Orhianna could see her breath. Little clouds puffed out of her into the cool air. Leaves were in full color now, yellows, reds and orange. Mom and Dad both loved this time of year, but she had a hard time understanding why. For O, it meant back to school, study and work. After school there were sports, hers and her brother’s and as a family, they attended every game. There wasn’t much time to relax.
“Can you hold the tent stake tighter, honey?”
“Sure, Dad.” Orhianna pulled it a little more away from him.
Tap, tap, tap. Dad pounded the first stake into the soft ground. “Got it. Now, just wait right there till I get the next one.” He kneeled over the second corner and after pulling it tight, tapped the second stake into the ground. Sunlight streaked through the trees, one beam landed right on her Dad’s jet black hair. He looked up, “There.” His face was all aglow from the sunlight. He looked like an angel.
Gowan squinted and blew out a cloud of hot breath. “Isn’t this great, O?”
Orhianna smiled, “I guess.” She was thirteen at the time, the memory was vivid. Dad looked so goofy in his plaid flannel shirt something he never wore normally, but for some reason he felt compelled to dress up as the proverbial woodsman for this particular trip. He spent real money on a pair of the ugliest hiking boots she and her mother had ever seen, and even an orange camo hunting hat, which he picked up off the ground and put back on his head.
“So the hunters know I’m not a deer.”
“The camp ground is off limits to hunters, dear.” Mom called from the SUV.
“I’m just being safe, Luciana.”
“Well thank goodness for safety. I don’t know what we’d do without you.”
“For starters, we might all be mistaken for deer.” He put his hands on his hips.
“Right, Dad. Deer who camp in a big blue tent.” Orhianna didn’t think this was the best use of her long weekend, but she told her parents she’d try to have fun. She had lots of homework, reading and a paper due on Monday.
“Two down, two to go. Can you pull that a little bit to your right, O?”
Orhianna adjusted the position of the tent corner for her dad. “Are we all going to fit in here?”
“No, the tent’s just for you kids and your mom. I’m going to take in nature and sleep out here in the great outdoors.”
“With the raccoons and dears, you mean?”
“And mosquitos and bears?”
Dad smiled. “All of that. I’m sleeping out with nature.”
“Orhianna, can you come help me over here? I need some dry sticks to get the fire started. Where did your brother go anyway?”
Tap, tap, tap. “Three down, one to go. I’ve got this, O. Go help your mother.”
“That hat’s really goofy, Dad.”
“Sure is chilly. Once we get the fire going it will be much nicer.” Mom puller her sweater closed and tightened her puffy red knit scarf. “Did you see where Liam went? I thought he was going to help out.”
Orhianna looked down a nearby path that led into the dark woods. “I don’t know, he’s probably gone off to text his friends.”
“What?! He can’t do that, we made a no cell phone rule for this trip.” Dad stood up to admire his work. “See that? A perfect tent. Who says I’m a novice camper?”
“Google makes everyone an expert, Dad.”
“So these are the size sticks we’ll need, O.” Mompointed to a pile of dead wood, sticks about as big around as her finger. “Can you collect as many as you can find? And make sure they’re dry.”
“Ok. Should I go over there?”
“This is the woods, Orhianna. There are sticks everywhere.” Dad encouraged her. “Just watch out for bears.”
“Yeah, right Dad.” Orhianna rolled her eyes.
She decided to walk up the dark path to see what was beyond the hill there. Her hands were cold now, so Orhianna tucked them into her jacket pocket. Dad had spared no expense for this trip, everyone got new outerwear. Hers was a white shell with purple liner, and would last all winter. Though it was chilly, she didn’t even need to zip the front. Underneath, she wore a green V neck shirt.
Orange and brown leaves crunched beneath her black boots, she veered off the path in search of more sticks. There were quite enough, the trees were thick in this part of Northern Wisconsin. A sunbeam lit a clearing ahead of her. It was so peaceful here. No traffic noise, only birds and the sound of squirrels chattering. Orhianna decided she was going to like it.
She bent to pick up a few more sticks.
“Hey.” Liam had snuck up on her.
Orhianna jumped. “Geez, Liam, you nearly scared me out of my skin!”
“Did you think I was a bear?”
“Of course not.” She stood.
“What are you doing?”
“Mom needs sticks for the fire. Where have you been?” She bent to pick up another stick. She almost had enough.
“Around. I found something I want to show you.” Liam had a strange gleam in his eye. A look that Orhianna knew meant he was up to no good.
“This.” Orhianna hadn’t noticed that he’d had his hands behind his back, but now he threw something at her. At first, she thought it was another stick, but the thing writhed in the air. She didn’t scream at first, Orhianna quickly determined that the thing was a snake. Since their friend had a pet snake which she had held on numerous occasions, she had no reason to be afraid of it.
Orhianna flinched anyway. She backed up one step while the reptile flew in the air towards her, and unfortunately created enough distance for the cold thing to hit her squarely in the neck and slither down her jacket and into her shirt. She dropped the sticks.
Liam laughed, but Orhianna didn’t think it was funny. The cold smooth reptile writhed against her skin. She flailed about, trying to get to the unhappy snake, which was caught under her shirt.
Now Orhianna screamed. Once, twice. As she struggled with her jacket zipper, the creature sank its teeth into her soft skin.
“Ow. Get of off, get it off!” She finally got to her shirt, but it was too late. The poison had already entered her bloodstream.
The sound of her own voice screaming echoed through the woods as she sank to her knees. Liam smiled.