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Burned Out

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Burned Out

 

Chapter 12: The Reachings of Gone Jake

 

“Guano see some gutsy climbing? Scaling the world's tallest pile of seagull droppings, next on Sick, Sad World.”

 

Daria rolled her eyes as she watched a pair of people climbing an enormous mound of bird droppings. She let herself fall backward on Jennifer's bed, narrowly missing the blonde's math book spread open with half filled sheets of homework. “I don't know what's more disgusting, the mountain of seagull droppings, the fact that they found people willing to climb it, or that pun.”

 

Jennifer erased a mistake brought on by the movement Daria caused. “Definitely the pun. Seagulls are gonna poop, and it's easy to find people who will do anything for money, but there's just no excuse for puns.”

 

Attempting a shrug, Daria replied, “Can't really fault your logic. Biological necessity and human greed are a natural part of life. Humor on the other hand...” She strained her eyes upward to see movement she took to be Jennifer nodding. Deciding that the time was right, she dropped her bomb. “I'm not going to be able to go to the Harpies' show this weekend.”

 

Jennifer actually looked up from her work and quirked an eyebrow up. “Just as well, since we're not playing this weekend. Monique wants to spend her birthday with Trent, so the rest of us are expecting them to break up for the twentieth time this month, and spend the rest of the weekend moping and raging, alternately. What's your reason for not attending, if I may be so bold as to ask?”

 

Daria ground her teeth as she bit out, “My parents are taking Quinn and I camping. We're taking advantage of the three day weekend and leaving Friday before dawn.”

 

Jennifer hid her huge grin behind her curtain of hair, hoping that Daria wouldn't mistake the mirth in her voice as being directed at her. “Oh, man. Princess Buttercup in the big, bad woods? I'd pay good money to see that.”

 

“A shame then, that you can't come to witness her be grossed out at having to share an ice-cold stream with a bunch of fish in order to bathe,” Daria lamented.

 

With a nod, Jennifer said, “Ah. a family-only outing, huh?”

 

Daria attempted to shrug again, only partially succeeding this time. “They didn't say as much, but I doubt you'd want to go and be subjected to Quinn's surely near-constant whining, nor my parent's simultaneous attempt to rekindle the fire in their marriage and recapture their youth as hippies.”

 

Jennifer leaned over her so they were looking at their faces upside down, her hair incidentally hiding them from the rest of the world. “If I got to witness Her Highness' discomfort first hand, maybe make some cutting remarks and observations of my own, I wouldn't mind at all.”

 

Daria quirked an eyebrow at her. “Are you sure? You don't exactly strike me as the outdoors type. The 'rents are making a big deal out of being out of contact with civilization. It's quite disgusting to witness.”

 

With a grin, Jennifer answered, “It may surprise you to know that I've actually been camping before with Mom, Sam, and Sylvie. It wasn't exactly something I'd go out of my way to do, but if it will bring some comfort to my best and only friend, I can manage. Besides, it'll give me an opportunity to do something other than laze around the house for a few days while waiting for Monique's impending latest breakup to pass and heal so she can get back with Trent.”

 

“They really are bad for each other, aren't they?” Daria asked with a shake of her head.

 

Suddenly realizing how close they were and how their positions could be misconstrued, Jennifer pulled back with a light blush. “Y- yeah, we've all got bets on how long it's going to take for them to realize it. Sylvie's the only one bucking the odds and betting on them never cluing in and getting married.”

 

At that moment, there was a knock on the door to her room as it opened, and her mother, Kimberly walked in. “You staying for dinner, Daria? We're having fried chicken.”

 

Daria's mouth began watering at the thought of not having to eat frozen lasagne for the the third night in a row. “If it's okay, Mrs. Peterson. I wouldn't want to impose on your hospitality.”

 

“No imposition at all, Daria,” the woman replied.

 

“Mom, would it be alright if I went camping with Daria's family this weekend?” Jennifer asked before she could leave.

 

Kimberly smiled at the thought of her daughter showing an interest in outdoor activity, especially such extended activity as this. “It's awfully short notice, but of course, Sweetie. Just make sure all your homework's done. Are Daria's parents okay with this?”

 

“I'll ask them when I call to let them know I'm staying for dinner, Mrs. Peterson,” Daria said.

 

Kimberly backed out into the hallway. “Alright, then. Dinner will be ready in fifteen minutes, so wash up, you two,” she said as she closed the door again.

 

Rising to her feet, Daria remarked, “You know, maybe this weekend won't be a total loss.”

 

“Yeah. Who knows? Maybe Quinn will get eaten by a bear or adopted by a pack of wild chipmunks, and she'll have to choose between the parents who raised her, and the parents who best understand her,” Jennifer mused as she too rose and stretched.

 

“Don't get my hopes up,” Daria replied with a smirk.

 

(\ /)

( . .)

*(“)(“)

 

Of course, Helen and Jake were all to happy to include their reclusive daughter's only friend. In the interest of fairness, they had gone so far as to tell Quinn she could bring along a friend as well, but her response was less than encouraging. “Drag Sandi along to the woods where she can see first hand how geeky my family is? Gawd, Mom, why not just take my social life out into the backyard and shoot it? It would be faster.”

 

The trip out to the woods was just as mind-numbingly boring as Daria had warned. To pass the time, she and Jennifer slept most of the way, waking only when Jake was finally badgered into stopping for breakfast, despite him “making great time”. So, they were fresh when Jake asked the park ranger at the gate of the preserve just where the most remote, least traveled paths were located. They were even alert enough to look at the map on display under a sheet of clear plastic, just in case. Unfortunately for them, the bins holding the free maps for the park visitors were empty, and judging by the spider webs covering them, hadn't seen any such material in a very long time.

 

“Are you sure about that, sir? Some of the trails haven't seen any maintenance for a few seasons,” the ranger had asked.

 

Jake laid a hand on the man's shoulder and smiled. “No worries, my man! Me and the wife used to hike all the time!”

 

And so, with some vague directions and worried expressions (save one), the five of them set off into the woods. The quiet of the forest was a nice change of pace from the city, but naturally, Quinn didn't seem to agree. Five minutes into the hike, she started in with the complaints. “It is soo hot! I think the sun's too bright for the SPF of the sunscreen I brought. Ugh! The ground is too uneven; it's making my ankles hurt. Is this mosquito bite going to give me mercenaria? Is that a dead skunk? Eeewww!” She was finally silenced by Helen explaining to her that roughing it means going without some creature comforts. She consoled herself by humming a Boyz2Guyz song to cover up the thunderous silence of the gentle breeze blowing among the branches, chirping birds, and buzzing insects.

 

Of course, Jake seemed to take offense at her choice of music, and to counter her, began singing show tunes at the top of his lungs, and scaring off all the wildlife. "Give my regards to Broadway / Remember me to Harold's Square / Tell all the gang at 42nd Street / That I will soon be there!” He took in a deep breath and let it go with a satisfied sigh. “Is this great, or what? For the next 72 hours, we're going to live off what nature send our way!” He pointed to a small brook excitedly. “See that stream? That's our drinking water!” He pointed again, this time to a bush bearing mysterious red berries. “See those berries? That's our breakfast!”

 

Daria pointed to the ground at a tree and said, “See that skeleton? That's our future.” Jake, Helen and Quinn looked, to see nothing there. “Made you look.”

 

Jennifer blew out a breath in a disappointed noise. “Pfft. Optimist. As if the scavengers would leave our skeletons intact instead of scattered across the forest.”

 

“Oh, don't be so morbid, girls! You're in the middle of nature! Enjoy yourselves,” Helen said.

 

“Y- yeah! Come on girls! We got a long way to go before we set up camp!” Jake's nervousness was hidden as he marched off, singing, “Oh, it's a long way / to Tipperary / It's a long way / to go...”

 

Quinn's shoulders sagged as she chased after her parents, leaving Daria and Jennifer to share a small smile, before they followed, singing along with Jake.

 

(\ /)

( . .)

*(“)(“)

 

The group walked into a small clearing, where Jake stopped, calling a halt to their march. He dropped his backpack against a tree and took another deep breath of fresh air. “Total isolation!” he declared to the world.

 

Helen Did likewise, a genuine smile on her face. “No phone, no fax, no e-mail, no voicemail! No way to contact the outside world! What a luxury.” Daria and Jennifer weren't sure, but they thought they detected a hint of regret, maybe even slight panic in her voice.

 

“Tonight, we'll tell spooky stories around the campfire. Tomorrow, we hike till we drop!” Jake announced, a grin wider than any of them had ever seen on his face.

 

Helen leaned against him, resting a hand on his chest, and looked up at him adoringly. “Just like we used to.”

 

Caught up in the nostalgia, Jake replied, “Remember?”

 

Helen smiled and looked off into the distance. “We were so relaxed in those days.”

 

Jennifer leaned closer to Daria and whispered, “Do you suppose they're remembering their glory days?”

 

Daria arched an eyebrow at her. “Remember, their glory days consisted of incense, peppermints, and meaningless nouns.”

 

“Turn on, tune in, turn your eyes around, baby!” Jennifer said, holding up her fingers in a peace sign.

 

Quinn rolled her eyes and walked further out into the clearing, muttering under her breath, “Gawd, you two are almost as bad as them.”

 

“Far out,” Jennifer said to her retreating back.

 

Helen suddenly came out of her reverie and started rummaging through her backpack, only stopping when she pulled out a roll of toilet paper, which she smirked at.

 

Pulled from his own remembrances, Jake asked, “Girls, doesn't all this beauty take you right out of yourselves?”

 

Jennifer hugged herself and looked around. “I dunno. I kinda feel exposed being outside of myself.”

 

Daria nodded in agreement, even going so far as to act cold. “Yeah, I think I'm getting a chill. If you don't mind, I'm gonna crawl back into myself for a while; maybe build a fire.”

 

Helen shook her head and looked over to her youngest and asked, “What about you, Quinn?”

 

It appeared that something they had said finally caught up to her. In shock, she whirled around to face her parents and shouted, “No phone?”

 

(\ /)

( . .)

*(“)(“)

 

Jennifer carefully examined the corner pocket that was supposed to be the home for two of the tent poles, but was dismayed to find that there was only a slot for one. She double checked, noting that this was indeed the front peak corner and shook her head. She looked over to where Jake was struggling with his own tent, and mentally debated calling him over. He was ranting something about a lean-to and sticks, while Helen gave her an apologetic glance. Finally, she decided that maybe giving him a break from his own more complicated tent, she called out, “Mr Morgendorffer? Can you give me a hand with this?”

 

Immediately, Jake's expression softened, and even got a little excited. “Sure thing, Kiddo!” He left the tent to collapse in on itself again for the third time, and walked over to kneel down next to her. “What's wrong?”

 

Jennifer pointed to the pocket, then the poles. “I see where these go, but every time I try to put them in, they just pop out.”

 

Jake looked at the poles and smiled. “Well, that's because you need to put the connector piece on the ends before slipping them in.” He dug around in the small nylon bag that held all the small tent parts and pulled out a triangular, black plastic piece. He fitted the ends of the poles into it, then slid it into the pocket. With the other ends already in their pockets on the bottom, the tension held up the tent wall, or at least, it would once it was staked down. He leaned back on his heels and nodded. “There you go! Want some help getting it the rest of the way?”

 

“Thanks, Mr. Morgendorffer, but I want to try to get as much as I can on my own,” Jennifer replied with a shake of her head. “I just couldn't figure out that part. Didn't know there was more to it.”

 

Standing up, Jake was about to tousle her hair, but thought better of it. “No problem, Kiddo! You need some more help, just let me know.” He walked back to his own project, happily humming to himself.

 

To Helen's surprise, he started putting the tent together, this time, not even getting angry when he made a mistake. If anything, he got even happier. He was bordering on aggressively happy by the time he finished, just ahead of Jennifer. He gestured toward the tent with a grin a mile wide. “Now that is a tent!”

 

Jennifer stood, gazing at her own handiwork and nodded. “Right. I suppose I better get started on Quinn's, now.”

 

They had brought a small one-man tent for Quinn, since Daria agreed to share the larger one with Jennifer. Jake went over to her. “Here, let me help. Since we know you got it with yours, and all.”

 

Helen stood back with a smile on her face as she watched the two of them quickly get the tent up. When Daria and Quinn came back, each with an armload of firewood, the woman turned away to hide the tears of happiness that had welled up.

 

(\ /)

( . .)

*(“)(“)

 

Night had closed in, and five figured huddled around a campfire, not so much for warmth, as for atmosphere, and to hear the largest figure tell his story.

 

“Then, lying there in the darkness, the boy heard a tiny splashing sound. Psh! Psh! Like waves on a faraway shore. Except... the nearest ocean was a hundred miles away.” Jake was feeling good getting this story out. It didn't show on his face, as it was overtaken at the moment by undisguised rage and disgust. “The boy reached out for his sleeping father... but he was gone. Shaking with fear, the boy stumbled out of the rickety lean-to, and that's when he saw it: his father, sitting alone at the campfire. Alone... with a whole case of beer! Psh! Psh!” At this, he mimed opening a can of beer and drinking from it. “The selfish old bastard was wasted again!”

 

Jennifer and Daria shared a look of bemusement, while Quinn looked into her compact mirror, and Helen just shook her head.

 

(\ /)

( . .)

*(“)(“)

 

Helen leaned dangerously close to the campfire for someone wearing that much hairspray, but it illuminated her face quite well as she told her story. "'You're a vampire?' she whispered to the pale stranger with the brooding eyes. She felt her bosom blush and heave with excitement. 'You've come to take my blood!' 'Your... blood? he laughed. 'Oh, there's time enough to take your blood. Tonight I'm going to take your...'” She paused as she finally noticed Jake flailing his hands wildly, while Quinn looked disgusted, Daria bored, and Jennifer leaning forward with a wide grin on her face.

 

She faltered as she tried to come up with a way to salvage the situation without seeming too much like a parent. "'...take your pulse! To make sure that, you know, the blood will be there when I come back.'"

 

Quinn hid her face in her hands in shame, while Jennifer fell back off the log with a cry of, “Lame!”

 

(\ /)

( . .)

*(“)(“)

 

“So Cinderella said, 'I can't go to the ball in these rags.' And her fairy godmother waved her wand and behold, she was wearing a gown of silver and gold. Big clunky silver and gold sequins, like you wouldn't wear to one of those seventies nostalgia proms, much less a formal party at a palace. And when she went to check out herself in the mirror- the one that usually made her look thin, instead she looked bloated!”

 

Helen laid her hand on the log where Quinn sat and asked in an exasperated voice, “Quinn, honey, is this really a scary story?”

 

Shocked, Quinn replied, “Wait! I haven't gotten to the shoes yet!”

 

Jennifer rolled her eyes and tried to stifle a yawn that Daria made no such attempt to obfuscate.

 

(\ /)

( . .)

*(“)(“)

 

Daria's dispassionate, monotone voice somehow lent a surreal quality to the graphic horror she imparted to her audience. “So the witch tore Hansel's arm off, popped it in her mouth, said, 'Hey, pretty good,' and within minutes had devoured the rest of his body, leaving only the lower intestine for fear of bacteria.” The firelight glinted off of her glasses, obscuring her eyes, making the situation even more macabre. “Gretel, she decided, she wanted to hold on to for a while, so she crammed her into the freezer the best she could.”

 

Helen, Jake, and Quinn looked at her in disgust and horror, while Jennifer held her chin in one hand and nodded appreciatively. “Not a bad take on an old classic. Seven out of ten.”

 

(\ /)

( . .)

*(“)(“)

 

Jennifer stood, struggling with an invisible attacker for control of a weapon. “Of course, being an inhuman serial killer from beyond the grave, Allison was no match for the Monster's strength, and was easily overpowered. The Monster snatched the ax away from her feeble grip, and with an almost casual backhanded swing, lopped off her head, sending it flying into the punch bowl, where blood and spiked punch splashed over the bodies of her slashed up friends.” She looked over her audience, happy to note that the reactions to her story were almost as extreme as the ones Daria had received. “The Monster surveyed the carnage he had wrought, and if he still had lips instead of the rotted flesh covering his mouth, he would have smiled. Fourteen promiscuous, drunken teenagers, all killed in various, bloody ways. But his work wasn't done yet. There was still the girl hidden in the closet-”

 

“Well, I think we should all hit the hay! Gotta get up bright and early tomorrow, you know!” Jake's interruption startled the rest of the group out of their horrified stupor, causing Helen and Quinn rise and pretend to be tired, even though they were certain that sleep would not be coming for them any time soon.

 

Daria yawned as she rose. “I suppose you're right, Dad. Gotta get up pretty early if we're going to not catch any fish tomorrow.”

 

Confused, Jake replied, “I think you got that confused, Honey-”

 

Daria stopped and turned back to him. “Did I?” When no answer was forthcoming, she turned back to the tent and crawled inside.

 

Jennifer made to follow her, but turned back to the others. “Pleasant screams...” she said with a grin before zipping up their tent.

 

(\ /)

( . .)

*(“)(“)

 

Jennifer was lying on her back, staring at the roof of the tent, listening to the sounds of the night bugs safely on the other side of quarter a millimeter of nylon canvas. Though there was no light on, and the campfire had been safely put out, there was enough starlight to make out vague shapes. She licked her lips a few times in between chewing on them. She looked over to Daria, who had turned away from her, and shook her head, ready to try to actually get some sleep.

 

“If there's something you want to ask, now's as good a time as any.”

 

It took Jennifer a moment to figure out that it was Daria who whispered to her, and not her imagination. “Umm...”

 

Daria turned over in her sleeping bag while putting on her glasses to face her friend and propped herself up on one elbow. She regarded Jennifer's surprised look with some amusement. “Don't be so surprised. Anyone who spends any amount of time around you and pays attention, could see that there has been something on your mind, lately. So, we're both here, we're alone, no foreseeable disturbances for a few hours- at least as long as we keep the noise down, and neither of us have anywhere else to be. So, let's have it.”

 

Jennifer chewed on her lip again, then sighed in defeat. “Sorry. It's just... I've been trying to approach you with this question for weeks, but kept getting interrupted.” She rolled on her side and propped herself on her elbow in a mirror image of Daria. “I... See, it's like...”

 

“Yes?” Daria prompted quietly.

 

“You've heard the Harpies' songs. We only really have the one good one.” Jennifer looked down at her sleeping bag and picked at a loose thread. “Well, that's not true. Heart Like Winter is pretty good, but really, the best we have going for us is Deadly Is The Night. Monique, while she's a good band leader, and a fantastic guitarist, well... her lyrics...”

 

Daria nodded. “I know. I'm still trying to figure out what she meant by, 'Everything and more has your skin crawling.'”

 

Jennifer grimaced. “Yeah. Not exactly a shining example of lyrical genius. So, I was kinda hoping...”

 

“That I'd perhaps become the band's lyricist?” the auburn-haired girl ventured.

 

“Well, we'd have to do a trial run or two, run them by the rest, since we have a formal contract now for this sort of thing, but... yes?”

 

Daria considered for a moment before nodding. “I suppose I could eke out a song or two. Who knows? It might turn out to be a viable long-term outlet for my poetry.”

 

Jennifer settled into her sleeping bag again, this time with a smile. “Thanks Daria. I really think this combination of talents could propel all six of us into something great.”

 

Daria settled down on her back as well. “If nothing else, it sounds like fun. Goodnight, Jenn.”

 

G'night, Daria.” As Jennifer drifted off, her final conscious thought was, Is it just me, or did Daria sound a little disappointed?

 

(\ /)

( . .)

*(“)(“)

 

Daria was awakened early next morning by her mother sticking her head in the tent and saying, “Daria, get up. I need you. Your father's in a sickening mood. And wake Jennifer, I'm going to get Quinn up before I strangle the next chipper person I see.”

 

Jennifer rolled over and rubbed at her eyes. “It better not be as early at is feels, or there will be blood.”

 

Any reply was forestalled when Jake called out, “Are they decent, Helen?”

 

Helen backed out, saying, “Yes, Jake.”

 

Jake poked his head in, brandishing a branch with red berries dangling from it. “Up and at 'em, ladies! Time to join the forest morning, already in progress. Breakfast is on Mother Nature. Yum! Meet you around the fire in five minutes!” He ducked out before any violence could be visited upon him from either girl.

 

“I hope you won't be too upset if I kill your father and bury his body under a tree, Daria,” Jennifer said as she sat up, her hair having a spectacular case of bedhead that would have amused her friend had she not been suffering a similar fate.

 

“Only if you make me dig the hole alone,” she replied.

 

(\ /)

( . .)

*(“)(“)

 

As they trekked through the forest, Daria again thanked her foresight in bringing along some junk food to sustain herself. The chips might have gotten a little crushed, but it was better than the alternative. Berries of questionable edibility just could not compete with Barbeque Ruffles. Her only real worry was keeping her father from smelling them on her breath. Note to self: in future, stick to plain or salt and vinegar.

 

As if prompted by her thoughts, Jake asked, “Was that breakfast great, Kiddo?”

 

Daria looked off to the side guiltily, trying to pass it off as being interested in finding the bird she could hear chirping in the trees. “Umm, actually, uh, I'm not all that into wild berries, Dad. No telling what was on those. I sort of didn't eat mine. I'm waiting for lunch.”

 

Jake's face fell, but he perked up again, right away. “Oh, well, you're gonna love my roasted acorns a la Jake!” He smiled as he looked around at all the greenery and gestured to their surroundings. “Can you believe the whole continent used to look like this?”

 

Jennifer, who was walking just behind them, replied, “Hard to imagine, what with the encroaching concrete jungle, huh?”

 

Daria turned just enough to catch her eye. “It really makes me yearn for the past. I may get cholera in sympathy.”

 

They rounded a blind curve in the trail, happening upon a fork. The left side looked clear, but the right was overgrown, with a felled tree blocking most of the path. Yellow caution tape was wrapped around a pair of trees, forming a gate of sorts, along with a sign that read, “Danger! Trail Washed Out!”

 

Jake gestured toward the divide. “Look at that, girls: a fork in the trail. If you go one way, you can't go the other.”

 

With a sigh, Daria asked, “This is going to depress me, isn't it?” She felt lifted, though, when Jennifer silently pinched her sleeve and let it go after a quick yank, offering her a small smile.

 

“This way over here leads to an entry-level job,” Jake said, pointing towards the clear path on the left. “A little bit of money in your pocket. Soon, you're wearing a suit and tie every day like all the other faceless saps, living in a boring little house in a bland little town, and doing so well you're in debt up to your disappearing hair! That's where that trail leads, Daria.” Anger and disgust spotted his face.

 

Daria nodded toward the other path. “I guess that other trail is the one that leads to personal satisfaction and spiritual fulfillment. That's why they don't want you to take it.”

 

Jake's expression changed to joy in the blink of an eye. Dammit, Daria, you're brilliant!”

 

As her father started climbing over the sign, Daria reached out for him saying, “Wait, it was a joke?” Seeing that she would actually have to take action, she added, “I don't think that's such a great idea, Dad.”

 

Jennifer held out a hand, but hesitated from actually touching him. “She's right, Mr. Morgendorffer. That path looks pretty treacherous. It would be pretty easy to get hurt before you even realize you're in danger.”

 

Jake turned back to his daughter, a fire flashing in his eyes. “It's not cautious, is it, Daria? It's not the sort of thing a responsible family man would do.”

 

“Are you okay? You look kinda pale,” Daria asked.

 

Starting to get scared that Jake was going to hurt himself, Jennifer said, “Mr. Morgendorffer, I think I saw a snake moving around down there just now. Maybe we should just take the cleared path.”

 

Jake regarded her as well. “Maybe you think we should go back to camp, huh? You girls go back to camp! I'm going to see what... who is down this trail.” He looked up to the sky and shook his fist. “You hear that, old man? I don't care what happens to me, Daria! I'm past feeling pain!" His bold statement was put to the test when he walked right into a low branch, bumping his head hard enough for all three to hear the impact. “Ow! Dammit!”

 

At that moment, all of them could hear Quinn's voice calling to them from further back down the path toward the camp. “Daaariaaaa!”

 

Daria took hold of Jake's arm, leading him away from the dangerous trail and back toward the camp. “Come on, Dad. Quinn needs us.”

 

Jennifer followed behind them, glancing back at the trail, and was surprised to see movement among the grass, where a small, black snake slithered out to cross the trail, only to disappear in the grass on the other side.

 

Still blinded by pain, Jake let his daughter lead him away, while she shook a fist at the sky and shouted, “I'm not done with you, yet, old man!”

 

It only took a couple of minutes to come upon a scene that had all of them worried. Quinn was kneeling next to an apparently unconscious Helen. Jake ran over and kneeled next to her and took her hand, lightly patting it.

 

“Quinn? What happened to Mom?” Daria asked.

 

Quinn was clearly just seconds from a complete panic attack. “She was talking about buds and doors and stuff and then she told me to lead the tribe and she fell asleep.”

 

“That doesn't sound good,” Jennifer mumbled to herself.

 

Still patting her hand, Jake called out to his wife. “Helen?”

 

Helen came around and opened her eyes, revealing her alarmingly dilated pupils. “Wha...? Oh! Jake, honey, you had us a little worried.”

 

“You had us worried, Mom,” Quinn replied.

 

Daria, too far away to notice her mother's eyes, said, “That's funny. I don't remember being worried about anyone.

 

Now holding her hand with both of his own, Jake asked her, “Quinn said you were talking about some kind of tribe?”

 

Helen smiled. “No, honey, the tide! I was saying we ought to set sail while the tide's still high.”

 

“Um, what?” Jennifer said.

 

“Dad?” Quinn asked.

 

Jake chuckled as he helped Helen up to her feet. “Don't worry, Sweetie. Your Mom sounds a little nutty but she's making perfect sense.”

 

“She is?” Quinn was clearly still confused.

 

“Sure! If we try to sail at low tide and ran aground, we'd be sitting ducks for Captain Cutlass' men.” Jake laughed as if stating something obvious. “I don't know about you, but I don't want to be skinned alive and thrown to the sharks, right girls? Come on, let's go gather some provisions!” He and Helen ran off into the woods, laughing gaily.

 

Quinn turned to the other two teens. “This is really scary, Daria.”

 

Checking her watch, Daria said, “Okay. Let's look at this calmly, and objectively, agreed?”

 

Quinn nodded and Jennifer said, “No sense running off half-cocked... yet.”

 

Daria started pacing before them as she listed off the details. “We're stuck in the middle of nowhere, we have no means of contacting the outside world, no vehicle other than our own two feet, nobody knows where we are, and the adults have clearly gone over the edge.” She looked up at her sister and said, “Quinn? This is really scary.”

 

“I have an emergency signal whistle, but it's range is pretty limited, especially with all this foliage in the way,” Jennifer offered. “I was going to bring a flare gun, just in case, but my mom said she would sooner send me out with an actual gun, given how dry the season has been.”

 

“Probably for the best,” Daria agreed. “Even if you shot the flare, there's no guarantee that anyone would be watching for it.”

 

“But why did they go insane?” Quinn wondered.

 

Daria shrugged. “Knowing Dad and his Buxton Ridge Academy-honed woodland skills, I would say it was the berries, except-”

 

“Quinn ate the berries, too, and she seems normal. Well, normal being a relative term,” Jennifer finished.

 

“Exactly,” Daria agreed.

 

“Maybe it was because those weren't the glitter berries,” Quinn ventured.

 

“Glitter berries?” Daria and Jennifer asked in perfect harmony.

 

Quinn's eyes were now fully dilated. “You know, the glitter berries! The ones that fill your mouth with beautiful, sparkling glitter when you bite into them. Those are the ones that make you act weird. I mean, until you spread your shimmering wings and fly away.” She spread her arms out and flapped them around as if they were wings, and pranced around the two stunned girls.

 

“Uh-oh,” Daria said.

 

“Spaghetti-ohs,” Jennifer added.

 

Quinn stopped prancing long enough to ask, “Daria, you don't have a mirror, do you? I want to check my makeup.”

 

“You're not wearing any make up,” she replied.

 

Horror dawned on her face at this revelation. “I'm not? Oh, no!” Quinn dropped down to her knees, and started splashing mud on her face.

 

Daria reached out to her sister. “Quinn, maybe you should take it easy for a while.”

 

At that moment, Jake ran by, wearing only his boxers and boots, wielding a sharpened stick. “Come back, spirit animal!”

 

Jennifer immediately averted her eyes and said, “Is there a brain store around here? Mine has clearly seen too much.”

 

Helen ran up, stopping when she saw the girls, and asked, “Girls, have you seen your father's spirit animal? He was just telling it about his childhood when it jumped up and scampered off.”

 

Scampered?” Daria asked.

 

Nope, and I certainly did not see your husband running around in his underoos,” Jennifer added.

 

Quinn stood and laid a hand on her mother's arm. “What did it look like, Mom?”

 

Oh, you know, yellow, stripes on the back, powerful hind legs, three horns, a beard...” Helen's eyes took on a dreamy aspect as she thought again of those hind legs.

 

Quinn pulled Helen away, in her father's direction. “Come on, I saw where it went!”

 

Suddenly alone with Daria, Jennifer asked, “This isn't looking good, is it?”

 

Daria sighed. “I'll admit, the situation is less than ideal. Not even a camera to use for blackmail later.” She took a deep breath, and let it out again. “Okay. Remain calm. Family's gone mad. Must get them back to civilization, but no way to contact civilization because Mother made big deal about cutting off all communications. What to do?”

 

The question was answered by the distinct, yet muffled sound of a cellphone ringing in Helen's backpack. They walked over to the pack, where Daria pulled out Helen's ever present cellphone. “Rely on Mother's hypocrisy to see us through this crisis,” she said as she pressed the receive button.

 

Immediately, without even so much as a “Hi,” her boss' voice came over the line. “Helen, do you have a few minutes to go over these depositions?”

 

There was a great crashing from the bushes as Jake ran out into the clearing, his boxers in danger of falling apart after going through such rough terrain. He pointed as he ran, shouting, “There it is! Behind that pack of zebras!” He continued his pursuit of the invisible creature, Helen and Quinn hot on his heels.

 

Daria returned her attention to the phone. “She'll have to call you back. The zebras are harboring a fugitive spirit animal.” She pressed the end call button, then immediately followed it with a call to Emergency Services. “Hello, 911?”

 

(\ /)

( . .)

*(“)(“)

 

Jennifer was just finishing up the story as she, Samantha, their mother, and Daria reached the car in the hospital parking lot. “So, they're getting their stomachs pumped, but the doctor wants to keep them overnight for observation, in case they have an adverse reaction to the psychotropic berries.”

 

“Well, Quinn is allergic to pistachios,” Daria added.

 

“Better safe, than sorry,” Kimberly said. “Still, what a shame to end such a nice trip this way. At least we get to keep you for the night, Daria, instead of you having to spend the night in an uncomfortable hospital chair,” she added with a smile.

 

Daria nodded. “Thanks again, Mrs. Peterson. You saved my back.”

 

Kimberly turned to her and said, “Mi casa es su casa, Daria.”

 

“Good thing you guys found that disposable camera in Helen's backpack so you could take some pictures of the berries for the doctors,” Samantha said. “Who knows what they'd have to give them to counteract the effects without it.”

 

Daria and Jennifer shared a grin. “Yeah... for the berries,” Daria said as she took out the pictures to look at the one of Quinn jumping as she tried to catch her father's spirit animal, face smeared with mud, hair full of twigs and leaves, and clothing in complete disarray. “I think this is a trip none of us will be forgetting for as long as we live.”

 

“Not with the photographic evidence, we're not” Jennifer added.