I was picturing Sprucewood Nature Center, by the by, even though it’s not quite… wood-y enough.
The twenty-acre forest had become thick and overgrown in the decade since the world had fallen apart.
Vic remembered it from elementary school field trips, middle school solo explorations, high school one-on-one adventures with just the right second person – or at least the person that had seemed right at the time. Several persons, several times.
Now, you couldn’t step between the trees except at the path, and the path had been blocked with a parked truck. It looked safe. It looked like a good place to hide out.Vic used the back wheel as a step-stool to look over the beast of a vehicle, only to end up looking at the tip of a rifle.
“Move very slowly and let me see both of your hands.” The man in the back of the truck wasn’t all that old, probably no older than Vic. His hands were entirely steady on that rifle, though.
“If I lift my hands,” Vic answered just as steadily, “I am going to move very quickly backwards as I fall off the truck.” Vic lifted four fingers- two on each hand – to demonstrate.
“…Vic?” The man sat up. From that angle, looking at the eyes and not the scruffy beard, Vic knew him well – all too well. “Vic Barwegen? It’s me. Ben mac Domhnaill!”
“…Ben. Ben, hi. Are you still going to shoot me?” Considering how everything in those park visits had ended, he very well might.
“You? Hell, no. Come on over the truck, though, before someone actually unsavory comes along. Man, Vic, you were off on that vacation when everything went to shit, and I never thought I’d see you again.”
“Ben, why are you guarding the old school park with a rifle?”
“Well, because Aneta took the shotgun.” He grinned unrepentantly. Vic was startled to see that a smile that had grown irritating by the end of senior year was once again appealing. “And Brodey has the pistol, Brody!” he called, while Vic’s heart sank further. “Hey, Brode! It’s Vic Barwgen!”
If there had been two people Vic had spent more time in this woods with than any others, it had been Jay Brodey and Ben mac Domhnail. If there had been two reasons Vic had fled their hometown after graduation, it had been Brodey and Ben.
And here they were, armed and grinning and seemingly completely welcoming, standing guard at the front of, what, a tree fort?
Vic’d had nightmares like this. With a gulped swallow, Vic took the the better part of valor and fled. Even if the woods was safe, it wasn’t worth living with all those past mistakes.