Wren loved the change of season. It crept up and happened so quickly most people missed it, but Wren never did. She took a thermos and cups to the edge of the woods and waited for it. At first it was a brittle yellow edge to the leaves, then the yawp of squirrels as they hoarded nuts, and finally with the chilly biet of October, the lingering smell of smoke from nearby chimneys.
But that wasn't why Wren took two tea cups to the stump every October. She enjoyed the fleeting moment before winter came to the trees and stripped their leaves and frost painted the grass silver. The world was at its most beautiful on the verge of death when it embraced wild colors and produced its harvests.
And it was death that brought her there that day and all the fall mornings before it.
She didn't venture beyond the stump into the wild. But she'd brought a cup of tea in case the little girl who did thirty years ago ventured back. Sometimes Wren heard leaves crunch or saw a fleeting shadow darting through the columns of trees, and when she closed her eyes, the hot ceramic mug seared her palms and she heard tinkling laughter.
Once a deer padded up to her, and his eyes were deep and sorrowful, and Wren wondered if he knew. So she asked him, "Have you seen my sister?" But he turned his long face away and retreated to the woods.
And then one October there was no shadow or distant laughter, and Wren closed her eyes to say goodbye. When she opened them, she wasn't alone.