The rescue mission is successful—so far.
Things were going smoothly, too smoothly. The grass and weeds went down easily under the heavy carpet, which was just light enough for Murphy and Mr. Spit, spelled by me and Pounce, to pull across the field at nearly a normal walking speed. Lee’s inclinded to get tangled up with other people when working in close quarters, as seen previously, and Nina’s not as big as her heart is, if you know what I mean. They kept watch behind us, trailing back to watch and listen. The party was still rocking down on the Midway, Nina whispered that it sounded even louder than it had been. We’d made plenty of noise, getting the Frozen Cave Girl out of her tent, but maybe nobody had been inclined to hear us.
Even when the open fields around the fairgrounds turned into the beginnings of The Woods, things still went pretty smoothly. We started moving in steps like we had planned. Pounce took point and planned each little bit of the route to avoid trees and rocks while keeping as many obstacles as possible between us and that empty tent. This was a good idea, if I said so myself, since it gave the people doing the pulling lots of chances to rest and we could go pretty fast when we did move.
When we got to the Red Rock (if you know the Woods you know where it is, and if you don’t, we’re not going to tell you), which was maybe halfway to where we’d planned to stop and a pretty safe place, we decided to take a longer break. We sat down around the block like it was a campfire, and Mr. Spit pulled back the flap of extra rug.
The Frozen Cave Girl looked extra mysterious in the moonlight. Her eyes were still open and she seemed to be looking at the sky, like she was trying to figure out the constellations or maybe navigate by the stars. I wonder if Orion had looked the same in the sky ten thousand years ago. I don’t know enough about astronomy to answer that question and I sort of wished I did. Everyone else looked like they were thinking weird thoughts, too: Nina with her chin on her hand, Pounce with her dark eyes reflecting almost like a cat’s, Lee all serious like he was doing math in his head, Mr. Spit looking tired but resolute. He’d been doing most of the pulling … but where was Murphy? Murphy who should have been staring at the Frozen Cave Girl like he had a crush on her, or at least a crush on her mystery.
Murphy was gone.
We waited a minute, just in case, but there was no sign of him coming back out of the brush in that slightly embarrassed way people sometimes do. Normally, when that didn’t happen we’d fan out and start yelling. Murphy is not exactly a woodsman and if he had just wandered off he’d either gotten lost or was sitting on a log somewhere with a twisted ankle. But yelling didn’t seem like a great idea just then.
Finally we decided to risk a flashlight turned way down, and Pounce, who is a woodswoman, started casting around. It didn’t take her long to find the trail– which was our trail, all the crunched up and knocked over bits that marked the passage of the heavy carpet and its escort. It was depressingly obvious. Even I could see Murphy’s sneaker prints when Pounce pointed them out. He had headed back to the fair, and with that path to follow even Murphy was likely to get there.