She just stared at it, and it stared at her: the forest. The darkness of midnight caressed and enveloped the trees, and the light of the moon let her catch little glimpses of the tree trunks and branches. They seemed to sit there, like the gnarled and hard toes of a giant monster warning her not to enter. "Stay home you stupid emo!" They seemed to mock. All that separated the two were a mere 20 meters of lawn. She lived in such a large house, and she knew everyone would be dead asleep at this time. She could leave any time she wanted, any second. So why did she just stare at this manipulative forest.
"You got yourself into this mess." the girl wasn't sure if the voice came from her or the trees. Frankly, she didn't care, "Time to get out, and get out fast." With that, she pulled the hood of her thick sweat-jacket over her head, clutched the straps of her backpack, and charged across the lawn. She could hear herself mentally screaming, louder and louder as the pleas to turn back rang in her ears. She pressed on, almost seeming to fly across the edge of her parent's property, and into the mouth of the "monster" of vegetation that loomed and guarded around her home. She was in. Inside the belly of the taunting beast, and now it was her turn to torment it.
The 15-year old didn't stop running as soon as she entered the trees. It was, in fact, a miracle that she didn't trip on one of the many tangles of exposed roots as soon as she stepped into this maniacal place. The branches and trunks stuck out and bulged wherever they please, sometimes appearing around a sharp corner, and other times poking you in the back when you slipped. The thick layer of roots seemed to lock together like a cage, looking as if they imprisoned something underneath. What would a forest have to hide anyway? Surely nothing as intimate or horrible as the things the runaway kept to herself.
Taking a hike in this area wasn't something people liked to do that often, much less in the middle of the night, and she was figuring out exactly why that was first hand. The forest wasn't clean and fresh smelling the same way other forests seemed to be, giving the stench of a serial killer shopping spree mixed with musty dirt and earthworm feces. Some people in the downtown area have claimed that "strange creatures" dwelled among the branches. The sounds of various and unidentifiable birds, mammals, and insects coughed, gagged and squeaked all through the night. Hearing this while trying to run was not only distracting but also unsettling, like hearing a patient weeping in agony in the emergency room. The fact that everything was pitch-black and hard to see, whether day or night, was an added bonus to keep the rumors of the "Haunted Forest" afloat.
Just keep going straight, she coaxed herself. She had been jogging for what seemed but a few, maybe more, hours until she came to an incline. The incline. The one that looked just fine from a distance until you began to climb it. She merely stopped for a second, only to come to a decision to walk with really long strides rather than try to jog up this piece of crap. So, she pressed on, almost done with this beast of a forest. Already she could feel tension heat up in her calves and thighs, and her heart pounded at a million miles a minute. We're almost there…don't give in now. We're almost there, she cringed as some stray roots and rocks brushed against her already stinging and bleeding arms. She had to be careful not to open up those hidden wounds again. They've caused enough trouble already. My fault. My fault alone.
She felt that the branches above her were watching her. The monster was fighting back, no one crawled inside its belly and made it out alive. The young girl felt her head, neck, and torso growing hot and wet, the rotting corpse stench of the forest taking its toll on her nostrils. Her sweat beading down her arms stung her concealed scars and wounds. The ground inclined steeper and steeper, so much so that she was practically climbing rather than walking. Her hands grasped and dug at the moist and course soil filled with pine needles and dead leaves from past seasons. Now her arms seemed to complain as well, as her whole body was shrieking at her, "It's too much! Too much! Too much! TOO MUCH!"
"TURN BACK! TURN BACK!" the unseen animals taunted and teased. The frightened and unstable teen squinted her eyes shut, frozen in her climb. She wanted to drown out the sounds. She wanted them all to go away and leave her the hell alone.
"You stupid emo," the forest choired together. "You brought this on yourself. You should be ashamed. It's obvious who's really the monster here. You deserve whatever is coming…you'll see!"
"Shut up!" She screamed at the stop of her heaving lungs. The forest ceased.
Nothing, not one sound dared to protest. Not the branches, the leaves, or mutant animals. Her own body and heartbeat seemed to obey. The only thing that could be heard was the sound of her breathing. The monster was defeated; she had poisoned its heart. Now it will never taunt her again.
The runaway breathed, the air easing out of her chest in relaxed sighs. She felt her heart drum in her chest, steadying it's pace to match with her burned-out lungs. Glancing upwards at her hands, her eyes fell upon the small halo of yellowish-orange light appearing near the top of the incline. She felt her eyes sting and swell from the sudden change in atmosphere. Almost there. She grasped one sore and dirty hand to a sturdy-looking root, pulling herself up. Just a little more…come on. She found a crook between a tree and some dirt, and set her foot into it to edge herself up even more.
A little...further. She raised her other hand towards the light, the rays danced upon her hands through the bars of tree trunks. Her lips and cheeks began to curve slightly, and her eyes glistened in awe of the light that kissed her fingertips. She climbed even more, not caring about the dirt that scuffed up her clothing or the splinters that crawled into her fingernails. Digging and climbing, her arms shook furiously, and her legs began to moan again.
"One last time!" she coughed as she heaved her whole body forward, over the edge, and into the blanket of light. The warmth of the sun seeped through her clothing and touched her sticky and reeking skin, massaging her muscles and radiating throughout her body. She had no time to enjoy this. The runaway had to get up. They would be up soon, and they'd soon discover she was gone.
The girl raised her head, the rays of light stinging her bloodshot eyes; she placed her hands beneath her torso and began to push. Her arms shook violently, as did the rest of her body when she tried to stand up. Her upper half tilted over, weak and stiff hands clutching to her knobby knees. Noticing how scuffed up and bleeding her fingers were, she was glad that she at least decided to wear jeans. Beads of liquid poured down her face and created muddied splats on her tennis shoes, which had been torn from the climb. Strands of soggy and tangled red hair fell in clumps, like a raggedy old blanket, partially shielding her pinkish, and freckled face from the sun that was growing hotter and harsher by the second. She knew that she probably looked like a tiger played volleyball using her as the ball, but her appearance hardly distracted her compared to what her tired eyes were really looking at.
There it was, lying flat before her, the rising sun adding a yellow-ish hue to the gray object. Asphalt. She forced her head upwards a bit more to take a look at the rest of the road. She was alongside the highway, and oh was it a beautifully rewarding sight to see. It felt odd, being rewarded for something that she knew she'd be in a heap of trouble for. Running away like a murderer escaping from a death penalty, she knew that her family would probably have discovered her missing by now. She imagined what the shocked expressions would be like on their faces, and how even more dumbstruck they'd be once they discovered that she had left her cell phone on the kitchen counter. Right where they could see it, first thing in the morning. She even left a special little message for them on her own voicemail:
"Hi mom and dad. I don't want to go to the institution, and to prove that I mean it I'm running away from here. I can't take your crap anymore, don't try to find me. If you do, I'll…it'll be worse than before. Maybe you guys will actually listen to each other for once. Goodbye."
That would be enough. They'd probably be up crying all night over her, and cling to one another for comfort. Or maybe they'd just scream at each other, swearing and cursing that it was the other's fault. Her little brother would never hear the end of it. He'd be the one crying all night from their fighting, and it would only get worse.
The adolescent felt as though wasps were stinging her stomach from the inside, like the Forest was taking its revenge. Maybe she felt too satisfied about how perfectly impacting her plan was. Maybe it'd be too much for her brother to handle. She briefly contemplated turning around, perhaps they haven't woken up yet and she could still make it back before breakfast. She stopped herself there, noticing that she was turning her head. She looked straight on. Cars were beginning to rush by. She knew it was too late, besides she got herself in this. Might as well finish what she started.
She felt some fresh warm liquid trickle from her burning eyelids and down her face, not bothering to wipe it off at all. "It's just sweat," she quietly told herself. ZWOOM! A van zipped past her casually; the driver probably thought that the wandering girl was merely a hiker. Of course, this "hiker" didn't actually care if the driver noticed her or not. She can hitch hike later. So, as casually as the car passed her by, she began walking right on the edge of the pavement, staying as far away from the white, weathered line, which separated her from being road kill, as possible. The runaway treaded on, noticing that with every step she took her backpack seemed to get heavier and heavier.
The girl hadn't traveled longer than a few hours until she realized that she probably didn't plan this trip well enough. Her stomach began to coil and her throat twisted in unforgiving painful knots as the beginnings of hunger began to creep up on her. She hated having a high metabolism and how skinny she looked. She hated how people at school would prod and poke at her bony arms and legs saying she should eat more. The fact was that no matter how much she ate, she could never fill up her stomach with enough food. "It's not fair Kathy!" the girl recalled a fellow classmate complaining to her, "How can you eat a whole foot-long sandwich, a sundae, and a friggin' bag of chips and still have room for more, while I get sick just from eating a small bag of fries?" Kathy never understood why people were so jealous. If anything, she should be jealous of them. While they could probably go for several hours without eating, she would probably literally faint at the mere idea.
Perhaps the only reason that she didn't notice her hunger earlier was due to the adrenaline rush from coming through the forest. Maybe there was something about running away from home that numbed you to anything else other than getting away first. Once you relax however-
"Mmph!" She moaned, crouching over a bit as her stomach felt as though it were turning inside out within her. It bubbled with acid like a threatening volcano, scolding her for not at least bringing a granola bar or something. Kathy pressed on. She was "hopefully" going to find a diner or something later…then again she was traveling away from the city (as if her family didn't live far enough from there anyway)…towards the mountains where, ironically, not a lot of people lived. "Screw my life!" She managed to spit out of her dry throat.
She licked and sucked on her bleeding and cracking lips to sooth their soreness. The salty and thick liquid dripped down her throat uselessly. A part of her vainly thought that maybe her "cannibalism" would ease her violent stomach that seemed to punch her in her other guts with every step of the way. Cars passed by her carelessly, not noticing the practical zombie that was trying to work her way down the highway. With her orange-red hair sticking to her sweaty pink face and fraying about like matted weeds, and her bloodshot eyes that probably looked black from a distance, not to mention that she could barely control the shaking in her limbs.
Kathy knew that most passersby would assumed she was a hiker, being near that trail that her family used to visit regularly a year earlier. Again, there weren't too many people here, so the odds of being kidnapped were pretty low. She didn't dare travel the hiking trail though, partly due to moose and bears that most likely lived there, but mostly due to the things that place reminded her of that she'd rather not think about.
Such as the last time she was last here with them. Sitting up on the open rocks and ledges while the wind would threaten to blow their picnic blanket away, and the saltiness of the inlet cascading in their noses.
Her then 10 year old, high-functioning autistic brother, Jeff, would be followed by his older sister while he engaged in one of his favorite activities: flower collecting, or rather more specifically petal collecting. He seemed to like the color and texture of the violet daisies the best, and would ramble on and on about the different types of flowers he discovered. Kathy would follow, making sure he didn't wander too far and get lost. Much to Kathy's relief, Jeff decided to focus on one particular patch of clovers today instead of chasing after daisies like a bumblebee.
Unfortunately, they were within earshot of hearing their parents bickering. It was different that time though. Not like the normal banter that was slightly playful like two kitties pawing at the same ball of yarn. This time the words were set at a lower tone, and contained a sharp edge to them that threatened to sting their opponent, like a tiger and a lioness fighting for territory. Kathy felt her heart sink to her stomach. Something wasn't right, and she could feel it. … Perhaps she was just hungry
Sadly her fears were confirmed when the day ended, and the couple had let the heat of their anger burst out at once when they almost hit a car.
"You could have hit them!" her mother practically screamed.
"Obviously," Kathy didn't like the unnaturally sarcastic tone her father was taking. Before anyone knew it, the parents were having a full-on shouting match. The two were practically screaming at each other at the top of their lungs; Kathy felt as though the windows would shatter. Jeff didn't like that either, and began crying and banging his fists on his head, begging them to stop. Sitting there surrounded by all that noise felt as though the world was falling apart. So, the then 14-year old girl did the only thing she knew how to do when stressed. Keep your face strait; hopefully it'll pass.
It'll pass. …
Something warm and wet dripped down her cheek, and it stunned Kathy back into the present. Her mind was back with her body on the side of the rode, though she still felt numb. She wiped away the stray drop, "It's just sweat,"she lied once again. She was used to lying by now, why should it bother her. If she just lied to herself, perhaps she could believe that, "Nothing's wrong at all." She said something similar when her parents asked her about other things.
"How was school?"
"How are you feeling?"
"Where did you get that bruise?"
"Why won't you wear that cute, spaghetti-strap, summer dress I bought you?"
"Why do you smell like you've just been in a dumpster today?"
Suddenly, more "sweat" began to drizzle from her eyes. She tried to wipe it, but then it began to pour in gobs. Then her stomach and throat contorted as if to give one last blow, to which she finally keeled over and gave in. Her face turned bright red, and the muscles in her throat tightened as she fought to silence her sobs. Now you've done it! You left them you stupid bitch! The sobs kept finding a way to choke her into releasing them from their suppressed prison. Her knees were stinging from the impact with the pavement, and every muscle and bone was throbbing in her small form. The sun by now raised high in the sky, casting a glow that emphasized her pitifully shivering shadow. She figured someone would notice her by now. If someone sees me, I hope they decide to kill me. Just kill me and throw me away already! No one would care!
Her nose began to clog up so she could barely breathe between heaves and hiccups. She just left them there. Just left! How could she do that when she loved them so much? Her backpack felt as heavy as a boulder, crushing her chest against her thighs and knees. Kathy thought that perhaps if she laid down on the pavement long enough, she would just die and rot away slowly. If only someone would come along and kill her more quickly.
"Are you okay?" said a voice from above.
Oh great! As if I'm not crazy enough. Kathy raised her head towards the direction she "thought" she heard the voice coming from.
"You look like you haven't rested…or eaten…or anything for a long time," there was a man sitting nearby a large slab of rock on the neighboring grass next to the highway. He appeared concerned, but all Kathy could think about was the sandwich that he held in his hand. The stranger came over and crouched beside her, while she just stared at him pitifully. Was he watching me just now? She didn't mind the oodles of drool that were piling out of her parched mouth, and he didn't seem to either.
"Here," he offered the sandwich, "take and eat. You need it more than I do."
Kathy didn't hesitate for a second. She reached her shaking hand towards the precious morsel, and shoved it towards her mouth with such fervor that the man was worried she'd choke. She managed to sit herself up while simultaneously chewing on the sandwich. The sweet ham and tangy mustard caressed and soothed her taste buds in such a way that she felt as though she were in a dream, eating the best ham and cheese sandwich in the world. She swallowed and the food almost immediately soothed the pain, and her stomach churned in delight.
"Here, take this," this time the man handed her bottled water. She took that as well, letting the cool and flavorless liquid wash the leftover breadcrumbs down her throat.
"You okay?" The stranger was trying to strike up a conversation, "Should I get help?"
Kathy didn't reply. She was too engrossed with eating. This guy didn't seem to try to interrupt her. He scratched the back of his neck; his face twisted with an expression of both confusion and concern.
Kathy finished rather quickly, and looked up into her "rescuer's" face. He seemed to be in his mid-thirties, and his skin was tan naturally. He wore a bandana, t-shirt, and some rather dirty overalls, and his brown hair was tied at the nape of his neck. His bangs drooped down like curtains of his eyes, and he sported a small, and shaggy, unkempt beard. He wasn't the most attractive man Kathy had seen. Who's this hobo? Yet she found her self quite drawn to his face, particularly his eyes. Those eyes. They were blue, but not just your typical sunny day sort of blue. His eyes were vivid and deep like the sky and grey like the inlet on the other side of the highway. They captured her own eyes, and they almost seemed to look strait through her, as if every secret she ever kept and every lie she ever told was known to him. This. …didn't bring her much comfort at all.
"I have a cell phone, is there anyone you'd like to call?" Kathy did not want this one bit. With a newfound burst of energy, she got up, and burst off down the highway. The "good Samaritan" just stood there, phone in hand, even more confused than before. He had just been "dissed".
That was close! Kathy couldn't believe it; she was almost caught. Such an odd concept it was, wishing to be killed and running away from a rescuer. Was that okay? She didn't care. All she cared about was running as far away from that man as possible, even if her legs felt as if they were made of jello.
She stopped, obeying her body's tired commands once again. Her breath heaved in and out uneasily and her heart felt as though the blood turned to lava in her face. She felt her pack grow heavier once again, and fell to her knees. Her stomach flipped summersaults, and she could taste the bile burning and building at the back of her throat. She heaved over, releasing the contents that fermented in her gut.
"Look, I can help you," he was back it seemed. Kathy was too exhausted and frustrated to look upon his face again. She especially did not want to look in his eyes. Just go away already! Leave me alone!
"I don't need your help," she almost seemed to growl as she spat out the bitter residual acid.
"What's your name?" Kathy certainly was not going to answer that. He once again knelt beside her, the same way he did before. He was waiting for an answer, so Kathy gave him what she thought he deserved.
"I don't owe you one! Now leave me alone you stalker!" she looked strait into his face, her green eyes flaming in rage and tiredness. He merely quirked an eyebrow and said with a friendly smile,
"Nice to meet you too. I'm Yesh!" and reached out his hand as if to shake hers. She ignored it and got herself back up. She began slowly walking, or rather trudging, again. She tugged on the sleeves of her jacket self-consciously, making sure her arms were well hidden. Yesh followed behind.
"Where you headed?" the middle aged man asked, following almost like a wandering puppy behind.
"That's not of your business!" she shouted indignantly, "Just screw off!"
At this point, Yesh decided to come around in front of her, standing in her way.
"Are you lost?" The runaway didn't respond.
Just ignore him and he'll go away.
"I know the area pretty well. I can take you to a bus or police station so you can get home. You can still use my cell phone," He was carrying a sack on his back, and at this point he removed it and began undoing the draw-string that tide it's opening together as if to reach in and grab something. Once again, Kathy took this opportunity to shove past him and continue you walking.
"I've got my own cell you creep, and if you don't leave me alone right now I'll use it to call the police," That'll show him!
"Okay," was his ever so calm reply, "go ahead."
Kathy was caught in one of her own lies. What should she say? She could have been picking a fight with an axe murder for all she knew, not that she didn't want to die. …Just not yet. She froze in her tracks, standing there in pure silence, not even to let a whistle of air pass through her lungs. She could feel the shadow of his body walking up closer behind her. Why didn't she just run! Why won't I move my friggin' butt outta' here?
"Here," he reached his hand around her so that she could see the small object he was trying to hand her, "All you had to do was ask and you'd receive," The runaway stared at the silver rectangle that glinted in Yesh's palm.
"Why would you let me use that? I said I-"
"You aren't all that good at bluffing. You act too defensive."
There was an awkward pause that settled in as uncomfortably on the two as the backpack on Kathy's shoulders. The girl decided that bluffing around with this guy was getting her nowhere. Nonetheless, she continued her confident façade. She snagged the device abruptly from the hobo's hand, but not before noticing the gaping hole of a scar planted in the middle of his wrist. She gulped at the thought of what could have caused that. Gosh! You can see the cement on the other side. She averted her eyes back to the phone in her hand.
It's probably out of service or not even charged or somethi- … She popped the device open. A fully charged battery icon and full four bars of signal seemed to greet her smugly. Oh. …I guess it works. She could do it. She could dial 3 little digits and the boys in blue could be there lickity split. The police station wasn't too far away from here. Though, this "Yesh" guy could have her in the forest and chopped up just as soon as she dialed. But why wasn't he doing anything already? Unless he was merely trying to gain her trust so that he could chop her up later. Then again, if the police did catch them in time, or if this guy turned out not to be a serial killer, what would that mean? What would this guy have to gain from that? If the police came, they'll start asking questions. Where I live? Who are my parents? THEY'D TAKE ME HOME! This guy is trying to set me up! Yesh called her bluff before. He knew she was hiding something from him, and she knew she was making it way too obvious to be taken seriously.
She stared at the phone for a bit, unsure of what to do. She was too week to run, her body still shaking from lack of food and sleep; and calling the police would only make this pointless. She clicked the phone closed, and placed it firmly back into the stranger's hand. Again, she looked strait into his eyes, her angry gaze still not fazing him. She didn't care, "I don't need your help," He merely shrugged lightly. His nonchalant attitude was really getting on her nerves.
"Okay then," he turned his body towards the forest that the hiking trail lead through, "Hope you can find a place to stay and eat at least," Kathy nodded. That's more like it. She turned to travel, still shivering, down the highway.
They seemed just about to go their separate ways when Yesh decided to comment loud enough to reach Kathy's ears, "It'll be getting dark in a few hours. The next store or shop that'll actually allow you sleep there is about 25 miles from here I believe,"
Just ignore him Kathy, he's bating you.
"You look pretty young. The store clerks will probably ask how old you are, or where your parents are," Kathy stopped in her tracks when he said this, "They might call the police or-," Kathy just about had it then.
"Okay, shut up!" She spun around once again to face him, "What gives you the right to mess in my business anyway?"
"You probably thought I was a 'creeper', right? Don't blame you for that, but I offered to let you turn me in. You turned it down as if I handed you a snake. The only reason you'd do that is if you're more scared of the police than you are of me," Kathy was holding her breath without realizing it at this point, not moving a single muscle in her face to show the slightest expression, "and the only reason you'd be scared of the police is if you've either done something illegal or you're running away. Or both."
No one said anything for the longest time. It almost became a contest. She glared at him with all the rage and frustration she contained, though it was sort of pathetic since those eyes of his kept staring right through her. They just stared at each other, and neither of them was passive enough to give in. While staring at those blue eyes though, Kathy couldn't help but feel in her gut that this guy in no way intended to harm her. Though, she still didn't trust him. She wasn't going to be stupid.
"What do you want," she asked reluctantly.
"To help you out,"
"Why the hell would you wanna do that?"
"Does it matter?"
"Does to me weirdo,"
"It's Yesh. What's your name again?" Kathy sighed in frustration, typical of any 15 year old, "How bout' this," Yesh continued, "For everything I ask you, I give the same thing to you, and vice versa. Deal?" Kathy rolled her eyes and nodded in reluctant agreement, "So I gave you my name. And you are-?"
"Call me … Kat," Yesh's eyebrows raised. He smiled, barely resisting the urge to chuckle.
"Really?" he asked.
"You didn't give me your full name, who says I have to give you mine," this time it was Kat's turn to smile.
"Okay then, suit yourself," Yesh smiled brightly and genuinely, "Let's see, you asked me what I wanted, so what about you?" Kathy ceased to smile. She had to think for a bit cause she honestly didn't plan for where she'd end up. She half-expected to be rotting in a ditch by now.
She finally settled on an answer, "I want. …to go somewhere where nobody knows who I am,"
"Does it matter?"
"Fair enough," He began to continue his journey into the forest near the hiking trail, "You coming?" he turned when he noticed she wasn't following. She was standing at the edge of the road, looking at him as if he expected her to walk across a creaky bridge.
"Shouldn't we be going somewhere warmer and safer?"
"Like I said, 25 miles from a place that will actually let us stay the night. Besides if you're avoiding the police, best to stay out of society for a bit so it's harder to find you," Kathy still wasn't sure. I just got out of that place. I don't want to go back. "C'mon, I have a place there actually. It's cozy and warm, there's even separate bathrooms!" Guess it beats sleeping on a chair.
Kathy stumbled down awkwardly down the small dip in the ground from the highway to the grass that separated herself and Yesh. "Go ahead," she gave in groggily, "Take me to your cubby hole."