A silent breeze whipped thirteen-year-old Amy’s light hair as she limped onto her porch. She grabbed the walking stick that rested against the side of the house and stood with its help. It made her feel old, but there was no way to get around without it.
Ignoring her feelings of protest, she started off on the walk across a path in the woods that she took every morning. Her mother sent her on these missions to look for insects, which she studied. An entire room in their house was filled with dead bugs in glass cases, with the rare exception of a live one being examined.
Amy slipped in through a space between two trees. The grass parted on each side to make way for a rough path. She walked down it, pushing debris aside with her stick. This was one of her easier days; sometimes the stick would catch on a root and make her trip.
“Hey, Amy!” She turned around to see her little ten-year-old brother, Rick, making his way toward her. Swallowing her annoyance, she nudged aside a bush so he could get to her. Not waiting for her to ask, he continued, “Mom wants you to go a different route this time. She said she saw some rare bug somewhere else.”
“Where?” she asked.
He only shrugged. “She didn’t tell me.”
“Um… OK.” Amy veered away from the path, and Rick trudged off in a different direction. She was about to warn him to be careful, but he had disappeared. He’s always so abrupt, she thought with a sigh.
Suddenly the sound of rushing water came to her ears. She halted, tensing. Hadn’t she promised herself never to go this way again? But she had no idea how to return to the path, or anywhere else for that matter. The only way to get back was from the area ahead. Taking a deep breath, she emerged into the less-wooded clearing before her.
It all hit her like a tidal wave. The gurgling river. The sharp rocks. The broken string dangling from a tree close by. Her memory of that horrible day came back unbidden.
She and Rick had been playing on the rope swing that the tree had once held up. Amy had taken a running start and launched herself in the air, grabbing the rope. It swung precariously for a second before snapping. Wailing in terror, she was flung into the river.
Everything was hazy after that, except for the pain. Apparently her leg had hit a sharp rock and severely damaged the bone. In the hospital, she could hardly get up. Even now, almost a year later, she could only walk with this dumb stick. How could she have done something so brainless? Now her life was wrong forever.
Amy was jolted out of her thoughts by a piercing scream. “Help!”
At first she thought it must be her imagination. Then she saw the small, brown-haired form of her brother thrashing in the river as it carried him downstream. Her blue eyes widened in disbelief. Thoughts raced through her head as fast as the beating of her heart. What happened? How can this be happening? Would he be OK?
“Help!” he called again.
“Hold onto a rock!” she advised.
Rick reached out, taking hold of a large stone. He managed to grab it, but it looked too slippery to support him for long. Amy’s thoughts kept bombarding her. There wasn’t time to get her parents. And none of the branches on the ground were long enough to reach him.
In her moment of panic, something landed on her arm. She couldn’t help glancing at it. It was a butterfly with white stripes on its black wings and flashes of blue below them. Shock spread through her. Touching a butterfly could shorten its life. Either it didn’t know that… or it was bravely taking the risk.
She should do the same.
Amy gently shook the butterfly off and hurried down the shore. Her steps slowed when she reached the water. She flinched from cold and fear as it lapped against her feet, but she continued to go deeper. Before long she was almost up to her knees in water. Inching forward, she approached the stone that her brother was clinging to.
“Grab my hand,” she told him.
Wordlessly, Rick took it. His grip was surprisingly strong for a ten-year-old. Amy lugged him to the shore, fighting the current that threatened to drag them away. They both collapsed to their knees on land, panting and soaking wet.
Amy got her breath back first. “What were you doing?”
“I tried to cross the river,” he answered. “I thought I could get to the other side.”
“Don’t ever do anything so stupid again,” she said.
“I won’t,” promised Rick.
She blinked. “I thought you would argue.”
“I’m just glad I’m alive, I guess,” he responded. He drew in a chilled breath. “Let’s go home.”
Amy stood up beside him. In the distance, she saw the butterfly that had landed on her, flying around a tree. A smile spread across her face as she realized the truth of her brother’s words.
I shouldn’t be angry that my life won’t be the same again, she thought. I should be happy that I’m alive.