Lucas awoke the next morning with a pounding headache. He lay in his sleeping bag for a while, surrounded by the passed-out forms of his friends, replaying what had happened the night before. He still felt so angry at the others for the cruel way they’d mocked him – especially Noah. But could he blame them? Lucas winced inwardly as he recalled the things he’d said about Evelyn, and realized just how crazy he’d sounded.
His friends had been ruthless, that much was true. But if the roles were reversed, would he have done the same? Lucas would never know.
Not quite ready to face his friends, Lucas got up quickly and quietly, grabbed his fishing rod and a couple of granola bars, and went off to explore on his own.
He hiked through the woods to the nearby fishing area, which was still deserted this early in the morning. The water was just as clear as he remembered from when he was a child. Smiling to himself, he cast his line out into the sparkling water.
The soft chirping of the birds’ morning song and the subtle smell of pine on the morning breeze calmed his mind and helped clear a bit of the pounding in his aching head. Relaxing though it was, part of him could not help but think of Evelyn, sad and alone at home. Lucas felt guilty leaving her, and felt even guiltier at just how anxious he had been to get away for the weekend.
He felt so selfish. There was so much he took for granted – Evelyn had helped him realize that. She tried to hide it, but he could tell how jealous it made her to hear him talk about going to the park or the movies, or hanging out with his friends. Even his silly stories about those stressful nights working at the diner seemed to make her envious. It’s like she told me… She’s stuck…
Hey! Speaking of stuck… It felt like his line had gotten caught on something, but Lucas quickly realized that it was a fish. He reeled it in excitedly, finding a decent-sized minnow on the line. Could be good for lunch… Lucas thought, wishing he’d thought to bring some of his cooking supplies along with him. There were a few good fish recipes he’d been wanting to try.
Satisfied with his catch, Lucas packed away his rod and his fish and continued hiking deep into the woods, enjoying the beautiful scenes of nature around him. Soon, however, he reached a deep section of the forest where time seemed to stand still. It was eerie – there were no more chirping birds or buzzing insects around him. Even the breeze seemed to have stopped blowing.
The boy stopped in his tracks, hesitating. There was something strange about this part of the woods. He could feel it. As a child, he’d heard many strange rumors about things lurking in the deepest sections of the forest – trolls, Bigfoot, even a witch. Sure, it sounded ridiculous. But then again, weren’t ghosts supposed to be a ridiculous fantasy too?
Up ahead, he saw a strange opening hidden by some twisted vines. For a moment, Lucas considered turning back. Who knew what could be on the other side? But then he thought of Evelyn. She was stuck at home, trapped by death while he was out here, living. Evelyn wouldn’t have shied away from the unknown, so why should he?
His mind made up, Lucas took a deep breath, crouched forward, and crept through the brambles to the other side.