Sweat soaked into the back of my tanktop and pooled in the crevice beneath my neckline as I stepped onto the back porch and locked the door behind me. I decided to run towards the sunrise, so I felt my feet pounding over the dusty dirt road as it led me towards the eastern edge of town. I had barely run half a mile, but even as I was passing in front of Paw's seedery, my hair felt damp and my breath came in heavy gasps. The heat was intense.
The morning silence was broken only by my breathing and by the sound of creatures scurrying through the undergrowth as I turned towards the eastern woods, planning to skirt by them on my way back to the house, until suddenly my pounding feet twisted over eachother and I was thrown to my knees on the side of the road. Rubbing my braised elbow, I turned around to see what had caused my fall, and raised an eyebrow wonderingly: a pair of brown leather shoes, childishly small, lying side-by-side at the edge of a dirt crevice. From the way they were lined up neatly, even on their sides, with the laces tucked into the soles, it almost looked as though they had been placed there on purpose. But who would leave a pair of baby shoes by the side of the road?
I stood up, brushing off my shorts, and glanced absently towards the grove of trees. Not a living thing was in sight, except for the squirrels darting around a gap in the neat line of brush, which looked almost as though it had been cleared. A trail? There had never been one here before, and I'd run past the woods nearly every morning over the past few months.
The ground in front of the cut foliage was wet, and I saw an empty bottle of water spilled into the dirt. No mud would last long in this heat, so it must have been spilled recently, but why? And then I noticed the small footprints, barefoot, leading away into the trees. Child's feet, by the looks. As a young girl, I had been told that the woods were dangerous, with vicious possums and poisonous plants, and had been warned never to go into them alone. Was there a little boy lost in the woods now, perhaps having wandered away from his parents?
The trail was smooth and did look to be freshly cut, and the trees arching above offered shade from the appearing sunlight. It was easy to see why a curious little boy or girl would be tempted to venture here, onto the mysterious path that led into the woods. The footprints, faint in the dirt, continued to lead onward, and I followed them, wiping sweat from my brow, until they ended abruptly and I looked up in surprise to find myself standing in front of a grassy clearing.