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"I don't want to talk about Forbidden Falls," I said. "I'm sick of talking about it. I'm ready to go!"
My friends laughed. "You mean you're ready to go home!" David said.
The five of us were trudging back to camp through the woods after an afternoon hike under the blazing sun.
"When we go down the falls, Russell wants to sit in back of the canoe'in case he changes his mind!" David added.
"Ha-ha. You're so funny," I sneered. "Remind me to laugh later."Marty stepped up and slapped me hard on the back. My Camp Hawkwood T-shirt was damp with sweat. The slap made a hard, wetsmack and sent me staggering forward.
"Hey'what's that for?" I cried.
"For good luck," Marty said. "When you ride down Forbidden Falls."
"You hit me for good luck?"
Marty grinned his toothy grin. "Maybe I just like to hit you."
"We're all going to need good luck," Erin said. She tugged her blond ponytail behind her shoulders. "Ramos says the falls drop straight down. Straight down onto jagged black rocks."
"Ramos also says the falls are haunted," Charlotte said. "You don't believe everything Ramos says'do you?"
"He's a counselor. He's not allowed to lie," David said with a straight face.
Marty put a heavy hand on my shoulder. "Russell, we're riding the falls in one week. Have you written a will?"
Charlotte grabbed Marty by the shoulders and pushed him away. "Give Russell a break. Why are you always on his case?"
Marty grinned again. "Because he's a wimp?"
"I'm not a wimp," I protested. "I've just had some bad luck this summer."
"You didn't even want to come back toHawkwood this year," Marty said. "You told me you wanted to go to computer camp instead."
I shrugged. "What's the big deal? I just wanted a change."
Marty shook his head. "No way. You knew you were a senior camper this year. And all senior campers have to canoe to Forbidden Falls."
Erin sighed. "Hel'lo? Can we talk about something else? This is getting kind of bor'ring."
David giggled. "Let's talk about the camp'out last week when Russell screamed for help because he thought Ramos was a bear!"
"It was totally dark! I couldn't see!" I protested.
"How do you spell panic?" David asked. "R-U-S-S-E-L-L."
"I think we should lighten up on Russell," Charlotte said. "Give him a break."
"Okay. We'll pick on you instead," Marty said.
Charlotte raised her fist. "Pick on this, Marty."
He danced around her. "Ooh, I'm so scared! Are you going to fight for your boyfriend, Charlotte?"
Charlotte blushed. "He's not my boyfriend!"
One reason Charlotte and I have been such good friends at camp each summer is that we both have red hair. And pale white skin. And we both start blushing when anyone looks at us!
All five of us have been together for five summers at Camp Hawkwood'since we were eight. We don't see each other during the rest of the year. But we keep in touch by e-mail.
Marty and David are both taller than me. Marty has wavy black hair, dark eyes, and a great, friendly smile. He's very athletic, an awesome swimmer and tennis player. All of the girls in the lower camp follow Marty around like he's some kind of superstar!
David is African American, lean and lanky, always in motion. He has short hair, dark brown eyes that always seem to be laughing, a mischievous smile, and a silver ring in one ear.
He is the funniest guy I know. He never stops making jokes. He thinks he's pretty funny, too. He has a high-pitched giggle that scares the birds out of the trees!
Erin is the quiet one. She's hard to get to know. She is awesome looking, with light blond hair and big green eyes.
I don't know whether she's stuck up or just shy. But she is always rolling her eyes when the rest of us get rowdy. Always telling us to "grow up."
The five of us took a short break under the shade of some tall trees. We sat down on the ground, stretched our arms and our aching shoulders, and slurped warm water from the canteens we carried at our waists.
Sweat poured down our foreheads. A million tiny white gnats flew around us. I swatted a mosquito on my arm.
"Man, it doesn't get any better than this!" David joked.
Erin raised her canteen over her head and let water trickle onto her hair. She wiped the water over her face. "Let's keep moving," she said. "Too many bugs here."
Marty squinted at me. His eyes grew wide. "Look out, Russell!" he whispered. "Don't move! Tarantula'on your shoulder!"
I started to leap up'then stopped. I shook my head. "No way I'm falling for that one, Marty," I said.
The others laughed.
Charlotte patted me on the back. "Way to go, Russell."
Marty shrugged. "Bet I get you next time."
A few minutes later, we started hiking again. The sun rose higher in the sky. The back of my neck prickled from the heat.
The dirt path curved away from the woods. We followed it through a wide clearing of tall weeds and shrubs.
Soon we found ourselves walking single file along the bottom of a low rock cliff.
I led the way. Charlotte and Erin were close behind me. The rock wall stretched three or four feet above our heads. The sun reflected off the smooth wall, making it shine.
The path narrowed. We walked quickly, following it along the wall.
I gazed up, trying to see what was on top. Were there trees up there? Caves?