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Taylor peered at her sister as she pulled her through the clump of trees. Jenny was rubbing her eyes, her cheeks red. Her long blonde hair was ratted and tangled from running through all the bushes, and a long red scratch was imprinted on her knee. Taylor could faintly make out the outline of a twig, probably from when Jenny fell on the ground fifteen minutes before. It was Taylor’s fault; Taylor had been scared and had been trying to make Jenny run faster. Taylor felt an ache in her chest as she thought of this, and she immediately switched her focus to the next order of business.
“Jenny, I know you’re sad, but we had to get away from him,” Taylor implored her sister, clutching Jenny’s arm, “And we have to keep running. We don’t know where he is.”
“But I’m tired!” Jenny wailed, tears running rivers down her swollen face, “And Mom’s not here!”
“Jenny, we have to be strong, okay? We have to keep going. We don’t have a choice.” Taylor’s eyes suddenly began to sparkle. “I have an idea. How about we play a game?”
“A game?” Jenny slowed down to catch her breath, “What kind of game?”
“A fun game,” Taylor grinned, “This is what you do. By that tree up there, there’s a pot of gold, and we’re going to get the treasure.
And if we don’t get to it in one minute, it’ll disappear forever.”
“But I don’t see it!” Jenny protested, straining her head to see around the statuesque elms. “Well of course you don’t see it,” Taylor shook her head, “It’s invisible! Until you get to it, of course. Now, whoever gets to it first gets the most candy!”
“Candy?” Jenny stopped in her tracks, “I thought it was a pot of gold!”
“Um,” Taylor’s eyes darted from left to right, “Yeah, but it has candy in it too!”
Jenny looked up at her sister in disbelief. “I’m five, not stupid!” Jenny crossed her arms across her chest, “You’re trying to trick me!”
“Jenny, we have to go!” Taylor abandoned all pretenses, “Unless you want him to find you?” Jenny glared at Taylor. Jenny’s blue eyes met Taylor’s green ones. Blue implores, green ignores. Taylor sighed.
“Jenny, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have…” But Jenny was already tearing off through the woods, away from her sister.
Taylor started after her, mentally cursing herself as she pushed through the brush, the bushes, the branches to find her sister. “JENNY!” she screamed, “Come back! I’m sorry!” Tears started streaming down Taylor’s face. Damnit. Usually Taylor could suppress them, as long as she released her anger by screaming. This was different. This was her sister. “JENNY!” Taylor yelled, “I’m sorry! Please, just come back!” No response. A minute later, Taylor heard a loud sob. She sprinted in the direction of the noise, which led her to a small bush. Behind the small bush she found Jenny sobbing hysterically, with a new scratch on her arm that was bleeding.
“I ran into a tree,” Jenny sniffled, wiping the blood off her arm with one hand and the tears off her cheek with another, “And my arm hurts. I don’t wanna walk anymore tonight.”
“Well, it doesn’t seem like we’re gonna get much further anyway tonight…it’s really dark, so we probably shouldn’t be wandering around when we don’t know where we’re going. And I think we’re far enough away that we’ll be okay for tonight.” Jenny smiled, the first smile since they’d left. The sight made Taylor giddy. Jenny yawned.
“Mr. Benny’s getting tired.” She was referring to the fluffy stuffed bear she held in her other hand, which had been Taylor’s when she was little. Taylor used to sleep with it when she was scared of nightmares. It was clear that Jenny would need it more than Taylor would now.
“Maybe we can make Mr. Benny a little bed,” Taylor started, getting creative. She walked over to a section of trees that was a little less thick. “Jenny, I’ll hold you up, and you rip off three of these leaves, okay?”
Taylor lifted Jenny up and Jenny managed to pull off the leaves. Taylor set her down, and they both seemed a little happier at the prospect of their new project.
“Now let’s set him down on the first leaf,” Taylor continued, “Cover him with the second, and fold the third to make a pillow.” Soon Mr. Benny’s bed was complete.
“Now for ours,” Taylor thought to herself, looking around. In most stories, there would be logs magically sitting there, with giant leaves and sometimes even kindling. But there was nothing.
“Jenny, I don’t know what we’ll do for ourselves,” she said, “Are you okay with going exploring a little more?”
“How about you be the treasure-hunter and I’ll be the lookout?” Jenny smiled, her eyelids beginning to cover her blue irises, “I’ll lay here with Mr. Benny and watch out for danger.”
“Okay,” Taylor sighed. She didn’t want to leave her sister alone, but decided that for now she had no choice. She walked a little further, to the point where she could just barely see Jenny, and started looking for something to make them beds with.
Twenty minutes later, Taylor returned empty-handed to see Jenny already asleep on the ground next to Mr. Benny.
Taylor could not sleep. Although the ground was oddly warm and even slightly comfortable, she could not sleep. She could barely shut her eyes, because every time she did, that terrible image, that horrific image became her mind’s screensaver. Taylor gave up on sleep and decided to try to walk a bit. Taylor stood up, not even caring about the mud that was now plastered to her white church dress, or the leaves stuck to the bottom of her heels. Taylor took off the heels and threw them into a bush.
It was pitch black. Taylor’s eyes glittered in the moonlight as she attempted to see anything. The only thing she could see was the creek. She walked towards the silvery surface. She looked down, expecting to see her own reflection...eyes red and puffy from crying, hair in half a bun, half full of knots, torn clothing from all the branches. What she saw next would shock her more than what had brought her to the forest in the first place.
Taylor screamed, then realized her sister was asleep. She immediately covered her mouth, her eyes growing to tennis ball proportions. It was her reflection in the water staring back at her, that much was true, but it was certainly not what she was expecting to see. In her reflection, Taylor was holding Jenny’s hand and reaching the end of the forest, filled with glorious sunlight. The reflection Taylor was staring back at the current Taylor, smiling with obvious relief. Taylor blinked, but the image in front of her did not change. She sat in shock for a few seconds, before running over to her sister.
“Jenny, Jenny,” she shook the girl gently, “Get up!”
“Huh?” Jenny mumbled, rolling over and slapping her sister’s arm.
“Jenny,” Taylor sighed, “You have to see this.” Taylor pulled Jenny up, and Jenny grudgingly trailed behind her sister as they walked towards the creek.
“Look!” Taylor said, pointing at the lake. Jenny looked onto the surface.
“So?” Jenny whined, obviously annoyed, “It’s me. Can I go to sleep now?”
“You don’t see it?” Taylor asked in shock. Taylor looked back into the depths of the creek, and again she saw the strange image.
“What are you doing?” Jenny complained, “I wanna go to sleep!”
“Jenny, I see us in there,” Taylor said, not looking up from the image, “At the end of the forest. You seriously don’t see this?”
“No!” Jenny cried, looking alarmed now, “You need to go to sleep.... I think you’re dreaming.” Jenny pulled her sister back towards their sleeping area.”
Taylor returned to the creek, where she looked at the reflection all night long.