Ch. 6 - The Wish Wood

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 Lacey was on her knees. The rabbit screamed, pinned under her claw-like grip. Lacey’s lips were drawn back, fangs exposed, mouth thrusting toward the pitiful creature. 

What was she doing? 

She jerked her hands away, and sat back. Pine trees surrounded her, their bare trunks like stilts holding the thick canopy high above. Hardly any light filtered down through the dense criss-crossing of boughs and needles. 

“Where am I?” she whispered.  

But Lacey knew where she was. The Wish Wood.

She got up slowly, as if just being here was going to bring a lightning bolt down on her head. When nothing happened she examined her tracks on the ground, walking outward in a circle. If she hurried she could follow them back home, before something did happen. But her rabbit chase had been erratic. The forest floor was churned up everywhere and she was losing light. The sun must be setting, it was hard to tell under the canopy. Riley said street lamps and night-lights had spoiled her—night in the wilds was darker than she could imagine. 

Lacey came back to where she had started. The rabbit still lay on its side. Was it dead? She nudged it with her foot. 

The rabbit blinked, twitched it's nose, and hopped up. It regarded her for a moment, then thumped once and dashed off. It knew exactly where it was going. Lacey was lost.

Mama was going to be furious. 

Maybe Ella was still at the Green, hunting for daisies, not even noticing Lacey was gone. Maybe Lacey could make it back in time to take her home, like nothing had happened. But which way was home? The sun’s dying light didn’t seem to be coming from any particular direction. Lacey strained her ears. She couldn’t hear the river or any sounds from the Village. How far had she come? 

The only direction Lacey knew was which way the rabbit had gone. But the rabbit had already led her away from home once. Maybe she should go in the opposite direction?

There were no bushes or underbrush here. The forest floor was bare except for dirt and pine needles. No wood to burn in a campfire, even if she had a way to light one. No food. Nothing alive, except the trees. 

She held her breath, and tried to quiet her pounding heart, listening as hard as she could for something that would give her a clue. But there was nothing. Even the forest was silent, like it was holding its breath too.

Lacey’s ears were useless. What good was being part bat if she couldn’t even use her senses to find her way home? The rabbit’s senses would take it home—to green grasses and shelter, like the cottonwoods where the underbrush was thick, and the Wish Wood ended. She should follow the rabbit.

The shadows were deepening and she started imagining faces in the craggy trunks that loomed over her. Panic started to creep up her spine. She rubbed her arms and hugged her cloak tight against a sudden chill. Her imagination convinced her that something was behind her—reaching for her. Lacey spun around, then spun back, as her imagination moved the location of the something. 

The colors of the forest bled together into gray, and then darkness.

                                                                        *            *            *

Lacey had been walking in the direction of the rabbit for an hour, maybe more. At least, she thought it was the same direction. It didn’t matter. By now, she knew it was the wrong direction. She couldn’t backtrack. There was no point.

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