Chapter 1

Melanie blinked her eyes open again. She sleepily stretched her hands across the sun-lit desk, yawning with her mouth wide open. She then squinted at the paper in front of her. Ughh. A frown formed on her face. It was her algebra homework. It wasn't that she really hated math, but homework on the last week of school shouldn't be allowed. Doodling a bit on the margin, she wondered if it was really worth it to finish it. She had an A in maths and one homework grade wouldn't really affect it. She sighed, scratching up the sheet that was beginning to look like a dark cloud of ink and taking out another one from her binder. Maybe she should just finish it and be done with it.

In her 3rd year of high school, she still hadn't thought of any colleges to go to. She also didn't have a boyfriend, but that was a completely different part of her life. Yes, she was a wreck with any kind of relationship with the other sex, but look on the bright side! Maybe she could start a completely different life in college, with cool friends and a hot boyfriend! Yeah. That would be the day.

Again she stared at the paper. She should get this done and start on what she would rather be doing with her lazy Sunday afternoon: sleeping in the sun. But instead of picking up the pencil, she walked into the kitchen, taking out a fruit yogurt from the refrigerator. As she was bringing it along with a spoon to the desk, she thought about going outside to lie down on the grass. It sounded like a pretty good idea, until she realized that she had been doing just that before remembering her algebra homework. Then, as she finally got the motivation to sit down at her desk, the boredom had become too much for her and she had only a stiff neck for her troubles.

Picking up her math book with her paper and pencil, she walked outside and sat down in a lawn chair. She sighed contentedly, looking across the yard and into the dark forest where she wanted to be right now. She had never been, though, because since they had been living here, her mom had heard growling and hissing noises coming from the dark shadows. They were especially prominent at night, as a young Melanie stayed up in her bed, staring at the ceiling and wondering what was out there.

Even when she was little, she was never afraid of whatever was in the darkness of the forest, but her mother was. She was the type that never let her do any sports that might possibly be dangerous, like rock-climbing, let alone go into a forest where there might be a wild animal. It was brought on most by the accidental death of her father when she was six, but even so, she couldn't help getting annoyed with her mother for trying so hard to keep her "safe" like this. She'd always wanted to go into the forest, though. She remembered that she wanted to go up to whatever it was that made all of the noises and hugging it. Maybe it would become her friend. She laughed quietly to herself, thinking about how the world seemed to her when she was a little girl.

As she stretched her arms behind her head, a strong wind blew from behind her, ruffling her hair and blowing the thin sheet of notebook paper that was her homework high in the air. She jumped up, trying to get to it, but the wind was carrying across the yard, towards the forest. As she frantically ran after it, she looked at the path that it was going in and got an idea. Maybe she could make this an excuse and take her first trip into the forest? The closer the paper got to the forest, the better the idea sounded. It was about time she finally ventured into it, mother or not, especially because there wasn't anything dangerous in the woods. She really wanted to go in now. Her mother had gone shopping, so she wouldn't be home for about an hour anyways. She would have plenty of time to explore and get back in time.

She stopped suddenly in front of the towering forest, its many arms of branches and vines reaching out to her, drawing her in. In a dream-like state, she stepped forward, and as she crossed the boundary of grass to thick roots and bushes, a feeling of warmth and calming emotions engulfed her. She stopped and turned her head up to the sky, drawing in the energy that flowed into her. It almost seemed as if she was…home. The trees above her were swaying, she could hear birds chirping, and the forest seemed to have a rhythm of its own, drawing her in farther and farther into its depths. She couldn't understand why her mother was so afraid…

Crack. She spun around, her heart beating fast. Visions of a rabid animal flew through her mind, her instincts screaming at her to find someplace to hide. She cowered, not able to react, but stared intently at the direction of the noise. After several seconds, though, the hair on the back of her neck began to relax and the adrenaline left her system in a rush, leaving her with a weak feeling in her crouched muscles. She pushed away the branches slowly, still being careful not to get her hand in the way of the animal. The leaves and branches moved out of the way, revealing… a kitten.

She sighed in relief, her shoulders slumping forward as she hung her head in front of her. She didn't know why she was getting so nervous; she had already told herself that there was nothing dangerous in this forest, nothing that could hurt her, right?