Silence and Fire, a novella by Benjamin X. Wretlind
A weekend camping trip along the Mogollon Rim in central Arizona turns terrifying when eight-year-old Mark Allen Haines wanders off into the forest alone. What was to be a time of relaxation and an attempt to bring together a fragmenting family, turns into a panicked search. Little does anyone know the forest harbors secrets, the secrets want to speak, and Mark is about to see the world in a completely different way.
Here’s an excerpt for you…
Mark Allen Haines, all of eight years old, stepped across the tiny stream in front of him. It had been a long trek through the forest—perhaps as long as a thousand miles by his own estimate—and he wasn’t any surer of his location than he had been an hour ago. There were trees everywhere. Mama had called them “Ponderosa,” but to Mark, they just looked like trees. Crowded around the base of the trees, there were what Papa called “ferns,” and all around the ferns there were brown needles, moss-covered rocks and twigs of every shape and size. One of those twigs had turned out to be just large and strong enough to act like a walking stick, something he’d seen some old man in a movie use once.
The stream he’d just stepped across bubbled in the stillness of the forest. Its water was cold despite the heat of the day, and when he’d bent down earlier to drink a little of it, he caught a bug in his mouth. Maybe it wasn’t a bug but a piece of forest trash trapped in the flowing stream. He thought it tasted like a bug, but then again, he’d only eaten a bug once when his oldest brother, Matt, put it on a piece of toast and told him that bugs make you stronger and that’s what Superman ate.
He hadn’t felt any stronger after he ate it, and the more he thought about it, he couldn’t remember if Superman really did eat bugs.
A noise to his left stopped him from taking another step. There were so many far-off noises in the forest, he never knew if he should just ignore them or be afraid of them. Chris had said there were bears in this forest and that if he wandered too far from the campsite, he would be eaten. Matt had told Chris to be quiet and then Papa had scolded Chris for saying things that weren’t true, but Mama hadn’t said anything; she just looked at Chris with what might have been agreement. Mark had no idea.
The noise wasn’t followed by a second noise, and within moments, Mark took another step toward what he hoped was the campsite. He’d been lost—and there was no doubt in his mind he was lost—in the forest for a while, and no matter where he turned, it all looked the same. It was like that one place they’d visited in Oklahoma where the buffalo came up to their car and scared them and men in leather jackets who rode motorbikes had told them all there was a haunted wood where the trees were planted in straight lines so that no matter what direction you were looking, it all looked the same. It was Matt who whined to Papa that they should go look, but both Chris and Mark were in agreement that haunted woods should be left alone. But they didn’t leave the woods alone, and soon the three boys and Papa were inside the woods, looking around at the trees while Mama stayed in the air-conditioned minivan.
Mama didn’t hear what Matt said about dead babies and ghosts, but Papa had smacked Matt hard enough she had to have seen the red streak across his face when the boys returned to the van. Mark thought it was funny that Matt got in trouble for telling lies to scare his brothers, but that night he had dreams of those woods, and like most dreams he had, he remembered them vividly. It scared him then, and it scared him now standing in the middle of a forest in central Arizona, looking at the trees, lost, and wanting nothing more than to find the campsite and go back home.
The classmates in his school would have no doubt prodded him forward in the direction of the noise, and because Mark was “different”—a term Mama liked to use on occasion—he would not have had the sense or desire to stand up to them. And while Matt and Chris were overly protective of their little brother, he couldn’t help but wonder if they would have urged him on as well.
To the right of a tree perhaps a few hundred feet away, a man stood. Mark’s heart raced, but he didn’t move. After all, he may not have been seen and if this was a dinosaur movie, he knew he would be better off if he just stayed still and stared back at the man. He was a tall man, but not as tall as his brothers. He wore what looked like brown clothes held together with string. His hair was black, braided and fell to a point somewhere near his chest. Bright-colored beads were interspersed along the braid, and in his right hand he held a walking stick that was larger than Mark’s.
Mark couldn’t be sure, but he knew what the books said Indians looked like. This was definitely one of them, and if the games they played during recess were any indication, the Indian in front of him was not a good person. It was a thousand miles back to the camp and he didn’t even know what direction. He never should have left to explore, but what could he do now? He was out here alone, Mama and Papa were probably asleep in the tent and Matt and Chris were fishing in that lake they’d been talking about. Why didn’t he go with them, instead?
The Indian raised his stick. Mark’s heart raced faster, and he screamed.