Chapter Three ~ Renegades in the Woods
They set off in a north, northwesterly direction, cutting through the woods behind the Halcot house towards…somewhere. Neither of them had gone very far into this part of the forest. Belerose County sat right on the edge of the wilderness and both the Morgan and Halcot families had sighted deer, bears, and other wild animals when they came snuffling out of the woods. But at this hour of the morning the sun fell in shafts through the high trees like light in a cathedral, warm and mysterious at once.
It didn’t take long for Elizabeth to grow cheerful about the whole venture. Melissa, on the other hand, was wishing she’d spent less time on her Canadian History presentation the night before and more time with her turtle, Aurelius. A tear ran down her cheek. Why didn’t I bring him for show and tell instead of my model of outer-space?
“It’ll be fun, you’ll see,” said Elizabeth.
Melissa swiped her cheek. Well, she was on an adventure, just as she’d always wanted. “We ought to pick guide trees so we don’t walk in circles.”
“Good idea,” said Elizabeth. It was smart of Melissa to remember that trick. They’d read about it in The Adventures of Hoppity Scotch and Momo.
So they took turns picking a far-away tree to walk towards. They crunched through leaves and sang a walking song and kept an eye out for Ents.
By lunch-time they were hot, sticky, and hungrier than bears. In fact, it was a good thing they’d both had a filling breakfast (though neither would admit it). Elizabeth would not allow herself to regret the oatmeal she’d scraped into the trashcan and privately called herself a worm and a traitor for thinking such thoughts. They each ate half of Melissa’s sesame-tofu and spinach sandwich. That and a sip or two from their water bottles was their midday meal.
Although the meager lunch might have sent other children on their way home again, it had the opposite effect on Melissa and Elizabeth. They were both used to hard work, being determined, and persevering towards a goal. So far their trek had been no more challenging than writing a report on the taxonomy of woodland shrubs, or making a poster on the explorer Robert O’Hara Burke (never mind that he died of starvation).
Rested and satisfied, the girls continued their journey into the wilderness. Elizabeth pointed out weirdly-shaped fungi and man-eating chipmunks. Melissa joined in the game and they were soon shouting: “There’s one! It just ate your toes!” or “That one just chomped your ear off!” They were laughing so hard that they hardly noticed the time going by or the sun dropping lower and lower. Then a cool breeze sent a shiver down Elizabeth’s back. She looked up through the trees. The sky had gone the dusky gray of her father’s socks.
She and Melissa exchanged glances.
“Do you think there are animals nearby?” asked Melissa, a quiver in her voice.
“Probably not,” lied Elizabeth. She could feel the dark sweeping in on them and wished she’d never brought up man-eating chipmunks. Were those eyes glinting in the tree tops?
Melissa swallowed and grabbed her backpack straps. “But what if there are?”
“I’ll stab anything that attacks us so full of pencils it’ll look like a hedgehog,” said Elizabeth. She clenched her muscles to keep from shivering and tried not to think about cougars or snakes or tarantulas.
“Well that’s alright then,” said Melissa bravely. “Shall we camp on that rock?”
She pointed at a square shelf of rock at the base of a rise. It was covered in moss and sheltered by several large oak trees.
Elizabeth choked down a wave of panic. What had she been thinking of, coming out here? They’d be eaten alive. They’d get flesh eating bacteria. They’d—
A twig snapped behind them.
Elizabeth screamed, leapt into the air, then bolted. She raced pellmell through the forest, gasping, shrieking, and dodging trees. She scrunched her neck, hiked her backpack over the exposed flesh, then deked around a maple in blind terror.
Melissa rocketed around the other side, trying to make her own escape. The two slammed heads, caromed sideways, then reeled around sobbing.
After a few minutes they calmed down enough to look around. The woods were empty and silent.
“I think we scared all the squirrels away,” said Elizabeth in a raw voice.
Melissa made a noise somewhere between a chuckle and a groan. Then they both started to laugh—huge, wrenching gasps of relief that echoed off the trees.
When they’d gotten control of themselves, they spotted the rock some distance away, and made toward it on wobbly legs. They climbed on top, unloaded their backpacks, and took stock of their supplies. Between them they had two backpacks, ten school books, two calculators, two notebooks, two lunch boxes with food in them, two water bottles, a small pot of vaseline, a sweater each, a maple leaf day planner, a model of outer space, 7 marbles, a packet of tissue, and assorted pens, pencils, erasers, and art supplies.
Elizabeth gathered all the pencils and sharpened them into points. Melissa arranged the school books into a low wall all the way around them.
“Too bad there’s no matches,” said Elizabeth. She would have liked to burn all her notebooks and roast wild mushrooms over the blaze.
“Well, at least the weather has been warm lately,” said Melissa. She pulled the pesto and cheese sandwich out of Elizabeth’s lunchbox and cut it in half with her craft scissors.
Supper was brief, but delicious. Neither of them had ever had a better tasting sandwich, even if it was bruised and the cheese had sweated. What remained of their school lunches they put aside for the next day: a couple apples, two juice boxes, a high fiber oatmeal bar, and a natural fruit roll-up. There wasn’t much to do after that. They didn’t have to wash dishes, do homework, clean behind their ears, or brush their teeth before bed.
Maybe I’ll enjoy this after all, thought Elizabeth. She arranged the sharpened pencils in ready-to-grab piles. They might come in handy against a horde of brigands or a mad squirrel attack. Maybe she’d become a Robin Hood figure, Twigs of the Woods, champion of children escaping oppression-by-oatmeal.
Melissa fortified the wall with pencil cases and lunch boxes. Then they both pulled their sweaters on, put balls of tissue in their ears (so no insects would crawl in and eat their brains) and used their empty backpacks as pillows. They lay side-by-side and watched stars turn the dark into a lacework of galaxies.
“Do you think our mum’s and dad’s miss us?” asked Melissa. “Will they come searching for us?”
“They wouldn’t expect us to run away,” said Elizabeth. “It isn’t a practical thing to do and we were always practical, right up until this morning. They’ll think we were kidnapped by ruffians and murdered.”
“Oh.” Melissa bit her lip, trying not to imagine how distraught her parents must be. She should never have left home, but she had, and she was the kind of girl who finished all her homework and saw hard things through. She couldn’t abandon Elizab…Twigs. Besides, she wasn’t sure she knew the way back.
“The police will use dogs to track down our bodies,” Elizabeth went on. “We’ll have to find a river tomorrow so they lose our scent, otherwise we won’t get a chance to do anything fun.” She felt a little guilty about her parents. Perhaps she and Melissa ought to stay where they were until they were found. But no, that would be the practical thing to do. Besides, how would they have an adventure if they did that? She’d hate to disappoint Melissa. The best thing would be to keep going. Maybe they’d discover dinosaur bones, or tame a monkey, or find a hollow tree they could turn into a house.
Elizabeth let out a long breath, rolled over, and after a fair amount of tossing, turning, shivering, and groaning, managed to fall asleep.