It had been twenty-four years since she'd last seen it, but the place looked exactly the same. Still, the same hollow groans, echoing through the forest. The same twisted branches waving and reaching. She never thought that she would come back here, especially after what it did to her. Because of this place, she hadn't been able to sleep for twenty-four years. Hadn't been able to trust anyone. The horrors of the contest had echoed through her eyes and ears for most of her life, and ghosts never stopped coming for her. Chanting, "Mira, Mira, come back, we've missed you", haunting her dreams. And now she was back because she couldn't live her life that way anymore. As she stepped forward into the dark forest, the memories came back to her:
"Come on, Mira!" Tomas said, rushing her through the trees as they ran from the ghosts. "We can survive, together, but we gotta run!" Mira didn't believe him.
"Tomas, slow down, they're not coming anymore." She said, sitting down on the ground, catching her breath as her heart raced. "You okay?" she asked, to no response. "Tommy? Where are you?" She heard a scream, and she ran into the trees, trying to find it. She rushed into a clearing, and, to her horror, Tomas was on the ground, convulsing, and dissolving into dust.
"Mira! Noooo..." he screamed until he could no longer speak, and he was nothing more than ash. She sobbed, let the tears run until they froze on her cheeks. Just then, ghosts started coming out of the trees, grasping for her, reaching to turn her to ash. Their bony fingers spelled death for all that touched them, and Mira wasn't going to be one of those people. She ran away from the clearing, screaming bloody murder.
"STOP!! GET OUT!!" she yelled, willing the horrible memories out of her head. She would have to face them sooner or later, but she wasn't ready then. She couldn't believe that the town had let the contest go on for so long. It was horrible, sending children into the ghosts and seeing which ones survived it.
Mira herself had only survived on a whim because she found a tree to hide in and wait it out. It helped keep the nightmares to a smaller amount, but she still had to hear the screams of her friends. As she turned into the clearing where Tomas had died, she stifled a sob. It had been too long since she had seen her brother. And she would never see him again. Mira knelt by the pile of ash which was somehow still there, tears dripping down her face. She would not let her brother waste away here. Mira scooped up some grains of ash and shoved them in her pocket. She would show him the world he never got to see.
As she walked through the deformed trees, she wondered why she ever agreed to go into the forest. They had tricked her, her teachers, for the sake of the contest, but Mira didn't know why. Why had they sent fifty little, innocent children to their deaths? She would never know, now, because the ghosts had wiped out the town twenty years ago. Mira was only happy that her parents were on vacation at that time.
Suddenly, she stopped. The color left her face, and she couldn't breathe. There was a ghost in front of her, right there, moaning in despair. How were they still there, after all those years? Yet this ghost didn't look like any of the ghosts that had come after her and the rest of the children. It looked scared. Like it didn't know what to do.
"Are you okay?" Mira asked the scared ghost, and it shook its head with a shiver. Then, Mira knew why it was so scared. It didn't have a family. It was all alone, and all the other ghosts had left it here to rot away. "It's going to be okay, little guy," she said, with a reassuring lilt in her voice. Why was she doing this for one of the people that had caused her so much pain? Well, at that moment, Mira saw not a ghost, but a lonely child that wanted his parents. Mira saw one of the children tricked into running to their deaths, without protection or a plan. She saw a little of herself in the baby ghost.
"Come on, I'm going to get you out of here," she said, her eyes gleaming.
As Mira and the tiny child came out of the forest, she felt the wind on her face. The wind that was so frightening back then, as it carried the ghosts. Then Mira had an idea. A brilliant, genius idea. "Do you know where your parents went?" she asked the small ghost, who nodded his head. "Do you think you can go to them?" she said, and he looked questioning. He had most likely never flown on the wind before.
"I'm gonna help you. It'll be okay. Just jump and flap your legs and arms." she assumed that was how the ghosts flew. He jumped and flapped all his appendages, and he rose for a fraction of a second, but nothing more. "Come on, try again. You can do it." Mira had a newfound purpose, to get this child back to his family. In a way, he was like her brother, and she was trying to bring him home.
The ghost boy jumped again, and held it for longer, this time for four seconds. They repeated this cycle over and over, until the boy could hold it for much longer than before.
"Do you think you can make it now?" Mira asked, hopeful, and happy as he nodded yes. She had done something nice and good. She had given the boy a chance. Mira remembered the horrible ghosts of the past that tormented her and her friends, that killed all the innocent children. That wasn't their fault though, but society's. As the little ghost boy flew away, she thought of Tomas, a pile of ash with no home. She needed to let him go, as she did the ghost boy. She had given them peace, she knew, and that was all that mattered