Elizabeth and Alexandra stepped across the deep, jungle forest. Palm tree branches tilted slightly in a soft breeze. Palmettos fanned the humid air, and their deep, dark green leaves and sharp stems bent to one side. The lush green vines decorated the branches above. Tangles of weeds cloaked the trees, and every now and then wildflowers scattered the forest floor. Wild citrus trees were here and there, bearing the sweet fruit that sprinkled the trees. The forest was bustling with business up high in the trees, where native Floridian birds cooed, squawked, yakked, and sang above.
It was a perfect day for their little exploration in the jungles of central Florida. They were on the Ranch, where cattle and citrus were the produce. The Ranch was large and vast with long, yellow fields and pastures flecked with thousands of cows, the light brown, tan, charcoal black, and murky gray colored cows. They were raised and sold to make beef. There were several forests. There were woods, lines of citrus trees, and long canals that looped around the Ranch. There were even wild hogs that tore up the pastures and some people hog hunted to control the population.
Elizabeth and Alexandra were cousins. Elizabeth was nine. She had short brown hair and dark brown eyes. She had freckles, was bigger built, and loved to explore the beautiful forests at the Ranch. Alexandra was thirteen. She had soft blond hair down to the center of her back. She had starry blue eyes and was thin and lithe. She also had the desire to explore.
The cousins ducked beneath a long, silver spider web, which was magnificently spun from one tree to another. A banana spider descended a couple inches, leaving a string of delicate thread behind. Alexandra was not a big fan of spiders but even she was in awe over the beautiful web it had designed. As they stepped through the forest they remained silent so the beauty and sounds of the forest could be fully enjoyed.
"Look," Elizabeth breathed as she pointed and indicated to some animal a ways off. Her face shone with excitement as she tugged on Alexandra's shirtsleeve.
"An armadillo!" Alexandra whispered. She slowly inched closer as the armadillo emerged from a thick cluster of bushes. It was small and almost looked like its middle was made of brass. It had four little legs and a short tail. Its nose was brushing the ground as if it was searching the ground for something to eat. Alexandra slowly advanced. A thrill of excitement shivered down her back. She loved animals.
Snap! Alexandra stepped on a twig and it snapped in half, frightening the armadillo so that it scurried away a distance. For a while, the girls pursued it until it was completely hidden somewhere in the deep green plants that cloaked the forest.
"Man!" Alexandra said.
"Let's walk over to the canal," Elizabeth suggested. "I like to stand on the water's edge."
"As long as we don't run into any alligators," Alexandra said.
They pulled branches out of their way and made their way through the obstacles that blocked their path. The cousins' feet sloshed into marshy ground and their sneakers became muddy and soaked.
"Ick," Elizabeth said as they waded across the squishy ground. They pushed through tangles of vines and branches and finally they came out onto the bank of the skinny canal. The bank was made of white sand. The water was black velvet and branches floated on the surface. Where the water was clearer, there were rings of orange, yellow, and red on the bottom. On the other side there was a large, sloping bank, and the trees on the far bank had lines across them, revealing where the water level had been after the last hurricane. The last hurricane had sure swallowed up the area, for the waterlines were at least five feet above the regular waterline on the shore.
"Look at all the amazing colors in the water near the shore," Alexandra observed.
"Let's walk along the canal," Elizabeth said, taking off her wet sneakers and setting them on the bank. She waded in the shallow canal and let her toes wriggle in the sand. Then she and Alexandra walked along the bank, taking in the nature. The sun seeped through the shade of the forest's trees. The girls listened to the peaceful rustle of the palm tree leaves. They kicked sand as they strolled down the canal.
Suddenly, Alexandra shrieked.
"What?" Elizabeth asked, as she immediately froze.
"L-l-look!" she stammered. "A-alligat-ttor!"
She pointed a shaking finger to a brownish lump on the far bank.
"It's just a log," Elizabeth assured her.
"No it's not," Alexandra said. "Look!"
There was a long nose with flaring nostrils and a grin of sharp teeth. The overbite was obvious and the dark reptile's profile was in the shape of a large head with four legs to its side and a long, powerful tail with scales rippling down its back. Elizabeth and Alexandra had seen tons of alligators on their several canoe trips and airboat rides but they had never been this close. The large alligator was about eight feet long and was only a couple yards away.
The little eyes seemed to stare blankly at the girls. Of course they knew very well that alligators are frightened of humans and crocodiles are the ones to be aggressive and attack. But Elizabeth and Alexandra took one look at the dinosaur-like creature and ran.
They did not look back. They ran down the bank, scooped up their soggy sneakers, and tore through the forest. They broke through the branches that scraped their faces, arms, ankles and knees. They screamed and ran across the wet, muddy ground and through several patches of moss. They leapt over fallen logs and sprang over palmettos. The soft whoosh of the wind's deep breaths that rustled the palm trees was all they could hear besides their panting and short breaths. They dashed out into the clearing and met the dirt road that led to Alexandra's dad's office. Dust kicked off their heels as they felt the wind smack their faces and they accelerated. As they reached the parking lot of the office their runs faltered and they slowed to a walk. Elizabeth collapsed in the grass behind Uncle Willy's office window and clutched her sides, which were cramped. Alexandra helped her up and they exhaustedly opened the door of the office and got inside. There was no alligator behind them.
Alexandra began to laugh as she walked down the hall and slumped into one of Dad's spinning office chairs.
"Liz, the whole time the alligator wasn't even chasing us!" she laughed.
Elizabeth sunk into a different office chair that was cushiony and comfortable. She peered at Uncle Willy's flat-screened computers and relaxed her back.
"I don't think it's funny," Elizabeth said. But then she started cracking up.
"We were so silly to run away like that," Alexandra said.
"But I was terrified!" Elizabeth said.
"Me too!" Alexandra agreed.
Alexandra's dad walked in and sat at his accounting desk. He was the Ranch's assistant controller.
"So girls, how was your walk?" he asked, while logging onto the computer.
Elizabeth grinned at Alexandra. Alexandra returned a wide smile.
"We endeavored to explore the forest and we had a remarkable time Dad," Alexandra replied.
"Yeah," Elizabeth said. "A remarkable time."