Chapter Four ~ Juice Boxes and bears
When Melissa woke, a gruesome face was looking down at her. It had bushy hair, mud-streaks under its eyes, and pencils jabbed through the hem of its shirt. Melissa grabbed her three-kilo earth science book and swung it at the face, screaming her lungs out.
The face’s eyes opened wide and it jumped backwards, scattering marbles everywhere. “Stop! Stop!” it cried, falling to the ground and raising an arm to protect itself, “It’s me!”
Melissa stopped screaming and closed her mouth. “Oh. Good morning.”
“Good morning,” Elizabeth managed. She picked herself up and smoothed her clothes, trying to keep her hands from shaking.
Melissa searched through the scattered entrails of their backpacks until she found the juice boxes.“Do you want grape or orange?”
“Grape,” said Elizabeth.
Within seconds, they had sucked the juice boxes dry. Elizabeth felt less shaky afterwards, but her stomach rumbled and thumped inside her.
Melissa chewed on her straw. “Maybe breakfast really is the most important meal of the day.”
“Probably not regularly,” said Elizabeth, who was staunchly against oatmeal, “but the requirements are different for people on adventures.”
“We could eat the apples now and then have the rest of the food for lunch,” suggested Melissa. So they packed their backpacks and nibbled at their apples as they walked. Both of them tried to eat slowly because Melissa had heard that if you take twenty minutes to eat something, your brain will think you're full. Both of them hoped it was true.
The air was cool at first, but grew warm as the sun stepped higher. The woods around them started to feel wild. The change was subtle, more in the air and the smells than anything else.
“It must be lunch by now,” said Elizabeth, her voice cracking after a long silence. She squinted up at the sky, but she couldn’t tell where the sun was. She had no idea how long they’d been walking. It felt like forever.
“I don’t know,” Melissa said. “Wouldn’t it be better to save our food?”
Elizabeth scowled and crossed her arms. “That would be the practical thing to do.”
Melissa rolled her eyes, huffed, and dropped her backpack on the ground with a thump. “Oh fine.”
They sat on their backpacks to eat the oatmeal bar and the fruit roll-up, drank a few more sips of water, and avoided looking at each other. Elizabeth’s practical shoes were starting to pinch and her shoulders ached from hauling her school books around. She wanted to leave them behind. But what to do? It was impractical to carry them around in the woods. But if she found a way to light them on fire it’d be practical to have them. It would be impractical to leave them here if she ended up going back to school, but if she never did, it’d be more impractical to keep them.
Elizabeth rubbed her temples. Her head hurt and her scalp itched and she kept daydreaming about macaroni, grilled chicken, banana smoothies, and carrot sticks. What a wretched day. So far they hadn’t had any fun, much less an adventure. And now they were out of food. Elizabeth sighed. Maybe that was a good thing. It was definitely impractical. Starving to death would be impractical too, but she couldn’t drum up much enthusiasm for that.
“Bother,” she said, scraping dirt off her forehead.
Melissa sniffed and rubbed her nose. She gnawed on her lower lip, drummed her fingers on her knees, and cast sidelong looks at Elizabeth. “Do you suppose we should try to go back?”
“No!” Elizabeth shot to her feet and grabbed two pencils out of her hem. She brandished them at Melissa who fell off her backpack in surprise. “You can leave if you want to, but I won’t.”
“Ouch,” said Melissa. She picked herself up and glared at Elizabeth. “I might if you try to stab me again. Some best friend you are.” She shouldered her backpack and stomped away.
Elizabeth watched her go, her stomach tightening into knots. She wanted to go home, but she couldn’t. She’d vowed to never be practical again. She’d brought Melissa into the woods and promised her an adventure but now they were both going to die. And it was all her fault. Tears slid down Elizabeth’s cheeks, leaving runnels of mud in her face paint. She’d thought being impractical would be easy and fun, but it was turning out to be just as awful as being practical had been.
Well. She supposed she might as well keep walking. Elizabeth shouldered her pack, took a step, then paused. Her forehead creased. She couldn’t see Melissa anywhere. How had she gotten so far ahead? Elizabeth turned in a circle, her heart upping its beat. “Oh crikey,” she whispered, grabbing onto her shoulder straps until her knuckles turned white. All the trees looked the same and now that she’d spun in a circle she had no idea which way she’d come from.
Elizabeth whimpered, then bit her lip and stamped her foot. “No panicking,” she told herself. Then she cocked her head, squeezed her eyes shut, and strained her ears. Wind whispered through the trees, branches squeaked and rubbed, and a squirrel chittered from a nearby trunk. Then away to her left, she heard a shuffling sound and the crack of a breaking stick. Elizabeth’s eyes popped open and she set off at a trot in the direction of the noise.
After a couple minutes she came over a rise and saw Melissa standing a few feet ahead. She’d gone the color of an uncooked french fry. Snuffling along the ground towards her was a black bear. Beady eyes, musky fur, and gigantic feet. Elizabeth felt the blood drain from her face. She would have liked to turn tail and run, or scream for her dad, but she couldn’t abandon Melissa. Elizabeth took a deep breath, raised her pencils and raced towards the bear. “Raaawrr!” she screamed, running down the hill. “Woof woof! Aaaarrrgg!”
Melissa jumped, then spun around, eyes rimmed in white.
“Attack!” Elizabeth yelled as she went flying towards the bear.
Melissa fumbled in her backpack and yanked out her earth science book, then she sprinted after Elizabeth, screeching like a banshee. The bear took one look at them, turned, and high-tailed it into the woods.
Elizabeth might have chased it (she had a hankering for bear jerky), but she tripped on a root and went sprawling. Melissa danced a jig around her, laughing, then pulled her to her feet and gave her a hug. “Holy Guacamole!” she cried. “We scared it off! Haha! Well done!”
“Couldn’t have done it without you,” said Elizabeth, scratching her nose and trying not to grin too big. “Told you we’d have an adventure.”
“Hah!” said Melissa, then, “Oh look!”
Winding through the woods at the base of the hill was a brook. It smelled clean and sweet, and it burbled along with the most inviting sound either of them had ever heard.
Elizabeth didn’t wait a moment. She dropped her backpack, charged down the hill, and flung herself in.