Day 02: Overground, Underground

The woods behind Sam’s house had always been a place of peace, secur­ity and solitude. He’d never under­stood why people got scared in them. A tree was a tree, and a thou­sand trees were just a thou­sand trees. Plant­ing them all together didn’t make them greater than the sum of their parts.

His dad had said that people didn’t like being in woods because you didn’t know what was watch­ing you. Sam told him that worked both ways: he could spot people first and watch them, and if he had trouble see­ing them then surely they’d have trouble see­ing him. His dad then said that people didn’t like them because they were dark and you couldn’t see where you’d come from or where you were going. Sam said that it was easy not to get lost, you just had to remem­ber cer­tain trees or leave markers.

His dad had then said that maybe people like Sam, who appar­ently like woods because they stop other people from see­ing you and who nav­ig­ate them by leav­ing strange signs every­where, were the reason some people didn’t like woods. Sam had thought about it and decided he might have a point, but he liked the woods too much to stop vis­it­ing them.

One day, whilst search­ing for his favour­ite tree (I’m not lost, he told him­self, just a bit mis­placed) Sam stumbled upon a clear­ing that he hadn’t found before.

He knew there were some clear­ings in the woods, places where trees had been cut down deep inside the bound­ar­ies of the forest, for what Sam didn’t know, and some places where a tree had fallen, pulling down some of its broth­ers and sis­ters as it tumbled to the earth, but both of those were filled with new growth, and had the stumps or fallen trunks of the trees which had been there before. This clear­ing was bar­ren; not even grass was grow­ing here, and his foot­steps caused swirls of dry dirt to rise into the air around his shins. He wandered around it, inter­mit­tently star­ing up at the blue sky or crouch­ing down and run­ning his fin­gers through the dust, but no obvi­ous cause presen­ted itself. It star­ted to get dark, so he left the clear­ing and trudged home, turn­ing over what he’d found in his mind.

That even­ing, he drank three glasses of water at sup­per. “Thirsty work, being a woods­man?” asked his dad. Sam nod­ded and poured him­self another glass.

The next day, Sam went back to the clear­ing. He found it eas­ily enough, which made him won­der why he hadn’t stumbled upon it sooner; it was quite large, after all, a bit big­ger than he remembered. Walk­ing around its peri­meter revealed nothing.

He pulled a stick off a nearby tree and star­ted run­ning it through the dust, but it was just as fine as he remembered. There were a few solid lumps near the edge, but Sam couldn’t work out what they were. Pieces of wood, maybe? He put them in his pocket to take home and wash.

Just before he left, decid­ing to visit a stream deeper in the woods and make some boats of twigs and leaves, he stuck the stick he’d pulled off the tree right down in the centre of the clearing.

At home, he took the lumps of dirt he’d picked up and ran them under a tap, pick­ing at them with his fin­ger­nails to try and get to a clean sur­face which might give him some clue as to their ori­gin. They dis­in­teg­rated in his hands almost as soon as the water touched them.

Where are you so eager to get to?”

Sam had bolted down his break­fast and was already open­ing the back door, ready to return to the woods. “Just out­side,” he said.

Not before I give you some things to take with you. I’ve seen you try­ing to drown your­self the last couple of even­ings. Take some water or you’ll get dehyd­rated out there.”

Sam waited whilst his dad filled up an old plastic bottle with water and put it in a back­pack. He was about to hand it to Sam when he stopped and looked at the bread­bin. “Want some lunch too?” he asked.

Lunch?”

Yeah, some sand­wiches and an apple, so you can stay out all day and don’t have to come back for a meal.”

Really?”

Sure, you’re old enough now, aren’t you?”

Yeah!”

Then let’s get you some sandwiches.”

Ten minutes later, Sam was head­ing out into the woods with ham sand­wiches, an apple and his bottle of water. He knew exactly where he was going to eat them.

The morn­ing was spent build­ing a fort out of fallen branches. When it was fin­ished, there were plenty of gaps and Sam couldn’t actu­ally step inside it or it would fall down, but he was sat­is­fied. It would stand here as a monu­ment to his glory for, he looked it over care­fully, prob­ably a week or two. He felt a rumble in his stom­ach and picked up his bag, spar­ing the fort a last glance before he headed back to the patch of dust that had settled into the forest.

The patch looked big­ger again, he was sure of it. A few more trees seemed to have dis­ap­peared from around the edge and the dust had filled the gaps. The stick that he’d planted in the centre had van­ished, but it could have blown away or been car­ried off some­how. He paced around the dust a few times, then sat down in the centre, smil­ing up at the bright blue sky.

He began with the sand­wiches. They were deli­cious, tastier than a sand­wich had any right to be, which he sus­pec­ted had some­thing to do with eat­ing them on his own out­side. It wasn’t just the free­dom that was excit­ing, it was the trust his dad had placed in him by let­ting him head off alone for the entire day. He’d even helped him by mak­ing the lunch. Today was def­in­itely a good day.

As he stuffed the crumpled cling­film back in the bag, he noticed how thirsty he was. He pulled the bottle of water from his bag and unscrewed the lid, set­ting it down on the dust beside him. A droplet ran down the side of it, and Sam watched it fall as he was tak­ing his first, big swig. It crept towards the dust and, just as it touched it, dis­ap­peared, along with the bottle cap.

Sam looked down at where it had been, let the bottle fall to his side, wiped his lips and then ran his hand through the dust, search­ing for the bottle cap.

The next day, the patch was a little bigger.

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