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The Leading Light – 3rd Place Adults Writing Contest

By Emily Gingrich from Seguin

May 2, 2022

I stood, transfixed, at the bottom of the sledding hill, my blue plastic saucer forgotten in the snow. Every now and then, one of my friends swooped down from the darkness, shrieking, but I didn’t turn to watch. My eyes were fixed on a light.

Far away, across the frozen swamp, a light shone. There isn’t a house there, I thought, puzzled, only hills and empty bush. 

“What are you looking at?” Lori came up behind me.

“That light.” 

She peered into the blackness. “What is it?”

“I don’t know.” Finally, I turned and looked at her. Golden sparks from the bonfire danced in her eyes. “Should we go find out?”

She nodded.

 “I think this was where the light was coming from,” I said. “Look.”

“Footprints!” she whispered.

“Yes. But…they just start. Right here in the middle of this clearing, then they head up the hill. Where did the person come from? It’s like they just dropped out of the sky and started walking.”

We followed the footprints upward. A granite ridge rose, becoming cliffs overhanging deep shadows. Carefully, we descended the other side.

Suddenly and without warning, the footprints vanished.

A chill ran from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. In that moment, I heard it. A whimper, hardly louder than a baby bird’s chirp.

I scanned the base of the cliff with my flashlight. A young girl sat huddled in a little hollow in the rock. She looked at us with terrified eyes from under a faded red toque.

“Who are you?” I burst out. “And what are you doing here?” A sound escaped from her trembling lips, but I couldn’t understand it. She was shaking with cold. “Never mind—don’t try to talk. We’ll take you back to my house and get you warmed up.”

The girl shook her head and tried to pull away when I reached for her hand.

“Come on,” Lori reasoned. “We won’t hurt you. Do you want to freeze?”

Slowly, we helped the girl to her feet.

After the girl was full of hot soup and fast asleep in a warm bed, Lori stood to go home. 

“Imagine if you hadn’t seen that light,” she said, pausing with her hand on the doorknob.

“I know.”

“But what was it? She had no flashlight, nothing. And her boots were much too small to make those footprints, if it were even possible for someone to start and stop walking in the middle of nowhere like that. But without those footprints, we’d never have found her.”

“I know,” I said, feeling my scalp tingle. Then I looked Lori in the eye. “You know, though. Who made those footprints and that light.”

She nodded. “It’s like you said. Just dropped out of the sky and started walking. It gives me the shivers. Good shivers, though.”

“Me too.” For a moment we stood, thinking. 

Then Lori opened the door and said, “Well, good night.”

“Good night.”