[Pine is the first story in the Aromatherapy Project. ]
Jane the Collie was not sure she approved of what the children were up to: out of their tents and galavanting around so early in the morning while all the adults slumbered. They had disturbed the nice calm, contemplative morning. Now they were trying to light a campfire while dewy fog still hung over the lake. She rested her head on her forelegs, keeping a watchful eye on the pair of them.
Little Lydia was shivering in the crisp morning air and staring impatiently at her brother as he attempted to start a fire in the pit using two rocks he had found. “It’s not going to work,” she said, arms crossed partially in defiance and partially to keep out the chill. “It’s too wet out here…”
James looked up at her through hooded eyes. “Because it’s morning,” he replied as if to imply that he had already considered his sister’s complaints.
“You need dry kindling.”
“I can do it with the stones.”
“No, you can’t,” Lydia pressed, a slight whine breaking through in her voice.
Setting the stones down for a minute, James gave his sister a skeptical once over. “What would you know about?”
“I’m a girl scout,” Lydia said with a shrug.
“And I’m a -boy- scout,” James replied. “That’s better.”
“It’s not,” Lydia muttered under her breath as she walked away from the empty fire pit and towards the woods. James had been acting this way the whole trip and it made her furious. The two of them used to be friends, but now he knew more things than her and mentioned it too much. Being a boy didn’t seem to be a good enough reason to Lydia, who was only a year older but was in fourth grade and could name all of the state capitals in alphabetical order and read high school books. James couldn’t do that.
Carefully, she trudged to the edge of the forest and she noticed something furry and auburn rushing to join her. For a moment she hoped against hope that it might be a fox, but when the dog brushes against her leg, she had to laugh. “Jane…silly puppy…” The collie did not leave her little girl’s side as she wandered into the evergreens.
The morning air was thick with the scent of aging pine trees. It made Lydia almost giddy just to smell it. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. The forest was dark and foreboding, but suddenly she wasn’t afraid. How could she be with her tiny memory rushing back to her mother arranging pine boughs on the mantel each winter. “It keeps out the dark, and cold, and all the bad things,” she said as she playfully tapped Lydia’s nose with a stray pine cone. Lydia was never really sure what bad things her mother might be referring too, but she knew that pine made her safe and here she was, surrounded by it.
Jane paced a small perimeter around Lydia. Her senses were more attuned to the forest and she could smell that more than pine was present here. Unlike her little girl, she did not feel safe. Facing one corner of the small clearing, Jane snarled with her ears back, letting out a low protective growl.
Lydia was unnerved by this. She had felt nothing but safe a moment ago and now one of her most ardent protectors was warning that there was something nearby to fear. “Jane…what is it?” she asked in a quiet, frightened voice.
Of course, Jane had no answer other than another low growl. Lydia didn’t have the heart to give pretend voice to Jane’s wants and needs as she so often did. She merely crossed her arms tightly against her body yet again and moved closer to the fluffy, auburn collie whom she loved so desperately. “Lydia stay right where you are,” she thought she heard a voice saying from above her. The voice was not familiar and she dared not look up to see where it came from. She did not question it. She knew she had to obey.
There was a rustling very close by in woods. It sounded like dry pine needles crackling under the weight of a heavy boot. More than anything, Lydia wanted to run as fast as her legs could carry her back to the campsite, but the voice simply repeated. “Stay right where you are.” Even Jane had gone silent now, though her ears were still back and she appeared ready to spring if the occasion warranted.
The crackling continued to draw closer for what felt like an eternity. Then, almost as though it were repelled back by an invisible force, whatever was causing the sound sped away in the opposite direction. Lydia stayed in place until she heard her mother’s voice calling from the campsite.
Lydia sat curled up with Jane near the fire as her parents prepared breakfast. James, having been reprimanded for trying to start a fire without permission, was also nearby, sulking in his chair and looking profoundly unmoved by the proceedings. He was the first to see the Park Ranger’s car pull up to their campsite, however. He jumped to his feet and started to race toward it.
“James!” Their father shouted, causing James to immediately halt his progress. He did not look forward to two stern chats in one morning.
The Ranger smiled in a concerned fashion at the boy when he got out of his car and closed the distance between himself and family. “I’m sorry to bother you fine folks, but I’m afraid I have to ask you some questions.”
“Is there a problem, officer?” Their father asked.
The Ranger shook his head, but Lydia could easily see that he was not being completely honest. “We’ve been tracking an escapee through the woods. Desperate, dangerous, and armed. Bad combination. From what I can tell he came up this way.”
“Escapee?” Both parents asked in one unsettled voice.
Slipping his hat from his head, the Ranger nodded. This time looking somewhat more sincere. “Have you seen anything?”
“Nothing,” Their mother stated, looking worriedly to James and Lydia. Lydia dared not to meet to her gaze.
“Call me immediately if you do?” The Ranger held out a card containing his mobile number as both parents nodded.
Lydia held tightly to Jane’s neck as she glanced toward the safety of the pine trees.