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My brother Seth and I have been in the forest.
We’d only meant to go in after his notebook pages. It had been windy all day, and as we walked up our long gravel driveway, he was showing me what he’d been working on. A strange but beautiful glow was settling over us, and I noticed that it was pale orange shafts of sunlight sneaking in between the trees of the forest we were never allowed to go in. I was about to ask if he noticed it, too, when a particularly strong gust caught two loose pages from the notebook he held open and carried them off. They whisked right into the trees as if sucked by some great, powerful vacuum. He couldn’t tell which pages were gone, and was anxious that they could have been very important.
He hurried after the pages, but I hesitated. Our father had told us never to go into the forest. It was a strange place; I sometimes saw figures coming and going that never looked quite human or quite animal when I looked out my window at night, and Seth said he once heard voices and animal calls he’d never heard before.
“Seth!” I called. “Wait! Are you sure this is a good idea?”
“Come on, wimp!” he called back. “If you don’t want to help look, go back to the house like a scared little girl!”
That’s how I knew Seth really wanted me to come. He would never make fun of me like that. He was scared, too. There was something unnatural, and deliberate about this. It was clear by the way the light slipping through the trees was going from orange to deep red. So I swallowed hard and hurried after him, dropping my backpack on the grass so I wouldn’t have to carry it while we searched. I heard Canadian geese honking overhead, and looking over my shoulder to see them flying in an untidy V. The wind was cold against my cheeks, and I pulled my unzipped jacket tighter over my chest. The zipper was broken, and I hadn’t asked my mom to fix it yet.
I looked in front of me again, and drew up alongside Seth, who had slowed to a walk and was gazing uncertainly into the trees.
“Is it worth it?” I panted. A chill had come over the air…a warm chill. It made no sense, but that red, umber glow of filtered sunshine was as chilling as it was illuminating. But the chill was not frightening; it was painful, pure, and wondrous.
Its very lack of terror was what scared us.
He bit his lower lip, and then nodded firmly. His eyes were grim. “It must have been important. I must have been close.”
He spoke as if someone were out to get his life’s work…those abstract sketches of plants and animals. I had always been proud of how observant Seth was, but now I had the same eerie feeling he did about those sketches in his tattered blue notebook. Something was not right.
Seth took my hand, which he never does. His palms were sweaty. He scanned the forest, trying to glimpse his papers before we actually entered the forest, but my eyes stayed on him. I sensed something significant in the way the warm red light washed over his pale face. I saw faint shimmers, like heat waves, all around us. I swear I heard the faint music of a single tin flute carry to us from somewhere in the forest. Seth’s snapping eyes made me think he heard it, too.
“There!” he suddenly cried. I looked where he pointed, and saw a flash of white lined paper with neat blue print covering every inch, not far into the trees. He gripped my hand tighter, and we plunged together into the forest.
The sounds of honking geese ceased. The wind dropped away from the air as though it had suddenly become as heavy as a stone. We froze, and watched as those two pieces of notebook paper whirled without a breeze along with the fallen leaves, broken twigs, and mulch that lay upon the forest floor.
A noise like small, consistent notes on a xylophone could be heard in the air, and I saw what looked like silver snow sprinkling slower than gravity down from the treetops.
“Can you move?” Seth asked. His faint whispered pressed against the perfect, sweet silence like an unwanted visitor.
I nodded. The amber glow embraced us like old friends, and this time, it felt warm.
This place was nothing like we’d thought, but everything we assumed.