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Tizzy’s steps were deliberate, her feet never straying from their path. Each time she fit her tiny shoes in to the outline in the dirt, the product of her last revolution around the fire. All around her the grown ups talked at the same time about things she couldn’t understand and passed around foul smelling drinks in the chilly night. Tizzy counted. Thirty-seven steps to get around the fire, go around 9 times, once clockwise, once counter clockwise. She’d been looking forward to playing in the woods ever since her parents told her that she was big enough to go on their yearly camping trip with them. She’d made lists upon lists of everything she would need, and her parents smiled at her and helped her pack and re-pack her bags. She insisted on her black sneakers and “Tiny Terror” shirt, even though her mother was worried she’d run away in to the dark and they wouldn’t be able to find her. Her friend had been just as excited. He was going too, and she’d get to meet his parents he said. He told her they were friends of mommy and daddy. He’d been her friend for as long as she could remember but she didn’t think his parents would be a lot of fun, not if they were her parents’ friends. Sometimes they played with Tizzy and that was a lot of fun, especially when daddy let her ride on his shoulders and pretend to be a horse. She didn’t like the times when they got all serious though, and stayed up late at night. The noise always kept her up, and she could smell the smoke on her dad’s shirts for days after. Something always felt wrong the day after. The furniture was moved around and there was a heavy feeling in the living room, the circular rug in front of the fireplace with all of its black and white patterns on it was the only thing that never seemed to have moved.
One night she had heard them yelling. Daddy was frustrated and mommy was trying to calm him down. There was a noise like a roaring and then everything went quiet. The next day the smell of smoke had been stronger than usual and she thought it was strange that mom let daddy smoke in the house, and that he must have been really mad for her let him do it. That was a few days before they told her about the trip. Daddy still smelled like smoke, but he was smiling now and that made her excited.
Thirty five, thirty six, thirty seven. Reverse.
Tizzy turned on her toes like a dancer, just like she’d learned in class and her friend danced along behind her mimicking her movements perfectly. Mommy stopped talking for a moment to look down and smile at them and nodded, then went back to what she was saying. That’s alright, Tizzy thought, just eight more times around. She didn’t know why it was so important that they did it, but her friend wanted to and she liked the game. Exactly nine times, exactly thirty-seven steps each time. The fire was getting hot and she was beginning to get hungry, but she put her tiny feet in their place one after another. On the sixth time around she noticed that everyone was talking quieter now and the smoke smelled familiar, like Daddy. She kept walking around the fire, her friend pushing at her back. “Almost there, just one more time around!”He said, egging her on to the end of the game.
Thirty five, thirty six, thirty seven.
“Look! I did it!” She turned to look at her friend but he was gone. Instead she was looking straight in to the fire at the thing that moved in the blue-black coals. Black scales twisted and writhed and a keening whining moan trickled in to a night that was otherwise devoid of the usual sounds of nocturnal life. It grew louder and she recognized the roaring she had heard through thick walls and the protection of her comforter at home. A pair of sharp yellow eyes suddenly opened in the middle of the sickly green flame.Tizzy jumped back, reaching for her friend, but bumped in to the tree trunk like legs of one of the adults instead and grasped at the pant leg to hold herself up. The face opened a mouth that was made of fire and shining black teeth. “Are you Tizzy?” it asked. Tizzy nodded, her legs shaking, the mixture of smoke and tears burning her eyes as they slid down her face and she felt the beginning of sobs catch in her chest. Her friend’s voice suddenly sounded in the back of her mind, reminding her of all of the conversations they’d had about his father and how he’d made sure she remembered how many times to walk around the fire. The face smiled and said “Its so nice to finally meet you. My son has told me so much about you. Would you like to come play?”