to the forest.
My cousin, for a time, grew up in a quiet rural pocket between states. When my aunt and uncle were still together, my grandfather would drive me and my sister to their house in the wintertime, a thirty minute trip from the city by car. Although it always felt longer. Past a narrowing road there was a slope leading down to the house. We would enter from the basement door and were usually greeted by the dog or my aunt plugging away on her computer. It was quiet, chilly. The nearest house was shrouded in brambles and I was never sure if anybody actually lived there in looking through the thicket.
We stayed mostly in the basement, my cousin and I. It was where his family kept the bigger TV with all the video game consoles placed neatly in a pile. When my aunt wasn't home, we'd both sit in front of her computer and watch these unsettling videos he'd find on the Internet that still cling to my memory, of ghost sightings or urban legends. I remember I was so repeatedly startled by them that I had asked my grandfather to keep my light on at night before bed. Yet I never gave my cousin a word of protest when he would invariably show me another video, on another day.
There was one night I was in the basement by myself, on the couch and reading a book as everybody else was upstairs and in the kitchen. I was close to dozing when I thought I saw a shadow being cast over me. When I looked up I saw the face of a girl I didn't recognize through the window, looking down and directly at me with a rictus gaze. It was almost as if she was studying the room through a one-way glass, the depth of her eyes unchanged as I got up from the couch. I didn't think to scream or motion to her at all. Instead I simply walked upstairs and timidly informed my aunt.
I discovered soon after that it was the daughter of the family that lived in the house nearby. She was gone before my uncle went out to check. The authorities eventually found her in another town that would have only been accessible through the denser part of a mountain trail.
I don't recall much of how I reacted when I first put it together that she had attempted to run away from home, and that it likely hadn't been the first time. For some reason, my aunt told me not to gossip — that was the word she had used in this instance. But I still remember the face of the girl more than anything, and how much I could not shake from my mind her placid expression.