He walked into the kitchen, eyes glued on the phone screen. “Bugger, we’ve got a planned power cut from 6 this evening just when I wanted to watch the match on TV.”
Automatically Carol said, “Don’t swear in front of the children.”
Her son, Robert, chipped in. “Mum, don’t be an old fuddy-duddy that’s not swearing by today’s standards.”
His father looked up at the unexpected support from his son. He saw a tall lad, slim like his Mum, sitting at the breakfast bar, tucking into his food. Alan wondered where it all went. The boy never seemed to stop eating, yet was as skinny as the proverbial beanpole. Meanwhile, his twin sister Rebecca picked her way daintily through her tiny meal. Just looking at these children made Alan’s heart expand with love. “Well, kids, if we don’t have any electricity this evening, what shall we do?”
Carol said, “I can cook a stew or something, then we can have dinner by candlelight.”
Rob answered. “Mum, that’s only great when it’s between two people. I don’t think it will work for us and its Saturday night. Why not do something different?”
Bec said, “Like what? Have you any suggestions?”
Alan, nodding, said, “Why don’t we have a BBQ?”
Rob joined in enthusiastically. “Dad, instead of the Webber, why don’t we make a fire pit and cook over an open fire? We could make that scout bread stuff. Then we could also have toasted marshmallows!”
With a frown, Bec said, “You mean like when we go camping?”
Her brother answered, “Yes, like when we are camping. Actually, Dad, why don’t we go camping?”
Alan put his hands up. “Whoa, whoa, slow down a bit here.” He looked at his wife, then continued. “Love, they have a point. Why don’t we make it a positive experience? Is there stuff for a BBQ?”
Rob was so enthusiastic he said, “Well, instead of going away camping, why don’t we camp in the backyard?”
Carol smiled at her family. She loved the spontaneity and said, “I’m happy to provide the stuff for a BBQ, but you guys will have to do the rest.”
“Dad, please say we can get the tent out and have an away experience in the backyard?”
Alan knew the lockdown had been hard as both children were popular at school and had hoards of friends. Before this virus disrupted their lives, there had always been youngsters staying over on weekends, or the children would be out visiting friends. Now the house was silent. It must be tough on them as there was still no date when the children could go back to school or even see their friends other than online.
“Right Rob, you come and help me sort out the tent stuff. Bec, please can you sort out the bedding? I think the foam mattresses are in the garage, but if you get the sleeping bags and all that stuff sorted.”
Carol said, “You can all sleepover in the tent, but I prefer to sleep in my bed. I’ll come back when you retire to the tent.”
A barely suppressed air of excitement thrummed through the house as each person carried bundles from the house or garage into the backyard. Alan dug the fire pit, then he and Rob went for a short drive to pick up suitable rocks to line the pit and give it a decent edge. Alan thought if they were going to do this, they might as well make it as permanent as possible since it could be used in the future, should they ever be allowed to socialise again.
Carol set bowls and plates of food, ready to go outside when needed. She was grateful to find hidden away at the back of the cupboard a bag of marshmallows. She knew her son had a sweet tooth and toasted marshmallows were one thing she had used as a bribe when he was small to guarantee good behaviour.
The sun went down. The family gathered around the fire. The electricity went off, but it went unnoticed in the Russel household. They were enjoying the amenities of a camping trip with a couple of wind up lanterns providing lighting and a few citronella candles to provide light and keep any flying insects under control. Once the fire was right, the menfolk took on the chef’s role. Meat sizzled on the grill sending out delicious aromas. On an outside area, well away from the meats, a few vegetarian delicacies were cooking to tempt the minuscule appetite of Bec.
Once the family consumed the mountain of food and everyone sat back, replete Rob glanced about. He was ready to settle down to toasting the marshmallows but demanded a story from each parent. They talked of different experiences growing up, but according to Rob, these were tame. He demanded more scary stories from them since it was fully dark. There were no streetlights to spoil the illusion that they were camping in the middle of nowhere. Because of lockdown, there were no vehicular sounds either.
At last, they were ready for bed. Alan and the children settled in the tent while Carol made her way back to the house. She had no intention of sleeping on a thin foam mattress when her bed was so close.
Rob heard a movement outside the tent. He lay still, listening. Yes, there was a creature out there. He felt the hair lifting on the nape of his neck and his arms. His heart was racing. What could it be? A wolf or something? No, there were no wolves here. He told himself not to be silly, but he could still hear something. It seemed to nose around near the fire. He could feel sweat beading his brow. The thought popped into his head, he was being paranoid. He decided to investigate.
Slowly, he reached out and pulled on his hoodie. He stopped to listen. It was still there. His breathing was rapid, but he forced a couple of deep breaths to get himself under control. He squirmed into his tracksuit pants. He had to be careful not to wake his sister or Dad or disturb their visitor. He crept to the front of the tent, slipped his boots on and with heart beating a tattoo, he stood still listening.
Dad and sister slept soundly, no signs he had aroused them. He listened. The creature outside was still there. What could it be? It seemed to be fearless to be so close to the tent and people. He thought, therefore, it must be big. He dragged the tent flap zip inch by inch, making as little noise as possible.
At last, the flap opened, he peered out but could see no enormous shadow slathering, then he saw the visitor busily eating up the scraps which they had left. Relief flooded through him. There was no need for this dreadful attack of fear. A little hedgehog was working its way through all the scattered plates. He could have cried with relief. Instead, he stood and watched the little creature scuttle about, checking all the plates and the grill for any scraps. Now he had a huge smile and glad no one had seen his fear.
At last, the visitor looked around and, seeing no more delicacies, silently moved into the shadows heading for the fence. Rob knew he could sleep no more and made his way back to the house. Once inside, he closed all the doors before checking to see if the electricity was back. It was. Soon the kitchen was flooding with light and he could make a cup of coffee. Not long after, the door opened. He jerked around only to see his mother standing in the doorway with her head cocked to one side, her eyes narrowed. “Rob, what are you doing up at this hour?”
He knew he could tell her what had happened. They sat with their mugs filled while he told her about his reaction and the discovery of their visitor. As the sky lightened, the others came up to the house. When Alan heard about their visitor, he said, “We should encourage it to visit, we could feed it every night, maybe we could even build it a little house. They are so useful to have in the garden. They eat up all the slugs.”
Carol laughed. “What are you waiting for, invite their entire tribe? I’m sick of the damage to my plants caused by those slimy beasts.”
Alan said, “Well, guys, I really enjoyed our night out. I think we’d better clear the mess before asking your mother for a full English breakfast.”
Rob exchanged a glance with his mother, then happily went out to clear the mess they had made the night before.