The Wilderness Wants Me This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

March 23, 2013
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The pain and anguish of a million stories, that’s what Peter feels. He told me, when Miss Archer read his assessment out to the class and I asked him how he wrote with such feeling. He whispered to me with a voice soft as trees “I feel every emotion I write about”

If he does then it must tear him apart, except it couldn’t break me, even if it was my story. Peter writes with a detached personality, if you read in between lines and look deep you can read about the people I know. Real people that go to our school, the liars and fakers, characters from pictures, and characters from famous books with new stories and new trials they appear again and again. It’s not peters diary. It’s just a diary he wrote. Other people might call it a biography or a collection of fiction. But they haven’t read it, they haven’t felt how it belongs to his characters, how they laugh and sneer through every sentence. They scream and wail and shriek through their wreck of a life, plans spiralling in their crazed minds. Murder and revenge thrash at every violent page; plot lines that writhe like sharks in a blood soaked feeding frenzy.

How could he feel all of that? When I am numb and cold when the world is disconnected and when the sight of her face drags me further back down.

The moors and mountains gape with devilish temptation. So I swerve off the worn path and before I know it I’m running. The wilderness wants me. The branches aren’t pushing me back and the ground uneven and tricky to sprint on never trips me up. The woods claw desperately at me devouring me, lifting and rising with endless patterns of rocks and roots I doge easily. I climb like I’m on the ladder to heaven with greedy determination and each time I see how high up I am my heart pounds, soars, louder and with deeper fury. It bangs against my chest so with such a deafening rhythm I can’t help think it will scare away the birds.

The woods thin and give up. I always win and my prize: the desert of the Scottish highlands stretches out desolate and empty. Who could ever imagine the world is crowded?

Even when hikers come in fluorescent colours all strapped together with coils of rope they don’t feel this. So many safety precautions they never get in. They never visit the real ancient life of this place. These mountains and lakes don’t let tourists in; they can stand right where I stand on this dizzying peak and not be allowed entry. If they were allowed in just like the spiky thistles strangle the gaudy planted flowers, this land would choke them. But some of the people I write about from the diaries I could never let anyone read, my characters would thrive as I do.

I shouldn’t have read his diaries. Those tales were loud and angry and the intricate descriptions of the differences in human emotions cried out to be read and gorged upon. Yet there was something guarded and private about those diaries. The reason I call them diaries is because they are so personal, only the people who have live it could write their inner thoughts in such unashamed honesty. I am addicted now. I need the next instalment, I want all that feeling I want that passion that hate. But at the same time I want to curl up because I haven’t wanted anything for so long. I want to talk about it and ask questions and I want my mum to give me the answers I hate but need. I will be selfish and destroy the fences that stop me asking and it will all seep out again in flashes of red, saffron yellow and burning orange.

The curves in the mountains calm me; the rain steadies my mind, and like cleansing fire washes away the thoughts that ran through my head. It happens a lot. It’s like a pendulum my head swings up and down through envy of other people and exhilaration of being isolated from them. This is when I dare myself to read the stories I wrote. I shock myself at the anger and lust I wrote about, later when the serenity leaves me I’ll write another or continue my most recent character Andy and his story of his fall in to desperate poverty. I dont’ always finish them; Andy’s life may continue forever on that cliff hanger that the thunder storm last week inspired me to end.

I should go back soon, not that anyone notices when I bunk off. I stand up and blink through the rain that comes down determinedly soaking everything in its path. Instead of turning back to school my body turns a different direction. There are hills and mountains, rocky trails, rivers and streams, boulders of every size and colour but there are very few trees. When you get through the pine woods the highlands are huge whales that glide with grace across the empty river beds that ran dry centuries ago. But there is one tree tucked away quiet and undemanding next to a damp cave that has its own heartbeat, a steady drip, drip, drip. I can’t remember what type of tree it is and I desperately want to know. Its berried branches stay resolutely still against the bullying wind and rain. It must be anchored deep in the ground to grow out here; no other trees mark the landscape it stands alone. A final survivor.

I touch it once before I enter the cave, stooping under its low roof. I throw down my bag and the bang startles me as it breaks the stillness. There are already things I have left here from other times: a jumper, three old charity shop books by Zola, and loose pens that roll across the cool hard floor haphazardly.

The rain still pours down and because there is a large flat piece of rock that hangs over my cave the water gushes down like a waterfall. It reminds me of when I was 5 and I read an adventure book set in the jungle where the hero hides behind a waterfall from the tigers. When I read that I thought that hiding behind a waterfall was more ingenious than anything I had ever heard of, and I longed to be that hero trekking through the jungle and sheltering from angry beasts.

I always bring my books to school, the ones I write in the diaries of my characters, and the rain pours a new story in to my head and hands. So I open my bag, reach for a pen, and wonder briefly how long it will be before I come out of my cave and rejoin the world.

At last the downpour has stopped; the skies are free of that wretched rain and the constant drumming against my window has stopped. It rained all yesterday and last night but now the morning has dawned dry. While I pull on my boots mum lingers in the hall smiling she opens her glossy lips “Lily sweetie did isn’t it good the rain has stopped?”
She waits for no reply and continues easily
“I forgot to tell you, but I think your class is going out on the hills today, planting something or other”

“I thought weren’t not allowed on the highlands.”I reply

“Don’t be silly, you won’t be climbing right on the mountains you’ll just stay in the pine woods. I doubt any flower on god’s earth could survive out on the mountains, not even lilies.” She jokes.

I smile and nod, but all I can think is where do lilies survive? I swear I’ve never seen them out of pots and they’ve been cut then so they’re already half dead. Mum does it so easily moving on, but when I see her I still see her run past me dead set on Emma’s bedroom. I still feel that boiling heat and smell smoke.

From the kitchen Emma calls out in a singsong voice “mum have you seen my French book? I think we had homework or something”

Mum turns in a flurry and begins the usual morning scold of how disorganised Emma is. But as always her voice takes on the fond, gentle tone that overflows with tenderness.

I leave; banging the door shut behind me and set out for school. I’m going to be so early, before anyone else has arrived but I wanted to get out off that house. The highlands are shrouded in mist and it has sunk in to my head. The fog doesn’t bother me in fact I like its slow movement that cloaks the village and how you can barely see the top of the mountains. Our school is tiny and everyone that goes lives in walking distance but the fog will worry mum, in fact right at this minute she will be offering Emma a lift and they will drive past me. I wonder if Peter will come today, or if he will bunk off again. I’m angry his stories woke me up I want to go back to my cold world where my mind stays beautifully black and empty. The hills look strangely inviting and I need a place where I can clear my head.

Lily hurries in to the classroom panting, her hair in tangles, “Sorry I’m late miss”
That’s weird, I saw her out of my window, well Betty and Adam’s window, my foster parents Betty and Adam. They’re the best ones yet actually, last year I’d never been to the highlands, never been to Scotland and now I couldn’t bear to leave. Anyway I’m sure I saw Lily walk past my house ages before school started.

“Class settle down! Can you be still for just a second? Thank you!” Miss Archer’s voice thunders out.

“Of course you all know how lucky we are living next to some of the most beautiful scenery in Scotland,”

She pauses to glare around the room as if daring someone to question its beauty. Satisfied that the class is listening she continues.

“Last month we planted some flowers in the pine woods and today we are going to see how they are growing.”

That cave was full of his things; it feels like a lifetime since I went out through the mist and wandered over the hills, since I found that lone tree.

The class stumbles through the woods, Miss Archer is looking less convinced of her plan now the fog is thicker and you can barely see the person ahead of you. Everybody is talking to their friends, only Peter and I trudge across the grass in silence. I used to be friends with these girls; I was born here in this tiny town. Fifteen years growing up with the same people who were all born here too. Twelve of those years I spent in the same cosy cottage that was our home. Fire burns friendships too.

Miss Archer will know it was me of course she will! When we planted the flowers I was angry that they came on to my highlands that they got near my cave and the lone tree that guards it. Well, that what I told myself I was angry about. So I pulled them up one by one with my bare hands, methodically ripping out the roots. Neither Betty nor Sam said anything about my scratched and bloody hands, they just exchanged a look. But they didn’t send me back to the children’s home in London, that’s when I realized how much I would hate to go back. I wrote about a character called Anna after that, how she hated plants because her Dad left his money to a public garden in his will. So she trashed the garden, hacked at the trees and uprooted the flowers screaming the whole time. It was a good story, even if it scared me that I inspired myself to write about that crazed woman.

Miss Archer stares at the remains of the flowers we planted. They are scattered about in ruins, the earth is a mess of holes and roots. “Who did this? Who uprooted them?” She spits out coldly.

Peter is standing next to me, he looks like he’s going to be sick, and his face is shiny with sweat. It’s obvious he did it. More obvious because I read his stories and I read the diary of a woman driven mad by greed.
With a voice as softly as trees I whisper “Maybe Anna did it.”

She read them.

That’s all it takes, he freezes and begins to walk backwards towards the mountains, the real highlands. Miss Archer is to busy trying to organise the group to notice me follow him. Then we are dashing across the hills and boulders and the marshy swamps. I call desperately my voice searching out like a lighthouse warning ships. Clawing through the fog I realise which way he is running, which haven he is heading for.

Suddenly he stops and turns. His face is set like a mask but there is vulnerability in his voice.
“Why did you read them?”
“Peter I’m sorry”
He interrupts “I said why you read them?”
“When Miss read that assessment Peter I haven’t felt anything for so long, I shut myself down! I wanted that raw emotion, wanted to feel properly. So I looked in your bag and read them. The diaries you wrote were so...”
He looks up surprised “You think they’re diaries?”
“Of course, only the characters themselves could write like that” I try to fathom his expression, but it changes so quickly.
“I never thought anyone else would understand that.” He says quietly his face turned away then he asks “What did you mean when you said you shut yourself down?”

She begins to walk slowly and I follow, never have I felt so patient.

Her voice shakes and her eyes seem far away in a different time. She begins talking quickly and panicked.
“I woke up, that night three years ago because of the heat. It was like being in an oven. I was terrified I stepped out of my room in to the hall and the smoke hit me. It choked me and the roaring flames made me think I was already dead and in hell, I saw my mum, I needed her to help me! I screamed for her and she saw me. I was crouched in my doorway, so scared I was paralysed. She ran she sprinted right past me to Emma’s bedroom. She disappeared in to the flames and I was left in the heat, the suffocating smoke, the beams collapsing over my head and the red tongues licking up my house. The firemen saved me but I only remember fainting from the heat and waking up in hospital. My dad died when I was three. Emma is two years younger than me, she was born prematurely, so it makes sense mum ran to her first. But I felt so much fear and helplessness that night. I locked it all away because I can’t forget what my mum did even now.”

She stops walking. In front of us arises a lake from the mist and beyond that: a charred empty shell, the carcass of a dead animal, Lily’s old house is a pile of bones, a long forgotten skeleton.

“Why did you pull the flowers up?”

Ghosts and memories swarm like bees about a nest. But this burnt house still feels like home, as does the lake. Peter looks calmer than ever before, he is quieter his eyes blaze with less fury. So I ask him why he pulled the flowers up.

“I got angry, it seemed unfair your class would plant more next year but I won’t be there. Because I always have to move on I always have to leave! Betty and Sam will get tired of me like everybody does. But I fit here.” Gusts of wind blown in from the South, roaring like waves over his voice.

I’m screaming at him competing against the howling wind. “Betty and Sam lost a baby, a stillborn boy. When they lost the baby Betty was taken in to hospital for depression. That why teachers don’t mind if you are late or if you never do work, because you help Betty move on with her life!”

The silence stretches out like eternity. I can think of nothing to say.
“You belong here Peter, like I belonged in that burnt cottage.” She says her eyes closed her face lifted up to the sky.

“No flower on God’s earth could survive here, not even lilies” She says almost to herself. The she turns and walks away leaving me alone.

The doorbell chimes and I get up from eating supper to answer it. As soon as the door opens Peter grabs my arm and we race through the woods, bolting past the cave and the lone tree. He is yelling to me above the screaming wind “Lilies are tough you know! They can survive anywhere!”
Coming to the top of a hill I see the lake in front of my old house. Its deep waters are mirroring the sky, and on top float dozens of water lilies drifting gently side to side causing tiny ripples in the scarlet sun.

“You did this? It’s amazing Peter!” I say laughing at my brilliant surprise “It’s almost as beautiful as that rowan tree outside your cave”.

“That’s a rowan?”He asks. I nod, captivated by the lake.

Peter takes my hand, warmth flowing through my body for the first time in so long.
He replies with a small smile “I always wanted to know.”

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