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.
Kelly hadn't seen Michael in three years. A lot could change in three years.
Yes. A lot had changed in three years.
Kelly removed her canteen from her shoulder and took a sip. "Not too much," she thought.
Kelly heard Doctor Van Holt's voice in her head. "No stress, young lady. No exercise. Stay cool and hydrated and just take it easy." Kelly grimaced. Wasn't much chance of any of those where she and Michael were going.
It was cool here, at least. The doctor would be satisfied with that part.
Kelly heard a branch snap -- nearby, she thought -- and she froze as ice ran through her veins. It sounded like something heavy. Heavier than a man. There were centaurs in these woods. Kelly had seen them -- whole families -- through the trees. They posed no danger.
But there were also yocki. Her blood ran colder. With a yock, there was nothing to do but hope it passed by without noticing her. Kelly strained to listen more closely.
And there it was. She could see the yocks eyes. It was looking directly at her. She moved her hand slowly to the knife in its sheath on her belt. "Fight or flight," she had heard it called. Her two base instincts pulled in opposite directions.