Mara placed her hand on the knob and turned it slowly, carefully, so that it did not make a sound. With a gentle tug she pulled the door open and slipped outside into the night air. She breathed it in deeply and gazed skyward at the stars. She was free. For the next few hours the earth would be hers alone to enjoy as the rest of the world slept peacefully in their beds. This was her favorite time, the dark of night lit only by the silvery moon when the quiet settles in and takes hold. Her parents would not understand…grown-ups are too inclined to give over the simplest of pleasures in favor of sleep and work and other conventions of adulthood. Mara wondered how it happened…was it a slow slipping away, like forgetting, or did they simply wake up one day and find themselves more interested in the news and politics and servicing the car than skipping rocks across the water or having a picnic in the grass under a sky filled with puffy white clouds? She did not know…she simply hoped it wouldn’t happen to her as she moved stealthily across the yard and down toward the water, careful not to wake them.
The river waited for her, gently and rhythmically lapping at the bank. Her toes squished themselves deep into the mud and it felt cool and smooth and wonderful. If she returned in the daylight, the minnows would nibble at her toes from here and the thought of it made her giggle. She picked up a stone and skipped it across the water, watching it make rings that shimmered in the moonlight as it bounced. Off in the distance, a different light flickered and jumped and caught her eye. Wanting to get a better look, Mara retreated from the bank and stepped up onto the pier. Her father had built this pier himself a long time ago, years before Mara was born, and the boards were worn and weathered now, rough beneath her feet. She walked slowly along its length, stopping at each piling along the way to peer into the water in search of any creatures that may be awake to share this night with her. Sometimes she would find a snapping turtle hunting for his dinner, but not tonight. She reached the end of the long pier and gazed out into the darkness. Nothing. She raised her hand above her eyes and squinted, looking harder and scanning the distant horizon. There…a little nearer now and more toward the east…there it was again. Mara watched as it seemed to move closer, following the banks of the river at an unhurried pace.
Many children would have been afraid there in the dark, alone, with a strange light approaching, but not Mara. She was accustomed to the night; it belonged to her and she to it and there was no place else she felt more at ease. She watched with excited anticipation as it grew closer still, and she moved quickly back along the pier, hoping to meet the bouncing light at the edge of the woods, as that was the direction it seemed to be traveling. She reached the woods before the mysterious light, but she could still make it out in the distance. It was close enough now that she could hear the sound attached to it and she listened to the breathing and snorting and the snap of twigs as it approached.
“Hello?” she called out quietly. The light stopped. It went silent for a moment and then the breathing got harder and the sound of snapping twigs and crunching leaves grew as the thing bounded toward her and, before she knew it, there were two big eyes staring at her through the darkness as the light hurried from behind toward the place she and the thing now stood.
© Kelly Rainey and 500wordsandcounting.wordpress.com, 2015. Photo courtesy of James Wheeler
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