“Well Julian, I guess you’re just a lame, pansy little chicken. I even told the other boys I thought you could do it. Guess even the best of us have to be wrong sometimes,” Jack sneered and turned away.
Julian looked down at the ground, and weighed his options. He could go into the woods by himself, or he could be called a chicken for the rest of his existence at Cardinal Falls Middle School. He shut his eyes tight for a second and drew in a breath. “What’s so weird about those woods anyways?” he asked. His fists were balled up so tightly at his sides that the knuckles had turned an inhuman shade of white.
“The puny know-it-all hasn’t heard about the woods?” Jack raised an eyebrow in mock surprise, and a smile played on the corners of his lips. When the other boy didn’t say anything, Jack continued. “A couple years ago, a new family moved to Cardinal Falls. The family had two kids, a little girl, and a boy. A boy kind of like you. Those kids didn’t know anything about the woods either, so they decided to go for a little hike. They never made it back. The police and firemen and everything went to look for them. They never found the girl, but they found the boy.” By then Julian was looking up. Jack struggled to hide his pleasure, this was the absolute best part to tell. “He was lying in a huge puddle of blood, and his arm and both legs were ripped right off. They took the dead body to the mortician’s, and the bloody bite marks on him had a match.” He paused for a dramatic effect and lowered his voice. “Great white shark bites.”
Julian’s face dropped the wide-eyed terror, and his eyebrows drew together in confusion and skepticism. “Jack, that doesn’t even make sense. First of all, we’re nowhere near an ocean, and the only freshwater sharks live in Nicaragua. I’ve read about them.”
“Fine, wimp. If you don’t believe in it, why don’t you go in the woods yourself?” Jack slightly tilted his head to the side with his chin stuck out and raised his eyebrows, challenging the scrawny boy.
“Alright, maybe I will!” Julian almost shouted and took a step towards the taller boy, looking up straight into his eyes. They stood there for a second, then Julian pivoted around, threw his backpack down, and marched determinately towards the edge of the forest. “Maybe I will.”
At the edge of the forest, Julian searched for a path or trail into the dense green growth. He didn’t dare to turn around and look at Jack, to see the smug grin that grew along the other boy’s face and burned into the back of Julian’s head. He finally found a slight opening and shoved his way in, ignoring the branches that pulled at his t-shirt and shorts, leaving pink scratches along his arms and legs.
The world blurred around him as he trudged and trudged through the thick undergrowth of the woods. His mind spun in mindless circles, kicking up painful memories, painful names, painful kicks. Know-it-all. Lame. Wimp. His nose began to run, and tears burned in his eyes. He let them run down his flushed cheeks and touch his lips, leaving a taste of the sea. They rolled and rolled down, each like a wave. Jack would never cry. The boys on the baseball team would never cry. The boys who had friends to sit with at lunch and called Julian a know-it-all for raising his hand in class would never cry. They wouldn’t shed a single tear. Because they were strong and Julian was weak. Weak, wimp, lame.
Julian forgot where he was going, what he was doing. He didn’t know which direction he was trudging in, or how much time had passed. He struggled through the woods as fast as possible, only looking forward. Until he marched right out of a grove of pine trees and into a clearing. He stopped for a second, and realized he was completely out of breath and his heart was pounding abnormally fast. Sitting down in the grass to catch his breath, Julian took his first good look around the clearing.
The trees surrounding it were tremendous, and extremely old. Some of the tallest Julian had ever seen, and they towered over the clearing like giants. He looked up at the sky and squinted. The trees stretched their branches in the area just above, and the sun filtered through the vibrant leaves, casting a soft green light over the grass. He noticed the tiny purple and yellow flowers, no bigger than his thumbnails, which grew in small clusters around him. Julian laid down in the soft green grass and took his first real, relaxed breath in a long time. Soon the clouds in the sky turned into sheep, and the branches into fences, and he counted them as they gently bounded over. Before he knew it, a wave of exhaustion washed over him, leaving a blanket of sleep.
This clearing could not be the same one he had fallen asleep in. He quickly sat up and looked around. It was dark, and the moon was overhead. This too cast light through the branches, but it caught in eerie ways and cast strange shadows across the ground and on the surrounding trees. Julian felt pangs of panic course through his entire body. The digital watch on his boney wrist illuminated blue and read 11:36. He pushed himself up, scraping the palm of his hand on a jagged rock. But he didn’t care. He paid no heed to the stream of blood that stained the band of his wristwatch. The boy ran and ran, as fast as he could in whichever direction home was. Home. He had to get home. That was the only thought in his head when he heard them.
They were almost silent, gliding between the trees with grace. Three of them circled overhead, above the prey. The little injured fish, lost in the forest. Julian tripped over a thick lock, leaving a gash on his leg. He rocked back and forth, holding his leg. This time when he sobbed, he didn’t think about the other boys. He didn’t think about names, or memories. His entire being was focused on simply getting out of those woods. Those accursed woods.
But that would never happen.
For the creatures saw their opportunity, the animal wounded. And they struck. It was a magnificent ballet of death and destruction. They each did their part, left their mark, had their fill. And left like they had never been there in the first place, lost like a whisper on the wind.
They eventually found what was left of the boy, and did a thorough autopsy. Cause of death? Fatal bite wounds to the torso, left arm, and both legs. Match to the bite wounds? Great white shark.