THE NOCKING VANE
by Elissa Cahn
Artemis, whose real name no one knew, was demonstrating how to string a bow and arrow. Her assistant organized arrows into a row of quivers. Farther down the meadow, half-deflated balloons bobbed, taped to hay bales. Beyond the bales was a stand of trees that marked the national forest line. Allie stretched her legs, the grass scratching her thighs. After swimming, she’d thrown clothes over her bathing suit instead of showering with her bunkmates; she’d wanted to be early enough to sit in front for the archery demonstration. Now, she was trying to ignore Peter, whose fingernails were orange-crusted with Cheetos.
“My mom sent me a whole container of cherry Kool-Aid. If you bunk-hop to my cabin tonight, I’ll share.”
Allie wondered whether she’d get to use the crossbow.
Peter, as if trying to avoid a low-hanging branch, kept leaning too close to Allie. As Artemis passed the arrow beneath their noses and indicated the odd-colored fletcher, which had to point straight out when the bow was strung, Allie fought the urge to reach out and touch the fine blonde hairs that curled around Artemis’s calves and lifted in the breeze. A single blue feather dangled from her left earlobe. Artemis stepped to the line, nocked her arrow, and drew the bow. Sunburned bicep taut, she squinted at the distant balloon and released the arrow. Allie concentrated hard on the balloon, willed it to pop. When it did, she clapped, though she was the only one who did. She stopped, embarrassed. The arrow fell in the tall grass, out of sight. Next to her, Peter’s voice prattled in her ear; he was trying to teach Allie to curse in Spanish. She stopped listening entirely when Artemis approached her with the crossbow. Allie stood, dizzy in the sunlight. She took the bow and crossed to the archers’ mark. She aligned the fletcher and nocked the arrow. The arrow wavered.
Behind her, Artemis wrapped her hands around Allie’s arms. “Like this,” she said.
Every time Artemis breathed, her breasts moved against Allie’s back. She drew the bow as far as she could, the resistance greater than she’d expected. Next to her, Artemis’s assistant helped Peter string his bow. All the while, Peter chattered at Allie. Now he was bragging about having waterskied on a single ski. The assistant told him to pay attention, though not before he asked if Allie wanted to walk by the lake during free period. Allie was still leaning against Artemis, who was telling her to shoot. To her left, Peter’s arrow sailed past the hay bales, into the stand of trees.
“Keep your eye on the mark.” Artemis’s breath was syrupy from that morning’s French toast. “Whenever you’re ready.”
Allie released the bow, and the arrow sprung toward the balloon. She imagined her arrow would land next to Artemis’s in the grass.
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