What Was Missing
By Natasha Lane
Darkness swarmed around the trees like mist from the swamp. The darkness swirled around the trunks of the bark giants and forced them down, so their branches hung right above my head. Branches that reached out for me and grabbed at the red scarf my mother had made me last Christmas.
The teased me. They poked and prodded at me from every direction and laughed as I turned from side to side trying to catch their violating hands. But every time I turned there was nothing behind me. I was alone.
I could have been swallowed up whole by the forest, my hand stretched out toward the last patch of blue sky I would ever see. I would disappear. I would be gone and no one would care about the missing girl. No one would care because I had failed. I had ruined my family’s reputation, so if I wandered forever in the maze of black mist and broken branches, it would be seen as a suitable punishment.
Maybe my parents would adopt. Maybe my replacement would be a better finder than. I couldn’t believe I was going to let my family down.
I tucked my scarf into my coat and pushed on to my end. The trail winded through the forest, guiding my exhausted legs when my mind was not sure which way to go. Occasionally I stopped to look under a rock or search through a ditch for the treasure. Each time I would climb back to the path with empty hands.
I knew if I could just find the Twelfth Night Treasure, it would guide me home. It would shine so brightly the black mist would disappear and the trees would shrink away in fear. Demons always ran away from the light. It was a fact. Father said so.
But that was my problem. I couldn’t find the treasure and so, I couldn’t find my way out of the forest. I wasn’t sure how I had gotten lost. I had followed my father’s instructions precisely. Twelve Bigfoot steps past the rotten tree with the face of an old man and twenty Hercules leaps to the caverns. What had I done wrong?
I felt a wet spot on my hand. Then, a second one, a third, and soon my hands were nothing but drops of wetness. My body, too. I breathed and my breath formed into smoke. Because of the rain, the mist had become a fog. The path soon disappeared in front of me. I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face. It was like I was surrounded by a kind of scary nothing.
I closed my eyes in fear of the nothing and walked blindly through the forest. It got colder and colder. My teeth began to chatter loudly, only tuned out by the sound of rushing water. I continued to walk and the sound grew louder. If I was by the river bank, I would be close to home.
I continued to walk until my right foot felt nothing but air beneath it. I stepped back. I bent down and stretched out my hand. I had reached my end. I was not at the river bank. I was on a cliff.
I tried to take a breath, but my chattering teeth would not let me. The coldness had grabbed hold of me and did not want to let go. I dropped to the ground and waited for the coldness to freeze me into a statue. I pictured how everyone would react when they found the statue of the missing girl. Maybe I would become a tourist attraction…
The fog was broken.
“She’s here, everyone. Look.”
Warm hands grabbed my shoulders and began to shake me. I opened my eyes and looked into the grey eyes of my father.
“Oh, my God. I found her!”
“I’m sorry, D-Dad,” I said through shaky breaths. “I-I didn’t f-find the treasure.”
“What?” he asked.
“It’s still missing,” I said. “The Twelfth Night Treasure…for the town. I know we win it every year. I’m sorry.”
“Shush, Felene,” he said. “You were the only thing missing and now I’ve found you.”
Then, the coldness disappeared. We found our way home and the treasure remained lost forever.
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