Place: Karen Schauber

Marmoset, Raccoon, and Fox

My fingers grip and coil around slender shoots as I hoist myself up into the arboreal forest like a feral animal. Tackling the steep incline, I scramble to keep up with the older boys who sprint ahead like sound waves. The mountain air is fresh, and I am invigorated, powerful, and free. Cedar, musk, and bergamot sit on my tongue smooth like suede.

No one tells me what to do, where to plant my sneaker, how to alternate between my left hand and right foot. Being a forest creature has become second nature. I am marmoset, racoon, and fox. I am one with the timberland, thick with evergreen, basswood, and pine. Above me, sparrows and robins flit through the trees. I echolocate the intermittent hammering of a pileated woodpecker, its red head excavating a rotting wood stump nearby. I do not need or want guidance or encouragement. I want independence. I trust my eight-year old physical intuition and prowess. I am in charge of myself. 

This is the only place where I am.

A rush of adrenalin surges as I realize I no longer hear the clambering of feet, swish of shorts, or sense warm bodies in the brush ahead. I am well beyond the network of serpentine paths surrounding the lake far below, and high up on an alpine trail gone cold. I am alone on the mountain.

From my vantage point, I can just make out the dock and kayaks through the trees. Mist hovers above the beach as the morning sun is slow to burn off the dew. A haze of bull rushes and pampas grass frame the water’s edge genuflecting lightly. It is so very quiet, yet I can hear the faint cries of children playing; the sound carrying long and wide across the lake. I turn back to my quest knowing I am doing something more important.

The prize is the Boy Scouts’ hideaway, hidden between the sentries of pine and towering oak. I am determined to see what earned them their master craftsman badge. I would never have told my parents where I was going, or what I was off to discover. I surely would have been held back.

Undeterred I press on. My intuition is finely tuned, and I move like the needle of a compass. I am not afraid that I will lose my way, or that I will not find my destination. It does not occur to me as a possibility. I am a homing pigeon.

After close to an hour I come upon the fort. I am beyond thrilled, impressed, proud; how my body knows the way when my brain does not, I do not know. There is no one here. The boys have already moved on, to where, I don’t know.

I feel like an intruder, an invader. I have come upon their secret enclave, and I tread carefully, knowing this is not my domain. The older boys probably thought I would never find my way, never discover their hideaway. I do not sit inside the lean-to. I feel this would be disrespectful. I am in awe of what they have been able to erect, so far from home, so deep in the forest, up the mountain. This would have been difficult, maybe even treacherous. But the Boy Scouts are conditioned for such a climb.

I know now, I would not be wanted. I am a girl. I leave the way I came. For the first time I am nervous about the way I must travel. Navigating back down is not as clear to me as the way up. I descend, my knees shaky, maybe from being tired and hungry, but likely more so because my confidence has been shaken. I am back in my place of just being a girl, nothing special, on the outside looking in. My animal spirits gone.

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Karen Schauber’s work appears in 35 international literary magazines and anthologies, including Brilliant Flash Fiction, Bending Genres, Carpe Arte, Ekphrastic Review, Ellipsis Zine, and Fiction Southeast. The Group of Seven Reimagined: Contemporary Stories Inspired by Historic Canadian Paintings (Heritage House, 2019), is her first editorial/curatorial flash fiction anthology. Schauber runs ‘Vancouver Flash Fiction’, a flash fiction Resource Hub and Critique Circle, and in her spare time, is a seasoned Family Therapist.

Steven John – Senior Fiction & Features Editor