Archive for March 30th, 2009


Lost in Silver Chapter Three: The Woods

Chapter Three

The Woods

The field was Linda’s element. Benny may get the good grades, Jamie may have been the popular one, but if you gave her a ball or a bat, Linda would always be able to dazzle her siblings away. Just five minutes after she and Gail had joined the game she pulled Kevin’s team into a 3-3 tie with Gene. They’d be in the lead by now if Tony Zeringue weren’t such a good goalie.

Gene had the ball, twisting between Kevin’s players like they were in slow motion. The only one who could keep up with him was Linda – and she did. The ball traded places from his possession to hers, then back to his again. It was becoming a two-player game, with everyone else standing around watching, barely even moving because it was impossible to tell where the ball would go next. Most of the players stared at her in amazement – perplexed, no doubt, that such a small girl was creaming them. The only one who didn’t have a stunned look in his eyes was Gene, who actually seemed to be enjoying the contest.

“Nice to have some competition,” he said, swiping the ball back again. Gail spun around with his maneuver, turning around in a full 360-degree circle, her eyes glazing over the empty bleachers just long enough for them to register in her brain, resulting in sheer terror.

“Benny!” she screamed. Gene took advantage of her distraction, swiping the ball again and firing a shot past the goalie. His team pulled ahead 4-3, but the game was effectively over at that point, because when Gail saw what Linda was screaming at, she started screaming too.

“What? What is it?” Kevin shouted. Surprisingly, his mood had only gotten worse with each of Linda’s goals. Now that they were behind again, he was even grumpier.

“My brother!” Linda shouted. “He’s gone!”

The two teams suddenly began twittering and Linda abandoned the field. She ducked through the dugout, shouting “Benny!” the whole while. The other kids, one at a time, followed her out.

“Benny, where are you?”

“He’s over there!” Gail yelled, pointing across the canal to the edge of Kane Forest. Benny was standing beneath the shadow of the first row of trees, gazing into the woods. The man in the black coat was with him, stepping into the dark, one hand extended, one slender finger curling itself, beckoning the little boy forward. Linda didn’t waste time screaming again. This time she ran, and the others ran with her.

*   *   *

Benny was overjoyed by this man before him, urging him into the deep trees of the forest. He had never seen him before that morning, and he remembered, in some lonesome corner of his mind, how he had once found the long, dark coat and razor-sharp fingernails frightening. No more. Now he felt like he was standing with a great explorer; someone who could take him places that previously existed only in his imagination. He was a giant, taller even than Daddy, but his face was so friendly. Had he really thought, at first, that his new friend wore a sneer? That he could have had poison in his eyes? What a silly thought.

“My name is Baliwick,” his new friend had told him. “Come with me, Benny. I have something wonderful to show you.”

“How do you know my name?” Benny remembered asking.

“I know a great deal about you, Benny. I’ve been watching your family for some time, and I have decided you are worthy to come with me, to see something magical.”

“My sister…” Benny said, only partially aware that Linda was nearby.

“Yes, your sister. I am very interested in her as well, but you first, Benny. You come with me, and then we shall see about your sister later.”

That sounded reasonable, Benny decided. This man was so strange, but so nice. So comforting. He had never seen him before, he knew, but he felt like he remembered him somehow.

Remembered those incredible, glowing black eyes.

*   *   *

“Benny what are you doing?” Linda shouted. “Don’t go with him!”

“He’s not listening!” Gail huffed. Linda and Gene were well ahead of the pack. By the time she was staggering across the closest, narrow bridge across the canal, the others were just rounding the carousel or ducking beneath the swings.

Linda had never run so fast before. It was like Benny had lost his mind. The man in the black coat had his hand stretched out like he was pulling Benny with some invisible cord, slowly dragging him into the dark shades of the forest. When she shouted again for Benny to stop, to not go in, to come to his senses, the man in the black coat took notice. He looked at Linda – through Linda, it felt like – and wrapped an arm around Benny. He whispered something to the boy and pulled him into the darkness.


Linda did not hesitate. She rushed down the path to the spot in the woods where her brother and the man in the black coat disappeared, then dove straight into the darkness after them.

“Linda!” Gail shouted.

“C’mon!” Gene shouted over his shoulder. He charged in after Linda, leaving the other kids behind them, grouping together right at the edge of the forest.

“I’m not going in there,” Tony Zeringue said. “I heard there’s a giant bat in there.”

“Don’t be stupid,” Ned Ryan said. “It’s a gargoyle.”

“Can’t you both stop being stupid?” Kevin said. He grabbed Gail by the arm and pulled. “Come on!” he shouted.

She was so surprised by his touch that she didn’t even try to argue. They bolted into the darkness before Linda and Gene were so far ahead that they couldn’t see where they were running, and they were the last two to go in.

*   *   *

It was very dark in Kane Forest, Linda realized, but not quite as dark as she’d been led to believe. Her eyes adjusted slowly to the conditions around her and she saw the black coat fluttering through the dark gray woods in front of her. She realized soon that he was not slowing down, not turning. He was charging in a straight line, and the light that came in from the edge of the woods was getting farther and farther away. As she ran, she reached up behind her, pulled the red scrunchie out of her hair, and threw it to the ground next to a tree.

“What are you doing?” Gene huffed behind her.

“Leave a trail!” she shouted at him. “Give them something to follow!”

Gene wondered exactly which “them” she expected to come barging through the woods after them, but he pulled the watch from his wrist and tossed it on the ground a few dozen yards later. “A trail!” he yelled back at Gail and Kevin. “Leave a trail!”

Kevin stuffed his hand into his pocket to pull out a note Gail passed him in school that day, but when he got his hand caught he lost his concentration. His foot caught on a root and he tumbled forward into the dirt.

“Kevin!” Gail shouted. She dropped back and helped him to his feet, throwing her purple hairband off as they went.

“Are we still going in the right direction?” Kevin wheezed.

“I think so,” Gail said, but in truth, she wasn’t sure. The man in the black coat and Linda were both way ahead of them, far outside of their field of vision. Gene had on a pair of blue shorts and a gray tee shirt. Next to his dark brown skin and black hair, he was almost impossible to see in the middle of this forest.

“Yeah, this is the right way!” Kevin said. “That’s Gene’s lanyard!” His friend’s yellow cord, his school ID held in the plastic pouch at the bottom, was dangling from a low-hanging branch a few yards away. “Come on! We’ve got to catch up!”

*   *   *

Benny had never experienced anything like this. Baliwick scooped him up like he were a cat and was carrying him through the woods at top speed. When his family went to Six Flags a few years ago, Dad wouldn’t let him go on the good roller coasters – he said he was too little. This was much better than any thrill ride, he knew. Branches zipped past his head at amazing speeds. Leaves hummed through the air like confetti. Wind battered his face, his hair danced like he was staring into a fan. He should have been terrified – of being with this strange man, of being whisked off to some unknown location, even of falling during this amazing race – but he was not.

“Are you having fun yet, Benny?” Baliwick asked him.

“Yeah!” Benny thrust his fist out, shouting as though he was on the roller coaster he never got to ride. “Woo-hoo!”

Baliwick laughed. “Oh, I’m glad, Benny. I’m very glad indeed.”

They continued to run.

*   *   *

When she heard her little brother scream, Linda’s legs were beginning to wear down on her. She wasn’t used to this. She was an athlete, yes, but she was a sprinter. This was like running a marathon to save your life. She had already been using up energy on the soccer game. She lost track of how long they had been running through the trees, lost track of how far they’d gone and how far behind her the fading daylight was. Her mind was split right down the middle on two tracks – mortal fear for her brother and a screaming in her legs that made her afraid she would not be able to run much farther.

Then she heard Benny scream.

She ripped the baseball cap from her head, tossed it aside, and ran faster.

*   *   *

Linda’s flying cap almost hit Gene in the face. He managed to bat it aside without missing a step. He couldn’t afford to miss a step. He’d never seen anyone running as fast as Linda was after that weirdo that had her brother. Of course, he’d never seen anyone running after some weirdo that was kidnapping her brother before, either. All things considered, her surprise velocity was probably a good thing. Still, it was impossible not to be impressed. He was going as fast as he could and he was only barely keeping up with her. It was remarkable, what a little incentive could do for a person.

“Root!” he shouted to Kevin and Gail, hurtling the offending limb reflexively. He was working up quite a sweat in this mad rush. If Linda weren’t in such a mad panic, this would almost be fun.

He imagined himself as a superhero, charging through the woods at the speed of light. Even better – leaping through the air, pouncing from tree to tree, dressed in a costume like some giant animal, landing in front of the villain just before he could make a getaway, saving little Benny from the clutches of evil. He’d read enough comics to know how it would work. A few well-placed kicks, a blow to the nose and his enemy would crumple like a tissue. It always looked so easy. Superheroes in the comics, typically, did not have to do quite this much running.

*   *   *

Benny felt like he would take off. It was like being on a horse… no, a motorcycle! No, a convertible! A runaway convertible tearing down the freeway—

Then, as suddenly as it had begun, the wind stopped. Benny felt a short jolt as he and Baliwick came to a halt and the whole world came into focus around him. Baliwick was smiling.

“We’re here,” he said.

But where were they? There was light here, for the first time in what seemed like forever, and the trees were wide open in front of him. The ground Baliwick placed him on was some sort of heavy, grainy sand and in the middle of the clearing…


It was the pond. The pond in the middle of Kane Forest he had been warned about his whole life. He’d often been kept awake with nightmares about the beasts that were drifting through the murky, stagnant water – giant blue fish with foot-long teeth or ugly, scale-covered swamp men that slept at the soft bottom of the water until they heard unsuspecting children splashing around above them.

But this wasn’t the sort of murky slime he expected at all. This water was smooth, silver, perfect – like looking down into a giant mirror. He gazed down into the pond and saw himself looking back up in astonishment, smiling, his eyes glimmering with just the slightest hint of orange behind the usual green. Well that was odd.

“Baliwick?” he said.

“No time, Benny. This is just the beginning of the journey, after all. I just wanted to give you a moment to catch your breath before you had to hold it.”

“Hold it?”

“Your breath, Benny, hold your breath.”

“Why?” Benny said, but when Baliwick grabbed him again he inhaled heavily and didn’t let it go, even when Baliwick leapt into the air, still holding him, and crashed forward into the freezing water.

*   *   *

There was some sound ahead of Linda – it sounded almost like a splash – and she tried to press forward harder, but she was already going as fast as she could possibly manage. Even here, at the point of her exertion, she could feel Gene nipping at her heels. She’d lost track of how long she had been running, and her watch was long gone, discarded next to some bush somewhere, but it was long enough for her eyes to grow quite accustomed to looking through the darkness. She kept the man in the black coat in her field of vision until all of a sudden he was surrounded by a halo of light that hurt her eyes. The splash came only seconds later, and there was a flood of light in her face, almost blinding her.

“Benny!” she shrieked, unable to look anymore. Gene began to push her forward, using her body to block the light from ruining his own vision, and they both could see a bit clearer when their feet pounded into the sand.

“Linda, hold it!” Gene yelled, holding her back before she flipped forward into the water. They both beat their eyes, trying to adjust to the light.

“Where are they?” Linda said.

“They must have jumped in! I heard a splash!”

“So did I, but… look at the water! There aren’t any waves or ripples or bubbles or anything! Nobody jumped in there!”

“Well he couldn’t have jumped across! And there’s no where else they could have gone!”

“They had to go somewhere!

“Well – oof!”

They got slammed by Gail, still moving at a full clip and apparently unaware that her friends had stopped moving. Gene stuck his feet out in front of them, digging into the sand and holding them in place. There were only a couple of feet between them and the edge of the water to begin with. Two more inches and they would have fallen in.

“Where are they?” Gail said.

“We don’t know!”

“Where’s Kevin?”

“Behind me!”

Just as Gail was getting her bearings, Kevin hit the entire pack. Gene was caught off-guard and his feet skid, hitting the surface of the pond and sliding like it was ice. There was a chorus of screams and a chorus of splashing, and all four of them fell into the pool in one big, tangled mess.

*   *   *

It was cold, Linda thought. For a long moment, it was the only thing she thought. Slowly, other ideas entered her head. She could not see. She could not breathe. She didn’t even know which way was up. It was like she and the others were falling through the water, if such a thing were possible. She flipped several times, her head and feet spinning around over and over each other, her lungs beginning to ache. How long had it been since she took a breath? She was gasping when she fell in; she had not inhaled deeply. Could she possibly stand this much longer?

She was a good swimmer, she always had been, but she wasn’t sure which direction to swim. She couldn’t believe how deep this pond was, especially so close to the shoreline. The direction that “felt” like down could have been up or sideways or anything. Or she and her friends, still in a bundle next to her, could have been getting farther and farther from the oxygen they needed. How long could the others hold their breath? Not long, she bet. Maybe Gene could outlast her, but she doubted Gail or Kevin could.

Just when she thought she would last no longer, her mouth cracking open underwater to unleash a frustrated scream, her hand broke open into precious air. It was “down” after all, if she had tried to swim in the direction she thought was up she just would have made things worse. She spun around and thrust her head up through the surface of the water, taking in air in deep, desperate gulps. Around her she could hear the others do the same, although she couldn’t see anything yet, there was still too much water in her eyes. Trying to wipe them clean, she beat her feet, trying to swim in the direction she thought the shore was. As the water drained out of her face, allowing her to crack her eyes open, she realized they had spun out into the center of the pond.

“Kevin!” she heard Gene gasping. Behind her, Gene was trying to help his friend stay above water. Gail tried pushing him as well, and Linda swam back to help. Together, the three of them managed to get Kevin to the shore, where they lay him out at the foot of a tree and collapsed in a heap next to him.

“Remind me… (gasp)… never… (gasp)… to do that… (gasp)… again,” Gail managed to say.

“No argument,” Gene offered.

“Benny…” Linda moaned. “Where’s Benny? Where did they go?”

Gene inhaled sharply, looking around. “I don’t think they’re here, Linda.”

“How can you tell that?”

“Because I don’t think we’re here.”

Confused, Linda forced herself to look around. They’d set ashore next to a tree all right, a tall, mighty oak, but now it was the only tree growing next to the pond. Next to this pond, anyway. In every direction she saw more ponds, more and more, stretching out into infinity, each filled with the same perfect silver water as the pond they just escaped.

Next to each pond grew a single tree. Some looked familiar to her – they could have been fruit trees or palm trees or even the occasional evergreen. Some looked quite alien, made of rock or crystal. One she saw in the distance even seemed to be made of some reddish fleshy material. As if to confirm this, its branches lashed around like the tentacles of an octopus, flailing in the air.

Then there was the sky. She had expected the sun to blind her the way it did when they broke through the trees, but it did not happen. There was no sun. No moon, either, and no stars. There was some sort of illumination, but there didn’t seem to be any light-source, she could just see everything. The sky above, rather than blue or purple or midnight-black, was a sort of cold gray… no, it wasn’t gray, that was just her brain trying to make sense of what she was seeing. It was nothing. No color at all.

All four of them were staring at their surroundings now, even Kevin, who seemed all right once he took a few breaths. Gene had scooped up a handful of the sand they were lying on and saw that it wasn’t regular sand either. It was some sort of coarse, gray, gravel-like substance, but softer than stone and easier against their skin. Each gray bead seemed to absorb some of the water that was dripping from their bodies.

“Do you feel that?” Gail asked. “It feels so weird!”

Linda was about to say, “Feel what?”, but before she could, she realized what Gail was talking about. The water that was clinging to their skin, their hair and their clothes when they came out of the pool was no longer clinging. It was flowing instead, dripping down their bodies like it was being pulled down by some sort of water-magnet. They could feel the droplets sliding down so the gray sand could leech it up. In a few seconds, they would all be completely dry.

“Where are we?” Gene whispered.

“How do we get home?” Gail asked.

“What happened to my brother?” Linda said.

None of them were given an answer.

Next: Chapter Four-The Place

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