by Eric Poirier
The moonlight made Monster Road look like a silver snake cutting through the darkness. Foliage hung high above but still allowed some light through. The trees lined both sides like spectators crowding in to cheer a marathon runner; only tonight they weren’t cheering, or even rustling. The still May night intensified the isolation. The sound of gravel crunching beneath heavy footfalls ricocheted off the wall of trees on either side, bouncing back and forth across the road. The massive teen making the noise slowed his pace to reduce the racket but to no avail. He cringed at every step. The tools in his backpack rattled.
He’ll hear me coming, Seb thought. But he had no choice. He needed to carry out the plan. It was his plan after all and the so-called friends who were waiting for him back at the T-junction were expecting results. Before Seb left them behind, they told him they wanted to hear screams.
The tall but still chubby teen continued to walk. He noticed how his father’s mechanic coveralls looked clean at night. Even the grease stains around the midsection and forearms were invisible. Seb felt renewed. If he achieved his task ahead it would be a chance for him to look tougher and more popular at school. Anyone who dared to come to this place was cool.
Monster Road: the provider of setting and of mystique; the scariest wooded area outside of town; the stage for pranksters, bravados and extreme love makers. Seb was next to use the road. It was his turn to take advantage of its density and darkness. Tonight, it was going to help him improve his reputation as someone not to mess with.
Seb was relieved that there was a full moon. He didn’t have to use a flash light which would give him away. He could see the gravel on the road fine enough. The tree line on either side created the illusion of a huge wall containing an abyss behind it.
Up ahead the road curved to the right. Seb stopped to listen. The sound of someone coughing interrupted the silence. His prey was just around the bend; right where he told him to wait not 30 minutes ago. Excitement crept in. The teen could feel the bumps on his flesh. He let his backpack gently slide off his right shoulder. He squatted and placed the bag on the gravel. Its contents clinked inside. Seb stopped and listened. The noise hadn’t given him up. In one of the longest unzippings he had ever experienced, the teen opened the bag to remove an old ice hockey goalie mask (à la Friday the 13th) and then his father’s rusty machete. He slid the goalie mask over his lumpy head, down over his face and tightened the straps on the sides. Leaving the bag on the ground, he slowly stood up.
Seb whipped his head to the right. Even if he could see clearly through the mask, the forest off Monster Road wasn’t revealing its secrets. Seb stared. The snapping noise, maybe a branch breaking, didn’t come back. Seb sighed. His breath bounced off the inside of the mask sending a damp foulness up his nose. He shuddered and looked back at the bend in the road.
‘Time to make piggy squeal,’ Seb whispered into the mask.
Seb tiptoed to the bend, staying on the right edge of the road. Using the dense tree line, he stopped and peered around the corner. There, in the center of the road, a few meters away, another teenage boy, JF, was turning in circles, looking all around him, being careful not to stray too close to the reaching tree branches. The moon beamed down on him. He was a spindly, ginger figure. Seb was close enough to see JF’s chest expanding and contracting rapidly. When it expanded too much, the boy let out an echoing cough. He spun around when he coughed, surveying the woods for any unwanted attention he might be attracting.
In one inhale, Seb tried to take in as much air as he could through the tiny holes in the mask. He began to roar and then bolted around the bend towards the gangly teen, brandishing the machete above his head. JF shrieked, jumped in place and ran in the opposite direction. Had this been a race, it wouldn’t have been a competition. JF’s long legs kept him well away from Seb who was already losing breath and slowing down. The combination of chasing and roaring was more tiring than expected.
Even though JF was gaining distance he started to zigzag on the road, believing the machete wielding maniac to be right behind him. Frantic, he darted to his left into the woods, breaking through the dense branches and shrubs.
‘Holy…shit,’ Seb panted. ‘He…went…in.’
He caught up to the point where JF disappeared into the woods. The tall, pudgy teen was hyperventilating. He raised the mask and strained his eyes but couldn’t see his prey. Once his breathing slowed a little, he could hear JF falling, branches breaking and, yes, crying. His victim was scared. He must be if he dove into one of the densest forests outside of town, Seb thought. Encouraged, he lowered the mask and punched through. He was blind within a second. Seb used his mass to force his way forward. He imagined himself at the Royal Oak pub in town that accepted fake IDs; he was good at pushing through the crowd to get to the bar. Only tonight, the trees were too close together and the branches were relentless. They grabbed every inch of his body and snagged every button and seam on his dad’s coveralls. Seb started to use the machete but it was too blunt and rusty against the thousand branches working together.
Up ahead, Seb heard branches snapping, foliage being rustled and a heavy thud.
‘Argh! Ouch!’ JF cried out.
The predator pushed harder to close in on his prey but lost his footing. He stepped into a hole and fell forward but not far. His face smashed against a tree trunk in front of him. The hockey mask did what it was built to do: prevent permanent facial damage. He stumbled a bit and regained his balance.
‘Frigging forest,’ Seb growled.
He continued to push forward. JF was still crying up ahead. Seb figured he wasn’t going anywhere. The crying turned into a whimper. The predator pushed through a thick tangle of branches and broke into a small opening where the trees stood a little further apart from each other. A bit of moonlight shined down. JF was sitting on the ground, hunched over, holding his right knee. The whimpering turned into a sniffling. Next to him was a large tree root sticking out of the ground. The lines in the bark seemed to form a smile; a trapper proud of its catch.
Sweet, Seb thought. This was it: his moment. He leapt from where he was standing and landed right next to JF. He towered over his victim and raised the machete above his head.
‘I’m gonna kill you for entering my woods,’ Seb screamed.
JF curled into the fetal position.
‘Please, no,’ he wailed. ‘Don’t hurt me.’
‘I’ll teach you to trespass,’ Seb continued.
He was booting JF’s butt to make him squirm more.
‘Please don’t kill me. I’m sorry.’
Seb brought the machete down to his side and burst out laughing. He stepped back and pulled the mask off of his lumpy head.
‘You frigging baby,’ Seb mocked. ‘I got you good.’
He bent over ninety degrees, dropped the hockey mask and continued laughing at the ground. He then straightened and forced his laugh up through a small clearing in the foliage above. I hope the guys can hear this, Seb thought.
JF sat up and cradled his knee.
‘Oh man,’ Seb gasped. ‘You should see your face. That was great.’
Seb let out a sigh of satisfaction while wiping tears from his eyes.
‘Ha, ha,’ JF tried to force out a tiny laugh. ‘You got me good. I guess I just got initiated, eh? That’s why you brought me out here?’
He looked up at Seb.
‘Your initiation?’ Seb snorted. ‘No, man, I just wanted to see you piss your pants. And the boys just wanted to hear you scream.’
‘Oh,’ JF said and looked back down at his knee, rubbing it.
Seb looked around him and stopped on where he had come into the clearing.
‘Well I better get back to the boys,’ he said. ‘Don’t take too long wobbling back or we’ll leave you to walk to town by yourself.’
Seb walked to the edge of the clearing, towards the wall of trees. He was already fighting off the reaching branches when JF attempted to stand.
‘Jesus!’ JF yelled, falling back to the ground. ‘I can barely stand. I really hurt my knee, Seb,’ JF pleaded.
‘The hell you want me to do about it?’ Seb shot back. ‘I’m not carrying your ass.’
‘Can you at least help me get back to the road?’ JF asked politely. ‘You have that machete. You can clear a path for me.’
‘Are you really hurt or just trying to piss me off?’ Seb asked, annoyed.
‘I’m not lying. I can feel my knee already swelling underneath my jeans.’
‘Fine,’ Seb said, not looking back at JF. ‘See you later.’
He raised the rusty machete and started swinging. It couldn’t even cut the little branches. It only broke and parted them to make the slightest of openings. He pushed his massive frame into the opening, widening it enough to get his torso through. His lumpy head, hands and forearms, feet and shins were still getting caught. That was the approach back to the road: swing, push; break, tear; breathe, curse. He stopped several times to catch his breath. He never looked back once. The patch could be closing behind him. He didn’t care. His goal was to get back to Monster Road. He cut his cheek. He got poked in the eye. He was stabbed in the shin. His machete arm was getting sore from the swinging and from the vibration of striking a thicker branch or a trunk.
With one final swing and push he was free of the woods and back on the road. He let his arms hang and looked up at the moon. All he could hear was his laboured breathing. His eyes needed to adjust to so much light. Seb turned around to look at his path. Branches he had broken were hanging in the path he had created. He stared at the hole in the woods, tightened his fists and stuck out his chest.
‘Can’t hold me down,’ Seb chanted.
It wasn’t until he scratched an itch on his bulging stomach did he feel the tear in his dad’s coveralls. He dropped the machete and began inspecting the damage with his fingers.
‘Oh, shit,’ Seb whispered. ‘He’s gonna kill me.’
Sounds of struggling started coming from the path in the woods. Seb stopped feeling the tear and stared into the hole. He could hear branches being snapped and foliage being stepped on or pushed aside. JF was making his way back to the road. The struggling drew nearer then stopped. Seb slowed his breathing to listen. The crawling toothpick must be taking a break, Seb thought.
Seb spun in place to face the woods behind him on the other side of the road. He stopped breathing completely. Silence. He couldn’t see anything. The darkness was too thick for his gaze to pierce.
He spun again but this time a white face with holes for eyes was there to greet him. Seb screeched and stumbled back onto his ass, sharp rocks in the gravel stabbed his fleshy rear. From the ground he noticed that JF was holding up the hockey mask. The skinny injured adolescent was leaning against a tree to keep his right foot off the ground.
‘Asshole,’ Seb yelled.
He stood up and rushed JF, ripped the mask from his hands and threw it on the road. Seb raised his fists and brought them an inch from JF’s face.
‘You want me to pound your face in?’ Seb asked.
He started shoving JF against the tree.
‘Sorry Seb,’ JF pleaded. ‘I wasn’t trying to scare you. You left your mask in the clearing. I was just bringing it back.’
‘I could beat your head in.’
Seb raised his fists again. JF curled away, bringing his arm up to protect his face.
‘Pussy,’ Seb said and started walking down the road.
He stopped to pick the mask and the machete.
‘Wait,’ JF called to him. ‘Can you help me?’
‘Like hell I’m helping,’ Seb yelled back, pulling away. ‘Use the tree line.’
‘I keep getting caught on the branches and the ground is too uneven. I can barely stand. Please.’
‘Crawl on the road,’ Seb yelled louder, pulling further away, coming up to the bend.
‘The gravel will cut my hands and knees. Please.’
‘I’ll let you beat me up at school.’
Seb became suspended in mid stride. He turned and started walking back to JF who was still leaning against the tree where he emerged from the woods. The crunch, crunch, crunch under Seb’s frame filled the night. He stopped an inch from JF’s face.
‘I could do that anyway,’ Seb said.
‘I know. But this could be at lunch and I could submit in such a way that it looks like I become your lackey or slave. The other kids would be impressed with such power.’
The only things moving on Seb’s body were his eyes as they scanned every bit of JF’s face.
‘Why would you do that?’ Seb finally asked. ‘You’ll just bitch to a teacher afterwards.’
‘No I won’t. Maybe if students think you own me they’ll stop picking on me. Look, I’m in a real bind here. I don’t think you realize that. I just want you to help me walk out of here.’
‘Fine,’ Seb conceded. ‘How do you want to do this?’
‘Come on my right side. Let me put my arm around you so I can keep my foot off the ground. You can put your arm around my waist to steady me…’
Seb pulled away with his hands up.
‘No way,’ he protested.
‘Ok you don’t have to touch me.’
The two assumed their positions.
‘Now move slowly to the centre of the road and just walk straight,’ JF continued. ‘I’ll hobble on my left leg, using you for balance.’
The two moved as JF instructed. He bounced forward as Seb walked at a snail’s pace. The bully-turned-crutch let his arms hang. He carried the mask and machete in his hands. This awkward symbiosis trudged along all the way to and around the bend in the road to Seb’s backpack, which he had left on the ground before chasing his prey. JF let go to allow Seb to pick up the bag and place the mask and machete inside it. He tossed the bag over his left shoulder and the two reassumed their positions; the slow march to get off Monster Road continued.
Crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch. Snap.
The teens stopped, whipped their heads to the right and froze. Darkness. Nothing stirred.
‘Maybe your friends are pulling a prank on us?’ JF asked.
‘Don’t be stupid.’
Seb continued walking, forcing JF to hop along.
‘Well where are they?’ JF asked again. ‘We were all together when you guys dropped me off in the middle of the road. How come only you came back?’
‘Idiot, to make you piss your pants,’ Seb snorted.
‘Ok but, wouldn’t they come to watch you scare me?’
‘They didn’t want to watch. They wanted to hear you scream. They’re back at the intersection waiting for us. Stop asking me questions.’
‘Ok. I just find it weird that…’
Seb pulled away from JF leaving him to hop in place. He faced the unstable bouncer and raised his fists again.
‘It was my idea,’ Seb barked. ‘They dared me. Are you calling me stupid? Do you want me to teach you a lesson?’
‘I’m sorry,’ JF responded sheepishly. ‘Don’t get angry. You’re not stupid.’
‘What about you?’ Seb demanded. ‘You’re like a geek and stuff. Why did you agree to come out with a group of jocks to Monster Road?’
JF slowly sat down on the gravel and started rubbing his knee.
‘Because you asked me,’ JF answered. ‘Nobody talks to me at school. I knew something was up. I thought maybe if I went through with it you guys might think I’m a good sport and start hanging out with me. It’s desperate, I know.’
‘You certainly screamed like a girl for someone who knew what was going on.’
‘I knew there was going to be a prank somewhere. I didn’t think someone was going to chase me with a weapon.’ JF paused to rub his knee some more, then added: ‘You know it took all of last night to convince my dad to let me come.’
Seb dropped his fists.
‘What’s with your dad anyway?’ he asked. ‘I see him drop you off every morning. He like, hugs and kisses you when you get out of the car. Is he gay or something? Does he like little boys?’
JF looked up at Seb and could tell that this was a serious question.
‘My dad doesn’t like little boys,’ JF said, attempting not to sound too angry out of fear of instigating another shoving match he would certainly lose.
JF looked away into the woods. The moonlight caught a tear trickling down his cheek. This did nothing to dissuade Seb from demanding details.
‘Well? What’s with your dad?’
‘My mom died a few months ago of cancer,’ JF revealed.
‘And that made your dad like little boys?’ Seb finally asked.
‘He’s not gay,’ JF snapped, looking up at Seb. ‘My mom did everything for me and my dad was never around.’
JF looked down at his knee and started rubbing it again. He brought his tone down to avoid aggravating his inquisitor.
‘My dad feels guilty I think.’
‘Why?’ Seb asked. ‘It’s not like he caused the cancer.’
A look of concern came over Seb’s face as he thought about people causing cancer.
‘Or did he?’ Seb asked, visibly worried. ‘Is that possible?’
‘No Seb,’ JF responded, not looking up and still rubbing his knee. ‘Look. My parents fought a lot, ok. Before mom died, I overheard her say things like, ‘Go back to your whore’.’
JF continued to rub his knee. Seconds passed before he continued.
‘My dad just has a lot of regret to live with now.’
Seb could hear him sniffling. He extended his hand.
‘At least your dad tries to be around you,’ he said.
JF looked up and took Seb’s hand. The pudgy teen pulled the scrawny boy up and resumed his role as human crutch. They continued their trek down the road.
‘Why do you hang out with Dylan and those other guys who were in the truck tonight?’ JF inquired. ‘You always seem to be on the edge looking in and they seem to tease you a lot.’
‘They don’t tease me,’ Seb retorted. ‘We joke around. I don’t hang out with them all the time. I have other friends.’
‘Like none of your business,’ Seb snapped. ‘Dylan asked me to join the football team with them because I hit a growth spurt and got bigger.’
‘Not big enough to stop you from being bullied at home, though,’ JF blurted out, risking a punch to the head.
Seb stopped walking, which forced JF to stop too. But the brute didn’t hit or push anyone or anything. He stood and stared down at the road. JF observed the side of his human crutch’s lumpy head, waiting. Finally, Seb started moving again, which forced JF to follow. They traipsed along until they could see the T-junction where Monster Road meets the paved road back to town. The woods on either side were beginning to thin out.
‘Where are your friends?’ JF asked.
‘They’re probably just parked where we can’t see them.’
Snap. Crack. Crack. Snap. Snap.
The two stopped dead in their tracks and whipped their heads all directions. Seb pulled away from JF and pointed at the woods on the right side of the road.
‘Holy shit, there’s something in the bush,’ Seb whispered in terror.
JF, hopping, followed Seb’s chubby finger. The trees stood further away from each other at this end of Monster Road. Moonlight illuminated shrubs and ground cover. At the center of four white cedars, a black silhouette was set apart from its surroundings. JF steadied himself and rubbed his eyes. The silhouette remained and did not flinch or sway. The hairs on his neck touched the collar of his jacket. The harder he stared, the more the figure melted in the background. When he blinked, it came back into focus.
‘Fuck off you creep,’ Seb screamed at the silhouette. ‘You don’t scare me. I’ll come in there and teach you a lesson.’
He fumbled with his backpack to take out the machete but he couldn’t pull it free. The tip of the hilt was caught on one of the many loops inside.
The teens swirled around. Behind a shrub on the other side of the road there stood another silhouette. It too was steady, with what looked like a round head on wide shoulders.
‘Screw this. I’ll go get the guys,’ Seb said and bolted towards the T-junction.
‘Wait,’ JF shouted to him.
He started hopping after Seb. He hopped and half jogged. The slightest pressure on his knee sent waves of pain up to his hip. He stopped and looked back at the shrub. The silhouette was gone. He looked towards Seb who had reached the T-junction.
Seb looked up and down the paved road and could not see his friends or the truck.
The broken cadence of crunching gravel from JF struggling down Monster Road was the only response.
‘Where are you guys?’ Seb shouted.
He looked back to Monster Road. JF was a few feet away.
‘They left me,’ Seb whispered to himself.
‘Seb,’ JF said, approaching Seb out of breath. ‘There’s nothing there. We’re just tired and spooked. It’s ok…’
JF placed a hand on Seb’s shoulder but he swatted it away and pushed him to the ground.
‘Ouch,’ JF cried out. ‘What’s wrong?’
‘They left me. Those assholes,’ Seb roared, standing over JF, looking down at him.
‘Seb, calm down.’
‘Shut up. You’re weak. They left me because I took too long. You had to go and hurt yourself.’
‘Seb, I think they left a long time ago. They don’t respect you.’
‘Stop talking to me,’ Seb screamed. ‘I’ll teach you.’
He reached into his backpack and ripped the machete out. He walked to the centre of the paved road, brandishing the weapon.
‘I’ll teach them all,’ Seb yelled. ‘Nobody makes a fool of me.’
JF got back up on his good leg.
‘Seb, don’t be like your dad,’ he shouted.
The large, brooding teen in the torn, dirty coveralls went silent. He let both arms fall, dropping the machete. His shoulders and head sank towards the pavement. The backpack dangled next to his left knee. JF watched as Seb’s wide shoulders bounced up and down. The injured teen would later tell his school counsellor that he could hear tears tapping on the asphalt. Minutes passed, not a car came by, nor did anything emerge from the woods, not even a woodland critter. Monster Road, the silver, slithering snake parting the province’s densest forest could have come to life and breathed fire over their heads but they wouldn’t have noticed. Instead, the road laid silent behind them, leaving them to their adolescent woes.
Seb finally pulled his head up. In no subtle way he turned to face JF and wiped his face on the sleeve of his father’s coveralls. He looped both arms through his backpack and walked over to the scrawny boy he had dragged out and injured. He placed JF’s right arm around his neck, holding the wrist firmly, and wrapped an arm around the skinny teen’s waist, pulling their bodies tightly together. Seb moved forward slowly, letting JF set the pace. The two set off down the right side of the paved road towards town.
‘What about the machete?’ JF asked.
‘Leave it,’ Seb responded, looking down at the pavement in front of him.
The way home lay before them, long but straight. The woods on either side were not as dense and stood further away from the road. The trees watched the teens move past them like some three-legged marathon runner still minutes from the finish line. They would reach the end but neither would be complete. Instead, they would be remnants of two different teenagers come together to make one struggling human being.
Copyright Eric Poirier 2013