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Chapter One


 

Ivy Hall maneuvered her suitcase in front of her as she made her way up the steps of the bus. She already had her ticket out and ready. The driver took it, glancing at her face and then at a list showing a list of names with photos beside them.

“Hall, Ivy?” he asked.

She nodded.

He looked back at the picture.

“My hair was a little shorter when the photo was taken,” she said. “And I wasn’t as heavy.”

She flushed as she made the last admission. The disapproving shake of the driver’s head did nothing to make her feel any better. She wanted to tell him that if there was some other way she wouldn’t be on the bus in the first place. But she held her tongue. It had taken her all the courage she had to do this; the last thing she wanted to do was get off on the wrong foot.

Ivy lugged her bag down the narrow aisle, stealing glances at the other passengers. She wondered what had compelled them to end up on this bus with her.

“Can I sit here?” she asked a redheaded woman reading a book.

The redhead looked up at Ivy and frowned. “No offense, but I’d rather you didn’t,” she said. “I don’t particularly want to be cramped for the rest of the ride.”

Ivy’s face flooded with the heat of shame. What did this rude woman think? That she liked being overweight?

“You can sit with me, hon.” A blonde woman in oversized sunglasses beckoned her over.

Ivy gratefully moved towards her. The blonde stood and helped her place her bag in the overhead compartment.

“Don’t mind her,” the blonde said. “She’s been a bitch ever since she got on the bus. She’s probably just nervous like the rest of us.” She held out her hand. “My name’s Susan.”

“Hi Susan, I’m Ivy.”

Ivy sat down, so self-conscious now that she moved close to the edge so as not to crowd the one person on the bus who’d been nice to her so far.

“You’re really not that fat, you know,” Susan said. “What are you? A size 16?”

“Something like that, which means I’m fat enough,” Ivy replied. “I mean, I know I’m not morbidly obese but if I can’t get a handle on my appetite then I’m going to end up like my mom– so big I can’t get out of bed. I don’t want that to happen.” She paused. “What are you doing here? It’s not your weight, obviously.”

Susan popped open a pack of gum and stuck a piece in her mouth.

“Smoking,” she said. “I’ve tried everything - hypnosis, pills, programs. Nothing works. Apparently this place guarantees success. We shall see.”

“Yes, we shall,” Ivy said with a sigh. “I feel kind of stupid, though; going to a place that I know so little about.”

“Were you referred, too?” asked Susan.

“Yeah,” Susan said. “My friend said her yoga instructor used to be over two hundred pounds until she went to this place and that if I wanted a sure-fire weight loss plan I should talk to her.”

“Let me guess,” Susan said. “All she would tell you was that Camp Pleasant saved her life.”

“Yeah!” Ivy said excitedly. “She said she had to sign something stating she wouldn’t discuss the methodology or techniques, but said they offer an iron-clad guarantee and they’ve never failed to help women struggling with habitual behavior.”

Susan nodded. “That’s pretty much what my friend Marla said. She and I used to sit outside and chain smoke on our breaks. She always bitched about how she wished she could stop. Then she went away on vacation and when she came back, she’d kicked the habit. When I asked her how she did it, she just gave me the card for Camp Pleasant and told me to call them. That was the most I could get out of her.”

“Did your friends also tell you they thought it was stupid - going to a program without knowing how it worked?” Ivy smoothed her skirt down over her thick thighs as she asked the question.

“Yeah, but I don’t care what people think,” Susan said. “Gum?”

Ivy considered declining but changed her mind and took the gum. She’d had what she figured would be one final Snickers bar while waiting for the bus and already she was craving more sugar.

“I wish I was like that,” Ivy said enviably. “I think part of my problem is that I care too much what people think. I feel like people are judging me for my weight, which depresses me. And what do I do when I’m depressed? I eat more.”

“I guess we all have our hang-ups, even the mean girl.” She nodded in the direction of the redhead. “It makes us feel better to put other people down. You shouldn’t take it personally.”

“I can’t help it,” Ivy said. “Sometimes I wish I could fall through the floor.”

Susan smiled. “Don’t do that,” she said. “So far you’re the only person on the bus who’s talked to me. Everyone else seems kind of preoccupied.”

It was the first time Ivy noticed, but Susan was right. The other women were either reading, pretending to read, listening to music or staring out the window. Everyone was quiet. There was an air of apprehension on the bus that was almost as cloying as the warm, humid air.

Susan fanned herself with her hand. “God, you’d think for what this place charges they’d at least have decent AC for the ride.”

Ivy nodded. She was beginning to sweat and could feel the beads of moisture rolling down the triple rolls of fat that lay under her shirt. She began to panic. Did she smell? Would Susan notice? She glanced over looking for signs: a curled up lip, a thinly veiled expression of disgust. Ivy had seen them before. They hurt anew each time.

“Hey, driver!” Susan was standing up now.

“Please be seated, Miss!” the driver said, looking at Susan’s reflection in the mirror just above where he sat. He pointed to a sign at the front of the bus.

BUS RULES, the sign read. 1. REMAIN SEATED. 2. ONLY DISTRACT DRIVER IN CASE OF EMERGENCY. 3. NO FOUL LANGUAGE

“Look,” Susan said, ignoring the sign. “Sorry to bother you but it’s hot as hell back here.”

The driver glared at her in the mirror. Like Susan, he also wore shades so the passengers could not see his eyes. But it was clear from the grim set of his mouth that he was angry.

“Language, miss!” he barked.

“Don’t talk to me like I’m three!” Susan shot back. “Like I said; it’s hot as hell and if you don’t want to see and hear me then how about jacking up the AC!”

The driver didn’t address her further. Instead, he did something that surprised everyone on the bus. He pulled over onto the shoulder and cut the engine. It ticked as it began to slowly cool down but the inside of the bus continued to swelter.

“Just what is going on?” Susan asked. Some of the other women were murmuring now.

“We’re stopped,” said the driver. He turned and Ivy was surprised to see how tall he was. He looked like a cop, with his high-and-tight military haircut and reflective shades. He was wearing a dark blue t-shirt and dark blue pants. The shirt, stretched tight across and impressive set of pecs, bore the words: Mount Pleasant Staff.

“QUIET!”

Everyone on the bus jumped, even Susan. It fell quiet. Ivy could feel the sweat pouring down her now, soaking her shirt until it clung to her. Her heart pounded as the driver walked down the aisle. Even though she could not see his eyes, she could tell that he was focusing on Susan.

“Miss Keeler, right?” he asked quietly.

“That’s right,” she said.

“Miss Keeler, you signed a contract obligating you to a three week stay at Camp Pleasant. The women here on this bus will be your fellow campers. Camaraderie is important. Just how popular do you think you’ll be among your peers if your behavior forces them to sit here in this sweltering bus until you decide to obey the few simple rules we have posted up front?”

“Are you serious?” she asked, scoffing. “Nice try, but just so you know, I never cared much about peer pressure. Not even in school.”

“Hmm,” he said thoughtfully. “Well, I guess it’s pointless then to try to remind you of how your behavior impacts others. Given that, we’ll just be on our way and it will be up to your assigned counselor to….dealwith you. However, you should know that your little outburst gained you nothing but a delay. The air conditioning will not be set any higher. If you’re hot, then perhaps you can use your charming manner to get one of the other passengers closer to the front to change places with you. It’s cooler up there.”

The other women who were closer to the front refused to meet her eyes. No one wanted to sit any further back, especially when the temperature inside the bus was growing hotter by the minute.

“There’s no reason to be a prick…” Susan began.

“Would you please just sit down and shut up?” a voice from the back demanded. Susan turned to see a tall African American woman glaring at her. Ivy saw Susan search the bus for any sign of support but everyone was anxious and irritated now.

“Fine,” Susan said, glaring at the bus driver. He smirked, and turning, went back to his seat.

“What an asshole!” Susan fumed to Ivy. “I hope to God this isn’t any indicator of what’s going to happen at the camp because I swear, if it is, I am totally complaining.”

“I’m sure it’s not,” Ivy soothed, but still she kept her voice low as she spoke to Susan. Frankly, the driver scared her. “I mean, it’s called Camp Pleasant, right? So it’s got to be…pleasant. And he’s not.”

“No he isn’t!” Ivy was frantically digging through her purse now. “Goddamnit! Where is my fucking gum?”

“I’m keeping count!” The driver was looking at them in the mirror, his reflective shades reflecting the mirror in an endless series of duplicate images. Ivy felt dizzy.

“Count all you want!” Ivy said. “Piss, shit, fuck. Happy?”

She pulled out a piece of gum. “I need a cigarette,” she said. “Of course I can’t smoke in front of the mad driver, but I swear to God, once we get there I’m going to have one that’s hidden in my purse.”

“Susan! We weren’t supposed to bring the things that are our trouble triggers!” Ivy said. What little literature they’d gotten from Mount Pleasant was explicit. Leave all addictive items, or Trouble Triggers, at home.

“Yeah, like you don’t have a Twinkie in your bag,” Susan said.

Ivy frowned. “I don’t!” she argued. And she was telling the truth. It wasn’t a Twinkie; it was a Milky Way.

The bus was moving again. Susan grew silent; the only sound Ivy heard from her still-fuming companion was the occasional popping of her gum. As the bus moved into the mountains, the air became cooler. Some of the passengers cracked their windows. Susan cracked hers, along with a comment about whether the driver would demand they close them. Ivy hoped not. With cool air finally rushing into the bus she was able to stop sweating.

Camp Pleasant was nestled “on a mountainside with panoramic views” according to the literature Ivy had received. Accommodations were described as comfortable but simple so as not to distract from the “unique approach to behavior modification.”

Ivy just hoped those simple accommodations included showers. She still felt sticky despite the cool down on the bus, which had now turned off the main road and was traveling past a gate and onto a dirty road that wound even further up the mountain. Through the trees she could see the valley below and the mountains beyond. The place was pretty isolated. She wondered what time they served meals, and whether or not there would be snacks at the reception.

Ivy could see buildings now, a large chalet surrounded by smaller cabins around a sparkling lake. There was a garden and what looked like walking trails. She wondered if they would expect her to work or walk a lot. She hoped not. She wasn’t much of an outdoorsy person.

“We’re here!” the driver cut the engine and looked up at the passengers as he made the announcement. “Go to the main building and enter through the front. Someone will meet you there.”

Ivy and Susan stood and retrieved their bags from the overhead storage and then waited until the other departing passengers made room for them to get in line. As they filed past the driver, Susan flipped him the bird.

“Bye, jackass,” she said.

“That’s ten,” he replied.

“What was that supposed to mean?” Ivy asked as they got off the bus.

“Who cares?” Susan said. “God, look at this place. I feel like I’m back in third grade at Camp Holiday.”

The steps up the door of the chalet were steep. Ivy felt winded by the time they reached the top and wanted to catch her breath but kept going. If she stopped and stood gasping, she’d only draw dirty looks.

The inside of the chalet was rustic. It looked like a hunting lodge. A beautifully mounted swan captured forever in a landing position was poised above a huge fireplace. The railing overhead was made of what looked like rough-hewn logs. The back of the chalet was glass. And the view was indeed panoramic.

A man stood in the middle of the room. As the filed in he ordered the women to sit. A large sectional sofa accommodated almost everyone. Ivy, Susan and a couple of other women took chairs. Ivy made sure she headed for the largest one hoping it would make her look smaller.

The women, who had been chatting, stopped and looked at the man. He was tall and handsome, with an athletic build, sportsmanlike tan and a tight cap of curly blonde hair.

“Ladies,” he said. “Welcome to Camp Pleasant. My name is Hunter Fields.”

“Seriously?” Susan asked, and everyone looked at her. Ivy couldn’t help but wonder why Susan seemed determined to rub everyone the wrong way and decided she was just ill because she wanted a cigarette.

“Everything that we say and do here is serious, Miss….” He looked down at a folder he was holding. “Keller, correct?”

She nodded and smirked.

He looked at her hard and the room fell silent. Then he continued, “You’ve all come seeking help to break certain habits or behaviors, having decided that everything else has failed. The methods here are simple. At Camp Pleasant we believe that the formation of addictive or destructive behaviors begins in childhood, when you were first allowed to act out those behaviors without consequences. Think of Camp Pleasant as a time machine taking you back to a time when someone was watching - someone who cared enough to step in and firmly say, “NO,” not just to the behaviors that brought you here, but also to other issues that early childhood neglect has caused.”

“Early childhood neglect?” A woman from the back with short black hair raised her hand even as she spoke. Hunter Fields looked down at the folder.

“Mary Atwater?”

“Yes,” she said. “And just for the record, I think my parents were great!”

“And they may have been,” he replied. “But parents can and do make mistakes. Neglect can be benign, you know.”

“So what? You’re our Daddy now?” Susan asked with a scoff.

Hunter Fields stared hard at her again, even though he was now addressing the room.

“I suppose the best way to demonstrate what we mean is just to get things under way. It’s time to introduce you to your counselors.”

Three men filed into the room. To Ivy’s surprise, the second one was the stoic-looking bus driver although they all looked alike with the same muscular build and high, tight haircuts. They looked like handsome drill sergeants.

“You’ll be divided alphabetically,” Fields said. “Those with the last names ending with letters A through G will go with Burt Marsh. You will refer to him as Mr. Marsh, not Burt.”

The first man stepped forward and the women began to quietly murmur. Some were giggling.

“Quiet!” Fields said.

“Those with last names beginning with letters H through P will go with Joseph Craig, who is Mr. Craig to you.” The bus driver stepped forward.

“No way,” Susan said angrily, looking at Ivy.

“Finally, those with last names beginning with letters Q through Z will go with Adam Sloan, whom you will call Mr. Sloan.”

“You have got to be kidding!” Susan said. “Are you really asking us to listen to this bus driver?”

“Miss Keller,” Fields said. “Mr. Craig is not a bus driver. He just drove the bus today. And I do believe that your behavior on the bus gives all a chance to see our methodology at work.”

He turned to Craig. “Mr. Craig, there are clearly posted rules on the bus, correct?”

“Yes sir,” he said.

“And Miss Keller broke those rules, correct?”

“She did. And she cursed at me. Ten times.”

“So what is that? Ten for the infraction and ten for the cursing?”

“Actually, I was thinking two each for each curse, so that would be twenty plus ten. Thirty.” Craig looked at Susan as he spoke.

“What’s going on?” Susan asked. “Thirty what?”

“Show them,” Fields said.

Craig strode forward and before anyone could comprehend what had happened he’d plucked Susan from her chair and was dragging the struggling woman up front, where he pulled a chair away from the wall, sat down and pulled her across his lap.

“What the…What are you doing!” she cried and then began to fight in earnest as he pulled up the hem of her skirt and jerked her panties down to mid-thigh. The other women gasped. Some rose to their feet and began to shout at the men but they advanced on the women, joined now by several other men of equal build.

And then he was spanking her, his large hand coming down over and over and over hard on the blonde’s helpless bottom. Susan screamed curses at first but as her bottom rapidly went from pink to dark red those curses turned helpless, pathetic bawls.

“Stop! Stop!” she was trying to reach back now, but Mr. Craig grabbed her wrists and pinned her wrists at her back, never missing a beat. He raised his knee, causing her to fall forward on his lap now, and targeted the lower part of her upthrust bum with his huge hand. The spanks were rapid and unrelenting and her kicking legs left her completely exposed.

Ivy wanted to look away but could not. She was rooted to the spot, like a rabbit that’s just seen a hawk grab its companion and realized that it could have just as easily grabbed it.

By the time Craig had finished, Susan’s bottom was reddish purple. When the counselor hauled her to her feet, he had to steady her to keep her from falling. When he tucked the hem of her skirt into the waistband she seemed to shaken to stop him and tripped along tearfully as he led her to the corner.

By now all the women had fallen into stunned silence.

Mr. Fields turned to them. “Now that, ladies, is how we deal with a disobedient little girl, which for all practical purposes is the Point A where you all find yourselves, having agreed to attend this camp. Remember, you signed a legal document accepting our techniques and practices. And if any of you think of trying to leave, let it be known that we deal with runaways severely.”

Ivy looked at Susan who was standing in the corner now. The only sound in the room was the sound of her crying. The other women just stood and stared, obviously afraid that any resistance would open them up for the same type of treatment.

“All right then!” Mr. Fields clapped his hands and smiled broadly. “Welcome to Camp Pleasant, girls! It’s time to get you settled into your cabins. Lunch will be in an hour, and your attire will be provided for you. Don’t be late.”

Then he turned and walked away.

“H through P, girls! Follow me,” Mr. Craig said, taking the still sobbing and subdued Susan from the corner by the arm. Her bottom remained bare as he led her out, the punished cheeks a red beacon the women now followed with growing dread.

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