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Hello reading and writer friends! This week on "What Will Katie Write Next" is a short story!

This story is due to watching waaaaaay too many homesteading shows and my own experience living in a tipi on a mountain in the middle of nowhere with no running water or electricity. Unless you count bears and mountain lions and rattlesnakes. And coyotes.


I had an interesting childhood, to say the least.

So I really hope you enjoy this story and embrace the magic that is nature, and the magic that nature hides unless you prove yourself worthy! This is part 1 of  2, and honestly 2 will probably be much shorter than the first half. I just didn't want to tire your poor little eyes out!

You can read my other short story, (a sci-fi) HUMAN, here!



As the wind whipped through River’s hair like a thousand tugging fingers, one thought coursed through her head.
She was free.
Free from suburbia, free from school, free from everything. The wind stung her eyes, and the sun landed hot on her as she stuck her head further out from the passenger window. Her mother tugged on her shirt, and she reluctantly pulled her head inside, rolling up the window.
“How much further mom?”
“We have about fifteen minutes on the main road and then…” Her mother smiled, raising her sun glasses briefly. “Freedom, kiddo. It’ll be forty minutes of forest roads for us. Nothing but wild land.”
Our wild land.”
“Yep. Ours.”
She couldn’t wait. River knew her smile was as long as the mississipi river, and hadn’t left her face since they’d left nearly five hours ago. Beside her, her mother raked a hand through her short, straight blond hair. River looked at her own dark brown locks and sighed. She wished she looked more like her mom sometimes. Not that looks mattered, especially since they were moving into the forest. No one cared what you looked like in a forest. No one judged you. River grinned.
            No more suburbs. No more perfectly manicured lawns and trees that had been snipped and snapped into perfect forms. No more concrete, sirens, and people making fun of her for talking to trees. She didn’t fit in, she never had. And neither had her mom. That was why they were leaving, why they had to leave. Her mother had told her they were like pine trees trying to grow in the tropics, and they were dying. They had to get out.
            “River, get the map. Our GPS is about to die.”
            Taking the well worn map from where it laid folded neatly between them, River opened it up. Red lines drawn in sharpie marked with a black ‘x’ were the places her mom had looked for land that hadn’t worked out. There was a single green line that lead to a large blue circle, which was the land she had purchased. It was in the middle of nowhere. Sixty acres of freedom and nature.
            Her mother turned left off the freeway and into the dark forest that lined the road. The jeep jostled and bounced, and sometimes River heard a metallic clang as a rock smacked the underside of the jeep. It was forty minutes of excitement and nerves as the jeep crept carefully along the narrow road where a deep river waited hungrily below for the car to take a wrong turn and tumble into it.
            After passing a green metal gate that marked the entrance of their land, River’s excitement grew, they would be at their new home soon, she could feel it. The cabin had started being built by her uncle Mike and the rest they would build together. Ferns scrapped along the side of the car, and River rolled down the window. This time her mom didn’t protest.
The air was colder here, and smelled of damp earth and green. Sunlight filtered down through the trees, landing in hazy puddles of gold along the dirt road. Her ears picked up the sound of birds, and she saw squirrels scurrying up thick pine trees, their gray tails twitching.
“There it is River, home sweet home.”
The cabin was half way built. A pile of logs was on the right side of the house, next to a low, strange looking machine. The house had no door. River frowned.
“Where’s the door?”
“We have to cut it out. We’ll have to cut the windows out too.” Her mother turned the car off, frowning. “God, it looks like Mike just up and left in the middle of it all. He didn’t even cover the wood. He must’ve had an emergency. C’mon, lets go see if he at least left the tent like he said he would, or a note.”
Hurrying after her mother River tried to take in everything at once, which was hard. The house looked so tiny compared to the trees surrounding it, and she could make out the sound of rushing water somewhere in the distance. As she passed the log pile River pointed to the machine, which sported several chain saws leaning against it.
“Mom what’s that?”
“That’s the saw mill. It’s how we’ll cut stuff we can’t cut with the chainsaw. Like for the door frame, window frames, and cabine--what the hell…?”
Her mother stopped dead, hands on her hips. The tent was up, but all around it her uncles clothing and tool kit was scattered on the floor. River picked up a dirtied shirt and glanced over at her mom, who was picking up an the over turned tool box.
“Do you think he’s okay mom?”
“I’m sure he is.” Her mother shoved at a pair of pants with her muddy boot. “He was always leaving clothes around growing up. We have some day light left, why don’t we go look around? Before setting up the rest of our camp?”
Her mom picked up an ax, and slung a rifle resting in the tent onto her shoulder. River rose her brows, and her mom smiled her confident smile.
“Just in case of bears. Why don’t you lead the way?”
She pointed to a small trail beyond the tent, zigzagging through ferns and trees. River jogged ahead, waving her hand as her mom warned her not to go too far. All around her was life, real life that hadn’t been cut and made perfect.  River stretched her legs further and ran faster, whopping and scaring several birds from their perches. Laughing she followed the path until it came to a clearing that led to a creek with a rocky, stone filled bank.
The sky was blue and vast above her, like a never ending ocean, and the trees were tall and untamed. Home. River smiled up at the trees. A gentle breeze rose around her, smelling like pine needles and wet dirt. All of this wilderness was going to be her home now. No lights, no sirens, no cars. No neighbors having a fight in the middle of the night and waking her up. River’s smile slowly faded as she stared up at the silent trees. They were so big. Everything was bigger. Quieter. Too quiet.
All it once it was too much. The friendly trees suddenly seemed to bow down over her like accusing fingers, angered at a mortal's presence. The sky that had seemed so high above was crashing closer, and the gently murmuring winds had turned in a howling, bitter voice.
'You aren't one of us.' the forest seemed to say. 'You aren't part of us.'
Trembling she sank to her knees, looking up at the sky that was descending down upon her until all she saw was blue.
She had closed her eyes. Blinking, River looked around. The sky was high where her hands couldn't reach, the trees were straight as pencils, and the hum of life floated through her ears. Bird song, squirrel, the crunch of boots.
"There you are! Don't go running off like that, you could get lost!"
Her mother's voice. River rubbed her eyes as her mother strode past her, ax in hand. She paused in her sturdy stride, gripped the ax tighter.
"Did you fall? See a bear?"
"Well then stop hugging the earth, we've got a home to build and a camp to set up."
Behind her mother the tops of the trees swayed, and River licked her lips. Those trees were alive, she knew it as certainly as her hair was brown. They were alive, and they watching.
"Mom, won't...won't it hurt the trees if you chop them down?"
"Of course not, they're just trees. Besides," Her mother gave her a confident smile, the same one she had used when she'd said they were going to move. "This is wilderness. It's eat or be eaten, kill or be killed. No bear or bob cat is going to feel bad for eating you. And these trees will bring us shelter, which is what they were meant to do."
River stood up, brushing the pebbles and bits of dirt from her pants as she stared at the woods beyond her mother. The trees stood silently, staring. Watching. Remembering. And her mother, with her short sandy hair, piercing hazel eyes, and firm feet, belonged there. The woods recognized her as one of their own.
So what was she to the woods? Where was her place? Where did she fit in on the food chain?
There was no answer. She hurried after her mother, learned what made trees good for cutting and helped gather sticks for starting a fire. All around her the forest was watching, studying. She wondered if she measured up. When her mother hacked into a smaller tree, River gave a small scream, not expecting the loud thwacking sound.
“River, stop being so jumpy, go take the trail back home and put the kindling by the fire pit, it’s on the left side of the cabin. And I’d appreciate it if you’d clean up your uncles clothes. I’ll be along soon.”
River hurried as fast as she could to camp, not looking up at the trees anymore. It didn’t feel right. Nothing did. Biting her lip River glanced at the trees around the cabin and took a deep breath.
“You’re being stupid, River.” She said aloud. “You’re just freaking yourself out. There’s nothing here, and the trees aren’t alive.”
Setting the kindling by the fire pit she walked around the large green domed tent and began to pick up the clothes. That was when she heard the snap of a large branch. Freezing, River looked around, expecting to see a bear or mountain lion pop out. Instead nothing but the gloomy forest beyond the clearing greeted her, and the fluttering of birds.
“It was probably a skunk.” It had to be.
She finished gathering her uncle’s clothes and put them in a box she found by the cabin and started to pick up some of the nails and screws that had been spilled on the forest floor. That was when she noticed it. A footprint. Frowning River hunched down and looked closer. It was small, and judging from the lack of rocks or leaves around it, pretty fresh. It was also human. It was smaller than her own, and the toes dug deeper into the earth than the heel. Like they’d been tip-toing.
“River, what are you looking at?” 

            Her mother was walking up the path, holding a large pile of fire wood.
“Mom, there’s a kid’s foot print here. Uncle Mike didn’t have kids, I thought.”
“He doesn’t.” Setting the firewood down her mother hurried over and studied the print with her, finding a few more pairs circling the tent. “He probably brought a friend to help him who had a kid. C’mon, let’s get this fire started. I’ve got a skillet and I’m thinking bacon and potatoes.”
The light left the forest faster than in the suburb, blocking out the sunlight long before it had officially set. The sky changed from pale blue to nearly black as they ate dinner, and they watched the stars come out one at a time before filling the whole sky. It made River feel smaller than an ant.
“Makes you feel weird, huh?” Asked her mother.
“Yeah. And a little afraid.”
“That’s good.” Her mother ruffled her hair. “Fear is what keeps you alive. It keeps you aware. Let’s hit the sack, we’ve got a long, busy day ahead. Maybe we’ll go into the nearest town and see if anyone’s seen Mike.”
It was hard to sleep. Every time a branch snapped she remembered the feeling of being watched, remembered the strange foot prints. Several times she awoke from near sleep to the sound of the tent rustling, like someone was brushing their hand along it, and she burrowed deeper into her sleeping bag, afraid to let even her hair show.
With dawn came the loud scream of blue jays, and the cooing of doves. River was up before her mother, and she stepped out of the tent, checking the ground. There were no fresh prints, not even racoon or opossum. She released her breath, smiling when she saw her breath hang in the air like mist. The trees seemed friendlier today. Breathing out she made small puffs of clouds, walking around the cabin like she was a train.
Someone giggled. Someone that wasn’t her. Freezing, River felt her whole body go hot then cold. It had sounded young, like a small child. Peering into the woods River thought she saw something dark dart from a tree, moving in an odd loping motion, like when a cat ran. but it was small and low, and she wasn’t sure if it was an animal or…something else. But what else was there if it wasn’t animal?
The trees stood still and silent, watching. Still watching. The forest was silent, not even a scrub jay dared to caw. River took a step toward the woods, stopping only because she heard her mother unzip the tent. Above her a blue jay flew away, and the sounds of nature came rushing in loud, like a speaker turning on full blast.
“River? Where are you?”
“Over here mom!”
“What are you doing by the woods? Don’t go in without me. You don’t know the land yet. You wouldn’t want a bear to eat you, would you?”
River peered into the woods, but couldn’t find the strange shape she had just seen. She was pretty sure bears were the least of her worries.


Join me back here on Friday for Fairie Friday Blog Day! I'll be talking about the Fir Bolgs and Fomoroians! And remember, use the hashtage #fairiefriday on Twitter at 12:30 pm (California time) for a live Q&A chat! 


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