Jenny put one unsteady foot upon the pedal of her trusty teal ten-speed and using her other foot, kicked off of the black and tarred pavement beneath her feet. The summer sun was hanging in the sky and as birds danced in her periphery, singing songs that echoed in her ears a seasonal tune, Jenny put her sole focus on keeping balanced, and then the speed. The wind rushing past her as she flew through the waves of heat to cool herself off.
Summer was Jenny's favorite season, as it regularly is with any child who is a mere ten years of age. The hot July heat meant no more school, no shoes, trips to the corner store for soda every day, and as much time as possible exploring every nook and cranny of biking or walking distance in the neighborhood.
She had only lived on Elm Street for two years now, but Jenny was no stranger to all the best hiding places nearby. A five-minute bike ride up the street provided her with a little slice of heaven that her and her best friend Megan called 'The Field.' The field was exactly as the name suggested, a large expanse of field that seemed to last forever to them. During the summer the weeds grew to epic proportions and the girls could get lost wandering about in the neck-high grasses chasing snakes and other wildlife. The blackberry bushes and huckleberries bloomed and sprouted fruit every summer, a special type of grass they named 'sourgrass' was also edible and provided snacks. Further into this paradise lay a playground, surrounded by apple trees and sprinklers to run through. And if they were feeling especially daring, they could climb the ivy that climbed the tallest trees itself, and nest twenty feet above the ground terrified and giddy, before climbing down and collecting walnuts and hazelnuts and heading back home, too full for dinner.
Down the hill from the field was Jenny's favorite place in the world - the creek. Many hours of her childhood had been spent exploring the creek, every nook and cranny and beach that branched off of the main trail. Taking the trail towards town, there was a bridge they could sit under and read graffiti written by angry teenagers, while soaking their bare feet in the icy water and listening to the cars roar ahead. Or they could jump in the deep pool at the edge of the miniscule waterfall and thrash about in their clothes and try to touch the bottom. Towards the other end of the trail, the girls could walk or ride bikes for what seemed like forever, trying to find the end of the trail, but never feeling quite daring enough. Jenny had been disappointed the day her ten-speed had brought her to the very edge of her little world, the end of the trail resulting in nothing more than old and forgotten train tracks.
This very day in July, as a blistering sun pounded down upon Jenny riding about in circles on the slow neighboorhood cul-de-sac (she didn't care about burning her skin, she never did) she eagerly awaited Megan's arrival, and when she saw Megan pedalling quickly towards her on her bright pink bicycle, Jenny started kicking her legs faster and the two of them together zoomed down the hill at the end of the road. The trees surrounding darkened the bright summer sun and turned the day into nighttime. The girls passed by the old abandoned house that had burned down, along with all of the previous family's memorabilia that they had called treasures, photographs, jewelry, clothing, everything had burned when the teenagers let a fire get out of control a few weeks previous. So the girls pedaled onward down the winding dirt trail, and came out at the main road of the creek's trail.
They passed by three or trails that led down to private rocky beaches crawling with bugs nesting underneath rotten and soggy dead trees, and carefully selected one that dove deeper into the forestry parts, though they could still hear the flowing water nearby. Abandoning their bikes in bushes blooming with bright green leaves near the foot of the trail, the two set off in nothing but bare feet. After summers in a row of no socks or shoes they had developed a hard callous on each foot and were immune to the normally painful pricks of sticks and sharp stones the trails hid.
The forest was their playground. Each winter the snow would blanket the ground and flood the river onshore, rotting out the roots of trees and choking the life from them. When the sun began to shine once more, these deadened trees would give way to the weight of themselves and topple to the ground, rendering themselves nothing but simple wood for construction in a young child's imagination.
Jenny loved building forts. She owned no tools, not even a hammer or nails, but this was not important. She had found forts in the simplest of places over the years. For instance, she had spent an entire summer digging dirt up from a secret hiding place, until she had a hole six feet deep. Then she had carefully covered it almost entirely with plywood, and hidden away her secret hole with dirt and leaves inconspicuously. During the winter, she used the crawlspace under the stairs of her house to drag her blankets and wall up the empty places with spare wood. To combat the darkness of her hiding place inside, Jenny would affix wires, two leading from the positive and negative ends of a double-A battery, both meeting up at a light bulb. Jenny was, if anything, a very industrious child.
The task of the day was to build a palatial fort out here in the wilderness. The girls started by building an A-frame with three logs resting in trees. Nature had provided their structure, and they were dependent on their imaginations and creativity for the rest. Next they laid a layer of thin logs across the bottom. Though uneven, it was lifted from the ground by about two feet, and provided a well 'floor', or bed surface. They collected first handfuls of dewy, spongy moss and covered the surface of uneven logs, leveling it out to their comfort. They continued with this process by choosing only the finest of large and greenest maple leaves from the statuesque trees that sheltered them from the sweltering heat.
Having provided themselves a very cushioned seat to rest upon, Megan and Jenny set about constructing the sides. They took the same design idea and propped a layer of logs up against the top leaning log, fulfilling their A-frame. Again, they took their handfuls of moss and used it to insulate the fortress. This time, they didn't worry about the layer of maple leaves, but instead took the moss inside and coated all of the visible places on the inside as well, blocking off all of the light and possibility of the chill.
Finally, they stripped the nearby cedar trees of very few small branches and affixed them to the ends of the fort, creating a type of curtain in which they could crawl in and out from either end. Satisfied with their work, Megan and Jenny took refuge in their now-finished castle in the most hidden depths of the forest. It was here that they would rest momentarily and wear their pride upon their hearts and sleeves openly.
After a certain amount of time passed, the girls would never come to know for sure, Megan took a glance at her brother's borrowed pocket watch and saw that it had stopped at 4:45. With the sun nearly setting Megan realized it was most likely past six o'clock, the time she was to be home by. Abandoning all thoughts of their magnificent structure for the night, the girls raced to their bicycles and pedaled furiously up the giant hill, and abandoned their bikes in Megan's driveway.
Her dinner was cold and her father was furious. While he shouted at Megan she slowly crouched into a tiny corner of the room and tried to hide her tears in embarrassment.
"Your mother and I were worried half to death! You know there's bears and cougars at the creek. You know better than this."
Protests of the broken pocket watch had no effect on his tirade, and after thoroughly disciplining both of the girls, Megan was sent to her room with her cold dinner and now free-flowing tears, and Jenny departed, collecting her teal ten-speed from her best friend's driveway and mounting it once more.
Jenny cruised about in circles as the sun began to set further and the termites began to appear. She made a game of swatting at them with a nearby tennis racket. When the stars began to emerge and she could no longer see any hint of an orange at the horizon, Jenny once again set down the hill, past the charred remains of the abandoned house, and down the now very dark trail that would take her to the creek. The waning crescent moon and brightly lit stars helped to illuminate her path.
Memory served her well, and Jenny took her fifth right turn off of the main trail, buried her bike where it had lay a few hours before this moment, and walked barefoot once again down the trail. Through the darkness, she located the now camouflage hiding place that her and Megan had labored over early in the day. Jenny quietly opened the makeshift curtains of branches and crawled her way inside. The moss had provided adequate insulation, and by tossing a few more branches and leaves on top of her tiny frail body, Jenny found herself warming quickly. Outside of her home for the night, the sounds of the frogs hunting crickets were a raucous symphony of annoyance, but the hoot of a normally dormant owl would terrify them into a momentary silence.
In Jenny's little world though, the only sounds she heard were the words of anger that had spawned from the mouth of Megan's angry father. As she tossed to the side and found a more comfortable position to sleep, she smiled, and imagined for a split moment, that his anger had been directed towards her as well.