This would have been her favorite season in the Allegheny woods. The shadows of the trees were rickety, and the wind had sap in its scent. But last week, Ty had left; now one day decayed into the next. Their house was abandoned. Only their father, sitting in the dark.
Lumi was building a tepee. She leaned branches against the trunk of a white ash, leaving a triangular opening through which she could crawl in and out. But every time she passed through, a few sticks fell off.
While she was inside the tepee trying to stabilize it, a man’s voice said, “This wouldn’t do in any situation.” From between the weave of sticks, she saw a massive pair of hiking boots and gray corduroy hems.
Once in a while, boys from her bus route rode their dirt bikes across a corner of the property. Ty had helped her make signs by nailing planks of scrap wood to stakes. no trespassing—he carved the angular letters using his prized Mora knife. The boys came through anyway, their bikes sputtering. Their voices were scratchy and warbling, not deep like this one.
She poked her head out of the opening. There were no other shoes but the boots. She looked up and saw a thin man. His face was in shadow. He wore a light-gray windbreaker and gray cap; from head to toe he was the color of the blanched trees around them.
Lumi crawled out and tugged the bottom of her fleece jacket down. “You’re trespassing.”
She looked at her tepee and tried to identify the largest stick in the pile.
“If you’re the Duffy girl, you own up to that creek. I closed on five acres here. That’s the line.” He slid a finger through the air, tracing the route of the creek.
She said nothing. She didn’t know which of them was trespassing. She’d only ever seen her brother this deep in the woods.
“I’m Jack,” he said.
She moved toward the stick she’d chosen and placed her hand on it.
“That’s no shelter,” he said. “If you’re ever lost in the woods, or anywhere without a roof and four walls, and you go and build something half-assed like this, I’m telling you right now you might as well not bother. You might as well invite the rain and wind to kill you.”
He nudged the base of the tepee with the toe of his boot and half of it tumbled down.
She stared at the pile. She couldn’t think of what to say, whether it should be angry or sarcastic, and what kind of words might combine to that effect. But he was already dragging over an enormous dead branch, pulling and stomping on it until he’d broken it down to a six-foot piece. “This is your ridgepole,” he said. “This is about the size that would fit you, the length of you, lying with your arms over your head. I’d need a longer one myself, but this’ll do for a pip-squeak.”
In the grove was a stump where Ty had cut down an old, mostly dead ash tree years ago. Now Jack set one end of the pole on the stump and the other end on the ground. He grabbed an armful of the tepee branches and began leaning them against the pole along either side. “This is the ribbing,” he said.