Donna Laemmlen

Her eyes drifted away and flickered for a few bright seconds before fading. “I can’t remember why Seven was so special,” she said, almost in tears.

I wanted to grab her and say, “Quick! Run out into the forest! You have a few minutes of daylight left,” but I knew better. She was too cautious now.

“Maybe you should ask your daughter.”

An awkward silence enveloped us and I almost felt a tinge of regret, but then my own faith in Sevens faltered again. My visions had been sporadic and dim, as of late, and I wondered how much longer I would be able to hang onto them. If I were to lose them now, my family would have been right about me all along. What if Nina wasn’t okay? What if Ben had taken the train trestle over the river instead of the suspension bridge, hoping to save a few minutes of daylight? Such a reckless decision would have dropped them within twenty yards of the horde of Sixes, a good thirty-minute hike from the sanctuary.

Just then, Ben and Nina strolled into camp, the last pockets of sunlight closing up behind them. Nina led the way, dragging a long stick behind her. Lila rushed to give her a hug just as Nina raised the stick into the air. It stood at least three times her height, shooting straight up like a beanstalk, and the very top of it took my breath away. There, at an imperfect right angle, the stick veered horizontally, forming a giant Seven. It was obvious to anyone who would look: a giant Seven was standing in our campsite.

I trembled for a moment, excited by the implications. I glanced at Ben for verification but he stood awestruck. The rest of the family chuckled that their brief ado had been over nothing more than a silly big stick.

“What is that?” my dad asked. “Manzanita?”

I stepped closer for a better look.

“I didn’t see it,” Ben blurted, and then he sat down in a slump.

This wasn’t the best of news, of course, some would even say reason for concern, but my certainty was back on track and, for the moment, I was overjoyed.

“But you see it now, don’t you?” He nodded yes, but refused to look me in the eye.

I knelt in front of Nina. “Where did you find it?”

“By the river,” she said quietly. Then, “Mommy, take a picture!”

Lila reached for her camera. She snapped a photo of all the girls together, arms slung around each other, their faces so clear and so bright. When the older girls rushed back to their game, Nina remained. “Take one of just me,” she said. Her tiny stature was even more impressive as she stood alone with the Seven. It should have been enough to convert even the most defiant of non-believers.

 “You don’t get enough attention, do you, sweetie?” Lila said. She smiled and framed another photo. “How about one without the stick?”

I rubbed the back of Ben’s neck, wanting to ease him into my next question. “Is it from the teepee?”

His hands batted the air. “I can’t believe it. She just walked in there and came out dragging the stick behind her. But she never said…” 

I studied Nina as she posed. Her dress. Her hair. Her skin. She didn’t show any signs of a struggle, only extreme pride. “Did you see anything in the forest at all?” I asked. Ben just shook his head gravely. A rush of real disappointment took hold of us then, and we sat quietly, calculating.  That was as good an opportunity as he was going to get. I took his hands in mine and squeezed them tight. Even after twenty years of marriage, I wasn’t ready to lose him just yet, so I did what I had to.

“Annette and Harold came by while you were gone,” I said. “A colony of Sevens was spotted upriver at Horseshoe Falls.”

Ben rebounded at this news. “A colony?” He swiftly pulled a map from his daypack and studied it. “Tomorrow, we could go this way,” he said, pointing to a trail that followed the river past the teepee and the suspension bridge, past Buckeye Beach and the swimming hole, to just below the falls. He stopped and looked at me, smiling wide-eyed. “That could explain why the hollows were all empty and black. They’re covering their tracks.”

“I think you’re right,” I said. “Sevens are a tricky lot, you know.”


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