From the Inside Flap
9 AM and time for coffee, he thought, grinning. Ethan wandered out of the house to his black pickup. He enjoyed the clean scent on the October wind as he looked out over the property. The driveway, a long, dirt affair, twisted out of sight, leaving only a wall of oak and maple trees surrounding the house. There was half an acre or so of grass, most of it gone to seed earlier in the season. The leaves of the trees were beginning to change, and Ethan knew he would need to get windows in sooner rather than later.
I'll need to bring a second generator and a heater in, he thought, taking his Thermos of coffee out from the pickup's cab.
He poured himself a cup, took a sip, and smiled.
His smile vanished as a wail pierced the morning air. Ethan froze, the plastic cup halfway to his mouth.
"Tulong!" The voice was that of a young girl, and while Ethan didn't know what it meant, the message was clear. She needed help.
Ethan put the cup on the hood of the truck as the girl sobbed and called out, "Tulungan n'yo po ako!"
"Hey!" Ethan yelled, twisting around, trying to pinpoint the sound. "Hey, where are you!"
The child wailed, the sound coming from the left side of the house. Ethan hurried to it, his heart thumping as he looked around for her. "Hey, kid! Where are you?"
"Tulong! Parang awa n'yo na, tulong!!!" she wailed.
Damn, she doesn't speak English, he thought, jogging toward the tree line. The girl's voice had come from directly behind the house. Undergrowth filled the gaps between the trunks of the old trees, and Ethan wondered how she had gotten this far out into the woods.
There are the apple orchards, he thought. She might have gotten lost while with her family. Hell of a walk, though. Got to be at least a mile, if not more. And how the hell do you lose a kid out here!
He reached the tree line and paused. Cupping his hands around his mouth, Ethan yelled, "Where are you!"
"Tulong!" The cry seemed to come from no more than twenty or so feet inside the forest.
Damn it, he muttered. She sounds like she's about four. I don't think she'll be able to come to me.
"Hey, kid!" Ethan yelled. "I'm coming in! Stay where you are!"
A sob was the only response he received. Pushing his way through the undergrowth, Ethan paused, letting his eyes adjust to the dimness of the forest. The leaf canopy was thick enough to create an almost dusk-like light. As he paused to listen for the girl, he realized the forest was silent.
She's scared the animals away with her yelling, Ethan thought. Good. It'll make her easier to find.
Cupping his hands around his mouth again, he yelled, "Kid, talk to me!"
"Tulungan n'yo po ako!" she cried.
Her voice was still coming from just in front of him. He peered through the dim light, searching for a glimpse of clothing or skin. Something to help pinpoint where she was. Ethan couldn't see anything. He moved forward a few steps, then a few steps more. Her crying was distinct, always ahead of him.
Did she fall into something? he wondered. Is she too tired to get out? Hell, did she get hurt?
The last thought bothered him. He could picture a little girl with a broken leg or ankle, sitting there, terrified.
The thought spurred him forward. His work boots crushed leaves and branches underfoot. The forest floor dipped down, and tall ferns reached up to his waist. If the child was hurt and lying down, he would almost need to trip over her to find her.
"Hey! Hey, kid!" Ethan yelled, pausing. "Where are you!"
"Tulong!" she screamed, her cry coming from a little off to his right.
Ethan looked and saw how the ferns followed the floor of a slight valley. The plants dipped and rolled, revealing the hidden flow of the forest floor. Ethan knew he would need to move carefully. Even in boots, one wrong step and his ankle would twist or snap.
"Okay!" he yelled. "I hear you! If you can understand me, just stay where you are!"
Ethan walked cautiously, searching the ground with every step so he didn't accidentally step on the girl or in a hole. His boot skittered across something slick, and he swore as he lost his balance and crashed to the earth. A grunt escaped his lips as his head bounced off something hard, and stars exploded around his eyes. His breath rushed from his lungs, and he was left trying to breathe. For several moments, Ethan was flat on his back, unable to move.
As he lay there, his vision faded in and out until he realized he was staring up at the tree limbs. The alarm on his phone was going off, and he sat up, wincing. He took out his phone and saw it was twelve.