Margaret never should have come to Deer Lake. She couldn’t swim so why bother. Even if she learned, she probably couldn’t see where she was swimming without wearing her weird thick pink glasses, the lenses filled with her owlish deranged eyes. “Pitiful” is how my mother described my attitude; she’s the leader of our scout troop who had the final say of who goes where. “Margaret is going on the camping trip,” she told me, “whether you like it or not.”
“Margaret wears weird thick pink glasses,” I said back. “No one likes her, much less wants to share a tent with her.”
She looked at me like she wanted to give me a good shake. “I don’t know how a daughter of mine grew so hateful, but what I do know is you will be assigned to Margaret’s tent in order to learn compassion.”
The thought of those glasses at dawn’s first light horrified me, but no matter how much I moaned and complained, my mother stood true to her word.
The tent proved a saving grace, the platform type raised off the ground with canvas sides and a wood floor with room enough to scoot my cot away from the other five, Margaret’s cot specifically. The four other girls in the tent went to school across town, two sisters and two best friends, none who knew Margaret like I did. At the morning camp skills training, I whispered these girls everything about Margaret, including how her boyfriend James wore no underwear and how you could see his thing pop out of a hole in the crotch of the same jeans he wore to third grade every day. We watched my mother tie a rope tight around our food supply bag and hoist it high up a metal pole to keep the raccoons from helping themselves when Margaret yelled I’M AFRAID OF RACCOONS so loud, every buzzard in the pine tree close by lurched into startled flight.
The single shriek was all it took to turn the four to my side. We worked it out with the girls camping next to us to help scare the raccoons out of Margaret by beating hell mercy on the outside of our tent at lights out. Me and Margaret, the best friends and the sisters, were well into haint stories when the pounding began. The tent shuddered with each hit and beneath the wood floor, wild scratching and sniffing and chitter-chatter ensued. Out of the loop, Margaret was out of her mind scared.
We hugged her and said, “Don’t cry, Margaret, it must be raccoons, big angry rambunctious raccoons, maybe a family, maybe a neighborhood of families, they want something, they want something from you.”
One of the sisters said, “Margaret, did you bring food into the tent?”
She shook her head hard enough to wobble the cot. “Oh no, I know how to hang my food high. I showed Miss Laura today and even when she said I could take it down because we really store our food in the scout house kitchen. I kept it up the pole, because raccoons are sneaky and know how to open doors.”
I pulled a candy wrapper from my pocket. “So then, what’s this, Margaret? I found it under your cot.”
Her body shook no from head to toe. “My mom doesn’t let me eat candy. It makes me so nervous, I can’t see straight.”
I shined my flashlight in her face, her glasses candles. “We watched you eat it, Margaret,” I lied. “We all saw you.”
A bash bang behind her cot caught her square between the shoulder blades and felled her flat on the floor crying, “Help me, please, please keep the raccoons from getting me.”
We crawled on the floor raccoon foolish. “We will help you, Margaret, we will help you” and we chittered and chattered and said, “We’ve turned into raccoons, thanks Margaret, thanks, you put a curse on us by eating food in the tent and now we’re a bunch of cruddy raccoons.”
She tucked her head inside her chest like child’s pose in yoga, the resting position we practiced at last week’s scout meeting, our hands stretched out front, nothing like Margaret rocking on the tent floor, her hands clapped over her ears, not a bit relaxed though the banging had stopped and the chatter let up. Margaret, she’s good and scared and I hoped hard she’d never come to Deer Lake again, she can’t see to swim, why bother.
Something crawled on my arm; it didn’t squash flat like a mosquito. It was hard and round. It was a tick, a tick buried in my fuzzy arm hair, but it wasn’t fuzz, it was fur. My arms have gone shaggy brown-grey furry and my hands and feet all paws with black claws.
Margaret with her weird thick pink glasses ran outside and climbed the pole where her food hung high.
We gathered snarling beneath her with pointy snouts and beady masked eyes glowing when Margaret, terrified, wet her pants and scattered us off into the woods, hungry for eggs.