“Not that I’m worried or anything,” Gabbie chirped, “which I’m not. I just feel like we should be at our houses right now.”
“Check Dad’s watch, Ali,” directed Lila.
Alastair pulled the watch from his shirt pocket, the one that was the most dry, and inspected the hands. His body told him that they had walked at least five minutes, the exact amount of time that it would have taken to arrive home. Gabbie was right. Alastair should have seen the quaint two story house painted a light lilac and penned in by a white picket fence. Within that house would have been his dad whipping up snacks for Alastair and his friends. Beside the purple house should have been a pale yellow house, much from the same cut, but with an additional built on garage. In that house were the Parish’s parents, preparing for the next day.
The houses weren’t there.
All around the children were trees, trees, and more trees. More startling was where the hands landed on Alastair’s watch. They had not moved since the children left the mermaid waterfall.
“What’s wrong, Ali? Your face is all scared looking.” Gabbie walked backward, her sharp eyes slicing into him like an inspector’s flashlight. He gulped. An odd weight settled onto his shoulders, the type of weight that rallied to a primal fear etched deep within the boy’s soul. He knew the facts. They walked to a waterfall and were now walking back, and yet those facts did not add up with what was happening right now. The watch could have stopped after taking a dunk, but the path not leading them to the proper place? Highly unlikely.
“I knew it. We are lost!” Ginger growled. “Alastair, if I miss out on the special prize, then you owe me one hundred diamonds!”
“That’s not his fault,” Gabbie said in an attempt to defend Alastair. “It shouldn’t take any longer to get home. We’re just waterlogged and tired. That’s why time is draaagging!” Gabbie grinned, showing off her braces with bright green rubber bands. Her smiled was quickly replaced when something along the path tripped her. She yelped, stumbled, and felt directly into a leafy bush. Her entire body disappeared within the shrubbery, the last ringing of her vice cut off abruptly.
“Gabbie?” Zane trotted over to the bush and spread the branches. “Gabbie, are you okay?” The boy bit his lip, the search for his sister beginning to become frantic. “Gabbie, don’t mess with me right now. Get out of the bush!” The other three children crowded around Zane, peering over his shoulder. The boy looked at them, his eyes wide with fear. “She’s not in here!”
“Don’t be ridiculous. She’s just horsing around like usual.” Ginger stepped into the bush. “I’ll get her out. I don’t have time for this.” The girl dove head first into the green blades until the branches and leaves covered her.
“Wait, Ginger!” Zane gasped. He jumped in as well.
“They’re gone,” Lila gasped.
“How can this tiny bush hide three people?” Alastair groaned. He held his face between two hands, took a deep, steadying breath, and let the air out. “We have to go after them.”
“Take my hand, Lila. We can’t leave them. What if they fell into a hole? Colorado is way different than where we came from.”
“Fine. We’ll check. But if they’re in a hole, we need to get an adult. We don’t have rope or a fire engine.”
“Deal.” They hooked pinky finger and shook. They nodded and moved to investigate where their friends disappeared to.