Pine Needles

The light of the October sun shone softly through the high branches of the browning pine trees. High above the forest floor, a little squirrel sat perched on a limb, examining a small pine cone. The creature, expecting something a bit more edible, was disappointed in the spiky object and promptly thrust it towards the ground. Sitting beneath the tree was a little boy of no more than eight years old. He was watching a distant bird flying through the sky while twirling a pine needle in his hand.

"Ow!" he cried, as the cone struck him on the back of the neck. The boy looked behind him and saw the errant pine cone lying guiltlessly upon the ground. He picked up the spiky missile and looked up in the trees, trying to see where it had come from.

"Stupid cone!" he said angrily as he hurled the object away. The spikes left deep red lines in his hand, which very soon began to bleed. The boy winced as the pain shot up his arm and he started to wrap it in his shirt. Suddenly, he heard his mother calling.

"Robby!" called the unseen voice. "Come here."

"Coming, Mom!" Robby yelled back. He was a little nervous; he knew that his mother always freaked out when he got hurt. What if she told him he couldn't play outside again? Thinking fast, he remembered that his mother had put a pair of mittens in his coat before he had left the house. He slipped his maimed hand into his glove, groaning slightly as the rough wool chafed against his open wounds.

"There," he said to himself with a smile, "Now she'll never know."

"ROBBY!" his mother yelled again.

"I'm COMING," he called as he ran towards his house. He could feel the brown needles crunching underneath his feet as their musky scent rose like incense from the forest floor. The air was getting colder, Robby noticed; it stung his nose as he panted and numbed his face as the wind whipped around him. He ran through the forest to the concrete road and turned down the way that led to his house. Far off in the distance, he saw his mother standing with her hands at her sides.

"Robert Douglas," she said as he drew closer, "You know you're supposed to come when I call."

"I was, Mom; I just had to put my gloves on." Robby held out his hands for her to see.

His mother smiled as she saw the knitted mittens on his little hands. "So you decided to wear them after all," she said, "That's my boy."

Robby quickly put his hands behind his back, unwilling to draw further attention to them.

"Whatcha need me for?" he asked.

"Didn't you wanna go to the park with Becky and Paul today?"

Robby smacked himself lightly on the head; how could he forget going to the park?

"I completely forgot!" he cried as he started to run towards the carport. "We gotta get there before they do."

"Hang on," his mother said, "What is that on your neck?"

Robby stopped and felt the smooth skin behind his head.

"There's nothing there, Mom."

"Yes there is!" she said as she examined him. "You've got like a red spot or something."

"I feel fine."

"But you're not fine; you're hurt. Did you get bit by a bug? Or chiggers?! You could have been bitten by a spider and not even noticed it. You've gotta be more careful, you know."

The boy rolled his eyes and pulled his hood over the "mark". He was glad that he had covered up the cuts on his hands.

"Let's just go," he said as he climbed into the back seat of the car.

Robby and his mother soon arrived at the state park on the other side of town. Robby cranked down the side window to get a better view of the park gate as it passed by. The gate, which was made of fake plastic totem poles, had always fascinated him. His father used to tell him how the Indians would make poles like that to tell stories, or remember loved ones and big battles. The scary faces and animals meant something to the Indians; just one pole could tell a huge story about a person's life. He often thought of what would be on his totem pole. Maybe there would be a baseball bat, or all his action figures lined up in the order he liked them best. Whatever it was, it had to be something special; something Robby McIntyre would always be remembered for.

"Everyone must have their own totem pole," he thought, "Which makes me wonder…"

"Mom, does Dad have a totem pole?"

Robby's mother looked back at him sharply.

"I told you not to talk about him anymore," she said sternly.

"But that's just it!" Robby exclaimed. "If we find his totem pole, we could find out where he is and tell him to come back to us."

"Robby, stop it. You aren't making any sense."

"But I'm being serious, Mom."

"STOP IT, Robert!" she cried. "It's bad enough I have to say his name every time I talk to you. Can't you just let it go?!"

Robby fell silent in the dirty grey back seat. He looked out the window, thoroughly annoyed that his mother did not feel the same way about things.

"I'm going to find him, you know," Robby said quietly. "And then you'll be sorry for talking bad about him."

His mother scoffed. "You do that, son. You do that…"

The two sat quietly together for a good long while. They drove down the lane with tall trees on either side, which darkened as the canopy overhead blotted out the sky with the dense cover of foliage. Every so often, an acorn would fall and hit the roof of the car, producing a lonely "thunk" kind of sound. But even that was unable to break the awkward silence between the passengers within.

Emerging from the canopy drive, the silver sedan pulled onto the main path that went around the lake to the playground. Far off in the distance, Robby could make out the shapes of his friends and their mothers playing on the swingset. He was eager to be with them and free from the suffocating silence that he was forced to endure. They drove around the greenish-blue waters of the state park lake and stopped in front of an artificial stump that marked the nature-friendly parking spot. Robby sprang from the car as soon as the keys were out.

"Becky! Paul!" he called as he ran towards the jungle gym.

"Quiet!" Becky snapped, "Paul's trying to break his record again."

Robby nodded; he knew things like records were very important to the athletic seven-year-old. He watched as his friend hung upside-down like a bat from a rusty pull-up bar, eyes closed and arms crossed over his chest. After what seemed like an eternity, Paul looked at his watch and spun himself back over the bar with a deft flick of his wrist.

"Beat my record again!" he shouted triumphantly as he showed them the watch that neither of them could read. "There isn't anyone in the world better than me."

"Oh yeah?" Becky said with a smirk. "Bet ya I can do better."

"No way! Sports aren't for girls."

"How did they let you in, then?"

The two erupted into a bitter shouting match as Robby looked on quietly. He glanced at his mother; she was still talking with the other moms. That was good; he needed her to be occupied.

"Hey guys," he said, "You wanna do something fun today?"

The two friends stopped midway through their bitter argument and turned with excitement to Robby. He was met with two eager "yeah, sure"s. Robby smiled with a devilish half-grin.

"Alright," he said, "We're gonna do something, but you have to SWEAR you won't tell anyone about it."

"Sounds dangerous," Becky said as she cocked her head to one side. "Is it safe?"

"So long as no one finds out about it."

"Well, count me in!" Paul said as he swaggered forward. "I'm not scared of a little adventure, unlike some people."

"Hmph!" Becky exclaimed indignantly. "If Paul's going to go, then I'm coming too. Just lead the way."

"Promise you won't tell?" Robby said as he raised a small brown eyebrow.

His friends crossed their hearts and passed pinky-swears. There was no going back now.

"Right," he said quietly, "First we have to tell our moms we're going down to the lake to look for frogs."

Oh, Why on earth would we do that?" Becky said with a groan, "You know I hate frogs."

"Because..." Robby hesitated and glanced over his shoulder at their parents. "We're not actually going to the lake."

"Ohhhh..." said the other two in unison.

"Alright, let's go then." Paul said as he ran towards his mother. Becky and Robby soon followed and did the same.

The three mothers had been sitting at a picnic table underneath the big oak tree. Compared to the other mothers, Robby's looked old and tired, like someone had filled her up with air and let it out several times. She was red in the cheeks and had deep circles sagging underneath her eyes. She didn't laugh as much either; there was something completely different about her, like there was something missing. That was why Robby had something he needed to prove to her; something he needed to find out for both of them. Her overprotectiveness had made Robby come to dread asking her for things, but he knew she would be more willing if his friends went with him.

"Mom!" he shouted as he got closer to the bench. "Could we go down to the lake real quick? We wanna see if we can get some frogs."

His mother looked at the three of them out of the corner of her eye. Seeing their nods and looks of innocence, she relented and waved them off.

"Make sure you come back here when you're done," she said. "Watch out for rattlesnakes and stuff!"

Robby ignored her last request; he had never even seen a rattlesnake before.

The three of them ran down to the lakefront, which was hidden behind a tall line of bulrushes. Robby crouched down behind a small bank, motioning for his friends to follow.

"What are we..." Becky whispered before Robby pressed a finger to her lips.

"Shh..." he said quietly. "Follow me."

He led his friends through an intricate natural path he had discovered several years before. His father used to take him to feed the ducks along this trail, teaching him about the difference between mallards and mergansers as he threw bits of moldy bread from a Wonderbread bag. It seemed that wherever he went, there was always something there that reminded him of his father. The smell of the leaves, the quiet quacking of the ducks, the almost inaudible lapping of the lake on the shore. All of it was still there, just as it was two years ago. But yet, there was nothing; a still, soft emptiness that Robby could not yet understand. He was determined beyond anything to learn where his father had gone; why he disappeared when he had so much already.

And that was why he needed to walk this path again.

The three walked along the water's edge for a good quarter-mile. Becky occasionally complained about the length of their endeavour, but smirking looks from Paul quickly soothed her aching feet. Robby knew the rivalry they shared would keep them with him wherever he wanted to go; he could not have dreamed of a more perfect situation. Eventually, the natural path led them back to the main paved road that circled the lake, which felt comfortably stable and solid after trudging through the deep mud. Robby looked down the road with a giddy sense of accomplishment; they had made their escape without raising so much as a distant voice calling them back.

"Yes!" he whispered to himself as he shook a small fist in celebration, "They didn't even see us leave."

The other two children looked at Robby dumbly.

"Well..." said Paul, "Where are we going now?"

"Somewhere secret," Robby said with a smile. "It's just around this bend in the road."

Becky and Paul followed the boy around the curve in the road, ducking underneath the low hanging tree branches and spanish moss as they passed by. Once around the line of trees, they saw that the road they had been walking on split into two separate roads. a concrete road that curved along the river to the left, and a brown clay road that shot off sharply to the right. A dilapidated wooden sign hanging crookedly from a termite-ridden pole read "Maintenance Road", but Robby knew there was nothing maintained about it.

The entrance gate was broken in half and laying in pieces on the side of the road, but a web of faded yellow tape hung from pole to pole. Robby's mother had told him to never go down this mysterious road; she was convinced that it was either full of snakes and chupacabras or that it led to some creepy old house in the woods. In the eyes of her son, however, the unknown and mysterious was a challenge; a brand-new adventure of discovery literally waiting around the corner. Fortunately, Robby was once able to go down this road without his mother's knowledge, but those days were long gone and much too far away...

And yet, there was still another adventure to be had.

"Here we are," Robby said to his friends as they looked around in disbelief. He assumed that their mothers had told them similar stories about this somewhat sketchy place.

"Come on, guys," he groaned, "It isn't really that scary."

Even Paul was shuddering at the notion. "You want us to follow you down there?" he asked nervously.

"Yeah..." Becky said with great hesitation, "I'm not so sure about this."

"Stop listening to your moms," Robby said as he stomped his foot in frustration, "They're all lying to you. I've been down there a million times and there is nothing bad about it at all!"

"That's a load of crap, Robby," Paul said as he pointed an accusatory finger, "You've never gone down there before because you would have told us about it if you did."

Robby's face fell a little bit; he did not know how to explain to his friends why he had never told them.

"I...I couldn't tell you," said Robby as he looked down and away from them.

"Well, why not?" Becky asked, "You of all people would be proud of something like that."

Robby looked each of them in the eye. He hated talking about emotional stuff, but the feelings he had had for the past three years had grown so strong and overwhelming. He needed an outlet, he knew he did; there was no one he could talk to about the emptiness he felt. Not even his own mother. Plus, it would be good for his friends to know why they had even come to the clay road in the first place; their brave acts of defiance deserved at least that.

"It was my dad," Robby mumbled as he shuffled his feet, "He used to take me here sometimes when my mom wasn't with us. This road goes to a bigger road, which goes to a big place without any trees and lots of tall grass. I've been up and down this thing for as long as I can remember."

"And you expect us to follow you?" asked Becky.

Robby shrugged with a sigh and started walking towards the orange, crumbly path. "You came for an adventure, right? Well, you can still have one if you follow me."

His two friends looked at each other as he stood by the entrance. He could hear their little voices carried on the wind, marked by rolling waves of vocal crescendos and whispers. After a short time, he felt Becky's hand grabbing his very tightly. Soon after, he felt Paul's hand on the other.

"Lead the way, Robby," Paul whispered quietly, "We ain't chicken."

With a big smile, Robby led his friends around the yellow tape and down the dark clay path that led into the thick pine forest.

Before they had even gone a hundred yards, the tree cover became so dense and packed that it seemed to be black as night. The tall pines overhead cast green-hued shadows through the gaps in the thick leaves and branches of the oaks and ashes closer to the ground. Tree leaves, both dead and decaying, lay strewn across the once-fresh clay. The road itself had been reduced to an unnavigable avenue of weeds, roots, and dead logs that would certainly destroy any car that came this way.

But what stood out the most to the three friends was the remarkable abundance of pine needles. Everywhere you looked, there was a thick cover of brown, spiny needles laying haphazardly around the forest floor. They covered the lower tree branches, falling to the ground in a downward spiral at the slightest breath of wind. Robby had long known the needle path; its powerful scent brought back the long-forgotten memories of his childhood adventures and filled his heart with a sense of nostalgic exhilaration. As they walked through the canopy, they saw a broken-down, rusted car a little way off the path. They were getting close, Robby thought with a grin; it wouldn't be long now.

The three friends soon emerged from the canopy and came to a large open field with tall grass and dandelions as far as the eye could see. Tall grey power poles towered over their heads like iron giants waiting to greet them and show them the way. But Robby was not interested in the poles or grass, nor anything else save for what he he was looking for.

"This is pretty cool," Paul said with a relieved grin, "Are we going to go back now?"

Robby gave him a stern look. "Not yet! We still haven't had our adventure."

"It was enough for me," Becky whispered to Paul.

"If you guys want to leave, then go," Robby said with a huff, "I just thought you wanted to do something cool."

His friends looked at each other in doubt; they liked Robby and adventures too, but where was he going?

"There isn't anywhere to go or anything to do here, Rob." Paul said at length.

"Because I haven't shown you yet!"

Becky started to shake her head; she didn't really care what Paul or Robby did at this point.

"Look, I'm going to head back," she said, "Call me chicken and stuff but this is dangerous and you know it." She turned her back to them and walked back down the trail towards the lake.

"Fine!" called Robby indignantly, "Me and Paul will just have all the fun."

Robby soon felt Paul's little hand on his shoulder. The boy was shaking and starting to cry a little, which was a little more emotion than Robby was used to seeing from him.

"Rob," Paul choked out, "I don't want to be out here either; we could get lost and never come back. I...I can't..."

"Paul, don't be scared; there's nothing...Paul? Paul!"

Robby tried to stop his friend from running after Becky down the trail, but it was too late. He was all alone now, with no one to help him or encourage him in his quest. The sudden shock of abandonment and loneliness started to creep in as he stood in the lengthening shadows under the power poles. What if he never did return? What if he never saw his mom again? He knew where he was going, but he had never been alone like this. Even still, he felt that he still had a duty to perform, a quest to complete. He had to be like Sir Galahad and fight whatever he needed to to find what he was looking for, both for his mother and for himself. With one last look down the trail, he bravely set out into the unknown of the invisible trail in his mind.

It had been three years, almost to the day, since Robby's father had disappeared. He remembered vividly the night when he watched his father kiss his mother goodbye, saying he was going off on a fishing trip for the night. He remembered waking up the next morning and finding his mother crying in her room and not being able to talk to her for days. He remembered the sheriffs, the rangers, and the priest coming to their house, but learning nothing of what had happened.

But most of all, he remembered waking up every day and looking for his dad sitting in his office. And seeing nothing but a bunch of empty cardboard boxes.

That was going to change today. Today, Robby McIntyre would find out what happened to his father in the simplest and most perfect way possible; looking for him. It was foolproof; his dad had always told him that if he wanted to find him, that he should look here at the state park. And so, here he was, at long last.

Robby walked along the faint outline of an overgrown trail that led through the tall grass and over the rolling hills. He knew that if he walked long enough, he would find the old tool shed that lay near the old campground. With a confident step, he walked until the shadows of the tall pines and power poles were cast across the length of the grassy valleys.

After a while, he came to the forest beyond the forest where the tool shed lay. The spot was even more ruined and overgrown than it had been before, but that didn't bother Robby; he had found the place he had set out for.

"Now," he said as he rubbed his hands together, "Time to start looking."

He started to look around the small area around the damaged shed; under logs, behind trees, in random metal containers. Always running about with a sense of giddiness, somehow constantly expecting to find an important piece of evidence. And yet, the longer he looked, the angrier he became. This was not what he was expecting at all.

"Where ARE you, Dad?!" he shouted as he threw a piece of wood against the sagging wall of the shed. "You said I could always find you here and I know it's taken me a long time to get here, but I can't find you now!"

He sat on the ground near the shed and slumped against a tree. He had tried so hard to be brave, to be courageous and strong and adventurous. But all he had found was how much it hurt to find nothing.

"Please..." Robby whispered as a single tear rolled down his face, "Please come out...Mom misses you so much...I miss you so much..."

As he buried his face in his hands, Robby noticed that the smell of the pine needles laying about him had suddenly grown much stronger. He stood and felt the wind blowing against his face, heavy with the coming cold of winter and the musk of untouched forest lands all around him. It was a little strange, but he liked it; whenever the wind blew, he never really felt alone.

And this time, he wasn't.

Robby heard a sudden creaking in the tool shed behind him. He walked towards it slowly, his blue eyes full of wonder and curiosity. He may not have found anything about his dad, but at least he could still see something cool. Robby pushed open the rotting wood door and peered inside. Nothing could have prepared him for what he was about to see.

Standing next to the old workbench with its rusty old tools, there was a strange man. He was tall with a big black coat and an oversized hat that was dipped slightly below his eyes. He was looking at the ground, shuffling his feet as though he were shy or embarrassed. The boy crept closer to the man, but the dark figure did not look up or even acknowledge his presence. With a great deal of hesitation, Robby reached for the man's cloak. To his surprise, the man shifted just out of his reach.

"I'd rather you not touch me," the spectral figure said in a low voice. Robby gasped a little in shock; he half-expected the man to be a statue.

"I'm sorry, sir" he mumbled as he started to step towards the door, "I guess I'll just..."

"Wait..."

Robby froze as the man held up a single gloved finger.

"I have been waiting for you," the figure continued, "You said you wanted to know the truth about what happened."

The boy took a few steps closer, straining to get a look under the brim of the man's hat. But every time he got closer, the man dipped his head lower.

"You mean my father?" Robby asked.

The mysterious stranger nodded slowly. "I suppose you could say I knew him. And...that I know you."

"Who are you?" the boy asked.

The figure flinched at the question and suddenly fell silent. Annoyed, Robby leapt for the hem of the man's long overcoat, but he felt his hand pass through the thick black fabric as if it were made of air. Startled, Robby stepped away from him.

"Who are you?!" Robby shouted as he became increasingly afraid.

"A friend," the man continued, "Your father told me what to tell you if you ever came this way again."

Robby's eyes were wide as saucers. All the questions he had ever asked in vain, all the heartache he had felt; all of it could go away. Eagerly, Robby sat on the ground about a yard from the man's feet.

"Please..." Robby whispered, his voice full of desperation, "Tell me what happened to my dad."

"Your father never meant to leave you, Robby, or your mother; he would have rather died. It was not his choice to make, nor his..."

The man suddenly stiffened as the sound of a distant dog howling wafted through the broken wood. He stepped backwards as though he were stung and grabbed the bench behind him for support.

"I have to go," he whispered.

Robby jumped to his feet and tried to help the man, but he just couldn't seem to hang on to any of his clothes. Angry tears flooded his vision as the stranger wrestled with an unseen force.

"You HAVE to tell me!" Robby shouted, "You have to!"

The man quickly looked up from his struggle, revealing his face to the utterly shocked boy for the first time.

It was his father.

"Robby," the man said earnestly as the hat flew from his head, "You have to get out of here, now!" As he was speaking, the back wall of the shed seemed to give way.

"I won't leave you," Robby said as he started to break down in tears. "I don't want to be alone again."

His father looked at him straight in the face, meeting his gaze with his for the first and last time in three long years.

"You're a good boy, Robert." the figure said as he walked backwards through the hole in the wood, "I always knew you would be great someday and I am proud of you. Even though I'm not there, just remember that I will always be with you."

Robby wiped his face with his sleeve and quickly leaped after his father as he passed through the wall. "No!" he shouted. But just as he was about to reach for the bottom of his jacket, his father quickly vanished around the corner.

The boy ran out of the shed through the gaping hole, but before he could get anywhere, he was violently thrown to the ground by a massive unseen tackle.

Robby hit the ground so hard that he felt the wind forced from his lungs as it whistled through his mouth. His head and sides throbbed from the powerful blow, causing him to convulse slightly on the ground in pain. It took several long minutes for him to recover, but when he eventually was able to stand, he wished that he hadn't recovered at all.

Standing in front of him was an oversized, muscular German Shepherd dog that was almost as tall as he was. It snarled and drooled as it shifted from side to side on its back legs as if to pounce on him. Behind the beast, an older-looking plump man (whose shape reminded one of a deformed pumpkin) stood menacingly in his dark green duds with a 12-gauge shotgun hanging at his side.

"Who's there?" the old man asked loudly.

"Robby McIntyre, sir," the boy said as he clutched his sides and aching head, wincing at the touch.

"What are you doing so goddamn far from the park, boy?!" the man shouted.

"Sorry, Ranger Lloyd (for that was the man's name); I got a little lost."

"BULLSHIT." The man exclaimed, "Get in the truck; you're in deep shit trouble."

Robby groaned as he felt himself being roughly thrown into the passenger seat of the ranger vehicle. Ranger Lloyd was by far the worst and most unfriendly of all the state park rangers; a fifty-year alcoholic who hated children and spent all of his sober time screaming at people walking on "his" roads. Robby knew he was in for it now.

They took the long way around the pine needle forest that Robby and his friends had passed through earlier; the road was too dangerous for even the rugged jeep to cross through safely. With a swift acceleration and a slight skid on the power turn, they pulled onto the main concrete road that led back to the state park. Within minutes, Robby was sitting on top of a park bench facing the brutish ranger, two police officers, and his tear-stained mother.

"Robert," his mother said, "What the HELL were you doing so far away?!" Her plump face was red as a tomato and her hands sat firmly on her sides as though they were fixed there with superglue.

"I was looking..."

"Looking for what?" the ranger snapped, "That's private property back there."

The police officers jotted down something in their notebooks as the squawk of their walkie-talkies interrupted the uneasy silence. Robby could not think of anything to say; there was no way he could make them understand.

"Speak, Robby!" his mother exclaimed, "You're already in deep trouble, so you better not make it any worse by lying."

The boy hesitated again as all four pairs of eyes bore down on him. He sighed and looked down at his feet; he knew he had to answer, but he knew they'd never believe him. With a deep breath, he made his confession without even stuttering.

"I was looking for Dad," he said as he looked away.

The ranger's eyes bulged curiously at the mention of Robby's father, but his mother had a much more explosive reaction.

"You snuck away from me because of THAT?! Robby, your father is GONE! Gone forever! I am sick and tired of these stupid games."

She continued to berate him as the three men watched on in awkward silence. When she was finished, the police handed her a trespassing notice and left in their silver cruisers without another word. His mother picked him up and threw him in the backseat of their car as they prepared to drive away. But before they left, Robby had one thing left to say.

"I found him, by the way. Told me everything."

His mother snapped around, eyes wide and flaming like two terrible suns.

"You shut the hell up or I will beat the crap out of you."

"Fine by me," Robby said with a small twist of a smile, for he knew he was not completely wrong. He had indeed seen his dad, but how little he had learned about his disappearance would haunt him for the rest of his life. As they drove back through the totem pole gates, Robby shot one last glance towards the dark clay road.

"Thank you," he whispered softly. His quest was finally complete.

Robby McIntyre never learned the story of his father's disappearance; nobody did. There were rumours, of course; Robby often told his friends about the man he had met in the woods, which quickly spread into fantastic tales of ghosts and watchmen. But no one could ever be certain, no one ever knew. Save for one.

In the gathering gloom of the night of the adventure, the one person who ever knew the truth stood alone at the broken tool shed; Ranger Lloyd.

He had once gone hunting around here almost three years to the day. He and his dog Smitty had been out looking for some small game when they heard something rustling behind a large bush. Lloyd had been out drinking before his hunt, so every sound and movement caused him to flinch and fire. Before they could investigate further, the ranger had eagerly taken his trusty shotgun and popped a few caps into the thick brush. Lloyd had hardly gone a few steps towards his kill when he noticed a pool of sticky red liquid underneath his foot. Too much blood to have been from a freshly-killed animal; someone had been hurt. He called out in desperation trying to find the injured person or someone to help, but grew quiet as the sickening realization settled in.

The man he had killed was Jonathan McIntyre.

Unwilling to admit to manslaughter and reckless hunting charges from the police, he decided to hide the evidence rather than report it. He dug a hole underneath the old tool shed in the forest and buried the corpse beneath the floorboards. With many tedious weeks of landscaping, he fashioned the clay path to be completely unnavigable, giving him the excuse he needed to close the maintenance road for good.

Many years had passed, but the guilt of Robby's dead father still haunted the mind of the elderly ranger. He panicked whenever Robby came around, but never told them or gave any indication that he knew. Robby's mother went to her early grave believing her husband had abandoned her and her only son, while the truth lay hidden in a tortured mind clouded by decades of alcohol abuse.

To this day, folks who visit the state park will often tell stories of haunted pine needle ghosts and the mysterious forest beyond the forest.. But none of them will ever know the story of the murder of Jonathan McIntyre. That has long since disappeared; trickling through the pine needles with a 12-gauge shotgun laying ominous and ownerless close nearby.