by Rollin Jewett
“Stay with me,” said Grandpa as Salem skipped ahead of him on the trail. “It’s getting late.” Salem loved going to the woods with Grandpa. The air was so fresh it practically sparkled with the bright scent of the pines. And since it was Spring, the wildflowers were in full bloom. Salem had picked a colorful bouquet for her Grandma and couldn’t wait to see her face when she saw all the pretty flowers.
Each Spring for the past few years, Salem went to the country to spend Easter Break with her Grandpa and Grandma. She loved visiting them. She learned so much. And it was nice to get away from the dust and noise of the city where she lived. There were so many fun things for an eight-year old girl to do in the country. Like helping Grandma tend the vegetable garden. Or feeding the goats, chickens, dogs and cats that ran around in the large fenced yard.
But Salem’s favorite part of the trip was when Grandpa took her to the forest for a long walk along the dirt trail. Grandpa would point out the different flowers, birds, and animals to Salem and tell her their names. “That’s an acorn woodpecker,” he’d say. Or “There’s a black-eyed Susan.” They saw many animals in the forest — squirrels, jays, gophers, even deer. And of course, there were lots of butterflies and wildflowers. Once, a rattlesnake slithered across the path right in front of them, although the rattle at the end of its tail did not shake. “It only rattles when it feels threatened,” said Grandpa.
Salem thought she knew the woods well enough that she could find the path with her eyes closed. She ran further ahead of her Grandpa, who called after her. Then she veered off the trail into the woods. She giggled as she ran into the forest to look for a place to hide. She planned to jump out and surprise her Grandpa when he came looking for her. She saw a big log and knelt down behind it, not making a sound.
‘Grandpa will never find me here,’ thought Salem. She heard him call her name from very close by. He couldn’t be more than a few yards away. She expected him to walk by any minute looking for her. But the next time she heard him, his voice was further away, not closer. Salem wondered if he’d ever find her.
Then she couldn’t hear him at all.
Salem called out to him, but he did not respond. A little frightened, she got up from behind the log and ran over to where the path was. But the path wasn’t there. She ran further in the direction of where she thought the path was. She couldn’t find it. She called out again for her Grandpa. There was no answer. It was starting to get dark.
Salem was lost.
She dropped her bouquet of flowers and ran back to the log. She tried to trace her steps back from where she had come, all the while calling out to her Grandpa at the top of her voice. As she walked back and forth re-tracing her steps, she became even more confused and started to cry. Her game of hide and seek had turned dangerous. She had no idea how to get back to the trail. Salem screamed for help over and over. But her only reply was the curious ‘caw’ of a black crow in the pines.
How could this have happened? She knew these woods! She had been here many times before and never gotten lost. But she had always stayed with her Grandpa on the trail. If only she hadn’t run off. “Stay with me,” he had said. Why hadn’t she listened? Salem’s tears fell to the carpet of dead leaves below her.
When she could cry no more, she sat on the log trying to decide what to do next. Should she stay there? Should she continue to look for the trail? Should she follow the sun, which was now going down? Salem knew that the sun always set in the West. But which direction was the trail? East, West, North or South? Salem did not know.
She tried to remember something from her Brownie manual. It was no use. She couldn’t think of what to do. ‘Maybe I should stay where I am,’ she thought. She sat down on the log and waited. And waited. She called out many times, but she heard no answer and no one came.
The sun was going down fast and Salem knew there was only minutes of daylight left. What would happen when the sun went down? It would be dark. And then what? Would Grandpa be able to find her in the dark? Did he have a flashlight or a whistle? These were things that Salem’s Brownie manual had said one would need for hiking in the forest. But they hadn’t been hiking. It was just a walk in the woods with her Grandpa.
The sun set slowly behind the mountains and the air was beginning to crisp. Luckily, Salem’s Grandma had told her to wrap a sweater around her waist in case she got cold. Salem put the sweater on and felt a little warmer. She looked at the forest around her and started to think about the night. What happened in the woods at night? Did dangerous animals come out? Did bears and wolves hunt? What about rattlesnakes? Where would she sleep? How would she stay warm? She was already getting hungry. What would she eat? How would she find water? Salem didn’t know the answer to any of these questions.
It was almost completely dark now.
Salem was too scared to just sit there. She had to do something or she would go crazy. ‘I must find the trail,’ she thought. Maybe there was another path or a road somewhere close by. If she just kept walking, surely she would find something. She decided to walk in the opposite direction of where she had gone before. She called out as she walked, but her voice was getting hoarse and her throat was dry.
The moon was starting to come up. The light was just bright enough for her to see a few feet in front of her. Salem walked and walked, not knowing where she was heading. She just wanted to keep moving. She stepped over branches and pushed through briars that scratched her skin. When she heard a rustling noise behind her, she got scared and started to run. She ran as fast as she could through the dark brush and tangle until her foot slipped on a rock. Down she fell to the ground, bruising her knee.
In tears, Salem crawled under a fallen tree by a large bush. She couldn’t run anymore and was very frightened. The rustling noise came closer. Suddenly, a deer ran into the clearing. Salem could just make it out in the dark. It sniffed the air once, then ran off into the brush. Salem was glad it was only a deer.
The night air was getting cooler. Salem started to shiver and covered herself with a blanket of leaves to keep warm. She hoped her Grandpa would find her soon. But she heard no one. Hours passed. Salem did not want to sleep, but she was very tired. Finally, she closed her eyes and fell asleep to the sound of the crickets and the wind in the pines.
When Salem awoke, it was morning and birds were singing in the trees. She had made it through the night. She got out from under the fallen tree and looked around. There was nothing but trees and bushes all around her. She had gone very deep into the forest and had no idea how to find her way back. She decided to start walking again. She was very thirsty, but there was no sign of water.
Salem’s body was sore from sleeping on the hard ground and her knee hurt from her fall. But she walked and walked, calling out for help often. An airplane flew overhead but it was too high in the sky to be able to see her. She walked for hours thinking she would find a road, a trail, a person…something. But she didn’t. Every now and then she sat down on a rock or a log and rested. Once, a gray fox trotted by and stopped only a few feet away. Salem held her breath. She had never been this close to a wild animal before. When the fox saw her, it ran swiftly into the forest.
Salem continued walking until late afternoon. The whole day she had not seen any sign of a trail or people — only a few airplanes high in the sky. Now the sun was going down and Salem was tired, thirsty and hungry. This had been the longest day of her life. She sat down and rested on a tree stump. She did not want to spend another night alone in the dark forest, but what could she do? Would she ever be found? Salem had never felt so lost and lonely in her entire life. She hung her head and began to cry. Then she heard a noise.
Salem lifted her head. Through her tears she saw someone standing by a tree only a few yards away. At first, in the dim light, she wasn’t even sure it was a person. But it was. It was a girl just about Salem’s age. She wore an old-fashioned green plaid dress with a white lace collar. There was an apron around her waist with a large bow tied in the back. Her hair was black and braided in pig-tails beneath a dark green bonnet. Her skin was very pale. She looked just like one of the dolls in her Grandma’s old doll books.
“Hello,” said the girl. Salem was so startled she couldn’t even answer. She just stared. The girl took a step closer.
“Hello,” she said again. “Are you lost?”
“Yes,” said Salem, through her tears. She could barely speak.
“Don’t cry,” said the girl. “I will help you.” Salem looked around to see who the girl was with, but saw no one.
“My name is Elizabeth Samuels,” said the girl. “What’s yours?” Salem tried to stop crying long enough to answer.
“Salem Densmore,” she replied finally. “Can you please tell me how to get back to the trail?” The girl looked sad for a moment.
“I’m sorry, Salem,” she said. “But I cannot tell you how to get back to the trail, because I do not know.” Salem looked closely at the girl to see if she was lying. The girl only stared back.
“Are you lost, too?” asked Salem. The girl did not answer right away. She looked into the forest, then back at Salem.
“Yes,” she said softly.
“But where are your mother and father?” asked Salem.
“I do not know,” replied the girl.
Salem did not know whether to believe her. There was something unusual about her — the way she spoke and acted. And those clothes. It was as though she had just come from a costume party. But even though Elizabeth seemed a little strange, Salem was glad to not be alone. She even stopped crying.
“Are you thirsty?” Elizabeth asked Salem.
“I can show you where there is a stream,” said Elizabeth. “The water there is good to drink.”
Though she was thirsty and her lips were dry, Salem was not sure she should go with Elizabeth. It was twilight now and getting darker. She could see the moon rising above the mountains, shining down on the forest trees and turning them silver.
“Come…follow me.” said Elizabeth. She turned and walked into the forest. Salem hesitated. But she did not want to be left alone, so she decided to follow Elizabeth. There was just enough moonlight for Salem to see the white bow on Elizabeth’s apron in the dark. As they walked through the tall swaying pines, Elizabeth started to sing softly.
“She’ll be comin’ around the mountain when she comes…she’ll be comin’ around the mountain when she comes….”
Salem knew the song. But she didn’t feel like singing. She was too scared. Though she didn’t know Elizabeth, Salem was glad she had some company until they were rescued. They couldn’t stay lost forever. Soon they would see a flashlight or hear voices calling. After all, Elizabeth was lost, too. Certainly someone would be looking for her. Salem decided that she would try to be brave. She would simply stay with Elizabeth until they were found. Together they would be all right.
They came to a group of large boulders. Just behind them, Salem could hear the sound of a running brook. A bullfrog ‘croaked’ loudly close by. Elizabeth carefully climbed over the rocks and waited while Salem did the same.
“Be careful,” warned Elizabeth. “The rocks are slippery.”
When she got to the other side, Salem saw a silvery running brook in the moonlight.
“You may drink the water,” said Elizabeth. “It’s clean.”
Salem bent down and cupped her hands in the cool running stream. She splashed her face and lips and drank deeply. The water was cool and sweet.
“Aren’t you going to have some?” Salem asked Elizabeth.
“I’m not thirsty,” replied Elizabeth.
Salem was beginning to like Elizabeth. Although she was quiet, she was very polite and kind. And she was amazingly calm for someone lost in the dark forest at night. It made Salem feel more secure. But there was something sad about her. And although she appeared to be around Salem’s age, she seemed older. Salem wondered how long she’d been lost.
There was a sudden rustling in the bushes on the other side of the brook and a dark shape crept out of the bushes. It moved slowly toward the water’s edge. Salem screamed.
“It’s only a raccoon!” laughed Elizabeth when she saw Salem’s reaction. The raccoon raised its head and Salem could see its dark mask. It made a ‘ticking’ noise and headed off down the stream. Salem was relieved. She thought it might be a bear. Or a wolf.
“You need not be afraid of the animals in these woods,” said Elizabeth. “They will not harm you.” Salem felt much better when she heard that. An owl ‘hooted’ in the tree above them. The night was getting dark and Salem could see lots of stars.
“What shall we do now?” Salem asked Elizabeth when she’d had her fill of water.
“I will show you a safe place,” replied Elizabeth. “You can rest there awhile.”
The crickets and frogs chattered noisily as Salem followed Elizabeth along the stream bed. Though it was early Spring, the night air was chilly and the wind whistled through the pines with a ghostly ‘whooosh.’ Salem shivered a little as she followed the dim outline of Elizabeth’s apron. They walked along a dark path that only Elizabeth seemed to know.
After several minutes they came to a dead log in the middle of the path. Elizabeth was just about to step over it when a soft rattling came from within the log. She halted immediately and Salem almost bumped into her. When Salem heard the rattle in the dead wood, her heart stopped. She knew what it was.
Elizabeth quietly turned to Salem and put a finger to her lips. “Shhhhh…” she said softly. Salem remembered what her grandpa had said: ‘They only rattle when they feel threatened.’
Another rattle came from inside the log. Salem was very frightened. But Elizabeth remained calm. She stepped back and motioned for Salem to follow her around the log. Salem’s heart was pounding in her throat as she followed Elizabeth. A few more steps and they were away from the log…and the rattlesnake. Elizabeth giggled and started to skip, singing…
“Rattlesnake, rattlesnake…go away. We don’t want to get bit today!” Salem was so relieved to be away from the rattlesnake that she started to giggle, too. Soon she was singing and skipping along the path with Elizabeth.
Elizabeth led Salem away from the stream and up a small hill. At the top of the hill was a clearing. In the bright moonlight, Salem could see the remains of an old house. The house must have burned down, for all that was left was a stone floor, a crumbling wall with a piece of charred roof leaning low against it, and a rock chimney. The roof and wall formed a tent-like awning.
“It’s getting cold,” said Elizabeth. “Crawl in and get warm. Don’t be afraid. I’ll watch over us tonight.”
“Won’t you be cold?” asked Salem.
“No,” said Elizabeth. “My apron keeps me warm.”
Although Salem did not want to take a chance that she would miss her rescuers, she was shivering with the cold. She knelt down and crawled into the roof-like tent. It was warm and dry inside and the chilly wind could not reach her. The stone floor was still warm from the day’s sun. Salem suddenly felt very tired. She laid down, but she did not want to sleep. What if the rescuers came and she missed them? She was determined to stay awake all through the night. But she was already yawning.
“Do not let me fall asleep, Elizabeth,” said Salem, “I must stay awake until we are rescued.”
“All right,” said Elizabeth. “Do you know any songs?” Salem thought about it. Yes, she knew lots of songs.
“Will you teach them to me?” asked Elizabeth.
“Of course.” replied Salem. Salem began to sing a pop song that she liked. Elizabeth sang along in a soft, pretty voice. They sang for a long time and Salem taught Elizabeth every song she could remember. After awhile, her voice was tired and her eyes were closing. Soon she was fast asleep.
Salem awoke the next morning to the sound of a noisy crow screaming in a nearby tree. It seemed to be trying to wake her. ‘Caw! Caw!’ it screamed at her. ‘Get up! Get up!’ At first, Salem did not know where she was. When she opened her eyes and saw the charred roof and stone floor she thought she was still dreaming. Then she remembered everything about last night. She looked around for Elizabeth. There was no sign of her. Salem quickly crawled out from under the roof and searched the clearing. “Elizabeth!” she cried out. No answer. She called out several more times. Still no answer. Salem felt very alone and almost panicked. But then she thought, ‘What would Elizabeth do? Elizabeth would remain calm. And so shall I.’
A drop of water suddenly splashed on Salem’s cheek. She looked up. Dark clouds were gathering above, swirling in from over the mountains. The fresh smell of rain was in the air. What would she do if it started to rain? Where was her Grandpa? Where were the rescuers? Where was Elizabeth?
‘Maybe she’s gone to get a drink,’ thought Salem.
Salem made her way carefully down the hill to the stream to look for Elizabeth. She called out many times but there was still no answer. Salem cupped her hands in the stream and drank the cool clean water. Then she splashed her face and rinsed her mouth. She felt a little better. When she looked up, Elizabeth was standing across from her, smiling at her.
“Elizabeth!” cried Salem. She’d never been so happy to see anyone in her life! Salem wanted to hug her, but didn’t want to seem like a baby. They simply smiled at each other for a moment. Then Elizabeth looked up at the sky.
“There’s going to be a bad storm today,” she said calmly. “We’ll have to stay under the roof until it passes. But first, I will show you where there are some berries that you can eat. You must be hungry.”
They walked back up the hill to a small meadow where Elizabeth pointed out a patch of wild berries. Salem ate many of them but Elizabeth did not have any. She said she wasn’t hungry. Suddenly, a thunderbolt crackled through the dark sky with a loud ‘boom!’ The little hairs on Salem’s arm stood straight up. She could feel the electricity in the air.
“We must get back to the house where we’ll be safe.” said Elizabeth. She always seemed to know what to do to make Salem feel better.
“I‘ll race you back!” said Elizabeth as she took off running. Salem ran after her. She and Salem reached the house at the same time and they both slid under the little roof-tent just as another lightning bolt split the sky with a loud ‘crash!’ A moment later, sheets of rain poured down from the purple clouds. Salem was glad she and Elizabeth had made it to the shelter in time. They were safe and dry in their little hut.
The thunderstorm continued throughout the day. Salem and Elizabeth sang songs and played games to pass the time. They used pebbles and wood splinters for “pick-up-sticks” and “jacks.” And Salem found a chalky piece of stone that they used to play “tic-tac-toe” and “hangman.” Elizabeth taught Salem a fun game called “blankety-blank,” where one person starts a sentence and the other person continues it, and together they tell a story. They told wonderful stories together and jokes and kept each other company all day long. The rain kept coming down in buckets. Once, Salem thought she heard a helicopter flying close over the house. But it was raining too hard for her to look into the sky.
Late in the afternoon, just before the sun went down, the rain let up a little. Salem could see that the clearing around the house was flooded. But she and Elizabeth were high and dry on the stone floor above the ground. The sun went down and darkness came once again. But Salem was not afraid any more.
She had a friend.
That night, Salem and Elizabeth told each other all their secrets. They had become very close. Salem even told Elizabeth about a boy named Thomas in her English class that had given her a candy bar on Valentine’s Day and a heart-shaped card that said ‘Will you be mine?’ Elizabeth giggled. She told Salem about a boy named Jasper who had once given her a tadpole in a mason jar. She named it ‘Sassafras’ and when it grew into a frog, she let it go down by the stream.
“It’s probably still down there!” laughed Salem.
They talked and talked and after awhile, Salem didn’t even think about how frightened she’d once been. It now seemed like nothing bad could possibly happen to she and Elizabeth — as though they were protected. It rained most of the night and finally Salem got tired. She told Elizabeth one last secret, then they curled up together against the wall and fell asleep.
The next morning, Salem was once again awakened by the loud crow. She got up and looked outside. The rain had stopped and the sun was peeking over the mountains. Salem looked around for Elizabeth but she wasn’t there. ‘Not again,’ thought Salem. But this time she wasn’t scared. She knew she would see Elizabeth again.
Salem got up and walked to the edge of the stone floor to look at the clearing. Most of the rainwater had soaked into the ground. It was very muddy but Salem felt she could walk down to the stream without too much danger. That’s where she’d probably find Elizabeth again.
As Salem made her way down to the stream, the crow followed her. It acted as though it were trying to tell her something. It landed on a tree stump close by and stared at Salem with a curious look. Then it pecked at something on the stump and ‘cawed.’ After a moment, it spread its black velvety wings and flew off.
Salem went over to the stump. There was something shiny on it. It was a silver locket on a chain. Salem reached over and picked it up. It seemed very old. She carefully opened it. There was a picture inside.
Salem could not believe her eyes.
Suddenly, she heard the sound of horses close by. She looked up the hill but didn’t see anyone. Then she heard a horse’s ‘neigh,’ followed by the sound of men talking. Someone had found them! She and Elizabeth were finally going to be rescued! The crow flew overhead ‘cawing’ noisily at Salem. It wanted Salem to follow it. It flew up over the hill but Salem did not follow. She frantically searched for Elizabeth.
“Elizabeth!” yelled Salem. “Elizabeth!”
The crow flew back and forth above her, trying to get her to follow it. But Salem would not leave Elizabeth. Finally, the crow swooped down and stole the silver locket right out of Salem’s hands. It flew up over the hill with the locket in its claws. Salem ran after it. She would get the locket back if she could.
It belonged to Elizabeth.
When Salem reached the top of the hill, she saw two Rangers sitting on horses by the old house. They were talking and motioning to the little roof-tent. Salem ran into the clearing after the crow, waving her arms and yelling. The Rangers looked very surprised and happy to see Salem. They quickly got off their horses and went to her. Salem begged them to help her find Elizabeth but they didn’t seem to understand.
The crow landed in a nearby juniper bush. It dropped the silver locket on a leafy branch and flew off. Salem ran over and picked it up. She opened the locket and pointed to the picture inside.
“She’s lost, too!” said Salem. “Please help me find her!”
The two Rangers nodded to one another. They promised Salem they would come back to search for Elizabeth, but they must get Salem to safety first. Salem did not want to leave without Elizabeth. But the Rangers put her on the back of a horse and they rode off down the hills.
Salem did not remember much about the horse ride back. A few hours later, she was at the Ranger’s station and there was her Grandpa — and her Mother and Father! Salem was very happy to see them again. After she hugged them all, she begged the Rangers to go back and find Elizabeth. They promised her that they would. Then they gave her a peanut butter sandwich and some apple juice and put a blanket around her. They told her an ambulance was going to take her to the hospital to make sure she was all right. Salem was very tired, but all she could talk about was how Elizabeth had helped her survive in the forest. After awhile, she fell asleep in her Mother’s lap.
“Will she be all right?” Salem’s Mother asked the Ranger.
“She’s in shock right now,” said the Ranger. “But she’ll be fine. She’s a very brave little girl.”
“Who is this Elizabeth she keeps talking about?” asked Salem’s Father. The Ranger thought for a moment.
“Salem was lost and alone in the forest for several days,” said the Ranger. “She may have made up an imaginary friend to keep her company. It’s a miracle she found that old house. It gave her a safe, dry place to stay and there was plenty of water and berries nearby. It probably saved her life.”
“Who’s house was that?” asked Salem’s Grandpa.
“Many years ago, a family lived there — a father, mother, and their young daughter,” said the Ranger. “One rainy night, lightning struck the house and it burned down. The father and mother died in the fire. But they never found the little girl. They think she just wandered off into the forest.”
Minutes later, an ambulance showed up. As they carried Salem out, she kept repeating Elizabeth’s name over and over. Salem’s Mother and Father got in the back of the ambulance with Salem and they drove off to the hospital. One of the Rangers walked over to Salem’s Grandpa and handed him something.
The silver locket.
“She dropped it when she fell asleep,” said the Ranger.
Salem’s Grandpa opened the locket. Inside was a very old, faded black and white picture of a family — a father, mother, and young daughter dressed in old-fashioned clothing. When the Ranger saw the picture, he said, “That looks like the family I was telling you about. The one whose house burned down.”
Salem’s Grandpa looked at the young girl in the picture. Her dark hair was braided in pig-tails and she wore a white apron and a dark bonnet. She had a very sweet smile.
“Was the little girl’s name… Elizabeth?” Salem’s Grandpa asked the Ranger. The Ranger scratched his head.
“That’s right,” he said finally. “Her name was Elizabeth. Elizabeth Samuels.”
The two men looked at each other for a long moment. Salem’s Grandpa shook his head and got into his car. On the way to the hospital he said a silent prayer of thanks…
To Elizabeth Samuels.