The Woods were Always Dark at Night

March 1, 2011
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The woods were always dark at night. The shade of the trees covered any visible part of the rocky path as the moon loomed above the branches. Small, woodland creatures nestled together in the hollow parts of the maple trunks and the wind rustled the crisp leaves of November. The air was chilled by the late night, adding to the haunting effect of the land, along with a heavy silence.

A young man made his way into the maze of trees. His head was down and he was dressed in black, camouflaging him with his ebony surroundings. Making every step with determination and speed, he navigated his way through the mossy ground and dimmed walk. Heavy breaths escaped his lips while droplets of sadness spilled down his cheeks. Anger was bursting through his red eyes as he tried closing them to restrict the tears. A voice was echoing in his mind, following him in his escape.

‘Tom, Tom, what is wrong with you, Tom, how could you be so ignorant?’ The condescending words bounced back and forth within his pounding head as he urged, as he prayed for them to stop. As the insults picked up their pace, so did his muddy feet, subconsciously running away. Unfortunately, the past he was hiding from pursued him more and more as he tried to let it go. He could not escape it. He started to close his eyes.
One Month Ago

The paper had a large, bolded, letter ‘C’ in the upper right-hand corner. After placing it on the desk, Mr. Hopkins nodded his head in dissatisfaction as he continued passing back the students’ assignments. Tom simply stared at the grade, inwardly sighing. This would just not be acceptable. Mr. Hopkins had continued speaking but Tom, barely listening had already placed his head in his hands and had leaned them on the wooden table.
“They’re going to kill me,” he whispered to himself, ‘They’re going to destroy me.’
The shrill bell rang in Tom’s ears as he collected his books and made his way out of the small classroom. He silently and slowly made his way to the salmon locker and retrieved the supplies he would need for that night’s work. Letting out another long sigh, he closed his eyes and dreamed of a different life. When he fluttered them open, he saw that nothing had changed. Frowning, he started making his way to his car.
‘I’m a failure, I’ve accomplished nothing. How could I be so… so stupid?’The entire journey home was filled with such criticism and self-evaluation. These harsh words became more and more intense, more and more taunting, as he made his way up the driveway of the private manor. Panic began replacing every other emotion as his heart began beating faster and faster. Taking a deep breath and attempting to recollect himself, he made his way through the front door of the establishment.
The house in front of him was exquisite. Maroon bricks and elegant moldings exemplified the beauty of the large estate. The impressiveness continued once inside the abode as well. Imported marble covered the floor and priceless paintings hung from the walls’ Ornate sculptures and furniture filled the carefully mapped out building. However, Tom hastily made his way through the halls, quite out of place. He climbed the shiny, smooth mahogany steps two at a time and entered his room in a rush.
Ignoring the intricate way the bed was made and his clothes put away; Tom threw his bag onto the desk and furiously ripped out his test. The ‘C’ glared at him as he desperately tried to hide it. As he was locking it away in his bedside drawer, he heard a knock at the door.
Tom silently groaned and cursed himself for not acting sooner. He would now have to go through the painful exercise that he regretfully and frequently had to take part in. He shoved his fists into his khaki pockets and prepared himself.
A petite woman of about forty stood in the doorway. Her hair was perfectly trimmed and formed a bob around her features. Pearl earrings hung from the sides of her face and she wore freshly-pressed clothes. Contrary to her inviting image, a frown was plastered on her made-up face and her eyes were narrowed in distaste.
“I just received a phone call from your teacher, Thomas.” Her voice was slow, questionable. “Mr. Hopkins.”
Tom desperately hung on to his muteness and averted his eyes from his mother’s.

“He was simply letting me know of some of your recent marks on several assessments, Thomas, do you know of what I am referring to?” Her tone was becoming darker and the volume louder. Shame coated her words as she stepped inside the pristine room. “Let’s see it.”

Still biting his tongue, Tom reached into his drawer and pulled out the tainted paper. He continued to avoid eye contact as he gave the test to his mother. The room was heavy.

Tempted, Tom looked at his mother’s face as she stared at the paper. Her eyes did not budge from the corner holding the letter ‘C.’ Those same eyes, that were a carbon copy of his, held a recognizable coldness that Tom had grown accustomed to seeing from a young age. It signified and concluded the rest of the conversation.

Now the words meant little after the moment Tom’s mother’s hand met his cheek with an ear-splitting spark. The screams, the threats, the disappointing remarks, were all there. But the importance and significance of the situation resided in the calmness of Tom’s face. He took every insult quietly, he did not move after the meeting of his skin and his mother’s manicured slap. He remained still the entire time. Her yells were meaningless, insignificant; it was the look in her crystal eyes that pierced through him. Holding a strong, physical front was easy, but Tom could not help but leave his heart unguarded. The embarrassment was loud enough for it to penetrate him. He had let her down.

“When your father returns from his meeting in New York, we will discuss this further.” She left in a huff. Tom still did not move as she slammed the door behind her.

Two hours later, navy duffel bag in hand, Tom subtly made his way out of his room and down the steps to the back door of the house. Luckily, his mother was in the kitchen, on the other side of the estate.

He silently made his way to the backyard and sprinted towards the neighboring wood. The sky was clear and moon was pale against the dark backdrop. He navigated his way through the thick branches and dirt-strewn path for ten, long minutes. The entire way, Tom contemplated; about life, about his parents, about his future. Every thought brought more and more agitation to his mind as he reflected it into his heavy strides.

Arriving at a leafy oak, he slid down the wooden column and made himself comfortable. The buzz of night bugs could be heard from everywhere and chirps from the forest dwellers echoed in the air. Pulling out a black comforter, a few novels, and a flashlight, Tom started losing himself amidst various characters and plots.

A half-hour later, Tom could hear steps approaching from behind him. He turned his head and saw beyond the oak. From a cluster of bushes, a tall, fair-haired girl approached him with a flashlight and backpack. Upon seeing Tom’s face, the teen smiled.

“Thomas, I have been looking everywhere for you!” Smirking, she sat down next to him, pulling the contents out of her backpack. Bags of chips, sodas, and chocolates all made their way to the blanket underneath the two friends.

“Sandra, not now.” Tom closed his eyes as he lay his head against the tree. The pounding of his head was gaining speed

Sighing, Sandra still continued in her pursuit.

“Look, I got your favorite, Skittles, and then some Coke, and everything we need.” She looked towards Tom for some sign of excitement or add-in to the conversation. The frown on Tom’s face was becoming more and more prominent, which worried her. The alacrity that he once had for living life with grin was being replaced with sorrow and disappointment. Lately, she believed that he was looking at the world and his place in it as nefarious and perfidious.

“Tom, are you listening to me?” The level of frustration in her voice was growing. But no words escaped Tom’s sullen frown. Sandra remained quiet for several minutes, hoping it would prompt Tom to open up a bit.

The crescent moon was waning more and more. The little light it had to offer made its way to the young man’s face. Sandra saw dark circles etched under her beloved’s eyes. Stress lines seemed to be painted onto his forehead. His breathing was quick and agitated like that of apprehension at its highest peak.

Taking a different approach, she lowered her voice; adopting a smoother, more patient tone. “Is this about your parents? Were they upset again today?” She took his silence as confirmation and placed her head on his shrugged shoulder and started whispering in his ear.

“You know they love you. You know you’re not a failure.” Tom didn’t respond, though he thought the words were kind.

Gently, “Tom, you can’t take every small, stupid disappointment in your life and become so upset about it. So what if your parents aren’t exactly pleased with you? Just try your best and wherever you get is where you get. Make the most of it!” At this point, her voice had started to shaje but, simultaneously, it gained volume. Tom had put his head down and, even with the inadequate light; tears could be seen coming down his face. This proved to be too much for Sandra.

“God damn it Tom! Do you know what’s happening? You’re scaring me. Every time you leave your phone in your room to come to this forest, I start freaking out! I care about you Tom. So many other people do to. Stop coming here. Stop doing this to me, to them.” She was sobbing now. “Please Tom, can you promise me that? Because sometimes, sometimes I don’t even know if you’re going to come back.”

Tom looked up to meet her desperate eyes. The whistling wind was blowing her blonde hair away from her tan face and he frowned at the sadness he saw depicted in her inverted smile. He comprehended the words just fine, but the gravity of them surprised him.

“Promise,” he breathed. He could not get any other words to come out of his mouth, but the anguish was evident in his features and tone. He took Sandra into his arms, placed a kiss on her head, and settled into their spot.

She cares,’ he thought. They both closed their eyes and prolonged the stillness.
His past continued to flood his thoughts as he made his way through the black forest. The midnight sky was naked of stars and only a sliver of moon could be seen.
Tom found a small opening by a large oak tree and slid down the trunk and held his knees to his face. Thunder cracked in the sky and rain quickly poured down, the droplets melting together with his tears. Sobs quivered in his chest and his clothes were soon soaked to a dangerous point. As the frustration grew to tension and distress, he started pounding the soppy ground beneath him. He pulled out a small pocketknife from his trouser pocket and fiddled with it whilst shivering. ‘It seems so easy’ he contemplated. ‘Others don’t cringe at the thought of meeting their parents, others don’t fear their lives when it comes to having a word with their father, why should I?’ He continued to play with the tool, passing it from hand to hand.
Suddenly, he heard footsteps coming from behind him. Much too exhausted and overwhelmed to care, he closed his eyes and leaned his head back, waiting for whoever it was.
A girl stood in front of him with every inch of her clothes drenched in rain. Her blonde hair clung to her face and her panting chest was not covered adequately for the demanding weather.
The detail that first caught Tom’s attention was her eyes. The round, doe-like eyes that he had learned to cherish were wide with terror and fear. He had always connected those eyes with attributes of confidence and strength, the same ones he had always characterized the girl with. He had known her for years, and she was his closest friend. But she, for the first time, was scared.
Tom saw Sandra in an exposed light. She was shaking, hugging herself for warmth. Looking down at Tom, she started to cry. Her whimpers echoed in Tom’s ears and pushed back his selfish thoughts of failure and discontent. He started standing up and simultaneously placed the knife that Sandra was staring at, back into his pocket. Grabbing the soaked arms of the vulnerable girl in front of him, he pressed her head to his chest. She encircled her arms around his neck, closing the space between their sodden bodies, silently expressing her relief for arriving in time. The pulled apart slightly to look at each other.
The lightning flashed in the back ground, illuminating the features of the two young ones. He saw a face of a person whose happiness meant the world to him. She saw the face of a person whose absence had sent irrational tremors of panic into her system. They each looked into the eyes of the only person they could imagine being with during that terrifying moment. After all, the woods were always dark at night.

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