The camp area was pretty much deserted. The couple had known it would be. They had been here before. This is actually where they had spent their honeymoon. There were a few differences now though. The small Volkswagen Van that they had made their first trip in was now a rather large Chevy Suburban complete with a small trailer that carried tents, sleeping bags, lanterns, flashlight, canned goods and of course five bicycles.
These were some of the differences but the biggest would be that they now had three children as well. Joss who was the oldest at ten, and Christy and Lilly, the couple's eight-year-old twin girls. They all pitched in to help set the camp. Everyone had a job, and everyone worked til they were finished. It had taken them about two hours to finish their tasks and the kids were now restless to go and explore.
The drive itself had been rather long, taking them nearly ten hours plus an additional hour for the various stops that were required when traveling with young children. Taking a look around, Tracy remembered just why this trip was so worth the drive. It was a beautiful spot, lined with Giant Redwoods, California Ferns, Sycamores and numerous wild flowers and large climbing rocks covered in a lush green moss. There were also a dozen or so natural caves in this part of the Sequoia National Park. The couple had planned on exploring one or two of them with the kids during the trip. That was where the bicycles would come in handy, for the caves were a good three quarters of a mile from where they had made camp.
"Jeff, look honey."
Jeff stopped stacking the firewood, and went over to see what his wife was looking at.
"It's still there," she said, pointing to the trunk of a large Redwood tree.
"Well I'll be damned. I had no idea that we were right here in the same spot."
"Oh yes you did. I know why you came to this same spot. I think you plan on getting me drunk and having your way with me again," she answered, giving him a playful smile. The young couple were looking at the initials they had carved in the tree some eleven years ago. They were both reliving the memory silently in their heads.
"MOM!" They both jumped a little at the unexpected shout. So much for the trip down memory lane.
"I'm standing right here Joss. There's no need to wake anything with in earshot."
"Sorry, I forgot. Can I go over there by the stream and try and catch some frogs?" he asked.
Joss was an adventurer. He loved all things outdoorsy and seemed to be a natural at finding new things to explore and learn. He loved to catch frogs, and insects of all kinds. He was fascinated by nature and this fascination would, on occasion, get him into some trouble. He yet to learn that some things didn't share his enthusiasm of being discovered. He had been bitten, stung, pecked at, and sprayed by skunks. Twice.
"Okay, but stay in voice range and if you don't know what it is-"
"Don't touch it, I know," he finished his mother's sentence.
"And take the girls with you."
The twins didn't exactly share their brother's enthusiasm of all things nature. They did enjoy it, but they would much prefer a nice hotel room with a swimming pool and perhaps a shopping mall within walking distance. They were identical twins and most people couldn't tell them apart without some kind of distinguishing clue like a different color hair tie or bracelets. They enjoyed this ability to keep people guessing and they would often fool friends and teachers alike this way. It did, of course, have its drawbacks. Often on birthdays and Christmas they would get one present given to them both. It wasn't so much the having to share, but they felt at times people didn't see them as individuals. In reality, they were quite different from one another.
The three kid set off to explore the stream that was located directly behind their camp area. They could see their tents and the family car from where they were exploring and were wading in the ankle deep water, eyes pointed downward, looking for frogs for Joss, and any kind of smooth, rounded stones for the family rock collection.
"Oh look, Joss there's some," Lily shouted.
"Where?" Joss came running over in his sister's direction.
"Right there," the little girl answered, jumping up and down on her tiptoes pointing. After she had given the frog's location up to her brother, she pulled her hands up to her chest as if to recoil. She didn't like frogs. Not one bit.
"Wow, dude he's huge," Joss stated.
"EEEWWWWEIIE," the little girl answered, her jumps getting higher, her hands now flapping as if to ward of some invisible vapor that the frogs had sprayed in her direction.
"You're a big sissy. They can't hurt you."
"Ya ha. I saw that show where they were killing people in the Amazon Rain Forrest. They're tricky like that."
"Well this isn't the rainforests and those aren't dart frogs. So chill out. And stop jumping .You'll scare 'em away."
"Good. I want them away. Far, far, away."
The frog that Joss had in mind sensed that he might be the target of capture and jumped right in front of Lilly in order to escape looming danger in the form of ten year old Joss.
"AAAHHH YUCKY YUCKY YUCKY!" Lily screamed.
"Oh stop it. If you're that chicken then go back to camp."
"Hey Lily, check this out. I found some cool rocks," Christy yelled.
"There. That's something more your speed. Go get your little rocks and stop scaring my frogs."
"Whatever Joss," The little girl said, walking toward her sister. "And your welcome!" she called back as an afterthought.
Joss was in capture mode. He took small, slow steps. He bent to a crouch and his arms stuck out to his elbows, his elbows pressed to his side. His hands were set in a claw like manner, ready to ensnare his leaping prey. However, his prey still had no intention of being caught. The frog took a suprisingly effective leap and the young man had to right himself up and take three large steps to keep up with this champion jumper. He once again reset himself to his previous posture and slowly began to approach the frog.
Another leap. Another three large steps for Joss. He wasn't sure how long this game of cat and mouse had gone on for but at last he had him cornered. The frog had set himself between two rather large boulders and now found that getting out from between them was far more difficult then getting in.
"Yeah Buddy. I got you now," Joss taunted the frog. He reached his hands in between the two rocks and pulled the frog out from between them.
"I am champion," Joss bragged to himself in voice that was meant to emulate some of his favorite cartoon super heroes. "No one can escape the Jossmaster."
He held tight to his prize with one hand while the other reached down to unzip his fanny pack and retrieve the jar in which the frog would be imprisioned. He undid the lid and placed the frog inside. He screwed the ventilated lid back on and held the jar up as to get a better view. He turned the jar around in his hand being sure to get a good look at it from all angles. He would release the frog eventually, but in the mean time, it needed to be studied.
"Hey Li-ly?" he said, stretching the name out a bit giving away the fact that he had intended to terrorize his little sister with his latest conquest. "Guess what I got?"
No answer. He turned around to find where his sister was, and then he realized that he didn't recognize his surroundings.
"Lily? Christy?" he called stashing his frog into his fanny pack and closing the zipper.
"Oh man. Hey you guys, you're not supposed to go out of yelling distance. You're gonna get it when I tell Mom and Dad," the boy yelled out.
"This isn't funny. Answer me." Still nothing.
"HEY, LILY! CHRISTY!"
He felt a burst of panic wash over him as the reality of the situation was now becoming clear.
"LILY, CHRISTY!" he yelled again, his voice now held a slightly panicked tone. He was beginning to hyperventilate and he willed himself to calm down. The relief was fleeting and his panic once again took over.
"MOM! DAD!" he shouted again.
"MOOMMMM! DAADDDD!" his voice was now cracking and he was beginning to cry.
"No, no, PLEASE! MOM, DAD!" he was screaming now.
"MOMMY!" he called between sobs.
He now set himself to try and find his way back. He had forgotten, but he would soon remember the number one rule of being lost. Stay where you are. It was all too clear now why that rule was in place. As he began to search for his way back, he had only managed to take himself deeper and deeper into the forest.
Willow Rosenberg was a brilliant officer. She was a strikingly beautiful woman with shoulder length red hair, and stunning emerald eyes, not to mention an amazing figure any supermodel would be envious of. She had been in the Sequoia Police Force for six years. In that amount of time she had called to assist in many search and rescue missions. It was part of the territory when you lived in a place that attracted thousands and thousands of vacationers yearly. She knew she would get this call as soon as she heard the report on the scanner. She got into her 4runner and headed into town to the ranger station where she knew they would be assembling the teams. She was, as I said, a brilliant cop, but she was very difficult to work with. Perfectionists often are.
On any given day, you could be sure that if you handed in a report, it would within minutes be returned to you for correction. So needless to say, there were very few people who would volunteer to be partnered with her on missions.
Willow was aware of the fact that few people found her pleasant, but it didn't bother her. Given a choice she would prefer to be left alone. She was rarely seen in town if she were off duty and those journeys were usually limited to a grocery store trip and the occasional visit to the vet for her four year old basset hound, Millo. It would probably be safe to say that Millo was indeed her only friend. And as usual, he would accompany her on this search and rescue mission.
Millo was not just a pet, but an amazing tracking dog who usually proved invaluable to the missions. He had been given numerous citations and awards over his small three year career and, unlike his owner, most people adored him.
When Willow had arrived at the station, they had already begun the drawing of straws as to who would have to be Willow's team member. It was a custom that when teams were set, they would include one officer and one Sequoia Ranger. They would assemble eight groups of two and the areas would be designated to each team to cover a two mile radius. Willow walked into the station and went directly to the mapping area to find her assigned cover area.
She could hear the other officers and rangers whispering and giggling about who was going to lose the draw, and she smiled to herself thinking that if they knew she could hear them, they would be surprised at just how much she didn't give a shit.
She didn't like them either. She heard one of them saying that they should team the new ranger up with her. Then a female voice asked why that was bad and Willow relized that she didn't know who had just spoken. She had grown accustom to being able to hear the voices and be able to place the faces to each and every ranger, so today when she heard the unfamiliar voice, she spun around slowly on her feet and saw who the voice belonged to.
She was a tall, blond woman and Willow found it hard to look away. She was curious about her which was odd to Willow. Few people drew her curiousity. Especially at a first glance.
She was, however, curious now. She shook her head and brushed it off when she heard the team coordinator tell the woman, whom he called Tara, that for a first mission it would be in her best interest to team with Willow. Willow groaned silently to herself, already marking this partnering as doomed. She couldn't stand to have to work with rookies, and not just rookies, other women. She felt that most women, unlike herself, attempted to delve far to deeply into personal lives and offered far to much insight to their own.
This was, to Willow, work. Not a social engagement, and that should be their main focus.
She was taken out of her internal doom casting when she felt a tap at her shoulder. She turned around and she was offered a hand.
"Hi. I'm Tara Maclay. It looks like you and I are going to be teamed up."
Willow looked at the offered hand, then at the womans face, then the hand again. Then, without acknowledging the gesture, turned her back to the area map and said, "Well this is just my lucky day now isn't it? This is your first mission I take it?"
Okay, Tara thought to herself. "And you are?" she answered back, ignoring the officer's question.
Willow let out an exasperated sigh. "The name's Rosenberg."
"And is there a first name that goes along with that? 'Cause if not I have a few ideas for you."
Willow stayed faced away and smiled. That's pretty good, she thought to herself, maybe this Tara will have a little bit of backbone after all.
Willow was thinking about what her next response would be, and she decided to go with her favorite. She turned around and gave Tara the once over. Not bad. Kind of cute even.
"Officer. You can call me Officer." She gave her a wink, clicked her tongue, turned around, picked up her backpack and headed toward the front door.
Tara just watched as Willow walked out the door. She shook her head, looked at some of the other rangers, most of whom had their heads down .Tara could tell by the way their backs were moving that they were laughing.
"Okay. What the hell?" She asked looking for some sort of help, explanation, possibly that she had some sort of mental disorder. Just anything that could help her to understand what the fuck was up with that women.
One of the rangers, Jerry Logan, broke and the laughter was on. It started a domino effect and soon the entire station was laughing.
"Sorry, Tara, really we're not laughing at you. It's just...pfft...he he he ..sorry, sorry really."
"Fuck you guys," Tara said as she to began to laugh. She bent down and picked up her pack and made her way out to 'Officer's' 4runner .She could see Officer was sitting in the drivers seat and was studying a map. She heard her talking to someone and Tara was really starting to wonder now. As she got closer to the vehicle it became obvious that she was speaking to an animal. Unless she called other officers "good boys". Well, she thought to herself, you never know with this one.
"So what's the plan...Oficer," Tara Inquired, finding it difficult not to laugh.
"Find a ten year old kid. Hopefully alive," Willow answered as she leaned over, unlocked the passenger side door, and pushed it open. She folded up her map and pointed to the back of the vehicle. "You can put your pack back there." She then leaned in a little to the steering wheel and started the ignition
"Whoopee," Tara said to herself under her breath.
The drive to the park's main entrance was about eighteen miles from the ranger station. Tara was busying herself by looking over the section map. She had a pen in her left hand and was idly chewing at the cap. Willow had been stealing periodic looks at Tara whenever she could. She wasn't doing this in a lecherous way, she was just making an attempt to size her up, so to speak. The first thing she noticed was her hands. Good, Willow thought, calluces, no nail polish. She's a worker. She had her hair back and rolled into a bun. Her sunglass sat atop her head, ready for use at any given moment. Willow ran her eyes down and noticed that Tara had something strapped around her leg. She tried to take another look but decided the move far to risky. She had to keep her eyes on the road and more importantly she didn't want Tara to know she was interested in anything about her temporary partner.
"It's a buck knife," Tara said , her eyes never diverting from her map.
"What?" Willow asked, trying to sound confused. The truth of the matter was Willow had been caught.
"On my leg," Tara answered.
She then reached down pulled up her pant leg and pulled the knife out of its leather case and held it up for Willow to see. She did this, and not once did her eyes leave her map. She then then put the knife back in its case, snapped the strap in place and pulled the leg of her jeans back down over the pouch. "Is there anything else you want to know?" Tara asked. This time however she turned around and looked straight at Officer. Not a smile or any kind of discernible facial expression whatsoever visible to Willow.
"No. But I could ticket you for that you know," Willow said gesturing quickly with with a slight tilt of her head toward the conseled knife with just the hint of a smile on her lips.
Tara then put her head back and laughed.
"God, Officer," Tara said sarcastically, "are you for real?"
"I can," Willow answered as she turned her head to judge the left turn she was now making into the gates of the park.
Tara had wished that Officer was not wearing sunglasses because she was not at all sure that Officer wasn't serious.
Willow pulled of to the side of the road, put the vehicle in park and asked Tara, "Can you open that glove box for me?" Tara looked at her funny, but did as asked.
"And hand me that little book right there please?"
Tara once again complied. She opened the book and began writing something. Tara made attempts at seeing what it was but Officer moved out of her view. Willow finished writing and handed the book to Tara. "I'm going to need your signature right there," Officer said to Tara.
Tara looked at the book and said, "Oh come on. You can't be serious?"
"Signature right there," Willow said again, this time pointing to the line in question.
Tara signed the ticket and Officer took her copy out and handed it to Tara and said, "Okay Ms.Maclay, You have a notice to appear on the seventh day of the month of September at 11:30 am in building number 108 court room 18. If you wish to-"
"I can Funkin' read. I don't need your help," Tara said as she took the ticket from Officer.
"Alright then." Willow then closed the book, handed it to Tara and said, "Can you put that back for me please?"
Tara glared at Officer and Willow lowered her sunglasses and once again winked at Tara and said, "Thank you Tara."
She then put her 4runner in gear and headed through the gates to the park.