Joyland

New York |

Creatures in the Woods

by Anabel Graff

edited by Emily Schultz

The air is swimming with mosquitoes, hormones, pheromones, hope. You are listening to your section leader, Liddy, read the instructions for the big canoe trip. You are constantly being reminded to keep hydrated. Inevitably though, at afternoon group meetings, some girl faints. Eyes rolling back, the sharp, echoing thud of her body against dry earth. Sometimes, girls fall one after another and it makes you think of dominoes. The older girls make bets.

The counselors have ordered everyone to carry around a Camp Minnehaha Nalgene and it’s become the new fashion to tie it on your hip—cap looped through a belt of stitched together fabric from Arts & Crafts. In fact, it’s been such the craze that Arts & Crafts, usually one of the least popular electives, has had lines down to the canoe docks. The more popular girls (you are not one) have ripped out the labels from their fanciest clothes and sewn them onto their makeshift belts. Thinking of the clash between ratty green felt and Burberry or Donna Karan will make you laugh, but for now you are intensely jealous. (The nicest thing you have packed for the socials is a black skirt from J. Crew, not even a mini.) Instead, in yellow thread, you have sewn your name inside in small, neat stitches, the letters pressed up against your left hipbone: REBECCA.

This was something you did intentionally. When camp started you were Rebecca and you want to make sure that when you leave you will still be Rebecca. Not Becky, Bex, Becca, or Lil Rebs. In your bunk, no one has a real name: Cheerio, Banana Head, Melon, Frizz, Izzy, Chicky, Cat, Sal, and Minnie. You are thirteen. It is your first summer at Camp Minnehaha, your first summer away from home.

*

Shelby hadn’t signed up for these mosquitoes. Tara had promised her there weren’t that many anyways. They had been sitting in the Bucknell Library shuffling through Shelby’s Intro to Art History notecards. The air smelled of unshowered students, old books, stress. Shelby was trying to memorize slide dates for the final—Oath of the Horatii, 1784–85—she repeated it over and over until the fact lodged itself in her brain.

“It’s the easiest job in the world. Like, we’re basically gonna tan all day,” Tara had said. “Take care of some brats. Teach them about tampons, boys. Easy. Cake.” She snapped her fingers.

“But I never went to camp,” Shelby said, her shoulders inching upward with every heave, every protest. “I wasn’t one of those girls. Plus, I’m allergic to mosquitoes.”

A girl at a neighboring table shushed them. Shelby apologized. Tara glared.

Tara wasn’t the roommate that Shelby had imagined. Freshman year wasn’t the year she imagined either. The parties, drinking, and boys were props, in Tara’s existence. Shelby was the tag-along; the less-pretty, less-fun, less-flirty friend.

Tara clucked, “Honey, everyone’s allergic to mosquitoes. You’re not special.”

Why Shelby had agreed was part Tara’s pressure, and part Shelby’s desperation for a summer job. Shelby had had enough summers in her father’s dry cleaning store, the starchy smell of chemicals sticking to her for months. She felt the urge for adventure. Plus, the camp was in Canada, where Tara said the drinking laws were lax.

The mosquitoes had ravaged Shelby’s legs, arms, back, stomach—pointy mouthparts piercing every piece of flesh on her body. She heard the high pitch buzz, the tweezzz in her ears all day. She slapped mercilessly, often hitting the parasites juiced-up with her own blood, wiping their guts with the palm of her hand and then sliming them onto the grass. She crossed the red bites with her thumbnail and licked them—feeling the hot saltiness against her tongue. Tara had told her that human saliva counteracted the spit of a mosquito.

Tara had grown up at summer camp. She was versed in Color War, bonfires, cabin pranks, Air Bands, marching songs and sing-alongs. She was the favorite counselor. Shelby had a hard time relating to these types of girls even when she was thirteen anyway, and the years hadn’t given her any insight.

In pre-camp training, Liddy, their section leader, a thirty-year-old eternal camper who had come to Minnehaha and never left, gave them the key to being a successful counselor, the trick to balancing friendship and authority: never let them see your fear. Shelby had thought Liddy was surely joking at the time, turning to Tara to exchange some sort of secret whisper, an inside joke, but her freckled friend was nodding intently, brown braids swishing.

Liddy then added, “And no swearing!”

*

Chicky says, “Bex, come on already. Hurry up!” You scamper into the canoe with Sal and Minnie and begin to paddle. Led by Chicky, with her red hair pulled into two tight buns at the top of her head like devil horns, they sing: “Fuck, fuck, fuck a duck, screw a kangaroo, finger-bang an orangutan, orgy at the zoo!” You only know the regular “Row, Row, Row, Your Boat” and sure, you know swear words, but you don’t really use them. Everyone swears at camp.

You paddle with Sal and Minnie, turning figure eights around the buoys. You have to pass your canoe test before you are released into the wilderness. Joe, who will be your bunk’s tripper, is circling in a kayak, rolling underwater every so often like he’s doing a sideways summersault. Soon, you’ll capsize on purpose and go through the steps that he explained on how to reenter the canoe.

Sal, who is wearing a frilly pink bikini under her life jacket, stands up in the back of the canoe and starts rocking. You are humming “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” in your head, your tune lifting to each sway of the canoe. The sways get longer, higher, until you feel you are on one of those pirate ship rides at the amusement park and you might just throw up. Then the canoe tips and you are floating like a buoy.

You swim to shore and your counselors Shelby and Tara are waiting with your towel. Well, Shelby is waiting and Tara is hanging around Joe. You are embarrassed by your towel—it’s a red one with Snoopy on it.

“Look at the baby’s towel,” Cheerio says. “It’s so adorable.”

“Totally,” Banana Head chimes in. “I had one like that in third grade.

“Okay, that’s enough,” Shelby says. “We have to get you dry.”

You feel the tears starting behind your eyes, but you will not cry in front of them.

In a baby voice Chicky says, “Does the baby need her mommy to dry her off?”

“Enough,” Shelby says. “I’m serious. Not another peep.” She turns around.

“Peep,” Minnie says.

“Peep, peep!” Izzy and Frizz chirp.

Banana Head’s voice is the loudest. You are trying not to cry. They are doing this to make you upset.

“Enough!” Shelby yells, but the girls can’t hear it because they are peeping.

Tara comes over to see what the fuss is about. “Girls, shut up or none of you are going to evening activities.”

The girls shut up quick and grab their towels and their Nalgenes on their belts and begin to walk to the mess hall. You hang back, fiddling with your belt. You hate it here, but the camp won’t even let you call home. No one notices that you are still by the canoe docks, but Banana Head, who turns around and mouths “peep” before running to catch up with the pack. You go back to the cabin and cry into your pillow until you are totally dry.

*

Over frothy beers in red plastic cups at the counselor hangout, The Canteen, just down the road from Minnehaha, Shelby listened as Tara told her that Rebecca was simply Shelby’s problem. “I’ll take all the other ones. You just take the weirdo,” Tara said before gulping. “God, I love that we’re legal here. I love Canada.” She swiveled around on her bar stool. “You think Joe will come here tonight?”

“She’s not weird,” Shelby said, unexpectedly defensive.

“She,” Tara began, wiping the foam off her lip, “reminds me of you.”

*

I am walking through the woods, dragging my belly over shrubs to mark my path. I leave my scent so Etelooaat, who roams somewhere, will know this spot was mine first. The sun is strong overhead and it is days like today I dream about in the cold, when my mind, heart, body, falls into the slow of sleep. What I smell is sweet and I hear the buzz as my snout twitches and I bite into the bark of the buzzing tree and find what is mine inside. My teeth are sharp, sharper than the rocks I flip with one paw, looking for crawlies and other wigglies. It is delicious on my tongue—the sticky sweet and the crunch of yellow and black buzzers. And I am the one that found it first! My squeaks will surely call Etelooaat here, that beast.

Before it was just me and my mother. Then They brought him to our forest. Etelooaat, the biggest, blackest bear I had ever seen. His smell so strong it blurred my vision and my body could not help but be pulled towards it. I was a smaller bear then, having slept through only two winters. Now I have slept through four, and I know I will have to mate with him soon. These thoughts make me miss my mother, her warmth, her fur.

*

Shelby remembered how Liddy had talked to them about camper homesickness. The counselors had sat in the empty mess hall in a circle. “We won’t have much of a problem, as most of our group are returning campers. But the number one rule of homesickness: don’t give in! It’s okay to be a little homesick, but we can’t let it ruin their experience. The ones who suffer most are the ones that don’t feel like they are a part of the group. It’s our job as counselors to make them feel like they belong, okay? Got it?”

Shelby was homesick. She missed the smell of the chemicals in the dry cleaners, her own bed, her parents. The canoe trip made her even more homesick, as she looked into the wide expanse of Algonquin National Park. They had already been paddling for what felt like hours, their four aluminum canoes barely inching along. Tara was running out of songs to sing and games to play, and the girls were getting tired. Their tripper, Joe, a recent college grad with a penchant for weed and The Great Outdoors, was in the first canoe with Cheerio and Minnie. Shelby had Rebecca in her canoe, with Frizz and Izzy, while Tara had Sal and Chicky. Melon, Cat, and Banana Head were fending for themselves.

Banana Head expertly maneuvered her canoe so she was next to Shelby, sterning, controlling the direction. Banana Head’s boat was working like a well-oiled machine with Melon and Cat reaching out their tan, boney arms, pulling the water towards them, propelling the canoe along the huge lake.

At the helm, Banana Head looked golden and windswept like a pirate queen. Her messy blonde hair was tied back in a bandana and her Camp Minnehaha Nalgene was fastened around her waist with knotted, colorful silk scarves adorned with a Marc Jacobs label. Tara had had to speak to her about regular showers. “Okay, go!” Banana Head yelled, and then the three of them started splashing Shelby’s canoe with their paddles, slapping the water with their wooden oars, the thwacks echoing over the mountains that rose above either side of the lake. “Too slow, Shelbow. Now, bitches, paddle!” Banana Head shouted as her canoe pulled away.

“No fair,” Izzy said to Frizz, wiping lake water from her eyes. “We’re in the lame canoe.”

“I know,” Frizz said to Izzy. “Totally unfair.”

Shelby knew she should have said something counselor-like, but she agreed with them.

*

I leave my scent as I go and I get to my favorite spot by the lake, where it is shallow enough for me to see the bottom. This was my mother’s favorite spot too. The trees tell me this—gashes in the bark far above my head. I stand up on my hind legs and I can almost reach the paw marks my mother has left, claiming this tree as her own.

In the water, I can see the rocks and the shiny, slimy swimmers and I can also see me, Keme. I can also see the Thing that They have attached to my ear. That is how They can find me if They wanted to. That is how They found my mother and then They took her away.

The water is cool. I shiver, shaking off that feeling of missing my mother and then I am swimming in the lake, with my head up towards the sky. These are the days that will keep me warm in the winter months, the last days I keep to my own self!

*

Shelby watched as Joe pulled each canoe to shore. The girls, though mostly Tara, couldn’t help but giggle and squeal at his exposed chest, his glinting muscles. Shelby took the kitchen pack out of her canoe and heaved it onto dry land and thought: thank God we didn’t have a portage today. The idea of pulling the packs, sleeping bags, and canoes over the miles of rocky landscape was just too much.

“Shelbow, you okay?” Rebecca asked. She looked so much smaller than the other girls, her Nalgene at her waist jumbo-sized.

“Just tired, Rebecca,” Shelby said. She was the one who should have been asking Rebecca if she was okay, not the other way around. “You know, you can call me Shelby if you like. I don’t even like the nickname Shelbow.”

“Good. Me neither.”

“At home, my mom sometimes calls me Shelbs. I don’t mind that,” Shelby added, trying to smile. She could hear Liddy’s voice in her head: the ones who get homesick are the ones that don’t feel like part of the group.

“Okay,” Rebecca said, flashing a rare smile, then added, “Shelbs.”

“Okay,” Shelby said. “Rebecca.”

*

Tara was barking orders. It was getting dark by the time they finished setting camp. Joe had dug a latrine a little ways off and explained the buddy system to the girls. Tara and Shelby had put together the tents—one small one for the counselors and one big one for the campers. They had made beans and hot dogs over the fire, and the girls had gone into the forest to get sticks for s’mores. Joe was very clear and adamant about proper clean-up etiquette. “You never know what creatures are in these woods,” he said, licking the marshmallow off his lips.

The fire was smoking heavily in front of Shelby, but she didn’t mind the stinging in her eyes because the smoke kept away the bugs. Rebecca was sitting next to her, nibbling on some graham crackers. Minnie and Chicky were throwing the used up s’mores sticks into the fire. The remaining flecks of fluff sparked as they hit the pile. The girls were quiet, like they knew what might happen next.

Joe cleared his throat and began, “On a night much like this one, a group of kids set up camp. It was unusually hot out that summer and the kids decided that it was too hot in their tents, so they dragged their sleeping bags and slept out by the campfire. One boy decided it would be funny to tell a story to scare the girls, ’cause, you know, maybe he could snuggle up next to one of them in their sleeping bag later, or whatever.”

The girls tittered, and Tara, who was sitting next to Joe, leaned her head on his shoulder, her long braids brushing his forearms.

“So he made some stuff up and the girls got all scared and one of his buddies, who had disappeared sometime when his friend was telling the story, decided it would be fun to take it to the next level. Just as the guy finished his story about a slasher or a ghost or an axe murderer or something, his friend came up behind the campfire and started hollering.”

At this point in the story, Joe himself started howling like a wolf at the moon, and all the girls jumped, even Banana Head, who, Shelby was convinced, was not afraid of anything.

“So, anyways, the guys all found this hilarious and the girls were pretty freaked out, but they just laughed it off and went to sleep.”

The fire cracked and Izzy fell off the stump she was sitting on. The girls laughed. “Aw, shuddup,” she said, as she brushed the dirt off her shorts.

Joe continued. “The guy who had told the story got up to piss in the middle of the night. He grabbed his flashlight and he wandered far enough away from camp to go to the bathroom. As he’s in the middle of, you know, he thinks he sees something moving in the woods. He laughs it off like it’s his buddy pulling another prank. He shines his flashlight in the direction of the noise, but he can’t see a thing. Then, out of nowhere, BAM! Something hits him in the leg and knocks him to the ground, and the kid drops his flashlight, which rolls down the hill and hits a rock. So he goes to grab his flashlight, but when he reaches down to pick it up, he sees that it hasn’t hit a rock at all—but human feet. They are all gray and veiny and slimy. Now, the guy picks up the light and shines it at this thing.

“And the kid’s trying not to scream, cause the thing looks human, except it hasn’t got any ears, and it has slits in its neck like gills. And the guy would probably have pissed his pants right then, you know, if he hadn’t gone to the bathroom already. He’s just looking at the creature, and the creature is looking at him. And no one ever saw the kid again. And that’s the story of the creature in the woods.” Joe sat back, satisfied.

“That’s it?” Cheerio said.

“That’s like the lamest ghost story I’ve ever heard.” Banana Head crossed her arms. “How could you even, like, know it happened if no one saw the kid again? He couldn’t have told anyone that story.” Banana Head looked confident, but Shelby noticed that some of the other girls didn’t look calm. Next to her, poor Rebecca was digging her nails into Shelby’s arm.

“I have it on good authority,” Joe said, getting up.

“It’s time to pack it in,” Tara said.

The girls protested, but Sal was yawning and Cat was rubbing her eyes. Joe started packing up the s’mores supplies with the rest of the food so he could tie it in a tree to keep the animals away from their camp.

“Great,” Shelby said to Tara. “Now they’re going to be afraid to go to the bathroom.”

“It’s tradition, Shelbs. They’re supposed to be afraid.” Tara counted all the girls as she herded them into their tent.

Shelby and Tara wished them goodnight, told them to come get them if they needed anything, reminded them of the buddy system, and then zipped the tent closed.

*

You are smooshed up in the corner of the tent and there are nine other bodies in there with you. You don’t like scary stories. You even cried when your older brother made you watch Speed with Keanu Reeves. If you were home, your mother would have stayed with you until you fell asleep and rubbed your back. You can’t ask your counselors to do that for you, even Shelby, because you don’t want to seem like a baby. Chicky is in the sleeping bag next to you, and Minnie is at your feet, and someone is snoring already. Your bladder is squeezing your entire stomach, but you aren’t sure if that is fear or urine.

You never wet the bed when you were younger, but you are seriously considering relieving yourself in your sleeping bag until you remember that you are out in the wilderness for two nights. Plus, Camp Minnehaha told you not to pack any underwear because it would just get wet, so everyone stays in a bathing suit all the time. They didn’t let you bring towels either, which you still find ridiculous. All of you will have diaper rash when you get back.

Banana Head is your buddy. You are pretty sure she is the one snoring. You hear noises outside—rustling leaves, and maybe footsteps—but you convince yourself that it is just your counselors. You flip onto your back and look up at the tent and see all the bugs: spiders, mosquitoes, some sort of beetle. You want to crawl into your sleeping bag and die. This is the first occasion you’ve used one. Back home, in Ottawa, you and your mother went to the Army/Navy supply store with the checklist from Minnehaha and bought everything.

“Don’t worry,” she told you. “You worry too much.” Together you picked out what you both agreed was the best sleeping bag, a red and shiny one with a small silver zipper.

You turn back on your side, mouth basically pressed up against the mesh material of the tent, the desperation in your stomach hardening until it feels like a stone that’s moved all the way into your throat and you can barely breathe.

*

Snout twitches and oh, what is that smell? It’s sweeter than a buzzing tree!

*

Shelby, Tara and Joe were sitting around the fire. Joe pulled out a joint from somewhere. The steady sounds of snores were coming from the girls’ tent.

“Finally,” Tara said. “They’re asleep.”

“They’re exhausted,” Shelby said. “I’m exhausted.”

Joe lit the joint in the fire, which, to Shelby, seemed like a dumb thing to do. He took a hit and passed it to her. Shelby inhaled. It would make it easier to sleep. The faster she went to bed, the faster this whole trip would be over. Joe left to do something tripper-related, and Tara moved closer to Shelby.

“Hey,” she said. “So, Joe and I are, like, really feeling each other.” The fire cast a warm glow. Shelby could only see Tara’s face like she was just a floating head.

Shelby thought maybe she was already high and passed the joint to Tara. Her friend’s mouth was moving.

“So, you know, I was going to ask you, as my friend, the best co-counselor I could ever ask for, if you would mind hanging out here a bit?”

“What?” Shelby said.

“You know, so Joe and I can, um… spend time together?”

“You can’t be serious.” Shelby was having a hard time keeping her eyes focused; Tara’s head seemed to be bouncing.

“He’s hot!”

“Tara. You’re going to sexile me in the wilderness?”

“I’ll owe you forever. Please.” Tara’s please extended to syllables.

“No. No way.”

Her friend stared her down. “Fine, if you hear some noises during the night, just turn over and ignore it.”

“Tara, that is disgusting. I don’t want to hear you having sex with Joe.”

“Then I guess you’re going to stay out here.”

It was unwinnable. “You don’t even know how much you’ll owe me. You’re going to be making it up forever.”

“Thank you! You’re the best!”

Shelby did not feel the best. “Just make it quick.”

Joe came back to camp, brushing dirt off his hands.

*

You wiggle out of your red sleeping bag and step over Sal and unzip the tent. You grab the flashlight, your Camp Minnehaha Nalgene and belt. You tie it around you quickly before stepping outside, the extra pressure of your name sewn weighing on your bladder. You don’t know what time it is. Joe took away everyone’s watches in order to help you “flow with nature.” But this place is so foreign you feel even more unsure than at Minnehaha. You do everything not to think about gray, slimy humanoids and instead focus on remembering the location of the latrine.

The fire is smoking and it looks like a body is lying on the log by the pit. You gasp! But then you see it’s wearing a Minnehaha T-shirt and it’s Shelby. You debate waking her up and asking her to come to the bathroom with you. But soon you discover that you have more courage than you thought you did, more guts.

*

“Shelby,” someone seemed to whisper. “Shelby, wake up.”

Shelby rolled over onto the dirt and woke up as soon as her open mouth touched the dusty ground. “I’m up! I’m up!” she yelled.

“Please.” It was all Rebecca could manage. “Bathroom?” she asked.

Shelby dusted herself off and grabbed another flashlight. She looked at Rebecca’s flushed cheeks and watery eyes. “All right. All right.”

*

The sweet smell leads me to a place where I hear They noises. They sometimes like to make nests in my woods and I have learned not to bother them for They will soon leave. The smell is They food and there is plenty more that is mine in my forest. Maybe I will go to the spot with the red berries and rest on the soft ground while I lick clean my paws.

I am walking away from the smell when I see a light like the sun and think: Warmth. Closer.

*

You are about to burst. You pull off your shorts and your bathing suit bottoms and squat over the hole. Shelby has respectfully stayed near enough for comfort and far enough for privacy. The air is cool against your damp butt. This is the longest pee of your life.

You are willing yourself not to think about ghosts, slashers, and that creepy gray creature Joe talked about. You hear moaning, and call out Shelby’s name to check that she’s nearby.

“I’m here,” she says.

You ask about the noise.

“Um, Tara suffers from night terrors. Don’t worry.” Shelby still has her back towards you, for which you are immensely grateful. You feel the comfort of the Nalgene at your hip, the comfort of your name. You hear a rustling in the trees and convince yourself it is the wind until the noise gets louder, closer. You pull up your bathing suit and your shorts. You call to Shelby again. “Do you hear that?” you ask.

“What?” Shelby says. “Are you done? Can I turn around?” You see her light coming closer. You register the sound of twigs snapping.

“That’s you, right, Shelbs?” you say.

You see her flashlight fall to the ground. You hear Shelby say “Oh my God,” and you are afraid to turn.

Shelby says, “Don’t move.”

You will go over this moment in your head forever. Replay it again and again. You will never know why you turn around, but you do. Shelby mutters what sounds like “Don’t let them see your fear.”

In front of you is a huge black bear. It is sniffing and sliding its paws over the forest floor. It looks at you and stops. The bear steps closer into the light and you look into its warm brown eyes. You see the yellow tag stapled to its ear. The bear mumbles and squeaks, and froth falls from its mouth. You can barely make out its mass in the dark. But you are not afraid. You press your belt into your hip and walk closer to the bear, pulling Shelby along. You think about running your hands through its fur. You are about to reach out to touch the yellow tag, but Shelby grabs your arm and is dragging you away.

*

Shelby’s heart thumped as she held onto Rebecca’s hand, pulling her along until they finally reached the campfire. “I fucking hate camp. I fucking hate the wilderness.” Shelby fell to the ground and dissolved into sobs.

Rebecca looked out to the woods. “It didn’t follow us.”

“You better thank God it didn’t! What the fuck did you think you were doing?” Fuck Liddy’s guidelines. She would swear as much as she wanted.

Rebecca didn’t speak.

“You better get into your tent right now. You better fucking run to your tent.”

“I’m sorry,” Rebecca said.

“Do not say another word. Fucking turn around fucking now.” Shelby kicked dirt on the fire, extinguishing the smoldering embers. She heard Rebecca walk away. Shelby made her way to her own tent, not bothering to be quiet and pretended not to notice her freckled friend’s naked body entwined with their tripper’s. She opened her sleeping bag and zipped it up, and the world was completely dark.

*

I want to feel the little They’s fur on my fur. We would be warm. There is an excitement I feel of us, curled up, leaves, cave, dark, warm. Like me, the little They has a Thing on her body.

I think about the Thing on the little They. I follow the They’s scent.

*

Shelby woke up to the girls shrieking and threw off her sleeping bag as fast as she could. Tara had unraveled herself from Joe and was throwing on any clothes she could find. Joe was naked and trying to pry open the tent. “Fucking zipper!”

“What the hell is happening?” Tara asked, braids undone, brown hair messy around her shoulders.

“Open the fucking tent!” Shelby said.

It was almost light outside, the pink dawn peaking out over the mountains. Joe tumbled out of the tent, Shelby right behind him.

“Oh my God,” Joe said.

“What? What’s happening?” Tara was still trying to pull on her shorts.

The girl’s tent had been ripped open. The black bear with the yellow tag had Rebecca’s sleeping bag in its mouth and was dragging her away. Rebecca writhed and kicked. Joe grabbed a paddle.

Rebecca finally freed herself of the sleeping bag, and the bear, realizing that she was no longer in its grasp, stopped still. Rebecca, frozen, lay on the ground. The bear moved closer to her and bent its head down so its snout was almost touching her face.

Banana Head screamed. “The bear is going to fucking eat her!” Then she started to cry.

The bear sniffed down Rebecca’s body and paused at her Camp Minnehaha Nalgene. It opened its jaws and clamped down, cracking the bottle in its teeth, the plastic shattering from its mouth. The bear stood on its hind legs and roared.

There was another sound now, that of Joe yelling, running naked with a wooden oar. The girls screamed again, partly because there was a bear and partly because Joe was naked. Joe swung the paddle at the bear’s face and hit it dead on the nose.

“No!” Rebecca said.

The bear looked stunned. It whimpered. Rebecca’s belt was caught in its teeth. From where she was standing, Shelby could make out Rebecca’s name in yellow thread.

The bear licked its paws and wiped its nose, stepping backwards away from Joe. Joe swung the oar again and then the bear turned with soulful eyes, looked once more towards Rebecca, and lumbered away.

Shelby ran to Rebecca and hugged her and whispered in her ear “I’m here, I’m here, it’s okay.” When Rebecca was finally calm, Shelby turned to Joe and said, “Put some fucking clothes on already.”

*

The Thing was sharp and when I tried to free her, the They attacked. I feel sticky and wet in my mouth and oh, I cannot run so fast. I cry out and sound shakes trees and rocks and earth. The little They doesn’t know yet that the big They will take her far away too. The little They doesn’t know that she will be lost forever, gone, like my mother, lost, alone. I smell him. Etelooaat. He is coming for me. The wind whips and I shiver all over.

I look up at the trees and want to rub myself against something and there is the thought again of Etelooaat and he must smell my fear. I cry out again, loud as I can, loud enough to carry over stone and water, loud enough to reach my mother who is gone, loud enough to reach the Little They in her lost place. I feel I am shaking like the sky when it rains.

*

All anyone can talk about for the rest of the summer is you. Joe used the emergency walkie-talkie to call the rangers and they picked all of you up and took you to McDonald’s as a reward. You are grateful when Joe gives you back your watch.

Liddy comes to tell you personally that the park has taken care of the bear. You understand that this means that it is dead and you cry, and everyone thinks it is because you are happy, relieved, except for Shelby who seems to know it is because you are sad. They give you permission to call home, but you don’t want to.

In a special camp meeting, they present you and Joe with Minnehaha medals of honor. Banana Head wants to be your friend. Sal offers to lends you outfits. Cheerio shares her care packages. You no longer carry around a Nalgene on a belt with your name—secret, hidden, a comfort on your hip. Instead, you have two small marks, only scratches now and soon to be scars, from the teeth of a black bear. You will carry them with you your whole life. They will fade, becoming two fine, white lines that remind you that deep down, you are sure of who you are. For the rest of the summer, you are famous. For the rest of the summer they call you Rebecca.