He’d walked this path at least a dozen of time before. But suddenly it looked unfamiliar, menacing, treacherous.
It was dusk, and the rapidly approaching darkness, intensified by the canopy of the trees surrounding the path, seemed to be enveloping him. It was getting cold, too, and he could feel a chill passing through his light jacket, reaching deep inside to his very core.
The branches, some still with the dying autumn leaves clinging to them, were reaching down toward him like the gray, bony arms of an army of skeletons. Grabbing, pulling.
He heard sounds, but he couldn’t be sure if they were the sounds of his own footfalls or if someone — or something — was lurking from within the trees, following him, waiting for just the right moment to pounce.
He had never been so scared in his life. Why had he done this? He knew he was supposed to go right home after school. But he was new to this school and his best friend — his only friend, actually — had invited him to come over and play after school.
His friend lived just on the other side of the woods, not that far from his own home, really. Just in the opposite direction from the school. He knew how to get home from his usual starting point, the school, but now he was hopelessly lost.
He didn’t know whether to continue in the direction he’d been walking, or to turn around and head back toward his friend’s house. But if he did turn around, would he even be able to find his way back there again?
He came across a large, downed tree branch along the side of the path. Unsure about whether he should move ahead or turn back, he sat down on the branch. It was dark and it was cold. Fear was starting to overwhelm him and he began to cry.
“Hey kid,” he heard a voice say. It startled him. “Are you okay?”
“I’m lost,” he said between sobs, looking up at the older boy, who must have been a sixth grader.
“Where do you live?”
He gave the older kid his address; his parents had made him memorize it. “But if you take me back to my school, I can find my way home from there.”
The older boy grabbed the younger kid’s hand and pulled him up. “I know where you house is,” he said. “I’ll take you home.”
He didn’t know whether to feel relieved or to be wary. “Don’t talk to strangers,” his parents had warned him countless times. But in this case, the stranger was, himself, just a kid. Maybe only four or five years older than he was.
The older boy took him straight home to his worried parents, who were so relieved and overjoyed to see him. He was surprised to find his father there, as he normally didn’t get home from work until much later.
They were both crying tears of relief and happiness — even his father. It was the first time he’d ever seen his father cry. His mother couldn’t stop hugging and kissing her little boy, repeating “Oh thank God, oh thank God” over and over.
The next day, first thing in the morning, the principal’s voice was broadcast over the school’s P.A. system, to be heard in all of the classrooms throughout the building.
“Boys and girls,” she said. “When you leave the school in the afternoons, you must go directly home unless your parents have given you a signed permission slip authorizing you to go somewhere else after school.”
He knew why the principal had made that announcement on that particular morning. But no one in his classroom was looking at him, the new kid. The kid who should have known better.
And when he left school that afternoon, he walked confidently into the woods. The familiar, comforting woods that he knew would lead him straight home.
Written for the Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie Sunday Writing Prompt, where challenge is to write a story from the perspective of the lost person. This was easy for me because I was that lost seven-year old boy in this tale. Photo credit: Alex Smith at Pexels.com