A single beam of intense light streamed through a crack in the door and struck Celeste’s closed eyes, startling her awake. Instantly alert, she slapped herself hard on the cheek and feeling pain, realized this was no dream and she had, in fact, run away. She surveyed her surroundings. The odor of urine still lingered, but there was no sign of the furry animals who had kept her warm. She did not know how long she had slept, but by the angle of the sun, knew it must be close to mid-day.
Across the room she could see the contents of her gray sack scattered. Hungry now, she hoped the animals had not eaten the few items she had managed to scrounge before her hasty departure. Celeste shook her head as she moved to gather her belongings.
“Talking cats, yeah, right,” she murmured to herself, chuckling at the thought. Then she noticed her diary lying open on the floor. Feeling for the key around her neck—still there!—she reached for the leather-bound book.
“No . . . way,” she said when she saw something scrawled on one of the pages. Panic returned at the thought of someone invading her space and her property while she slept. She tiptoed to the door to see if she could see anyone outside. All was as barren as it had been when she first arrived. She looked back at the page and read aloud:
“You can’t stay here, you can’t go back,
A tool please find within your sack.
South is where you’ll find your home,
Though for a time you’ll be alone.
Head for where there are no things,
Follow your nose to find the springs.
Danger’s near, it’s time to go,
Eenie, Meenie, Miney and Mo.”
Celeste wondered who would play such a childish joke on a defenseless girl and was angry at herself for not waking when someone must have taken and replaced the key around her neck. She grabbed her sack and opened it to find an old metal object at the bottom. A compass.
The spinning needle brought back a fleeting memory of camping with her parents. Celeste’s father had given her a toy compass and planned a short adventure around the campground.
“The red arrow always wants to go north,” he had told her. She could almost hear his patient voice now. “So if you turn until it lines up on the ‘N,’ you’ll know where east, south and west are. Now, take ten steps west!”
That was all she remembered from a lesson meant for fun, but now she was anxious to leave this filthy place. At least they hadn’t taken her food. She devoured one mushy apple while reading the bizarre poem again. Not knowing whether to take it seriously or not, she gathered her things and stepped outside. If only the cats were there, then she might know if she was losing her mind. Talking cats were things for fairytales, and the world outside looked like no fairyland she had ever read about.
Holding the compass in her hand, she turned until the red arrow pointed north and realized that was the direction of the children’s home. She turned around to face the south. She knew her home was gone. Why would someone tell her to head south, and where was the danger? She had no idea what springs had to do with anything, or why her nose would be involved in finding them. As for “Eenie, Meenie, Miney and Mo,” she could make no sense of that whatsoever.
Although the sun shone brightly, the hairs on the back of Celeste’s neck prickled. A surge of energy motivated her to move away from the house and she instinctively headed south, her pace quickening with her growing feeling that she was not safe.
Her brisk walk became a jog and then an all-out run when she looked over her shoulder and saw in the distance a pack of what looked like wild dogs fighting.
Celeste heard one faint, gruff voice from the direction of the pack. The animals stopped their commotion and turned in her direction.
“Food!” it said, and Celeste ran like she never had before.