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Fantasticoe 2001 -  10th Anniversary Issue

In the Woods

Stephanie Marie Lloyd

"You can't catch me, Michael!" taunted Carrie, her girlish giggles echoing through the woods as she ran from her older brother.

Their small feet crunched on the fallen leaves and twigs as they dodged around the thick, old trees and jumped over the protruding rocks and avoided getting caught in the thorny underbrush. Michael was getting really warm chasing after his seven-year-old kid sister despite the cool October air. And it was becoming increasingly difficult to breathe. He wasn't even really sure of where they were anymore.

"Carrie!" the nine-year-old boy yelled to his sister, out of breath. He bent down trying to get control of his labored breathing. Damn! Carrie's fast. A girl shouldn't be that fast.

Michael and Carrie were the only children of Senator Lillian MacGregor and her husband William T. MacGregor III, a wall-street tycoon. Every summer Carrie and Michael spent in Maine with their grandparents away from "The powerful Will and Lill" as their grandfather MacGregor referred to the children's career oriented parents.

The truth was Will and Lillian never saw their children much and the only stable people in the children's lives were each other. They were closer than most brother-sister pairs. Michael didn't even mind it when Carrie made him play house or Barbies. The fact was Michael and Carrie didn't have any other friends to play with. They were the richest kids in school and subject to torment in the Washington D.C. public school system. Lillian MacGregor was a staunch supporter of the public school system and sent her children to one to prove a point.

Michael and his sister had returned to D.C and school in early September but during the first week in October a ten-year-old kid had brought a gun to school and had shot at people outside of the school building killing three and wounding seven more. When word of the shooting reached Lillian, she wished she had yanked her kids out of the school and had arranged to have them sent to a private school earlier. It was too late for that now…she would just send them to Maine with their Grandparents until things in DC cleared up.

Michael and Carrie never minded being sent away. They loved Maine…especially the wood behind their grandparent's home. It was large and full of interesting things. Michael liked to think of it as unexplored . He sometimes imaged that Indians ran through the woods, watching and hunting. Michael even imaged that he was an Indian occasionally. I am one-fourth Cherokee, he would rationalize.

Michael would have been cheered to realize that the MacGregor land was, for the most part, unexplored. The MacGregors had immigrated from Scotland back in the late 1700's and this land had been theirs ever since. Michael's chest would puff out a bit when he thought of the day that it would be his and Carrie's.

Today they had been told to stay in the house and take it easy, due to Michael's asthma. It normally didn't bother him but he had had an asthma attack on the morning of the school shooting that had sent him to the hospital but had probably saved his life. If he had gone to school that morning he would have been the first one to get off the bus that the kid had been shooting at…Carrie would have been the second off, the second dead.

The asthma that had saved him also kept him from going out into the woods that he loved, however. But that morning their grandparents had gone to town to pick up groceries and left Michael in charge. He and Carrie had sat by the window watching the trees sway with the wind as they wove stories about what went on in the woods. The more they talked the more they were tempted until finally they put on their jackets and had gone outside. They had been strolling in the familiar area near the house when something got into Carrie. She decided that she wanted to run. Michael had taken off after her, laughing as he neared her. But Carrie had only been playing with him. She had tossed a quick look over her shoulder and stuck out her small, pink tongue and then had taken off for real…deeper and deeper into the woods.

Michael had tried to catch up with her but her felt his chest tightening and a sort of panic came over him. He was so scared that Carrie would see him suffocate to death. He had his inhaler and fumbled to get it out of his jacket pocket after yelling to his sister. He didn't normally need his inhaler. He didn't know what was wrong with him lately.

After his breathing was back to normal he looked around trying to locate his sister's red-tinted brown hair and yellow jacket somewhere among the vast plant-life. He expected her to be nearby, her large green eyes all wide, teary, and full of worry as she rubbed her button nose and bit her lower lip. But she wasn't near. He didn't even hear her anywhere. A new kind of panic wrapped its powerful hands tight around Michael's heart.

" Carrie?" he said a little too softly. Realizing that this would get him no where, Michael raised his voice. " Carrie Anne! Where are you?"

Michael turned around in a circle, not certain in which direction she had been heading. If Carrie was lost he wouldn't even know which way to go to look for her.

" Carrie! Carrie, you win! I give up! Come out now!" He paused and waited. No Carrie.

Michael looked up to the cloud covered sky that he could see through the leaf-bare trees and prayed quickly, Please, God, let her be okay. And help me find her so that we can get back to the house. And please, don't let us be lost. But Michael already knew he was lost. He knew that the house was to the west of the wood but without the sun he couldn't decipher which way was west. He thought he remembered something about moss growing on a certain side of a tree but he couldn't remember if it was on the north side or south side.

A high-pitched scream came as an answer to Michael's prayer. Michael turned in the direction of the scream and started to run and pray that his kid sister was not hurt.

As it was, she was running back toward him and they ended up running right into each other, knocking themselves flat on their backs. They both lay there stunned for a while before Michael moved to get rid of a stick that was poking him in his back. He and Carrie sat up and stared at each other. Michael's face was getting red as he tried to hold back the surge of anger that was running rampant through his body.

He picked up some leaves and tossed them at Carrie. "Don't you ever do that to me again!" he shouted.

Carrie watched the leaves as they hit her chest and fell into her lap. "I'm sorry, Michael," she said not meeting his eyes. She put her hands behind her back and looked genuinely contrite.

" You should be…but I forgive you," Michael admitted looking away.

Carrie looked up at him, a mischievous smile lighting her rosebud lips. " Michael?"

Michael looked back at his sister and was greeted with a bunch of leaves in his face. He heard his sister's giggles and started to chuckle himself as he gathered up some leaves to throw back at his sister.

Soon there was a full-fledged leave throwing fight going on, complete with laughing and wrestling. When Carrie finally admitted defeat they stood up and brushed themselves off. Michael sighed and studied Carrie thoroughly, noticing a grass stain on her new blue jeans.

" Why had you screamed?" He asked.

Carrie shrugged, " It was nothing. I had slipped down a hill that's all. How do we get out of here? Grams and Gramps are going to start worrying about us if we don't get back to the house before they do."

Michael smiled at Carrie and mussed her short curls. "'Carrie Anne, you are wise beyond your years,' as Gramps says. Now, let's see…" he turned around in circles. Finally he slumped over, "I don't know which way is home. But if we keep going in one direction we're bound to end up out of the wood before it gets dark."

Carrie grinned and nodded. "Okay." Then she giggled again. " Mommy will probably have the army tracking us down if we don't get back 'fore grams calls her."

Michael laughed at that and took his sister's hand, "All right. Let's go."

* * *

The children were getting scared. The light was starting to fade. According to Michael's watch it was almost six. His stomach reminded him that he and Carrie hadn't eaten since having cinnamon toast that morning. Michael day-dreamed about the seafood that his grandmother would prepare for them. Maybe she would have lobster. He and Carrie loved lobster. And maybe there would be tapioca pudding for dessert. Grams made the best tapioca pudding.

He had been daydreaming so vividly that Carrie had to tug extra hard on his arm to get his attention. Michael was sure she was going to tell him once again that she was afraid of the dark but she didn't.

" Michael, look," she said pointing a head of them. " It's a light."

Michael looked up. There was a light. Michael's face brightened. "Carrie! We're saved." He took a tighter grip on her small, stubby fingered hand and started to run with her. He came to an abrupt halt when they reached the source of the light.

It was a small clearing in the woods and in the middle of it stood a lone lamppost. Then light was a brilliant white that made everything around it seem alive, like in the summer. But it wasn't so much the lamppost that made Michael come to a complete stop.

Directly under the lamppost was a single gravestone. It was simple little white thing made of marble. It looked new. There were words that were written on it but under the light of the lamppost Michael couldn't read it.

Carrie slipped her hand from his and started walking toward the gravestone.

A chill ran down Michael's spine. He did not want Carrie getting anywhere near that thing. "Carrie Anne, stop! Don't touch that."

Carrie looked innocently back at her brother. "It's okay, Michael. I'll be safe."

"Carrie, you don't make any sense. Come on, let's keep going. It's getting dark. Carrie! I said not to touch that!"

It was too late Carrie had run her hand over the top curve of it, "There are pictures of Angels on it," she said, her voice soft. "I love angel pictures. 'Member how we used to draw angels all the time in Bible school? You always drew the prettiest angel and you named it Carrie, for me." She smiled sweetly at him.

Michael took a hard swallow. He was growing ever nervous. "Come away from there, Carrie. Come back here to me."

"I'm safe, Michael. You worry-wart."

Michael rubbed his eyes. He must be getting tired. It look at if Carrie were fading. "What name is on the grave, Carrie?"

Carrie looked back to the gravestone and studied it. Then her eyes opened wide in surprise. Her voice quavered a bit. "Michael…it's my name."

She was fading. Michael ran to her and knelt down and took her in his arms, "No, Carrie!"

Her sparkling, green eyes met his dark brown ones. Her hand, which had now become transparent, reached up and stroked his cheek. "I'm sorry, Michael. Mommy told me I should just go to school. She said that you would be okay and I should go to school like a good girl. I'm sorry, Michael. It didn't hurt too much and I am safe now. I love you, Michael. You're the best big brother a girl could ever have."

Michael held his sister tight to him as a light began to radiate from her body. A light brighter even than that which was coming from the lamppost. It enveloped Carrie and Michael in its soft light and Michael thought he heard children singing…like the choir from Bible school.

* * *

Michael woke to the combined sounds of a machine beeping and women softly sobbing. He opened his eyes, slowly to allow them to adjust to the bright light. He looked around him, for a moment confused by his surroundings. Everything was white…the walls, the ceiling, the curtains hanging over the square window, and his bed sheets. But the sanitary smell in the air made him realize he was in the hospital.

His parents and grandparents surrounded Michael and he noticed that they all looked worried and…sad. His grandmother had wiped tears from her cheeks and told him how lucky he was. That the asthma attack he had had almost killed him. From the sad looks in everyone's eyes Michael thought that he must have died. His eyes searched the room for Carrie. His fair, red-headed father was holding his dark, beautiful, mother. Their hands were tightly entwined. These two ordinarily strong people looked to be clinging to one another for support.

"Did Carrie go to school?" Michael asked suddenly.

His parents exchanged a painful look, and then his mother walked weakly to his bedside. "Michael…"

"Mommy?" Michael said taking his mother's hand.

"Michael, there was an accident at school earlier today. Several students…got shot…and…"she paused and wiped tears from her cheeks. "Carrie was one of them…she…she…Oh, God…Michael, your sister is…is…"
Michael squeezed his mother's hand, "I know, Mommy. Carrie told me. Mommy? Can we bury Carrie in Maine? Right by the woods? And can we put a lamppost up by her gravestone? 'Cause Carrie's scared of the dark. I don't want Carrie to be scared."

Lillian MacGregor burst into tears and buried her face in the sheets of her son's hospital bed. Michael stroked his mother's hair. He felt tears stinging his eyes as he thought of a life without his sister.

" Don't worry, Mommy," Michael said softly, "Carrie's safe."

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