The weather had cleared and the sun was peeking from behind the grey clouds, there was a cold chill in the air, the forest smelt of damp leaves and rotting vegetation, it was that time of year when the last throws of life, were clinging to Summer. Fern also clung to the last of the Summer warmth, as she spent most of the afternoon down at Crystal Grove.
She pulled her fur around her, so as to keep the damp chill out. She
shivered for more than one reason, she had the distinct impression she
was being watched, she couldn't understand why as everything seemed to be the same as it always was.
Netty was with her friend Daisy, they were swapping crystals and playing pick up stones. This was a game, where each child had to
pick up as many different coloured stones as they could find, but they
weren't allowed to pick up the same colour more than once. The one who
found the most different colours was the winner. Netty got very excited, when she found a beautiful brown stone, with a perfect hole in the centre. “Mummy...mummy...look what I've found, can I wear it when we get home? Please...please!”
Fern said it was perfect and she would cut a fine strand of skin, so she could wear it around her neck as a necklace.
Some of the children had dens up in trees, they would pretend they were on crystal ships, while the children down below had their gangs,
and pretended to hunt wild boar, or other imaginary creatures.
Fern was sitting with her friend Eve, who just happened to be Daisy's mum. They both watched, as some of the mums were telling small groups of children stories.
Some of the children had learnt how to play wooden flutes, that the adults had made for them. They were teaching some of the younger children how to play them. One little girl was so good that everyone
clapped, when she had finished playing.
The adults had also made drums of hollowed out trunks of wood, with animal skin stretched across the top and tied with more skin, to keep it
tight. The boys seemed to especially like the drums, playing with either their hands, or specially selected twigs.
Fern had been very quiet all afternoon, not her usual chatty self, as Eve
noticed. “What's wrong Fern? You seem very quiet today.”
“Oh! I just have things on my mind...I would very much like to tell you...if you don't mind.”
“Of course I don't mind, that's what friends are for. Please go on.”
Fern started to explain about how her parents were missing and how they'd gone off with some men. “I think my brother Jay knows things, although he hasn't said anything yet.”
“So your brother is back...how is Jay?”
“Oh...he's fine, but I really need to talk to him, it's so awkward with Netty around, I don't really want to discuss things in front of her.”
Eve took Fern's hand saying, “I'm sure your parents can take care of themselves, wherever they are.”
All of a sudden Fern caught sight of a figure from the corner of her eye, running through the trees quite fast, but when she looked around
there was nobody there. “Did you see that Eve?” she turned to face her
friend, pointing to where she'd seen the movement.
“See what?” Eve looked off in the direction that Fern pointed. “No...I can't see anything. What did you see Fern?”
Fern thought perhaps she was imagining things. “It could have been the light from the sun, glistening off the trees. I just thought I saw a
figure running, but there's nothing there...probably my imagination.”
She turned to Eve and started to talk again, forgetting about what she'd
seen. “I know my parents can take care of themselves Eve, but our family have never been travellers...well apart from Jay of course...he seems to enjoy moving around a lot, not staying in one place long. The other thing is, they don't have a wagon and the animals have gone too.” Fern fiddled with her charm bracelet she wore around her wrist.
Eve tried to console Fern. “May be a neighbour's looking after the animals.”
“No!” said Fern. “The only neighbour is Lilly...you know that elderly lady, that lives on her own. She said she hadn't seen my parents for
quite a few days. What am I going to do Eve?”
“What does Ben think about all this?” said Eve.
“We haven't discussed it, I wanted to wait till later, then I can talk to Jay too.”
“Look Fern...I'm your friend and if I can help you in any way, please don't hesitate to ask. Also if Ben and Jay have to go and look for your
parents, and you don't want to go, then you can bring the animals over
and stay with us. I know you don't like leaving the forest.”
“Oh...Eve...you know me too well. But what about Rowan? He might not agree.”
Eve smiled saying, “you leave my husband to me, he always comes around to my way of thinking in the end, I'm sure it won't be for long
Fern felt so relieved to have Eve as a friend. “That's really good of you, I just might take you up on that offer.”
As the two women stood up to leave, they called out to the girls, “Netty...Daisy! come on, we're going home.”
All of a sudden at that very same moment, there was a scream coming from over by some trees, both women stared in shock.
Netty and Daisy, both jumped at the shrill noise, then quickly got up and ran to their parents.
A woman came running out from the forest screaming hysterically.
She dropped to her knees, sobbing. Two mothers that had been telling stories, came running over...as did most of the other mothers, including
Fern and Eve, picking up their children and clutching them tight.
“What's wrong?” said one of the mothers, putting her arm around the woman's shoulders, as another knelt down in front to comfort the woman, taking her hands.
The woman snatched her hands back, cupping her face. She cried, tears running down her cheeks. “A...man...he came...took my boy...my Josh, he took him...ran off into the forest...with him...just picked him up, and took him.” She could hardly talk for sobbing so much. “What...will I do now?” she cried.
Fern couldn't stand it any longer, she knew she'd seen something, a figure, now her suspicions were confirmed. The two woman were
really frightened, too scared to go back to their homes alone.
“What do we do now Fern?” cried Eve.
The children were getting agitated, not knowing, or understanding what had just happened, they both had shocked looks on their tiny faces.
Still holding Netty, Fern was adamant she needed to get home. “I'll tell
you what Eve! You come back to our cave, I'll get Ben and Jay to walk you and Daisy home, would that be okay?”
Eve agreed, as they turned to walk away. Fern's face turned pale, as suddenly all the bad memories from ten years ago, with the evil doings of Jonah, came flooding back to her. “This can't be happening!” she said to Eve.
The women left Crystal Grove and never stopped till they got back to the cave. They never stopped to pick herbs, Fern never bartered for corn. The eggs that Fern had taken with her that day, lay broken on the
ground, where the two women had sat. Things were definitely not right.