The sun was just starting to set on the rolling hills of the Jensen property. Laurel Jensen climbed the nearest hill, the wind whipping at her graying curls. She looked all around, searching her surroundings.
Where did that sheep run off too? she thought with frustration. She looked back towards the pen, where she could see the rest of the flock grazing. With a sigh, she turned from them and continued on in search of the silly creature.
“How many times have I told Macy to keep the pasture gate closed?” she muttered, gathering up her skirts as she began to climb a particularly steep hill. Though her boots were sturdy and built for the rough terrain, Laurel much preferred flat ground to these hills. Each step left her more winded than the last.
All at once, she slipped and landed hard on her hip. In a panic, she reached into her pocket on that same side and pulled out a clay, beaded necklace that her daughter had given her earlier that morning. She breathed a sigh of relief to see it unharmed.
“Happy birthday, Ma!” Macy had said. Her brown curly locks framed her face, making her look much older than her eleven years. “I made it just for you.”
Laurel smiled as she remembered, knowing these moments would become scarce in the next year or two. She put the necklace around her neck and then flinched as she reached down to rub her bruised hip. She exhaled and picked herself up to continue up the hill. At the top, she saw a treeline not far ahead. Feeling hopeful, she began her descent in that direction.
It wasn’t long before the sun disappeared behind a hill, leaving Laurel to wander in darkness. It’s no use, she thought, I’m not going to find him tonight. I’d best be getting back home. Maybe Macy can help me search in the morning.
She turned around searching for the lamplights that lined the Jensen farm. She could barely make them out in the distance. Steeling herself for the long walk back, she gathered her skirts once again.
SNAP! The sound of a twig snapping nearby alerted her that she may not be alone.
It was probably just an animal, Laurel told herself. The wind stopped suddenly—as if holding its breath too.
“Hello?” she called out. She whirled around frantically, her eyes searching for the source of the sound. “Is anyone there?”
A frail voice answered her, “I’m sorry, my dear. I didn’t mean to scare you.” An old woman peeked her head around the tree trunk. Upon seeing Laurel, the woman’s face relaxed a little, and she slowly hobbled over. “There are wolves in these woods, and I fear I don’t stand a chance if I run into one. Best I can do is hide and cross my fingers.”
Laurel squinted in the dark, trying to get a good look at her. Her clothes were worn, and her skin was paler than anyone from around these parts. “Are you traveling to Grimsby? You don’t look like you are from around here,” Laurel replied, eyeing the stranger.
“Oh, yes,” the old woman sighed. “There was a terrible fire, and I lost my home. I am going to my sister’s to stay with her for a while. If I can make it there.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Laurel smiled at the woman, “If you’d like to rest for the night, you are welcome to stay with my family. We have a farm just outside of town.” Though they didn’t have much, Laurel knew she would be able to spare some bread and find her some blankets for the night. She couldn’t bear the thought of leaving the woman alone in the dark wood.
“I wouldn’t want to impose.”
“Nonsense, we’d love to have you.”
The old woman’s shoulders visibly relaxed, “Oh, thank you! Thank you!” she cried. “You can call me Dores.”
“Well, Dores, I was just heading home anyway. It seems my daughter left the pasture gate open again, and a sheep got out. I was hoping to find him before dark, but it seems I will have to keep searching in the morning.”
“I can’t thank you enough dear,” the old woman said, shivering.
Laurel was used to the crisp, cool night air. Without a word, she removed her shawl and offered it to Dores.
All at once, Laurel was overwhelmed with an ominous feeling in the pit of her stomach. She inhaled sharply and looked frantically about, trying to place the source of the sudden sensation, but it was too late. There was a flash, and both women let out a shriek.