“THE BOY Who Got Away”

A Short Story

Saturday mornings, after chores, we usually pick out a scary movie or maybe a science-fiction classic to watch. But for a period it was Supernatural; a series, at that time, I’d never heard of before but had been on for ten years. Binge-watching bounty indeed. On the show Sam and Dean, the Winchester brothers hunted and killed all kinds of ghosts, demons, and paranormal thingies. The show draws on myth and urban legend as the basis for the story-lines. I enjoyed it as much as Alpha and Beta [my then 14-year-old twin daughters, not their real names]. One Saturday I was working on story notes while they watched it.
 
“Dad?”
 
I looked over at Alpha. “Yeah, honey.” It’s funny with twins. They often ask questions they seem to have reached consensus on through some nonverbal means of communication. I looked up from my notepad to see them glance at each other and then nod their head like, ‘Go ahead ask him.’
 
“What is it, girls?”
 
“Do you believe in…” Alpha used the remote-control to point at the TV and pause the show, “ghosts and demons?”
 
I put my mechanical pencil down. [I handwrite story and scene notes with a Staedtler Graphite 771 or a Faber Castell Pearwood E-motion.] And sat the lap desk on the Ottoman by my chair. I turned so I could see them both. “You know about what happened to me in Italy?” [Which is told in another story.]
 
Alpha nodded her head. Beta asked me, “But what about when you were a kid?”
 
“I can tell you about a boy and what happened to him. Want to hear it?” They nodded so I told them:
 
He was always happiest outside and on his own. His family was just above the poverty line and lived in the country on thirty acres of land — about two-thirds of it forest, the rest pasture and a pond. It seemed all he did was work; there were always things to fix or repair when everything’s held together with baling wire, tape and a prayer it holds until money came in. When he had free time, usually late in the day, he would take a book and disappear into the farthest corner of the woods. He’d bring a canteen of water (sometimes, but rarely, a can of Coke), a bag of beef jerky and a flashlight to read by once the sun started going down.
 
One autumn day he was in the back corner, where his family’s land ended and it sloped towards the road leading to what he and his friend’s called the Point but was Grey’s Landing on the lake.
 
The sun was setting and through clear patches, he saw the moon rising low in the sky behind the trees. Their tops rustled and moved in the crisp, fresh, wind that bent them away from the direction of home. He shined his light on his watch; seeing the time, he rose from the knee-high stump he’d been sitting on and headed that way along the path. As he stood, stretching and brushing off the seat of his pants, behind him, he heard baying. An ululation that speared the night [I had to stop to explain to Alpha and Beta what that word meant]; strong enough to beat through the wind’s gasp, flowing around tree trunks and through leaves, and reach him.
 
He was halfway out of the woods when he heard a second, closer, howl. Just under it was the sound of gnashing teeth; a chattering of fangs. He moved faster. It had been a dry season, sticks and branches snapped and cracked as he made his way. Ahead a wail flowed down to him followed by a third howl behind him; whatever they were… he realized they were working together. He angled to his left, off the trail hoping to lose them, now running fast and hitting limbs that didn’t break. They tore long gashes in his face and neck; his forearms were protected by his jacket, but his hands became scored and cut trying to protect his face. Blood flowed in streaks.
 
Clouds were building, and the wind picked up as he broke through onto the crest where trees ended, and the pits began. Wide swaths of excavation and deep gouges made in the pasture; the source of fill dirt his father sold to local construction companies. He had to go down into and through them before the climb back up for the open stretch to his home.
 
He ran faster than he ever had before; his breathing and heart pounding louder than the wind. He slowed to listen; there had not been any more cries. Off the upward slope where it plateaued he passed the set of pear trees atop the rise overlooking the pond. Only 1000 yards down then up again to home where it sat on the next hill. His thigh muscles twitched and jumped, and his gait became choppy. His arms so heavy he could barely lift them. The impact of his feet as he planted them; a flat-footed, jarring jolt with each stride and a near-puke feeling in his throat. He spat to his side then looked up and saw the house back-lit by the last remnants of sundown. He could make it.
 
Halfway there he felt it almost on him. The snarl so close he smelt rank rotted-meat breath. He looked over his shoulder. Its yellow eyes widened, and long teeth glinted in the moonlight as a taloned hand thick with coarse black hair reached for him. It dug into flesh and turned him. Spun to the ground, a spray of saliva hit his face as the howl climbed to a shriek. He rolled and got to his feet, his shirt ripped from his back. In his hand was the WWII era bayonet he always carried with him into the woods. Just then a sheet of rain swept over them…
 
My daughters’ eyes had grown wider as I told the story. They grew larger still when I stopped talking. I waited for it.
 
“Dad…” They finally blinked. “What happens next? Did the boy die…?”
 
I didn’t say anything and pulled my T-shirt down showing them my right shoulder and the scar that ran across it. “He got away.”
 
As a father, over the years, I’ve learned to keep my girls on their toes.;-)