All you had to ask in town was if they found the lost girl and the curious devoured the details up to that moment. In the country beyond the meager small town lights is a place called Willow Manor. A recluse writer lives there. Don't go looking for it on any ancient map. The Poet set out leftovers wrapped in wax on the bottom step of the back wooden porch, and the girl would come in the nighttime and scurry silently away. That's one detail I let loose. There's one flash photo of the girl's lair the writer took in low light out beyond. I viewed it under a lamp one evening a month later as the two of us sat close in her library.
It was Sunday on a cold October day. I got her on the phone. She remembered me right away. I had restored the arch gate at the side arbor and she was pleased. So she talked to me a little. I asked about the lost girl, and she'd only tell me about the food left out. She was silent at first when I asked if I could come and see for myself. I detected a sigh in the bad signal between our phones. Then she said ok, but was adamant that the girl not be coaxed from her burrow. I promised, and she replied with a relieved sigh.
I parked my car out on the road about 100 yards from the Manor. Stealthily I walked through the gate and began my search, winding my way along a browning pebble path past the settling brook, crossing over the rotted bridge. It creaked mightily. I may ask her if I can restore the crumbling timber. I'd love to.
It was getting dark. I wanted to avoid using my torch, but I gave in. Mosquitoes bee-lined out of the poplars and certainly found me. They were furious and I just called the search off after a couple hours. I returned to cross the bridge. The girl was standing there half-way across blocking my retreat. She was so little, but looked to be in her twenties. Her hair was cut short by what appeared to be an uneven frantic hand. And her eyes were dark in the refracting light of my torch. She did not blink. She followed my hand as I reached into my pocket.
"You like pumpkin seeds"? I asked brokenly.
She held out both hands with pouting full lips. I told her my name but she had two cheek fulls of seed and didn't seem to hear.
"All gone", I said, and promised to bring more if she wanted. At that moment we both saw the light beam of a second torch closing in. It was coming from the Manor. The beam danced side to side, the October wind rising, making the tree branches moan in an arthritic hopelessness. The girl was frightened and hid behind me, clutching both my arms as though they were branches of a last resort to save her from going under.
"Who goes there"? I cried. My echo in the woods was not expected and I shivered.
"It is I", a woman responded. It was the poet. She was carrying a heavy coat folded over her arm.
"Put this on. You there", she ordered breathlessly to the girl. "It's going to be alright. And you", she said, looking at me,"the police just towed your car".
The girl released her grip. I hugged the poet.