Title of Short Story Collection: If You Go Into The Woods
Author’s Name: David Gaughran
Links to purchase Short Story Collection: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004YTI01Y
Sample Short Story: The e-book also contains a bonus story “The Reset Button.” It has had some excellent reviews and has been in the Kindle Top 100 Short Stories.
“If You Go Into The Woods”
Jiři Beranek was the kind of boy who was always in trouble; in fact, the people of Časlav expected him to be in trouble. That’s what happens to a boy without a father, the old men would say, watching Jiři annoy a dog with a stick, or kick a broken bottle down the street, or climb a neighbor’s tree to steal some cherries. Most eight-year-old boys were forgiven such behavior, but because Jiři’s mother was raising him on her own every action of their small family was weighed, magnified, and judged.
Jiři wasn’t a bad child. He was precocious and mischievous, with a worrying sadistic streak towards animals and broken bottles, but he also had a tender side that only his mother saw. He didn’t have any real friends, not since Miroslav’s father moved his family to Kolín. It was only twenty kilometers away, but, to an eight-year-old, Miroslav might as well have moved to the Moon. So Jiři spent most of his time outside of school on his own, chasing crickets, throwing stones at owls, burning ants with a magnifying glass, and wondering why his mother cried herself to sleep every night.
In the summers, it got worse. Jiři only asked his mother about it once, but this proved to be a mistake. She closed her eyes for a long time and Jiři was sure she was going to cry. Opening her eyes again, she put her teacup down. Then, she beckoned him and hugged him so tight he couldn’t breathe. It scared him. That night the crying was louder than ever. He never asked her about it again.
During the long summer days, when there was no school to worry about, Jiři spent as much time out of the house as possible, busying himself with exploring construction sites, spying on the man with a limp who talked to himself, and looking for buried treasure in the forest two blocks from his house.
The forest stretched all the way around one side of the lake that divided Časlav, and was a wonderland for a growing boy. It had insects and weird plants, a reservoir and a running track, a football stadium on the edge, and the tallest trees Jiři had ever seen. The only bad thing about the forest was that the trees were too big to climb—they had wide trunks and no reachable branches, and it was hard to get any grip on the smooth, oily bark.
There were only a couple of different trails through the forest and Jiři didn’t like to wander too far from them. The foliage from the tall trees knitted together into a canopy, preventing all but the most persistent beams of light from passing through. Even on a bright summer’s day it was dark, and Jiři didn’t like the funny feeling it gave him in his stomach. It made him scared. But he had a suspicion there was something interesting in there; however, each time he went into the forest, and tried to go deeper, he would panic and bolt for the trail, ending up panting on the grass outside, furious with himself.
He kept returning to the forest, captivated by the birds. From the trail, he could hear their faint chirps, but as he got further into the darkness the chirping got louder. Jiři wondered why they weren’t afraid of the dark like him. Maybe, he thought, they were afraid of people more.
His mother was chiding him one evening for coming home too late—listing all the evils that can befall a small boy when the sun goes down—when it came to him: a plan. If the world is at its most dangerous at night, he thought, surely it is safest in the early morning, and this would be the best time to explore the forest and not feel scared.
With the courage of confidence, Jiři wolfed down his breakfast, kissed his mother on the cheek—trying not to think about her puffy, bloodshot eyes and shaking hands—and hurried to the forest.
He stopped running at the edge of the trees and walked slowly along the trail, catching his breath, listening out for the birds.
He stopped and took a couple of steps off the path.
He walked towards the noise.
He told himself he wasn’t scared.
The sound was getting louder.
The funny feeling was there in his stomach, but he tried to ignore it.
He waited for a moment to see if he was going in the right direction.
It was right above him. He didn’t feel as scared now. If there were something bad here, the bird would have flown away. Jiři cleared a space on the ground and leaned his back against the trunk. Each time the bird chirped, it made him feel less scared. He sat like this for a long time.
When his legs got sleepy, Jiři stood to shake them. Circling the tree, trying to see if there was any way to climb up, he was overcome with a desire to see one of the birds that had been slowly teasing him off the path, but the branches were too high and there was no place to get a foothold on the even trunk. He tried to think, once again looking up at the tree and the source of the birdsong. Higher up, he could see that the branches of the other trees intertwined. He walked around the neighboring trunks to see if he was able to climb any of those.
Then he tripped.