A Sister’s Love and a Brother’s Regret

Thunder cracked overhead, the rain shifting from a light drizzle to a downpour.  He flinched but didn’t stop. In truth, the rain didn’t bother him much even as it dripped into his eyes and soaked his shoes. It took only moments for the cold to seep in and the shivering began. 

Will didn’t care. The only thing that mattered was that he found Lisa and soon. He hadn’t meant to hurt her feelings, but why did she have to be so annoying? She’d barged into his room and started messing with his stuff. It wasn’t fair. He always got in trouble when he played with her things.

“Lisa! Lisa, come on! I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it.” 

The trees loomed overhead as he stepped into the woods behind the house. His boots sunk into the wet undergrowth, suctioning instantly and pulling him deeper. Water soaked his socks, slipping between his toes and making them squish.

“Yuck!” he whined, the mud covering his favorite shoes. “Quit being a baby! I don’t want to be out here, it’s gross.”

Wiping his eyes, Will moved deeper. He glanced back towards the house. He should be inside playing video games and talking to his friends. But no, he had to look for her and all because she was selfish. Ugh, she was so annoying! Sometimes he wished he was an only child.

Will hoisted himself over a fallen log, the moss wet. Brown muck splashed onto his jeans and he groaned. It smelt like earth and rot. Gross. As he tried to wipe it off – unsuccessfully considering even his hands were dirty – he spotted something small with pink sparkles and neon green laces. It was Lisa’s shoe! The sole was pushed into the mud as if she’d placed all of her weight onto it, then tried to pull free. It must have slipped off, but why would she leave it behind? 

Oh no. Will swallowed hard as he saw the two sets of paw prints flanking the shoe. The rain was attempting to wash them away, but he could see their outline.  Crap, the wolves had been running. He corrected himself – no, hunting. His legs wobbled as he stood, scanning for any sign of their direction. 

“Lisa? Please be okay,” Will said, the words washed away. Lisa, his baby sister was out here and wolves were tracking her. Usually, she knew not to go far, but with how mean he’d been she might’ve just wandered. Then, if she saw the wolves, run in a panic. 

A piece of cloth hanging off a low branch, the green and purple stripes familiar.  He ran for it, calling out her name over and over. He tripped on a branch, then slipped on a patch of sludge. He didn’t slow.  Farther and farther into the woods he went, away from home and the parents that loved them. Will came to a stop, nearly losing his balance.

“The cliff. What if she…?” His heart pounded trying to escape from his chest. The cliff, and the hundred-foot drop into a canyon, was just up ahead. It was nearly a mile long and would fill with the rain, turning into a river rushing downstream. Lisa knew not to play near the canyon. It was dangerous, but if she’d been chased, she might have forgotten or lost her way. Even he was having a hard time telling where he was in this storm and she was only five. His calls increased, praying that soon he’d find her.

Another burst of lightning was followed by a boom of thunder that shook him to his bones. He bent his arms out to protect his head. A bow, bright teal with pink sequins on it, was lying at the base of a tree. His direction shifted, aiming straight for it. The rough fabric scraped against his skin and then he saw it. A footprint a few feet to the west. Squeezing the bow in his hand he ran, calling out again and again.

A whine carried back to him in the breeze. Will froze mid-step. Was it a dream?  Had he imagined it? Another moan was followed by a whimper. Lisa.

Weaving back and forth he searched, covering as much ground as possible. Each time he approached the edge, he braced his feet or held onto a trunk before getting too close. As he leaned forward, he remembered a section where a ledge a few feet below the main path stuck out. Maybe she was there. It was easy to get to and a good place to hide. Fingers gripped a branch and he wedged a foot between two rocks, then Will leaned over the canyon. Down below the water gathered, sweeping fast along the rocky bottom.

She was so small. Her body could be anywhere. He could’ve missed it and what if the wolves had gotten ahold of her? No. He would find her and she would be okay.

The ledge was just visible. Three bushes grew up against the rock step. A tree listed sideways, hanging off as if, long ago, it had barely survived the ground beneath sliding away. Will clenched his fist and had to hold back a scream as he spotted feet. One shoe was gone, the other covered in muck. Purple tights wrapped legs so still and unmoving.

He bolted around and found the spot which would lead to her. Reach it, he approached carefully. It was slippery, the groves in the rock turned into small currents flowing past to dive and freefall to the crevice floor. 

“Lisa!” Will said, the whisper barely audible. There she was. Her tiny form looked broken. She was covered in mud and blood was smeared down her arms and one of her legs. Her hair blocked her face, but he could see the stuffed bunny she cradled. 

“Lisa, can you hear me? I’m here to get you. Did you fall?”

“You found me. Willy,  It bit me. It hurts,” she said, her lisp more prominent than normal.

Dread wrapped around him. Crap, not only did she fall, but she’d been bitten. How had she gotten away? He needed to get her home. His legs became heavy, his voice cracked when he said, “It’s okay sissy, I’m gonna get you home, okay?” 

Just as he was about to make the climb down to her, a sound came from the trees behind him. It made his muscles tighten and his breath catch. The growls were like a recurring nightmare come to life, one where the ancient creatures and mythical beasts knew that once wasn’t enough. Lisa began to cry but did not move to sit up.

Lightning flashed and with it, Will spotted two sets of eyes exiting from the trees. Large bodies stalked closer, their fur damp, but their steps hungry. 

Lunging to the side he picked up a branch and hoisted it over his shoulder. He took a stance well honed from years of baseball practice. The voice of his coach flitted through his mind. Strong grip, but not too tight. Full swing. Be ready for the unexpected pitch. The next few moments slowed, the terror flowing through his veins mixed with the determination to save his little sister. Will screamed at the pair as they bared their teeth.

One lunged and Will missed. He recovered instantly. The second attacked and he swung, connecting its flank. The creature yelped and took a few steps back. It charged again, but Will was ready. The stick came down hard on its snout with a hollow crunch. There was a high-pitched cry and it disappeared into the brush. Will slipped in the mud but managed to keep his feet as the first wolf came at his back. Its paws hit his shoulders causing Will to lose his balance and fall face-first into the mud. 

Will rolled, the panic bleeding into a scream that echoed down and across the rocks below. He covered his neck with his arms as the snarls and yips hurt his ears. The branch, his only protection, was stuck beneath him no longer of any help. Will reached out blindly until his hand landed on a rock about six inches long. As he lifted it, he saw the edge and cheered.

“Yes!”  It was sharp, a dagger if ever he saw one. Thank you, universe.

Teeth bit into his shoulder and Will screamed, gripping the rock hard, the edge cutting into his flesh. No matter. In one move, Will rolled. The wolf tried to jump off, but before he was able, the razor’s edge dug into its neck. There was a gurgle and a whine before the wolf and all its teeth scurried away, back into the forest. 

Will’s chest heaved, his breaths gasping for air. Pained and terrified, he pushed to his knees. His fingers sunk into the brown. Red-tinged rain trailed down his arm and away with the currents beneath his fingertips. He groaned. 

If this was what Lisa was going through, then he would never forgive himself. It was all his fault. 

He pushed to his feet, tears burning the back of his eyes. He clenched his fists to stop the trembling. Lisa didn’t need to see how scared he was. Throat tight and thick he held his injured arm against his side, then stumbled to where Lisa lay. Her body was limp, but her breaths were strong. The obvious rise and fall of her chest brought the tears to the front. They fell as relief washed over him like a blanket. 

“Can you hear me?” He asked. She nodded minutely. “Good. Then it’s time to go back home, okay? I’m gonna pick you up.”

“My arm hurts. My leg too.”

“I know. We’ll get you home to Mom and Dad. They can help us. They’re probably worried sick.”

“I’m sorry Willy.”

“Sissy, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. Let’s get you home and warm. Then, we’ll play okay?”

She nodded. Biting back the pain, he wrapped his arms around her and lifted. Ugh, she was heavy. Lisa cried out and curled into him. 

Step after step, Will tracked back toward home. He took it slow, making sure his steps were sure and that there was no sign of the wolves. His arm burned and his fingers were beginning to tingle. Crimson stained his shirt. His legs felt like jelly as they dragged, leaving divots in the earth. He wasn’t sure if he could make it.

“I wuv you,” Lisa said.

His heart warmed and he pressed a kiss to her head. “Love you.”

Almost there.

“Will!! Lisa!!” The sound of his parents’ screams caused a sob to escape from deep within. He tried to speed up and in doing so felt his head go fuzzy. He maneuvered around a patch of thick bushes to find them running away from them.

“Mom! Dad!!” 

Dad slipped as he forced his body’s direction to change. His eyes were wide, terrified, as she spun.

When they met Will’s every last bit of energy poured out of him.  Will sank to the ground, keeping Lisa in his lap. The world slowed as he watched his parent’s panicked faces come closer. His arms tightened around his sister. 

“Will? Lisa! Are you….oh my god,” dad said. He spun to Mom. “Call 9-1-1.”

Mom exhaled roughly. “ You can’t carry them both yourself. I’ve got Lisa, you get Will. We’ll call once we’re at the house.” Before she was done speaking, Lisa’s weight was pulled from Will’s grasp. He whimpered, letting his arms fall to his sides. The world tilted and he felt his dad swoop him up. The forest flashed by as his dad ran. Will closed his eyes.

“Bud, I need you to stay awake.”

“I’m tired.”

“I know, but I still need you to stay awake.”

The rain stopped falling. Confused, Will opened his eyes to find they’d entered the enclosed porch. Not stopped, but blocked. He was set down and a blanket was thrown over his shoulders.

“We need an ambulance! My kids, they were lost in the woods. It looks like they were bit by something…” Mom said.

“Wolves,” Will said, his head lulling to the side.

“Wolves!” Mom exclaimed, pain and worry in her voice. “Please get here. Yes, Yes…”

Will couldn’t follow her words anymore. 

“Will, why were you…? What…? How could you let your sister…” Dad tried, but couldn’t find his words. He brushed a towel over his face then wrapped it around him. He did the same for Lisa.

Lisa slipped her small hand into Will’s, then said, “Not his fault, Daddy. Don’t yell at him, he saved me.”

Dad replied, but Will was too tired to hear. He slipped into sleep, the warmth of Lisa’s words all he knew. 

When he woke, Lisa was in the bed next to him, her tiny form pressed to his good side. His shoulder hurt, but he was warm again. Dry. His eyes were heavy, but he forced them open. The light above him hurt. A hand brushed back his hair. 

“Hey baby,” Mom said. 

“Mom?” She kissed his head and he felt the love flow into him. “Is Lisa okay?”

“She’s fine. Because of you.”

“She got lost because of me.”

“No, Bud,” Dad said. “You found her, protected her. If you hadn’t done that, I don’t want to think what would’ve happened.”

Will opened his mouth to speak, but Mom held up a hand. “Lisa told us everything. How you two fought and she ran off. How she got lost, then was attacked by the wolves. She also told us how you found her, then protected her, getting bitten yourself. It doesn’t matter why she ran, Will. You saved her.” Her voice cracked and tears filled her eyes.

A sleepy voice came from right next to him. “I-It’s b-cause he wuvs me. Even when he gets mad at me.”

Will looked down to find her eyes closed, her face still pressed to his shoulder. Pink cheeks and a bandage on her forearm and shin. He sighed, wrapped his arm around her, and hugged her close. It was true. Even when she annoyed him, he loved his brat of a sister. 

“Love you, sissy.”

She lifted her head, meeting his eyes. “Does that mean I can play with your toys?”

He snorted. Maybe he’d acted too quickly when following her into the forest.

“We’ll see,” he said, as his parents laughed.

 Published on OBW Blog February 26, 2021 © Tracey Canole  

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