Fragments of Light Preview
The following is a preview to my upcoming novel, Fragments of Light.
They shuffled noiselessly through the woods, only stopping on occasion to slap at a mosquito or to complain about the enveloping cold. They were all donned in camouflage, or olive drab fatigues they’d purchased with their allowance money from a local Army surplus store.
They carried a variety of items including a machete, an axe or two, and canteens full of water. Today they were trudging through the woods trying to determine what
damage the construction crews had done to the woods during the week.
They slowly came to a halt, and began to sip water from their canteens. The boys all hunched over and began drawing diagrams in the dirt with sticks.
“You got what you need right?” someone asked Greg.
Greg opened his rucksack to expose a large five-pound bag of sugar.
“What if that doesn’t work?” John asked. “What if it’s an old wives’ tale?”
“Jesus John, I know you’re like learning disabled and all but…”
Bobby didn’t get a chance to finish his sentence. Suddenly John rose to his feet and made a move toward Bobby.
“You don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about,” John shouted. “I’m not learning disabled, just a little slow.”
“Face it John, you’re borderline retarded,” said Lee, showing off an uncharacteristic bold side. In a fight John could cream Lee’s ass. “But that’s okay, there are worse things you could be.”
John just shook with rage.
“I am not retarded,” he yelled. “You get that. I am not retarded.”
Matt, likely deciding there was strength in numbers, and that if nothing else, all of them could take John at once if he got out of hand, chimed in too. “I am not an animal,” he said, mocking the movie The Elephant Man “I am a human being.”
“You’re all acting like a bunch of retards,” Steven finally said, hushing them all up. “Sit down John. We don’t know if they have work crews out here today or not. If they do we don’t need your hollering to bring them to us. Trust me, they’ll figure out quick that we’re the ones who have been stealing their tools and moving their surveying markers.”
Their campaign had been slow and involved, for the most part, only removing surveying stakes. They’d also cut hundreds of strands of plastid red markers from off trees that had been targeted for death. The most brazen thing they’d done yet, with the exception of finding some tools and tossing them into a canal, was taking a pot shot at one of the construction workers with Greg’s BB gun. Steven and Greg were solo on that endeavor, and felt like they’d barely escaped being caught.
The plan for today, which was one they’d been mulling over for some time, involved filling one of the tractor gas tanks full of sugar, so as to render its diesel engine inoperative. All the boys knew of the risk involved with this certain feat.
Removal of markers and even shooting one construction worker in the butt with a BB gun, had all been pretty harmless stuff. Destroying a heavy, not to mention probably pretty damned expensive piece of equipment, though, could mean jail if any of them were caught.
So, as carefully planned, they all had mapped out their escape routes through the woods. None of them would be seen together as they exited the woods and walked back on the sidewalks of their suburban neighborhoods.
Finally satisfied they had everything in order; the boys rose and began to make their way toward the tractors. As planned, when they were about a hundred yards from the clearing where the tractors were last seen parked, they all paused.
As the group hunched down again, Steven made his way through the woods, his pulse quickening with every step closer. He was about halfway to the clearing when he heard a branch snap, he dropped to the ground and peered around, his thoughts racing a mile a minute. Steven noticed his heart was pounding in his eardrums. They’d wasted most of the day, and now with Daylight Saving Time just starting a week or two before, it would be getting dark sooner.
He wasn’t sure whether he was more worried about fucking up the tractor or being caught alone in the woods at night. He wasn’t scared of the dark, at least not in the traditional sense of the word. But he did have a very deep fear of being caught out alone in the woods after dark.
He heard another shuffling noise in the leaves ten feet off to his left and glanced just in time to see a rabbit scurrying away.
He exhaled slowly, rose to his feet and began to make his way again to the clearing. As he neared the clearing, he got back down flat on his stomach and began to slowly crawl until he came within view of the clearing.
He peered out and after he was satisfied there were no work crews present, he keyed the button of his walkie-talkie.
“It’s all clear, come on,” he said. “Hurry up.”
“I’m on my way,” Greg answered.
A few short moments later, they were standing next to the tractor.
“You just keep watch,” Greg said, as they wrestled to remove the gas cap on the tractor.
“Shit,” said Steven. “Who put this on here? King Kong?”
It finally gave and Steven went back to watching for any workers. There wasn’t a sound around though, and in a matter of minutes both he and Greg were back safely in the cover of the woods’ foliage. Hurriedly, they all removed their camouflage jumpsuits and stuffed them into a large garbage bag and put their “ordinary kids” clothes on.
They covered everything with a large tarp and then covered the tarp with sticks and pine straw.
With that they all looked at each other.
“Now what?” someone asked.
“You know the plan,” Lee said. “We all split up and take our routes home.”
Nothing else was said though, and the group began to disperse.
For the most part, they traveled in twos. Matt walked with Steven, in an easterly direction, away from the clearing and the tractors.
“For a minute there I thought John was going to kill Greg,” Matt said, breaking off into a direction that had not been discussed as part of the plan.
“What are you doing?” Steven asked him. “We have to go this way?”
“Fuck that,” Matt said. “It’s Saturday. All the construction workers are at home watching wrestling, beating their wives or doing whatever it is construction workers do. I don’t see why we need to disperse. No one is going to notice the tractor until Monday. Besides, I want to go check out that weird trail out by the nature walk.”
A good mile southeast from where the tractor sat, waiting to be discovered, there was a wooden, planked nature walk that had been built over some land that was decidedly marshy and swamp-like. Matt and Steven both liked the area because it was one of the last main unexplored regions of the woods.
It was far off the beaten path and they speculated that wild boar may live out there. Besides, the nature walk itself was pretty close to the high school. They could cut across the high school campus, slide across and over the metal ditch pipe that crossed the canal to Our Lady of Lourdes, which would then practically put them in their own back yards.
“I guess you’re right,” Steven said.
As they tromped through the woods in relative silence Matt finally said, “I think Greg is going to get us all in trouble. He’s too cocky. He’s liable to run his mouth, especially if he’s trying to impress a girl.”
“He does take some unnecessary risks, but I don’t think he’d go running his mouth,” Steven said.
“I hate him,” Matt said. “him and his stupid brother. Out of all of them, you’re like my best friend man.”
“You too,” Steven muttered, non-committal.
“We’re different but we’re not,” he said. “I mean my parents are still together and Lee’s aren’t, but I tell you I don’t know which is worse. At least his dad comes and gets him on some weekends and they do cool stuff. My dad is always gone and when he is home he’s just a bastard. He’s never done anything with me. He has with all my older brothers and sisters, but not me. I asked him one time to throw the football with me and you know what he told me?”
“What?” asked Steven.
“He told me to get off my fat and lazy ass and go ride my bike and then…then he told me he I was an accident and that his life would have been a lot better if I’d never been born. That’s fucked up.”
Steven, not sure what to say in response, just agreed. “That is lame,” he added.
“I hate all of them,” Matt said.
They scrambled through some brambles and then emerged on a large trail that looked like it was used by dune buggies or those new four-wheel drive trucks. They followed the trail until it made a bend and then off, about 20 yards to the right, they saw the bridge to the nature trail.
“We must have come out farther down thee trail,” Steven said. “It’s usually over there when we come out.”
Matt just nodded and said, “I’ve felt turned around all damned day. It’s like I can’t get my bearings straight to save my life.”
They made their way to the small boardwalk and crossed over the bridge. Suddenly, though, they stopped and fell silent.
“Did you hear something?” Matt whispered.
“Sshh,” Steven said, as they walked slowly and quietly past the foot of the bridge and into the next bend of the nature trail.
The man seemed to materialize out of nowhere. Matt and Steven couldn’t see his face because it was covered with a hood. It looked like the gray hood of a jogging suit. The man was large, but not fat, and was wearing dark pants and a dark jacket. He wasn’t wearing a hard hat or a flannel shirt like all the construction workers had.
Matt literally walked into the man, who in turn grabbed Matt in a large bear hug, pinning his arms to his side. Reflexively, Steven picked a large branch up from the ground and swung it at the stranger’s head.
This forced the man to release his grip on Matt as he swung his arm up to block the blow. The branch broke on the man’s arm and both Steven and Matt thought they heard a low growl of laughter that sounded guttural and evil. This was followed by something that sounded more like the air being let out of a tire than it did escaping breath. Matt stomped down on the man’s foot, tried to look up at him, to see his face, and then broke free and joined Steven, running.
They ran as fast as their legs could carry them. They ran past the nature trail, into the woods and onto another large trail, the sound of the man’s running, pounding feet never far behind them. Together, the boys climbed a steep embankment of mud and slid down the other side, running through some more woods until they emerged on Windsor trail, which cut a path through the woods like a main artery.
They both doubled over and tried to be quiet.
“I think we lost him,” Matt said, gasping for air. “We just take this trail to the high school now.”
They began to jog down the path, only to round a corner and see the man standing there, poised like some sort of animal waiting for them. Again, neither of them could see his face. The man started toward them. But instead of turning back and running deep into the woods, both boys looked at each other and ran right, directly into the large canal that separated the woods. The woods on the other side almost all backed up to homes.
Matt and Steven plunged into the cold waters of the canal, sinking up to their chests in stagnant water and murky mud that created suction around their feet that made it hard to move. Prompted by sheer terror though, the two boys quickly scrambled across the water and climbed up out of the canal on the other side. Once out, they looked back but did not see the man.
“Where the fuck did he go?” Matt asked.
“I don’t know, I don’t see him,” Steven said. “It’s like he just vanished.”
The woods were too thick to try to get through without a machete. So instead, they followed the canal, their eyes constantly peering back to the trail on the other side of the canal.
“Listen,” said Steven pointing to another embankment on the other side of the canal. “I hear him, he’s still following us on the other side.”
“Shit, I heard that too,” Matt said. “What does this guy want?”
Just then, ahead of them, on their side of the canal, the man stepped out from behind a tree, completely silent. He was only about six feet in front of them. He moved toward them again and this time, left with no other alternative, the boys plunged headlong into the dense thickets of brambles and sticker bushes.
The man was still behind them. Steven could almost feel the man’s hot and acrid breath on his cold and wet spine.
Steven couldn’t breath right, largely due to the cold. It had been right at freezing all day, and now with the sun sinking quickly, the temperatures were dropping too. The cold water of the canal took nearly took the wind out of both of the boys. And now, as they raced away from the man, both their pants legs were frozen solid, making it hard to even run.
Matt screamed, and Steven glanced over to see a thorn bush dig a massive tear across his friend’s cheek.
“Keep going” Steven urged, trying to forge ahead through the dense woods.
There was no thought, only movement and the deep-seated knowledge that if he stopped he would die. Suddenly, everything seemed like it was moving in slow motion.
Matt screamed again, but the sounds seemed low and echoing, almost like he was hearing it under water.
Steven’s heart pounded in his chest and his mind flashed to a distant place…the sounds of far away helicopter…and a shapeless, featureless face, attached to a body, lunging at him, shoving something sharp and steel into his stomach…and then in his chest, over and over.
Steven ran smack into a large oak tree, and began to stumble backwards, but Matt grabbed his arms and dragged him along until he could regain his footing and start running again. Finally, about twenty feet ahead they saw the welcome site of a chain link fence that separated houses from the woods. They ran for the fence and scrambled over it. As Matt climbed, the man tried one last time to make a grab. He grabbed again at Steven but the fabric of his jacket gave way, tore and then both boys were in someone’s back yard.
Neither boy stopped running until they made it to Matt’s house, some six blocks away from where they made their final escape.
Steven followed Matt inside his house. They slammed the door shut behind them, locked it and began peering out the front window. They strained their eyes, peering up and down the street. Eventually, they were satisfied the man had not followed them home.
“What should we do?” Matt asked.
“I don’t know,” said Steven.
“Should we call the cops?” Matt asked, and then shook his own head. “I can tell you one thing. That man was not a construction worker.”
“What was he then?” Steven asked.
“I don’t know what he was,” Matt said after a long pause. “When he was in front of us, that last time before we ran for the back yards…Did you notice something?”
Steven, still catching his breath, nodded.
“Yeah,” Steven finally muttered. “He wasn’t wet. There’s no way to get across that canal there without getting wet.”
“I don’t think he was human,” Matt said.
“Then what was he?” Steven asked.
“I don’t know,” admitted Matt.
“So what should we do?” Steven asked.
“I think we should forget about it,” Matt said.