Into the Unknown
Enoch O’Conner had only been 15 years old for 2 hours, 9 minutes, and 22 seconds when he gained the unfortunate pension for rotten decision making often associated with his age group.
He’d fallen into the unknown.
It had started with an innocent invite to go to a Halloween party. He didn’t know why he accepted the invitation. He didn’t know why anyone bothered to invite him. Personally, he would’ve rather just spent his birthday at home watching horror movies, maybe attempt to bake himself a birthday cake with whatever ingredients he could find in the kitchen. Attending this party went against Enoch’s personal philosophy that everyone else his age was stupid and often made horrible decisions. He had no interest in underage drinking, hoaxy witches’ gatherings, and drab party games. However, something had possessed Enoch into accepting this bizarre invitation. Something had possessed him to dive head-first into the stupidity of a high school party, despite his better judgment. And, like with any good party, he was bound to feel the ill-fated fallout of his decision at some point.
That point just so happened to be 2 hours, 9 minutes, and 22 seconds after he left the party.
Enoch found himself wandering in a haze. He’d arrived in an unfamiliar setting with little memory of to how, or why, he was there. He wasn’t drunk, and he wasn’t stupid enough yet to drink anything with Rohypnol in it. It was apparent that nobody had cared enough about him to spike any of his drinks that evening, yet there was a huge gap in his memory from leaving the party and ending up here. His body ached as if had been operating on autopilot for days. Although, it probably would’ve helped his situation immensely, Enoch was too proud to call for help. He was too stubbornly proud to start any basic sort of steps towards his survival, so he remained silent and on kept walking deeper into the unknown. He would one day go on to describe this incident as ‘educated meandering’, or ‘a self-guided walk about in foreign terrain’. When in reality,
He was just really fucking lost.
More lost than he realized. Most of what Enoch could see was the deceivingly human-shaped silhouettes of the of the autumn trees and the glowing yellow eyes of creatures unknown, judging him from the darkness. Although, he was unsure how he got there, Enoch was certain that it was not his fault. He’d been lured there. Taken. Enoch looked beside himself for a person to blame and, surely enough, he found one.
There was a girl marching along beside him. She was holding a lantern that practically illuminated nothing in the obsidian black of the night and was going on to him about something he could not hear. It felt like he had just hit is head on a rock and had stumbled out of a coma. How did he get here? Who was this girl? Enoch could not stand to be in this state of comatose confusion any longer. He needed immediate answers and he assumed she had all of them.
“—and then I rolled down the hill—”
“Who are you?” Enoch inquired, far too bluntly towards someone who had been talking at him for the better part of the past ten minutes.
“I’m Madeline,” the girl replied, simply. She oddly didn’t catch onto an attitude that put most people off. However, Enoch figured she was so thick it’d take at least ten more minutes of talking to him for her to catch onto how rude a person he was, “Don’t you remember? You promised to walk me home.”
“Right. Sorry…” Enoch might’ve remembered his mother telling him he would need to do something like this with a girl who lived a few blocks away, but he had only been half-listening then too. Judging the current situation, he probably should’ve learned a little bit about her before he mindlessly agreed, “We’re lost, aren’t we?”
“Of course not. This is a shortcut—”
“No. It really isn’t.”
Madeline looked around for a silent moment, as if seeing the area around her for the very first time. One minute ago she’d been walking down the street, talking with the boy about her life, and the next she was also in unfamiliar territory. She stared down at the finger-shaped twigs beneath her feet.
He sighed, trying to expel his perpetually growing temper,
“It’s okay. It’s not your fault.” Enoch assured her, even though he thought the exact opposite. It was all her fault but yelling at the girl about it now would only worsen the situation. Last thing he wanted was to be stuck in the middle of the woods with a girl, who was crying. It would be an absolute nightmare. He’d rather fall off a cliff.
“Maybe we can find someone with directions.”
“If there’s someone lurking out here at this time of night, you’d better hope we don’t meet them.”
“Well, that’s impolite.”
The darkness had spoken. It had a cool elegance to its voice for something so treacherous and wicked. Enoch grabbed Madeline’s lantern to try and shed some light on the speaker but caught nothing but the black of night and the trunks of some nearby trees. There was a body. Whatever was speaking to them did have a tangible form, but it darted quickly from the beam. Finally, they saw something when Enoch gave up his efforts to try and expose it. Two glowing eyes the size of tennis balls addressed them,
“Lost, are you?”
“No…” Enoch said, slowly. He took a long breath in attempt to unknot his stomach, “We’re fine.”
“Do you happen to know the way back to Riverton?” Madeline asked. She did not seem to grasp the tense air between them and the mysterious shadow, until Enoch grabbed her arm to hold her back.
“Oh, I don’t think you can get back there.”
“It’s a ways away and I’m afraid you’re already too far lost.”
“I’m not lost!” Enoch snapped. He brandished the lantern as a weapon towards the beast. It repelled from the light and stubborn resilience with a disturbed hiss. The creature fled. It was not the right time. The hunt was just beginning and soon the boy would lose the will to live. The world was quiet once more. After a brief moment of contemplation, Enoch had seemingly composed himself from the encounter, “Come on. We need to keep walking...”
They continued walking further into the unknown. The darkness eventually broke, and they could finally see where they were headed. Enoch made a desperate run towards the orange beam of light on the horizon. Daybreak, civilization, home. Probably French fries. They were all promised to be sitting on that bright line. Suddenly, just as he was about to reach the edge, he started tumbling down a drop he had not seen. The damage was not as heavy as a cliff, but it was still a huge blow to his fragile temperament.
“I promise to walk a girl home one time, and this is what I get!” he huffed, to no one in particular, even though Madeline was the only one around who could hear him. She’d appeared by his side while he was brushing the wet dirt off and the withered remains of wild pansies he’d crushed during his fall.
“I’m sorry, Enoch. I never meant to drag you—”
“Stop apologizing!” Enoch snapped, even though that was exactly what he’d asked for by complaining. It felt like that was all she’d done since they’d met. Apologize to him. However, Madeline was not the one who jumped at the first chance of civilization. She didn’t lure him there either. He’d promised to take her home. “Look, this is mostly your fault, but it’s also a little bit of mine. We’re in this together now. You shouldn’t be the only one apologizing.”
“Thanks…” Madeline smiled. He had not said it directly, but she knew Enoch had just come as close as he probably ever would to try and apologize for his callous behavior. It wasn’t the greatest of apologies, but he was trying at least. She helped him back onto his feet, “Let’s keep walking.”
“We’ve probably got a lot of time to waste. What do you reckon we should do?”
“Well, I was prattling on about my life earlier, but I don’t know the first thing about yours.” she replied, a curiously hopeful rise in her tone. They had spent the past several hours together, but it felt like they hadn’t discussed anything beyond the woods and their journey through it. All this time talking about getting home, but not about what was waiting for them when they got there.
“My mum is a wreck and have no friends. There’s nothing much to my life.” he answered, without hesitation or thought.
“No friends?! How can you have no friends?”
“Companionship is not a necessity. It’s a distraction.” he shrugged. Although, that was more of an excuse for the fact no one wanted to be friends with him. He was a rude little thing with a lot of growing up to do. “I’ve got other things to worry about.”
“Well, I’ve done a hell of a lot more than just distract you,” she reasoned, with a bit of a laugh. And, just for a moment, Madeline thought she heard the oddest little sound escape him. Enoch might’ve laughed at her. “Does this mean I can be your friend?”
“You really don’t want that. I’m pretty shit at listening and I’ll probably say something to make you cry.”
“Yeah, probably...” she agreed. Madeline considered the risks but decided to make him an offer anyway. She offered up her pinky finger as a trade.
“What’s this? What are you doing?”
“I promise to be your friend.”
It was childish. A foolish promise that only children ever say aloud. However, Enoch could tell her intent was genuine. She wasn’t after his meticulous History notes. This wasn’t a dare to turn him into Mr. Popular. All she wanted was to be his friend. Nothing more or less.
“Deal,” he agreed, linking his pinky with hers, “and, in turn, I promise to get you home no matter what happens.”
If he could bring anything out of this horrible situation, at least he could say he had made a friend. Madeline was a great listener and he couldn’t have asked for a better companion to travel the unknown with. He nearly told her everything about his life. His obsession with the horror genre, his plans to get into an ivy league and study Botany, going to Ireland for the sole purpose of punching his father in the face.
Eventually, all of his deluded ideologies and the obsessive things he clung onto faded away. Enoch found after a while that he didn’t want to go back home and was perfectly content with growing old in this unfamiliar setting with Madeline. Their deal was kept strong through many years of wandering.
However, the unknown wasn’t always a safe haven. It still had its struggles and treachery. Winters were violent, food often got scarce, and tensions rose. A constant danger was always the beast of the unknown. He followed after them and appeared often in their lowest moments when they were nearly out of hope. They discovered that he was a con man who made deals with weaker souls. The beast would turn them into forest trees to escape their heavy burdens and add to his vast forest. They’d never sunk so low to accept his offer. But, he was a patient creature. It was only a matter of time before one of them cracked.
Enoch O’Conner had only been 30 years old for 2 hours, 5 minutes, and 19 seconds when she pushed him. She had cracked. Madeline came to him that Halloween night with the intent of horrifying him with truths unspoken.
“It’s been a while since you’ve said that. What’s the occasion?” Enoch replied, drowsily. He’d grown even further away from wild parties and was sitting in a chair reading a book. Reading was one of the only things he couldn’t seem to give up, but it was hard to find many copies of hard mystery novels such as Dead Time in the forest. So, they’d written their collection together. He set down a horror novel Madeline had written especially for him, in order to listen to her properly. “Is it my birthday again? I can never keep track.”
“You’ve become lost and it’s all my fault.”
“We’ve been over this. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. It just happened.” he insisted. Something had come over her. It had been far too long to still be obsessing over these kinds things. “We’re not lost anymore. We’re home.”
“I’ve deceived you.” she said. She’d only been able to fend off the guilt for so long. If she let Enoch stay there much longer, he’d never to be able to go back home. The beast had always said he still had a chance at life, but as long as she clung to him, he would never be free to live the life he was meant to. She turned to leave, knowing he would follow her into the darkness again. “You should go back.”
He ran after her, naturally. As one does when you deeply care for someone. The night was cold and full of trivial forest sounds that attempted to mask her escape, but Enoch had become accustomed to surviving the unknown. His eyes adjusted. She’d run somewhere in that direction, but the footprints had stopped at the edge. Then, suddenly, he felt a force push him down. Enoch fell and the last thing he saw was Madeline. The beast was upon her. He was plunged into true darkness.
Enoch reopened his eyes and began to breathe again. Everything was blurred, and his lungs filled with water. Needless to say there was an urgency to escape this watery hell. Enoch swam for the top. Hopefully, the beast had not claimed her. However, Enoch did find a tree on the shoreline as he broke the surface. A willow tree with the weathered old swing tied to the branch waiting for him above the surface. His secret hiding spot. Home.
At a bitchin Halloween party with underage drinking and hoaxy witches’ gatherings, when someone says that the cops are here, someone else is inevitably going to yell “SCATTER!”. Everyone’s going to run whether they’re guilty or not. Enoch had jumped over the garden wall of a house that wasn’t his. It was abandoned, secluded, and alone. It was the safest hiding spot. He’d fallen off the wall, stumbled down the grassy knoll, and rolled into the lake.
“He’s over there!”
A bright light was shined at his face. Enoch could’ve passed for just another bog mummy, as a skinny 15-year-old boy. But, he was swarmed with concern and distraught by the police, EMTs, and nearly half the party guestlist. Most were watching with bated breath as he was fished back to dry land. He cared about none of them. They’d forget about him again in a week or so. His mother was at his side, breathless and relieved. He cared a little about her and was on some level happy to see her again. But, in this moment, all he could think about was the girl he promised to take back home.
“That girl I was going to walk home from the party.” he reiterated. How could she not remember? She’d reminded him about fifty times before she left for work.
“Olivia stayed home. She got grounded. Don’t you remember?”
“It looks like we’ve got another one here!”
Enoch leapt from the ambulance and made a break for the water again. His memory had him scaling the wall alone, but it had to be untrue. She was unearthed from the muddy depths, decomposing and broken. Madeline Bennet had been missing for 3 weeks now. 2 hours, 9 minutes, and 22 seconds after she had turned 15 she’d made the mistake of climbing over the garden wall and falling. Enoch had seen her posters plastered all around town with the big bold headline “LOST”. He couldn’t have cared less about her back then.
Enoch had to tell himself not to care about a friendship that hadn’t even existed. It’d look weird if he suddenly started caring about a girl he’d never even spoken to. That’s why he didn’t care as they were both hospital and taken to separate wings. He didn’t care that she wasn’t peacefully asleep in the bed next to him. He didn’t care when they released him, and not her. He didn’t care that he had spent 15 years talking to one person and that person was gone.
The only thing he seemed to care about was the apology he’d never gotten the chance to make.