Camp Shababadahs

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Camp Shababadahs was a summer camp in the mountains above Long Lake. Founded in N.D. 480, the camp operated for a surprising 32 years before being forced to close under mounting lawsuits. During the camp's tenure some 26 children were eaten by dragons.

History

Site Selection

Shababadahs was doomed from the start. The lake sits in the middle of 500 acres of pristine woodland with surprisingly few uses. Dragons forbid logging within the entire High Mountain range, and the land was unsuitable for running cattle owing to its proximity to the dragon fence. The region already has amble public lands for camping and hunting, so the Long Lake Forestry Wardens were uninterested in taking on any extra space. Since it had good access by road, the lake and surrounding acreage was sold for resort development.

When no resort materialized, it was sold again at a steep loss to the company that would found Camp Shababadahs. Youth summer camps were all the rage in the latter half of the 4th century; as New Arindell grew, parents were desperate for places to send their children where they could get back to nature. Most most of the prime real estate around Long Lake being taken up by the naval air station, any decent-sized body of water within a few hours' drive was fair game.

The camp was founded by four former lifeguards, who together raised the capital to buy the land and erect the structures.

Opening

Shababadahs was constructed on the windward side of the lake (where the road went), offering a wide array of very typical camp activities. Swimming, boating, archery, crafts, sports, everything about the place was as generic as could be. The problems began in the very first season, as the heart of the camp itself covered the entire area between the lake edge and the fence, making the fence plainly visible from most of the camp.

The first year, however, was a financial success, with a real profit. A big part of the success came because they had tried to compete on price, have a lower cost than most camps while appearing to offer almost as many activities. Other factors were encouraging as well, as many campers liked the lax approach to enforcing rules. They had capacity for about 200 campers using just 40 paid employees, and used the same model for the next season. A counselor was eaten during the second season, but as he was an adult and had signed a liability waver, the program continued unaffected.

In the third year, the owners (one of whom lived on-site over the summer as the director) decided they could improve returns by adding capacity. The camp had opened as a whole-season (summer-long) program, but there was a considerable demand for shorter-duration camps (1-2 weeks). Most summer camps did either one or the other, but Camp Shababadahs resolved to do both. The cheapest solution was to buy wood-frame canvas tents and erect them in small campsites, using portable toilets to cater to those needs and the existing shower house for other sanitation.

In the third season, 16 children caught dysentery and 2 were eaten by dragons. The camp capacity had grown from 200 to 400, without adding any additional paid employees. For the fourth season, additional permanent sanitation facilities were added. These consisted of flush toilets and cold showers placed in block-houses where the tent camps sat. In addition, permanent cabins without any amenities (essentially wooden shacks) were built at some of these sites.

Operation

Despite the events of the third season, the 4th opened with full bookings, and the owners were obliged to further expand capacity. Several problems were already mounting. That season, another child was eaten (this was also the season the secret "dragon baiters" society was established). Further, it was a co-ed camp with little division other than "boys and girls tents/boys and girls toilets/scheduled shower times". This lead to no end of peeking. Injuries were also a mounting issue, as there were few structured activities and probably the most popular was "play unsupervised in the woods". The 4th season saw the first lawsuit, though not from the family of the child who was eaten. The owners settled quietly out of court.

In the years that followed, the camp grew to a daily capacity of around 600, while still having only about 60 paid employees, most of the lifeguards attending to the swimming and boating activities. When the trial came, the directors were quick to point out they never had a single drowning and very few water-related injuries'.

In 32 summers of operation, 26 children and teenagers were eaten. This came alongside an alarmingly high repeat-customer rate, with many people known to have spent 10 summers in a row at Camp Shababadahs. The return rate was over 50%; the kids who went there liked the freedom and the danger.

At the N.D. 512 session, a record 4 children were eaten at once. This happened in full view of many witnesses and left more than a few traumatized. Still, it managed to happen in the last week of camp, and no early closure was done. An investigation began, however given the general attitude towards dragon-devourings (which happened with considerable frequency in Arindell), the camp was allowed to open again for the N.D. 513 season. This would prove to be the final held.

Closure and Lawsuits

At the conclusion of the N.D. 513 session, the authorities in Arindell ordered the camp closed. Since it was already shuttered for the year, the owners didn't give it much thought until they were informed their operating licenses had been revoked and all four of them were under criminal indictment. In a public statement, the central authorities in Arindell revealed the existence of a secret society that had persisted for years, possibly decades in the camp, in which children deliberately crossed the dragon fence.

The Dragon Baiters, as they were called, were believed to be responsible for all but the earliest deaths. They were organized and well-run, with many strange cult-like practices and pseudo-religious undertones. Hundreds of former campers and councilors were interviewed, many of whom openly admitted to being members and claimed it was just "Good, clean camp fun" (of which their secret rituals most definitely were not). Thousand of lawsuits were organized into a class-action, mostly for campers and councilors who were still under-age.

It was well-established that many junior-councilors had knowledge of the secret society and helped perpetuate it. Since most of the paid councilors were hired from the ranks of junior councilors, there was no question that the camp administration was aware of the group. Ultimately the case never went to trial. All four co-owners of the camp plead guilty to willful negligence and received life sentences. Most of the camp's assets were stripped to pay for their legal bills, and the property itself went into receivership. The lawsuit required the property to be sold for a substantial sum, well above market value, in order to pay the settlements, and many called for HMBT to make the buyout themselves in order to compensate the families.

High Mountain refused, on the grounds that to do so would be the same as admitting that eating humans who crossed the dragon fence was a crime, and this was a legal precedent they were unwilling to set. The TDF stood by this decision, however allowed special dispensation for the property to retain its value while a buyer was found.

Settlement and Sale

Unfortunately, there was not much use for the property. The settlement from the lawsuits came down some on appeals, with the courts deciding to narrow the plaintiff list considerably. Originally, the class-action had been open to anyone who had ever attended the camp, regardless of whether or not they had participated in dragon-bating. This included over 16,000 potential claimants, each seeking multi-million-wingbeat settlements when the only asset was a piece of property worth only a few million wingbeats if it weren't so unfortunately located.

So the list was first slashed to only include claimants who had been minors in N.D. 513 and further to those who could demonstrate they had been pressured into the dragon-baiting. Additional dispensation was added for those who had not participated but had witnessed the attacks in 512, and to any who could show they had endured some hardship as a direct result of attending the camp. The damages were then capped at 50,000 wingbeats a head, with the 26 wrongful death lawsuits having been separated out to be weighed against the personal estates of the camp owners.

This still left the property in a state of limbo. The structures on the site had only one possible use: as a summer camp; a function for which it had demonstrated itself most unsuitable. As undeveloped land, it was valued at just 1.6 million wingbeats, nowhere near enough to pay for all the claims against it. Any potential buyer would have to pay tens of millions, and it was thought no one would want it at that price.

Then, in N.D. 517,Naomi Jusenkyou came forward with a request to buy the property. She named over 100 individuals who were to be removed from the lawsuit, and offered only 25,000 wingbeats ahead to the others. Her demands further included she be allowed to buy several neighboring properties (some not for sale) at slightly above market value. She then finally added she not need approval to make changes or upgrades to the land.

Being one quarter dragon herself and having standing within High Mountain Flight, the dragons offered no objections (indeed Naomi's funds were actually those of High Mountain, which she had received and managed as a member), which left it up to the Alliance government to make the approvals. Seeing as the land was useless and "practically belonged to the dragons already" they let the sale go ahead, arguing it was the very best offer they could possibly hope to get (Naomi paid about 30 times the market value of the land).

Many argued that Naomi's purchase of the property was a way for the dragons to 'save face'. Letting them provide a payout without themselves admitting any wrongdoing. Naomi for her part denied this, claiming she merely wanted a secluded mountain retreat.

Layout and Organization

The original camp was built to house 200 campers in relative luxury, with 25 permanent cabins. The main center of the camp was the lake front where a large two-story building made up the dining hall, kitchens, and camp offices. The camp director lived on the upper-level, which also housed the nurse. A separate office on the ground floor was the camp's clinic. The ground floor also included the kitchens, with a separate(Later crudely attached) outbuilding as the pantry. The mess hall could seat 200 people; which was a problem, since in later years the camp routinely had about 600 campers.

The main center of camp was a large open grassy area with double rows of cabins on both sides. The cabins all had electric lights and indoor toilets, plus sinks with cold running water. The shower house, close to the mess hall, had the only hot water in camp. Cold-water showers were later added when toilet facilities were built for the tent-camps.

Beside the main avenue was an outdoor pavilion with a large cement slab and cement tables. This included a big outdoor barbecue pit. A bit further up the slope lay the fire pit with an enormous log amphitheater that included a fire pit and an outdoor stage. Above this were more cabins. The far end of the main grass area was where the dragon fence lay and the camp ended.

The archery range was up near the fence. No backstock was constructed, but berms were added on either side. The logic being that "since the back of the range is the dragon fence, no one will ever be behind". Near the range also lay the arts and crafts buildings, which had electric lights and running water. A permanent toilet building was later added for convenience.

Camp Activities

While most summer camps either operated around a theme or otherwise tried to offer something special, Camp Shababadahs was known for two things: being lost cost and offering one of the most generic activities schedules ever seen. It was also infamous for being poorly organized and offering little to know supervision. Structured camp activities were few, with most campers being given "free rotation" with no set schedule.

Water was the camp's main "draw" (situated as it was directly on a lake), but the lake was much too small for motor craft and really not well-suited for sailing. They did have a few small sailing catamarans and a motorized fishing barge. Canoes and rowboats were the most numerous, with fishing as another major draw(being isolated as it was, the seasonal camp had the only access to the lake, so the fishery was very healthy). In fact the "fishing club" which was fairly informal, was advertised in the brochure. Kids were encouraged to come, fish, and learn to cook and eat their catch at the outdoor barbecue grill.

At the beach in front of the mess hall they had a swimming peer with a floating dock and a well-explored area free of sharp rocks or submerged logs. There was even a water slide and diving board, and a good array of floating toys. Swimming was heavily encouraged and one of the few activities never lacking in proper supervision and education. Swimming expeditions, which involved hiking out to swimming sites were another heavily advertised draw.

Other activities included an archery range, two athletic fields, and a few arts and crafts workshops. For a few years they had boat-building lessons for whole-season campers, and the woodshop was a popular draw before it fell into disrepair. As befitting the setting, nature hikes, nature walks, and as many possible things with the word "nature" on the front existed.

Supervision and Organization

None.

Or at least very little. The four co-owners of the camp who initially bought the property and established the company had all met while working as life guards, and water safety was about the only thing they understood. Every single employee was required to know how to swim and to take a basic live-saving class. the staff usually included about 20 fully-trained and registered lifeguards. Every camper was required to take a swim-test on the day they arrived. Any who failed or reported being unable to swim were given lessons. In fact one of the enduring legacies of the facility was it's dedication to ensuring every single camper could tread water.

Unfortunately, that same dedication did not extend to most other activities. Since archery was a popular sport in Arindell, they usually had a professional archery instructor to run the range and give lessons. Otherwise most activities were run by junior councilors (paying attendees in their late teens) and only marginally supervised by councilors. For a camp that catered to many hundreds of kids, they had just 60 paid employees.

The Dragon Baiters

Crossing the dragon fence became a popular camp dare the first year the facility was open. The first iteration of The Dragon Baiters probably formed around the fourth year, N.D. 484. The dangers of the dragon fence were well understood in New Arindell, but not as well-known in the Agras regions and Long Lake where many campers hailed from. Further, most of campers from Arindell lived in the city center, so while dragons overhead were a familiar site, the fence itself was a myth.

Most of Camp Shababadahs, however, was situated about 100 yards from the fence. The camper cabins and tents were built out in the thick woods, with plenty of cover and little adult supervision, making trips up to the fence very simple. To make things even more problematic, the fence itself did not pose much of a barrier, being only about 4 feet high and made up of spun metal wires with large gaps easy to fit through.

Levels

The Dragon Baiters(or Society of Dragon Baiters) had four ranks of membership based on dragon-types, and achieved by complete initiation challenges. Each successful level would see the brave baiter taken to one of four secrete initiation sites to be shown the deeper mysteries of the society. Over the years they adopted many cult-like and pseudo-religious practices that would not be made public until the trial.

  • Black-Earth Baiter - a camper achieved the status of 'Black-Earth Baiter' by crossing the fence. The black-earth type was chosen because the campers thought they were 'ugly' and thus made them the lowest rank(a detail which the dragons were later offended by). To make black-earth baiter, a camper had to take a red-fire or above baiter to the fence, ask them to throw something over it, then cross and retrieve it. This was traditionally done at night when it was thought to be "safer"(in fact all the known deaths occurred at night). If the baiter was a friend or otherwise had a reason to like you, they might not throw the item very far. Usually selecting a treasured personal item was preferable, as it would provide greater impetus to cross the line.
  • Red-Fire Baiter - to achieve the rank of Red-Fire Baiter, a camper had to cross the fire break on the far side of the fence(again usually at night) and make a mark on one of the trees. The following day, they had to show the mark to another baiter, who had to be able to see it with the naked eye from inside the fence.
  • Blue-Air Baiter - becoming a blue-air baiter was much more difficult. First, it required the permission of another blue-air or white-water baiter to even attempt. It then had to be completed in daylight and along the section of fence that bordered the main camp. The actual challenge was simple: run across the fire break, tag a tree, run back, while in view of at least 3 baiters. This specific rite was doubly-difficult as crossing the fence was grounds for immediate expulsion from the camp, and most councilors and staff were on the lookout for such activities. Eventually they made being caught within ten feet of the fence an expellable offence; however the staff was relatively small and supervision had always been poor.
  • White-Water Baiter - to achieve the rank of white-water baiter, the most difficult and dangerous of all, the baiter had to cross the fence and place a marker in one of the trees on the far side(usually a flag or ribbon of some kind). This marker also had to be judged "further from the fence than any other visible marker" by a quorum of at least six blue-air baiters and confirmed by another white-water. The challenge could be done at night, though preparations were usually important. To prevent cheating, the marker usually had to be selected ahead of time, shown to the others, and then the location scouted to confirm the baiter was not taking credit for an old marker. By the later years of the camp, hundreds of markers were plainly visible from the main camp compound.

Initiation Rites

In a boulder field about a mile outside camp(but inside the fence), the baiters constructed a henge which was used for ceremonial initiations. It was one of four ritual sites used by the group, and the one they had put the most effort into. The location was known to the camp councilors as early as N.D. 490, but not it's purpose. It was even used a few times by the legitimate honor-societies put together over the years.

At least once per camp session(and several times a summer) the baiters would sneak out and meet at the henge around midnight. There they would build a fire and initiate the newest baiters(those who had completed the "black" challenge) by carrying out a ritual dance. All campers were issued matching rain parkas as part of their kit, so the dance involved everyone wearing their Camp Shababadahs parka and dancing in a circle. At the conclusion of the dance the parkas were removed and everyone would give their "dragon roar". Apparently a common prank was to tell new baiters they were supposed to be naked under the parka.

The second initiation site was at a swimming beach also about a mile from the camp. Where the same boulder field intersected with the lake shore, a stream flowed into the lake and deposited sand over a large area about six feet deep. Surrounded on all sides by large boulders, but having a nice even bottom made it an ideal spot for swimming, and was used for this during the day time(sanctioned water activities being one of the very few things Camp Shababadahs supervised well). The dragon baiters would hold secret, night-time skinny-dipps out there, with the initiation to second level requiring the adherent to jump in from a specific rock in full view of the others.

Very few baiters reached the third level, and the location of the third initiation site was one of the deeply-guarded secrets. During the trial one of the former baiters lead authorities to it. The site was well hidden but had been stumbled upon a few times, and initially had no obvious significance. It was past the boulder field a few miles outside camp, accessible by a narrow slot-canyon and reached only by a reasonably dangerous climb down a 14 foot cliff-face. On the stone wall, baiters were to create a unique symbol of their own and draw or etch it on the wall beside the symbols from the other baiters. In the area in front of the cliff, they were then made to dig a shallow hole(representing a grave) and lay in it while the other third-levels made dragon noises around them. Once complete, they then had to build a cairn over the hole, representing the empty grave that would be made for them if they were eaten while attempting to reach the fourth level.

The final site was found only when a former, now adult baiter was forced to lead authorities there as part of a plea agreement. The site, just a few thousand feet from the camp's mess hall, consisted of a small cave called 'the dungeon'. The opening was covered by a metal grate with a lock, and when not obscured by leaves, campers were told that bats and snakes lived inside. In reality, the hole went about a dozen feet and opened into a small, dry chamber. It was in this where the final secret initiations were kept, along with books and other documents concerning the whole history of the society. Most notably, it contained extensive records of all the suspected deaths by dragon, essentially a signed confession for the order.

Camp Director Awareness and Lack of Response

The directors claimed to have only been made aware of the dragon baiter's existence in the last 2 years of operation. Crossing the fence had been against the rules from day one, but authorities later sited how the camp directors had made few attempts to curb the behavior. While the dragons built a large "fire break" on the far side, some 20 miles long and about 1000 feet wide, they refused to make any upgrades or changes to the fence itself. While the federation would not pay for it, after the first deaths they gave the camp a series of recommendations:

  • Create a 10-foot exclusion zone on the inside of the fence. Ensure this is clear of any obstructions or vegetation
  • Erect a second fence at least 10' high and topped with razor wire
  • Add motion sensors and cameras to cover the exclusion zone
  • Provide routine patrols of the areas around the fence

These recommendations were issued before the camp was open and never followed. Originally the owners claimed there was no money, but as year after year the camp turned a profit, they changed the story to the upgrade being unnecessary or ineffective.

Jerimiah Rackham

Ultimately it was the camp directors who were found guilty of the many wrongful death suits, however the key evidence came from a man named Jerimiah Rackham. "Jerry" as we was known back then, attended the very first whole-summer session at Shababadahs in it's inaugural year, when he was just 9. Though he claimed not to have been the first, he openly admits to having crossed the fence several times in his first year, and organizing games that would late form the basis for the baiter initiation rites.

Jerry's plea-agreement with the authorities was never made public, and he never testified in open court. When questioned publicly, he vehemently denied founding the society, claiming that it "grew organically out of the games that we played" and aside from knowing where best to hide the book with the names, he had no involvement.

Jerry attended the camp from the age of 9 all the way until he was 17, and worked there as a full-fledged camp counselor for 6 more years. He claimed to have no involvement with the society after becoming an official councilor and that he often cautioned campers about the dangers of the dragon fence. During the 14 summer he spent at Shababadahs, 12 children were killed.

Plea Agreement

Jerry lead authorities to the secret cache of documents which helped determine the exact number of deaths and proved that the camp directors were aware of the society's existence much earlier than they had admitted to, which was instrumental in the wrongful death suits. The exact details of Jerry's agreement with authorities were kept secret, but the final filing had to be a matter of public record: he plead guilty to six counts of Conspiracy After the Fact and received 2 years in prison plus a 10 year suspended sentence "pending further developments".

Murder

Jerry served only 6 months of his 2 year sentence, at a minimum security facility where he was released early for "exemplary behavior and cooperation". The cooperation consisted of participating in a sting-operation for an unrelated case. After leaving prison, Jerry made plans to leave Arindell and change his name. However, he was found dead in his apartment from a single gunshot wound to the chest. The City Watch eventually arrested the father of one of the four children killed in the recent incident which caused the camp's closure.

Jerry, who was 41 at the time of his death, had actually recorded threats from the man in his journal, in a way predicting his own murder. The last entry ended with "How can anyone hold me responsible for the deaths that happened just now, because of games I played a lifetime ago? Especially since the whole thing really did start as a way to get girls skinny-dipping...".