In the morning I found footprints in the snow. I followed them from my bedroom window to the edge of the woods. I wasn’t allowed to go into the woods without an adult, and because this rule seemed reasonable to me I turned around and followed the footprints back.

Examined side-by-side there wasn’t much of a difference between my prints and these others. They were a little bit bigger, maybe. I put my foot inside one to check, and then walked in the footsteps until that became a game. I lost my balance halfway back across the yard and as I pinwheeled my arms to stay up the barest glimmer of a thought shot across my consciousness:

The footsteps go to my window and then stop. They don’t go back.

And then I hit the snow and the thought blew away. The powder puffed up around me in a crystalline cloud and fell back into my face. I had to turn to one side and then the other in order to build enough momentum to flip over so I could stand, and once I was up I stomped across the yard kicking up the biggest plumes of snow that I could with my new pink snow boots. I heard my mother inside and went in to demand cocoa.

“Are there are other kids around here?” I asked her.

“I don’t know, sweetie,” she said. “Did you see any when you were outside?”

“I thought I saw one last night, in my window.”

Mom stopped, then shook her head and went back to preparing breakfast. “The neighbors over there”–she pointed through the wall–“are old, I’d be surprised if they have any kids. The other house I think has a teenager. Maybe across the street?”

“What’s behind the woods?”

“The river.”

“And past the river?”

“The highway, I guess, but it’s a long way off. There’s a barrier wall between the highway and the river, though, to keep the noise out. And the people, too, I guess.”

After breakfast Mom and I headed into town. She dragged me in a sled along the edge of the road since there were no sidewalks. The streets were winding ribbons out here, but gradually straightened, narrowed, and formed a grid, as if someone were pulling them taut into a little basket.

We bought groceries at the general store and had an early lunch in the only restaurant before heading back. Although we had only been in town for two days, everyone we met knew who we were. “We’re not used to new faces around here,” the waitress said. “At least not in winter.”

And the grocer: “So you’re the ones staying at the Luckett’s house.”

“Just for a few weeks. My husband’s here, he’s doing research at the university for a little bit, and this one”–she gestured to me–“is on break so we came to join him.”

The grocer smiled at us both. “Well I’m sure the Lucketts appreciate someone keeping the house warm and the walk shoveled while they’re out. Especially with all this snow. It’s the worst we’ve had in years.”

“Are there any kids in town?” I asked. She smiled.

“This town’s mostly full of old people like me, but there’s a few kids here and there. The playground behind the library is probably the best place to find them.”

We trudged back home. This time the groceries were in the sled and I had to walk. By the time we got home I was tired and cold. Mom fixed me another cup of cocoa and I sat in the large TV-less den with a book. A fresh layer of snow started coming down, and Mom and I stayed inside the rest of the day.

The Luckett house was one of the few one-story homes in the area, and sat back farther from the street than the others. Mom guessed that it may have started out as a farm. It was still enormous, though, especially compared to our apartment in the city,

“When’s Dad coming home?” She was tucking me in.

“I don’t know, sweetie. He has a lot of work to do and not much time to do it in. He’ll be here in the morning, though.” She kissed my forehead. “Tomorrow we can go to that playground and make some friends, okay?” I curled up under the heavy blankets and fell asleep. In a strange room in a faraway town, though, I slept lightly, and bits and pieces of the real world intruded into my dreams like sunlight passing through blinds.

My father coming home, for example. He and my mother listening to jazz and laughing in the living room.

The train blowing its horn as it crossed the bridge.

A dog barking at the snow.

I had to use the bathroom and I got up. By then my parents were asleep in their bedroom on the far side of the house. The house was still except for the wheezing of the refrigerator and the mechanical tick of a clock. The flush was so loud I cringed, and then when I filled a glass with water I was sure the sound woke everyone. I drank, put the glass back on the sink, and tiptoed back to my room.

There was a face in the window. Only for a split second. Two big eyes, a little nose, mittened hands held up on either side so it could see it past the window’s glare. My brain picked up on it when I walked into the room, but by the time my eyes focused it was gone. The trees rustling in the wind sent shadows across the windowpane.

My heart was racing. I thought of running to my parents’ room but I stopped myself. My father was working hard. My mother had been up late. I was a big girl. I crawled back into bed and pulled the blankets up high over my head. I must have slept but I don’t remember doing so.

In the morning, footprints again, this time heading away, back into the woods. I went back inside.

“Amanda, sweetie, I don’t think we’ll be able to go to the playground today. Daddy’s expecting a package and I don’t know when the mail man comes. I have to sign for it. So how about this: if he comes in the morning, we’ll go after lunch, or else we can go tomorrow. Is that okay?”

I nodded.

The Lucketts were art professors. They loaned us their house while they wintered someplace warm. They didn’t have a TV but they did have piles of art books that I leafed through. Paintings, photographs, photographs of paintings. I looked at as many of them as I could. I even read the News-Dispatch, which the Lucketts still had delivered even though they were gone. There wasn’t much in it but it did have a comics page.

Eventually I was standing on the back porch in my snow clothes, looking at the footsteps that led into the woods.

“Mom,” I called out. “Can I go a little bit into the woods?”

There was no answer. I wondered if she’d heard me. “Not too far, okay. Make sure you can see the house. I don’t want you going near the river.” She had heard; she just took some time deciding on a fair answer.

I trudged out to the footprints and put my boots inside them. Same as yesterday. I followed them to the edge of the woods and then turned around. The house was maybe a hundred feet away. It looked closer. The trees were tall but they’d lost their leaves and they didn’t grow too close together so I could see pretty far into them. The snow here was different than in the yard: in some places it was very deep, and in other places the ground was exposed. Because there were tree branches and bushes and other kinds of debris on it, the ground was very uneven. I had to duck under a branch to follow the footprints in, but after that it was easy. The footprints followed what was probably a path.

About twenty paces in–I could still see the house clearly–the footprints stopped. The surrounding snow was untouched as far as I could see.

A bird took off from a branch and lifted straight up through the trees. It was the only sound, and after it was gone there was complete stillness. In the distance I thought I saw a face again.

“Hey!” I called out, and my voice so disturbed the stillness that a branch overhead dropped its weeklong accumulation of snow directly in front of me. I flinched and covered my face. When I could see again the face was gone. I looked back towards the house and decided I was far  enough away and went home.

The package didn’t come until early in the afternoon. The next morning Mom and I went to the playground but there were no kids, and after twenty minutes it was too cold to stay any more. Dad had come home very late the night before, so Mom took a nap on the couch and I, eventually, got dressed and went outside.

There was a girl standing beside one of the trees on the very edge of the woods. She was sort of half-hiding. I could see her legs and half of her face.

“Hello,” I said to her. I wasn’t sure if I said it loud enough. The air was still but she was far away.

“Can you see me?” she asked. I liked her voice.

“Yes,” I said back to her, and took a step towards her. “I can see your leg, and your hand on the tree.”

She moved a little, and I saw her more clearly. “And now?” she asked.

“Of course.”

“What’s your name?”

“Amanda. What’s yours?”

She hesitated before answering. “Madeline.”

As we talked I moved closer, and although she seemed like she was about to run she didn’t. Maybe she was shy.

“Where do you live?” I asked her. She pointed away, with a gesture that meant somewhere far.

“Do you want to play?” she asked me.

“Play what?”

Madeline shrugged. By now I was quite close. She wore a coat not unlike mine, though less colorful and less new. I recognized her mittens from the window the night before.

I started stomping around in the snow, kicking up big plumes, and after watching me for a few minutes she joined in. She had the idea to carve islands out of the snow. She built a little wall of snow on hers and then the islands became castles. When the castles collapsed they became snowballs, snowmen, snow angels. Time passed quickly.

“My mother’s calling me,” I told her. “Do you want to come in?” She stopped laughing and shook her head, then gave me a timid wave and walked back into the woods.

“Wait!” I called out. “Will you come back tomorrow?”

She nodded and smiled, then turned and ran. I went inside.

“I met a girl outside.”

“Where?”

“In the yard.” I could tell she was relieved. She was getting worried that our little vacation was becoming a bore. Walking into town was a fun distraction, but after the third day we had walked on every single one of the town’s little streets and visited every shop. With three weeks to go we would have to pace ourselves.

The next day I woke up and from my window I could see Madeline standing in the middle of the yard. I called to her through the window to wait for me, and then got dressed and ran out.

“No footprints. How’d you do that?” She looked around, bewildered. The snow around her was pristine except for where I’d stepped. After thinking about it for a minute she just shrugged.

“Let’s play.”

The weekend came and Dad was able to stay home with us. It also meant we could all use the car to explore. There were all sorts of things surrounding the town, including an honest-to-goodness city not far away. But we could only foray for a while. The roads were icy, parking was hard to find, and we had to take advantage of the car to go grocery shopping in a proper supermarket instead of the general store. And though he was home, Dad still had work to do.

It was dark when we made it back even though it was only afternoon. I went outside with a flashlight. There were footprints everywhere but Madeline must have given up waiting for me.

She didn’t come back for a week. I went into the woods but obeyed the instruction to stay where I could see the house. There was no sign of her, or of anything else. Boredom chipped away at my good humor and Mom gave up on resting and tried to keep me bust. We baked bread and cookies and cupcakes before we decided that we had enough baked goods. She taught me card games and we gambled with pretzels. We read through all the art books, which provoked a lot of questions that eventually made her uncomfortable. Finally she decided we should try to the playground again.

We went closer to lunchtime, and this time there were kids there, three boys and a girl. They were all a few years older or a few years younger but we were able to play for a while anyway. My mom sat with their mom on a frozen bench and they clearly hit it off. We were still there long after I’d stopped having fun, and only left when the youngest boy started crying that he was cold.

“Was that the girl you met in the yard?”

“No, a different girl.”

“Their mom gave me her phone number. She said we can come over some time. Would you like that?”

“Sure,” I said, and for that moment I meant it.

When we got back home I was cold but there were footprints in the snow again so I ran out and found Madeline standing on a tree.

“Want to play?”

This was better. Madeline was closer to my age. Her personality fit with mine. She had a lot of ideas for playing. I could tell she liked me, too.

“I have to go inside,” I said when I was too cold to do anything else. “DO you want to come inside?” She shook her head. I wasn’t allowed to go into other kids’ houses without permission, either. “Will you come back tomorrow?”

She nodded.

I never had to wait for her. She was there first thing in the morning, and we played until my mother called me in. On days when we had errands to run in the morning I would go out and ask Madeline to come back later, and she always did.

At breakfast on Saturday Dad asked me if I was enjoying myself. I said yes but didn’t say much since I had a mouth full of food.

“She’s out in the yard just about the whole day,” Mom said for me.

“Doing what?” He asked me, but Mom answered.

“Just stomping around by herself, as far as I can tell.”

“I’m playing with Madeline,” I said.

“Who’s Madeline?”

“Her imaginary friend.”

“She’s not imaginary.”

Mom smiled politely. I turned to my Dad. “Come, I’ll show you.” He was still in pajamas but I grabbed his hand and dragged him out through the kitchen door.

“Mandy, it’s cold.” I only pulled him out far enough to see the tracks in the snow.

“See?”

“See what? There’s nobody there.”

I rolled my eyes. “The footprints. Mine and hers.”

I looked at them through his eyes. We had torn up the yard quite a bit in the hour before breakfast. Maybe he couldn’t tell which prints were mine and which were hers. Still, he must have known those were more steps than I could have taken on my own.

“I believe you, squirt. If she comes back let me know and I’ll bring you both cocoa.”

But when she came back he was working, and Mom was helping him, and so I stayed out with Madeline myself.

Mom called the kids from the playground and on that Monday we went to their house for a playdate. The oldest boy, the girl, and the youngest boy were siblings; the other boy was a neighbor. He came over, too. The moms grabbed wine and sat on the couch and talked and laughed the whole afternoon. The kids roamed from the romper room in the basement to the TV room on the ground floor to the bedrooms upstairs. They didn’t exclude me but didn’t do a great job of including me, either. Their mom noticed when we were having lunch.

“How are you liking that big house, Amanda?”

I nodded in approval.

“Have you made any other friends yet?”

“Just Madeline.”

“Is that a kid or a grown-up?”

“A kid.”

“Your age?”

I nodded. The mom thought about it for a moment then kind of shrugged. “I don’t know her. Maybe she doesn’t go to the school.”

The girl piped up. “There used to be a Madeline at the school.”

Her mom made a face and swatted her away. “You hush. If you’re all done eating you can run along and play. There’ll be some treats later.”

They spent the rest of the afternoon watching TV. I was happy when we left. The yard was empty when we got back but I went out anyway, and found Madeline in the woods.

“I want to show you something,” she said to me, and then gestured for me to follow her into the woods. I went as far as I felt comfortable going and then stopped.

“Come,” she said.

“I’m not allowed to go farther.”

She considered this. I could still see my house clearly, but I had decided days earlier that this fallen-down tree was the farthest away I would go. But I understood that this line was arbitrary and impossible to explain. If she pressed me I would have to give in.

“Are you my friend?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said. “I think so.”

“I need help.”

“Help doing what?”

She looked around and then waved again for me to follow her.

At that moment I heard my mother calling.

“I can’t,” I said. “Why don’t you come in? Supper’s ready.”

“I have to go,” she said, and then turned around.

My mother called again. “Can you show me tomorrow?”

She stopped and turned and smiled. “Tomorrow.” And then turned and went back into the woods.

But the next day we went back to the others kids’ house. Their playing was mean-spirited, sometimes outright rough. But the moms were having so much fun they didn’t notice. I realized I missed Madeline, and wished I was exploring in the woods with her.

We got back late and she wasn’t there. The next day Dad took us to the university to show us around, and then we did more sightseeing. It was still cold but it hadn’t snowed in a couple of days, so the roads were clear and we could drive. We stayed out all day that day, too. When we got home I ran out into the yard. There was no sign of her. I went into the woods and called for her. I stayed out calling for her until my mom came out and brought me back in.

At night there was a tap at my window and I ran to it. Madeline was there, in the dark, looking in at me. I threw a blanket over my shoulders and opened the window.

“Where were you?”

“My parents dragged me everywhere. My mom has a friend now.”

“I want to play with you.”

“It’s late. Shouldn’t you be home?”

She shrugged. “Will you be here tomorrow?”

“I think so. Will you?”

“Yes. I like playing with you. And you said you could help me.”

“I will.”

In the morning I followed Madeline into the woods. We got as far as I had ever gone but she kept going, and after a moment I took a nervous step past my imaginary boundary. We kept walking until we heard the gurgling sound of the river.

“I’m not supposed to go near the river.”

“We’re almost here.” She led me to a pile of snow and started digging. I joined her after a little bit but the snow had mostly packed into ice.

“What’s under here?”

She didn’t answer me, just kept digging. “You’re the only one who can see me.” I felt the same way sometimes. “But maybe people can see this.”

I heard my mom calling from far away and my back stiffened.

“Mom!” I called back. Madeline stood upright, too.

“Where are you?”

“Over here!” Mom popped up.

“This is too far,” she said. “What are you doing out here?”

“Playing with Madeline.”

Mom looked around. Madeline was standing behind the pile of snow we were digging in, standing upright. Mom’s eyes passed over her but didn’t stop. She just shook her head a little and then reached out for me. “Well, tell Madeline you’ll have to play later. We’re going to Harrison’s for lunch.”

She didn’t really give me a chance to say goodbye, though. I looked back at Madeline and tried to tell her that I’d be back later.

We trudged through the town and went back. Mom had wine and cookies, and the kids didn’t even notice that I’d come until the moms were safely in the other room. The novelty of my visits had long since worn off, and the kids now decided to amuse themselves by teasing me. Teasing, then hurting. The fighting had to get loud before the moms came in to stop it. By then I was crying and I could feel a bruise on my cheek.

“She fell on this toy,” the littlest boy said, pointing to the truck he’d smacked me with.

“We should probably get home anyway, I have to get supper going. But we’re on for tomorrow?”

“Of course. We’ll pick you up at nine.”

I told all this to Madeline through my window in the night. “I don’t want to go with them.”

She thought about this for a minute. “I might be able to help, but then you have to help me.”

“Can you come inside? This is too cold for me.”

“I don’t think I’m allowed.”

“You have my permission,” I said, and she smiled. Then she turned and went away.

At nine o’clock the next day the Harrisons didn’t come. Mom tried calling but there was no answer. When it became clear that the Harrisons weren’t coming I got dressed and went outside.

“Don’t go so far this time. Stay where you can hear me.”

I found Madeline at the edge of the woods. “Don’t worry, they won’t come today,” she said. “Now come.”

“I can’t go that far. Can’t we play here?”

She looked hurt. “I helped you. Now please, help me.”

I didn’t know what she meant but she was serious and I felt somehow guilty so I followed her back. Although every mound of snow looked the same to me she somehow found the one we’d dug at yesterday, and we started digging. It was hard because we were reaching layers that had turned to ice. I used sticks and rocks to chip away.

Finally I saw a patch of color in the snow and dug more. She sat back and let me keep going. A scrap of cloth came out of the snow now. I tried to pull at it but it didn’t move.

“Keep going,” she said, so I kept going, opening the hole in the snow to expose more. It was a coat. I tried to wrench it free but it was stuck.

“What is this?”

“I need you to uncover it.”

“Help me.”

“I can’t. You have to do this part.”

“Why?”

She pleaded with her eyes and I dug more. I found the top of the coat, and then cleared further up. This was a mess of something I couldn’t identify. I chipped away more and then a big block of ice fell away. Madeline got excited and cheered me on. Bigger chunks broke off now, and lastly a big block slid off to reveal what was underneath.

I sat back and looked at it but didn’t understand what I was looking at until Madeline squatted down beside it. The coat was the same. I hadn’t been able to tell because this one was dirty, muddy, and waterlogged. But it was the same. At the bottom of one sleeve, still buried in the snow, was what I was sure was a mitten. Like Madeline’s.

The hair was hers, the same color and length. The face was frozen in a fearful grimace. Part of the skin had been eaten away by the snow and ice; part had been eaten away by something else before. The bones weren’t set right. The skin was streaked in the black, brown, and red of mud and blood. Decay and protruding bones marred her little face.

I stepped back in horror.

“You have to get help,” she said. “Please.”

I turned and ran. I stumbled and fell and hit my head on a tree but I got up and kept running. I could see my blood on my coat and on the snow but I kept running.

I burst into the house and found my mother crying in the hallway. When she saw me she jumped and then ran over.

“What happened?” We both asked each other.

First she checked on my injury. Just a cut. She wiped the blood away and then held me close and started crying again. I was still bleeding but she held my arms and I couldn’t lift them to wipe it away so the blood dripped onto her blouse.

“There was an accident,” she explained. Mrs. Harrison and two of the kids were dead. The husband and daughter survived but were in the hospital. Dad worked with Mr. Harrison, and when he didn’t come in to work somebody went to check.

Mom and I stayed in the den until Dad came home. Then the police came. Dad read to me while the police talked to Mom in another room. Then they left.

“They don’t think it was an accident.”

“What do you mean?”

They must have forgotten I was in the room because they just kept talking.

“The gas line was tampered with. It didn’t just leak. Somebody pulled it out.”

“Can I play outside?” I asked.

“I’m sorry, sweetie, but Mommy wants you to stay close today. We can play a game, though, is that okay?”

Dad checked all around the house. He found nothing unusual but said he wouldn’t be able to sleep until he’d checked for himself. It was starting to snow again and when he came back in he looked like a snowman.

That night I drew my curtains shut and locked my windows. When I got into bed I pulled the blankets all the way over my head and curled up into the tiniest ball I could.

There was a tap at my window but I didn’t answer it. The tapping grew more insistent and I squeezed my eyes shut.

Then I felt a hand on my shoulder and jumped. Madeline was at the side of my bed.

“You said I could come in. You gave me permission.”

I backed away from her, preparing to scream.

“I thought you told the police but they didn’t come look. I was waiting.”

“I didn’t tell anyone.”

“You have to tell them.”

“What do you want from me?”

“I need your help. You’re my friend. You’re the only one who can see me.”

“Did you kill them?”

She didn’t answer. “I helped you.”

I could tell she didn’t know what to do. She was young, like me, and hadn’t really thought any of this through. What was she supposed to do?

“Come with me.”

“Leave me alone.”

“Come.” She reached out for me and I screamed.

In seconds my parents turned the light on down the hall, and they came running. Madeline panicked and ran to the window.

Mom came in first and flipped on my light. She came right for me. Dad came in after her and looked at the corner, where Madeline was standing.

“What is this?” He sounded stunned.

Madeline lunged for the window and Dad lunged after her. Mom and I watched as he tried to grab her and she fought back.

“What are you doing?” Mom shrieked. Madeline pushed against him and knocked things off my dresser. The crash of glass on the ground scared my mom more and she pulled me close.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” Dad said, and then window broke and sent glass flying into his face. He grabbed at Madeline’s foot and dragged her back into the house. She kicked him hard in the face and sent him flying backwards. When Madeline screamed it ripped through the night like a tear in fabric and even Mom heard it.

Madeline hopped out through the window. There was jagged glass in it but she passed through it without getting cut. From the outside she looked in at me. She didn’t say anything but I felt the accusation in her eyes.

Dad got up and looked out the window, and then ran. Mom and I saw him through the window. He saw her footprints and followed them to the edge of the woods.

“What’s he doing?”

“Following her footprints,” I said.

What footprints?”

Dad came back and threw us into the car and we drove away without packing anything. We went out towards the highway and got a room in a motel. The next day Dad went to the house by himself and packed us up, and then Mom and I rented a car and drove home. He still had work to do, though he wouldn’t stay at the Luckett’s house anymore.

We refused to discuss the events of that night and so my memories grew increasingly vague.

When I was in college a researcher at Dad’s university did a study on psychic abilities. I volunteered in exchange for twenty dollars, and after they hooked my head up with wires I answered their strange questions and looked at a few pictures. Everyone in the lab looked excited, but at the end their report was inconclusive. I asked my parents the same questions at dinner; funnily, Dad’s answers were the same as mine while Mom’s were completely different.

Memories of Madeline stayed with me and a few years ago I visited the website for the News-Dispatch. For a small fee I could read their archives back to 1912. I signed up and read about the winter we were there. There: January 14, 1997: Three Dead in Gas Leak.

I kept reading. No reports of a child’s body in the woods. I ran a search on “missing child” and a few dozen hits came up. None were of her. I typed “Madeline,” and got several thousand hits; nothing I could search through.

I said I would help her, though, so I tried. I worked my way backwards, skimming through the archives when I could. “There used to be a Madeline at the school.” How old was the Harrison girl that year? Seven, maybe? And she knew of Madeline, at least. Couldn’t be too much farther back.

I found her on the third page, in a fuzzy picture for the first day of school. “Madeline York, 9, sings the national anthem on the first day at Carrolls Landing Elementary School.” No further explanation, but there she was, as I remembered her. No further searches for Madeline York or a York family yielded results. Still: “Hush now,” Mrs. Harrison had said. A conspiratorial silence.

I drove myself down to the town. It was only a few hours. The intervening years had transformed into a too-cozy tourist trap. The one restaurant had redecorated in a way that would look more authentic to visitors. The waitress was about my age, so I chanced it.

“Did you grow up here?”

“Yes, ma’am. Over there on Willow Street.”

“Did you know a Madeline York?” She made a face as if to say no, but hesitated. “She was about my age, I think she only went to school here for a few years.”

A faraway look crossed her face as she tried to reach back through her archives of forgotten faces. “You know, I think I remember her. Pretty little thing, really playful, right? Liked playing in the snow. She left suddenly, in the third grade, or maybe the fourth. Maddy York, right. Are you friends with her? What’s she up to these days?”

“Nothing, I, uh…” But I didn’t have any ready story to provide, so I asked for more coffee, and she obliged.

“I remember she just suddenly wasn’t at school any more. And then her family moved away. I’d forgotten all about it but at the time there was a lot of talk. Glad to hear that that’s all it was, just talk. You tell her I said hi, okay?”

Back in my car I passed through the little gridded center and out towards the woods. The streets grew wider and looser, as if the town were unraveling. It had snowed the night before, which maybe helped me recognize the necessary turns.

The Luckett house was still there. Except for the addition of a satellite dish and some modest modernization it remained itself. I knocked on the door but nobody answered. A stack of newspapers reminded me that they wintered someplace warm.

The neighborhood was still quiet. I pulled by hat down over my ears and went around to the back of the house. The woods were still there, though they had grown thicker. I went to the edge and called out although it felt silly.

There was no answer.

I went in. I was taller now and had to duck to get past the low branches. I could still find the imaginary boundary line I had drawn as a child. I stopped there and called out again, then waited.

I gave her time, as much as I could stand in the cold, then called out to her again.

Twenty years had passed. I was kidding myself to think that she would wait that long. Was there even anything left to show out there in the woods? Bones, or a scrap of cloth? I urged myself to go in and look for myself but I couldn’t. I was still scared. I could go to the police station and tell the story, I supposed. I walked back.

I didn’t follow the same path out that I had followed in. I was an adult now, and could take the shortest, easiest way back. Also, I wanted to get out of there. I cut through the woods and emerged back in the yard, maybe thirty feet from where I had been before. I saw my footprints that wrapped around the house and into the trees.

And, starting at about the halfway point, a second set of prints, smaller.

I came up close and looked down at them, and then up into the woods. She was watching me from somewhere in there, I knew.

“Madeline,” I said. “Maddy York. I promised I would help you.”

Much more afraid than I had been as a child, I put my footsteps inside hers and followed them back.

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