I stood outside the little store, waiting for my mother to come out. The golden sun had sunk behind the whispering branches of the pine trees. The moody sky had been dyed dark orange and gray, dotted with thin, wispy clouds. All the birds of the forest were silent and had hidden themselves, except for a single great-horned owl dozing in a tree. I shuffled my feet and the pebbles underneath my sneakers tumbled over each other, raising little clouds of gray dirt.
I wish Mom would hurry up, I thought. How long does it take to pay for firewood? I had been waiting there for fifteen whole minutes, according to my pale pink watch. I watched as the second hand ticked its way slowly around the face of the clock and finally decided that I had waited long enough.
“Mom,” I hollered, poking my head through the door of the shop, “I’m going back to the tent by myself. I’m tired of waiting for you!” Without a second glance, I turned on my heel and sprinted down the dusty trail, the gravel crunching beneath my feet. As I ran, the cool autumn wind blew through my long hair, and I breathed in the rich, sharp scent of pine needles. Suddenly, I reached a fork in the trail, unsure of where I should go. I was pretty sure the campsite wasn’t to my left, so I decided to take the right trail.
That part of the campground was darker, and the trees grew closer together. Vines and roots jutted out from the ground like mossy tentacles, making me trip and stumble. Minutes later, I heard a small splashing noise. Thinking that maybe it was my father making soup over the campfire, I ran towards it. But it wasn’t soup at all. It was a silvery blue stream, surrounded by muddy yellow weeds. I turned around and started walking in the direction I thought was the way back to the campsite. But wherever I went, the trees, grass, roots and dirt looked exactly the same. Warm sweat started to trickle down my sides and make my shirt stick to my back.
When the sky was starting to turn dark gray, I heard a noise but I was too far away to make out what it was. When I approached the source of the sound, I realized it was another stream. Then I saw the muddy, soggy weeds and realized with a jolt that this was the same stream I saw an hour ago. I was going in circles. If I was to continue like this, how would I find my way back to the tent? The sky had already darkened to a threatening shade of dark blue, and the full moon had taken the place of the setting sun. My heart thudded in my chest like a trapped bird. I heard a low rustling noise and spun around. Nothing was behind me. Just shadows and black trees, where anything could be hiding. Terrified, I sprinted away from where the noise came from. I ran past the dark pine trees, each one filled with leering, fanged faces and scaly corpses’ hands reaching out towards me. Something wet and cold brushed against my hand, and I whimpered and ran faster.
Luminous, menacing red shapes filled the thick undergrowth, watching me dash past. When I dared look away from the glowing figures to glance up at the darkening sky, the stars became white-hot eyes glaring at me from above. Suddenly, a pair of huge, sharp yellow eyes snapped open above me. My heart stopped, and so did my feet. I watched as the two circles stared down at my face, and then one eye closed sleepily, and opened again. I then realized that those two eyes were not the eyes of a monster or devil, but the ones of an owl.
My eyes were slowly adjusting to the darkness, and I could see that it was a Great Horned Owl. It spread out its wings, displaying its massive wingspan and black speckled feathers. All of a sudden, it soared towards my head. I ducked and watched it land on a branch to my left. It cocked its head expectantly. Did it want me to follow it? I didn’t think owls were smart enough to lead someone home, but something about this bird just seemed… trustable. I hesitated and then took a few steps towards the bird. It took flight, soaring through the chilly night sky.
I stumbled blindly after the owl for what seemed like hours, my ankles becoming scratched and bruised from the rocks and thorns on the forest floor. I started thinking that I shouldn’t have followed the owl and that I was simply too imaginative.
Suddenly, I heard people calling my name. Recognizing the voices of my parents, I raced towards the shouts, completely forgetting about the owl. I glimpsed my mother and father rushing through the trees at me with their arms outstretched, sobbing. As I was caught in their rib-crushing hug, I babbled to them about all that had just happened. Then my voice trailed off as I glimpsed a familiar pair of great yellow eyes peering out at me from a pine tree. But as soon as I laid eyes on those two shining stars, they blinked and disappeared into the night.