August 30, 2008
Footsteps crunched into the leaf blanket on the unseen earth, as nocturnal creatures began to make their nightly call. The sun had only just fallen, and the curious beasts of the wilderness had only started stirring into their nightly routine. A girl stumbled, as her upper body fell towards the ground, her hands tapped the bit of soil that showed between the dying, yet colorful leaves that carpeted the forest floor, and raised herself up. She continued on her endless journey, wandering with seemingly aimlessly, her last bits of hope faltering with every moment her foot hit the ground.

A branch became ensnared in her tangled hair. The girl grabbed a hold of it with a dirty, scarred, delicate hand and ripped it free as a few tightly knotted hairs were pulled back with the branch, hanging like odd Christmas decorations. She patted her filthy yellowish hair, careful not to get her own fingers caught in her mane.

Her hair was once an elegant gold that shined like the sun whenever light was near and weaved itself in gentle waves like a tiny ocean. She would wear her beloved little red dress once spring came along that reached just below her adorable knees and tiny little pockets that she often used to sneak bits of bread in to share with her brother. Her father would have her wear pure white stockings with the dress. He would say it was more proper for a young girl to wear stockings with a dress. She had hated it because they would often get hot and itchy. The little black shoes that she wore with them would often have been covered in yellow pollen by dusk.

But that was years ago. The now little brown-red dress was tattered and ripped from the woods' abuse and from her growth, revealing several scratches from earlier that day. Dirt had seeped so far into the fibers that it was doubtable that any amount of washing could get it out. Her light gray stockings were torn in several places, revealing more wounds. Her feet and toes were crushed inside her battered and beaten shoes as the seams had slowly begun to rip apart, and dirt had managed to find a home in every pore on her body.

As she marched along, her mind wandered back to that dark day. She remembered the running. Running as fast as their petite legs could carry them. She remembered the pain that constricted her around her ribs as she breathed faster, shallower panting. She remembered her brother leading her, gripping her hand as she was nearly dragged along as their knuckles turned white.

"Brother!" she hollered at him, tears leaking out of her baby blue eyes, "I can't run anymore!"

"We can't give up, Pearl," he shouted back at her, his eyes fixed on whatever path that lay ahead.

"But brother," she began just as she tripped over a tree root, forcing him to stumble back as well. Her face was buried in the dirt, and she began to choke on the dust and her tears.

"Pearl, come on! Get up!" he said, tugging at her arm. A hideous cackle resounded behind them. He looked up to where, or what, the voice was coming from. Upon seeing the horror that was there, he let go of his little sister and dashed off.

Sometimes, she could still hear that cackle that haunted her in her dreams. The memory was always fresh in her mind, as if it had only happened days ago. They were but children, then. Whether it was their innocence or their inability to listen that caused them to enter the old woman's house, she wasn't sure, but they had paid dearly for it. The people in town warned them not to wander into the woods, but they did anyway. They told them not to talk to strangers, but they did anyway. They didn't listen to the town and their legends that only happened to other insolent children and couldn't possibly happen to them. Now, she wandered the woods alone and forever scarred because she wouldn't listen.

Her mind returned to her wandering body when she saw what now lay before her. She stopped. All those years all of those long, painful years!
She slowly sunk to the ground in disbelief, her eyes remaining fixated on the old wooden shack with a dusty, once cheerful light yellow coat of paint along the walls, and the once dainty light pink door, shutters, and roof. The once charming flowers that once grew in the garden along the walls were no longer their, and weeds had now begun taking over. The white picket fence was also neglected and collapsing, but that was no different than when she first arrived here. Pearl buried her hands in her face and began to cry. It was a soft whimpering at first, but it quickly became loud and remorseful as the regret, the pain, and the memories forced themselves to be resurfaced and expressed.

"No," she babbled between loud breaths of air and sobs, "No, no no no no." She continued wailing into her hands. All of those years, wandering the woods, and she happened to choose the path that circles back to this place? For years, she had been searching for her brother, trying to find him, or his body, wherever that may be if not to be united, then to at least have the knowledge of what happened to him. Instead, she returned to the very beginning of the nightmare. The building's deceitful innocence drew her and her brother inside out of joy and childish curiosity, as the woman's warm mask had welcomed them even further into the building. They had never met her before, so they didn't know of the woman's psychosis.

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