Aiden decided to go for a walk to find the Good People. Was it the right choice? Should he have waited in the car? These were good questions for the average adult, but Aiden’s childish mind never pondered them, for his heart was set on one thing: getting help for his mom. There was no time for doubt or questions. Time was a’moving, so moving was what he did.
The forest was thick. Branches full of leaves covered up the moon in the night sky. On his left, there was a tall rocky cliff reaching to the heavens. He could not believe they had driven over it. He did not think he would ever ride in a car again. He kept his mom’s phone tucked in his pocket. The screen had shattered and the battery was dead, but he knew phones were fickle things, and it could come back on without warning. He let out a loud yawn. Nighttime was supposed to be for sleeping, not adventuring out into the woods. On the occasional days he was tired, he would welcome nighttime with open arms, excited for the long sleep to prepare him for the next adventure tomorrow. But like most kids, he battled his mom for the opportunity to stay up, each additional waking minute a victory stolen from nighttime. The forest, it seemed, was just like him. It did not want to go to sleep at nighttime. It was awake. Bugs buzzed. Owls hooted. Coyotes howled. It was a terrifying thing to not know where he was going, but he had to keep moving. His mind was in perpetual motion. Keep going. It’s only a coyote. They’re just dogs, right?
There was a large tree down in front of him. Rather than going around, he got on all fours and crawled underneath. When his hand struck the earthy surface, it reminded him of the pain residing within. He cried out.
The forest that was once alive became quiet.
This time, it was Aiden’s heartbeat that interrupted the silence. He stood up and began to jog deeper into the forest. He did not like the way the forest had stopped talking when he cried. It was like it had eyes and ears, listening in, watching him, following him. If he kept moving, it would have a harder time tracking his movements.
Ferns and other plants were soon replaced with thick clumps of pine needles, some brown, some green. The pine trees that had shed the needles rose high above Aiden, sweating sap down the misshapen bark that covered their trunks. As he walked beside them, he thought of Christmas, imagining elegantly wrapped presents lying underneath, with a fire warming his back as he reached down to open them. This brought a much-needed smile to his face, and the fortitude to walk a little bit longer before taking a break underneath a birch tree.
He yawned again. He looked back in the direction from where he came and could not see the car anymore. Had he already walked that far, or was it simply the thickness of the trees that blocked his view? Maybe he should go check on his mom—see if she had woken up from her unusual sleep. Or maybe he should continue his walk to find the Good People. There had to be another road nearby with cars full of people who would help. All the thinking made him extra sleepy. His body shifted downward; his arms became like rogue logs rolling down a hill, twisting and flipping until there was nowhere else for them to go but onto the ground. His neck bent to the side; his cheek rubbed against the paper-like bark on the birch tree. Whatever ‘maybes’ and thoughts Aiden had in his head soon vanished.
Nighttime had won again.