Exist In Me | Teen Ink

Exist In Me

June 1, 2015
By Tigerfly101 PLATINUM, Derry, New Hampshire
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Tigerfly101 PLATINUM, Derry, New Hampshire
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Favorite Quote:
"My voice is my weakness, my pen is my savior." -By Domonique Frechette


The author's comments:
Not a necessity to the plot, but feel free to read it anyway. It's more inspirational to the reader than informational, but I wanted to add it anyway.

To describe a lonely person is like describing something you can’t quite take grasp of. You listen intently, but the understanding escapes you because it’s just not…there. To catch glimpse of a lonely person is like seeing in the very deepest corner of your vision the shadows around you. They are forms, they do exist, but are colorless, featureless, and on most occasions, lifeless. And finally, to hear a lonely person is like walking through a field in a gentle rain. You can, if you allow yourself, hear the rain drops falling past you, but when they hit the soft earth, the impact is only silence. However, those who are not lonely tend to ask the question, ‘what is it like to be a lonely person?’
On the outskirts of a small country town, within the walls of an old house, and through the painted door of a lightly lit bedroom, huddled in the corner was a girl, her full attention and mind gathered in the pages of a worn notebook. The once-barren walls hide behind dozens upon dozens of pen-sketched drawings, drawn with black ink. Like the drawings, the girl’s eyes were traced around their edges with black makeup, and their centers were like pools of pitch, not a single trace of light reflecting off their glassy surfaces. You could assume this story was told in olden times and picture that people’s imaginations were in black and white just as films were. You could make this assumption and picture her real room filled with, not black inked drawings, but colorful artwork. You could look at the girl’s eyes and see the color of a cloudless day, and squint at the sunlight beaming from their depths. But this story is not being told in olden times, nor is it being played out in our minds in black and white. It is being told as colorful as it can possibly be told. Although you cannot make the previous assumption, you can assume that the girl’s room was not always full of such drawings, her eyes not as dark. This assumption can be made, because it is true.
We make assumptions every day. We make them when we cannot see the truths for ourselves, or just don’t want to. But sometimes our assumptions can turn into belief, for the imagination is a powerful, powerful thing.

The sounds and feelings of the world around me drowned out every thought, every care. Nature just felt so close to me out here; The trees with their outstretching branches and emerald green leaves, the speckles of blue sky poking through the canopy, the ancient ground with its cracked weathered stones, and the musky air, the scent of every plant mingling in the breezes that swept by. The soul seemed so unbreakable when it was soothed by the majesty of this place. Every turn I made, I could only see the forest stretch out before me. It didn’t matter that at some point, some place beyond my sight, was my other life. Right now, right here, was what mattered. The calmness, the peace, the… the magic it seemed, was where I wanted, needed, to be. Every outlook was bright, but I only saw that brightness when I crossed the tree line that separated what was known as society, and this place. The border between loss and hope I called it. In the back of my mind, the flicker of reality made its way back to me, and I knew soon I’d have to make the trek back to the place I slept. I’d call it home, like everyone else does, but home to me is where you’re happiest and where you’re most at peace. And the place where I slept just didn’t belong in that category.
The sky was beginning to turn from a fiery crimson to a cool navy blue, and the ground was being cast in more and more shadows as the sun sank beneath the horizon. The darkness didn’t frighten me, nor did it hasten my steps as it drew closer. Each step on the crackling leaves and twigs was familiar. The shape of a fallen tree in my path, the web of branches weaving above my head; it was all familiar. Each day it seemed I’d taken more steps further into the forest, but my journey back was never longer than before, though I wished it so.
By the time the last stretching ray of the sunset had faded, I could see the golden glow of an open doorway in the distance, and the flat patch of grass that surrounded my house. In the doorway stood a tall figure, its arms bent, hands on hips, head slightly tilted. This figure was my older sister. As I came closer, her features were clearer, and so was her voice. It was so clear I could even hear the anger in the words emitting from her mouth.
“Why weren’t you back before sundown? Every day you promise you’ll be back before sundown, and every night you come back, it looks like this” She gestured with her arms to the world around her. I knew she was referring to the fact that it was completely dark out, but I didn’t show that I understood and just shrugged and pushed past her into the house. I slipped my worn sneakers off by the door and made my way upstairs to my bedroom. When I pushed the door closed and flicked on the light switch, my room was as I left it. The walls were still covered in sheets of papers, and on those papers were the many paintings, drawings, and sketches that I created over the years. Some were paintings of the forest, some were dreams I had had, and some were just things I decided to put on paper for the sake of passing time. One thing I made clear in this large array of artwork was the color. So many colors masked the white wall beneath. These were colors from greens and browns intertwining within paintings of the forest, to reds and golds of sunsets, to blues and purples of ocean depths, or an open sky. All colors sang from each section of the room, and they gave this small space new life.
It was getting late, and Alexis would be up at my door any minute now to voice her concerns as to why I had not yet come down to eat. I put the yellow colored pencil I had gripped in my hand down on my desk, and walked over to my door. Just as I swung it open, sure enough Alexis was standing there, hand raised to knock. She put her arm down and sighed dramatically. “Oh look, this time you decided on your own to come down. I decided to just order pizza instead of cooking tonight, so if you want you can take a slice or two to your room.” She turned and walked back downstairs, and I followed behind.
Nights in the house seemed to get quieter as each day passed. Alexis was twentyfive and I was sixteen. We had been living in this house our whole lives, but it wasn’t this quiet some years ago. Even though our parents had gone before I could remember, my sister and I used to be such a lively, close pair. I thought about this as I passed a picture of the two of us. We were in an orchard, and I was on her shoulders. We were both laughing and the sun was brightly silhouetted behind us. Maybe it was age, or maybe it was what happens when an older sibling takes over as a parent, but something did change at some point between us. We both grew more independent. Alexis brought dates to the house every now and then, but it never went anywhere serious. The only other person in our lives was our uncle, who came to check up on things sometimes. Jack was his name. He lived a few towns away, but came by every few weeks.
Alexis stood next to me as I placed a slice of pizza on a paper plate. “So school will be ending in a couple weeks. Have any plans with friends for the summer?” She asked about my ‘friends’ almost every day. She knew as well as me that I had none, but she still pushed the subject in hopes that I may answer differently.
“I don’t need friends.” I lied. I wanted friends, but I never made any. I figured it was because I was quiet when I was younger, and at this point, everyone has gained their group of friends and don’t really go looking for new ones. I gave up trying and found new ways to make myself happy. I took up an interest in art, and my ventures into the woods gave me a sense of adventure and peace that replaced any friends I could ever have. I was okay with it, really. Some nights I did wonder how things could be different if I had someone else in my life, other than my sister, but like a vicious cycle I always came back to telling myself my life was fine just the way it was.
  “You know, friends aren’t a necessity in life. I don’t need them.”
“Ella, all normal people have friends.” She meant what she said, but she was smiling as she joked.
I returned the smile. “I’m going to bed after I eat.”
“Alright. Goodnight. Don’t forget to set your alarm for school tomorrow.”
“Goodnight, I won’t.”
I didn’t remember falling asleep, but as I opened my eyes I found myself at my desk in my room with my head down upon a pile of sketches. It was dark, but I lifted my head to see the first light of dawn brightening outside my window. I looked at my alarm clock, and it read 5:03AM. I had an hour or so before my bus would be here to bring me to school.
I slipped on a pair of jeans and a white hoodie jacket. My long dark hair was rumpled on the side of my head that had been lying on the desk. I quickly combed out a few painful knots and left it as it was; down and a bit wavy. I looked at my alarm clock again and it read 5:32AM. I grabbed my bag and walked downstairs. I could hear Alexis by the front door, fumbling with her keys and purse before she opened the door.
Alexis said a quick goodbye to me before rushing outside to her car. She was always afraid of being late, but she ended up early each morning. She worked in a small café as a waitress.
I put on my sneakers and walked outside. The warm early summer air breathed welcomingly on my face and through my hair as I stood on the street corner a little ways from my house. There were a few other kids who lived nearby who used this stop as well, but no one noticed as I arrived and joined them. The bus came roaring loudly around the corner and stopped, lights blinking, as its door swung open. I waited until everyone else had gotten on before following behind up the steps. Everyone was chattering, excited that it was the last week of school.
The bell rang as I was putting my Math notebook away in my bag. I stood to leave, but was pushed suddenly aside as three girls from class walked by. One of them turned and looked back, smirking and said, “oh, I’m sorry.” Her apology was dripping with sarcasm and her two friends laughed. I stood again and walked out after them. The hallway was crowded with kids rushing around before they left to go home. Some were at their lockers pulling cramped bags out, some were in small groups gossiping, and some went straight to the front lobby and out the door to the buses. I had everything and turned to head to the buses as well. Just as I got outside, I fell hard to the ground as the door was shoved shut behind me, hitting me straight in the back. The zipper on my worn bag broke off and before I could stop it, multiple binders and papers slid out, and the wind caught a few of the papers and whisked them into the air and out of reach. The crowds around me were no longer moving forward to leave the school, but were now all standing still, facing me.  I snatched the binders and a few papers that were in reach, bundled them in my arms, threw my broken bag on my shoulders, and ran. I ran away from the crowd, but not to my bus. I made my way off school grounds and took the turn my bus usually made on its drop-off rout and didn’t slow until I reached a quieter street, far from the school. I hadn’t realized right away that I had stopped completely, and stood frozen with my bundle of crumpled papers. I felt hot tears slip from my eyes as the laughter of the onlookers burned in my ears. I sat down on my knees and stuffed the binders and papers back into my bag, and held the bag closed against my chest as I continued the long walk to my house.
It took about an hour to get home on foot, but I finally reached my house. Alexis opened the front door and ran out frantically. “Ella! The bus came almost an hour ago, where were you?”
I didn’t look up to show my tear-flushed face as I replied, “I missed it.” I lied. “I had to ask my teacher something about an assignment and lost track of time.”
Alexis studied me for a few moments before saying “Ella, are you okay? Ella, look at me.”
I felt my face grow hot as she tried to peer at me closer. “I’m fine.” I started walking away as I said, “I’m going into the woods for a bit.”
“But it’s going to be dark in a couple hours.”
“I’ll be back before it’s too dark.” I didn’t wait for Alexis to argue, and walked into the house. I dropped my bag near the table, and left again through the back door. The woods looked more shadowy than usual as I approached the edge of the trees, but I didn’t hesitate. I never hesitated when I stepped across the border of loss and hope.
As the forest grew denser and my house disappeared from sight, I felt a new peace fill my heart. The sun, though not as bright, still felt warm as its orange rays poured through the tops of the trees. I walked on for almost an hour before I realized I had traveled further than I’d ever gone before. I turned and looked around. Everything was strange and foreign. I looked up and didn’t see the brilliant crimson sun, but an eerie gray glow, as if a heavy fog floated above the trees, masking the light. The trees were larger and closer together, and their roots came up from the ground in a twisted, mangled mess. I slowed to a stop to listen. The birds had stopped chirping, and every leaf and blade of grass was still, for no breeze blew by. The silence was quickly broken by the sound a twig snapping behind me. I whirled around saw the figure for only a moment before it ducked behind a large oak tree. My heart pounded in my chest as I called out, my voice shaking, “Who’s there?” Still the figure stayed hidden behind the tree. I turned away and just as I was about to run back, a voice from behind the tree called, “Wait!” I turned again to see a boy step away from the tree. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you. Honestly, you scared me a bit too.” He was smiling at me, but kept a distance between us. I stared back at him, my mouth open to speak, but no words came out. The mysterious boy spoke again, “Again, I apologize. I’m Aiden. Do you live around here, in the town down that way?” He pointed in the direction I had come from.
I finally found my ground again and said, “Yes. I don’t usually come this far into the woods though. In fact, I must be miles from any houses. So where did you come from?”
Aiden took a step towards me, but stopped again as I moved my foot back in return. “There’s a town on the other side of the woods, a few miles from here.” He smiled again and looked around. “This must be the center of the woods then.” He faced me again. I looked at him closer. He looked about my age. He had shaggy brown hair and blue-green eyes. I wasn’t sure what to say or do now as we stood a few feet apart, facing one another. I’d never met anyone outside school or home, let alone talked to anyone other than my sister and uncle. I never made friends at school, and spent my days alone or with Alexis.  I never realized just how different it felt to speak with someone like this, and I didn’t shy away like I’d normally do when a stranger approached me.
This time it was me who took a step into the gap. He smiled and said, “I assume you have a name, yes? I don’t mean to pry, but I’d like to call you by it if you’ll let me.”
“My name is Ella.”  I replied.
“I like it. So tell me, Ella, do you come to the woods often? Not to sound cliché.”
“I do almost every day. Do you?”
“Most days, yes. This is the furthest I’ve come through though. It’s so strange here. It’s like you can’t tell if it’s a gloomy day or a moonlit night.”
“I noticed that too.” I suddenly remembered my promise to Alexis and gasped. “Oh… no! I… I have to leave. I came a long way, and it’ll be past dark by the time I get back if I don’t go now.”
I turned to leave, but stopped again as Aiden called out, “Wait! If I come back here tomorrow, will you be here? I… I want to see you again.”
I didn’t turn to face him as I replied, but a smile formed on my face as I did so. “I’ll be here tomorrow at noon.” I didn’t wait for a response, and ran away to my home, away from the strange forest, and away from the mysterious boy called Aiden. However, I did not run out of fear anymore, it was excitement, and a new kind of happiness I had not felt before.

When I returned home, it was indeed past dark, and Alexis was sitting on the edge of the steps of the back porch, her face in her hands. As I approached, she lifted her head and stood up sharply Just as she was about to burst with another lecture, I interrupted. “I met someone! In the woods! I was scred at first, but he’s my age I think and—“
“You met someone? And wait, did you say ‘he’? Ella, who did you meet and where?”
“His name is Aiden. I walked for miles and we kind of bumped into each other. He lives in the town on the other side of the woods, opposite ours.”
“Ella, even if you did find a town on the other side of those woods, it would take days. As far as I know, those woods go on for at least a couple hundred miles, and there’s a lot of rough terrain on the way. Are you sure he didn’t just come from one of the houses nearby?”
“He told me so, and when I saw him, he had come from a different direction than me.”
“I don’t know… I think maybe you shouldn’t walk so far and stay closer to home where I can find you if I need to. You don’t know this boy either. You shouldn’t trust him so quickly.
“You’re always telling me to make friends. Well now I finally am and you’re reacting like this?”
“I meant friends at school, not strange kids you meet in the middle of nowhere.”
“But Alexis, I promised I’d meet him again tomorrow!”
“Well I don’t care. The last thing I need right now is for you to put yourself in unnecessary danger.”
“He’s not dangerous he—“
“Enough, Ella! It’s late and I’m tired from work. Go inside and you can either make a quick dinner for yourself or go to bed, your choice.”
I felt my face growing hot with anger, and I pushed past my sister and went straight upstairs to my room and slammed the door shut.
A few hours passed. My lights were still on, and I sat on my bed, staring off into my thoughts. I played out my first meeting with Aiden in my mind over and over. He wanted to see me again, and I wanted to see him again too. I couldn’t explain why, but somehow I felt I needed to see him again. I decided I would. Tomorrow I’d go to the woods again, and find him at that same strange area, where the sunlight seemed to change. I shut my lights off and let sleep envelop me.
It was early Saturday morning.  I decided to go into the woods a couple hours before noon, but stayed in sight of Alexis, who was keeping a close eye on me from the windows of the house. I passed the time by doing what I’d normally do; climbing trees, sitting on large boulders, or walking around with my thoughts running freely through my mind. I looked up and saw that the sun was almost in the center of the sky. I walked a bit closer to the house and saw no sign of Alexis. She must have given up on spying on me. I smiled, turned away and began to run.
Excitement gave me new energy and I didn’t falter as I reached the darker part of the woods. I could still see the sun above my head, but it was dim like before. I slowed to a stop and recognized the large oak tree of which Aiden had hidden behind yesterday. I called out, “Aiden? It’s me, Ella.” I waited and no one replied. I looked up at the sky again, almost with desperation, and saw that the sun was a bit off-center now as the day grew older. He should be here. I thought to myself.
I heard a twig snap and Aiden walked out from behind the oak tree. “Hello, Ella. Sorry I didn’t come out right away. I was a bit nervous.”
“It’s alright.” I looked at him. He had that smile again. It was kind and yet charming too.
He took a few steps towards me, but this time I didn’t back away. “I want to show you something I found yesterday after you left.” He turned away and gazed off through the trees as if he was looking at something directly. “Follow me?”
“Okay.” I replied.
We walked through the trees for probably ten minutes before reaching a steep drop. As we stepped to the edge, I gaped at what I saw. In front of us, far off into the distance was a beautiful mountain landscape. It seemed to go on forever, and I could see a lake shimmering in sunlight, and rolling mountains of large pine trees.
Aiden turned to me and said, “It’s great isn’t it?”
“Yeah… I never knew this was here, and so close to home too.”
“I have something else to show you too, but it’s at the bottom of the ravine. I’ve gone down there lots of times, but it can be dangerous for someone who hasn’t.”
I peered over the edge and my heart leapt as I saw how far down the cliff fell. Some parts were straight drops, but most were at an angle safe enough to tread down if one stepped carefully.
“Just follow my exact steps. I’ll be right in front of you.”
“Alright.”
Aiden looked at me closer and his smile turned to a concerned frown. “Are you sure you’re okay? We can go back if you want.”
“No, no I’m fine.” I was scared and felt fear beating at my heart as Aiden took the first step onto the side of the slope.
“Here, I’ll lead you down the first few feet until you find your balance.” He held out a hand to me. I hesitated, but took it with shaky trust.
The first few feet were rough and I felt my heart jump every time a rock shifted below my feet. I never did find my balance, and continued to grip Aiden’s hand tightly as we made our way slowly down the ravine. Suddenly a hawk shrieked loudly above us and I stumbled on a crooked rock. I felt my hand slip from Aiden’s as I fell. My hands hit the jagged stones and I tumbled forward down the side of the slope. The whole world spun and I couldn’t control myself as my body repeatedly hit the rocks. Suddenly I felt my back slam against the earth a final time, and the world around me vanished to black.
My senses were coming back slowly as I opened my eyes to a sliver and saw the sky above me. It was pitch dark and full of stars. I heard the distant echo of a voice as a face appeared above me. They were yelling something, but I couldn’t understand. Just as I recognized Alexis, the world began to fade and once more I plunged into darkness.

The next moment it seemed, I started to waken again, but this time when I opened my eyes, I was blinded by blurry white light. The light dimmed a little as everything came into focus. I tried to turn my head, but it was painful and my neck felt stiff. I saw Alexis sitting in a green chair beside me. Her head was in her hands and her hair was messy from stress and lack of sleep. I realized I was in a hospital bed. I tried to move again, but every part of my body was stiff and it was painful to do so. Alexis heard the shifting blankets and looked up. Her eyes were red and puffy, and her face was flushed from crying. She moved the chair closer to my bedside and gently pushed aside a lock of hair from my face. “Hey.” Her voice was low and cracked slightly as she spoke. “How’re you feeling?”
Everything ached. My hands stung terribly, and I felt a vague, painful throbbing in my head. I opened my mouth to speak, but could only mumble the words. “Alexis? What happened..?”
“You fell down a steep ravine in the woods. I went looking for you when you didn’t come home by sundown. I called Uncle Jack to help search, and he called 911 when we saw you—‘’ Alexis’s voice broke off and tears streamed from her eyes. “I thought you were dead.”
Suddenly everything came back to me. I remembered walking down the ravine. I remembered Aiden.
I tried to sit up and looked frantically at Alexis. “What about Aiden? Did he find you and tell you what happened?” I looked around the room hopelessly. “Is he here?”
Alexis’s face was full of confusion and concern. “No one came to us. Jack and I searched for an hour by ourselves and he was the one who spotted you. No one was with you.”
My head whirled. I wasn’t sure if it was the pain medication I was probably on, or if it was the wave of confusion and betrayal that hit me hard.
Alexis looked closely at me. “How did you get to that ravine? It was miles from the house.”
“Aiden lead me there…”
“That same boy you met in the woods before? I told you not to meet him again. Ella, what if he pushed you, could have killed you!”
“No, I fell! He was helping me the whole time. I was behind him, he couldn’t have pushed me. I swear I just lost my balance.” I was sitting straight up now. I felt my heartbeat quickening.
Alexis gently placed her hands on my shoulders as a gesture for me to lie back down. I did so as she said, “Shhh…everything is okay now. Whatever happened is over. All that matters now is that you’re safe.” She stood up. “I’m going to go tell the nurse that you’re awake and we’ll see when you can come home.” She left the room and closed the door behind her. 
When she returned, a lady called Dr. Rose came in, smiling. The conversation was quick, but resulted in the decision to keep me here for the night. Alexis left after a couple of hours, and said she’d come back in the morning to pick me up.
When at last I was left alone, I tried to fall asleep. Between the rushing thoughts of Aiden, the fresh memory of falling down the ravine, and the discomfort of the I.V stuck into my arm and taped to my skin, I knew sleep was not going to be possibility. I stared at the ceiling for a while, until another nurse came in to check on me. I sat up and said, “Could I go out into the hall, just to walk around. I can’t sleep, and I’d feel better if I could stand and stretch my legs.” She hesitated for a moment in thought, but eventually agreed to let me leave my room. I followed her out of the room, rolling the IV stand with me. The nurse turned to me and said, “Just stay in this hallway, okay?”
“Alright.” I replied. “Thank you.” The nurse walked down the hall, and turned the corner at the end. I leaned up against the wall. I looked down at my arms, which were covered in minor scratches, and a few cuts that had gauze bandage wrapped around them. I took in a breath, taking the comfortable silence of the carpeted hallway in with it. Suddenly I heard footsteps down the opposite side of the hallway from where the nurse left. I looked over, and saw two silver elevator doors, but they didn’t open, and the lights above them were off. The footsteps stopped as I looked over, and there was no one there. I shrugged it off, and looked back at the ground at my feet. The footsteps started again, but were louder this time, and when I looked over again, I stood straight up immediately. “Aiden!” Aiden stood in front of one of the elevator doors, and began walking over to me.
“Hey.” He approached hesitantly, and I saw his eyes flick to the various wounds on my arms and legs and face.
I felt weary as I saw his face. He was there when I fell. Was he really at fault for what happened? I thought to myself. “Aiden… um, what are you doing here?”
“I was worried for you. I felt really guilty for what happened and needed to come make amends.” At this point he was standing close, and his eyes were sad as he looked down at me.
I thought about what Alexis had said. “My sister told me she never saw you when she found me. She said no one was with me.” Instead of accusation in my tone, there was sadness and a hint of denial of my own words. Denial because, I hoped with what was left in my heart for Aiden that they weren’t true.
“Your sister was right. I did leave. But I swear I didn’t leave you there alone right after you fell. I stayed by your side, trying to wake you. I stayed until I heard people calling your name. I...I didn’t want trouble, so I ran off before they got any closer. I knew they’d find you, and that you would be safe, so I left. I swear, Ella, I’d never leave you if you were in danger. It was best if I’d left, believe me.”
His eyes were full of pleading now as I said, “Okay. I believe you. I do. It’s just a lot to take in, with what happened so recently, that’s all.” I pushed away the lingering feeling of doubt that my sister had planted in my mind, and reached out for Aiden’s hands. Our fingers twined together softly. We stood together for a few moments, before parting again. “I think I should try and get some sleep. I think there might be some trouble if the nurse finds out I have a visitor at this hour.” I smiled lightly.
Aiden let go of my hands and started to walk back towards the elevators. “Sleep well. I’ll see you again soon, I hope.”
“You will” I replied.

I looked around me. I was in the woods again, at the edge of the ravine. Once again, the beauty of the mountains and the shimmering lake below shone out. The wind was warm and sweet as it blew gently. I looked behind me, and saw Aiden. He was smiling, and his powerful blue eyes sparkled as he looked at me. “Aiden, come on, let’s go down to the lake!” I stepped down onto the rocky earth of the slope. Aiden followed behind. Pure joy shined in my heart, and the air itself seemed to glow. We were halfway down, and suddenly the world became dark. The gentle wind turned into howling gusts. I turned around, but Aiden was gone. “Aiden?” I called out, but the wind took my voice with it. The wind blew hard at my back, pushing me forward. I dug my feet as hard as I could against the ground to hold me in place. The blue sky was replaced with dark, menacing clouds. Suddenly I felt something push hard against my back, but it wasn’t the wind this time. I lost my footing immediately, and as I tumbled backward, I saw Aiden standing there. His blue eyes were dark with hatred, and a knowing smirk formed across his face as he watched me fall. He didn’t flinch once with regret, or the thought to run ahead and grab my arm before it was too late. Before my back hit the ground with a final, ending blow, the world vanished, and I screamed, “Aiden, no!” But instead of waking up broken at the bottom of the ravine, I woke up thrashing amongst the blankets in my bedroom. Sweat drenched my face and dampened my shirt.  I lifted the blankets away with a trembling hand and climbed out of bed.  I took in a deep breath to calm my pounding heart.
A week passed since I returned home from the hospital. Alexis let me stay home for the last few days of school because my face was still covered in scratches and one large, dark bruise on my jaw. She picked up a packet with all my assignments at the school office. I hadn’t returned to the woods yet, however. I made a promise to Alexis that I’d stay home and lay low for a while. Today though, she said I could go back out if I tried to be as careful as possible.  I told her I would and I meant it.
The sun was shining again, and I ventured out into the forest. I intended on seeing Aiden, but our last meeting left me with a scar of some kind. Not the kind of scar that was made physical by an injury, but the kind you get when tragedy strikes, and the scar left behind is actually the memories that linger forever in your mind, long after the wound has healed.
I reached one of my favorite places in the forest. It was a clearing with large oak trees surrounding it. In the center was a huge boulder, covered in soft green moss and mica crystals that made it glitter in the light. The sun’s rays touched its surface, making it warm and comfortable to sit on. I climbed carefully, grabbing onto small ruts and crevices that formed on the sides. Just as I sat down on the top of it, a few branches on the edge of the clearing parted and a figure walked in. It was Aiden.
He approached the boulder and looked up at me, squinting at the bright sunlight that shown above. “Ella! It’s good to see you’re okay. I saw you walking here. I tried to catch up, but you vanished into the bushes before I could call out.” He climbed up beside me. I looked away, avoiding his gaze. Something was keeping me from facing him. Mistrust maybe. I blinked and saw the hatred in his eyes from my nightmare. “You are okay, right?” He asked, peering at me closer.
I blinked again and tried to push away the image. “Of course. I’m just tired I guess.”
He placed a gentle hand on the side of my face and I turned to finally look at him. His eyes weren’t full of hatred. They were the complete opposite, and as I looked into them, I found trust again. “How about this time, you show me something.” He said.
“Me? Well… we’re already here.”
Aiden looked around the clearing, and suddenly a bright ray of sunlight broke through the clouds that had moved in front of it. The boulder glittered and the clearing’s beauty was revealed again. “I can see why! It’s amazing here.”
Aiden and I spent the rest of the day together. We stayed in the clearing, atop the massive stone, and we talked about the forest and its inspirations.
As the sunlight began to diminish, I sat up and said, “It’ll be dark soon. I have to go.” Aiden opened his mouth to say something, but I interrupted quickly and smiled. “Meet me in this clearing tomorrow.” I jumped down from the boulder and waved goodbye to Aiden. He returned the wave and was smiling as I turned and left for my house.
When I got home, Alexis was relieved that I had returned on time. “What are you smiling about?” she asked and I realized I hadn’t stopped grinning since I left Aiden.
“What? Oh nothing. It’s just nice to be able to go back to the woods and on such a beautiful day too.”
“What did you and Aiden do?” My smile vanished.
“How did you…”
“I thought about what you told me, and I decided that I’m going to be alright with you two being friends. I trust your judgment of him.”
“Oh! Alexis, thank you!” I ran and hugged her.
“On one condition though. I want you to bring him over sometime soon so I can meet him.”
“Of course! I’m sure he won’t mind. Oh, you’ll like him. He’s so kind.”
“I’m sure I will.”
Alexis said goodnight to Ella and sat on the couch in the living room. The phone on the side table rang and the I.D number read Uncle Jack. She picked it up. “Hello?”
“Hey Alexis. I just thought I’d call and ask how Ella is doing.” Jack answered.
“She’s doing great. She says most of the pain in her arms and legs has gone, and she only has a few small scratches and bruises that are barely noticeable now that they’re healing.”
“That’s great news!”
“But, I’m still worried about her…”
“What’s going on?”
“She met a boy named Aiden in the woods, the day before her accident. He was the one who showed her the cliff side and convinced her to climb down with him.”
“Do you think he has something to do with how or why she fell? Have you met him?”
“Ella says she’s going to bring him over to meet me. She sounded very honest and sure of herself when she told me it wasn’t his fault. I just… Ella has no friends, she never has, and I want so badly to trust this kid. She was so happy today when she came back from meeting him again. I haven’t seen her that happy in years.”
“Then give it some time. Have Ella introduce him like planned, and see what happens from there. If he isn’t a good person for her to be around, you’ll figure it out. You’re a good guardian for Ella, but you’re an even better sister to her. I know things will be okay with you keeping an eye out. Don’t let it worry you.”
“Thank you Uncle Jack. I’ll try my best to do what’s right for Ella.”
They exchanged goodbyes and Alexis hung up the phone.
***
The next morning, I woke and got dressed quickly, and told Alexis that I was leaving. The air outside was warm and welcoming. The grass still glistened with morning dew, and the fog that now rose above the trees gave the world a hazy glow as the sunlight shone through. I reached my clearing and Aiden and I’s meeting place. It was closer to my house than the previous one, and as I climbed atop the massive boulder, I hoped that Aiden wouldn’t have too much of a hard time walking this far.
Just like the day before, Aiden parted the weaving branches and entered just as I sat down. He saw me immediately and joined me on the boulder. “Hey.” He said, smiling as usual.
“Good morning.” I replied. Suddenly I remembered what I had to ask him. “My sister wants to meet you. She’s finally accepting us being friends.”
“That’s great! I’m glad she understands.”
There was pause before I continued. “So, you’re okay with going to meet her? My house isn’t too far from here. It’d only take a few minutes to say hello and we’ll be back to the clearing to spend the rest of the day.”
“I… I don’t think I can go. Not today.”
“What? Why not?”
“I can’t really say. I mean, we just met. I’ll tell you when we figure things out.”
I didn’t understand. “You can’t say? What do you mean ‘when we figure things out’?”
“When I can, I’ll tell you. I’m just not ready to tell you why. I cannot meet your sister.”
“But Aiden, she won’t let me come see you anymore!”
“I’m so sorry…” Aiden turned his face away from me for a moment. He looked back at me and his blue eyes were glistening with tears. That strange feeling came over me again as I gazed into those eyes, and I knew I had to try something.
“I’ll bring Alexis here. I’ll just tell her you can’t walk as far from your home, and she’ll understand.”
“Ella, no--”
“Stop. I’ll bring her here tomorrow, when she’s off work.” I climbed down from the boulder and Aiden followed.
He didn’t say anything more on the matter. Instead, he did something unexpected. He reached a hand out and placed it on the side of my face, his fingers slightly tucked inside my dark hair. The gesture and the touch of his hand left me frozen in place, my gaze unmoving from his eyes. I didn’t realize right away that he was standing a mere inch from me now. He was taller than I, and he gazed down at me. His eyes didn’t glisten with tears anymore, but they were soft as he looked down into my own. Confusion mingled with that other strange feeling, and I turned my face away. Aiden moved his hand beneath my chin and lifted my gaze back to him. That small inch between us disappeared as Aiden pressed closer. Confusion turned to fear, and I moved a trembling foot back slightly in hesitant retreat. Aiden must have seen the shift of emotion in my eyes, and he said in a hushed voice, “Hey, it’s alright.” Our faces were so close, but still I remained where I was. I had never been in such a state before, nor have I been this physically and emotionally close to anyone, but somehow I knew what was happening; what was going to happen. Seconds that felt like hours later, my eyes fell shut, and I felt our lips touch. A moment later, all the fear and confusion vanished like smoke. The kiss ended, but we remained pressed close together. His arms were around me, and our foreheads touched, our breaths softly billowing together.
I finally backed away, and Aiden held my hands in his. My voice was involuntarily quiet as I said, “Aiden, we… we aren’t just friends anymore, are we.”
Aiden smiled and said, “No, I don’t believe we are.” He looked up at the sky. “It’s getting dark. I’m assuming you have to go?”
I looked up too. “Oh. Yes, I do.I promise I’ll come back tomorrow.”
“I promise I’ll be waiting.” He let go of my hands as I turned and left.
When I returned to my house, I found Alexis sitting in the living room watching TV. She turned when she heard my footsteps enter through the archway from the Kitchen. “Hey. It’s a bit late, I was expecting you to come with Aiden a lot earlier so he’d have time to get home before dark. Did his parents drive him here…?”She looked behind me and then at me again. “Did he come?”
“No. He can’t walk this far from his house. I was hoping you’d come with me tomorrow to meet him.”
I saw Alexis make a face and quickly said, “Please, it won’t be that long. We have a meeting place not that far from here. Come on, you used to go outside all the time.” By that, I meant the backyard. Alexis never liked the woods, even when we were both younger. She told me that she ventured into the woods once before I was born, and she came across something that terrified her and kept her far away since then. She never told me what she saw, but I always assume it was a bug or snake, and that she was just too embarrassed to admit it.
“Ella…” She sighed and said, “Okay, fine. I’ll go, but if he decides not to show up, I’m not going to keep waiting. You’ll just have to find another person.” I smiled and went upstairs to my bedroom.
The next morning, I immediately got ready, and waited outside for Alexis. She always took a long time to get ready, but I started to get impatient just as the door opened. Alexis walked out in a pair of faded jeans and a t-shirt, and some old sneakers. I nearly burst out laughing, and couldn’t mask the wide grin that spread across my face.
She looked at me with an irritated expression. “Oh shut up. I’m not about to wear one of my nice outfits in the woods.”
“Oh I’m not laughing at your outfit. I’m shocked that you even own an outfit like that, knowing you. Is that why you took so long? Did you get lost in the deepest parts of your closet?” I continued to grin.
Alexis ignored the snarky questions and huffed past me. “Come on, let’s get this over with.”
We walked on for a while before finally reaching the oak trees that encircled the clearing. I parted a group of branches and held them apart to let Alexis step through. I followed after her. The clearing was as brilliant as ever with the sunlight pouring through the opening in the trees above. I looked at Alexis next to me and she was staring around, her mouth open in awe. “It’s great, isn’t it?” I said.
Alexis didn’t say anything, and I looked around for Aiden. He wasn’t on top of the boulder or anywhere in the clearing. I ran over to the side of the great rock and climbed up. I stood atop it and looked around. He was still nowhere in sight. Alexis looked up at me, squinting at the sunlight, and said, “Well, where is he?”
“He’s just a little late. He usually doesn’t come until after I get here, so just give him a few minutes. He’ll come.”
“Alright, but I’m not going to wait all day.”
I still felt a twinge of hope inside me. He’d come, he would. Alexis wouldn’t wait for long, so I found a way to distract her. “Alexis, come up here with me.”
She looked at me, and then the rock. “I don’t think so.”
“Oh come on!”
“There are probably bugs all over it.”
“I promise you there aren’t too many bugs. You can’t even see them, if there even are any.”
She took a few moments before she sighed and said, “Alright fine.”
She approached the side of the boulder where I had climbed, and looked hesitantly at it.
“Just use the little ruts and crevices and climb up.” Alexis did as I said and after a slow process and a few nervous words under her breath, she was on top of the mossy boulder with me. She inched away from the sides, avoiding letting her hands touch the lush moss.
“Okay, I’m here.” She looked as if she was trying too hard to look happy as she grinned awkwardly. “Well, now what?”
“Isn’t it great up here? Doesn’t this clearing just amaze you?”
Alexis glanced around. “I suppose so. It looks very pretty. I think it would be photograph worthy.”
“But you can’t feel everything there is to feel through a photograph.”
“You’re right, but some people are happy with the simplicity of just looking at a picture and knowing it’s of a real place.”
“Well I think it’s an astounding place to be.”
We remained silent for a few minutes. I glanced over at Alexis and saw her trailing the path of a ladybug with a nervous gaze as it crawled past her. A minute or so later, Alexis broke the silence. “Are you absolutely sure Aiden said he’d come?”
“Yes. He promised. He’s always here when I come… I don’t know why he hasn’t shown up yet.” I looked longingly at the branches, silently urging them to part and reveal her friend…her best friend.
“Ella…” Alexis moved closer to me. She seemed to forget her fears and, without hesitation or caution, touched the moss with her hands to move beside me. “I know how much you care about this boy…but we made a deal.”
I knew what Alexis was about to tell me, and I felt hot tears stream from my eyes. “Don’t you trust me? Why can’t you just trust me, and trust that everything is fine?”
“I do trust you. I believe you. But listen to me. I’m sure Aiden knows that he had to meet me today in order for him to continue seeing you, right?”
“Yeah.”
“Then obviously he isn’t taking this seriously. You care about him, but have you considered the truths that you might not want to hear?”
“What truths?”
Alexis let out a sigh and instead of a straight answer, she only said, “I just don’t want to see you get hurt.”
At that point I knew. It wasn’t that Alexis didn’t trust me. She didn’t trust Aiden. She didn’t think he was dangerous, but it wasn’t my physical well-being she was looking out for either. She was looking out for my heart. However, I refused to accept that truth. It was right in front of me, and I looked away.    “No. He wouldn’t…he’s different.”
“And how do you even know what that difference is? You don’t have anyone to compare him to.” The last words stung. They stung because they were true, and we both knew it.
My eyes shed no more tears. Every emotion seemed to leave me at once. Alexis gave no more efforts to make me understand. I think somehow she knew I already understood, but that my acceptance of it would come later when I’d be forced to face it.
Alexis climbed unsteadily back onto the grass below. “I’m sorry, Ella. Be home by dark, okay?” I didn’t reply, and she left.

The rest of the day passed quickly, and before I knew it the sun was nearly gone, leaving the woods in a mix of dark blue shadows and tinges of orange light. With one last glance back, I left the clearing and headed for the house.
             I didn’t acknowledge Alexis when I walked in, and she left me alone as I went straight up to my bedroom. I sat in front of the mirror at my desk. I saw a girl with cascading dark hair strewn about her shoulders, and a face with eyes like a clear summer sky. However, the expression did not match the lightness of her looks. Almost without thinking, I stood and walked to Alexis’s room down the hall. I opened a small box atop her dresser and pulled out the black eyeliner. I returned to my desk with it, and placed it within the little bucket that contained my many other graphite and colored pencils. Alexis wouldn’t know, she rarely wears eyeliner.
             I took a pair of scissors and held them in front of me. I glanced back into the mirror at my hair again. It was as natural as it could be; uncut, untainted by hair dye or other chemicals. I took a strand from the front and held it out with my other hand. I closed my eyes tight and cut across the strand with the scissors. I felt the hair fall onto my lap and opened my eyes when it was done. I looked in the mirror at it and felt the fear of the first cut leave me, and a new determination took its place. I cut more and more strands. I let my artistic mind guide each cut until several inches were cut off, and my hair had taken an entirely new shape. I combed through when I finished and let my hair, which still held a long length despite what was cut off, fall down my back. The strands further in the middle were the longest, and the ones closest to the frame of my face were short. Together my hair was in a textured V-shape, a style I’d seen worn by many of the girls at my school. I smiled at the transformation, proud of my work.
             The next morning, I sat by the mirror again. I took the eyeliner from the pencil bucket and pulled the cap off. I leaned forward and steadied my hand. Within a couple minutes I had carefully traced a dark line around the edges of my eye. Another few minutes later and the other eye was the same.
             It was Wednesday. I hadn’t said a word about my plan to Alexis. She eyed me carefully whenever I was in the same room with her. She’s kept at it ever since she banned me from seeing Aiden. I wasn’t worried.
             She came into the kitchen and said, “Hey, I have to go run a few errands. I’ll be back in an hour or two.”
             “Okay.” I replied. Alexis gathered her purse and car keys, and left.
***
             Alexis drove to the hospital where Ella had been brought the night of her accident. Worry still flickered in her mind as the day to meet and talk to Ella’s doctor came closer, and now it was here.
             She parked her car and walked to the visitor entrance of the hospital. She went inside and approached a little window with a sign above it that said, ‘Appointment check-in’. There was a lady in floral-print scrubs at the window who looked up at Alexis from her desk. “How can I help you?” The lady asked, smiling kindly.
             “I’m here to see Dr. Rose.”
             “Alright, name please?”
             “Alexis Kinder.”
             “Okay. You can have a seat and Dr. Rose will be down shortly to walk you up.”
             “Thank you.”
             About ten minutes later, a door to the side of the check-in desk opened and a woman with short, dark hair and a white lab coat walked out. “Alexis?” She asked, peering around the room.
             Alexis stood and said, “That’s me.” She walked over and the two shook hands. “Come with me to my office.” Alexis followed.
             They reached a door with a name engraved on it that read ‘Dr. Rose’, and went inside.
             She closed the door behind them. “Have a seat.” She gestured to a green arm chair on the opposite side of a large wooden desk. Alexis sat down, and so did Dr. Rose in her own chair at her desk.
             “So you remember from what I told you on the phone that this isn’t about Ella’s accident.”
             “Yes.”
             “Okay. I have something I want to show you, but first I have a few questions.”
             “Alright.”
             “Can you tell me about Ella’s social life? Does she have friends at school and does she spend time with them?
             “No, unfortunately Ella has never made any friends at school, or even with anyone in the neighborhood.”
             “Okay.”
             Alexis suddenly thought of Aiden. “But she did meet a boy about her age in the woods near our home, and ever since then they’ve been inseparable.”
             “And what is he like? Is he like Ella, personality-wise?”
             “Well actually, I’ve never met him in person. Ella was supposed to bring him to our house to meet me, but he kept…avoiding it I guess. Ella brought me into the woods to the place where the two like to hang out, and he never showed up. I told Ella that unless he comes and meets me, she can’t see him anymore.”
             “How did Ella take that?”
             Alexis thought for a moment. “She… she’s changed. She’s so distant now. We barely talk. Even her appearance is different. She’s always been quiet, but not like this. It’s like she’s in a whole other world.”
             “Do you know if she still sees Aiden?”
             “I can’t be sure, no. She still goes out in the woods, but I can’t take that away from her too. If she’s ever happy it’s when she can be out there.”
             Dr. Rose jotted down some notes on a piece of notebook paper, and looked up at Alexis again. “Has anyone in your family ever been diagnosed with schizophrenia?”
             Alexis gaped at the question. “Schizophrenia? No… no I don’t think so. Why? Do you think Ella has schizophrenia?”
             “I’m not completely certain, but I think there’s a good possibility of it.”
             Alexis’s head whirled with the sudden suggestion. “You said you had something to show me?”
             “Yes. One of the patients in a room near Ella’s told one of the nurses that he saw a girl talking out in the hall. He said he didn’t hear any replies at any time, as if she was talking to herself. So we asked security to let us look at the recording from one of the videos out in the hallway.” She stood up and shuffled through a drawer in her desk. She pulled out a white disk and inserted it in her computer’s disk drive. The screen lit up and showed a video window. The paused image showed a hallway with doors on both sides. The ends of the hallway couldn’t be seen from the angle the camera was in, but most of the hall was visible. Before Dr. Rose pressed play, she sat down again and looked at Alexis with a calm, sympathetic expression. “Ella was up around 2am. She asked one of the nurses if she could go for a short walk down the hall because she couldn’t sleep. It was a fairly quiet night, so the nurse let her.” Dr. Rose pressed play. A few seconds passed and showed nothing, then one of the doors opened and Ella walked out after a nurse. The nurse turned to her and said something. The video was mute, so whatever she said was unknown. The nurse turned and walked down the hall, and out of view of the camera. Ella stood next to her closed door and leaned against the wall. Her head turned suddenly as if she heard or saw something. She straightened up and faced in the direction it had come from. Alexis expected another patient, a doctor, nurse, or even a late night custodian to walk into view. However, what happened next shocked her. Ella started talking and smiling. Still no one came. Ella’s expressions was no longer aimed at a far distance, but looked as if she was looking at someone directly in front of her. She would pause and continue talking. This went on for a few minutes before Ella reached her hands out. Her hands seemed to grip the hair in front of her. She was smiling and looking slightly up. She said something else, and then her arms went down again, and she walked away and back into her room.
             Dr. Rose stopped the video and turned off the monitor.  She folded her hands on the desk and looked at Alexis as if waiting for her to say something.
             Alexis took a few moments to find the words. “Are you sure there wasn’t anyone down the hall that she was speaking to?” Denial drew the empty words from her lips, and she didn’t need a reply to give the answer to her question.
             Dr. Rose shook her head and said, “No one was in the hallway. We checked other cameras showing the area leading up to that hallway, and no one walked through at the time of this.” She waited a moment before continuing. “Most people with schizophrenia will start to show signs of it as early as age sixteen, which explains why Ella is just now beginning to show those signs. Social withdrawal and a change in personality are other symptoms of the illness. From what you told me,
Ella shows both of those symptoms, including hallucinations like her friend.”
             Alexis just stared blankly at the desk as she said, “Is there anything anyone can do? Is it going to get worse?”
             “We’ve caught it early enough where it can be treated. There are medications that will help to stop and prevent any symptoms Ella has. One positive thing to this is that Ella doesn’t seem to show signs of paranoia or speech impediment, which are usually common in those with Schizophrenia.”
             “How do I even tell her? She’ll never believe this… she’ll hate me forever if I tell her about this.”
             “I’ve already contacted a trusted psychiatrist that will be willing to meet with you both, and discuss everything you need to know.” Dr. Rose handed Alexis a small paper card with black lettering. She took it and placed it in her purse.
             “Okay. Thank you.” They both stood and Dr. Rose walked Alexis to the door of her office.
             “Call me if you have any questions.”

Aiden and I sat together in the clearing, on top of the shaded side of the boulder. Fall was bearing down on the land with strong, cool winds and showers of crisp leaves, but the sun bore down hot like it was still summer. We spent most of our days like this now. Alexis had given up on trying to keep me away from the woods. She said it was changing me. It’s true my style changed a bit, but I know she was referring to my personality. I wasn’t changed like that.
I stood up and jumped down from the boulder. Aiden peered over and looked down at me quizzically. “It’s not late yet, are you going so soon?”
“No.” I smiled mischievously. “Want to race?”
“Race? Like through the woods?”
“Yes.”
“I don’t know…”
“Too scared I’ll beat you?”
“No! I just think it’s dangerous with all the trees and plants in the way.”
“I say you’re scared.” I turned away, still smirking, my arms crossed matter-of-fact like.
I heard a thump behind me and suddenly Aiden’s voice was in my left ear. “You better get running then.” I started to laugh as I sprinted away. I used to love running through the woods when I was younger. I liked the challenge of jumping over rocks and roots, and dodging trees and ducking under branches, all the while keeping speed. I hadn’t lost my touch and was far away from the clearing in only minutes. I slowed my pace and turned my head to listen. Aiden wasn’t there. I stopped and laughed, breathing heavily. Suddenly I saw Aiden running in the distance towards me. He was going fast and I could make out a mischievous grin on his face just like the one I wore as I taunted him to race me. I turned and ran again, this time with more purpose. I didn’t outrun Aiden this time as quickly. I could hear the loud crinkling of leaves behind over my own heavy breathing as he got closer. Adrenaline pumped through me. Where were we even racing to? I kept going until my legs and muscles were screaming to stop. I slowed down and just as I turned around, Aiden was right there and I was knocked over. We fell together against the soft blanket of fallen leaves. I was completely out of breath and my heart pounded fast, but I couldn’t help but burst out laughing as Aiden lay face down beside me, his arm resting over me where he had pushed me over. He laughed too. When we finally caught our breath, I tried to sit up. Aiden leaned over me and smirked, his eyes glittering with mischief.
I laughed and said “Aiden, let me up.”
“Nope. Not until you admit I won.”
“But we didn’t race anywhere specific, you just crashed into me.”
“Who said we were racing? I’d say that was a chase, and as you can see, you’ve been caught.”
“Oh? Okay, fine, you caught me.” I said playfully. “Now let me up.”
Aiden moved aside and I stood up, brushing bits of leaves off my clothing. I looked around and realized we had come further than I expected. The forest was dim and eerie, the sky above stuck in a forever gloomy state with its layer of fog floating above the trees. It was the center of the woods where Aiden and I first met.
I turned to Aiden, who had also stood up. “I think I should head home a bit early today.” I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to leave him. I knew I’d see him tomorrow, even if it meant having to lie to Alexis over and over.
As if Aiden had read my mind he said, “You don’t have to go.”
“I do have to. It’s going to get dark if I don’t go now, look where we are.” Aiden seemed to already know where we were, because he didn’t move his eyes from me to look around. A look of sadness came over him, and then he stepped close to me, looking into my eyes as I looked at his. Those blue eyes had such a power I’d never seen before, and like once before, I felt my breath grow weak and my voice was a thin whisper as I said “I can come back, you know I’ll come back. I won’t leave you forever…”
The sadness on his face turned to a soft loving gaze. “You don’t have to go,” He repeated. “Stay with me. We can stay here. We’re both almost old enough to be on our own, why not now?”
I took a step back and that feeling of weakness left me. “Stay here? As much as that sounds like a pure fairy tale, it is just that. We can’t just leave our homes and stay in the woods.”
“Then at least stay with me tonight. Spend this last summer night with me, out here where the world can’t judge us.”
I felt frozen inside. The part of me I’ve always known was telling me to say no and return to Alexis and the place where I slept, but the other part, the new part that had taken its place in my heart the day Aiden and I met, was telling me to stay with him this one night. “I can’t. I have to go back.” I felt hurt within my heart, and I knew it was the same of that in Aiden’s heart as I turned away from him and began to run back to my house.
When I returned, Alexis was back from her errands. She sat at the kitchen table, and turned her head when I walked in. “Hey, sit down. I need to talk to you.” Her voice was quiet and her expression was troubled.
Something bad was about to happen, I knew it. Did she know about me and Aiden’s continuous visits? I sat down and waited.
Alexis took in a deep breath before she spoke. “I went to visit the doctor who treated you the night of your accident. She called me earlier in the week and asked me to come in.”
“Alexis, I feel fine. Is something wrong?”
“It wasn’t about your accident, it was something else.” Alexis put her hands over her face for a moment, as if the words were too much for her.
“Just tell me, what is it?”
Another breath. “ Dr. Rose thinks you have Schizophrenia.”
“What!?” I felt a terrible shiver run through me. “What do you mean? You don’t believe it, do you?”
“Listen. I didn’t want to at first, but she’s right. She showed me.”
“What did she show you?” I asked slowly.
“She showed me a video recording of the hallway where your room was. It showed you…” She took a moment to gather herself again. “It showed you talking to someone out in the hall, but no one was there.”
I tried to think straight, but the sudden news of this shook my thoughts. I thought back to that night. Aiden had visited me… I didn't tell Alexis, because I didn’t think it mattered. “No. Aiden came to me. He visited me that night; that was who I must have been talking to. You probably just didn’t see him in the video. He was probably at a bad angle or something. Just call up Dr. Rose and tell her this was just a mistake…”
“Ella, listen to me. Aiden isn’t real, he’s part of this illness. And if you deny it, this is only going to get worse. She told me we were lucky enough to have found out this early, and now they can help you, they can make this better…”
My whole body shook now. It shook with anger, but fear too. Fear for Aiden, and myself. “You’re lying! You wanted Aiden and I to separate, but I disobeyed and kept going to him, so now you’ve come up with this ridiculous story to keep us apart.
“Ella, it’s not like that at all, if you’ll just try to understand-”
“No, you don’t understand! I love him! I love him more than anything, and you won’t keep us apart with this!”
“Ella, please don’t do this…”
I didn’t stay to reply, and ran up to my room and slammed the door.
A couple of weeks passed. I met with Aiden a few days after Alexis tried to convince me I had Schizophrenia. We agreed to spend one night together before winter came. I told him what she said. I expected as much of a shocked reaction from him as from me, but he simply shrugged the subject away, as if it made him uncomfortable.
Fall was coming to an end quicker than usual, and the air outside was getting colder and colder. I stayed away from the woods for the remainder of the two weeks, giving them nothing but small glances out my bedroom window.
Alexis tried to bring up my ‘situation’ a couple of times, but I never let her say more than a few words before leaving the area.
I sat in the living room silently as Alexis walked in and turned the TV on. “Winter is getting close. Any day now I think we might get our first snowfall of the year.”
I gave a small nod.
“I’ll be going out tonight with a few friends. Will you be okay here alone for the night?”
I nodded again.
Alexis looked closer at me for a few moments and then said, “Okay.”
A few hours later, and Alexis was out the door. I waited for the car’s headlights to disappear from the windows before I got up, slipped on a black sweatshirt and jeans, and walked outside to the backyard. The wind was strong and I adjusted my footing as it nearly knocked me over. My cheeks immediately started to turn pink. I pulled my hood over my head, but gave up the effort as the wind continued to blow it off again and again. I entered the woods and began the trek to the clearing. The trees gave me some shelter from the strongest gusts and made it feel slightly warmer. I reached the clearing and pulled my hands out of my pockets to climb the boulder. My fingers turned pale from the exposure to the cold as well as the rough icy stone they gripped. My hair blew in front of my face as I reached the top. I pushed it away and nearly fell off as I saw Aiden in front of me. “Aiden! You scared me. I didn’t see you, it’s so dark.”
“Sorry.” He said.
I sat on my knees and pushed my hands into the front pockets of my sweatshirt. The wind died down a bit and it got quieter. I slouched against the biting cold to warm myself up. Aiden moved closer to me. “Here.” He placed his hands on my wrists and pulled my hands from my pockets. He wrapped his hands around my cold fingers, and warmth immediately flooded through my skin.
“Thank you.” I said.
“You’re welcome. And thank you for coming. I didn’t realize it would be so cold. Seemed like only a couple days ago the trees still had all their leaves and the summer was still young. If it gets any colder or if the wind becomes too much, I won’t be upset if you decide to go home.”
I moved closer to Aiden and leaned against his side, my head resting on his shoulder. “No, I’ll stay. I want to stay with you.” I felt his arm wrap around me, tightening the gap between us.
I closed my eyes. The hush of the trees blowing around and the wind fell into rhythm with our breathing. Memories started to flow into my mind’s eye. Or were they dreams? I saw Aiden and I standing together. We both smiled at one another, our hands intertwined together in a joyful bond. Suddenly the memory shifted and we were standing apart. I was backing away, my eyes full of hurt and sorrow. I started to speak. “Why not? Why can’t you come with me? You’re the happiest thing that’s ever happened to me; you can’t just leave me!”
Aiden’s eyes were full of pain too as he said, “You don’t understand. I wish you did, but you’ll never let yourself accept the truth if I told you.”
“Tell me, Aiden! Just tell me the truth. Tell me why we can’t be together. Make me understand.”
“Ella…” Aiden took a step forward and grasped my face in his hands. I looked again into those powerful blue eyes, searching for his reply before he even gave it. “Ella, remember when Alexis told you that I couldn’t be real? She found out you had—
“No!” I pulled his hands away and stumbled backward, glaring through blurry tears. “Don’t say it! Don’t you dare tell me it’s all true. Alexis lied to me to try to keep us apart, but I won’t give in. Not even to you. I won’t be alone again. Never again.”
“But you are alone. You’ve always been alone, even now.”
“I have you. I’m not alone as long as I have you, that’s why you need to stay with me.”
“Staying with you will only make this worse. You need to accept the truth on your own.” Aiden began to fade before my eyes, and then the world itself began to fade.

My eyes flickered open. I was lying on my side on the boulder, and my limbs felt stiff from the cold and the hard stone. I looked around for Aiden, but he was gone. I called out, “Aiden?” No reply. I crawled slowly over to the edge of the boulder and looked down. Aiden was at the end of the clearing, walking through the branches. “Aiden! Where are you going?” I jumped down and ran after him. The wind was beginning to pick up again, and I lurched sideways as a gust of it buffeted my side. I pushed through the bare spiny branches that bordered the clearing. When I reached the other side, Aiden was nowhere in sight. “Aiden! Aiden where are you?” The only reply was the soft bursts if wind. My dream lingered in my mind still, and the last words repeated like a haunting echo in my ear. You have to accept the truth on your own. “No…” Everything I had pushed away suddenly broke through the protective barrier my mind had built, and every last shard of truth pierced me like flying glass.
  The world grew silent. The birds stopped chirping, the wind stilled, and no small creatures stirred. It wasn’t the soft, comfortable kind of silence. It was the heavy, pressured silence, and as it wore on it felt as if that pressure were pushing against my ears, threatening to break the fragile eardrums inside. I continued to stare where Aiden had vanished, and his voice from my dream was still fresh in my mind. His voice. The last sound before this dreadful silence. The pressure in my ears grew and spread out on all sides of me until I felt paralyzed from it. Every muscle tensed as if my limbs were ready to shove away the invisible hold on me. The soundlessness in my ears turned to the roaring of my blood. My vision blurred in and out of focus, my head spun, and the ground beneath my feet didn’t feel so solid anymore as my knees buckled and I fell. The silence and the blood roaring in my ears was all I heard, and I closed my eyes to stop the spinning of everything around me. And like the first angry crack of thunder in a summer storm, the silence was broken. I let out a scream; a shriek; a shrilling cry so loud and sudden that the air around me seemed to tremble. I let it go on until the very will to breathe was gone from my lungs, and all that came out was a silent, breathless wail.
***
Alexis sat on the wooden steps of the black porch. She sat here almost every day now, waiting for her little sister’s return. Ella wasn’t the same anymore. Each week her colorful self was shrouded in more and more layers of shadow. Her eyes didn’t shine like they used to. They were dull and lifeless. Her clothing even changed. She wore dark jeans and a black hoodie most days now. Her eyes had black eyeliner traced around them, when before, they were bare and natural. They were Ella’s beautiful eyes, and now Alexis just didn’t recognize them. The clothing and makeup surprised Alexis, but it was Ella’s changed personality that truly shocked her. She was so distant. When she wasn’t outside, she was locked away in her bedroom. Alexis only heard her voice through the door when she told her that dinner was ready, and she’d respond with a hollow “okay”.
Alexis thought of Ella as she gazed into the woods. The leaves on the trees were beginning to change from dark green to light yellow, with tinges of red and orange here and there. She smiled as she thought of how much Ella loved the woods. It seemed to be the very thing she lived for. As fall approached, and later winter, Alexis knew the cold weather wouldn’t stop Ella from going out. Ella saw the magic in those woods that no one else could see. It was what made her bright and cheerful. However, Alexis wondered what exactly took away that light.
The sun disappeared completely behind the trees. Ella was still not home. Alexis stood and listened. There was only silence. She took a step off the porch, and walked cautiously to the edge of the woods. Only a few trees and branches were visible in front of her, and the rest were swallowed up by the night. A strange sudden chill ran through her, and her hands shook as she raised them to her mouth and called out. “Ella!” She listened and heard nothing but her own voice echoing through the trees. Just as she took in a breath to call again, she was cut off. A horrid scream sounded suddenly. It was so strong and loud, so sharp, that Alexis could hear it all around her. It seemed to come from the heart of the woods, but it also sounded so close. It lasted for almost a minute before it cut off, leaving remnants of it bouncing off the trees and the distant mountains. Alexis stood frozen as a wave of pure terror engulfed her. When she found herself again, she stumbled across the yard, up the porch steps, and into the house. She grabbed the house phone and dialed Uncle Jack’s number, her fingers trembling terribly. The line rang once. Then twice. On the third thing it cut off as a man’s voice answered. “Hello?”
“Uncle Jack?” Alexis felt a lump in her throat and found it difficult to speak. “I think Ella is hurt badly.”
“What happened!?”
“She didn’t come home tonight, and I heard a scream from the woods.”
“Call 911 and I’ll be over as soon as possible.”
An hour passed. Alexis stood outside on the back porch and watched the light beams of the search party’s flashlights grow dim as they got further and further into the woods. The early night fall air was cool, but fear was what sent uncontrollable shivers through her body. She wanted to join them in the search, but her uncle pleaded with her to stay and wait here in case Ella came back before the party could find her.
Another hour passed, and Alexis still stood in the same spot. Her eyes rarely blinked as she stared into the pitch black woods. The search party was long gone by now, probably near the middle of the vast forest.
***
I ran. Before the echoes of my pain-filled scream could be muffled by silence once more, I ran as fast as I could. Nothing was going through my mind anymore. Not my conscience, not Alexis, not the place where I slept, nor school nor society, not even the thing I believed for so long to be real; Aiden was gone. And I would be gone too. Cold, thin tears streaked the sides of my face and slid through the roots of my hair as the wind pushed them away from my eyes. If the one thing that made me happy was just a figment of my imagination, then I wouldn’t let myself believe in the world anymore. Nothing was real anymore, nothing but sadness and grief, pain and anger. The only reality was the reality that drives all to madness, for madness had caught me by my wrist, and it gripped it tightly, never to let go.
Thick clouds covered the sky above and the cold air made my hands red and dry. Suddenly the trees became more spaced apart, and I could see an opening ahead. I stopped and gasped at the sight before me, and sucked in the night air as my lungs begged for the sweet oxygen. I had reached the ravine. The mountains in the distance were shrouded in shadow and the lake below was lost in darkness. There was no beauty here now, and somehow I think there never was. Again, I felt the world’s betrayal spark the fire in my heart. I let that betrayal guide my steps to the very edge of the cliff side. Shrubs and loose rocks littered the steep hill. I jumped down a short distance. I felt my feet slide on the loose dirt, but I didn’t falter. I kept my sight on the bottom of the ravine, and didn’t see the root that curved upward out of the ground in front of me. I tripped on it and fell. I landed on the jagged side of a stone, and felt a sharp sting shoot through my leg. I cried out, and looked down to see dark red blood spreading through my pant-leg. I stood up again, took a step forward on my injured leg, and another shot of agony rushed through me. I ignored every last bit of it. I had to make it to the bottom. I had to see what Aiden -what my mind- was telling me to see.
At last the ground leveled out and I came to the sandy beach side of the lake. The waves lapped lazily on the shore, and the wind picked up, blowing millions of tiny ripples across the lightless surface. I stood there with most of my weight on my uninjured leg. My hair whipped in all directions, and my ears filled with the howls and screams of the wind. My hands were numb, and the one that had been grasping the wound on my leg was caked in frozen blood.
I opened my mouth and yelled, “Is this what you wanted me to see? This dark, lightless landscape? You lied to me!” At this point I wasn’t only addressing Aiden. I was addressing reality, and my own taunted mind. “I believed in beauty and life and inspiration for so long, and now all I see is a cold, hard place with nothing but lies and hidden truths! So where is it? What is it you wanted to show me?”
I listened and only the howling wind answered my cries. Exhaustion caught up with me, and I fell to my knees. I dug my cold hands into the sand and gazed across the lake. For what seemed like hours, I stayed there on the beach. As if winter had decided to come early, I saw a tiny, white snowflake fall in front of me. More and more took its place, and soon the land was covered in a thin sheet of snow. Despite the darkness, the little crystals seemed to catch an invisible light and glittered dimly. My limbs were growing colder and colder, and soon my eyelids grew heavy. I lay down slowly on my side, and curled myself into a crescent on the sand. A flickering white light danced around the darkness of my closed eyelids, grew ever brighter, and suddenly I heard a voice over the wind.
“Ella.”
“Aiden…” I mumbled weakly.
“Ella. I’m here. I didn’t mean to leave you. I’m here now.”
I couldn’t fight the heaviness in my eyelids anymore, and kept them closed as I responded to the voice beside me. “You’re not here. You’ve never been here. You don’t exist.” I said breathlessly.
“I do exist. I exist in you, Ella.”
The drowsiness in my body and mind grew until I couldn’t fight it anymore, and I only managed four last whispered words before the last gust of cold fall air swept me away into forever sleep. “You exist in me…”



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