Count Back from Ten

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Action and Adventure  |  House: Booksie Classic
This is a story about a college student dealing with the guilt of a camping trip gone wrong while on break with some of her friends.

Submitted: October 25, 2012

A A A | A A A

Submitted: October 25, 2012




We pull up to the campsite just before dusk and start unloading the pickup truck under the periwinkle sky. We want to get a campfire started and the tent pitched before dark so we split up. Amanda and I go off in search of firewood and kindling while the boys set up the tent. We take the shotgun with us, because of the rumored sightings and set off into the woods.

“How long do you think it’ll take them to set that thing up?” Amanda asks, laughing.

“Oh,” I say, “we’ll probably have to do it when we get back. You know they’re useless when it comes to camping.” She laughs and I laugh with her. When we feel like we’ve gathered enough firewood to last us until morning we make our way back to the campsite, where we find the guys still struggling with the tent.

“I’m telling you!” Johnny grunts, “This pole goes through this loop to the other side!”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about, man.” Adam replies stubbornly. I roll my eyes at Amanda in an “I told you so” way and we set the firewood down by the picnic table.

“Here let me go get the instructions,” I say. I walk over to the truck and grab the instructions from the tent bag and set the shotgun down, leaning it against the back tire of the truck.



I lay on the soft leather couch on my back and stared at the ceiling. The ceilings were vaulted and I began to memorize them. The way the light fell across the beige walls at the beginning of our sessions, to the end, when the light was fading, painting the office orange and pink. It really was a beautiful room; I just hated being here. My first visit, I had refused to touch the couch, my last ditch attempt at not becoming a total stereotype. As the hours passed though, it was just easier to succumb to the need for support, both physical and mental. Dr. Cameron was the mental support and her amazingly comfortable couch provided the physical. Most of the time I spent here I didn’t talk. Dr. Cameron asked questions that I didn’t answer and she scribbled on her notepad. I couldn’t tell you what she wrote. What does silence mean? Apparently a lot because at the end of our sessions, the yellow piece of paper was always full, sometimes she even filled two pages. Maybe, she was just as miserable as I was to be here and she spent our hours making to do lists, or writing a journal. I wouldn’t blame her.

Today’s session was almost over when she cleared her throat. Great, another question that I won’t answer, I thought.

“Carter,” she began as she often did, “can you tell me about Craig?”

The question took me by surprise; usually she just asked me what had happened that night or some form of that question. Sometimes it was “can you tell me exactly what happened?” or “did you mean for it to happen?” I always just figured that these were the questions that the court or the judge or the prosecutor or whoever, had told her to ask. I was so surprised that I did something I had never done in this office; I answered her question. Sort of.

“What about him?” I asked.

“Well, how did you two meet?”


“How old were you when you met?”

“It was second grade.”

“Oh, that’s much longer than I expected,” she said. She did some scribbling on her notepad, probably about how the breakup was affecting my attitude psychologically. Maybe it was, what did I know?

“At the time, you and Craig were dating, correct?” she asked.

“What is this? My deposition?” I asked.

“I’m just making sure I have my facts straight,” she replied in her even, “shrink” voice. The one I hated simply because I could never achieve that level of nonchalance about anything. I was “too emotional a person.” Which was exactly what the prosecutors had said in court, that my emotions, my fears, had gotten the best of me. My defense used that same phrase as my advocate, “her judgment was clouded by that fear,” and a bunch of legal jargon that I could never remember, even though I read the paper packet every night before I cried myself to sleep.

“Yes, we were.” I replied through clenched teeth.

“And are you still?”

“No,” I said, my voice already shaking. How many more sessions left? I asked myself. “We are not still dating.”

“What happened?” Dr. Cameron asked sounding legitimately concerned about the state of my relationship.

“What do you think happened? The whole town knows what I did. He said he couldn’t handle all of the drama surrounding the incident.” That was what everyone called it now. The incident.

“But it was an accident?” Why did she always form her statements as questions? Did she really want me to respond to everything?

“You already know that,” I said, bitterness creeping into my voice, “I’m sure it’s in my file.”

“You don’t need to attack me. I’m here to help,” Dr. Cameron said, trying to placate me. I didn’t really know why I was being so volatile. She was part of the reason I was here, wasn’t she? No, not really. I doubted she wanted to be here either.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “Yes, it was an accident.”

“Have you been to see Amanda?” she asks, obviously switching tactics.
“No. Her mother told me not to come. She hasn’t woken up yet.”

“Do you want her to?”

“Of course I do! What kind of question is that??” I shouted, tears threatening to spill over my red-rimmed eyes and down my washed out face. “What kind of person would wish that on someone else?” I asked.

“I can see you feel very strongly about this,” Dr. Cameron said, handing me a tissue. The two of us were quite a sight. Me, laying on this couch my stomach heaving and my breath shuddery; my hair in a scraggly bun piled on top of my head and my face flushed with color from crying and Dr. Cameron in her tailored navy suit and yellow pumps, her makeup perfectly applied and her hair shiny and straight. “Why don’t we talk more about Amanda?” she seemed eager to keep me talking.

“I just met her this year.” I said.

“Okay, and the two of you are friends?”
“Yeah, we’re roommates,” I said, tears still streaming down my face. “We get along great. We were going to request to live with each other again next year.”

“So do you think she’ll forgive you when she starts being responsive?”

I thought about this. It was an accident. The whole thing was so stupid. Sometimes I don’t even know how it happened.

“I hope she will.”

“Carter, I think you should go and see her. If you want, I’ll go with you,” she said.

“I’ll think about it.”


I sit in the cell at the county jail, staring at the cold, gray, concrete walls and lean my head back against the wall, still in shock. I hear footsteps coming down the hall and I stand up knowing that they have to be coming for me this time, everyone else has gone home.

“Ms. Anderson, your parents are here to pick you up,” the policeman says. I nod at him and he fumbles with the keys to my cell. His fat, sweaty fingers can’t seem to get a hold of the thin silver key that opens it. Finally he gets it and slides the door open with a resounding clang. I flinch. It’s three am after one of the longest days of my life and all I want is to go home. The police officer walks me down the hall to the reception area where my parents wait on one of the wooden benches lining the walls. They stand when they see me and I can see the worry in the tightness around my father’s eyes and the puffiness of my mother’s.

The officer goes behind the main desk to one of the ancient computers and clicks the mouse a few times, presses a few keys. The policewoman next to him keeps shooting me dirty looks, which I return defiantly. Who is she to judge me? After what seems like an hour, they finish getting me all checked out, or whatever, and give me back my cell phone and other belongings I had on me. My parents tell me that they’ve already spoken with the lawyer so we can go home. “Lawyer?” I think to myself, “Do I really need a lawyer?” I’m still shell shocked from all that has happened in the last twenty-four hours.

My parents don’t speak to me the entire car ride home. It’s agony. Did they believe what the police told them? That I had done it on purpose? My thoughts went to Amanda, I wish she were here, I hope she’s okay. What happened to her? I wish I could see her at the hospital, but I know that’s not likely.


It was another session, on a different day. Today, it was raining and the rain smeared down the floor to ceiling windows blurring the outside world, making me feel more isolated than usual. Dr. Cameron was sitting in her high backed chair that reminded me of Victorian times with her legs crossed at the knee. She was wearing charcoal gray slacks and a white tank top with gold pinstripes under a navy blue sweater. Her blonde hair was pulled back in a chic chignon; she was chewing on her pen.

After our last session, she seemed excited to see me again, expecting to glean more information from me like a mother trying to coax her child say her first word, but I was determined this time. Last time, she had taken me by surprise but now my defenses were up, there was no way I was letting her take advantage of me like that again. Our time was almost up when she cleared her throat,

“Carter, I spoke with Amanda’s mother,” she began, watching me for a reaction. I did my best not to give her one but I was curious.

“She said you could go visit Amanda.”


I stand in the polished hall, the marble floors gleaming and the dark wood walls shining under the energy efficient light bulbs, disguised as chandeliers. I fidget in my formal wear, pulling at my skirt and straightening my slightly wrinkled oxford. I look polished for me, but my lawyer frowns at me.

“You were supposed to wear a suit,” he says.

“This is all I had,” I say, “and I didn’t want to bother my parents for money to buy something new when they’re spending so much on this trial.” He sighs, obviously frustrated by my good-naturedness and says,

“Are you ready?”


Once I’m on the stand, opposing council, the prosecutors, want to know everything. Why did we bring a gun into the woods? Why was it loaded? What did we think we would need it for?

“How did the gun come to be in your hands, Carter?” One of the lawyers asks, because it was me who’d had the gun in my hands when it happened. Why had it been me? What had I done to deserve this? What had Amanda done? Nothing was the answer.

“We thought we heard something, there had been a lot of rumors about animal attacks in the area,” I recite my practiced answer, fighting back tears.

“So why did you go camping there?” he asks, mercilessly, as if he’s caught me in some lie.

“We thought it would be fun. But somewhere along the line, someone had suggested we bring the gun just as a precaution. Obviously it wouldn’t do us much good against a wild animal if it wasn’t loaded so we brought ammo,” I say trying to steady my shaking voice and hands.

“Who’s idea was it to bring the gun?”
“It was my father’s idea. But I agreed and so did everyone else. We wanted to be safe.”

“That worked out well, didn’t it?” He says.

“Objection!” My lawyer comes to my rescue.

“Watch yourself councilman,” the judge intervenes, addressing the prosecutor. But the jury has heard. The damage is done to my case and my psyche.

The trial goes on forever before the lawyers make their closing arguments to the judge and jury. After days of deliberation, they call me back into the courtroom for sentencing. A balding man with oily skin stands with a piece of paper in his hand. He clears his throat and begins.

“We the jury, in the case of the State of Colorado versus Carter Anderson find the defendant, Carter Anderson, guilty of the offense of Reckless Endangerment with a firearm as charged in the indictment.”

I bury my face in my hands and stifle a sob. Then risk a glance at the prosecutor. He looks smug. I look at my parents; they look crestfallen.

“Carter Anderson, I’m sentencing you to one year in the Adams County Youth Detention Center, followed by one year of therapy with a psychologist to be determined at a later time.” The judge bangs the gavel and people start to talk, the courtroom is slowly filled with the din of shocked voices and paperwork being shuffled. My lawyer talks to my parents and they nod, their faces scrunched with concern and shock. I can’t even process what just happened. I hug my parents and fight off tears. The bailiff approaches me and puts me in handcuffs, and then he leads me through a door that I hadn’t noticed on the side of the courtroom. Before I make it through the door I look back and see my mother sobbing into my father’s chest.


Dr. Cameron stood in the hall, looking perfectly put together as usual. Today she wore a khaki skirt with a burgundy sweater and matching heels. I looked down at myself in my ripped cutoff shorts and flip-flops and my Colorado State sweatshirt. I sighed. The fluorescent lights hurt my eyes and my stomach threatened to empty its contents. Why had I agreed to do this? A nurse padded by in orthopedic shoes and scrubs. Dr. Cameron cleared her throat and looked at me:

“Are you ready?” she asked.

“Not really,” I said.

“Do you want me to come with you?” she asked.

I shook my head and placed my hand on the door handle. I turned it slowly, trying not to make any noise in the strangely quiet hospital. I stepped into the room, the lights were off but the sun peeked through the beige curtains that were drawn across the large window. Machines beeped, monitoring Amanda’s heart rate and blood pressure. Her face, or what I could see of it under the bandages, was gaunt and there were bags under her sleeping eyes. I walked across the room, still trying to make as little noise as possible, even though I wouldn’t wake her.

I sat down in the plastic chair next to her bed. I looked at her. Her chest rose and fell in even breaths that had to be a good sign, right? Her face was pale but she wasn’t as thin as I had imagined. I fidgeted with her sheets, adjusting them so they were even and I fluffed her pillow. After twenty minutes of me straightening her room, I sat back in the chair.


The four of us sit around a campfire laughing and talking, relieved to be away from campus and the stress of finals. My stomach is full, Adam had made hamburger and potatoes in tin foil and we roasted marshmallows for dessert, and Johnny is telling us a story about his ancient political science professor.

“And I swear while he was lecturing on bicameral legislature he actually fell asleep! We had no idea what to do, so we just left.” We all laugh, our voices echoing up into the trees. 

“Anyone want another beer?” Adam asks, standing up to go to the cooler.

“No,” Amanda says, “I actually have to use the little girls’ bush,” she giggles, “Carter?”

“No, I’m good for now, but I can walk with you if you want,” I say.

“Oh, that’s okay!”

She walks off into the woods to find a good bush to use and I stand and stretch my legs. I walk away from the others to cool my skin from the heat of the flame in the frigid Colorado night. I wander off a bit more and the boys’ voices fade. I’m at the edge of the campsite and I lean against the truck, the cool metal seeps through my sweatshirt.

I hear what sounds like branches breaking and then I head a woman scream. Amanda. But then I hear a second woman scream. I squint my eyes confused until I realize that it wasn’t a second woman screaming. It was a mountain lion. My heart slams against my ribcage and I turn looking frantically for Adam and Johnny. They are frozen by the fire, beers still in hand, obviously they heard too. I get the idea at the same time they do but I don’t hear them yell the word because Amanda screams again, this time much closer to camp, I can see her now, but not her predator.

I grab the shotgun, which lies beside me and undo the safety. I hoist it up on my shoulder and pump the fore end of the gun, making sure the barrel is clear. I take aim but the hunter and gunman in me hesitates. I have a wide choke and buck shot, I could easily hit Amanda, but the second I see the mountain lion all thoughts are erased from my mind and all that’s left is a paralyzing fear. The screams of Johnny and Adam seem far away. Amanda makes it to the edge of the clearing before she trips on a discarded branch and falls to her knees.

The mountain lion pounces landing on top of her. Its long, sharp claws sink into the flesh on her back and she lets out a gargled scream that curdles my blood. Amanda fights to get the beast off of her and manages to turn on her side, a mistake that exposes her organs, but it gives her the use of her left arm. She swings up and hits the cat in the face and it retaliates, taking a swipe at hers. This time, her scream spurs me to action. I raise the gun and shoot the cat, I hit it but barely and now it’s advancing towards me. I take better aim and unload the rest of my ammo into the cat. It falls dead, its blood pooling three feet away from me. I drop the gun and run to Amanda. Adam is already on his cell phone telling 911 our location and Johnny is checking Amanda’s pulse and applying pressure to her wounds. I drop to my knees beside her and examine the damage that the mountain lion did before I notice spray of bullet wounds in her side.

My mouth drops open in horror and I try and fail to stifle a sob. I touch Amanda’s side and my hand comes away warm and wet, sticky with her blood.


I started to do what Dr. Cameron suggested. I started talking to Amanda. “Research has shown that people in comas can hear you. In some cases it even wakes them up,” she had said. I told her about school, about everything that had happened since the camping trip. About the looks I got in the halls, about the way professors gave me what I wanted because they still thought I had done it on purpose. I told her about how Craig had broken up with me and how Johnny and Adam had stopped talking to each other and me. Our group was ripped apart at the seams by an accident that had blown up in our faces. By that time, I was in tears, sobbing and holding her hand.

“I’m so sorry Amanda,” I sobbed into her arm, “I’m so sorry for what I did to you. Please forgive me.” I was all out of tears, my stomach still jerking. I was a mess. I was hiccupping and snot ran down my nose. I wiped my face on my sleeve and looked at her praying for her to wake up. Then I chastised myself for hoping for something so childish. Miracles never happened, at least not to me. I squeezed my eyes shut as tightly as I could and counted back from ten, then I let go of her hand, stood and left the room. 

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