There are some things you can’t explain. I’m sure it’s possible but words have never been my strong suit. I want to stay out after dark because I want to.
I don’t like it inside, I never have. It’s stuffy and boring and it’s so, so loud. Every second is full of the muffled screams from my younger siblings playing in a different room. I’ve tried getting them to be quiet but, go figure, negotiating with toddlers isn’t easy.
Not that negotiations with mothers are much easier. Every time I try to make her understand it’s the same, overplayed interaction:
Mom, can I please have a later curfew because *one of many well thought out, logical reasons*?
No. You have to be inside by dark.
Because I said so.
She’s impossible! As I look out the window at the dark outlines of trees being just slightly illuminated by a bright moon hung in a sky of trillions of beautiful stars, something in me crumbles. I’m tired of being separated from such a beautiful image by a pane of old, smudged glass. If mom isn’t going to listen to me, then why should I listen to her? My heart beats faster as I reach my hand out to the window and snap open the fault latch. The window squeals as I slide it open, the sound practically deafening in the silent house. But when it’s finally open the silence engulfs the house once more.
My entire family is asleep and I should be too. If I close the window now I could curl up in my bed and wake up tomorrow with a clean conscience. That thought lasts half a second before a light breeze brushes my cheek and the smell of pine reminds me what I love about being outside.
The next thing I know, instead of looking outside, I’m looking into my room in astonishment of what I’ve just done. I’ve never intentionally disobeyed mom, and I’ve just broken her one unnegotiable rule. The bare grass tickles my feet as I find myself engulfed by the cool, fresh night air. No one will know if I slip away for a few minutes, right?
I take a few steps away from the house. It’s beautiful out here. The moonlight washes everything in a magical, silvery glow. The sounds of nature comfort me as I press on slowly, taking everything in about the dark forest for the first time. A twig snaps behind me and I spin around terrified that mom’s caught me. I’m relieved to see there’s nothing there.
I brush it off as a nocturnal animal, with any luck I’ll catch a glimpse of it later. I consider looking for it, but my attention is recaptured by the tapestry of stars above me. I think back to that book about constellations I read a couple months ago. I try my best to remember what the constellations look like, cursing myself for not grabbing my book, knowing that if I go back to get it, I won’t have the courage to escape my room again. Regardless of whatever the stars are called they’re breathtaking to look at.
I walk through the trees to a small opening nearby and lay down on the soft grass. As I stargaze I let my mind wander to fantasies of the future. Fantasies about one day owning my own house and being able to do this every single night. I was abruptly yanked from these bright thought by a snapping sound coming from my left.
I turn my head to the source of the sound, but once again nothing is there. Before I can rest my head on the ground again, I hear a growling coming from my right. I whip my head around just in time to see a tall, lanky figure recede into the trees. I’m frozen where I lay, staring at a now empty gap in the trees, wondering if I imagined it when I hear the most terrifying sound I’ve ever heard:
“Elizabeth May Tyler, get your ass back inside. Now!”
I whip my head around to see my mom holding the cast iron poker from our fireplace so tightly her knuckles are turning white. She isn’t giving me her unrelenting, furious stare like normal. Instead, her head is constantly moving as she scans the trees. She doesn’t look angry either. She’s wearing an expression I’ve never seen before and I can’t describe, but I do know I never want to see it again.
Mom’s voice reminds me that I’m capable of movement and I scramble to my feet, not wanting to anger her any more. I’m terrified, not of the thing I imagined in the trees but of what’s going to happen when I get home. I’m about to follow her orders when I hear a familiar growl come from behind me. Mom grabs my shoulder and yanks me behind her, raising the poker as if she’s about to attack.
There’s a rustling in the trees but I can’t figure out what direction it’s coming from, even as it gets louder. It feels like it’s coming from everywhere.
I try to whisper, but it comes out as more of a whimper, “What is that?”
There’s a snapping sound to my right and mom quickly spins to put herself between me and the sound. The forest’s gone quiet. I can’t hear any growling, I don’t hear any footsteps, I don’t even hear the wind rustling the leaves. All I can hear are mom’s slow, controlled breaths.
“Run to the house. Lock the door. Don’t step outside until dawn.”
“I’ll be fine. Everything will be fine”
The initial shock of what’s happening passes and I feel a heavy sense of dread settle in my stomach. “How?”
Mom doesn’t turn to meet my eyes. She stays focused, eyes fixed on what I think is a tree, shoulders tensed as if she’s bracing for a hit, poker raised as if she were bracing for something much worse.
“Because I said so.”