Emily Sutton felt like she was re-living every ache and pain of her entire 12 year-old life in one day.
She hated it when her mother and father got it into their heads that they had to take these outings to help with ‘family bonding.’ Big deal. Didn’t they all sit together and watch TV every night? Wasn’t that enough? This time it was bushwalking.
Emily seemed to be growing in “leaps and bounds,” as Grandma would say. Her legs were a foot longer than they were yesterday, she thought. It’s like someone suddenly used too much fertilizer. What was embarrassing was that she was now a good head taller than all the boys her age and most of the girls. They made “basketball player” and “spider monkey” jokes. And she felt clumsy with all these long limbs and tall body, often tripping over herself like a new-born colt.
Emily plunked down on the edge of the walking track. Her mother and father stopped and stood with hands on knees, huffing and puffing like big bad wolves and sweating like little pigs.
“Come on, Em,” puffed her Dad as he stood upright and arched his back, lifting the rucksack to let some cooling air reach the dampness underneath. “We’ll take a break for lunch at the top of the Saddle.”
“I’m not going another step,” Emily protested. “My feet are killing me. I’m going to soak them in that stream.”
“I told you that you should have worn better shoes,” her Mother said with that typical motherly tone. They really must go to Mother School to learn to say stuff like that.
“But they don’t match this. What if I meet someone I know?” Emily began to unlace the pink, spotted high-top tennis shoes, then stood and staggered towards the gurgling stream, laces dragging. “I’ll catch you up in a minute.”
Her Dad was looking at his map. “This must be Specter Creek,” he peered closer to read a legend on the map, raising his dark glasses, “‘Named by gold miners in 1852 because they said it was haunted by a ghost that tried to entice them into the water.’ ... Ooooh, spooky! ... ‘Though rich deposits were found throughout the vicinity, miners refused to prospect this promising alluvial source because of the Specter.’ Well, there you go, Em. Find a big gold nugget and you can buy us dinner!”
“Pay off the mortgage, more like it. Or maybe buy a tank of gas!” Always acting the Mother, always the sensible one. “We’ll wait for you just up ahead. Call out if you want us.”
Emily waved back without turning as she settled down on a flat rock beside the stream, gingerly pulling off the impractical runners and peeling off her socks. She closely inspected her feet for blisters. Her parents walked across the wooden footbridge a few meters further upstream.
“That does look inviting. How about a skinny dip?” teased Emily’s Dad.
“Not so skinny any more, but plenty of dip!” her mother shot back. “Now get moving. Give Emmy some space.”
Emily spun on her bottom and hung her feet out over the cooling water of the stream. She could see the gravel and pebbles a foot down through the crystal clear water. She closed her eyes and slowly lowered her feet together into the gently flowing stream, savoring every moment as they entered into the water.
I am here.
Emily turned her head and looked towards the path and then the bridge. “Cut it out, Dad. That’s not funny. Mom, make him stop!” Her feet reached the riverbed and she began to burrow her toes into the flat, smooth pebbles on the bottom.
I am here.
“Dad! You’re really pissing me off now! I’m not listening … LA-LA-LA-LA-LA!” she pretended to sing, hands over her ears and eyes closed.
I AM HERE!
She slowly took her hands away and opened her eyes. A suspicious look came across her face. “How did you do that?” Emily called out to no one in particular. She looked down into the water and noticed a bright golden gleam next to her foot and forgot about the mystery. Her eyes opened wide and her mouth wider as images of riches filled her head. She reached down with two hands and shoveled out the golden glint and everything around it. Emily brought the haul up to her eyes and the surrounding gravel and pebbles slipped away as she let the golden treasure reveal itself through the muck.
It was the size and shape of one of those tiny hens’ eggs she always got when she visited her cousins’ farm. Like a walnut, but a little more pointy at one end. It turned out it wasn’t gold after all, but some kind of glass or crystal that must have caught the light. It fit right into the palm of her left hand as she wrapped her fingers around it.
Suddenly, the stone began to glow and grow warm. Blinding light shot out between Emily’s fingers in all directions. She imagined she was holding a white-hot ember that was burning right through her palm. Emily immediately dropped the stone and stood up in the stream.
Wait! Please, talk to me, Emily …
She leaped from the water. Now this was creeping her out, totally! She tried to scream, but burped instead. That out of the way, she let out a tremendous yell, “Mommy Daddy Mommy MOMMYEEEEE!”
Grabbing her shoes and socks, Emily ran off as fast as she could go in the direction her parents took. She hesitated at the footbridge, but only for a second, prancing across like a Fijian Firewalker in hopes the bridge wasn’t haunted, too.
Emily met her parents coming down the track as fast as she was going up and they nearly passed each other. Her Dad, in the lead, skidded to a halt. She grabbed her mother in a hug first and then her dad.
“What’s this all about? You look like you’ve seen a ghost!” sniggered her Dad at his own joke.
“Stop it! You put that idea in her head. I’ll bet that stuff isn’t even on the map,” chided her Mother, getting a second, even tighter hug for that.
Emily’s father looked wounded, “I’m sorry, Pumpkin. No, it’s really there ... on the map. I didn’t mean to frighten you. So, did you find any gold?”
“That’s enough!” the Mother Lioness growled at the Daddy Lion.
Emily looked down at her hand, expecting to see it charred and twisted. Instead, there wasn’t a mark on it. “No, I ... uh ... just didn’t know where you were. Sorry.”
“That’s OK. Let’s have lunch. There’s a nice place just up ahead … where your father was trying to get frisky!” Mothers have a way of breaking tension better than Dads.
“Ewww! I didn’t need to know that!” With an arm around Emily from a parent on either side, the trio strolled up the track, all worry forgotten.
It was that kind of grey time between day and night as Emily and her family drove around the corner and into the driveway. Twilight, they call it. Her dad always liked to time the automatic garage door control so the door was just open wide enough as he drove in. As usual, he got it just right tonight.
“End of the line,” boomed Dad. “All out at this station.” As they got out of the car, Emily and her mother groaned not just from exhaustion, but from this tired old routine.
“Em,” said her mother. “Why don’t you go up and have a nice hot bath in our bathroom. You must be really sore.” This was a particular treat, to be allowed to bathe in the Inner Sanctum.
“What about me,” whined her Dad. “I’m sore, too.”
Emily’s dog Foxy came bounding in through the doggie flap door in a blur as soon as they came into the house, doing the barking doggie bounce up to waist height with glee to see the rest of the pack again. While Foxy is Emily’s dog, she treated Dad as the Alpha Male and always greeted him first.
“Careful for the goodies, mate,” winced Dad, turning his back. Foxy then greeted Mom, as she actually does all the feeding and walking. Emily just got a cursory sniff.
Emily closed and locked the door to her parents’ spacious en-suite bathroom, determined to enjoy the rare treat of relaxing in the big, deep spa tub.
She ran the hot water and added some of the herbal bath oil that is supposed to be good for sore muscles. It kind of smelled like Christmas trees.
She shucked her sweaty hiking clothes and climbed into the big spa tub while it was still half full, luxuriating in the deepening water and the aroma of the bath oil. Emily stuck her feet up under the bath tap and let the warm water play between her toes.
Emily! You must listen to me ...
As if 50,000 volts had suddenly been applied to the water, Emily shot out of the tub like she was bouncing off of a trampoline.
Emily stood in the middle of the bathroom, shivering with cold and fear, globs of foam clinging to her.
She grabbed a fluffy, too-big bathrobe and put it on. She then grabbed a long wooden brush for scrubbing your back and pushed down the bath tap, shutting off the flow, and then knocked the little knob that let out the water.
Forgetting she had locked the door, Emily ran into it trying to escape, frantically jiggling the handle until she remembered. She fell out into her parents’ bedroom to find her mother sitting on the bed, taking off her hiking shoes.
“Honey, are you OK?” she asked. “You weren’t in there very long at all. What’s the matter?”
Emily was anything but convincing, “Nothing. I’m fine. Nothing at all.”
Her dad bounded in like a big puppy. “Hey, bath free already? Double dibs!”
“You shower downstairs. I’m in the bath,” ordered her mother casually.
“You know, it’s big enough for...” her father tried to get out, but Emily’s mother was prepared, “Downstairs!”
During this exchange Emily beat a hasty retreat into her bedroom and shut the door.
The next morning, Emily stood in her pajamas in the open doorway to her bathroom, looking anxiously at the toilet and squeezing her legs together.
Overnight, she had begun to suspect that the Ghost of Specter Creek had followed her home and was living in the plumbing.
She vaguely remembered one of her friends telling her about a movie where the evil spirits get you through the plumbing or something. But Emily was busting, and she hoped that the evil spirits at least had the decency not to haunt her while she did her business.
She came down for breakfast, already in her school uniform.
“Sweetie, could you please fill the kettle for me?” asked her mother through the laundry doorway, throwing a load in the washing machine. She is already in her smart business work clothes.
Emily’s eyes grew wide, “The kettle? With water?”
“No, with rat poison, what do you think?” chided her mom as she came into the kitchen. “You been taking blonde pills or something?”
“Well, you’re kind of blonde yourself, dear, but that comes out of a bottle,” risked her father as he came in, tightening his tie. “I’ll get it, pumpkin. I’m good with rat poison.”
Her father put the kettle under the tap and began to fill it. He noticed Emily watching intently, as if something was going to happen. “Really, Em. Nothing to it. You’re not going hydrophobic or anything on us, are you? That’s a new one. Better than anorexic, but you won’t last nearly as long without water.”
“That’s ENOUGH!” came the motherly decree. “You just don’t know when to stop. That’s not something to make jokes about in front of E-m-i-l-y.”
“Mom, I know how to spell my own name! Duh. And stop talking about me like I’m not even here.”
Both parents offered a sheepish “Sorry” at the same time.
“School bus is leaving in 10 minutes,” chirped her dad, defusing the situation with another one of his tired old routines. You could actually set your clock by his regular attempts at humor.