First Astrid came out of the forest, scratch marks on her face and arms, a sunburn on the back of her neck. She had been eating leaves, anything she could find, though she’d only been gone a day. I found her with Mr. Silverson, the old man with an arm about her, she in his coat. “Come on,” I told her, leading her to the car as I said thanks to Mr. Silverson. The old man waved as we pulled out of the clearing.
On the main road, only the logging trucks were still driving. “Did you find anything?” I asked. “No, of course not.” “Are you going to try again?” “Of course I am.” The headlights came on later, and we stopped for gas. She went to a phone booth, but it didn’t work anymore. I gave her my cell but no signal. “I’m taking you to see someone who can help,” I promised. “There are people who understand what you’re doing, they might even want to help.”
She was staring at me. “Can we get some food?” On the highway, later, “Do I look like I need help?” “You’ve been eating leaves and berries, drinking nothing for the last day, I think maybe you do.” “Why are you bothering with me, then?” she asked, a question I don’t ask myself, have never asked myself, maybe I should ask and keep the answer to myself now, especially now. We get home. She takes a bath, I have a scotch on ice and sit on the back porch until she comes out wrapped in her robe. In front of us is the bush, as we call it – leads to the forest. “When are you going again?” I ask her.
“Tomorrow. Not tonight.” “How come? I thought you were in a hurry.” “I am. It’s a big forest. Goes far. Right to the mountain. But we have time.” She looks at me. “I thought we could sit for a while, shoot off some guns, do some fireworks. Something bright and loud.”
In the shadow of the mountain, it’s so dark that fireworks looks brighter than normal. One at a time at first we send them up, but the excitement builds we just shoot them up at the same time, until the echoes are racing through the forest much faster than she ever did, with her hiking boots and her walking stick, and the muddy backpack. I sit later in the darkness, after she’s asleep, thinking about where she’s going to go tomorrow, if she’ll go further this time, what that might mean and how I’ll find her. The shadow of the mountain reaches for me. In the middle of the night, I’m still awake, realizing after all this time, after the many times I’ve chased Astrid and asked her how it could all possibly be worth it, that just like her, I’m not done either.