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INFINITY: Part One
By Eric Cummings
There’s nothing else to do on this boat, so all I do is look out at the churning waves, as the sunset turns them a deep orange.
I’m George Herring. I’m a twelve-year old kid who got stuck on this boring trip with my dad and my little sister Kaylee, who’s six years younger than me. My dad’s a surveyor, and he keeps on charting different land formations off the coast of Mexico that nobody found before. Boy, has he found a lot, but there’s a tiny little area he hasn’t explored yet. As much as I wonder about what might be there, I still want to get off this boat and back to my hometown so I can see all my friends again.
Kaylee’s staring out at the waves beside me. We’ve just took off, and there are tons of other boats sailing beside us. Kaylee’s six, so it’s pretty easy to expect that she’ll be excited at everything she sees.
“Look! Look, George!” she says annoyingly while tapping my shoulder. “There’s a ship! Over there! See, George? See?”
I sigh heavily. “Kaylee, in case you haven’t noticed, there are dozens of ships out there.”
Kaylee just ignores me as she waves at the other men on the boat. “Hi, sailors!” She waves happily. They just smile and wave back.
Kaylee’s blond hair and her pink jacket are flapping in the wind as we continue past the other ships. I look at the sunset. It stains the water a bright orange, and although I may look beautiful, I’m still bored out of my mind.
I walk away from the handrail and go into the cabin where my tall dad is staring at a map and marking it with a pencil. “Dad, I’m bored. Why did we have to go on this stupid surveying trip?”
“Kaylee really wanted to go. And besides, you brought your DS, didn’t you?” Dad replied.
“Yeah, but it’s on low battery,” I answer glumly.
“Too bad,” Dad answers back. “Wait, didn’t you bring a sketchbook, too?”
“Go use that.”
“Can look at your map first?”
“Sure.” Dad stands up from his chair and I gaze at the map. It’s a map of Mexico, and the vast ocean surrounding it. We’re sailing on the Pacific Ocean right now, toward some islands that Dad’s already mapped out. Northwest of those islands is another area that Dad has marked with a big question mark. That question mark looks kind of eerie to me. Dad had said he was sure there was another island in that area. He had just spotted the shoreline on a peak on one of the already-mapped-out islands. It had been enveloped in a thick fog, which makes this even more eerie. I don’t know what’s on that island, and I don’t really want to know, so I just stood back up and looked at Dad.
“Huh...it’s interesting,” I tell him.
“Yeah...I remember going back to the island I’d first seen it from. I remember a day where the fog had cleared out in one area, and I could look at that spot clearly. So, I took out my binoculars, looked over at that spot, and I saw thousands of exotic plants no one else has ever seen. I could’ve tried to look at it more, but the fog came back out of nowhere.” Dad sighs heavily, and I look at the map nervously.
“Dad...I don’t really think this is a good idea. This seems kind of scary.”
“Well, the island did look scary from my view.”
“We’re not actually going to explore the island, are we? It really doesn’t seem like a good idea.”
Dad shrugs. “Well, if you don’t want to, we can just look around and observe the outside of the island. Then we’ll take off.”
I finally feel relieved that we don’t have to explore the mysterious island. “Yeah, that sounds pretty good, Dad.”
Suddenly, Kaylee bursts into the cabin. “Daddy! Daddy!” Kaylee smiles in that annoying, excited way she always does. “Daddy! Guess what!”
“What is it, sweetheart?” Dad asks.
“There’s another surveyor outside! He says he’d like to meet you!” Kaylee exclaims. “I told him about how you mapped out all those other islands and stuff!”
“Wow, really?” Dad smiles. “Okay, let’s meet ‘em!”
He picks up his map and follows Kaylee out the cabin door. I sigh. There isn’t anything else to do, so I just follow them. I lean on the handrail next to Kaylee and Dad.
“Oh, and this is my son, George,” Dad says.
“Hey, George,” the surveyor replies. He isn’t actually on the boat, but he’s sailing next to us on another boat. He has dark skin and a smile that seems to light up the water along with the sun. “I’m John Addison. Nice to meet you.”
I smile politely and wave. “Nice to meet you, too,” I say.
“So you’re a surveyor?” Dad asks.
“Well...no, not really. Just part-time,” John answers.
“Oh...well, what do you mean ‘part-time’?”
“Um, I looked at the maps you posted on your website. I thought it would be an interesting experience to check out that mystery area you haven’t charted yet.”
I gulp. I have butterflies in my stomach. For some reason, whenever someone mentions that island, I get really nervous.
“Wait,” Dad says. “You’ve been to my website?”
“Of course,” John answers with a smile. “You’re Alex Herring! I’m a big fan of your work.”
“Yeah...so anyway, I saw the maps on your website. I wanted to check out that area, so I decided to head out. But I had no idea I would run into you here!”
“Well, nice to meet you. If I run into you on the island, I’ll be sure to help you out.”
“Dad!” I shout at him.
“Oh...yeah, I forgot. Sorry, John. I’m afraid I can’t help you out with surveying the island. Old George here is too scared to explore the island.”
“I’m not scared,” I counter. “It’s just that the stories you told me about seeing the island kind of creep me out.”
“Okay, George. I believe you,” Dad says. Then he turns back to John. “Well, John, either way, we can’t explore the island. But if we see you from our boat, we’ll wave to you, all right?”
“Gotcha,”John answers with a smile.
“Okay. I gotta get back to the cabin. Kaylee, you can talk to John a little bit more. See ya, kids.” Dad walks back into the cabin.
“Okay, Daddy!” Kaylee calls after Dad. Then she turns back to John, smiling brightly.
John turns to me. “You gonna stay, George?”
I shake my head. “Sorry, I was gonna go sketch.” I walk towards the cabin, which is where we put everything we would need for the trip. I fish around in my backpack for a little bit until I find my sketchbook. I also take a folding chair with me so I won’t have to sit on the hard deck of the boat.
Before I leave the cabin, I turn to Dad, who’s started staring at his map again. “Dad, when are we supposed to get to the island?”
“Probably by tomorrow afternoon,” Dad answers.
Okay, so by tomorrow afternoon I’ll be staring out at the island that sends a chill down my spine. Great.
I pick a spot on the deck and unfold the folding chair. I sit down, open my sketchbook, and begin to sketch. I don’t mean to brag, but I’m like a junior Picasso. Everyone who’s seen my sketches has told me I’m a child prodigy. I like to do it, I like the calmness of it, but it isn’t so calm right now with the ship rocking up and down, the mystery of the uncharted island biting at me, and Kaylee shouting questions at that John person.
After I’ve drawn two detailed sketches, I put my sketchbook back in my backpack. Kaylee stopped talking to that John person about half and hour ago, and now she’s sleeping in her sleeping back in the cabin. The sun has almost passed under the horizon by now, so I decide it’s probably good to stop sketching.
I enter the cabin, take out my sleeping bag, and lay it down on the floor. I see Dad sitting in his chair and I feel kind of sorry for him. He has bags under his eyes and I can tell he’s getting tired of looking at his map every five seconds.
But I’m getting pretty tired, too, so I settle down in my sleeping bag, and slowly fall asleep.
Dad!” I exclaim. “Dad! Wake up!”
The morning sun lights up the boat like a gigantic light bulb, and now I can clearly see that my dad has fallen asleep on his map. Now let me get something straight: my dad is not lazy AT ALL. He never eats unhealthy and he always works out really early in the morning. And surveying and climbing all those mountains is a really good workout, so my dad must’ve shaved off every single bit of fat he once had. But he stayed up all night last night, so now he’s sleeping and drooling on his precious map.
“Dad! Wake up!” I shout.
“Unh? Whuzzat?” Dad says, his head jolting up.
“Dad, you fell asleep on your map,” I tell him. “And you kind of drooled on it.”
“What?” he responds, a tone of worry in his voice. “Oh, crap!”
“What? What is it?” I ask.
“I fell asleep while navigating to the island. We might be off course.”
I’m half happy about that and half worried at the same time. I like how we don’t have to go near the uncharted island anymore, but if we’re off course, we could be stranded at sea.
“So...are we stranded at sea?” I ask.
Dad doesn’t answer. He shoves the map away and stars looking at the radar. “Oh, thank God!” he exclaims.
“What? Are we off course or not?” I demand.
Dad shakes his head. “No, no we’re not. It’s unbelievable. I wen’t a whole night without steering the boat and we’re still on course. It’s like the wind blew us towards our destination.”
Okay, that creeped me out even more. It’s like the wind was blowing us towards our destination...towards the uncharted island. Maybe I’m just a little paranoid, but I’m still scared about what this island’s gonna bring us.
I wake Kaylee up and then we eat breakfast, which were some candy bars we brought. Dad had brought some healthy stuff, too, but we didn’t feel like eating the healthy things.
“Want some, Dad?” I ask, holding out my candy bar to him.
“No, thanks. I don’t eat junk food,” he answers, still paying attention to his map.
After a while, I start sketching more out on the deck. I sketch the churning waves, the clouds that are as puffy as cotton candy, and then Kaylee comes outside.
“Hi, George!” Kaylee says with a smile.
“Hey, Kaylee,” I sigh.
“What are you sketching?”
“The waves, the clouds...nothing much.”
“Hey, I got an idea! Why don’t you sketch me? It could be fun!”
I glance at her. “Are you sure you just wanna sit there doing nothing for a few hours? It can get really boring.”
“I’ll be fine with it!”
Well, that’s what you can expect with my sister. I can’t remember the last time she got bored. “Well, sit down.”
Kaylee sits down, and I begin sketching her. I draw her face, her jacket, her skirt, her shoes, everything...and then I notice something about the background I’m drawing behind her. A drop of rain splotches the sketchbook so that it’s less clear to see now, but I can still see the rocky, mountainous form on the horizon. I get up, and underneath the darkening sky is an island.
I quickly put the sketchbook in my backpack as we begin to hear thunder. Kaylee starts to get scared.
“Uh...George?” she whines. “What was that?”
“Kaylee, it’s nothing. It’s just a little thunder. It’s not gonna hurt you,” I tell her.
Then a huge burst of thunder echoes across the area and Kaylee starts crying. She runs toward the cabin. “Daaaaaad!” she yells. I look across the horizon. Past the island in the distance, there’s nothing but blackness. It looks like it’s going to be a bad storm, so I run after Kaylee and burst into the cabin. Kaylee’s huddling in her sleeping bag, still whining, and Dad’s still looking at his map. I stare at the island in the distance.
“Dad?” I ask. “Is...is that the island?”
“No,” Dad answers, as we near the island’s shoreline. “See the docks there? And see those men on the docks? Those men are there because I mapped that island out. If I hadn’t mapped out that island, no one would be there.”
“So...where is the island?”
“Oh, we’re getting close. Now stay in the cabin. It’s gonna be a wet one.”
I sit down next to Kaylee and try to comfort her as she huddles in her sleeping bag scared half to death. As we pass by the next island that Dad’s mapped out, it starts to rain even harder. I watch the men on the docks as they quickly run for cover.
The clouds get lighter as we enter the monsoon. It’s like a paintbrush slammed into the window and painted everything white. The only thing we can see is the boat deck as water rushes onto it. The boat shakes up and down violently, upsetting Kaylee even more. I continue to comfort her for countless minutes until the rain stops abruptly. But everything is still white outside--the deck has been enveloped in a thick white fog.
“It stopped raining,” I say quietly.
All of a sudden, the radar shuts off, and my heart starts racing. Dad slams the radar screen, hoping that by some chance it will start working again. Finally, Dad sighs heavily. “It’s no good. The whole ship’s been shut down. And I don’t know how.”
“What?” Kaylee says.
“N-nothing, Kaylee,” I quickly say. There’s nothing more annoying than a scared Kaylee, and I’d do anything to prevent her from getting scared because of that.
Dad and I exit the cabin and rush out onto the deck. We can’t see anything through the fog, and it’s dead quiet. There’s nothing to hear except for the churning waves.
“Dad...why is the ship still moving?” I ask.
Dad looks out at the water. “Looks like there’s a current...” Dad says. “...and it’s pulling us towards--”
Dad doesn’t get to finish his sentence. The ship slams into a huge stone wall and the front of the deck is splintered into thousands of tiny pieces of wood. Dad and I stumble back in surprise.
Dad and I scramble up to our feet as the boat deck is split in two, throwing pieces of wood everywhere. I feel something sliding against my leg, but I try to ignore it. My main priority right now is to get into the cabin.
Dad reaches it first. He opens the door and looks toward me. “George! C’mon!!” Dad screams. I run into the cabin and Dad follows me, quickly closing the door behind him.
As we look in the cabin, we see that it’s already an inch deep in water, and Kaylee is bawling so loud I’m sure anything on the island, no matter how far away, could hear her.
“Daaaaaddyyyy!!!” Kaylee keeps screaming.
“Kaylee! Daddy’s here, okay?” Dad yells.
Dad picks up Kaylee and I try to grab everything we brought with us. While I’m doing this, I glance at the world outside. We’re being rushed down a narrow strait lined by trees and plants. The boat deck is completely under water by now, and water splashes up violently into the window.
I’m about to grab the rest of our belongings when something slams into the boat and the ceiling caves in on top of me. I scramble out of the way and try to get on my feet. It’s started to rain again, only now it’s raining even harder than last time. The cabin is now several inches under water--knee-deep.
“C’mon, George! Let’s go!” Dad shouts.
I’m about to get to Dad when the floor caves in and a huge aperture opens up. Dad, Kaylee and I all fall through the floor and into the water. I immediately lose sight of Dad and Kaylee as an endless sea of navy blue fills my eyes. The water is being stained red from a cut on my leg. I try to swim further through the water, but my backpack is weighing me down. It’s becoming heavier the wetter it gets, and I’m already pretty weak from what just happened.
I rise up above the water, and struggle to keep my head up with the flimsy flutter kick I learned seven years ago. I spit water out of my mouth, and I grit my teeth from the stinging pain in my leg.
“Daaad!!!” I shout, still spitting water out of my mouth. “Ka--Kaylee??!!?”
I can’t see anything with the water in my eyes and all the debris around me. I decide to submerge again and feel around on the ground to see when I might be getting close to a beach. A couple times I have to get back above water to take in a large amount of air, but then I begin to feel sand.
A second later I’m face-to-face with a skull.
I jerk my head above the water.
“Kaaaaaayleeeeeee!!!!” I scream. Kaylee’s skull might be right in front of me...
“George!” I hear someone scream. I look up and I see Dad and Kaylee on the beach. Dad is waving at me while Kaylee is throwing up on the sand. The wreckage of the boat is perched on the sand about twenty feet away from them.
I look down at the skull below the water. It’s not Kaylee’s. It looks like this man might’ve died in his forties, and his skeleton washed up on the beach. The skull is practically torn in two...as is the rest of the body. The whole skeleton is covered in mud and moss, and I shudder to think of what might’ve happened to this man. But I try to put that out of my mind as I waddle towards Dad and Kaylee.
I throw the soaking wet backpack onto the sand and stumble onto the ground. Dad goes into the boat wreckage, trying to salvage more of the things we brought with us that were only to be doomed in the sinking boat.
Kaylee has finally stopped puking on the sand, and now she bawling like a baby. I try to examine the cut on my leg, but Kaylee’s crying is annoying the crap out of me. “Kaylee, your crying is so annoying! Shut up!” I yell at her. She just cries even more.
Dad slumps down on the sand next to us. He places on the sand Kaylee’s pink backpack and the map, which is now soaking wet.
“I’m just gonna rest here for a few more minutes...then I’ll go back in a try to recover more stuff,” Dad tells us.
I glance at the vast forest behind us. “Is this the island?”
Dad nods slowly. “I’m pretty sure.”
“Dad, what are going to do now?” I ask, choking back tears. “We’re stranded here on an uncharted island--”
“George! Stop whining! I’m sick of it!”
“Oh, so you’re letting Kaylee get away with it?”
“All right, everybody QUIET!!!!” Dad screams it so loud that even Kaylee stops crying. She’s still sniffing and sobbing, but at least not as annoyingly loud anymore. Dad sighs heavily. “I’m sorry. I’m just so frustrated. I can’t think.” After a few moments of the rain pouring down on us, Dad begins to speak again. “Let’s explore the island. Someone may have mapped it out already, so we may be able to run into them and then we can get a ride out of here. Okay?”
I hear Dad tell us his plan, but my eyes are hooked on something else. “Dad,” I say. “I’m beginning to think we’re not the first ones here.” I point along the shoreline to the sharp and jagged rocks far away, where dozens of other shipwrecks are visible. There are sailboats, motorboats, ships from the 1500s, and so much more.
Dad nods anxiously. “Yeah...yeah, we’re not.” He stands up to go salvage more things from the boat. Kaylee and I glance at each other, then we turn towards Dad again.
After fifteen minutes, Dad’s finally finished getting everything he could from the wreckage of the boat. He gets our backpacks, his map, a refrigerated lunch pack with a good supply of food in it, and his backpack, which is filled with fishing rods and maps and stuff like that. To save space, Dad puts the map and the lunch pack into his backpack and then stands up.
“All right,” he says. “Let’s go.”
Kaylee stands up, picks up her backpack and leans against Dad. I stand up and pick up my backpack. Before I follow Dad and Kaylee, I look back at the multiple shipwrecks. I gulp, thinking of what dangers might be looking in the forest in front of us. Then I turn and follow Dad and Kaylee.
It’s stopped raining, and the sun is starting to come out. That’s a nice change. Even after what just happened, I’m starting to feel a lot calmer now. I just listen to the birds chirping away, the wind rushing in my ears, the waves pounding against the shore past the trees. There’s no trail at all through these woods, but we just walk between all the trees and try to avoid stepping on thorns or something.
After an hour of hiking, I begin to get bored, so I take out my DS and begin playing my favorite game, Mario Kart DS. It’s a good thing I had my DS charged on the boat. I always like to play as Waluigi, beating everyone else with my crane. I win two races and get second to Toad in one race when suddenly I hear a different sound than in the game.
“Sbu-bub-bu-bu-bu-uuu-uu-uuu!” I hear from above me.
I look at the tree branch above me and I see a bird with a long, wide beak and beautiful red-orange feathers. Its talons are really weird; the bird has three toes and two smaller toes that branch out from each main toe. It’s tail looks a lot like fire and is even bigger than the bird itself.
I pause the game, close the DS and put it in my pocket. I’m stuck staring at the....I think I’ll just call it Firebird. “Huh,” is all I can say.
“Sbu-bub-bu-bu-bu-uuu-uu-uuu!” Firebird repeats.
I keep staring at the bird that looks like it’s on fire. It’s really a peculiar sight. I’ve never seen a bird like this before. Then I see its eyes. In its eyes, it looks like there’s a raging inferno getting bigger and smaller and bigger and smaller and going through that pattern repeatedly. I’ll bet that if this bird wanted to, it could stare a hole right through me...
“Hey! George!” Dad called back at me. “C’mon! It’s gonna get dark soon and I don’t want to be hiking in the forest at night.”
“Neither do I,” I say. I try to look back at the bird, but it’s already flying away through the trees. I keep watching it until it’s nothing more than a black dot in the distance. Then I stride to catch up with Dad and Kaylee.
Another hour passes, and the sun begins to set. I begin to hear strange noises coming from distant places in the woods, so I really hope we reach someplace to spend the night soon. I think Dad hears the noises ,too, and so does Kaylee.
“Daddy, what was that?” Kaylee asks, a nervous tone in her voice.
Dad shakes his head. “N-nothing, Kaylee. Just the...just the birds, Kaylee. Listen to the birds chirp away. Don’t they sound happy?”
Dad may be doing a great job keeping Kaylee calm and cool and collected, but I’ve still got butterflies in my stomach. Every once in a while I hear grunting or gurgling from far away in the forest and I walk faster to keep up with Dad and Kaylee. I really don’t want to become food for some unknown carnivore.
We reach an opening in the trees and we see that there’s a rocky slope that leads down to a small beach. The waves pound on the shoreline and sweep the sand away, and that sight calms me a little bit. For some reason, the pounding waves always give me a sense of calmness.
Dad sighs. “Well, it isn’t a nice, warm cabin, but it’ll do. At least we don’t have to sleep in the forest. George, Kaylee...you guys go down onto the beach. I want to take a look around.”
“Wait...you’re staying here?” I ask.
“Just to look around,” he answers. “Then I’ll come down on the beach with you guys. But please be careful on the slope. I bet it’s wet from the rain and when you slip on wet rocks, it hurts. So just hang tight and I’ll come down on the beach with you in a sec.”
Kaylee and I begin to climb down the slope while Dad begins to climb a REALLY tall tree. Most people can’t do that, but when Dad takes up the challenge, it turns into your everyday bike ride or something.
About three quarters of the way down, Kaylee slipped on one of the rocks and lands hard on her bottom. She starts bawling, and Dad stops mid-climb and looks down at us.
“What’s going on down there?” Dad shouts.
“Kaylee slipped and now her butt’s all bruised up,” I answer.
“George, go and comfort her. Help her down the slope.”
I sigh heavily, and then I carefully climb down next to Kaylee. I glance back at Dad, who’s effortlessly climbing the tree. But I can’t keep watching Dad because Kaylee’s crying is annoying the crap out of me--again.
“Hey, hey, Kaylee. It’s okay,” I tell her. I help her down the rest of the slope and onto the soft, silky sand. But even the comfortable sand doesn’t stop Kaylee’s sobbing. I sigh heavily and slump down against the slope. Kaylee’s face is in the sand and I don’t think the sand in her mouth will stop her crying at all, so I grab her and pull her up into a sitting position.
I’m stopped when I hear Dad scream. I scramble up onto my feet and sprint out into a position where I can see the tree Dad’s climbing. Dad is clinging onto a branch for his life right now. His legs are trashing about as the tree shakes back and forth.
“Dad!” I scream. “Daaaaad!”
I stand there for what feels like an eternity watching my dad struggle to hang on to the branch that his life depends on. After a while, the tree stops shaking and Dad quickly grabs onto the tree with his other hand. I can practically hear him sigh with relief, and I was about fifty feet away. Dad quickly looks down at the ground below, his eyes fixated on that one spot for a long moment. Then Dad hastily climbs down and runs toward the slope, looking back behind him many times.
“Dad, what happened?” I ask. Dad is trembling, so I figured whatever had happened had to be pretty unnerving.
Dad takes a deep breath, slumps down against the slope and explains it all. “I had reached the top of the slope and was looking out at the island. It seemed to never end.”
“It never ends?”
“It looks like it.”
“What?” Kaylee asks.
“N-nothing, Kaylee,” Dad says quickly. He grabs her backpack and takes out a pink, flowery blanket. “Here, take your blanket. Take a nap. It’s been a long day of shipwreck’s and hiking.”
After we’re sure Kaylee has fallen asleep, Dad tells me more about his ordeal. “So anyway, the island never ends or, at least it doesn’t from the way I saw it. It seemed to go on and on, and then there was this foggy area way in the distance that I couldn’t get a good look at.”
“Then what happened?”
“I heard a weird grunting sound from below and the tree suddenly started shaking violently. I fell, got hurt on a couple branches--” Oh, I just noticed the cuts on his face and his arm “--and then I grabbed onto another branch. I got a couple splinters, but that branch saved my life.”
“Do you know what made that grunting noise, Dad?”
Dad chuckles. “Like anyone knows what made that noise, George.”
I don’t like the sound of this. The forest is filled with mysterious--possibly dangerous--creatures, and we’re stranded here on a tiny beach, boxed in by the woods.
“George, I honestly think it would be best if we stay here next to the rock slope. The slope casts a shadow so that we won’t be seen by whatever made that noise,” Dad tells me.
“Okay, Dad,” I mutter. I take my blanket out of my backpack and spread it out over my body. I hardly sleep that night, as I listen for the eerie grunting noises and other noises like that. As I look at the trees above, I see a bright red bird with its eyes burning like an inferno...
George! Hey, George! Wake up!”
I slowly wake up and stare at Dad. “Dad, what the heck are you doing?” I ask Dad groggily.
“You wanna go fishing?” Dad asks me.
I sit up and slide out from under my blanket. “Sure, whatever. Are we out of food or something?”
“Of course not. I just want to make sure we have enough food for when we start hiking again in a few hours.” Well, I can’t blame Dad for thinking that. He did say the landscape seemed endless.
“All right,” I reply. “Hand me a fishing rod.”
Dad and I both grab a fishing rod and go out to the edge of the beach. Dad stays closer to Kaylee so that she isn’t alone, and I go way out to the edge of the beach where the ocean floor instantly drops and there are a lot more fish swimming around.
Dad and I yell towards each other whenever we catch a fish. So far, Dad’s caught three and I’ve caught six when I feel a huge tug on my fishing rod and I stumble forward.
“Whoa-a!” I exclaim in surprise. “Hey, Dad, I think I’ve got a big one.”
“How big?” Dad yells to me as I skid across the sand.
I don’t have to answer as I fall onto the ground and slide towards the water on my back. I scream as loud as I can as Dad sprints towards me. He grabs the back of my jacket and pulls me back away from the water. With his strength, we actually end up slowly moving back, putting up a fight against the unbelievably strong fish.
Suddenly, the fishing rod flies out of my hand and lands in the water, being trailed along by the enormous fish. After a few long moments of the fishing rod skidding across the water, I turn to Dad. “Um...big fish,” I say.
Dad nods. “Yeah. Well, we caught nine fish. I think that’s enough for now,” Dad tells me. Then he looks across the horizon. The sun is just about to come up, making the water look like orange juice. “Looks like we need to get hiking again. I’ll go wake up Kaylee.”
As Dad walks toward Kaylee’s sleeping form, I let out a heavy sigh. I don’t know how Dad can be this brave with all these...things in the woods. I begin to think that grunting thing we heard might’ve been a bear, but I’m not entirely sure. I still have a really bad feeling about going back into the forest.
After Dad wakes up Kaylee, the sun is shining brightly over the water and I have to shield my eyes from the light. We climb back up the rocky slope--it’s a lot harder going up, even if Kaylee didn’t slip this time--and then we continue our long hike. As Dad carries Kaylee, my feet are starting to get really tired. I figure it must be about ten in the morning as the sun burns my eyes.
Today is definitely not a good day for hiking. It’s really hot and humid out, and it hasn’t even been half an hour and I’m already sweating like crazy. Dad’s sweating the most, since he has to walk and carry Kaylee at the same time. Several hours pass by slowly and painfully. We stop a couple of times to eat something or drink water--which tastes terrible because it’s really hot--or we stop just to rest for a minute or two. At around one in the afternoon, we’re eating our snacks when we hear the grunting noise again and we hear the trees and bushes rustling and shaking somewhere near us. We drop our snacks and run out of there like crazy. We don’t recover from the ordeal until late in the afternoon, when we begin to hike along the edge of a huge cliff.
“Whoa,” I mutter in awe. “Big drop.” Down about a hundred feet below are jagged rocks that would easily kill anyone unfortunate enough to fall off the cliff. I watch the waves pound against the rocky surface, and my eyes are so fixated on that beautiful sight that I almost fall off the cliff, but I quickly regain my balance and stumble away from the cliff.
“Careful back there,” Dad shouts back at me.
“S-sorry,” I say to him.
We’ve been through a long day of hiking, and as the sun begins to set, Dad picks a nice, big grassy area for us to spend the night. We lay out our blankets and Dad gets some firewood from the nearby forest.
As Dad begins to start a fire, I say to Kaylee, “So, what do think of the island?” I smile.
Kaylee folds her arms. “It gives me the creeps,” she says in a typical scared six-year old voice.
“I agree with you, Kaylee,” Dad says as sparks fly out from the firewood. “When we heard the grunting noise earlier, I was really spooked. I hope it’s just some kind of warthog or something.”
“Me, too,” I reply. I look up over the trees we haven’t yet walked through. We must’ve walked pretty far today, because I can actually see the dense fog Dad saw earlier over the trees. “Man, I wonder what’s in that fog.”
Dad sits back, watching the flames dance in front of him. “George, just remember. We’re only looking for a boat. Then we’re getting out of here.”
I nod, and then I pull the blanket over myself and fall asleep.
My eyes open wide as a sudden squealing in the distance jerks me from my sleep. I can see where it’s coming from. Way down the grassy hill in front of me is a large plain, surrounded by a dense forest. I see something moving down there. I think Kaylee might be awake, too; she’s trembling under her blanket.
As I start to sit up, I hear Dad’s urgent whisper: “What the heck are you doing, George? Stay down!!”
I quickly lie down on the ground again. I turn to Dad. I can’t see him from behind the campfire, which has almost burned out by now, but I know he’s scared. “Dad, what is that thing?”
“I have no idea,” Dad answers anxiously. “But it’s been squealing like that for a whole five minutes now. So keep down in the grass and make sure it doesn’t see you.”
I nod frantically and roll my head over in the grass so that I can see the source of the squealing. I can’t make it out at all really: it just looks like a weird black figure, scrambling around the grassland. Its constant squealing sends a chill down my spine, and my heart is racing as I consider what might happen if it sees us.
I roll my head over so that I am once again facing Dad. “Should I put my blanket over the fire, Dad? That way it won’t be able to see us.”
“I don’t think you have to, George. The fire’s mostly burned out by now,” Dad answers. We listen silently to the constant squealing from the creature below. “But I guess you should anyway, in case it sees the fire.” I nod frantically and whip my blanket over my head and onto the fire. Suddenly, Dad puts his hand up and his eyes widen. “Stop!! Stop!!” he whispers frantically. Then I notice that the squealing has stopped. Now it’s more like the occasional quiet croak. I slowly turn my head to where the creature is. It’s staring up the hill. There’s a long, uncomfortable silence. I can’t control my breathing and I bury my face in the ground, trying to stop the creature from hearing my frantic hyperventilating.
After a few long moments, the creature begins to squeal again. It’s squealing up the hill at us. I can tell that in a few moments, it could come charging towards us and we’d be defenseless against it.
The creature starts to take a step forward when we hear another creature squealing. I stare down at the plain and I see another bigger creature come sprinting towards the one that had been squealing at us. It bites into its neck and the two creatures go tumbling across the grass. The new creature is certainly bigger, but the smaller one puts up quite a fight. They fight on the grass for quite a while, and at certain times, something falls onto the ground next to the fighting creatures--I guess it might be a body part.
After a long period of fighting with the bigger creature, the smaller creature retreats into the forest, and the bigger one chases after it. We hear more squealing and croaking in the distance and then Dad quickly stands up.
“C’mon. Let’s go,” Dad says anxiously.
“What? Where are we going?” I ask, a nervous tone in my voice.
“Anywhere but here,” Dad answers. “I don’t want to run into one of those things again.”
“What was that thing, Daddy?” Kaylee cries.
“Uh, it was one of those things from, uh...from the fairy tales I read to you at bedtime!” Dad answers. “Now let’s go see if we can find another one.”
We pack up quickly and when we all say we’re ready, Dad takes off running, and after we can’t catch up with him for ten minutes, he slows down for us and we sprint through the forest, trying to get as far away from the grassland as possible.
We run through the forest for countless hours, and the cut on my leg that I got back on the boat is starting to sting a little more than usual. Occasionally, we hear grunting or bushes rustling, and that only makes us run faster. Even Dad is starting to get tired, and Kaylee is so shocked from the ordeal that she doesn’t even cry. I’m out of breath, desperately trying to catch up with Dad.
“Heh...hey, Dad?” I shout at him. “Ceh...can we st-stop? For just a moment?”
Dad slows down, scans the dark woods, and then he tells us all to be quiet. He’s listening for any strange noises like the ones we heard earlier. Dad looks toward me and Kaylee. “Yeah...I suppose we can stop here. For now.”
Kaylee and I place our backpacks on the ground. I slump down onto the forest floor, not caring that my pants are getting dirty. After a couple minutes of sitting there on the ground, I realize I have to use the bathroom. “Hey, Dad? I gotta go.”
“What do you mean?” Dad asks me.
“I gotta gooooooo.”
Dad gives me a funny look. “Huh?”
“Well, if you don’t want my bladder to explode--”
“Oh, okay, say no more. Just...go over there in that patch of trees. But don’t wander too far away, okay?”
I nod, walk to the clump of trees, you know what happens next, and then I walk back to Dad and Kaylee. The sun is just starting to come up. Its light blazes through the trees like a thousand infernos in the sky. Instead of how we’d planned to stay for five minutes and continue hiking afterward, we stay at this spot until about eleven in the morning, resting the whole time.
Then, we start a new unpredictable day of hiking. We’re dead tired from last night. I can’t keep my eyes open as we walk through a seemingly endless forest. I don’t think Kaylee can either. I put my hand on her shoulder to keep her from falling onto the forest floor. As usual, Dad is way ahead of us. You’d think that our dad would be way behind us, considering that’s usually the way it is. But with the body of an athlete, Dad could beat us in a race any day. Still, he seems pretty tired and he’s stumbling a lot.
As we continue to hike, I can’t ignore that fiery pain on the back of my leg. I remember back on the boat when I felt a tug on my pant leg, and the skin was chipped off, forming a long cut down the back of my leg. I haven’t looked at the cut since, but I’m not sure that I want to.
The sun begins to fall into the distance, and we rest for a moment on a rock ledge. I look across the large canyon we’re resting on and I see another expansion of trees, a large mountain off to the side, and a churning waterfall is visible far off in the distance.
I look over at Dad. “Dad,” I say. “Where exactly are we planning to go?”
Dad looks at me. “I told you. We’re trying to find a boat.”
I let out a heavy sigh. “Well, it’s a lot harder than I thought it would be. This island never sees to end. And I’ve noticed that every day, we seem to get closer to that fog over there.” I point towards the eerie cloud of fog that covers up the rest of the island. It’s a good thing Kaylee fell asleep earlier because she’d be quite frightened by this conservation.
Dad glances at the fog, then back at me. “So what? It’s just fog. It can’t hurt you.”
“Dad, I’m worried about what’s in the fog.”
“What do you think is in the fog?”
“I have no idea. It’s so frustrating and so irritating to think about it. I keep thinking we’re gonna die every single day. I hate this place.”
Dad pauses, then tells me, “That’s why we’re trying to find a boat.”
I groan with disappointment. “Whatever, Dad,” I say. I pull my blanket over myself and try to fall asleep, but the mystery of the fog keeps disturbing me, jerking me awake...
Not again!” I exclaim drowsily as I hear squealing and howling in the distance.
It sit up and look across the canyon. The howling is coming from within the dense forest. Dad’s sitting up, too; he’s also noticed the sounds coming from there. I guess it must be about one in the morning, and there’s a strong wind blowing that sends a chill down my spine--not that the squealing didn’t already.
“It’s all right,” Dad tells me. “It’s coming from across the canyon. Whatever is making that noise can’t reach us here.”
“But Dad, when we cross the canyon later, won’t we have to go through that forest?” I ask.
Dad shrugs. “Well, I looked across the canyon, and there’s another way to go.” Dad points to the other side of the canyon, where there are several rocky steps leading down to several deep, dark caves. I don’t want to know what might be down in those caves, and I don’t think it would be pleasant to find out in person.
“Uh, no thanks. I’ll pass,” I tell him warily.
“Well, there’s one more way we could go.” Dad points all the way down the left side of the canyon to the raging waterfall I saw earlier. “We could pass by the creepy forest, get to that waterfall, cross it, and walk down further on the other side of the canyon.” Then Dad sighs heavily. “You know, when I first saw the island, I thought it looked a lot smaller than this.”
“I’m sure it looked like that,” I reply. “I’m gonna see if I can go to sleep with that thing squealing over there.”
“Have fun,” Dad says.
The next morning, I’m starving. I’m so hungry I could eat five BK whoppers and still have room for more. I reach into Dad’s backpack and grab some frozen food that was in the lunch pack. It’s meant to be cooked, but I couldn’t really find anything else except candy in my backpack. Kaylee wakes up and sees that I’m eating.
“Don’t you have candy in your backpack?” she asks.
I shrug. “Well, I didn’t really feel like it today.”
After she hears this, Kaylee crawls over to my backpack and grabs some of my candy. Figures--she probably ate all her candy already. I finish the frozen food and I’m still not satisfied, but I try to stop thinking about my hunger and when Dad finally wakes up, we start yet another long day of hiking.
We try to find a way across, and it turns out, there are several rock ledges between the two cliffs that we can walk across. I go first, Kaylee goes behind me, and Dad follows Kaylee in case she happens to slip and get hurt. As we walk across the rocks, I gaze at the deep, dark forest on the other side of the canyon. I hope desperately that none of those beasts we saw earlier--or in another case heard--will lunge at us and catch us off guard. To put that out of my mind, I just listen to the birds, chirping happily away. They’re so cheerful...so carefree...while Kaylee, Dad and I have everything to worry about.
Another bird flies onto the rock. It’s Firebird. I’m almost sure it’s the same bird I saw a few days earlier. It stares at me with those intense fiery eyes, its red-orange feathers....But something about it is different. It seems to have gotten bigger. Its long tail has gotten even longer, its wide beak has gotten even wider, and its strong fiery eyes with an inferno burning inside them have gotten much, much stronger--so strong the bird may be staring a hole through me, and through the vast canyon, and through the island itself...
I’m about halfway to the other side when I stumble into a coughing fit. I try to keep moving, but I’m coughing furiously, so I fall down and roll off of one of the rock ledges.
“George!!” Dad screams frantically.
I quickly reach out for the ledge with my hands and I find myself clutching the ledge so tightly my knuckles are turning white. The rest of my body is hanging over the seemingly endless abyss. I try to raise myself onto the ledge, but I’m a twig for my age and I’m still coughing up snot on the rocks.
“George!! Grab my hand!” Dad shouts. He kneels over the ledge and reaches out for me. Still coughing, I lurch forward and grab onto Dad’s wrist with both my hands. I make a weird choking sound, and in no more than an instant I’m puking on the rock ledge. I continue throwing up for several long moments, and when I stop, Kaylee runs over to me and hugs me. I never knew my little sister could actually feel sorry for me, but then again, Kaylee seems to look at me as a role model, while I look at her the way nearly every other kid who has a little sister does.
It’s a while before I realize I’m trembling violently, and Dad puts his hand on my back to steady me. “George, it’s okay. Take a deep breath,” Dad says. I follow his instructions, and I take several deep breaths before my trembling becomes less violent. “George, what the heck happened? Are you sick?”
“I don’t know...” I say, but it seems more like ‘yes’, since my voice is suddenly really stuffy. “I’ve got no idea what h-happened...”
“All right,” Dad says. “Tell me if you fell any worse on the way down, okay?”
We continue crossing the rock ledges, but this time, I travel at the same speed as Kaylee, so that Dad can keep a much closer eye on me to make sure I don’t almost kill myself again. I start coughing again a couple of times on the way down, and when I do, Dad quickly runs over to steady me. After a few minutes, I stop coughing and we begin moving forward again.
We make it to the other side in roughly fifteen minutes, but I can’t tell how long it might’ve taken, and I can’t judge anything from the sky because it hasn’t changed that much. There’s still the blinding glow of the morning sun as it stains the island with light.
We venture down the canyon for a long time, and all the while, I’m worried that in the dark forest with its horrifying secrets, one of those things we encountered earlier will jump out at us, leaving nothing behind but a sense of dread in the air and puddles of blood.
I shudder to think of these things and just push on forward, trying to keep those thoughts out of my mind.
It takes well over two hours to reach the waterfall, and we’re stopped dozens of times when I have one of my coughing fits, or when we stop to rest or eat, or when one of has to ‘go’. But we reach the waterfall, and it’s even more magnificent when you’re close to it. Thousands of shining drops of water plummet down into the majestic canyon below. The water is stained a shade of several colors by the sun, and it looks like a rainbow shattering like glass.
There’s a narrow cliff spanning behind the waterfall, but there’s also a rock face we can climb to go to the top of the waterfall, cross the river, and venture into the woods on the other side. We choose to go over the waterfall, since the narrow cliff may very well lead nowhere. Dad goes first, Kaylee follows behind him, and I trail behind, looking down at the beautiful waterfall about every five seconds.
It’s difficult to climb this rock face. My backpack’s weighing me down, and the rocks are slippery from the water falling down on them. I hear a cry from above and I see Kaylee, losing her balance and slipping. Dad quickly leans back and grabs onto her, rescuing her just before she plunges into the canyon.
I sigh with relief, and about five seconds later, I start coughing vigorously. But this time it’s not just coughing. I’m wheezing and grunting, and I’m puking like crazy, and the trembling is even worse than before.
Dad whirls around to see me coughing and throwing up uncontrollably on the rock face. “George!!” Dad shouts. “GEORGE! HANG ON!!” But I can’t. The next thing I know, I’m leaning backwards and I’m about to plunge into the canyon below. My sneakers squeak on the wet rocks, and I begin to fall. “GEOOOOOOORGE!!!”
I desperately flail my hands around like a madman, trying to find a handhold before I plummet to my death. Miraculously, my hand grabs onto something. I slide on the rocks and now I can see that my hand is caught in a hole beneath one of the rocks. I just sit there for a moment, breathing hard. While I was flailing around in the air, I puked on my shirt and there’s mucus dripping out of my nose, but I’m just grateful that I’m alive. And then, I start making this weird sound like I’m laughing and crying at the same time.
“O-oh, thank you!” I yelled. “Thank God!”
Above me, Dad sighs with relief. “Okay...okay...c’mon, let’s go.”
I’m about to pull myself up now that my coughing fit is over when I feel something crawling on my hand. Out of the crack beneath the rock comes the biggest spider I have ever seen in my life. Its pincers are sharp and menacing; they’re enough to send a chill down anyone’s spine. It has a large abdomen and long, thin legs whose tips are sharper than a sword with jagged edges around the sides.
It’s about to sink its deadly poison into me when I scream and flail my hands around again. I tumble over the rocks, the spider flying in the air above me, Dad screaming down at me at the top of his lungs.
I hit a hard rock surface, and moments later I see that I’m sprawled on the ground right back where I started. My legs are dangling over the cliff, and it seems like I’ve broken every single bone in my body. The spider is nowhere to be found.
“George!” Dad shouts as he runs toward me. He and Kaylee jump down onto the ground where I lie. As Dad hoists me up on my feet with seemingly no effort at all, I cough vigorously, and the ground in front of me is stained with blood.
“Oh, no...” Dad says as he spots the splotch of blood on the ground. Then he turns to me. “George, are you all right? Are you really all right?” I groan painfully in response. “I’ll take that as a ‘no’ then.” Dad lets me lean against him as we venture back up the rock face from where we started. Kaylee follows closely behind.
In a few minutes, we’re at the top of the majestic waterfall. I’m starting to feel better, so I stop leaning on Dad and take my own chances. The puke stain on my shirt is definitely starting to get annoying, but I try to push it out of my mind anyway. As we’re walking beside the fast-moving river, we spot a cluster of rocks we can use to get to the other side. Dad walks on the drenched stones with seemingly no effort, and Kaylee and I follow behind. We crawl carefully on the rocks so that we have less of a chance of slipping and being carried away by the powerful current.
After we all make it to the other side, we venture into the forest ahead, not knowing what dangers might be lurking in there. We travel for what seems like hours. Occasionally we hear grunting or squealing in the distance, and we frantically run through the forest for a good half-hour, and even after that we still haven’t fully recovered.
I take out my sketchbook and begin drawing. This sketch will be made up of different things I see around the forest. I just take random parts of what I see and compile them all into one big sketch. In the sketch, I put flowers, trees, birds, sticks, and more. Everything I see pops up into this sketch. Eventually, I lose myself in my artistic abilities, and I only realize something is strange when I begin to draw a blackened tree in the distance.
I look up from my sketchbook and I see dozens of ashen or blackened trees ahead of me, most of them broken or damaged. They must’ve been destroyed by some kind of wildfire or something. Dust has been kicked up everywhere, and the eerie silence is what disturbs me.
Dad and Kaylee are nowhere to be found.
For a moment, my mouth goes dry. I hastily put my sketchbook back in my backpack and then scan the woods around me. I’m in an isolated section with burned trees all around me--thank goodness there are no monsters around. But still, I’m actually pretty frightened. I hoist up my backpack and take off running.
“Daaaad!!” I shout as loud as I can. “Kaylee!!”
I scramble around the forest for a considerable time, and as I go deeper and deeper into the forest, the destruction from the forest fire gets worse and worse. And with all the dust that’s been kicked up around the area, I can barely see ten feet in front of me. Along the way, I break into several coughing fits, and I’m puking violently on the ground when the dust finally begins to clear away.
I wipe my nose and look up in the tree above. I’m speechless for a moment. Then, “Whoa,” is all I can get out of my mouth. Up in the tree above me is the largest bird nest I have ever seen in my entire life. It looks like it could weigh several thousand pounds--even more than a bald eagle’s nest. I step forward and observe it for a few moments. Then, Firebird’s head pops up from behind the nest.
“Sbu-bu-bu-bu-bu-bu-uuu!” Firebird croaks. I’m still staring at the nest in awe. When I take one step closer to the nest, Firebird screeches at me, and I fall on my back in the pine needles. Firebird continues to screech at me violently, and I’m terrified with the thought that any moment it could lunge at me and do...who knows what?
Firebird takes one step towards me off the nest, still screeching. Its talons are black as ash and sharp as a knife at the ends. Firebird screeches at me one more time before a pine needle cracks behind me. Firebird is silenced, looking in the direction of the snap. Firebird croaks, and retreats back into its nest.
That’s when I hear it. Behind me. The eerie grunting.
I leap to my feet, hoist up my backpack, and sprint as fast as I can across the forest floor. I can still hear the grunting behind me over the crunch of burned leaves and my heavy breathing. I run through the dense forest as the ashen trees scrape my face like they don’t care whether or not I survive. No matter how fast I run, the grunting stills pains my ears, and it seems to be getting louder each agonizing moment.
I listen as the grunting seems to turn off to the side. I turn my head to the right and I can’t see anything behind the dense trees. I sprint for a little longer, my breathing becoming stiff and painful. Sweat drips down my face, and my vision is becoming blurred. But I don’t stop. Whatever was behind me could still be around, waiting for the kill.
Then it happens. I see a dark silhouette racing through the woods about ten yards to the right of me. I can’t quite tell what it is right now, but when the trees become less abundant, I can see it. At first it looks like a hazy apparition, but when I slow down and my vision clears, I can see its full repulsive form. It has the head of a warthog, but its body is very scaly and muscular and it has a long, bare tail like a mouse. Antennae stretch out from its neck and chest area, and its tongue hangs out lazily from its wide mouth, full of jagged yellow teeth.
My breath is taken away when I see this disgusting creature. When it sees me, it grunts in its usual way for a moment, and then it roars. Its roar is a high-pitched cry that wavers between separated breaths and long, continuous screams.
The moment after I hear its scream, I cover my ears and dart back into the forest. It follows me. My whole body is exhausted, and I just want to stop, but I don’t. I keep running, the leaves crunching beneath my feet. I don’t know how long I’ve been running through the forest, but it feels like an eternity. And the whole time this thing’s been chasing me.
Fog is disrupting my vision. I can’t feel any parts of my body. I’ve gone numb with pain. It takes an agonizing effort just to breathe, and I’d give anything to just give up right now except for my life. And that’s the problem: I’ll be giving up my life if I stop.
I have a feeling that my legs are going to give way any minute now, and that things still racing to catch me. Does it ever give up? I decide that to get away from this horrible creature, I have to have a plan. And as I run into a clump of small trees, I see my chance. I dive over to the side and tumble onto the ground. I can fell the creature’s scaly legs as it trips over me. I slide over the leaves and fall into a small ditch next to a clump of bushes and vines.
I cower under the dirt wall of the ditch and try to catch my breath. But five seconds later, I find myself peeking over the ditch and at the ugly creature that just chased me across the forest. It grunts as it pulls itself to its feet and quickly looks around, scanning the area for its prey. I use the bushes for cover and listen to the occasional crunch of leaves as the thing stumbles around on the forest floor. Then, it stops. I sneak a quick glance through the bushes. It’s looking right at the ditch. Then I realize what it noticed: it can hear my breathing. My breathing is still heavy and raspy, and I’ll bet anyone a mile away could’ve heard it. Without thinking, I quickly hold my breath. But then I realize that I can only hold my breath for so long and I just hope that the creature will leave soon.
The leaves crunch behind me. The creature is stepping closer to the ditch. I glance behind me again. Its jagged lizard feet send a horrible chill down my spine. It begins to grunt again, very quietly this time. I think I forgot to draw in air before I held my breath, because I’m suffocating very quickly. I don’t know how much longer I can last.
The creature stays for what feels like a long, painful eternity. I can’t take this much longer. My vision is blurry and I feel extremely light-headed. My eyes feel like they’re going to pop right out of my skull, and I feel like I’m going to die any second. Any second now...
I hear the creature grunt one more time, and then I hear leaves crunching again, but the sounds are getting quieter. The creature is moving away. I wait until I’m absolutely sure that the creature has gone away, and then I rise up from the ditch. The creature is nowhere in sight.
I take in a deep breath, and then tears pour out of my eyes. They come down like a waterfall, and I kneel down in the leaves as I bawl on the forest floor. I lay down on the leaves for about a half-hour, and then I stand up and continue searching for Dad and Kaylee, tears staining my face. My entire body aches, and I’m still extremely light-headed, but I continue walking anyway.
Hours pass, and day turns into night. There’s no light except for the moonlight as it shines through the trees and paints the fog an eerie light blue color. My throat is raspy, and several times along the way I break into violent coughing fits. Whatever is plaguing me, it’s definitely getting worse.
When I hear the steady flow of a river, I sigh with relief. I just now have realized how thirsty I am. I jog towards the river and I’m about to drink from it when I see something in the water. It’s sticking out of the water and it’s covered in ash that’s as black as the night around me. Overtaken by curiosity, I give it a nudge with my finger and it falls over. I gasp in surprise. It’s a human foot. It’s been heavily burned and parts of it have fallen off. It’s covered in ash and I can see the broken bone sticking out of the skin. I watch as it’s separated from the foot and slowly carried along the stream. I don’t take time to find where the rest of the body lies. I stand up, trudge along the shallow stream, and continue searching for Dad and Kaylee.
I stumble through the forest for countless minutes. I’m not particularly frightened by the dark forest around me right now, and that’s probably because I’m not even paying attention to my surroundings right now. I just pay attention to the ground in front of me, in putting one foot in front of the other. Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot, left, right, left, right, left, right, left....
The ground in front of me is bathed in light. I look up and see a campfire burning in front of me. Two people are lying down around it. Dad has fallen asleep on the leaves and Kaylee is huddling on the forest floor under her pink blanket. Quietly, I collapse on the floor and join them. I’m asleep before I hit the floor.