portion of the artwork for Steven D. Stark's fiction

Folie à Trois
Steven D. Stark

The camp brochure impressed Nick. Video, too. Overnight hikes, communal meals, the skits lampooning the authorities. All choreographed and set to music from the movie Rudy.

His son, Michael, liked the skits best. “I want to be in those,” he said, laughing. That decided it, really. That bizarre cackle that made him fall to the floor as usual.

“You sound like a hyena,” Nick said.

Nick didn’t remember a thing in the literature about a uniform. Or the emblems of the tribe his son was wearing in that strange picture posted on the Internet.

He would ask his wife about it the next time he saw her.

* * *

That wasn’t likely to happen soon. Jenny had put Michael on the camp bus and then boarded the shuttle to take the parents back to their cars. But they had gone the opposite way, driven by that man in a peculiar green outfit.

Now, hours later, Jenny could see snowflakes as the vehicle headed up a mountain, then began to descend, brakes droning. The coach appeared full but it was too dark to tell for sure. A few passengers had their lamps on—maybe they were reading. Jenny tried to make out conversations but the sound of the motor erased them all.

They paused by the road, passengers emptying. She grabbed her jacket and purse and walked into the chill.

“I’ve forgotten my hat,” she said. The man holding the door said something but it was in a language she couldn’t understand.

* * *

Nick was certain he hadn’t seen this video on the camp website before, either. The kids were in three lines. They were marching in circles, in those awful uniforms with the grey splotches. The man they called “the commandant” was at the head of the formation, shouting orders. They were carrying pails, buckets, mops, hoses. One particularly small boy was having trouble with a pail brimming over with water and he stumbled, spilling the contents on the parched ground.

The commandant turned around. Another boy pulled a small black pistol out of his pocket and shot the boy on the spot. The others never looked back and kept on marching in circles.

* * *

Jenny had left the details on this one to Nick. “You’re a guy,” she said. “You know what boys like. You pick the camp.”

Her charge was to get Michael’s trunk ready and sew on the name tags. She worried other boys might tease Michael because he wore boxers, not briefs, and was short for his age.

He’d be there four weeks. Visiting Day was the Sunday in the middle.

Their plan was to drive up for the day. Fourteen jeeps and a tank passed in the opposite lane. She knew one thing: She couldn’t drive a tank.

* * *

No calls or email allowed. Letters, but Michael wasn’t the world’s greatest correspondent. Given that video, it was time to call the camp.

Turn on the computer, find the website, and get the number.

Site down: Maintenance.

Obtain the listing the old-fashioned way—pick up the phone and call directory assistance.

No dial tone.

Turn on the cell.

No bars.

This damn recession. People had forgotten the meaning of good service.

* * *

They appeared to be leaving some kind of base. That must be why the bus halted again and troops got on, dressed to the nines in camouflage. Even though it was the middle of the night.

You know where you’ve seen this before. Empty your pockets. Put your hands above your head. Support Our Troops. Uniformed military board with first class before Zone 1.

Oh, and remove your belt. Always remove your belt.

Jenny recalled that Michael had said something about the camp offering riflery.

“Why?” she asked.

“So we can learn how to shoot,” he answered.

* * *

Nick turned on the TV. Michael must have been messing with it before he left because everything was in Spanish—not just Telemundo or Galavision.

No habìa una manera de conseguir los subtìtulos?

The Spanish announcers—some guy with a moustache and a woman in a very low-cut dress that was rather appealing—were agitated about something. But Nick’s knowledge of Español didn’t go much beyond gracias or taco, so he turned the thing off.

* * *

Another bus, another journey. Longer even. It was morning, or maybe early afternoon. They had given everyone cheese and crackers and some juice, too.

By everyone, Jenny meant herself. No one else on this bus except for the uniformed driver.

No need for a bus, really. They could have used a van. Or a jeep.

No tanks need apply.

Jenny moved forward to speak with the driver. “Excuse me?” she said. He turned around. The shaggy gray moustache told anyone he was too old to be a professional chauffeur.

“Are we going to the camp?” she asked.

“Try find camp,” he answered in a heavy accent Jenny couldn’t place.

“What’s going on?” she asked. “Is this some kind of Grade B science fiction movie or something?”

She looked up at the roaring noises in the sky. More of those awful jets, just racing around.

This wasn’t even Grade B.

“Where’s Michael?” she asked again.

* * *

The phone rang, a genuine surprise. Michael’s cell number flashed on the screen.

“Hello?” Nick answered.

“If you are interested in refinancing your mortgage, press 1,” the recording began. “To enlist, press 2.”

The strange thing is, it did sound like Michael.

Nick pressed option 1.

“You’re in a queue,” it continued. “At this point your wait time is estimated to be longer than—two hours.”

What the hell. Reduced to a cliché.

He decided to wait.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 41 | Summer 2013