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A Boat On A River
It was just past dark when she decided it was time to escape. Outside, a lazy tangerine moon hung pinned to the rich, marmalade sky, a sign of luck and yet an omen. The lonesome shadows inside the room appeared more ominous than the blanket-like dark outside, deceivingly safe as the pearly moon seeped innocent light across the unknown. Her stomach coiled into knots as her pulse thumped its clumsy way through her system. Her palms were clammy and clasped firmly onto her shaking arms. She knew what happened at dark, in the dangerous world beyond the safety of her small tent. She was utterly, undoubtedly alone. She felt as if she might cry, but only a weak, quiet whimper escaped her lips. Each time she closed her eyes, to imagine that she weren’t here, that this couldn’t be, a menacing cry would protest from the jungle and pierce her attempts. She could hear the exotic chirps, snarls, hisses, howls, footsteps, whispers, breath, and heartbeat of the wild itself, awakening to embrace the night. Occasionally, that familiar scream would shatter the murmuring quiet, and she would bolt to her feet. A pang of fear would hit her then, so great that she felt sick. She had abandoned her in the jungle, and there was no saying what could happen because of her disconcert. Her imagination skipped through the possibilities, youthfully calculating the outcomes. She swallowed hard and forced herself to her feet. Before she could stop herself, she was across the floor at the door; her heart beat wild in her ears. Feeling raw fear for the first time, she numbly unzipped her safe haven of home and stepped into darkness.
In pure night, everything suddenly evolved from a figment of imagination to horrible reality. A single path, lit dimly by slanted milky light, led the way into the depths of the jungle. Bordering this path were inconceivable darkness, chattering creatures, glinting silver eyes, sleek animals with razor fangs. She was knock kneed and wedged up against the door between her two worlds, trapped between safety and sacrifice. She had to save her. It wasn’t far till the jungle, and she was sure that she would find her inside. Together, they would be okay. Letting this hope echo inside of her every pore, she clenched her fists and began to sprint.
For a moment, the world was silent around her, throbbing to the jerky movement of her shaking footsteps and clouded by overcast eyes. Her footsteps resounded and the jungle absorbed her energy. It waited, patiently, to pounce, as she made her way across the path, breath frantic. Behind her, something stepped on a branch, shattering silence like broken china. A cold shiver rippled down her spine, and she held back a scream. She whirled around, to find two black, beady eyes fixed on hers, looming closer as footsteps scuttled on the path. She did not think as she sprinted on with waves of black and orange fur driving her forward. Snarls ripped from the beast and it lunged at her flying feet, viciously nipping at her ankles. Nearly in tears, she pumped her legs harder. Around her, the jungle rose in volume, multiplying in size and noise until it consumed her every sense. As she crashed through the underbrush into the jungle, a sea of vivid color- soft turquoise, deep purple, pale yellow, defiant red- exploded from the trees to bring the energy of the dark to a full stop. The tiger howled in indignation and trotted off, leaving his prey guarded by a thick encampment of tress, uniformed in their knightly glow. Stunned and safe in the arms of the peaceful canopy, she sat, alone and wrapped in blissful quiet.
“Lucy? Lucy, honey, are you okay?” A frantic familiar voice broke through the balmy silence, peeling back a layer of clothes to reveal a serene little girl with far away kaleidoscope eyes.
“Mom!” Lucy’s dark eyes dimly alit from their state of sleep deprivation, and she was taken willingly into the warm arms of her mother. “I wanted to see you before I went to bed.”
“Hi, honey! I’m glad, but it’s way past your bedtime now. Did you have fun with Charlotte?”
“Oh, yeah. We made ice cream sundaes, watched Tarzan, and Jack went to bed WAY earlier than me. He’s a lot younger than me.”
“I know sweetie! It sounds like you had a lot of fun. What were you doing in the closet, silly goose?”
“I came to make sure you were okay,” Lucy shrugged, beaming widely. “I like the closet. It’s fun. I’d like to live there, would that be okay?”
“Let’s talk about in the morning, Luce. Maybe, someday,” she said, leaning outside and beckoning to an incomprehensible grumble in the darkness. “Steve? Can you help”-
“Mom, is Tarzan real? I think I heard him in the jungle!”
Lucy’s mother smiled, and wrinkles like tired rivers ran from the edges of her eyes. “Yes, of course, honey. Did you really?”
Lucy promptly unscrambled herself from her mother’s unknowing touch, situating herself on the cool tile of the bathroom. “Yes, I did. I can see everything. I used to be really scared, but I’m not anymore. Were you ever scared like me?”
“I used to be, honey, just like you. But sometimes, grownups get scared too,” She answered honestly. Lucy put her head on her knees and her windy blonde waves toppled over her shoulders. Wistfully, she studied her feet and sat in silence for a time, her soft pink lips set in a crooked smile.
“I don’t think I’ll be scared anymore,” she announced at last, eyes bright with thought as she gazed up at her mother. “I love everything. I want to be all of it.”
Like jingle bells, Lucy’s mother laughed and kissed the top of her head. “Oh, sweetie. Let’s get to bed now, here comes Daddy!”
A tall man, with tousled hair and smiling half shut-eyes, entered from the darkness and took Lucy from the floor, flushed with love for life. “Let’s get you to bed, Luce, it’s way late, girlfriend.”
“Can I sleep in the closet?”
“No, honey. Close your eyes, and imagine like you’re counting sheep…”
Lucy was not sure how much later, but felt a whiskery kiss on her cheek, a husky whisper of “Good night, Lucy.”
As she sailed into darkness, a looking glass smile lit Lucy’s face as she counted beady-eyed tigers and drifted into the unknown. She was gone.