Sparrow stood at the edge of the ditch. Behind her lay the scar of the dug out area for the new train track, and ahead lay the untouched forest. Just a puddle of marshy water and some weeds stood between her and the unknown. She tightened her grip on the knife in her hand. Her first step took her slipping down into the hollow of the ditch, and mud splashed up her legs onto her shorts as she stood in the shallow water.
"Careful." She said, as she stood braced to help the others across. Zed took a running jump and only just cleared the ditch, landing in a sprawl on the leaves at the other side. Dee attempted to copy him, but fell short, and Sparrow had to push him up into Zed's waiting grasp. Bee, the tallest, was able to cross without help, once Sparrow had told her to take as big a step as she could. Tekla allowed herself to be lifted across, squealing at the thought of the muddy water. Rat splashed through the water in her boots and scrambled up the other side, using both her newly acquired metal claw and her fingernails to get a grip on the shifting dirt.
The woods spanned out in front of them, trees as far as they could see. Branches weighed down towards the ground, dripping greying lichen to meet miniature moss forests of bright green. Underfoot, the ground was soft with layers of pine needles and dry slippy leaves. Cobwebs brushed against their faces as they looked up at the criss-crossed layers of branches between them and the sky.
The trees were in rows, as if someone had planted them that way, and shallow ditches lay between some of the rows, the earth piled up to the sides and forming what looked like paths through the maze of endless trees. Sparrow took the nearest of these, pushing aside spindly branches and holding them back for the others to follow. She didn't know where she was going, but surely if her dad and the other track workers had gone through here then there would be some signs of them nearby. She swallowed back thoughts of bodies in the woods and moved steadily forward, holding the knife ready by her side. Rat trotted beside her, half-running to keep up, and Tekla was behind her, picking her way through the leaves and dirt. Bee followed after, with Zed and Dee at the back.
It was Bee who found the first one. Feeling her way with her feet, she tripped on a fallen branch and fell flat on the ground. Her hands grasped around before the others helped her up. Looking to see what she'd tripped on, Zed pointed out the branch, bleached white by the weather. "Sorry, I didn't see that one."
Sparrow came up behind him and gasped. "Tha...that's not a branch..." she said, pointing at it. Bee picked it up and felt the smooth surface and the rounded ends. It was a long bone, maybe part of a leg or an arm, that had been sticking up out of the soil.
"But they were just supposed to be scary stories," Sparrow said, "Just the stories that everyone tells. I didn't think they were actually true!"
"What did you bring the knife for, then?" Bee asked.
Sparrow liked having the knife. It made her feel stronger, braver than she really felt inside. She didn't answer Bee, but took the bone from her and threw it into the undergrowth. "There. I don't know what all the fuss was about. It's just some dirty old bones."
Rat picked up a stick and threw it after the bone, then ran after Sparrow. The others followed.