Fayette Fox is the author of the The Deception Artist. A child’s take on the adult world, this quirky novel is about childhood and make-believe, truth and lies. The book was shortlisted for the 2013 Edinburgh International Book Festival First Book Award and Amazon’s Rising Stars Award, and was published in the US in spring 2015. A former commissioning editor for Lonely Planet Publications, Fayette is the co-founder of My Love Ninja, a personalized OkCupid profile makeover service. She holds an MA in publishing from the London College of Communication and a BA in creative writing from Hampshire College. She lives in Oakland, California. You can learn more at her website.
Excerpt from The Deception Artist
Roaring Forties Press
©Fayette Fox 2015
Longest Night Ever
That night, three bears are asleep beside me in our tent-cave. Their breathing fills the blue darkness. I imagine they’re dreaming of jumping fish and honey raids. I wish I could join them but my sleeping bag is too cold. The ground is hard and the outside noises of wind and other wild creatures keep me awake. Also, I suspect I am too different.
“Why, you’re not a bear at all,” they growl, suddenly noticing. “You’re just a little girl. Get lost.” Momma Bear swats at me with a big paw and I scurry off alone.
They are my family, but sometimes I feel like I’m the odd one out. The smallest, youngest, always in the way. Goldilocks the Criminal. Bad girl in trouble again. Poison Ivy. Brice kissed a girl and I saw I saw I saw. I am a dirty spy, a Peeping Tom. I didn’t know my brother was so grown-up. Kissing is for teenagers.
I try to force myself back to sleep but I have to pee and I’m scared to go out on my own. Finally I wiggle out of my sleeping bag and start unzipping the tent. Papa Bear sighs and rolls over. I hold my breath, then step outside as quietly as I can. It’s even colder out here and I pull my sweatshirt sleeves around my hands. The yellow bathroom lights look far away. I chase the circle of light from my flashlight along the path. The fires are out, the tents are dark—it must be late. I wonder if Lucy has kissed a lot of boys.
I’m halfway to the bathroom block when I hear a crinkling sound. It’s coming from a trashcan a few feet away. I step closer to investigate and, just then, a raccoon’s wide head pops up. I freeze. The raccoon slides to the ground like liquid. Another appears, and both animals stare straight at me. Once, when I was sleeping over at Jenny’s, we saw a raccoon stealing cat food. Safely on the other side of the sliding glass door, we watched him wash and eat Mortimer’s kibble, dirtying the water bowl. I try to remember if raccoons are Dangerous Animals. I think they can have rabies, which is a terrible biting disease. Dogs with rabies have foamy spit like when you brush your teeth. If they bite you, you go crazy and want to bite things too. Then you probably die.
I wish I was back in the tent or at least safe in the bathroom. The raccoons stare at me from behind their dark masks. I stare back. I can’t stand here forever because I’m cold and have to pee. I want to yell for Dad, but I’ll get in trouble if I wake up strangers. If I was older I’d know what to do. I pray to my Guardian Angel and the Last Unicorn. I point my flashlight at the raccoons and their eyes glow like alien eyes. They don’t come closer, but they don’t go away either. I think of my sleeping family, together and safe. No one even knows I need help.
Finally, I show the raccoons my mean face and, growling, wave my arms above my head. Then I run fast and don’t stop until I’ve closed the bathroom door behind me. Sitting on the cold toilet, I let out a little moan. They can’t get me here. Afterwards, I spend a long time braiding and unbraiding my hair in the mirror, giving them time to leave.
On the way back to the tent, I’m jumpy from all the forest noises. I swing my flashlight like a night-watchman but the raccoons are gone and I don’t see anymore wild animals. I hum “Late Last Night When We Were All in Bed,” which is about a cow who started a fire. She did it kicking over a lantern, not by playing with matches, which we shouldn’t do either. When I reach the end of the song, I’ve come to the last tent and beyond that are only trees. We have tent neighbors on both sides, so I’ve gone too far. I turn around and see the bathroom light twinkling far away. I try to remember if our tent is green or blue. I pray to God and Inspector Gadget for just five minutes of X-ray vision so I can see through the tents to my family. Maybe it’s gray. I hurry back along the path, not humming anymore. I know it’s a dome tent, but none of them look right. If I crawl into the wrong tent, it’d be like walking into a stranger’s bedroom. I imagine unzipping a tent and squinting into the dark. There’d be sleeping people who might or might not be my family. I’d whisper, “Mom?” Then a strange couple would sit up screaming.
“Burglar!” The man hits me with his pillow, feathers flying.
“Get her!” the woman yells, dragging me inside and sitting on me.
“Ow!” I squeak. “Get off me.”
“Call the police!” the man says, still whacking me with his pillow.
“How?” the woman asks.
“Damn. Good point.” The man stops hitting me for a minute. “I think I saw a pay phone about ten miles back on the main road.”
“Wait!” I shout, spitting out feathers. “I’m innocent. I’m just trying to find my family.”
“Yeah, right,” the woman says. “A likely story.”
“Let’s tie her up,” says the man. “We can’t take any chances with this sort of criminal. I’ll call the cops. You stay here and make sure she doesn’t get away.”
I keep walking until I’m back at the bathroom again. Exhausted, I sit on the ground. I watch moths bounce into the lights and think of Caleb Ludlow.
I look up. Lucy’s curly hair is messy like a rock star’s. She’s drying her hands on her jeans. “What are you doing? Are you okay?”
It’s the middle of the night. I’m sitting outside the bathroom, staring at bugs.
“I’m okay,” I say in a small voice. If I tell her I can’t find the tent, she’ll think I’m the kind of dumb little kid who gets lost at school. If I ask her to walk with me, she’ll think I’m a scaredy-cat. Which is worse? Is it better to be lost or afraid? Is it better to be stupid or frightened? If she leaves, I’ll be all alone again.
“Actually … ” I stand. “I can’t find my tent.”
“You want me to help you look?”
I nod. She holds out her hand.
Momma Bear opens her eyes as I’m crawling into our tent. “Everything okay, baby?” she whispers. I want her to hold me tight while I tell her about the raccoons and getting lost in the woods. I needed help and there was only me in the dark. Me in the wilderness. Only Ivy, frightened during the longest night ever. But I’m not sure if telling will make my hurt better and it might make it worse. If Mom knows I got lost, she might not let me go to Red Hill Shopping Center without her anymore. So I keep quiet. Back in my sleeping bag, I try to pet my own hair like I’m a cat, until I fall asleep.