The Kids from the Woods

Submitted into Contest #117 in response to: Set your story at the boundary between two realms.... view prompt

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Mystery Science Fiction Suspense

“Where’re your parents at?” Brendon asked the small boy standing in front of him.

           The boy, who couldn’t be any older than seven, looked at him like Brendon was speaking a foreign language.

           “You lost?” he asked.

           The boy remained a statue. His tiny frame barely visible through the large trees of the forest.

           “The name’s Brendon. I jus’ wanna help. If you come with me, we can try to track down your parents.”

           The boy twisted as though he was about to bolt.

           “Wait wait, okay. We ain’t gotta go nowhere. I’ll call my wife, and we’ll figure something out.”

           The boy’s eyes darted around the forest.

           “Don’t worry, we’ll keep you safe.” He slowly reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone. His eyes concentrated on the boy the whole time. The boy stared without emotion.

           “Hey dear, so uh, yeah, can you come on out to the woods behind the fields? I’ve found someone…. Oh, uh, jus’ a kid. He’s a lil scared…. Yep, just behind the corn stalks…. We’ll be here. Love you.”

           Brendon placed the phone back in his pocket and did his best to appear non-threatening.

           “You got a name?”

           …

           “Dumb question. Of course, you got a name. You mind tellin’ me?”

           …

           “No worries. Millie’ll be here any minute. You’ll like her. She’s a sweetheart. Sure, I’m a lil partial, but my mama always told me I was a good judge of character. For instance, I can tell you’re feelin’ scared. Maybe a little confused. But you’re strong. And brave.”

“Stronger than me. I don’t do good in these woods myself. They’re uh, let’s jus’ say, spooky. I hear things out here sometimes. Voices. You heard anything?”

The boy nodded.

“Okay, so you understand me. That’s a start,” Brendon answered, praying Millie would show up soon because he was not so good with kids.

“Well, uh, one time I swear I heard a baby crying. I ran out here to find nothin’ but trees and them little critters. And they ain’t makin’ no cryin’ sounds.”

“I heard laughing,” the boy said.

Brendon was not expecting an answer, so when he did, his mouth hung open like he’d seen a ghost.

“What was that?” Brendon questioned.

“Last night, I heard laughing. Was it you?”

Brendon thought back to the night before. He’d done his chores like he did every night before heading home for a big dinner courtesy of Millie. But he’d done them in silence.

He shook his head.

The boy nodded in a graceful, knowing way. Like someone much older and much more perceptive than a child of his age.

“Then, Mr. Brendon, be assured you are not crazy,” the boy said.

Brendon laughed. “What a relief. Well, unless you’re one of them voices I hear.”

The boy eyed Brendon stoically.

“You’re not, are you?” Brendon questioned, only half-joking.

The boy shook his head.

“Phew. That would be an issue I don’t think Millie’d appreciate.”

“You can call me Linus, Mr. Brendon.”

“Linus. It’s good to meet ya. And it’s just Brendon.”

Linus stepped out from behind the tree, hand extended. His clothes were too big, enveloping his figure. And they were clean. Too clean for anyone who’d spent time in the woods.

Brendon took Linus’ hand and shook. The boy had a strong grip, especially considering his bony body.

“How long you been out here?” Brendon asked.

Linus looked up into Brendon’s eyes and said, “For a time.”

Brendon had no idea how to respond to that, so he went in another direction. “Where’re your parents?”

Linus looked down, almost ashamed. “I haven’t got any.”

Brendon’s mind started to race. Was this a foster kid? Was he a runaway? Was he lying?

“Where you been stayin’? We need to get you back there.”

Linus put his hand up as if telling Brendon to stop asking questions. “None of that matters. If you will have us, we’d like to stay here, with you and Millie.”

“Uh, what you mean by us?”

The boy nodded, “Kaz and me.”

“And Kaz is?”

“She’s Kaz. That’s who she is.”

“You speakin’ in riddles?”

           “Kaz will be here shortly. Do not worry, Brendon. It will just be for a few days.”

           Brendon felt himself nod his head before he knew what he was doing. But he had so many questions. Yet he couldn’t voice them.

           “Just a few days, then everything will be as it should,” Linus concluded.

           In that moment, Millie came up behind Brendon and placed her hand on his back. He looked back into her blue eyes, confusion screaming out from his pupils.

           And that’s when Linus ran up to Millie and jumped into her arms, holding her tightly. Millie stumbled a little but held the boy in a warm embrace. “Well, hello there. What’s your name?”

           He placed a hand on her cheek, which blushed on the spot. “I’m Linus. And I’ll be staying with you for a time.”

           Millie laughed. “Oh, you will, will you?” She looked over at Brendon who shrugged.

           “Let’s just start with supper and go from there.”

           “Yes, ma’am,” Linus responded, dropping to his feet and wrapping his fingers around Millie’s.

           And then, another child, smaller than Linus, with features barely visible in the darkness, stepped out from behind another tree. She was timid at first, until she saw Brendon. Then she smiled and ran to his arms almost tripping on her clothes which seemed even bigger on her than Linus’. Brendon was taken aback, but kneeled, extended his arms, and embraced her.

           She was so small, so fragile that he held her as though it was his responsibility to keep her safe.

           “You must be Kaz.”

           The girl stared up at him, trusting, but silent.

           “She is Kaz,” Linus called.

           Brendon grinned down at her. “Let’s get you out of the cold.”

           As Brendon stood, he looked over at Millie. Millie beamed back at him as though everything was right in the world. Which was odd for Brendon, seeing as they had two stray children walking next to them. But they made their way to the farmhouse, hand-in-hand-in-hand-in-hand.

***

“Linus sure don’t seem scared,” Millie said to Brendon as they cleaned up dinner. Linus and Kaz were off exploring the rest of the house.

           “He was ’til you shown up.”

           She smiled. “They’re lovely children. Linus is so inquisitive.”

           “But he never answers no questions. It’s weird. And Kaz don’t talk. You think she can?”

           “She may be in shock. Poor dear. Hopefully with time she’ll grow comfortable with us and open right up.”

           “They can’t stay, Millie. They belong somewhere.”

           Millie nodded, looking down at the dishes. “Maybe they really don’t have parents. Maybe we could—”

           Brendon held her hand as gently as possible. He knew just how much she wanted kids of her own, but he couldn’t let her get her heart broken again.

           “They didn’t just appear outta thin air. Someone’ll be missin’ ’em.”

           “But maybe they was getting hurt. Maybe they need us.”

           “Maybe. Just don’t expect too much.”

           Millie sighed. “You’re right. Of course, you’re right. I’m sorry.”

           Brendon kissed her on her lips with as much tenderness as a dew drop on a rose petal. “You ain’t got nothin’ to be sorry for. You got the heart of an angel.”

           “You really love each other, don’t you?” Linus’ voice called from the kitchen entryway, Kaz standing close behind.

           Millie and Brendon turned simultaneously. “We do,” Millie replied. Brendon nodded in agreement.

           “I’m so glad we found you,” Linus continued. “We will be happy here.”

           “Linus, tomorrow we need to go to the police to get things sorted out.”

           “That won’t be necessary, Brendon,” Linus responded simply.

           “I’m afraid it is, son. We can’t just—”

           Linus put his hand up again, to stop Brendon from talking. “Just give us a few days and everything will be as it should.”

           Brendon gave up the fight and nodded his head. Though he wasn’t sure why.

           “We’re feeling weary. Can we go to bed?” Linus asked.

           “I got your beds all done up. I’ll show you,” Millie explained, walking over to the kids, and grasping their hands. Kaz waved to Brendon as she vanished up the stairs.

           Brendon finished the dishes, then he too followed them to the second floor where he fell asleep, feeling content and only a tiny bit puzzled.

***

“Mr. Brendon,” Kaz said in her mousy inflection. “May I ask you a question?”

She hadn’t spoken for the first two days she was with them, but by the third day she’d found her voice. And Brendon so loved hearing it.  

           “It’s just Brendon,” he replied.

           She beamed. “Brendon. Brendon. Brendon. I like that.”

           The family laughed.

           Kaz spoke again, “How did you and Millie meet?”

           Millie spit out some of her morning milk and chuckled.

           “Why do you laugh, Millie?” Kaz questioned.

           “Oh, it’s just a silly story.”

           “Silly?!” Brendon exclaimed. “It was embarrassing.”

           “Please share, Brendon,” Linus chimed in.

           “Hmmmm,” Brendon said.

           “Tell ’em. It’s a good story,” Millie suggested.

           “Fine.” He began, “I moved here when I was 22. Years and years ago. Wanted to start up a farm. But I was dead broke. Like so broke, I thought ‘bout sellin’ a kidney for cash.”

“Brendon, you did not!” Millie laughed.

“Yes, ma’am, I did. But I thought better of it. Instead, I asked round if anybody needed a farmhand. Sure nuff, a man named Bartleby Burgess hired me. He was a decent fellow. Kinda grumpy.”

“No, he wasn’t!” Millie exclaimed.

“You wanna tell this story?”

“I just want you tellin’ the facts. No embellishin’.”

“Fine. Mr. Burgess, who was nothin’ but happy all the time, took me on. Taught me all ’bout farmin’. It was hard work. Still is. But it was my dream, and I loved it. One day, he told me his daughter was comin’ home from college for the weekend. Wanted me to meet her. I agreed, though I secretly hoped to get out of it. You see, I may be a handsome and confident man today, but back then, I was a chicken. Never did so good with the better sex.”

Millie laughed some more. Brendon ignored her.

“I rushed through my chores in a hope I’d be gone before this girl came home. I wasn’t bein’ careful and guess what I done? I split my pants, right down the buttocks. I ignored it, just thinkin’ about getting outta there.”

Linus and Kaz laughed now.

“Hey now, you want me to finish this story or not?”

They nodded, holding in laughter.

“Like I was sayin’, I finished the hay early and was walkin’ over to my truck when I hear this voice call out. It was this lovely voice. Melodious and hypnotizin’. The voice stopped me dead in my tracks. Who was this angel? I turned and guess who I saw?”

“Millie!” Linus and Kaz exclaimed.

“Nope, it weren’t. It was Mr. Burgess.” He smiled and stayed silent for a beat. “But standing behind Mr. Burgess was Millie. All young and gorgeous and dressed in this beautiful white dress that looked completely out of place on a dirty ol’ farm. And she was smilin’. I began stammerin’ and shakin’. It was a nightmare. But they beckoned me over, and I ran to ’em. I ran cause nothin’ was gonna stop me from seein’ this woman up close. And that’s when it happened….”

Brendon stopped talking and sighed deeply. “I don’t think I can finish. It’s too much.”

“Please, you have to!” Kaz pleaded.

Brendon shook his head. “I can’t.”

“Please, please,” Kaz continued.

He sighed and said, “My pants tore all the way down to my ankle. The fabric was just blowin’ in the wind. I looked down, my face red hot, and as I did, I musta tripped on a pebble cause I fell. Right on my face. In the mud. So, I’m layin’ there, my skivvies showin’, covered in mud, when this angel runs over to me. She extends her hand, and all I can think is that I wanna get outta here. But I’m stuck and she’s still holdin’ out her hand. So, I take it. And in the process, my muddied hand slips outta hers and grabs ahold of her perfectly white dress. I don’t mean to, but gravity has another idea. My weight is just too much for Millie and she falls, splat, into the mud. We’re rollin’ around, tryin’ to right ourselves. And by the time we do, we’re both crusted with the guck. And I’m panicking, thinkin’ I just lost my job and ruined things with this girl. But she starts laughin’. She’s standin’ over me and laughin’. I look into her beautiful eyes, and I laugh too. And then, well, let’s just say I didn’t lose my job, and I didn’t mess things up with that girl. Not yet.”

When he finished the story, everyone laughed, including Brendon. He never wanted to admit it, but he loved that story too.

“That is wonderful, Brendon! Don’t you think, Kaz?”

“It’s marvelous. I’m so glad it’s ours now.”

“What do you mean, Sweetheart?” Millie asked.

“Well, now that we’re a family, your stories are ours too.”

Millie and Brendon exchanged a look. But it wasn’t so much a look of confusion, rather of acceptance. This was their family now. And their stories, their lives, were connected.

***

“Brendon, I’ve told you before, all will be as it should. Very soon,” Linus stated.

           “I know you say that, but what if someone comes lookin’ for y’all? That could cause some issues,” Brendon replied.

           They were among the cornstalks, pulling weeds. The anxiety of hiding the kids was getting to Brendon again. He had grown to love them over these past two weeks, but still had trepidations about not reporting them to someone. He thought he could make them a legitimate family if they just talked to the police.

           “Brendon,” Linus said, placing his tiny hand into Brendon’s palm, “there is no reason you need to involve the police. You are keeping us safe. Kaz is happy. I’m happy. And I know you and Millie are happy. That’s all that matters.”

           A calm washed over Brendon. And once again, he forgot his fears without really understanding why.

           “All will be as it should,” he said.

           “Indeed,” Linus responded. “Now, tell me, when do we need to harvest the corn?”

***

“What you wanna show us out here?” Brendon asked the kids as they walked through the forest. He was glad the kids wanted to open up, but he wasn’t excited to be back in the woods.

           “You’ll see soon,” Linus replied. Cryptic as always. In the past weeks, Brendon and Millie had grown accustomed to the children’s oddities, but they still hoped the kids would let them in on their secrets. Especially regarding where they came from.

           Millie held Brendon’s hand as they followed behind the kids, farther into the forest. Farther than Brendon had ever dared before. Dread encompassed Brendon, but he was willing do go through it for these kids.

           When they were encircled by thick vegetation, the kids finally stopped, turned, and ran toward their caregivers. The darkness of the forest seemed to seep into their bodies. Millie clutched Brendon’s arm and shook a little. The kids seemed unaffected.

           “Now what?” Millie asked.

           “Just watch. You’ll soon have the answers you’ve been hoping for,” Linus said.

           They were transfixed on the darkness. It seemed like nothing was happening at first, but then something unexplainable happened. One of the trees began to glow. Tiny at first, but then brighter and brighter until it was too bright to look at. Brendon shielded his eyes and tried to do the same for the kids, but they dodged his grip. Brendon felt little fingers grabbing at his hands.

           “’Stop!” he shouted.

           But the fingers were strong. Too strong, and they managed to pull Brendon’s arms to his side. He was powerless.

He closed his eyes, but even through his eyelids, he felt the light burning his retinas.

           There was a loud groaning sound and the glow from the tree magnified. Brendon felt like his eyes would melt out of his face. Then, a loud explosion filled the forest, and it was dark again. And where the tree once stood, a gaping hole floated on the spot, so dark it was impossible to look at. Brendon wasn’t sure his eyes were still working properly anyway.

           “Come on,” Kaz beckoned.

“No,” Brendon called, feeling untethered. He searched the darkness and found Millie’s hand. She was crying. But her warmth brought him back.

“This is what needs to happen,” Linus explained.

“What needs to happen? Why?” Millie cried.

“Just step forward and all will be as it should,” the kids said together.

And with those words, Brendon and Millie obeyed.

           Millie asked, “What is this?”

           “This is where we’re from,” Linus said.

           “This is where you’re going,” Kaz said.

           Brendon accepted that, no longer worried about the unknown. He and his wife held onto each other and continued walking forward. The kids lagged behind.

           Brendon turned his head and willed his eyes to work. And what he saw, he simply noted. Only later would wish he hadn’t seen it at all. He watched as Linus and Kaz transformed. They were no longer tiny children. They were taller, older. They were them—Brendon and Millie.

           Linus spoke in Brendon’s voice, “You best be headin’ through the portal. Ain’t much time left.” And he smiled, Brendon’s smile. And Kaz laughed, Millie’s laugh.

           Brendon turned back toward the portal. Not afraid. And without a fight, he and Millie stepped through, disappearing from the forest and into an unknown world.

           “All is as it should be,” Linus drawled.

October 26, 2021 23:35

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