Something's Waiting in the Forest
Sometime in the Past…
From her bedroom window, Penelope spied something moving through the trees at the edge of the property line. She had seen deer in the thicket, but this was different. Without Mother knowing, she sneaked out to the woods to investigate.
Whatever she had seen was gone, and yet she had the feeling of not being alone. A brisk wind caused the hairs on her neck to stand up. A twig snapped. She stiffened and turned but only saw a bush shaking in the wind.
Above her, a bird roosted on a tree limb, puffed up in the January cold. "Poor thing. Did your friends fly South without you?" The bird tucked its head under its wing and shivered.
Tap-tap. Tap-tap. The noise startled her, but it was only a shutter on the old cabin, flapping in the wind.
Penelope had discovered the shanty four years ago when she was nine. She spent her summer days there, defending the fort, feeding hungry pilgrims, and doing whatever else she imagined. One evening, Penelope failed to come home for dinner. Mother found her rubbing two sticks together by the fireplace in the shack. After an hour long lecture of the dangers of playing in abandoned buildings, Mother banned her from returning to Fort Penelope. Father put a hasp and padlock on the door.
Flakes of snow drifted from the gray sky. She held her hands out, letting them land and melt in her warm palms. She opened her mouth and let the ice crystals fall on her tongue.
From the corner of her eye, something moved. She gasped and turned, but again nothing was there. Perhaps it was her imagination.
In the distance, she heard Mother call, "Penelope Angelique Amour."
Tonight was the meet and greet party. Guests packed the house, and tomorrow was her birthday party. On January 8, she turned thirteen. This was the first real birthday she'd ever had. She had begged, pleaded and sulked for a real birthday party, and Mother finally relented.
As she hurried home, she looked back. Something flashed yellow by the old cabin, but then it was gone.