Taylor was the oldest, always running ahead and the first to trip and skin his knees because he never watched his feet. He was gangly but not quite yet tall. His sandy hair stuck out in every direction no matter how hard his mother tried to comb it into submission.
Gavin was the middle child. His growth spurt hadn’t started yet, and his cheeks still held onto their youthful chub. He preferred to walk slower than his brother, hanging back to make sure Elizabeth didn’t get left behind.
Elizabeth was the youngest by a few years, still dressed by her mother in lacy ribbons and little black shoes that snapped on and made clicking noises when she ran across the floor. Her hair came down in a mess of curls, which she often complained would get in the way.
They saw themselves as adventures, exploring every nook and cranny; first in the big old house they lived in, then in the back yard, and then in the surrounding neighbourhood. Gavin had dozens of maps drawn out in his room of the various areas they’d been.
The only place left uncharted was the woods on the edge of town.
It was an old forest, untended for years and full of large gnarled trees. Their parents had always warned the children against wandering within its bounds, lest they be spirited away by fairies or darker beings. That wasn’t going to deter Taylor, however, and naturally his younger siblings would follow after him.
Elizabeth chased after her eldest brother, dressed in pink overalls and hair tied up in poofy pigtails. She was determined to not be left behind, no matter how many big roots tried to get in her way. Every so often, she’d pause to pick up a pretty stone or a fallen leaf and shove them into her pockets.
Gavin meandered at the back of their little group, eyeing the trees and mentally counting his steps. He didn’t like how the shade felt.
They wandered on for perhaps an hour, perhaps more. There were trees and scattered patches of flowers, large stones rising out of the ground and packed dirt beneath the covering of leaves. Shafts of sunlight would filter in the few gaps in the canopy, making the air look like it sparkled, especially where the light would fall upon the flowers.
Taylor stopped at one of the larger oak trees and put a hand on the bark. It was very old and some of the branches drooped so low that one could pull themselves up to sit on them. Taylor did such, kicking his feet in the air as he surveyed their surroundings. Gavin watched mildly as his brother began to climb the rest of the tree, up and up and up, all the way to the top.
“There’s just so much green!” Taylor called down. “It feels like I’m floating!”
Gavin made a face and turned to sit against the tree’s trunk. He still felt uneasy, though he couldn’t quite figure why.
And then it hit him.
“Liz? Lizzie?” He jumped to his feet, looked around in every direction, even ran around the tree a few times. There was no sign of their little sister. He cupped his hands to his mouth. “Elizabeth!”
Taylor came swinging down from the tree. “What’s wrong, Gavin?”
“Lizzie’s gone! We need to find her!”
And so the boys ran around, calling out for their youngest sibling. It felt like hours were slipping by as they searched, paying little mind to where they were going. Gavin was the first to realize they were lost. Taylor fell to a crouch and began muttering.
“Please let her be safe. Please let us find her. Please let us get out.” Over and over he repeated those words while Gavin tried to get some bearing on where they were.
“What wrong?” A tiny voice asked behind the boys.
Both heads whipped around to see Elizabeth standing there, smile on her little brown face and dirt caking her overalls, completely unharmed.
“You idiot!” Taylor shouted, throwing his arms around the little girl. “Where were you?”
“I follow fairy parkles. See? Pretty flowers!” Elizabeth held up a tiny bouquet of bluebells and flashed her brothers a toothy grin.
“You shouldn’t wander off like that, Lizzie,” Gavin chided. “We thought we weren’t going to find you again. And now we’re lost.”
“Not lost.” Elizabeth pointed in a direction. “Miss Grover house that way.”
“You already got out?” Gavin asked, shocked. Elizabeth just nodded and began leading the way.
Sure enough, they soon emerged from the forest onto the road right in front of Miss Grover’s house, one block away from their own home.
They didn’t tell their parents where they’d been or what had happened. Later that night, Gavin could have sworn he heard his sister talking to someone in the room next to his. A strange light seemed to hover by his window, then disappeared.