“Mandy is lost in Darkmist Forest!” April said, running toward me.
I paused and looked up. “What? That can’t be…”
The only people who got lost in Darkmist Forest were those gothic people who hung out at school doing drugs in the back of the building, or people who had gone through some traumatic event, like a family death, or something.
Not people like April and my friend Mandy, who was always clean-cut and put together, shy but friendly, and a very good student.
Sometimes, people who got lost in the Forest got out on their own, but Mandy had been missing for months. No one knew where she’d been until now.
But if what April said was correct, then Mandy was in severe danger. The longer people got lost in the Forest, the harder it was to get them out, usually. Many died in there.
That night, I picked at my dinner.
“What’s wrong?” Mother asked.
“It’s Mandy,” I said. “April told me today she’s fallen into Darkmist.”
Mother closed her eyes. “Oh dear. Are people working on saving her?”
“I don’t know,” I said. I wasn’t very close to Mandy’s family, so I didn’t know if they had gone themselves or hired any Forest therapists to call to Mandy from outside the Forest.
The interesting thing about Darkmist was that few were able to enter. The Forest was temperamental, eating some folks, repelling others.
Most people didn’t go near it, of course, because it was so deadly. No one voluntarily went to visit Darkmist…except to try to call someone back out. And most who did that had to stand outside, waving giant floodlights and calling through foghorns, hoping the one inside wasn’t so far gone that he or she couldn’t see or hear something from the outside, and come out again.
But Mandy disappeared four months ago, and by now she must be in the heart of the Forest, if not, perhaps, dead.
“Mother, is there another way to get her out, except by standing at the edge and shouting and waving lights?”
I wasn’t sure what I expected Mother to say, and was surprised when she paused for a second, then said: “Yes.”
I was curious. “How?”
“A human chain,” Mother said.
“A human chain?”
“Yes. Usually you need several people who have wandered into the Forest but later found a way back out: People who have gone deeply into it, and people who have only gone partway in. They will have to form a chain, holding special candles–because Darkmist is just like its name, full of dark mist. Most normal lights don’t work at all inside. The person who has gone in farthest must take a candle and go in as far as he/she can, looking for the lost person, while the next person keeps an eye on the first person, and goes in not quite as far…and so on and so forth–the more people, the safer the chain.”
“Wow…” I said, flipping that information over in my mind. “How did you know about the human chain, Mother?”
Mother smiled and kissed me on the forehead.
“Because I was saved by one myself.”
“You were lost in the Darkmist Forest?” I said, stunned.
“Yes, dear,” Mother said. “Sooner or later, everyone goes into the Darkmist at some point. Most people don’t go in very far or for very long, but once in a while, as you know, people get lost in it. I was one of those.”
“But you came out again,” I said.
“With the help of a human chain,” Mother said. “Actually, it was more of a net. But same thing. You need to gather many people, who have experience with Darkmist, who all have the special candles, and send them in together to rescue the lost one.”
“But where do you get the special candles?” I asked. “Do you buy them?”
“No dear,” Mother said. “They are handmade. Often out of Darkmist tree resin. They can’t be bought, but they can be given, if you ask for them.”
“Darkmist tree resin?” I said. “You mean people actually harvest resin to make these candles?”
“Yes,” Mother nodded. “The resin in the deepest part of the Forest is actually the best, but few people are able to go in and bring it back out. When they do, though, those candles are the most powerful.”
“Where can I get some candles?” I asked. “Who will give them to me?”
Mother smiled and beckoned me upstairs. “Come with me.”
The next day I arrived at school with my backpack full of candles. Mother had had a bunch of them hidden in a trunk in her attic, and she willingly gave them to me.
I told April everything Mother told me, and together we sought out Beth, a girl I wasn’t very familiar with, but who I knew had spent a day or two in Darkmist last year. I was pretty sure she’d be willing to help.
“You want to form a human chain to find Mandy?” Beth said. “Of course, I’m in. In fact, I know who else can help.”
With Mandy’s help, we rounded up a dozen or so classmates, relatives, even teachers who had had varying levels of experience with Darkmist. Then I opened my backpack to pass out candles. To my surprise, many of the ones we’d summoned had their own. And then I remembered what my Mom had said:
The resin in the deepest part of the Forest is actually the best, but few people are able to go in and bring it back out. When they do, though, those candles are the most powerful.
Of course, I thought to myself. Everyone here has been in Darkmist, except for me and April, so they all were able to collect resin for their own candles.
When we arrived at the Darkmist Forest, we formed a line, the person with the longest experience in Darkmist standing in the front, and the rest of us falling behind. Then we lit our candles, and headed in, calling Mandy’s name.
Or rather, I could hear the others calling her, but as the last anchor on the edge of the Forest, I could not venture very far in. I could feel the Forest trying to repel me, but I pushed against the force, holding my candle high so that the next person in line–April–could see my light, even as she held up her candle for the next person who had ventured even farther in.
I leaned in as hard as I could for as long as I could, hoping the searchers at the end of the chain were able to reach Mandy, wherever she was.
After what seemed like ages, I saw April’s light growing stronger as she came toward me.
I peered nervously into the thick darkness, and then I saw it. Candle after candle, right behind April’s. I counted 12 candles. They were coming back! But was Mandy with them?
I backed away from the horrible Forest and watched as the members of the human chain stepped out, one at a time, their candles still burning. At the very end of the line, huddled in the arms of Mrs. Smith, our history teacher, was Mandy!
With a cry of joy, I ran toward her, as did April. “Mandy!” She was pale, and thin from her months in the forest, but she gave us a wavering smile as we embraced her.
“Thank you for coming to find me,” she said, as the other members of the Chain surrounded us, their candlelight shining brighter than stars in the night.