by Eloise Hawking
Fear can do three things. Sometimes when fear strikes you, it can paralyze you, frozen in time. Other times fear makes you flee, as far and as fast as you can get away. And for some, the very brave, they stand their ground and face the fear. Freeze, flight or fight?
For Sam, the decision is always to stay and fight. He is brave. Me, on the other hand—I’m definitely a flight type of person. I only wanted to turn and run back. Run top speed, back to safety of people, even if it that meant Nasally Nick in the outfield. When I’m afraid, the last thing I want is to be alone.
“Go, go, go, go!” whispered Jack harshly. He was pushing me from behind and I nearly lost my footing on the fallen tree we were both balanced on. I dropped my Blodin stick as we scrambled up the bank and climbed the tree to meet Emily before you could say Big Bad Wolf.
“Where is he?” Jack whispered.
“Over there,” said Emily pointing to the orchard. We could see through the edge of the tree line. “Fangs is there. I saw his tail and his pointy ears run by.”
The three of us surveyed the area and saw nothing besides blowing branches. From a distance we could hear crowd noise from Nick’s game. Someone must have knocked one into the outfield again.
“I think he’s gone,” said Emily. “Get down Ellen, so we can go.”
Although I was the first off of the log and up the bank, I wound up being last up the tree. Somehow Jack ran in front of me and scrambled up its branches before me. So much for ladies first. Emily was at the highest point, with Jack one branch below her. I was standing just at the V’ed part of the trunk with my now very muddy sneaker wedged in the bottom part of the V. This tipped my ankle at an odd angle, and although it secured my stance in the tree, my foot was beginning to lose feeling.
“Geez. Easy for you to say. I’m the one who has to get down first,” I said annoyed.
“I think he was running that way,” said Emily pointing north. “Fangs is gone.”
“Off eating somebody, I am sure,” I said. “Let’s wait a minute and figure out what to do first.”
“Good idea,” said Jack. “Let’s each think of one idea and vote on the best one.”
“Who made you President?” said Emily.
“He’s not the President, he just wants to BE the President someday,” I said to my friend.
“You want to be President?” inquired Emily. “Cool. Can I be one of your body guards? No one would suspect a girl would be protecting you. If someone came after you, I could jump and front of them and use my karate moves,” said Emily, off in a daydream again.
“Shhhhhh!” said Jack holding up a finger to his lips. “Listen, I hear something.”
The three of us held very still and listened. At first all we could hear was the rattle of the leaves blowing around, the wind seemed to be picking up a bit since we could feel it deep in the middle of the woods. In a few seconds we heard it—the rattle and hum of Farmer Richter’s tractor. Farmer Richter was out in the orchard to the east of the woods. Emily was right. Fangs was probably with him following the tractor.
“Let me see if I can call my mom,” I said. “Maybe she can drive down here to get us. We’ve been gone a long time. She’s probably looking for us.”
I swung my back pack off of my shoulder, leaned against a branch of the tree to steady myself, and dug into my bag for my phone. I found it and pressed the button to light up the screen. 4:30. We’d been gone for over two hours. Time really does fly when you are having fun.
I dialed my home number and hit send. There was silence for a longer period than usual. When I took the phone off of my ear to look at the screen, my heart sank when it read, Call Failed.
“Shoot. I can’t get a signal in here. The trees are blocking the satellite,” I said.
“The trees and the cloud cover,” added Jack. “Sometimes when it is going to rain you can lose satellite reception, too.”
OK—We’d lost contact with the mother ship for the time being, but at least we had each other so we weren’t alone. Stick together, I heard my mother’s words echo in my head. There was only one bar of battery life showing on my phone. I was too tired to charge it last night like my mother told me to. I forgot all about her request this morning. How long does one bar last?
“Let’s just get down and run back the way we came,” said Emily. That option made sense because we would be fleeing in the opposite direction from where Fangs was spotted. If we ran fast, it would be about five minutes until we hit the baseball field and another ten minutes or so home. However, that whole route was a steady uphill climb. I didn’t really feel like sprinting all that way, especially uphill, but I suppose when you are running for your life, pain was not important.
“No, that would take too long,” said Jack. “Look at the sky—it’s getting darker.”
The three of us looked up between the tree tops to see that the sky had turned from blue to gray. More rain was on the way. The clouds were hanging low and there was a definite wind now. It was blowing the tendrils of hair around my face into my eyes and nose.
“I think we should head east to the farm road by the orchard. It is only a little ways from here. I can see it. Then we would be out in the open and would be more likely to catch a signal.”
Emily and Jack debated back and forth with their plans, while I remained silent at the base of our human tree pyramid. I kept hitting the retry option on my cell phone, hoping there would be an opening in the cloud cover and the call would go through.
“What do you think Ellen? Should we move toward the orchard and take the road home, or go back through the woods,” asked Emily.
“Or she can just stay in this tree like a chicken, making futile attempts to call Mommy for help,” teased Jack. That was twice I’d been called a chicken in the last half an hour.
I was just about to make a snappy retort that I had yet to come up with when I was saved by Emily. “What’s feudile?”
“Not feudile, you idiot, futile! It means pointless,” lectured Jack. I could sense that even Jack was getting worried now that he was slinging barbs at Emily.
“Geez. Don’t get your underwear in a bunch over it. I just asked a question,” said Emily.
No one noticed that they never did hear my opinion. The two continued to argue as to whether it was safe to get down or not. After another minute of squabbling, we finally agreed that it was time to get down. There was one problem. My foot was stuck, wedged deep into the v of the tree from the pressure of my own body weight.
“Come on, Ellen! Get down!” yelled an agitated Jack.
“I’m trying. My foot is stuck, and it’s asleep. I can’t feel anything below my knee on my right leg,” I said.
“You’ve probably cut off the circulation to your foot. The medical term for that is called transient paresthesia. After you get down, I have a test I can do to see if you’ve done any permanent damage,” said Jack, suddenly inspired. He patted the sides of his cargo pockets and said to himself, “Now where did I put my pocket knife.”
I didn’t like the sound of that so it was time to take matters into my own hands. I pulled and yanked at my leg as hard as I could until my lower leg popped free from its tree trap, but my sneaker remained. It was still wedged sideways into the V.
I had to get out of the way if we were going to make any progress, so I jumped down. I tried to lower myself as far as I could using the strength of my own arms, but eventually I had to have faith and let go.
I landed alright, but landed hard. My right leg wouldn’t support my weight so I fell down on my butt. In the process I stepped in a thick puddle of mud. I could feel my leg slide over top of it, yet I couldn’t feel the wetness yet because my foot was asleep. I righted myself, while holding my right lower leg up as not to get my sock any muddier.
“Nice shoe, Ellen,” said Emily as she climbed down past it.
After the tree was vacated by its human visitors, I yanked at the shoe to free it. Looking at it from this angle, I could hardly believe that my ankle could bend to that degree without snapping. The tingling feeling began in my foot then the throbbing pain. I knew the blood was rushing back to the places that it had been cut off from.
“How’s your foot, Ellen?” asked Jack, holding up the pointed end of his pocket knife.
“It’s fine,” I said, cramming my shoe onto my mud soaked foot. “Let’s get moving.”
My dynamic duo, each being strong willed in nature, never realized no consensus was made as to which direction we should take. Emily started walking to the west, back through the woods, and Jack headed off the beaten path toward the orchard. That left me standing in the middle not knowing which way to turn, as usual.
“Hey!” I called out, “Wait! Which way are we going?”
Both Jack and Emily stopped and at the same time said, “This way!”
There always comes a moment when you must decide something immediately. You don’t have time to think and reason and ponder like my mother encourages me to. You have to go with your gut and rely on your instincts. And here I stood in this dark moment, terrified with a storm approaching, caught in the middle between my cousin and my best friend. I had to choose.
Instincts needed to come into play and I had to turn up the juice on mine. Instincts. Maybe that was the key to all things. The trick was knowing exactly what my instincts were. Fight or flight? And there I stood, frozen.