Long Night at Lake Never
Eric David Roman © 2021
All Rights Reserved
God Hates Faggs
Tyler Wills had not gazed out the car’s window for a solid hour, but when he finally did, those three words angrily mocked him. Each word with its own crudely hand-painted sign, and each one staked in the ground along the roadside. The message, along with the overall cheap tackiness of the signs, churned his stomach.
And they couldn’t even spell it right. Assholes.
After tilting his head back, he nestled against the leather headrest of his father’s Mercedes and rolled his eyes, thinking about life and its accompanying bullshit. How much he wanted to be free—eighteen was ten months away. How much easier everything would be once on his own. Life, his way.
A glance out the window and another sign met his eyes, this one reflective green. It announced they were twenty-five miles from their destination: Camp Horizons. The crude signs, which at first appeared random, now made more sense. Tyler could have groaned or sighed loudly, but no one cared or listened. His parents remained silent the entire three-hour trip, and no noises Ty made were going to change that fact in the last thirty minutes. No radio. No small talk. Only the car’s interior noises, their collective breathing, and the curt driving directions of the British-voiced GPS.
Nadine Wills sat stone-faced and stared out the windshield, only letting the occasional sniffle escape her nose to show she was still alive. Tyler expected a ride filled with screaming and admonishments against his character, but instead, he got the Wills silent treatment. In the two weeks since the night Tyler was brought home by the police, she hadn’t acknowledged him once. She did not listen to him that night either. Once the door opened and she saw Ty there looking small and pitiful with the bulky police officer behind him, she slapped his face and demanded he go to his room. He didn’t, remaining hidden on the stairwell, giggling to himself, as the cop explained to his parents their seventeen-year-old son had been caught in the park giving, as the officer described, “vigorous oral sex.” He emphasized the word vigorous multiple times, either driving home the point he’d witnessed the offensive act, or to show how impressed he’d been by the skills displayed but remained obligated to uphold the law.
Tyler lamented life was not more like porn. If his had been, the cop would gladly have joined in, and Tyler wouldn’t have faced his third strike with Michael and Nadine. The previous two were for his attitude, minor offensives, but this infraction came with the threat of an indecent exposure charge, for which he got let go with only a warning. However, the more significant issue was the revelation their only son was queer. He knew the ordeal would cost him this time, which it did.
One day after the incident, as the event became referred to, Michael barged into Tyler’s room, a disgusted look etched into his worn and wrinkled face, and his laptop clenched in his hands. Tyler rolled his eyes as his red-faced father, livid at his only son for being a filthy fucking cocksucker (his exact words), showed him the website for Camp Horizons, a “rehabilitation” center for homosexual youth. Tyler understood exactly what a pray-the-gay-away-style conversion camp consisted of. He was an educated young man and was aware of what kind of rehab went down at places like those. The blood drained from his face as Michael smirked at Ty’s horrified reaction. Nadine wasn’t present for Michael’s fiery antihomo tirade about how the camp would be healthy for him. Tyler figured a silent or else came attached to the demand he agreed to be fixed. He hoped Nadine would swoop in for a rescue, tell her husband he was being ridiculous as she had in the past and that would be all. But Ty didn’t count on her this time; he knew she wouldn’t leave the safety of the bedroom where the surplus of Xanax kept her numbed and staring at the ceiling in mindless wonderment.
The week until they left for the camp had been hell. They took everything from him: the car went first, the phone next, along with all the electronics, and like a prisoner, his remaining freedoms were stripped away. Tyler spent the week locked in his near-empty bedroom. The severity of his punishment pissed him off and it wasn’t due to premarital sex or getting caught by the police. If he’d been blown by a girl, sure there would have been some yelling and tears since Nadine cried at fucking everything. But once she settled, his father would have come into his room and congratulated him on becoming a man and probably expunged any punishment with a hearty high-five.
No, their anger, their disgust came from the fact Tyler was gay. What infuriated them more, Ty had no issue with his sexuality at all. To them, being queer equaled unacceptable, and yet, he held no shame whatsoever. For the past two years, he’d tried on multiple occasions to come out but always retreated at the last minute. He understood the truth: Michael and Nadine were bigoted archaic assholes. The kind who spoke disparagingly about queer people whenever they showed up on a television show or in a movie. “Ugh, do we need more of them?” Nadine would say as she fidgeted in her spot until the offensive parties left the screen. His father would mumble fags under his breath, and so Tyler would sit there being hurt and annoyed by the two people who were supposed to love him more than anything.
And he thought, foolishly, he could make it to eighteen and get out before he ever had to tell them. His libido thought otherwise. The allegations were true. He’d done everything the cop accused him of—and more—before the offensive flashlight so rudely shined on them in the plastic playhouse atop the slide. Tyler picked at the seams on his jeans and thought about Daniel, his long-time crush, who had finally agreed to meet him.
Closing his eyes, he pictured Daniel’s slender face, his deep eyes, and his full lips, which felt as nice as Ty had hoped. Without any of his devices, there’d been no way to see how much trouble Daniel had gotten into with his family. And no means to apologize or tell him how he’d not stopped thinking about their brief night. Nadine and Michael hadn’t merely sent Tyler away; they’d successfully cut him off from the world. He wouldn’t know if there may have been something more with Daniel than a few quick make-out sessions behind the lunchroom and a sloppy half-finished blow job.
He opened his eyes when his father’s voice demanded he wake up though he had not been sleeping. A large wooden sign filled the front windshield as they passed, declaring they’d reached Camp Horizons. In the camp’s heyday, the hand-carved sign had been brightly painted with yellows and blues, depicting a serene sun setting on a group of cabins. Each ray of the sun became a cross the closer to the camp they reached, but the current state of the sign showed those days were long gone. Now the sign’s faded paint showed off how dried and cracked the wood had become. The sign hung crooked, drooping on one side from damage to one of the posts, which no one had bothered to fix. Past the broken sign were a few hundred more feet of dense forest, which sent a chill, cold and icy, traversing up Tyler’s spine and sent shudders through his body. The camp was more isolated than he realized, and the fact unsettled him. An apprehensive knot formed in his chest and told him this place wasn’t right.
The Mercedes followed the curve of the camp’s driveway, and Tyler saw a trio of cabins nestled together along the rim of the circular drive. Behind them, sloping down the uneven terrain to the edge of Lake Never were several more. From the window, Tyler spotted a round-faced man in his late thirties, with a short beard and thinning hair, wearing a bright-yellow shirt and tan khakis, waving happily at them. Michael pulled the car around until he faced the way they’d come in. He shoved the gearshift into park, pissed off at it and blaming everything in the world for his son being a queer.
Michael turned to face Tyler in the backseat. For a moment, Ty thought his father would finally speak to him, and he did, but not with any words. The anger and disappointment were painted all over his face as they’d been for days, and the look told Tyler without question, you’d better not fuck this up too. Tyler blew him a kiss and flung his car door open, happy for the fresh air. As his parents slammed their doors, the man from the porch trotted down to them.
“The Lord has blessed us with a beautiful day, hasn’t he? Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Wills. Welcome to Camp Horizons,” he said warmly, his greeting coated thickly by a Southern accent as rich as syrup smothering a stack of pancakes. He extended his hand and shook Michael’s, and then Nadine’s, who barely registered a response. “Robert Kendall, the camp director here at Horizons. But please, Bob is fine. Been going by it for years. And this young man must be Tyler.” Bob swung his hand over to Tyler, an obviously super fake grin smeared across his round face.
Tyler refused to shake any hands. Instead, he let his focus drift around the camp as Bob spoke to his parents. If Horizons had any glory days, they were long gone. There was not one cabin which didn’t need some form of repair or wasn’t boarded up. Every surface needed a paint job, and the grounds were overgrown, except in the prominent areas along the front to keep the entrance looking deceptively beautiful. Tyler’s sneakers dug into the gravel of the drive, his thoughts only on running away, as Bob led them to the office sitting to the left of the largest cabin, which he referred to as Integrity Cabin.
For a religiously run camp, Tyler found there was not much around touting the place’s pious nature past the crosses on the camp’s entrance sign. In his head, he half expected to see nothing but crosses—hung to everything, twenty feet tall—but the camp appeared subdued.
He recanted this opinion once inside Bob’s office. The room was adorned with an obscenely large and ornately framed painting of Jesus Christ on the rear wall. Between the pictures of the camp through the years were photos of the Guides who had worked there, small but ornate crosses, placards with scripture quotes, and religious-themed motivational posters, which encouraged all to Pray it Away with the power of God.
Situated at his desk, Bob was tiny in front of the looming Jesus, who glared down on them, and the desk was covered with files, papers, and a complete set of apostle bobbleheads.
The Wills family sat quietly as Bob beamed at them with a righteous awkwardness for a silent minute. Exhaling loudly, he leaned his head up to the heavens as he began, “The Lord is here today. Yes, he is. He is always present when one of his disciples begins their Journey.” The word, said often, was always accompanied with a pompous weighted reverence. “Tyler, Horizons exists to restore those trapped within sexual sin. Our program is specifically designed to cater to those that have fallen prey to the sinful cult of homosexuality.” He bowed his head, raised his right hand, and shook like an evangelist on Sunday morning television, casting away queerness like one would cast off the evil eye.
“Homosexuality is a vile disease, and through the power of prayer, we can get Tyler onto the path of righteousness and return him to the arms of our Lord.”
“Kinda thought the idea here would be getting me out of the arms of men, but hey, who am I to argue?” Tyler could do nothing but laugh off the absurdity around him.
“God sees you, Tyler Wills, and your soul is in peril. Do you want to spend eternity in damnation and hellfire? Let’s try to approach this with some decorum. Our mission here is to save your soul.”
Tyler rolled his eyes at the idea of his soul needing saving—an impulse reaction but one that earned him a hard smack across the back of his head from his father.
“How long does this process take, making them straight again?” Michael asked with an annoyed tone, suggesting he expected to literally drop the offensive party off and leave. Nadine sat quietly, not looking at her son, husband, or Bob’s suntanned face. She stared up at the large painting of Jesus, dopey eyed in her sedated state. “Tyler had an incident,” she whispered softly.
“I got caught vigorously sucking some cock,” Tyler boasted as his father fumed, and Nadine covered her mouth and shook her head.
“An incident,” Michael spoke over him, “that concerned us enough to bring him here for treatment.”
Bob put his hands together in a prayer stance and once again sounded like a preacher. “The path to religious righteousness is a thorny one. Romans 12 tells us, ‘Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.’” He quoted the Bible with the slimy ease of a used car salesman trying to offload a lemon.
Michael rudely cut through the religious platitudes. “And what kind of time frame does that entail?”
“Bob,” Tyler interjected before the camp director answered, “my parents are extremely uncomfortable. Neither of them is religious enough to know what Romans means. What they want you to tell them, and in the simplest words possible, is how long this introduction will take. They’re so uncomfortable. I mean, look at how much they want to leave.” The retort was worth the second smack to the head.
“The Journey is two and a half weeks, but they are laborious weeks for sure.” Bob cleared his throat. “Now I’m required to make clear that neither I nor my Guides are actually licensed therapists. We’re merely servants of God, who’ve gone through the Journey and are invested in keeping the camp running so other young people will have a safe space to embark on their own path back to the Lord.” He rattled off a few other disclaimers rapidly before sliding across the desk three papers he advised were confidentiality agreements, each stating the Wills would not divulge their therapeutic techniques.
Tyler figured his father listened and honed in, as Tyler had, on the unlicensed and unregulated part, which to anyone else would have been a huge red flag. He hoped that would have shown his father how ludicrous the entire idea was, and how potentially dangerous. Except Tyler imagined his father hoped the so-called techniques included a little bit of physical punishment. “Fucking kill them all, and we wouldn’t have this problem,” Michael Wills had once proclaimed at the breakfast table in front of his son and wife after becoming annoyed with the ongoing coverage over the fight for marriage equality.
“We here at Horizons have developed our own patent-pending, seven-step rehabilitation program, which will take Tyler on a voyage of self-discovery where he will once again find, through prayer, and our assistance, God’s eternal love. And in that love, he will find the courage to reject these deviant homosexual impulses, falsely implanted within him by Satan.
“All of our Guides have taken the Journey. They are trained to assist other young men and women going through the process. Luckily for Tyler, our attendance is rather low this cycle, which is all the better to give those here a truly one-on-one, immersive experience, which will return him to our Lord and Savior. Through God’s beautiful bounty, we are blessed to be here providing this service to his flock.”
“I’m pretty sure this shit is illegal.” Tyler’s already upset stomach tied itself in more knots listening to the eerie way Bob referred to God so subserviently that it didn’t seem to Tyler like they had the healthiest relationship. Whomever Bob was referring to wasn’t the God Ty knew, and everyone in the room would be gutted to know how well Tyler was versed with the Bible, but he kept that to himself.
“Language,” Bob chided. “We keep our words G-rated at Horizons.”
“Fine, I’ll reiterate—isn’t conversion therapy illegal?”
“No laws have been passed as of yet…in this state anyway,” Bob quickly pointed out smugly before shifting his attention to Michael and Nadine. “As you may have observed driving in, Lake Never is rather large. We are secluded here on the south side. As such, there is no access to the internet. No televisions. No radios. No distractions. And any fraternizing, in a physical manner, is strictly forbidden.”
Tyler sat back in his chair, believing he had found his way out. The first guy he found to be willing—bam—he’d get kicked out.
“Expulsion is not the punishment,” Bob declared as if reading the blueprints of Tyler’s escape plan directly off his face. “The program resets, and our Journeyer must begin again. And if this causes them to go over their allotted time, there will of course be a small fee. We will need to collect Tyler’s phone and any other electronic devices he may have. There is a landline here in my office. If you are so inclined to check on Tyler’s progress, you may call, but the Journeyers are not permitted access to it.”
Tyler laughed. They wouldn’t give a shit about his progress once they drove off. “Don’t have to worry about that, Bob. These assholes don’t care if they hear from their faggy son or not.”
“Language.” Bob’s demeanor flipped, and the word came with a more pointed tone making it clear foul language wouldn’t be tolerated again.
“Tyler, shut up,” his father demanded. “And after these two weeks he will be straight, correct?”
“Oh yes,” Bob assured Michael. “We here at Horizons are God’s mechanics, determined to help fix our brothers and sisters who’ve been led astray.”
“There is nothing fucking wrong with me. I happened to luck out and got these two braindead assholes for parents.” Tyler went to stand up and storm out. Michael proved quicker, snatching his arm roughly, forcing him down into his seat.
“Sit the fuck down right now,” Michael yelled, never once looking at his son. “You will take this seriously. You will follow the rules, and you will not come home until—”
“Until what?” Tyler pulled his arm back. “Until I magically like pussy? There is nothing wrong with me the way I am.”
Michael wound up his hand again and started to say something when Bob jumped in. “Mr. Wills, please. Tyler, we will not accept this kind of talk or behavior at Horizons. That is no way to speak to your parents. One of the commandments is to honor thy mother and father. They are your moral compass.”
“You’re fucking joking, right?” Tyler sat up in the chair and laughed. “Moral compass? My mother over there dopes herself every day to ignore the fact that my father is sticking his dick into every woman he meets. She doesn’t care about this as long as her meds are refilled, and the credit card doesn’t get declined. I do believe gluttony, infidelity, and generally being a shitty person are sins too, are they not? Where’s the rehab camp for these asses?”
Nadine shifted in her seat and exhaled loudly as she turned her face away when Michael sent the back of his hand across Tyler’s face, effectively silencing him. Bob didn’t comment on the slap, waiting a moment until the air settled before he continued.
“We are not here to discuss semantics, Tyler. We’re here to talk about you starting your Journey toward being a straight and God-fearing member of society.”
Tyler rubbed the side of his face, still hot from Michael’s hand, and shrugged the slap off. “I get your gig; you pick and choose what parts of the Bible you feel like enforcing. The rest doesn’t matter, right?”
Bob, still sporting his Cheshire-cat-like phony grin, studied Tyler as he slid the confidential agreement across the desk toward Michael. Bob motioned to the pens in the cup in front of him. “We are going to require our fee up front.”