Chapter 9

Once outside, Samantha mounted her grandpa’s old cruiser bike, a black bike with big fat tires, and rode down and out the gravel driveway. She pedaled down the country road a couple of miles, carefully riding on the shoulder, giddy that she had Grandpa’s secret notebook hidden inside her shirt. The thought that Grandpa didn’t have it, that she would soon know his secrets, spurred her to pedal faster and faster. The wind whipped through her hair and she let out a laugh, thinking about how Grandpa left the notebook out.

Seeing a small trail jut off into the forest, she pulled her bike far enough into the trees to hide its view from passing cars. She walked down the trail, glancing up at the large fir trees spread out on both sides of the trail. She pulled out a rope from her pack and wrapped it around a thick tree. She couldn’t wrap her arms around the tree to hold the rope in place. She hadn’t considered this problem in her idea to measure the diameters of trees.

She decided to walk ahead and find a deeper patch of trees, perhaps a stick she could wedge into a knot that would hold the rope in place. And deeper in the woods, secure from Grandpa who might drive by, she would finally take a look inside the notebook. As she ventured deeper into the woods, she was careful not to veer down any side trail this time. She figured as long as she stayed on the main trail, and didn’t go too far, she wouldn’t get lost. But she felt silly having this rope and no way to wrap it around a tree, so she kept walking, going deeper and deeper into the woods looking for a long stick to hold it up as she measured the diameter.

Realizing she was alone in the woods, she decided to hum a little tune. Singing always made her feel like someone was there with her, that she wasn’t alone. Looking at the tall trees surrounding her, she began to hum a melody a bit, and then add a lyric, What do you see, when you look down me, and I up at you. But as much as she tried to sing, the words and melody didn’t come to her. This is odd, she thought. She tried to start the tune again, but found herself tongue-tied. Maybe I need to be a tree, she thought, and gazed all the way up the tree — and that’s when she saw him and screamed.

An observer had been following Samantha from the time she entered the forest. Not just one, but several. They immediately recognized the girl as the one who had been lost, as the one who had taken the book. The observer in the tree had been still as a branch, and with his green skin would have blended nicely had she not decided to look straight up at the moment. He scaled down the trunk like a cat shooting down a pole, and three more observers suddenly appeared out of nowhere — one from behind a trunk in the distance, another from behind a bush, and another straight out of the leaves on the ground.

Within a few seconds they tied her up with her own rope and stole her fanny pack. Samantha shrieked and shouted for her Grandpa, but she was too deep into the woods for anyone to hear. The observers led her off the trail straight across the forest floor down a path only they seemed to know. She demanded to know where they were taking her, but the observers took little notice, as they knew no one was around to hear her. While they walked her, like a prisoner being transported, they rifled through the contents of her fanny pack and looked for goods. As they neared their destination, more and more observers joined them, following on the sides and in the rear, until more than 20 observers joined in the prisoner caravan. The observers were nimble and light — some bounced through the tree branches, while others still manuevered slowly at a distance, keeping their focus on her every move.

They marched Samantha through an impossible series of trails leading through the forest — walking for hours — until they arrived at an opening where all the underbrush had been cleared away, but where the trees still formed a thick canopy overhead. This was the clan’s meetingplace.

The leader, Ji, slender and bearded and with a bent nose, motioned for an observer to untie the rope binding her hands behind her back. Ji stepped close to the girl to examine her.

“You are the girl, are you not, who was lost in these woods several weeks ago and stole the sacred book?” Ji said.

“What are you talking about?” Samantha said.

“Well I think you have something that belongs to us. Did you remove a special book, a book from Harr’s cabin?”

Gradually it started to come into focus — the reasons. She remembered the cabin, of course she remembered the book. “Yes,” she confessed. “I found a book in a distant cabin.”

She could hear a stirring of excitement among the clan members. Sighs of relief. A few observers chatted with each other in an excited tone. The interpreters laughed in deep ways about how simple the resolution had been.

“But my mother found the book and ripped it to shreds, and then threw it away,” Samantha said.

Everyone fell silent, staring at her in disbelief. “Really,” she said. “I found the book and out of curiosity took it home, tried to understand it. That’s all. My mother thought I’d been doodling in it instead of doing homework, and she blew up. She ripped it up — and I don’t have it!”

As a gesture to emphasize she didn’t have the book, Samantha held out her arms wide and showed her empty hands. But this proved to be a mistake, because as she held out her hands, her Grandpa’s notebook that she’d kept tucked inside her shirt slid out and thunked on the ground.

Ji stepped forward and picked up the book. “Well what’s this. It looks like a book after all.” He assumed it was the missing book, because it was roughly the same size. But as he opened the pages, his countenance changed and became much more serious. He turned the pages one by one, reading carefully and slowly. Several of the interpreters looked over his shoulder — stunned in silence by what they saw.

Samantha, who still hadn’t cracked open the notebook to discover Grandpa’s secrets, which she assumed were a goofy theory about the stars and the forest, tried to read their faces to interpret what they were seeing.

“That’s my —” Samantha started to say, until Ji put his hand on her mouth.

“I think we’ve seen enough, yes, we have seen all we need, girl,” he said. “You have been very busy, haven’t you?”

“I have no idea what’s in that book,” Samantha protested. But Ji disregarded her pleading. They tied her against the trunk of a tree while the interpreters and other leaders gathered to study the book in more detail.

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