John and Kyle's father limps across a dusty battlefield toward his twin sons. They see him coming, and join a larger mob of screaming children as they swarm and beat their undead dad with a rainbow of neon swords.
"Your mission is nothing! Prepare to die in Sidleterra!" yells one young warrior after maiming the enemy, buying time to attack more zombie parents as they arrive, bloody and moaning, to retrieve their offspring on the last day of summer camp.
About an hour before the lashings began, the twins' dad joined 16 other parents for a pre-battle meeting just outside the gates to Wizards & Warriors summer campgrounds in Weston. "You will be hit with swords," warns a monster counselor, while painting parent faces in shades of moldy grey, transforming them into undead enemies of the kid-guarded, magical "town" their children have controlled like a mini democracy for the past two weeks.
>>PHOTOS: "Zombie parents' day at Wizards & Warriors Camp," by Molly Geiger<<
Wizards & Warriors Camp is a living video game, putting kids in control of everything from plotline to character personality. By posing "choose-your-own-adventure"–type scenarios each morning, and letting the campers decide what happens next, counselors at Wizards & Warriors create fantasy folklore in real time. Campers here aren't even called kids — they are "Heroes."
"It's called Sidleterra — the land," explains Meghan Gardner, camp director, game creator, and martial-arts master. " 'Sidle' means to step sideways, and 'terra' means earth. And it's based on this really old myth from — I believe it originated in Ireland — that if at a certain time of day you were to step sideways, you would step into another realm of existence, like a fairy realm. Sidleterra is the crossroads of history, literature, and mythology."
A WORLD APART
Just like in online role-playing games, in Wizards & Warriors there is no winner, and the story never ends. Over the past two weeks, this oasis of eccentricity has been the ultimate vacation from reality for about 60 kids who chose to spend the end of July sweating out hot days in full costume, bringing life to the formerly abandoned cabins and conservation land once belonging to East Boston Camps.
On the first day of camp, when kids arrive, they tread beneath the Gate of Destiny, a six-foot log archway hung with curious tchotchkes. During their time at camp, Heroes come up with stories for nearly everything they can touch. That shiny, keychain-size skull might turn out to be a vampire's heirloom.
Once past the Gate of Destiny, a few feet further from reality, Heroes are asked to align with one of five houses they'll stick with for the duration of camp: the Servants of the Woodland Realm, healers; the First Swords, headstrong warriors; the Defenders, cool and calm; Silver Citadels, scholarly strategists; and Stefan the Black, a house named after its founding Hero, said to represent dynamic and flexible problem solving. Everyone in the other houses says the same thing: this group is really good at pissing off all the other groups.
Regardless of House affiliation, all Heroes share a common enemy and goal: battling the undead. And Heroes have a good chance of meeting death if they lose in a vampire or zombie battle. Literally.