There was a peculiar forest that children were warned about. A dark and blotching landscape that strayed in a wide section along the coast of Kennebunks, Maine. No one doubted its history or the depths within that could easily snatch someone into lost wandering. Not even the particular kid that shoved others into lockers or took dares to a reckless stage. Or even the active little ones never dared to search for a lost soccer ball if it happened to roll even an inch into its emerald foliage.
Because everyone in Kennebunk knew; the forest was no playground. It’s rooted from its first victim, a wanderlust little boy who walked in with a sense of adventure and never walked back out. The little boy had become apart of the dark nature itself and was so evaded by obstacles that he had become a beast. The beast that had other children hiding under their covers and declaring that they had seen a strange shadow within it.
One particular night, Melanie Flatrude came home late from work. Now, this was a usual thing since she worked hard and professional labor. Melanie was a busy woman.
She had announced her presence with the jingle of keys and the clicking of high-heeled boots. It was as demanding as her personality and the usually stern expression stamped on her face. Even as she kicked off her shoes and hung up her purse, it remained as a flitting reminder of who she would become the next day.
It was almost hard to believe that she was a mother at all. A mother to a son who had been acting strange lately and as she passed by his room, glowing from the dimness of a night light. Something was off. He was six years old and had felt neglected for as long as he could remember. Maybe that’s why his imagination had orchestrated “imaginary friends.” Invisible companions that he had spoken to when his mother wasn’t there to speak to him herself.
Something was different.
Melanie usually passed by his bedroom carelessly, without the motherly bedtime kiss or the classic tuck-in. But she couldn’t help but stop in his doorway. His bed was empty. No tuft of pale hair. No tiny body buried beneath a dinosaur comforter.
“Clay?” She questioned, her voice filling the emptiness of the polished home.
She frowned and began to check every cabinet and small space, hoping that he had somehow managed to squeeze himself into a hiding place out of childish mischief.
But just as she was mid-action of yanking open yet another closet door, she saw the alabaster blur in the corner of her eye.
Then she saw him out the window. He was advancing towards the woods that had grown close to their yard.
She would have thought nothing of it, if it weren’t for the faint realization that other parents like herself had banished their daughters and sons from the forbidden denseness itself and some time between this she was running out with two bare feet across her perfectly mowed lawn.
“Clay!” She yelled, watching his form fade into the descending darkness. “Come back here!”
She was never a good mother. Even she could admit that, but there was a type of fear within her chest that had her pulse rapidly beating against thin skin and the wild hum of her blood. Melanie ignored every wince as her tender skin tore at thorns and the sharp rocks at her soles.
Melanie had to have caught up with him by now. He had only been walking and now she was running like her life depended on it rather than his.
She found an almost comfort in the woods, despite it’s fame in the legends of the boy who became lost and eventually a feared beast among others. It was a kind of ecstasy that fought at her knowing to be afraid.
Why had he wandered about here in the first place?
Just as she was launching herself throughout another labyrinth of rickets and boughs, she heard something amongst the madness that was her eagerness to find her son.
“The monster wants me,” a small voice whispered in the dark. “The destroyer.”
She followed it, feeling around the rough bark of tree trunks for support. There was a small body curled into a ball amongst the base of one. Clay.
He rocked back and forth, the way he always had after one of his recurring nightmares. She approached, as one might walk slowly towards a frightened animal. His face was chalky and the pale eyes she shared with him stared off.
“Clay,” Melanie said slowly. “Who’s the destroyer?”
She assumed that it must of been another one of his imaginary friends. Only it didn’t sound as friendly.
He jumped in surprise and there was a strange expression on his face. He almost looked scared of her, but at the same time she swore his face had stretched and the bones that framed him had sunken and become more prominent.
Melanie thought her son was looking at someone behind her shoulder, but then he raised a skeletal finger that had once been sausagey like a child’s should be. He was pointing at her.
“You,” he smiled, not a sad smile but a pleased one. “You destroyed me. Look what I’ve become.”
How could a mother be scared of her own child? It seemed almost impossible, but in that moment she realized what he was. He was the little boy who had wandered into the woods and became its beast many years ago. Back in the comfort of her home, Melanie had his picture dotted with a few candles in mourning of his disappearance beside it.
Clay was no longer lost. He was hungry.
By Jaidyn Tibeau