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Chapter 3: Spirited Away!

Darkness all around, silence intensifying the sound of dripping water splashing on the pavement. He huddled in a corner as garbled whispers began to echo repeatedly in the inky blackness.

“Father……” He pressed his face into his knees as his eyes welled with vile tears. The garbled whispers increased into buzzing murmurings. The boy tightened his arms around his legs as the sounds traveled toward his direction. He shivered lightly as trepidation filled his heart. “Father......please stop it.”

The sounds increased, transforming into angry shouts as red lightning flashed, brightening the inky dark with pulsing red hatred. He cried out in fear at every shout that reverberated through the black. Hearing a repeated crack of sound, like a gunshot going off he released his legs to jam his fists into his ears. “Father, please stop hurting Mother!”

Justin awoke in a cold sweat, shuddering in terror. He overheard his parents in their room and he strained his ears to hear the conversation. He could hear his father tearfully swearing to be a better man for his family and begging his mother not to leave. Justin willed his mother to deny him so they both could finally escape the madness. There was silence for a few moments before he heard more crying, his mother finally agreeing to another chance. Justin turned his face into his pillow and sobbed, disheartened by the weakness of his mother. Closing his eyes tight, he imagined himself in his happy place, that wonderful field where nothing bad could touch him.

After spending days trapped inside because of the pouring rains that blew through the island, the family tried for a picnic once more. The storm made everything shine like a jewel as the sun brilliantly lit up their slice of the world. There was a sense of renewal in the air, the flowers never smelled as sweet and the birds trilled out harmonious songs.

With their last picnic ruined by their “discussion”, the family tried for another picnic. Parking at the edge of the lane, they walked down the path in tense silence. Mother and son ignored the beatings they endured as the storm hovered over the island. They chose to pretend as if it never happened as they all strolled along the dirt lane, heading to the valley they picnicked at yesterday.

With Donald holding his portable television, Patricia and Justin carried the rest of the supplies. They halted when they saw Agatha on her knees picking wildflowers. Wearing black, she turned and looked at them, waving frantically.

“Hello wonderful family, would you mind terribly helping this old woman up?”

“Of course I don’t mind, Agatha. It won’t be a problem at all.” Patricia rushed over to her side and helped her to stand.

“Thank you,” Agatha said as she lightly dusted herself off. “These old bones aren’t what they used to be. I shouldn’t have been gathering these flowers, but they were just so beautiful I-“Shaking her head ruefully, she waved the rest of her sentence away. “Well, never mind about that, thank you again.”

“It was no problem at all,” Patricia replied while Donald stared at them both, deadpan. “We were just about to have a picnic. If my husband doesn’t mind,” she aimed a frightened glance in his direction. “I was wondering if you would like to join us.”

“Oh, I would be delighted to join your outing,” Agatha chirped happily. “That is, if your husband doesn’t mind.”

“Yeah sure,” Donald muttered as he heaved his bulk past the two women. “Just make sure none of you bother me.”

“Thank you ever so much.” With that, the foursome continued on until they reached the grassy knoll. It was situated above the valley where they had their last picnic and sloped down as a steep incline straight into the forest. The women’s chatter was light and easy: about the weather, places they’ve been, as the men stayed quiet. They settled upon the blanket, eating cheese, fruit, chicken and cornbread, with iced tea to drink and strawberry shortcake for dessert.

“So, how long have you lived on this island, Agatha?” Patricia asked as they enjoyed the balmy sunshine and light breeze drifting in from the ocean.

“Why, I lived here my entire life. It is a wonderful place to live. It’s so peaceful and serene, all year round; no big city here to ruin the air or atmosphere at all.”

“There’s no town here on the island?” Justin asked incredulously, the first thing he said to any of them. “Then, how do you get food and stuff?” Agatha began to laugh uproariously, but with her creaky voice, it sounded shrill to the ears.

“You have to get off the island to get your supplies. There’s no town here and that’s what makes it peaceful.” Agatha looked at his parents. “Children, right?” She started laughing again with Patricia laughing along to be polite. Justin’s father whipped his gaze up to the laughing women.

“Tell me something,” he began coldly and all went quiet. “What part of ‘don’t bother me’ did you not get?”

“I’m sorry for disturbing you, honey,” Patricia said frantically. “We didn’t mean to-“

“Pipe down with your whining, stupid woman,” Donald snarled as he backhanded her in the mouth. Patricia crumpled and Donald turned to Agatha. “I don’t like noise when I’m watching television. Learn how to keep your ramblings to yourself.”

“I do apologize for my incessant talking,” Agatha warbled with a gleam in her eye. “I’ll try not to annoy you in the-“

“You’re annoying me now,” Donald interrupted Agatha, glaring at her with clenched fists. “Shut up or I’ll shut you up myself.”

“Honey, please,” Patricia pleaded and received a punch to the face for her trouble.

“You mind your business,” Donald snapped and she whimpered in response. “You think I can’t speak my mind when I want to?” Eye swelling shut, lip split open Patricia began to shake with fear as she saw the rage burning in Donald’s eyes. “Stand up you stupid cow, you and me need to have a discussion.”

“Oh please, please,” Patricia began but Donald viciously hauled her to her feet. He twisted her arm behind her back and she squealed in pain.

“I apologize for my wife’s behavior,” he muttered as he turned to Agatha. “She always had a mouth on her and-“

“You don’t have to apologize at all,” Agatha said magnanimously, satisfaction gleaming in her black eyes. “Stressful times make us say things we regret later on.”

“You got that right, lady. You’ll look after the boy, won’t you? We need to discuss some things.”

“Of course I’ll watch your son,” Agatha said serenely and watched Donald herd his wife off a distance away. Agatha slowly turned to find Justin lying on his back, staring blindly up at the sky. She crossed over to him. “Your mother and father are having a little alone time. Do you care to talk about anything while we’re waiting?”

“No,” Justin said abruptly. He desperately wanted to howl his rage to the sky and push his father over the cliff’s edge. He also wanted to shove this old woman after him. He suspected that she got pleasure out of watching his mother get hurt. Stupid old woman, it’s all her fault that Mother is getting hurt. Angrily, he glared up at the sky, ignoring Agatha in the process. He didn’t want to talk to her anyway. She should have stayed in her dumb cottage and then we would have suffered through this picnic without trouble. Why did that old woman-

“Justin…Justin, help me,” Agatha gasped, interrupting his furious thoughts. Justin turned his head to dispassionately watch her pin wheeling her arms as she rocked to and fro, trying to catch her balance. Knowing he had to do the right thing, he sighed and stood. He walked over and reached out a hand. Agatha clawed at his wrist and, with surprising strength, pulled back sharply. They both tumbled down the incline, deep in the forest and ended up in a secluded area.

“Well, that was a great trip wasn’t it?” Justin asked sarcastically as he laid there on the ground. Realizing nothing on his body was hurting, he slowly sat up and looked around. He saw Agatha sprawled a small distance away from him. Her hair was covered with dead leaves, her face had dirt smudges and her dress was hiked above her knees. Laughter bubbled up at the sight she made, but Justin swallowed it back down as he looked away.

“Well, now that you know you’re feeling alright, would you mind helping me up?” Agatha griped. Justin stood and walked over to her, leaning down and extending a hand. She gripped it tightly and rose, putting most of her weight on the young boy. Disgust flickered over Justin’s face for a second before disappearing. He could have sworn he smelled death on the woman. It was an odor he hoped to never face and, at the tender age of thirteen, thought he never would. She finally stood upright, as much as her hunched frame allowed and they looked around, wondering which way to go.

“Hmm, I didn’t know the forest was this deep,” Justin said as he looked towards a tunnel. It was hidden by some bushes and trees so he took a couple of steps in that direction for a closer look.

“Oh yes, if you were in an airplane, you’d see that the forest stretched across the entire island.” Standing still, Agatha watched as Justin crossed to where the tunnel lies. The trees and bushes nearly blocked a person from entering, but Justin could see that there was a narrow passageway through it.

“That’s nice,” he replied absently as he continued to look through the small passageway. Why does that tunnel seem to be calling to me? He ignored Agatha’s chatter about the forest as he wondered how to get around the trees. It’s like it’s begging me to come inside and if I just move those branches I-

“Did you know that someone was murdered in this forest?” She asked melodramatically, interrupting his thoughts. Attention caught, Justin halted in his tracks and turned to her.

“Is that really true?” He asked wide eyed, this was something interesting. The first good thing that came from her, in his opinion, and Justin’s curiosity was peaked.

“Oh my yes, this little boy was killed right over there.” Agatha pointed to an area that looked to be the darkest part of the forest. Hardly any light shone through that area and Justin turned in that direction.

“When did this happen?”

“It happened three years ago to be exact,” Agatha said as she walked slowly towards him, slipping a hand into her dress pocket. A slight wind kicked up with every step she took. “It was such a terrible tragedy. The family was so heartbroken.”

“What happened to the boy?” Justin took steps in the direction Agatha had pointed to and a cry of protest came from the area of the tunnel. Confused, Justin started to turn back but Agatha quickly intervened.

“Well, the little boy was vacationing with his family, just like you are,” she said softly with eyes that were cruel. She crept closer to Justin as she continued, “He was a meddlesome thing, always poking into people’s affairs and snooping around. Somebody had to take care of him.” She laughed lightly and a shiver coursed through Justin at the sound. “I mean, it was too bad he wasn’t better taken care of.” Off in the distance, Justin heard his mother calling his name.

“I guess they’re finished having their discussion,” he said with an adult weariness. “We should head back.”

“Oh, but don’t you want to hear about what happened to the boy?” Agatha asked as she began to close the gap between them. Whispering sounds invaded the forest as clouds shifted overhead. They blocked the little bit of sunlight that filtered through the trees, making the forest dark and cold.

“Yeah sure, tell me the rest.”

“Well, I guess someone was upset with the nosy boy. Maybe somebody got tired of him peeking into their business.”

“Maybe he saw something he wasn’t supposed to.”

“Maybe he did,” Agatha agreed, continuously walking towards Justin. The whispering sounds grew louder and more restless as the wind changed from slight to gusty. “Someone decided to use his nosiness against him. They tweaked his curiosity and had him follow them into this forest. Then he was murdered.”

“I wonder if he knew why he was killed.” Justin heard his mother calling again and sighed deeply. The wind fiercely kicked up, tearing at his hair and shirt.

“Oh, I’m sure he knew why someone felt he had to die. I’m quite sure of it.”

“Thank you for telling me the story, but we better go. My mother is starting to head this way.” Justin turned to find Agatha standing behind him. Ice slithered down his spine at the lack of emotion on her face. He tried to take a step back but his legs wouldn’t move.

“That’s not something you have to worry about, meddlesome boy,” Agatha said as she took hold of one of his arms. “Not anymore.” The hand in her dress pocket began to slide out. A dull glint caught Justin’s eyes as the wind blew with a force that pulled him from Agatha’s grip. Crashing into the trees, Justin heard Agatha scream a furious “No!”

Branches scratched at his arms and legs, raising tiny cuts as he soared with the wind deeper into the forest. He tried to look over his shoulder to see where the wind was blowing him, but he did an about face at that moment. How could the wind do that?

Justin screamed in terror as he realized there was something lifelike about the wind. He could swear he heard the beat of wings in his ears. He tried to grab a tree limb but it tore a little skin from his hand. The wind whipped him around into a circular tumble. It raced him closer to the dark tunnel that had fascinated Justin earlier, but he fought it now. Gripping the mossy edges, he dug his fingers into any crevice, straining with all his might not to enter inside. The wind gave him a forceful shove, sucking him into the darkness.

The tight squeeze hurt his shoulders as he slid downward. The twists and turns made him think of a funhouse slide. Trying to grab at anything to halt what was happening was useless, so Justin didn’t even try. After a while, the narrow tunnel began to widen, making it easier to move. Justin turned this way and that to look for something to grab on to but he finally stopped his downward slide.

Breathing heavily, Justin stood slowly and looked around. He saw that he was inside the mouth of a cave. How did I get in a cave? Justin took stock of his surroundings, inhaling the scent dried moss and decaying bark. I could have sworn I was in a tunnel. He walked to the opening of the cave and looked down into a grassy field. It stretched as far as his eyes could see. On the edge of his vision, he could swear he saw tall trees. Slowly climbing down the rocky slope, he stood at the edge of the field and saw how tall the grass was. It was bigger than he was and large, violet flowers sprouted through. Justin turned his head and looked at the cave with longing. The cave meant safety to him, but he knew that he wouldn’t accomplish anything if he stayed. Taking a deep breath, he stepped into the high grass.

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