Kylie turned her head and froze. A cottonmouth was between us, poised to strike.
“Stand still.” I repeated softly. “It we don’t move, it’ll forget us and go away.”
Kylie locked eyes with me as the snake reared back, mouth open. “I can’t.” she whispered.
In that instant, I knew the silly girl was going to run. I was further from the cottonmouth and jumped back, stamping the ground so the snake would follow my vibrations instead.
My leg crumpled under me as I lost my balance. The next second, I was tumbling down the hillside, the world a spinning vortex of pain. As I picked up momentum, I crashed into rocks, the impact vicious and hard. It felt like being dropped onto concrete from the top of a skyscraper. Each collision added injury, soft flesh gouged by unyielding stone.
“You’re too soft, Hannah. I’m sending you to fitness camp this summer.” Dad’s words flashed through my mind like a movie strip. “You need to toughen up, get some strength in those muscles.” He was always hounding me, trying to get me away from my books and laptop. What would he think when they told him what had happened?
The next thing I remember was Mr Richardson leaning over me. “Don’t move, Hannah. We’ve called an ambulance.”
Like I could move. Adults can be really dumb sometimes.
When I woke up again, everything felt odd; a strange mix of hard and soft. I blinked, trying to get my eyes to adjust to the light. After a few minutes, I figured out what was going on. I was in hospital, that much was obvious, and I’d broken some bones. My left arm was wrapped in a hard plaster cast while my stitched right arm lay cushioned on a plump pillow. A soft white blanket covered my legs which were also encased in plaster. I guessed the fluids draining into my right hand were dulling the pain that lay suppressed beneath the surface.
I twisted my head sideways to see Dad leaning over my bed. What a wreck. His cheeks were covered in stubble and his eyes bloodshot and swollen. “You’re a mess.” I whispered.
“Oh, Hannah.” He wrapped his big hands round my smaller one. “I thought I’d lost you.”
“Yeah. I’m a real dork, I know.”
His eyes filled with tears. “No, no. You’re not anything of the sort. Kylie told us what happened. I know you moved back to draw the snake away from her.”
My throat closed up. Dad crying over me? I’d never seen him cry before.
“I couldn’t let her get bitten. We did a project on snakes at the library club so I knew what to do.”
Dad let go of my hand and gently enfolded my broken body. “I was wrong, honey. You’re not too soft. I was wrong to force you to go on camp.” A tear dropped onto my cheek. “Will you forgive me?”
I snuggled into his warmth, secure in his firm embrace and familiar scent. “Of course, Dad. Just one thing.” I winked as he drew back to look at me. “Don’t go soft on me now.”
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