by Kara Trimbach
Sunlight burned down on me, almost blocking my view entirely. I pressed on, only shading the sunlight from me with my arm.
The forest seemed endless, almost as if joking me to stop. The twigs snapped at me again and again, the rigid grass pulling on my legs as if I wasn’t there. But I wasn’t, and they would see. The wind seemed to sense my hurry and decided to tell me to stop, blasting my hair from behind me. I saw my dirty red hair shape itself around my face.
The leaves were changing color, almost before my own eyes. Red, orange, yellow- the usual. Very few were actually green, which surprised me. It was only mid October, and autumn was going fast.
Jump. I landed with a little thud over the young willow tree that lay across the path. It couldn’t have been more than fifteen years old when it was blown down by the wind. But yet here it was, slowly disintegrating.
My spot. Finally. I thought, walking slowly over to the patch of land that was in the middle of the brook, just wide enough to hold a little fort built out of sticks and broken pieces of items. A rusting chair stood in the middle of my lean-to. You might be wondering how there is a lean-to in the middle of a lake, and there is a very simple answer behind that. A looming maple tree had a branch that leaped into the middle of the brook, making it a perfect holder.
Flat branches covered the outside of my lean-to, making it look like a teepee. Inside it, there is a good sized rock and a miniature fireplace, filled to its rocky rims with corn dust that I have scraped away with from-you guessed it-corn. Not fresh corn, but corn that made it through the winter and had it’s seeds taken away, but not it’s inner coating. It gave a natural smell to the place, other than the usual fishy water, and seemed to bring life here.
A little frog jumped out of the water and looked up at me with big, golden eyes before hopping away. The creatures knew who I was and I knew who they were, and sometimes you might see a dash or mark on their back to show that I named them.
I hobbled over the rocks that were scattered across the creek, avoiding the moss covered ones. I peeked inside my fort, and was pretty startled to see a boy sitting in my chair. His clothes were city-like, not like the kind you see everyone wearing in the country. Dark denim jeans, a red and white striped T Shirt, and a pair of sneakers was all he wore- no hat or rain jacket, like everyone else. The weather could turn up pretty unexpected here in Ohio, and it was best to be prepared. His brown hair was at ear length, slightly turning at the edges. I guessed he was my age, around 12.
He looked up at me. “Oh- is this… is this your fort? I… I like it- I mean it’s really cool and everything. I didn’t know it was yours- I’m sorry… I better go. I’m-“
“It’s fine. What is your name, anyway?” It wouldn’t be the first time someone barged into my fort and took it to be his or her own personal home. But he wasn’t trying to call it his own, surprisingly. He was apologizing, and he wasn’t just saying it, he actually meant it.
“It’s uh… Darwin,” Darwin seemed shocked that I talked to him at all. Had he ever talked to a girl before?
Either way, the wind decided to blow my hair in my face again, and I started to wonder how my shoulder length hair could actually be that long. It was soon tucked behind my ear. “Oh, I know someone with that name. Anyway, mine’s Kay. Where are you going?” I asked, since he had been backing up toward the doorway. “You know you can stay as long as you don’t mess anything up. You don’t have to leave,” I added hurriedly. Darwin only shook his head, and it was too rushed for me to see if that was a yes or no. “Where do you live?”
He bit his lip, almost as if he was trying to seal it shut. “I live… I live in a big city. Columbus. We haven’t moved yet. We are actually looking for a new home right now, and my mom said I could go and explore these woods,” He was growing more comfortable, you would have to be deaf not to hear it in his voice. It wasn’t raspy anymore, more of a friends voice. “Where do you live?”
This didn’t catch me by surprise; if you asked a person a question, they were likely to ask it back. And so the world goes. I pointed north first. “Over that hill… over the fallen trees… past the sidewalk and another block… then house #343. It’s a red brick house, and it stands out to all the other houses, just in case you ever want to come over.”
“That sounds like the house across the street from where my family is looking to move into! Maybe I’ll see you around.” A brighter and wider grin shone on his face. He knew someone in this neighborhood, and that alone, as I remember, seemed like something big.
A few days later, someone knocked at my door. I was upstairs at the time while my sister, Jane, answered the door.
“Kay! Someone’s here for you!” She yelled, but it wasn’t necessary. It was high noon, and Darwin said he would come today. We had met yesterday again, at my fort.
“Coming, coming,” I answered back, practically running down the stairs.
Darwin was tottering on his feet. Jane wasn’t making him feel welcome, having him stand outside our doorway, and blocking his view of the house. Either way, he tried to speak. “Kay- do you want to go to the woods? It’s sunny, and it rained last night, so the creek would be up. It looks really nice in there…”
“Sure,” I said, trying to move Jane away. “Let me go ask. You can come in, you know,” I shot Jane a look, telling her to stop it. All she did was nod her head in a very annoyed way and then scramble off up the stairs. When I asked mum, she told me I could go. I grabbed my favorite green hat and shoes and bolted out the door, grabbing Darwin’s arm. The door closed softly behind me, and then we were off.
“Where are we going?” I asked. He wasn’t heading toward the forest opening closest to my fort. It was farther west, and the trees weren’t as close. It was peaceful, yes, but there are rumors about it- coyotes, bears and other large animals have been talked about. A fence divides the acre from everywhere else, and it’s none too weak. The government put it up, and there is a “No Trespassing” sign that hangs on the fence every few feet or so. When the government comes to a small city like mine, it’s a big deal.
“We aren’t going to your place first. I saw a squirrel that got stuck over there by the fence, probably trying to get under it. I didn’t know what to do,” A worried, but yet happy, smile crossed his face. I was really surprised that he was getting to now this area so well. It took me months to finally know all the neighbors from this block, and even longer to find children that live here, which aren’t very many. I wasn’t actually friends with any of them. That is, until I met Darwin. A few short days were all it took to make a friend that would last forever.
“Lead the way then, doctor,” I learned that he liked to be in charge, but never really got the chance, being the youngest of his family.
This time he was dressed ready, with a Buckeye hat and light jacket. You couldn’t tell he was any different than anyone else in this town. Darwin stopped. His eyebrows rose, as if he was going to do something sneaky or really wanted someone to do something. “Run!” He called to me, and so the race started.
Darwin was in the lead at first because of his head start. I was slowly catching up with my longer legs. He wasn’t going to go down easily, so he pressed on harder. His hat flew off, which I caught single handedly. The funny thing is, his hand flew to the top of his head, breezing through his brown hair. Turning his head, Darwin saw what was in my hand.
This was a perfect time to move upward in this race.
Leading by a stride, I finished first in the event. My hands were now on my legs, my heart in my throat. I was breathing so heavily I could barely talk at all; all I managed was a short victory speech. “I won. Want your… hat?” I threw my head up, causing my hair to hit his face. At least it got it out of my face.
His head shook back and forth. “Thanks for… getting it. I wouldn’t want it to get muddy,” His eyes shone. “Race you back on the way home.”
“Okay. But now we have a squirrel to fix, remember? Doctor first, race later,” I said, messing with an old phrase.
The squirrel wasn’t as bad off as I thought. The wooden fence had a small hole, about six inches wide, and it was half way through. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the animal, even if it wouldn’t be in there for long.
Thinking, I found a reasonable way to get the squirrel out. “Since it’s facing the woods, we should push it in that way. Get something sharp, and try not to scare it,” He followed my directions without question, and came back quickly with a sharp rock in his hand. He was holding it out for me to grab it.
“What do you want me to do now…?” Darwin questioned.
I rolled my eyes. “Start by pushing the squirrel, to see if you can get her in without hurting her. And give me that rock,” I took it and watched him tug at the squirrel. It wasn’t working out so well, but I couldn’t didn’t it too. You can hope too much or you don’t, and I decided not to.
His head turned to me. “Nope. She won’t budge- and since when is she a she?” Standing up, Darwin looked me straight in the eye. I shied away a bit.
“Since I said so,” I laughed for a short while, making him grin. I couldn’t help but notice how often he does smile- almost always. That was one of the things I like about him. Always having fun. “Take this rock and slowly scratch around the edge of the wood. If you can chip it away enough, the squirrel should be able to get away,” A nod of understanding.
As soon as the rock came in contact with the fence, the squirrel chattered in an unusual way and scurried right out of the hole.
I knew I had a very confused look on my face. He did, too. “That was… weird,” He commented. I couldn’t blame him; how often do you hear and see that happen?
“Race you to our fort!” I shouted, right before I started sprinting to up the edge of the woods. Mysteriously a person swooped into the edge of the woods, unseen by anyone but me. Blond hair flew back, and flashes of green and black swept through my mind. I couldn’t help but wonder who that was, and why she was there.
I stopped running. Darwin was pretty puzzled, having me shout that we are going to race then stop abruptly and look at a random place.
“Um… Kay? Are you okay?” Usually he would of laughed at his rhyme, but this time he didn’t. He was really concerned.
“Yeah… I just saw a person fleeing into the woods. I think I remember where she came from, want to go see if she is still there?” I didn’t want to see her, but I wanted to see what she was doing.
He still stared at me bewildered. “Sure…?” Darwin finally got back in control of his body and swept his hand across in an open gesture. “Lead the way.”
I ran to the spot where I thought I saw her. There was the fallen maple tree a few yards in front of us, the entryway to the woods. I looked for a gap in the trees and couldn’t spot any. “Go that way, Darwin,” I said, pointing to the right hand side of me. I then pointed to the left. “I’ll look this way. If you find anything, send me some kind of signal- a bird call or whatever,” I said he liked to be in charge, but sometimes I need to be in charge. Just like now.
While I looked, I listened. There weren’t any sounds of breathing or walking on leaves. There was nothing, only silence, except for the occasional chirping or leaves falling down. Usually I would love this kind of weather, and would treasure it. This time I couldn’t. Curiosity got the best of me, and I couldn’t shake it off. I wanted to see who it was, if only to see her for another second. Yes, I want to talk to her, but I couldn’t do that yet. First things first in my rulebook, and that would be to see her again. It’s not like I could go and spy on her all day, decide she’s fine, then go and talk to her. Life doesn’t work that way.
There was a faint “Kay!” sound over in the distance, so I hurried over to where Darwin was standing. It seemed to be a longer distance then before, and I didn’t think I walked that far. But he looked impatient, and I never thought I would see him like that.
“Look, I saw someone. Was she wearing green and black? With dirty blonde hair? She didn’t look like she wanted to be bothered, maybe we shouldn’t do this…” He did look nervous. But was that going to overpower my curiosity? No.
“Please, Darwin. I really want to see who she is. Don’t you think she looks like she’s hiding? There could be a good reason for that. C’mon, let’s go. Please?”
Maybe it was that last plea, but he agreed to go. Darwin didn’t seem too comfortable going into the woods first or last, but finally chose to go first and to get it over with.
It was a green wonder place. All the shades of green were right in front of my eyes, from a blue-green to a dark olive. But there wasn’t only green, there was also the bright shades of scarlet, orange, and yellow. Dew rested on their tops, slowly riding down. Little animals, such as squirrels and mice, scampered somewhere in the distance. It was so beautiful; there just wasn’t another word for it.
“Well, are you coming?”
Right, strange person on the loose, spying on us, running away.
“Alright, split up. Which way do you think she went?” I sounded like someone from a mystery TV show.
Darwin was looking at his feet. “I’d rather not split up… and I am sure she went to the right of you. I saw her. That’s where she went!” It must have looked like I didn’t believe what he said for him to accuse me.
“Fine. Although this time you are leading the way. Silently, too.”
We searched for half an hour without finding anything. We were coming extremely close to the ending of the forest and into the restricted section of the woods. I knew I had to be back soon, and he was probably already late for coming home. I felt bad for making him go on a chase he didn’t want to go on, and then making him late. Darwin was probably too scared to tell me that he needed to be home by now. I didn’t even know where we were, and I seriously doubt he did.
Then I spotted her.
“Hello?” Her head whipped to where I was standing. Now would be a good time to use our position to be able to talk to her. “We are lost. Do you know where we are? I’ve been living here for a few years now but have never gone this far out. Um… can you help us?” All this time I had been walking toward her. Now we were only a yard away. Darwin had followed me, and I hoped he didn’t look petrified. That could give us away. Unless, she thought he was scared because we were lost.
“Stay where you are,” A tree blocked my view from seeing her completely. “That way is the way out. Don’t come back here again.” Her voice was harsh and dry. It made me wonder when the last time she had a drink was. Her hand flew upward to the hills, to a direction I thought we had already been.
That didn’t answer any of my questions except one. “Yes, but can we at least talk to you? I’d like to know-“
“I’d like to know a lot of things too.”
“She saw you back there! We wanted to know who you were! That’s all!” I whipped around, surprised by who spoke that. I had forgotten Darwin was even here. He was barely breathing, so you could hardly hear him.
Her eyes opened wide for a brief second. “I don’t care! Just-’’
I recognized that voice. It was my neighbor. She was always back here, but instead of chest length hair, she had longer, whiter hair. She was around fifteen, she rarely wore bright colors and was almost always caught yelling. “Amanda?” I whispered.
“Go. Now.’’ She didn’t sound too happy at all that I remembered her voice. I bet she knew who I was from the start and wanted to see who I was with. Either way, she stepped forward, allowing us to see her properly.
“Come on. You’re my neighbor. And you can’t use the excuse that I was spying on you, since you were looking at me. I bet you were surprised to see me back here. I’ve always seen you in the woods, but I don’t think you have ever seen me.” I was saying things from the top of my head, without thinking.
“Maybe I’ll meet up with you later, but for now, please just go,” She sounded depressed. If there was a way to help her feel better, I would. But for now I could tell Darwin and I just needed to leave her alone.
I tugged on Darwin’s arm when he didn’t move at first. “Let’s go. Amanda wants to be by herself. Come on.”
“I know her… she was in Cincinnati…” Darwin’s voice was low and almost worried. It couldn’t be too bad; Amanda seemed pretty nice when I met her. Not the nicest, of course, but she definitely wasn’t horrible. What was he thinking of? And was he thinking of someone other than Amanda?
“We can talk it over later. Just not now,” I was silent and urgent. She was going to think that we weren’t going to leave, and start yelling at us again. I wanted badly to know why he is so scared of her.
Darwin finally came, but I was practically pulling him the whole way through the forest. When we finally came to a stop, minutes later, we were on the outside. He still looked baffled.
“You can talk now. Who is she?”
“I can’t believe she is here… I just can’t… after all the places I’ve been…” He wouldn’t continue.
What is going on! I wanted to know and I didn’t want to wait any longer. “Come on! I want to know!” I was screaming at him now, and I regretted it as soon as it was out of my mouth. I couldn’t help it.
He was rushed. “I’ve known her for a long time. She was my neighbor’s daughter, back in Cincinnati, and she was stolen three years ago. Her parents went frantic- calling everyone they knew, and putting her up on the news. There were ads in the newspaper, and they even put up signs on the highway. You know, the billboards?” To me, this was confusing. My parents had always told me she was adopted, not stolen. But it did sound just about the right timeframe, and when they moved here they did look weird and frantic. There was also those strange screaming noises that lasted for months, and the police were called down a few times. “Her hair was brown, but I guessed they dyed it. I don’t remember her looking like that- I guess it’s from all the stress. Her real name is Ida, when I knew her at least. She knew who I was, I know, which is why she started yelling. I can’t believe we found her. I should tell my parents, and we both need to be getting home. Let’s go, Kay.”
He wasn’t scared at all. Darwin was shocked.
“Other than that being totally strange and weird, I’ll race you home!” He knew I meant my house. His family was coming over here regularly now, since they are moving furniture in their house.
He won this time. But it didn’t really matter when I think we just found a missing person.
“Mom! Guess what?” I retold the story to her. Mom didn’t believe me until Darwin’s parents called. After that, mom told my two sisters and I to go put on something nice and to then hurry downstairs. Jane and Mary took slightly longer to dress than I did.
Darwin’s family rang the doorbell. His two brothers and sister were dressed in a coat and boots, which made them almost all seem like matching twins.
“Ah, Mrs. Kerry. This could end up being a very unpleasant night. I say we get over there, see if it’s her, and then if it is, call the police right away. Do you have anything to add?” It was Darwin’s mom, Mrs. Tile. I thought she sounded very formal, as if she never had been outside the city and had no idea how to act. She had bright yellow hair, with sparkling blue eyes. Her face was rounded, although she wasn’t plump. She stood over most of her children, and I think she was at least 5’10, maybe 5’11.
Mom hesitated for a moment. “We should have Darwin and Kay come with us; but the rest will stay here. My husband isn’t home right now, since he’s on another business trip. Mr. Tile will come with us, I guess?” Even my mom sounded strange. I bet she was debating on whether to talk like that or to talk like she usually does with us.
The discussion went on, including a short lecture to us on what would happen if things went wrong. The primitive talk continued, and we finally headed out the door after an hour. Jane, Mary, and Darwin’s brothers and sister were ready to dial 911 at a seconds notice. They each had a different phone or cell phone in their hand, just in case one wouldn’t work. They all had the order in which they would call the police, with Nelly first, Darwin’s only sister, and John and Jake next in line, then Jane and finally Mary.
As we walked out the door, we heard another door slam shut, and then yelling erupted.
We all saw Amanda storm out of the house, crying. She hadn’t noticed the lot of us running, walking, and jogging toward her yet. Then she saw us. “Where…” A sob. “Did you used to… live in… Cincinnati?”
Mrs. Tile was elastic, almost bending to talk to her. “Yes, Ida. Do you want to go home?”
“Yes… I want to see my real parents, get my name… back. I want my hair back. And I want my life back,” She may have been older than me, but it didn’t seem like she was.
All this time my mom and I were watching from the sidelines. We weren’t part of this, and neither was Mr. Tile or Darwin. This was up to two people giving someone’s life back, and they had to do it correctly, and carefully. Or this could all end up in a bigger pile of questions and concerns.
Mr. Tile was in charge of one important thing, though. He was supposed to call Nelly when they were sure it really was Ida that they saw. “Call them. Now. And hurry,” He spoke into the walkie-talkie.
As Mrs. Tile was calming her down and told her who was coming, the police arrived. “Oh no. Oh no. The police can’t come. My parents will…“
“They aren’t your parents. And they won’t hurt you any longer. Okay, Ida?” All Darwin’s mom wanted is for Ida to go home with her real parents, not her fake ones. That was clear as day. But the question remains when Ida will see her parents. Ida’s real parents will welcome her back, but do they have the time or money for everything that is going on?
A chubby policeman with curly brown hair came to talk to Mr. Tile. “Did you call 911, sir?”
Mr. Tile was a bit nervous, that was for sure. He shook when he talked. “Yes. We have found Ida, our neighbors missing daughter from three years ago. She was found today, yes, that is her…”
The talk continued. Whenever Darwin’s dad would mention Darwin and I the policeman would stop and stare at us for a second or two. It was an eerie feeling, someone looking at you as if you were a hero and yet a stand out to everyone.
The daylight was fading. Red lights flashed when blue didn’t, and numerous police cars had pulled up around the street. Neighbors rushed out of their houses to see what was going on, and some were questioned. Ida’s kidnappers were sent to jail and were scheduled to have a jury trial later on this month. They weren’t too happy to open their front door and look into a policeman telling them they were under arrest for kidnapping and child abuse. They denied it at first, but later told the truth that they did indeed do what had been accused of them.
All this time Darwin and I sat down on the ledge below the door and talked. Once in a while a person would come up and question us about what we had seen and everything that went on. They asked for details, like what Ida was wearing, where she was, what she acted like, and so on. It wasn’t overly exciting other than the part where Ida saw her real parents for the first time in years. Darwin and I both shook hands with them, and they thanked us. Her parents offered us reward money, but we refused. They told our own parents that we were amazing children, and practically cried out of happiness when they retold the story of picking up the phone and hearing that their missing child had been found.
I had complete strangers come up to me and ask me for my autograph or to be on a certain TV show. My mom had the job of getting that taken care of.
Court went well. The kidnappers got sent to jail for at least twenty years, and possibly a lifetime. Ida was happy, and her parents were, too. It seemed like a happy ending for a story that took three years to figure out.
Darwin’s family moved into the house across the street. He ended up being in most of my classes in sixth grade. We found more friends to add to our “secret” group and we eventually made our little fort into a twenty-foot wide home. Anyone could use it at any time, if they could find the door.
Then one time it was only Darwin and I in our fort. It was the smaller one, the one that we first met in. The leaves were falling down from above, bouncing off the sticks that made the lean-to. It was a year later, but things were almost all the same.
“I wonder what would’ve happened if you hadn’t built this? Would Ida be with her real family?” He asked. We went through this conversation over and over, but it didn’t make it any easier to answer.
A grin from me. “You probably wouldn’t be sitting with me right now, Ida would probably be with her real family, and the world would still be spinning. But you know as well as I do that the fort over there wouldn’t have been built,” The bigger fort was extremely close to my fort. It was all the better. “And there wouldn’t be as many fun experiences,”
“True, but every life has fun experiences.”
“Yes. Every single one.”
This story is for my grandmother. She gives my life an experience I will never forget, and I love her. This story is my made up version of how my grandparents met, if they had met when they were young. The girl, Kay, acts like I do most of the time. Only the looks are my grandmothers and grandfathers, but there is a hidden meaning to this story. It is to be yourself, don’t let curiosity get a hold of you too much, and let yourself fly in your lifetime.