This is part 2 of this story. You probably want to read Part 1: The Gift of Naughtiness, first.
The kids at the fundamentalist bootcamp for LGBT children were slogging through the mud on yet another early morning run. They could see their breath freezing in the wintry air. They were running along the perimeter fence when they saw a glimmer of light through the trees.
Sally, a transgender kid from Oklahoma, nudged her friend Tim in the ribs. “Look – rainbows!” she said.
“Quiet at the back there, Samuel,” called out the youth leader, old-naming Sally.
Tim and Sally slowed to a jog to look at the curious phenomenon of the rainbow glimmers coming down from the sky, twisting and turning on the wind. The glimmers were clearly invisible to the youth leader, who ran on, oblivious.
The other kids started to notice the glimmers too. Gaby, a lesbian from Kentucky, smiled for the first time in weeks. The glimmers flitted about the children’s heads, and finally settled on their tongues. Each child tasted their favourite flavour – sherbet, marshmallow, chocolate, pistachio ice-cream. As they swallowed the delicious magic, they felt a warming, loving feeling inside them. The world was suddenly brighter. The judgmental God they had been told hated them and their kind receded from their minds, and they knew that their way of loving and being was right and good and beautiful.
Now that they had tasted the magic, they could also see the wind-being who brought the magic. The wind-being smiled at them, and ruffled the trees outside the perimeter fence. A shaft of sunlight illuminated a path through the woods.
Later that night, they held a secret meeting in the dormitory.
“We’ve got to escape,” said Tim.
“Too right,” said Gaby. “But how?”
“Weapons of mass distraction,” said Sally.
“I’ve got it,” said Cal, a bisexual boy from Arkansas. “We raid the pharmacy and put drugs in the staff food.”
“There’s enough sedatives in there to knock out a herd of elephants,” said Che (her given name was Charity, but she preferred Che, and had often worn a black beret in honour of the revolutionary leader, before it was confiscated by her right-wing parents).
“What will we do if we actually succeed in escaping?” asked Tim.
“I escaped before,” said Josh, an older kid. “I got caught, but the thing to do is to get onto a long-distance freight train. There’s a railroad track with a junction not that far away. If we can make it to there, we can get onto the freight cars while the train has stopped.”
The next day, the plan went into action just before breakfast, which was when sedatives were normally administered. Sally started overthrowing the tables in the dining room, scattering breakfast trays and cutlery and bowls everywhere. The other kids soon got the idea and joined in. Under cover of this distraction, which had most of the staff trying to calm things down, Che snuck into the pharmacy and stole the sedatives (her father was a pharmacist so she knew the names of the drugs to look for).
The rest of the morning was spent in an emergency prayer and healing session, with the staff laying hands on the kids and trying to exorcise the ‘demons’ that had clearly gotten into them.
The rainbow glimmers of vintage eighteenth century naughtiness were not to be defeated, however. They filled the kids with secret glee, and strengthened their feelings of validation.
The kids were also required to help with chores around the centre, and today Gaby was on kitchen duty. Che slipped her the packets of sedatives just before the duty started at 11:30, and told her what dosage to use.
Tim was in the handicraft workshop with the other boys, and was able to steal a small pair of wire cutters from the tool cupboard.
Back in the kitchen, Miriam, a normally quiet girl from Tennessee, pretended to faint. While the cook was distracted by that, Gaby passed out the packets of sedatives to the other girls, and they quickly put them in the celery soup, but not the tomato soup which most of the kids preferred.
At 12 o’clock, seemingly demure and biddable, the girls served the soup to the staff in the dining room. It wasn’t long before the staff were all slipping into slumber, snoring in their chairs. The kids stole more food from the kitchen, and slipped quietly out of the building. They ran towards the perimeter fence where the glimmers of magic had arrived. Tim cut through the perimeter fence with the wire cutters, and they headed for the path through the woods which had been illuminated by the shaft of sunlight the day before.
“So we have escaped, but now what?” asked Jacob, one of the younger kids, who had not been in on the original plan.
Josh explained about his plan to get on a passing freight train, and about the safe-houses in various more liberal cities, which he had been making for when he got caught and sent back to the bootcamp.
It wasn’t long before they got to the railroad track. As they came out of the trees and into the area beside the track which had been cleared to prevent forest fires, the wind brought them more of the rainbow glimmers. The tiny sparks of joy descended on each child who had not yet received one, and they too knew the happiness experienced by the others.
Che began to sing softly, a song from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. “Don’t dream it, be it…” The other kids soon joined in, even the ones who didn’t know the song.
It wasn’t long before they heard the mournful double hoot of a train in the distance. What met their eyes as the train got nearer was totally unexpected, though: it was a circus train. And riding on the roof of the first carriage was a being of light, dancing for joy to see the effects of his plan. It was Joulutonttu, brought by the wind-spirits to see the joyful sight of the children breaking out of the bootcamp.
As Josh had predicted, the train stopped at the junction. Among the circus folk was Cady, an artiste of high calibre. The circus was not the kind of circus with animals, but the kind with acrobats, and jugglers, and fire-eaters, and dancers. They were on their way from New Orleans to New York. Cady knew immediately where the children had escaped from; he recognised their beige uniforms from the time he had spent at the same bootcamp many years before. He had been experiencing feelings of distress for some time as the train drew nearer to the place. He jumped down from the train.
“Have you escaped from David House?” he asked.
The children were a bit hesitant to answer. They feared that they might get sent back, even now, even with Joulutonttu in plain sight on the roof of the train.
“Of course you have,” said Cady. “Get on board the train, quickly, and let’s get the hell out of here!”
The children clambered onto the train, and were welcomed by the circus people, many of whom had experienced similar sad things in their own childhoods. Tia Estella, the acrobat, found them suitable costumes from the circus’ store of spangly tights and sequinned tops. Sally pirouetted in her new outfit, and sighed happily. Soon the children and the circus people were exchanging stories, sharing food, and working out how the children could be incorporated into the circus performance.
Joulutonttu flitted amongst the passengers, spreading magic and laughter.
If you want to know more about kids who escape from fundamentalist bootcamps, I recommend the excellent novel Hidden by Tomas Mournian, who has also made documentaries about these awful places.
You might also like to find out about, and donate to, the excellent organisation Truth Wins Out, which campaigns against “gay conversion therapy”. The executive director, Wayne Besen, recently wrote:
Some people, particularly parents, feel conversion therapy is safe and there is no harm if their child gives it a try. In reality, such rejection of self can be psychologically devastating and leave lasting mental scars that must be undone with real therapy. The single worst decision a parent can make is forcing their child into conversion therapy. Still, a demand often fueled by religious fervor inevitably creates a pool of religious ideologues or greedy practitioners who bilk desperate and vulnerable clients with promises of healing or an elusive cure. This is why conversion therapy must be banned for minors in all 50 states. I urge everyone to get behind such noble efforts that protect teenagers and put conversion con artists out of business.