She stayed in the river as long as she could, letting the stream take her farther and farther into this strange land, but she could not swim forever. She needed rest. So, when she was sure that she was no longer being chased, she swam towards shore, hoping that those creatures wouldn't follow.
She found a sandbank that was shallow enough for her to walk, and she followed it onto solid ground. It was cold out, and it was dark when she got out of the water. The moon hadn't come up from beyond the hills and the light of the day long ago faded. There were plenty of trees around her, but this did not have the same feeling of the forest she left. The ground felt softer, and there were fewer bushes. She stared out into the darkness, wondering what she was supposed to do now, wondering how she was going to get home, and if there was even a way to find out where she was.
Her clothes were soaked. They clung to her skin like the mud and muck held on to her hair. Her backpack was soaked. She wondered if there was any point in keeping it anymore. Anything inside of it would be ruined by now.
It was all so much. She was not used to having so much happen to her, let alone in one afternoon. And it had been a very, very long afternoon. She stood shivering, and as she shivered, she felt tears forming. She felt like she was just about ready to sob.
She didn't hear Handsome step up behind her and, being the dog that he was, shook himself to dry. Madeline was shocked by the sudden spray which only made her more cold. Now instead of scared, she was angry. She wanted to turn and call him, "dumb dog," but seeing him in the moonlight, she stopped herself. Handsome had been called that enough, after all, and even though he was a goof, she liked the pooch.
He sat down and faced her, asking, "So… what do we do now?"
Madeline ran back and hugged him. He was warm, though still a little slimy from the river. She stayed there for a moment, happy that someone was along with her.
Handsome was very happy about this. He was not used to people being friendly — he did like them, but they wanted so many confusing things, and it was always hard for him to figure out — so this hug was wonderful. He wanted Madeline to smile and he wanted to be a good dog for her. But even as a talking dog, some things are hard to say, so he bent his head in and pressed it against hers. They stood there, for I'm not sure how long, hugging in the shadows by the river.
Suddenly, the moon appeared, as if stepping up above some secret stage, and painted the scene with a silvery white. Its reflection danced on the body of the river, the surface calm but still showing the deep and powerful current that had brought them there. The river had broadened. It was now at least a hundred yards across. They would need a boat or a bridge if they ever wanted to go that way.
Madeline sighed. She felt more even lost and was about to cry, but then she looked up, stepped back, and turned inland. The trees, barely visible before, now became ghost shadows. This was an apple orchard with row after row of these curved trees. They stood like some still, strong guardians of a strange, dirt path that stretched away through these trees and then into the lands beyond.
Off in the distance, Madeline even thought she could see the faint flicker of light. She wasn't sure, but it looked like a fire.
A fire! This was good. It was hopeful. Where there is a fire, there is heat. Maybe she could warm up and dry out, and get some food. There would be people! Someone there could help her, could tell her where she should go next, or even how to get home!
It felt good to hope. She smiled. When she looked back at Handsome, his head was tilted to the side again, that same loving, "I'll trust anything you say," look on his face.
"I think," Madeline said, "that we need to go that way." And she pointed down the new dirt road leading away from the river and among the trees.