Hanks sat on a log in the middle of a small forest kicking at leaves and letting the tears run slowly down her chubby checks. Her knees were bleeding and her brown corduroy pants had tears in them. One shoe was off her foot and her toe hurt terribly. She didn’t really want to cry, but those darn tears just keep coming. It was getting cold and going to be dark soon. And she was lost!
How had she gotten here anyway? A while ago it had felt like a good idea to take a short cut through the woods on her bike so she could get to the bakery faster. On Sunday mornings Mom let Hanks go to the bakery to get one jelly filled sweet roll for everybody in the family. Sometimes it was even okay to get one for Bradshaw and sometimes Hanks ate that one on her way home and Mom didn’t even mind. Most times Hanks walked to the bakery. But today Mom said she needed to hurry so Hanks decided taking her bike would be best.
Well, it wasn’t best at all! Because Hanks didn’t know where she was going when she took the path beside the school that went into the woods. She left home this morning and already it was starting to get dark and Mom would be MAD. She probably would be scared too. Hanks certainly was scared. She had been riding and riding and calling and calling and no one could hear her or find her. Never ever had she realized this woods behind her school was so big. No wonder Mom always said to stay away from the woods. What other reasons were there to stay away besides it was big and felt dark and scary when night was coming? Were there wolves in this woods? Certainly there were foxes. Hanks had seen mother and baby foxes walk out of the woods and wander down the street past the school toward Hanks house several times in the past.
Hanks stood up and put her foot carefully down on the ground to see how her toe felt. Ouch! It really hurt. Maybe it was broken. She had gotten all tangled up in vines and branches and leaves and trees and bumped into something and fell off her bike. She was no longer on the path and had no idea at all how to find her way back onto it. Hanks picked her bike up and leaned it against a tree and started to walk away from the log. She would try to come back tomorrow to get her bike, but right now she needed her feet on the ground so she could walk and feel where she was going and try to find a way out of the ever darkening woods where she felt lost and scared and lonely and very stupid for letting this even happen.
Oh, she forgot the baked good. Hanks went back and picked up the bag of pastry. She might need to feed it to the wolves if they started to come for her. She could throw the jelly buns away from her and run like crazy if any wolves tried to come at her.
Hanks closed her eyes and stretch out her arms and tried to protect herself from branches and trees and she went inside herself and let her breathing slow down. The fear in her head began to get smaller and her hearing got more fine tuned. She could her the flutter of bird’s wings, the dance of leaves against each other in the gentle wind, the buzz of a bee, the snap of a twig…..wolves? Hanks eyes flew open and she prepared to sacrifice a jelly bun.
Nothing. No one. She was still all alone. Hanks wiped the tears from her face, turned around and went back to her log, sat down and ate a jelly bun. She was very hungry. It had been a long time since she had eaten Bradshaw’s pastry. Hanks wondered if anyone was looking for her. Surely Mom wondered where she was. Surely someone would come looking if she just sat still and didn’t move and waited patiently. She thought maybe she had never been so lonely or scared in her whole life.
It was getting colder and darker and Hanks did not know what to do. Should she start walking again? Maybe she would only get more lost. Should she stay put and wait to be found? Maybe no one even knew she was gone. Maybe no one remembered she was alive. Maybe no one really even cared if she was gone. Maybe no one really loved her. Maybe she was so alone and so lost and so horrible a little girl that she would just become like petrified wood, only be petrified little girl, and sit on this log for ever and ever. Hanks didn’t even have any more tears in her to cry. She could only just sit. And stare.
Yellow eyes. There were yellow eyes staring back at her. Close to the ground yellow eyes, so not wolves. Staying right in place yellow eyes so probably not a fox. Moving around a little bit yellow eyes but not fast, so probably not a squirrel. Maybe raccoon. Or skunk. Ohhh, no, hopefully not a skunk. The yellow eyes turned away and seemed to disappear into the trees. Hanks let out a big sigh. And then she shuddered in fear and cold and rubbed her hands together and put her hands over her ears to get them warm.
No one wanted her. No one was looking for her. Even Bradshaw didn’t seem to be around. Maybe Bradshaw was mad that Hanks ate all of the jelly buns. It really was almost dark. Hanks knew she could not find her way home when it was totally dark. It didn’t appear than anyone was going to come find her. Probably it was time for her to take matters into her own hands. Time to stand up, get a grip, and go home.
Hanks took her bike from the tree, took a big breath, put one foot in front of the other and headed out of the woods. As she reached the edge where the trees started to thin out she saw some lights on in houses. She knew whose house was in front of her and the Caldwell’s house was beside her so she knew how to get to her house. She climbed on her bike and headed home.
All of the lights were on in her house when she got there and she could smell roast chicken coming from Mom’s kitchen. Boy, Mom was going to be mad, or glad, or sad, or something…..what would Mom be feeling? Hanks was a little scared to find out. She put her bike on the porch where it belonged and walked around the house so she could go in the back door and be right at the kitchen where all the good smells were. Dinner must be about ready.
Hanks opened the back door and held her breath….was she going to be yelled at? Would they be relieved she was okay? Would they hug her or would she get time out in her room….. 30 days, maybe 30 years!
Dad and Snort were sitting at the table. Mom was scooping up the roast chicken and potatoes and carrots in the the pretty china bowl Grandma had given to them last Christmas. There was a place set at the table for Hanks and one for Bradshaw. Mom looked up and smiled. Just in time for dinner, Hanks, she said. Wash your hands quick and we will wait for you.
Nobody missed her. Hanks glanced at the table again and saw Bradshaw sitting next to Dad. Bradshaw winked and gave a thumbs up. Hanks walked into the bathroom and washed her hands.