by Adan Ramie
Vangie slipped away from the whining, giggling pack of girls and into the woods. They wouldn’t miss her. Twigs screamed protest as she trod on them with new, name-brand sneakers. She wanted to yell with them, cry out to the whispering leaves of the trees that she didn’t belong here, not with those girls – but it would only get her caught.
Through a tangle of vines, she crept out onto the trail half a mile from where the group had congregated to complain and reapply their makeup. If she kept up the pace, she would be farther than she had ever gone in the three summers of exile she had spent at the camp.
The only reason she broke away from the pack was Truman’s dare. He hated to be separated from her – if only because he couldn’t torment her for two months – and he showed it with a succession of dares that grew in danger as the weeks went by.
The first dare would be a piece of cake.
He said there was another part of the trail that had been closed off for the campers as it led directly from the boys’ camp to the girls’. He bet her $100 she wouldn’t make it there before he did, and though she knew the girls would be slower for wallowing in their own misery, she was determined not to let him win. Again.
“Not like last summer,” she told the trees as she jogged. The path faded as she went, and by the time she stopped to take a breath, thick greenery had started to twist up beneath her feet.
Truman said there was something special at the point where the two paths met. Vangie bet it was nothing more than fantasy on her brother’s part, but she wouldn’t let him win. He always won; he had an unfair advantage in that there was nothing their father liked more than to see his daughter bested. He always kneecapped her one way or the other if he had the chance. But the kids were away at camp, so Daddy couldn’t interfere.
“I’m going to beat you, you little worm.”
She climbed over a felled tree in the path, then dropped down on the lush undergrowth on the other side to find a fork in the path.
“I guess you knew about this,” she whispered. “Twerp.”
From her pocket, she pulled a crudely-drawn map. She traced where she had come from all the way to the X that marked the paths’ intersection. There wasn’t a fork.
“Make a choice,” she told herself.
She started walking and veered to the left as the overgrown path broke apart. A few steps in, she stopped and stared up at the structure.
“Do Not Enter?”
She bolted inside as she heard the tell-tale sounds of a boy’s feet stomping across the ground and closed the heavy door behind her. Seeing her there first would be a nasty surprise.