I had known the fairy tales about kids being abandoned in the woods since I could read. Though I never would have thought it’d happen to me. But here I was with a clothes filled backpack slung over my shoulder, standing by a deteriorated asphalt road. My stepfather’s station wagon sped away into the fog, flicking drops of water as the wheels spun out.
I flipped my red hoodie over my head and tugged on the strings as hard as I could. Anything to protect my face from the stinging morning cold.
My stepfather would pull stunts like this pretty often. Whenever him and my mom got into a big fight he’d take it out on me. He’d usually cool off after a night of drinking and screwing hookers with Jimbo, his wingman. My stepdad always said that every man needs a wingman, no matter the situation. I had to be careful when I came back home, if Jimbo was there I would get a beating from both of them. So I usually just stayed out two or three nights to be sure I was in the clear.
I shuffled further into the forest. Dew dropped ferns brushed by jeans, leaving dark streaks. I couldn’t afford to get wet. I had learned the hard way how cold it got when the sun set.
I wandered around until I spotted an arrow carved into a pine. Suddenly all the trees had arrows of some kind depicted in their bark.
All roads lead to Rome
I followed the arrows to my sanctuary. Over the years I had perfected my wooded fortress. Walls made of pallets, tires, and scrap metal. And a slanted roof covered in a blue tarp. It was functional, and chic. I brushed my fingers along its perimeter as I circled toward the main entrance.
My heart dropped a beat when I heard movement coming from inside. The shifting, crackling noise of a person walking on plastic. I froze in my tracks. Too scared to breathe.
“Aye! Ooose out there?!” A gruff voice shot out from the fort.
Another voice whispered sharply.
I did not respond. Instinctually, I took a step back. I must have landed my foot on the only patch of dry leaves in the forest, because the instant I shifted my weight they crunched with no regard for the tense situation I was in.
The next few minutes happened faster than most moments. The man rushed out of my building with a yellow boxcutter squeezed inside a closed fist. He had a scraggly beard and bloodshot eyes. Surgical tubing coiled loosely around his left arm. He was junkie, and he was fucked up.
“Whattter, eh. Whaterrr you doing here kidoo?” The man slurred his speech periodically and swooned his head while talking.
“I uh, built this fort for when my stepdad kicks me out.” I grinned sheepishly.
The man glared at me, and then exploded into a fit of unprovoked fury.
“YOU CAN’T TELL MEEEE…” He took a mighty breath of air. “TO LEAVE!!!”
He began lucidly waving the boxcutter around in a figure eight. I threw my hands up and showed him my palms.
“I don’t want any trouble now.” I slowly took two steps back. “I just want to be on my way! I’ll risk the beating, I just want to go home.”
The junkie’s right eye twitched. He arched his back, and displayed a putrid smile.
“Naaa whyyy are yaa goin home? Don’t you wannnnna play for a bit?” He waved his box cutter vertically, as if imagining caressing it up and down the length of my body. “Commmon now.”
I realized then that he would not let me leave. I had to run, else I would be found next week with a slit throat, face-first in a drainage ditch. I needed to move faster than the man could react. I dug my heels into the soft soil. I would spin around on the count of three. Then break into a sprint until I hit the road again.
I hadn’t counted on his friend sneaking up behind me.