It was one of the last warm days before fall kicked in with all its chill. School had just ended for the day, and two children walked through the woods, a sister and her younger brother.
To the boy, this was a new route home. However, his sister had been here before; she was taking him to see an old fishing boat left by the man who had lived nearby. For some reason, it had been abandoned in the woods when the man passed away.
As they approached the fishing boat, something about the clearing felt wrong to the girl, who stopped with a small frown. The first thing she noticed was how exposed the boat was. In the past it was protected from the weather by a plastic sheet. The sheet had vanished, allowing leaves to fall inside and create a carpet of brown. Not only that, but the ground was littered with garbage and names had been scratched on the outside.
“How dare they treat it so awfully,” whispered the girl, feeling her heart break.
She gathered wrappers from inside the boat, tossing them into the bushes. The fisherman’s boat ought to be respected, not treated like a big trash bin. She wondered if his family still lived nearby; she could tell them to take better care of their heirloom.
This clearing in the woods had been her haven. Now she could not bring herself to feel the magic she once did; it was as if something had been stolen from her. Even if she came daily to clean the boat, it wouldn’t be the same.
For some reason, she thought everything would be as she remembered it—this clearing hallowed as if the fisherman’s spirit still lurked. Clearly, the dead were powerless to protect their own items once found by the living.
No good mystery could remain pure for long.
“Why are you so sad?” her brother asked, taking a step closer.
The girl couldn’t bring herself reply. Her disappointment made it worse: she had promised her brother a journey to the prettiest part of the forest, but now it felt as though she’d failed him. Instead of speaking, she picked unhappily at some grass with a cold hand.
He spoke again, voice high with childish wonder: “It’s full of leaves, like a chest of gold!”
“It shouldn’t be full of leaves,” she mumbled. “It should be covered with a sheet.”
“But then how would the fisherman’s ghost get inside?”
She frowned and stopped picking at the grass; he continued breathlessly, as if this were the most wonderful discovery in history.
“Look! There are names on the side. Can we write ours, too?”
“But that’s vandalism.”
He pouted. “Please? I want to let the fisherman know I was here!”
It was with astonishment that she took a pin from one of her braids and handed it over. She watched her brother carve his name onto the side of the boat. When he stopped, he said, “When he returns tonight, the fisherman will know he had a visitor.”
His words were so pure, so innocent and glad—and suddenly she felt excitement once more in her cold, young heart. Perhaps there was still magic, if one knew how to look…even on the surface of a moldy old boat.
“Move over,” she said, sitting next to him. “I’m going to write my name.”