My sister Joy needed to go to Europe. She hadn’t been to Europe in 6 years. Six whole years! I’ve been to Canada.
Anyway, she needed me to babysit while she was away. The trick was, because Ruby was already in school, I had to go to them. They couldn’t come to me. So, I agreed and off I headed to the wilds of Vermont.
Joy and her family live inside the woods. I mean, Vermont is heavily wooded – it is our nation’s most heavily wooded state, in fact. But inside that wooded state, she lives inside the woods.
I have a pathological terror of the woods, did I mention that? I keep it at bay so that I can see my sweet Vermonsters Ruby and Vivian. Oh, and of course Joy and her husband Jeff. They’re very important. It’s not like I assume they moved to Vermont specifically to get away from me or anything.
And I have even been alone with the kids before, but never for an extended visit. I was a little freaked.
As I arrived, Joy let me know that a couple of albino peacocks had escaped from a peacock farm a short distance around the lake out in back of their house. How sad, I thought, but I had missed the point.
“Have you ever heard the sound a peacock makes?”
I had not.
“They sound like a child screaming.”
Now I understood. At any time – likely very late in the evening – I might glimpse a white wraith in the woods and hear the sound of a crying child. That would certainly not unsettle me in my condition of constantly stifled panic.
Well, those wraiths never did appear. We had a couple of bumps, though.
I think our only continuing problem had to do with the girls’ preoccupation with princesses. I can get behind lots of things, but I cannot pretend to be a princess. Footman, servant, giant, troll, villain of any kind – but not a princess. You can’t come right out and say that to a 7-year-old and 4-year-old, though. Not if you love them and hope to keep their love.
“What will your princess name be?” Ruby asked.
Vivian grimaced. “That’s a bad princess name.”
“How about Shimmering Pearl? You could be Shimmering Pearl,” Ruby tried to lure me.
They grew so exasperated with my ugly princess name that they relented and we played hide and seek. My plan worked beautifully.
Eventually, the girls convinced me, finally, to take them on “The Trail.” It was a walking path through the forest that surrounded what they considered a neighborhood. It was deep woods stuff as far as I was concerned – once in, all you could see in any direction was trees.
I didn’t want to impart any of my tree terror on the week ones, and Ruby – a Brownie – guaranteed me she could find our way home. And she’s much smarter than I am, so I believed her and in we went.
You know what I never realized, in that I would never set foot in the woods for any other reason than to please my sweet Vermonsters? The woods suck. Not just in the unrelenting terror, but in the general sense. We saw lots of assorted woodsy whatnot, but the bugs were insane. Insane! Does everyone know this and still go in?
The Vermonsters drew my attention to a bewildering variety of colorful mushrooms. We saw birds and rodents and had a generally lovely time until I heard the sounds I felt sure, even if subconsciously, I would hear in this isolated place: the slap of running feet accomapnied by heavy breathing. Someone was running.
It was a man.
He was running toward us.
The cherubic bunnies rattled onabout tree fairies, mousies and mushrooms while silently the panic rose in my throat.
I could see him out of the corner of my eye. A shaker sweater, jeans and boat shoes. In retrospect, I feel sure he was a lost tourist hoping I was a local who could direct him. I’ll never know, though, because long before he could ask for directions I’d already tucked one girl under each arm and football carried my nieces in a dead out spring out of the woods.
Princess games suck, but they are so much safer.