Madelaine & Mocha (6): The Wishing Stone by Vivian Munnoch
Skulking, her ears back and her tail tucked fearfully between her legs, Mocha follows Caroline and Zoe at a distance. She stays low in the bushes, keeping them in sight as they walk back to their campsite; the bad thing somewhere in the trees on the other side of the path.
Zoe and Caroline walk quietly past the dark campsites of other campers, arriving at their own. The mess of the day’s activities greets them. With the focus on looking for the dog, they didn’t take the time to clean up.
Caroline looks at the coolers of food still sitting out. The fire pit with folding chairs set up around it sits cold, garbage tossed on top of the remnants of last night’s fire.
An unwashed pan still sits on the little portable cooking stove. The picnic table is cluttered with their paper supper plates, a large water jug, and remains of the day’s activities. Swimsuits and towels hang from a makeshift clothes line.
A lantern sitting on the picnic table creates a ball of light that partially lights the table, fading quickly, and does not quite reach the outer edges of the campsite.
Mocha huddles down in the bushes just outside of their campsite. Madelaine and her father are already there and her tail thumps the ground at the sight of Madelaine.
“Any luck?” Clive asks. Madelaine looks up anxiously, hoping for good news. She is crestfallen that they did not return with Mocha. She turns away, staring off into the darkness in despair.
“No, nothing,” Caroline says, her voice full of worry. She is worried both for the dog and for Madelaine. She knows her daughter will not take the loss of her dog well
“Let’s get a good night sleep,” Clive says. “Mocha might just come back during the night. If not…” The pause hangs heavily in the air between them.
He exchanges a look with his wife. A look the girls are not meant to see.
Madelaine is intent only on the darkness surrounding the campsite. But Zoe sees and understands. Zoe understands more than anyone realizes. They assume because she’s younger she doesn’t understand a lot of things.
Zoe knows that look means they don’t think they will find the dog. “If not,” Zoe finishes the sentence for them in her head, “Mocha is bear meat.” She is filled with guilt over her silence again. “I should have said something when I thought I heard a noise. What if it was Mocha?”
She moves to Madelaine’s side, putting an arm around her to comfort her sister. With an annoyed motion, Madelaine shrugs her off and moves away, turning her back to her.
Zoe looks unhappily at her, wishing only to make her pain and fear go away.
Clive finishes his sentence, “… we will look again in the morning.” His voice sounds tired. Not tired just from the long day they’ve had, but also from the long day he knows they will have tomorrow dealing with an inconsolable Madelaine if they do not find the dog alive and well.
“Go on in girls and get ready for bed,” Caroline says. She turns to the table, her shoulders heavy with exhaustion, and starts gathering up the dirty paper plates and plastic glasses and cutlery. Her hands fumble with them and she almost drops the first items she picks up.
“Leave those.” Clive comes and takes them away from her. “It’s late. We will clean it up in the morning.”
Caroline looks at the mess anxiously, wanting only to crawl into her sleeping bag with the warmth of Clive at her back and slip into blissful sleep.
She looks at him, the lines in her face showing how haggard she is and her eyes full of stress. “But, the bears…”
“They can come back tomorrow.” He smiles, tossing the paper plates in the fire pit. “At least put the coolers in the car.” “Okay.”
Zoe is still standing there watching them and Madelaine is unhappily staring off into the darkness.
“Come on girls,” Clive says, “let’s all get a good sleep. We’ll look again tomorrow.”
Mocha watches as one by one her family crawls into their tent. Zoe and Caroline are the first to go in. A lantern turns on inside the tent, making it glow from within, shadows splashing and dancing on the tent walls from the shapes moving around inside.
Although they got there first, Madelaine and her father are the last to go in. Madelaine is making a last attempt to convince her father they should keep searching for the dog.
“Please Dad,” Madelaine sobs. “She’s my only real friend. I can’t just leave Mocha lost in the forest to get eaten by a bear or coyote or something.”
“It’s too dark,” Clive says, shaking his head. “Go to bed. We’ll look again in the morning. She will probably be back on her own before morning.”
Madelaine’s shoulders slump in defeat and, with one last look at the dark forest, she crawls into the tent, her father following.
From her hiding spot in the bushes, Mocha watches the shadows of the family dance on the tent walls from the lantern inside, their shadows grotesquely warped caricatures of their real shapes. The family prepares for bed and climbs into their sleeping bags and the lantern turns off.
With a little whimper Mocha tries to make herself comfortable, digging a little bed into the ground beneath the bushes. She turns around three times the way dogs do, like it’s some kind of magic ritual to ward off evil spirits or bad dreams. Or, maybe they are just trying to find the most comfortable spot.
Mocha looks back up at the tent and trembles, wanting to go running to the tent, barking to announce her return and snuggling into the warmth of Madelaine’s sleeping bag.
Mocha sniffs the air. The danger smell is still there. She can’t tell where the bad thing is, and still does not know what it is. She only knows that it is very close. She is shivering with fear. Mocha stays hiding, watching the tent until sleep takes her off to dreamland.