by Anne Pinckard
Shizue edges the shadows with her toes, peering into the trees. "Who's there?" She strains to hear above the voices of her brother and sisters drifting across the meadow behind her.
"Grandpa!" His voice comes loud enough to recognize this time and she scans the woods until she spots him a few paces away. "What are you doing in there?" Mama told her he was gone, that he would never come back, but he'd been wandering in here all along.
He looks lost, confused, sick. Mama said not to enter the woods, but Shizue had to help him home. It's not safe for him, either. She glances over her shoulder at her siblings, then enters the darkness.
The dust tickles her nose. Ahead, Grandpa's pale form waits for her in the striped light. She remembers his warm, rough fingers pinching her cheeks, the faint smell of iodine lingering on his skin. "It's okay, I'm coming," she says.
He flickers between the trees as she moves closer.
He's sitting in a clearing now, beckoning to her, and she approaches, grinning.
"Shizue, he says in the scratch of dry twigs.
"I missed you." She curls into his lap. He feels cold as moist earth; he smells of pine and mushrooms.
It's not safe in the woods, she wants to say. Mama warned her of spirits inside that lure people away. But suddenly she's so sleepy, and she will rest here a moment, and close her eyes.