He rounded the house and his feet met cheerful grass as he walked across the back lawn. Kneeling down at the far edge, he inspected the flowers that had recently been having difficulty. Despite the warming weather, they were late in blooming.
With glowing hands, he encouraged their blossoms, smiling as they sighed into his touch. He let his school bag fall to the ground and focused his full attention on the plants.
It was a few minutes later when he stood, satisfied at their progress. They would be fine, now, even without his help. He stretched with a yawn, the day’s stress slowly seeping away as he surrounded himself with his beloved plants.
The yard was not particularly big, but it was full of bushes and flowers. The sun’s late rays shone golden through the leaves. He closed his eyes, trying to figure out why it still felt as if something was missing.
His parents had allowed him free reign in the yard since he was a child and had expressed an interest in his dad’s gardening hobby. He loved being surrounded by his plants. It gave him a sense of peace. And yet, these days, he had felt unsettled, as if something was not right. His breath left him in a loud rush of air.
Birdsong caught his ears and he opened his eyes and turned to the right. It sounded familiar. He knew he had heard it before, but he could not remember where. It was not a common call, either. He stared into the trees, hoping to catch a glimpse.
Instead, a glint of gold caught his eye. He frowned at the familiar colour and walked forward. So enthralled he was that he nearly bumped into the back fence. He paused as his hands traced the familiar barrier. And then he was climbing over it, something he had never before done.
His heart beat loudly, but underneath his skin he could feel his golden energy thrumming, anticipating. His mind hesitated, but his feet took him forward with steps like a bird’s flight. It was so close. He felt the need to reach it swirling in his blood.
He walked down the hidden path. It was overgrown, barely used, but he did not need it to guide his way. His eyes filled with energy the colour of the sun and his figure faded into the forest’s embrace.
He turned off the car and got out slowly, stretching his old bones in relief. He ran a hand through his silver hair and made his way down the driveway. Taking out the keys, he turned his head slightly, frowning as he saw his son’s backpack lying in the garden.
He shook his head and retrieved it before entering the house.
“Son?” He called out. “You left your bag in the backyard.”
“He’s not home yet,” his wife said as she greeted him with a kiss to the cheek.
“This was lying in the garden,” he replied with a frown as he lay it on the floor. “But he wasn’t there.” He looked up and met his wife’s eyes, a cold dread welling up in his heart, and he could see it reflected in her face.
“Oh, please no,” she murmured, eyes wet.
“We don’t know for sure,” he took her hand in his. Whether it was he who was trembling or she, he could not tell.
They raced across the grass and over the fence. The pathway was almost invisible, but even after all these years they had not forgotten the steps they used to walk every day.
The sun was starting to set and the shadows lengthened. They called his name as they went, their hands clasped with desperate strength.
But when the path ended and they found themselves in a familiar clearing, they saw no one. No trace of anything beyond a clearing of blooming, golden peonies.
Another from the Changeling Child series