“We’re going campiiiiiiing!” Avery can barely contain her excitement as she meets up with her friends during recess. The entire class is going on a field trip to Happy Campers, a campground at a heavily wooded nature reserve with mountains and a lake. Her family used to go camping quite a lot when she was little, but this will be the first time she’ll get to go with her friends. Naturally, having been through the camping ropes, Avery is somewhat of an expert – much to her friends’ annoyance. Aneesa especially isn’t too thrilled about the possibility of running into creepy crawlies and slithering snakes in the woods.

“I overheard Miss Martinez say there’s a hiking trail” Lindi adds giddily. She can’t wait to get there so she can explore and take pictures of birds and plants. She’ll proudly show her pictures to her dad and younger brother.

Yajna feels a bit scared. She has absolutely no idea what to expect from the great outdoors and doesn’t want to be out in the dark. She decides to go to the library after school to find some books on camping.

“I spent the whole night reading my camping book and I’m still not sure this trip is such a good idea” Yajna tells her friends. “I mean, there’s not going to be any electricity or running water – which means no lights, no hot water, and no flushing toilets. How will we survive 2 whole days?” It gets even worse when Yajna considers that they’ll have to sleep outside in tents. It’s all so very scary and uncomfortable.

Aneesa is equally cautious because of her fear of snakes, spiders and other bugs. “Ahhh… I don’t think I’m going to be feeling well enough to go” she says, hoping to muster up all of her acting skills to get out of this one.

“You’ll be fine,” Avery reassures her anxious friends. “Just think of all the wonderful things you’ll get to experience, like the night sky full of stars or swimming in the lake…”

Aneesa and Yajna are equally worried about the upcoming camping trip. “I told my mom that she needs to write Miss Martinez a letter to tell her that I’m getting a cold and shouldn’t be out camping – I can’t lose my voice right now and singers take a really long time to heal after a cold – but my mom saw straight through me and wouldn’t budge at all.” Aneesa dramatically elaborates on her fear of slithering snakes and creepy critters, “I hate bugs and I’m probably allergic to snakes – how can they force us to go if we don’t want to go?”

Yajna admits that she also tried to find a way out of the trip but her mom insisted that she go. “She told me to be brave and that sometimes it is good to try new things, especially when you are afraid of it.”

Aneesa is still not convinced, until Yajna reveals the glow-in-the-dark bubbles her mom gave her to ease her fear of the dark and the unknown. For the time being both girls forget about their camping sorrows as they inspect the bottle of bubbles, curious about what the bubbles look like in the dark.

Miss Martinez sent everyone’s parents a list of important things to remember for the upcoming camping trip. She explained that everyone will be getting a task to do when they arrive at the campgrounds. They will need to write a report when they get back, so they must also remember to bring a pen and a notebook. The whole class knows that the point of going on field trips is to write about them afterward. Usually those are some of the hardest assignments. “There’s no such thing as mindless fun. Be open to learning opportunities wherever you go and whatever you do,” Miss Martinez likes to say. Despite this, this camping trip feels different. Nothing can diminish the butterflies-in- your-stomach excitement the whole class feels as they await the adventure in store for them next week.

After a hectic bus ride through the mountains, with endless singing of The Wheels on the Bus, the class finally arrives at Happy Campers. Everyone takes in the beautiful scenery – a lush forest with old oak and sycamore trees and a shallow lake. Yajna is relieved to know that their campground has warm water and flushing toilets and is surprisingly excited for the days ahead.

Lindi, the avid bird-watcher, sets out on a short exploration around their campgrounds to look for some of the birds on her list. First up are the elusive Great Grey owl and the Red-cockaded Woodpecker. If she gets through her entire list and feels adventurous enough, she may even go looking for a baby bear! She’ll keep far away from the bear, of course.

Later that evening, after unpacking and setting up their tents, the entire class gathers around a bonfire where they each get a stick and some marshmallows to roast.

“Rise and shine, breakfast is ready!”

Everyone wakes up to the symphony of birds chirping, frogs croaking, leaves rustling, and the camp fire crackling when Miss Martinez calls them to breakfast. They eat hungrily and agree that a campfire makes the best tasting food.

After breakfast the class make their way down to the lake for a swim. Luckily the lake is quite shallow, so everyone can enjoy the refreshingly cool water without having to worry that something might happen. Avery pulls Yajna, Aneesa and Lindi aside to discuss their plans for the evening: a midnight slumber party in Avery and Lindi’s tent where they plan on telling spooky stories and eating treats.

That night, everyone is snugly tucked in their tents and Happy Campers is once again filled with the soothing sounds of nature. Except for one tent that is lit up by a very faint hue of light. The girls all sit around Avery’s flashlight and unpack various snacks.

Lindi begins telling her story in a slow, hushed tone to build up suspense. “At the end of a long dark road is a long dark path. At the end of the long dark path is a lone, dark house. And the lone dark house has a single dark door. Behind the single dark door is a long dark hall…” Before she can continue, the girls hear a soft ruffle of leaves.

“Shhhh…” They all sit in silence as the ruffling gets louder and more prominent.

Yajna starts to panic, “Oh no, what if it’s a ghost!”

“What if it’s a snake or a bear?” Aneesa asks, teeth chattering with fear.

Avery puts on a brave face but switches off her flashlight nonetheless. Everyone tries desperately to keep still while holding their breath and onto each other. A vague figure slides smoothly along the side of the tent. It’s very clear that they are not alone…

No-one moves a muscle as they try to keep still in a pitch dark tent filled with dead silence, fearful of the mysterious creature that has approached their tent.

“I knew this was a bad idea. I don’t want to get eaten by a bear!” Aneesa whispers anxiously.

The zipper of the tent starts grinding downwards very slowly. Yajna, who can’t conceal her nerves, lets out a desperate yelp “Please don’t eat us!”

At that very moment Miss Martinez pops her head inside the tent. “What are you four doing up so late? It’s way past your bedtime.” The girls let out a sigh of relief – very happy to see that they’re not being hunted by a bear, but equally disappointed that they have been caught. Sheepishly they each apologize for breaking the rules. Aneesa and Yajna make their way back to their tent, but not before collecting their midnight snacks.

The next morning, Miss Martinez hands each of the kids a brown paper packet with a list of items stapled to the front. “It’s a scavenger hunt. You have to go out and find as many of the things marked on the list as possible and you’ll each write a report on what you find.” The list includes various things, from dried leaves to twigs, pieces of bark and odd-shaped rocks.

By noon, the girls have collected about half of the items on their list. In the middle of a giggling fit about the previous night’s slumber party, Aneesa spots a bee on Lindi’s back. Before Lindi can stop her, Aneesa thwarts the bee with her hand.

“Ouch! It bit me!” Aneesa screams in agony, all the more convinced that bugs are terrible and nasty.

Aneesa inspects the swelling on her hand around the band-aid Miss Martinez gave her after treating it with some ointment.

“I know bees might seem dangerous because they can sting, but they are very important and you should never kill them,” Lindi advises her friend. “Bees make honey and pollinate flowers for seeds and fruits – and they are endangered.”

“But I was trying to save you…” Aneesa sheepishly protests, not sure she did anything wrong aside from getting stung.

The girls venture back into the woods to continue their scavenger hunt. Everyone sympathizes with Aneesa’s traumatic experience with the bee. Yajna suddenly realizes that Avery has fallen behind. Before they can turn back to go looking for her, an out-of-breath Avery returns, clutching her backpack with great care and attention…

After supper, the girls once again meet in Avery’s and Lindi’s tent. Avery, who can’t contain her excitement any longer, squeals with delight as she shows her friends what she discovered in the woods today: a little bird’s nest with three tiny eggs nestled inside.

“What if they’re snake eggs?” Aneesa wonders out loud, causing instant panic.

Lindi inspects the nest with eggs. She remembers seeing one just like it at a bird sanctuary her dad took them to. “They’re bird’s eggs and we have to take it back right away. What if their mama comes back and finds that her babies are missing?”

“I never thought of the mama bird.” Avery grimaces, instantly regretting what she’s done.

They all agree that they must return the little nest before Miss Martinez finds out and they all get in trouble. As soon as the coast is clear the girls head back out to the pitch black woods for their secret midnight mission to return the nest.

In the darkness, Avery can’t remember exactly where she found the little bird’s nest. “Maybe somewhere over there?” she points her flashlight toward a particularly thick patch of trees. Frightened of being out alone in the dark, Yajna suggests that they put the nest down somewhere safe and go back before someone notices they’re all gone.

Lindi shakes her head. “Without their mama there to protect them, they could get eaten by another animal.”

The girls agree it would be very cruel to abandon the nest, so they trek deeper and deeper into the woods. After some time, they decide to split up their efforts to finish their mission quickly and return to their camp. Avery describes the spot where she found the nest in great detail and she and Lindi go left as Yajna and Aneesa go right.

Before long Avery spots something that looks familiar, “Over here! This is where I got it.” A relieved Lindi watches as Avery gently places the bird nest exactly where she found it. The two of them eagerly head in the direction of Yajna and Aneesa to tell them the great news.

It’s been an hour since the girls split up and Lindi and Avery still haven’t found Aneesa and Yajna. “What are we going to do? What if something happened to them?”

They both try to remain calm even though they are worried. What if something really did happen to their friends? They could go back to their camp to get help, but they are both too scared. Besides, Avery has a plan: all they need to do is retrace their steps, go back to the spot where the girls split up and look for signs of Yajna and Aneesa. Lindi is not entirely convinced this will work, but she doesn’t have a better idea.

Yajna and Aneesa are miserable and tired, “We’re lost with no food and water – what if nobody finds us?” Yajna tries her very best to stay calm and suggests that they take a little break and rest under the big tree to their left. Aneesa agrees reluctantly. “Just as long as there aren’t any bees in the tree…”

Yajna takes out the glow-in-the-dark bubbles, blows a few into the darkness. Both girls are amazed at the illuminating effect of the bubbles floating up to the night sky, enthralled by the magical display. Yajna follows one particular bubble making its way to the top of the tree, sees the breath-taking blanket of stars enveloping them. “WOW! Look at that – it looks like the whole sky is full of glow-in-the-dark bubbles…”

Yajna and Aneesa are still busy admiring the night sky filled with tiny sparkly stars when Aneesa spots something strange.

“There, in that bush over there…”

Yajna can’t make out what Aneesa is talking about. “I can’t see anything…”

“It’s flashing… And it’s coming towards us!” Aneesa points at the bush again. She is fearful, especially after her recent encounter with the bee.

As the flashing insect makes its way to the girls, Aneesa grabs hold of a stick and prepares to squash it the minute it gets near her. Before Yajna can intervene, Aneesa drops the stick and stares fixated on the tiny little flash daintily floating in front of her eyes. Before they know it the girls are engulfed by a gathering of fireflies competing to brighten the darkness of the night around them. Aneesa and Yajna are dazzled by the spectacle of light above and around them – their fear of bugs, snakes and darkness long forgotten.

Lindi and Avery are tired after wandering in the woods for a long time. They are just about to give up looking for their friends when Lindi spots something unusual… “What is that?” Avery sees it too. “It’s Yajna’s glow-in-the-dark bubbles! Aneesa? Yajna? Is that you?”

The two follow the trail of bubbles and eventually reunite with their friends. The foursome embrace in a tight group hug, relieved and thankful that everyone is okay. With the morning light breaking, the girls make their way back to camp.

Avery apologizes to her friends for putting them through last night’s horrible ordeal. “It’s because of me that we all got separated and lost. And I know now that we should have gone and asked for help because anything could have happened, but I’m happy nothing bad did.”

Yajna and Aneesa smile, secretly happy about their shared adventure and their greater appreciation for the outdoors.

“I can’t wait to go home and write my report” Yajna says. “We saw so much more than what was in the scavenger hunt.”