Through the Woods (Excerpt)

Chapter One:  The Encounter of Sorts

Pat stared out of the thickly layered window pane at the flurry of small white flakes of snow that were quickly piling up upon the rough ground. He turned to look at the clock that he had nailed to the wall.  Its thin hands read 4:35. He knew he should be asleep, but something about the snow fascinated him. He thought of what Sam would’ve said. “Not surprised. You’re probably the strangest boy in Arkansas.” He would’ve chortled absent-mindedly in his thick Irish accent while cleaning his bowie knife that everyone in the whole town recognized. That’s what he would’ve said. But Sam was taken by a bear while hiking in Blackwood forest two months ago. Everyone assumed he was dead. Pat had gotten an entire lecture from his father about being safe when hiking alone in the wilderness, but Pat didn’t care. He loved Blackwood forest, and nothing would stop him from hiking there.  

Suddenly, Pat straightened his back. He thought that he must be seeing things because he had been awake for half the night. This species was rare around these regions and should be hibernating, but no. A black bear was trudging through the snow, its thick fur flecked with white.

Pat slung his satchel, with its fat four-hole button he’d found on the wooden table in the tailor shop, over his scrawny shoulder and rushed outside.  The cold immediately shot through his small stature and overcame his body. Still, Pat fought on and pulled forward toward the corner of the town with the big hill.

Once he had gotten there, Pat pulled his binoculars from the bag and raised them to his squinting eyes. The bear wasn’t very far off.  A mere twenty minutes north east. Pat’s hands were shaking.

Suddenly, his bony arms lost grip of the heavy binoculars, which swung down to his chest.  They knocked him backwards and the satchel flew to the bottom of the hill, making a loud clunking sound. He climbed back to the top of the hill and raised the device to his eyes. The gear that focused the vision of the lenses had been pulled far right. Pat saw a blurry black shape rushing toward him. Lowering the lenses, he saw the bear galloping towards him. A bolt of fright shot through Pat’s entire body and, in a wild state of mind, he dropped everything and sprinted toward Blackwood forest. The binoculars bounced against his chest and he turned to see the Bear gaining on him.

Pat caught a glimpse of the treehouse he had made thick in the trees of Blackwood forest one summer. It was constructed from the strong oak in one of it’s famous dark-wooded trees. Pat dashed through the thistles and brambles as they cut against his arms and legs. Finally, the treehouse was straight ahead of him. He struggled and climbed up the thick rope leading to the small cabin. Pat made it and felt the tree shake as the bear clawed against the bark. He sat on the wooden floor and panted breathlessly. He glanced to the corner of the room to see his BB-gun with it’s wooden frame and black markings smudged onto the end of the steel barrel as it glistened in the sunrise. He scooted over to it and reached for it, then propped it up against the balcony overlooking his small town and the barren wasteland of snow riddled with foot prints.

Pat peered down the end of the barrel and at the black bear who was retreating back north. He pulled the trigger and a brief burst of flame and sparks spurted from the gun. This was followed by a sluggish trail of smoke and a whistling sound. The small pellet flew through the air and easily punctured the bear’s thin flesh. It fell on its side, but Pat knew a single BB couldn’t’ve killed a bear of such power as a black bear. He pulled the binoculars to his eyes and squinted to see the bear up close.  It was a female, her thin flesh was dark in places, and her ribs were visible. Now Pat understood. The bear had been hunting for food because it was starved. Even though it had attacked him, Pat felt bad for the animal. He cared for and loved all nature.  

Pat lowered himself down from the tree on the knotted rope, dug into the emergency knapsack he had sewn himself, which was safely nestled in a secret compartment in the wall of the treehouse, to find a small jar full of salted pork. He dropped a juicy piece of the pork in front of the bear.

Afterwards, Pat decided to stay in the forest one night until the snow storm let up. He wasn’t worried about his parents. They were probably relieved he was finally out of their hair. Pat was content as he drifted to sleep on the floor of the cabin suspended in the tree.  

He awoke at sunrise to a horrible sight.

The ground was damp and littered with pine needles. Pat stopped to see it. A Blackwood was on it’s side. The lower half had been splintered by lighting, Pat gathered from the blackened ash-stained wood.  He counted the seemingly endless rings in the tree to see that this “Blackie,” as old countrymen say, was about 27 years old. A tree of that age could be the strongest wood in any market. This tree had fallen and covered hundreds of feet of land –– including Pat’s escape route. Pat muttered a curse, but he knew that he had always been preparing for a situation like this.

He climbed up to the treehouse and reviewed his inventory. He dumped the backpack onto the floor to examine his belongings. A six-inch Kings matchbox with 46 matches. A roll of thread with a pin jabbed into it. A thick hunting knife with a leather cloth wrapped around the blade, and a week’s worth of salted meat and a few onions that had grown deep underground while Pat was treasure hunting. In the treehouse itself, Pat had a 6-48 mosquito BB-gun with it’s signature long and thin barrel. There was also a small shelf with a jam jar of pellets, and 3 books: The Hardy Boys: murder in an alleyway, The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, and Robinson Crusoe.

By mid-afternoon, Pat was bored and scared. Powerful winds made him shiver and dig his feet deeper into the mossy ground. He was sculpting a rock with his hunting knife. The rock was thin and had a needle-sharp tip. Many curves bore through it because it had been sitting at the bottom of Ratchet creek,  a playful brook that flowed through most of Blackwood. Pat suddenly dropped the rock as he heard a faint growl. He turned to see the black bear awakening, it’s eyelids slowly reaching toward the thick, dirty fur of the forehead.  Pat knew he was supposed to be frightened, but somehow he wasn’t. He edged closer to the bear and picked up the dew-stained piece of pork, then threw it closer to the bear’s mouth. She immediately gobbled it down and slowly pulled herself from the dirt, a swarm of fleas quickly succeeding from her thick fur. For the next few days, the bear would lumber alongside Pat, not making any sort of violent movements, not really interacting with Pat at all. Pat was a bit jittery about the presence of the bear, but thought about all of the incorrect things his father had said to him, and that this was fully indulging in nature. However, he lied awake at night wondering, what his friends would say. Bear boy! You love animals so much you’re practically becoming one! He drifted into an uneven sleep.

Pat sat on a small boulder, motionless.  He didn’t talk much and barely ever tried to socialize with others at school.  At his small school house, there were eleven boys and ten girls.  The two genders broke into separate groups and nobody in the boys group really had specific friends.  To Pat, all of the boys were pretty much the same.  But he was different.  

The bear scratched her paw against her flank to rid herself of what seemed to be a very annoying parasite. Pat found his eyes drooping and climbed to the treehouse to take a nap. Suddenly, his eyes were open again, and the blurred tint of his small wooden life force faded into focus. He peered out the frame of open air to see the sun glint through clumps of leaves. It was about 3:17 in the afternoon, according to his calculations from examining the sun.  

“You drool in your sleep,” said a voice suddenly from behind him. It made the hair on the back of Pat’s neck stand up straight. He immediately jerked his head around to see a girl. She was tall, with brown hair, and was staring at him with penetrating eyes.

Pat ignored any sort of salutations required for a situation like this, and blurted, “Who are you? What the hell are you doing here!?”

She tilted her head to the left and looked at him, unfazed. “Well, you seem very polite. I was out exploring here in Blackwood, when I noticed a Blackie on it’s side. I climbed over it, because I’m not a midget, and saw your treehouse.” She paused for a reaction and then pointed to the corner of  the treehouse. “Nice mosquito, by the way.”  

Pat stared at her in disbelief. “First of all,” he began, “people who can’t climb over 6 ½  feet tall trees aren’t midgets. Second of all, you just barge into someone’s home?  You’re the one who should be working on politeness.”  

She brushed her hair out of her eyes and said matter-of-factly, “I thought you would be an interesting person to meet.” 

Pat rubbed his eyes.  

“My name is Aliza, by the way,” Aliza said, sticking her hand out toward him.  

“Pat,” he said, simply swinging his hand out to join hers.  They sat there together on the wooden plank floor for a few empty minutes before Pat broke the silence by saying, “Well, time for you to go back to your jerk parents. I’m not going to be able to use you for anything.”   

“Excuse me?” Aliza said, raising her eyebrows. “What do you expect?”

Pat almost yelled, “You’re a girl. I’d like to see a girl hunt.”

Aliza huffed with anger and slapped Pat across the face. He was stunned as his cheek stung with pain. Aliza picked up his gun from the corner of the treehouse and said soberly, “Well, then, try and stop me.”

Pat walked behind Aliza uneasily as they stepped along the wet grass and dirt. Aliza raised a finger to her lips and rushed quickly to another, much younger, fallen Blackwood. She stabilized the gun in a ridge of cracked wood. She squinted one eye and steadied the barrel. Pat walked up next to her to see she was aiming at a rabbit, which was nibbling on some beige fungi.  She fired the gun briefly and it released the same flurry of sparks as before. Pat heard the whizzing sound once more, but the rabbits ears perked up and it ran stubbornly into a nearby patch of bushes.  Aliza cursed and Pat laughed, “You’re a good shot, but you don’t know anything about nature. Rabbits have some of the best hearing in the entire animal kingdom. They would be able to hear a BB coming easily.”  

Aliza jerked to attention before letting out a response probably littered with swears. She moved back into her hunting position, but angled the gun upwards and fired it a second time. An ear piercing squawk was heard and a small bird dropped from a branch above to the soft soil below. Aliza turned to face Pat and smirked. She jumped over the tree trunk and snatched the small bird from the ground, then walked back to the treehouse. Pat followed her reluctantly and grabbed some of the few dry sticks lying on the ground near him to start a fire.

“So, sure, you can hunt, but that is my treehouse that I assembled myself. I am not letting you sleep there,” Pat remarked by the fire late at night.

“Fine,”  Aliza responded soberly, “I’ll sleep on the ground.” Pat stomped his foot onto the dying fire, which made a slow hissing noise as it was quenched.  

“I’m turning in,” he said, lowering his voice unnecessarily and then marched off to the treehouse. Aliza patted the sleeping bear besides her whom she had been introduced to by Pat, and it growled in its sleep. She turned to a nearby patch of moss and lay onto it.  

That morning the sun shot through the old wood of the treehouse, spreading slats of masked light across the small room. Pat’s eyes adjusted to the smaller flurries of snow floating lazily down from the sky. He snatched his cracked glasses, which were sprawled on the ground, and fitted them onto his face. Suddenly, as Pat’s foggy vision subsided, he noticed his gun abandoned from the usual spot. Groaning, he looked out the window to see Aliza tanning a deer hide with the rock he had been sharpening the day before.

“Good morning!” she yelled up to him, her voice echoing across the sleepy forest.

“What have you been doing?” bellowed Pat.

“I woke up early, grabbed your rifle, and went out hunting,” she smirked. “The deer like eating the frozen dew. Then I cooked the meat and gave it to your bear.”  

“It’s not my bear,” Pat retorted.  

“Well, she basically lives with you,” countered Aliza.  And, how long have you been here? Who would want to live like this?”  

Pat scampered down the ladder.  “About 2 days, and I’m the one who would want to live here,” he paused. “My parents give me these boundaries –– I feel like I’m just an obstacle to them.”  

Aliza frowned. “Sorry about that.”  

“Well, that’s the real reason I’m out here. I could’ve climbed that tree, but I want to prove to them that I could survive by myself.”

“You can’t just stay out in this forest forever,” she looked Pat in the eyes. “You’re eventually going to have to go back.”

Pat turned away from her and looked up to a tree. “Well, I’m going to stay out here as long as possible. If my father was out here, he wouldn’t survive a month.” Pat chuckled, “He only hunts for sport and doesn’t care at all about the effects it has on this forest. We’re lucky that no one has tried using this forest for lumber.”  

Aliza tilted her head, “But you hunt too!”  

“I only hunt for survival,” Pat responded condescendingly.

“Thanks for telling me, that explains your attitude,” she said.  

Pat should’ve been offended by this, but he ignored the comment.

Aliza looked down and began, “Well, I have the opposite situation. My parents, they don’t care about me. I barely ever go to Blackwood, all I’ve heard about was when Sam went missing. Ever since, I have wanted to go out here and see if they would care. Seems as though they don’t.”

Pat glanced at her and smiled grimly. Suddenly, a noise in the bushes startled the both of them. They swung around to see a swaying light emerging from the clearing. Pat quickly grabbed his gun from the mossy earth and aimed it toward the noise. A figure came into view. He was bulky, had a crippled and grizzled face slashed with a long scar, and had short, darkened hair. It was Pat’s father.  

“What are you doing here, Pat?!”

“Father, I ––”

“You left me in the middle of the night to go to Blackwood?  You’ve been living out here for three days!” Pat opened his mouth to speak, but his father interrupted him, “We are going, right now,” his father gestured to Pat.  

“No,” Pat responded stubbornly.

His father stopped abruptly and turned to face Pat. “What did you just say to me?”  

Gaining confidence, Pat stood and rooted his feet into the ground, “I said no.” He paused. “You have been giving me obstacles and rules for my entire life! Will you for once just leave me alone!?”  The father looked disgruntled, as if this had never occurred.  

“Fine,” Pat’s father said, containing a bloody outburst of anger.  “Do you really want me to just let you die alone in this forest? Fine, then I will.” He looked livid.  “Sooner or later, you’ll come from this retched place and you’ll be begging me for a real home and food.”

A tear trickled down Pats face as he held an indescribable expression of sadness, anger, and hatred.  

The father trekked off into the darkness of the night and soon vanished. Pat sat back down as Aliza stared at him, dumbstruck with her mouth gaping, “What in the world just happened?”  

Pat leaned down towards the ground and said, “That was my father.”

Aliza responded candidly, “Well, yeah, I got that from context, but there is a girl and a sleeping bear right next to you, and he didn’t notice?”  

Pat looked up and said, “That’s because he’s a self-centered ––”  A gust of wind made the trees creak and sway, shielding Aliza from the curse Pat emitted. “He gets very unreceptive of thing that are going on around him when he is involved in certain exchanges.”  

“Okay… ” said Aliza, tilting her head, “but that doesn’t explain why he didn’t notice the bea ––”  

“Listen, Aliza,” Pat snapped, “My father’s an idiot.” Aliza raised her eyebrows and frowned.  “Now, it’s been a long day, so good night.” Pat croaked. Aliza scratched the bear once more in it’s favorite place, behind the ear, and went to sleep.  

To be continued…

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