Tawney kept walking most of the morning. By lunch her legs were sore, and she was shivering. She sat down beneath a tree and broke off a piece of bread to nibble on. Then she withdrew her arms into her brother’s large shirt, and holding them close to her body, kept going.
It was mid-afternoon when she decided to settle down. She’d come upon a lightning-struck tree. She scratched below it an arrow pointing home. Then she attempted climbing.
Tawney managed to get up on the first branch of a nearby tree. Carefully she stood, throwing her arms around the tree’s truck as best she could. Then she put a hand on the next branch. She tried swinging her leg up onto the branch. Her leg caught it for a moment, then she slipped and fell.
Falling felt like it was sucking the air out of Tawney’s lungs. It made her feel weightless, but at the same time too heavy. Even if she’d wanted to cry out she couldn’t have. Then she hit the ground, and her knees buckled. Her foot rapped against the stone she’d used to boost herself up onto the first branch.
Tawney lay there a while, her breath coming in short gasps. She heard a crow somewhere, then a howl. Still she didn’t make any move except to curl into a tight ball. Tawney was never sure when or how she got to sleep.
When she woke, however, she felt like she’d been the one struck by lightning, not the tree she’d used as her marker. Tawney lay there awhile more. Then her spine prickled, and she looked around slightly.
For a few moments, she saw a boy crouched in the shadows of the trees, staring at her. Then their eyes met, and he was gone. Listening, Tawney heard the crow again, this time twice in rapid succession.
Curiosity roused, Tawney stood and limped after him, barely bothering to pick up her bag, which had landed next to her on the ground when she fell. She didn’t know what she had been planning when she went after the boy, as she’d quickly lost him, but Tawney continued still in the direction he’d gone.
She’d only been going a few minute when her breath started coming in short gasps again. Her lungs ached. Her foot, which she was afraid to look at, still felt like a dog was biting it, which hurt more than the rest of her sore body.
Tawney wasn’t sure how long she went or why she’d bother to keep going, when she saw the cottage. She thought at first it was a mirage of some sort. However, this mirage didn’t go away, not like the boy. So she pushed on.
A wolf howled right behind her. And then a sharp stick jabbed into her backside. A husky voice spoke from behind her, “You’re suppose to be dead, or close to it. Is this another one of you towns-people’s silly tricks?”