Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Chapter 4

New to Snapshots? Start here

Chapter 4

Alex pressed her back against the side of the log cabin and slowly slid into a crouching position. She could actually hear her heart thumping in her chest. It was good, in a way, she reasoned. Realizing that her stepmother was here to teach a First Aid course meant that in an hour, she would be gone, back home to the twins and tofu sandwhiches. Even more importantly, it meant that her presence had nothing to do with Alex. As important as those pieces of information were, the fact that she was on the other side of the wall about to teach a first aid certification course raised an equal number of questions. What was behind her stepmother’s apparent career change, and, more urgently, how could she possibly complete her required safety course? Waltzing right in there and participating in a class her stepmother was teaching stretched the hiding in plain view concept past its limits. It would never work.

Alex sidled up to a nearby window to get a visual on what was happening inside the lodge. About 20 teenagers were sitting in folding chairs facing a small stage with a podium, a limp human form Alex took for a crash test dummy, and a large screen.

Whap! Alex jumped at the noise from the window, and became even more startled when she realized her view of the room had been replaced by vast stretch of emptiness. Then it hit her—Angela had pulled down the blinds. She must be showing slides or video clips. To Alex, that meant just one thing—darkness. And with darkness came a whole new realm of possibilities.

Alex went around the back of the lodge in search of an alternate entrance. She paused as she approached a screen door which appeared to lead straight into the back of the open area where everyone was gathered for class. She tip-toed forward, hoping to slide, undetected, into the back of the room, preferably behind a floor-to-ceiling support beam, or a freakishly a tall kid. Alex’s foot hit something soft and meshy as she took her final step toward the door, and, looking down, she couldn’t believe her good fortune. She had just stepped on a green ball cap lying abandoned on the stoop as though someone had tossed it out the back door as a much-needed lifeline. She stuffed her hair in the back of the cap and pulled the bill down low on her forehead.

Alex made eye contact with no one as she slid into an empty chair in the middle of the unoccupied back row of folding chairs. She slouched low enough to see only the bottom half of the translucent images of bruises, bites, and bumps projected on the screen. Angela was waving a long wooden stick over an angry-looking lesion in the center of the screen.

“The most important thing is to remove the stinger as quickly as possible,” she said, swirling the stick around a black protrusion at the nucleus of the raised, red bump. “Once the stinger is out, twenty minutes with an ice pack is all the treatment a typical bee sting will require.”

From stings and scratches, Angela guided the program into an overview of various skin irritants, including Poison Ivy and Oak, which Alex knew from any number of movies to be the number one threat of summer camp. She touched on snakes, and then slid quickly into allergies and asthma, relying heavily on stock images and the occasional demonstrational video. Alex was pretty sure Angela hadn’t looked out into the audience once. Clearly, she was new and had allowed nerves to get the best of her. Alex couldn’t believe her good fortune. Angela would be gone in no time and then she would be breathing easier herself.

“OK, so that concludes the lecture portion of our class. In order to get your completion certificates, you must successfully complete the hands on portion of the training.”Angela announced as she flipped the light switch.

Alex felt the color leave her cheeks. Hands on training and certificates were bad news. One would require Angela’s personal scrutiny and the other Alex’s full name. She mentally took back her wish for credentials. In fact, she knew when she was beat. It was time for a speedy exit.

“Green hat, back row, could you start us off?” Angela asked.

Start them off! Alex’s thoughts began to race and she felt the room start to spin. Oh, no, no, no, I can’t pass out at a first aid training class! What am I supposed to start?

“I’m sorry,” Angela laughed. “I guess I wasn’t clear. We’re counting off by 2s. So we can work in pairs. So go ahead.”

“One,” Alex croaked in a feeble voice she didn’t recognize as her own.

“Two!” She was sure it was Jason, but less certain that his response made sense based on where he was seated in the row in front of her, but everyone just seemed to go with it.

Seconds later Jason was sitting in the seat beside her. “You OK?” he whispered.

“No, I’ve got to get out of here,” Alex stammered, trying to stand so she could use the last few seconds of the “pairing up” confusion to make her exit, but her weak knees failed her.

“Woah,” Jason said gently, “Just have a seat. If you’re going to pass out, you picked a great place to do it. You’ve got all the help in the world here.”

Jason misread the panic in Alex’s eyes. “OK, let’s get you down on the ground and get your feet up, and I’ll get the instructor.”

Alex grabbed Jason’s hand. “No!”

“Alex, what’s going on here?”

Angela had begun demonstrating some compression techniques using the dummy on stage. “You and your partner will take turns attempting these movements,” she said. “I will come around and verify that you have done them properly. I’ll be starting in the back this time.”

“Please help me,” Alex mouthed.

“You know this woman, don’t you?” Jason asked.

“I tell you about it later. Another time. I promise. Just trust me.”

“Get down on the ground, dummy.” It took a second for Alex to process Jason’s words, but when she realized that Jason wanted her to play the role of the victim, just like the dummy lying prone on the stage, she didn’t hesitate.

“Throw your arm across your face,” Jason hissed.

Alex flung her arm across her face with enough dramatic flair to assure observers that she was relishing the role.

“Wonderful!” Angela’s voice rang down from above. “Good compressions, team one! And you are?”


“OK, Jaaason,” Anglea stretched out his name as she wrote it down on her clip board. “And?”

“Lexie.” Jason supplied quickly.

“Great. OK, I want you to switch. Lexie, you’ll be giving Jason compressions when I return.”

Alex peeked over her arm and into Jason’s eyes as Angela walked away.

“You’re doing great.” Jason laughed. “Who is this and what did she do to you? Mild mannered life saver by day, blood sucking vampire by night?”

“Please. Not now. I have to figure out how to give you compressions.”

“No worries,” Jason said. “Just follow my lead. And where did you get that hat?” he laughed.

“It was a gift from the heavens,” Alex said, kneeling over Jason as he stretched across the floor.

“You probably won’t be saying that later.”

Alex began mimicking the compression movement that Jason had modeled on her moments earlier. “What?”

“Never mind. Just look straight into my eyes.”

“Good work, Lexie!” Angela said.

Jason held her gaze and tipped his chin almost imperceptibly, cueing Alex to nod in response to Angela, as though she was absorbed in concentration.

And so the next half hour went, through the Heimlich maneuver, a splint simulation, and, ironically, proper procedures for assisting someone who had passed out. Jason found clever ways to conceal Alex’s features or divert Angela’s attention at every check point. Alex was almost tempted to relax, but she knew there was still too much that could go wrong.

Until, finally, there wasn’t. “OK, good job, everyone!” Angela was saying. “Give yourselves a hand! You’ve all earned your Red Cross Safely Certification. I will leave the certificates with your director to fill out and give to you later. You are dismissed.”

Jason ushered Alex outside, through the back door. “I’ve got to go do some IT wizardry in the office for Meg. But—you owe me big time, my friend. At the very least, I want a nice, long story over some campfire s’mores,” he said with a wink as he turned down the same trail Angela’s taillights had blazed moments before.

With Angela gone and unlikely to return, Alex knew her camp adventure began here and now. She imagined this moment would fill her with happiness, but, in reality, she never felt worse in her life.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Chapter 3

New to Snapshots? Start here

Chapter 3

Alex scanned her mental database for any logical reason her stepmother would be at a camp for disadvantaged children and came up empty. She was supposed to be at home, 45 minutes away, selling herbs and natural remedies to mothers of colicky infants and finicky toddlers. She briefly considered the possibility that the twins had somehow been enrolled for a week of lakeside fun, but she was sure the literature had been clear on the fact that Camp Edson’s mission was to “provide a safe and nurturing environment for kids less fortunate.” Besides, even Jason had just been talking about social services training. No, Alex was certain Tim and Tom could not be campers.

Alex went into survival mode. Her first thought was to hide, but with Joanna and Jason pulling bags of freshly purchased supplies from the back of the van and discussing “check in” procedures, even she couldn’t think of a way to disappear without becoming even more conspicuous. She briefly considered some sort of disguise, but realized that was about as dumb as the time in third grade when she happened to get a haircut on the same day as her first pair of glasses and thought that her teacher would mistake her for a new kid. She’d lain awake the night before, giggling to herself about how fun it would be to pose as someone different for an entire day. She’d expected a new desk, an improved position at the lunch table, and the possibility of finding out what her classmates really thought of her when conversation turned to tales of “Alex, who is absent today.” Even now, her cheeks burned a little with embarrassment when she recalled her disappointment when the teacher scolded her for wandering around the bookcases when it was time to take a seat for morning roll call. Sheesh! How was she expected to know where to sit?—after all, she was the new kid!

Then it hit her. She wasn’t going to disappear physically or metaphorically. No, she was going to play this one straight. It was just like an episode from one of the old DVDs that Tim and Tom used to watch when they were younger, from a series featuring a little dog who played various roles in stories based on old literature. There was one in particular that the twins must have played every afternoon for an entire summer, something about a search for an important letter that had been stolen. Purloined, they called it. Yes, that was it! Only the little dog adaptation had been called the Pawlioned Letter, and revolved around the pooch’s difficulty in recovering the missing letter because it was hidden in the best place of all— plain view.

Yes, Alex would plow ahead with the plan. It was a good plan, after all, a plan rooted in the approval of classic literature, even. And it would work. It had to. After all, Angela really couldn’t be here looking for her. Could she?

“Thank you for helping me.” Alex heard a slight tremble in her voice as she stopped to say goodbye to Joanna. The professor gave her a quick hug in reply, which left her speechless.

Jason gave her sleeve a gentle tug. “We’re off to the lodge now, Mom. Thanks a million,” he said, giving his mother a quick squeeze. Alex hadn’t seen this much real-life hugging outside of the daycare center where she’d put in several afternoons of school-mandated community service. Jason grabbed Alex’s shopping bags and led her down the path toward the large L-shaped cabin that served as the hub of activity at Camp Edson.

Alex ducked under Jason’s outstretched arm as he ushered her through the rustic wooden door. Her utter amazement at Jason’s never ending display of good manners was the only thing that kept her mind off the fear gnawing inside her as they inched closer to the check in table just inside the door. Because if Angela was, indeed, here looking for her check in would be the place where she would find out.

Alex took a quick look around the spacious cabin and wiped her palms across her jeans and stepped up to the desk. “Alex McNeely, support staff,” she announced to the slender woman with long auburn hair.

“Great to meet you, Alex! I’m Meg.” Alex had exchanged many emails with Meg Wilson, the young, energetic woman who served as Camp Edson’s director along with her husband, Mark. Alex felt instantly at ease with Meg—largely because of Meg’s warm smile and welcoming tone, but partly, also, because Meg was one of the only people to whom she’d avoided lying. Unless, of course, you counted the digits Alex transposed in the phone numbers she’d supplied for each of her parental units.

To her relief, it appeared that Alex’s parents were probably the furthest thing from Meg’s mind as the camp director handed her a folder stuffed with all kinds of information: schedules for training sessions, a map of the grounds, camp rules and procedures, and a blank rectangular sticker on which she was instructed to write her name. Alex winced as she took the marker Meg offered and scrawled her name as illegibly as she dared. Hiding out in the open was one thing. Wearing a badge announcing that you’re doing it was something completely different.

Alex consulted a green sheet on the left hand side of her folder and discovered that she had about an hour to get settled in her cabin before she was to report to a Red Cross First Aid class. Alex was excited by the prospect of getting some Official Safety Credentials and wondered if she would get a certificate or card identifying her as a certified member of the emergency response community. Being a firefighter or an EMT was actually on the short list of her career aspirations and the upcoming session seemed as good a place as any to learn rescue and resuscitation basics.

Jason carried her shopping bags as far down the trail as he was permitted to go as a male staff member. Alex’s fingers brushed across Jason’s large, suntanned hand as she gathered the handles of the plastic bags. “Thank you,” she said, “for meeting me at the plane, the soda, introducing me to your mom, everything.”

Jason smiled, waving her complement aside with his now-free hand. ‘It was nothing, Alex.”

“But it was,” Alex insisted. “And I feel bad that my drama took up your whole afternoon.”

“Pshh…” Jason laughed. “It was no bother. But if you feel that bad, you’ve got the whole summer to make it up to me,” he smiled with his eyes and gave her a wink as he turned back down the path.

For the first time that day, Alex’s heart skipped a beat for a reason other than fear. “The whole summer,” she repeated to herself as she headed up the three weathered steps that led into the cabin to which she’d been assigned as a Counselor-in-Training.

The cabin was empty, so she tossed her bags on the bare mattress of a bottom bunk and began sorting through her few possessions. Mental images of Jason’s smile alternated with thoughts of when and how she’d encounter her stepmother as she organized her new toiletries in the plastic caddy Joanna had purchased for her. She wondered, suddenly, if either Jason or Joanna would even like her if they knew the real truth. Probably not, she decided, feeling a tug of remorse. She suppressed the feeling, as she headed back up the path to the lodge for the Red Cross training. She couldn’t change the past. She was here, now, regardless of the circumstances that brought her to Camp Edson. She wasn’t going to think any more about what she had done, or why, or whether or not she was a bad person. She would just concentrate on being a good person, here, now. In fact, that’s all she would think about. She wouldn’t even worry about Angela any more. Chances were, she’d been here on some sort of odd errand and was long gone. Or maybe her guilty mind had been playing trick on her, and Angela had never been here at all.

Alex determined that for the next hour, she was going to concentrate fully on first aid. She would even take notes. After all, there were campers coming and she had to be prepared for anything that might happen. That’s what good people did.

Alex saw Jason and a few other guys his age walking toward the main door of the lodge, and she picked up her pace in an effort to catch up. As Jason and the other counselors stepped onto the front porch, the instructor opened the door. “Welcome to first aid training,” she said, glancing at their name tags and greeting them by name.

“Hi, Brandon, grab a packet and have a seat,” she said in the general direction of a lanky blonde guy as she gestured toward pile of papers on folding chair inside the door. The Red Cross lady greeted Jason and someone named Bill and then began to turn in Alex’s direction, but Alex used the split second before their eyes locked to dart around the corner of the building. It seemed that at some point between Christmas and today, her stepmother had joined the Red Cross.