new assistant. This was mainly to get Bridgette acclimated, so she wouldn’t flinch when the whip cracked mere centimeters from her face, as some of the prairie boy’s tricks required.

Ezekiel closed his program by having Bridgette face the audience and kneel. As the surfer girl stuck her arms straight out from her sides and tilted her head back, Ezekiel lit three candles, placing one in each of Bridgette’s hands and the third in her mouth. He then stood behind her and announced his intent to snuff all three candles with a single stroke.

It didn’t work.

Not quite, anyway. Ezekiel did manage to snuff the candles in his teammate’s hands, but he miscalculated and wound up lopping about a centimeter off of the middle candle that Bridgette held in her mouth. Still, most of the spectators considered that mistake easy enough to overlook. Bridgette stood, and the pair enjoyed the applause they had earned.

They scored a seemingly unimpressive seven out of a possible ten. Their act really deserved better, but that is the way of judged competitions. The early acts don’t usually get the scores they deserve because judges must leave room at the top. That disadvantage was also the reason why the Muskies wouldn’t have to go first in every round.

“And now,” Chris declaimed, as Alejandro and “Lightning” wheeled out an upright piano, “First up for the Eagles: two pianists, one piano. Will somebody please tell me why I’m not surprised? Let’s hear it for Katie and Sadie!”

Geoff good-naturedly called out, "Wonder Twin powers, activate!" as the Bobbsey Twins glided gracefully onto the stage, dressed in modest black evening gowns, and took their seats at the keyboard. Sadie would play the lower registers whilst Katie, seated to her right, would play the upper. Katie announced that they would play one of Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances.

As their four sets of fingers pranced over the keys, the clones’ bodies moved in rhythm to their Czech folk dance. This did not appear to be part of the act; they were simply into their music. It was a delightful performance, for there is nothing quite like the byplay of gifted musicians who are also dear friends.

Dvořák Slavonic Dance Op. 46 No03:26

Dvořák Slavonic Dance Op. 46 No. 8 in G Minor - Piano Duet, Four Hands

the clones’ bodies moved in rhythm to their Czech folk dance

After the last note had died, Katie and Sadie stood, joined hands and bowed to their applauding colleagues. Chris then returned to the stage and shooed the clones off, only then announcing that the pianists had also received seven of ten from the apparently hard-to-impress Judge Hatchet.

“So, after the first round, we’re tied up,” the host announced. “And now, for the Eagle’s second act, it’s time for Justin and Lindsay to burn the floor!”

“Promises,” Izzy quipped to Beth.

As the two dancers took the stage, it was immediately clear that their dance would play to their strengths. Justin was stripped to the waist, and Lindsay’s costume was a “barely legal” fringed bikini. Katie and Sadie had converted that barely-there swimwear to a dance costume for their new BFF by affixing as many sequins and other baubles as they could get their hands on.

The dance was loosely based on a tango, which is generally regarded in the business as one of the most erotic ballroom dance types, and most of the modifications that Justin had made seemed designed to amp up the eroticism still more. In short, their dance looked very much like stylized lovemaking, such was the fire in it. Although the more experienced Justin did most of the work, Lindsay had learned enough that she could pull her weight; for just as her mentor had predicted, the normally vacuous bombshell had proved a very quick study indeed.

No sooner had Camp Wawanakwa’s resident Beautiful People finished their dance, than a light breeze came up. This zephyr was most gentle, but it felt oddly chill; and the campers realized that, one and all, they were sweating profusely.

That dance had been hot.

Even the host was not immune. After a few moments, Chris, looking a bit flushed, took the stage. As he finished mopping his forehead with a handkerchief, he announced that Justin and Lindsay’s “mating dance” had scored nine out of ten. It appeared that something could impress Hatchet after all.

“And now,” Chris continued, having fully regained his composure, “for the Killer Muskies’ second act. Let’s hear it for Beth and Izzy, and their dueling fire batons!”

The other Muskies knew more or less what to expect, of course, but most of the Eagles looked skeptical. Izzy had a lithe build, and she had already become known as something of a pyrophile, so it wasn’t hard to picture her twirling a fire baton. But Beth? That dumpy little nerd girl? She hardly seemed the type.

As Khachaturian’s famous “Saber Dance” blared over the speakers, the twin twirlers strutted their stuff to its wild tempo. It quickly became apparent to the Eagles that they had misjudged Beth, just as her own teammates had done that morning. The girl had game.

Aram Khachaturian 02:20

Aram Khachaturian "Saber Dance"

the twin twirlers strutted their stuff to its wild tempo

Beth and Izzy whirled like dervishes. They twirled so fast that they seemed to be using flaming hoops, rather than batons. They threw their batons and caught them, sometimes their own and sometimes each other’s, in progressively more difficult ways.

The other campers were mesmerized, captivated. Not in the same way as they had been when Justin and Lindsay were dancing, but the effect was no less profound. Only Heather seemed unaffected, for she was lost in dark visions.

This is bad, the Princess of Darkness thought grimly. I can’t spring my little surprise on Weird Goth Girl if the team needs my score. Sticking it to Freakenchick isn’t worth throwing a challenge for.

Then, in the final maneuver, disaster struck.

Prancing toward opposite ends of the stage, Beth and Izzy dropped to their knees. Sliding along the floorboards, the twirlers flung their batons back over their heads with a flourish. Without looking back, they kept their throwing hands aloft, awaiting the arrival of their partner’s batons. They had practiced this move extensively, and had it down to the point that they could almost have done it whilst taking their math finals.

This time, however, Izzy threw her baton on too low an arc. Or perhaps Beth threw hers too high. The batons met in midair and caromed off to the sides.

Izzy’s baton fell to earth and, on a short hop, came to rest at the base of the stage backdrop. The cheaply constructed and unsafely finished backdrop burst into flames.

“Incoming!” Justin cried as Beth’s baton spun toward the Eagles’ seating area. Lindsay screamed—a piercing, bone-chilling shriek—as the Eagles scattered. The bleacher seating was as shoddily constructed as the stage backdrop and ignited no less readily, so the Muskies were obliged to join their rivals in a hasty evacuation. The bleachers burned energetically, casting sparks and embers over the retreating campers.

“Perfect!” Heather muttered under her breath. She could now bring her nefarious scheme to fruition; and for that, her scorched tutu seemed to her a small price to pay.

As a corps of interns (or “redshirts”, as the campers had come to call them) battled the twin blazes, the teams reassembled for headcounts. Just as the Eagles noticed that Lindsay was missing, a soul-rending, wailing scream of untold terror and anguish erupted nearby. Even without everyone else accounted for, there was no mistaking the source. No one could scream like Lindsay.

Heather, with Katie and Sadie in tow, was the first to arrive at the spot where Lindsay lay. The uberbimbo was curled in a fetal position with a compact mirror in her hand, gibbering softly and shaking uncontrollably. Heather didn’t know what the problem was, but she saw an opportunity to make the best of what was clearly a bad situation. Heather had become concerned that Katie and Sadie’s insubordinate attitude might start to rub off on Lindsay, and the queen bee reasoned that giving aid and comfort now might go a long way toward keeping her most faithful ally docile and obedient.

“Lindsay, what’s wrong?” Heather asked with only partially feigned concern.

In response to a familiar voice, what passed for Lindsay’s mind began to emerge from the abyss. She stopped gibbering, and her shaking began to abate. As the blonde bombshell lifted her head and turned to face the source of that voice, her allies could see what had shocked her so badly. Heather and Katie gasped, shrinking from the horror before them. Sadie shrieked and fainted dead away.

“My hair,” Lindsay whimpered, too shocked for tears. “My hair.”

Lindsay had not been as lucky as most at escaping the embers that still popped with alarming frequency from the flaming bleachers. Although she was apparently unhurt, most of the hair on the left side of her head had been burned away, and there was damage to other sections as well. The overall effect was of a badly botched haircut.

Swallowing hard, Heather turned to Katie, who was now the only one of her three vassals still capable of reasoned action.

“Katie,” the queen bee said quietly, “I think you’d better take Lindsay to the cabin.”

“But what about Sadie?” the Thin Twin asked, for although she was also concerned about Lindsay, she did have her priorities.

“She’ll be fine when she comes to. I’ll stay with her. Just do as I say.”

Heather and Katie coaxed Lindsay to her feet. Katie then took the uberbimbo by the hand and led her away. Lindsay quietly followed her teammate’s lead, for she was still in shock at the mutilation of her great golden mane and wasn’t really capable of initiating any action much more complex than putting one foot in front of the other.

Heather turned toward the crowd of curious campmates that had gathered, for Lindsay’s allies were not the only ones whom her scream had attracted.

“What are you looking at?” Heather challenged. “There’s nothing to see here.”

“Well, excuse us for caring,” Leshawna retorted.

“All right, then, Care Girl, don’t just stand there. Help me revive Goodyear,” Heather huffed, with a toss of her head in Sadie’s direction. As it turned out, though, no help was needed, for the butterball had begun to come to her senses on her own.

A hiatus of about two hours followed, as the redshirts hastily built and painted a new stage backdrop. During this time, Heather and Sadie went to check on Lindsay, and found her condition unchanged.

When the campers reassembled, now seated on folding chairs, Chris cheerfully announced that the blazes had been extinguished with “only two interns killed and four hospitalized from the toxic fumes.” Calling a resumption of the talent show, the host announced that Beth and Izzy had received a token score—three out of ten—for their trouble, including penalties for failing to finish their act and for the expensive havoc they had wrought.

“After two rounds, the Eagles have a commanding lead,” the host said, “so the Muskies will have the advantage of performing the last act of the night. But first, it’s time for the Eagles’ last dance. And no, that’s not a figure of speech. So let’s give it up to Heather!”

Heather walked calmly onto the stage. The ruff of her light pink tutu was noticeably singed in places, although she otherwise seemed none the worse for her brush with premature cremation. She carried a chair in one hand and what looked like a book of some kind in the other. Most of the campers took little notice of that tome, assuming that it was just a prop for her dance. One camper, though, was looking very intently at Heather’s book, inspecting every visible detail.

“She wouldn’t!” Gwen muttered softly, for the book looked suspiciously like Gwen’s diary.

Heather set the chair down and turned to face the audience. “There’s been a change of plan,” she announced. “I was going to dance for you, but since the stage is now unsafe to dance on,” she said with a significant glance at the charred floorboards, “I’m going to do a dramatic reading instead.”

Heather wasn’t fooling anyone, for everyone knew by now that the floorboards were structurally sound despite their alarming appearance.

“With the help of my dear teammate Gwendolyn, who thoughtfully supplied the text for this reading, I present to you, ‘Diary of a Quiet Goth’.”

At that moment, the Quiet Goth’s quietude was not that of passivity, but of a smoldering fury the likes of which she had never known in her entire life. “God damn you to Hell,” she whispered. She knew stronger language, but she was saying what she meant.

At first, Heather read Gwen’s actual words, which didn’t name names but expressed mostly negative views of the other campers. When she came to Gwen’s confessions of her feelings for Trent, though, the Princess of Darkness began to embellish, speaking with over the top breathlessness. Heather’s exaggerations made Gwen’s schoolgirl crush sound like nigh-pornographic sexual fantasies. In describing Gwen and Trent’s tender makeout session on the dock two days since, Heather made the destination sound more like third base than first. In short, Heather painted Gwen as a raging slut, and it was perhaps inevitable that the finished episode would omit most of Heather’s “act”.

I will sing to comfort my heart,
For I would not die or go mad
Despite my great torment.
I see no one come back
From the savage land where he who
Gives my heart peace has gone
When I hear him spoken of.

I will be patient and suffer my lot
Until I see him return.
May God allow him to come back!
He has gone on pilgrimage, and
Despite my lineage, I will not
Seek to marry another man.
Only fools suggest that to me.

What saddens me most is that
I went not with him when he left.
He gave me the shirt he wore that night,
That I might hold it in my arms.
At night, when love for him torments me
I take it into my bed and hold it
To my naked body to soothe me.


As Heather left the stage, leaving the spectators in uneasy silence, Chris returned. “O…kay,” the host began. “Heather’s impression of a trashy romance novel has scored four out of ten. And yes, she did get a score because it was a legitimate act. Sketchy, but legit. Chef’s not judging taste here. What he’s judging is how well you perform, and it wasn’t hard to tell which parts Heather was reading and which parts she was making up as she went. She also overacted pretty badly.

“Moving on. The Eagles lead by ten points, but if the Muskies get a perfect score with their last act, they can still pull it out on the tiebreaker. So let’s hear it for Courtney!”

As Courtney walked onto the stage in flowing evening dress, violin and bow in one hand, Heather was feeling pleased with herself. Yes, reading Gwen’s diary to the world had probably gotten some people mad at her, but Gwen wasn’t exactly the most popular person on the island. True, Heather had left the Muskies an opening to possibly win the challenge, but that danger seemed remote. After all, Courtney would need a perfect score to win; and if Hatchet didn’t deem Lindsay and Justin’s dance worthy—Heather felt flushed at the mere memory of that orgiastic display—then it seemed unlikely that he would award a perfect score for anything.

Courtney still had a residual headache from her brush with death that afternoon, and the fumes from the fresh paint on the replacement backdrop didn’t help. She would therefore have preferred to play one of her more lyrical pieces, but that was not to be. She wasn’t going to win this by playing it safe. She needed a perfect score from a harsh judge, and she knew just the way to get it. As for the headache, she’d played through pain before.

“Tonight,” Courtney began, “I’ll be taking a page from the playbook of Niccolo Paganini, who lived in the first part of the 19th Century and was perhaps the greatest violinist of his time. He was also quite a showman.”

Courtney held her violin out in front of her, as if for inspection. “You see,” she explained, “a violin has four strings. But if you’re good enough, and if you’ve had enough practice, you don’t actually need four strings to play a lot of pieces.” With her free hand, she took a pair of scissors that had been concealed in her sleeve, and cut one of the outer strings.

“If you’re really good—like prodigy-level good—then you might not even need three.” And with that, Courtney cut the other outer string.

“And if you’re just totally frikkin’ phenomenal, you might not even need two.”

Snip.

Courtney cast her scissors aside and announced to her fellow campers, who were already looking suitably impressed, “And now, from The Tale of Tsar Saltan, by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, this is ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’. On one string.”

As Courtney played that frantic little ditty, the other campers’ reactions were mixed. Some were mesmerized for the third time that night at this indescribable display of virtuosity. Beth and Izzy were grinning like idiots, so relieved were they that their baton twirling mishap now seemed unlikely to cost their team the challenge. Duncan and Eva smirked at the increasingly likely prospect of another victory and a commanding lead in the game. Ezekiel stared in wonderment and thought, Is she even mortal? Is this not an angel of the Lord?

Itzhak Perlman plays Flight of the Bumblebee01:19

Itzhak Perlman plays Flight of the Bumblebee

Courtney played that frantic little ditty

Among the Eagles, the most common reaction was a sinking feeling in the pits of their stomachs. In some cases, this soon gave way to anger—anger at the teammate who had left Courtney an opening. Nor was that anger blunted at the pathetic sight of Heather burying her face in her hands as she contemplated her grievous error in judgment and wallowed in self-pity.

The hour was growing late, so Brett’s mother left off her tale, and suggested that he prepare for bed.


.

Eighth Night

The next morning, after they had breakfasted, Brett went to school whilst his mother went to earn their daily bread. That evening, after they had dined and Brett had attended to his homework, Brett asked his mother to tell him more about her experience on Total Drama Island. Brett sat in his favorite chair, and his mother sat on the sofa. She took a few moments to collect her thoughts, and then she began to speak.

Heather’s skin crawled, for she could feel the sting of impending doom with each rapid-fire note. She’d expected her teammates—enough of them, anyway—to overlook the way she had publicly humiliated Gwen. But costing her team a challenge that they had in the bag? The Eagles had turned on Owen for less. Heather was about to find out how just how loyal her allies really were; and even if they remained true, that still might not be enough.

“Aah!”

Snapping out of her self-pity, Heather lifted her eyes just in time to see Courtney’s bow fly from suddenly nerveless fingers and clatter ominously on the floorboards. A moment later, Courtney dropped to her knees and brought her now-empty bow hand to her temple, wincing in obvious pain. She swayed unsteadily, and looked like she was about to faint.

Several Muskies rushed to the aid of their stricken teammate. “Courtney, are you alright?” Bridgette asked reflexively, although the answer was clear enough.

Still wincing in pain, Courtney did not look up as she declared, “Bridgette, this is all your fault! You and your stupid…aah!

“Get her to the infirmary,” Hatchet commanded. “I’ll be there in a minute.”

Courtney rose unsteadily to her feet, took a step—and collapsed. Only Eva’s quick reaction stopped her falling and possibly damaging her violin, which the broken virtuosa still gripped tightly.

With that, Courtney accepted defeat. As Beth took custody of her violin, the wounded Muskie draped her arm over Eva’s shoulders, for Courtney could not walk unaided. Ezekiel offered to help her to the infirmary as well, and Courtney accepted with thanks, offering him her other arm.

Chris would not let Eva or Ezekiel leave the amphitheater before the challenge officially ended, so they handed their stricken teammate off to a couple of the surviving redshirts. As they did so, the musclegirl warned the sexist farm boy, “No cracks about ‘weak, helpless girls’. Got it?”

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Ezekiel replied matter-of-factly. “Boys get hurt, too, eh? And I don’t kick people when they’re down.”

“There’s hope for you, yet,” Eva admitted.

“I know, right?” Courtney gasped out as the interns half-carried her away.

Chris called for attention and told the campers to return to their seats. When they had done so, he announced that Judge Hatchet had awarded Courtney a score of eight out of ten, including bonus points for the extreme difficulty of her act and the mandatory penalty for failing to finish it.

“And so,” the host declared grandiosely, “The winners are…the Screaming Eagles! Tomorrow they’ll receive their reward: a sightseeing cruise around the lake!”

Turning to the Muskies, he added, “Muskies, that was pretty lame, blowing two of your three acts like that. Not only that, but the only one of you to finish was the dude. Seriously, dudettes, how are you going to convince Ezekiel that sexism is wrong with a showing like that?”

Chris then looked pointedly at a certain Eagle and said sternly, “Heather, you need a new word for how disappointed I am. Reading another chick’s diary on national TV was wack enough, but leaving the other team an opening just so you could settle a personal score? I think you know as well as I do that Courtney should have won the challenge for the Muskies, in which case you would probably have been the one walking the Dock of Shame tomorrow.” Chris shook his head, as if in disbelief, then added, “And you’re supposed to be the genre-savvy strategist in this game. At least that’s what you keep telling everyone, and that’s what the network’s promos for this show keep saying. But where the heck was the strategy in the stunt you pulled tonight?”

The campers were stunned. Chris had never given any sign that he cared in the least what they did to each other, as long as it generated drama and didn’t expose the show’s producers to legal liability. Heather simply hung her head. She had no answer to this dressing down, for most of what the host had said merely echoed her own accusing conscience. She had taken her eyes off the prize, and she had nearly paid the price.

When Hatchet examined Courtney, he found what he expected to find, namely that she was suffering from aftereffects of her concussion, aggravated by the pressure of the situation and the paint fumes from the new stage backdrop. Chris’ hulking aide told Courtney to remain in the infirmary overnight for observation, and then went to record a confessional spot.

In the confessional, Chef Hatchet said, “Yeah, Alpha Bitch probably didn’t deserve four points for her ‘act’, but I gave her four so Courtney would need a perfect ten and nothing less. You got a problem with that? Chris wanted drama, so I gave him drama. And for the record, Courtney’s act turned out to be good enough that she would have gotten that ten if she’d been able to finish.”

At breakfast the next morning, Heather sat at the Eagles’ table, explaining to Lindsay and the clones why it had been necessary to humiliate Gwen in front of everyone the night before. Her argument was little more than a rehash, for she had made it clear the day before that she would not tolerate Gwen’s insubordinate attitude. Gwen, meanwhile, had not come to the lodge for breakfast, so Leshawna was obliged to bring her a couple of muffins afterward so that she wouldn’t go hungry. There was some grumbling among the other Eagles, but it appeared that the Diary Incident had largely blown over. Nobody seemed inclined to take direct action against Heather.

At the Muskies’ table meanwhile, the main topic of conversation was that night’s elimination. The decision was a difficult one because there was no shortage of candidates, yet none had done anything to make themselves look especially deserving.

Courtney was still in the infirmary, so Duncan decided to take advantage of that. “I think we should get rid of Little Tin Princess. She’s hurt pretty bad, so she won’t be much use in the challenges,” he said. “Besides, she’s pretty full of herself.”

“Sounds good to me,” Geoff chimed in. “She’s pretty harsh.”

“She’s not hurt that bad,” Ezekiel protested. “I asked Chef, and he says she’s going to be fine.”

“Like he said yesterday that she’d be ‘fine’?” Duncan challenged.

“She got rushed back yesterday,” Ezekiel parried. “We’ve got two days before the next challenge. She only had a concussion.”

“That’s not what I heard,” D.J. said. “I heard that she has a hairline fracture on her skull.”

“Okay, I heard that too,” Ezekiel admitted, “but not from Chef, and he's the one who would know. But even if she does, a hairline isn’t going to hurt anything unless somebody goes clubbing her on the head. I trust that nobody will? And if her concussion was bad enough that she wouldn’t be ready for the next challenge, she probably wouldn’t even know where she was right now.”

“Uh, there’s something else I heard,” Beth offered timidly. Keeping her voice low so as to not be overheard, she told her teammates, “Sunshine told me that it’s going to be a while before we have another athletic-type challenge.”

“Good work, Sunshine,” Izzy pronounced. “I’m glad to see you’re keeping busy.” Izzy fist bumped the air as her teammates gave her funny looks.

“And how would ‘Sunshine’ know that?” Eva asked rhetorically, a moment before realization dawned. “Oh, that intern you’re so tight with. Alejandro?”

“Maybe,” Beth replied coyly.

“Well, Courtney’s still one uptight dudette,” Geoff complained. “She just bosses everybody around. She totally harshes my mellow.”

“Well, I think she’s doing a good job,” Ezekiel countered. “Sure, she cracks the whip a lot, and I pity the guy who marries her, but you have to admit, she knows how to get things done.”

“I don’t have to admit anything,” Duncan scoffed. “The way she took over the team…she’s just on a power trip.”

“The reason she’s our leader is because nobody else wants to be,” Ezekiel insisted.

“She’s not my leader,” Duncan insisted in turn. “We don’t need a leader. We agreed to let her be the captain for building the hot tub. Nobody said anything about anything after that.”

“Maybe not, but it wouldn’t hurt,” Eva chimed in. “She might be kind of soft physically, but she’s smart and she’s tough. If she wants to lead, I’m willing to follow.”

“Compared to you, everyone’s ‘kind of soft’,” Tyler declared.

“I know, right?” Eva replied.

Izzy then played the ace that effectively ended this line of discussion. “Guys, you know what Zeke thinks of girls, and we can just imagine what he thinks of girls being in charge. And yet he was the first one to stick up for Courtney. That should tell you something.”

“Whoa,” Duncan said, his eyes wide. “That actually made sense. Are you back on your meds?”

“No way! Too many side effects,” Izzy replied obliviously.

As several of the Muskies exchanged nervous glances, Tyler said, “Okay, so, we don’t vote off Courtney. But then who do we give the boot?”

Izzy replied, “Well, nothing personal, but Bridgette did get Courtney hurt. We’ve voted nice people off for less.”

As the surfer girl hung her head, Tyler retorted, “Says the girl who burned the stage down and roasted two redshirts.”

“Hey, that was totally not my fault!” Izzy protested indignantly. “If they’d just let it burn, nobody would have gotten hurt! And it would have been a lot more fun to watch, too.”

With the characteristic furrowed brow of uncertainty, Eva said, “But how do we know whether the fire was Izzy’s fault or Beth’s? I couldn’t tell just by looking.”

“That’s obvious,” Izzy explained. “I’ll say it was her, she’ll say it was me, and that way everybody’s happy.”

“So much for making sense,” Duncan quipped. “It was too good to last.”

The debate continued for a time, but the Muskies could not reach a consensus, nor was a similar discussion at lunch any more fruitful. Side discussions would continue throughout the day, right up to the voting deadline.

The yacht docked shortly after lunch, and the Eagles boarded for their sightseeing tour. One of the interns, a tiny black lad with a faintly Ghandiesque look, would serve as the guide, for he had read extensively about the area and knew what features were worth pointing out. Certain campers would have a memorable adventure with this man-child, but that is another story for another time.

Beth, who was feeling guilty about the amphitheater fire, offered to look after Lindsay, who was still only dimly aware of her surroundings, so the broken blonde bombshell remained at the camp. Gwen also chose to stay behind, the better to isolate herself from everyone else after her humiliation the night before, and neither Cody nor Leshawna could dissuade her.


As the last glimmers of twilight faded on the western horizon, the Killer Muskies assembled at the bonfire for the melancholy duty of saying goodbye one of their own. After a few minutes, Chris appeared with his tray of marshmallows, took his customary place and bade everyone be seated.

“Killer Muskies,” the host began, “You all know why you’re here. I figured that the talent show would be something special, and it sure as heck was. Maybe not in the way I expected, but hey, if it’s good for ratings, then I’ve got no damage. It’s not like we can’t replace the interns.”

At this reminder of the casualties at the amphitheater, Bridgette closed her eyes for a moment in tribute and Ezekiel crossed himself. Courtney scowled at Chris’ callousness, Beth sighed in gratitude that Alejandro had escaped unhurt, and most of the other Muskies looked suitably somber. Duncan looked bored, and what passed for Izzy’s mind appeared to be elsewhere.

“I have nine marshmallows,” Chris continued, “And there are ten of you. Whoever doesn’t get a marshmallow must walk the Dock of Shame, board the Boat of Losers, and make the Voyage of the Damned to Loserville. And this time, there are no special circumstances to save that hapless victim.” Turning his shirt pocket inside out, the host continued, “There is no extra marshmallow in my pocket. One of you will be leaving tonight.

“I will first call those of you who had no votes against you. When I call your name, come get your marshmallow and stand behind me.”

After a brief pause for dramatic effect, Chris announced, “Long story short, everyone who didn’t perform an act is safe. D.J. …Duncan…Eva…Geoff…and Tyler.”

As Tyler took his place behind Chris, the host said, “For having the only act that actually went like it was supposed to, Ezekiel is also safe.” The home-schooled farm boy then received his benediction and took his place in the ranks of the blessed.

Four Muskie girls were still seated, and their judge said unto them, “I’m down to three marshmallows, and there are still four of you. Each of you four was involved in your team’s epic fail in yesterday’s challenge, but only three of you had votes against you. “The last of our ‘voteless wonders’ is…Courtney.”

After the onetime CIT, who was now fully recovered and who did not in fact have a skull fracture, had collected her prize, Chris addressed the three girls who still awaited judgment. “I have only two marshmallows left,” he intoned solemnly. “Beth, Bridgette, Izzy, you each have teammates who blame you for costing your team the challenge, so you each racked up a lot of votes.

“Two of you received three votes apiece, and will be safe. For tonight. But one of you has four votes against, and has spent her last day on Total Drama Island. Mere minutes from now, that pathetic reject will walk the Dock of Shame, board the Boat of Losers, and leave Total Drama Island forever as she makes the Voyage of the Damned to Loserville.

“With four votes against, the camper going home tonight is…”

Chris milked the dramatic tension as usual, moving his Finger of Fate back and forth as was his wont. On this night, though, it didn’t matter to the viewing audience; for instead of Chris’ “last marshmallow” routine, the finished episode showed a montage of the Muskies casting their votes:

Duncan said contemptuously, “You cost us the challenge, nerd girl.”

Courtney said bitterly, “You cost us the challenge, surfer klutz, not to mention almost getting me killed.”

Tyler said sternly, “You cost us the challenge, psycho.”

Ezekiel said, with what he thought was tact, “Sorry, Beth, but you and Izzy flubbed your act, and you’re not as pretty as Bridgette or Izzy. I know that sounds mean, but I like you all, so how else am I supposed to choose, eh?”

Geoff said with more tact, “Sorry Izzy, but you and Beth blew your act, and I’m kind of worried about you.”

D.J. said sadly, “Sorry, Bridge, but you got Courtney hurt and spoiled her act.”

Bridgette said, with a dejected shake of her head, “I’m sorry, Beth, but I have a feeling that it’s you or me. Oh, gods, I hate these votes.”

Beth, looking like an injured puppy, said, “I’m sorry, Izzy, but I have a feeling that it’s you or me. And Al, if you happen to see this sometime, I’m being ruthless, just like you said. I guess.”

Izzy chattered, “Of course I’m not mad at Beth, and no way am I going to vote for her. Sure, she missed our last throw, but she’s got real talent for burning stuff, and you just can’t get any more awesome than that. I think I’ll ask her if she wants an alliance if neither of us gets sent home tonight. Maybe we could call ourselves, ‘Comrades in Conflagration’. I think that has a nice ring to it. Did you see those huge flames? And the way all those flaming embers were popping out? It was like a real Fourth of July down in the States. I have to find out what those bleachers were made of. It would be so much fun to burn down a set myself, I can’t even tell you. It’s too bad about Lindsay’s hair, but you have to fry some eggs to make an omelet, I always say. It should have been Heather’s hair, though, because she’s not very nice. She really should learn to treat her posse better. Maybe then they would help her burn stuff. I’m sure she’d love it if she’d just try it. Anyway, I have to vote for Bridgette because she indirectly ruined Courtney’s act by getting her hurt, and Beth’s much too awesome to vote off because she’s so good at burning stuff. Maybe we can burn stuff together at the bonfire, because, I mean, that’s what bonfires are for, right? She might even get to be as good at burning stuff as I am once I teach her a few tricks and….”

The Moving Finger came to rest, and Chris pronounced his sentence of reality show death.

“Bridgette. Beth, Izzy, your marshmallows await. Bridgette, the Dock of Shame awaits.”

The vote montage had omitted the deciding vote, saving it for after the surfer girl dejectedly left the bonfire:

“Nothing personal, but it has to be Bridgette,” Eva said, coldly but without rancor. “We can cover for one klutz, but having two is liable to cost us more challenges, and it doesn’t look like anybody wants to get rid of Tyler this time.”

After the camera crew got its footage of Bridgette walking alone down the Dock of Shame and boarding the Boat of Losers, the other Muskies came to the end of the dock to see her off, for she was well-liked. Chris would not allow her to step off the boat to receive hugs or other physical gestures, so her now-ex teammates had to be content with kind words. As the boat began to pull away from the dock, the Muskies called their goodbyes one last time, and then something most remarkable happened: Ezekiel, who was one of several boys known to have a casual eye on the surfer girl, began to sing,

Pie Jesu (lyrics w English translation)03:45

Pie Jesu (lyrics w English translation)

Ezekiel, who was one of several boys known to have a casual eye on the surfer girl, began to sing

Pie Jesu,
Qui tollis pecatta mundi
Dona eis requiem.
Pie Jesu,
Qui tollis pecatta mundi
Dona eis requiem.
Agnus Dei,
Qui tollis pecatta mundi
Dona eis requiem sempiternam.


His singing tenor was untrained, but pleasant enough. The tune was simple, and sounded like something classical or liturgical. The words—well, the other Muskies didn’t recognize most the words, for Ezekiel sang in a tongue they did not know; but the few words that were familiar suggested that the lyrics might also be liturgical. Given what was known of the devout farm boy, that seemed entirely likely.


Gwen stood on the Eagles’ porch, leaning on the railing, avoiding contact with her teammates. She was listening intently to the faint singing drifting from the direction of the dock, trying without success to identify the song and the singer.

A minute or so after the singing stopped, Gwen heard footsteps behind her, stopping a little to her right, not quite within her peripheral vision.

“Uh, Gwen?” came a hesitant, faintly little-girlish voice.

Gwen did not turn toward the voice, instead continuing to gaze out toward the dock. “Katie,” she acknowledged curtly. The Goth was not especially glad for the other girl’s company.

There was no immediate response, but Gwen could hear Katie’s feet shifting nervously. The Thin Twin seemed to be struggling to find the words she wanted.

“Gwen, I, uh,” Katie began, and finally just blurted it out. “Gwen, I’m…I’m so sorry for what happened last night. Sadie and I helped Heather find your diary, but I swear we had no idea what she was going to do with it.”

“Maybe you should have asked,” Gwen suggested, before finally turning to face her teammate. There was enough light from the cabin window that Gwen could see Katie’s face, and that face told the Goth everything she needed to know.

Katie looked to be almost on the point of tears. It was clear that her complicity in Heather’s foul deed was really eating at her—and so it should, Gwen thought with a flare of anger—and Gwen could see that the Thin Twin desperately wanted—no, needed—forgiveness.

The wronged Goth contemplated Katie’s reputation: sweet and innocent, and certainly no match for a schemer like Heather. It didn’t take long for Gwen to decide that Katie would have forgiveness if she was willing to work for it. Something good might come out of this, after all, Gwen thought.

“Speaking of Sadie,” Katie’s confessor asked, letting the penitent squirm for a moment before pronouncing judgment, “where is your stouter half?”

“Getting a shower. There are some things we don’t do together.”

“Whatever,” Gwen said, wishing that she could unsee the mental image that Katie had unwittingly conjured. “I’m inclined to forgive you, but I’m not ready to forget. I need a show of good faith.”

After pausing briefly for effect, Judge Gwen handed down Katie’s sentence. “From now on, I want you to tell me anything you know about what Heather’s up to. And if she wants you to do something that isn’t just day-to-day-type stuff, you need to find out why. I don’t want any more surprises like last night.”

“Gee, Gwen, I don’t know…”

“If you want my forgiveness,” Gwen declared, her voice mild but her expression stern, “that’s my price. The same goes for Sadie.”

Without a word, but with grim determination on her face, Katie raised her fist to Gwen, with the smallest finger extended. Gwen regarded pinky swears as childish, but she could see that the gesture was meaningful to Katie, so she clasped Katie’s pinky with her own.


Brett smirked and said, “Don’t get mad, get even, eh? Read another chick’s diary on national TV, and one of your followers turns double agent. Epic karma.”

“You could call it that,” his mother replied. “But what can I say? Kids will be kids, and teenaged girls can be awfully catty towards each other.”

“Too bad about Bridgette, though,” Brett said. “She sounds just like someone I know at school.”

“I’d say, ‘poor Bridgette’, too,” his mother admitted with a shake of her head, “but it was probably just as well that she got out when she did. There were some real horrors still ahead of us, not to mention the backstabbing and double dealing that elimination games encourage, and she was such a pure-hearted girl. I hate to think what getting deep into the game could have done to her. I think Bridgette herself realized that. Of course she was disappointed to get sacked so early, but later on she seemed to think that it was for the best. They invited her back for the third season, but she declined. She said that fame and fortune were only worth so much.

“It’s like the old fable of the city mouse and the country mouse. At the end, when the country mouse decided to go back to the country, he said, ‘Better bread in peace than cake in fear.”

The night was still young, so Brett’s mother paused a few moments to collect her thoughts, and then she resumed her tale.


.

Episode #6: The Tale of the Camping Trip

Original title: The Sucky Outdoors


The next morning, Katie, Sadie and Lindsay awoke early, as they were growing accustomed to do. Ever since they had joined Heather’s alliance, the Dragon Queen had been bossing them around like they were her servants rather than her allies, meeting all protests with suggestions that they could be replaced and insinuations that they would be at a serious disadvantage in the game without Heather to think for them.

When Heather awoke, she gave her staff their orders.

“Lindsay, go and warm up the shower for me. And not too hot this time.”

“I can’t,” Lindsay protested with a hint of desperation in her voice, clutching at her scalp and what remained of her hair. “I can’t be seen like this!”

“Yes, yes, I know, it was a terrible tragedy,” Heather countered impatiently, “But everyone’s already seen you like that. The damage is done, even if you don’t remember it.” For in truth, Lindsay had spent the previous day in a fog, allowing Katie, Sadie or Beth to lead her around like a small child. She hadn’t even had enough self-awareness to feed herself or to do what no one could do for her, so her babysitters were obliged to assist her with these functions.

“No!” Lindsay pleaded. “I can’t go through that again!” The desperation in her voice was more pronounced.

“So put a towel around your head, or something,” Heather retorted.

“No! That will just remind everyone!” Lindsay cried desperately.

“Look, Lindsiot,” the Dark Queen snapped impatiently, “You can’t stay in the cabin forever.”

“I can’t go out like this!” Lindsay was on the point of tears, her voice now tinged with outright panic.

Heather started to offer a veiled threat, but caught herself. She could hear the increasingly frantic tone in her vassal’s voice, and was by no means certain that Lindsay would respond to a threat in her current state. If Heather threatened expulsion from the alliance now, she might actually have to go through with it, for it would be disastrous to her plans if her lackeys got the idea that she was all bark and no bite. Furthermore, despite Heather’s insinuations that disobedient allies could be replaced, the truth was that she couldn’t really afford to lose Lindsay. With the possible exception of Beth, who was out of Heather’s reach until the merge (if Beth even made it that far), no one in camp was as blindly obedient as the uberbimbo.

It was time for a change of plan. Time for a carrot instead of a stick.

“Sadie,” Heather instructed in a resigned tone, accepting that her shower would have to wait, “Go and claim the washroom. We’re going to be there a while. Katie, we need to round up all the hair care products and equipment that we’ve got. We have an emergency makeover on our hands.”

Heather turned back to the emotionally crippled bombshell. “It’s OK, Lindsay,” the queen bee said, hiding her irritation as best she might, “We’re going to get your hair fixed. But you still have to go to the washroom. We can’t do it here.”

It’s not fair, Heather thought. They’re supposed to wait on me, not the other way around.

Soon enough, the four girls descended on the washroom and quickly converted the common area into a makeshift salon. They had brought a couple of folding chairs, one for Lindsay and one for Heather; for the queen bee’s plan was to supervise, offer advice, and have Katie and Sadie do most of the actual work.

The Bobbsey Twins combed out what remained of Lindsay’s hair, the better to see what they had to work with, and they and Heather cringed anew at the damage. Sadie stepped back, bent over, and began to hyperventilate. She looked like she was about to heave, but she managed to control her gorge and presently returned to her task.

Lindsay had been granted one small mercy that fateful night, for the baby blue bandana she always wore had stopped one of the embers that struck her. The bandana had been ruined, but its sacrifice had not been in vain, for that ember would have burned Lindsay’s hair to the roots. If that had happened, then the only recourse would have been to shave Lindsay’s head and put her in a wig.

Because the left side of Lindsay’s hair was the most heavily damaged, Heather immediately suggested an asymmetrical bob. As Lindsay cringed, Katie replied, “I don’t think she’d like that.”

“No, she’s hated on that look before,” Sadie confirmed.

“I’ve got an idea,” Katie announced after a moment. “Linds, do you trust us?”

Lindsay looked skeptical. She liked the clones very much, but they were hardly fashion plates. “I guess so,” she said after moment of reflection. “Just don’t put me in pigtails. No offense, but they’re totally not fashionable.”

“Swearsies,” Katie replied. She and Sadie then conferred in whispers and signs, and reached an agreement.

“What’s your idea?” Heather asked.

“You’ll find out,” the clones replied in unison.

“I want to know now,” Heather retorted. “I’m captain of this alliance, so I have a right to be informed—especially if you’re going to be using my hair care stuff.”

“If you have an idea, let’s hear it,” Sadie shot back. “But this doesn’t have anything to do with the game. Lindsay’s willing to be surprised, so what’s your damage?”

Katie added, “Yeah, you make it sound like we can’t blow our own noses unless we clear it with you first.”

“Come on, peeps, can’t we just get my hair fixed?” Lindsay pleaded.

“Fine,” Heather huffed. She flashed an “I’m watching you” sign at the clones, but said no more. With that argument settled, at least for the nonce, the toothpick and the butterball went to work.

As the Siamese campers worked, Heather had to admit to herself that they seemed to know what they were doing. She continued to watch, having nothing else to do at the moment, and idly wondered why the clones didn’t used their considerable tonsorial skill for their own benefit. After all, Heather thought, any number of hairstyles would be more flattering to them—especially to Sadie—than their little-girl pigtails.

In the fullness of time, Katie and Sadie finished. Stepping away from their “patient”, they looked at Heather, and Katie challenged, “Do we know our stuff or what?”

“Don’t get too full of yourselves,” Heather admonished. “There’s a major problem.” Lindsay cringed.

“What do you mean?” Sadie asked. “It looks fine to me.”

“But it’s not a ‘blonde’ cut,” the dragon girl explained.

Katie handed Lindsay a compact and asked, “What do you think, Linds?”

Lindsay took one look, and her face lit up like the sun. Handing the compact back to Katie, she gave a sharp, approving nod of her head and declared, “Brunette. Definitely.”

Heather stood and said, “You heard her. Let’s see what we’ve got in the way of coloring.”

When the clones had a result that passed inspection by both of the fashionistae, Heather had an idea. “Tell you what, girls,” she said, “I think we should all do makeovers. It would be a show of support. One for all, and all for one. Or whatever.”

“That would be so neat!” Katie cried.

“Aww, you’d do that for me?” Lindsay asked, clearly touched.

“Of course,” Sadie assured her. “Anything for our new BFF.”

Heather steeled herself against the Bobbsey Twins’ inevitable squeal of delight. But when Lindsay joined in, introducing a harmonic that Heather wasn’t ready for, the queen bee couldn’t suppress a cry of pain.

“Your happiness squeal needs work,” Katie said, oblivious to the true nature of her overlord’s reaction.

Sadie added, “I think the problem is that you’re too uptight. If you’d just lighten up a little, that’d go a long way.”

“We’ll worry about that later,” Heather demurred, discreetly crossing her fingers behind her back. “Now, let’s get to those makeovers!”

Heather, of course, had no intention of developing a “happiness squeal”, for the last thing she wanted was to become more like Lindsay or the clones. Indeed, she had little interest in bonding with her vassals at all. The real reason she had suggested the “solidarity” makeovers was because she suspected that Lindsay’s new look would turn heads, and Heather wasn’t the type to let someone else have the spotlight alone if she could grab part of it for herself.

Heather stepped out of the washroom and flagged down a passing intern. She asked this redshirt, a heavyset brunette who wore a bow in her hair and spoke with a thick German accent, to ask Chris to come to the washroom. When the host arrived in response to this summons, Heather explained her plan and asked him if he would announce her and her staff when they came to the main lodge for lunch. Chris was happy to oblige, for he likewise saw the potential to stage an interesting scene on a day that had nothing game-related on the schedule.

At the appointed time, the other campers filed into the main lodge for the ritual ordeal that was officially called “lunch”. As they sat at their tables, warily eyeing what Cody described as a Klingon meal (“half of the dishes are served live”), Chris came into the lodge and called for attention.

“Campers,” the host announced, “we have something a little different today. Dinner and a show!”

Noah deadpanned, “Yeah, we know. The grub fights in our grub. Betting is still open for the main event: ‘Wild Will’ Worm vs. The Mutant Maggot.”

“Moving…on,” Chris continued, as he shot the bookworm a trenchant look. “You all know about Lindsay’s accident during the last challenge. The reason none of you were able to use the washroom this morning is because she was getting a makeover from Katie, Sadie and Heather. Then they all decided to get makeovers, too. For team spirit. Or whatever. Anyway, that locked out the washroom for the rest of the morning.”

This revelation prompted a good deal of grumbling amongst the campers, mostly along the lines of suggestions for where the Eagles’ power alliance could put their makeovers.

“Dudes, dudes,” Chris protested, for the narcissistic host knew well that looking one’s best can be a lot of work. “They’ve been working on it all morning long. Aren’t you the least bit interested in the result?”

“Whatever,” Leshawna said for everyone. “But this had better be good.”

“See for yourself,” Chris declaimed, “because here they come!”

With that, the four girls filed into the lodge. First came the warm-up act: Katie and Sadie in matching big hair and sundresses, with subtle makeup courtesy of Lindsay, looking five years older than they had the day before. Noah’s eyes widened a bit at that.

With an appreciative smile, Noah said to Cody, “The kiddies have grown up.”

Cody smiled in turn and said to his ally, “Told you they’d make for a good threesome.”

“You and your threesome fantasies,” the bookworm scoffed. “If they were that kind of girl, what would they need me for? I can’t say that I would pass up a chance to make out with both of them, but…one at a time.”

“Okay, you win,” Cody conceded in a tone of mock surrender. “One girl at a time. If any one lady can handle the full force of my manly charms.” Noah lifted his eyes to the heavens in mock supplication, but said no more.

Lindsay entered next. As she did so, an appreciative wolf whistle sounded somewhere to her left. “Thanks, Skrymir,” the bombshell said, without even looking toward the source.

Tyler hung his head in embarrassment. He had no intention of contesting Justin’s claim, and Lindsay wasn’t even the girl he was crushing on, but that whistle had just slipped out. Red Jock was all the more embarrassed because he hadn’t expected Lindsay to guess that he was the culprit, but there wasn’t a boy in Canada whom Lindsay couldn’t identify by his wolf whistle. It was a gift.

Heather entered last. She had a more formal look than the others, with her hair in a high bun, accented with a tiara. She wore a slinky, sleeveless black dress with matching opera gloves and spike heels, and looked every centimeter a queen. For all that, her plan to steal or at least share the spotlight came to naught, because all eyes were on Lindsay.

Thanks to her bandana’s “sacrifice”, the accident had left Lindsay with enough undamaged hair for a short, feathered cut. That hair was now dyed a rich nut brown, a little darker than Courtney’s, with a touch of auburn in the highlights. The shorter style seemed merely to invite more attention to the bombshell’s other features, not that those features had ever lacked for attention. She still wore a halter top and short skirt as before, but they were more darkly and richly colored than what she had worn previously. All in all, she now seemed more earth goddess than sun goddess.

When Justin finally found his voice, he said to no one in particular, “And I thought she was gorgeous before.” Indeed, while Lindsay was still drop-dead gorgeous, the character of her barely-mortal beauty had changed. Formerly spectacular, it was now magnificent, and in truth a better match for Justin’s legendary gorgeousity.

Having failed in her plan to upstage Lindsay, and having chosen a makeover look that was impractical for camp life, Heather went back to her usual look the next day. Katie and Sadie, on the other hand, having chosen makeovers better suited to a summer camp and wishing to show ongoing solidarity with Lindsay, kept their new looks for the rest of the summer.

As the lunch hour wound down, and the campers began to filter out of the lodge, Gwen spotted something on the floor. It appeared to be a note of some kind. Succumbing to curiosity, she knelt down and picked it up. Quickly inspecting the paper, she saw that it was an unsigned love note, addressed to “The Diamond Maid” and quoting a Lord Byron poem:

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o'er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling place.
And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!


Gwen smirked at this puppy love tactic, and idly wondered who might have written the note and whom it might be meant for, and whether it was the giver or the recipient who had dropped it. Most of the girls in camp had black hair, assuming that the “raven tress” reference was even meant literally, and she didn’t know what to make of the “diamond maid” salutation. As for who the smitten boy might be, Noah was her first guess, for it stood to reason that a courting bookworm might quote famous love poems; but the Goth had no idea whom Noah might be crushing on if, indeed, he had written the note. The penmanship offered no clues, for there was no handwritten correspondence to speak of amongst the campers, so they had no way to recognize each others’ handwriting.

Gwen decided to hold on to the note in case someone came looking for it, but she otherwise gave it no further thought. She had better things to do than to expose a crush, and the Diary Incident had left her more sensitive about such things in any case.

The next morning, after the campers had choked down their breakfast, Chris called them to the bonfire site for their challenge briefing.

“Today’s challenge,” he said, as Alejandro gave each team a map and a compass, “will test your wilderness survival skills. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if you don’t all make it back alive.” The host paused a moment to let this sink in, and basked in the campers’ worried looks. “But if somebody does buy it in this challenge, like a couple of our interns did setting up for it, then we get to skip the elimination ceremony and I get the night off. So it’s win-win.

“You’ll hike to your campsites, assuming you can find them. When you get there, you’ll find everything you need. Set up your tent, spend one night in the woods, take your tent down in the morning, and return. Touch the totem pole to make it official. First team back wins.”

“Totem pole?” Geoff asked.

“Yeah, the interns are setting it up now,” Chris explained. “The producers decided that the camp needed a little more local flavor for the establishing shots.”

Noah, who was of First Nations descent on his mother’s side, asked, “Aren’t totem poles a Pacific Coast thing? That doesn’t sound very local.”

“Meh. Who’s going to know the difference?” Chris asked rhetorically.

“I did. Or hadn’t you noticed?”

Heather, who was still a bit resentful over how Noah had repeatedly gotten the best of her in the dodgeball match, said archly, “I think he means, ‘How many normal people are going to know the difference?’”

In his usual tone of studied boredom, the bookworm replied, “I never claimed to be normal. Why should I settle for less?”

“Whatever,” Heather sniffed, for she was unwilling to admit in front of everyone that she thought the bookworm had a point. There was a time when Heather had aspired to be normal; but now she, like Noah, considered normalcy a step down. What does it take to get the last word with this nerdling? Heather wondered, not for the first time.

“You two can argue on the trail,” Chris suggested, effectively ending discussion. “One more thing. Watch out for bears. That’s how we lost the interns.”

None of the campers needed to be reminded of the danger that bears posed, for they still remembered the hike to the diving cliff, during which an intern had been fatally mauled more or less before their eyes.

There was safety in numbers, and on the trip out it mattered not who reached their destination first, so the two teams walked together for a time. Eventually, though, the trail forked and the teams’ maps led them down different paths.

Nobody noticed that two of their comrades were missing.

The hour was growing late, so Brett’s mother left off her tale, and suggested that he prepare for bed.


.

Ninth Night

The next morning, after they had breakfasted, Brett went to school whilst his mother went to earn their daily bread. That evening, after they had dined and Brett had attended to his homework, Brett asked his mother to tell him more about her experience on Total Drama Island.  Brett sat in his favorite chair, and his mother sat on the sofa. She took a few moments to collect her thoughts, and then she began to speak.

As the Muskies hiked along, Courtney led the way both because she felt that it was her place and because she was the one who had the map. Izzy served as the compass reader at first, but she presently grew bored with that task and decided to look for someone else to walk with Courtney. The onetime CIT agreed readily enough, having come to prefer a “copilot” who would tell her what she needed to know in fewer words.

Izzy disappeared into the Muskies’ peloton and located Ezekiel, who was chatting with Beth. These two both hailed from rural backgrounds, so they had a good deal in common. Beth understood gender roles in farm country, so she was more forgiving of Ezekiel’s innocent sexism than most of the girls were. She understood that the farm boy’s heart was in the right place. Beth would naturally have drawn the line at open disrespect, but Ezekiel never ventured there.

“Hi, guys!” Izzy cried as she bounded up to them. “Hey, Zeke, would you go up and be Courtney’s compass reader for a while?” Even as the farm boy drew breath to respond, Izzy theatrically batted puppy dog eyes at him and pleaded, “Do it for me? Pretty please?”

“Sure,” Ezekiel replied simply, and the demented redhead handed him the compass.

That went well, Izzy thought as the prairie boy trotted to the front of the pack. Izzy had chosen Ezekiel for two reasons: first, she fully supported Courtney’s “re-education” project; and second, she had her own reasons for wanting to talk to Beth.

When Ezekiel joined Courtney, the onetime CIT said, “Great. I was hoping I’d get a chance to talk to you.” As her protégé cocked his head quizzically, Courtney explained, “I heard about how you stood up for me the other day. Thanks. I owe you one.”

“No worries,” Ezekiel replied. “You took my side when most of the other girls wanted my head on a platter.”

“I didn’t exactly ‘take your side’, but I know what you mean. But then you helped me out during the Awake-a-thon.”

“And that was when you started teaching me how to get by in ‘polite society’,” the farm boy noted. A moment later, he snorted in amusement.

“What’s so funny?”

“Oh, nothing really. I just realized that we’ve been spending most of this game doing favors for each other, eh?”

“That’s how people get to be friends,” Courtney replied. With a significant glance, she added, “That’s how alliances are born.”

Meanwhile, the Eagles hiked easily down their ‘trail’, which looked much like the surrounding wilderness except for occasional markers, hence the need for map and compass. Heather had the map and had drafted Justin to be her compass reader, the better to keep and eye on him. Naturally, therefore, Lindsay also walked at the head of the pack with her liege and her crush. That suited Heather well enough, since Justin and Lindsay did not seem inclined to chatter. They did try once to hold hands, but that ended when Heather reminded Lindsay that romantic entanglements were not permitted. The lustbirds therefore contented themselves with merely being near each other and stealing frequent glances at each other.

Heather also found herself stealing glances at the Incredible Hunk—more than were really necessary to insure that he wasn’t misbehaving with Lindsay—and found herself wondering whether she shouldn’t have chosen a compass reader who would be less distracting to her. She considered her options, but didn’t take long to decide that it was best to keep The Embodiment of Manly Beauty with her, distraction be damned.

Maybe it’s just as well that he’s into Lindsiot, Heather thought. That attraction did, after all, make Justin a potential ally. No less importantly, it meant that he wouldn’t be hitting on Heather herself; for despite Justin’s general shallowness, Heather was by no means certain that she would have been able to resist his attentions any better than Lindsay was doing. Heather had no intention of exempting herself from her “no romance” rule, and Justin’s presence made it hard enough for her to keep her head in the game as it was.

Leshawna, meanwhile, had found Gwen. Naturally, finding Gwen also meant finding Cody, who was oblivious to every sign Gwen gave that she would rather be alone. Noah was also with them, although he was saying little, preferring to lend moral support to his ally by mere presence. When the homegirl joined them, the four conversed for a time, but Leshawna eventually excused herself and Gwen on the grounds that they needed to talk about “girl stuff”. Cody and Noah let them go, and shortly thereafter fell to talking about “guy stuff”.

When they were alone, Leshawna said to Gwen, “I was wrong. I’m sorry.”

“Wrong about what?”

“About Heather. We knew that she was a vain little queenie, but I thought she was at least a decent person. Then we had the talent show. Now I know better. Sadder but wiser.”

“Yeah,” Gwen conceded without enthusiasm. “Sadder but wiser. At least now we have some idea what she’s capable of, not that that’s going to help me.”

“What do you mean? I know Heather made you sound like a streetwalker or something, but you don’t think people are actually going to believe that stuff, do you?”

“No, it’s not that,” the Goth admitted. “It’s just that…you remember all those nasty things Heather said that I said about everybody? Well, I really did write that.”

Leshawna was not deterred. “I’m willing to believe that you wrote that stuff before you started to come out of your shell. And if you didn’t, then don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. Anyway, if Queenie makes me choose between you and her, then I choose you.”

“Thanks, Shawnee. That means a lot. And yeah, most of that was before. The stuff I said about you, anyway.”

“But now you know better, right?” the homegirl prompted.

“Now I now a lot better.” Gwen assured her with feeling. After a few moments of reflection, she added, “There’s something else I might have been wrong about.”

“What’s that?”

“About Trent getting blindsided. After I’d had time to think about it, I figured that it was Cody’s idea, and that he somehow got Heather to help him, but now I’m not so sure. Now I’m thinking it might have been the other way around. Cody did apologize like he meant it, and it sounded for a minute like he was going to blame Heather. He didn’t though. Wound up taking the blame himself.”

“Maybe he just didn’t want to badmouth a girl,” Leshawna suggested thoughtfully. “He does seem to be into the whole chivalry thing.”

“Yeah, maybe. But what I don’t get is why Heather didn’t take me out instead, if it was her idea. I don’t know why she has it in for me, but it’s pretty obvious that she does.”

“If she thought she needed Cody’s help to boot Trent, then maybe she didn’t have the votes to take you out. From the way Cody acts around you, Heather probably could have laid him and she still wouldn’t have been able to get him to vote you off. But give a guy like that a chance to get a rival out of the way…. Or, she might have decided that torturing you is more fun. She wouldn’t be the only one on this island with that attitude.”

“You mean Chris,” Gwen surmised. “I see your point. But why does Heather hate me in the first place? What did I ever do to her?”

“You stood up to her. More than once. Maybe Queenie just can’t handle people thinking for themselves. She sure acts like she’s used to getting her way.”

The Eagles found their campsite without incident, or so they thought. As they were taking inventory, though, Heather had the feeling that something was amiss. Much of the hike had been nice and peaceful; and now, even with the general buzz of conversation concerning mostly challenge-related topics, the campsite seemed somehow quieter than it ought to be. Especially in the upper registers. Lindsay notwithstanding, there seemed a distinct lack of high-pitched female voices. A suspicion struck the queen bee, and she confirmed it with a quick head count.

“Hey guys,” Heather called out to her team. “Has anybody seen Tweedledum and Tweedledumber?”

Before the teams separated, Katie had spotted some wild blueberry bushes, which grew plentifully in this region. She and Sadie shared a particular love of blueberries, so Katie naturally alerted her BFF to this find. Yielding to whim, the Bobbsey Twins descended on this bounty like big-haired locusts, oblivious to the fact that everyone else was continuing on without them. If anyone had seen this, then events might have played out differently; but it happened that the clones had been straggling at the rear, so nobody noticed their detour.

After a half an hour or more, all the ripe berries had made the journey from branch to belly. Satisfied with their repast, Katie and Sadie returned to the trail and suddenly realized that they were alone.

At first, they were not dismayed, for they thought it would be a simple matter to follow the trail and catch up to their team. When they came to the fork, though, they were at a loss, for there was nothing to suggest which path they should take.

“I know,” Katie said at last. “Courtney’s such a control freak that she’d want to keep all her team together. So…her team’s path would be the one that looks more trampled. So to find our team, we take the trail that doesn’t look as much like a trail.”

Sadie replied, “I could poke all kinds of holes in that argument, but I don’t have a better way to decide. Might as well. We’ve got a 50-50 chance.”

However shaky her reasoning, Katie had indeed chosen the path that would have led them to the Eagles’ camp; but Fate can go from kind to cruel on a whim. So it was that, although the clones had chosen the correct path (if “path” is the right word for such a lightly-traveled route), it wasn’t overlong before they began to veer off course and missed a trail marker.

In the fullness of time, the Muskies found their campsite without incident. Most of the team turned their attention to the tent, but Tyler began taking inventory at Courtney’s command.

“Guys, we’ve got a problem,” Tyler announced. When he had everyone’s attention, the jock of all trades explained, “We don’t have any food.”

“Crap!” Courtney cried. “I guess that means grubs and berries for dinner.”

Ezekiel said, “I could set some snares. Maybe we’ll get lucky.”

With his characteristic leer, Duncan quipped, “Ooh, yeah. Get lucky.” Eva glared at him, but Courtney simply ignored him.

“Sounds good,” Courtney said to Ezekiel. “Do it. We don’t need everyone to set up the tent.” With a glare at a certain party boy and a razor-sharp edge to her voice, she added, “Even with Geoff not doing anything but hitting on girls.”

“Chill, dudette!” the indignant party king protested. “I am too helping. I’m helping Izzy.”

Courtney was not impressed. “Have you been helping her with anything that she actually needs help with? Have you been helping her with anything that she could actually use help with?”

“Well, uh…”

“That’s what I thought.”

“Harsh-ness,” Geoff complained.

Courtney replied archly, “Yes, it is. What’s your point?”

Izzy replied before Geoff could. “Hey, I don’t mind Tall, Blond and Handsome hitting on me. He knows when to back off.”

“That’s not the point, Izzy,” Courtney countered. “The point is that we have work to do, and everyone should be doing their part. There’ll be plenty of time for flirting later, if that’s what you want to do.”

Duncan said, “Sounds like someone needs a good make out session herself.” Courtney did not dignify his assessment with a response.

After the tent had been pitched to Courtney’s satisfaction, the Muskies dispersed to forage for food and firewood. As the light began to fail, everyone reassembled at the campsite. Ezekiel’s snares had come up empty, save for one ground squirrel. Eva had chanced upon a fair-sized rattlesnake, which she subdued by the delicate and ladylike method of staving in its head with a club. Courtney and Beth brought back a decent haul of wild blueberries, that same fruit which had been the downfall of the “Wonder Twins”.

The grand prize, though, was the fully-grown porcupine that Izzy caught. The “quill pig” is the only large mammal in North America that a man, a woman or an Izzy can both overtake on foot and overpower with a club, so the demented redhead had bludgeoned her prey to death, shrieking battle cries the while. Tyler had also found a porcupine and had likewise tried to subdue it with a club. He didn’t get his prey, but he did get so many quills in him that he resembled a porcupine himself.

D.J. came into the clearing, holding a smallish rabbit. “Hey everybody, look what I found!” he said, holding out his cupped hands to display his prize. The rabbit could easily have escaped, but seemed content where it was.

“Cool,” Duncan pronounced. “I’ve never had rabbit stew, but I’m game.”

“He’s not—” D.J. began, but before he could finish his protest, Ezekiel casually plucked the beast from the gentle giant’s hands, wrung its neck, and pulled off its pelt like a glove, all whilst showing no more emotion than he would when turning off a light.

The farm boy then asked, “Duncan, can I borrow your knife?” After the delinquent obligingly tossed it to him, Ezekiel opened the switchblade, gave it a cursory inspection, and said, “It’s kind of small, but I guess it’ll do.”

“That’s what I said,” Izzy quipped to Beth, drawing a blush and a giggle from the nerd girl.

Courtney overheard Izzy’s remark, and couldn’t suppress a soft titter of her own. The straitlaced former CIT was no fan of off-color humor, but the thought that Duncan’s lechery and swagger might actually be a way to compensate for an inadequacy was a notion that Courtney found both amusing and appealing.

Ezekiel, meanwhile, quickly gutted the rabbit, spitted it on a stick, and set it to grill over the fire, using the pelt like an oven mitt. He was as oblivious as everyone else to the horrified look on D.J.’s face.

“That was appalling!” D.J. later declared in the confessional. With a sniffle, he added, “That bunny was going to be my pet. I was going to call him Bunny.” After wallowing in sorrow for a bit, the gentle giant looked into the Confession Cam and pronounced with grim determination, “Ezekiel is going down!”

Never another pet for me!
Let your place all vacant be;
Better blankness day by day
Than companion torn away.
Better bid his memory fade,
Better blot each mark he made,
Selfishly escape distress
By contrived forgetfulness,
Than preserve his prints to make
Every morn and eve an ache.

Strange it is this speechless thing,
Subject to our mastering,
Subject for his life and food
To our gift, and time, and mood;
Timid pensioner of us Powers,
His existence ruled by ours,
Should—by crossing at a breath
Into safe and shielded death,
By the merely taking hence
Of his insignificance—
Loom as largened to the sense,
Shape as part, above man’s will,
Of the Imperturbable.

As a prisoner, flight debarred,
Exercising in a yard,
Still retain I, troubled, shaken,
Mean estate, by him forsaken;
And this home, which scarcely took
Impress from his little look,
By his faring to the Dim
Grows all eloquent of him.

Housemate, I can think you still
Bounding to the window-sill,
Over which I vaguely see
Your small mound beneath the tree,
Showing in the autumn shade
That you moulder where you played.


Ezekiel set Izzy’s porcupine on its back, intending to gut it as he had the rabbit. He looked again at Duncan’s switchblade, for it seemed marginal at best for the task. The home-schooled farm boy held up the delinquent’s knife for all to see and asked, “Does anybody have a bigger one?”

“That’s what I said,” Izzy quipped.


The Eagles had likewise dispersed to forage after pitching their tent. Cody was the only Eagle with any wilderness experience to speak of, having spent a couple of years in the Possum Scouts when he was younger. He had hoped to show off his skills to Gwen, but that was not to be. Gwen had buddied up with Leshawna for a foraging foray, leaving no real prospect for Cody to be alone with the Goth, so Cody invited Noah to join him in search of sustenance. The bookworm had little to offer in terms of outdoorsmanship, but he was Cody’s ally; and with Katie and Sadie missing, he had no other natural foraging partners.

“Cheer up, dude,” Cody said as they walked through the woods. “I’m sure Katie’s fine.”

“I don’t need cheering up,” Noah replied. “Sure, I’d rather have Katie with us, but I’m not really worried. They act like eight-year-old imbeciles sometimes, but we know full well that there’s more to them than meets the eye. I think they’ll be okay for one night. Cold and hungry, maybe, but okay.

“Besides, if they don’t make it back to base with the rest of us, and that ends up costing us the challenge, it could be a chance to get Sadie out of the way.”

“Good point,” Cody admitted. With that goofy grin of his, the science geek added, “If Sadie got kicked off, I’m sure that Katie would need…‘comforting’.”

Noah smirked and said rhetorically, “Don’t mess with the Brain Trust.”

Presently, the Brain Trust chanced upon a beaver pond. The terrain along the near shore was nearly flat, resulting in a large marshy area covered with reeds. Cody said, “We’re in luck, dude.”

“How so?”

Cody pointed to the marsh reeds and said, “Cattails. Back home, the Possum Scouts call them ‘the outdoor pantry’ because a lot of their parts are edible and there are a lot of ways to cook them. Some of the edible parts are good raw, too. I remember our Scoutmaster told us once that no one should starve or even go hungry in areas that have a lot of cattails.”

“So how do we get at them?”

“We can probably just pull them up. If not, I think we had a couple of small shovel-type things in our camp supplies.”

Noah nodded and said, “Tell you what. You get started, and I’ll go back to camp and get those shovels. And if I run across any of our teammates, I’ll tell them what you found and ask them to come help.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Cody agreed. “For a find like this, we want everyone we can get. And see if you can find something to carry the edible parts in. Otherwise, we’d have to carry the whole plant back, and that could be a pain.”

Among the other Eagles, only Heather and Lindsay found anything that seemed good to eat. They found some wild strawberries, all of which they ate themselves because there weren’t enough to give everyone on the team a meaningful portion. That’s what Heather told herself, anyway. Fortunately, Cody had not misled his teammates on the culinary potential of cattails, and the Eagles enjoyed a simple but satisfying meal. Indeed, everyone agreed that their supper was better than they probably would have gotten from Chef Hatchet.


Katie and Sadie had by now accepted that they would have to spend the night alone. They found a couple more blueberry bushes, which provided a sparse and unsatisfying supper, but they could not find anything resembling proper shelter. As the light diminished to its last usable remnants, the Bobbsey Twins came across a small cleft between two large boulders. Deciding that anything was better than nothing, they prepared to wedge themselves in. The cleft was open to the sky, but closed off on three sides. It would give the girls a measure of protection from dangerous animals, but would offer little protection from the elements if the weather should take a turn for the worse.


.

Dinner and a Show

By the time the Eagles had finished their supper, darkness had fallen, but nobody was sleepy yet. Gwen suggested that they tell stories around the campfire. That is a common campfire pastime, and nobody had any better ideas, so Leshawna said to her Gothic friend, “You obviously have one in mind, so why don’t you start?”

“Sounds good to me,” Cody seconded.

Without preamble, Gwen began in a melodramatic tone, “A couple of years ago, on a night a lot like this one…”


As the Muskies finished their wild game sampler, Tyler enjoyed the attentions of the girls, who were nearly done plucking out his porcupine quills. Ezekiel had volunteered the girls for this task, hastily explaining that girls would be better than boys for the job because having the girls do it would encourage Red Jock to suck it up and act brave for the sake of impressing the ladies. No one could find any flaw in the farm boy’s reasoning, least of all Tyler.

When Tyler had been completely plucked, Geoff asked, “So, what do we do now? It’s still kind of early to turn in.”

“How about a sing-along?” Beth suggested.

“Sounds good to me,” Courtney said.

“I’m game,” Geoff added.

Duncan said, “Sounds like a plan. How about ‘The Good Ship Venus’?”

Courtney glared at the delinquent and said, “You’re kidding, right?”

“Oh, I know!” Izzy chimed in. “How about ‘Barnacle Bill the Sailor’? I could do the ‘fair young maiden’ lines.

Et tu, Izzy?” Courtney replied with a sigh, sensing that this was a battle she wasn’t going to win.

“No, Princess is right. We need to protect her virgin ears,” Duncan answered with a smirk. Do you guys know ‘The Clean Song’?”

Several of the Muskies sniggered. “I take it that’s a ‘yes’?” Duncan prompted.

Jolly Rogers 2007 KC Ren Fest (The Clean Song)02:26

Jolly Rogers 2007 KC Ren Fest (The Clean Song)

most of the Killer Muskies sang "The Clean Song", a bawdy little ditty

So it was that most of the Killer Muskies sang “The Clean Song”, a bawdy little ditty where the naughty words at the end of each line are replaced with innocuous words, with the song’s rhyme structure leaving little doubt about what those inoffensive replacement words are really supposed to be. Some performers include pregnant pauses before the substitute words, lest anyone miss the joke, and the Muskies did this as well.



Iris and rose04:17

Iris and rose

The Muskies then moved on to "All the Young Ladies"

The Muskies then moved on to “All the Young Ladies”, with Eva and Izzy replacing “ladies” with “laddies” and likewise replacing some of the verses with feminine versions. Beth blushed and tittered, unwilling to sing along but clearly enjoying the song as a sort of guilty pleasure. Courtney just sat there and scowled.





BARNACLE BILL THE SAILOR by Frank Luther 1928 Very Funny03:04

BARNACLE BILL THE SAILOR by Frank Luther 1928 Very Funny

Izzy was as good as her word and sang the "fair young maiden" lines. (Note: this video provides the tune. See the Wikipedia article for the R-rated words the Muskies boys actually sang.)

Next came “Barnacle Bill”, where Izzy was as good as her word and sang the “fair young maiden” lines. The Muskies didn’t sing “The Good Ship Venus”, if for no other reason than because not enough of them knew it.







“Does anyone have something a little more…oh, I don’t know…REFINED?” Courtney asked with glares at Duncan and Izzy.

“I know,” Beth offered, “Ezekiel could teach us that nice song he sang when Bridgette left. Maybe we could sing it at all of our eliminations.”

“I like that,” Courtney agreed. Turning to Ezekiel, the Muskies’ de facto leader said, “It’s from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Requiem, isn’t it? I know the tune, but I don’t know the words.”

“The words are Latin. I think,” the prairie boy answered, admitting, “I don’t actually know Latin, eh? I do know that most requiems have pretty much the same words.”

“And since elimination symbolizes death,” Izzy broke in, “you sang something from a mass for the dead. That makes sense. You should have sung it at Harold’s memorial service. You’ve got a nice singing voice.”

“I would have if I’d thought of it at the time, but we were still pretty much in shock, eh?”

“That we were,” Courtney said. “That we were.”

“But if you don’t know the language,” Geoff asked, “how do you know if the words fit?”

“My parents have it on a CD,” the home-schooled boy explained. “I got a translation from the program notes.”

“So, what are the words?” Courtney prompted. “And what do they mean?”

Seeing that he had everyone’s attention, Ezekiel began, “It’s pretty simple, eh?

Pie Jesu – Merciful Jesus,

Qui tollis peccata mundi – who takes away the sins of the world,

Dona eis requiem – grant them rest. Or peace, or something along those lines.

Pie Jesu – Merciful Jesus,

Qui tollis peccata mundi – who takes away the sins of the world,

Dona eis requiem – grant them rest.

Agnus Dei – Lamb of God,

Qui tollis peccata mundi – who takes away the sins of the world,

Dona eis requiem sempiternam – grant them everlasting rest.

“When you sing a requiem for someone, you’re basically asking the Lord to judge the departed kindly,” the Bible Boy explained.

“And just because modern requiems are really concert pieces doesn’t mean they can’t serve the original purpose,” Courtney added.

So it was that the Killer Muskies, having nothing better to do, sang the “Pie Jesu” section of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Requiem until everyone knew it by heart.

“Great,” Courtney pronounced when she was finally satisfied. “Now we’ll be able to sing it, and sing it reasonably well, at our next elimination—”

“Which, with any luck, won’t be for a long time,” Tyler said before Courtney could, to a chorus of assent.

But when we do have an elimination, D.J. thought grimly, Homeschool’s going down. Oh, it’s going to be sweet singing off that Bunnykiller.


“…but they never caught him,” Gwen declaimed mysteriously. “Nobody really knows what happened to him, because he disappeared without a trace. We can only assume that Rusty Knife Ripper is still at large. The thing is, he could be anywhere. Maybe even right here!” the Goth concluded, as she suddenly pulled what looked like a large, rusty knife and thrust it right up to Heather’s face. The queen bee responded as Gwen had expected and hoped, with an instinctive lurch back and a shriek that could have given Lindsay a run for her money. The other Eagles looked on silently, stunned for a moment.

Gwen’s “rusty knife” was really just a dirty tent peg, but it took the other Eagles—especially Heather—a few moments to register that fact. “Not cool, freakazoid!” the queen bee yelled. “You are so going to get it for this! I’m going to make you wish that you’d gotten kicked off instead of Fatty Ginormous!”

“It seems to me that you don’t exactly have the moral high ground to complain,” Gwen replied bitterly.

“That’s it,” Heather shot back. “Keep digging yourself deeper!”

“Gwen’s got a point,” Leshawna broke in. “She’s not the one who read a sister’s diary on national TV.”

“What’s with the piling on?” Heather all but screamed at the dusky homegirl. “I thought you were my friend!”

“So did I,” Leshawna admitted. “But reading a sister’s diary to the world? I’ll tell you straight up, that’s not the kind of company I want to keep. Makes me wonder what you’d do behind my back.”

“She’s not my ‘sister’,” Heather retorted, “and if you’re smart, you won’t call her yours, either!”

“Take it easy, Heather,” Justin urged. “Leshawna’s right. It seems to me that Gwen had good cause to give you a scare. And I have to admit, it was kind of funny.” As the dragon girl stared daggers into him, the Incredible Hunk pleaded, “Gwen didn’t do anything more than get even. Can’t you ladies just let bygones go?”

Heather had by now regained control of herself, and she could see that she would gain nothing by alienating her teammates again. She turned to Gwen and said darkly, “This isn’t over, Death Mask.” That warning delivered, though, Heather said no more.

Trying to further defuse the tension, Lindsay pleaded, “I’m with Justin. This isn’t fun when we’re not getting along. Does anybody else know a story?”

“I’ve got one,” Noah said. “It’s old school horror, so it’s pretty tame by today’s standards, but it might be more Heather’s speed, seeing as she has such…delicate sensibilities.” Noah spoke this last in an affected “blushing Southern belle” tone and batted his eyes mockingly at the Dragon Queen.

Heather scowled. “This had better be good, nerdling.”

Noah explained, “It’s about a brokenhearted bro who descends into madness because he can’t get over his lost love. I think some of us can relate to that,” he added, casting a sidelong glance at Gwen.

Now it was Gwen’s turn to scowl. “Like there’s supposed to some great life lesson or something? Doesn’t sound very scary to me, even by ‘old school’ standards.”

“Remember, the scariness level has to be something that Heather can handle,” Noah chided gently. As the dragon girl bristled anew, Noah continued, “As for the ‘life lesson’, I’m just trying to help out a friend.” The “friend” Noah meant was actually Cody, not Gwen, but Gwen didn’t need to know that. If the Goth benefited from it, that was a bonus as far as the Brain Trust was concerned.

“Okay, I’m game,” Gwen admitted.

Noah began to tell his story in his best scary-dramatic style. Gwen recognized his tale almost at once, for it was one of her favorites. She smiled, and then began to speak the words too softly for anyone else to hear, as if comforting herself. She understood that there was indeed a lesson for her in the bookworm’s tale, and in this way the healing of her wounded heart began. In days to come she would still miss Trent, but would no longer pine for him.

Cody saw his crush girl’s reaction, and was pleased. He could not have known, beyond what Noah had suggested, what the tale meant to her; but he saw that she seemed happy without Trent there to make her so, and that was what mattered for the moment.

As Noah continued, more of the Eagles came to recognize his story, although most had never heard it in its entirety. As the bookworm saw their recognition reactions, he continued to speak dramatically, but he also increasingly fell into a poet’s cadence as he finished his famous tale:

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
"'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door—
Only this, and nothing more."

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; —vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
"'Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door; —
This it is, and nothing more."

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
"Sir," said I, "or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you"—here I opened wide the door; —
Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortals ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, "Lenore?"
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, "Lenore!" —
Merely this, and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
"Surely," said I, "surely that is something at my window lattice:
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; —
'Tis the wind and nothing more."

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore.
"Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou," I said, "art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!"
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blest with seeing bird above his chamber door—
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as "Nevermore."

But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—
Till I scarcely more than muttered, "other friends have flown before—
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before."
Then the bird said, "Nevermore."

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
"Doubtless," said I, "what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
Of 'Never—nevermore'."

But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking "Nevermore."

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamplight gloated o'er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamplight gloating o'er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then methought the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose footfalls tinkled on the tufted floor.
"Wretch," I cried, "thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite—respite and nepenthe, from thy memories of Lenore:
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!"
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil! — prophet still, if bird or devil! —
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—
On this home by horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—
Is there—is there balm in Gilead? —tell me—tell me, I implore!"
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil—prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore."
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

"Be that word our sign in parting, bird or fiend," I shrieked, upstarting—
"Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! —quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!"
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamplight o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted—nevermore!


In a rocky cleft somewhere in the darkness, Katie and Sadie were no sleepier than the other campers, so they reminisced for a time. They couldn’t really tell each other stories, as their teammates were doing, because they had been so close for so long that neither knew any stories that the other didn’t. That might not have been a problem with a larger group, for retelling a well-loved tale to people who already know it is part of how those tales get to be well-loved in the first place; but with just the two of them, it seemed pointless.

Their thoughts eventually turned to the question of how their getting lost would affect the challenge. Their sad consensus was that, if their teammates returned without them or vice versa, the Eagles would probably be disqualified. Katie and Sadie would then have big, fat, spotlighted targets on their backs, for there are few surer ways to be ousted from an elimination game than to cost your team a challenge.

“It could still work out,” one of them said. “Our alliance could save us. That’s what alliances are for, right?”

“Maybe,” replied the other. “But we still might need another vote. There are only four of us.”

“Well, everyone keeps saying that they can’t tell us apart. Like, hello, we’re totally different, but whatev. If people don’t care which one of us goes, maybe the votes against us will be split.”

“Yeah, you’re right. That’s how Bridgette got booted. More people thought that Beth and Izzy were the ones who really blew it for their team, but they had to pick one or the other, so the votes were split.”

“So if that happens with us, we still might get to kick off who we want.”

“More like who Heather wants.”

“I know, right? Where does she get off being so bossy? Just because she’s hot and popular back home.”

“I know, right? We’re hot and popular back home, but you don’t see us bossing people around.”

“Well, we did make Chris put us on the same team.”

“That was so awesome! I just hope they put that in the finished episode.”

“I know, right? That would totally show everyone that you—”

“Don’t mess with the Wonder Twins!” they cried in unison, invoking the nickname that Geoff had given them at the talent show—a nickname that was showing every sign that it was going to stick.


In the fullness of time, the teams retired to their tents for the night. In the Eagles’ camp, Heather decided to let the fire burn itself out, since they wouldn’t be needing it in the morning. Some of the Eagles slept well, some slept poorly from worrying about their missing teammates, but the night passed without serious incident.

In the Muskies’ camp, the more wilderness-savvy Courtney decided that somebody should stay up to tend the fire, the better to keep dangerous animals at bay. She appointed Geoff for this role on the reasoning that the party king was probably used to staying up late, or even all night, and he had been reasonably strong in the Awake-a-thon.

“It’s not the same,” Geoff protested when Courtney named him for this task. “At parties, there are things to do. Even in the Awake-a-thon, I had people to shoot the bull with.”

“I’ll do it,” Tyler offered before Courtney could express her displeasure with Geoff. “I’m still pretty sore from all those quills, and I can’t sleep the first night in a new bed anyway.”

“Are you sure you’re up to it? You didn’t do too well in the Awake-a-thon,” Courtney asked dubiously. Realizing her gaffe, she added, “Sorry. That sounded harsher than it needed too.”

Tyler let it go. “The Awake-a-thon was different. We were drugged.”

“Objection sustained,” Courtney replied. “Okay, you’re our night watchman. Wake us up as soon as there’s enough light to read the map.”

“You can count on me,” Tyler declared proudly.

“Good, because we are,” Courtney replied. “You may have messed up before, but that’ll all be in the past if you come through for us tonight.”

“When did I ever mess up before?” Tyler asked.

Courtney saw from Red Jock’s face that he honestly didn’t know, so the onetime CIT bit her tongue and said only, “Never mind. See you in the morning.”

Tyler had been standing watch for about an hour when the rain came. An initial cloudburst delivered a torrential downpour for perhaps 15 minutes, with thunderclaps loud enough to wake everyone up, before diminishing to a sustainable level with much less thunder and no visible lightning.


At the cleft, the “Wonder Twins” had run out of things to say and began to feel Somnus’ power. It was still early enough in the year that the nights could be uncomfortably chill, and the cleft wasn’t big enough for them both to stretch out in any case, so they huddled together for warmth. They were chilly and hungry, but they saw their plight as merely an inconvenience.

Then the rain came.

And came. And came.

As the rain continued, the temperature dropped and the wind picked up. To most of the campers in their tents, all this was at worst an annoyance. To the barely sheltered and lightly clothed clones, it was potentially deadly; for in such conditions, a person can “freeze” to death in surprisingly mild temperatures.

For a time, the girls bore their discomfort bravely, with Katie faring better than Sadie. The butterball had a good deal of natural insulation, but Katie had a blast furnace metabolism that enabled her to eat anything and everything without gaining a gram. Indeed, Katie normally ate more than Sadie despite weighing half as much.

Eventually, though, their fortunes reversed. The downside of Katie’s high metabolism was that her body kept little energy in reserve. When the task of keeping that poorly insulated shell warm had exhausted those meager reserves, Katie began a frightening decline.

Reawakened by the storm and unable to sleep in the heavy rain, the Wonder Twins had been playing a game to take their mind off of their misery. One girl would describe an incident from their mutual past. The one relating the anecdote would deliberately insert inaccuracies, some quite subtle, that the other was expected to catch. The listener would interrupt when she spotted a false detail.

As hypothermia progresses, keeping the core warm becomes the body’s top priority, so the body restricts blood flow to the extremities. This rationing eventually comes to include parts of the brain, which is an energy hog; and that, along with a general slowdown in the brain’s chemical processes as the core temperature drops, causes the mental deterioration associated with the condition. So it was that, after a time, Katie’s performance in their game began to decline noticeably, then severely, and Katie’s own anecdotes became increasingly disjointed and incoherent. At first, Sadie thought that her BFF was merely getting sleepy; but when Katie suddenly complained of feeling hot, which can happen to hypothermia patients when their bodies become too weak to keep blood flow away from the skin, Sadie began to suspect the truth. As if to confirm the butterball’s suspicion, Katie soon began to babble her head off in deepening delirium.


The initial cloudburst had driven Tyler into the Muskies’ tent, although the jock of all trades did have the presence of mind to bring with him what wood he could grab quickly. He could use that wood to restore the campfire after the storm passed, he thought, if the rain didn’t completely extinguish it in the meantime.

Tyler entered the tent and piled his wood in a corner. He then sat down at the entrance to keep vigil. The tent’s entrance was on the lee side and happened to be facing the fire, so he kept a flap open, the better to monitor the fire.

Eva was lying closest to the entrance. When the initial cloudburst passed, and the lightning with it, she sat up and whispered, “Psst. Tyler?”

“Yeah?” Tyler whispered back.

“Could you move aside a little?”

“How come?” the jock of all trades asked, for he didn’t see how that would get either of them anything.

“I’d rather not say. Just humor me, okay?” came the barely audible plea.

Tyler did as the Amazon asked, even as he pondered her words. He opened the second entrance flap so he could continue to watch the fire. He looked back to Eva for confirmation that he had moved far enough to suit her, and what he saw puzzled him even more.

With the second flap open, the waning firelight was enough for Tyler to make out some details on Eva’s face. That face bore a look of apprehension that Tyler had never seen on it before. The musclegirl was staring intently at the fire, as if committing its details to memory. After a few moments, she lay back down.


“Sadie?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m not afraid.”

“At least that’s one of us. I’m scared totally crapless,” Sadie admitted, trying to determine whether her companion was lucid or delirious at the moment.

“I guess it’s true what they say,” Katie suggested enigmatically.

“What’s true?”

“That when you’re about to die, you’re not afraid of it anymore.”

Sadie felt a terrible chill that had nothing to do with the weather. “Don’t talk like that. We’ll get warmed up in the morning. We’ll be all right.”

“You’ll be, but I’m not going to make it. I don’t know how I know, but somehow I can tell.”

“Katie, please don’t talk like that. You’re scaring me,” Sadie pleaded desperately. Katie’s voice was calm and steady, but Sadie could detect an almost pitying sadness in her tone, and the butterball was terrified that her dearest friend had truly surrendered.

Katie seemed not to hear Sadie’s plea. “Goodbye, Sadie. I’m sorry we won’t be able to do stuff together anymore.”

“Katie—”

“Win this lame game for me. Best friends forever.”

Projecting confidence that she did not feel, Sadie declared, “I won’t have to win for you. We’ll get through this, and you’ll be right there with me in the finals. You’ll see.”

No words came in reply, but Sadie felt her friend’s body slump. Katie had lost consciousness.

Swallowing hard, Sadie put aside her terror as best she might and began to think furiously. She didn’t know what to do, but she did know that she had to do something. Otherwise, her longtime boon companion—dearer to her than most of her own family—would almost certainly be dead by morning. They might both have been dying and helpless by now, but Fate had granted them one small mercy: the boulders that they were wedged between were big enough to make a reasonably effective windbreak, even with the wind blowing into the cleft mouth.

Presently, Sadie had an idea. First, she removed her pullover sundress to get to her bra, which she would need for her plan and wouldn’t need for its usual purpose. After removing her bra, she replaced her dress. Working by touch, for with neither moon nor stars nor visible lightning she was effectively blind, Sadie folded Katie up into the Fetal position, with Katie’s arms folded across her belly and her legs folded up to keep her arms in place. With Katie’s head now resting on her knees, Sadie used her bra to bind Katie’s spindly limbs together.

With strength born of desperation, Sadie ripped her sodden dress down the front and Katie’s down the back. Their dresses were made of cotton, which doesn’t insulate well when wet, so they weren’t worth much at the moment anyway. Sadie undid the clasps on Katie’s bra, but saw nothing to gain by trying to remove it completely. After pulling open their rent dresses to maximize the area of skin-to-skin contact, the butterball knelt behind the Thin Twin and draped herself over the taller girl, clasping her hands in front of Katie’s shins and enveloping her fading friend as best she might. Now, there was nothing more to do but wait for morning and hope for the best.

Because Sadie was fat, Katie was thin and the cleft was narrow, Sadie had been obliged to sit closer to the mouth when they sought the meager shelter that the cleft offered. This arrangement now worked in their favor as Sadie put her back to the wind and her bulk mostly shielded her dying friend from both wind and rain. Sadie’s stratagem left her more exposed to the elements than she would otherwise have been, and thus would diminish her chance of survival for the sake of boosting Katie’s, but the butterball saw no alternative and so accepted the risk.

Deliberately echoing Katie’s last words, Sadie said, “Best friends forever. Double or nothing.”

As the night wore on and the cold rain continued to fall, Sadie talked about whatever crossed her mind. This was mainly to help her stay awake, for falling asleep now could be disastrous, but she also chattered in the hope that Katie might somehow hear and draw strength from it.

Sadie was not religious and had no tongue for prayer, but fear eventually drove her to it. She did not petition any particular deity, but rather made a general plea for some Power—any Power—to shepherd them through the night.

“But if it really is her time,” Sadie begged, “then please, let me go with her.”


The hour was growing late, so Brett’s mother left off her tale, and suggested that he prepare for bed.


.

Tenth Night

The next morning, after they had breakfasted, Brett went to school whilst his mother went to earn their daily bread. That evening, after they had dined and Brett had attended to his homework, Brett asked his mother to tell him more about her experience on Total Drama Island.  Brett sat in his favorite chair, and his mother sat on the sofa. She took a few moments to collect her thoughts, and then she began to speak.


In the Muskies’ camp, dawn was still at least half an hour away when Ezekiel awoke, for the farm boy’s circadian rhythms were so ingrained that not even Chris’ schedule manipulations had been able to alter them. It was still raining, although not as heavily as it had for most of the night.

With the sky still overcast, there wasn’t yet enough light to read the map, so there was as yet no reason to wake anyone else. Creeping as quietly as he might, Ezekiel made his way to the tent’s exit. The flaps were now closed, for when the fire went out and the temperature started to drop Tyler had seen no reason to keep them open. Tyler himself was sitting at his “sentry” post, huddled in a blanket. He was asleep.

“What?” Tyler said in a normal voice, when Ezekiel silently prodded him awake. When the momentary disorientation of sudden waking had passed, the jock of all trades’ voice dropped to a whisper. “Who’s there?” he asked, for there wasn’t enough light to make out details inside the tent.

“It’s me, Ezekiel,” came a whisper from the darkness.

“I should have figured you’d be up before the sun. Whatever. Told you guys I’d stay awake.”

“You were snoring.”

“Oh, crap!” Tyler exclaimed, although he remembered to keep his voice down. “Well, at least it didn’t hurt us. There isn’t enough light yet to get started.”

“This is true. Tell you what, I won’t tell anyone if you don’t. Courtney means well, but I don’t think anyone really wants to hear another lecture, eh?”

“Thanks, dude. I don’t care what the girls say, you’re okay.”


Daylight, such as it was, had come to the cleft. Sadie was in bad shape, but she was alive and confident that her condition would improve at least somewhat, in spite of the continuing rain, as she became more physically active.

Katie, on the other hand, was unresponsive, remaining limp and motionless as Sadie reclaimed her bra and restored it to its place—no easy task, for Sadie could barely move her stiff, blue fingers. Nor did Katie react in any way when Sadie lightly shook and slapped her in an attempt to waken her.

Sadie felt for a pulse at Katie’s wrist, then her neck. The butterball then put her ear to Katie’s back and listened for a heartbeat. Sadie repeated this process, then checked yet again. Her examinations grew frantic.

Finally, Sadie clutched Katie to her and wailed piteously.


At the Muskies’ camp, there was now enough light to see, so Tyler wakened his teammates. Ezekiel had returned to his place and was pretending to still be asleep with the others. When everyone was fully awake, and had seen the disappointing sight of continuing rain and had felt the chill morning air, the Muskies began to debate the question of whether they should strike out at once and risk serious water damage to the map, or whether they should remain in the tent for a time and hope that conditions might become a bit less miserable.

At another tent a couple of kilometers away, the Eagles continued to sleep.


Sadie was ready to surrender to despair, to simply sit there with her friend’s body in her arms and wait for her own escort to the Beyond to come for her—something that now seemed likely to happen sooner than later. But before her mind reached the point of no return, its more rational side finally succeeded in breaking through the haze of her grief.

You don’t know that she’s gone, this inner voice insisted. You’re not a paramedic. Your fingers are too numb to feel a pulse. The rain is too noisy to hear a heartbeat. And even if she is gone, she wouldn’t want you to just give up like this.

With fresh resolve, Sadie shakily rose to her feet. She would now do the only thing she could do: try to find help and assume as an article of faith that Katie’s body yet housed her spirit. Sadie pulled her and Katie’s torn dresses closed as best she could, but didn’t waste time trying to refasten Katie’s bra.

Having worked herself and her companion out of the narrow cleft, Sadie knelt down and slung Katie over her shoulders in a fireman’s carry, then struggled to her feet. Staggering under her burden, the little blue butterball continued along in the same direction as she and Katie had been going when they came to the cleft the night before.

Her progress was very slow. Sadie was suffering from severe hypothermia herself, and because of this her coordination was so poor that she could barely walk. Not once did she manage more than nine steps without stumbling. To make matters worse, the literal weight on her shoulders obliged her to rest frequently; for although Katie was not heavy, Sadie was not strong under the best of conditions, and leaving Katie behind for the sake of making better time was simply not an option.

Finally, when Sadie stumbled and fell to her knees yet again, she asked herself whether she should bother getting back up. She had come such a little way, at so much effort, that she wondered whether she might make better time by crawling. The main drawback to staying on all fours was visibility. Not only would it be harder for her to see what lay ahead, it would also be harder for others to see her at any distance, and that could be disastrous.

With a sigh, Sadie struggled once more to her feet.

Limited though it was, Sadie’s physical activity had begun to warm her. Her hands were still barely usable, and her skin was still disturbingly blue, but she was walking a little more easily now. When the rain slackened to a drizzle, Sadie decided to see once more if she could find any sign of life in her friend. Sadie placed an ear to Katie’s bare back and listened. She wept anew, but this time with tears of joy, for she had detected a heartbeat—fearfully faint, dreadfully slow, but unmistakable. The odds against Katie were still long, for Sadie still needed to find help soon, but now there was a tangible basis for hope.


The other Eagles were finally beginning to stir in their tent. Heather hadn’t thought to appoint someone to stay awake, as Courtney had, and the Eagles had no farmers on their team; so with no wakeup call, the white noise of the rain, and a dim misty dawn, they had slept in.

When Heather began to wake, she felt that something was wrong. It didn’t take long for her to realize that, even with the rain, there was more light inside the tent than there ought to have been. “Oh, crap!” she cried as she sat bolt upright. “The time! Does anyone have the time?”

Most of the Eagles didn’t, having come to rely on their absent smartphones for such things; but Noah had a wristwatch, and he told the queen bee what she had asked to know.

Heather swore and said, “We’ve got to get going. Now!” as she helped to rouse some of her less alert teammates. “I just hope we haven’t spotted the Fishies too big a lead.”

Justin yawned and said, “Chill. What makes you think they didn’t sleep in, too?”

“One word. Homeschool,” Noah replied. The Incredible Hunk’s heavenly eyes widened as he realized what Noah was saying.

“But why would home schooling make you get up early?” Lindsay asked. “Wouldn’t that let you sleep later, since you don’t have to worry about being late to class?”

“What he means,” Cody explained, “is that Ezekiel is a farmer, so he’s used to getting up really early. Beth, too, maybe. Trust me, the Muskies didn’t oversleep.”

“Exactly,” Heather said, “so we’ve probably got a lot of ground to make up. Our only hope is if they decided to wait and see if it would stop raining. If they didn’t, we’re dead.”

“Can I at least do my makeup first?” Lindsay asked. “It’s waterproof.”

“You’re kidding, right?” Leshawna asked incredulously.

Heather sighed and said, “Some things are more important than looking hot.” The queen bee’s face took on an odd expression for a moment. “I can’t believe I just said that, but it’s true. For all we know, the Fishies could have hit the trail two hours ago.”


An hour after leaving the cleft, Sadie had only managed to stagger about eighty meters when she came to a small clearing. It took Sadie’s chilled and blood-deprived brain a few moments to register this sight, but when it did, she was overcome with emotion and dropped to her knees.

“No… frikking… way,” she gasped out, once more on the verge of tears; for this little clearing was none other than the place where, on that very night, one luckless team would gather for the elimination ceremony. Katie and Sadie had come full circle.

Expecting no response, but feeling the need to say the words, Sadie said, “Katie, we made it!”

That was when she smelled it. Katie had lost bowel control.

NO!” Sadie screamed, for she could guess what that bowel failure meant. Her renewed despair masquerading as rage, she shouted, “You can’t die on me now! Not when we’re this fucking close! You are not going to die now! Do you hear?”

Sadie desperately struggled to her feet and started across the clearing, but managed only nine steps before she collapsed, at the end of her strength.

“Who’s not going… sha-Christ! I didn’t think people could get that blue!”

“Oh, my God,” said another voice.

Sadie looked up and beheld what seemed to her the most beautiful sight she had ever seen in her life: two interns in rain gear. They had been making a routine inspection of the camp when Sadie’s shouting attracted them.

The verbal tic identified one of these guardian angels as Lightning. The other was already on his radio. “Hatchet,” came the filtered acknowledgement.

“Alejandro. Lightning and I are at the bonfire pit. We’ve got two contestants with what looks like severe hypothermia, one critical.”

“What are they doing at the bonfire pit?” Hatchet asked rhetorically. “Never mind. As you know, the infirmary can only handle one at a time, so bring whoever’s in worse shape. We’ll treat the other one in the lodge.”

“Got it. Alejandro out.” The Latino intern holstered his handset and said to his colleague, “I’ll take the skinny one to the infirmary. You take the fat one to the lodge.”

“Why do I have to carry the fat one?” Lightning protested as they went to Katie and Sadie’s aid.

“Because you’re stronger than I am,” Alejandro replied simply.

“Can’t argue with that,” Lightning admitted.

As the interns came to Sadie, she pleaded, “You’ve got to do something! She’s out of time!”

Alejandro knew that Sadie wasn’t exaggerating, for he could smell what she had smelled. “We’ll do everything we can, senorita,” he assured her as he lifted Katie from Sadie’s shoulders. He then trotted off to the infirmary as quickly as he might, carrying Katie in his arms.

Lightning, meanwhile, puzzled for a moment over the question of how best to carry Sadie, for she seemed too bulky to carry easily, although he didn’t expect her weight to be a problem. Soon enough, though, the solution came to him. Dropping to one knee in front of his distressed damsel, he motioned to his back and said, “Sha-all aboard!” With his passenger in position, the big black jock rose to his feet with a grunt and an oath, and was on his way.

Fortunately, hypothermia is a known hazard of life in a Canadian summer camp (the name “Canada” translating roughly to “land of ice cold waters”) so the infirmary was equipped to treat it effectively. There were some nervous moments as Hatchet worked to resuscitate Katie, who was showing no vital signs at all, but he eventually succeeded in stabilizing her. With the immediate crisis past, he instituted several emergency warming protocols, including a two-fisted IV of warmed fluids, with Alejandro assisting.

That done, there was nothing more to do but watch and wait.

In the lodge, meanwhile, Sadie was fading badly, although she was still conscious. She had been running on nothing but adrenaline and willpower for most of the morning, and she was crashing hard. Chef Hatchet couldn’t be in two places at once, so he assigned the little Ghandiesque intern to look after Sadie whilst Lightning and a couple of other interns stocked the lodge’s fireplace.

“Don’t fall asleep,” the book-smart little intern warned the butterball, who was now wrapped in a thermal blanket to preserve what little body heat she still had. “When you have severe hypothermia, you have to get warmed up from the inside as well as the outside. That’ll be a lot easier to do if you’re awake. We’re going to have plenty of hot water in a few minutes. I’ll go see if Chef has some hot cocoa mix or something. I’m guessing that you haven’t eaten yet.”

“No, I haven’t,” Sadie replied thickly. “Hot chocolate sounds great.”

Not long after, Sadie’s valet (whose name, she had learned, was Cameron) emerged from the kitchen with several hot water bottles and a pitcher of hot chocolate. “Don’t just sip it,” Cameron suggested. “We need to get it inside you, and it’s cool enough that it shouldn’t burn you, so you’ll be better off if you drink it normally. And drink as much as you think you can handle.”

The other interns, meanwhile, were ready to light the fire and were arguing over the best way to get it going quickly. Cameron overheard this discussion and said, “How about Anne Maria’s hairspray? We’ve seen how flammable it is, and she doesn’t need it anymore, may she rest in peace.”

“It’s worth a shot,” said another intern, a faintly androgynous girl with short, dishwater blonde hair. “I’ll get it. Jockstrap, check the kitchen and see if you can find enough grease to be useful.”

No sooner had Lightning (who was apparently also known as “Jockstrap”) painted the logs with bacon grease than the semi-androgynous girl returned with several cans of hairspray. She and another intern thoroughly sprayed the logs whilst Lightning moved Sadie back to a respectful distance.

When everyone was out of the way, Lightning lit a candle, took careful aim, and threw. The fireplace burst into orange life with nigh-explosive force; and within minutes Sadie had a roaring, very hot fire to roast herself in front of.

“String bean, you’re a genius,” the girl said.

“I get that a lot,” Cameron replied smugly.


When the Eagles reached the point where their trail and the Muskies’ trail joined, the sky had begun to clear. The break in the weather did not lift the Eagles’ spirits, though, for they had confirmed their fears. Footprints in the mud revealed that the Muskies were ahead of them by an unknown distance. Upon seeing this, Heather put away the map, relieved Justin of his compass reading duties, and announced that they would follow their rivals’ tracks to make up time. She also urged her teammates to pick up their pace, saying that they now must push themselves if they were to have any chance. This still left the question of what to do if they caught up to the Muskies, who would presumably be fresher and better able to make a final push when they drew near the camp, but no one had a better idea.

Around midmorning, the Eagles reached the top of a grassy hill that gave them a good view of the surrounding area. The sharp-eyed Cody spotted the Muskies in the valley, and the Eagles’ hearts sank to see the size of their rivals’ lead.

But the Muskies were not all that the ex-Possum Scout had seen. Parts of the sky had by now returned to their normal blue, and a narrow, whitish plume was plainly visible against that azure backdrop.

“Look, guys,” Cody said excitedly as he pointed toward the plume. “Smoke. And I’d bet good money that it’s coming from base camp.”

“Awesome!” Heather pronounced, no less excitedly. “That means we have a chance!” Handing the compass to Cody, she said, “Get a bearing. We’re going to make straight for that smoke. You’re our guide.”

“I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” Leshawna protested. “I’m no wilderness expert, but how do we know what we’re going to run into?”

“We don’t,” Heather admitted, “but we’re not going to win this by playing it safe. We’re too far behind.”

“Besides, we’ve still got the map,” Cody assured the dusky homegirl. “Even if we run into obstacles that don’t show up on it, the worst that can happen is that they’ll slow us down enough to cost us the challenge. But we’re going to lose the challenge anyway if we stick to the trail.”

“What he said,” Heather added. “No guts, no glory.”

After finding their current position on the map, Cody and Heather were able to deduce that the smoke was indeed coming from the camp—from Sadie’s fire, as it turned out, although they had no way of knowing that. So it was that the Eagles left the trail behind and struck out into the depths of the woods.

Shortly after noon, the Eagles reached the camp and tagged the totem pole. Chris, who had been lounging nearby, informed them that the Muskies were still in the field.

“So we won, right?” Heather prompted.

“Can’t make it official until the Muskies get here,” the host replied, “so just wait for them here. They should be along pretty soon.”

The Muskies arrived perhaps ten minutes later. They were naturally crestfallen when they sighted the camp and saw the Eagles already there.

After the Muskies had reached the totem pole, Heather said, “Too bad, Fish Heads. Either you’ve got it or you don’t, and you ain’t even close.”

“What we’ve got,” Courtney shot back, “is all our players. Looks like you’re missing a couple of birds. Did they get eaten by bears?”

“Or wolves?” Duncan needled.

“Or giant lampreys?” Izzy challenged, earning her several confused stares.

With an artificially sweet tone and a smug smile, Chris said, “Yes, Heather, where are Katie and Sadie?” Chris knew perfectly well where they were, but the other campers didn’t know that.

“How should I know?” Heather huffed. “They probably wandered off to be annoying somewhere else. That’s not our fault.”

Ezekiel quipped to Duncan, “Guess she’s not her sister’s keeper, eh?” Duncan snorted in response, for he thought that his “country mouse” buddy had not sold the queen bee short.

In truth, Heather was concerned about the clones’ situation, albeit for purely selfish reasons. She still needed them both to control her team’s eliminations, so she was more than a little annoyed that they had apparently gotten lost. Although ruthless and petty, the Dragon Queen was not evil, but neither was she particularly forgiving of mistakes. Even had she known the truth about what the Wonder Twins had gone through, she would probably have thought (and not entirely unreasonably) that they had brought it upon themselves. As it was, though, she suspected nothing.

“So, do we win, then?” Courtney asked expectantly.

“Can’t make it official until Katie and Sadie get here,” Chris told her, just as he had told Heather not long before. “Wait for them here. I’ll be back in a bit.” With that, he left them.

With no good place to sit, for the ground was wet and muddy, the campers were obliged to stand, pace or just walk about aimlessly. Chris had carefully avoided saying where he was going or what his business was, for he didn’t want the campers to know yet that Katie and Sadie had already returned. He would tell them when he felt like it; and in the meantime, he would inflict a petty discomfort on them for no other reason than because he could.

Chris first stopped at the infirmary. Hatchet was not there, but had left Alejandro in charge, so the former reality show star updated the Lord of Wawanakwa on Katie’s condition. Chris then went to the lodge to check on Sadie, for he had been told that she was being treated there. In the lodge, which was now uncomfortably warm from the fire, he found the butterball apparently sleeping comfortably and more or less returned to her normal color. Chef Hatchet, who was in the kitchen making an unappetizing lunch for the campers, told Chris that Sadie was going to be fine.

“And you said they wouldn’t give us enough drama if they were on the same team,” Hatchet reminded his boss and friend.

Chris shrugged his shoulders and said, “My bad.”

The host then went to his trailer and relaxed for perhaps an hour, partly because he was waiting for word that Sadie had recovered enough to be moved to her cabin and partly to delay the campers’ lunch on general principles. When he felt good and ready, he checked in once more on the clones. Then, at long last, he returned to the campers who were milling impatiently around the totem pole.

“Listen up, gang,” Chris called. “I’m tired of waiting for Katie and Sadie, so I’m not going to. The winners of the camping challenge are… the Screaming Eagles!”

What?” Courtney all but screamed. The reactions of the other campers, Muskie and Eagle alike, varied widely but were no less incredulous.

“Yeah, I kind of told you a story,” Chris admitted. “Here’s the deal: Katie and Sadie got back before any of you. Spent the night a shouting match away from the bonfire pit.”

“Brilliant,” Duncan said quietly to D.J., with a shake of his head. “We’re going to have to keep an eye on those two.”

“Then they should be disqualified,” Courtney retorted, “because they didn’t spend the night at the campsite.”

“As I recall,” Chris replied with that all-occasions bland smile of his, “I said that you had to spend one night in the woods. They did. I don’t think I said that you all had to stay at your campsites.”

“You implied it,” Courtney insisted.

“Meh,” Chris replied, that unchanging smile still in place. “Turns out that today is Sadie’s birthday, so I decided to cut her some slack because I’m such a nice guy. Besides, she’s suffered enough.”

“What does Sadie’s birthday have to do with anything?” Courtney demanded. “They cheated.”

Eva added, “And I can’t imagine you ever thinking that anyone has ‘suffered enough’.”

“No, they didn’t cheat,” Chris explained. “They didn’t know that they were so close to the camp. Besides, it made for good drama because they got some major hypothermia in the rain last night. Sadie barely made it back alive, and Katie…” The host’s smile disappeared as he shook his head. “Katie didn’t.”

The host’s revelation was met with stunned silence, except for a few shocked mutters. Ezekiel said a quiet prayer and crossed himself.

Beth was fighting a losing battle to keep her tears in check as she whimpered, “Not again. How many more?” D.J. placed a consoling hand on her shoulder and would have said something to comfort her, but he had no words.

Duncan was as shocked as the others, but he was also wary of looking too emotionally vulnerable. “So, that means… no elimination tonight?” he asked hopefully. “You said that there wouldn’t be one if anyone didn’t survive.”

Heather glared at the delinquent and said, “That’s cold, even for you.”

“Warm fuzzies won’t bring Katie back,” Duncan retorted, “so you can drop the ‘I’m so offended’ act. The only reason you cared about her is because you controlled her vote.”

“It’s not an act!” Heather insisted. “Yes, she was useful. Sure, she was annoying, but it's not like I'd want anyone here to actually die! Not even you! Not even Gwen!”

Realizing how badly she had been provoked, Heather took a deep breath an added, more calmly, “Not… even… Chris.”

“Why, thank you, Heather,” Chris said in a forced tone, his standard smile returning a little too late to mask his irritation at the queen bee’s left-handed compliment. “As for Duncan’s question… yes, you still have to eliminate someone, because we’ll be behind schedule if we don’t send someone home tonight.”

Izzy said, “Okay, I’m confused. What about Katie?”

“What about her?”

“You said she didn’t make it, so how can not having an elimination put us behind schedule?”

“Because all she did was die,” Chris explained. “That’s not enough.”

“Enough with the riddles,” Courtney snapped. “Can’t you show enough respect for the dead to give us a straight answer?”

“Fine,” Chris huffed. “Here’s the thing. Clinically dead isn’t the same as legally dead; and according to Chef, there’s a saying in emergency medicine that ‘you’re not really dead until you’re warm and dead.’ Long story short, Katie died… but she didn’t stay dead. Psych!

A psych it was indeed, for Katie had recovered to the point that she was sleeping normally—a deep, dreamless sleep—and was now expected to survive.

With barely suppressed fury, Noah said, “You are one sadistic manhood sucker.” Noah normally relied on deadpan verbal jabs, but at this moment he looked like he was ready to physically assault Chris, despite being no match for him. The other campers had never seen the normally blasé bookworm so visibly angry, and marveled at this. None blamed him for it, though only Cody truly understood it.

“Whatever,” Chris said. “Anyway, it’s past lunchtime, and you probably didn’t have anything to eat on the trail. Maybe today you’ll be hungry enough to eat what Chef gives you without griping about it.”

“As if,” someone muttered softly.

Lunch was as nasty as usual, but the ravenous teens wolfed it down just the same. Afterward, the Eagles took their ease whilst the Muskies discussed their options and cast their votes.


.

Bittersweet Sixteen

When Sadie awoke, Leshawna told her that Chef Hatchet wanted to see her in the lodge.

“Is Katie okay?” Sadie asked desperately.

“She’s alive,” Leshawna told her. “That’s all I know.”

When the butterball answered Hatchet’s summons, he locked the lodge door for privacy and bade Sadie sit. He then sat down beside her and asked her how she was feeling.

“Okay, I guess. I’m still pretty tired, though,” Sadie admitted.

“That’s not surprising,” Hatchet replied. “The good news is that you’re going to be fine.”

Hardly daring to ask, but feeling a need to know, Sadie asked, “Is there bad news?”

“There might be. That’s why I don’t want anyone listening in.

“When we got Katie to the infirmary, she was clinically dead. No heartbeat, no brain function, nothing. She’d even done her ‘death dump’. I was able to resuscitate her, but…”

“But what?” Sadie asked, fearing the worst.

“The thing is,” Hatchet explained as gently as he might, “We have no way to know how long she was like that. We can guess, but that’s all. When you’re warm, it only takes a few minutes to really mess you up. Hypothermia gives you more time, but how much more is a case-by-case thing. So, we don’t know how much time she had, and we don’t know how much she needed.

“The reason I’m telling you this is because you’re closer to her than anyone else here; so if there are any aftereffects, you’re the one who’s most likely to notice. If you do notice something off, I want you to tell me. I’m not sure I’d be able to do anything about it, but we still need to know.”

Sadie nodded absently, lost in thought. “Can I see her?”

“She might still be asleep. I’ve got an intern keeping an eye on her, but I’ll probably discharge her as soon as she wakes up.”

Hatchet rose, unlocked the door and said, “You missed lunch. Normally, you’d be out of luck, but this is a special case. Would you like something now, or would you rather wait for dinner?”


Because lunch had been late, dinner was also late. Katie was now up and about, much to her surprise, for she had not expected to see any earthly sight ever again. She had been told some of what had happened that day, but had not been told that Chef had literally brought her back from the dead.

After the campers had choked down their dinner, Hatchet announced that the dessert course would be something special. He then disappeared into the kitchen, leaving the campers to speculate worriedly on what lay in store for them.

After a couple of minutes, Hatchet brought out a large, round cake with off-white frosting, on which 16 candles burned cheerily. Chris prompted, “One…Two…Three,” and everyone began to sing:

Happy Birthday to you,
Warner Music Group, screw you,
Happy Birthday, dear Sadie,
Happy Birthday to you!

The Muskies sang politely, but without much enthusiasm, because the fact that Sadie’s birthday just happened to fall on the day of a challenge was the reason Chris had given for handing down a controversial ruling in favor of Sadie and the Eagles. Sadie’s teammates, by contrast, sang heartily for the same reason.

When the verse was concluded, Katie added the obligatory tag line, “And many more,” because, as Sadie’s BFF, it was her place. By this time, Hatchet had placed the cake on the table, in front of the birthday girl, and had withdrawn to the background.

“OK, Sadie,” Katie prompted, “Make your wish.”

“Oh, I wish—“ Sadie began excitedly.

“No, no, no, no, no,” Leshawna interrupted hastily. “You know better than that, girl. If you tell us your wish, it won’t come true.”

“Besides,” Beth added helpfully, “we already know what it is.”

That seemed true enough. From what the others knew, it was inconceivable that Sadie’s birthday wish would be anything other than to reach the finals with Katie.

Sadie took a deep breath, leaned forward, and blew with all her might. She then gave a little cough, as commonly happens when someone has completely emptied her lungs, and straightened up to inspect her handiwork.

On one edge of the cake, three candles continued to burn.

After Sadie dispatched the holdouts with a second breath, Hatchet cut the cake and distributed pieces to everyone, including Chris and himself. The teens were pleasantly surprised to discover that the cake (a spice cake with buttercream frosting) was of high quality. Apparently, Hatchet could actually cook well when he cared to, and the campers now suspected that the unappetizing fare he usually served them was part of the master plan—a psychological hardship intended to help separate the game’s contenders from the pretenders.

When the campers had finished their cake, Chris got back to business. “OK, you know the drill,” he declared. “Muskies, to the bonfire. Eagles, you’re going to the Tuck Shoppe for your challenge reward: an all-expenses-paid binge.”


Night had fallen over the island. Had anyone been standing atop the absurdly high diving cliff, they might have been able to make out the last traces of twilight on the western horizon, but not so at the camp. At the bonfire, Chris stood with six self-satisfied campers arrayed behind him. On his marshmallow tray, two talismans of life yet stood. On the other side of the fire, Geoff, Duncan and Ezekiel still awaited judgment.

“Campers, I have only two marshmallows left. Each of you three had votes against you. With one vote against, the next marshmallow goes to…Ezekiel”.

As the home-schooled farm boy rose and stepped forward to receive his token of safety, neither he nor anyone else noticed D.J.’s hateful glare.

When Ezekiel had taken his place in the ranks of the blessed, Chris said, “Geoff, Duncan, you each racked up a lot of votes. Can’t really say I’m shocked. Anywho, the final marshmallow of the night goes to…”

Whilst Chris mugged the camera, as was his wont, Duncan and Geoff were sweating bullets. Duncan wasn’t quite sure what he was doing in the bottom two. True, Courtney had more or less threatened to send him home during the dodgeball match, but that was presumably because he was going through nicotine withdrawal and so had been unable to pull his weight. He’d caught a break when the Muskies won that challenge, and he doubted that he would ever be that vulnerable again. True, he still missed his cigarettes, but the worst of his withdrawal symptoms were past, and he had done his part in the camping challenge.

Duncan was on generally good terms with the other Muskie boys, so he didn’t see who might want him gone. As for the girls, he suspected that both Courtney and Izzy were crushing on him. He had by now got wind that Izzy’s imaginary friend was supposedly carrying a torch for him; and as far as Duncan was concerned, that meant that Izzy was actually the one with the hots for his badboyness. No surprise there, of course, for in Duncan’s world, there were three types of girls: those who openly wanted him, those who secretly wanted him, and those who didn’t yet realize that they wanted him. Well, four types, actually. There were also the freaks like Eva, but who cared what they wanted?

Eva seemed the most likely to have voted against him, but she also seemed unlikely to assemble a coalition, for she generally kept to herself and her weights whenever she could. Neanderthal Woman could account for one vote, but hardly for “a lot”.

Courtney, on the other hand, was the politicking type, but she had targeted Geoff. Duncan knew this because the onetime CIT had come to him and asked his help to send the urban cowboy packing. Courtney had griped, as she often did, that Geoff was too distractible and was a drag on the team; and in fairness, Duncan could find no fault with that indictment. In fact, Duncan had come to realize that he liked Courtney more than was probably good for him. Stupid hormones, he thought. And so, after playing “hard to get”, for the sake of appearances, Duncan had agreed to vote with Courtney after she had resorted to a bit of subtle flirtation.

But if it wasn’t Eva or Courtney, then who was trying to get him kicked off? Duncan suddenly had an unpleasant thought, all the more unpleasant for being highly plausible. Despite being mostly useless in the challenges, Geoff was popular for his happy-go-lucky attitude. If the party king had got wind that Courtney was gunning for him, he might have tried to assemble a coalition of his own. Since Geoff would probably just be trying to save himself, as opposed to pursuing any kind of strategy, this hypothetical voting bloc would probably vote against anyone whom its members could agree on.

This could get ugly, Duncan thought nervously.

Geoff, on the other hand, knew all too well why he was in the bottom two. Courtney was constantly nagging him to keep his head in the game. He had paid her little heed, for Ms. Napoleon Complex had never taken her complaints to the level of threats, and Geoff wasn’t about to let her harsh his mellow. After the camping challenge, though, Izzy had come to him and warned him that Courtney had decided to take action. The Muskies’ nominal leader was relatively well liked in spite of her bossy tendencies, thanks to being a hot chick and to knowing how to use the carrot as well as the stick. Geoff realized with a qualm that, if Courtney wanted someone to go down, she might well have enough influence to make it happen.

Fortunately, though, Izzy had offered him a way out: join her in trying to expel Duncan. Geoff didn’t know why she wanted Duncan gone, and he didn’t ask. So it was that the party king had voted against the delinquent, despite having no real quarrel with Duncan and despite having reservations about how far the flighty and erratic Izzy could be trusted.

Chris’ tension building routine reached its climax, and he handed down the verdict at long last.

“Duncan, on a tiebreaker,” the host pronounced.

“Aw, man,” was all the dejected Geoff had to say.

“Sorry, dude,” Tyler said. “You’re cool and all, but we need players who can keep their heads in the game. But look on the bright side. When you get to Loserville, you can chase Bridgette again.” Tyler’s face took on a wistful look and he seemed to want to say something else, but he said no more.

“You’ve got a point, bro,” the damned cowboy replied, his spirits rising as he cocked his ten gallon hat at a pseudo-rakish angle. “It’s not so bad, after all.”

Beth asked, “So what was the tiebreaker?” The nerd girl didn’t have a high opinion of Geoff’s contributions in the challenges, but she thought he was nicer than Duncan; so when her new ally Izzy had come to her and asked her to help bounce the delinquent, saying that Sunshine would just have to deal with it, Beth had agreed.

“As you know,” Chris explained, “there’s no set tie breaking procedure. Tonight, I decided to keep the camper who’s been generating more drama. It’s better for ratings that way. Anyway, that’s Duncan.”

Courtney crossed her arms and scowled at the host. “With that kind of attitude, how are we supposed to keep troublemakers in line?” she demanded, the daggers in her voice matching those in her eyes.

“Not my problem,” Chris replied with that bland smile that made Courtney want to push his face in. “Keeping the show’s ratings up is my problem. Team discipline is yours.”

Courtney sighed in exasperation, but made no other response.

Eva sidled over to Courtney and said, under her breath, “Don’t worry. He’ll get his.”

“‘He’ meaning Duncan or Chris?” Courtney pouted.

“Either or both,” Eva replied darkly.

There was nothing more to be said, so everyone went to the Dock of Shame to see Geoff off. Some said their goodbyes en route, and the rest did so at the dock. Then, as Hatchet began to toll the bell, Geoff ambled down the dock, as carefree leaving the island as when he had arrived.

As the boat pulled away from the dock, Courtney said to Ezekiel, “Take it away, maestro.” Ezekiel then led the Killer Muskies in the singing of the Pie Jesu, which they had practiced so relentlessly the night before.


“Did you really sing ‘Warner Music Group, screw you’ for Sadie’s birthday song?” Brett asked, suspecting that his mother had tried to pull a fast one on him.

“Of course not,” his mother replied, “although since we were on camera, we might have if we’d had a chance to plan it beforehand. ‘Stick it to the Man’, as it were.

“‘Happy Birthday To You’ is a traditional song, but Warner claims that it belongs to them. Personally, I think their reasoning is pretty shaky, but anybody who would have the resources to fight them has decided that it’s not worth fighting. Big corps can be pretty ruthless, and Warner has a reputation for being pretty anal. So if you so much as sing ‘Happy Birthday To You’ in a public place, they’ll call it a ‘performance’ and demand that you pay them royalties.”

“That’s crazy!” Brett blurted in shock. “But what if somebody isn’t willing to pay?”

“People have been known to ‘disappear’ for less,” his mother replied.

The night was still young, so Brett’s mother took a few moments to collect her thoughts and then resumed her tale.


.

Episode #7: The Tale of Fear and Loathing

Original title: Phobia Factor


After singing Geoff off, the Muskies returned to the fire to toast their marshmallows. This bittersweet ritual completed, they remained for a time and talked about whatever topics came to mind.

After 15 minutes or so, D.J. thought he saw something in the trees. “Is somebody there?” he asked nervously.

“I am the Ghost of Challenge Past,” replied a familiar, nasal voice. Noah’s voice.

“And the Ghost of Ownage Yet To Come,” called the dragon.

As spectral figures in the woods began to emerge into the firelit clearing, the Muskies could see that the entire Eagles team had come, for what purpose the Muskies could only guess.

“What do you guys want?” Courtney and Eva asked, almost in unison. For different reasons, these two were extremely competitive, and their first instinct was to distrust any gesture from an opponent.

“Well, we’ve got some extra Tuck Shoppe swag, if you’d like some,” Leshawna began.

“So now you’re suddenly being nice?” Courtney asked suspiciously.

“Maybe they’re feeling guilty because they know they didn’t deserve to win,” Duncan suggested pointedly.

“In your dreams, loser,” Heather sniffed.

“Save the ‘tude for the challenges, y’all,” Leshawna protested. “We’re rivals, not enemies.” No one ventured to deny that the homegirl had a point, and the budding quarrel was quickly forgotten.

“Since you asked, though,” Cody said, “We’re not ‘suddenly’ being nice. We’ve got a ‘use it or lose it’ situation.”

Justin explained, “We’ve had all we want of our Tuck Shoppe goodies, and we don’t have fridges in the cabins, so a lot of it won’t keep.”

“Yeah, like this jelly,” Sadie added, holding a quivering mass of molded green gelatin dessert up to Courtney, as if for inspection.

With an effort, Courtney maintained a semblance of composure, but she could not suppress a small cry of disgust at the semisolid dish.

“What’s wrong?” Katie asked. “Don’t you like jelly?”

“I like it fine,” Courtney snapped defensively. “I’m just not into that green type,” she added a little too hastily, with a poorly suppressed shudder. “And that jelly looks like the Jell-O brand stuff.”

Duncan was close enough to notice Courtney’s shudder. Seeing an opportunity to take the Muskies’ benevolent despot down a peg, he decided to have a little fun at her expense.

“Well, well, well,” the delinquent chuckled, “Little Miss Perfect-In-Every-Way is afraid of Jell-O. Ah, green Jell-O, to be precise. So, tell me, Princess, does it strike fear into your pure little heart mainly because it’s Jell-O, or mainly because it’s green?”

“Must be ‘cause it’s green,” Izzy opined. “I wear a lot of green, and she’s afraid of me.”

“We’re all afraid of you, Izzy,” Noah deadpanned.

“I know, right?” Gwen said. “The only thing I’d hate worse than being in a confined space with Izzy would be being in a confined space by myself.”

“Claustrophobic, much?” Izzy asked, clearly not offended.

“You have no idea,” the Goth replied softly, embarrassed that she’d revealed such a personal detail about herself.

“No way!” Katie said. “I’m totally claustrophobic, too!”

“So let me guess,” Tyler chuckled, “If you’re claustrophobic, then Sadie must be, too.”

“No,” Katie replied, either missing the sarcasm or choosing to ignore it, “Sadie has a thing about bad haircuts. Everyone instinctively looked at the butterball, who shuddered as Katie continued, “That’s why she fainted when Lindsay’s hair got burned.”

“Sadie’s not the only one,” Heather observed. “That probably would have been traumatic for anyone, but for a while, there, Lindsiot really went off the deep end.” The others could see that Lindsay was shivering at that memory, as if from a chill.

By this time, the campers were beginning to take seats as they were able, with some sitting on the ground because there weren’t enough seats to go around, and the Muskies were starting to sample the Eagles’ “peace offerings”.

“I’d rather have my hair burned off than be covered in bugs,” Beth declared. “When I was six years old, I think, I was eating windfall apples under the big apple tree we have on our farm. It was a warm day and I’d really stuffed myself, so I fell asleep. My hands and face were sticky from the juice—my blouse, too, since I’d been wiping my hands on it—and when I woke up, there were ants and bees crawling all over me. Of course, I freaked out, especially from the bees. Even after all these years, I still have nightmares about it sometimes. I still can’t believe that I didn’t get stung.

Once, I saw a wolf spider with all its babies on its back, and it totally freaked me out. I mean, normally I don’t mind spiders, although those weird-looking orb weavers kind of creep me out, but that wolf spider covered in little spiders really reminded me of those bugs under the apple tree.”

Leshawna had heard enough, and broke in when Beth took a breath as if to continue. “Bugs aren’t so bad,” the homegirl said. “But spiders totally freak me out. I can’t stand getting spider webs on me, either. I’ve never seen a wolf spider, but from what you say, I’m glad I haven’t. And I hear you about those orb weavers, girl. Some of them look like they’re from outer space. If I even see one, I feel like I need a shower.”

Heather said, “Orb weavers, huh? I know what you’re talking about, but I didn’t know that’s what they were called. Anyway, I’m the same way with sumo wrestlers as Homie is with spiders.  They’re like human orb spiders. They don’t even look natural. Ugh!”

“If you want to talk ‘unnatural-looking’,” Duncan began, “what’s really creepy is…” His voice trailed off, as if he had realized that he had been about to say too much.

“Well?” Courtney asked, looking to even the score after the delinquent’s earlier jab. “Come on, spit it out.”

Duncan sighed deeply. He reminded himself that $100,000 was at stake, but this was going to cost him a lot of street cred.

“You know how it is with CGI’d people, where the more realistic they look, the creepier they get?” he began. “Well, I…” Again, his voice trailed off.

“Come on, confess,” Courtney prompted with a wicked grin.

Duncan took another deep breath, steeling himself, but Noah broke in before the delinquent could continue. Right off the top of his head, the bookworm declared, “Duncan lives in mortal fear of an insane, 90-centimeter-tall, winged pixie with orange hair, enormous eyeglasses, and an affinity for Italian food. She stalks him day and night, watching his every move, whispering, ‘Duncan…Duncan’.”

The way Noah created such an elaborate vision on the spot struck everyone—well, almost everyone—as hilarious. A gale of laughter erupted around the bonfire.

Even Duncan laughed, if more nervously than the others. Let them think that he was afraid of pixies, if they liked. It would be less embarrassing than what he was really afraid of.

“Good one, bookworm,” he said through a forced smile as the laughter died.

Apart from Noah, who was not inclined to laugh at his own jokes, only Izzy had not laughed. Quite the contrary, she looked irritated. With her hands on her hips and a displeased expression, she spoke sternly to…no one.

“Sunshine!” the demented redhead demanded, “What did I tell you about sneaking into the boys’ cabin at night?” After a brief pause, she added, “Well, that’s no excuse!”

With most of the campers now eyeing Izzy warily—they all knew about her imaginary friend, of course, but had never suspected that “Sunshine” wasn’t supposed to be human—Gwen said, in a contemplative tone, “Actually, I would have pegged Duncan’s stalker pixie as having purple hair and a skull locket, and probably on the antisocial side.”

Izzy gave an exasperated sigh, but still did not look at Gwen or anyone else.

Et tu, Ravi?” Weird Red complained. “You’re supposed to be the responsible one. And you could have told me that you knew Gwen.”

“O…kay,” Gwen replied nervously, as Izzy continued her conversation with the air.

“You know, guys,” Justin broke in, keeping a watchful eye on Pixie Girl, “I think two invisible pixies are enough. Maybe we shouldn’t tempt fate.”

The other teens agreed, and quickly dropped the subject of what Duncan’s “stalker” might look like.

“Back to the real issue,” Courtney declared, “Mr. Petty Offenses R Us was about to confess his embarrassing secret fear.”

Duncan sighed yet again. He had hoped that the discussion might not return from the Pixie Tangent, but no such luck.

“You know how it is with CGI’d people, where the more realistic they look, the creepier they get?” the delinquent repeated. “Well, I have the same problem with those cardboard standees you see in music stores. Standees of hot chicks are the worst. Sure, I look at pictures of hot chicks all the time, but it’s not the same.”

Courtney considered asking whether the “hot chicks” in those pictures were clothed, but decided that she didn’t really want to know.

“The hotter, the worse?” Gwen asked, “Or is there some other pattern?”

“No pattern, as far as I can tell,” Duncan replied. He seemed more comfortable discussing his phobia than confessing it in the first place. “Celine Dion is probably the worst of all. There are chicks that are hotter, notter, older, younger, better singers, worse singers…she just seems to hit the sweet spot, somehow. Okay, ‘sweet’ probably isn’t the right word.”

“So, Mr. Tough Guy’s not so tough,” Heather sniped. And here I thought Courtney’s Jell-O phobia was lame.”

“I am not afraid of Jell-O!” Courtney insisted.

“Whatever,” Heather replied.

“So, our tough guy has an embarrassing secret fear,” Leshawna recapped. “How about our tough girl? Is there anything you’re especially afraid of, Eva?”

From what they knew of the she-Hulk, most of the campers were probably expecting Eva to deny that she was afraid of anything. After a few moments, the campers realized that Eva had not only made no denial, but had said nothing at all, and this brought their undivided attention to the steel maiden. Apart from the crackle of the fire and a few insect noises, complete silence now reigned.

“Well?” Duncan prompted, having recovered from his own moment on the hot seat.

Eva was hanging her head, her eyes downcast. “I can’t tell you,” she finally managed to say. “It’s too embarrassing.”

“More embarrassing than being afraid of music store standees?” Leshawna asked skeptically, subtly reminding Iron Woman that her colleagues had already confessed some pretty embarrassing things.

“Yes,” Eva replied, unable to meet her or anyone else’s gaze.

“Worse than Courtney being afraid of green Jell-O?” Gwen asked, no less skeptically than Leshawna had.

“I am not afraid of Jell-O!” Courtney insisted again.

Tyler, who happened to be sitting next to Eva, said, “I think I know.”

“Then you tell them, if you want,” Eva replied in a self-pitying tone, eyes still fixed on the ground. “I can’t.”

“Something happened during the camping trip,” Tyler began. “When the storm came, we didn’t have moon or stars. We had firelight for a while, but when the rain finally put it out, you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face.” A general murmur followed, as the campers recalled that unpleasant experience.

“I wasn’t lying down, because I was supposed to stay awake. Anyway, I was sitting near Eva. She must have still been awake when the fire went out, because I remember that she started breathing really ragged. It sounded like she was in pretty bad shape.”

“Oh, so that’s who it was,” Izzy interjected.

Looking back to Eva, the jock laid a sympathetic hand on the jockette’s shoulder as he delivered his conclusion. “You’re afraid of the dark, aren’t you?”

“For as long as I can remember,” Eva replied, still unwilling or unable to meet anyone’s gaze.

“Don’t beat yourself up over that,” said Cody. “Lots of people are afraid of the dark. It’s probably the oldest phobia in the book.”

“Yeah, but it’s supposed to be something that little kids are afraid of,” Eva replied, refusing to be cheered up.

“At least you have a phobia that makes some sense,” Tyler said as he gave Eva’s shoulder a reassuring squeeze. “Not like mine. I get totally freaked out by chickens, if you can believe that.”

Fortunately, Eva wasn’t eating or drinking anything at the moment, else it would likely have come out her nose. “You’re kidding me!” she blurted, forgetting her self-pity just as Tyler had intended. “Are you telling me that having chickens in your path might stop you from rushing in where angels fear to tread, like you usually do?”

“Pretty much,” Red Jock replied with a self-depreciating grin.

Izzy said, “My phobia’s pretty common, just like Eva’s. I simply cannot fly. I had to take a bus halfway across Canada to get here.”

“Mine isn’t really a phobia,” Cody offered, “but it’s kind of the same effect. I totally freak out anytime I have to do anything under time pressure.”

“Are you a perfectionist?” Noah asked.

“Yeah, I guess so, now that you mention it,” the science geek agreed.

“Kind of figured,” Noah replied. “I read somewhere that perfectionists can’t be rushed. If you try to rush them, they make more mistakes but they don’t really go any faster.”

“So how do you manage in school?” Justin asked. “You mentioned once that you get pretty good grades. If you can’t handle time pressure, how do you manage on tests? Or especially pop quizzes?”

“Tests don’t bother me until the last few minutes, and by then I’m usually done, anyway,” Cody explained. “Pop quizzes usually don’t bother me because there isn’t much at stake, and I usually know my stuff pretty well.

“How about you, Justin?” Cody asked. “What’s your counterpart to Courtney’s Jell-O phobia?”

“I am not afraid of Jell-O!” Courtney insisted once more.

“An ungorgeous girl kissed me once,” the Incredible Hunk answered, a haunted look on his supremely gorgeous face. “It was awful! It felt like my gorgeosity was going to leach right out of me.”

“What a dreadful fate,” Gwen snarked, her sarcasm dripping thickly enough to burn a hole through the Earth’s crust.

“What,” Justin asked obliviously. “How is that worse than Courtney’s Jell-O phobia?”

“I am not afraid of Jell-O!” Courtney cried in exasperation.

“Green Jell-O, remember,” Izzy reminded her colleagues. “It has to be green.”

“Augh!” Courtney cried as she jumped to her feet, her hands balling into fists. “FOR THE LAST TIME, I AM NOT AFRAID OF JELL-O! GREEN OR OTHERWISE!”

“Have a cow, why don’t you?” Sadie sniffed.

“Totally,” Katie seconded. “Take a pill.”

“The lady doth protest too much, methinks,” quoth the bookworm to the Thin Twin, for he had managed to score a seat next to his secret crush girl.

“Oh, rah-ther,” Katie replied with a giggle. Noah could imitate an English accent decently, but Katie’s faux accent was remarkably lame.

“Okay, guys, this is getting a little heavy,” D.J. broke in, trying to keep everyone on reasonably good terms. Unfortunately for him, in doing so he attracted the wrong kind of attention.

“So, D.J., what are you afraid of?” queried Sadie.

“Telling us what he’s not afraid of might be a shorter list,” Noah quipped.

“That’s a little harsh, isn’t it?” Katie challenged.

“Naw, that’s okay,” D.J. said. “He’s not too far off. I really am afraid of a lot of things. Too many.”

“So, what’s the worst?” asked Lindsay.

“Snakes,” D.J. answered with a shudder. “They’re so slimy and scaly and slithery…”

“Two out of three,” Courtney interjected. “Worms are slimy. Snakes aren’t.”

“Being afraid of snakes is pretty common,” Ezekiel noted. “Goes all the way back to Adam and Eve getting ‘voted off’ the Garden of Eden.” Several campers chuckled at this juxtaposition of the Book of Genesis with the Book of Drama.

D.J. was not amused. The brickhouse was holding a grudge for the death of his “pet” bunny, although this grievance was not yet widely known, and he begrudged Ezekiel any esteem at all in the eyes of their fellows.

Duncan asked, “What are you afraid of, Zeke?”

Zeke’s face took on a vaguely haunted look as he said, “There’s a story behind it, just like with Beth. A couple of years ago, when I was in the mountains visiting some relatives, I was hiking with a couple of my cousins. It was winter, so we were on snowshoes. Anyway, we got caught in an avalanche. It wasn’t very big, and I was on the edge, so I only got buried up to about my waist.

“It took me a while to dig myself out, but when I did, I went looking for my cousins. I found them. They were both pretty much totally buried, although there were bits sticking out—one of Joe’s hands, and one of Rob’s snowshoes, I think. I was able to tell from the snowshoe and the glove who was who.

“The thing is, an avalanche packs the snow so tight, it’s like cement. I found that out when I was digging myself out. I knew it was going to take me a long time to dig my cousins out, and people who get buried like that usually don’t have all that much time, so it didn’t look like I would be able to save them both. I had to choose.”

For the second time, the only sounds were those of the bonfire and the local wildlife. Beth finally broke the silence. “I can’t even imagine having to make a choice like that.”

“I didn’t,” Ezekiel admitted. “Not really. I couldn’t. It probably wouldn’t have been so hard if I didn’t know who was who, but I did, so…. Luckily, a couple of Good Samaritans saw what happened, and they helped me to dig my cousins out. Without that, they might both have died.

“So, I guess my deep secret fear is getting into another situation where I would have to choose who to let die so someone else can live, because I already know that I can’t.”

“That would be tough for most people, I think,” Courtney offered diplomatically. “It just shows that you value human life. Not like some people I could name.”

Courtney scanned the crowd and asked, “Have we missed anyone?”

No answer was immediately forthcoming, as the campers reviewed each other’s confessions. Finally, Heather said, “Noah. Noah still hasn’t embarrassed himself in front of everyone.”

“Not embarrassing,” Noah parried, “just absurd, at least for me. There’s a difference.”

“So let’s hear it,” the queen bee challenged.

Without a hint of embarrassment, the bookworm confessed, “I’m deathly afraid of outhouses. In fact, if I had to relieve myself, I’d probably end up crapping my pants if an outhouse was the only alternative.”

“Then how do you do confessionals?” Tyler asked.

“I don’t. I realize that might reduce my screen time, but that’s just the price I have to pay.”

Gwen wrinkled her nose in distaste as she observed, “I don’t think you need a phobia to be afraid of the outhouse we have here in camp.”

“I hear you, girl,” Leshawna replied. Turning to Noah, the dusky daughter asked, “But how do you vote, then? We have to cast our votes in the confessional—”

“—and having one of us do it for you would be a huge conflict of interest,” Heather finished. “Not that it would bother me, but you know what I mean.”

“I’ve made other arrangements with Chris,” Noah explained. “I just write down my vote and give it to one of the redshirts.”

Izzy chattered, “So why are you so afraid of outhouses? Do you think the Creature From the Black Latrine will get you? Rend your soft flesh into tasty little bloody gobbets with its nasty sharp pointy teeth?” The demented redhead raised her hand to her mouth and held out two crooked fingers, presumably to imitate fangs.

The bookworm looked thoughtful for a moment, then said, “Come to mention it, your bouncing-off-the-wallsness, you might be closer than you think.

“I didn’t used to have a problem with outhouses, but one day I had to use one and I got a nasty surprise. I didn’t know it at the time, but black widows like to hang out under the rims of outhouse seats. A lot of people get bitten that way. For reasons that I trust are obvious, it’s a bigger problem for men than for women.

“Long story short, I got bitten on my, er, ‘organ of increase’ and wound up in hospital. I got so sick that for a while, they weren’t sure if I was going to make it. For a while, I was so sick that I didn’t care whether I survived. But I obviously did, which is how I can be here now giving you lot a hard time.”

“Did you get so sick because of your allergies?” Katie asked.

“No, it had nothing to do with my allergies. Allergies are to things that most people don’t have a problem with but are bad news for you. Deadly neurotoxins don’t exactly fall under that heading.”

“Deadly… neurotoxins?” Leshawna asked with a cringe. The ebon homegirl was no fan of spiders, as has been told of before, and Noah’s story about the Outhouse Incident did not improve her attitude toward them.

“One of the deadliest in the world,” the bookworm replied. “The only reason black widows don’t kill more people than they do is because the biggest dose they can deliver would make Chris’ heart seem large and ungainly by comparison.”

When the chuckles subsided, Izzy summarized, “So you got your pecker pickled with a pinch of potent poison. Does it still work?”

“As far as I know,” Noah replied with a shrug. “It’s not like I’ve ever had a chance to ‘field test’ it—”

“—Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more.” Cody finished.

“Whatever,” Noah said.

Courtney said, “I guess that’s everyone.”

With a sly grin, Duncan said, “You haven’t confessed, Princess.”

“Sure, she did,” Lindsay answered innocently before Courtney could. “It’s green Jell-O, remember?”

“I am not afraid of Jell-O!” Courtney cried yet again.

Cody explained, “She didn’t actually say it, Linds, we just inferred it from empirical observation and deductive reasoning.”

“Empiri-what?” Lindsay asked, looking confused.

“We noticed how she reacted to it, so she didn’t have to say it.”

“Oh, yeah,” the uberbimbo said as understanding dawned. “Poor Courtney. I wouldn’t want to go through life being afraid of Jell-O.”

“I am not afraid of Jell-O!”

Heather saw a chance to take her friendish rival down a peg and said,  “All right, then, what is your deep, dark humiliating fear?”

“I don’t have one,” Courtney replied a little too hastily, with a smile that seemed a little too forced.

“Come on,” the queen bee pressed. “The rest of us confessed. You’re not getting a free pass.”

“What’s to confess?” Courtney replied with a suspicious crack in her voice. “I don’t have a phobia. Sure, there are things that I would be afraid of, but they’re things that most reasonable people would be afraid of.”

“Like Jell-O,” Heather retorted with a cold smirk.

I am not afraid of Jell-O!

“Green Jell-O,” Izzy reminded them. “It has to be green.”

The camp rang with Courtney’s scream of frustration.


The next day was the usual off day, so the campers took their ease and pursued their own interests. Katie and Sadie, who had previously shown themselves to be skilled seamstresses, spent much of the day mending their sundresses as best they might. At first, they were ready to write off the badly torn dresses as lost causes; but Eva, of all people, counseled against that.

“People will be able to see the tears,” the clones complained. “They’ll look crappy.”

“That’s not a bad thing, considering how they got torn,” the musclegirl explained. “Those mended tears will be badges of courage. They’ll make you look tough. On a show like this, that’s something you want. It’s something the fans will respect, and this show is all about getting a fan base. Remember, we’re here to become celebrities, even if this lame game wasn’t how we were expecting to do it.”

“Wow,” one of the clones said. “I didn’t know you were so smart. Uh, no offense.”

Eva felt a brief flare of anger in spite of herself, but it passed. She smirked and said, “None taken. I get that a lot. People don’t think that brawn and brains can go together, but some of us know better.”

The next morning, Chris came to the lodge during breakfast and called for attention. Everyone assumed that he was about to give challenge briefing, given that three days had passed since the last one.

“All right, campers,” the host declaimed, “it’s Challenge Day! Today’s challenge is a little game called ‘Phobia Factor’. The rules are simple. You have to face your worst fears.”

There was fear in Leshawna’s eyes as she speared a piece of the gray, meatlike substance that the campers called “zombie sausage” and said, “Worse than this?”

“We’re in trouble,” Gwen pronounced.

“Noah,” Chris said, “it’s come to my attention that you’re the only camper left who’s never done a confessional spot. In our confessional… out… house. We can’t have that, now, can we?”

The bookworm’s eyes widened in horror.

“Heather,” the host continued. “Meet me at the amphitheater. It’s sumo time!”

The expression on the dragon girl’s face closely matched Noah’s, and she began to shake visibly.

“Duncan. Celine Dion would like to have a word with you. Of course, we can’t afford the real Celine Dion on this show’s budget. You understand.”

“This is what I get for opening up to people,” the scorner of laws muttered.

“This is what we get for forgetting that we’re always on camera,” Tyler added.

“Look on the bright side,” Cody suggested, doing his best to put on a brave face. “At least this challenge isn’t likely to get anyone killed.”

“You think so, Codemeister?” Chris challenged as he grinned wickedly. “Just wait ‘till you see what we have in store for Ezekiel.”

“Oh, my God,” Courtney gasped. All the imagined horrors that lay in store for them paled against this one, for the campers remembered all too well what fear the farm boy had confessed: having to let someone die—maybe even one of them—so that someone else could live.


The hour was growing late, so Brett’s mother left off her tale and suggested that he prepare for bed.


.

Eleventh Night

The next day was not a school day, so Brett and his mother spent the day engaged in their own affairs. That night, after they had dined and Brett had finished what homework he had for the weekend, he approached his mother and asked to hear more about her experience on Total Drama Island.  Brett sat in his favorite chair, and his mother sat on the sofa. She took a few moments to collect her thoughts, and then she began to speak.


Chris concluded his briefing by saying, “The team with the most brave souls wins. And before you ask, yes, I realize that having one extra player gives the Eagles an advantage. Deal with it.”

The campers finished their meal in near silence, worrying about what might lie in store for them and fervently hoping that they wouldn’t have to be part of Ezekiel’s potentially lethal test. This preoccupation with the coming challenge did grant them one small mercy, though: they barely tasted their food.

As the campers filed out of the lodge to find their fates, Chris grasped a certain Muskie by her upper arm and said, “Not you, Courtney. You have an appointment with Chef.”


Beth was the first to face her trial. Chris led the campers to a Plexiglas chest that bore an unfortunate resemblance to a coffin. Giving Beth goggles and a dust mask, he told her to put them on and to lie down in the “coffin”, face up. When she had done so, two interns carrying large canisters began to pour a mass of spiders onto the farm girl, starting at her feet and working their way up. Leshawna hastily backed away a few paces.

Beth’s mortal fear was being covered in bugs, as has been told before; and while spiders aren’t actually bugs, they were close enough for Beth. The spiders were a harmless type, but that didn’t matter, either. Most bugs are harmless, too.

With Beth now completely immersed, a redshirt closed the lid on the chest, as Hatchet produced a stopwatch and clicked it. Clearly, Beth had to endure for a certain period, but she hadn’t been told how long that interval might be. After a minute or so, at a signal from his aide, Chris flipped up the lid and bade the nerdette stand.

Beth unsteadily rose to her feet. Her face drawn and paler than Gwen’s, she stepped out of the coffin and stood, shaking, whilst the redshirts brushed her off. She removed her dust mask and goggles and staggered a little way off, then dropped to her hands and knees and was loudly ill.

After giving the others a few moments to contemplate what Beth had gone through, Chris turned to the homegirl. “Well, Leshawna,” he said rhetorically, “We don’t want these spiders to go to waste, do we?”

“W-what do you mean?” Leshawna asked hesitantly. Being afraid of spiders, she thought she knew all too well what he meant, but clung to the forlorn hope that she might be mistaken.

She wasn’t. “I understand you’re afraid of spiders,” the host said, his expectant grin giving the lie to his mild tone. Indicating the coffin, Chris handed down his sentence. “I want you to reach in and scoop up a few. But don’t hurt them.”

“How touching,” Heather remarked caustically to no one in particular. “He cares more about a bug that will die of old age in three months than he does about us.”

Beth’s continued retching didn’t help Leshawna’s state of mind. Having surrendered her breakfast, Beth was still wracked with dry heaves. The farm girl had paid a steep price for her team’s first point. It also didn’t help that the arachnid army was now quitting the coffin en masse, and so the other campers, even those with no special aversion to spiders, were giving ground.

Leshawna thrice stepped forward to do as Chris had commanded, and thrice blenched back. Finally, with a heavy heart, she turned to her teammates. “Sorry, y’all,” she confessed, unable to look them in the eyes, “I can’t do it.”

"Leshawna, you are useless!" Heather snapped.

Chris then led the campers to the amphitheater.  There, he bade Heather stand on the stage, and invited the other campers to take seats in the rebuilt bleachers. As the Eagles’ despot stood nervously, mentally preparing herself as best she might, the host grinned and theatrically called out, “Enter sumo wrestler, stage left!”

Heather barely glimpsed the gigantic form before cowering in a ball and averting her eyes. The wrestler approached menacingly and, getting no response, pranced about the queen bee and made inarticulate but threatening-sounding noises. Heather continued to cower, as if in a “duck and cover” drill.

“That won’t cut it, Heather,” Chris warned, “You have to stand up to him.”

Heather was too frightened to immediately comply. Perhaps 15 seconds later, after a second warning from Chris, the Dragon Queen finally looked up at her adversary and immediately wished she hadn’t.

Heather found herself facing, not a genuine sumo wrestler, but Owen dressed as a sumo, complete with topknot wig and body paint. A lot of body paint. This was actually worse than the genuine article, for although a sumo wrestler appears fat, in truth it’s mostly muscle. Owen, by contrast, was truly fat. Hideously fat. The fact that Owen was a good deal taller than most sumo wrestlers didn’t help.

Heather now appeared calm, but the expression on her face was not pleasant. Having been driven to the extremity of her terror and beyond, her calmness was not the composure of self-assurance, but a serenity not unlike that which comes with ceasing to fear death when about to die.

Still sitting on the floorboards, Heather said, “I thought a real, live sumo wrestler was the scariest thing in the world. I was wrong. I—”

Heather’s eyes rolled back into her head, and she slumped unconscious to the ground.

"Now who's useless?" Leshawna asked rhetorically.

A couple of interns carried Heather to the bleachers, and Chris called Duncan forward. As the wiry delinquent stepped forward, concealing his dread as best he might, another redshirt came onto the stage, carrying three cardboard standees, which she now arrayed at the other end of the stage from Duncan. One of those standees, Duncan had expected: a life-sized image of Celine Dion; but the scorner of laws couldn’t even hazard a guess at why the other two were there.

Some ninety centimeters high, these standees flanked the Celine Dion standee on either side and a little behind. The women pictured thereon weren’t quite human. Oh, they seemed human enough at first glance, until the observer noticed the filmy, insectlike wings sprouting from their backs. Their eyes were also strange, solid disks of color with no pupils evident. One of these women had hair and eyes of flaming golden orange, with her somewhat wild hair in a high, crestlike ponytail. She wore enormous eyeglasses, but was otherwise dressed casually and unremarkably. The other had hair and eyes of purple, with neat hair and an odd spheroidal crest in lieu of a ponytail, and was more fashionably dressed in line with a Gothic or punk aesthetic.

Duncan wasn’t sure he really wanted to know, but he elected to tempt the gods nonetheless. “Why do you have standees of Lady Loony’s imaginary friends?”

“They’re the backup singers,” Chris explained.

“Let me guess,” Noah said dryly. “The Pixie Chicks.” The other campers groaned.

Chris heard this reaction and deemed it good. “The greatness of a pun is measured not by the laughs, but by the groans,” he declared.

“Touché,” Noah replied with his air of studied boredom.

Turning his attention back to his tormentee, Chris said, “Duncan, I believe you know Ms. Dion. What you might not know is that she likes you, so I want you to give her a kiss. Like you mean it. On the lips, nice and tender, eyes open. No tongue, for obvious reasons.”

“You’re sick, dude,” Duncan replied, although he sounded more resigned than condemning.

Chris grinned and replied, “Should I try for ‘depraved’?” Seemingly struck by a sudden thought, the sadistic host cocked his head, stared into space and said reflectively, “Mmm, I’ve always liked that word. ‘Depraved’… yeah, ‘depraved reality show host’. I’ll bet that would be good for ratings.”

Duncan decided that he should cut his losses, and so turned his attention back to his task. He tried to approach the standees, but his progress was slow and hesitant.

“There’s nothing to be afraid of!” Tyler called. “It’s not like she’s not going to smack you! She’s not Eva!” Quickly realizing his gaffe, the jock of all trades turned to the musclegirl and said, “Uh, sorry. No offense.”

“None taken,” Eva replied with a smirk. “I probably would smack him if he tried to kiss me. Even if it was just a cardboard me.”

“You’d smack him just for kissing a standee of you?” D.J. asked.

“No, my standee would probably smack him.”

Beth called out to her delinquent teammate, “She’s pretty! She’s nice!” You can do this!” And sure enough, Duncan eventually succeeded in doing as Chris had commanded.

The terrible deed done, the delinquent glared at Chris and said, “There. Happy now?”

“As a matter of fact, I am,” the host replied. “Point to the Muskies.” Turning to the seated campers, he declaimed, “With Duncan able to face his incredibly lame phobia, the Killer Muskies now lead 2-0. Eagles, you’d better step up your game if you want to win this.”

Chris dismissed Duncan, but as the delinquent turned toward the bleachers, Izzy called, “Wait a minute! Aren’t you forgetting something?”

“What do you mean?” Chris asked as he gestured for Duncan to stand by.

“Celine got a kiss, and she’s only been here one day. Sunshine’s been waiting the whole time we’ve been here. She should get a kiss, too.”

The incredulous delinquent could only say, “You’re kidding, right?”

“Sunshine wants her kiss!”

Duncan snorted and said, “I don’t think so, Looney Tunes.”

Give her a kiss!” screamed the demented redhead. In spite of himself, Duncan flinched at the sheer intensity of Izzy’s demand.

“Yes,” Chris replied thoughtfully, “Do give her a kiss. It might get you some brownie points if the teams end up tied.”

Duncan sighed. Steeling himself, he knelt down in front of the flame-crested pixie standee.

“Ooh, you two-timer!” D.J. called in mock shock.

Whilst Duncan was “making out” with Sunshine, Chris received a radio call that he had been expecting. The host then called for the campers to follow him.

Chris led his playthings to a spot on the lakefront, not far from the dock but out of sight from the camp. Two pits that looked suspiciously like graves awaited them. Between those pits lay the Plexiglas coffin that Beth had lain in, and another much like it. A work detail of interns stood nearby.

“Gwen, Katie,” the sadistic host announced, “I hear that you’re both claustrophobic, so we’re going to bury you alive. That’s a common phobia in its own right, so that’s a bonus. Your coffins have some lighting, so it’ll be easy to see the walls as they ‘close in on you’.”

Gwen and Katie’s eyes briefly met, and these teammates drew strength from the knowledge that they would not be alone in this ordeal.

“How long do we have to be in there?” Gwen asked nervously.

“Until we decide to dig you out,” Chris replied. “If we decide to dig you out.”

“Not funny, Chris,” Gwen snapped.

“I know, right?” Katie seconded.

“Sheesh. Take a pill,” Chris replied with a show of irritation that was as phony as everything else about him.

The two interns who were apparently attending Chris for this challenge approached the girls, with what looked like medical sensors in their hands. As they affixed these sensors, Chris explained, “We’ll be monitoring your vital signs, because I’ll be deciding whether you pass or fail based on how long it takes you to pass out from the CO2 buildup. If you can stay reasonably calm, that should take about 30 minutes. Once you’ve passed out, you’ll be able to live for another 30 minutes, give or take. That should be plenty of time for the interns to dig you out, assuming that they’re not on their lunch break or something.”

“You’re enjoying this way too much,” Gwen snapped again.

The host’s only reply was a rhetorical, “I love this show.”

Katie looked once more at Gwen and said wearily, “The sooner we get started, the sooner we can get it over with and the less time we’ll have to think about it. Let’s do this.” The Goth smiled back at her sister in misfortune and gave a quick, curt nod. Both girls then stepped into their Plexiglas tombs and accepted their fate.

Before the intern gravedigger detail could close the lids and begin the burials, Chris stepped forward with two radio handsets. Handing one to each girl, he said, “Most of the other campers will have their teammates cheering them on, so because I’m such a nice guy, I’ll give you these handsets so you can talk to each other while you’re waiting to pass out. Of course, if you talk too much, you might use up your oxygen faster.”

Leaving the burial detail to its work, Chris led the remaining campers inland. Their course happened to take them past the cleft where Katie and Sadie had spent the night that they had thought might be their last in the Vale of Tears, and Chris remarked on this. From there, he led his charges to a cave where an intern was standing by. This cave was literally within rock-throwing range of the cleft, and the campers saw that not even Chris McLean could outdo Lady Luck’s capacity for cruelty; for in that cave, the Siamese campers could have sheltered in relative safety if they had but seen it.

With an expectant grin, Chris said, “Eva’s afraid of the dark, so she’s going to go spelunking. If she dares.”

The redshirt gave Eva a stopwatch, a GPS tracker, and a miner’s hardhat with an electric headlamp. Chris then said, “You need to stay in the cave for an hour, far enough in that you can’t see light from the entrance. If you can do that, you’ll get a point for your team.

Eva looked to her teammates and said, “I can do this.” Her only show of emotion was a faint but perceptible smile, seemingly meant to assure her teammates. On the inside, though, she was positively giddy, at least by her standards, for it seemed that Chris had misjudged her phobia. The steel maiden entered the cave, confident that the light of her headlamp would be enough to keep her fear at bay.

Chris led his dwindling band back to camp. When they were safely out of earshot from the cave, Noah voiced his suspicions. “Chris?”

“Yo, bro?”

“If I’m not mistaken, and I rarely am, Iron Woman’s cave crawl doesn’t really test her phobia. Sure, she’s afraid of the dark, but she didn’t have any trouble at the campfire.” A murmur of agreement ran through the throng, for in truth this seeming contradiction hadn’t occurred to anyone else.

“Oh, yeah. My bad,” the host replied.

“So, what’s the catch?” the bookworm prompted. “Surely there is one.”

“Don’t call me ‘Shirley’,” Chris replied inevitably, and only then deigned to answer the question. “But you get a gold star, dude. Eva’s supposed to stay in the cave for an hour, but what she doesn’t know—actually, she might have noticed by now—is that her lamp battery will only last about ten minutes.”

Izzy said, “Oh, that’s nasty. I love it. But how will she know when her hour is up if she can’t read the stopwatch?”

“She probably won’t,” Chris admitted, “but that’s not her real test. Her real test is, what will she do when she realizes that her battery’s about to die? Will she tough it out and wait for someone to come get her, or will she make tracks for the exit?”

Tyler smiled and said, “I like those odds. She won’t let us down.”

The next stop was the confessional outhouse. “Noah,” Chris called. “It’s time for your first confessional spot of the season.” With an expectant grin, the host added, “Your nice, long confessional spot.”

“How long are we talking about?” the bookworm asked, doing his best to appear indifferent.

“To be honest, I’m not really sure. Let’s just say that I expect you to make up for lost time.”

Leaving Noah to his test, Chris led the campers to the communal washroom. With everyone arrayed around the entrance, he opened the door to reveal that the common area had been converted to a makeshift salon featuring a remarkably large number of mirrors.

“Lindsay and Sadie have a thing about bad haircuts,” Chris declaimed, partly to remind the viewing audience and partly to instill in the two victims a sense of impending doom. “That’s why we’re here at the Wawanakwa Beauty Parlor. Lindsay, your test is to give Sadie a bad haircut. Sadie, you’re probably wondering what’s with all the mirrors.” Getting no response, the host explained, “The mirrors are there because your test is to watch Lindsay work.”

Heather, for whom beauty was serious business, shook her head and said, “That’s low, Chris, even for you.” As the host opened his mouth to respond, the dragon girl hurriedly added, “And no, that’s not a compliment, so don’t try to twist it into one.”

Chris gave an approving nod and replied, “It looks like we think the same way, Heather.”

“That should scare you,” Duncan suggested to the queen bee.

It kind of does, Heather thought, although she said nothing.


.

Zekey’s Choice

As Lindsay and Sadie entered the Wawanakwa Beauty Parlor to do what they must, Chris said to the remaining campers, “Justin, Izzy, Ezekiel, you’re with me. Everyone else, back to the amphitheater. I’ll be there in a bit. No side trips.”

On the way back to the amphitheater, a buzz of worried conversation hung over the campers like flies over a carcass. Considering the nature of Ezekiel’s confessed fear, the fact that Chris had called away two other campers with the prairie boy did not bode well. It seemed odd, though, if that was Chris’ purpose, since neither Justin nor Izzy had faced their own fears yet.

“What do you think Chris will make them do?” Beth asked, not that she really expected anyone to have any more insight than she did.

“Maybe he’ll make Justin kiss Izzy,” Duncan quipped.

“Why would that be so bad?” Beth asked. “Justin said he was afraid of having to kiss an ugly girl, but Izzy’s not ugly.”

“No, for that he’d have made Justin kiss Gwen,” Heather sniped. “He still might, but whatever. Izzy’s not ugly, but she’s not gorgeous, either. Hunkie McHottie didn’t say ‘ugly’, he said ‘ungorgeous’. There might be a difference.”

“I know,” Tyler offered with a grin, trying to lighten the mood. “Izzy’s afraid of flying, so maybe Chris will make them join the Mile High Club.”

“Good one, Ty,” Leshawna said with a smile as she swatted Red Jock lightly on his butt. “That actually sounds like something Chris would do when he’s not trying to kill us. ‘Good for ratings’ and all that.”

Heather said, “What I don’t get is where Homeschool’s test fits in. Having to choose between someone on his own team and someone on the other team, or having to choose between a boy and a girl, might make it easier for him. That’s not like Chris at all. But it’s got to have something to do with Justin’s and Izzy’s tests, otherwise why wouldn’t he have waited until their tests were done? Unless he makes them do their ‘Mile High Club’ thing and then—”

Heather said no more, for a large brown hand clapped over her mouth to prevent it. “Sorry, Heather,” D.J. said, “but if you were going to say something that Chris wasn’t already planning, we don’t want to give him ideas. That’s what got us into this mess in the first place.” Heather nodded silently, belatedly realizing what she had been about to do, and the gentle giant released her.


“Okay, let’s see what we can do,” Lindsay said rhetorically, as she inspected the supplies and equipment that had been provided for her trial whilst Sadie sat in the chair and steeled herself for this ordeal as best she might. Although Lindsay’s brain would make a blueberry seem vast and majestic by comparison, the former blonde was something of an idiot savant when it came to matters of beauty, so Sadie insisted to herself that she was in good hands. Still, the butterball couldn’t help but squirm in anticipation as her hairdresser plotted her course.

“Oh, my gosh,” Sadie suddenly cried. “I can’t do this!”

“What’s wrong?” Lindsay asked.

“If I get a haircut, I won’t match Katie anymore!” Sadie explained desperately. “And I can’t make her get a bad one too! What kind of friend would do that?”

This terrible prospect hadn’t occurred to Lindsay, although she was well aware of Katie and Sadie’s co-dependency. “Let me think about this,” the uberbimbo said, gesturing for her friend and ally to calm down. “There’s got to be a way to have our kale and eat it too.”

Her brow furrowed in concentration, Lindsay turned her attention back to the tonsorial tools she had been given. “Yes!” she cried.

Sadie turned to see Lindsay triumphantly holding out a hand full of hair. “Extensions!” the uberbimbo declared. “With these, I can do what Killer wants me to, and then undo it later! You’ll still match Carrie!”

Heather, in particular, would have been glad that she wasn’t present as Sadie and Lindsay squealed in delight.


The main body of campers reached the amphitheater without further incident and chatted idly as they waited for their sadistic host to return. When he did so, Chris called Tyler to the stage and said, with an expectant grin and loudly enough for everyone to hear, “Tyler, I’m told that you have a thing about chickens.” Even as the host spoke, an intern brought out a small wire cage containing a bantam rooster. The redshirt opened the cage and withdrew, whereupon the rooster emerged and began strutting about the stage like it owned the world.

Chris then declared Tyler’s trial by ordeal. “I want you to put that chicken back in its cage.” The host then stepped back, careful to remain in the camera’s field of view.

As Red Jock warily eyed his nemesis, Beth called out, “You can do it, Ty!”

Almost a minute later, it was looking as though Beth had spoken falsely, that Tyler would not in fact be able to do it. The jock of all trades had broken a cold sweat, but had not been able to make more than the most hesitant approaches to his quarry.

Chris warned Tyler that he would lose the point if he didn’t do something soon, but Tyler still could not bring himself to approach the rooster more closely.

Just as the host was about to give the second and final warning, D.J. called, “This is pathetic, dude! Get in the game!” Then a thought struck the brickhouse, and he added, “Don’t think of it as a chicken, think of it as a game opponent who happens to be the favorite. Being the underdog doesn’t mean that you can’t beat him.”

This new perspective seemed to be what Tyler needed. He took a deep breath and began to walk toward the little rooster—not confidently, but with grim determination. The bantam, for its part, watched his approach with what looked like mild interest.

As Tyler drew closer and the bantam stood idly by, the jock of all trades began to feel better about this test. Now close enough to pick up the rooster, he stooped over and reached down to do so.

The rooster lashed out with its feet, and steel glinted in the morning light. With a cry of alarm, Tyler lurched back, stumbled and fell. The back of his head hit the floorboards, and he was out like a light, bleeding from a cut on his hand.

“Holy crap, it’s a fighting cock!” Duncan cried in disbelief, only now noticing the razor blades affixed to the gamecock’s spurs. The delinquent had never seen a cockfight, but he had heard from sources he considered reliable that gamecocks are often armed with razor blades, small knives or suchlike to make the fights bloodier. Tyler could well attest to the effectiveness of that ploy, or would be able to when he regained consciousness. The very idea of cockfighting was too much for D.J, who looked like he was about to faint. Or barf. Or both.

Leshawna glared at Chris and asked, “Blood sports? Isn’t anything beneath you?”

Heather gave the host an equally frosty glare and declared, “For once, I agree with her.”

Chris shrugged his shoulders and said, “A little blood never hurt the ratings. Surprises are good for ratings, too. Besides, what are you complaining about? The Muskies didn’t get the point, bras.”

The reminder that her team wasn’t the one hurt was enough to silence Heather, but Leshawna was more righteous and less easily appeased. “That’s not the point,” the homegirl shot back. “The point is, what kind of company do you keep that you can get a fighting cock?”

Chris replied, “If you want to get ahead in show biz, sometimes you have to get your hands dirty. Someone at the studio knows some people who know some people… I’d tell you all about it, but it’s kind of boring and we’re on a schedule anyway.”


At the outhouse, Noah was still trying to summon the courage to enter. There’s no reason to be afraid, he told himself. Of course, there isn’t, a nagging voice at the back of his mind insisted. That’s the nature of phobias.

Yet again, Noah tried to steel himself for his ordeal. If he could just force himself across the threshold, that would be half the battle. Once inside, he had to remain there for a long time according to Chris, but Noah didn’t see that as a problem. If he could handle three minutes, then he could handle 30; but could he last for three?

After two more false starts, the bookworm finally succeeded in entering the confessional outhouse for the first time since his arrival on the island.


At the amphitheater, an intern brought out another cage containing a fair-sized snake. The redshirt set the cage down, opened it from behind, and hastily withdrew. The snake then obligingly slithered out onto the stage to bask in the morning sun.

Now that the campers could get a good look at the serpent, they saw that it was nearly a meter long and sported a diamond-like pattern on its orange and brown back. It also had a noticeably triangular head.

Cody, who’d had an interest in animals when he was younger, largely coinciding with his time in the Possum Scouts, knew what that head shape meant. “A pit viper,” he said, shaking his head.

“You mean it’s poisonous?” Heather asked in disbelief.

“Venomous, actually, but yeah,” the former Possum Scout replied.

Leshawna overheard this conversation, and was as appalled as Heather. “So D.J. thinks this is an ordinary snake, but it’s actually something that could kill him?”

“Well, he’s huge, so it probably wouldn’t kill him; but depending on what type it is, it could put him in a world of hurt. I don’t recognize this species.”

“There’s one way to find out,” Leshawna declared. She then called out, “Hey, Chris, what kind of snake is this?”

“I’m glad you asked,” the host replied. “This is the deadly Carolina copperhead!”

D.J., with a quaver in his voice, turned to Chris and asked, “Did you say… ‘deadly’?”

“That’s right, bro. It’s got the deadliest, nastiest, flesh-rottingest venom in the world. One bite, and you’ll be curling up your toes in a couple of minutes. Lost a couple of interns. And I want you to pick it up and put it back in its cage.”

“Chris is just messing with him,” the visibly relieved Cody assured his lady friends, keeping his voice down to ensure that D.J.—who was, after all, on the opposing team—could not hear. “I’ve heard of copperheads. Yes, they’re venomous, but their venom is actually kind of weak. In fact, I’ve heard that people who get bitten by a copperhead usually won’t be given an antidote because it’s not worth the risk of an allergic reaction to the antivenin. Copperheads have killed people, but it’s pretty rare.”

“So you’re saying that it looks a lot nastier than it really is?” Leshawna prompted hopefully, and likewise in hushed tone.

“Like D.J.?” Heather chimed in.

“Pretty much,” Cody affirmed. “I’ve also heard that copperheads are pretty chill—”

“Like D.J.?” Leshawna suggested.

“You got it, bra,” Cody affirmed. “That’s why snake-handling cults like them. That and the weak venom.”

D.J., of course, heard none of this. For all he knew, his life could indeed be in mortal peril. After all, this was Chris McLean he was dealing with.

The gentle giant stopped short. This is Chris McLean I’m dealing with.

The host had gained a reputation among his charges for playing fast and loose with the truth when it suited him. Besides, this challenge was supposed to be about phobias, so it didn't really make sense to set tests that reasonable people would be afraid of. That was enough to convince D.J. that Chris was pulling his leg. This didn’t mean that the soft-hearted brickhouse’s test had suddenly become easy, for he was still facing a snake and he was still afraid of snakes, but at least he probably wasn’t in serious danger.

Tyler’s gamecock was still strutting about the stage, and the sunning serpent eventually noticed it. As D.J. began to cautiously approach the snake, the rooster happened to pass between them, right in front of the viper’s nose.

The serpent struck.

D.J. grieved from the bottom of his heart as the mortally wounded gamecock thrashed out its life on the stage. He understood that tableaus such as this were part of the natural order—the “circle of life”, if you will—but that didn’t make it any less painful to watch.

Seeing that the gentle giant was just standing there, Chris warned, “Dude, you’ve got to do something or you’ll lose the point.”

“Just a couple of minutes,” D.J. pleaded. “I have a plan.”

His curiosity aroused, the host answered, “You got it, bro.”

The snake inspected the late gamecock and, satisfied that the bird was small enough to swallow, undertook to do just that. When the serpent was committed to its course (for a snake swallowing prey can’t disengage after a certain point), D.J. calmly knelt down and removed the razor blades from the rooster’s spurs lest they harm the snake. He then picked up the snake and its prize, shuddering visibly at the first touch of that scaly serpentine skin, and returned the viper to its cage with all deliberate speed.

“There you go, buddy,” the kindhearted brickhouse said as he closed the cage door. “Enjoy your dinner.”

“And D.J. comes through for the Muskies!” Chris announced grandly.


Eva sat in the cave, shaking violently in total darkness. Unable to take any more, she flicked on her headlamp and checked her stopwatch. Thirty-four minutes to go. She took a few deep breaths to calm herself, meanwhile looking around her and committing to memory what details she could, especially those that lay in the direction of the exit. Then, bracing herself for the ordeal to come, she closed her eyes and turned off her lamp.

Eva had repeated this cycle thrice now. When she had first noticed that her headlamp was dimming, and she saw that Chris had not misjudged her phobia after all, the musclegirl had instinctively turned back to the exit and the safety of the light. She quickly checked herself, though, for she was determined to not let her team down.

That still left the problem of how she was going to last an hour, let alone find her way out afterward. She was one of the less social and photogenic campers in the game, and she suspected that Chris might not be above letting her rot in this tomblike place for the sake of keeping a more ratings-friendly contestant in the game longer.

Eva decided that her best chance was to “ration” her light, much as she would ration a limited water supply if she were stranded in the desert. This had the added benefit of allowing her lamp battery to refresh slightly—all too slightly, but better than nothing—during each cycle, thereby improving her chances of getting out of the cave on her own when her test was done.


At the amphitheater, the interns took the feeding snake backstage and wheeled out an unidentifiable contraption. Cameron then brought Chris an absurdly huge book, visibly straining under this weighty tome because the Ghandiesque little intern was weak and frail. Indeed, given the mortality rate amongst the redshirts, it was something of a mystery how the little guy had managed to survive. He probably had a more physically gifted crewmate looking out for him.

Chris called Cody to the stage.

“Cody,” the host declaimed, “You freak out under time pressure, right?”

“Yeah, I guess so,” the science geek replied nervously.

“That,” Chris said, gesturing to the contraption, “is a live bomb set to go off in half an hour, and this,” he added, handing Cody the huge book, “will tell you everything you need to know to disarm it. I hope you’re not a slow reader.”

“You’ve got to be kidding! I can’t do this!” the science geek protested.

“Then I’d suggest that you find a place to hide,” Chris replied. “Because when that bomb goes off, you’re going to be feeling mighty blue. That’s a paint bomb, and it’ll cover you with that indelible blue paint that banks use to thwart robbers by making the money useless.”

Heather called from the stands, “What about the rest of us? I am not getting paint on me!”

“You’re far enough away that you should be safe,” Chris assured her. “I think. We haven’t actually tested the blast radius. Whatever, you have to stay here and watch.” With an expectant grin, the sadistic host added, “More pressure that way.

“Later, dudes and dudettes! I’m sure it’ll be a blast, but I’ve got things to do, places to go and people to see. Good luck, Cody. You’re going to need it.”

Leaving Cody to his work, Chris left the amphitheater. Sending his attending interns away on certain errands, Chris went to the place where Gwen and Katie were buried. When he tuned his handset in to their frequency, he could hear that both girls were still conscious and trying to pass the time with awkward small talk. It was now well past the half hour that it would normally have taken them to pass out, but Chris had conveniently neglected to tell them that their coffins came with a supply of “scrubbers”—chemicals that absorb carbon dioxide from the air—to delay the CO2 buildup and thereby prolong their torment.

When the interns returned from their errands, Chris dismissed them and then spoke into his handset. “May I have your attention, please?”

When the girls had dutifully fallen silent, the host said, “I imagine that the air in there’s getting pretty stuffy by now, but I’ve decided that we don’t need to wait for you to pass out after all. It’s been long enough, and you seem calm enough, that I’m satisfied you’ve both passed your tests. Score two points for the Screaming Eagles!”

“Yes!” Katie cried.

Gwen cried, “Eagles rule!”

“And so…” Chris declared with a wicked grin that the girls perforce could not see, “Ezekiel’s here to dig one of you out! Assuming, of course, that he doesn’t take too long to decide who…” The sadistic host turned his handset away from his ear just in time to avoid being deafened when Gwen and Katie’s stunned silence gave way to twin screeches of alarm and outrage.

This outburst left the girls panting for breath, for their air was indeed getting stuffy, and Chris applied the crowning blow. “The real reason why I gave you those handsets is so Ezekiel can hear you if either of you want to beg for your lives.”

Gwen all but screamed, “Chris, you can’t be serious! Death-defying stunts are one thing, but this is outright murder!”

Ezekiel, whom Chris had sent the interns to summon, shook his head in disbelief and tried to ignore the knot in his stomach. He had guessed whom he would have to choose between when the interns led him to this place and he saw a single shovel between Gwen’s and Katie’s “graves”, but that foreknowledge didn’t make it any easier. He found himself wondering if he had really survived that dive into shark-infested waters, or if the Deceiver had arranged all this as punishment for some long-forgotten and unrepented sin.

As the Goth paused again to catch her breath, Chris handed the radio to Ezekiel and silently motioned for him to speak. Ezekiel glumly took the handset, took a deep breath and steeled himself.

“I’m sorry,” the prairie boy said, not even trying to keep his voice steady. “I should never have confessed that. God forgive me.”

Chris could well imagine the looks on the girls’ faces when Gwen said, her voice scarcely above a whisper, “Oh, my God, it’s true.” In the same crushed tone, Katie said, as if to herself, “Will I have to leave Sadie behind after all?

As desperation got the better of Gwen and Katie and they began to plead for the salvation that only Ezekiel could now give them, the homeschooled lad saw one hope, however forlorn. If he conceded to Chris that this test was beyond him and threw himself at the mercy of the proverbial court, then perhaps Chris would have the redshirts dig both girls out. Gwen was right; letting one of them die under these circumstances would be murder, plain and simple, and using a simple farm boy as a pawn didn’t change that. Ezekiel decided that he would even accept summary elimination from the game if that was what it took to appease this demon in the shape of a man.

With equal parts desperation and grim resolve, Ezekiel turned to Chris to make his plea, only to find that the host had departed. Ezekiel was alone on the lakeshore.

The hour was growing late, so Brett’s mother left off her tale and suggested that he prepare for bed.


.

Twelfth Night

The next day was not a school day, so Brett and his mother spent the day engaged in their own affairs. Brett had no homework, having dealt with it the day before; so that night, after he and his mother had dined, he asked to hear more about her experience on Total Drama Island.  Brett sat in his favorite chair, and his mother sat on the sofa. She took a few moments to collect her thoughts, and then she began to speak.


As Gwen and Katie pled ever more desperately for their lives, Gwen remembered a tidbit from a Mythology class. Eris, the Goddess of Discord, had been the only goddess not invited to a wedding between the sea nymph Thetis and the mortal king Peleus, and so took her revenge by inscribing one of the fabled Golden Apples of the Hesperides with the words, “for the fairest”, and tossing it into the assembly. Naturally, every goddess present laid claim to the apple, but it didn’t take long for three “finalists” to emerge: Hera, Athena and Aphrodite. These three appealed to Zeus to settle the dispute, but the lord of gods and men would have none of it. Instead of trying to decide between his wife, a favorite daughter and the Goddess of Love, the wily Zeus referred this no-win choice to a mortal, Paris, son of King Priam of Troy. The Judgment of Paris would prove to be one of the pivotal events leading to the legendary Trojan War.

No mere mortal could possibly have said that one of these divinities was more beautiful than the others, for all three possessed overwhelming beauty by mortal standards. The goddesses surely realized this, for they wasted no time in offering Paris bribes so lavish that only an immortal could make good on them; and it was in this way that the son of Priam was able to make a choice.

Gwen thought of this, and realized that both she and Katie had been avoiding contact with Ezekiel, so he probably didn’t know either of them well enough to make a choice based on how well he liked them. Gwen thus offered the prairie boy a bribe for her safety, offering to split with him any prize money that she might win from this hellish game.

That opened the floodgates. Although Katie’s mind wasn’t as sharp as Gwen’s under the best of conditions, and she was now feeling the urge to succumb to sleep, the Thin Twin was not so dense nor so far gone that she could not see the danger of leaving Gwen’s offer unchallenged. The swift and inevitable result was a bidding war.

Chris had not truly left the burial site. He was, in fact, quite near at hand, sitting behind a large rock so that Ezekiel could not see him. Having given the farm boy his own handset, Chris had commandeered another from one of his attending interns before he dismissed them, and he was now using it to listen to Gwen and Katie bid for their lives.

Katie was now on the verge of unconsciousness, once more bitten in the behind by her high metabolism. With nothing left to lose, she finally made the ultimate in ratings-friendly offers. “Please, ‘Zekiel…” she gasped. “If you… If you save me, I’ll… I’ll boink you.”

Gwen quickly matched Katie’s offer, for she thought it would be suicidal not to. Forgive me, Trent, she thought dejectedly, although she dared not say it aloud.

When Chris heard the girls bartering their bodies, which quickly escalated to the point where both had promised to essentially become Ezekiel’s love slave for the whole summer if he would but bring them back to the light of day, the host’s little black heart was made glad. Chris had no illusions that the clean-living farm boy would actually try to hold a girl to such a pledge, but the ratings-obsessed host thought that merely have an offer of sexual favors on the table would titillate the viewing audience (at least that portion old enough to understand) and would therefore be good for ratings.


At the amphitheater, Cody was making good progress, but he had begun to feel the pressure. The huge instruction manual he had been given was mostly for show, as all the relevant information was contained in only a few pages. That section was well past the book’s midpoint, but a Table of Contents had guided Cody to the spot.

The science geek tended to have trouble concentrating when under time pressure, and so it was now. As he became increasingly flustered, his mind began to wander, and it wasn’t long before he found himself wondering how Gwen was doing. He didn’t doubt that she was holding up bravely, for she was a “roll with the punches” type given to quiet perseverance. Cody admired that about Gwen. Of course, he admired pretty much everything about Gwen, for such is the nature of infatuation.

Although Cody would rather have been able to stay with Gwen to help her through her ordeal, he took comfort in the fact that she was not facing it alone—and no less importantly, that the person with her posed no threat to Cody’s romantic designs. As Cody continued to work distractedly on his task, he idly wondered how Katie was holding up, buried alongside his gorgeous Gothic goddess…

Cody dropped his tool. “Oh, my God,” he whispered. “Gwen!”

Cody leapt to his feet and dashed off the stage as if the devil himself were at his heels. “GWEN!” he screamed, although she could not possibly have heard him.

“Cody, get back here!” Heather demanded. “You’re not done!” The science geek paid her no heed, and was soon lost to view.

“What’s up with him?” Leshawna asked rhetorically. “He looked like he saw a ghost.”

As the campers speculated on the reasons for the science geek’s abrupt departure, D.J. was the first to guess the truth. “Homeschool,” he said. “Cody thinks that Chris is going to make Homeschool choose between Gwen and Katie; and if that’s the case, then my money’s on Katie.”

D.J. was half right. As Gwen had suspected, Ezekiel did not know her or Katie well enough to choose between them on their own merits. What these girls could not have known, though, was that their bidding war had merely paralyzed Ezekiel further; for these bribes were the only way he had to choose, but he knew all too well that they were being made under extreme duress, so he thought it unseemly to consider them. This was especially true with the carnal offers, for Bible Boy regarded sex outside of marriage as sinful. He did not think less of Gwen or Katie for trying to tempt him, though, for he could well guess how desperate they were.

When Ezekiel realized that Katie had fallen silent, presumably having passed out, he was finally able to make his terrible choice by telling himself that it was too late for her. Insisting to himself that only Gwen could still be saved, he stood on her “grave” and began to dig furiously, making rapid progress through the loose soil.

Chris watched Ezekiel’s frantic labor and thought, This is awesome television!

GWEN!” came a distant cry. It repeated moments later, noticeably closer.

Chris smirked as he changed the channel on his handset and placed a call.

“Quartermaster’s. Scott here,” replied a high-pitched, nasal male voice.

Still smirking, Chris said, “Scotty, we need another shovel at the burial test. Cody’s early.”

“Comin’ right up.”

The finished episode spliced in a confessional spot at this point, wherein a smugly grinning Chris McLean declared, “I can play these kids like Courtney plays her violin.”


Izzy’s test was not, in fact, related to Ezekiel’ or Justin’s. Because the demented redhead had confessed that she was afraid of flying, Chef Hatchet took her aloft in a ramshackle light plane that looked like it could fall apart at any moment. Numerous patches on the fabric were plainly visible, and Izzy did not fail to notice them.

Even under normal conditions, flying in a light plane is not the event-free experience that commercial air travel has largely become, and it’s that much more traumatic for a white-knuckle flier like Izzy. But when a patch on one wing tore loose, exposing a large rip in the fabric, Izzy knew fear as if experiencing it for the first time.

When the plane touched down after a half hour or so in flight, Izzy breathed a deep sigh of relief. Something seemed wrong, though. After a moment of confusion, she noticed that her seat was warm and wet.  With a cry of disgust, she realized that she had soiled herself in her terror, probably when the patch tore away from the plane’s wing. When the plane came to a halt, the irritated redhead wrapped an emergency thermal blanket around her waist and waddled off to the washroom to empty her panties.

Fortunately for all concerned, Lindsay and Sadie were no longer there. They had staggered out of the washroom a few minutes before—pale and shaking, but confident that they had done what Chris had demanded of them.


When Cody reached Chris, the host was calmly watching Ezekiel dig. “So, Cody,” Chris asked in a conversational tone, “were you able—”

A muffled explosion sounded from the direction of the amphitheater. “Guess not,” Chris observed with a shake of his head. “That could end up biting your team, dude.”

“Is Gwen going to be okay?” Cody asked desperately. He could see Ezekiel digging, but in the stress of the moment he couldn’t remember who was in which “grave”.

“That’ll depend on how fast Ezekiel digs her out… but yeah, it looks like she’s going to be okay. Things aren’t looking good for Katie, though. I’d hate to lose her. Word on the blogs is that the camping challenge made her and Sadie overnight fan favorites.”

“Are you going to have someone dig her out, then?” Cody asked, trying to keep his rising anger in check. He sensed—he hoped—that Chris was merely trying to bait him, and Cody didn’t want to give the sadistic host the satisfaction of seeing him lose his cool on camera.

“Who’d have thought?” Chris mused, as if he hadn’t heard Cody’s question. “I figured they’d both be early outs and the fans would be like, ‘Good riddance.’”

“Is somebody going to dig Katie out?” Cody asked in exasperation.

“That’s why you’re here, isn’t it, bro? Noah will really owe you one.”

“Me? I don’t have anything to dig with! What am I supposed to use, my bare hands?”

“Well,” the host replied with a shrug, “I don’t have anything either, so I guess we’re out of luck.”

As Cody began to despair, Chris looked toward the camp and said, “Or not.” He had spotted Lightning approaching at a jog with shovel in hand.

When Lightning reached them, he tossed the shovel to Cody and said, “Here you go, kid. Time to score some lady brownie points. Hot sha-diggity dang!” The ripped ebon warrior then returned from whence he came.

No sooner did Cody have the shovel in hand than he rushed to join Ezekiel. When the country bumpkin saw that he was no longer alone, he gave an immense sigh of relief and said, “Thank goodness you’re here! You can finish with Gwen, eh? I need to start with Katie if she’s going to have any chance.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Cody agreed.  “Good luck.” As he began to dig as fast as he was able, he muttered under his breath, “Hang on, Gwen. I’m coming.”

Now with a chance to have his proverbial cake and eat it too, Ezekiel dug with renewed vigor, sparing occasional quick glances to check Cody’s progress. Gwen’s would-be knight in shining armor was not an especially strong digger, but he was highly motivated and Ezekiel had already done much of the work.

Chris left the boys to their work, for he wanted to check on some of the other campers and he felt that he’d seen everything he needed to at the burial ground. Scarcely had he left when he encountered the other campers who had been at the amphitheater. After Cody’s abrupt departure, they had seen no reason to stay and possibly get painted when the bomb went off; and they were worried about their colleagues.

Seeing what was happening at the lakeshore, D.J. offered to take over for Cody. The gentle giant quite reasonably assumed that he would be able to dig faster and longer than the science geek.

“You’re kidding, right?” Chris replied. “Gwen will think that she seriously owes whoever digs her out, and you want to take that away from Cody? Knowing how hot he is for her? You’d have to pry that shovel out of his cold, dead fingers.”

“You can’t expect us to just stand here and watch!” D.J. protested.

“No, I expect you to come with me,” Chris explained. “We have some other campers to check on.”

“But what about Katie and Gwen?” Beth asked.

“What about them?” the host asked in turn, clearly enjoying the situation. “They look like they’re going to be all right.” As the worried teens reluctantly turned to follow their sadistic overlord, he added, “Probably.”

Chris led his entourage to Eva’s cave. The attending intern informed them that the steel maiden had not come out, and despite some movement had remained deep enough in the cave to satisfy the conditions of her trial. Only four minutes remained in that trial, and Chris was eager to see how much Eva had suffered, so the sadistic host decided to stay at the cave mouth until time expired and Eva was brought out.

As the intern escorted Eva out, she turned her dying headlamp on one last time just before reaching the entrance—not because she needed it, but because she wanted to show that she had reasoned out her test instead of just toughing it out through brute force and ignorance.

Chris, naturally, was taken aback when he saw that Eva’s lamp was still functioning, if only just. “That battery was supposed to give out after 10 minutes!” he complained.

Eva replied with a smirk, “It probably would have if I’d left it on.” The musclegirl then explained how she had endured, but nothing would be gained by repeating it here.

“Impressive,” Chris said with a nod of approval. “It wasn’t quite what I expected, but you obviously managed to deal with your fear, so… point to the Muskies!”

Chris then led his charges to the washroom, only to find no one there, so he put out a call on the public address system for Lindsay and Sadie to show themselves. Chris and his entourage then went to the confessional outhouse and found Noah still there.

In response to Chris’ knock on the door, Noah emerged looking none the worse, and admitted that he had lost track of time. Chris chalked up a point for the Eagles, and Noah went on to use the confessional normally for the rest of his time on the island.

The Lord of Wawanakwa and his train returned to the washroom to find Sadie and Lindsay there in response to his summons. Lindsay was doing her best to not look at Sadie, who now sported a frizzy, visibly lopsided mullet with an enormous cowlick on her crown. Chris thus awarded Lindsay a point for the Eagles, but told Sadie that he would have to review the washroom video to verify whether she had indeed watched Lindsay create that travesty. Before departing, though, Chris told the butterball that she and Lindsay needn’t wait any longer before repairing the damage as best they might.

Lastly, Chris and the campers returned to the burial ground to find that the exhumed Gwen and Katie were alive and reasonably well, although they were just beginning to revive. When the girls were fully conscious, Chris handed down his judgment.

“Ezekiel,” the host pronounced, “It’s pretty clear that Gwen and Katie were unconscious by the time you dug them out, which means that you waited too long to make your choice. For the purposes of this challenge, they are both ‘dead’, so no point for the Muskies.

“Cody, you’re with us. Ezekiel, take your ‘victims’ to the morgue, a.k.a. the boathouse. They’ll have to stay in there until dinner.” Gwen and Katie shuddered.

When Ezekiel and his “victims” reached the boathouse, the farm boy said, “Did you want me to stay with you? Don’t take this the wrong way, but we all saw that it’s pretty spooky in there, eh?”

“I think we’ll be all right,” Gwen replied dryly. “At least we’re only ‘dead’ for the challenge, and not dead for real. I wouldn’t have put it past Chris to just let us die if you hadn’t been able to choose. He probably figures that blood’s good for ratings.”

Gwen forced down a lump in her throat, and continued. “Anyway, I understand you choosing Katie over me, so you don’t need to make it up to me. I owe Cody, though, and I have a feeling that he isn’t going to let me forget that.”

Katie, who likewise mistakenly believed that Ezekiel had chosen her over Gwen, fidgeted nervously and kept her eyes lowered so as not to meet his. “Um… Ezekiel? About those ‘favors’ I promised you…”

“Neither of you promised me anything,” Ezekiel said. “That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.”

Gwen smiled and said, “There’s hope for you, yet.”

“I know, right?” Katie seconded with a warm smile of her own, as she finally met the farm boy’s gaze. The sincere gratitude in her face was the only “repayment” Ezekiel needed, although Katie did give him a peck on the cheek for his trouble.

With that, Bible Boy returned to the main camp. When he was safely out of earshot, Gwen said, “I know this is kind of a personal question, but… if he had insisted, would you have gone through with it?”

“Well, it’s not like he could actually make us do anything,” Katie replied, then hung her head in embarrassment. “But, yeah. I probably would have. I’d have felt obligated. It’s not like he made us promise those things, and I’ve always hated girls who tease guys that way. If my mouth writes the check, my body had better be ready to cash it.”

“You’re more honorable than I am,” Gwen admitted with a shake of her head. “I’d have done just about anything to get out of it, even if I hadn’t hooked up with Trent. I’d have at least tried to be polite about it, though, since I did feel bad about having to make the offer in the first place. I don’t like girls who tease, either. I’d probably have been willing to give him a cut of my prize money, if I get any, but not the percentages we were offering.”

With that, Gwen and Katie shared a quick hug. Then they swallowed hard and retired to the boathouse for the afternoon.

As the light began to fail, the campers eagerly filed into the lodge for dinner. They never thought they would see the day that they actually looked forward to a Hatchet-cooked meal; but it had been a difficult day, the hour was late, and most of them were starving. Hatchet’s cooking might be unappetizing, but at least it was edible (if sometimes only just).

The teens were puzzled to see that neither Chris nor Chef Hatchet were present, and the serving counter had nothing ready to be slopped onto their plates. How long were they going to have to wait?

With nothing better to do, the campers fell to discussing the challenge results, and whose heads might be on the chopping block if their teams lost. The Eagles had rallied from an early 3-0 deficit; and with Chris’ announcement that Sadie had indeed passed her test, the teams were now tied (or so they thought) with only Courtney’s and Justin’s results still unknown. Come to mention it, no one had seen Courtney since breakfast, although Justin was in the lodge with the others. When asked how his trial had gone, he refused to discuss it, which didn’t fill his fellow Eagles with confidence. During one of these refusals, his glance chanced to fall on Beth, and he shuddered. If anyone else noticed this, or knew what to make of it, they gave no sign.

At one point, Gwen motioned to Alejandro, who was in the lodge to help with preparations for the evening meal. Although the Goth had forgiven Cody for his role in Trent’s ouster, she had not forgotten, and she was tired of the science geek’s constant attempts to flirt with her. To make matters worse, she now appeared to be in his debt, which might further embolden him. Why, oh, why did he have to be the one to dig me out? Gwen lamented silently.

“Can I help you, senorita?” Alejandro inquired politely.

“I was just thinking about the challenge, and I was wondering. If Cody hadn’t come to dig me out, Chris would have had you guys do it… right?”

“I would like to think so,” the well-spoken Latino replied, “but I must be candid. I think it was wise of Cody to not take that chance.” Of course, it was really Katie who was now in Cody’s debt, for Ezekiel had chosen Gwen, as has been told of before; but neither Gwen nor Alejandro knew that.

Gwen sighed. While Alejandro’s answer hadn’t come as a surprise, it wasn’t the answer she had been hoping for.

At long last, Chris entered. After calling for quiet, he announced that Justin had failed his challenge. Reiterating that Justin’s phobia was physical intimacy with people who did not meet his standards of “gorgeosity”, the host stated that Justin had been charged to make a successful PG-rated “seduction” of Beth, including plenty of kissing, and to make people believe that he meant it.

“Justin,” Chris sniffed in a tut-tutting tone, “refused even to try. His exact words were, and I quote, ‘Beth? But she’s hideous!’”

That got most of the girls staring daggers at the Incredible Hunk, who suddenly seemed a good deal less desirable to them. Beth was mousy and plain, but by no means ugly. Eva said, “He’s worse than Homeschool.”

Justin, as one might suppose, was not pleased at having his dirty laundry aired so publicly. “He’s lying! You know how Chris is,” Justin protested desperately.

“Do you want me to play the tape?” Chris asked with a “gotcha” look at the uberhunk.

Justin knew when he was beaten. “No, that won’t be necessary,” he replied with resignation. He then muttered under his breath, “Way to turn the mob against me, McLean.”

“And so,” Chris continued, ignoring the angry hunk, “That leaves the Eagles ahead by one point, with—“

What?” the Muskies cried, almost in unison. “We should be tied!”

Au contraire,” Chris, corrected, motioning again for quiet. “Izzy didn’t pass her test, because she crapped her panties during her flight.”

“Eww, gross!” the campers exclaimed, along with many other things in like vein, and Chris once again had to call for order. Izzy, who naturally didn’t like having her (literally) dirty laundry aired in this way, was now staring broadswords at the host.

With order restored, Chris continued. “If she had waited until after, like Beth, she would have passed. So to speak.” Chris and Chef Hatchet, who had by now emerged from the kitchen, chuckled at the host’s wordplay. The campers were less amused, since the mirth was at the expense of one of their own.

“Anywho,” Chris continued, “Courtney never confessed a phobia, but she didn’t have to. We happen to know that she has a particular aversion to green Jell-O. Which brings us to tonight’s menu, and the deciding trial,” McLean added enigmatically.

“Tonight’s dinner special,” Hatchet announced dramatically, “is Jell-O C.I.T.” With that, Hatchet disappeared into the kitchen.

Whilst Hatchet made whatever preparations were in order, the campers asked each other, “What the heck does that mean?” Did she have to prepare their dinner? That didn’t really seem to be on a par with what most of them had gone through that day.

Duncan suggested, “Maybe she’s going to be our serving wench.” With a leer, he added, “Mmm, entrée and dessert.” That earned him icy glares from a few of the girls.

“Get your mind out of the gutter,” Eva snapped. “If you weren’t teammates, Courtney wouldn’t give you the time of day. For that matter, neither would I.”

Duncan’s lechery aside, the campers were in some agreement that making Courtney serve up her phobia object to everyone else, in addition to eating it herself, might be a reasonable trial, insofar as the word “reasonable” could describe anything connected with their sadistic host and his sometimes-psychotic aide.

Hatchet presently emerged from the kitchen, pushing a cart with a long object draped in a tablecloth. With a flourish, he pulled off the cloth to reveal the mysterious meal.

The long object turned out to be the Plexiglas coffin that had seen so much use that day. It had been a spider city, it had been Gwen’s tomb, and it was now an enormous serving dish filled with green Jell-O.

Suspended within, arms folded across her belly, lay Courtney.


.

The Sum of All Fears

“Oh, my gosh, you’ve killed her,” Beth exclaimed softly, unable to believe her eyes.

In another reality, Beth would have been laughed out of the lodge for such a thought. Not here, though. The campers had all seen Chris’ callous disregard for human life, so Beth’s assessment seemed all too plausible.

“Now, Beth,” Chris replied with a show of theatrical indignation, “I’m hurt. Do you really think I would do something like that?”

“Yes,” the campers replied with one voice.

“I’m making you all into celebrities, and this is the thanks I get,” McLean clucked, shaking his head. “I mean, come on! Why would I kill you when torturing you is so much more fun?” he asked in a cheery tone that made most of the teens want to push his face in.

“For ratings?” Hatchet suggested unhelpfully.

“Hmm, that’s a good point,” Chris acknowledged with a show of considering something he hadn’t before, as the teens silently cursed Hatchet for giving their sadistic overlord ideas.

“Now, once they’ve been eliminated,” Hatchet added, with his own show of contemplation, “they wouldn’t be useful anymore, so you could kill them then, if you wanted. Get the ratings ‘blood boost’ that way.”

“Chef, I knew I hired you for a reason,” Chris offered with far too much cheer.

Tiring of this game, the campers approached the coffin. Inspecting it more closely, they were relieved to discover that the producers had, indeed, made arrangements to keep Courtney alive. In addition to her normal clothing, she wore swimming goggles and nose plugs. In her mouth was a snorkel, the end of which protruded through a hole in the end of the coffin. Through the snorkel, the campers could hear that Courtney’s breathing was slow and regular, and through her goggles they could see that her eyes were closed. She appeared to be asleep, and some of the campers who had feared for her life mere moments before now found themselves envying her that opportunity.

“Awesome,” Beth said. “If Courtney can sleep peacefully when she’s buried in this stuff, then she must have passed. Right?”

“Nice try, but no,” Chris explained. “The reason she’s sleeping is because we sedated her so she wouldn’t move around while the Jell-O was setting. When she fell asleep, she didn’t know what her test was going to be.”

“This should be good,” Gwen said with a smirk.

The teens now noticed that Courtney wore ear buds that were hooked to a handset microphone on the outside. She was also hooked up to a heart rate monitor, although this was probably more for the viewing audience than for any need to monitor Courtney’s vitals.

Picking up the handset mike, Chris declared, “Now for the fun part.” Jiggling the end of Courtney’s snorkel, the host spoke into the microphone. “Wakey, wakey, CIT,” he prompted in a singsong tone.

Courtney’s breathing pattern changed audibly, and she began to stir. With the gelatin restricting her movements, she seemed to sense that something was wrong, and awoke with a start. As she took in her surroundings, her body stiffened and her eyes bugged. Her heart rate skyrocketed, and her breathing became rapid and shallow. There could be no doubt that she was terrified.

Her hands erupted from her semisolid shroud and grabbed the edges of the coffin. Just as she was about to haul herself out, though, which would have cost her team the point and the challenge, she caught herself. With the surface of the Jell-O mass disrupted, the others could no longer see Courtney’s eyes clearly, but her breathing pattern and the odd little noises coming through the snorkel suggested that she might have been sobbing as she slowly drew her hands back inside.

“How long does she have to stay in there?” Beth asked.

“Until the rest of you eat her out,” Chris answered with a bland smile.

With a thoughtful look, Heather asked, “So, if we don’t eat it, she just has to stay in there until she can’t take it anymore and loses the point? And the challenge?”

“Maybe,” Chris replied unhelpfully. “But like Chef said, this is dinner. If you don’t eat it, then you don’t eat.”

“What if she craps her pants, like Izzy?” Gwen asked, with a nasty feeling that she knew the answer.

“Then she loses the point, like Izzy.” As the demented redhead gave Chris another death glare, the host continued smugly, “But you heard Chef. This is dinner. If you don’t eat it, then you don’t eat.”

Another chorus of “Eww, gross!” later, Duncan asked rhetorically, “Where’s Owen when you need him?”

“Owen wouldn’t help,” Heather asserted with a shudder, remembering her own all-too-close encounter with the Human Gullet. “He would be just as likely to down the whole thing in one gulp, and Courtney along with it.” That was an exaggeration, of course, since Owen wasn’t big enough to swallow someone whole, but there were a few chuckles at Heather’s reference to the man-mountain’s indiscriminate eating habits.

In truth, nobody seriously believed that they really had to eat all that Jell-O to free Courtney. For one thing, doing so would have taken days. For another, Chris didn’t have a reputation for honesty. With nothing else to say, and with the Muskies eager to liberate their teammate, the campers lined up and Hatchet scooped out their portions.

The campers began to eat, only to get another unpleasant surprise.

“What is this, Overcooked Okra flavor?” Leshawna asked with a grimace.

“Close,” Chef replied. “It’s a mashup of Celery flavor, Lettuce flavor, Mixed Vegetable flavor and Italian Salad flavor.”

Chris explained, “It’s one of those things that sounded better in theory than it turned out to be in practice. The company also tried some other vegetable-type flavors, but people didn’t like them any better. These flavors haven’t been made since the Fifties, but Kraft Foods is one of TDI’s corporate sponsors, so when I asked for something to make Courtney’s test ‘special’, they were happy to oblige. This stuff has been gathering dust in some warehouse for 50 years, so they thought this was a good way to get rid of it.”

“Maybe Courtney’s tried this stuff before,” Tyler mused. “That would explain a lot.”

As the campers ate, someone thought to ask what the tiebreaker would be if Courtney passed her test.

“There can’t be a tie”, Chris explained, “because the team captains’ tests are worth double.”

“But we don’t have captains,” Leshawna pointed out.

“Sure, you do,” Chris replied. “Maybe not officially, but I’ve seen how the teams behave. Courtney has been bossing the Muskies around left and right, and Heather has been ruling the Eagles with an iron fist.

“Heather failed her test, so it’s all up to Courtney.” Chris took up the hand mike again and declaimed, “The Muskies trail by one point, with two points at stake. This test is for the win.”

After the campers had eaten their fill, Chris spoke again into the handset mike. “Courtney,” he pronounced, “Assuming you haven’t pissed or pooped your panties, you’ve just won the challenge for your team. You can come out now.”

Courtney burst from her quivering prison, scattering Jell-O on everyone. With cries of disgust, she quickly finger-combed her hair and hurriedly began to strip off her clothing. That got the boys’ attention.

“Ooh, dinner and a show,” Duncan leered.

The boys, however, were soon disappointed. Courtney removed her top to reveal, not the racy underthings or uncontained boobies that the boys were hoping for, but a short-sleeved wetsuit similar to Bridgette’s. Since Courtney didn’t own a wetsuit, the producers had presumably provided it so she wouldn’t get hypothermia whilst the Jell-O was setting in the walk-in refrigerator.

Having stripped down to her wetsuit, Courtney finally turned to her teammates, who broke into applause. “Thanks, guys,” she said simply, as she hurried toward the exit. “If anyone needs me, I’ll be decontaminating in the shower.”

Duncan started to say something, but Eva interrupted. “Don’t say it, Duncan,” she warned. “Don’t even think it.”

After Courtney had showered, nobody bothered to take the wetsuit back, so she kept it. It would again serve her well, but that is another story for another time.

The next day, the Muskies enjoyed their reward, an excursion to a local amusement park to face fears of a different sort, and the Eagles considered the question of whom they should vote off. They had something else to talk about, as well—the strong earthquake that had rattled the camp about an hour before lunch. The tremor caused no significant damage at the camp, but the campers would learn in due course that it had wrought havoc elsewhere.

Justin sensed that he was at risk, and so avoided contact with the girls. His hope was that they would quickly forget his gaffe, especially with the earthquake giving them something else to talk about.

It was not to be. Heather called her allies to her and gave them their marching orders. They would try to expel Justin. Despite Lindsay’s mutual attraction to the Incredible Hunk, the former blonde accepted her liege’s command when Heather assured her that there was no other way, but Katie and Sadie balked.

“Why can’t we vote off someone who’s not as yummy?” Katie asked.

“Oh, he’s so yummy,” Sadie added before Heather could even draw breath to respond. “I could stare at him all day.”

“Oh, I could totally stare at him all day,” Katie seconded, without missing a beat. “I could just—“

“Focus, guys, focus,” Heather interjected hastily, with raised voice. Unable to get in a word edgewise, she had resorted to shouting down the “twins”. Getting their attention, Heather asserted her dominance.

“Now look, you timeshares,” Heather said with poorly concealed irritation at Katie and Sadie’s inclination to think for themselves, not to mention the quality of that thinking, “I know Justin’s easy on the eyes, but the reason I’m captain of this alliance is because I can see things that you don’t.”

“The reason you’re captain of this alliance is because you’re bossy,” Sadie shot back.

“Oh, totally bossy,” Katie added.

Heather was losing patience. “Guys, you heard what he said about Beth. How would you have liked it if he’d dissed Sadie like that in front of everyone?”

“Oh, yeah, I forgot about that,” one of the clones admitted.

“We hate him,” the other pronounced.

“Yeah, we totally hate him.”

“Do you hate him more than I do, or do I hate him more than you?”

“I don’t know, but if we both hate him, that’s all that matters.”

“So we’re going to vote him off, like Heather said?”

“We’re totally going to vote him off—“

“—but not just ‘cause it’s what Heather wants.”

“I know, right? Were voting him off because he’s mean—“

“—even if he is yummy.”

“He should really learn to be nicer.”

“I guess he thinks that if you’re totally hot people will just forgive you for anything.”

“Well, can you really blame him?”

“Well, yeah. We just did.”

“Oh, yeah, I forgot. Isn’t that the great thing about us?”

“What?”

“That if one of us forgets something, the other usually remembers.”

“That's so totally great! But that’s what BFFFLs do, you know.”

“I know, right? BFFs FL.”

“I know, right? BFFs for L.”

Katie and Sadie hugged, squealing in unison, then looked around and realized that they were alone. Heather had reached the point where she was ready to break something if she had to listen to them any longer, so the queen bee had left for the confessional to cast her vote, taking Lindsay with her.

“I couldn’t care less what Justin thinks of Beth,” Heather declared in the confessional, “but his hotness…

“…his… incredible…

“…hotness…”

Heather suddenly realized that she was flushed, and that she had started fanning herself. She quickly shook her head as if to clear it, and got back to business.

“Anyway, he’s a threat to the discipline of my alliance. Of course I know that he and Lindsiot have been into each other since Day One. It’s not like they’ve tried to hide it, and I’ve noticed that Justin is the only person here whose name Lindsiot always gets right. I even heard her mess up her own name once. I’ve been able to keep them apart so far, but lust will find a way, given time. I can’t afford that.

“Justin dissing Beth in front of everyone has turned most of the girls against him, but there’s no telling how long that will last. Probably not long, if Tweedledum and Tweedledumber are any indication. I’d rather have kept him around a little longer because he’s strong in the challenges, but I have to do it now—strike while the iron is hot—because I might not get a better chance.

“Bye-bye, Hunkstin. Can’t say I’ll miss you.”

And so it was done. At the elimination ceremony, Justin and Heather were the bottom two, but Heather had only a single vote—Justin’s—against her. The Incredible Hunk had voted against the queen bee because he and Lindsay badly wanted to hook up, and Justin recognized Heather as a serious obstacle to that.

All the other Eagles, save one, had voted against Justin. Cody and Noah had seen an opportunity to remove a distraction from the sight of the girls they were pursuing, although the Brain Brothers did have reservations about expelling the physically strongest remaining Eagle only halfway through the team phase. Heather’s reasoning has been told of before, and nothing would be gained by repeating it here.

Gwen and Leshawna’s first inclination was to vote against Heather, but they didn’t think they had the votes to oust their nemesis, so they settled for the uberhunk. In truth, they might well have been able to round up enough votes to send the queen bee packing, but they made no serious attempt to do so; for the plain-dealing Leshawna found the political elements of the game distasteful, and Gwen was not a people person in any case. Both girls were inclined to hold grudges, though, and they didn’t like how Justin had treated Beth, so the Outsider Girls did not agonize over their decision. Heather’s alliance was powerful, but neither Gwen nor Leshawna expected it to endure, for they thought it only a matter of time before Katie, Sadie and Lindsay came to resent how the Dragon Queen treated them. No, they thought, there would be time enough to settle up with Heather, and it would be most satisfying to watch her allies turn on her. But that is another story for another time.

Justin’s Dock Walk featured a twist. The survivors normally remained at the base of the dock, leaving the condemned to walk alone to the boat. On this night, though, the girls lined the edges of the dock at the far end, facing Justin as he approached the boat. A person unfamiliar with the situation might have thought the girls were honoring him, but the truth was that they just wanted to gaze upon his preternatural beauty one last time. Cody and Noah joined the girls primarily because they didn’t want to be left alone at the base of the dock.

Justin came first to the Brain Brothers, and wished them success in getting hooked up; for he knew that Cody was smitten with Gwen, suspected that Noah had his eye on someone as well, and had no particular quarrel with either. As Justin passed the girls, he acknowledged each in some way—a smile here, a kind word there, a kiss on the hand that left Leshawna ready to faint—until he finally came to Lindsay.

“I wish we’d had more time together, Linds.”

“I know, right? But Heather…”

“I understand. She was afraid you’d abandon her alliance. Can’t say I blame her.”

“Well, At least we had that day when we were practicing for the talent show. That was just totally awesome.”

Justin smiled at the memory. “It was, wasn’t it?”

In a trice, the show’s Royal Couple of Beauty clinched, kissing with unexampled fire. The other girls—yes, even Heather, who no longer had anything to gain by trying to keep Lindsay and her beau apart—found the scene unspeakably adorable.

There is a certain double standard governing which public displays of affection are socially acceptable. Beautiful People, it is said, have no limits. And so, as one kiss became three, then six, as closed mouths opened and hands began to wander, everyone seemed content to let nature take its course.

As the long-frustrated lustbirds continued to make out in front of the world, oblivious to everything except each other and their own desires, they seemed to shine with a radiance of their own. That was merely a trick of the light from the torches lining the dock, of course, but it served to suggest that such gorgeous beings were perhaps not entirely mortal.

Chris finally stepped in, if only because he didn’t want to pay overtime to the camera crew. “Okay, you two,” he said as he separated them, “I think that’s enough fanservice footage for one episode.” With a smile, he added, “Thanks for the ratings booster. If that doesn’t give our viewers naughty dreams, I don’t know what will.”

Justin said to Lindsay, “I’ll be rooting for you, and I’ll be waiting for you, so win this for both of us, okay? Don’t let the chance for us to be together sooner stop you.”

Now where have I heard that before? Gwen thought with an unnoticed glance at her confidante, Leshawna, who had given similar counsel in Gwen’s hour of bereavement.

“It won’t,” Lindsay assured him. “A hot guy and a million bucks is a lot better than just a hot guy.”

“That’s the spirit.” With that, Justin accepted his fate and stepped aboard the Boat of Losers. The grungy little watercraft, ennobled by its beautiful burden, seemed in that moment like a chariot of the gods.

In the finished episode, Lindsay’s vote casting followed Justin’s departure. “I know I’m supposed to vote for Justin, but I can’t,” she admitted. “I’m sure Helen knows what’s best, and she’s too good a friend to make me vote against my future boyfriend if I didn’t have to, but still.

“I heard that Jen and Nirvana are going to vote for Justin. Hera probably didn’t know, but it means she won’t miss my vote. That means I can vote for whoever I want, not that I really want to vote for anybody, but you know what I mean. I think I’ll vote for Glenda. She’s not as much fun as Madonna, and Helga doesn’t like her, so I don’t think she’ll be too mad if she finds out.” Lindsay suddenly looked nervous and added, “But don’t tell her, okay?”


“So, Lindsay had a brain after all,” Brett mused.

“That she did,” his mother replied. “That she did. It took her a while to grow a spine, though… but I’m getting ahead of myself.”

The night was not far advanced, so Brett’s mother paused a few moments to collect her thoughts, and then continued with her tale.


.

Episode #8: The Tale of the Boney Island Adventure

Original title: Up the Creek


The next evening, the campers sat down to yet another reasonably nutritious but appallingly unappealing dinner. As Heather’s posse came off the serving line and began to take their seats, Lindsay had a question for Noah. The bookworm was sitting on the other side of the table and about three seats down, so Lindsay had to speak loudly enough for some of the Muskies to overhear.

“Hey, Noah?” the brunette bombshell called to get the bookworm’s attention.

“Yeah?”

“You’re smart…”

“Yes, I am,” Noah affirmed. “Very, very smart.” With a reflective air, he added, “Quite phenomenally brilliant. Yes, I do possess the most startling quantities of brainpower.” Returning his attention to Lindsay, the pretentious bookwork prompted, “So, because I’m very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very smart, I take it you have a question?”

By the time Noah had finished, Lindsay’s face was showing that all-too-familiar look of childlike confusion. It passed.

“Me and Kerry and Sherry were talking,” the uberbimbo explained. “What’s ‘long pig’?”

Noah’s eyes widened. “How did that come up in conversation?”

“I was asking Chef Hagrid what’s in the casserole—”

“That was your first mistake,” the bookworm interjected.

“Yeah, you’re probably right,” Lindsay admitted. “Anyway, he said it was something called ‘long pig’. So what’s ‘long pig’? Is that like a dachshund pig or something?”

Most of the other campers were as mystified as Lindsay; but those few who knew the term had pushed their trays away and were looking at their food as if expecting it to lunge for their throats. Courtney and Eva had been among the Muskies eavesdropping, and now wished that they hadn’t. Both were looking notably green around the gills despite having relatively strong stomachs.

“’Long pig’ is an old-fashioned name,” Noah explained as gently as he might. “It’s human flesh eaten by cannibals. ‘Long’ in this case means the same thing as ‘tall’, and ‘people meat’ is supposed to taste a lot like pork, which I might add is the most widely eaten meat in the world. Hence, ‘long pig’.”

“Oh, my gosh,” Lindsay said as her normal skin tone gave way to an ashen pall, “I think I’m going to be sick.”

“Oh, please,” Heather sniffed. “Chef was just messing with your mind, such as it is.”

Duncan hadn’t known what “long pig” was, either; but now that he did, he saw a chance to do some mind messing of his own. “Don’t be so sure,” he warned the queen bee. “You know that a bunch of redshirts have bought it on this lame island, and you know how cheap the producers are. Do you really think they’d let that much fresh meat go to waste?”

More of the campers were starting to look disturbed. They didn’t want to believe what Duncan was saying, but they had to admit that the delinquent had a point about the ‘budget conscious’ producers, not to mention Chris.

“And I’m not sure they’d even stop with the interns,” Duncan continued. “Seriously, do we really know what happens to the contestants who get ‘sent home’? Remember that so-called ‘beef stew’ we had the other night? That meat seemed awfully fresh compared to what we usually get. For all we know, that ‘beef stew’ could just as easily have been Bridgette stew.”

“I think I have a new worst fear,” Tyler said.

“Oh, poor Bridgette!” Lindsay lamented, her voice full of pity. “And she was so nice!” Heather facepalmed.

Beth looked a bit pale as she answered, “Sunshine told me that the losers are staying at a compound somewhere. He said… er, she said that they’re going to come back for the finale.” There was fear in the nerd girl’s face and voice, as if she desperately wanted to believe what her source had told her but was now questioning it in spite of herself.

Noticing the pronoun goof, Duncan gave a knowing smirk and said, “And by Sunshine, you mean Alejandro.”

“No, she means Sunshine,” Izzy broke in. With her characteristic rapid-fire delivery, the demented redhead chattered, “Girl gets around with those little pixie wings of hers, and she’s small enough that it’s easy for her to hide when she wants to. Of course, I’m not saying that Sunshine couldn’t have heard it from Al, but that’s not the same thing. If Beth had heard it straight from Al, then that’s what she would have said, now wouldn’t she?”

“Whatever,” Duncan replied. “Anyway, I’ve heard about the losers’ compound too, but how do we know that’s not just the official line? It’s not like McLean hasn’t lied to us before.”

“Even Chris wouldn’t stoop that low,” Courtney insisted, “so stop being so vile. The losers are fine. They’re probably better off than we are, not that they could really be much worse off than us.”

Struck by sudden whimsy, which she would later repent in the confessional, Gwen chimed in. “Courtney’s right. Owen’s more the stewing type. Bridgette would be better for crackers. She’s into the whole ‘green’ thing, you know.”

For a moment, nobody knew quite what to make of Gwen’s remark, but Noah soon brightened as he recognized the reference. “Good one,” he said with an approving nod as he offered a fist bump. “Nice and subtle.”

The other campers puzzled over Gwen’s joke, for joke it clearly was although neither she nor Noah were willing to explain it. Izzy presently figured it out and filled everyone in.

Gwen’s joke had broken the increasingly tense mood, and the meal resumed without further incident. As the campers began to filter out of the lodge, Ezekiel caught up to Duncan and said, “You were just kidding, right? About Chris using the dead interns for meat?”

“I hope so,” the scorner of laws replied, his expression unreadable. “I sincerely hope so.”

The following morning, after waking to the apocalyptic strains of Verdi’s “Dies Irae” and choking down a truly nasty breakfast, the campers assembled at the dock for the challenge briefing. As with the camping challenge six days before, interns stood at the ready with maps and compasses, so the campers surmised that the coming challenge would be another wilderness adventure of some kind.

“Today’s challenge,” Chris announced, “is another classic summer camp experience: a canoe trip. Each team has eight campers and four canoes, so you’ll buddy up and paddle across the lake to… Boney Island, the deadliest island in Muskoka!” Chris declaimed melodramatically.

“The tour guide mentioned that during the sightseeing cruise,” Lindsay offered helpfully, with a look on her face that said, I am not either dumb! “I know, I wasn’t actually there because I was kind of out of it that day, but Kelly and Shelly told me all about it later, when they were fixing my hair. Whatever, the guide said it’s called Boner Island because it has some rocks or something that sort of look like a skull. He had a funny name, too… Calico, I think. I was like, why would his parents name him after a fabric?

Katie chimed in, “No, I don’t think that was it. I think it was… what were we talking about?”

Noah looked sad for a moment before he could compose his face to its normal blasé expression. Something was not quite right with Katie. Although nobody could really be certain, it appeared that the oxygen deprivation her brain had suffered during the camping challenge had done something to her short-term memory. If her mind could hold a thought for just a few minutes—the point where long-term memory takes over—then she was fine, but getting to that point could be tricky. Although everyone has moments when they lose their train of though mid-sentence or can’t remember where they put something, Katie now had these moments noticeably more often than before. In sum, Katie now came across as rather more ditzy than before, although she otherwise behaved normally.

Katie had always been among the more “noticeable” campers, to put it politely, so it didn’t take overlong for the others to notice her impairment. Nobody had the heart to tell her, though—not even Duncan, nor Heather, nor Eva. These three, and perhaps others, might have scorned the diminished Katie in another world, but this was the realm of Chris McLean; and here, it was unwise to tempt the gods, for the campers knew all too well that Katie might not be the last to meet with lasting harm to body or mind in this earthly hell.

The schemers would still scheme and the backstabbers would still backstab, for there was still a game to be won; but if someone got into serious trouble, they were all in it together. So it was that the campers reached an unspoken understanding that they would shelter Katie from the truth as best they might. Certain campers would come to grief from this well-meaning but misguided policy, but that is another story for another time.

Chris was likewise content to keep Katie ignorant of her condition, if only to prevent the lawsuit that he expected to follow if she were to learn the truth; but that didn’t mean that he couldn’t exploit her impairment if the opportunity arose. So it was now, as Chris pounced on Katie’s “brain fart” to get the discussion back on topic.

“We were talking about Boney Island,” he said, “home of the Boney Island National Wildlife Sanctuary, which—”

“Oh, yeah, I’ve heard of it,” Izzy chattered. “Our tour guide—Cameron, I think his name was, which might also be a fabric, for all I know, although if it is, I’ve never heard of it—told us during the cruise that the island has all sorts of mega-critters that died out everywhere else during the last Ice Age but didn’t die out there, go figure. Anyway, that’s why they made it a wildlife sanctuary. And he was telling us all about the skull-looking rock formation, too. He said that it’s kind of like “The Old Man of the Mountain” down in the States in New Hampshire or someplace, except that that one looks like a live guy and the one on Boney Island looks like a dead guy, and that you can tell they’re natural formations—well, the Old Man of the Mountain isn’t really a formation anymore because it broke off a few years ago and now it’s just a pile of rocks at the bottom of the mountain—but anyway, you can tell they were natural, past tense at least, because they only look like a guy or a skull or whatever from one side. And there also used to be a First Nations burial ground on Boney Island, well actually there probably still is, because some Indian guys—that’s Indians from around here, not Indians from India, in case anyone didn’t know that already—saw those skull-looking rocks way back when and said, ‘Hey neat, there’s a rock formation that looks like a skull, so that must mean that the gods are telling us to bury our dearly departed here.’”

As Izzy finally paused to draw a breath following this remarkable recitation, Chris raised a hand to stop her continuing. With an accusing glare at the demented redhead, he declared, “That reward was for the Eagles. You’re not an Eagle—”

“I was an eagle in a previous life,” Izzy protested. “Besides, Gwen didn’t go and Lindsay didn’t go, and it seemed a shame to let those seats go to waste, so Sunshine and I went instead.”

“No way,” Heather scoffed. “On a boat that small, we’d have seen you.”

“That’s what you think,” Izzy replied mysteriously. “When I was travelling in Sunshine’s homeland, I learned how to cloud people’s minds so they can’t see me.”

Noah quipped to Cody, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Psycho knows!”

Izzy overheard the bookworm, despite his best efforts. “I love you, too!” she declared in a singsong tone. “But I didn’t think that I was the chick you were crushing on. Have you changed your mind, or are you just trying to play the field?”

“Hello!” interjected the irritated host, “Challenge briefing in progress!”

Having regained control of the briefing, Chris continued. “The legend says that Boney Island attracts restless spirits from the surrounding area—” The host’s voice took on a sinister, melodramatic tone as he added, “—and that anyone who dies on Boney Island will never be able to rest in peace!” Chris then let out a hammy peal of evil stage laughter.

“And so,” he continued blandly, in a conversational tone, “If you come across any ghosts on the island, they’re probably just interns. We lost over half of our intern corps marking the—”

Over half?” Courtney all but screamed. “What did you do to them?”

I didn’t do anything,” Chris replied indignantly. “We do know that a bunch of them were killed in rockslides that were probably triggered by that earthquake we had the other day. They also got attacked by some of the giant meat-eating beavers that live on the island.”

Leshawna stammered, “D-did you say, ‘giant m-meat-eating?”

“That’s right,” Chris replied cheerily. “They’re called ‘Wooly Beavers’. Hundreds of years ago, they figured out that scavenging leftovers at the burial ground was easier than hunting if any fresh corpses were available. That’s probably how they developed their taste for human flesh.”

“And so why exactly are you sending us there?” Gwen demanded.

“I thought it was time for a change of scenery,” the host replied with a shrug. “Shake up the routine a little.”

Chris’ blasé attitude toward their lives didn’t sit well with the campers, but they had come to expect it and so let it pass as their sadistic overlord blithely continued. “Anyway, once you get to Boney Island, you’ll carry your canoes to the other end of the island, using one of the two marked portage trails. One trail is flatter but longer. The other is shorter but goes through more rugged terrain. Adds an element of strategy that way.

“When you get to the other end of the island, each team will build a signal fire to be judged by yours truly. So even though the portage part isn’t technically a race, you still want to finish it as soon as you can; because the sooner you get to the “rescue point”, the more time you’ll have to build your fire.

“We’re doing the reward a little differently this time. Whichever team I think has the best fire will get the challenge reward and a head start back to camp. The first pair to beach their canoes here will win invincibility for their team. That’s the twist—in this challenge, it’s possible for a team to get the reward and yet still have to send someone home.

“Only a pair can win, so if somebody’s partner gets eaten or falls into quicksand or something, then the only thing the surviving partner can win is the satisfaction of getting back to camp alive. If two of you lose your partners and you’re on the same team, the survivors can paddle back together. Otherwise, no changing partners.”

“And… go,” Chris concluded, as he drew a huge, odd-looking pistol from his belt and fired it into the air. This was no ordinary sidearm. Sporting an impossibly wide barrel, this hand cannon fired no projectile and was designed for a single purpose: to make an absurdly loud report.

The campers flinched at the blast of Chris’ mega starter pistol, but they did not dwell on it, for they knew all too well their tormentor’s fondness for startling them with loud noises.

Since the trip out wasn’t really a race, the campers walked unhurriedly to the canoes, with most pairing up en route.

Gwen thought to partner with Leshawna, who had become her closest friend on the island, but Cody had other ideas and dashed up from behind her, lightly gripping her arm in a half-hug. “Hey, Gwen, you and me, open water—whaddaya say?”

“Whatever,” the Goth replied sullenly, for she didn’t want to encourage him but had no good reason to refuse. “But I’m in charge.”

“That’s the way I like it,” Cody replied in a tone that was meant to be suave but came across as creepy.

Gwen glared at Cody. “Is there anything you can’t turn into a perverted fantasy? Seriously, dude, you’re nice and all, but have you ever listened to yourself?”

Meanwhile, Lindsay asked Heather to be her boatmate. The Dragon Queen likewise had no good reason to refuse, so she didn’t. Heather didn’t like Lindsay as well as she let on, due mainly to the wide gap in their intellects, but the fact remained that they had many common interests. They wouldn’t have any trouble finding things to talk about on what promised to be a long day.

Noah had entertained a brief fantasy of sharing a canoe with Katie, but that pleasant prospect was unceremoniously crushed when Katie teamed up with Sadie before Noah could even open his mouth to speak.

As the bookworm looked for other unattached teammates, Leshawna swatted him playfully on the butt and said, “Looks like it’s you and me. If you can pull your weight, we should be fine.”

“I don’t think my weight will be the problem,” Noah replied caustically.

In a twinkling, the ample homegirl’s playful demeanor vanished. “Oh, you do not want to go there!”

The Muskies, meanwhile, were having a minor controversy of their own. Izzy had paired with Beth, and Tyler with Eva. When Duncan suggested that Ezekiel be his teammate, though, Courtney objected. “Zeke should go with me,” she declared.

“What’s wrong with me going with Duncan?” Ezekiel asked. “I know you don’t like him, but he’s my friend, too.”

“Um… D.J.’s too much taller than me. I wouldn’t be able to help carry the canoe.”

“No sweat,” D.J. assured her. “I can carry a canoe by myself, no problem.”

“I don’t doubt that, but the point is that you shouldn’t have to,” Courtney explained.

Duncan brightened as if suddenly realizing something. “Oh, I get it, Princess. Zeke’s not your real target. This is all a clever ploy to end up sharing your ride with me. Everyone knows that you want me. You just need plausible deniability. Well, you’re secret’s safe with me. I’m game to ride you... er, ride with you. Zeke can go with D.J.”

“Uh, no,” D.J. said.

I didn’t know that she wanted you,” Ezekiel admitted.

Courtney replied to Duncan, “You’re kidding, right? As if I’d ever want anything to do with an ogre like you. You’re just projecting.”

“Nothing wrong with being a quote-unquote ‘ogre’,” Duncan replied in turn, with an exaggeratedly knowing air. “Zeke’s an ogre too, and you don’t seem to have a problem with him. Just plausible deniability, like I said.”

“That’s where you’re wrong,” Courtney shot back. “Zeke was never an ogre. He was ignorant. That’s not the same thing. Not to mention that he’s willing to change.”

He is too an ogre, D.J. thought, just not the way you mean.

Courtney decided to try another tack, so she took a deep breath to calm herself. “Duncan, I’ll admit that you’re strong and tough, and that could help us in this challenge, but that’s why Zeke should partner with me. The trip back will be a race, and you teaming up with D.J. may be our best chance to win it.”

Duncan started to say something, but realized that he really didn’t have an answer to this point. “Fine. I’ll go with D.J.”

Each canoe was equipped with paddles, floatation vests and knapsacks containing lunches and a few basic tools. As Courtney and Ezekiel pushed their boat into the water and boarded it, the prairie boy said, “I’ve never paddled a canoe before. Not many opportunities where I live, eh?”

“I can help you with that,” Courtney assured him. “I used to be a CIT, so I know these things.”

When Noah and Leshawna prepared to pull their canoe into the water, she said, “I’ll take the front.”

“Not a good idea,” Noah replied.

“And why is that?” the powerful homegirl asked, with a tone and posture that said, do you want to make something of it?

“Simple physics,” the bookworm replied. “The boat will be easier to steer if most of the weight’s in the back.”

“Oh, no you didn’t! I warned you about that!” the dusky homegirl began.

Noah raised his hands in a placating gesture. “I’m not trying to be insulting. Which one of us do you think weighs more?”

Leshawna glanced about at the other boats, and she could see that other “Mutt and Jeff” crews were doing the very thing Noah had proposed: Katie at the prow with Sadie at the stern, Courtney at the prow with Ezekiel at the stern, Duncan in front of D.J., and Izzy in front of Beth.

“I see your point,” Leshawna admitted sullenly.

Throwing his crewmate a bone, Noah said, “I’ll admit that I wouldn’t mind sitting in the back and looking at your booty the whole trip, but ‘business before pleasure’.”

“As if you could handle that much lusciousness,” Leshawna sniffed for the sake of appearances; but secretly, she was pleased at Noah’s acknowledgement of what she considered her most beguiling asset.

The morning was cool and mostly cloudy—ideal weather for physical exertion—as the canoe crews headed out into open water. Naturally, it didn’t take long for Cody to start chatting Gwen up. She endured his chatter but said relatively little herself; for although she would have preferred to spend the transit in quiet contemplation, she knew that was not Cody’s way.

Mindful of what Gwen had said about appearing creepy, Cody now chose his words with more care. This, combined with Gwen’s laconic responses, gave their conversation a stilted quality, but neither seemed to notice. It was not until Cody bit the bullet and asked Gwen out on a date that their conversation flowed more naturally.

“So, I was thinking,” Cody said, “On our next off day, maybe we could take a canoe trip of our own. No challenge, no pressure, just the two of us. Boney Island isn’t the only other island that would be easy to get to, and I’ll bet Chris would be cool with it.”

“Yeah, right,” Gwen retorted. “Just you and me… and a chase boat with a camera crew.”

“I don’t mind chaperones. My intentions are honorable.”

Thinking about her recent burial, Gwen said, “I’m not questioning your intentions. Not anymore. I’m just not into you that way.”

“So, you’d rather do something on the island? I’m cool with that. We could go exploring.”

“Dude, I wouldn’t be any more into you on land than I would on the water.” Leaving off her paddling for a moment, the Goth turned to face her suitor and said, “You’ve shown me that you would be a friend worth having. Why can’t that be enough?”

“Because you have the best combo of beauty and brains of any girl I’ve ever met.”

Gwen quickly turned away in the hope that Cody would not see her blush. For a long moment she was at a loss for words. The science geek’s compliment had been as sincere and powerful as Trent’s had been when the axboy and Gwen had first met.

Gwen sighed, trying to think of something to say. She still had no romantic interest in Cody, but this was not the time to be snarky about it. The science geek had shown that he deserved to have Gwen let him down as gently as she might. She only hoped he would take the hint.

“That’s so much better than your ‘cool guy’ posing, I can’t even tell you,” Gwen said at last. “Just be yourself, and you’ll find your soulmate. Trust me.”

“I have,” Cody replied softly, and then brightened with a new idea. “I know. We could take a picnic lunch up to the diving cliff. Best wilderness view I’ve ever seen.”

“I can’t.”

“But why not?” Cody asked before realization dawned. “Is this about that Trent thing? I thought you were over that.”

“Yes, I’m over ‘that Trent thing’,” Gwen explained, “but I’m not over Trent. I still consider him my boyfriend, and I’m not going to two-time him.”

‘Lady Jingly! Lady Jingly!
‘Sitting where the pumpkins blow,
‘Will you come and be my wife?’
Said the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo.
‘I am tired of living singly,—
‘On this coast so wild and shingly,—
‘I’m a-weary of my life:
‘If you’ll come and be my wife,
‘Quite serene would be my life!’—
Said the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo,
Said the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo.

‘On this coast of Coromandel,
‘Shrimps and watercresses grow,
‘Prawns are plentiful and cheap,’
Said the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo.
‘You shall have my chairs and candle,
‘And my jug without a handle!—
‘Gaze upon the rolling deep
(‘Fish is plentiful and cheap)
‘As the sea, my love is deep!’
Said the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo,
Said the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo.

Lady Jingly answered sadly,
And her tears began to flow,—
‘Your proposal comes too late,
‘Mr. Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo!
‘I would be your wife most gladly!’
(Here she twirled her fingers madly,)
‘But in England I’ve a mate!
‘Yes! you’ve asked me far too late,
‘For in England I’ve a mate,
‘Mr. Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo!
‘Mr. Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo!’

‘Mr. Jones—(his name is Handel,—
‘Handel Jones Esquire and Co.)
‘Dorking fowls delights to send,
‘Mr. Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo!
‘Keep, oh! keep your chairs and candle,
‘And your jug without a handle,—
‘I can merely be your friend!
‘—Should my Jones more Dorkings send,
‘I will give you three, my friend!
‘Mr. Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo!
‘Mr. Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo!’

‘Though you’ve such a tiny body,
‘And your head so large doth grow,—
‘Though your hat may blow away,
Mr. Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo!
‘Though you’re such a Hoddy Doddy—
‘Yet a wish that I could modi-
‘fy the words I needs must say!
‘Will you please to go away?
‘That is all I have to say—
‘Mr. Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo!
‘Mr. Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo!’


With that, they paddled in silence for a time, until Cody said, “I know. We could go for a swim when we get back.”

After a rocky start, Noah and Leshawna were chatting cordially. They seemed to be falling behind most of the others, though, so Noah suggested that they needed something to help them coordinate.

“I know a paddling song that’s popular in Quebec,” Leshawna said. It has a lot of cuss words, though.”

“I think I can handle that,” the bookworm assured his dusky companion. “How does it go?”

Leshawna cleared her throat and began to sing:

En hiver, calvaire!
Ça glisse, calisse!

“Wait a minute,” Noah broke in. “I know French, and that song doesn’t make any sense. ‘In winter, Calvary/ It’s slippery, Chalice’?”

“I don’t think it’s really supposed to make sense,” the Montreal-born homegirl admitted. “I think it’s just supposed to pack in a lot of cuss words.”

“Such as...?”

Calvaire and calisse are both cuss words in Quebec.”

“You’re kidding, right? Since when is ‘chalice’ a swear word?”

“Not ‘chalice’, ‘calisse’. It has to be in French to be a cuss word.”

“Fair enough, but my question remains.”

“It’s ‘diss’ swearing, not ‘vulgar’ swearing,” Leshawna explained. We Quebecois have a thing for using the names of religious objects as cuss words. I don’t really know why. I just go with the flow.”

“So, you want to teach me how to swear in a French Canadian idiom. I’m cool with that.”

The Muskies, having a generally more athletic team, were the first to make landfall. After briefly consulting their map, Courtney decided to take the longer, easier path; for she thought her team could more easily maintain a strong, steady pace that way. The Eagles arrived not long after, but they were far enough behind that they did not see which path their opponents had taken.

The teams had now been on the trail about two hours without incident. The Muskies were hiking along at a good pace, having recently negotiated a fresh rockslide, when they heard a roar in the distance.

“What was that?” Beth asked, looking around nervously.

“I hope it wasn’t those giant meat-eating beavers,” Tyler answered, likewise casting nervous glances all about.

“Yeah, right. Chris was just messing with us,” Duncan assured his faint-hearted teammates. “Those ‘wooly beavers’ are just something he made up.”

No sooner had he spoken than the Muskies topped a small ridge and stopped short.

“Or not,” Duncan said.

The hour was growing late, so Brett’s mother left off her tale and suggested that he prepare for bed.


.

Thirteenth Night

The next morning, after they had breakfasted, Brett went to school whilst his mother went to earn their daily bread. That evening, after they had dined and Brett had attended to his homework, Brett asked his mother to tell him more about her experience on Total Drama Island.  Brett sat in his favorite chair, and his mother sat on the sofa. She took a few moments to collect her thoughts, and then she began to speak.


The glade looked like a battlefield. Vegetation was uprooted and trampled everywhere, mud churned up by many feet. The partially eaten carcass of a giant tusked beaver, bigger than a grizzly bear, blocked the trail about ten meters away, and a second noshed-on carcass lay farther up the trail and off to the left. Partially obscured from view behind the second beaver lay a motionless form in a red pullover shirt.

As the doubly watchful Muskies filed around the first beaver carcass, Courtney paused to examine it, hoping to determine what had fed on it. During the course of this examination, the onetime CIT discovered that something had staved in the giant’s skull. Satisfied that she had learnt all she could under the current conditions, Courtney hurried to catch up with her teammates.

The other Muskies, meanwhile, had gone to the intern, hoping against hope that he wasn’t beyond help, although in their hearts they knew better. When they reached the redshirt and got a closer look, D.J. fainted dead away. Beth, looking ashen, turned away and was violently ill, for the body had not in fact been merely obscured from view as the Muskies had supposed.

Izzy said only, “Gross,” as if she were discussing the weather.

The late intern was a faintly androgynous girl with short, dishwater blonde hair. Her eyes were open and rolled back into her head. Her build could not be determined with any certainty because virtually everything beneath her smallish breasts was gone, presumably having been carried off either by other beavers or by some scavenger. The hand on her one remaining arm still loosely held a makeshift halberd with a blade of flaked obsidian affixed to a long, sturdy tree branch. The blood on that blade, and the nearby beaver carcasses, suggested that this redshirt, at least, had not gone down without a fight.

Courtney had a suspicion, and quickly verified it when she examined the second beaver carcass. Returning to her teammates, who were still gathered round the fallen intern, she said, “Both of these beavers died from heavy blows to the head.” Motioning to the crude halberd, she added, “Probably from that.”

Izzy replied, “Are you saying that this chick whacked two bloodthirsty rodents of unusual size by herself? That is so boss!”

Eva noticed that the chest cavity had not been entirely eviscerated and said, “They didn’t take her heart. That’s fitting.”

Ezekiel knelt down beside the body. Grasping the girl’s thin necklace, he pulled her army-style dog tag out from under her shirt; for in light of what his teammates had said about her, he thought it important that she be remembered as more than just another anonymous redshirt. The prairie boy inspected the tag and solemnly announced, “Her name was Jo.” He then closed the girl’s sightless eyes and said a prayer for her brave soul.

Duncan said, “I’d have loved to see this chick go toe to toe with Miss Muscletits.”

“I know, right?” Eva replied, not even noticing the delinquent’s namecalling. “I’ll bet that would have been fun.”

“How many beavers she was up against?” Tyler asked rhetorically, for he didn’t really expect anyone to know.

“I don’t know,” Courtney admitted, “but it looks like they’re probably pack animals. Normal beavers are kind of social, and I checked out those carcasses. It looks like they were eaten on by their own kind, which is probably why there was anything left of ‘Jo’ for us to find. Rodents can be cannibalistic that way. I’ve seen ground squirrels eating roadkill before.”

“Gross,” Tyler said.

Courtney reasserted her dominance. “Anyway, we need to get going. We’re in the middle of a challenge, you know. I just hope Chris has the decency to bring her home.”

“You’re kidding, right?” Eva retorted bitterly.

“Okay, the producers,” Courtney said, implicitly sustaining the objection. The former CIT look down one last time at the fallen intern and said, “May she rest in peace.” Nor was that any mere formality. Mindful of what Chris had told them about the fate of people who died on Boney Island, Courtney’s wish was from the heart.

Some time later, on the other side of the island, the Eagles made a similar, if less gruesome, discovery of their own. Heather had chosen the shorter, more difficult path for several reasons, not least of which was that she thought most of her teammates could use some toughening up. It was also a way of displaying her fitness to lead; for the dragon girl’s dancing had endowed her with strong and durable legs, so she expected to be able to negotiate the rugged trail easily enough.

After a time, the Eagles came to a fresh rockslide that had cut across the trail. As they were making their way across, the sharp-eyed Cody chanced to look down the slope. A double take followed.

“Guys, look,” the former Possum Scout said as he pointed. “I think I see somebody’s hand.”

The other Eagles gave in to curiosity and saw that Chris hadn’t been joking about the recent earthquake’s lethal effects. Sticking up a few centimeters from the rubble, perhaps 30 meters below the trail, was a human hand, apparently having belonged to someone of African descent.

Heather said, “Let's keep moving. There’s nothing we can do here.”

“Wait,” Sadie said. “There’s something I need to know.” With that, she and Katie set down their canoe and made their way down to the grisly marker.

The indignant Heather called after them, “Hello! We’re in the middle of a challenge, remember?” The Wonder Twins paid her no heed, so Heather could only wait impatiently for them to return.

Reaching the hand, Sadie quickly inspected it and found the old burn scar that she had been looking for and hoping that she would not find. She shook her head and said to Katie, “Now we know why we haven’t seen Lightning around camp the last couple of days.”

When the clones had rejoined their teammates and reported their findings, Leshawna said, “I’m sorry to hear that. I liked that big lug.”

“More like, you liked his big boy part,” Heather sniped.

“And how would you know if it was big?” the homegirl shot back. “Not that I’m not willing to take your word for it.”

As their teammates tittered, Heather scowled. “Um… He had big feet, okay?”

“Sounds legit,” Gwen snarked, and the bystanders tittered anew.

“Oh… Go jump in a giant beaver pond,” Heather snapped, irritated that her dig at the admittedly man hungry Leshawna had been turned back against her so easily.

The teams reached the “rescue point”, which happened to be near the base of Skull Mountain, without further incident. Fire pits had already been marked out, so everyone began to forage for firewood. Most of the Eagles ventured forth singly; but the Muskies, having seen more of the island’s hazards, mostly stayed in pairs or small groups for safety.

The portage had left Sadie badly winded, for the trail had been difficult and the butterball’s endurance was not great. “My legs feel like rubber,” she complained.

“You’ll just have to suck it up,” Heather replied archly. “This is no time to wimp out on us.”

“I know,” Katie offered, “Me and Sadie can stay at the pit and arrange the firewood as people bring it in.”

“That sounds half good,” Heather replied. “Sadie can do that, but that won’t be enough work to keep two people busy. Besides, if we leave you two here, all you’ll do is gab.”

The Thin Twin stuck her tongue out at her overlord, and then stalked off to forage for firewood.

Katie subsequently returned with an armful of usable firewood, then another. The other foragers did likewise, some more efficiently than others, and Sadie dutifully arranged it into four piles. She put the largest pieces into the pit, the midsized pieces in a pile nearby, and the kindling into a third pile, these latter to be added to the main pile when the time was right. The greener wood went into a fourth pile, for its purpose was different. Once the fire was burning well, adding green wood and boughs would make the fire smoke.

On Katie’s third trip out, she chanced to spot a small wooden idol on the ground near the mouth of a small cave. This idol was perhaps half again as long as her hand and resembled nothing so much as a miniature totem pole. Wait ‘til smarty-pants Noah sees this, she thought, remembering what the bookworm had said about First Nations artifacts at the challenge briefing. The idol seemed somewhat fragile—clearly the wood had been at the mercy of the elements for a very long time—so Katie carefully put the idol in her knapsack, packed the idol in grasses and herbs to protect it, and then resumed her search for firewood.

Not long after, she encountered a certain redhead who was heading back to base with an armload of firewood. “Hey, Izzy,” Katie said sociably, “Look what I found!”

“Let me guess,” the demented redhead asked good-naturedly as Katie dropped her firewood and opened her pack. “A cool beaver skull? Some cool mold spores? Prayer beads of The Great Lamprey Spirit? Don’t leave me hanging!”

When Katie presented the idol, Izzy’s demeanor changed abruptly. “Ooh, you’d better put that back!” she warned darkly.

“Why?”

“The burial ground is on this part of the island, and that had to come from the burial ground. The legend says that if you take anything from there, you’ll be cursed forever! And even if you don’t believe in that stuff, which is totally true, you’d have the whole Ojibwa Nation after your butt, not to mention the RCMP. Come to think of it, maybe that’s the curse. Although this doesn’t look Ojibwa, it looks more Tsimshian, and I have no idea what it’s doing out here. We’re a long way from B.C., you know, so maybe some explorer got tired of life on the coast and got adopted or something and lived out his days in these parts until he croaked from whatever Tsimshians like to croak from and got buried here. But whatev, I know what you’re probably thinking, that the curse couldn’t do anything worse to you than what you’ve already been through, and maybe it can’t, but don’t be so sure. Besides, you really don’t want the RCMP on your case. Believe me, I know, they’ve been after me ever since that time at that Marine base, which was totally an accident, but try telling them that. I can handle it, but it’s not a lifestyle choice I’d recommend for a ‘kid who never grew up’ like you. Sure, it would be fun to have you be a fugitive from justice with me, but that would mean you’d have to leave Sadie behind, since I’m sure she wouldn’t want to be a fugitive, too, especially when she didn’t do anything. People are funny that way, you know?”

Izzy’s rambling, high-speed chatter had somewhat hypnotized Katie, so the demented redhead snapped her fingers in front of Katie’s eyes a couple of times to bring her mind back from wherever it had gone.

“You’re that sure I have to put it back?” Katie asked in disappointment.

“I’m serious,” Izzy assured her gravely. “I know I’m not serious about a lot of things, but I’m serious about this. I don’t want to see you get hurt. More. That thing is solid, 24-karat trouble. Although I’m not sure how many karats pure wood would actually have.”

With that, Izzy went on her way and Katie gathered up her wood and returned to the cave where she had found the idol, but the Idol Incident was not fated to end that simply. Katie’s damaged short-term memory fumbled the handoff to its long-term cousin, possibly with an untimely nudge from the fabled curse; so when Katie reached the cave, she could not remember why she had returned. With a mental shrug, she resumed her search for firewood.

Meanwhile, Courtney had found an interesting if less dangerous artifact of her own. She had spotted what looked like a piece of heavy paper slowly tumbling in the light breeze. Courtney knew that there shouldn’t be any paper on the island except what the campers had brought with them, so she succumbed to curiosity and ran it down. Quickly inspecting the paper, which looked like it might be construction paper nicked from the arts & crafts tent, she saw that it was an unsigned love note, addressed to “The Diamond Maid” and quoting a poem that Courtney did not recognize:

A sweet disorder in the dress
Kindles in clothes a wantonness:
A lawn about the shoulders thrown
Into a fine distraction--
An erring lace, which here and there
Enthrals the crimson stomacher--
A cuff neglectful, and thereby
Ribbands to flow confusedly--
A winning wave, deserving note,
In the tempestuous petticoat--
A careless shoe-string, in whose tie
I see a wild civility--
Do more bewitch me than when art
Is too precise in every part.


Courtney smirked at this puppy love tactic, and idly wondered who might have written the note and whom it might be meant for, and whether it was the giver or the recipient who had dropped it. The fact that Courtney had found the note in that place instead of somewhere else offered no clues, for both teams were foraging the same general area, and she didn’t know what to make of the “diamond maid” salutation. As for whom the smitten boy might be, Noah was her first guess, for it stood to reason that a courting bookworm might quote love poems; but the former CIT had no idea whom Noah might be crushing on if, indeed, he had written the note. The penmanship offered no clues, for there was no handwritten correspondence to speak of amongst the campers, so they had no way to recognize each others’ handwriting.

Courtney decided to hold on to the note in case someone came looking for it, but she otherwise gave it no further thought, for she had better things to do than to expose a crush.


In the fullness of time, both teams assembled impressive brush piles under the direction of former CIT Courtney and former Possum Scout Cody. With dry wood to burn hot and green wood to make the fires smoke, both piles seemed likely to generate smoke plumes that would be visible all the way from Camp Wawanakwa, or even the mainland.

If, that is, the teams could get their fires started. They had been given flint and steel, but nothing in the way of accelerants. Getting the fires going strongly enough for a proper signal fire promised to be a long and arduous process, and the campers knew that their time was not unlimited.

Suddenly, a piercing female scream of mortal terror sounded from somewhere in the forest. The campers, one and all, stopped what they were doing and nervously looked into the trees, listening to see if the scream would be repeated.

“Who—who was that?” D.J. asked, shaking visibly and with a quaver in his voice.

Cody said, no less fearfully but hiding it somewhat better, “There shouldn’t be anyone here but us. Is everyone accounted for?”

A quick headcount revealed that Heather was missing.

Beth said, “Oh, my God, if she ran into those giant beavers…”

“That’s just something Chris made up,” Leshawna insisted nervously. “Isn’t it?” The homegirl had little love for Heather, but had no more desire than anyone else to see more blood than this hellish game had already inflicted upon them.

“No,” Courtney replied gravely. “They’re not.” She then told the Eagles about the gruesome discovery that the Muskies had made on the trail, but nothing would be gained by repeating it here.

As the campers began debating whether to conduct a search or to stay put, they heard something approaching. It was crashing—or charging—through the underbrush.

Trying not to let her fear show, Courtney said, “Guys, get to your canoes. If that’s any kind of large predator, we’ll probably be safer on the water.”

Everyone did as Courtney suggested, forgiving her bossiness because her suggestion sounded like a most excellent idea. Scarcely had they launched their canoes when a disheveled Heather stumbled into the clearing and collapsed. Her eyes were wild and she was panting heavily as she raised herself to all fours, lifted an arm to her campmate in supplication and desperately screamed, “Don’t leave me here!

As Courtney and Ezekiel re-beached their canoe, Courtney called back, “Is anything chasing you?”

Not waiting for an answer, Lindsay re-beached her canoe and dashed to her liege’s side. Heather, still panting for breath, finally managed to gasp out, “No, I don’t think he’s chasing me.”

With that assurance, the other campers beached their canoes and returned to the clearing, wondering what could cause the normally imperious and levelheaded queen bee to come so thoroughly unglued.

“What’s up with you, girl?” Leshawna demanded. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“I think I did.” Heather gasped, trembling violently.

Courtney crouched down beside her nigh-hysterical counterpart and said in her best soothing tone, “Okay, let’s take this one step at a time. Tell us what happened.”

“I was over by a cave off that way,” Heather explained as she gestured in the direction from whence she had come. There arose a murmur of recognition, for several of the campers had seen the cave in question. “I crouched down to pick up some stuff that I thought might make a good fire starter…”

“And…?” Courtney prompted.

“I felt something, cold but not like normal cold, you know? I looked up and…” The dragon girl pulled her limbs against her torso in an attempt to control her shaking. It didn’t seem to be helping much.

“Don’t leave us hanging,” Izzy pleaded. “Did you really see a ghost?”

Gwen mused, “Chris did say that there might be some interns’ ghosts here. Not only did a lot of redshirts supposedly buy it here, but he also said that the island attracts restless spirits from the surrounding area. And the way Chris goes through interns, he’s probably creating a lot of restless spirits.”

“It wasn’t a redshirt,” Heather gasped, as if she were fighting to get the words out. “It was… it was Harold. He was standing there right in front of me!”

For a few moments, the only human sound was Heather’s struggle to regain something resembling emotional control. Finally, Duncan spoke.

“Am I missing something here?” the scorner of laws asked. “Sure, seeing Mr. Ninja’s ghost would be creepy, but hardly terrifying.”

“What you’re missing,” Gwen explained, “is that we’re not talking about natural fear. Ghosts cause unnatural fear. Sometimes, anyway.” The Goth shot a glance at Heather and added bitterly, “Couldn’t happen to a nicer girl.”

Courtney shot Gwen an irritated glance of her own and said, “Gwen, we get why you don’t like Heather, and I can’t that say I blame you, but this isn’t the time.”

No, I guess not, Gwen thought, although she said nothing more.

Courtney then said to her campmates, “I really think we need to check this out.”

Duncan wasn’t so sure. “What if we end up as basket cases like Heather?”

“I’m willing to take that chance,” Courtney replied. “It’s bound to wear off. Besides, if there’s anything we can do to help Harold rest in peace, we owe it to him to find out what.”

The future speaker of laws turned her gaze to the campers as a whole and added, “The problem is that we’re in the middle of a challenge. Eagles, will you give us a timeout?”

“Say no more,” Leshawna said. “I want to know what’s going on as much as you do.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Sadie seconded, speaking for the Eagles’ power alliance because Heather could not. “Chris probably won’t like it, but that’s his problem.”

As the campers moved out, Heather grabbed Katie’s dress and softly begged, “Don’t leave me alone! Please!”

Katie replied, “Sadie can stay with you if you want, but I need to go with the others. I feel like I’m supposed to do something at that cave, but I can’t for the life of me remember what. I’m hoping it'll come back to me.”

With that, Katie hustled to join the main group and Sadie stayed with Heather. The butterball didn’t really know what to do, so she hoped that her mere presence would help to calm her liege.

After a minute or two, Heather suddenly stopped shaking and said to Sadie, “Okay, I think it’s been long enough. I’ve got a plan, but we have to move fast. That wild ghost chase should keep those losers occupied for a while, but there’s no telling if somebody might decide to double back for some reason.”

As the girls stood, Sadie smiled and asked, “You’re not afraid anymore?” for the queen bee now sounded like the Heather whom she had come to know and barely tolerate. “I guess Gwen was right about it being unnatural.”

“As if Weird Goth Girl could be right about anything,” Heather sniffed. “The reason I’m not afraid ‘anymore’ is because I was never afraid in the first place.”

Sadie’s eyes widened in wonderment. “Didn’t see that coming. That was one heck of an acting job.”

Heather grinned. “It was, wasn’t it?”

The Dark Queen quickly explained her plan, which required only their nail files and uninterrupted time, but Sadie protested. “That sounds like cheating.”

“That’s kind of the idea,” Heather explained impatiently. “In these elimination games, a certain amount of cheating is expected. Remember when we were building the hot tubs, and the Fish Heads were thinking about trying to steal our stuff? Remember how Chris said that he wished that they would have tried it? Trust me. Even if we get caught, which we might if you delay us with too many questions, Chris won’t do anything.”

Seeing that Sadie was about to protest further, Heather said, “I know, I know, I’d rather play a clean game, too, but not at the cost of giving away challenges. The main challenge today is a power challenge, and the Fishies have all the muscle. Without the edge that my plan can give us, we don’t stand a chance.”

“We might, if we can win the head start for having the best signal fire,” Sadie countered.

“You’re kidding, right? Nothing against our ex-Possum Scout, except of course that he’s a total geek, but which team has the pyro? The deck’s stacked against us there, too, and I don’t see any good way to sabotage their fire.” By this time, Heather was wishing that she could have pulled Lindsay aside instead of Katie and Sadie, for the uberbimbo would have asked fewer questions;  but Lindsay hadn’t been close enough at hand, and seeking the bombshell out might have aroused suspicion and thereby wasted Heather’s admittedly remarkable acting performance.

Sadie was still unwilling to cheat, but she was running out of reasons not to go along with Heather’s scheme. “But if we get caught, or they find out later, how will I be able to look them in the eye?”

With a snort of derision, the Dark Queen retorted, “They won’t blame you, because you’re too nice for your own good. They’ll blame me, but I don’t care.”

“But how will the editors make it look? I don’t want a villain edit,” the butterball protested, a hint of desperation creeping into her voice.

“You might already be getting one because you got on Chris’ bad side right off the bat,” Heather observed dryly. “On the other hand, Sunshine says that the camping challenge made you look like a saint. If the editors aren’t already painting you as a villain, they’re not going to start now just because you went along with one sketchy scheme.

“Besides, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. If they want to make you a villain, then go with the flow.”

Finally, Sadie agreed to help Heather. As they fell to their task, Sadie said, “There’s just one thing I need to know.”

“What’s that?”

“Did you really see Harold?”

“Of course not,” the Dark Queen admitted easily. “I don’t believe in ghosts.”


Wooden Ships and Iron Girls

Heather and her flunky completed their work as quickly as they might, lest they be discovered. As it turned out, though, they need not have worried. It was the better part of an hour before the other campers returned. Naturally, they had found nothing—not that they had necessarily expected to, but it still left everyone a bit dispirited.

The teams ended their truce and resumed the challenge. Cody at once set to work on starting the fire, since he was the only Eagle who had actually used a flint and steel fire starter before. Courtney likewise began to work her team’s flint and steel, but Duncan quickly suggested a more profitable course.

“Why do it the hard way, Princess?” he asked. “We can just use my lighter.”

“I don’t think that’s what Chris had in mind,” the onetime CIT replied.

“So?” the delinquent countered. “Chris knows about my lighter, but he didn’t say anything about it.”

“You make a good point,” Courtney admitted.

“Actually, we can’t use the lighter,” Izzy declared enigmatically. When asked the reason, the manic redhead explained, “I’ve got a high-energy fire starter in my knapsack. It’ll give us a roaring fire in no time, but it’ll make us stand back a little. If you’re close enough to ignite it with a lighter, you’ll get fried.”

“So what are we supposed to do?” Duncan asked. “If we can’t use the lighter, then we obviously can’t use the flint and steel, either.”

“That big magnifying glass,” Beth suggested. “The one she used to inscribe Harold’s memorial marker.”

Izzy gave her ally a ‘thumbs up’ gesture and said, “Exactly.”

“Chris knows about that, too,” Duncan observed before Courtney could protest.

“Okay, the lighter and the magnifying glass are fair game,” Courtney admitted, “but I’m not so sure about the fire starter. Does Chris know about that?”

“Does it matter?” Duncan shot back. “If Chris really cared, he would have made a rule against bringing in accelerants.”

Eva said, “As much as I hate to side with Duncan, he’s got a point. You could call it cheating, but you could also call it ‘thinking outside the box’. Chris seems to respect that, if he cares about it at all. What he really cares about is drama, and it sounds like Izzy’s idea could be pretty dramatic.”

The Eagles were able to overhear part of this exchange. Heather sidled over to Sadie and said, “See what I mean?” This could have meant several things, so any Muskies who might have overheard didn’t waste time trying to determine what Heather did mean.

Having received her team’s blessing, however reluctant, Izzy set down her knapsack and drew forth a lead box. This she opened to reveal an amorphous lump which she carefully placed into the woodpile. Apart from Cody, who was still trying to get his team’s fire started with the flint and steel, the Eagles had succumbed to curiosity and were now watching their rivals’ byplay.

“That looks like congealed tree sap,” Courtney observed. “Is there anything else in it?”

“Yeah, it’s mostly tree sap,” Izzy confirmed. “There’s also pine needles, sawdust, aluminum powder, and some other stuff.”

“Aluminum powder?” Beth asked. “What’s that for?”

“A little extra kick,” Izzy explained. Seeing that she now had the attention of the opposing team as well as her own, the firebug warned, “Aluminum burns super-ultra-mega bright, so you probably don’t want to look straight at it.” No one dreamed of doubting her.

Tyler thought that something seemed off. There was faint but noticeable light where there should have been none. “Um, Izzy? Why is that stuff glowing?”

“Oh, that’s probably just the californium,” the demented redhead answered as if she’d been asked the time of day.

Cody was so appalled that he dropped his flint and steel. “Wait a minute, are you saying that your fire starter is nuclear??

“Pretty much,” Izzy replied nonchalantly as she pulled out her magnifying glass.

As the other campers began frantically looking for places to hide, Izzy stood with the descending sun at her back and held her glass aloft. As a beam of burning light smote the softly glowing lump of sap, the demented redhead gazed at the great, gray granite skull formation looming over them and shrieked, “By the power of Grayskull!”

Moments later, the lump began to flare, and Izzy shrieked, “I… have… the pow—oh, crap! I used too much! Hit the deck!

The others were way ahead of her, and had taken whatever cover they could. Several campers had taken to the water and were sheltering beneath inverted canoes. Izzy likewise decided that she would be safest with the fishes, and had barely got beneath the waves when the enhanced tree sap detonated with nigh-atomic brilliance and the power of a tornado.

Some 200 kilometers to the northwest, a helicopter team of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police was returning to its base in Sudbury after answering a routine assistance call when they saw the flash and subsequent mushroom cloud from Izzy’s fire starter. Alarmed, these officers of the law quickly took a bearing and called in to report what they had seen. The team then changed course sharply, seeking to triangulate on the great smoke plume before it dissipated. This done, they returned to base, for they needed to refuel before investigating the matter further.

The campers who had remained on land were shaken but not seriously hurt, thanks to local topography that had directed the shockwave over their heads. They gingerly lifted themselves from the dust to find that the blast had scattered the top of the Muskies’ woodpile, but what remained was now burning fiercely. Conversely, the Eagles’ hard work had been for nothing, for the blast had scattered their entire woodpile to parts unknown.

As Tyler and Eva emerged from the water and carried their shield canoe back to the beach, Izzy popped up between them and said, “Yep, definitely too much californium.”

“You could have gotten us all killed, you know,” Eva noted, much more calmly than one might have expected of her. The rage-prone Amazon knew Izzy well enough by now to know that it was pointless to get angry with her, for the demented redhead would not understand her anger.

“But I didn’t, did I?” Izzy countered cheerily. “No harm, no foul.”

“Define ‘harm’,” Eva retorted wearily as she surveyed the destruction. Izzy’s atomic fire starter had flattened the entire forest on that part of the island, igniting several small brush fires in the process. The trees had been either uprooted or broken off, depending on how firmly they had been rooted.

Minutes later, the campers heard an approaching helicopter, which they presumed to be carrying Chris and Chef Hatchet. The host and his aide, who was piloting the craft, had been holding position several kilometers away so that Chris could see how visible the fires were from a distance; and so, although they had felt the shockwave, it had posed no real danger to them.

Having nothing better to do, the campers watched the chopper approach until an ominous crack sounded behind them. The mountainside had taken the full brunt of the blast, and it had been a little too much. The campers turned just in time to see Boney Island’s signature skull formation break loose from its age-old moorings and come thundering down the mountain, breaking up into an unrecognizable pile of rubble. The vast rockslide would have flattened everything in its path, if there had been anything in its path left to flatten.

“Way to destroy a national landmark, Muskies,” Chris chided via his trusty bullhorn. “But hey, I’ll bet it’s going to put the ratings through the roof, and as long as I’m not the one who can be held liable, it’s all good.

“This part of the challenge was to build the best signal fire. I didn’t say anything about collateral damage. And since the Muskies were the only team to actually get a fire going, they get the point!

“Muskies, you get a five-minute head start back to camp. You’ll also get the challenge reward, win or lose. Eagles, you can’t do anything to prepare while you’re in the ‘penalty box’ except talk about your game plan, if any.

“The five minutes starts… now!”

The Muskies wasted no time in launching their canoes. As the Eagles watched them go, Noah said, “That’s just great. Now we won’t have a chance.”

“We still might,” Cody said, trying to project an optimism that he didn’t really feel. “It’s a long way back to camp, so people will have to pace themselves. We might be able to catch up without burning ourselves out. Maybe.”

Heather added, “We also have an ace in the hole.” The Dark Queen then explained what she and Sadie had done. The Eagles’ reactions were mixed, and largely echoed the original philosophical disagreement between Heather and Sadie. Even Heather’s enemies, though, had to give credit where it was due for the dragon girl’s acting performance.

Chris called down, “Eagles, go!” The Eagles responded eagerly to his command.

Ten minutes later, Tyler and Eva were approaching the midpoint of the course, with the other Muskie crews trailing behind. Although the heavier Tyler would normally have sat at the stern, Eva had insisted that he sit at the prow for the return trip, the better to keep an eye on him and to rein him in if his enthusiasm should get the better of him. She and Tyler were the Muskies’ best hope for victory, Eva thought, so it would not do for Red Jock to burn himself out in his zeal.

Suddenly, Eva felt that something was wrong. On her latest stroke, her paddle was passing through the water with much less resistance than it should, which threw her slightly off balance. Even as the steel maiden instinctively looked down to see what the problem was, D.J. called out from the nearest canoe, “Eva! You’ve lost your paddle blade!”

Sure enough, the business end of Eva’s paddle was floating in their wake. The paddles were of two-piece construction, with a hollow metal shaft and a blade of hard synthetic rubber. These parts were connected by a single stout screw. This arrangement meant that a damaged blade could be replaced without having to replace the whole paddle. It also meant that breaking the paddle down to a more compact form for transport required only a Phillips head screwdriver. The tip of a metal nail file would do in a pinch.

Tyler had also heard D.J.’s warning, so he quickly reversed course and Eva retrieved her paddle blade, but they had lost precious time. To make matters worse, they had no spare screws, nor anything else that might serve to secure the blade. Eva decided that the best way to keep the blade from coming off again was to keep her hand on the joint at all times, but that technique obliged her to take shorter, less efficient strokes. The jock and jockette might still be able to win the challenge for their team, but Eva was now racing with the proverbial one hand tied behind her back.

Not long after, though, Tyler likewise lost his paddle blade. Because he was in the forward position, Eva quickly spotted the problem and so they lost less time retrieving it than they had with Eva’s; but it presented the same risk of coming loose again, so Tyler also had to alter his stroke for the worse.

“Of all the crappy luck,” Tyler griped rhetorically. “We had this win in the bag.”

“Luck, nothing,” Eva shot back. “We’ve been sabotaged.”

Over the next several minutes, several racers suffered similar accidents. First, Duncan; then, Ezekiel; and D.J. not long after.

Nor were the Eagles immune. Noah, Katie, Sadie and Leshawna suffered paddle malfunctions in due course, for that was part of the plan to divert suspicion. The difference was that the saboteurs had spared the strongest Eagle crews (Heather/Lindsay and Cody/Gwen) whilst sparing only the weakest Muskie crew—Beth and Izzy. Nor was it an accident that Heather’s more expendable allies had been victimized; for the race would turn on the first of each team’s boats to finish, not the last.

Although neither Heather nor Lindsay were experienced paddlers, both proved reasonably good at it, and both had good stamina—Lindsay from her gymnastics and Heather from her dancing. So it was that, by pushing themselves a bit harder than they would have liked, the Dark Queen and her most faithful vassal caught and passed one crippled Muskie crew, than another, and passed Beth and Izzy into the bargain. In that last case, Izzy threw into her rivals’ path a blob of something designed to explode after contacting water, but that gesture was mostly for show. The explosion looked impressive on camera, but was neither near enough nor powerful enough to cause Heather or Lindsay any significant problems. Most likely, Izzy just wanted to see an explosion and judged that moment to be as good as any.

At last, Heather and Lindsay drew near to the only crew standing between them and victory: Courtney and Ezekiel. From Ezekiel’s paddling technique, Heather could see that he had felt the saboteur’s sting; but he was not a skilled paddler to begin with, so it hadn’t affected him much. Courtney appeared to be paddling normally, and seemed to be saving her strength for a sprint to the finish. Perhaps that was why Courtney’s paddle blade had not yet come loose.

Heather’s plan to sabotage the Muskies’ paddles had deliberately left much to chance. If her intended victims had spotted the damage before setting forth from Boney Island, they might have been able to correct it there, so it was necessary that the paddles appear sound at first. Accordingly, Heather and her reluctant accomplice had removed the screws and twisted the blades back and forth enough to break any incidental seals that might be left over from assembly at the factory, but had taken no further action to help the blades come off quickly, lest they come off too quickly.

In any case, Heather had no idea how many strokes it would take for her and Sadie’s handiwork to become evident. Indeed, the need to trust to luck was largely what had convinced Sadie to help Heather in her nefarious scheme. After all, the Dark Queen had said with that silver tongue of hers, if they were not meant to win by underhanded means, then the Muskies’ paddles would simply not come apart and no one would ever know that anything had ever been amiss.

Heather and her vassal drew up right alongside Courtney and her protégé, obliging both crews to paddle only on the outside. Heather then taunted, “Eat our wake, Fish Heads! Hope you’re in the mood for marshmallows!”

“Nice try, your Highness,” Courtney shot back, “but I can hear that you’re out of breath. You’re the ones heading to Marshmallow City!”

“And we’ve got more muscle, eh?” Ezekiel added.

Heather retorted, “That’s what you think!” as she raised her paddle from the water and brought it over her head in a glittering arc of water droplets.

The Dark Queen knew that her opponents had assessed the situation all too well. No longer willing to trust to luck, Heather had decided that more aggressive action was now called for.

Heather’s target was Ezekiel’s head, but her attack was slow and badly telegraphed, as it had to be to have the power to be anything more than an irritant; for the lightweight paddle shaft was not designed for striking and Ezekiel’s toque made decent armor against such things. So it was that, before Heather’s blow could connect, Courtney parried Heather’s paddle with her own.

Ezekiel was naturally distracted by the hollow clang of metal on metal, so Courtney cried, “Zeke, keep paddling! I’ll deal with Heather!”

Lindsay was likewise distracted by all this, so Heather cried, “Lindsay, keep paddling! Courtney is mine!”

As Lindsay and Ezekiel paddled at the prow, Courtney and Heather traded blow for blow at the stern, each looking for an opening in the other’s guard. It wasn’t long before both fighters were kneeling, then standing. The canoes didn’t make for the most stable of platforms, but this did not trouble the gladiators, for both were surefooted.

Time seemed to stand still as the team leaders strove to overcome each other, the challenge seemingly forgotten. Heather was taller and so had greater reach, but Courtney was stronger and fresher. Meanwhile, Lindsay and Ezekiel glanced at each other and reached an unspoken understanding that they would do their best to pace each other whilst the alpha cats had their fight.

The hour was growing late, so Brett’s mother left off her tale and suggested that he prepare for bed.


.

Fourteenth Night

In the morning, after they had breakfasted, Brett went to school whilst his mother, who had neither spouse nor partner, went to earn their daily bread. That evening, after they had dined and Brett had attended to his homework, Brett asked his mother to tell him more about her experience on Total Drama Island.  Brett sat in his favorite chair, and his mother sat on the sofa. She took a few moments to collect her thoughts, and then she began to speak.

As Heather and Courtney battled, their canoes began to come back to the pack, for each of the frontrunners now had only one not especially adept paddler. Duncan and D.J. saw their chance and picked up their pace, as did Tyler and Eva.

In the fullness of time, the paddle battle reached the end that Fate had ordained for it when Courtney’s sabotaged paddle finally lost its blade. This accident did not greatly impair her paddle’s effectiveness as a weapon, but it distracted her for a moment; and in the fury of battle, a moment is sometimes all it takes.

Heather saw her opening and struck. Bending forward dangerously, enough to risk losing her balance, the dragon girl reached out with her paddle and struck Courtney behind the knees, knocking the former CIT’s legs out from under her and dumping her into the lake.

Ezekiel heard Courtney’s cry of alarm and the large splash that followed. Even as he looked back to verify his suspicions, Heather clonked him on the head for good measure and taunted, “Girl overboard, Homeschool! Are you going to let the lampreys get her?”

With Courtney and Ezekiel no longer a factor, Heather was now in command of the race, but she saw that there would be no respite. Eva and Tyler had begun their sprint to the finish, for the steel maiden had decided that the time had come to give her overenthusiastic partner free rein. Handicapped though they were, the jock and jockette were nevertheless closing at an alarming rate.

Heather quickly sat down and cried, “Paddle, Lindsay! Paddle like it’s Midnight Madness at the mall!”

With the situation described to Lindsay in terms she could understand, the uberbimbo began to paddle with all her might. Heather likewise put her back into it, for this was a time to lead by example. Besides, she had done too many compromising things in this challenge to come away with nothing to show for it.

Tyler and Eva continued to close, but much less rapidly than before, and it was anyone’s guess whether Heather and Lindsay would be able to hold them off. Duncan and D.J. were also sprinting, the brickhouse untroubled by his fear of the water now that the situation gave him something to take his mind off of it, but they had a bigger gap to close and so faced longer odds. None of the other crews had a chance.

In the end, it was not the racers who decided the race. As the lead canoes surged down the homestretch, it looked increasingly likely that Tyler and Eva would be able to nip Heather and Lindsay at the proverbial tape. Heather and Lindsay were gasping for breath, their arm and back muscles howling in protest at the unaccustomed strain, whereas it looked like Red Jock and Muscle Girl were just hitting their stride. But Tyler, in his enthusiasm, had unwittingly abandoned the “safe” paddling technique of keeping his hand on the sabotaged joint between blade and shaft, and Eva was too intent on their goal to notice. Their pursuit faltered at the last moment when Tyler lost his paddle blade again.

Heather and Lindsay ran their canoe right up onto the shore, stumbled out to claim victory, and collapsed, utterly spent. Eva, meanwhile, took out her frustrations on her canoe. She snatched Tyler’s half-paddle out of his hands and rammed it through the bottom of the boat. The canoe quickly sank to the bottom of the lake, which was all of 120 centimeters deep at that point, leaving the frustrated Muskie duo to wade ashore.

As Duncan and D.J. cruised the last few meters to the shore, the victorious queen bee and her faithful vassal summoned enough strength to roll onto their backs as they continued to pant for breath. An alert cameraman recorded the scene, with particular emphasis on the girls’ heaving chests. When Chris learned of this whilst reviewing the day’s footage, he warmly commended the cameraman for the latter's viewer appeal instincts.

As the remaining campers completed the course, they learned the outcome from their teammates who had already finished; but only after the last canoe made landfall did Chris officially declare that the Screaming Eagles had won the challenge. This left the Muskies with a difficult decision. Only Courtney and Tyler had done anything that could arguably have cost their team the challenge, but they were also part of the reason why the Muskies had made the race close in the first place. Beth had not distinguished herself, but neither had she caused her team any apparent trouble, and some of her teammates regarded her warm relationship with Alejandro as a potentially valuable “ace in the hole”. Izzy had been helpful in the challenge, but some of her teammates were now a little afraid of her. None of the other Muskies looked to be at risk unless somebody tried to assemble a coalition to blindside someone, as Heather had done to Trent after the dodgeball match.

It was going to be an interesting elimination ceremony.


The next evening, the campers got the dinner call earlier than usual, so they dutifully filed into the lodge and took their seats to wait for the serving counter to open. When everyone was seated, Chris appeared and called for quiet. This was not standard procedure before dinner, so everyone was curious about the coming announcement.

“We’re doing dinner a little differently tonight,” Chris announced. “The Eagles will get Chef’s usual slop, but the Muskies will get the challenge reward for their awesome signal fire: steaks cooked to order. And since the Muskies won the reward but not the challenge, this treat will double as a Last Meal for some poor condemned soul.”

When Chef Hatchet opened the serving counter, he called the Eagles up to get their so-called “food”. Meanwhile, Alejandro took the Muskies’ dinner orders at their table.

The Eagles had finished eating before the Muskies’ dinners were ready, so they left the lodge to attend to their own affairs. In the fullness of time, some of the surviving interns brought out the Muskies’ dinners: thick, juicy steaks with all the trimmings—including, remarkably, red wine.

“Chef really pulled out all the stops,” Izzy said as she savored the bouquet of her wine.

“I’m not surprised,” Eva replied. “Now that the secret’s out that Chef can cook well when he wants to, we’ll probably see more food-related challenge rewards.”

Izzy tasted her wine. “Mmm, Pinot Grand Fenwick. Nineteen ninety-one was a good year.”

“Pinot Grand Fenwick?” Courtney repeated uncomprehendingly. “I know a little about wine naming, mainly by osmosis since it’s not like I get to drink much wine, but I’ve never heard of that. Where’s it come from?”

“There’s a hole-in-the-wall country in the Alps called the Duchy of Grand Fenwick,” Izzy explained. “This wine is their only export worth mentioning. It’s mainly a connoisseur’s wine because the whole Duchy probably isn’t 40 square kilometers and their culture is still pre-industrial, so they can’t make very much, and they’re very protective of their label. They won a big trademark case against the U.S. back in the Fifties.”

Courtney lifted and regarded her own glass. “In other words,” she surmised, “we should enjoy it now because it’s a pleasure that some of us may never have again.”

“The thing I don’t get,” Ezekiel admitted, “is why would they give us something that fancy when those of us who aren’t Izzy probably wouldn’t know it from cheap jug wine?”

Duncan smirked and explained, “Look at it from Chris and Chef’s point of view. It’s a convenient excuse for them to have some, too, on the show’s dime.”

Chef Hatchet was eavesdropping, for his curiosity had been aroused when Izzy recognized the vintage. Only God and a remote camera saw him smirk and heard him softly say, “Busted.”

D.J. had tasted many fine dishes over the years, for his dear momma was an accomplished chef, but these steaks were like nothing he had ever tasted before. A quick poll revealed that his teammates were as mystified as he, although nobody was complaining. This emboldened the timid brickhouse to approach Chef Hatchet.

The campers knew well that Hatchet didn’t like them coming into his kitchen, but he was currently working within easy conversation range of the serving counter. D.J. leaned over the counter and said, “Our compliments to the chef. That was a five-star dinner.”

“Thanks, kid,” replied the usually gruff kitchen master. “It’s nice to be able to show off what I can really do.”

“So it’s true that the stuff you usually give us is bad on purpose?”

“I can’t discuss that, but I think you know the answer,” Hatchet admitted.

D.J. cut to the proverbial chase. “There was a flavoring in the steaks that seemed a little weird, though. It tasted like lean beef, except that it didn’t. I can’t really explain it. It was a little like the porcupine that Izzy caught for us during the camping challenge.”

“That’s probably because they’re both rodents,” Hatchet explained. “The steaks are from those giant beaver carcasses you found on Boney Island.”

Seemingly oblivious to D.J.’s horrified reaction, though possibly fully aware of it, Hatchet continued. “Chris likes for the challenge rewards to be related to the challenge, and there was a lot of meat on those critters. Probably last us a good three weeks.”

“But… but…” D.J. stammered. “Weren’t they killed at least a couple of days before we got there? And the weather’s been warm and sunny…”

Hatchet smirked at D.J.’s discomfiture. “That’s how the English used to flavor their meats, by letting them go a little bad. It gives the meat a gamier taste. You liked it, didn’t you?”

“It was awesome,” the fainthearted brickhouse admitted.

“And I cooked it enough to kill off any little nasties that might have been in there, so as you kids like to say, ‘What’s your damage?’”

“When you put it that way, I guess there isn’t any. No harm, no foul.”

“Exactly.”

D.J. returned to his teammates and told them what he had learned. Most of their reactions more or less mirrored D.J.’s, although Izzy and Eva seemed amused, but everyone agreed quickly enough that no harm had come from Chef’s little prank.

Eva cut a piece from her steak, held it up, regarded it for a moment, and said, “This is for Jo.” She then devoured the morsel with theatrical savagery. Izzy thought this gesture a good one, and followed suit.


Shortly after darkness fell, the Muskies assembled at the bonfire to do what they had to do. As Chris stood before them, some of the Muskies noticed the faint sound of a helicopter in the distance, but paid it no heed. The sound could be removed in postproduction, if need be.

“There are eight of you,” the host intoned solemnly, “but only seven marshmallows on my plate, which means that someone will be left without. That poor sucker must walk the Dock of Shame, board the Boat of Losers, and make the Voyage of the Damned to Loserville, population 5—for the moment.”

The helicopter seemed to be getting louder, and all of the Muskies were now aware of it, although they couldn’t tell if it was heading directly for the camp. It wasn’t loud enough to interfere with the ceremony, though, so Chris continued. “I will first call up those campers who had no votes against them.

“Eva.”

The musclegirl collected her talisman of life and took her place behind Chris. The helicopter was definitely getting louder. It now sounded like it would fly either over the camp or close by, and at low altitude.

“Beth.”

The nerd girl approached the host, held up her toasting stick to receive its bounty, and then took her place beside Eva. The chopper was rather loud now, and seemed to be approaching at a good clip.

D.J.”

The gentle giant received his token of safety and joined the ranks of the blessed.

The helicopter was now loud enough to interfere with the ceremony, so the campers and the irritated host looked up just in time to get a searchlight in the eyes.

“This is the RCMP,” a male voice boomed over a bullhorn. “Captain McAllister, we know you’re down there. Come quietly, and we may be able to get you leniency.”

Most of the Muskies looked at each other in confusion, with the same unspoken question: Who’s Captain McAllister?

The answer came promptly and unexpectedly, as Izzy jumped to her feet. Pointing a finger—not, it bears mention, the finger that most people usually point with—defiantly at the chopper, she shrieked, “You’ll never take me alive!”

“Captain Izzy” dashed off, laughing maniacally and keeping to wooded areas so that the helicopter could not land. As the chopper crew flew off, tracking Izzy through the forest canopy as best they might, Chris shrugged off the incident and got back to business. He dispensed most of the remaining marshmallows with little of the usual ruffles and flourishes, simply tossing the coveted morsels to the campers as he called their names.

“Duncan. Tyler. Ezekiel.”

Chris held up the last marshmallow and returned to something resembling his normal pomp and ceremony. “This marshmallow was supposed to go to Izzy,” he intoned, “which would have meant, ‘Bye, bye, Courtney’; but since Izzy up and ran off on us, I guess I’ll just have to give her marshmallow to our favorite CIT, instead.”

The host beckoned the onetime CIT to approach him. When she did so, contemplating what might have been, if the look on her face was any indication, Chris placed his benediction on her toasting stick. “Courtney, you are hereby reprieved. Make the most of it,” he told her. He then left the Muskies to their own affairs.

As the surviving Muskies toasted their marshmallows at the bonfire, they asked each other why the RCMP had come for Izzy, and why they had called her “Captain McAllister”. None of the teens had any answers, of course, only questions and fruitless speculation. Presently, the marshmallows were ready, and the Muskies consumed their prizes.

It seemed to Beth that something had been overlooked. “Hey, guys? I know Izzy won’t hear it, but I still think we should sing for her. We did decide to make it a regular part of the ceremony, you know.”

“Sounds good,” Courtney agreed. “Everyone, on three.”


Brett looked a bit confused as he asked, “So, Izzy was really an adult? Didn’t see that coming.”

“How do you think she knew so much about wine?” his mother asked in turn. “There are women in their late 20s and sometimes even their 30s who can pass as teenagers. I hate them.”

“So why did they call her ‘Captain McAllister’, anyway?” Brett asked.

“All in good time,” his mother replied. The hour was not especially late, so she took a few moments to collect her thoughts, and then continued her tale.


.

Episode #9: The Tale of the Wild Hunt

Original title: Paintball Deer Hunter


As the Muskies finished their song, they noticed the Eagles standing at the edge of the clearing.

“What brings you guys here?” Duncan asked. “Wait, don’t tell me. The chicks can’t get enough of me.”

“Do you really want an honest answer to that?” Heather sneered.

“Actually,” Leshawna interrupted before Duncan or Heather could pick a fight, “We heard the helicopter and we wanted to know what was going on. Who’s ‘Captain McAllister’?”

“Izzy, apparently,” Tyler replied. “Beyond that, you know as much as we do.”

Gwen added, “The other reason we’re here is that we heard you guys singing, and we were curious. I heard somebody singing the night Bridgette left, but now it looks like you’re all in on it.”

“Yeah, it’s a song Ezekiel taught us the night of the camping challenge,” Beth explained.

Courtney added, “We’ve decided to sing it at all our eliminations. Elimination represents death, and Zeke’s song is from a mass for the dead, so we thought it was fitting.”

“What’s this ‘mass for the dead’?” Leshawna asked uncertainly.

“Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Requiem,” Ezekiel informed her.

“The Pie Jesu,” Noah said with a knowing nod. “That’s its best-known part. Made the Top 10 on the U.K. pop charts, from what I’ve heard, even though it’s a classical piece.”

Lindsay suggested, “Maybe we should sing ‘Peas Ain’t Yellow’ at our eliminations, too. It’s pretty.”

“We’d be happy to teach it to you,” Courtney assured the uberbimbo.

“I know it,” Noah revealed, “but I don’t know if anyone else does.” The other Eagles quickly confirmed that they did not.

“Meh,” Heather sniffed. “It’s copyrighted, and the producers are probably too cheap to pay the royalties, so it’s probably not going to make it into the finished episodes.”

“So?” Sadie challenged.

“Yeah, what’s your point?” Katie challenged in turn. It was written that the Bobbsey Twins would inevitably agree with each other, for those two shared a brain as completely as any pair of teenagers you’re ever likely to encounter.

“It’s not all about screen time, you know,” Sadie added.

“It so happens that some of us actually like some of the people who get kicked off,” Katie added in turn.

“You might, too, if you bothered to get to know them,” Sadie suggested.

“Okay, okay,” the exasperated queen bee interrupted, lest the hive mind continue all night. “It’s not like I was actually objecting.” Seeing that Katie and Sadie were about to say something more, Heather cried, “Enough!” and gave each “twin” a withering glare to keep them silent.

“I’m not much of a singer,” Cody admitted, looking around at his teammates, “but if you guys want to do it, I’m game.”

Leshawna ventured, “We might as well learn it, as long as we’re here. We can decide later whether we want to use it.”

The bonfire was mere embers when the campers retired to their cabins for the night.


On the second morning after, Chris found a new way to jolt the campers awake. The sadistic host assembled the surviving interns in the middle of the camp, armed them with high-powered hunting rifles (which, it bears mention, are loud enough to be audible several kilometers away) and ordered the redshirt brigade to fire at will out over the lake.

In the boys’ cabin, Duncan cried, “Take cover!” for he thought the Army itself had come for him. The other boys were too terrified to do anything but follow his lead.

In the girls’ cabin, Leshawna cried, “Get down!” for although gunfire in Montreal’s mean streets is less common in the 21st Century than it was in the 20th, and less common than in comparable American cities, the dusky homegirl was nevertheless more familiar with it than she would have liked.

After what seemed like an eternity but was actually more like 30 seconds, the fusillade ceased. Chris commanded over the loudspeakers, “Campers, report to the totem pole in ten for your challenge briefing! Be there or be square!”

As the girls picked themselves off the floor, Heather sniped, “You heard him, Gothie. Be there or be square. Oops, too late!”

“Better a square than a stick,” Gwen shot back. “You’re just jealous because some of us have profiles that are actually visible to the naked eye.”

Heather turned to Lindsay and theatrically asked, “And why exactly hasn’t she been voted off?”

“Because… you decided that torturing her is more fun?” the uberbimbo explained innocently.

“So, the truth comes out,” Leshawna sneered. Sounds like Queenie needs to learn some manners.”

“And who’s going to teach me?” the queen bee sneered in turn. “You? The ghetto trash who probably learned table manners from Owen? Don’t make me laugh. At least Sadie has an excuse for being fat. She doesn’t eat half of what you do.”

“Gee, Heather,” Sadie chimed in, “that may be the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.” The butterball’s tone carried a sarcastic edge that Heather either didn’t notice or chose to ignore.

Eva began to rise to Leshawna’s defense, but Courtney stopped her. “This isn’t our business,” the aspiring politician said quietly as the Eagle girls continued to argue. “Let the other team tear itself apart if that’s what they want. They’ll be less prepared for the challenges. Divide and conquer. Besides, Leshawna can take care of herself.”

An all too familiar, loudspeaker-amplified air horn blast summoned the campers to assembly. As the girls filed out of the cabin, Heather said to Leshawna, “Homie, you’d better hope we win out, because the next time we lose a challenge, you’re history. Although you’ve got so much junk in your trunk, you’ll probably tip over the Loser Boat.”


In the fullness of time, Chris appeared before the assembled campers. He was dressed in camouflage pattern cargo pants, cap and vest over a plaid flannel shirt. He carried what appeared at first glance to be a rifle with a telescopic sight. On closer inspection, though, the host’s weapon looked a little too stylized and lightweight for a proper rifle.

“Is that a paintball gun?” Duncan asked with an expectant grin.

“Why, yes, Duncan,” Chris replied. “Yes, it is.” Giving in to whimsy, or perhaps sociopathy, the Lord of Wawanakwa suddenly leveled his gun at Duncan and splattered the delinquent at point blank range.

That was the plan, anyway, but Duncan was too quick. The scorner of laws casually stepped aside and raised his hand. He made an odd motion with his wrist and forearm, then held out his arm to Chris and opened his hand to reveal the intact paintball.

“Is that the best you’ve got?” Duncan scoffed.

In response, Chris fired thrice more in quick succession, splattering the delinquent at point blank range.

“Does that answer your question, dude?” the host replied with that infuriating bland smile.

Eva had little love for Duncan, and was always happy to see him get what she considered his just desserts. “Smooth move, street meat,” she smirked. “Haven’t you learned yet that Chris doesn’t like to be shown up?”

“Moving… on,” Chris interjected before Duncan could respond. “Today’s challenge is a deer hunt. The thing is, summer isn’t deer season, and even if it were, I wouldn’t trust any of you with deadly weapons. That’s where the paintball guns come in. Your paint more or less matches your team colors: red for the Eagles and green for the Muskies. Each hunter has different shade, though, so we can tell who hits whom.

“Muskies, your hunters are Duncan, Courtney, Beth and Ezekiel. Eagles, your hunters are Noah, Lindsay, Katie and Sadie.”

Heather muttered, “We are so dead.”

“The rest of you,” Chris continued, “are now deer: Eva, D.J. and Tyler for the Muskies; and Cody, Heather, Gwen and Leshawna for the Eagles.

“Each hunter gets one point for each of the other team's deer you hit. Hitting your own deer, or a hunter from either team, will cost you a point. A hunter can’t get more than one point for hitting the same deer, but you can lose multiple points for hitting the same bad target, so be sure of your targets. The team with the most points wins. Any questions?

“Yes, Cody?”

“We’ve got four deer for the Muskies to shoot at, and they’ve only got three. You don’t have to be a math whiz to see that your scoring system gives them a big advantage,” the math whiz explained.

“Not to mention that all their jocks are the deer,” Noah observed.

“And that our hunters probably don’t know one end of a gun from the other,” Heather added.

As Katie and Sadie made sour faces at the queen bee, Noah said, “Don’t listen to her, ladies. I have confidence in your abilities, even if your unpleasable overlord doesn’t.”

Noah later clarified that statement in a confessional spot. “To be precise,” he explained, “I have confidence—some confidence, anyway—in the abilities of Katie and Sadie. Heather’s probably right about Lindsay.”

In truth, Lindsay did know enough about guns to understand the concept of a safety, even if she was not as attentive as she could be to the safe handling practice of always being aware of where her gun was pointed, but that is another story for another time.

In answer to Cody’s objection, Chris explained, “You have an extra player, so one team would have an advantage no matter what.”

Heather countered, “Not necessarily. If you let me sit out the challenge, that would equalize the numbers. It’s not like this would be the first time that you’ve changed the rules on the fly.”

“That’s a good point,” Chris admitted. “I could do that.”

Now it was the Muskies’ turn to cast sour looks at Heather, not to mention Chris. None voiced any objections, though, for they couldn’t deny that the dragon girl had a point. Besides, Chris’s choices of who would be hunters and who would be deer figured to give the Muskies a significant advantage, even without the extra target. It was still disappointing, though, for the prospect of a dragon hunt had made some trigger fingers itchy.

“Any other questions?” Chris asked.

Beth asked in turn, “What about breakfast?”

“That depends on whether you’re a hunter or a deer,” Chris explained. “For the hunters, we have Army field rations. They’ve been gathering dust since World War II, and the government wanted to get rid of them, so we got them cheap.”

“Now, where have we heard that before?” Duncan asked with a significant glance toward Courtney.

“Ugh, don’t get me started,” the onetime CIT replied with a shudder, for she remembered all too well the similarly ancient Jell-O that had figured so prominently in the phobia challenge.

“The deer,” Chris continued with a glare at the Muskies who had dared interrupt him, “will have to eat deer food, so you’ve got two options. One, you can forage and live off the land. Two, the interns have set up a couple of feeding stations stocked with things like berries and edible weeds. If you can find those stations, you’ll probably eat better than if you forage on your own. The downside is that if the other team’s hunters find a feeding station before you do, they might stake it out.”

The campers had no further questions, so Chris returned to the script. “Legal made us give you protective clothing, so the hunters will wear camo and the deer will wear buckskin. Well, faux buckskin. It’s not like this show could afford real buckskin, seeing as my astronomical salary and lavish perks take up such a huge part of the show’s budget. You’ll all have clear plastic face shields, because the viewing audience has to be able to tell who’s who.

“The deer will also wear these deer antlers and cute fluffy tails,” the host added, brandishing examples of the accessories in question.

“Lame,” Gwen declared without much interest.

“But you look so good in lame, Gwennie dear,” Heather sniped, her voice dripping with over the top artificial sweetness. “It really suits you.”

Cody replied, “Naturally, because she’d look good in anything.”

Lindsay and Katie tittered as Sadie quipped, “Sounds like someone’s taken a course in shameless flattery,” before the butterball’s straight face broke and she tittered alongside her buddies.

“Lame or not,” Chris continued, “although it totally is, your tails and antlers are in team colors, so the hunters will need them to tell you apart. That’s why any ‘deer’ who takes off their embarrassing deer parts will get their whole team disqualified. If that happens, you’re liable to find out how ‘lame’ really feels when your angry teammates vote your sorry butt off the island.

“The deer get a fifteen minute head start, but that includes the time it takes you to change, so I wouldn’t dawdle.” With that, Chris gestured to twin piles of clothing. Within each pile were bundles marked with the campers’ names.

As the teens who would be deer slipped into their faux leather armor, which was sized to fit over their normal clothing, Heather remained where she was, casually filing her nails. Chris noticed this and pointedly asked, “Will the lady be participating?”

Without looking up from her nails, Heather explained, “You said you'd let me sit out the challenge, so the Fish Heads wouldn’t have an extra target.”

“I said I could do that. I never said I would.”

“You implied it,” Heather insisted.

The master of the Wild Hunt was in no mood to argue. “You’re wasting head start time. But if you want to give the Muskies four free points and maybe get your eye put out or something, well, that’s your call. Legal said I had to give you protective clothing. They never said I had to make you wear it.”

Heather realized that Chris didn’t have to lift a finger to make good on his threat, which meant that his threat should be taken seriously. Heather joined the rest of the herd in haste and without further protest.

When the last of the “deer” had finished dressing and dashed into the woods, the hunters began to dress at Chris’ command. Roughly three minutes after the hunters were ready, the master of the Wild Hunt declared, “It’s time. Good hunting.”

The hunters dashed into the woods, their ears ringing from the tremendous blast of Chris’ huge Walpurgisnacht pistol, which he had first used to start the Boney Island challenge as has been told of before. The Eagles’ hunters continued on the path that seemed best to them; but before the Muskies’ hunters could disperse, Duncan asked his teammates to come with him.

“I’ve got an idea,” the scorner of laws offered when he was certain that they would not be overheard. “Do any of you know how to fly a plane?”

Ezekiel answered, “I fly my uncle’s crop duster sometimes.”

“That’s what I was counting on,” Duncan revealed with a wolfish grin. “If Princess Pure’n’Perfect can bring herself to bend a couple of rules, I’m pretty sure I can hotwire Chef’s plane. We could hunt from the air.”

“I wish you’d stop calling me that,” Courtney said sourly, but then met Duncan’s wolfish grin with an impish grin of her own. “But that’s a great idea. The Birdies won’t stand a chance.”

“Awesome!” Beth added. Her teammates’ enthusiasm was infectious, and the nerd girl was now grinning from ear to ear. “I can’t wait to see the looks on their faces!”

“Let’s do it, then. Death from above!” Duncan cried.

“Death from above!” his teammates answered.

Duncan then said, “But first… Beth, I have a job for you.”


Noah, meanwhile, had a plan of his own. He had little interest in physical exertion, but he was willing to endure it for the sake of being near Katie, so he walked with the girls for a time. Lindsay and the clones were chattering about girl stuff, which seemed likely to alert any nearby deer. That gave Noah the idea of using the girls as beaters. When the chatter flushed eligible targets, he would shoot at them and hope that the girls had enough situational awareness to start shooting when he did. In the meantime, he would grit his teeth and endure the girl talk.

Deeper in the woods, Muskie deer D.J. encountered Eagle deer Heather quite by chance. The queen doe was sitting on a fallen tree, sulking. She gave no sign that she was aware of the mighy Muskie stag, so D.J. decided to practice his stealth. He retreated a short distance and then circled around until he was behind his quarry. Approaching from Heather’s rear, he succeeded in coming right up to her without being detected. He reached out and passed his hand down the length of Heather’s hair, mere centimeters from that ebon cascade. The graceful brickhouse then retired the way he had come, smiling smugly at his achievement. Only then did he announce his presence, deliberately snapping a large twig underfoot as he approached again.

Her dark thoughts interrupted, Heather started and anxiously turned toward the sound, but relaxed when she saw who was approaching.

“Oh, hi, D.J. You startled me.”

“Not like yesterday, I hope.”

“The less said about that, the better,” Heather replied sourly. “At least you have some gentlemanly instincts, unlike some boys here that I could name.”

“My momma didn’t raise no pervert. So, are you just going to stay here all day?”

“What’s it to you? We’re on opposite teams, you know.”

“True, but not everything is about the game. I was just trying to make conversation.”

“Sorry. I didn’t really need to snap at you like that,” Heather admitted. “I’m just pissed because I thought I’d found a way out of this lame challenge. Then Chris had to go and ruin it.”

“He’s Chris. That’s what he does.”

“Anyway, I’ll probably just stay here for a while. You?”

“I haven’t decided whether it’s better to keep moving or find a good place to hide,” D.J. admitted. “But if you’re going to stay here, I’ll bring you something if I find one of the feeding stations. It’s the least I can do after putting you in such a compromising position.”

“Yes, that’s definitely the least you could do,” Heather agreed sourly. “But what were you thinking? Like you said, it doesn’t seem like you.”

“I owed one of your servants a favor.”

Heather glowered. “I see.”

“By the way,” D.J. warned, “I probably shouldn’t tell you this—we’re on opposite teams, like you said—but if you’re going to stay in one spot, you need to keep a better lookout. I snapped that twig on purpose. Before that, I was able to sneak right up to you without you noticing.”

When Heather’s surprise had passed, she smiled warmly. “I see that Cody’s not the only one here who’s into misguided chivalry. But thanks. I hope it doesn’t come back to bite you with your team. And I mean that.”

The dusky brickhouse smiled in turn. “And I’m glad to see that there’s a real person under that gamebot exterior. See you around.” With that, D.J. left Heather in a better mood than he’d found her in.


Duncan, Courtney and Ezekiel arrived at the plane’s hanger to find it padlocked, but Duncan was not dismayed. He removed the bauble from one of his piercings and folded it out into something that looked like it might make a serviceable lockpick. Showing it to his teammates, the delinquent smirked and declared, “You’ve got to get up pretty early to keep me out of places that I’m not supposed to get into.”

Duncan applied his sketchy craft in an efficient and workmanlike fashion, but picking a lock takes time. By the time he finished, Beth had rejoined them.

Courtney asked, “Did you get the goods?”

With a hangdog look on her face, the farm girl replied, “When I asked Al, he just laughed.”

Duncan gave Beth a disapproving look and surmised, “Guess you’re not as tight with him as you thought.”

“Don’t be such an ogre,” Courtney chided in Beth’s defense. “We were asking a lot. Whatever, they’d have been nice to have, but we shouldn’t need them.”

“Like I said, he just laughed,” Beth repeated. Then, no longer able to keep a straight face, she grinned as she revealed a small sack that she had been carefully concealing behind her ample derriere. “And then he said he was honored to be part of such a masterful plan. He said that for people who weren’t expecting to be in an elimination game, we’re really learning.”

Duncan grinned his wolfish grin as he looked into the sack, which contained extra ammunition and several pairs of compact field glasses. “I never doubted you for a second. I know Al’s type,” he declared. Courtney lifted her eyes heavenward at this display of twofacedness, but said nothing.

The Muskie hunters entered the hangar, and Duncan set to work. Ezekiel, meanwhile, began a walkaround to verify that the plane was airworthy. Seeing the plane up close for the first time, Beth and Courtney were having second thoughts.

“I hope this was a good idea,” Courtney said as she cast a nervous eye on the decrepit-looking plane.

“It seemed like a good idea at the time,” Beth admitted, no less nervously.

“Famous Last Words: ‘It seemed like a good idea at the time’,” Courtney replied, swallowing hard. In her mind’s eye, she had a vivid image of a scenario that would leave the Muskies down by far more than one player, or even two.

“I think we’ll be fine,” Ezekiel pronounced when he finished his walkaround. “It’s not going to fall apart in midair. It just looks like it will. The skin’s all patched up, but the structure and the engine look okay.”

Soon after, Duncan completed his work. “There, that should do it,” he pronounced.

The hunters boarded the plane, with Ezekiel taking the controls. The engine roared to life, the crop dusting prairie boy verified that they had enough fuel for a reasonably long flight, and the Four Muskie-teers slipped the surly bonds of Earth.

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.

Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.


.

Death From Above

Gwen and Cody hiked aimlessly through the woods, with Cody trying to chat Gwen up as per standard procedure. When the challenge began, Gwen had seen a polite way to ditch her unwanted suitor. She had dressed more quickly than the science geek, partly because she wasn’t the only girl that he was talking to, and had sprinted into the woods. That looked innocent enough, since most of the “deer” were trying to make the most of their head start; but in Gwen’s case, she hoped to elude not only the hunters, but also a certain horny stag. It was not to be. Cody eventually found his dream doe by chance, and had stayed with her since. They had both noticed a light plane passing by in the distance; but that sight was not rare, so they paid it no heed.

Finally, Gwen decided to take the deer by the antlers. “I really think we should split up,” she declared.

“But then who will watch your back?” Cody pleaded.

“I don’t think my back is what you’ve been watching,” the Goth observed dryly. “If we’re together, you’ll want to talk. If you talk, you might attract the wrong kind of attention. If you attract the wrong kind of attention, we might both get shot. It’s going to be hard enough for us to win this lame challenge as it is. We need to split up.”

Cody had no answer to Gwen’s argument, so he reluctantly wished her luck and took his leave. Gwen wished Cody luck in turn as the plane changed course to pass near their position.

Cody hadn’t gotten far when Gwen’s cries of alarm and confusion stopped him. His first instinct was to rush back to her, but he had enough presence of mind to realize that she’d probably been shot—more than once, from the sound of her reaction—and that he would probably share her fate if he acted rashly. He dashed into a nearby thicket, crouched down, and began to scan for hunters.

Less than a minute later, the former Possum Scout heard someone or something approaching rapidly and unstealthily. “Cody? Cody?” called the voice that sounded sweeter to him than any other.

As Gwen came into view, Cody decided to risk revealing himself. He called back to her, and then stepped out of the thicket. Gwen quickly joined him there.

“What happened to you?” the science geek asked reflexively. It was obvious that she’d been shot many times, but Cody didn’t know what to make of the pattern, which included a hit on Gwen’s crown. Before he could figure it out for himself, the Goth explained.

“The Fishies are hunting from the frikking plane!” she informed him angrily. “We have to warn the others!”

Cody then understood what he was seeing. Caught completely by surprise, Gwen had been smothered. She’d been hit a dozen times before she knew what was happening.

“They’d have gotten you, too, if I hadn’t sent you away,” Gwen added.

“Yeah, we caught a break there,” Cody admitted. He inspected his crush girl’s “wounds” and concluded, “I see three shades of paint. That means all their hunters are probably on the plane, since whoever’s flying it probably can’t shoot.”

“Which means the plane should be all we have to worry about, at least for a while,” Gwen concluded, finishing the thought. “Be thankful for small favors, I guess.”

With that, the two Eagles wished each other luck once more, and again went their separate ways. Cody had no thought of trying to stay with Gwen now, for he knew that they had to cover as much ground as they might, as quickly as they might. That meant splitting up.

After a time, Cody encountered Leshawna, but he could see that he was too late. The Flying Fish had found the dusky homegirl first, and had served her in much the same way as they had served Gwen.

In the course of searching for Heather, the last unaccounted for Eagle deer, Cody eventually came across a feeding station. Emboldened by the fact that he could not hear the plane, the former Possum Scout sorted through the bounty at his leisure, cherry picking what he considered the best bits, mainly berries, pine nuts and succulents such as purslane.

Having eaten his fill, and with his hands full of additional provender for such later time as he might want it, Cody turned to resume his search for the dragon girl—and found himself face to face with what looked like a grizzly bear. It was actually a black bear, which contrary to the name comes in many colors; and wild grizzlies haven’t lived in Ontario since prehistoric times (except on Boney Island, where they survive to this day); but that distinction mattered little to Cody.

“Nice bear… nice bear,” Cody said as soothingly as he might, whilst he backed slowly away. “You want some berries? The purslane’s pretty good…”

Cody tossed his “deer food” onto the ground between him and the bear as he continued to back away, hoping that the hungry bruin would be content with it. The bear sniffed these offerings for a moment… but only for a moment. Apparently in the mood for meat, Cody’s ursine prosecutor began to stalk him, slowly and with grim purpose.

As Cody continued to back away, in somewhat more haste than before, he continued to face his adversary. The former Possum Scout knew that turning and running now would almost certainly provoke an attack; for when a predator sees something smaller run away, its first instinct is to give chase.

The standoff ended when Cody backed into a large boulder. As the bear finally began to close the distance between them, Cody had nowhere to go.


Katie, Sadie and Lindsay continued to hunt in a pack. They were still chattering happily, seemingly oblivious to basic hunting concepts such as stealth. Noah eventually had all he could take of this and had gone off on his own, hoping to find a feeding station that he could stake out.

Fate had decreed—and what Fate says, goes—that the Three Caballeras would eventually encounter Heather, who was still sitting on the log where D.J. had found her.

“Any luck?” Heather asked.

Lindsay complained, “We haven’t seen anyone.” The clones quickly affirmed their buddy’s report.

“Kind of figured,” the queen bee sniffed. “Whatever, I didn’t bring you guys into my alliance because I thought you’d know your heads from your butts in the challenges.”

“We’ve done okay in the challenges,” Sadie protested.

“Maybe not this one, but some of the others,” Katie added.

“Whatever,” Heather replied dismissively. “Lindsay, I’m hungry. Go find me some berries or something.”

As the loyal uberbimbo trotted off with the enthusiasm of a puppy, the queen bee commanded, “You two stay here and protect me.”

“How?” Katie asked. “We’re not allowed to shoot the hunters.”

“Exactly,” Heather explained. “You can be human shields. The Fishies won’t dare shoot at me because they’ll lose points if they hit you. Sadie, you cover my back since you’re bigger.”

“How are we going to win the challenge that way?” Sadie protested.

“If we have to stay here with you and Lindsay has to run errands for you, then who’s going to do the hunting?” Katie challenged.

“Even if Noah turns out to be a good hunter, he can’t win the challenge by himself—”

“—unless we get lucky.”

“It’s not like we have a chance anyway,” Heather insisted. “We might as well count on luck.”

Sadie observed, “The Heather I know doesn’t give up that easily.”

“We owe it to the others to at least try,” Katie insisted.

“We don’t owe the others anything,” Heather sniffed. “If they’re not in the alliance, they don’t matter. And you don’t know me. Got it?”


Cody saw one chance. Unlike grizzlies, black bears are not at the top of the food chain and so are easier to intimidate. If Cody could make himself look big enough, it might scare the bear off. If he tried and failed, that would probably provoke the bear to charge, in which case Cody would almost certainly die, or at best be left in such a condition that his own mother would be hard pressed to recognize him. Were he facing a grizzly bear, the trick he had in mind would surely have provoked a charge.

The former Possum Scout began to undo the fasteners on his faux buckskin jacket. His plan was to slide it down his forearms and then quickly raise his jacket-bound arms overhead, so as to make himself look suddenly bigger.

Drenched in cold sweat, with the bear now only a few meters away, Cody was ready for his “death or glory” gambit. Here goes nothing, he thought. If it doesn’t work, at least the ladies will grieve for me.

Suddenly, the bear seemed to go insane. It whirled and writhed, snapping at its flanks and pawing at the air as if tormented by hornets. It took Cody a few moments to realize that the “hornets” were actually paintballs, streaking in and marring the bruin’s brown coat with splotches of Muskie green.

A few of these missiles struck Cody as well, and this was no accident. He was a designated deer, after all, and his “friends in high places” still had a challenge to win. They had spotted the science geek at the feeding station and had moved in for the kill; but by the time they had gotten close for their quarry to hear the plane’s engine, the bear had commanded Cody’s undivided attention.

The fusillade ceased as quickly as it had come, for the limited range of paintball guns had obliged the Four Muskie-teers to make their pass at little more than treetop level. Such low altitude might be ideal for things like dusting crops, but it made for a narrow firing window. As the plane banked steeply for another pass, Cody turned his attention back to the bear.

The beast had not run off, but was now eyeing Cody more warily than hungrily. There was also a little more distance between them, for Cody had begun to work his way around the boulder during the first volley.

It was time, Cody thought, to make his move. He was tracking the plane by ear; and when he supposed that the Muskie “gunship” was in position, Cody suddenly raised his jacket-bound arms overhead, making him look half again bigger than before.

The bear gave more ground, but still did not flee. When the gunners opened fire, though, this time from behind their campmate instead of from the side, the beast finally broke and ran. Cody freed one arm from his jacket and waved appreciatively at the plane, which waggled its wings as it chased Cody’s would-be assailant deeper into the forest.


Lindsay returned empty handed. When she heard her allies’ voices rising, she had left off her foraging mission, succumbing to the overpowering urge to find out what was going on. When the uberbimbo got back, Heather and the clones were still arguing.

“Don’t you know what they’ll do if they find out that you deliberately screwed the team over just to protect your selfish little designer shorts? People don’t like you much as it is,” Sadie pointed out.

“What are you talking about?” Heather snapped angrily. “I’m popular!”

“Not as popular as you think,” Katie replied with no less heat. “If you ruin this challenge for us, they’re going to vote you off!”

“And so… will… we,” Sadie added in that dangerously quiet tone of one who is about to snap.

Heather exploded. “You think you can threaten me? You are nothing without me, you hive-minded little dweebs!”

“Right now, we’re nothing with you!” Katie retorted.

“All you do is make us step and carry for you!” Sadie added, her voice no longer quiet.

“So what do we have to lose?” Katie demanded.

“You’d be totally clueless without my strategizing!” Heather replied, her voice nearing screaming volume.

“You always talk about strategy—” one clone countered.

“—but what have you actually done—” the other continued.

“—except turn us into servants—”

“—and bully Gwen—”

“—just because she’s a Goth?”

“Sure, we don’t really like Goths, either—”

“—but at least we’ve been civil to her—”

“—not to mention that she’s actually kind of nice—”

“—once you get to know her.”

“I won the last challenge for us!” Heather screeched.

“By cheating!” Sadie shot back.

When the nonplussed queen bee failed to respond immediately, Katie jumped back in. “And now, you’re ready to throw this challenge just so you don’t get a little paint on you,” she griped.

“Oh, yeah, we’ll just be totally lost without that,” Sadie added without missing a beat.

Heather snapped. Unwilling or unable to accept that her lackeys were right, she snatched Lindsay’s paintball gun and shot both of the “twins” at point blank range.

“Picking a one-on-two firefight,” Katie (or was it Sadie?) sneered, pulling her own weapon from her shoulder.

“That’s real strategic of you,” Sadie (or was it Katie?) sneered in turn, completing the thought as she brought her own weapon to bear.

“MEET YOUR MAKER, BITCH!” the clones cried in unison, firing as one.

This servile insurrection was in full swing when Duncan spotted the girls through his field glasses. Courtney came to Duncan’s side, verified his report, and ordered, “Zeke, bring us about! Gunners, fire on my mark!”

As they closed on their quarry, the Flying Fish could see that something was not right. Ezekiel finally voiced the question that was now on all their minds.

“What’s going on down there? They’re shooting each other.”

“Maybe the worm has finally turned,” Courtney speculated.

“Or maybe Heather’s going to be ‘assimilated’,” Beth suggested.

“Shall we join the party? Duncan asked, raising his gun to his shoulder.

“No,” Courtney answered. “Katie, Sadie, and I assume that’s Lindsay are too close. We’ll lose points if we hit them.” The Muskies leader smiled in grim satisfaction and said, “Stand ready; but for now, we’ll just enjoy the show. They’re basically giving us the challenge.”

As the Death From Above squad circled overhead, waiting for an opening, Katie/Sadie and Heather continued to paint each other as fast as they could pull their triggers. When their magazines ran dry, the three reloaded (with Heather demanding, and receiving, Lindsay’s extra clips) and went right back to it.

Finally, when ruler and subjects had nothing more to shoot with, Katie and Sadie stalked off, leaving Heather to fume. After a few moments, the wing-clipped queen bee noticed that Lindsay—still loyal, if only because she was too stupid and too weak-willed to be otherwise—was looking at her, unsure of what to say or do.

“Don’t just stand there, Lindsiot,” the angry dragon snapped. “Go get me some berries or something. Just leave me in peace.” Lindsay promptly departed to do her liege’s bidding, leaving Heather to sulk alone.

High overhead, Courtney cried, “Fire!” And Heather was plastered a second time.


At the appointed time, the campers assembled for the reckoning, and it was obvious that the challenge had been no contest. Thanks partly to the infighting among the Eagles, the Muskies had won a “flawless victory”. All the Eagles’ deer, plus Katie and Sadie into the bargain, had taken multiple hits. Between the slave revolt and the Muskies’ tactics, Heather had been hit so many times that she was actually dripping.

In stark contrast, none of the Muskies’ deer had been hit even once, partly because only Noah had done much actual hunting for his team. Noah did get two shots at Tyler; but they had been difficult shots, and the bookworm had missed.

“So,” Chris pronounced, “Four kills each for Beth, Courtney and Duncan makes 12 points for the Muskies. Deducting points for hitting teammates and hunters makes… let’s see… each hunter had 30 rounds, so we’ll call it 90 points in the hole for the Eagles.

“However, comma, I can’t ignore the fact that the Eagles’ civil war is going to be great for ratings, so I’m giving the Eagles a fifty-point bonus. The final score is Muskies 12, Eagles minus-40. Eagles, get cleaned up and decide who you want to send home.”

Heather saw one way that she might salvage the situation. “It was totally unfair for the Fish Heads to hunt from the air,” she protested. “Shouldn’t they be disqualified for stealing the plane?”

“No rule against it,” Chris replied with that infuriating bland smile. “And they didn’t steal the plane, they borrowed it. They didn’t damage it, and nobody else needed it while they had it, so why should I care?

“Besides, if they hadn’t taken the plane, who knows what might have happened to Cody? Some things are more important than winning a challenge, wouldn’t you say?” the host added in a tone that all but dared Heather to disagree.

The campers assumed that Chris was just trying to force Heather down. None of the teens believed (well, Lindsay might have believed) that their overlord actually cared a whit about the science geek.

Heather didn’t really care about Cody, either, beyond not wanting to see him get seriously hurt, but she had nothing to gain by saying so. Besides, he was useful, and might be all the more so with Heather’s alliance on the verge of collapse.

“Yes,” Heather said dully, as if reading from a teleprompter, “some things are more important.”


The next morning, after a nasty breakfast that looked suspiciously like World War II vintage Army rations, the Muskies departed for their challenge reward: an excursion to a local shooting gallery. As the Eagles contemplated that night’s elimination, Heather summoned the Bobbsey Twins to her.

“You two were major traitors yesterday,” Heather pronounced, before letting her expression soften. Doing her best to project a geniality that she did not feel, the queen bee added, “But I have to admit, I probably had it coming, so I’m willing to let bygones go if you don’t try to take over the alliance again. Which brings us to tonight’s elimination. I’ve had all I can take of Leshawna, so we’re going to send her packing.”

“But we like Leshawna,” Katie protested.

“Yeah, she’s fun,” Sadie added.

Heather confronted Yin and Yang with the most withering, intimidating look in her repertoire. “Do you want to be in an alliance or don’t you?” When Tweedledum and Tweedledee nodded silently, Heather repeated, in a voice that brooked no dissent, “Leshawna.” They nodded again, and she left them.

This business concluded, the queen bee went to find her third and most loyal vassal. Upon catching up to Lindsay, Heather pulled the uberbimbo aside.

“I’ve decided who to vote off tonight,” Heather confided, “but it’s going to be tricky. Don’t breathe a word of this to anyone, or it’ll be all over for both of us.” The queen bee drew a finger across her throat with an exaggerated cutting sound to emphasize her point.

The dimwitted former blonde was not so stupid that she couldn’t understand this warning. “Right,” Lindsay acknowledged, “Don’t tell anyone.”

Heather looked around to make sure that no one was within earshot. Satisfied that they were alone, she put one finger on Lindsay’s lips as a warning to keep silent. Keeping her own voice low, Heather handed down her sentence.

“We’re voting off Katie.”

The hour was growing late, so Brett’s mother left off her tale and suggested that he prepare for bed.


.

Fifteenth Night

The next morning, after they had breakfasted, Brett went to school whilst his mother went to earn their daily bread. That evening, after they had dined and Brett had attended to his homework, Brett asked his mother to tell him more about her experience on Total Drama Island.  Brett sat in his favorite chair, and his mother sat on the sofa. She took a few moments to collect her thoughts, and then she began to speak.


“But why?” Lindsay asked in honest confusion. “Kayla’s our ally, isn’t she? Not to mention, our friend.”

“Not anymore,” Heather declared. “You saw how they tried to take over our alliance yesterday. And remember what they did to Chris on the diving cliff, when he wouldn’t let them be on the same team?

Lindsay did indeed remember. Through poorly suppressed giggles, she said, “Oh, that was totally awesome.”

Heather realized that she herself had failed to suppress a grin at that memory, but she quickly composed herself. “Okay, I’ll give them major props for that,” the Dark Queen admitted, “but it proves my point. If they’re willing to take on Chris to get what they want, then they’re capable of anything. They care more about each other than they do about us, the game, or anything, so they’re going to back each other no matter what.

“We still need one of them. Unfortunately, the only way we can keep one now is to sacrifice the other. I’ve decided that it’s better to keep Sadie. It was a tough call, but that’s why I’m the captain of our alliance. I know how to make these hard choices.

“Remember, not a word about this to anyone. Especially Katie and Sadie.”

This was a great deal of information for Lindsay to digest so quickly, at least by her standards. That was how Heather wanted it, for the Princess of Darkness had learned that fast talk tended to stop Lindsay asking questions.

“Right,” the uberbimbo acknowledged slowly. “We have to vote Katrina off, so we can’t tell her or Sandrine.”

“Good,” Heather pronounced with an encouraging smile, for she had learned that Lindsay confused only names, not identities. “Our two votes won’t be enough, but I have a plan. Have you seen Cody?”

“No, but I’ve seen Jen,” Lindsay replied helpfully.

“Close enough.”

Heather found the Goth and the Geek on the dock, where Gwen was trying to get away from everyone else and Cody was trying to chat her up. This had become an almost daily routine. Eavesdropping for a few minutes before announcing herself, Heather had to admit that Cody’s courting skills were starting to improve, even if his results didn’t reflect that improvement. Well, he’d had enough practice these last few weeks.

As Cody talked, Gwen responded mechanically. She really had no interest in him, and wanted to be alone in any case, but she had given up trying to discourage him. The science geek simply would not be deterred.

Enough entertainment, Heather finally decided. I’ve got a clone to backstab.

“Oh, there, you are,” Heather called in a sweetness-and-light tone as she approached. Grabbing Cody by the arm, the Dark Queen asked, “Gwen, do you mind if I borrow your boyfriend for a minute?”

Gwen scowled, and her voice dripped with irritation. “You know perfectly well that he’s not my boyfriend, and you can have him for as many minutes as you want.” Suddenly struck with a whimsical thought, she added in an artificially sweet tone similar to Heather’s, “You’re on an Unlimited plan, you know. And if you can talk some sense into him, I might actually think about forgiving you for your little stunt in the talent show.”

Heather did not value Gwen’s forgiveness, so the queen bee did not deign to reply as she escorted Cody in the general direction of the boathouse, still gripping his arm. As the Beauty and the Geek departed, Heather said, loudly enough for Gwen to hear, “Hey, Codemeister, tell me again about the first time you got to second base with Gwen. I love that story.”

When they were safely out of earshot, Heather released Cody’s arm. As they continued to walk toward the boathouse, having nowhere better to go, Heather asked, “So, have you given any thought to the vote?”

“Yeah,” Cody admitted slowly. “You and your lackeys did cost us the challenge, you know.”

“Yeah, about that,” Heather began, with a show of contrition, “I’ve been thinking that Katie and Sadie are getting awfully full of themselves. They think that as long as they have each other, they can do whatever they want. I can’t control them anymore, especially Katie. Seriously, how can you intimidate someone who’s died and lived to tell about it?”

Seeing that she had Cody’s attention, Heather paused for effect before dropping the other shoe. “I think it’s time for Katie to go.”

Cody stiffened. He saw a chance to make good on a promise; but to do that, he would first have to get Katie’s head off the block.

Fishing for information, Cody asked, “Any particular reason you picked Katie instead of Sadie? Besides what you’ve just said?”

“Not really,” Heather told him. That was a lie—Heather did have a reason, but was leery of having Cody or anyone else know too much about her master plan.

“How many votes do you have?” More probing.

Heather saw no reason to lie again. “I’ve just decided, so it’s only me and Lindsay so far. You’d be the third.”

Time to test her conviction, Cody thought. Aloud, he said, “You’re probably going to need a fourth vote. I think I know where we can get it, but it’s more likely to happen with Sadie than with Katie. Would you be willing to boot Sadie instead?”

Heather considered Cody’s proposal. She had chosen Katie in the belief that Sadie could be more easily broken if the Siamese campers were separated, but this was mostly conjecture based on the fact that Sadie was fat, whereas the post-makeover Katie was now considered hot. Heather didn’t particularly like either of them, so she had largely avoided getting to know them, and in truth her assessment was little better than a coin flip. Cody didn’t have to know that, though.

“Who do you have in mind for the fourth vote?” Heather asked, mounting a fishing expedition of her own.

“I can’t tell you that,” Cody demurred. “You understand. If you can figure it out for yourself, then more power to you.”

“It’s Noah, isn’t it? Sunshine said that you have an alliance with him, but why would he care whether I keep Katie or Sadie?”

“Most of the guys think Katie’s prettier. Noah’s no exception.”

Cody hadn’t told Heather the whole truth, but he’d told her enough to be believable and, with any luck, enough to satisfy her. With Katie in Heather’s thrall, neither Cody nor Noah wanted the queen bee to know about Noah’s crush.

Meanwhile, Cody’s suggestion to expel Sadie instead of Katie had got Heather thinking. When Heather had been incapacitated following the Awake-a-thon, it was Sadie who had marshaled the troops; and while Sadie’s resistance to ousting Justin after the phobia challenge had been no better reasoned than Katie’s, Heather had to admit that the butterball generally made a competent lieutenant. And therein lay a problem.

Being a treacherous sort, the Dark Queen naturally feared treachery. Although Sadie was no genius, she was noticeably smarter than Katie, and light years ahead of Lindsay—granted, nearly everyone was light years ahead of Lindsay, Heather thought—so Sadie just might get the misguided idea someday that she and Lindsay didn’t need Heather. Moreover, Katie and Sadie’s near-fatal misadventure during the camping challenge had amply demonstrated what Sadie was capable of when she put her mind to it.

Perhaps, Heather thought, she’d been too hasty in deciding which clone to send packing.

“Fine,” Heather answered with a shrug. “If you can get the fourth vote, we’ll send Fatty Lumpkin off.”

“Tom Bombadil. The Lord of the Rings,” Cody noted.

“Whatever.” Heather knew nothing of Tom Bombadil or the pony he named “Fatty Lumpkin”, for she had never read the book and Bombadil wasn’t in the movies.

“There’s one other thing,” Cody added. “I need something in return for my help.”

In truth, Heather respected Cody more for demanding a quid pro quo than she would have if he hadn’t. Besides, if she thought his price too high, she was confident that she could bargain him down. “All right, then, what’s your price?” she prompted.

“I would really appreciate it if you’d get off Gwen’s back.”

Ouch.

Heather started to protest, but checked herself. She needed Cody’s help to split the Bobbsey Twins without tipping her hand further, but she couldn’t just boss him around like she did her posse. Being a boy, Cody had no reason to recognize Heather’s queen bee authority, and they both knew that he had her over a barrel.

That wasn’t the worst of it. It was no secret that Gwen was on friendly terms with Leshawna, the only player whom Heather despised more than she did the Goth. If those two ever decided to start actually playing the game, there was a very real danger that they might recruit Cody into an alliance. That would be a serious rival to Heather’s bloc, especially if Cody then recruited Noah, and would weaken Heather’s own alliance into the bargain. Heather would rather shave her head than see that happen. If preventing it meant treating this nerdling as something resembling an equal, then that was the way it would be.

Besides, Heather had to admit, although she would never tell anyone but the Confession Cam, she thought it sweet that Cody wanted a favor on behalf of his crush girl instead of for himself.

But still… this was Gwen they were talking about.

“You don’t know what you’re asking,” Heather said, shaking her head. “Weir… Gwen creases me so majorly, I can’t even tell you.”

That was close. Heather had almost said, “Weird Goth Girl”. That could have been disastrous, because it simply would not do to alienate Cody right now. “I get that you’ve never been able to see anything but the best in her, but… I just don’t know,” Heather added with another shake of her head.

“I’m not asking you to be her buddy,” Cody clarified. “Just… don’t be her enemy. Gwen doesn’t get into people’s faces the way Leshawna can. She’ll ignore you if you give her half a chance.”

Heather didn’t see the selling point there. The queen bee didn’t like the thought of being ignored, even by people she hated. She lived by the Oscar Wilde credo: “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”

Time to turn on the charm, and see if she might bargain Cody down. “Gwen does not deserve you,” Heather declared.

“That’s what she said,” Cody revealed. “Funny thing, though, it didn’t sound the same when she said it.”

Despite the gravity of the situation, Heather couldn’t suppress a short bark of laughter. “I’ll bet,” she said.

The Dark Queen and her torpedo reached the boathouse. With nothing there to command their attention, they began to stroll back to the camp.

“I’m serious, though,” Heather continued. “I’ll admit that I didn’t think so at first, but you’ve got a lot to offer a girl. Why waste it on someone who doesn’t want it?”

“I hear you,” Cody admitted. “There are a lot of girls here—well, some of them aren’t here anymore—who I wouldn’t mind hooking up with, but I just feel a special connection to Gwen. Like she’s my preordained soulmate, or something.”

“Forget Gwen. When people see how devoted you can be, girls will be flocking to you.” The deceiver was thus the deceived, for this bit of shameless flattery was in fact truth spoken in jest, but that is another story for another time.

“Yeah, but the flocks aren’t here. Gwen is,” the science geek countered. “Besides, I stabbed Trent in the back to be with her, when I really didn’t have anything else against him. That’s not something I’d be especially proud of, even if it hadn’t blown up in my face, and the producers are probably going to give me a ‘villain edit’ for it. How can I give up on Gwen now, after I paid that kind of price to be with her?”

“You took that chance,” Heather answered. “It was a good gamble, but sometimes good gambles don’t pay off. Get a clue, dude. Gwen doesn’t want you.

“Someone… else… might.” The Princess of Darkness underscored this conjecture by lightly running a fingernail down Cody’s flank before gently grasping his arm near the elbow.

I think I’m going to rupture my zipper, Cody mused facetiously, as he took Heather’s cue and bent his arm for her. What he actually said, though, was, “And might this ‘someone’ be, say, a ‘business associate’ who is perhaps looking to broaden an existing relationship?”

“Possibly,” Heather purred, sidling a little closer as they walked.

“With romantic dates doubling as strategy sessions?”

“I’ve said this before, but I like the way you think.”

“Combining gameplay with, er, playing other ‘games’?” Cody suggested with a gleam in his eye and his characteristic goofy grin.

“Down, boy!” Heather commanded in a playful-sounding tone, gesturing with her free hand. “I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves, you little horndog.”

“Hey, I’m a dude. It comes with the territory.”

“You do have a point.”

In truth, Heather had no more romantic interest in Cody than Gwen did; for while the Dark Queen had been sincere when she said that Cody had a lot to offer the right girl, she didn’t see herself as that girl because appearances were very important to her. Heather did rather like the idea of dating as a cover for planning game strategy, so she wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a sham hookup with the science geek; and while she normally wouldn’t be caught dead on the arm of a boy like Cody, the show’s viewing audience would know the truth. She did hope, though, that she wouldn’t have to make out with him.

“If we did become ‘an item’,” Cody said after a few moments, interrupting Heather’s ruminations, “I would still want you to cut Gwen some slack. I don’t like to see people bullied. I’ve been bullied before, myself, so I know what it feels like.”

Heather sighed. Cody was the second person in two days—the third if you went so far as to count Katie and Sadie as separate people—to accuse her of actually bullying Gwen, so maybe there was something to it. Heather, too, knew what it was like to be bullied, for she had not always been as pretty or as popular as she had since become.

The queen bee thought back over her treatment of Gwen and felt… not guilty, certainly not ashamed, but… surprised that this ‘low-rent gutterpunk’ (as Heather had once described the Goth) had commanded so much of her attention, especially when Leshawna was no less grating and far more confrontational.

Heather had to admit to herself that Cody’s terms were reasonable, but that didn’t mean that meeting them would be easy. She reminded herself that her semi-ally was useful, and that she was committed to paying whatever price she must to win the game.

They were approaching the camp, so Heather released Cody’s arm, and the conspirators continued to walk side by side like the friendish teammates they were.

“Okay, you win,” the queen bee conceded. “Being nice to Gwen is going to be really hard, but for your sake, I’ll try.”

“Thanks, bra. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a fourth vote to round up.”

It didn’t take Cody long to find Noah, for he knew his ally’s habits. They went to a place where they would not be overheard, and Cody told the bookworm of his conversation with Heather, but nothing would be gained be repeating it here. Noah had reservations about helping to backstab Sadie, for he feared Katie’s reaction if she should learn of it; but in the end, he decided that it was worth the risk.

That evening, the Eagles gathered at the bonfire to do what they had to do. Chris recited his now-familiar spiel, but with a twist: instead of calling campers in the order of increasing vote totals, as he usually did, on this night he would call the safe campers randomly. In due course, he called Katie, Noah, Gwen, Leshawna, Cody and Lindsay to him to receive their marshmallows. He did not reveal whether any of these six had votes against them.

“I have just one marshmallow left,” the host intoned solemnly. “Heather, Sadie, your infighting may have cost your team the challenge, although I have to admit that the Muskies would probably have won anyway. Their idea to hunt from the air was brilliant, and it’s going to be great for ratings.

“One of you has spent her last day on Total Drama Island. The one who does not receive this marshmallow must walk the Dock of Shame, board the Boat of Losers, and make the Voyage of the Damned to Loserville. And you can never come back, because damnation is for ev-er.

“The final marshmallow of the night goes to…”

As Chris McLean, Arbiter of Fates, hammed it up and milked the dramatic tension for all it was worth, Heather felt far from secure. If all had gone according to plan, then she and Leshawna would each have two votes against them, since Gwen and Leshawna could be expected to vote against her, leaving a 50-50 chance of Heather ending up in the bottom two even if Chris hadn’t really randomized the call-up order like he claimed.

There was a wildcard, though: Lindsay. If the uberbimbo had spilled the beans to Katie and Sadie, then there was a very real chance that Heather could be the one going home this night.

As the host’s Finger of Fate moved back and forth between Heather and Sadie, both girls, plus Katie, were sweating bullets. Finally…

“Heather. Come get your marshmallow.”

Heather breathed a deep sigh of relief as she rose to her feet. Lindsay had, indeed, kept her mouth shut.

As the Dark Queen claimed her talisman of life, her eyes met Chris’, and host and contestant shared a moment of silent understanding. Had Chris revealed the vote totals, as he usually did, Sadie would still have been out, but it wouldn’t have been hard for the others to figure out what had happened. By keeping the vote distribution secret, and thereby keeping the Eagles guessing, the host had done what he could to protect his ratings-boosting main antagonist.

Besides, Heather wasn’t the only one who wanted the clones brought into line; for although Chris had forgiven Katie and Sadie for his humiliation on the diving cliff, he hadn’t forgotten it.

Katie, meanwhile, had returned to the seating area to console her BFF.

“This is so unfair,” Katie declared. With a set to her jaw that seemed out of place on such an innocent young face, she turned back to the others and said, “Chris, I’ll go in Sadie’s place, if you’ll allow it.”

“Aw, that’s so sweet!” Sadie cooed, clearly touched by her BFF’s gesture. “But you know I can’t let you do that.”

“But I mean it!” Katie cried passionately.

“I know, right? And I’d do the same for you,” Sadie answered with equal fervor. “But how could I go on, knowing what it cost you?”

Katie pressed her case. “But it won’t cost me anything, if I know you’re still in the game. We’re going to be separated no matter what. And in case you forgot, I owe you my life. Isn’t that worth a chance to stay in the game?”

“But you’re in better shape then I am,” Sadie countered, “and most of the challenges are probably going to be physical in some way. You have a better chance of getting to the ‘cash zone’ than I would,” the butterball added, referring to the fact that the top third of the field would receive cash prizes.

When Katie did not have an immediate answer to this point, Chris declared, “The vote stands. Sadie is out.”

When the Eagles assembled at the base of the dock for the sendoff, Katie and Sadie walked down the Dock of Shame together. As Hatchet tolled the bell, the other campers could hear the BFFs arguing, and there was some question as to which one would actually board the boat. Indeed, this bit of dramatic tension was the reason why Chris had allowed the clones to walk the Dock together, when the condemned normally had to walk alone.


One man in a thousand, Solomon says,
Will stick more close than a brother.
And it’s worth while seeking him half your days
If you find him before the other.
Nine hundred and ninety-nine depend
On what the world sees in you
But the Thousandth Man will stand your friend
With the whole round world agin you.

‘Tis neither promise nor prayer nor show
Will settle the finding for ‘ee.
Nine hundred and ninety-nine of ‘em go
By your looks, or your acts, or your glory.
Bit if he finds you and you find him,
The rest of the world don’t matter;
For the Thousandth Man will sink or swim
With you in any water.

You can use his purse with no more talk
Than he uses yours for his spendings,
And laugh and meet in your daily walk
As though there had been no lendings.
Nine hundred and ninety-nine of ‘em call
For silver and gold in their dealings;
But the Thousandth Man h’s worth ‘em all,
Because you can show him your feelings.

His wrong’s your wrong, and his right’s your right,
In season or out of season.
Stand up and back it in all men’s sight—
With that for your only reason!
Nine hundred and ninety-nine can’t bide
The shame or mocking or laughter,
But the Thousandth Man will stand by your side
To the gallows-foot—and after!


When the Bobbsey Twins reached the end of the dock, Sadie stepped out to board the boat, but Katie stopped her. As they continued to argue over who should go and who should remain, Katie moved to board, only to be stopped in turn.

Finally, Hatchet grew impatient and emerged from the wheelhouse. Without a word, he approached Sadie from behind, grabbed her by her arms, just below her shoulders, picked her up (visibly straining, for that little butterball was a lot of butter), pivoted, and deposited her on the boat.

Hatchet turned back to Katie. “You can go, too, if you really want,” he said, “but Fatso is going, regardless.”

Katie saw that there was nothing more she could do, so she pledged to Sadie to carry on for the both of them. Then, she sank to her knees, put her face in her hands, and began to weep.

Looking on, Chris wiped away a tear; but in his case, it was a tear of joy as he contemplated what this touching emotional scene would do for the show’s ratings.

Noah started down the dock toward Katie, followed closely by Cody, and then by the other Eagles. Cody knew what his ally was planning. The others did not, but were game to find out.

Noah came right up to the end of the dock and stood beside the still-kneeling girl-child, whose rail-thin body was now wracked with quiet sobs. As the boat pulled away from the dock, Noah placed a consoling hand on Katie’s heaving shoulder and, in his rough, nasal baritone, began to sing the Pie Jesu.

Although the Eagles had learnt this song from the Muskies three nights since, as has been told of before, they had not formally decided whether to use it at their own eliminations. When Chris announced Sadie’s elimination, Noah had decided to force the issue in the hope of scoring points with his stricken crush girl.

As Noah sang, or did what passed for singing in his case, Katie’s sobbing abated briefly. When Noah came to the line meaning, “You take away the sins of the world”, Katie showed a hint of a smile and began to sing in a reedy soprano, but her grief-choked voice faltered and she could not finish the line. By that time, however, the other Eagles had joined it.

And that is how the Screaming Eagles came to adopt the “Pie Jesu” section of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Requiem as a regular part of the elimination ceremony.


Brett said, “I’ve watched some of the early episodes from your season online, and I can’t believe some of the editing. I’m not sure I’d have even recognized Noah from the way you describe him. Except for the dodgeball speech.”

“Blame it on TDI supposedly being a kid’s show,” his mother explained. “The producers obviously thought that kids would be more interested in a snarker than an intellectual who likes poetry, so that was mostly the edit he got. The only reason his dodgeball speech made it into the episode is because it was too awesome to leave out.”

The night was not far advanced, so Brett’s mother paused a few moments to collect her thoughts, and then continued with her tale.


.

Episode #10: The Tale of the Cooking Challenge

Original title: If You Can’t Take the Heat

The next morning, at the crack of dawn, the yacht that had brought the campers to the island announced its arrival with a blast from its horn that jolted the campers awake. That, of course, was precisely the reason why Chris had requested a dawn delivery.

The yacht docked and disgorged thirteen college age men and women, the latest reinforcements for the depleted intern corps. Alejandro, that diplomat’s son who had risen to become the intern-in-chief in every way but name, stood on the dock to greet them.

Even at the rate Chris was going through interns, the producers had not expected to need more recruits so quickly, but the massive losses on Boney Island had caught everyone flatfooted. Part of a producer’s job is to arrange logistical support, and the sudden crisis left them scrambling. Not surprisingly, tempers ran high. Chris felt the pressure as well, and maintaining a “business as usual” air during the paintball challenge had been a stern test of his considerable acting skill.

When the harried producers called Chris on the carpet for the Boney Island debacle, the host had testily pointed out that he couldn’t predict earthquakes. Therefore, he argued, the rockslides that had wiped out an entire work detail and then some couldn’t be blamed on anything more than bad luck. That hadn’t been the only cause of intern death, of course, but it was enough for Chris’ inquisitors to concede his point, and they let the matter drop.

Fortunately for the producers, if not for the recruits, the show had become popular, so even on short notice there was no shortage of applicants looking to be a part of it and burnish their resumes thereby. Both the finished episodes and the “behind the scenes” footage posted on the show’s website had been carefully edited to avoid any suggestion that interns were coming to sticky ends, so twelve of the recruits suspected nothing. The thirteenth was different, though, for she was blessed or cursed with perceptions that are not given to most of us.

As Alejandro’s new colleagues filed off the boat, he noticed that this last was looking oddly troubled. He solicitously asked, “Is something wrong, senorita?”

The recruit, a tiny, pale blonde with a wraithlike air about her, seemed to be listening to voices that only she could hear, like and yet unlike what Izzy sometimes did. “There is a great evil here,” she said distractedly, in a soft, childlike voice.

“That would be our overlord, Chris McLean,” Alejandro quipped.

“No, this is something else,” the recruit explained in the same distracted tone. “Something not of flesh and blood.”

“I’m afraid I can’t help you there,” Alejandro admitted. “I understand people, not spirits.”

“Yes, a spirit,” the wraith-girl said absently, and then seemed to see Alejandro for the first time. “But maybe I can help you. I realize that we’ve only just met, but I can see that you bear a terrible burden. ‘Survivor guilt’, I think it’s called. You might feel better if you talk about it.”

How did she know that? Alejandro wondered. He knew that he hadn’t felt like himself for several days, but he hadn’t been able to fathom it until this seemingly psychic girl had put it into words. In a moment of weakness and selfishness, Alejandro had talked his friend Lightning into swapping work assignments with him, because Alejandro wanted to avoid having to get up before dawn. Lightning had agreed readily enough, for that mighty jock enjoyed proving his toughness by mortifying the flesh in various ways. So it was that Lightning had gone to Boney Island instead of Alejandro, and had found his fate there.

“My burden is indeed a heavy one,” the big Latino confessed, turning away so that this uncanny girl would not see him blinking away the tears that now threatened to flow. “But this is not the time or the place to discuss it.”

Meanwhile, one of the campers was wrestling with survivor guilt of her own. As the campers ate what passed for breakfast, Katie listlessly poked at her alleged food. “Why did it have to be Sadie?” she lamented to no one in particular. “Why didn’t she let me go in her place?

Noah had managed to score the seat next to Katie, in the spot that Sadie normally occupied. “It might be exactly what she said,” the bookworm surmised. “In a game where physical attributes matter, you’ve got a better body for it.”

“Excuse me?” Katie interrupted with a bit of irritation in her voice.

“I know, right?” Heather added with unusual sincerity.

“Sorry,” Noah offered hastily, for he hadn’t expected Katie to suspect his true meaning. “Poor choice of words. My point—Sadie’s point—was that from a physical standpoint, you’re the stronger all-around player. You’re strong, quick, agile, and have good stamina.” Noah allowed himself a faint smile as he added, “By the most widely accepted standards, you’re also prettier, and don’t think that doesn’t matter to Chris. We all know by now what a ratings whore he is.”

“That makes sense,” Katie admitted reluctantly. “But why would anyone vote against Sadie in the first place? What did she ever do to anyone?”

“That could be exactly it,” Heather dissembled. The Dark Queen lowered her voice to a conspiratorial whisper and somehow managed to keep a straight face as she explained. “You know what I think? I think the reason why Chris didn’t announce the vote totals like he usually does is because he decided to ignore the vote. We know that Chris likes to change the rules on the fly, and we know that he likes players who put the ‘Drama’ in Total Drama Island. Sadie was never big on drama. That made her a good ally, but Chris might have decided that it didn’t make her good television. He also might have thought that our alliance had too much power.”

“Besides, he might still remember what you and Sadie did to him on the diving cliff,” Noah interjected.

Katie giggled in spite of herself. “As if that wasn’t good ‘drama’.”

“That probably wound up on the cutting room floor,” Heather surmised. “You know what Chris’ ego is like.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” Katie replied listlessly as her dolor returned.

The finished episode had a confessional spot by Chris spliced in at this point. “For the record,” the host declaimed, “I did not ignore the vote. Sadie got backstabbed fair and square. But if Heather’s disinformation keeps the players guessing, that’s good for drama. And if it’s good for drama, then it’s good for ratings. And if it’s good for ratings, then I’ve got no damage.”

As the breakfast period wound down and the campers began to filter out of the lodge, Katie rose to dispose of her virtually untouched food. Noah rose a moment later and followed her as unobtrusively as he could manage.

“I know this must be hard for you,” Noah told his crush girl as they put away their trays. “If you need anything, feel free to ask.” That was all he dared say at the moment, lest the approaching Heather overhear.

“Thanks, Noah. I’ll keep that in mind,” replied the dejected girl-child. “And thanks for what you did at the dock.”

“My pleasure,” the bookworm assured her, and then took his leave. He would find another time to converse with her at greater length.

As Katie exited the lodge, Heather and Lindsay caught up to her. “That surprise elimination weakened our alliance,” the Dark Queen said, “so it’s even more important that we stick together. Let bygones be bygones, or whatever.”

“What’s the point?” Katie lamented. “If Chris is just kicking off whoever he wants, then what’s the point of playing this lame game at all?”

Lindsay opened her mouth as if to speak, but her overlord silenced her with a glance. Heather had to think fast, for she was caught in a “tangled web” of her own making, but the Princess of Darkness was up to the challenge. “That’s a good point,” she assured her stricken ally. “But I don’t think he’ll do that again. Not before the merge, anyway. It worked once because it was a surprise. But if he makes a habit of throwing screwy eliminations at us, then everyone will just give up, like you said.”

“I wouldn’t give up,” Lindsay blurted out. “We’re still BFFs, and right now this is the only place where we can be together.”

Heather smiled at that. Her smile looked warm and sincere on camera, but in truth it was as cold and heartless as she. “I guess it’s true what they say. Even a blind squirrel finds a few acorns.”

Lindsay’s face took on that all-too-familiar look of childlike confusion as she asked, “What do acorns have to do with anything?”

“Never mind,” Heather replied with a touch of audible exasperation. “As I was about to say, Chris probably didn’t want us to be able to just cruise to the merge, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t want us to still be a force to be reckoned with.”


The next day was a challenge day; so when Chris came into the lodge at breakfast and called for attention, the campers wondered what rare ordeal lay in store for them.

“Today is ‘Put Up or Shut Up’ Day,” Chris began. “We’ve had enough of everyone complaining about Chef’s cooking when it hasn’t even killed anyone yet, so we’re going to see if you can do better. Each team will prepare a three-course meal to be judged by moi, Chef Hatchet, and a guest judge who you’ll meet when I feel like it.

“Each team will choose a Head Chef, who will select a theme and coordinate your work. If you need recipes, talk to Alejandro. Normally I’d have Chef Hatchet handle that sort of thing, but he’s on our judging panel and he wants to be surprised.

“Each judge will score each course on a ten-point scale, so the maximum base score is 30 for each course. On top of that, each judge may award up to two bonus points per course for peripheral stuff. Our guest judge will award the presentation bonuses because she’s obsessed with appearances—”

“So the guest judge is a hot chick?” Duncan ventured hopefully.

“—Chef Hatchet will handle the difficulty/exoticness bonuses,” Chris continued with a glare at Duncan for interrupting him, “and I will be in charge of the ‘sucking up to the host’ bonuses. If there’s a tie, the first tiebreaker is the highest low score for your three courses, so you want consistency.

“You have eight hours to do your thing. We’ve just restocked the pantry, not to mention all that beaver meat the Muskies found for us on Boney Island, so you’ll have a good selection. None of the judges are vegetarians, and we don’t have any known food allergies or intolerances, so it’s pretty much anything goes. Any questions?”

D.J. raised his hand and was duly acknowledged. “A cook is only as good as his ingredients,” the gentle giant explained, for as the son of a restaurateur, he knew his way around a kitchen. “Is there good stuff for us to work with, or just the substandard stuff that Chef usually uses?”

Chris replied, “Everything’s either fresh or reasonably close to its expiration date, so you’ve got no excuses.”

Cody asked, “What if we want something that’s not in the pantry?”

“Tell us what it is, and we can probably get it for you, within reason,” Chris assured him. “But the pantry has a better selection than you think. The interns eat pretty well, since we don’t pay them.”

“And because every meal could be their last?” Noah suggested.

“That too,” Chris admitted. “But if you want something like Beluga caviar, then you’re out of luck. Anything that fancy and expensive would have to come out of my own stash. So not happening.”

A thought suddenly struck the host. “Oh, right,” he said to Cody. “You’re the ex-Possum Scout. If you’re talking about ‘eating locally’, any edible plant or critter that you can get your hands on is fair game. If you try to go that route, though, you might want to have a backup plan.”

No one had any more questions, so the Lord of Wawanakwa dismissed the campers. Roughly eight milliseconds later, Heather cried, “Head Chef! Called it!”

Courtney’s first instinct was to do as Heather had done, but she hesitated. She was a control freak, but she also wanted to win, and she really didn’t know much about gourmet cooking, so she held her tongue. No one else seemed inclined to step into the breach, though; so as the campers went to inspect the pantry, she approached D.J.

“Hey, Deej,” Courtney called to her dusky teammate. “You said that your mom runs a restaurant, and you’ve shown us that you know a thing or two about cooking. It seems to me that you’d make a good Head Chef.”

“Seriously? You don’t want to be Head Chef yourself?” the incredulous brickhouse asked. He quickly recovered from his shock, though, and answered, “But sure, I’ll do it.”

“Just making use of the talent around me,” Courtney explained. “This is a team challenge, and I have to think of the team.”

Duncan narrowed his eyes and challenged, “Who are you, and what have you done with Courtney?”

“Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” Ezekiel admonished his “city mouse” buddy. The farm boy kept his voice low in deference to Courtney’s feelings, for she was his friend, too.

“What does that mean, anyway?” asked the suitably distracted delinquent.

“It means, ‘don’t complain about a gift you’ve been given,” Ezekiel explained. “The reason why you’d look inside a horse’s mouth is to spot defects.”

The teams reached the kitchen, and found Alejandro there to greet them. The big intern explained that he was there not only to procure recipes as needed, but also to arbitrate disputes over the use of shared facilities such as the burners. The spacious kitchen had two large tables, so the teams quickly set up shop.

D.J. said to his team, “I’d like to go with an Italian theme. Any objections?”

Beth said, “I know a great ravioli recipe!”

“I didn’t see any ravioli in the pantry,” D.J. pointed out, “but Chris did say that we could request stuff that we don’t have on hand. Sounds good.”

“No, no,” Beth corrected. “I meant that I can make it from scratch. Four Cheese, with spinach pasta.”

D.J. smiled and said, “Even better. That might get us a difficulty bonus. I think I know just the sauce for that, too. Alright, Beth, you’re on the entrée.”

When none of the other Muskies revealed specific cooking talents, D.J. said, “Three courses, six of you, so we’ll put two on each. Eva, you’re with Tyler on the starter—traditional antipasto. Courtney and Ezekiel, you’ll make dessert. I’m thinking tiramisu. Duncan, you’re with our ‘ravioli pixie’ on the entrée.”

Beth shyly waved at her new partner and flashed a metallic grin.

“I had a bad pixie experience in the phobia challenge,” Duncan protested. “Since I’m good with knives, I think we’d be better off with me on the antipasto.”

“You’re kidding, right?” Courtney countered. You and Eva together with deadly weapons? That’s a disaster waiting to happen. Everyone knows that you two hate each other. Tyler with knives isn’t much better, but at least he’s only a danger to himself.”

“And I’d rather work with anyone else but Duncan,” Eva chimed in. “Even Homeschool. At least there’s hope for him.”

“Settle down, everyone,” D.J. pleaded. “I have to admit that you all make good points, so here’s how it’s going down. Duncan, you’re with Homesc—er, Ezekiel on the antipasto. Eva and Tyler, you’re on dessert. Courtney, you’re with Beth on the entrée. As Head Chef, I’m the floater. I can lend a hand anywhere it’s needed. Is everyone cool with that?”

Everyone was, so D.J. said, “Awesome. Let’s get to work.”

At the Eagle’s table, meanwhile, a similar scene was playing out. Heather called her team to order and announced, “I’m thinking Hawaiian. If anybody has a lot of cooking experience with something else, now’s the time to speak up.”

Leshawna accepted the challenge. “This Quebecois homegirl does French.”

Katie seconded the motion. “Yeah, let’s do French. I can make a killer bordelaise sauce.”

Cody then chimed in. “If we do French, I have an idea for the dessert. Ever since I first heard of it, I’ve always wanted to try it, and I think we can get a ‘sucking up to Chris’ bonus out of it.”

“Now I’m intrigued,” Heather admitted. “What do you have in mind?”

Cody gathered his teammates to him and spoke softly, for he did not want the Muskies to overhear. “It’s called ‘blancmange’,” he began.

After Cody had explained his proposal, Heather declared, “French it is, then. Leshawna and Noah will do the appetizer. Gwen, you’re with Katie on the entrée. Lindsay, you and Cody will make dessert. Katie, what type of meat goes with bordelaise sauce?”

“Red meat, mostly.”

“We’ll use the beaver meat,” Heather pronounced. “The Fish Heads raved about it, and maybe we can get a bonus for using local ingredients. Speaking of which, maybe we can get a bonus for the starter, too.”

Heather then made a fateful decision; for although the queen bee meant well, it is not given to mortals to see the future with clarity. “We should have more than enough time to cook everything,” she said, “so I want everyone to go out and forage for frogs or crawdads or stuff like that. The French are into petite crawly things as starters.

“Do I have to?” Lindsay complained. “Frogs and stuff are so gross.”

“It’s for the good of the team,” Heather assured her. “And Cody, since you can identify edible plants, keep an eye open for anything that we could use as garnishes.”

With that, the Eagles set out on their quest. Katie briefly remained to list the ingredients that she would need for her sauce; then she, too, set out to forage for appetizer ingredients. Heather remained in the kitchen to see to the known ingredient needs and to request a blancmange recipe from Alejandro.

When Heather received the recipe, she quickly read through it and discovered that a proper blancmange takes several hours to make; so after collecting the ingredients for it, she left the lodge to find her dessert cooks.

She had not been searching long when she found Lindsay. The uberbimbo’s search has been timid and ineffectual. Heather found this unsurprising in light of Lindsay’s stated revulsion, and in fairness the dragon girl could sympathize, so she let it go.

“You need to get back to the kitchen,” the queen bee commanded. “I just found out that blancmange has gelatin in it, and it needs like six hours in the fridge. That doesn’t give us a lot of time. Have you seen Cody?”

“No,” Lindsay admitted. “I haven’t see Glenda, either.”

“I’ll keep looking. You get started on the blancmange. I assume you can read a recipe?”

“Of course,” Lindsay assured her liege. “Just because I’m not as smart as some people here doesn’t mean I’m illegible.”

“Whatever,” the Dragon Queen said, and sent the uberbimbo on her way.

Heather eventually found most of the unaccounted for Eagles at the lake shore. Although they had originally set out to forage individually, it hadn’t been long before someone realized that working together might be more productive. Leshawna had changed into her swimsuit and now stood in chest-deep water, with a door screen mesh in hand. Her job was to drive frogs and crayfish and other denizens of the shallows toward the shore, and to deter them from trying to escape into deep water. The Eagles were having some success with this strategy, and Cody caught a good-sized bullfrog even as Heather approached.

Gwen called to Leshawna, “That’s two! Do you want to come out now, or do you want to try for three?”

“Three judges, three frogs,” the ebon homegirl called back cheerfully.

Heather told the Eagles on shore, “You’ll have to catch the third one without Cody. We need him back at the kitchen. It turns out that blancmange takes like six hours to make.”

Leshawna, meanwhile, suddenly felt pain at the base of her spine, as if something was gouging her skin. She instinctively reached back to that spot, and felt something that she was quite certain didn’t belong there.

“I’m coming out!” the homegirl called frantically. “Something ain’t right out here!” The pain was worsening.

Leshawna waded ashore as quickly as she might, but something seemed to be impeding her. She felt like she was wading through molasses instead of water. The pain no longer grew worse, but neither did it abate.

As she staggered out of the water, her teammates saw at once what was amiss. Leshawna seemed to have grown an enormous tail, nearly as thick as her stout thighs. The unwanted appendage glistened in the morning sun. And it had eyes.

Katie screamed. Gwen tried to say something, but the words would not come, so she just gestured wildly and jabbered inarticulately.

Cody was the first to recognize the nature of the threat. “Giant lamprey!”

Leshawna reached back again, this time with both hands, and her eyes widened in horror when she thereby discovered just how big the piscine bloodsucker was. “Get it off me! Get it off me!” she pleaded, with rising panic in her voice.

Reacting quickly, Heather cried, “Don’t let it get away! They’re supposed to be good eating! We can use it for the challenge!”

Heather’s apparent lack of concern for Leshawna’s safety didn’t sit well with the homegirl, but it did have the benefit of distracting her from her terror. Determined not to be anything’s lunch, Leshawna lurched ashore. She then reached behind her once more, as if to throttle her assailant, and was surprised to find good purchase. Her fingertips had by chance found some of the lamprey’s gill holes, although Leshawna would not learn this until later. With the intention of literally crushing her adversary, the homegirl fell backward slightly and sat down heavily upon it.

The lamprey went limp, for Leshawna’s move had worked better than she had hoped, and she had cleanly broken its neck. By this time, the homegirl’s teammates had reached her, and they quickly hauled the dying leviathan out of the water. Three meters from snout to tail, it measured, and it tipped the scales at almost 80 kilos. Had Leshawna not trusted her instincts and come ashore when she did, it could easily have sucked her dry.

The excitement past, Leshawna excused herself, intending to go to the girls’ cabin to change. As the homegirl turned to do so, however, Katie said, “Shawnee, you’re bleeding.”

“How bad?” the homegirl asked nervously.

Heather borrowed Cody’s handkerchief and stanched the blood. “I’ve got bad news,” she said. “It sanded off your tramp stamp.”

“I don’t have a tramp stamp,” Leshawna shot back testily.

“Not any more, you don’t.”

In no mood to spar with her enemy, Leshawna asked, “Can somebody give me a straight answer? How bad is it?”

Cody obligingly answered, “It looks superficial, but you should probably go to the infirmary and get it bandaged properly.” With that, the science geek took the frogs they’d caught and finally returned to the kitchen to help Lindsay with the blancmange.

Katie said to her dusky friend, “There is bad news, though. It put a big hole in your swimsuit. I wonder how long it took to get through that.”

Indeed, the lamprey might have been attached to Leshawna for quite some time, for spandex is not an obstacle that lampreys are accustomed to dealing with, and the homegirl had felt nothing until the piscine parasite’s rasping tongue had gotten through the fabric and made contact with her skin.

“Maybe it’s not so bad,” Leshawna suggested. “I heard about how Eva convinced you and Sadie to keep wearing your torn-up dresses as ‘badges of courage’. If the hole doesn’t make my suit tear, maybe I can do the same thing.”

“Yeah, just like me and Sadie,” Katie affirmed. Then a cloud seemed to pass over her normally cheerful face, and she said softly, “Oh, Sadie, why did you have to go?”

Leshawna departed for the infirmary, and Heather issued marching orders to her teammates that still remained.  “Gwen, find Chef Hatchet and see if he’ll butcher this thing for us. Katie, we need to find out if bordelaise sauce goes well with lamprey.”

“It should,” Katie surmised. “I remember Owen saying that lamprey tastes a lot meatier than most other types of fish. He said that’s why Catholics like to eat them during Lent.”


On her way to the infirmary, Leshawna had to take a slight detour to avoid the hornet’s nest that had appeared under an eave of the boys’ cabin a few days before. No one had been stung yet, but the nest’s central location in camp made getting around it a nuisance. That’s probably why Chris is leaving it there, instead of having the redshirts get rid of it, she mused disgustedly. At the moment, the hornets seemed agitated, so Leshawna veered further out of her way. Apparently, something had disturbed them.

As the homegirl scanned the area to find the best route around this obstacle, she saw something that she hadn’t bargained for. Some thirty meters beyond, in the general direction of the infirmary, Noah lay motionless.

Leshawna was confused for a moment, for she had arrived on the island after Noah and so hadn’t seen his reaction to the camp. Then she remembered something that Gwen had told her about him. Something about—

“Oh, my God,” she whispered.

The hour was growing late, so Brett’s mother left off her tale and suggested that he prepare for bed.

Sixteenth Night

Fearing the worst, Leshawna skirted the hornet zone as she sprinted to her fallen teammate. She knelt down beside Noah, who was still conscious if only just, and quickly slung him over her shoulders, much as Sadie had done with Katie not two weeks before. “Hang on, teamie,” the powerful homegirl implored as she rose to her feet.

Leshawna arrived at the infirmary tent to find it occupied. The little blonde wraith-girl was sitting on the cot, receiving first aid for multiple hornet stings. She had no allergy to make her wounds dangerous, so she quickly yielded the cot when she saw that Noah had greater need of it.

Leshawna hastily explained the situation to the wiry hillbilly who was the “nurse” on duty. As this redheaded redshirt, who answered to the name of Scott, attended to the now-unconscious bookworm, the girls looked on nervously.

In an attempt to make conversation, Leshawna said to the diminutive blonde, “Somebody really needs to do something about that hornet’s nest.”

The little blonde redshirt seemed distracted. She muttered, “Something’s wrong. They wouldn’t talk to me.”

“Say what?” Leshawna prompted uncertainly. It sounded to her ears that the intern had expected to be able to play Doctor Doolittle with the hornets, but surely such things were impossible in real life.

The dusky homegirl’s attention returned to Noah when Scott said, “I’ve given him epinephrine, but he’s not responding.” Without looking up from his patient, the hillbilly added, “Dawn, get Chef Hatchet.”

“So, it’s Daw—” Leshawna began as she turned back toward the girl so named, but “Dawn” had vanished as if she were made of air. Creepy, Leshawna thought.

Having done all she could for her teammate, Leshawna returned to the kitchen and the challenge. She would now have to prepare her team’s appetizer alone, but that suited her well enough. The homegirl was a skilled cook and Noah was not, by his own admission, so Leshawna didn’t expect the bookworm’s hopefully temporary incapacity to hurt the Eagles’ chances.

Leshawna arrived at the kitchen to find that one of the new interns had replaced Alejandro. Apart from the dusky tones of his skin and hair, the new arrival looked like a Viking of old—big, powerfully built and exceptionally hairy, seemingly having never put razor to hair nor face. He was one of the most distinctive looking people on the island, and the campers had quickly dubbed him “Beardo”.

“It’s about time you got back,” Heather griped. “How long does it take to slap on a bandage? And where’s Noah? Our appetizer’s not going to make itself.”

In no mood for verbal sparring, Leshawna explained, “We had kind of an emergency.” She then told Heather and the other Eagles what had happened to Noah, but nothing would be gained by repeating it here.

“I hope he’s going to be all right,” Katie said.

“We can win without him,” Heather declared. “And if we don’t, he’ll be the logical one to vote off.”

“That’s harsh, even for you,” Gwen snapped.

It was, Heather realized, as she suddenly found herself facing a phalanx of angry glares. “Sorry. That was uncalled for,” the queen bee admitted. Heather was getting a “villain” edit, though, so her apology did not make it into the finished episode.

Alejandro returned to the kitchen on Leshawna’s heels, but “Beardo” remained, the better to monitor the proceedings. With both teams making wine-based sauces, the two big redshirts were now serving as chaperones, keeping a watchful eye to ensure that none of the underage campers went nipping at the cooking wine.

The Muskies’ work was proceeding smoothly as D.J. made his rounds. Tyler and Eva seemed to be doing a decent job with the dessert course, so D.J. left them with a few words of encouragement. The Muskies’ Head Chef was more critical of the appetizer, though.

“Dudes, this won’t cut it,” D.J. declared. “The cheese pieces need to all be the same thickness, and the meat slices have to be arranged neatly.”

“It’s fine,” Duncan assured him. “It’s not like we can do much with it.”

“Exactly,” the dusky Head Chef countered. “Since antipasto doesn’t require any actual cooking, superior presentation is the only way we’re going to get a big score with it. We have plenty of time to do it right, so we need to do it right. But leave that to Homeschool. I’ve got another job for you.”

D.J. drew Duncan aside and said to the delinquent, “You’re good with knives, right? I need you to make a centerpiece for us.”

“Sure, I’m good with knives, but that doesn’t make me an artist,” Duncan demurred.

“Maybe not, but you’re still our best bet. Besides, I’ve seen some of your skull carvings. You might be better at this than you think. We won’t lose anything if you can’t cut it, so to speak, but we stand to gain if you can do it well.”

D.J. then explained his plan. Duncan thought the idea a good one, and agreed to try.

D.J. returned to Ezekiel and pronounced, “You’ll need to start over on the antipasto; and remember, presentation is going to make or break it. ‘The first bite is with the eye.’ Take as much time as you need, but do it right.

“But what about all this?” Ezekiel protested, indicating the prepared array. “You’re not just going to let all this perfectly good food go to waste, are you?”

“Of course not,” D.J. assured him. “We can all chow down on it while we work.”

“I guess that works.”


At the appointed time, Chris summoned the teams to the dining area. Standing behind one table were Chris, Chef Hatchet and a model-thin woman with long, straight, bottle blonde hair. The new arrival wore a low-cut, form-fitting, red knee-length dress with matching spike heels and large hoop earrings. Pretty though she was, in trying to be glamorous she wore somewhat more makeup than would have been the most flattering to her. Her pleasant smile did not extend to her blue eyes, which seemed cold. Her habit of putting her hands on her hips gave her a haughty air.

“Campers,” Chris announced, “Some of you may recognize our guest judge: Millie Stacey, hostess of the Total Drama Island Aftermath show.”

Some of them? May recognize?” Millie asked archly. “Why wouldn’t they all recognize me? I’m more famous than you, after all.”

“In your dreams,” Chris shot back, doing his best to retain something resembling his usual bland smile. “I’ve had three hit movies. What have you had, besides a Celebrity Manhunt gig that nobody else wanted because it doesn’t pay worth crap?” As Millie looked about to tick points off on her fingers, Chris added, “It was a rhetorical question.”

Courtney saw that Ezekiel was looking confused at this thinly veiled hostility, so she quietly explained. “They used to date. They had a very public breakup, and they blamed each other. Long story short, they were too much alike in all the wrong ways. The fact that their couple name sounded like a type of crustacean didn’t help.”

“Anyway,” Chris said, mindful of the production schedule, “One of the things Millie does on the Aftermath show is the exit interviews with the eliminated campers, so whichever of you gets brutally hung out to dry after this challenge will be left to her tender mercies.” With a smirk, Chris added, “She’ll flay you alive.”

“Only if they piss me off,” Millie shot back. “No one has yet, although I damn near needed oxygen after I interviewed Owen.”

“Whatever,” Chris said, effectively ending the discussion. Returning his attention to the campers, he revealed, “Speaking of hanging people out to dry, this challenge has a little twist that I didn’t feel like telling you about until now. Chef, with his military background, says that a commander is responsible for the actions of those under his command, and so…”

The Lord of Wawanakwa let the campers sweat for a few moments before dropping the other shoe. “The losing team’s Head Chef will go into the elimination ceremony with one penalty vote against them.”

Oh, crap, Heather thought. Chris giveth and he taketh away.

Duncan said to D.J., “Sorry, big guy, but we couldn’t have known. Besides, you were still the best man for the job.”

“No worries,” D.J. replied. “It’ll be all right.

Chris beheld the campers’ reactions and saw that they were good. “Muskies are up first,” he decreed. “Since the Eagles lost the last challenge and had more misadventures in this one, they get the last ‘at bat’.”

As the judges took their seats, the Muskies returned to the kitchen and quickly emerged with three covered platters. Duncan carried what looked like a sculpture of some sort. As the delinquent approached the table, D.J. announced, “Submitted for your approval, a traditional Italian meal. Duncan has created a fitting centerpiece in honor of our esteemed host.”

As D.J. set down the first platter, Duncan set down the Muskie’s centerpiece: a crude bust of Chris as a Roman emperor, carved from a block of parmesan cheese. Chris didn’t seem to mind the crudeness, though; for although the bust certainly wasn’t anything you’d expect to find in the Louvre, it was nevertheless recognizable as Chris.

Chris said, “I have to admit, you guys really know how to suck up when you want to. This is certainly worth a two point bonus. True, it could be a little more refined, but it does capture the essence of my ruggedly handsome features.”

“And I love your choice of material,” Millie broke in without missing a beat. “The medium should fit the subject, and your ‘cheesy’ bust fits Chris perfectly.” As Chef Hatchet and most of the campers struggled valiantly to keep straight faces, Millie continued, “I’ll give you one bonus point for presentation. The reason I can’t give you two is because your subject matter is so… sketchy.”

With poorly concealed irritation, Chris asked, “What did I ever see in you?”

“Two tits and a love box?” Chef suggested, for he knew his friend’s criteria. The campers abruptly lost their battle to spare their host’s feelings, and a gale of laughter swept the room.

When order had been restored, Chris declaimed, “Touché, Chef. It’s not like she has much else to offer.”

Seeing that Millie was about to respond, Chris held up a hand and said, “Leave it, Mildred, we’re on a schedule.” Chris knew full well that his ex-girlfriend didn’t like her official name and much preferred the diminutive “Millie”, for she thought that “Mildred” made her sound like a grandmother.

As Millie fumed, Chris prompted, “Okay, Muskies, let’s see what you’ve got.”

D.J. lifted the platter cover and announced, “For the starter, traditional antipasto.”

The judges tasted the Muskies’ starter as a formality, but put most of their effort into visual inspection; for just as D.J. had warned Duncan and Ezekiel, antipasto is a dish that lives or dies on presentation. Finally, Chris said, “Your antipasto passed the test-o. Seven points.”

Chef Hatchet said, “Seven.”

Millie said, “Eight, and I’ll give you the second presentation bonus point for this.”

Chris announced, “Including four points of bonuses, the Muskies come out of the gate strong, with a total of 26 points.”

D.J. took the second platter from Courtney and set it on the table. “For the main course,” he announced, “Four-cheese ravioli with spinach pasta made from scratch, a white wine sauce and seasonal vegetables.”

“From scratch, you say?” asked the visibly impressed Chef Hatchet.

“That’s right,” D.J. assured him. “Thanks to our ‘ravioli pixie’, Beth. The sauce is one of my momma’s recipes. She runs a restaurant, as you may know.

Millie affirmed, “I did, and from what I’ve been able to find out, it’s pretty well regarded. I can’t wait to try this.”

Chef Hatchet replied, “Then what are we waiting for?

“Me,” Chris explained archly. “You’re waiting for me. As the host, I get the first taste. Then, you, and Mildred last.”

“What did I ever see in you, Chrissie?” Millie sniped.

“You got me,” Chef Hatchet admitted. “I’ve never pretended to understand the workings of the female mind.”

“We’re on a schedule, people,” Chris reminded his fellow judges. The three then inspected the dish in earnest.

Millie said, “Looks good. I give it one bonus point for presentation. With the vegetables and the pale green pasta, it’s a nice colorful dish.”

Chris then sampled the ravioli, and favored the Muskies with the genuinely warm smile that he gave so rarely. “Oh, yeah. This is good stuff.”

Chef Hatchet tasted his sample and pronounced, “Well done. I like the nuances in the sauce. I know the type, and I know that it’s easy to ruin. I don’t recognize all of the herbs offhand, but the flavors play well together, and they complement the cheese filling without overpowering it. I can taste parmesan and romana in the filling, but I don’t recognize the other two right off. The scratch-made pasta is a nice touch, and done to a turn. Two bonus points for difficulty.”

“The others are ricotta and mozzarella,” D.J. explained.

“That would have been my first guess,” Hatchet replied. “That’s a traditional four-cheese combo. The proportions are kind of unusual, and that’s what probably threw me off, but they work well.”

Millie had tasted her sample by this time. “I have to agree with my esteemed colleague, meaning Chef, and my not-so-esteemed colleague,” she admitted. “This tastes as good as it looks.”

Chris concealed his irritation as best he might, and said, “Time for the scores. I give it nine points. Chef?”

“Ten.”

Millie declared, “Nine.”

Chris announced, “That’s 31 total, including three bonus points. Another monster score for the Muskies!”

D.J. took the third platter from Eva and brought it forth. As he uncovered it, he announced, “Our dessert course is tiramisu made entirely from scratch, meaning we made our own lady fingers instead of using the ones you had in stock.”

Chef observed, with a nod of approval, “You kids really pulled out all the stops.”

“Chris gave us enough time to do it right,” D.J. explained.

“Which was the idea,” Chris explained in turn. “Since we have to eat what they give us, I didn’t want them to have any excuses.”

The judges looked upon the Muskies’ confection and saw that it was good, although Millie did not see fit to award a presentation bonus. The triumvirate then tasted it, and was pleased. Chef Hatchet said, “You weren’t kidding about those lady fingers. I can tell that they’re fresh. I’ll give you one bonus point for difficulty.”

Chris said, “Time for the scores. I give it eight.”

Chef said, “Eight.”

Millie said, “Seven.”

Chris announced, “That’s 24 points, including one bonus point. Not quite up your standards, Muskies, but still a good score.”

Alejandro handed Chris a paper with the combined scores, and the host recapped, “The Muskies’ scores are 26 for the starter, 31 for the entrée and 24 for the dessert. That’s a total of 81 points, with a tiebreaker score of 24. Eagles, I hope you’ve brought your ‘A’ game, because the Killer Muskies have set the bar way up there.”

The Eagles, minus the bedridden Noah who was still confined to the infirmary, went into the kitchen and brought out three covered platters. As Leshawna placed the first platter on the table and uncovered it, Heather announced, “Our theme is French Canadian, featuring local ingredients. Our starter is sautéed wild bullfrog legs, lightly coated in flour made from cattail seeds, served on a bed of purslane with locally gathered chanterelles. You didn’t have any clarified butter on hand, so Homie made her own.”

“Purslane? Isn’t that a weed?” Millie asked skeptically.

“Yes, an edible weed,” Cody explained. “It’s a succulent, and it has a sour tang because it has a lot of Vitamin C. This is wild, but in some parts of the world they actually grow it as a crop. The cultivated type with big flowers is called moss rose.”

“Sounds interesting,” Millie said. “I’m game. This is very nicely presented. Nice and colorful, so I give it one bonus point for presentation. For three judges, there really ought to be three pairs of legs, though.”

“That’s what we thought, too,” Gwen admitted, “but then our entrée tried to eat Leshawna.”

“Yeah, I heard about the Attack of the Fifty-Foot Lamprey,” Chris chimed in.

Cody replied, “Actually, it was more like ten feet, which is still more than big enough to be dangerous.”

“The fifty-footers probably don’t come into the shallows,” Chef Hatchet speculated. “Nothing there big enough to be worth their trouble, except maybe the moose and the bears.”

Chris theatrically tapped his wristwatch. “Schedule, people. Besides, we don’t want these legs, which are more shapely than Mildred’s, to get cold.”

Millie hissed, “Don’t call me ‘Mildred’ on camera. I have the ear of the editors, if you catch my drift.”

Chris went a little pale, but quickly composed himself. “Moving on. Time to taste these babies.”

The judges did so, and were well pleased. Chef Hatchet said, “I give it one bonus point for using local ingredients, and the second for difficulty since you took the trouble to grind your own flour and make your own clarified butter. It’s also delicious, so I give it a base score of nine.”

Chris protested petulantly, “I’m supposed to reveal my score first. Or didn’t you know that?”

“You snooze, you lose,” Hatchet replied with a shrug. “Besides, you know as well as I do that the editors can put the scores in any order they want.”

“True,” the Lord of Wawanakwa admitted. “I give it eight.”

“Eight,” Millie declared.

Chris announced, “That’s a total of 28 points, including three bonus, which is two better than the Muskies’ first score. This is shaping up to be quite a fight. Time for the entrée.”

Leshawna took the first platter away. As she rejoined her teammates, she took the extra leg for herself. “Cook’s prerogative,” she told her teammates, although she did leave part of it for her buddy, Gwen.

Katie set down the second platter and uncovered it as Heather announced, “Our entrée is giant lamprey bordelaise—originally a dish of royalty, befitting the King of Wawanakwa and his court, even if his common ex-consort doesn’t really deserve that distinction.”

As Chris chuckled, Millie looked indignant. The Aftermath hostess opened her mouth, presumably to say something caustic, but a wink from Heather stopped her. Millie realized that Heather was gunning for a “sucking up to Chris” bonus, and decided that the Eagles’ leader couldn’t really be faulted for doing what the rules encouraged.

“Way to butter up your host,” Chris said with his standard bland smile. “That’s worth two bonus points—one for the compliment and one for dissing the ex, even if it was all nothing but the truth.”

Chef Hatchet broke in before Millie could respond. “I have to give it two bonus points as well. One for the exotic main ingredient, and one for the difficulty in obtaining it.”

“I hear you,” Chris seconded. “Using a fellow camper as live bait? That’s awesome television.”

The judges tasted Gwen and Katie’s handiwork. Chris and Millie looked suitably impressed, but Chef Hatchet seemed more contemplative, as if analyzing the flavors. Then again, he was the most practiced in such matters.

“Did you use bone marrow in the sauce?” Chef asked.

“Well, yeah,” Katie replied. “Isn’t that what you do when you make bordelaise sauce?”

“With red meat, yes,” Hatchet explained. “But for lamprey à la bordelaise, you really should use the lamprey’s blood instead, to make it more of a stew. This sauce is well prepared, but I’ll have to dock you for that mismatch.”

Chris said, “Time for the scores. I give it nine.”

“Eight,” said Chef Hatchet.

“Nine,” declared Millie.

Chris announced, “That’s a total of 30 points, including four bonus. The Eagles gave up some ground, but still lead by one point after two courses.”

The Lord of Wawanakwa then declaimed grandly, “It all comes down to the final taste, which is as it should be. Eagles, your dessert needs to be good, but that’s where the Muskies got their weakest score, so they’ve left you an opening. What have you got for us?”

As Cody brought the final platter to the table, Heather announced, “Our dessert is a tribute to Chris McLean’s breakout film role in Badminton: The Movie. We present to you… blancmange.” With a flourish, the Dragon Queen lifted the platter cover to reveal a molded gelatin dessert with a miniature tennis racket sticking out of the top.

Chris looked skeptical as he observed, “Apart from the badminton-type racket, which you could have stuck onto anything, I don’t see how this relates to my epoch-making performance.”

Heather motioned to Cody, for the tribute had been his idea and he could explain it better than Heather could. The science geek discoursed, “The reference is actually to tennis instead of badminton, but I thought that would be close enough. Anyway, the reference is to a Monty Python skit that’s just called, ‘Science Fiction Sketch’. It’s about giant blancmanges from the Andromeda galaxy that invade England and depopulate the country by turning most of the Englanders into Scotsmen, who are supposedly the world’s worst tennis players. The blancmanges’ nefarious purpose was to win the British Open tennis tournament, which is better known by the name of its host city: Wimbledon. The day was saved when the blancmange that was about to win the tournament got eaten at match point, like this baby is about to.”

Chris decreed, “That’s worth a sucking up bonus, but I’m not sure how much. On the one hand, you did have to explain it, and that’s not good. On the other hand, I have to admit that it was an inventive way to recognize one of cinema’s greatest triumphs.”

The Badminton King pondered for a moment, and handed down his judgment. “Tell you what. Since I can’t decide whether your creative sucking up is worth one point or two, I’ll give you one point now, and I’ll give you the tiebreaker if we end up with a tie.”

“Cool,” Cody replied.

Millie smiled and said, “I love blancmange. Let’s get to it.”

The judges three tasted the French confection…

…and grimaced. Chef turned and spat it out. Chris and Millie swallowed with an effort, then quickly reached for their water and drained their glasses.

“That was hideous!” Millie declared unnecessarily, for the judges’ reactions had made that obvious.

Chef Hatchet shook his head and said, “And you were doing so well.”

“Who made this crap?” Chris demanded. “I think some more penalty votes are in order.”

Cody admitted, “I don’t get it.” He dashed into the kitchen and returned with some fresh spoons. He tasted his and Lindsay’s creation, and mirrored the judges’ grimaces with one of his own. “Okay, now I get it, but how could this happen? Lindsay?”

“Don’t look at me,” the uberbimbo protested. “All I did was mix the ingredients, just like the recipe said. Helen said I needed to get started right away, and you were off helping catch those frogs.”

Cody replied, as gently as he might, “You should taste it, but be ready for a shock.”

Always eager to please, Lindsay did as she was bidden and grimaced in turn. “Is it supposed to be this salty?”

Heather facepalmed. “No, Lindsiot, it’s supposed to be sweet.”

Lindsay looked confused, which was common enough for her. “But then how come… Oh, no! Guys, I’m so sorry!”

As the Eagles consoled Lindsay, who was on the point of tears, Chris pronounced, “Muskies win. I don’t think we need to bother with the scores. Normally, I’d be happy to add insult to injury, but this is a case where that might not be the best thing for our ratings.”

Millie and Chef Hatchet nodded in agreement, for they knew that Lindsay was popular with the viewing audience as well as with her fellow campers. The uberbimbo’s disposition was so sweet that the viewers tended to pity her mental deficiency instead of scorning it.


Later that night, several Eagles sat on the lodge porch discussing the next day’s elimination when Cody joined the group.

Leshawna declared, “I’m telling you, Heather has got to go!”

“But Lindsay’s the one who cost us the challenge,” Gwen pointed out. “And is it just me, or is Heather starting to get nicer?”

“I think it’s just you,” Leshawna replied. “You’re probably learning to tune her out.”

“Lindsay mistook salt for sugar,” Katie protested. “That’s a mistake anyone could have made.”

“Noah. It has to be Noah.”

The girls turned curiously toward Cody, for in truth Noah hadn’t even been on their radar. Katie said, “I thought you had an alliance with him.”

“And now you’re just going to hang him out to dry?” Leshawna asked skeptically. “You’ve been spending too much time around Heather.”

“I know how it sounds,” Cody admitted, “but hear me out. I don’t want to kick Noah off, either, but we’re still in the team phase and the team has to come first. I lost sight of that once, and it bit me in the butt. Learn from my mistake.

“We’re going to be a man down after tonight, and the teams are a lot smaller now, so we can’t afford to carry a nonperformer. If it was just the allergic reaction to a couple of stings, Noah would probably be up and around in a day or two, but he took a lot of stings. Enough to have actual poisoning symptoms even without his allergy. Chef thinks it’ll be at least a week before he’s well enough to play. That means he could be out for the rest of the team phase.”

“I don’t know,” Gwen said with a shake of her head. She was giving Cody an odd look, and he could guess why: it was Gwen who had taken it on the chin when Cody had lost sight of putting the team first, and she had reminded him more than once since that she had forgiven but not forgotten.

Katie and Leshawna also looked skeptical, so Cody played his trump card. “I’ve talked it over with Noah, and he’s okay with it. He’s obviously not happy about it, but he understands.”

Katie wanted to believe Cody, but it didn’t feel right. “He really said that?”

“Scout’s honor.”

“It would be the easy way out,” Gwen admitted, “but it feels like kicking him when he’s down.”

“It would weaken Heather, sort of, since Noah usually votes with her,” Katie pointed out. “Isn’t that what you want, Shawnee?”

“You may be right,” the homegirl admitted.

Cody said, “Now that that’s settled, I have to find Tyler. Noah wants to talk to him.”


The next night, the Muskies received their reward—a five-star dinner under the stars, featuring giant lamprey à la bordelaise “done right” according to Chef Hatchet—and the Eagles assembled at the bonfire to do what they had to do. Noah was strapped into a wheelchair, with Cody tending to him. After the boilerplate introduction, Chris called forth Cody, Gwen, Katie and Leshawna to receive their marshmallows.

“I have only two marshmallows left,” Chris intoned, “and there are three of you. Lindsay, you cost your team the challenge because you couldn’t tell salt from sugar, but either you used up some karma points or you’re just easily forgiven, because nobody thought it was worth voting against you for. Come get your marshmallow.”

When Lindsay had gratefully acceded to Chris’ command, the host intoned, “Heather, Noah, you both had votes against you. Noah, you’re in the bottom two because your teammates are afraid that you won’t be able to pull you weight in the rest of the team challenges. Heather, you’re in the bottom two because you’re usually in the bottom two, so why should this time be any different?”

Heather snapped, “Just give me my marshmallow already.” Getting the last marshmallow of the night had indeed become routine for her; and while she had worried at the most recent elimination, as has been told of before, she was not worried on this night because the unsuspecting Katie had dutifully told her about the deal to send off Noah. The bookworm was useful to Heather but not under her control, so her strategy would be little affected whether he stayed or went; and Heather, like most of her teammates, had found Cody’s reasoning persuasive.

“Fine,” Chris huffed. “Come and get it.”

Most of the Eagles said their goodbyes to Noah en route to the dock, for only his body was incapacitated. He could still converse without too much difficulty, but he had little to say; for he had indeed accepted his fate the night before, just as Cody had claimed.

Cody wheeled his stricken ex-ally down the Dock of Shame, and found “Beardo” waiting for them on the boat. The hulking redshirt helped Cody load Noah onto the boat as the other Eagles approached.

“See you, dude,” Cody said. “Get well soon. Sorry we couldn’t get you hooked up.”

“It could still happen,” Noah replied. “This is still an elimination game, with everything that implies.”

Katie remembered Noah’s gesture at Sadie’s elimination, and was pleased to repay it in kind; and so, as the boat pulled away from the dock, it was she who led the singing of the Pie Jesu.


“That bites,” Brett said. “All that work to get the girl, and as soon as he gets a chance, he gets hurt and has to leave the game.”

“True,” his mother seconded, “but a setback, even one as serious as that, isn’t necessarily the end. You should know that as well as anyone, seeing as you’ve been overcoming obstacles all your life.”

“True that,” Brett mused. “If Katie got eliminated at some point, Noah could make his move at the loser’s compound. But with Sadie there, too, it seems to me that he’d be pretty much back to Square One.”

“It would seem that way, wouldn’t it?” his mother replied enigmatically.

“So something did change?” Brett asked suspiciously.

“All in good time,” his mother answered.

The hour was not especially late, so Brett’s mother paused a few moments to collect her thoughts, and then continued with her tale.


.

Episode #11: The Tale of Trust

Original title: Who Do You Trust?


The next morning, having endured the ritual ordeal called “breakfast”, Courtney was preparing to leave the lodge when she noticed something that looked both familiar and out of place. Lying on the floor near the tray return area was a scrap of paper that looked much like the love note she had found on Boney Island.

As Courtney knelt down to pick up the note, if such it was, a distinctively pale hand came into her field of view, likewise reaching for the paper.

Gwen and Courtney rose as one, holding the suspected love note by opposite ends and eyeing each other curiously. They then inspected the paper, and their curiosity grew as their suspicions were confirmed.

It was indeed an unsigned love note, addressed to “The Diamond Maid” and containing a sonnet that Gwen and Courtney felt they should recognize, although neither could place it:

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks,
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know,
That music hath a far more pleasing sound.
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.


“Check it out,” Gwen said. “It’s a fancy love sonnet.”

Courtney replied, “I found one of these notes on Boney Island, when we were foraging for firewood.”

“No way! I found one here in the lodge a couple of weeks ago. When Heather and her flunkies did their makeovers, I think.”

“I wonder who wrote it,” Courtney mused.

“The poem, or the note?”

“Well, both, actually, but you know what I mean.”

“I’d have thought Noah,” Gwen mused, “but he’s not here anymore.”

“Noah was my first guess, too. Maybe he wrote it before he left.” Courtney speculated, and then her face took on an impish grin.

“I know that look,” Gwen chided as her mouth spread into an expectant grin of its own. “You think you know who it is. Don’t leave me hanging.”

Courtney explained, “Noah and Cody had an alliance, right? Maybe Cody wrote this for you, and Noah was feeding him poems.”

“If this had been the first note we found, I’d have said you might be right,” Gwen admitted, “but I haven’t gotten any love notes.”

“That you know of. Maybe Cody just doesn’t take very good care of them.”

“Maybe, but I have a boyfriend.”

“Like that’s ever stopped Cody before,” Courtney chided.

“I know, right?” Gwen replied with a roll of her eyes. “This does kind of sound like Noah, but I don’t think Cody’s that subtle.”

“Well, we do know that our mystery note passer is crushing on someone with black hair,” Courtney pressed.

“Not really. Who says that ‘black hair’ or ‘raven hair’ or whatever was meant literally? Seriously, how many love poems do you know that talk about brunettes?” Belatedly realizing her gaffe, Gwen limply added, “Uh, no offense.”

“None taken,” Courtney granted easily, “and I see your point.”

“For all we know,” Gwen added, “Ezekiel could have written this note for you.” A moment later, both girls burst out laughing.

“There’s more to Zeke than meets the eye,” Courtney admitted, “but I don’t think that’s his style. Besides, we’re just friends. Good friends, by elimination game standards, but still just friends. I don’t see us ever being anything more than that.”

“Whatever,” Gwen replied, for there seemed to her less certainty in Courtney’s face than in her words.

Courtney’s theory having been shot down, the future speaker of laws pondered for a bit until Gwen said, “You’re getting that look again.”

The onetime CIT explained, “I don’t have any more specific ‘suspects’; but since there seems to be a pattern here, are you up for a little detective work?”

“Sounds like a plan.”


It was mid-afternoon, and Katie was wandering aimlessly through the woods near camp. After lunch, she had sunned herself near the dock for a time with Lindsay and Heather, but Katie’s heart wasn’t in it. Although she did not lack for friends on the island, the stricken “twin” nevertheless missed Sadie terribly; and while part of her wanted to just lie in the sun and pine for her BFF, another part of her was unaccountably restless, as if she felt a compulsion to do something but couldn’t tell what.

Katie came to a thicket and was about to pass it by, as she had numberless others, when she thought she heard a human voice from within. Soft and childlike it was, and she thought she heard it say, “Thank you, little one.”

Her curiosity aroused, Katie entered the thicket as quietly as she might. Inside, she found the wraithlike new intern sitting in the Lotus position, apparently meditating. As chance would have it, the girl was facing away from Katie. Two cloths, one somewhat smaller than the other, were spread out on the forest floor behind the little redshirt, with the smaller one closer to Katie.

Before Katie could withdraw, the intern said, without turning round, “I’ve been expecting you. Katie Gutierrez, I presume?” Only then did the uncanny wraith-girl turn round, although somehow Katie could not recall having actually seen her turn.

“I’m Dawn. Please, have a seat.”

“How did you know I’d be here?” Katie asked.

“When a leaf falls in the forest,” Dawn explained enigmatically, “the eagle sees it, the deer hears it and the bear smells it. The forest is a living being, and nothing escapes its notice.”

Katie sat down on the smaller cloth. This tiny blonde redshirt was not imposing in any way, yet there was something oddly compelling about her. Katie found herself instinctively beginning to trust Dawn.

“It’s weird,” Katie said. “We’ve just met, but I feel like I’ve known you for years.”

“Yes,” Dawn agreed. “And I feel the same way about you. It’s a pleasant side effect, though the effect is fleeting.”

“A side effect of what?”

“A temporary psychic link I set up between us when you arrived. And before you ask, no, it’s not mind reading. That’s too invasive and dangerous for the benefit we’d get from it, and I don’t even know the technique.

“Even a low-grade link is something I wouldn’t use lightly, because as I said, it affects me as much as you, but I can see from your aura that you have a good heart. Your aura also shows terrible spiritual wounds and some strange anomalies, though. The link I’ve set up will help me figure out what’s going on, and whether we need to do anything about it.”

“Help you how?”

“Mostly, it enhances your aura so I can see the nuances more easily. In fact, if you look closely while the link is in effect, you might be able to see your aura, too, or mine for that matter, although you presumably wouldn’t know how to interpret what you see.”

Katie accepted this explanation at face value. She was still a child at heart, as has been told of before, and a part of her still wanted to believe that wizards and psychics and suchlike still walked the Earth as in days of yore, just as she wanted to believe that Izzy’s imaginary friends were real. Since arriving on the island, Katie had thought more than once that Sunshine would be fun to hang out with, and Katie was disappointed that only Izzy could apparently see the pixie. But now…

“Mind if I ask a question?”

“Of course not,” Dawn replied as she shuffled a tarot deck. “I need your trust in order to help you; so if you have any questions, then by all means, ask.”

“If somebody had friends that only they can see, would you be able to tell if they’re real or imaginary?”

“You’re implying a definition of ‘real’ that I’m not sure I agree with,” Dawn replied.

Nonplussed at the mystic’s cryptic response, Katie fell silent and concentrated on trying to see her aura, although she didn’t quite know what she was looking for. Dawn, meanwhile, laid out a pattern of cards face down on the cloth that separated her from her “client”.

“I have another question,” Katie ventured timidly.

“Shoot.”

“Who’s ‘Little One’?”

“I know many little ones. Can you be more specific?”

“Just before I came in here, I heard you thank someone you called ‘Little One’.”

“That was a butterfly. I learn a lot from humble creatures, especially birds and lepidopterans. They bring me many tidings.”

“You can talk to animals?”

“Uh, huh.”

“Too bad you couldn’t convince those hornets to leave Noah alone,” Katie suggested wistfully.

“I tried. Believe me, I tried. Not only did they not listen, they actually attacked me! That’s part of the reason why I think something is seriously wrong on this island. It’s probably been ten years since an insect tried to hurt me.”

Katie pointed at a skink she’d spotted on one of the trees lining the thicket and asked, “But you could talk to that lizard over there and it would tell you what kind of day it’s having?”

“I try to avoid talking to lizards. All they want to do is sell me insurance.”

“You’re kidding, right?”

“You know how it is. Someone makes it big, word gets around, and everyone else thinks, ‘I can do that, too. I can be rich and famous, too.’ Are humans so different?”

“When you put it that way, I guess not,” Katie admitted uncertainly. She still suspected that Dawn was pulling her leg, but that’s where Katie was wrong; but that is another story for another time.

Dawn began to turn the cards face up one by one, briefly studying each before revealing the next. Katie had more questions, but quickly forgot them as she marveled at the artistic detail on the cards’ faces.

“Oh, crap.”

Katie’s wandering attention snapped back to Dawn. The mystic’s previous expression of serene benevolence had given way to a distinctly worried look.

“This isn’t good,” Dawn muttered as she revealed the remaining cards in turn. “This is not good at all.”

With the entire pattern now revealed, Dawn reached toward Katie and urgently demanded, “Give me your hand.”

Katie did as she was bidden, suspecting that Dawn wanted to read her palm. Sure enough, that’s what the wraith-girl did, muttering indistinctly and shaking her head.

With a feeling of impending doom, hardly daring to ask yet determined to know, Katie prompted, “What’s wrong?”

“I think I understand now,” Dawn replied distractedly, and only then looked up to meet Katie’s gaze. Although Katie was now expecting bad news, she couldn’t help shuddering when the mystic delivered her verdict.

“It looks like you have a wendigo after you.”

The hour was growing late, so Brett’s mother left off her tale and suggested that he prepare for bed.


.

Seventeenth Night

The next morning, after they had breakfasted, Brett went to school whilst his mother went to earn their daily bread. That evening, after they had dined and Brett had attended to his homework, Brett asked his mother to tell him more about her experience on Total Drama Island. Brett sat in his favorite chair, and his mother sat on the sofa. She took a few moments to collect her thoughts, and then she began to speak.


“A wendigo?” repeated the horrified Katie. “I’ve heard of them. Don’t they, like… eat people?”

“The physical types do,” Dawn explained, “but they don’t seem to be around anymore. There hasn’t been a confirmed sighting in over 60 years. The spirit types will try to possess you and make you eat people. That’s the type we seem to be dealing with.”

“Why me?” Katie asked plaintively. “Not that I’d want it to possess anyone else, either, but still…”

“One of the things I’ve seen in your aura is that your soul is more weakly bound to your body than with most people. That makes you more vulnerable to possession by certain types of spirits, including wendigos.”

“What’s wrong with my soul?” Katie asked, feeling vaguely insulted.

“Not the soul itself, the connection between your soul and your physical body,” Dawn repeated. “Several things can cause that. Being near death from illness or injury, for example, or having been to the other side and returned. Eating human flesh is a big one, which is why cannibalism attracts wendigos so strongly.”

Katie looked like she was going to vomit, or cry, or both. “About a week ago,” she said, “Chef served us a casserole that he said had something called ‘long pig’ in it. When Noah told us what that meant, I thought that Chef had to be joking. Sometimes he can be as mean as Chris, but mostly he doesn’t seem too bad. But now…”

With a desperate plea in her eyes, Katie asked, “Is it true? Did Chef really feed us people meat?”

Dawn’s face screwed up in distaste as she answered, “I heard about that morbid little joke, but I can assure you that it’s not true. If it was, this camp would be crawling with wendigos, and there’d be no hope for any of you. But some of you must have believed Chef was serious, at least at first. That was all it took to attract th