Many years ago, I happened upon a miracle. Well, I wouldn't really call it a miracle, but something on the lines of a phenomenon. I remember it taking place when I was twenty years old; the lowest point in my entire life. I'd just finished three semesters of college, yet still without a clue on what I really wanted to do. "Just go to college" was what I'd been told during that time. Society had created a rule about one needing to go to college regardless of their situation. Though it didn't help me, well, except to kill time and burn a hole in my wallet.
I was in a rut. The night before hand I contemplated whether suicide was a good thing to do at this point, just after I spent hours wasting away on several forums, each more pitiful than the last. The next day, I brought this up in a conversation with my sister, only to end up making her worry about me more than ever. That was the last thing I wanted, people worrying about me.
I couldn't take it. My apartment's walls closed in on me, suffocating my lungs. No longer could I escape reality through the internet, music, movies, games, or even books. This safe haven had become a hell for me, and my body was at its limits. So, I threw on my coat and left. With a pack of cigarettes in one pocket and a cellphone and wallet in the other, I went on a walk.
Outside was dangerously cold. The ground was layered with a thick slate of white. In the sky, clouds covered the stars, making the atmosphere more depressing than I wanted it to be. All the trees in sight were bare, naked by winter's wrath. As I walked down the street, the occasional car passed me by. Whether they were people who were either having an evening drive or going to the next party to get drunk, I didn't know. Just another pointless thought going through my mind.
With a cigarette in hand, I placed it in my mouth and flipped open my zippo. A mixture of humidity and smoke exhaled from my lungs. As far back as I could remember, I knew that smoking was bad, but I didn't care. It was a means of escape at one point, though that excuse evaporated over time, leaving me broke in the process. I stopped and held out my stick of cancer, then sighed. After I returned to my walk, I was met with a local park.
"Haven't been here in a long time" I whispered under my breath.
Next to the entrance was a sign. "Park open hours: 6 AM - 10 PM" it said. Cellphone in hand, I checked the time. The dimly lit screen displayed 3 AM. That didn't deter me, however. Onward I moved across the snow covered path. A line of lamps paralleled the sidewalk, however none of them were on. Outstretched before me was a field of darkness, with a scant of trees out to the distance. Funny, I thought, how the scenery fitted my current mood.
Snowflakes began to fall. Even though the wind was light, it still carried the sharp prick of unbearable chills. My arms wrapped around my body, trying to hold in any remaining heat I had left.
"Why am I out here?" I wondered out loud. As I talked to my self, I began to hear footsteps following me. I ignored it and continued on without a change of pace. However, the footsteps didn't go away. My head slightly turned to the side, as if I was trying to hide the fact I was trying to see what was following me. Nothing was there. I shrugged and kept going. Yet, the footsteps returned. Was this a sick joke? I turned around again, only to be met with nothing. This stupid game, I thought, needs to end or I'm gonna let loose. I took a step, with a similar sound coming from behind me again.
"That's it!" I yelled.
I swung my body around, ready to fight as a nearby street lamp flickered on. Nobody was there.
"Who the hell is following me!?"
In reply was a weak cough coming from below. I looked, and there stood a little girl no older than six. She was dressed in a red winter coat, black boots, and two brown mittens which covered her hands. In her hair was a red bow, which tied her hair back.
"Don't scare me like that, kid." I tell her.
She gave no reply.
"Anyway, shouldn't you be home by now? It's the middle of the night."
Again, there was no reply.
"Well, good luck getting home."
I tried to go on, but the girl grabbed my pant leg.
"Huh? What is it?"
"I'm..." she muttered, as her voice trembled.
"Spit it out."
That took me off guard, as I stepped back in astonishment. The situation played out in my head. A little girl was lost in a park at night in the middle of winter. Her face was pale, so I thought she couldn't have been out there that long.
"How long have you been out here?"
"Do you know your address?"
"Well, your in quite the trouble then. However, I don't have time for this. So see ya."
I quickly headed toward the exit, not wanting to get dragged into her problem. Yet, as I walked, the sound of scurrying footsteps followed me. I turned around, and was met with the girl again. A small cloud escaped her small body with every breath.
"What now?" I questioned the girl.
"Can you help me, please?"
"I already told you I'm quite busy right now, so please go find someone else."
"I tried, but nobody stopped to listen to me."
I began to feel guilt build up in the bowels of my stomach. A little girl asked me for help and I lied to her just so I didn't have to deal with her. I caved in and agreed to help.
"Okay, I'll help you."
The two of us exited the park. Even though I said I would help her find her way home, I had no clue where to start.
"Uh, do you have any idea on which direction your house might be?"
The girl pondered for a moment.
"I think that way." she said as she pointed north.
"Then let's try going that way first."
We began our walk, heading north as she had pointed. Store after store passed us by, each wielding a "Closed!" sign upon its door. With each street pass, I turned to see if she hinted at a different direction for us to go, but all she ever did was stay close behind me. Neither of us spoke a word to each other during this time. It became eerie, so I decided to break the silence.
"So, what's your name?"
"Okay, I'll remember that. My names James Mitchell."
She repeated my name, yet the word "Mr." infuriated me. Back then, I believed the only people with the word "Mr." in their names were old people and businessmen.
"Call me James. I'm not old enough to warrant a 'Mr.' in my name."
The coldness started to get a hold of me. There was nothing I wanted more than to be inside where it was warm. Luckily, an opened gas station crossed our path..
"You want something warm to drink?"
Amber replied with a nod.
Inside, I went to the coffee machine.
"What do you want to drink?" I asked.
"Hot chocolate? Well, lucky for you, they have it."
After I handed her a cup of hot chocolate, I made myself a cup of coffee and paid for them at the register.
"Whenever we find your place, I'll have your parents pay me back."
She didn't reply. Instead, she tried to take a sip of her hot chocolate, yet quickly pulled it away from her mouth.
"I burnt my tongue." she whined.
"You need to be careful when drinking that. Let me see if real quick."
She handed me her cup. I opened the lid and blew the contents for a bit. Lid secured back on, I handed it back.
"How's it now?"
"So does the area look more familiar to you?"
"Do you know which way to go from here?"
"I think that way."
"Let's go that way then."
As we made our way, I tried to start up another conversation.
"How did you get lost?"
"I don't remember exactly. I remember being at home alone, then one of daddy's friends came and picked me up."
"He said that daddy didn't want me to be home alone, so he took me to places."
"The movie theater, a restaurant, his house, then the park."
"Did he leave you there?"
"I dunno. I think he did."
"What an ass. Oh, never repeat that."
"When I woke up, I was alone at the park."
"Wait, you fell asleep there?"
"No, I fell asleep at his house, then woke up at the park."
"That's weird. Why would he take you to the park and leave you?"
At the time, I didn't think too much of what she had said. I continued to walk, listening to her story. The snow began to weaken, and eventually to a complete stop. Clouds overhead started to break apart, allowing the stars to shine. The snow under our feet crunched with every step. The two of us passed by house after house, without a change from the melancholic look coming from Amber's face. Turn after turn, we continued to walk. Over time, we somehow ended up back at the park.
"Now how did we end up back here?" I asked. However, I got no reply. I pulled out my cell phone to check the time. The dimly lit screen displayed 5:30 AM.
"Jesus Christ, have we really been walking for two hours? I could have swore it was less than that."
Amber looked down at her feet, as tears began to fill her eyes.
"Aw, don't cry. I'll get you home somehow. How about we go back in the park and sit down at a bench?"
She nodded. I grabbed her hand and led her through the entrance. Layers of snow had collected on the benches, so I brushed it off to the ground and made a seat for her and I. Only a scarce amount of clouds were still in the sky. A soft wind shook the tops of the trees, which made the branches clatter with each other. Amber didn't make any kind of motion. She sat there looking down at her feet the entire time. I could only think about what it felt like to be in her place. The sun began to crept into the skyline, which dyed the last few clouds orange and red. The night was over, I thought to myself.
"Think we should get going?"
Amber didn't reply. I stood up and stretched out my arms, then held out my hand, hoping it would prompt her.
"Don't be sorry. Like I said, I'm gonna help you."
Tears began to flow down her face. At the same time, small orbs that almost resembled fire flies started to appear around her.
"What the?" I said, startled at what was going on before my eyes. It almost seemed like her body started to fade away. She jumped off the bench and grabbed a hold on my hand. We stood there, without a single word or movement. She quietly closed my hand and jumped back.
"Thank you for helping me." She told me.
"What's going on?"
She halfheartedly smiled, and before I knew it, she vanished. I was stunned. I remember thinking, "What on Earth did I just witness?" among other things of that same nature in a fraction of a second. My hands clenched without me noticing, until a sharp pain in my palm knocked me back to reality. I opened my hand, and noticed a small bracelet. "AMBER" was written across a metal plate, along with several small charms. Exhausted, I went home. In my apartment, I flopped onto my bed and fell asleep, with the bracelet still in my hand.
I woke up hours later. My head was aching, but I disregarded it. The memories of the night before flourished instantly in my mind.
"Must of gotten drunk last night." I said.
I turned on the news as I made myself something to eat. Something came up that piked my interest. It was a report of a missing girl, age six, who disappeared a couple days ago. They showed a picture of the girl along with a phone number and address for any insight on where she might be. Quickly, I took a piece of scrap paper and wrote the address down. The next day, I went to the address and returned the bracelet.
I'm not sure exactly what had happened that night. To this day I question, what if I had gotten Amber home? Would things have changed? Every winter since then, I take a walk to that park during the middle of the night, hoping that I may see her again. Walking across that snow covered path, under the lamps that never work, listening for those quiet footsteps.