Chapter 3

Samantha quickly closed the cabin door and moved the latch to secure the entrance from intruders. She had seen something in the bushes, or rather something had seen her. It was too dark to make out the exact shape, and at first she suspected it might be a coyote, or a wolf. But its movements were too sudden. She had seen the whites of its eyes, and a green glow below. Whatever it was, she didn’t feel safe wandering in the forest. She propped a chair beneath the door handle for extra security. Then she sat down beside the bed. Not on the bed, for she was too spooked to go to sleep. She sat on the ground beside the bed, leaning back on it. She hadn’t prayed in a long time, but now she got on her knees and brought her hands together. She said a pleading prayer to be kept safe, to not be hurt by whatever was out there in the woods. She prayed that she could once again find her family. As much as they misunderstood her, she was at least safe in her house, in her room. She needed some special protection, at least until daylight, she pleaded.

As she opened her eyes from the prayer, Samantha beheld something at the far side underneath the bed. She probably would have never seen it had she not been praying in a kneeling position on the floor, because the light in the cabin was dim, and the underside of the bed was even darker. But there at the end, farther than what she could reach, the area was darker than everything else. What was there? She reached out her long arms but couldn’t grab it. She scooted closer and snaked her body under the bed a little, reaching with full extension until she grasped it. It was a dark wooden box, about the size of a shoebox. She pulled it out. The box was nailed together with old wooden boards and had a lock on the front hinge. It wasn’t too heavy, but there was something inside the box.

She shook the box a little, up and down. It made a thud sound on each side. She looked around for a key but found none. The lock was solid iron and a bit rusty. Maybe she could break it with a hammer? There must be a key hidden around here somewhere, she thought. She looked under a pillow, felt the walls for some secret panel. She looked for a matt that it might be under – nothing. She flipped the box over to get a better look at the lock, and that’s when she realized there was a secret compartment on the underside of the box. It had a false bottom, so that the lock wasn’t protecting anything at all, but was meant to distract from the real opening. She moved the bottom wooden slat down and looked inside.

The false bottom of the box contained a leather-bound book with pages, stitched together with leather strings. The cover had a large, willow-like tree engraved in the leather. She opened the book, which was about an inch thick, and saw what appeared to be a map. She flipped through more pages and saw more and more maps.

Before she could examine the book more carefully, in the distance Samantha heard someone calling her name. Sam, Samantha! It was the search party. She could hear the whistles and the dogs barking. Samantha tucked the leather book inside her shirt, closed the wooden box, repositioned it under the bed, and got back up on her feet. She left the cabin and hobbled toward the search party. Although her ankle was swollen, it didn’t hurt so much now, but she played up a small limp in case others wondered why she hadn’t tried to walk out.

The voices were coming from the same direction where Harr had been crouching in the bushes. When she got to the spot, she paused. The brush was settled in this space, and the dirt on the ground was stirred up. Then she saw something on the ground. She reached down and picked up a long stick with a pointed end. The pointed end had been carved into a spear, and the smoothness of the branch’s handle seemed clear indication this was a weapon.

Samantha! The voices were farther off in the distance than she thought, moving away from her. They might even pass her by. Samantha dropped the spear and shouted, Here! Over here! Hey! At first the search party didn’t hear, so Samantha shouted louder and jogged toward them. Samantha put more and more weight on her twisted ankle. The search party’s sounds grew louder and louder, and soon the men recognized her in the distance. They rushed to meet her and the search was over.

As Samantha rode home in the car, she kept one hand crossed in front of her stomach, just to make sure the leather book she had so recently found was close.

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