Skunked

SD would rather have done the photography project alone instead of being paired up by Mrs. Furgerson with "Strange Sherrie" Olsen for the two week assignment. SD wasn't the most social kid at Hillsboro High and Strange Sherrie didn't make it any easier with her quirky nature, weird behavior, and her complete disinterest in the norm.

SD figured Mrs. Furgerson teamed them up because they were both socially odd ducks. That's probably why the teacher gave them the category of nature for the assignment too – so they wouldn't have to be around other people.

The expedition was fairly straightforward and simple: Spend two weeks as a team building up a portfolio of photos while keeping a log (when and where the photo was taken) to be turned in at the end of the project. There wasn't a lot of worthy nature shots around the Hillsboro High School campus so SD was forced to spend time with Strange Sherrie outside of the regular school day. He was the one with a car so he drove them around Blue County taking shots of the Blue River, wide views from the top of Mt. Griffin, the shores of Sun Rise Lake, the farmland pastures of South County, and the hilly valleys of West County.

Even after several outings together, SD still hadn't figured out Strange Sherrie. She dressed weird and she acted like she was somewhere on the audism spectrum in her mannerisms and thought process. Maybe she had some mild form of ADHD or perhaps PTSD – SD really wasn't sure.

Strange Sherrie lived with her never married mother in an old farm house at the edge of town. The two students didn't talk much when they were together which was okay with SD because he wasn't very good at conversing with girls anyway, let alone strange ones like Sherrie Olsen.

The first real interaction between them came during a photo shoot walk when they came across a large deer in a pasture which thrilled Strange Sherrie.

"Sound, don't make" Sherrie whispered as they stood gawking at the large animal that seemed oblivious to their presence.

"The camera noise will spook him," SD warned as Sherrie slowly lifted her camera to take a shot.

"That's why we only get one chance," Sherrie replied knowingly.

She was using a nice Canon model instead of some inferior phone camera. Her camera was probably worth more than SD's junky old beat up car, offering outstanding image quality, low noise in low light, a tilt-able touchscreen LCD, an overabundance of auto and intelligent scene modes, manual exposure and focuses, and versatile long-range zoom lens. Mrs. Furgerson complimented Sherrie on the model, calling it a great tool for learning. SD used his grandfather's twenty year old Polaroid.

SD's mouth was cotton dry with nervous anticipation and his tongue stuck to his gums as he watched Strange Sherrie prepare her shot. His heart was beating in excitement and he was overcome with a sense of intrigue and fascination as he stared at the motionless majestically magnificent buck.

"That's an enormously impressive deer right there," he quietly marveled.

Strange Sherrie didn't respond as she stood equally as motionless with her camera held steady, aimed at the large animal. SD watched with expectation knowing she'd get a great shot.

"If he bolts, try to get some follow through shots," SD whispered.

Strange Sherrie pressed the button and the camera made a faint click but the sound echoed in the still air and the buck looked their way. He stared for a moment which allowed Sherrie to take a few more shots and then, suddenly and abruptly, the beautiful creature leapt like a jezebel and pranced toward the woods, Sherrie taking a multiple of shots as he sprinted away.

"Wow," was all SD could say as he stood in awe watching the animal go.

"Thank you, Sweet Jesus," Strange Sherrie said as she lowered the camera from her steady posture. "That's an award winner there right."

"You did it!" SD exclaimed. "Great job."

"You always prepared have to," Strange Sherri explained. "You always have to be anticipating, waiting for the moment at times all. That's why I always have my camera in my hand or around my neck, not stuffed in some pack-back or something."

He looked at her funny. She must have meant backpack. He laughed with amusement at her misspeak, just part of being Strange Sherrie. As weird as she acted, talked and sometimes behaved, there was something oddly endearing and cute about her despite her appearance and wardrobe.

Today she was wearing bib overalls, clod-hopper boots, and a cowboy hat, for example. One might argue she was dressed for the country hike they had taken in search of nature but she dressed this way most of the time – flannel shirts, baggy camouflaged Army pants or Khakis of various colors, laced boots or construction shoes, and baseball caps. Her brown hair (she often dyed it purple and/or orange) wasn't styled in any particular way and it was usually unkempt, stuffed up under hats or thrown into a haphazard ponytail or uneven braids.

Knowing they had captured the photograph of the day (if not the entire assignment), the two students trudged back to SD's beat up old Chevy, bought for $500 from a junk dealer who guaranteed the engine worked fine even if the body was in rough shape. It was late afternoon and SD needed to get home for supper, always served promptly at six by his grandmother.

"When do you want to go out for shots again?" SD asked, and he almost laughed, realizing he made it sound like he was asking her out for drinks.

"Friday maybe, school after?" Strange Sherrie proposed.

Why not? Neither had dates. They reached the car and suddenly SD felt embarrassed by its appearance. He had to be a jerk to let a girl ride in the piece of junk, even if it was Strange Sherrie.

"I hope you don't mind," he said, gesturing toward the vehicle.

"Beats bike pedaling or hoofing," she shrugged as she opened the creaking rusty passenger's door.

"Is that why you ride in disguise?" He joked, making reference to her wardrobe and appearance as they got in the car.

"Disguise?" She asked, confused by the question.

"It just seems strange that….." SD realized he was going to blunder, so he quickly changed what he was going to say. "Don't you have a Friday night date or something?" SD said instead.

"Boys are a'scared of me," Strange Sherrie replied factually.

SD wasn't going to argue with her on that one – although freaked out might be a more appropriate word than afraid.

"Are you a'scared'ed of me?" Strange Sherrie wanted to know after a few minutes of awkward quietness as SD drove the car.

"Should I be?" SD asked.

"Well, I am Sherrie the Stranger," she said.

"Strange Sherrie," SD corrected.

"I knowed you'd rather not be seen with a girl like me," she said.

"That's not true," SD lied.

"I'm sure your friends say things."

"I really don't have a lot of friends," SD sighed.

"I knowed I don't dress like most girls," she said. "Or act all prim and properly."

"That's okay," SD said.

"Do you have a friend who is a girl?" she asked.

"You mean a girlfriend?" SD needed to clarify. "No," he answered. Then he glanced at her. "Have you been out on dates?" he asked with curiosity.

"Boys are mostly immature," Strange Sherrie complained. "I never bothered to learn the rules neither."

"The rules?" SD asked.

"The dating rules," Strange Sherrie groaned. "Like, how many dates before you let a boy try to kiss you?"

"I guess that depends on how much you like him," SD answered.

"What if he didn't brush his teeth? Or has breath bad? Ate something disgusting smelling?"

"Carry breath mints for him?" SD suggested.

"And what about guys who want to look down your shirt at?" She wanted to know. "Or touch you appropriately not?"

"You smack them in the face," SD advised. "Kick them in the nuts."

"Oh," Strange Sherrie said, as if that was news to her. "I guess that's advice good."

How could Sherrie be so strange? Her mother was a professor at Green College. Sherrie was intelligent - always at the top of the class in GPA and usually with a book in her hand, even at lunch when she often ate alone in the cafeteria with her face buried in the pages of some novel. So what if she talked a little weird? Or acted socially inept? Who was SD to judge? He wasn't as smart as she was and he definitely was just as socially hopeless.

He pulled the car into her driveway and stopped in front of a remodeled barn.

"That's my mother's art studio," Strange Sherrie said, motioning toward the barn.

"Your mom not home yet?" He asked, glancing at the car clock radio to see that it was 5:30.

"She works a lot," Strange Sherrie replied. "Do you want to come in for a minutes?"

"My mother has dinner on the table at six," he explained.

"You don't have to long stay," she said. "I wanted something to show you."

"Okay, just for a minute," he agreed, mostly to be polite, turning the engine off.

They climbed out of the car and Strange Sherrie led him into the house which had a modernized interior but was way too big for just Sherrie and her mother. The home was well decorated and furnished with plenty of noticeable artwork on the walls.

"Most of it is by my mother or her painting friends," Strange Sherrie told him.

SD was impressed by the quality of the pieces. "Is that what you wanted to show me?"

"One of the things," she said. "Come with me," she requested, leading him toward the stairs.

SD followed and when they got to the second floor he noticed a painting of a naked girl, perhaps ten years old, in full frontal nudity, sitting on a wooden fence with a huge pasture behind her.

"Is that you?" He asked, trying not to sound shocked.

"It's art," Strange Sherrie explained, unembarrassed and perfectly calm. "Nakedness is acceptable when its art." There was a second painting further down the hall also of her, roughly at the same age, also naked, painted from behind with her looking over her shoulder at the artist, a huge mountain taking up most of the frame.

Sherrie seemed to smirk ever so slightly when she saw the astonished look on SD's face. "I didn't mean to show you those," she admitted.

"What did you want to show me?" SD asked with a touch of sarcasm.

They entered her bedroom which had more bookcases and books in it than the school library. But what SD noticed even more than the books were the countless photographs that filled the room, some mounted and framed on the walls, others piled against the walls or lying on her desk, others on the floor.

"These are all your photographs?" He asked with amazement.

"Yes," she replied. "This is what I wanted see to you."

There were many photographs of students at Hillsboro High, some obviously taken stealthily, others willing portrait shots. There were action snaps and scenic shots, photos of teachers teaching and janitors cleaning and kids learning, the photographs noticeably artistic and professional. There were photos of animals and sunsets, moving cars and horses in fields, of crying babies and smiling elders, of clueless teenagers and haggard adults.

"This is good stuff," a humbled SD remarked as he studied the various photos. "What are you doing wasting your time taking an elective photography class at Hillsboro High for?"

"Practice, practice, practice," Strange Sherrie answered with a smile. "Plus, I get to know better you."

SD blushed ever so slightly. "I gotta go," he said. "Can't be late for dinner."

But then his eye caught a photograph in the corner, an obvious selfie portrait of Strange Sherrie, only she was remarkably pretty with her hair down, undyed and brushed. She was wearing a simple dress, standing in a mirror, the shot perfectly shadowed in black and white. It was like looking at a completely different person.

"Wow," SD said, blown away by the image of Sherrie in an entirely new light.

"Art," Strange Sherrie said.

"Why do you hide yourself by wearing those ugly clothes and crazy hairstyles?" he had to ask. "You're obviously an attractive person. A pretty girl."

"I don't like to be seen," Strange Sherrie replied.

"Then why do you dress and act weird to get noticed?" He asked as he continued to study her photographs.

"There's a difference between being noticed and seen being," Strange Sherrie explained. "I was the gifted from a young child age. IQ off the scales but quirky and unusual. Special. I didn't want to be seen that for. So I dress and look differently to be noticed."

SD looked at her as if he was seeing her for the first time. "I gotta go," he said again.

Strange Sherrie led him out of the room and SD was beginning to think that it was everybody else who was strange.