The campers next to them were noisy, rude, and downright obnoxious. She winced as more profanity echoed through the woods. Her husband had insisted that camping would be “educational and wholesome fun for the kids.” He’d sure gotten the educational part right!

That morning, they packed up their belongings to head to another campground. But, when they were about to pull out…

(Stories need only touch on this topic in some way to qualify.)

I never thought I’d turn my son over to a group of strangers in the middle of the forest. 100 miles to the closest town. My latest husband, Scott, sitting by my side, encouraging, or dare I say demanding, that I trust these grown men covered in camouflage.

They are confident that my child can be transformed from a defiant teen into a respectful, young man with a promising future. And for the low price of $2,500, they will make it happen in only one week.

My son sits across the room. His brooding, glossy eyes staring at me. Greasy hair plastered against his forehead. I’m certain he’s stoned. As of late, he always is.

I reread the contract terms. I must agree to hold everyone harmless if anything were to happen. They assure me these are general legal terms written into every camp contract.

The possibility of something bad happening makes me sick. But the potential consequences of doing nothing are much worse.

Mr. Willow, the camp director, escorts us to the exit. “You’ve made a good choice. Camp Timber is all about providing a safe place for troubled teens like Timothy.” He points to a leather craft studio where teenagers are hammering buckles on to strips of dyed leather. “We’re giving these boys the structure they so desperately need.” He smiles and pats Timmy on the back. “You’ll fit right in, son.”

“You’re not really going to leave me here?” Timmy whispers in my ear as we reach the guard gate.

“I tried to warn you that Scott was serious about this.” I wrap my arm around his shoulders and squeeze. “It’s just one week, kiddo. Follow the rules and you’ll be fine.” I try to smile, but my lips refuse to go along with the lie.

“Scott, I… we can’t do this.” I touch his arm as he shifts the car into reverse. “I’m sure he’s learned a valuable lesson. I’ve never seen Timmy this scared.”

Scott steps on the accelerator and heads for the exit. “Three school fights. Two trips to the hospital for stitches. Pot in his bedroom drawer. Goddamn it, Sharon. What choice do we really have?”

“You’re not allowed to swear at me.” I shake my finger at him. “And I don’t know what to do, but this doesn’t feel right.”

Later that night, we receive an incoming call. Scott picks up the receiver and listens. With closed eyes he mutters, “Yes, I understand the risks.” He hangs up the phone. “That was the director from Camp Timber.”

“Is everything okay?”

“Timmy’s been violent. Resisting their rules. Trying to run away.”

“Oh dear God. We need to go get him.”

Scott sits up and rearranges his pillow to support his back. “Don’t freak out, but I granted permission for mild shock treatment.”

“You did what?” I jump out of bed and for the next several hours I call the camp until my fingers grow numb.

Scott seems to find pleasure in reminding me that our contract forbids incoming parent communication.

The following Sunday, we return to the camp. Silence now follows us everywhere, and the car ride is no exception. On our way up the mountain, I stare out the window and watch palm trees morph into pines. When he was young, Timmy used to love collecting pine cones. Every year, he’d make his nana a wreath. Part of me knows that little boy still exists. He’s just playing hide-and-seek, and he’s very good at hiding.

When we pull into the campground, I spot my son standing out front in formation. He’s wearing a white shirt and black tie. His hair is cut in a military style.

“Hello, Mother.” He greets me with a kiss on the cheek. “Scott.” He nods in his stepfather’s direction.

“It’s so good to see you, Timmy. You look dashing.” I run my hand down the side of his clean-shaven face.

“I prefer to be called Timothy, if that is acceptable?” He looks at me with a cold, blank stare in his eyes.

“Yes, of course.”

“I shall get lemonade for us.” The boy pivots on his heels and heads over to a banquet table filled with beverages.

When he returns, he passes a glass to Scott, but his fingers slip and the cup tumbles, splashing yellow, sticky liquid on Scott’s cargo shorts.

“Damn it, Timmy. Look what you’ve done.”

Suddenly, all conversation ceases and every teen camper’s eyes fixate on Scott.

“That language is not tolerated here.” Timothy’s voice is monotone.

“Excuse me, boy? I’ll say whatever the hell I want.”

“Not here you won’t.” The corners of Timothy’s mouth curl upwards.

“Why you little son-of-a…”

“Clean his mouth out.” A teenage girl with face tattoos begins to chant, “Soap.. soap.”

Four young men join in, and throw their fists into the air, forming a circle around Scott. “Soap. Soap….”

Scott tries to run but he can’t get through the sea of angry teenagers.

Two guards and a nurse approach me. “Ma’am, do we have permission to treat your spouse?” The nurse holds up a bar of soap and a tongue scraper.

“Absolutely.” I nod.

Timothy looks over at me and smiles.

“I finally found my little boy.”