Glen struggled through the woods for a mile or more before he began to climb what he thought was a hill. He figured if he could get some height and if the trees gave him a break he might catch sight of a horse and rider in the distance. He climbed for a long time and never topped the rise, but at last he came to a flat area clean of debris and trees. He found the stones and ash of an old campfire so he figured he was not the first and not likely the last to use that spot for the night.
Glen pulled the cloth from his pack which he found hanging on his hip after he got free from Poverty Pit. He was not sure how it appeared, but he was glad to have it. He looked at the knife, but left in put away. He had found some grapes growing on the side of the hill, so he was not entirely starving. He pulled out the water bottle and sipped. The bottle was mostly full and that was also a help against the growl of hunger. He thought about building a fire, but since he was only eight, he was not sure how to do that.
Glen pushed himself back to a boulder that stood on the edge of the clearing. He liked the idea of having something solid at his back. When he opened his cloth, he found it thicker than he remembered. He imagined that was good because he thought it might get cold on the hill. He easily found the opening where he could use the cloth as a sleeping bag, and he crawled in and shut his eyes, hoping to sleep before it got completely dark. Instead, he listened to his stomach for a while.
That night was full of dreams.
He saw a white man in an open vehicle, smiling and waving. He got shot. He saw a black man in a motel room. He got shot. He saw another white man in a hotel lobby. He got shot. And a whole generation fell into madness while Asians killed them and killed each other and a black man in Africa ate his own people. Glen was frightened by the insanity of it all, especially when he saw the offspring of the mad generation.
He woke in a sweat even as the sun began to rise. Glen was afraid of the shadows, and doubly so when he saw a fire burning brightly in a repaired stone circle. There did not seem to be a person around, and Glen did not know what to do. He packed everything for a quick getaway, and waited.
The first thing Glen saw was a dog, a shepherd but solid white with the insides of the ears, pink. The dog growled, briefly and then bounded toward Glen. Glen shrieked and pulled his pack over his face. He shut his eyes tight and tried not to breathe while the dog sniffed him, everywhere.
“White Fang!” It was a woman’s voice, and the dog immediately bounded to its mistress and wagged both its tail and its tongue. “Are you hungry? Of course you are.”
Glen ventured a glimpse. The woman was tall, dressed all in white, with long hair that fell to her waist and was as white as her dress. She had sparkling lavender-blue eyes set in a kind face that seemed ageless. The woman also had some bread and cheese and a bit of red apple for breakfast. She held out a piece of the apple and Glen was slowly coaxed from his rock.
“Have you read any Jack London?” the woman asked. Glen shook his head.
“Not yet,” he thought to speak as he took the apple and she cut him some bread and cheese. “Thank you.” He thought that was the least he could say.
“You will.” The woman smiled. “That is where my puppy got his name.” Glen looked at the puppy that was lying down and being good. He could not remember Sally, Dick and Jane having a puppy. “So where are you from and how did you come to be here, alone?”
Glen paused, looked down at his pack and then at his shoes. “I live in the village,” he said and he realized he did not know the name of his village. And as for being where he was and alone, he did not know how to answer that question at all.
“I know the village,” the woman said. “It is a fine place to grow up.”
“I suppose.” Glen felt a sudden urgency to get home, and he said so. “Do you know the way?” he asked.
The woman lost her cheery smile and looked up the hill. “I have traveled around the base of this height for a long time,” she began. “I have often wanted to climb higher, but that is not my way.” She took a deep breath and let it out in a soft sigh. “For you, though, the only way back to the village is over the mountain. I do not know how high it will be for you, but you must go over. Here.” She paused and produced a handkerchief. She wrapped up an apple, a small loaf of bread and a chunk of hard cheese and handed it to him. Glen did not know what to do, so the woman leaned forward and put it in his bag for him. Glen gasped. He was sure her ears were as pointed as an elf. He was sure he saw drawings of elves in the fairy tales Mother once read.
“You better hurry.” She interrupted his thoughts. Glen stood. She was right. He felt the urgency. He turned and immediately began to climb, but turned back after a few steps and waved.
“Good-bye. You, too, White Fang.” The woman waved back and the dog barked once in response. Glen looked down to get safely over some rocks but when his feet were on firm ground he looked again and saw no one in the clearing. What is more, the fire was out and there was not even so much as the smell of smoke. He climbed and tried very hard not to think the word, ghost.