Sara Winterwood watched the outside world flash by as her mind wandered.
Music pumped out of her headphones in a steady throb and her father smiled briefly over at his daughter as he drove them towards his parents place.
It had been a long drive. Seven hours so far. His daughter didn't complain of course – she always had the knack of entertaining herself, even when she was a baby. Music, art, books … if she had one of those to immerse herself in she would not make a peep.
And so it had been this trip.
They had stopped once to get a burger and use the restrooms at a small non-descript diner; and then they had been on their way again.
He glanced briefly from the road to look at Sara again and couldn't help but smile.
She looked so much like her mother it hurt to look at her sometimes. He had a picture at work of her on her 17th birthday, and the impish smile on her face was her mother all over. Trouble with a capital 'T'.
Usually dirty blond hair - that she insisted on dying almost black – was tied up in a haphazard knot, her small curvy mouth turned slightly up in the corners as if about to laugh and bright blue eyes seemed hazy as if turned inwards, occupied with her own daydreams and thoughts.
'What you thinking about Sara?'
His daughter took out one headphone with a 'hmm' and raised a brow.
'You are a thousand miles away there. What's going through that mind of yours?'
Sarah stretched her arms and smiled, 'nuthin'. Just thinking is all. How much longer now?'
They hadn't been to her Grandparents place for over six years now. His mother didn't like him to take her there. She still had her superstitions about that harmless forest behind their house.
No matter that travellers and hikers were always going through it – and that it even had a park ranger that kept it in order and marked all the trails. In his mother's mind, it was cursed and haunted by things she couldn't name.
Unfortunately for his mother, this trip had been necessary and Sara had insisted on coming.
His father had a stroke a few years prior and she could no longer look after him as she had wanted to. They wanted to move closer to the town – but keep the house in the family as they had had it for generations. Apparently that was where their name had come from. Generations before they had been known as the people who lived next to the 'Winterwood'. Well, that was still true. They still lived next to the Winterwood – though it wasn't called anything so romantic these days. 'Mount George Reserve' was its new logical name.
And so, Richard Winterwood was on his way there now with his 17 year old daughter to help his parents sort out the legal and methodical part of the move and keeping of the house.
Sara yawned and punched her dads arm playfully, 'well, you better come hiking with me.'
'Yeah yeah. We'll see. I am going to have a lot to do.'
'Pfft. Gran will drive you nuts by day three. I know you. She'll keep trying to feed you like she usually does and you will lose it and have to get out of the house and work off the extra 10 pounds you would have thrown on.'
'Maybe. But, first she will hassle you about that god-awful hair of yours.'
Sara rolled her eyes with a grin and they both said in unison 'you have such beautiful hair, Sara! You should let it grow out'.
Both laughed together and later Rick would remember that conversation and wished that he had talked her out of the walk. Or that he had gone with her like she asked.
But that wasn't the way things had turned out.
Sara had been right on both counts.
The first words out of her feisty 70 year old grandmothers mouth was a stern telling off that she had put that 'horrid colour' back into her hair.
The second was to say that her father was looking too skinny and that he needed to come and have something to eat right now as he was quite obviously starving.
Father and daughter exchanged knowing grins and followed the strangely sprightly woman up the steps and into the old farm house.
The place was massive. Vague memories of visits when she was younger flitted through her head and she fondly touched the banister on the staircase with a soft smile on her way back down from putting her bags up in her room.
'I remember falling down these steps!' She remembered with a wry grin. 'I thought the boogie man was in my room and bolted down here – remember dad?'
She saw her Gran tense at the comment from the corner of her eye.
'Yea, that imagination of yours was always playing up here. Think its cause the place is so old and creaky.'
'Come on you two. Lunch.'
The words were said in a tight voice from Sara's Gran but ignored by her father.
'I'll eat when I get back – I want to see Dad.' Rick said quickly, and he was gone down the other end of the house before Sara's Gran could complain.
She sighed and shaking her head steered Sara towards the kitchen, her hand on her granddaughters shoulder.
'You are eating young lady. Look at you – skin and bone.'
Sara could have laughed at the untruth of that comment. She had developed a somewhat generous chest and hips the last year. Curvy she liked to think – but she knew it was only half true. She hadn't been doing as much exercise as she probably should have, and she loved to eat the 'bad' foods. Hey, she figured she only lived once, and why not?
The hearty and warm smell of food from the kitchen made her mouth instantly water.
'Wow Gran, what are you cooking?'
'Your favourite – Chicken pie.'
Sara made herself comfortable at the half set table, looking around the cosy kitchen before shooting an impish grin at her Gran.
'Let me guess, followed by apple turnover, cream and all the rest?'
'Of course. My favourite Granddaughter doesn't come to visit every day.'
'Bet you say that to all of us.'
Her Gran chuckled and putting on oven mittens took out the pie from the oven and bought it to the table.
'So, what are you planning to do to keep yourself occupied the next few weeks, my little changeling?'
Changeling. She had always called Sara that.
'Art. Music. And of course, plenty of exercise and exploring – I am thinking a good hike up the mountain for starters.'
Her Gran froze instantly and her face was almost stony as she sat down at the kitchen table and began to put a generous helping of food on Sara's father's plate.
'If you are going into the woods, just mind you are careful.' Her tone was carefully smooth and Sara looked at her in wonder.
'Careful?' Sara frowned in the middle of helping herself to some of the salad. ' Why? Dad said he used to play in the woods all the time when he was a kid.'
Her Gran's lips thinned in obvious disapproval.
'Just because your father was a naughty child doesn't mean you should follow in his footsteps.'
Sara shrugged with a mischievous smile, 'yeah? Well, call it genetics…. Can't help it Gran, it's in my blood.'
Her grandmother's pursed lips twisted in the hint of a smile and her eyes twinkled almost against her will.
'Well, just see you mind yourself.'
'Yeah, I'll be careful. I've been hiking a bit.'
'These woods are different, Sara.' The twinkle had gone from the dim blue eyes and she sighed, 'there are stories of children going missing over the years in this region-'
'Yeah, dad said. Probably some weirdo back in the day. He said it hasn't happened for like 100 years or something so I'm sure I'll be okay. Plus, look at me. I'm not a kid anymore, y'know?'
'Hmmm.' Her grandmother eyed her closely, 'Just be safe.'
Sara grinned around a large mouthful of lettuce.
'Always am, Gran.'
Sara had hoped that her sleep that night would be rejuvenating… invigorating… something.
Instead she had a fitful sleep, the floorboards down the hall and in her room creaking and shifting out of the blue enough to startle her.
She was used to the sound of suburbia. Cars going too fast down her street. Doors shutting, people talking. The kid next door playing basketball til like eleven at night and driving her mad.
Here it was so quiet it was almost creepy. No wonder she had been terrified as a kid.
Her dreams were fitful – she awoke a few times certain that she had seen someone at the foot of her bed, but the shadow was gone almost immediately.
She awoke the next morning feeling grumpy and exhausted.
And so, she didn't end up going for her planned walk until almost four days later once she had finally settled in.
She wished now she hadn't gone at all.