Excerpt 1, From Chapter 3
I don’t feel as if I’ve slept, so I keep my eyes closed, hoping to sleep some more. I can’t believe it’s morning already. I don’t feel rested enough to be awake yet. I squeeze my eyes tighter, trying to gather my senses. Something isn’t right.
I’m cold. I don’t feel the reassuring weight of a blanket on top of me, nor do I find the comfort of bedding beneath me. My eyes snap open in horror. I’m outside in broad daylight, lying on the ground. I jump to my feet, and I don’t recognize my surroundings. There’s no cabin, barn, church, or town, just trees and water. At first, I think the body of water is a lake, but then I’m not so sure. Perhaps somewhere between a pond and a lake.
I wipe my clammy hands on my nightshirt. I should be wearing clothes instead of being dressed like this. I blink repeatedly, hoping that my eyes are playing tricks on me. Though there’s nobody to hear me, I can’t stop muttering, “This can’t be happening.”
My breath comes in fast bursts, and I back up against a large tree. I wipe beads of sweat from my forehead then cross my arms, grabbing my elbows tightly. I lick my lips, but my dry tongue offers no relief.
I shiver uncontrollably then rub my eyes, hoping to make the unfamiliar scene disappear. I flinch at the angry scolding of a chipmunk and cringe at the thought that this tiny creature frightened me. The longer I stand here, the harder it is to deny being here. My lips move and I hear the questions in my head. “Where am I? How did I get here? And, what happened?”
I huddle against the tree, my hands on my face, gazing across the placid panorama. The chipmunk has scurried away and it is so quiet, I can hear the shiver of pine needles and the quaking of birch leaves as a light breeze stirs the forest.
The urge to flee is strong and I cast my gaze in each direction. I shouldn’t be here. My family must wonder where I am. I’d run home if I knew where it was. My stomach feels hard and empty, and I chide myself for missing dinner last night.
My bladder is full and forces me to leave the comforting shelter provided by the tree at my back. I tiptoe around, hunched over. I guess I’m afraid that I might run across someone unexpectedly.
As I roam about, this place begins to seem strangely familiar, and I can’t quite figure out why. There’s a small trail at my feet. Maybe it’s a game trail. Perhaps humans have contributed to the worn pathway, though it seems like it hasn’t been used much recently. I tiptoe down the path, stepping over the branches of shrubs that have grown across the path, looking hesitantly from side to side as I proceed. After a short distance, I reach a clearing and see a small, long-abandoned building near its far end. I tilt my head forward and squint, though it couldn’t be plainer to see. I get the feeling of having been here before―not just once, but dozens and dozens or perhaps even hundreds of times.
Near the empty building, there is a circle of stones surrounding a cracked, blackened log and dust-covered pine cones. I wonder how long it has been since that fire burned. I look around for other signs of occupancy. There are no clothes hanging on a line, no voices echoing across the pond, and no footprints. This clearing has been vacant for a long time.
I step closer to the building, and feel a sense of welcoming, like when we’re having dinner with Aunt Polly and Uncle Reuben. There’s a tiny shore at the edge of the pond in the middle of the clearing. I walk over and stand looking out over the water. Usually, I avoid getting anywhere near water, but I don’t feel like I can help myself. I look down, and the blue sky reflects off the pond’s surface toward the middle. At the edge closer to me, the rocks near my feet appear to be covered in fine brown dirt, only there’s a sparkle to the silt at the same time. This water has a kind of coppery quality that I don’t recall having seen before.
I begin to realize that I have been here. A distant memory comes flooding back to me in a rush. I remember Ma bringing Moses and me here many years ago. We spent several days here, and now I remember camping in that clearing and sleeping in that building. It is not too different from our cabin. I remember Ma telling me that our father built that wickiup. His name was Destiny. My eyes widen at the thought, this is where Ma met our father.
I walk over to the building and reach out my hand, placing my palm on the surface of the door. I’m aware of a tear at the edge of my eye. I rub the back of my neck and wonder, how can I miss a father I have never met? I imagine him building the cabin with a door so small that even I must bend over to enter. I hold my breath, open the door, and quickly step back.
A handful of panicked field mice run in various directions, trying to find a safe, dark place so they can disappear. I think of Ma and the horror she would feel. Everyone has their fears. Ma is afraid of mice like I am afraid of drowning. I encourage the mice to leave through the front door with a fallen branch and sweep away as much dirt and dust as I can. I’m not sure why I do this. I don’t imagine anyone will be staying here anytime soon, but I think that perhaps my father would appreciate me tidying up.
There are half a dozen weathered stumps set around the firepit. I pick one facing in the direction of the pond and sit down. I imagine my bare feet getting warm by a crackling fire, and it strikes me that I’m also thirsty. At the edge of the clearing, I find a large leaf and lick dew from its surface. After several more leaves, my thirst is quenched and I return to the barren fire.
I cover my face with my hands as my mind races. I went to sleep in one place and woke up in another. I’ve never heard of such a thing. How could this happen? I guess I’ve heard of sleepwalking, which might explain wandering around a house or a yard, but I couldn’t have walked in my sleep from town to this pond, could I? I don’t even remember how to get here.
A prayer forms on my lips. “Dear God, I’m lost.” I cross my legs then I cross my arms as well. How will I get home? The last time I was here was maybe ten years ago, and I can barely remember anything from that long ago. I look to the skies and finish my prayer. “Please, Lord, help me find my way home.”
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See you on your next coffee break!
Mary Anne xxx