To those who have read ‘The Driver’, I hope you enjoyed it. To those who haven’t: why not! It’s one post previous, no excuses!
And so to this short story. I’m not entirely sure I’m happy with it. I can’t quite put my finger on it, as there are bits I really like, but I think there’s something not quite working. I might just be being too hard on myself, which, if so, I don’t necessarily think is a bad thing.
This blog, if nothing else, will be a place where I can post work and (hopefully!) get some feedback as to what works, what does not, and thus how I can improve as a writer. Therefore, regardless as to what my own personal feelings are, I’ll try to post most of what I write.
I’m certainly not afraid of posting something I’m not sure people will like. If we only ever posted things we thought we perfect, there would never be anything to read!
So, here it is anyway. It’s a short story about a wood, and the people who find themselves in it. Slightly mystical, I guess. I hate giving brief descriptions!
As always, I hope you enjoy.
The Journey Home
The rumbling of thunder woke him. The intense pounding inside his head shook him to life. Jack sat up and surveyed his surroundings. Panning the immediate area did little: the midnight darkness consumed most of that around him; only the vague outline of trees visible. Rain lashed down, hindering attempts to stand up; he reached for a nearby birch to steady himself.
After a few gasps of air he felt composed enough to properly analyse his situation. The last thing he remembered was travelling south down the A38, his best friend Sam sat next to him. Even with their headlights on full beam, the intense darkness of the night made it hard to see too far ahead. He had actually made a point of questioning the unnatural darkness of the night, he recalled. That’s when his next recollection hit him: the women who had entered the road in front of them. Sam had swerved the car to avoid impact.
If the car had crashed, it had to be near by. Maybe he had been thrown from it? That would certainly explain the boxer currently using the inside of his skull as his personal punch bag. The very thought of it stung him to life; scanning now in all directions showed nothing, however.
This time not of rumbling thunder, but something much more human. Jack turned to find the figure of an elderly man not but ten metres away. He was much smaller than Jack, but standing at a little over 5’, this would often be the case for the old man, Jack thought. He didn’t move, unsure what to make of his sudden partner in the dark. The man spoke, winds sweeping in as he did so. The trees all around the two men shook. Jack couldn’t work out what, if anything, had been said. The thunder continued to rumble; rain lashed down more heavily. He slowly approached the man, who now had his full attention. His search for the car, and Sam, had abruptly ended.
“Who are you?,” Jack asked.
The man’s lips moved, but again his words did not meet Jack’s ears. The man pointed at Jack, then ushered him towards the darkness beyond. Without fathoming why, Jack felt the odd impulse, nay necessity, to follow the man. As he began his approach in the direction of the old man’s gesture, another sound stopped him. Not of the thunder or the wind, and not of any other noise a wood such as this could realistically conjure.
It sounded like Sam.
Jack turned in the approximate direction of the sound, but saw nothing. This did not surprise him: the darkness of this night had, if possible, become blacker. His visibility now stood at a little over ten metres. The car could be a matter of feet from where he stood, but he would be unable to see it. He listened intently, hoping for the sound of Sam’s voice to reach him again. It did not come. Jack turned, and followed the man into the black.
“I need to find my friend,” Jack told the man as they walked.
His small, grey-haired head rotated in Jack’s direction and shook from left to right. Despite this, Jack continued to follow him. He still wasn’t quite sure why, but he felt a link to this man, a reason to follow him.
Their progress was suddenly halted. The swirling winds dropped, the branches ceased to shake and a sound echoed out from the beyond. Jack couldn’t quite make out what this voice was saying, but its owner unmistakable. Sam’s voice was not loud enough to be close, but close enough to be heard. Pushing confusion aside, Jack trudged on behind the old man. They soon reached a break in the trees, where the moonlight now provided semi-illumination. Jack could make out the outside of a structure a short distance in front of the two men. He turned to the old man, who had sat himself down on a large, curved rock.
“What now?” Jack asked.
The man again mouthed his answer. Jack made it out this time:
“What do you mean?” he responded, puzzled.
The old man pointed towards the structure and mouthed the word again. Jack found himself acknowledging the gesture, turning in the direction the man required. As he closed upon the structure it soon became apparent it was nothing more than a small shack. The moonlight drenched it in a strange, white aura, not befitting of a building such as this. The stone wall and thatched roof reminded Jack of the outhouse in the grounds of the farm he had grown up in. Almost identical in fact: a truth he was too disorientated to notice. As he reached for the small, wooden door knob, Sam’s voice echoed all around him. Louder this time.
“Jack, Jack!” it called.
Whether it was the wind around him, or the pounding still present in his head, he could not grasp where exactly the voice was coming from. It was all around him and yet nowhere. In his head, yet miles away. The wind whisked the sound away, and again Jack found himself alone. He turned the knob and entered.
* * *
The taste of dirt was indescribable. It filled her entire mouth. Rolling onto her back, Sam spat it out, much landing on her feet. It was then she noticed the blood. Following that was the intense pain originating deep down her throat. She coughed: more blood spewed onto her. It hurt, but at the same time made her feel slightly better. The pain momentarily distracted her from what had happened. As it passed, thoughts quickly returned.
“Jack!” she exclaimed.
Turning around, she realised she had fallen quite a distance. Up a slight embankment above her sat the wreckage of her beloved Ford Ka: it would not be winning any beauty contests now. The driver’s side of the windscreen now had a large hole in it, her exit from the vehicle artistically displayed. Sam dragged herself up the embankment and quickly reached the passenger side door. She ripped it open but found nothing but an empty, glass-covered seat. Panicking, she turned her attention back to the wood. The darkness made it almost impossible to see much past the first few trees, and Jack was nowhere to be found in this direction. An uplifting idea suddenly entered her head; she reached back inside the vehicle and switched on the car’s headlights. They had been left undamaged in the crash and now illuminated much of the wood. Her great idea quickly left her down hearted: even now, Jack was nowhere in sight.
Over to Sam’s left the light hit an object and reflected back up into the night. It must have fallen from her pocket as she was thrown from the vehicle. She slid back down the embankment as fast as her body would currently allow her. The phone was, surprisingly, in one piece, allowing Sam a momentary moment of hope. As she reached for it, she could have sworn she heard a voice calling her name from deeper inside the wood. The wind seemed to carry it from the night to her ears. As quickly as it she heard it, it was gone. It was then, as she began to dial for help, a sight left her numb. She dropped the phone to the floor; her body quickly followed.
* * *
The other side of the door literally revealed more of the same. Jack found himself back in the wood. A short distance in front of him sat the old man, just as he had been before he entered through the doorway. Jack noticed a difference: the wind had stopped, with the rain now lashing down even more ferociously than before, beating upon his face. Jack made a determined stride towards the old man: he demanded answers. With a steely focus on the grey-locked old man, his attention no longer stretched itself to his precarious surroundings. It was an unwise decision, as the rain-drenched mud quickly betrayed him. His feet flying northwards, Jack once again found himself on the ground. As he looked up, the old man now standing over him, something felt different. He felt weak, unable to right himself. The old man lifted his upper body, resting it against his. Jack looked up at the man, who mouthed the now familiar word:
Defying his small stature and old age, the man raised to his feet with Jack in his arms. He began to walk back into the dense part of the wood, and the darkness. He strode confidently: Jack could not believe this frail old man could carry him like an old rag doll. They seemed to travel for hours. Jack had given up contemplating where they were going and what was going to happen. He completely gave himself to this old man, as if something inside him told him he could be trusted wholeheartedly. Somehow, and he wasn’t sure how, he knew everything was going to be alright.
* * *
Five feet in front of her sat the lifeless body of her friend. Tears already streaming down her face, Sam raced over to Jack’s body.
“Jack, Jack!” she screamed.
She slapped his face and called his name: nothing. Kneeling down on the wet, muddy grass, she attempted resuscitation. It felt weird to her: this was her best friend. She could not be sure she was doing it right either, she had no formal training after all, but it felt correct. Either way, it did nothing. As she lifted her head, his fell. Sliding back across the muddy floor, Sam grabbed her phone. The operator was still on the line, asking frantically what the problem was. Sam’s panicked state made her voice inaudible: her words strangled by the anguish flooding her entire body.
“Don’t worry, Jack,” she said softly, back with her friend and propping his head onto her leg.
And he wouldn’t worry. Not anymore. As Sam dropped her phone to floor, tears streamed even further down her face; a saddening truth engulfed her.
He was dead.
* * *
As the two men continued their journey, Jack could make out something in the distance. The darkness of the wood seemed to recede; a light shone out in front of them. As they neared the light’s origin, the rain completely stopped; the two men were now almost in touching distance of the warm glow. The denseness of the trees broke and a bright clearing soon greeted Jack and his Carrier. In the centre stood a house. Not any house, thought Jack: it was the house of his youth, the building he had grown up in. The old man stood Jack up, planting his feet onto the now lush, warm grass. The sun’s heat now beat down upon his face; it felt good. Jack stumbled, but the old man steadied him. He pointed at the house. Jack acknowledged his companion, something deep inside telling him this was meant to happen; that everything would be OK. The old man smiled, turned, and wandered back into the dark. He was soon gone, just a quickly as he had first appeared. Jack turned, and approached the house. It was exactly as he remembered it, right down to the line of crayon he left on the crème-coloured wall one summer afternoon. As he reached for the door handle, he took one last look behind him. The wood had disappeared. Sunlight and lush green fields surrounded him in all directions. The sound of birds filled the air overhead. As he felt all his stresses and worries exit his body, he smiled. For the first time, in a very long time, he was truly content. He allowed himself one final thought of Sam and the world he was leaving behind. Pushing the door open, Jack felt a sense of comfort and serenity pour out and wash over him.
He was home.