An original short story.
Kaia had no idea where or how far away from home she was. At seven years old she wasn’t much for directions or telling time. She only knew that the sun was going down and if she didn’t find her way out of these trees she’d miss dinner and tonight it was lasagna, special for Aunt Janice’s birthday. Her favourite. The whole family was gathered for the celebration, including grandma and her world-famous baked goodies. Her cousins were over, too. Sara and Ivan. Jerks. Kaia wished she could hang out with the adults. They were gathered in the kitchen, which was enourmous. Kaia figured her parents were rich, probably gazillionaires. They always threw these big fancy parties where all the food was bite sized and everyone drank out of long fancy glasses.
That’s how it started. Everyone was celebrating, her mom fussing in the kitchen, the children being too loud.
“Why don’t you kids go outside and play until dinner,” her Dad suggested.
Off they went.
With a backyard that consisted mainly of a small garden plot and trees, the obvious place to play was in the trees. Kaia and her cousins would do things like build forts with tree branches and climb the enormous trees, but their go-to was hide and seek.
Sara hid first, but her efforts were futile. She was not a tiny girl and she wore a pink, fluffy sweatshirt. It may as well have been a beacon for the seeker. Sara was nabbed in a minute’s time.
Ivan was a little more creative. That bummed Kaia out, she didn’t feel like searching for him anyway,. Kaia didn’t really enjoy playing with her cousins that much because they were bullies. Picked on her her for being skinny, mocked her long curly red hair that sometimes got knotted up and fluffy-fuzzy. “Your hair looks like a toilet brush,” Sara would say. Ivan would laugh hysterically over the unfunny joke every time.
Kaia wanted to outsmart them on her turn to hide. She ran quickly through the brush. She could feel the burdocks grabbing at her purple sweater as she ran, but she didn’t care. “The longer it takes for them to find me the more peace I get,” she thought.
She found a tree, hustled up as high as she could, and scrunched herself into a little ball. Trying to make herself invisible. She heard her cousins yelling in the distance.
In the distance.
How far had she run?
She waited and waited for her cousins to come find her but their cries just got more distant and further away. A feeling of panic washed over Kaia. She descended the tree, not that graciously though, scraping her leg and leaving an open bleeding gash on her right calf. She cried out.
Sitting on the ground at the foot of that tree Kaia cried until snot came out of her nose, which she angrily wiped on her purple sweater. “Ok, enough crying,” she told herself. “I gotta get home or I’m going to be stuck out here in the woods all alone all night.” The very thought prompted more tears. She gathered herself and decided to find home.
She had been running, dodging trees and bushes, for what felt like an hour. She finally accepted the fact that she was lost and alone. She collapsed on the ground, exhausted.
When Kaia opened her eyes, the sky had grown much darker. The woods were beginning to make their night-time noises. The peepers were out, a few frog noises, an owl. The noise of rustling brushes. That scared Kaia enough to dart out of the thicket.
“I didn’t know this was here,” she said out loud as she came upon a pond. She bent over and cupped her hands to take a drink of water. The moonlight lit an eerie glow over the pond. Kaia could see her reflection and the forest behind her as though she was looking into a mirror. She saw a tattered- looking girl with dirty clothes. Her mom would be pretty mad that she put a hole in her pants from that tree. The blood was clotted and dried in a perfect circle of red on her kitty-cat leggings. She could see her stupid face, freckles and that mess of curly hair, matted with sweat and sticking up everywhere. Out of frustration she smacked the water with her hand.
Her reflection changed. It was still her but her reflection was smiling and Kaia wasn’t smiling. Quite the opposite. Just then, the reflection winked at her.
She had hoped that her terrified ear-splitting wails would draw her family near. To come save her. No one came. She was still alone, the image from the pond seared into her memory. An eerie, pensive calm washed over her. “What if the face in the pond can talk?” she thought. “What if it can help me find my way home?” She approached the shining pond slowly, cautiously. She closed in on it, until she could see her reflection again.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“Why, I’m you silly! Can’t you tell?!”, The Reflection responded with a giggle.
“Reflections don’t talk,” Kaia retorted.
A shiny object in Kaia in The Reflection’s hand grabbed her attention.
The thing twirled around and around The Reflection’s finger.
“You can have this locket, it will help you get home,” The Reflection began softly . “It has a compass inside and it will point where you need to go.” The locket. Still twirling around that one finger. It caught the moonlight, the reflection dancing across the pond’s surface. Hypnotizing.
Kaia motioned for the locket, but it was just out of her reach. The Reflection swam out a little further. Kaia chased the treasure into the water. This was her locket. This was her compass. Her ticket home.
Kaia was shoulder deep.
“Follow me Kaia, reach for my pendant,” The Reflection encouraged in a whisper. “Stay with me.”
Kaia found herself kicking, struggling to stay afloat. She was not a strong swimmer. She wouldn’t even put her face under water, causing her to lose out on her swim badge in Brownies. Dipping under. Swallowing acrid, metal-tasting water, the grit of sand in her teeth. More kicks. In one swift motion she breached the surface, gasped for air, and dipped under. Kaia was gone. Only a few bubbles remained floating at the surface.
Bill Powell walked alongside Sheriff Ruiz. “Used to be an old mill and pond around these parts back in the 1960s,” Powell noted. The entire community was two days into an intense search for the missing seven year old.
If you needed a town history lesson, Powell was your man.
“Yessir, back in, I wanna say ’67, ’68, a young girl named Eloise Harris went missing,” he continued. “The whole town went looking for that little girl. Sweet little girl, red curly hair, freckles,” he described. “Decade later, all they ended up finding were bones,” Powell said. He turned to face the Sheriff. “That mill shut down after some accusations that one of the workers had done something to that little girl, and that pond all but dried up over the years,” Powell continued, explaining how Eloise Harris was found. “That’s when they found her….well what was left. Just a skeleton clutching a locket. I think it had a compass in it if memory serves me.”
“I seem to remember coming across that case in my files when I took over here in 99’, they never actually pinned anyone for that did they?” Ruiz asked.
“Nope. But these woods are full of secrets, there are probably trees here older than man itself. Some say she accidentally drowned, some say she was dumped here, some say the ground just seemed to open up and swallow her whole, spittin’ out her bones, but… no way of proving nothin’,” Bill said in a grunt. His hips were killing him.
The search party found their way to the clearing on an unseasonably warm Saturday afternoon. Right where the old mill and pond used to be, right where Powell said it would be. Sheriff Ruiz saw something in the distance. He walked toward this patch of colour, kicking up dust and sediment as he strode across the dried out pond. A girl’s sweater. Purple.
Kaia’s mother identified the sweater as hers. There were no remains to be found. Tucked up into the sleeve was a gold locket. Ruiz popped the locket open, revealing a compass with a shattered screen. On the back, the initials E.H. were neatly inscribed.
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