"Nile virus. Terrorists." She walked along the bank of the creek. In her arms, an infant looked around, eyes wide with astonishment at the canopy of greenery and the burbling of the water. "People stealing babies and children from their homes or yards or cars as their mothers watch helpless."
"We should just build a big iron box for us to lock ourselves inside," he smiled, pausing to make sure she stepped safely over a fallen tree branch. "You know, my grandfather always said this place was magic. I'm glad Grandma sold this place to the county. It would have been a shame to see it paved over or razed for another tract of cookie cutter homes."
"It's a beautiful patch of land. It's so close to the grade school and the library, though. Aren't they worried that adding this into the wildlife preserve is going to bring wild animals too close to the children?"
"Biggest thing left in these woods are the raccoons. I guess a skunk could cause a problem."
"Do I worry too much?"
"I worry a lot, too," he smiled, reaching out to touch the baby.
She watched them both fondly for a moment, then sighed. "I just wish we could be somewhere safe."
They walked along the creek in silence, appreciative of the jewel-like emerald leaves and undergrowth, the clarity of the little stream as it tumbled over rocks that housed crayfish and pools that held croppies. The air was thick with humidity, but sweet with the scent of woods and wildflowers, carrying a lingering coolness from shade and stream. The bank curved sharply and as they rounded the bend, they stopped. A house, small but exquisite, sat nestled amongst the greenery.
"Wow. I guess if I had that kind of money, I'd build a place like that here."
He frowned as they began forward again. "There was no house here."
"Look at this." She had stopped in front of a neatly stained and finished wooden mailbox. "It has our name on it." She paused and shifted the baby, so she could peek inside. "This is our mail. It's addressed to us."
He came immediately over to see. "Jim, Grace and Melissa." He looked at the baby. "What are the odds?"
She was opening one. "It's a welcome card from the neighborhood."
"Well, I'll be. Should we check it out?"
She looked at the house. There was just something right about it. "Yes."
"Look at this, Dan." The fish and game warden pointed at the tracks on the ground. He and his partner stood in front of an old chicken coop the size of a railroad car, dumped unceremoniously by the stream. Most of the mesh had been torn out of the two story rows of cages and the trees and underbrush had grown through much of it. Other refuse lay about in cluttered heaps, rotting testimony to several years of illegal dumping. "Racoon tracks. Big ones. Heh, see these? Looks like the big fellow has himself a lady friend."
"Not surprised to see them here," his partner commented as they walked on. "This trash heap has got to be some kind of raccoon mansion to them."
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