Today's story, Summer Camp, features a summer camp and a little magic
Today's prompt was inspired by a chat at a recent book signing event. It wasn't a specific suggestion but talk of silly lyrics from an old camp song gave me the idea.
More about Susan Quilty
Susan Quilty mainly writes novels, including two standalone novels and her current YA series: The Psychic Traveler Society. Susan's short stories for Freely Written are created during quick writing breaks and shared as a way to practice her narration skills before she dives into recording audio versions of her novels.
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Below is the transcript for Season 1, Episode 61 of Freely Written, a podcast by author Susan Quilty:
Welcome to Freely Written where a simple prompt leads to a little unplanned fiction.
[Light piano music]
Hi, friends! I’m Susan Quilty and today’s prompt is Summer Camp.
As a reminder, selected stories from this podcast are now in a book, titled Freely Written Vol. 1. Buying a copy helps support the show and it makes a great gift for anyone who loves short stories. A link for where to buy is in the show notes.
If you’re new to this podcast, it follows a very simple process: I write a bit of fiction from a simple prompt, with no planning and very little editing, and then I share that story with you.
Today’s prompt was indirectly inspired by someone I met at a recent book signing event. As we chatted about the podcast, he joked that he had a writing prompt for me, then very quickly rattled off a long string of nonsense lyrics, which I recognized as a camp song I’d learned as Va Daten Choo.
His lyrics were slightly different than the lyrics I’d learned, and a google search turned up many, many variations. Instead of choosing a few of those lyrics as a prompt, I decided to simply use Sumer Camp and see where that might lead.
And here we go:
“It’s not the whole summer,” Alyssa’s mother corrected wearily.
“No, but it’s five whole weeks,” Alyssa shot back angrily.
This argument had been going on for a while and both parties knew it wasn’t going to change their summer plans. Alyssa would go to Camp Oaten Doaten this summer, just as she had last summer, and the summer before that, and two summers before that.
“There are skills you need to learn,” Alyssa’s mother reminded. Then quickly amended, “Skills you need to practice until they become natural.”
She knew Alyssa had been about to say that she had already learned those skills. By now, they both knew this argument by heart. Alyssa flopped onto her bed in defeat.
She wasn’t going to win. This was too important. But she didn’t have to be happy about going to Camp Oaten Doaten for another summer of fishing, hiking, swimming, and all those normal activities for normal girls and boys.
Crossing her arms over her chest, Alyssa levitated six inches above her bed. She felt the air between her rigid body and thin mattress slowly thicken and relaxed into the cushion of energy she’d created.
“None of that while you’re at camp!” Her mother warned, while stuffing the last of Alyssa’s t-shirts into her duffel bag.
“I know, I know,” Alyssa grumbled. Crackles of blue light frizzled around her body and her dark hair fanned out around her in an electric halo.
“Now you’re just showing off,” her mother muttered, leaving the room.
Alyssa wasn’t showing off. Not exactly. There was nothing outlandish about her little display. Though she had been making a point.
Going to Camp Oaten Doaten for five weeks would mean hiding every bit of magical energy she possessed. Sleeping above her lumpy camp mattress was out of the question. Hoverskating to activities was forbidden, as was creating an air pocket to breathe while swimming or enchanting fish to leap into her boat without using a rod and hook. She wouldn’t even be able to change her hair and eye color to match her shifting moods.
Even worse, as a fifth-year camper, she’d have to meet up with actual humans for certain day trips. Actual humans! The idea was repulsive to a girl from Ishkabibble whose family traced back to the Va Daten Choo dynasty.
Yet Alyssa knew there was no getting out of it. Her people were increasingly limited in the spaces where they could live freely, without the encroachment of humans, and their elders still maintained that it was better for them to remain hidden then to go back to the days of being revered as gods.
Alyssa could not understand what was so bad about being revered by pesky humans, but her parents said that was only further proof that she lacked the wisdom of the elders.
When the time came for her mother to leave her at camp, Alyssa managed a decent goodbye. The magic restrictions at Camp Oaten Doaten were a drag, but there were perks to spending five weeks with her friends. And there was some excitement in finding ways to sneak in small magic when the counselors weren’t looking.
“We’re in cabin 12 this year,” Alyssa’s friend Eiten called out as she crossed the span of grass near the main gate. The field was a jumble of parents bidding their children farewell and no one else seemed to notice that Eiten’s feet weren’t quite touching the grass.
Alyssa smirked and hitched her duffel bag over her shoulder. She walked to meet Eiten, her feet not quite kissing the ground and her heavy bag not quite resting on her body. They were halfway to their cabin when a shrill whistle rang out.
“Hey, there! Feet on the ground!”
Eiten rolled her eyes and Alyssa laughed. They continued on, feeling every footfall, and the counselor turned her attention on a group of kids who had a suspicious glow fading from the ends of their fingertips.
“This place is so lame,” Eiten complained.
“And now we have to meet humans,” Alyssa sighed.
“You know,” Eiten lowered her voice, “there’s a rumor that we’re meeting our first humans tomorrow.”
“Already?” Alyssa shuddered.
Despite her disdain, interacting with humans without revealing any magic was a serious competition at Camp Oaten Doaten. Fifth-year campers were watched closely at every cross-culture event and earned points or demerits based on their ability to pass as a natural human.
Those with the most points by the end of camp earned prizes. Prizes that the fifth-years pretended not to want. But they knew that would change in later years when those with the most prizes moved toward higher positions in the community.
“It’s just a simple meeting,” Eiten reassured. “An art class, I heard.”
“Better than swimming,” Alyssa relented. Suppressing her magic in an art class sounded much easier than having to keep up the ridiculous way humans gasped for breath while hoisting their bodies the length of a lake.
At dinner that night, Eiten’s rumor was confirmed. The fifth-year campers would take a bus ride to a nearby human camp where they’d take part in an arts-and-crafts activity.
“And I want you all on your best behavior!” Head Counselor Davis warned sternly. “We will be watching you very closely.”
“Probably with enchanted birds,” Alyssa murmured to Eiten. They knew the counselors weren’t above using carefully concealed magic to catch campers in any mischief.
The next morning, Alyssa boarded the bus with the other fifth-year campers. Her face was locked in a cool smile, hiding the nerves sizzling through her stomach.
“It’s arts and crafts,” Eiten reminded her. “Not much temptation to cheat with that.”
“Mm-hmm,” Alyssa agreed mildly. She knew many tempting ways to improve her art with a little well-placed magic, but she was torn between her rebellious impulses and her desire to win the year-end prize.
By the time they reached the human camp, the tension among the campers was palpable. Not figuratively, literally. Some of the less disciplined campers were giving off sparks of nervous energy that crackled from seat to seat and left wisps of steam lightly fogging the bus windows.
“Enough of that!” one of the counselors told them, then made them sit and meditate until they resembled a normal group of human campers.
What if that happens in there? Alyssa wondered fretfully but pushed the fear down. It was up to the camp counselors to handle that. She only had to focus on her own behavior.
They’d be paired up with a human camper for this activity, seeing if they could pass as human in a close encounter.
Alyssa smiled politely at her partner: a bespectacled girl with red braids and braces. Both accessories made Alyssa wish she’d thought of adding a human touch to her ensemble. Wouldn’t glasses or braces make her look the part? But how would she see or talk with those things on her body?
They settled into their shared workspace and the human girl said her name was Carly. Alyssa nodded, sharing her own name, and began studying the beads and instructions laid out on the table.
“Are we meant to start or wait for a demonstration?” She asked, glancing at the jumble of campers who were still being paired up and seated.
“Don’t worry about that,” Carly told her, then leaned close with a gleam in her eye. “I know about your camp.”
Alyssa’s eyes widened and Carly laughed, quickly diverting the attention of a passing counselor.
“Don’t react like that or you’ll give it away!” Carly warned, fiddling with the beads and speaking in a low, steady voice that didn’t carry beyond their table.
“Give it away?” Alyssa could feel a sizzle of energy twitching the tips of her hair, but she held it back with a slow breath.
“I’m sorry,” Carly murmured. “I shouldn’t have blurted it out like that, but by year five a lot of us know about Camp Oaten Doaten. We just have to keep it from the counselors… yours and ours. So, you aren’t found out.”
“But…?” Alyssa hesitated, watching another counselor walk past as the last few campers settled into their places.
She chanced a look at Carly and blinked at the knowing smile on her face. Carly knows. She tested the thought out. Does she really?
“All right, let’s get started!” a counselor called from the front of the room.
Alyssa flexed her fingers beneath the table, letting a crackle of electricity shift from hand to hand. What if some of the humans did know about them? A smile spread across her face as she imagined the possibilities.
This could be a very interesting summer.
Thanks for joining me today. If you like this story, please share it with your friends! You can also connect with me on social media, visit my website, SusanQuilty.com, or support my writing through Patreon.com/SusanQuilty. (Links are in the show notes.)
Until next time, try a little free writing of your own. Let go of any planning and see where your imagination takes you.
[Light piano music]