The story begins…
For the eighth time, Kelly checked the maps. Those would be essential. If nothing else, Kelly was sure of that.
The message last night had been vague. "I miss you. Are you coming back?" It had taken Kelly a sleepless night of tossing and turning to come up with the answer.
"Yes," Kelly thought. "Yes, I'm going back. Hang on."
The old green backpack couldn't hold much more and still be manageable. It even included some water and a little food. And Kelly had the maps, of course.
"Will we even recognize each other when I get there?" thought Kelly. "It's been three years."
"Pep-talk time," Kelly whispered. "You can do this. You're ready." Kelly frowned, not believing the whisper for an instant.
Leaving a quick note next to the oven – "I can't say where I've gone and I don't know when I'll be back" – Kelly headed to the door and paused. There was one more thing. Doctor Van Holt. Kelly could make a quick visit, just to get it over with, or skip it.
"Which is scarier, I wonder," thought Kelly. "Hearing what Doctor Van Holt has to say, or worrying that I'll find out later?"
Kelly ultimately decided that she had to leave now, or she would never go. She shouldered the pack and made her way up the path, taking care not to get her sandals caught up in the roots as her walking took her deeper and deeper into the wood.
It was going to be a while. She remembered the place they were supposed to meet: it was quiet and isolated, and not a place you could stumble into by mistake. Soon, she would have to take out a map and use it.
"Not yet," she said to herself. "Just a little further."
Kelly took a deep breath. She tried to relax, and take in the scenery. She tried not to look back. It wasn't the right time to do so and she still felt so tense. She plodded on until she reached a familiar tree stump.
The map is parched and some parts are discolored, she regrets not having kept them from the sun. Van Holt had given them to her sixteen years ago. She still remembers the paper bag they came in, his emotionless face while they sat across from each other on the slow moving train and sound of excited school children running in the train carriage, their headmaster nowhere to be found.
She remembers hearing another voice, haggard but intent: "Don't stop to talk to anybody along the way until you reach the stump."
Kelly looks down at the first series of maps aptly labelled "THIS ONE 1st". She locates herself at the eastern edge of the forest. At a brisk pace, it would probably take her three days to reach the goal. Would she have enough to drink, much less eat?
Her last night at the house was fitful. No one had come to say goodbye obviously because she hadn't told them she was leaving for good. She tried not to think of the expressions on their worried faces when they found her abandoned room. "She's just a girl, we've gotta go find her now!" or "Without her pills, who knows where she'll end up."
She put the voices to one side under a deep breath studying the map, working her index finger across the terrain, including a river where she could find a source of water.
It's too late by the time she hears the footsteps when she notices she is still out in the open, the moonlight exposing her to whatever is observing her.
"Is anybody else out there?" asks a timid voice before a long shadow approaching her slowly. Whoever it was, Kelly thought, must be able to see her exposed along the dry creek bed.
She replays the voice of poor old dying Henry: "Don't stop to talk to anybody along the way until you reach the stump."