How could he forget? The discovery was simply astonishing and left me gazing at the phone speechless. Big Brother James remembered only fragments of what happened? How could that be?
We were all just kids growing up on that old familiar street not so far away called Flamingo, but that didn’t stop it from happening. Still, his memory of that day may be cloudy, but mine was crystal clear. Although I’ve tried my best, some childhood memories you can never outrun.
Not even realizing it, I dropped the phone on the floor and fell into the recliner as the weight of that infamous late afternoon descended upon me once again. Looking down at my trembling right hand, I remembered. I remembered the sleeping giant of an animal. I remembered we woke it. And I remembered how angry it was that we did. Clasping my right hand with my left, I tried to abate the now uncontrollable shaking. But I couldn’t. I remembered all too well what happened.
How could he forget? How could I not? Everyone was screaming. Everyone was running. The pungent smell of iron filled the air. There was so much blood. Red splattering stained the dirt pathway. The vividness of that childhood memory caused me to sink further into the recliner somehow searching for safety. None was found.
Sweat broke out on my brow. I was back there in the Haunted Forest. I was back there in front of that huge hedge. Back there nose-to-nose with that monster. A monster with a face full of razor sharp teeth. It was a monster that we — that I — had awakened from its slumber. Everyone ran away that day, it is true. Everyone ran except me.
At dusk that day, the screaming of one child cut through the thick woods of the Haunted Forest, eventually echoing across the shimmering swimming lake on its borders and disturbing its tranquility. There was so much pain connected to those screams. Pain worse than any of us had ever felt before. I remember all the pain. I remember the screaming ringing in my ears. And I should. The screaming, pain, and blood was mine.
How could he forget? James said it would be a grand adventure to hike deep into the Haunted Forest. He knew the woods were truly haunted. We all did. We all knew about the ghost and the monster what lives there. But we all followed — Older Brother Richard, Twin Brother Mark, and me.
We followed James to the lair of that monster because we knew it would be asleep. Monsters and ghosts only come out after dark. We’d be home long before then. Or so we thought. Daylight savings time had started just the day before, and it got dark an hour earlier. We had forgotten. The monster was lying in wait … fully awake.
At the hedge, Richard pulled back on James’s arm warning him. Guess that’s why he handed the stick over to me. “Don’t worry; it’ll be safe. No one’s gonna get hurt. You’re not scared, are ya?”
Me scared? No, I was terrified. But no way was I gonna let my older brothers know. My grip on the stick tightened as I took three steps towards the monster. Everyone else quietly took three steps back. As the last disappearing rays of sun pulled their light from the forest, I poked the furry belly of that white and gray monster. In a flash, fiery eyes opened, and so did a giant mouth full of razor sharp teeth.
How could he forget? James was too busy running away to see what happened next. That monster leaped out of its hedge. It leaped right straight at me. Backing up, turning, trying to run, I stumbled over the dropped stick.
As I fell, I threw out my arms to soften the impact. The sawed-off metal fence post was sticking up from the ground a quarter of an inch, but that was all that was needed. My right palm landed on top of it and was sliced clear to the bone.
With the monster of the Haunted Forest now clawing its way up my back, I screamed, ran, and fell down again and again. Running through the forest, with only slivers of moonlight to illuminate my path, somehow I got away from that monster and found my way back home.
How could James forget? He never knew what really happened. But in looking down at the jagged scar on my right palm, I knew I’d never be able to forget.
The “monster” was only a possum in a hedge defending itself from an attack. From that day forward I promised myself never to mistreat any animal I came across, either in the wild or in someone’s home.
Looking back, guess the monster of the Haunted Forest that day wasn’t in a hedge. The way I acted that day, I was the monster. And the scar on my right hand will always remind me of that.
[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001. To read more of Rick’s stories, visit his blog: storiesbyrick.wordpress.com.]