It was nearing dusk on Thanksgiving day when Brittany, her brother and her cousins went missing.
It started out like any other Thanksgiving. The seven kids went down to the creek in her older cousins', Alex, Lucas and Hailey's backyard. It was unnaturally hot that year, so they decided to take advantage of the nice weather and take the younger kids out hiking for the first time. The creak sat at the bottom of a really steep hill right in the middle of thin woods, that were nearly impossible to get lost in.
The plan was simple, hike down to the water, sit to let the little ones catch their breath, and make their way through the woods the long way, and come out on the other side of the house, before hiking across the bridge that went over the wider section of the creak and climbing back up the hill to the house. A mini adventure that should've taken at most a half hour-assuming they didn't stop to skip rocks or anything.
But something went wrong. Horribly wrong.
"Ow!" Brittany cried, as she snagged her hand on a tree branch. She glanced at her palm where she could faintly see a scratch, but it hadn't broken the skin. Good. She didn't want to have to go back up to get a band-aid so that it wouldn't get infected.
"You okay?" her older cousin, Lucas called from the sewer drainage where he was helping her younger cousins, Drew and Jefferson down. The five of them had decided to take the easy way-the way the path lead-where as Brittany and her younger brother, Stan wanted to try going down the hard way. The way with the steep hill, sharp rocks, and pointy twigs which caused them to have a ton of scratches from head to toe.
"Yeah!" she cried back, "It's just a scratch! Didn't even break the skin!"
He appeared at the bottom of the hill, as Stan finished sliding the rest of the way down. Brittany winced as she followed right after, groaning slightly when she hit her elbow against a rock hidden somewhere in the soil.
"Don't say we didn't warn you not to take that path." the older boy smirked as he helped her up.
Brittany grumbled as she dusted off her jean caprees. It had been a few years since they'd gone hiking. It used to be something they did every year, but had stopped once her aunt and uncle got back from China where they'd adopted a two-year-old Jefferson. Now, Jefferson was four, and after a ton of arguing, the grown ups had finally and reluctantly agreed to letting them hike down. They just had to keep a hold of his hand whenever they were near the water.
"I'm just out of practice, that's all." she smiled up at him.
Lucas was 18 and had just graduated the year before. He had shaggy brown hair that was always covered with a baseball cap that flattened it out so you could just barely see his dark brown almost black eyes. He loved sports and was always up on his feet and moving around. The exact opposite of Brittany who had feathery golden blonde hair that fell just slightly past her shoulders with bangs and blue eyes. She was also lazy and hardly ever got up to do something unless everyone else was doing it, as well.
"I doubt that's the problem."
Brittany turned to see Lucas's younger sister, Hailey smirking over at her, one hand rested on her hip, her curly black ponytail cascading down her back.
"Well, at least I'm not so much of a girly girl that I'm scared to get my outfit dirty." Brittany stuck out her tongue, motioning to her dirt covered pink sweat jacket then to Hailey's perfectly white shirt.
"That just proves that you're more of a slob than me." Hailey smirked at her.
Brittany rolled her eyes, "You keep telling yourself that."
"Come on!" Drew cried, hitting Hailey's leg. "I wanna get going! I wanna go on the river!"
Hailey and Brittany glanced over at each other before chuckling at the little girl. Alex-Hailey and Lucas's older sister-grabbed a hold of Drew's hand and Lucas pulled Jefferson onto his shoulders as the seven of them made their way deeper in the woods towards the river.
Alex, Lucas and Hailey were the kids of the oldest child of the seven cousins' grandparents. They were also the eldest of all the cousins. Alex had just turned 22 and had also just entered her third year of college. She had short brown hair and brown eyes of the exact same color. Lucas was 18 and had just graduated high school, and Hailey had turned 17 back in May and was in her Senior year of high school. She also was one of the best artists that Brittany had ever met.
Then came Brittany and Stan who were the children of the youngest child. Brittany had just turned 15 the month before and loved to write. Stan would be turning 12 in February and had light brown hair that had just been cut and dark blue eyes.
And finally came Drew and Jefferson who were the children of the middle child. Drew was turning 7 in January and had shoulder length black hair that were constantly pulled into pigtails and brown eyes. Jefferson had turned 4 in March and had short black hair and chocolate colored eyes.
They stopped a few minutes later when the finally reached the creak. It was about two feet wide and a foot deep with little tiny fish swimming throughout it. It was perfect-not too deep, and silent enough so that it didn't you have to pee so long as you didn't think about the running water for too long.
"Mmm… it's so peaceful, here." Alex smiled as she pulled off her white ballet slippers and dipped her feet in the water.
"Ew." Hailey scrunched her nose up, "Alex, there's fish in there!"
Alex glanced up at her younger sister, "So?"
"So, that means that there's also fish poop in there!"
"Yeah, but it's all at the bottom." Alex shot back, "And my feet are only a few inches in." she then started to giggle-probably because the fish were nibbling at her feet.
Brittany sighed, before laying down on the grass and closing her eyes. It was so quiet down there-so easy to lose yourself in your own thoughts.
Her eyes snapped open as she felt something sprinkle down on her face. Drew was standing over her-her hand closed into a fist as if she were holding something.
Brittany sat up and wiped all the grass off her face, before grabbing Drew around the waist and pulling her down so the younger girl was on top of her. The little black haired girl shrieked in surprised, then started to laugh as the two of the rolled around in the grass.
After a few minutes, they all got up and began to head upstream, towards the path. They broke through to see tall grass that had obviously been uncared for for years and came up to Brittany's waist.
Drew stood on her tippy-toes to try and see over the brown plants. Chuckling, Brittany picked her up and carried her like a baby until they reached the path. From that angle, they could then see the side of Alex, Lucas and Hailey's house. Now all they had to do was hike that fifty yards to the bridge and hike back up the hill.
"Wait!" Alex cried, before anyone had the chance to start up the path. "I want to take a picture of all of us before we go!"
Alex wanted to be a photographer when she grew up. She had every type of camera ever (At least, it seemed like it) and she never left the house without one. That day, she had her newest camera and her favorite one along with about fifty memory cards that each held like 100 pictures. Brittany didn't know why she thought she needed that much memory, but she stopped trying to understand her older cousin a long time ago.
Alex set the camera down on the ground and used a rock so that it would get everyone in the picture. Jefferson was upset with having to stand still, so he started to freak out and try and move toward the camera, but Brittany stopped him by grabbing his wrist and twisting her own every time he tried to spin out of it.
All in all, it came out as a pretty good picture.
"C'mon." Alex smirked, after she'd finished packing away her camera. "Let's get going. I wanna get a picture of us on the bridge, as well."
Hailey and Brittany glanced at each other before rolling their eyes. They weren't surprised-Alex was always like that. It's just-sometimes getting pictures taken of them constantly got annoying.
"I say we wack her off, tonight." Brittany heard Lucas whisper to Hailey, jokingly.
A few minutes later, they reached the red metal bridge. It was old and rusted over, but stable enough. Here, the creak was about ten feet wide and six feet deep-definitely the best place to have a bridge.
"Okay," Alex was saying, "Here's how I want this to go." she pointed to Brittany, "Brittany, I want you to go along the edge on the other side of the railing."
Brittany glanced down at the thin ledge that ran along the outside of the railing. It looked about wide enough to fit half her foot on which meant that so long as she hung on, she should be safe. "Okay." she smiled.
She ran off the bridge before inching her way on the thin ledge back towards the middle where everyone else was already in position.
"Now put your arms around Lucas and rest your head on his shoulder." Alex instructed as she finished setting up her camera. Brittany nodded, and did as she was told.
Lucas helped her back over onto the main part of the bridge as Alex picked up the camera and took a look at the picture. Her face scrunched up and looked troubled as she did so.
"What's wrong?" Stan asked, as they all tried to get a look at the picture.
"Did we not get anyone in the picture?" Hailey put in.
Alex shook her head, "Lucas, Hailey, Brittany, I think you should come look at this."
She passed the picture to Lucas who stood in the middle so that Brittany and Hailey could see the picture as well. It showed everyone standing on the bridge smiling at the camera.
Only something was off.
The three of them glanced at the picture, then back up at where they had been standing, then back down to the picture. In the picture, the bridge had suddenly turned blue with ropes crisscrossing on the sides. Also in the picture, instead of Alex, Lucas and Hailey's house in the background like it should've been, there was a great big mansion that looked like it was back from the olden days.
"Is there a setting on the camera that does that?" Lucas asked, turning to his older sister.
Alex shook her head, "There's no setting on my camera except for lighting and zoom."
"Hey!" Drew cried, jumping up and down at Lucas's feet. "Let me and Stan see it! I wanna see the picture, too!"
Lucas glanced at Alex, who nodded, as Hailey grabbed a hold of Jefferson who had been running towards the edge of the bridge.
"Hey!" Drew cried, causing everyone to look down at her, "Why is Brittany flying in the picture?"
"Huh?" Brittany reached down and snatched the camera out of the younger girl's hands. Her cousins gathered around her as she zoomed in on her feet. Sure enough, there was nothing under them. She really was flying in the picture.
"Are you sure there isn't a setting on your camera that can do things like this?" Hailey asked.
Alex shook her head, "There isn't. I'm positive. I've read the manual cover to cover and have tried out every setting and I haven't seen anything like this at all."
"Maybe it' s like the twilight zone." Brittany snickered, covering her mouth with her hand. "Maybe your camera can see into a different time. Quick! Point the lens at something else!"
Alex snatched the camera out of her hands, "This is serious, Brittany."
"Plus, that's impossible." Lucas added.
"Yeah," Hailey put in, "And don't scare the children."
"Well, how else can you explain it?" Brittany asked, "Alex says that there's no setting to do it."
"It is a bit windy out." Stan put in, being one of the logical ones for once. "Maybe the wind messed with the lens, and your guys' hair blowing around may have blurred the picture a bit, making it look like their house is a mansion. Plus, Brittany probably jumped a bit without noticing it when the picture was being taken."
"Well, it's a long shot…" Alex mused, "But it's the best I can think of."
"Surprising it came from Stan." Brittany muttered, glancing down at her younger brother who flipped her off. Brittany then slapped his hand, down "You know you're not supposed to do that in front of the kids." she hissed at him.
"Let's go." Lucas murmured, "We can see what our parents think of it. It could just be the lighting or something."
Alex thought about it for a second, before nodding. "Yeah, c'mon." they started across the bridge. "By the way, what time is it?"
Brittany pulled out her phone and checked-only it didn't turn on. Huh, that was odd. She was certain that it had been mostly charged just ten minutes ago.
"Hey, my phone isn't working." Hailey said, pushing random buttons.
"Neither is my watch." Lucas added.
They all stopped just inches away from the end of the bridge.
"Really?" Alex asked, before turning to Brittany. "What about you?"
Brittany shook her head, and held up her phone, "Dead as a doornail."
"Weren't you just playing with it back at the creak?" Stan asked.
Brittany nodded, "Yeah, and it was almost fully charged. This isn't making any sense."
"You're telling me." Hailey muttered, before turning to Alex. "What about your camera?"
Alex pushed a button on her camera, "It's working." Brittany felt relief flood through her-she'd had begun to get concerned. Of course it was probably nothing, she just always had an over reactive imagination. "It's nearing 8."
"Really?" Hailey gasped, "Have we been out here for almost 2 hours, already?"
Alex shrugged, still pushing buttons on her camera "Doesn't really surprise me." then she frowned.
"What's wrong, now?" Lucas asked.
"All my pictures are gone." Alex was saying. "I can only find one."
"What?" Lucas, Hailey and Brittany all huddled around her. Sure enough, there was only one picture showing in her gallery which was weird since Brittany was sure she'd seen Alex taking a bunch of pictures while they were out.
"Which picture is it?" Hailey asked.
"The one we just took." Alex pulled it up so that they could all see the picture of the blue bridge and old mansion.
"What's going on?" Hailey asked, "This is beginning to freak me out."
"Yeah," Alex murmured, worry dripping into her voice. "C'mon. Let's hurry up and get inside. I think the 'fresh' air is beginning to get to us."
Everyone nodded. Hailey threw Jefferson onto her back, Lucas picked Drew up off the ground, tucking her into his chest like a football, and Brittany grabbed a hold of Stan's hand. It was obvious that everyone was beginning to freak out, and they wanted to get home as quick as possible, without losing sight of one another. Without even noticing it, they'd all grabbed each other's hands, as if they would get separated if they weren't all connected.
They all stepped off the bridge and gasped at what they saw. Instead of a steep hill with two houses sitting on top, they now faced what looked like a mountain with a huge mansion sitting at the top. And not just any mansion, the mansion from the picture.
They all turned around in unison to face the blue bridge from the picture that swung over a rushing river.
"What just happened?" Hailey asked.
"I'm not sure." Alex murmured, "But here," she slipped her hand out of Brittany's, "I'm going to go back across and see if I return back to Earth."
She started across the bridge but about halfway through slammed to a halt as if she'd slammed into a wall. Alex put her hands on the air and began to feel around, she looked like a mime, doing the wall skit.
After a few minutes, she made her way back to the others.
"Yeah, I don't think we'll be crossing back over that bridge anytime soon." she said. "There's like a wall in the middle. An invisible one."
"You're kidding." Lucas groaned.
"This isn't the time for joking around." Alex shot back. "Of course I wouldn't be kidding."
They all glanced around, worriedly.
"Uh, guys…" Brittany said, "This may seem cheesy, over used and obvious, but I don't think we're in South Dakota, anymore."