Sarina was in big trouble, but she couldn't resist giggling at her handiwork. Her pranks did not amuse the camp administrator.
"I am sure this is hilarious to you miss Tindall, but you are the only one laughing. Now, go back to your cabin and report to your troop. You will remain there for the duration of the expedition until we liftoff tomorrow morning. No more shenanigans or it will be the last night you spend with these scouts." He opened his logbook and began typing. Sarina gathered her pack and walked back down the dirt path towards the camp quarters. When she returned to her bunk and set her things down, her troop leader was not there.
"Where is Elise?" Sarina asked. Her friend Lori rolled over and looked at her.
"She's cleaning up for the night at the showers," Lori said. "She should be back anytime. What did the boss want?"
"Yeah, did you get in trouble? Spill the beans Rina!" the other scouts woke up and pressed her for details.
"Are you kicked out of scouts?"
Did he yell at you?"
"The usual," said Sarina. "I'm a disgrace, no one is laughing, and so on. Oh, and if I get in trouble again, I'm kicked out of scouts or whatever. It doesn't matter."
"Whoa!" her cabin mates exclaimed with equal parts concern and awe.
"Yeah. Anyway, does anyone have an extra battery pack? I'm gonna pull one last trip tonight. There's no way I can sit in this tiny camp when there is a whole planet out there to explore." Sarina grabbed a food pack and a warming blanket to put into her backpack.
One of her cabin mates grabbed a battery and offered it to her. Sarina reached for the battery, but the girl pulled her hand away. Sarina scowled.
"You have to be careful," said the girl. "Elise said the hills are really dangerous at night, soon't stay out too long. The rocket won't wait for you tomorrow."
"Yeah, I know." Sarina snatched the battery pack and put it into her pocket. "Don't tell anyone where I am guys. See you tomorrow before the launch!" She put on her backpack and sneaked out into the hills above the camp.
She clicked on her flashlight when she was out of sight of the campgrounds. She maneuvered between large slippery moss-grown boulders and dense alien foliage. Strange blossoms opened when she shined her light at some plants, while others quickly closed. She collected odd rocks, seeds and sticks that she found as she traversed the hills; an endless maze of nooks and crannies. Sarina was thoroughly enjoying herself.
The hills were filled with night noises. She paused to take them in; a symphony of chirps, clicks, buzzes and hums punctuated with the occasional warble or hoot.
"I could stay out here forever. It's a shame I have to leave in the morning," thought Sarina.
"You don't have to," said a voice in the darkness.
Sarina nearly jumped out of her skin. She grabbed a stick and swatted it around where she pointed her flashlight. She saw nothing.
"Who's there," she whispered. "Is that you Elise? Okay guys, very funny, I get it. Ha, ha. Come out and show yourself."
Her flashlight started to dim. She gave it a smack, but it continued to lose power until there was very little light. Sarina dug in her pockets for her backup battery pack. Something brushed against her shoulder in the darkness. Fumbling with the battery, she finally replaced it and fired up the flashlight.
She was angry. "Who is there!" she screamed. Her voice echoed off the rocks and across the hillside.
To the left of her behind a tangle of leaves she could see something move. Four eyes shined and blinked in the dark.
A shiver crawled across Sarina. She had not encountered any creatures that spoke since she arrived at the camp and was not aware that any existed.
"Do not be afraid little girl, I am a friend," said the voice. It was a calm voice, smooth and gentle.
"What are you? Why are you hiding?" Sarina's throat was dry. For the first time in her life she was terrified, and she didn't know what to do.
"The light, it hurts my eyes. If you could only turn it off, then I could come out. Would you turn off your light?"
"That doesn't sound like a good idea to me," Sarina said. "How do I know you're not dangerous? Why do you speak english?"
"I'm not actually speaking at all. I am talking with your mind. You do not trust me because I am not familiar to you. Yet you seek new things. That is why you came out here is it not?"
"How do you know that?"
"Because Sarina, as I said before, I am speaking with your mind. Your thoughts are very loud. I could hear you all the way back from when you left your camp."
Sarina backed away from the creature, her light trained on the darkness where it hid. The four eyes squinted in the light, then disappeared.
"Sarina, please, turn off the light."
"No!" Sarina began to run. She leapt over rocks and beat back plant life as she tried to run back towards the camp ground.
She could hear the creature in her mind. It was overwhelming. She stopped and shined her light in a circle around her. She could not see the creature but somehow she felt the tension in her head ease when she shined her light…
"There!" Sarina exclaimed. She caught a small glimpse of a spidery child-sized form as the creature ducked behind a boulder. Sarina kept her light trained on the boulder as she backed away. Sarina felt a pressure in her head like a great hand squeezing her skull.
"Ahh!" She cried out and tried to focus and shine the light, but she was beginning to lose consciousness.
Just then another light shined on her. It was Elise! She came over to Sarina and propped her up.
"What happened to you? Why would you come out here alone at night? Hey!" Elise tried to rouse Sarina.
Sarina looked at her with half-closed eyes. She saw a shape behind Elise moving towards them and willed herself awake. Sarina jumped up and shined her light at the shadow shape. It cried out an unearthly howl and leapt out of the light.
"How did you find me? We have to get back to camp right away!" Sarina cried.
"The girls told me you ran off. I've been looking for you all night," Elise said. "I heard you scream earlier and came running. What was that thing?"
"I don't know but we have to get out of here right now!"
"Okay!" Elise took Sarina's hand and they hurried as fast as they could back towards camp.
They arrived back at the cabins just as the morning sky began to brighten. Sarina paused to look back into the hills. She could still vaguely feel the cold grip of the creature on her mind. The feeling began to fade with the sunrise.
"I should report you immediately to the administrator," Elise said. "He will be furious that you left last night and put yourself in danger and I have a hard time believing he will think much of your story after all the pranks you pulled."
"But what about what we saw!" Sarina said.
"I admit, in all my years of camping expeditions, I have never seen anything like that. But I also know that it was dark in the middle of the night. I'm sure there is some explanation. I'm more worried that I look like a bad troop leader for leaving my girls back at camp when I went looking for you."
Sarina looked away.
"Anyway, I'm exhausted. I've had enough excitement for one trip. Let's go get some breakfast before takeoff. It's going to be a long shuttle flight."
The charter shuttle arrived after breakfast. The campers boarded the ship followed by the staff. Sarina took her seat near one of the windows and fastened her harness. She closed her eyes, and in the darkness saw four glowing eyes.
"Sarina, we could have been such friends." Sarina looked out the shuttle window and felt the creature again. It was lurking somewhere nearby. The terror she felt in the hills began to return.
The shuttle roared to life and lifted off. When it reached outer space Sarina relaxed. She was beyond the creature's reach. She could feel it.
"Campers, please make preparations for hibernation," the intercom crackled.
Sarina began to put her hibernation uniform on. Lori wandered over.
"Sarina, we're really glad you are okay. We'll see you safe and sound back on Earth, huh?"
She gave Sarina a hug and went back to her seat. Sarina hid her embarrassment.
"I'll probably be scared of the dark for a while," she thought.
She climbed into her hibernation chamber and closed her eyes. Instead of monsters, she dreamed of Earth, of pleasant things, of home.