"Hello?" I called softly, stepping carefully among the crushed blades of grass. With a crackle of branches, the undergrowth broke free, and I stumbled back into the clearing. This morning was even hotter than yesterday, but once again, I had seen fresh footprints leading into the woods.
Despite that, however, the space underneath the sapling tree was empty, without a trace of the little boy who had been napping there before. Upon closer examination, I found that instead of the small axe and pile of firewood that he had left last time, there was a small book of french verses and a boquet of daisies. That was odd. Why would Johnny--
A noise behind me caught my attention, and I turned to see Johnny behind me, hand-in-hand with another child, a girl. She looked to be about the same age as he was, with long brown braids that hung down beside her small blue dress and apron. Like Johnny, her clothes appeared to be easily a hundred years older than she was.
"Ma'am," the said together, and I realized that Johnny himself seemed older, more like a rowdy ten-year-old than the nervous seven or eight year old he had appeared to be last time.
"Hello..." I looked them over for a moment, and then held out the shoes. "I believe these are yours."
Johnny's eyes widened in surprise as he dropped the girl's hand and took them from me. "Why, two years ago, I took my shoes off before I came into the woods, so as not to muddy them, and forgot to bring them home. Pa gave me an awful whipping. I ain't sure, but wasn't you the lady that was here that day...? An' these, these are mine..." He trailed off, an expression of befuddlement clouding his childish features.
"Two years?" I was equally confused. "That was yesterday. I was just here."
He shook his head earnestly, "Oh, Ma'am, no, two years ago, I remember you. You was wearing boys' clothes, Ma'am, just like you are today, and Louise wasn't wi--"
He gestured to the girl beside him. "This is Louise. Her Pa owns the General Store, and we were just coming down to--to--to find--"
"My name is Louise," I said softly, turning to the girl beside me. "Are you playing a game?"
"Oh, no, Ma'am," the girl stared up at me, frightened. "We were only on an errand for my Pa, truly we were, come to pick flowers....and..."
"When did he send you?" I asked her gently.
"Oh, Ma'am, you know! Just an hour ago!" "
"What day is it?" I wondered aloud.
Johnny looked up at me. "Ma'am. It's 1883!"