the girl in the forest

This was the 102nd day she traveled back to the house in the woods to wait for whoever or whatever kept the light in the window going. She sometimes let her imagination wander and like a group of little sprites it would send her down a path wondering how it happened. Was it a spirit or a human? Was it an animal that wandered in? And if it was a person, what was this person like? Were they mad that she had used the place for shelter from the heavy rains? Were they coming back? Did they know she was there and was she being watched?

Out in the forest, she knew that something was always watching. Always listening. Always present.

But maybe this wasn’t a person at all. Maybe this was a spirit. Maybe it was her guide or maybe it was a trickster. She couldn’t tell. All she knew was that she never saw the light go out or on. But if she left or fell asleep dreaming or looked away, even sometimes for a half beat, there it was… the opposite of what she had seen only a moment ago. 

And this kept her guessing.

The girl didn’t remember that someone covered her with a blanket in the middle of the night during a particularly cool night on one of her watches. The girl didn’t know that when the scent of incense flowed into the air, if you followed it, it would lead you by the house. 

There was a figure who watched the girl from far off. In the shadow of the pine tree and crouching very near to the ground, someone watched and waited. In the breeze, long silver hair fluttered.

He was amused and he chuckled to himself. He supposed now was as good a time as any.

She stood suddenly. She decided to investigate the house. She walked up with authority, hesitating before opening the door. She exhaled then turned the door knob. 

Inside there wasn’t much. Of course, the bed, there was a chair. There was a table and on it the ash from a used incense stick. She touched the little pile of grey powder, drawing a small line upon the surface. 

She looked at the light in the window and decided to be near it. She stood looking out at the forest smelling water and greenness. Watching a set of clouds as they swept across the sky.

She turned and saw the man standing there. Her heart lept and if she hadn’t been so startled she would have screamed. Instead her hands went to her mouth and she jumped back.

“Hello”

She didn’t know what to do. She was breathing fast and looking for a way out. 

Her eyes darted to the open door behind the man. Maybe she could run. Maybe she coukd slip past before he got remotely close.

“What’s your name?”

She realized he wasn’t going to move. She shifted uneasily. 

“uh…”

She heard her voice responding and she wanted to tell herself, no! run and hide! he’ll never find you! just go through the window!

But she didn’t. 

The man’s face had been hidden. With light from behind, he was underexposed and she couldn’t see his expression. As he stepped into the room and sat on the chair by the table, getting much closer to her, but at the same time the door was no longer blocked. She could run.

He seemed to know this and he watched as she looked from him to the door. Gauging distance. Gauging what she was capable of.

The man had an odd expression. It wasn’t exactly a smile. But he didn’t seem angry. Instead, it was his eyes — they looked caring and soft.

“Who are you?”

“I live here.”

“oh…”

but she thought of all the times there was no one around. Why hadn’t she seen him before? 

“No one is ever here.”

“I leave my little light on. Sometimes I walk into the forest. Do you ever do that?”

The girl was confused by his questions. Why did he care? Ehat did he wasn’t to know?

“…well, yeah…”

The man nodded as if he already knew.

The girl leaned back onto the wall. She decided after looking at him for some time and watching him take out incense, that she would learn more about this strange man who lived here out in the wilderness. 

The man said nothing, but seemed rather pleased with himself. He knew she was watching him, but he pretended like it had no bearing on him. 

After a while, she sat down. She decided she would wait until he spoke. She could be very patient, after all.

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