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Cruel World

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Walking through that door was like walking into a different world. Gone would be the wide open spaces of camp grounds. Gone would be the soil underneath his feet, the sun in his eyes, and the glittering blue of the lake; gone would be his friends. No longer could he make up diabolical schemes with Nikki and Neil, pranking the other campers and snooping around in the counselor’s cabin for blackmail material, or planning elaborate escapes only to be stopped by David and his annoying smile.

 

He’d be alone all over again, until finally next summer rolled around and his parents were desperate to get rid of him. He’d be stuck with a meth addict and a raging alcoholic, both of whom only gave him an ounce of attention when he was causing a scene. He supposed he should’ve just pulled off the bandaid and opened the door by now for God’s sake.

 

But, he took one last look back at the camp bus, waving a hand goodbye that he refused to acknowledge was shaking, at all the people he loathed to admit he liked. (Except Quartermaster, that motherfucker was weird.) Through the small windows he could make out Nikki flailing her arms around and grinning, while Neil fogged up the glass with his breath and spelled out “good luck!” with his finger, giving the hooded boy an enthusiastic thumbs up.

 

Max heaved a sigh.

 

Good luck indeed. This was going to be a long year. He waited until the bus drove out of sight, pausing for several minutes afterwards to gather his thoughts, before finally mustering up the courage to turn the knob.

 

 

...

 

Fuck. Not two feet through the frame, and already his nose picked up the nauseous smells of smoke and piss. The tiny living room he stepped into was filled with a light fog from his father’s cigar, and his mother sat at the coffee table tying up her arm, needles laid out in front of her.

 

Welcome home, Max thought sarcastically. He waved his arm around, dispersing the smoke and squinting through blurry eyes. He made the mistake of inhaling too hard, and coughed harshly, running to the nearest window.

 

“Jesus fuck, Baba,” he said hoarsely, “how can you even breathe in here?”

 

The boy successfully cracked open the window, the cloud of smoke filtering out into the previously fresh air and up into the ozone layer. The man reclining in his seat turned his head over to his wife, puffing rings.

 

“Did you hear something, Aja?” He asked, obviously referring to the son they pretended didn’t exist half the time. She shook her head and chuckled lightly, dilated pupils staring at the wall while the sweat on her forehead rolled off of her in streams.

 

“No, Pahal. Nothing at all.”

 

Max rolled his eyes, trudging over to their small kitchen area, reaching into the fridge and barely being able to reach a packet of yogurt on one of the high shelves. He quickly retreated to his room and shut the door behind him as quiet as he could manage. Shucking off his backpack, he tore open the seal and ate ravenously, taking care not to make a mess, however.

 

Mama hated messes, even though the house they lived in was like a putrid toilet bowl anyway. She left her hazardous needles everywhere, Max didn’t see why it was such a big deal if he spilled his food sometimes. Once he finished off his meager meal, he sighed contentedly, collapsing onto his old mattress which dipped with a groan of the straining springs.

 

Much better than Quartermaster’s food. Still shit, but better.

 

After taking a short nap, he began rummaging through his supplies from camp, returning his toothbrush, toothpaste, extra clothes, hairbrush, and anything else back to their respective places. At the bottom of his backpack were a few photos that he refused to let anyone know he actually kept. It was a bitch to recollect them when he made a show of throwing them in the trash can.

 

One was a group photo of everyone. David, Gwen, and Quartermaster stood in the back with varying levels of enthusiasm, the two counselors keeping an inconspicuous eye on the trio of troublemakers causing a scene in the front row. Nikki had a death grip around Neil’s neck as he tried futilely to hold her up; she insisted on a piggyback ride, and since Neil was the tallest, he was the obvious choice to give it. Dolf held up one of his suspiciously swastika looking paintings, grinning widely, while Nurf held up a knife, suspended in time before he ultimately tore a hole in Dolf’s masterpiece.

 

Ered was being her usual self, leaning against the flagpole, not even looking into the camera. Harrison and Nerris were having one of their typical magic squabbles, Preston striking a pose worthy of broadway. Spacekid was dangerously close to a mischievous Max, who had a giant wad of bubblegum he would stick to the back of his cape so he’d get stuck to his seat on the bus.

 

All over chaos. Max couldn’t help but smile, albeit a little bit sadly. When he thought back on how he acted the beginning of the year, he never wouldn’t guessed he’d be as different as he was now. More comfortable, more empathetic...happier, was the word he was looking for. Hell, he even tried to cheer up Gwen that one time!

 

Although, all of that progress was sure to be erased by next summer. He’d have to relearn how to be happy again. Just like all the other times he went to that godforsaken camp, went home content, then came back with a scowl and a burning hatred for the world. It was an endless cycle that he wished would just end.

 

He wished his parents cared about him. Maybe that was selfish, but what the fuck ever. He didn’t think that was too much to ask. A little effort, just a goddamn smidgeon of an attempt to be better. Max had done a ton of growing, why couldn’t they?

 

Oh right. Because adults fucking sucked.

 

Max brought himself out of his daze, gazing down at the photo which was now ripped into two pieces, his vision blurry and hands shaking. Fuck fuck fuck FUCK. What was wrong with him? He furiously rubbed a sleeve over his eyes. He sniffled, internally cursing himself out. He didn’t have any tape to fix it with. He gently lowered the broken picture back into his backpack, the straight rift between him and Nikki and Neil torn into the paper probably a stupid metaphor or some shit.

 

Through his closed door, he could hear the telltale sounds of his mother’s junkie friends arriving to start partying it up; there was no way he’d be able to get another meal today without encountering that one creepy girl who always looked at him funny. It was a gut feeling, but he was sure she was bad news.

 

His stomach growled at him.

 

Welp. Another night, another hungry, restless sleep. Before he let his head down, he looked at another one of the photos from camp. It was taken on one of the most sunny days of the summer, when all the campers got to bring out the water guns and spray each other to their hearts content. If he stared hard enough, he could still see how red David’s eye was from Max shooting him in the face (which was technically against the rules).

 

The two of them stood side by side, David giving a big thumbs up, and the camper beside him sticking out his tongue and, expectedly, the bird. Max remembered asking the happy counselor afterwards if he could have a copy of the photo; which was the first time he actually wanted to keep a picture of him and David together.

 

He flipped the image over, surprised to find a message written on the back of it, in the handwriting of the camp man himself.

 

Max,

 

I’m so proud of you for all that you’ve done this summer. Even if you caused enough mischief to last someone a lifetime here at camp, you’ve kept this place alive with your unmatched intelligence and wit. Don’t forget to brush your teeth and eat your vegetables! I hope to see you for many more years to come here at Camp Campbell. If you ever need anything before next summer rolls around, here’s mine and Gwen’s numbers. :)

 

Your super spectacular, uber awesome, ultra fantastic camp counselor,

 

David

 

Max stared long and hard at the numbers scribbled down. For a moment, he thought about calling. But he knew getting a hold of one of his parent’s phones would be next to impossible, so he scoffed and tossed the picture back. He laid down with a huff, crossing his arms and glaring at the ceiling.

 

Proud of me, he thought, what a fucking joke.

 

There was nothing to be proud of. He tried to make David’s life a living hell. Why the hell would he be proud of him? Despite Max’s refusal to let his emotions get the better of him, a sheen of tears made their way into his eyes; dumbass, stupid, cocksucking, good for nothing, asswipe, cumstain David making him fucking cry like a little bitch.

 

He could rot for all Max cared. His throat tightened and he let out the smallest sob. And another, and another, until he was a wreck of a child, soaking his pillow and growling in frustration every time his breath hitched or his body shuddered.

 

He shouldn’t be doing this. He shouldn’t be doing this. His father was going to charge through his door any minute now and demand he keep the racket down unless he wanted an ass whooping. Yet this all encompassing sadness was so overwhelming, it overtook his fear of getting caught in the act.

 

He couldn’t stop. He had been holding back the urge to cry since this morning, when the counselors announced that summer was over and it was time to pack their stuff. He had counted down the days leading up to this, but he still was so shocked it was over. David looked so happy, (sad to see them leave), but happy nonetheless that everyone got to go back to their families, while all Max could feel was a cold dread wash over him.

 

Life was unfair. It was cruel, heartless, backstabbing, and horrible. Good things were washed down the drain way too soon, while bad shit clogged the whole system. As much as he loved to go on and on and on about how much he hated Camp Campbell, he always hated to leave.

 

Why

 

He knew why. He just didn’t want it to be true.

 

“What the hell is going on in here?”

 

Max froze. Not now, please not now. He just got home for Christ’s sake! The boy sat up and wiped his puffy eyes, gulping back any other pathetic sounds he was making before. A large shadow loomed under the crack of his door, the rap of knuckles against wood alerting him to the knob. Baba always knocked, but never waited for a response. He simply charged right on in.

 

The knob turned, and the face of an obviously drunk man came into focus.

 

“How many times do I have to teach you this lesson, boy? Don’t start pissing me off right as you get home. Keep. It. Down.” He said, petrifying green eyes staring him down. Max inhaled sharply.

 

“Mama is making a bunch of noise with her friends right now, though. Why don’t they piss you off, old man?”

 

Fuck. Some of his attitude from camp must’ve still been prominent in his brain. Max bit his tongue before he could say anything more, immediately regretting his words as the man stepped closer. This wasn’t camp. It wasn’t safe anymore to make those kinds of comments.

 

Idiot, he thought to himself.

 

“Sounds an awful lot like you’re talking back to me. Wanna say that again? ‘Old man?’”

 

“N-No sir, Baba,” Max stuttered, retreating further onto his mattress until his back hit the wall, “it just slipped out, it won’t happen again. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

 

His Baba squinted, and approached even closer. Max glued his eyes shut and cringed back, preparing to feel the sting of a hand across his cheek. But instead he got an aggressive pat on the head, his father grinning madly at him.

 

“Ha! You’re a fucking pussy, ya’know that? No son of mine, that’s for sure.” Without another word, he walked out of the room, taking a swig from his bottle of beer and chuckling under his breath. The tension in Max’s shoulders slowly melted away.

 

“Fucking asshole...” he muttered, letting out the breath he had been holding. Laying back down, he tried not to think too hard about camp as he slowly drifted off into sleep, body exhausted and eyes heavy from the breakdown he had.

 

Hopefully his nightmares wouldn’t be that horrifying.

 

 

——

 

 

Waking up with the worst headache imaginable was relatively normal when you lived with a junkie who threw parties every other night. Having a breakdown before sleeping, however, seemed to make that headache ten times worse. Worse than worst. Whatever that meant.

 

Max sat up and his vision swam; an unfortunate consequence of getting up too fast, especially with an empty stomach. He swayed on his feet like a toddler taking his first steps, teetering slowly over to the kitchen. He was absolutely caked in sweat from forgetting to take off his hoodie last night, and his nose felt stuffy from all his sobbing.

 

The sound of loud snoring drifted from his parent’s bedroom, letting him take a sigh of relief. As long as his Baba was asleep, he could handle his mother. She was usually passed out on the couch, or up really early shooting up. On the days she was asleep, every once in a while Max would check her pulse, just to make sure she hadn’t OD’d.

 

Surveying the living room, his mother was nowhere to be seen. She must’ve somehow been able to drag herself to bed this time. Shrugging, Max made his way to the refrigerator and ate two cheese sticks, proceeding to tiptoe around broken glass, and...was that a condom? Gross.

 

Passing the coffee table, that was when he spotted it.

 

The treasure surrounded by trash.

 

A fucking phone.

 

He gazed around hesitantly, half expecting a crazed druggie to pop out of nowhere and stab him or some shit. But the room was deathly still, the only indication that the world hadn’t stopped the steady snores of his father, and the harmonious singing of the birds outside.

 

This was it. This was his one chance to get out of this hellhole, and he wasn’t about to let it pass him by. Abandoning his previous caution, he practically threw himself forward, snatching the device and holding it near his heart, which was beating madly inside his chest. He wildly scrambled to get back inside his room, only to fall to the ground with a ‘bang!’ When his foot slipped on a jagged piece of glass.

 

The scream at the back of his throat was only contained through sheer willpower and fear. The glass was wedged tightly in his sole, bleeding steadily all over their fancy carpet. His breath came out quick and labored as he managed to crawl his way to his bedroom, shutting the door behind him, leaving a trail of blood all the way to his mattress.

 

He considered ripping the glass out of his foot before doing anything else, but the pulsating pain prevented him from even touching it lest he puke. He was already lightheaded enough as it was.

 

Do. Not. Fucking. Pass. Out. He repeated again and again in his mind.

 

What was he doing again?

 

Phone. Help. David. Right, right...

 

Holding back a whimper, he moved to get the photo from his backpack, quickly punching the numbers he saw on the back into the (fortunately unlocked) phone. Seriously, they didn’t even have a passcode? Max held it up to his ear as it rang, anxiety building up in his chest by the second.

 

Pick up, pick up, pick up...Goddamn it, pick up!

 

On the fifth ring, he heard a click; then came the obnoxious voice of the man he never thought he’d be happy to hear ever again.

 

“Y’ello?”

 

“Get me the fuck out of here.”