Inside the Woods

The woods behind Kennedy's house are no longer safe.

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1. One

 

“Are you listening to me?”

 

I blinked, and the woods faded. In place of them was Ariana, her brown eyes narrowed. She was staring at me with her head tilted.

 

“Sorry, what did you say?”

 

“I was right. You weren't listening.” She glanced behind her shoulder. “You're thinking about the woods again, aren't you?”

 

“No,” I lied, staring past her at the trees.

 

“Yes, you are. You're so weird. I've never seen anyone so obsessed with soil, leaves and pine before. Your room smells so much like it, that we never have to come outside. I don't get it. Do you want to live in there or something?”

 

I shook my head. “It's not that weird,” I reasoned. “There are people who actually live in woods, you know. And they do just fine.”

 

“Those people are freaks, Kennedy.”

 

I flinched slightly, but not enough for her to notice; she'd probably think it was from the cold. Before she said another word, my eyes widened.

 

“Look,” I said, pointing. “Oh, it's so cool.”

 

“What is it?” She looked back at me, frowning. “It's a bird, K. Not an uncommon thing around here.”

 

But I grinned. “It's a raven.”

 

“Okay...” Ariana said unenthusiastically. “So what?”

 

“I want one,” I told her. I took a step toward the bird. It stared at me, its black eyes fixated. “I've always wanted one. They're so cool.”

 

“Oh, right, your whole bird thing.”

 

Now I was angry. “This 'whole bird thing' is important to me, Ariana. It's what I want to do with my life. I thought you understood that.”

 

“I do,” she replied, moving her blonde bangs out of her eyes. “I just think you wouldn't make much money just looking at birds. They're boring. Don't you want to have a career in something exciting?”

 

The raven let out a cry, turned its head, and that's when I saw it – a small, white patch on its neck. I thought that was strange, because normally they were all black. Where had the white part come from?

 

“God, you're gone, aren't you? Okay, well, if you're going to be in another place entirely, I might as well leave.”

 

I didn't take my eyes off of the bird until nightfall, when my parents called me to come back inside. My mom scolded me for not wearing a jacket, even after I told her the cold didn't bother me. With the bird still on my mind, I climbed into bed, put in my headphones and turned on my iPod. Blackbird filled my ears until I fell asleep.

 

**

 

Someone was shaking me awake.

 

Opening my eyes, I saw a shadow above me, a soft voice urging me to get up and come downstairs. My mom. And she was trying to hide the trembling in her tone.

 

Something was wrong.

 

“Mom?” My voice was groggy. “What is it?”

 

But then she spoke again and my world collapsed.

 

“The police found a body in the woods,” she said, and started crying. “Kennedy.”

 

The way she said my name had me panicked. I could barely find my voice. When I did, it was small, weak, and scared.

 

“Mom, who did they find?”

 

“Oh, sweetie, I'm so sorry.” She was trying to spare me the pain, but I knew it didn't matter. This was bad.

 

“Just tell me.”

 

Her next words were an anguished whisper that I would never forget.

 

“It was Ariana.”

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