Kaleala

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KALEALA

The night Michelle’s father brought her to Bracefalls she looked out her bedroom window and saw a figure in a dirty old white gown running barefoot by the river’s edge. Michelle could make out that it was a girl just a few years older than herself. The girl stopped, looked up, caught Michelle’s eye, then turned and ran into the dark woods. Michelle would not see her again until early August.

Michelle lay back in her bed and took in the yellowed wallpaper of her unfamiliar room. She slid the one record she owned on to the turntable her father bought earlier that evening from the “this and that” store below their apartment. The needle fumbled for the grooves until the speakers sang.

She prided herself on being the only ten year old she knew that listened to Sam Cook, but she didn’t know that many ten year olds, a symptom of moving six times in four years. She nuzzled a framed picture of her mother and drifted off.

By the time July had finally yawned and rolled over into August, Michelle had given up trying to make new friends at the playground. Instead she lounged thoughtlessly on the rocks that peppered the river just east of town. Maybe friends will come easier when school starts she hoped, but until September it’s the lazy creek, fish and the frogs.

One particularly handsome afternoon Michelle spent the majority of the day leaning over a flat rock, alternating dipping the tips of her brown pigtails in the shallow black water, overseeing the minnows. As she admired her rippled reflection a white flower petal floated past her face. Moments later another floated on by. Michelle turned her head upstream and saw the continuous parade of white petals marching in a straight line like ants. She popped up and splashed her way, tracking the white tufts. A few feet up, the river bent into the woods and Michelle followed in.

She had been warned by Mr. Fleet (the nice man who owned the “this and that” shop she lived above) to never go into those woods, a warning she had obeyed all summer, but she was not thinking of that now, no, her mind hypnotically followed the flower petals. By the time she had entered into the cool shade of the massive firs the water became deep and she had to stick to the banks, avoiding twigs and wishing she had brought her shoes. Michelle was so engaged with the petals she didn’t notice the figure standing on a rock, picking flowers from an over hanging branch.

“What are you doing here?”

Michelle jumped so high that when she landed the mud gave out under her. She scrambled backwards until the steep embankment wouldn’t let her go any further. The girl in the gown loomed over and cocked her head.

The girl’s hair was wild and matted; dirt smeared her cheeks and caked her fingernails. She seemed too thin, but despite all this she was beautiful. Her blue eyes glowed from the small spot of sun that escaped the giants above them.

“What are you doing here?”

Michelle could only stare.

“Well?”

“The flowers.” She mustered. The girl flew from the rock, landing inches from Michelle.

“Well it took you long enough.”

When the girl shot out her fist Michelle flinched. She unfurled her fingers into an inviting hand. After what seemed like years of deliberation Michelle accepted and propped herself back to her feet.

“Come on, were not safe here.”

On that the girl darted further upstream. Despite her better judgment, Michelle found herself trying to keep up.

The river forked and split, a labyrinth of endless possibilities, but the girl in the gown knew this river by rote. Finally they arrived at a deep black pool fed by a misting falls. By the edge of the water was an old pick-up. Michelle guessed the rusted hulk had been there for countless years, as it was no model she had ever seen. A slender tree had fought its way from where the engine had been.

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