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The Journey

A multiple heart attack survivor with an extra stroke thrown in for good measure. I live my days thankful to be alive.

Dark Forest

Dark Forest

1983

Sweet dreams are made of this
Who am I to disagree?
I've traveled the world and the seven seas
Everybody's lookin' for something...

The Eurythmics blared in the background as Billy's mom made pancakes for the boys. Charlie loved spending the night at Billy's house, his mom would make pancakes and warm up the Mrs. Butterworths syrup before pouring it over the top. "Jimmy, Billy, Charlie, Darnell!!!" "Breakfast is ready", announced Billy's mom from the bottom of the stairs. "Coming", yelled the boys. The freshly risen crew ran down the stairs to wolf down breakfast and prepare for their mission.

The temperature outside was already hot on this steamy June morning. It was the middle of Summer and school was out. Even at this early hour, if you stepped outside, the air was like a blast furnace, torching the otherwise green grass into brown dust. For the four boys, this weekend sleepover would signal the beginning of a journey that would change their lives forever. Charlie was the leader of these ragtag adventurers. At 14, he was the eldest of the group. In shape for his age, his dark hair, olive skin, and Mediterranean looks attracted all the girls. Billy was the smart one, his dad worked for IBM, was a computer whiz, and a self-proclaimed genius. This intelligence was handed down to Billy. Tall and lanky, Billy missed his calling to become a basketball star due to his clumsiness. Jimmy was the athlete and mechanic. Artistic and creative, Jimmy once sailed a homemade soda bottle raft down the local river in town. Darnell was definitely the brawns of this outfit. No fear, ready to scrap at the drop of a hat. Darnell was their guardian angel.

After breakfast, the boys headed out to the garage to pack their supplies and begin planning their route to the forest and the adventure that lay within. Not far from where the boys grew up, the old Cooper Forest was within hiking distance. Throughout history, the forest was known for its mysterious happenings. It was rumored to contain the ghosts of old man Cooper and his family. In the early 1700s, Mr. Cooper and his family operated a lumber and grain mill on the banks of an ancient native American stream. Throughout the ages, this stream became known as Cooper's stream. One day, after swimming in the stream, Mr. Cooper slowly walked back to the mill, grabbed his sickle, and proceeded to behead his wife and four children. After grinding their bodies through the mill into a smooth paste of blood, bones, and gore, Mr. Cooper walked into the slow-moving stream and calmly removed his own head before slowly sinking below the murky waters.

The boys knew the story of old Mr. Cooper and the Mill very well. It was kind of like a rite of passage for freshly minted teens to brave the rugged terrain and unmarked trails to reach Mr. Cooper's Mill deep in the heart of the forest. With the thrill of adventure burning a hole in their minds, they headed out to the garage to make the final preparations for their excursion. With their bikes lined up in the yard like choppers at a biker bar, they scoured through the garage for bungie cords and rope to strap the gear to their rides.

Tucked away high in the rafters was Billy's dad's duffel bag from his time with the Army in Vietnam. As they pulled the bag from its dusty perch, a shiny flash of metal fell to the dusty floor. Billy excitedly reached for this newly found treasure and examined it. The boys huddled together and realized this trinket could come in handy. The shiny silver pendant seemed to glow in the dark garage. The treasure revealed itself as a Saint Christopher's medallion. The very medallion that Billy's dad wore during his time in Vietnam.

The most famous legend of Saint Christopher tells that he carried a child, who was unknown to him, across a river before the child revealed himself as Christ. Therefore, he is the patron saint of travelers, and small images of him are often worn around the neck, on a bracelet, carried in a pocket, or placed in vehicles by Christians.

Billy shoved the newly found treasure into the pocket of his shorts and began rummaging through his dad's duffel bag for supplies. After some time, the boys each had a canteen, belt, olive green t-shirt, and a large backpack that they gave to Darnell to carry. After filling the canteens with water, the travelers packed their gear and strapped everything onto their bikes. They headed North towards the Old Mill Road.

The ride through town was smooth and level as they pedaled their bikes along the shoulder of the road out of town. The sun was beating down on them as sweat dripped into their eyes. Jimmy wasn't bothered as he exclaimed, "beats throwing newspapers for a living." All four of the boys had paper routes where they earned a little cash for baseball cards and accessories for their bikes and such. As they approached the town limits, the small neighborhood of houses faded slowly behind them. The landscape soon became open fields dotted with stands of trees as they headed towards the forest on the horizon.




The Old Mill Road

The beginning of The Old Mill Road began at the fork in the road at the base of Mayor Aiken Hill. The main road continued on to the right and slowly wound its way up the hill and beyond to the next small town and disappeared into the distance. The road on the left was Old Mill Road and headed downhill into the dark forest and the valley below. A small graffiti-covered sign warning travelers that the road ahead could be flooded and to proceed with caution was posted on a nearby tree. Throwing caution to the wind, the adventurers headed left past the sign.

It was much cooler as the boys entered the forest, darker too. Soon the road leveled off as it wound its way toward the stream. Surrounding the road were ancient, twisted trees, covered in moss and vines. The air was rich with the smell of damp earth. Rustles in the underbrush as whatever creatures dwelled here ran off deeper into the tangle of trees and branches.

The group pedaled on, oblivious to the sounds of scurrying around them. The boys were glad to be together on this beautiful June day. The freedom and excitement of their summer vacation journey was exactly what was called for. A sudden crash to their left forced the boys to a screeching halt. Pow! Charlie's rear tire exploded with the force of a gunshot. "Whoa, what was that! Yelled Darnell. "I think it was a deer," Billy exclaimed, matter of factly. "Charlie, are you ok?" "I'm fine. I think I ran something over back there, my tires are flat!" Charlie said. As the boys turned around, they saw a wispy, shimmering chain with spikes sticking up from it slowly slide off the road into the forest behind them. The forest around them suddenly became uncomfortably silent. The cool breeze from the nearby stream stopped. The usual scurrying in the underbrush stopped completely.

They were already several miles into the forest, it wasn't far to the mill from here. They stashed their bikes in the trees just of the road and gathered as much gear that they could comfortably carry. Jimmy broke off some branches on the nearby trees to fashion into walking sticks. The boys sharpened the tips into rudimentary spearheads.

Nervously, the teens continued on foot down the Old Mill Road with their gear and rudimentary spears. The road narrowed and wound its way down to the banks of the stream where it finally dwindled and stopped. The trees in this part of the forest were larger and spookier as they seemed to reach down at the boys with curled claws. Off to their right, they could see the outline of what was Old Man Cooper's Mill nestled up to the stream on the banks.

The Old Mill

The Old Mill

The Old Mill

Having arrived at the terminus of the Old Mill Road, the group searched the tangled underbrush for the trail that would take them down to the stream and the mill. No trespassing signs littered the ground around them. The townsfolk would hang the signs to keep unwanted visitors away from the crumbling mill and eager adventurers would kindly remove them and throw them on the ground as a show of disrespect.

Darnell found an overgrown path that looked promising. "Over here, guys, I found a path," Darnell yelled. What Darnell found was little more than a goat path but it headed in the right direction. With the loss of their bikes miles back down the road, the day seemed to get shorter as they plowed through the dense underbrush. The dwindling summer sun slowly began to cast longer shadows as it began its slow descent to its resting place below the horizon. It seemed that every shrub along the goat path was determined to slash the boy's skin and force them to turn around. As they ripped through the branches an ominous whisper croaked at the boys. "Go away."

"Did you hear that?" Exclaimed Charlie. "Yeah, said Billy. "What was that?" "I don't know, let's get to the mill, hurry." The four boys scrambled ahead, quickly now. The branches didn't affect them as they flew along the path. Finally, they emerged from the forest, and right in front of them loomed The Old Mill.

The front door sat askew. Weathered, broken steps led up to the porch with its sagging roof and crumbling supports barely holding the massive weight of the roof above. The remains of the broken water wheel could be seen jutting up from behind the mill. Not a window remained unbroken and beer bottles littered the ground in shades of green, brown, and clear.

After their run through the underbrush, the stream invited them for a dip in its cool waters. Almost by instinct, the boys began stripping their clothes off down to their undershorts. Billy reached into his pants pocket and felt for his father's medallion. Pulling it out, it glistened in the twilight. Pulling it over his head, he wore the medallion around his neck and felt a surge of energy as it rested against his chest. They ran into the stream, kicking and splashing, dunking each other as the sun slowly set.

The night was beginning to close around them, their skin wet and refreshed from the water, they dragged themselves from the stream and set about starting a campfire on the banks of the stream. With a nice, warm fire, they sat on the bank, casually dipping their toes in the stream as they warmed themselves by the fire. They chatted excitedly about their journey so far.

"What was that whisper we heard earlier?" Charlie said. "Do you think it was the ghost of Old Mr. Cooper?" "Maybe." Said Billy. "Maybe it was something in the strea..... Just as Billy was about to finish his sentence, a rush of water engulfed Darnell. Whoosh! Darnell was pulled into the stream by an unknown force. Louder now than before, the whisper became a growl. "GO AWAY!" The phantom voice exclaimed. The remaining boys scrambled to their feet scanning the stream, searching for signs of Darnell.

With the glow of the fire at their backs, the three boys strained with their eyes in the dimly lit night, searching the stream for any signs of their friend. There, in the middle of the stream, they could barely make out the silhouette of their friend Darnell. He looked strange, his face was contorted into a scowl with only the whites of his eyes visible. Jimmy and Charlie grabbed their rudimentary spears and sprang into the stream to rescue the guardian of their small band of adventurers.

Billy screamed for Darnell to swim for shore but there was no response from those vacant eyes. As Jimmy and Charlie got close to Darnell, the water around them began to boil. Darnell's arms raised up from the water and the glint of fire on metal showed on the blade of the sickle as he swung it in a wide arc at the two boys in front of him. The tops of the wooden spears flew into the air as the heads of both Jimmy and Charlie flew up to meet them before splashing into the stream at Billy's feet. As the lifeless eyes of his childhood friends stared up at him, Billy could sense movement from the stream in front of him. Billy let out a scream of terror as Darnell turned to look at him and with a final swing of the sickle, the contorted face, and head of Darnell fell from his shoulders with a sickening splash as his body slipped beneath the murky surface of the water.

Clutching the medallion around his neck, Billy turned and ran from the banks of the stream, past the ruins of the mill, through the underbrush towards where he knew his bike would be.



Sweet Dreams are Made of This

Sweet dreams are made of this

Who am I to disagree?

I've traveled the world and the seven seas

Everybody's lookin' for something...

"Boys, breakfast is ready!!!"

© 2021 Charles Kikas

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