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Whispers in the Wind
Fog lingered across the neighborhood, enticing the weak of mind to wander around it, gazing upon its wonder. The sheer thickness wrapped around our necks, as if it was physically choking us. No matter how hard we tried to look away, the fog was always there, never lifting, never moving, never changing. Some were mesmerized by the fog, getting caught up in its tight grip, letting it lead the way to a secret destination. Trees swayed in the background, the soft tree limbs danced elegantly within the breeze, making the set rhythm of the forest. The song was then accompanied by the various leaves that fell down into the ground; feet crunched them to pieces as they walked down the paths. The aroma of the earth filled nostrils, making thoughts turn to positive ideas rather than negative outcomes. It was as if once you made your way into the woods, there was no turning back. It, in a sense, swallowed you up, and you became nothing but a mere musician, playing the song of the forest.
The forest had no exceptions to this rule.
Bethany was such a delightful little girl. She always knew how to play well with the other little kids that were on our block. She never fought, never screamed, or never bossed any of the other children around. I remember vividly that all of the neighborhood kids would flock to my front porch, asking if Bethany was around. If she was at school or dance, I would tell them all that she would be back soon enough. Of course, they always told me for hours on end about all of their plans for the day ahead. Swimming parties, tea gatherings, exploring the various parts of town, and the most sacred place of all, the woods.
No one in the town really spoke of the woods very often. The fog acted as a parent figure, always looming, always staring at the neighbors. Some neighbors couldn’t bare it, going simply mad at the sight of yet another sheet of fog. The white vapor danced from out of its restraints, lingering around us all, daring us to come in and play. The leaves were an orange color, giving the ground a bit of light as the dirt path winded its way into the main attraction of the woods. Sometimes, if you listened closely enough, you could hear the sounds of children giggling, but then again, that’s just a rumor that was spread around a couple of years ago. Once you inhaled the scent of wonder, it was just so…wonderful, that you didn’t want to experience anything else. It trapped you.
Children knew to some extent not to enter the woods. Even though the woods seemed to be somewhat inviting and enchanting the young minds around the town, some were intelligent enough to stay away for their domestic safety. Those who did dare to enter the woods would end up in the newspapers and all over the news; the headlines reading “Have you Seen This Child?” Bethany and I would discuss what could have possibly happened to these poor souls every day over the breakfast table. For an eight year old, she was incredibly bright, and was able to draw conclusions about the world around her. I can still see her bright face sitting at that table, eating her breakfast, smiling. She was such a sweet child.
I never understood how someone could be so cruel.
I remember the day that Bethany didn’t come home for quite some time. The street lights had already shone the signs for coming in for the night. All of the other neighborhood children had obeyed this warning by heading back to their respectable houses, giggling and talking about the events that happened in the day. I waved to all of the familiar faces, wishing them a good night and a safe evening. Walking back into the warm comfort of my home, I made my way into the kitchen. Bethany should have been here by now; she was never this late for dinner.
Some of the older kids still lingered within the confines of the town streets, so I decided to test my luck with one of them. Certainly, one of the wiser children knew where Bethany was. Sometimes, she decided to test her luck to see if she could go on wild and crazy adventures with all of them. My feet made their to the front porch, stopping short for just a moment. My eyes scanned the surfaces carefully, searching for the right kid to approach.
“Hey, Mrs. Carter.” A voice called from the distance, snapping me out of a slight trance. I looked in the direction of the calling person, and smiled. Ian Mitchell with his bright green eyes waved at me. “Aren’t you supposed to be having dinner? It smells great!”
“Thank you, Ian.” I simply stated, folding my arms tightly across my chest. I never really had the chance to talk to Ian before, but he was one of the nicer kids in the neighborhood that allowed Bethany to tag along most of the time. “Say, Ian,” I started, walking towards him in the street. “Have you seen Bethany? She’s supposed to be in the house.”
“Isn’t she?” Ian asked, arching his brow at me. It was if he didn’t believe me that my daughter was missing. I let out a sigh, to which he replied quickly, “I haven’t seen her since this morning. She told me that she was going towards the woods because one of her friends kicked the ball too far.”
“She didn’t go into the woods, did she?” I asked quickly, not really wanting the know the answer. For if she did go into the woods, she wouldn’t have a butt to sit on when she walked through the door. “Because you know the story behind those woods, don’t you?”
He nodded rather quickly, trying to avoid any conversation of the woods. He seemed like a rather smart young man, so I trusted his judgement. Sometimes, children would just end up lying to their parents to avoid all conversation about the woods. “My mom used to scare me with stories about the woods when I was little, just so I wouldn’t go near them.”
“Your mother is a wise woman,” I looked off into the sunset, where it began to get darker and darker. The worry in my heart began to grow and grow with each passing second. What if she wasn’t home on time? What if someone had kicked the ball too far, and it actually went deep inside the woods? What if someone got her? Oh, no! I couldn’t and wouldn’t let myself be consumed by such thoughts. I had to allow myself to think positively about the situation. Bethany would be home soon enough, and then I would finally be at rest.
“Mrs. Carter? You’re seeming a bit pale…” Ian placed his bike on the sidewalk, and walked up to me, a bit concerned. “Are you alright?” He placed a hand on my caramel skin, making me shiver. “You’re awfully warm.”
“How...How could she do this?” I asked him, looking deep into his eyes. “My little Bethany...I...I don’t even want to know what’s happening to her! We need to find her!” I clamped my eyes down tightly for a moment, not wanting to know the answer. There were some things in this world that were better off with going into great details. “We have to find her!” The panic was rising within me, making my heartbeat multiply with each passing second.
“Calm down, Mrs. Carter!” Ian wailed, trying to get my attention back to the situation. “We need to come up with some sort of plan. Do you have an idea?”
“I really don’t have a clue. Perhaps maybe my husband could get out of work early to help us look for her…” I looked over the horizon, seeing that the sun had made its way to bed for the day. The pumping in my chest continued as the colors started to paint the sky; it really reminded me of a watercolor painting that Bethany had done in the first grade. What a beautiful painting it had turned out to be. But this situation was far from beautiful.
Ian looked into my eyes and saw my situation, and he let go of my arm for a moment. “Look, what are the chances of your husband being able to get out of work...say, an hour early?”
“Slim to none.” It was harsh, but true. My husband never left his job at the hospital unless they were seriously over staffed, which was literally once every three months or so. “Do you have a better plan? I’d really go for anything at this point, Ian.”
“I suppose I can think of something,” Ian suggested, leaning on one of the poles that was attached to the porch. “But, it might take some time.”
“Well, you better think of something quick,” My tone was rather annoyed. What if Bethany was dead? I didn’t have ‘some time’ to spare anymore! How was my Bethany going to survive if we just stood here and wasted time? “Do you have a flashlight?” I was surprised when Ian dug into his pockets and extracted a small, but rather effective flashlight. “We should start near the woods.”
“Do you honestly think she’ll be there?” Ian asked me, not really believing the situations. “She knows to not be in the woods, right? No kid in their right mind could possibly ever…”
“You said the ball was kicked into the woods.” I firmly told him, coming off of the porch. “There might be a small chance that she could have gotten lost.”
“Well, it’s worth a shot.” Ian grabbed me by the hand, and smiled at me. “Don’t worry, we’ll find her.”
The funeral was about two weeks ago. Every single one of Bethany’s friends was in attendance, their mothers trying to explain how death worked, how Bethany wouldn’t be coming back, how she was in a better place now and all of that adult jazz. I just darted my eyes around the room, honestly not knowing what to say. These children would never know what it was like to lose someone you loved, not to mention a child. My husband came up behind me, wrapping his hands around my waist. “You know, she’s happy wherever she’s at.” The whisper made its way into my ear, but didn’t really register.
I looked back behind him, and tried to smile back at him. “Yeah, she’s with your mother now, so at least she’ll be able to make some friends.”
“She’ll be our little guardian angel.” Derek leaned down and kissed my cheek, trying to wipe away a stray tear. “It’ll take awhile to grieve, I know, but soon, you’ll realize how happy she is.”
“I know you miss her too, Derek.” My husband’s grip around my waist tightened, causing me to flinch and let out a small yelping noise. “I am going to kill him.”
“How could someone do that to our little girl?” I asked, turning around. My eyes were burning at this point, tears threatening to spill down my cheeks. “How could someone take away our little girl? Wasn’t he thinking?”
He leaned down, kissing my forehead lightly. “I know, I know. He probably wasn’t thinking, is the thing. There are some sick, sick people out there, Caroline.” He tried to comfort me the best way that he could, but I knew that he could never understand the pain I was going through. Sure, he was her father and everything, but he wasn’t the one who carried her so close to him for nine months. I feel as if mother’s have some sort of special connection with their babies, allowing them to grow closer and closer as time goes on.
I just leaned against him, sighing. For some odd reason, I knew that our family would never be okay. Somewhere deep down in my heart, I knew that my little girl wouldn’t be at rest until this man faced lethal injection.
Maybe that day would come sooner than I thought.
The screaming seemed to intensify as I made my way down the stairs. Derek didn’t seem to notice, as he just continued to sleep silently beside me. I grabbed a flashlight, and made my way across the yard. The screaming continued as I made my way closer and closer to the sound; the noise was beginning to pierce my ears.
I held flowers tightly in my hands, knowing exactly what I had to do. Derek would think I was crazy. but I knew that Bethany was calling out for me. The cemetery was rather close to our home, which I always thought was sort of scary to begin with. But, with the way the market was at the time, we didn’t have a choice but to buy it. “Bethany…” I called out, waving my flashlight around. “Bethany, where are you, sweetheart?”
Mama… The wind whispered, begging me to come closer, taunting me. Mama...come hold me Mama...I’m scared, Mama!
“Bethany, baby…” I cooed, sitting next to her grave. I sat the red roses down, her favorites, and I felt my heart sink. “Baby, Mama’s here. Mama’s never gonna leave you, never again.”
Mama! The voice screamed out again, letting out such a piercing cry I had to hold my ears. She kept on whaling, never stopping, the wind whipped around me, but I couldn’t budge. Her voice held me firmly in place, and I felt the need to cry. Tears began to stream down my face, uncontrollably. Suddenly, I felt a hand reach up, wiping away my tears. “Don’t cry, Mama.”
“Mama is never gonna leave you, baby. Mama is never gonna leave you again.”