Estimated reading time — 7 minutes
It’s that kind of evening. The foggy, humid winter evening. It’s the kind where everyone else curls up in their blankets next to the fireplace, sipping hot chocolate, or gathers around the table, laughing and joking, with glasses of mimosa. Except for me. This evening, for some reason, I need to be alone.
The only sounds I hear are my own footsteps, plodding slowly, one after the other, through the slushy mixture of snow and mud, as well as the constant, irregular pitter-patter of water droplets falling from the tree branches. Other than that, the air seems utterly still, silent, and dismally cold. I try to make believe that I’m really out in the middle of nowhere. After all, everything is very peaceful here, and if I focus hard enough, I can actually imagine that the nearest shred of civilization is hundreds of miles away. All I can see are the dark, looming silhouettes of the barren trees against a gray, overcast sky. This weather is normal for a December evening, and yet somehow, there’s something special about it today. It seems to draw me in, welcome me, comfort me. Almost as though I’m an old friend…
My mind begins to wander after a while, pondering this empty, somewhat dejected feeling I’ve been having all day. This isn’t the first day either; I’ve been feeling that way pretty consistently as of late. But the strange thing is, I can’t quite figure out why. Is it just a seasonal thing? Could the cold weather be affecting my mood? Could this be what I think it might be? Or is it all just in my head? My mind travels back home for a second, stopping to consider those kids back in high school, who used their mouths, their iPhones, their fancy laptops, and their outfits of retina-damaging colors to tell the world that their lives were Shakespearean tragedies in the making. Maybe I’m just like them, I think. Kidding myself. Desperate for attention. But then again, I’ve never felt the need to flat-iron my hair or wear skinny purple jeans.
After meandering on to the subject of the little cousin I miss so dearly, and finally to the little brother I sometimes wish I had, my mind drifts gently back to the present. And when it does, it notices something rather peculiar.
I’ve found myself standing near the edge of a rather large lake. In the distance, through somewhat thick layers of fog, I can make out the opposite shoreline, covered densely with barren, lifeless woods. Directly in front of me, a small piece of wet, muddy land extends outward into a small peninsula. On the very end of the peninsula, overlooking the lake, stands a single, gnarled, dead tree, its limbs drooping woefully toward the icy water. It strikes me as a monument of sorts, a commemoration placed there by nature to honor something tragic…sad…eerie…
Slowly a new feeling begins to seep into my skin, quite unlike the cold or the humidity. This place definitely has a dark, desolate aura, and yet somehow, there is also a sense of mystery to it. More and more I can imagine that something important happened here that has long since been forgotten about. For a long time I stand there, allowing the right half of my brain to amuse itself once again…what could have happened here? What is the meaning of all this? It’s all very gloomy, dark, cold, sad…
And somehow, it all seems vaguely…
His eyes snapped open.
He lay there, shivering, a growing sense of panic overtaking him. He had no idea where he was. He tried standing up, only to feel a pain unlike anything he had ever experienced in his ten years of life shoot through his ankle. He had to bite down on his arm to muffle the shrieking bawl of agony escaping his mouth. He landed hard on the frozen ground, tears streaming down his face, fighting fiercely to stay in control of his mind. After what felt like hours, he finally won the battle, and managed to steady himself. He focused his mind, trying as hard as he could to remember what had happened…he vaguely remembered being chased out of his own home in panic, but that could’ve just been a dream. Then an image arose in his mind, one that caused him to shiver even more…the man in the mask. He allowed himself to dissolve into tears once more out of sheer terror of that image. He hoped he would ever forget about it.
After pulling himself together again, he did the one sensible thing any ten-year-old would do.
Slowly, grimacing against the immense pain throbbing through his foot, he managed to ease himself up onto his knees. Then, red-faced, shaking, and sniffing, he made his way uphill through the trees, his green eyes dashing around desperately in search of life. It was not long before his frantic gaze fell upon something that made his entire mind freeze over.
No. It couldn’t be. It just couldn’t be.
He had come to a point where the ground dropped down to form a small valley between two hills. At the bottom of the valley were layers upon layers of shimmering snow, stained with what was unmistakably blood. Trembling with horror, the boy followed the scarlet trail with his eyes, and had to shove his fist into his mouth to keep from screaming. At the end of the trail sat two blood-drenched garbage bags, inside of which lay a man and a woman. Sobbing, the boy inched forward until he could reach the bags, and then began untying the first one with trembling fingers. It’s not real, he pleaded to himself. They’re only asleep, like I was. Please…don’t be real. Just don’t be real.
Eventually, he was able to work the knot out of the bag. He paused, hardly daring to touch her. But he had to know. He couldn’t go on without knowing. Taking deep, steady breaths, he grabbed the woman by the shoulders, and with all of the strength he could muster, turned her over.
It was worse than anything he had ever seen. Blood oozed from every orifice in her once beautiful body. Her lower jaw sat mangled on her chest, still connected by a few pieces of flesh, muscle, and ligaments, leaving her tongue to dangle lazily down to her throat. It was a few moments before the boy realized that the shriek of horror he heard was his own. The world swayed in front of him, and he vomited on the ground next to him. He closed his eyes tight, unwilling to look back into the contorted, eyeless face of his mother.
At this point, he no longer cared about pain. He wanted to get as far away from this nightmare as quickly as possible. He hobbled up and began running. Every other step was the equivalent of torture, but he didn’t care. He had to keep running. His sanity depended on it. He ran for what could have been several days, before his ankle finally gave way with a sickening lurch of pain, and the boy collapsed onto the ground, exhausted and freezing cold.
Through all of his mental anguish, he noticed that he had come upon a clearing in the trees. Through the fog, he could make out a single, dead tree, and beyond it, a large, frozen lake. He had no idea what to do next. He could no longer run, much less move. He decided his only hope was to scream for help, and keep screaming, hoping that someone might hear.
“I-is anyone here? P-please help me!”
It wasn’t until he had shouted it, that he realized the possibly fatal mistake he had just made. A new idea crept into his head, a terrifying idea, and a very real idea.
He’s still out here somewhere.
The moment that thought crossed his mind, he heard it.
Footsteps, marching his way.
The boy buried his face into his arms. He couldn’t watch. This is it, he thought. This is the end. It’s okay, though, he thought to himself, as tears once more trickled down his face. I’ll be playing with mom and dad soon. They’ll be waiting for me. But will it hurt to die? I hope he makes it quick…
The footsteps passed him by.
The boy could hardly believe it. Gathering up as much courage as he could, he pulled his face out of his arms, and looked up. Someone was standing there, near the dead tree, staring out at the lake. He had a long mane of light brown hair. The boy instantly felt so much relief, excitement, and gratitude that he almost fainted. But he could not afford to. He had to make his presence known.
“H-help me! P-please!” he stammered.
The older boy paid no attention. He simply stood there, taking in his surroundings, with a somber look on his face.
“N-no, p-please! Y-you’ve got to help me! S-seriously!”
Still, no reply. In desperation, the young boy began to pull himself forward, using only his hands. As painful as it was, he knew that this would be the last stretch. If he could just make it to where the older boy stood, he would be okay. He would survive.
“I-I’m hurt! I-I’m bleeding!” he shrieked. “P-please!”
He reached out with his last bit of energy, and grabbed the older boy’s foot.
The older boy blinked, then looked down. The young boy saw a hint of surprise in his shocking, terribly familiar, green eyes.
For a moment they remained there, staring into each other’s eyes. Then the older boy looked skyward, took a deep breath, turned around, and began to leave.
“N-NO! P-PLEASE! COME BACK!”
The young boy was sobbing again, this time in a fit of hopeless despair.
He had never felt so alone, defenseless, or scared. The leafless trees seemed to taunt him in their silence, exuding a sort of stoic apathy to his suffering. He wished he could talk to the trees, plead with them, ask them for help. But he knew it was useless. There was nobody. The world was deaf to his cries. He was utterly alone.
A light breeze begins to blow, shaking me out of my reverie. I notice the temperature has dropped significantly. I look up, shaking the long mane of hair out of my face. Thicker clouds are moving in. I expect it’ll be-
Something just touched my foot. I know I felt it. I look down, scanning the ground with my eyes, searching for what might have-
This one hit my shoulder. I look upward, only to get hit, dead center, by a freezing cold drop of water.
At this point, there are little taps falling everywhere, faster and faster. I should probably go back home now, I think. I wipe my face with my sleeve, and turn around to go. I only somewhat take note of the fact that my ankle’s been acting up again. For a moment, I remark to myself how interesting and wonderful the mind must be to come up with such odd fancies. The weather having feelings? Me, depressed and alone? Come on now. Clearly, it’s all in my head. I’m in college now. I’ve met lots of smart, friendly people, and I haven’t felt alone like that since high school. It must be the cold climate making me moodier than usual. And one thing’s for sure- I’ve definitely never seen this place before. I would have remembered it in a heartbeat.
I check my watch, and pick up my pace. My stepmom’s having friends over for dinner tonight. Sort of a pre-Christmas get-together, I think. I should probably be home before they arrive.
Credit To: Randy Ham