Willow Creek fruitlessly brushed a clump of auburn hair away from her face. There wasn’t much daylight left, and her broken headband was making this excursion a bit more challenging. Maw and Paw would be expecting her back at the house within the hour, cleaned up and ready to eat. Just a few more minutes. I know it’s here somewhere.
The young girl spent the better part of the afternoon bent over, scouring the long, thin blades of grass for a glimmer of gold. The creek bank was the last place she remembered having the locket in her hands, but a slip in the moist red dirt caused everything to go flying.
“Well, I guess it’s gone, Smoke,” she sighed, petting her grandfather’s mottled dog. “I mean, it was only a cheap piece of jewelry I got at the dollar store, but I really liked it. I didn’t even get a chance to put any pictures in it. Well, I guess that’s a good thing, right? Mom says I do spend too much time focusing on things that aren’t really worth much.”
Willow and Smoke trotted up the hill, back to the small house that snuggled up next to the edge of a thick forest. The sun was preparing itself to go to bed, with swaths of orange and red kissing the horizon. Gnats were out in force, tiny flyers that feasted on the moistness of eyes. Oh, how Willow hated these little bugs!
“Find it?” called out Maw from the kitchen.
“No, ma’am,” answered her granddaughter. “I’m sorry I took so long.”
“Well, I appreciate the apology. We ain’t got to see ye much, but wash up an’ we’ll have a nice supper, and a nice visit.”
“You know, you’re just like your Daddy,” piped up Paw, looking up from his reading, “but as least ye have somethin’ you’re lookin’ for that is yours. He used to spend so much time by that creek lookin’ for arrowheads an’ such.”
“Did he ever find any, Paw?”
“Oh, maybe one, two. I can’t remember. But he sure did spend an awful lot of time tryin’.”
Willow headed down the hall while Maw cut the biscuits, brushed them with butter and placed them in the hot oven. Her food was simple but legendary. And no one was able to replicate it.
“I think I’ll go down there tommorry and help her look for it,” said Paw. “It’s supposed to be a nice mornin’. When her mother gettin’ here?”
“After lunch on Sunday.”
Willow had a fitful night sleep, which was rather typical anytime she stayed at the hollar. The quiet of the country was nothing but a myth, as crickets, owls, loose dogs and other critters serenaded the homestead throughout the night. As a result, her dreams were a bit more vivid than usual. First, she recalled sitting in school, waiting to take a test on a subject she never had. She understood the root of this one; she had a history test coming up and was struggling with the homework. Another dream starred Smoke, the two of them playing tug with his favorite toy. But the third dream didn’t make much sense to her at all. She was by the creek, lying in a pile of mud, much like she was the day before. As she looked up, she saw a figure staring down at her. He was on the other side, at the edge of the bank. Tall, thin and not quite clear. He wore an old jacket with tatters at the edges. His beard was full and he had cheekbones as high as the sky. As she stared back at him, he nodded his head in the direction of a flat stone not too far from her feet. Then he was gone.
The next morning, she mentioned the dream to her grandparents.
“I mean, I get why I was there. I’ve kinda been too preoccupied by that locket, but I don’t get the guy. I mean, it’s not someone I’ve seen before.”
“What did he look like?” asked Maw, placing a stack of pancakes on the table.
“…and he had some sort of birthmark or something on the back of his hand. I think it was his right hand, but I can’t remember exactly. And there was a second one on the side of his neck. Or a tattoo. Anyway, it was close to his beard.”
Maw and Paw looked at each other in awkward silence.
“Willow, I thought we could both go back down there this mornin’ and look for your locket.”
“Thanks, Paw, but it’s not really worth anything. I think I made a big deal out of nothing. I’ll replace it eventually.”
“It’s ok, I don’t mind,” he replied, lowering his cup of steaming black tea. “I find it relaxing to take a walk by the creek this time of day. Smoke will join us, I’m sure, and it’ll be a nice walk.”
“Sure, Paw,” answered Willow, stabbing a silver of pancakes, running them through a stream of maple syrup.
Paw suggested they make an adventure out of it. He admitted he never did accompany his son on his quests, and decided it was high time he tried. After breakfast, the pair headed down the hill back to the rocky creek, shovels and other digging tools in hand. Smoke stayed behind, hoping beyond hope Maw would let a few pieces of country ham fall to the floor. As they reached the bank, Paw asked Willow to show him where she fell, which she did.
“But I don’t remember any flat rock, Paw,” she admitted, calling to mind her dream from last night.
The two searched the area to no avail. Eventually, Paw decided on a few places to excavate. Recent rains made the ground moist and pliable, making it easy to move the earth and search for potential treasures. Garnets were abundant in the area, so if nothing else, they figured they’d find a few small gems to polish.
“Let’s start with the area in your dream. The one with the stone.”
“Sure, why not?”
Carefully, the two began removing layers of grass and dirt. It wasn’t long before shovels hit something hard, the sound of metal on stone echoing across the lawn. Willow’s eyes grew big.
“Seriously?!” she exclaimed. “How is this even possible?”
Once the area was cleared, a flat gray stone emerged from the earth, about the size of a dinner plate.
“Slate,” said Paw. “That’s unusual.”
As the two stared at the stone, wondering what to do with their new find, a white ball of light flew up from it, hovered for a moment, and then disappeared, moving toward the other side of the creek. Willow rubbed her eyes as it didn’t make any sense.
“Might as well look underneath,” said Paw. “We got this far. It won’t be much of a quest if we don’t turn over any stones.”
The two carefully dug more dirt from it, and then Paw used his shovel to carefully turn the piece over. At this, the white ball of light returned, touched the ground and vanished into it. Willow grew pale.
“Well I be darned!” muttered Paw, looking into the fresh, shallow hole in the ground. “Is that-?”
“Yes, Paw, I think it is,” whispered Willow, lowering her hand to retrieve a shiny heart-shaped necklace. “It looks like my locket, but it can’t be!”
“Well that would be quite the coincidence, findin’ a locket just like yours underneath all this earth.”
Willow brushed the dirt from it, and flipped it over, searching for something.
“I can’t believe this, but this is it. I scratched my initials on the back and – look,” she stated, thrusting the locket into her grandfather’s line of vision, “there they are!”
Sure enough, scrawled in the gold were the letters: WC.
“Lemme see that for a minute,” requested her grandfather, inspecting the piece carefully. “You say you got this at the dollar store?”
“Yeah,” she replied. “There were a stack of them.”
“Well, I think it’s real gold. Get it checked out, but I think this isn’t what you thought it was. Open it up, look inside.”
“But there’s nothing in it,” protested the young girl.
“Is there?” asked her grandfather. “Well, if nothing else, somethin’ could have crawled in there and made a new home.”
“Ew!” screeched Willow, imploring her grandfather to open it for her.
The old man smiled at his granddaughter’s reticence, and carefully undid the latch.
“I’ll be darned,” he muttered, staring at the contents. “Where did you get these pictures, Willow?” he asked.
“What pictures, Paw? I told you it was empty.”
“Look,” he directed her.
Willow took hold of the locket and was stunned. There, to the left, was a photo of her father who had passed away a year ago. To the right was an image of the man who had visited her in her dreams.
“I – I don’t understand?” she said, bewildered. “Who is that?” she asked, pointing to the man on the right.
“That’s my father,” Paw answered. “He disappeared shortly after I married Maw. He went into the woods, up yonder,” he said, pointing to the steep hill across from them, “to hunt somethin’ for dinner. He never returned. We figured he got lost.”
At that moment, a blue light floated on top of his picture, and disappeared into it. At this, they both noticed a second hinge inside the open locket. Willow gently worked to open the space behind the photo, and revealed a small inscription.
Gone too soon
But will always remain
In your hearts and in ours
Willow’s eyes welled up with tears. Both stared across the creek to the hill in front of them. Two swirling mists rose from the ground, tossing dried leaves in a circular pattern and moved up the hill.
“Do you think?” began Willow, unable to finish her thoughts.
“What else can you think?” answered Paw, staring up the hillside, a warm tear drifting to the ground beneath them both.