When I was 13 I got upset over not receiving a specific gift I wanted for Christmas, so I stormed out of the house and ran into the woods that lined my backyard. I hadn’t been very far in before since my parents told me the trail eventually ended and if I went too far I’d get lost, but I was upset and wanted to get as far away from them as possible. I walked until my feet started to hurt from the cold, but there was nowhere to sit. I walked more as the snow settled into the fabric of my shoes and soaked through to my socks. I walked until the frozen air tore at my lungs like the first cigarette I tried the previous summer.
I wasn’t sure if the trail had ended yet or not since the snow-covered ground offered no visual cues as to where it would be. The trees were pretty spaced out, so it could still have been there. The smell of burning logs in the fireplaces of my neighbors had dissipated and when I realized all I could smell was pine and the harsh cold of December I started to get scared. The sun was high overhead, which meant that it was still early in the day, but the air was freezing and I could feel the tension and exhaustion in my bones from a constant shiver. I needed to get home, but I didn’t want to. I was still upset over not getting a new Walkman.
I continued forward, rubbing my hands together to generate some heat inside my gloves. The snow in this part of the woods wasn’t as deep since some of it was held up in the tops of the bare trees. We hadn’t gotten much snow anyway, so even in the open, it was only about half a foot deep. I wondered sometimes if the lack of snow made it colder, the way a night sky void of clouds does. There was a natural curve in the trees that took me to the right, so I followed it and in a few minutes came upon a rounded clearing. The ground was mostly snowless and, upon spinning in a circle to take in more of the area, I noticed a fire pit and an abandoned shell of an old truck.
The fire pit was cool, but not cold, which meant someone had used it recently. I crouched down and felt some of the charred wood bits with my hands and noticed a couple burnt beer cans at the bottom. I wondered how long the truck had been out here. The woods were grown enough that there wasn’t any trace of the road the truck would have used to get out here, so I figured it must have been some time ago. The body was rusted all the way through and the upholstery was chewed and heavily soiled. I made my way over to it and peered in through the passenger side window. There was a blanket on the seat and what looked like a box underneath it on the driver’s side, so I made my way over and opened the door.
I lifted up the blanket and pulled the shoebox out, then turned it to face me. It seemed strange that someone would be staying way out here. The inside of the truck smelled musty and I wrinkled my nose. A quick check around yielded no human results, so I opened the box and was immediately met with a very pressing need to vomit. I turned away and held my breath for a second, and when I felt sure enough that I wasn’t going to lose my breakfast, I turned back to the box.
There were three hand-made separators that broke the box up into four sections. On the inside of the lid was a picture of a young kid, one for each section. There were three boys and one girl. In the bottom of the box, there was a lock of hair, a tooth and a piece of cloth, separated by the cardboard inserts. I was thirteen, not stupid, so I knew exactly what I was looking at. And touching. I quickly shut the box and put the blanket back over it, then scanned the trees to my left to find the footprints I made coming in. I didn’t bother shutting the door.
I half-speed walked-half-ran while trying to find my way back home. I couldn’t help but feel like the boy second from the right was someone I remembered from my childhood. The thought made the bubbling feeling in my stomach come back and it made my eyes fuzzy while I scanned for the direction my footprints went. I remember noticing the smell of a fireplace again, getting excited that I would be home soon and be able to apologize to my parents for being a brat, before the sound of metal ringing through my skull rendered me unconscious.
All I could taste was blood.