by Joseph Linhardt, ©2003-2004

He was ten feet down now. The slope, instead of leveling off, was getting steeper! As he slid down the ravine side, Peter saw a tree root protruding from the sloped ravine side and seized it. His slow, yet continuous slide stopped. Dirt clumps bounced and rolled down the slope, hitting the carpet of dead leaves at the bottom with loud crunching noises. Peter knew he had made progress, but because his descent was a long, gentler slide than the ravine sides, he had thirty more feet to go.

“Peter, be careful!” called Jenny from her position atop the ravine.

Peter turned and yelled back up.

“I’m fine!” he called, and then looked at the darker, shadowy way ahead of him. The sun was getting lower, and leaves on the trees blocked out light and cast shadows. He called again to Jenny.

“Get my flashlight and shine the light ahead of me,” he said. “I know it’s not completely dark yet, but it’ll help!”

Peter waited until the small circle of light from his flashlight appeared ahead of him. Slowly, cautiously, he began his descent again. He slid as far as he could while still holding onto the tree root. The slope was much steeper closer to the bottom, and Peter wanted to be able to slide to his next handhold before he lost his grip.

He spotted a fallen branch that was halfway imbedded into the slope. He turned toward it and felt the tree root strain under his weight.

Just hold on, he urged the root silently.

But it didn’t. Peter was in the middle of his precarious turn when a loud crack split the air!

“Peter! Are you-”

But the rest of Jenny’s question was cut off. Peter tried to scramble up the slope the moment he felt the tree root splitting, but he was not quick enough! The root split completely in half and Peter teetered unsteadily for an instant, then he toppled over backwards. With a shout, he fell head over heels down the steep slope and crashed into the ravine floor.

Jenny heard Peter’s shout and stepped closer to the edge. She leaned out precariously, straining to see anything.

“Peter?” she called timidly. The sudden silence that had set in after Peter’s yell and the crash and crunch of his fall sent worry flashing though her mind. “Peter, are you okay?”

She shone her light into the ravine. The sun had gone behind a cloud as it continued sinking closer to the horizon. Jenny shined the flashlight this way and that, but could see nothing.

“Peter?” she called again, still moving the light. The final dirt clumps had come to a stop. There was still no sign of Peter.

Jenny looked fearfully down into the ravine.

“Peter, are you alright?”

No answer came. There was no trace of Peter in the bottom of the ravine.

“Peter!” Jenny screamed. “Answer me, please!”

* * *

Peter felt himself fall backwards down the slope. He instinctively tucked his head against his chest and gritted his teeth, preparing for the agonizing thud that would follow his fall. But it never came; he kept falling. A mist had appeared all around him. He fell through it like a feather, slowly, deliberately. He could see nothing through the mist. It seemed endless and had surrounded him completely.

What’s going on? Where am I?

As if on cue, the mist began to fade. It swirled upward as if a wind had blown it. Peter felt his back gently come to rest against a grassy, soft surface. Slowly, he sat up trying to get his bearings. The last of the mist was evaporating; he could see clearly again. His jaw dropped open at the sight that met his eyes.

W…what’s going on?

Peter knew exactly where he was; on the front lawn of his own home, more than a mile from the ravine he had fallen in! He stumbled to his feet. His mind was a blur.

What happened? How did I get here?

His hand went to the back of his head. No bump was there. He looked down at himself: there was no trace of dirt streaks, mud or even leaves! His clothing was completely clean!

This can’t be right!

Peter was sure he had been at the ravine only seconds ago! What had happened? And Jenny…she had been at the ravine as well. What had happened to her?

Peter dashed to the large garage door and heaved it open. His bike was gone. He suddenly remembered he had taken it to the school. Would it still be there? If it was, why was Peter back home?

There’s only one thing to do.

Peter set off toward the school, jogging quickly. He would return to the ravine and sort out what had happened. Had Jenny somehow taken him back to his house? Or had the police found him? If so, why did they leave him on the front lawn?

Don’t think, Peter told himself. Just run.

He did, and was unaware of the dark shape that followed him as silently as smoke.

Continue on to part 4

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