Every year, in the early spring, the woods called to Sarah and her brother Josh. Trees were covered in silky green leaves and birds sang, calling to each other in the languages that only they understood. Even at this time of the year the days were hot and humid, made breathing difficult. But not inside the woods.
The twins stood, hand in hand, just outside the entry gate. As far as anyone knew, the woods belonged to no one, for inside were no houses or buildings and no warning signs hugged the perimeter. Nevertheless, it was with great trepidation that the kids stepped over the line. Once done, it could not be called back. Either you were in the woods or not.
Sarah’s eyes were huge. She was amazed by all she saw and heard. Underfoot, a lush carpet of moss, decaying leaves, and green sprigs of color poking through in anticipation.
Above, a canopy of leaves in various sizes and shapes. She knew none of their names. They were simply trees to her nine-year-old brain.
Josh climbed first one and then another tree, searching for the one that would allow him to go the highest. He giggled as he reached for one branch that hung well above his head.
“Look at me, Sarah,” he shouted.
“Be careful,” she answered. “Mom will kill you if you fall.”
“I’m not going to fall.” When he could not grab ahold of the branch, he came back down. Before his sister could protest, he attempted another climb. And then another.
Not wanting to witness his fall, Sarah collected the nuts that had fallen from the trees. They were almost completely round, swirled with two shades of brown. They were smooth to the touch and solid as marbles.
With each step, each engrossed in their separate tasks, they roamed further and further into the reaches of the woods. They stayed within calling distance of each other, but not always within sight’s range.
Josh’s voice carried clearly to Sarah’s ears as he sang out that he was a pirate scaling a mast of a schooner ship, or a super being capable of flight, or an eagle scanning the ground for prey.
Sarah hummed a quiet tune. Something she’d learned at Sunday school.
When Josh grew tired of climbing, he grabbed Sarah’s arm and pulled her deeper into the woods. “Let’s see what we can find,” he said.
It was a fine day for adventure. There were gentle rises and falls that kept the twins on alert in case they might stumble, that took them over roots and fallen limbs. There were boulders to climb and rocks to throw. Before long they rounded a turn and stopped when they came to a tiny creek, bubbling along.
“Let’s see where it came from,” Josh said as he took off, leaving his sister trailing behind.
As they followed its twists and turns, the creek slowly widened. It was a foot wide, then two. It moved faster as well, but still bubbled as if with excitement.
One more turn and there it was. The source. The waterfall. A four-foot wide stretch of water poured over a rock rim, then fell into a swirling pool.
“It’s beautiful,” Sarah said. “I’ve never seen anything so pretty.”
Josh leaned into the mist and stuck out his tongue. “It tastes good. You should try it.”
Sarah shook her head and stepped back, but not quickly enough. Josh grabbed her left arm and pulled her close to the edge of the pool.
“Look down,” he said. “What do you see?”
“Rocks. Lots of rocks.”
He pushed her head lower. “No, I mean down into the middle. What do you see?”
Josh stripped off his shirt, shorts, shoes and socks.
“What are you doing?” Sarah asked.
“I’m going swimming.” Josh carefully stepped into the stream.
“You’ll get hurt!”
Josh took another step in, and now his ankles were covered with water. Then he was up to his shins, and then thighs. He swirled his arms about, temporarily changing the course of the water. “Look, Sarah, the water spins.”
“Get out before you get hurt,” Sarah said.
“I’m not going to get hurt. This is fun. Come on in!”
Sarah shook her head and backed away. She sat down on a large rock, keeping her eyes focused on her brother. He took another step and was suddenly under the surface of the water. Sarah jumped up, screaming his name, but there was no response. She moved as close to the edge as she could and bent over, searching for any sign of her brother.
That’s when she saw him, lying at the bottom of the pool. He was not moving. His eyes were closed but his mouth was open. Sarah didn’t know a lot about this sort of thing, but she was pretty sure that Josh was in trouble and the only hope he had was for her to do something.
Without stopping to think it through, Sarah went into the water. As her head went under, she tried to keep her eyes open, but it hurt. She felt about with both hands, hoping to touch some part of Josh.
She ran out of air and had to stand up. At this point, Sarah panicked. Should she run home or try again? Going home would take too long. All that way through the trees and the gate and to the house, find someone and then all the way back. So Sarah knew it was up to her.
Back into the water she went. She stepped in further this time, going deeper into the pool before bending over. She reached with her hands, feeling all about. Once again she found nothing, but just as she was about to give up, her fingers brushed against Josh’s hair. She grabbed ahold and tugged.
At first nothing happened. Sarah let go and stood, gasping for air. As soon as she could, she bent down and this time quickly found her brother. She pulled and pulled and when Josh moved, she felt joy. She moved her hands to his ears and slowly brought him to the surface of the water. When his nose was free, Sarah smiled and tugged even harder.
Within what felt like hours, she got Josh out of the pool and onto the bank of the creek.
“Breathe, Josh,” she said over and over. She opened his eyes, but saw no spark. She sat on his chest and hugged him.
All of a sudden Josh sputtered. Water sprayed from his mouth and he coughed and coughed. His eyes opened. “What happened?” he said.
“You went under the water. Are you okay?”
Josh closed his eyes and seemed to fall asleep. Sarah tapped him on the chest and moved his head from side to side. “Wake up,” she said.
But he didn’t. Not knowing how to help her brother, but knowing that he was safely out of the water, Sarah took off for home. She went as quickly as she could, being careful of roots and limbs and rocks that were along the way.
By the time she found her mother, Sarah was nearly exhausted. She explained what had happened, then led her mother to where her brother still lay.
When they got there, Josh was awake, although a bit disoriented. His mother picked him up and carried him all the way home. She put him in the back of the car and drove Josh to the hospital.
Later Sarah learned that Josh had banged his head when he slipped and had suffered a concussion. If Sarah hadn’t been there, her brother would have died.
Sarah and Josh returned to the woods over and over, year after year, but never again went into the pool.