In Which Three Girls Find a Knucker in the Woods
The quiet hum of wildlife—birds singing, crickets chirping, squirrels chattering, gurgling streams—pervades Malia’s dark corner of the forest. The hammock swings as she stretches her sore , tired limbs. The family camping trip had been full of long days hiking, crawling through caves, and exploring the forest.
Mmm, the smell of cooking bacon over the crackling fire! Malia yawns and sits up. “I hope you’re making some for me, Mom.”
“And good morning to you too.”
“Can we hike up the stream after breakfast?”
“Take your sisters with you. I don’t want anybody underfoot while I pack up for our trip home tomorrow.” Mom dumps a pile of bacon and eggs and buttered toast onto Malia’s metal camping plate.
Nothing like a filling breakfast to wake up the senses! Somehow the fresh air, the smell of pine trees and musty earth, made everything taste like nectar from the gods. At home, she might have had half as much, but here, she gobbled every bite and still wanted more. “Can I have some more eggs, Mom?”
“No, you’re only hungry because you are missing some fruit. Grab some dried fruit from my pack.” Busy scrubbing the skillet in the river, humming as she works, Mom doesn’t even look at her.
Malia smiles. If she had it her way, they would live out here forever. They could build a cabin for winter; Dad could hunt; Mom could grow a garden. Maybe Malia could make a bow and arrow. They could live like Native Americans, enjoying the fat of the land…
“Are we going yet?”
“Yeah, I’m ready.”
Malia sets out with her sisters, Rosie and Katie. With a camera and her favorite field guide tucked into her backpack, she hikes along the stream—her feet sloshing in the water, cold as it soaked through her shoes—until they come to a bundle of logs and a pond. The heads of two beavers move along the pond’s surface, bobbing up and down; the water ripples behind them.
Katie leans over the bank and peers into the water. “Think we can catch some fish for supper?”
“Look down there. It’s a hole.” Rosie points to hole in the bank above the water line.
“That’s strange. Too big for a rodent or a snake and beavers don’t dig. They make a den out of logs in the middle of the pond.” Malia chews her lip, her mind racing through all the animals she has studied. Nothing she knows would do this.
“Big enough to hold a bear! You don’t think the bear will eat us, do you?” Rosie asks.
Just then, Malia hears a fox bark and some bushes rustling further down the embankment. “Shh, a fox is up there a ways.”
“No, you know Mom won’t let you keep a fox.”
“Shh, I just want to get a picture.”
Crouching, Malia creeps through the woods; each step pads as soft as a cat, avoiding leaves and twigs so as not to alert the fox. She ducks under a branch and then lies on her belly to crawl along the muddy ground. It squishes beneath her as she slides forward, pushing with her toes. She hears the bark again. She’ll get the best close-up snapshot anyone has ever gotten of a fox! It’s just on the other side of the branches blocking her view.
Raising the camera, she pushes the branches aside and snaps the picture before the fox can run.
But it isn’t a fox!
It’s blue and green and scaly and stands about as tall as her dad! In its knobby hand, a fish wiggles.
Screaming, she stands and runs right into Rosie. They tumble to the ground.
“Come on. Hurry!” Malia pushes her sister up, and then grabbing Katie’s arm, she races up the stream, her feet slipping on the slick rocks. Soaked up to her knees, she doesn’t stop until they are back to their camp, falling in the grass, panting to catch her breath. Looking down, she sees mud covering every inch of her.
Lips twitching, eyes sparkling with laughter, Mom stands over her with her hands on her hips. “What happened to you?”
“I think I saw a dragon.”