Short Story: THE LITTLE BOY IN THE WOODS

As Halloween is less than a week away, here’s a quick story I wrote a couple years ago. 

THE LITTLE BOY IN THE WOODS

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Since there was no one to play with that day, Cameron Beck went to the woods alone.

He was often alone; his father worked long hours, and his mother was usually at a friend’s house, unless she brought a friend home – they were always men, always smelly men – to stay in her room all day. Even then Cameron was left by himself, because she shut the door and didn’t open it when he knocked or called her name. He was accustomed to loneliness, and as a result had built up a legion of made-up friends who liked his company. They had come to him recently, when his mother’s friends were over almost every day, and they knew all the rules to Cameron’s games and never made him mad. The only problem with these friends was that they couldn’t catch a ball when he threw it, and when they tried to play hide and seek he always knew where they were hiding.

Now, he stood in the leaf-littered grove of dying trees, a few yards away from Green Eyes, who had blue skin and red hair and eyes the color of a Christmas tree. Green Eyes was Cameron’s favorite friend, because he always knew the best jokes to tell, and Cameron liked to have the chance to laugh.

“Ready?” shouted Cameron, as he arched his arm and prepared to throw. Green Eyes said he was.

Cameron threw the ball, and there was a very brief moment of hope that he had every time; hope that Green Eyes or Big Feet or even Lemon Head would reach their arm up and the ball would not sail through, but land on solid flesh. The moment was short-lived because the ball travelled fast, and as always his friend’s hand was no more concrete than the wind, and the ball would hit the ground unperturbed.

Green Eyes said he was sorry.

“It’s okay,” Cameron said. He was sorry, too. “It’s not your fault.” And it wasn’t; if anyone was to blame it was himself, for picking friends who couldn’t catch the ball.

But he was really sorry when he saw his ball had fallen on the other side of the river, a good five feet of rushing water, which was much too high for a little boy to cross. A blackness like rotten bread fell over him. It was his favorite red-with-blue-stars ball, which his father had given to him for his third birthday. When he looked to Green Eyes for advice, his friend wasn’t there anymore, which happened most of the time. There was nothing to be done, and no way to retrieve it.

Then, from afar: “Is this your ball?”

It was a child’s voice, a boy’s, though there was something unusual about it that made Cameron’s skin prickle. He dried his eyes and looked across the river, where his ball had fallen. The speaker stood there, indeed a boy, smaller than Cameron and dressed in old-fashioned clothes that looked dusty. There was nothing remarkable about his features – on the contrary, they were faded, like an old photograph – but Cameron did not pay attention to these details. He was focused on what the boy held in his pale, soft hands: his ball.

“Yes,” Cameron said. “That’s mine.”

“I thought so,” the boy said. The words echoed out of his mouth, like they had been played through a radio, but their tone was bright and pleasing. “It’s very nice. Would you like it back?”

Cameron nodded with vigor.

“Come closer, then,” said the boy. He seemed to choke on his words. “I cannot throw that far.”

He does speak strangely, Cameron thought. It didn’t matter; he wanted the ball back more than anything. He walked across the crackling brown leaves, careful not to trip on any hidden branches. The boy looked eagerly at him, with an excitement Cameron recognized from his dog’s eyes when food was being poured into her bowl.

Cameron stopped a yard or so from the river. An unrecognizable fear had gone up before him like a wall and he didn’t want to go closer. The boy’s face looked funny from this close.

“What’s wrong?” said the boy, bright still. “Come closer.”

“Can’t you throw from there?” said Cameron.

The boy shifted and his features tightened. “I can’t get closer. I’m not allowed to. I can’t reach you from there.” His face was eager again, but it wasn’t subdued this time. He looked hungry.

The ball was so near, sitting in the boy’s hands. Cameron stepped to the water’s edge, close enough to feel the spray on his bare legs. The boy was grinning now, but it wasn’t a nice grin. Cameron decided he didn’t like this boy anymore; once he got the ball back, he would go home and stay in his room and never come to this part of the woods again.

The boy’s teeth parted and a voice that wasn’t human said, “What’s your name?”

Cameron told him.

“That’s a nice name,” the boy said; the words were cold. “Tell me something, Cameron; do your parents love you?”

Cameron couldn’t breathe, but he forced himself to nod.

“I wonder,” said the boy. He didn’t sound happy anymore.

Through his constricted lungs, Cameron brought through his words. “What’s your name?” he said.

The boy’s mouth twitched into what should have been a smile but looked more like a sneer. “I don’t have a name,” it said.

And his arms stretched across the river, lengthening like they were made of rubber. Their slimy wintry fingers, claws, gripped Cameron’s shoulders. The terror was so great that Cameron could not scream, but only watch with frozen eyes as the boy’s head bubbled and dissolved into a white shapeless mass; the sneering mouth became a gaping cavern, wide enough to fit a little boy inside. The throat was lined with a million glinting razors, each row small and unmentionably sharp, shifting and writhing separately from each other in a gleeful vortex. Cameron started into that monstrous abyss where only madness could exist, the abyss that had no end, and though he didn’t know what was happening to him he could sense that he had lost his sanity.

The tentacle-arms lifted him high, over the water and over the yawning madness, and he was able to scream only when the rotten hands dropped him into the razor tunnel. His last conscious emotions were horror and despair, until the jaws rippled shut and Cameron Beck was lost.

Mr. and Mrs. Beck never found out what happened to their son. No body was recovered, and the police found no sign that the boy had been in the woods at all. The detectives grouped his case with all the others from the area, which by that time had amounted to seven, all around the river. The investigation went on for months, but since no progress was made, all of the cases were closed and left shamefully unsolved. The Becks carried out their divorce and never spoke again.

The red-with-blue-stars ball was never found either. It remained where it had fallen that day, concealed well by leaves and weeds and snow, until the water rose and carried it away.

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2 Responses to “Short Story: THE LITTLE BOY IN THE WOODS”

  1. I love the misdirect from intimating a very real horror and then drifting into the fantastic just when it seems too predictable. That’s a technique I’ve been exploring with myself.

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