The Blueridge National Forest in eastern West Virginia is a great place to go camping. At least that’s what the Taylor family thought while driving on an isolated back road. Brad Taylor’s Ford F-150 pickup truck could handle most roads, but he had to engage the four-wheel drive to make it through this one.
The downpour from last night made the road muddy and slippery. Brad turned the wheel left to right to keep the truck centered in the road. He could hear the tires roar like a mighty lion as they spun. His daughter Sara was sliding back and forth in the back seat. Her black shoulder length hair was teeter tottering with each turn of the wheel.
“Hold on Sara, were stuck! It might get a little bumpy!” Brad said.
Sara grabbed the hand grip just above the door, and said, “OK, daddy. Gun it!”
Brad engaged the traction control, and slammed his foot down on the gas pedal. The tires dug deeper into the mucky soil, and with a big bump they were back on track. Brad kept it slow and steady from that point on. He didn’t want to get stuck like that again.
After a few hours, Brad and Sara had finally arrived at the campground. Sara was full of excitement because this was her first time camping with her dad. Her mom Amy, had to stay behind because she was busy with work. At first Sara was sad, but figured she would gain some experience to impress her mother for the next trip.
Brad and Sara unloaded the truck, and made camp. After the tents were set up, Brad decided to start a fire so they could roast some marshmallows. Sara rotated her stick to make sure her marshmallow was toasting evenly. She loved watching the little sparks the fire made.
“Are you going to teach me how to fish, daddy?” she asked.
Brad took a big bite of his marshmallow, and felt the sticky goo stick to his nose. Sara started laughing. He wiggled his nose like Marry Poppins, but the white goo wasn’t going anywhere.
“Of course I will teach you how to fish. We can head out first thing in the morning,” he said.
“Why do we have to go out in the morning?” she asked.
Brad grabbed a napkin, and wiped the marshmallow goo from his nose. “We have to go out in the morning because that’s when the fish bite.” Brad stood up and continued, “Right now we better get some sleep.” Sara agreed, and they went to bed. Brad slept in his blue Ultra Tough Wilderness tent, while Sara slept in her pink Disney Princess tent .
Later that night, Sara woke up to the sounds of whispers in the woods. She sat up, and unzipped her sleeping bag. In the dead of silence, she listened intently. After a few minutes she heard it again. The voices sounded small and innocent.
“The White squirrel was taken! What are we going to do?”
“Shut up! Your questions don’t help anything. We need a plan!”
“I can take this stick and...and...hit her!”
“Great plan, but I don’t think hitting her with a stick will work. We need something...bigger…”
“Oh, oh...I can take this rock and bash her!”
Sara tried to wake Brad, but after several shakes and a slap to the face, he was out like a light. She decided to investigate on her own. Light as a feather she quietly tiptoed towards the voices. She saw a big maple tree in a clearing, and the voices were louder now. They were coming from behind the tree.
Sara hugged the tree and inched her way around to find a fox, and a rabbit talking. Yes talking.
Am I dreaming, she thought.
The rabbit was a small little critter with grey fur, and a cute black nose. The fox had reddish-orange fur that led to a white underbelly. Their colors were clear as day beneath the bright moonlight. Sara thought she should say something.
“Hi there, how are you guys?” she asked.
This startled the fox who screamed, and hid behind the rabbit. “Who are you?” he asked.
The rabbit turned to the fox, and smacked him on the nose. “Don’t be so scared! It’s just a small little girl.”
“I heard you guys talking. What are your names?” Sara asked.
The rabbit wiggled her nose and said, “We don’t have names.”
“How come?” asked Sara.
“No one has ever given us names,” said the rabbit.
The fox puffed out his chest and said, “My name is Jasmine!”
The rabbit hopped up, and smacked him on the nose again and said, “Don’t be silly! That’s a boys name!”
The fox nodded his head and said, “Oh yeah! Well...my name is Ja...Jazz...Jazzy!”
Sara started to laugh. “My name is Sara, and it sounds like you two need some help. Is that true?”
The rabbit looked up at Sara and said, “As a matter of fact we do! The red witch has stolen the white squirrel!”
“What’s so special about a white squirrel?” asked Sara.
The fox began to run around in circles. “She doesn't know! We are doomed I tell ya!”
“Oh, be quiet,” said the rabbit.
“The white squirrel is the last of its kind. He is a magical being who brings life to this forest. The red witch wants to steal his magic to become more powerful. If she kills him, this forest will also die. I fear that if we don’t act quickly, all will be lost!” explained the rabbit.
Sara thought for a moment. “Is it dangerous?”
“Yes, yes! The red witch is crazy!” cried the fox.
“My daddy always says that if you have the power to help someone, then you should do it. So...I will help you save the white squirrel,” she said.
The white rabbit started bouncing up and down. “I think with your help we just might be able to save him!”
The fox cocked his head in confusion. “What is a daddy? Is that like a warlock or something?”
The rabbit bounced up, and smacked the fox again. “Oh...be quiet will you!”
Sara followed the rabbit, and fox through the forest in search of the red witch. They looked for any signs that might give them a clue to where her hideout was. The other woodland creatures were no help. Sara could hear them speak, but all she could make out was gibberish. The rats were the worst. They talked so fast you couldn’t understand one word.
After a couple of hours, Sara spotted a soft glow coming from an old cave just beyond some dead locust trees. There were big boulders spread all across a clearing leading up to a mountains edge.
“This must be it,” whispered Sara.
The rabbit wiggled her nose, and sniffed the air. The fox tried to do the same thing but was never that good at smelling things.
“What is it, rabbit? Do you smell food? I’m hungry!” said the fox.
The rabbit replied, “Be quiet. We don’t want to wake them.”
Sara looked around, and didn’t see anybody. “Wake who? I don’t see anyone.”
The rabbit pointed to the big stone boulders and said, “The stone monsters are sleeping, and we don’t want to wake them up. They can be very grumpy.”
Sara looked a little more closely, and noticed one of the stone boulders wiggle. They had green moss growing on them, and were all different shapes and sizes. The only way to get to the cave was to sneak around the stone monsters.
“We have to be very quiet,” Sara said, pointing to the cave entrance. “Follow me.”
The fox spoke loudly, “Yes, yes, we must be very sneaky!”
“Shhhh!” said the rabbit. “This is serious business, we must save the white squirrel.”
“Oh...ok I’ll be very silent, yes I will,” whispered the fox.
The rabbit and fox followed Sara very carefully through the clearing. They took each step as carefully as they could. They didn’t want to make any sounds. As they neared the cave, Sara could see a silhouette of a person stirring a huge cauldron.
“We’re almost there,” she whispered.
The rabbit replied, “Good, steady does it.”
The fox was trailing behind and something caught his eye. He ran over to have a closer look. He reached down through the tall grass and said:
“Oh look an apple!”
It was too late. The words reverberated among the boulders, and the stone monsters started to wake up. At their full height, they were very intimidating. They looked like big stone snowmen. They noticed Sara and her animal friends, and one of them spoke in a deep throbbing voice.
“Trespassers! We will smash you!”
The rabbit looked at Sara and yelled, “Go! Save the white squirrel, we will keep these monsters busy!”
Sara wasted little time running towards the dead locust trees. She looked behind her and saw the stone monsters smashing the ground to squash her friends. The rabbit jumped on the fox’s back, and they ran all around the clearing. The fox was fast, and the stone monsters were slow and angry.
The rabbit was riding the fox like a horse and cried out, “Giddy up now! Giddy up!”
The fox was running circles around the stone monsters - he was having fun. This was his element. Running away from danger is what a fox does best. He noticed a smaller stone monster chasing him from behind. The monster was right on his tail, and the fox started to zigzag around in the hopes of losing it.
It didn’t work, and the fox quickly saw another opportunity. He saw a big stone monster in front of him, and ran between his legs as fast as he could. The smaller stone monster smashed itself to pieces as it collided into the bigger one.
“Take that you big stone dummies!” yelled the fox.
“Yee-haw!” cried the rabbit.
Now was Sara’s chance, and she ran towards the cave. When she entered - she saw the red witch pouring some ingredients into a big boiling cauldron. She had white pale skin, a big pointy nose, and green eyes. Her black hair was thin and stringy, and her fingernails were long and curvy. Behind her in a cage sat the white squirrel.
“Let him go!” yelled Sara.
The witch screamed in a high pitched tone that pierced through Sara’s ears.
“How dare you enter my home! How did you get past my stone protectors?”
Sara covered her ears, and yelled again, “I said let the white squirrel go!”
The red witch started to cackle. “No!” she pointed down to the cauldron, and said, “Once my brew is ready, I will dump him in. He will be cooked to death, and his power will be mine!”
“I won’t let you do it!” Sara screamed.
Sara reached out, and ran towards the squirrel in the hopes of rescuing him. The red witch held up her hand, and used her magic to slam Sara to the ground. She held her there with an unseen force, and Sara couldn’t get up. With her other hand, the red witch started to stir her brew again.
“Yes...yes it is almost ready!” she said. “Soon I will be all powerful and this pitiful world will be mine! Ha, ha, ha” The cave echoed with her laughter.
Sara knew she had to do something, but she couldn’t get up. She watched as the red witch opened the cage, and grabbed the white squirrel. Out of options Sara reached into her pocket, and pulled out a big gooey marshmallow. It was warm and sticky from being in her pocket for so long. She yelled at the witch:
“HEY, EAT THIS!”
Sara threw the marshmallow, and it splattered across the witch’s mouth and nose. The red witch couldn’t breath. She dropped the white squirrel, and began to scratch and claw at the sticky goo. It would not come off. The marshmallow was like hot super glue that bonded with her skin.
The red witch ran around the cave clawing at her face. She lost all focus, and her grip on Sara faded away. Sara stood up and grabbed the white squirrel. The red witch ran towards her with her bony arms stretched out. Sara ducked out of the way, and kicked her back towards the bubbling cauldron.
The red witch fell in, and melted away.
With the red witch dead, the stone monsters chasing the rabbit and fox, all collapsed, and were no more. Sara walked out of the cave and saw her animal friends celebrating.
“We did it! We did it!” shouted the fox. He was dancing on top of one of the big boulders.
The rabbit quickly ran over to Sara, and saw the white squirrel. “I am so happy that you are alright.”
Sara placed the white squirrel on the ground, and he ran over to give the rabbit a big hug. “I’m so glad you were able to find help,” he said.
He turned to Sara and said, “Thanks to you, the forest is now safe. We can all live in peace now that the red witch is gone.”
Sara smiled, and said, “I’m glad I could help.”
“What was that magical white stuff you threw at the witch?” he asked.
Sara giggled to herself, and said, “It was a melted marshmallow. I forgot that I put some in my pocket. I had no idea that it would work to kill a witch!”
“You possess strong magic, my dear. On behalf of all the woodland creatures here in this forest, I thank you,” said the white squirrel.
Sara smiled again, and said, “I’ll never look at a marshmallow the same way ever again...yuck!”
She hugged her friends goodbye, and quickly ran back to the campground. Brad was still sleeping, and she snuck back into her tent. An hour later, she heard her dad call out to her:
“Sara wake up, it’s time to go fishing!”
Sara rubbed her eyes and wobbled out of her tent.
“Hey there sleepy head! What’s the matter, you didn’t sleep well last night?”
Sara stretched her arms high above her head, and said, “You have no idea, daddy.”
He tossed her a red fishing pole and said, “Come on, breakfast is waiting. After we’re done maybe we can roast some marshmallows.”
Sara opened her eyes wide, and said, “No way! I don’t ever want to see another marshmallow for the rest of my life!”
“Ok, ok...I get it. We can roast some wieners instead,” he said.
Brad walked down to the river with Sara close behind. They could hear the thundering rush of the Shenandoah river. They picked their spot near the river’s edge, and cast their lines in. In the peaceful silence Sara heard a soft whisper in the wind.
“Thank you Sara.”
Brad looked at her and asked, “What did you say sweetheart?”
“Nothing daddy. I didn’t say anything,” she replied.
Brad turned his attention back to the river, and Sara looked behind her. In a tree a few feet away, sat the rabbit, the fox, and the white squirrel.
Daniel R. Hayes