I knew I should have worn more layers. It’s getting colder by the minute, the fog is rolling in, and the clouds above look unfriendly. It doesn’t matter much now anyway, not if I can’t find home before the moon makes its way over the hillside.

My feet are constantly being tangled in the dying brush as I walk through the misty woods. This is all Derek’s fault, but he will never admit it. He’s always saying things like, “You should be more responsible with your time, Kylie,” and “If only you would act with more maturity, these things wouldn’t happen to you.” But deep down he knows that he’s the one that’s been holding me back all these years.

Now if only I could find my way back home. I realize that we’re new here in town, and that the woods can be tricky at times, but I thought if I just headed in the same direction as the one we came from I’d have found it by now. It seems I’ve missed my target.

I think about back tracking, but I fear that will only cost me more time. I’d rather continue straight until I hit something. Even if it isn’t home, there’s bound to be a city street sooner or later. I can find someone to give me directions from there.

I pull out my cell phone to check for service. Nothing. I don’t know why our parents moved to this town in the first place. I can barely get coverage in our home, bothering to check out here was a bigger waste of time than the party at Jillian’s house. That girl’s nothing but trouble. Probably why Derek likes her so much. I want nothing to do with whatever they’re up to tonight. That’s why I left and that’s why I’m stuck out in the middle of – what’s that?

I see a light. It’s dim, and it’s small, but it’s a discernible orange lantern in the distance. I thought it might be a street light, but when I approach it I notice something peculiar – it’s floating in the air. I look around me to see if it could be hanging from a tree branch, but when I wave my hand over it I feel nothing. I try under and around it as well, but find no reason for its existence to be in mid-air.

I’m left with the only reasonable thing to do in this unreasonable situation. I pick a stick up off the ground and poke the lantern. I tap it gently. Nothing happens. I look around me to see if someone is playing a joke on me. Derek isn’t clever enough to pull off something like this and I don’t think Jillian would be all that interested in pranks. I poke it again, but it doesn’t move, it doesn’t make a sound, and it doesn’t by any means make any sense.

This is the time where I know I should move on. There are things in this world that I don’t understand, and probably shouldn’t, but my curiosity has always found favor over practicality.

I stick out both of my arms and place my hands around the glowing lantern, not wanting to touch the light itself, but its container. I close my eyes and inch my hands toward possession until at last it is in my grasp.

I open one eye and then the other. Nothing happened. I move the lantern up and down, left and right, turn it upside down, and shake it like a rag doll. “What are you?” I ask the lantern, but I receive no response, which shouldn’t surprise me, but there has to be some explanation to this mystery.

“Oh, well,” I tell the lantern. “At least you’ll look cool in my bedroom if I can ever find my way home.”

It’s an odd thing that the closest thing to a friend I have in the world right now is something that doesn’t even breathe. It does produce a faint light that helps me as the light grows weaker in the forest, but it only shows enough to where I can walk one step at a time.

Wait, I know this place. Yes, yes, that tree over there. I’ve been here. The first day of summer, the day we moved here from Vancouver, I ran out into the woods and…yep…here’s the little etching I made in the tree. I have to be close to home.

“You’re going the wrong way, Kylie!”

Ugh. Derek.

“No, I’m not,” I tell him, not bothering to turn around. “What do you care, anyway?”

“Because I’m your brother, dummy,” he tells me.

I hurry my pace, wanting to get home faster, but he runs up to me and catches me by the arm. “Look,” he says, “Our house is over there.”

“I don’t see it.” I hold my lantern up as high as I can and I still see nothing resembling a house. Wait. There it is. That’s even worse. I hate it when Derek’s right. “Oh. Fine.”

“Where’d you get that cool lantern?” he asks as we make our way back home.

“Someone left it out in the woods,” I tell him. It’s just some weird lantern, but it helped me see in this fog.”

“What’s so weird about it?” he asks while we take turns crossing the little bridge that covers the little creek to our backyard.

“It was just out there, Derek,” I tell him. “It was just…oh, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

“Just floating in the air?” he asks.

I grab his shirt and demand he tell me, “How did you know that? Have you seen these before? What’s the deal with this lantern?”

Derek chuckles and walks in the front door. I follow him and shout, “Tell me now!”

“I’m the one who left it out there,” he says before running up the stairs. “And it’s up to you to figure out the trick.”

The End

Thank you for reading this short story by Tyler Scott Hess. For more short stories and information regarding my novels, please visit http://tylerscotthess.com/

The photo for this cover is a derivative of “Harlow Wood, March 2013” by Flickr user orangeacid, used under CC BY.

Finding The Way Wide