five friends, a mystery to solve, and
The Treehouse
Nicole glanced around the corner stealthily, grinning excitedly to herself as she saw her father’s face buried in his computer screen and her mother content with the knitting in her hands. Fighting the urge to leap with joy, Nicole ran in the opposite direction down the hallway, her bare feet skipping on the soft carpet beneath her toes. The front door was just a few feet away, the shiny reflective glass gleaming in the afternoon sun. She ran up, wrapping her fingers around the door knob while simultaneously grabbing her green beanie from the hat rack. and throwing it over her caramel colored hair.
She burst out into the warm Summer day, not caring about the fingerprints that her hand had left on the glass door when she’d broken free of the quiet house. Above in the sky were fluffy white clouds drifting through the air. It was a beautiful day. Nicole didn’t stop there though. She started sprinting through the newly cut grass of her front lawn onto the sidewalk and down a few blocks until the large willow tree came into view. The leafy branches peeked out from behind a small, blue painted cottage. Some of the shutters were loose on their hinges and swung precariously with the breeze as their guide. Old and gray shingles fell from above onto the overgrown lawn. Tall green vines crept up the side of the house and wildflowers sprouted from the ground at random angles.
Nicole’s smile only broadened as she ran past the adorable cottage into the backyard where there stood the tree house.
“Hey Nikki!” a voice shouted from above in the willow tree. Nicole slowed to a fast-paced walk as she looked up and saw the tree house staring down at her. The balcony built above seemed empty for a moment before a head poked over the edge. Nicole noted shining brown eyes, a furry head and a gap-toothed grin. The pointy gray ears were confusing at first, until Nicole saw the brown-almost-black hair poking out from the edges of the hood. A face with olive toned skin smiled down at her, freckles dotting the boy’s pointy nose and cheeks.
“Hey Leslie,” Nicole laughed as she started to climb the hastily built ladder that led up to the balcony. “What are you wearing?” she added as Leslie offered her his hand and he pulled her up to sit beside him. Once she was up, she could behold the view of the house and yard, admiring the beautiful flowers and the tall, feathery grass. Leslie jumped from the balcony to a tire swing that hung from one of the many branches above Nicole’s head.
He stood on the tire and took up a dramatic pose, his arms outstretched for emphasis. “I’m the almighty wolf!” he shouted. The gray hoodie he was wearing did indeed resemble that of a wolf, with the gray ears and a furry tail hanging from the hem at the bottom. Nicole giggled.
“Oh, gotcha. Where are the others?” she wondered.
As if on cue, a deep voice yelled “Huzzah!” from higher up. Above was a small room meant to be the central area of the tree house. It was connected by yet another ladder located inside an equally small room behind Nicole. The walls of the treehouse were a fading teal with midnight blue shingles. A window peeked out to look upon the world. The branches of the willow tree hung in front of it though, so you had to stand at just the right angle to get a good view. Nicole loved that window, and from that window erupted a boy with chocolate colored skin. His eyes were like precious gems, shining gold in the afternoon sun.
The boy smiled down at Nicole, the too-big, yellow crown on top of his short hair falling slightly to the left. Nicole returned the grin and waved. “Hey Arthur! Where’s Lucas and Kristy?” she called to him.
Arthur ran back inside the treehouse and emerged again beside Nicole on the balcony. He stood with his fists on his hips. “Is that any way to address your king?” he asked, raising an eyebrow at her indignantly. Nicole huffed and stood, curtsying before Arthur.
“My king, where may be the lovely Kristy and ever so sleepy Lucas?” she wondered in mock innocence. Arthur laughed at Nicole, clutching his stomach as he pointed upwards into the higher part of the treehouse. Nicole nodded her thanks and darted past him. She climbed up to the second story of the treehouse. There she spotted the boy with the coon skin hat covering his face as he laid on the hard wood floor. He was curled up with his arms tucked inside his light green t-shirt, his chest rising and falling steadily.
“Lucas?” Nicole whispered loudly. The boy lying on the floor grunted and Nicole couldn’t contain her giggle. “Are you asleep?” Another grunt. Nicole laughed and climbed higher up, leaving the napping boy below her.
It was hard to believe that Leslie and Lucas were brothers sometimes. Leslie was always bright and energetic, where as all Lucas wanted to do was take a nap in the peace and quiet. Nicole couldn’t blame him though. Leslie wore her out too. Still, if they stood beside each other, it was hard to note the resemblance between them. Leslie was a little taller since he was a few months older, and his hair was much darker. Though they both had the same olive toned skin, Lucas’s hair was significantly lighter, almost the color of hazelnuts.
Above in the highest part of the treehouse that the group of friends liked to call the Crow’s Nest, Nicole found Kristy. She was wearing a purple dress that seemed too big for her, since it went down to her mid-calf and the sleeves kept slipping from her shoulders. Her silky brown hair was hanging down in waves over her back. She’d somehow managed to braid a white feather into a portion of the long locks. In her hands was a telescope, about the length of Nicole’s forearm.
“Kristy?” Nicole murmured so as not to frighten her friend. Kristy turned her head, and when she saw Nicole she smiled a little. The sun shone behind her, lighting up her profile. Nicole could clearly make out her small nose and elongated jaw. Her eyes shimmered in the sunlight, her long eyelashes prominent. “Just wanted to say hey,” Nicole said before waving and starting back down into the lower parts of the treehouse. As her head began to sink back into the building, Kristy knelt down before her.
“Hey, so um,” she started nervously, not meeting Nicole’s gaze. Kristy’s eyes were soft, her soothingly quiet voice resonating through the air. The breeze blew through the leaves of the willow tree, and below Nicole could hear Arthur and Leslie joking around. Kristy looked up suddenly, her expression serious as her dark eyebrows drew together. “I know the Summer is ending soon and we’re going to different middle schools, and well everything, but... We’ll still all come here, right?” Nicole’s mouth hung open in surprise. Her lips curled sadly as she looked down at where her bare feet clung to the ladder.
It was true that the members of the Wild Scavengers Detectives Agency were going to be seeing a lot less of each other with new schools and more homework. That would never stop Nicole from coming to her favorite place in the world though. The five kids would still come together and crack mysterious cases as much as they could, Nicole was sure of that.
She gave Kristy a reassuring smile and nodded once before climbing back down. Nicole almost slipped on the rungs of the ladder when she caught a quick glimpse of Kristy’s teary eyes and her hands clutching something close to her heart.
Nicole moved back down to the balcony of the treehouse, closing her eyes as she leaned back against the trunk of the willow tree. The warm Summer breeze shifted her choppy shoulder length hair to the side as she breathed deeply and tugged her green beanie down over her eyes. She loved the sound of Arthur and Leslie laughing with each other and Lucas’s soft snores from above. Kristy yelled down at the two boys as she tried to spot something in the distance with her telescope. Nicole felt her lips curl upwards as she was falling into a dream filled sleep with forests full of wolves with brown-almost-black hair and kings with crowns too big for their heads. She dreamed of warm, grassy fields beneath her feet and wildflowers sprouting every which way. She could almost smell the grass and sweat and flowers, all of it mixed together in one sweet scent.
Nicole’s eyes darted open and she lifted the beanie back up. She looked up to see Kristy pointing at something seemingly far away. “We’ve got a customer!” Arthur and Leslie stopped their playful banter, and even Lucas’s head poked out the window of the second story.
That’s when Nicole saw her. The girl was running fast through the tall grass and she yelped as she tripped, falling on her face. Nicole’s eyes widened as she jumped forward, grabbing the rope of the tire swing and launching herself onto the ground. Her feet pounded on the grass as she ran to the girl where she lay groaning. Nicole’s bare feet skidded over the grass as she came to a halt, kneeling down beside her.
“Are you okay?” she asked softly and the girl pushed herself up on her hands. Dirt had gotten on her pale cheeks. She breathed heavily and nodded, gulping. Nicole crossed her legs and sat beside the girl as she took up the same position. The girl had large, dark green eyes the color of pine needles, and long black hair with red streaks. She couldn’t have been older than about eight. She was small and her eyes were bright with curiosity, but there was also worry etched in her features. Her cheeks were red with exertion, and maybe a little from embarrassment. She smiled at Nicole, and Nicole noted the way her two front teeth overlapped each other just barely. The imperfection simply added to the adorable appearance of the little girl. Nicole grinned back at her. “Hey. I’m Nicole, but you can call me Nikki. Did you come to talk to the Detective Agency?” The girl’s eyes widened in recognition as she nodded quickly.
“Yeah, I did. I need your help!” she exclaimed, her high-pitched voice suddenly nervous. Nicole nodded for her to go along. “I was walking through the forest with my dog when suddenly this big and scary thing appeared on the path!” Nicole scowled. She could hear her friends climbing out of the treehouse behind her to see what the commotion was.
Nicole sighed and stood, adjusting the dark green beanie on top of her head before offering her hand to the girl. She graciously took it and Nicole pulled her to her feet. “Can you tell us your name?” Kristy asked from behind, her voice slow and kind.
The girl took another gulp of air. “Jamie,” she answered.
Lucas stepped forward, and Nicole tried to hide her shock. It wasn’t often that she saw Leslie’s younger brother awake, much less standing. He smiled tiredly as he took off his coon skin hat and put it on Jamie’s head. It was much too big for her and covered most of her face. He knelt down before her, his hazelnut colored hair hanging down and shielding his eyes from the bright sun. “We’ll see what that big monster was. Can you take us to it?” he asked in a sleepy tone. Nicole didn’t think it was possible but Jamie’s large eyes widened more as she nodded and waved her hand, gesturing for the group to follow her.
The five kid detectives plus Jamie walked down a quiet forest path. Nicole had begun to regret her choice to not wear shoes as she dodged rocks and sharp sticks on the ground. The sun was getting lower in the sky. Birds chirped above in the tree branches and it smelled like wet leaves. Nicole kind of missed their little tree house head quarters with the wild flowers below and the tire swing, but they needed to solve this mystery for Jamie. That was their job, and Nicole couldn’t help but feel curious to know what the so-called ‘monster’ actually was.
Arthur walked ahead with Jamie. Every time they came to a fork in the path, he would kneel down and smile at the little girl. “After you, princess,” he would say, the crown falling farther off of his head as she laughed in response. Kristy just rolled her eyes, hiding a smile of her own. She kept fiddling with the feather in her hair, twisting the braid around her finger while she held her telescope in the other hand. Nicole walked behind with Leslie and Lucas and for awhile they were quiet, taking in the surrounding forest. After several minutes of walking, Nicole spoke up.
“What do you guys think this monster is?” she asked them. Lucas shrugged.
“She probably saw Leslie walking through here,” he offered. His older brother laughed and elbowed him.
“That’s exactly what happened. I’m not that scary, right Nikki?” He jokingly grabbed her hand and to Nicole’s dismay, bit down on her fingers. Nicole shrieked and hit his arm. Lucas jabbed at his ribs. “What? Okay, fine! Jeez, you two.” Nicole glared at Leslie who was still laughing hysterically.
“Hey, guys!”
Nicole turned away from the brothers and looked at Kristy and Arthur. Jamie stood between them, her face awash with terror. She gripped Lucas’s hat and pulled it over her eyes in fear. Nicole scowled in confusion as she noted Kristy and Arthur sharing the horrified expression. Her eyes widened as slowly, she gulped and spun on her heel. When she turned around, Lucas and Leslie were staring up at a giant, black feathered creature standing before them. It was too tall to see anything but its legs and body, as it was standing so far above the kids’ heads.
Nicole was the first to scream. The other kids joined in as they started running away from the creature, shrieking in panic. Nicole thought she heard someone call “Wait!” but she didn’t have time to consider who’d said it. She jumped over logs and rocks in the forest path as Lucas tripped beside her. Arthur had thrown Jamie up onto his shoulders and was running ahead with Kristy at his heels.
Suddenly, Lucas was no longer beside Nicole. She looked back in terror to see the sleepy boy sprawled on the ground; his flip flops had caught on a tree root and he was desperately climbing to his feet. Nicole swallowed the lump in her throat as she sprinted towards him. Lucas tugged hard on his foot, trying to get it free of the root before the giant monster caught up to them. Nicole had no idea what the mysterious monster was, but it was likely what Jamie had seen when she was walking her dog. It’s legs were long and white, but the remainder of it’s body was covered in large black feathers.
Lucas’s foot wouldn’t budge from where it was hooked under the tree root. Nicole was pulling at his arms as the creature ran closer and closer to them. In mere moments, it was upon them. The creature’s plump body hid the sun and the two kids were drenched in its shadow. In an act of bravery, Nicole threw herself over Lucas, trying to protect him from the monster. After several moments of hearing only the sound of their heavy breathing, Nicole dared to open her eyes.
She looked up at the feathered body that stood still above her. Her eyebrows furrowed in bewilderment. “What the...?”
“Hey! Are you guys okay?” a bright and cheery voice shouted at them. Nicole was horrified for a moment as she thought it was the giant feathered body talking, until she dismissed the thought and stood.
Nicole took several steps back and almost fell over laughing.
A girl with long red hair and stormy gray eyes looked down at her from behind the long neck of an ostrich. She had a kind but worried smile on her round face, and she was wearing a red sweater with leather boots adorning her feet. The girl was probably a few years older than Nicole. The tall ostrich peered at her with its large brown eyes.
“Hey there,” the girl said. Lucas crawled to his feet and stared at the ostrich rider.
“Why were you chasing us?” he wondered in a dazed voice. He was either just as surprised as Nicole, or he was feeling tired again. The girl atop the ostrich raised her eyebrows in confusion, and even the ostrich cocked its head to the side.
“I wasn’t chasing you,” she replied. Lucas gave the lady an incredulous look. It seemed to dawn on her just then. “Oh! Sorry! I just saw all of you kids walking through the forest while I was out riding and was saying hi but you all started screaming and ran away. This is the path I ride on. I had no idea that you guys ran this way. I’m sorry to have frightened you,” she said with an apologetic smile. Nicole laughed so hard that she clutched her stomach. In the back of her mind was the thought of where her friends could’ve possibly run off to. Lucas huffed indignantly before cracking a smile too.
“It’s okay. Your ostrich is just really big. We thought it was a monster,” he explained. The rider giggled and nodded with understanding as if that wasn’t unheard of to her.
“Well, it’s getting late. Would you like me to give you guys a ride home?” she offered. The thought of walking all the way back to the treehouse through the forest seemed exhausting to the winded kids, so they gratefully accepted and hopped on the back of the ostrich. “Hold on!” the redhead yelled with a cheeky smile on her freckly face before they sped off down the path.
“That’s what was chasing us?!” Arthur exclaimed. The five detectives sat in the second floor room of the treehouse in a circle. Nicole and Lucas laughed as they nodded in confirmation. Arthur, Kristy, Leslie, and Jamie had all ran back in a loop to the treehouse. The redheaded ostrich rider had strongly apologized to all of them before heading off on her bird mount. Jamie had gone home shortly after thanking the kid detectives for solving the mystery for her.
“I just don’t believe it,” Leslie murmured in disbelief from where he sat in the corner, the hood of his wolf costume down now. His brown-almost-black hair was disheveled and it wasn’t helping that he kept running his fingers through it.
“Well, case solved,” Kristy said. She smiled sadly at Nicole, and the two girls could read each others’ expressions. That might be the last case they solved together as a group for a long time. Nicole smiled wistfully.
“That was probably the case of the Summer.” The other kids nodded in agreement, releasing a collective sigh. Maybe it would be the last case they ever solved as a group. School might be hard to get around for the friends to get together. That wouldn’t stop Nicole from loving their treehouse behind the blue cottage and going there every chance she got. That wouldn’t stop her from helping people, solving mysteries, and spending time with the people she loved most.
Nicole closed her eyes and tugged her green beanie over her ears. She smiled slightly and leaned over, resting her head on Lucas’s shoulder. “I love you guys,” she whispered, falling asleep on the boy’s shoulder. Lucas followed suit, and soon both of them were snoring. The three other kids laughed and silently climbed down from the second floor of the tree house, leaving the two to their nap.
What a way to end the Summer.

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