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Author's Chapter Notes:
Hey guys! I hope everyone is still reading and enjoying this story. We're now back to Howie! :O) Since reviews are disabled feel free to drop in on my update thread here: http://absolutechaos.net/fictalk/index.php/topic,3035.0.html
or my twitter @bitybella to let me know what you think. Nothing makes me happier than reading your reactions to the stuff going on and it really helps motivate me to write.

And now onto Howie!!

Lost in the forest, I broke off a dark twig
and lifted its whisper to my thirsty lips:
maybe it was the voice of the rain crying,
a cracked bell, or a torn heart.

From “Lost in the Forest” by Pablo Neruda



~ 11 ~

Safest Place to Hide


When Howie was a small child, every night his mother would read him a story. He always got to pick it out and he always went for the action packed ones. His favorite was “The Three Little Pigs,” mostly because of the way his cute little mother would try to change her voice to sound like the wolf when she would say “little pig little pig let me in.” Her broken English when she then would change to “Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin,” would have him laughing hysterically. By the time she got to the huffing and puffing, Polly and Johnny would be standing at the door as well as their dad all laughing at their poor little mother’s expense.

After the lights when out and he was left in the dark, he would insert himself into some of those stories. He would be the smart pig who let his brother’s escape into his house and then eventually kill the wolf, or sometimes he would be Hansel, rescuing his sister from the evil witch by throwing her into the oven. Howie always wanted to be in the center of the action and he always wanted to be the hero.

Now here was his chance to do both and he was failing at it, miserably.

That road which had seemed so dark before was nothing compared to the woods. The pitch blackness was horrifying in its solitude and that’s what it felt like. The woods at night were a wide open space but the tall trees made it seem like they were swallowing him into the darkness. He couldn’t believe he dropped the flashlight, worse still he couldn’t’ believe he didn’t turn around and get it. Whatever had been chasing him, and for all he knew it was nothing more than his imagination, had for the meantime disappeared, but by the time he stopped running, he had no clue where he was.

Howie looked around and all he saw was black except for the occasional blip of light made by the fireflies who called this place home. He had no clue what to do.  He had no idea where the road was. Once he started heading in one direction he would stop himself, feeling like he was heading deeper into the woods instead of away from them. The problem is no matter which direction he went, he felt the same way.

Then there was the occasional sound of growling. He knew it wasn’t just his mind playing tricks on him. He would hear the grunts just slightly off in the distance and then followed by what sounded like claws as they walked over leaves and twigs. There was definitely something out there with him but he couldn’t see it, which made him powerless to do anything.

There wasn’t a thing he could use to defend himself. His only weapon was his phone; he could potentially throw it at whatever was following him. That was about it.

The other problem was his arm. It had started to hurt shortly after they were tied up in the cabin and at first he thought it was just because of the way he was forced to sit with his hands tied behind his back, but the dull throb he felt as he walked down the road was replaced by a full blown shooting pain. His father had always warned him that when you are in a car accident, you should always get checked out because you almost always never feel pain until long after the incident occurs.

He was holding his right arm gingerly with his left, now realizing that his dad was right. He was finally feeling the effects of the crash. He just hoped that it wasn’t broken. “Okay D, think …you can get yourself out of this, you have to for the rest of the guys and your family. You cannot die in these woods.”

He found the sound of his own voice oddly comforting. “Maybe I’ll just verbalize everything I think.” He looked around at the huge trees; they had to be at least 20 feet tall. “I’ll start by saying this sucks!”

He continued to walk in a random direction, hoping that following his instincts would prove to be a smart thing but after only going a few feet, he stopped himself again, looking behind him thinking maybe that was the way to go.

“I need to just trust myself…just do it.” He shook off the thought of moving in the other direction and instead pressed ahead as a few droplets of rain began to fall, “Just great…ANYTHING ELSE?” He yelled up at the night sky.

As he continued on in the rain, he thought about his cousin Alfred. He was a marine and whenever he came home from one of his deployments the family would have a huge welcome home party on his behalf. Most of the time, Al just sat there quietly sipping on a beer as he listened to the rest of his family complain about stupid things like gas prices or lost luggage. Once anyone asked him about his time in Iraq or Afghanistan he always shook the question off with a “You wouldn’t understand.”

At the time, Howie always thought his cousin was living under the assumption that he was better than everyone else just because he had gone off to war, but now he understood. Long after this night was over, there would only be one other person who would understand what he had went through and that’s Nick. No one else would get it, not even the other guys, so what would be the use of even talking about it with them? If he got out of this alive, he would never complain about anything trivial ever again and he would be sure to say a big thank you and apology to Alfred.

The rain began to pick up and the sound of thunder boomed a little too close for comfort. Wasn’t it unwise to be by a tree if lightening were to strike? Isn’t that what his mother always told him? Yet there he was right in the middle of the biggest trees on the planet. He might as well wear a metal rod on his head. He decided to pick up his pace almost trying to race against the huge droplets pelting him. Lightening lit up the sky and just for a brief moment, he was able to see more than ten inches in front of him, but what he saw was a bit unsettling. It appeared as if something was staring at him. Maybe it was a deer but he didn’t think so.

“Okay…” He began to move away never turning his back on whatever he was convinced was following him. “Not good…not good.” Another flash of lightening illuminated his situation as the thing sat staring at him, head tilted not looking like he wanted to attack but more observe. Howie squinted to try to get a better look. But the darkness returned a little too quickly. A loud rumble of thunder came so close he felt the vibration in his chest and then the sky exploded as a downpour occurred. The rain coming down so heavy and fast he felt like he was in the ocean.

At that moment he did turn his back and started to run, not even sure why. He just knew he couldn’t stay where he was. He needed to find shelter. Maybe there was a cave or at least a fallen tree trunk he could hide under. He looked over his shoulder once the lightening flashed and felt a small bit of relief seeing nothing behind. The turning proved to be a mistake though as he lost his balance tripped over a branch and fell to the ground. Crying out in pain and nursing his arm on impact.

Lying in that spot in the pouring down, cold rain Howie was pretty sure he had hit his lowest point ever. All he had to do was get help. That was his only job. He and Nick, setting out after the crash to get help for the other three. Out of them all he was in the best shape, his younger friend clearly not doing well. He should have made the call about not getting into that truck. Everything felt wrong about it, but he let Nick make the decision and just followed. Now Nick was with this Tim guy all alone, the others were still trapped and probably starving to death and all he had managed to do is get lost in the woods.

“AHH!!!” He yelled out in frustration as the rain steadily hit his back.

He slowly stood himself up and tried to look around for some form of shelter. Just up ahead a little ways, he thought he might have seen what looked like an old picnic table. “That can’t be right.” He moved his hands to his eyes to wipe out any excess water and squinted, hoping he wasn’t seeing things but sure enough as he got closer, that’s exactly what it was, a very old picnic table, the kind where the two wooden beams are attached as a makeshift and very uncomfortable bench. Beside it were the remnants of an old fire pit and grill standing on its side. “Maybe this used to be an old campsite?” He said as he stepped into the small clearing.

He walked over to the picnic table lied himself down on the bench and then slid himself underneath. It was still wet under there but at least he was able to get out of the rain and stay relatively dry. He would have to stay there until the rain let up, and then he could move on.

Being under that table brought back another memory from his childhood. It was funny how his brain kept going back to when he was a kid. Probably because that’s when he felt the safest, being around his older siblings and his parents gave him that sense of protection. He was longing for that same feeling now so if it meant reliving some memories, then so be it.

They had a picnic table just like this one in their backyard when he was a little boy. He used to find himself hiding under the table frequently whenever he got into trouble, it was like his one hiding spot that he thought no one knew about but in actuality everyone did. “Where is Howie?” his mother would ask, “Where do you think he is?” Johnny would answer with a smirk on his face as he looked over at the table and pointed. Sometimes he would take an old sheet and place it on top and then spend the day inside his own little fort, only coming out for a peanut butter and Jelly sandwich cut into fourths, and some grape juice, his favorite lunch of all time and ironically James’s too.

“Don’t worry little man, daddy is going to get out of this and get home to you real soon. I’m so sorry.” On the last two words, he choked up but quickly shook his feelings away. His little man; he stole the nickname from Nick who joked that because he loved Howie so much, he could have it and that he wouldn’t tell Kevin. It would be their little secret. “I’ll do this for you too, Nicky. We’ll all get home safe.”

At that point, he wondered if Tim and Nick had made it back to the cabin yet. If so, what would the reaction be? Nick would most likely be grateful and relieved to see he had escaped but it was Tim he was worried about. The chances of him just being like ‘eh…’ were slim. Most likely at this very moment, Tim was in that truck looking for him. Would he take out his anger on Nicky? That was the question that had been lingering on Howie’s mind ever since he made the choice to leave in the first place. He had to trust his initial instincts and say that company meant more to Tim than anything else, in which case he wouldn’t be willing to hurt or kill Nick because then he’d be alone again. Although so far his instincts had done nothing but get him lost.

The rain seemed like it was letting up a bit but still coming down steadily. He thought about leaving his hiding spot and continuing on but maybe it was better to just wait until morning and start fresh. This way he could see where he was going and wouldn’t have to worry about that aspect of things. He did feel a sense of urgency but again, what good was he to anyone if he exhausted himself out roaming around in the woods lost all night? The rain suddenly picking up once more just sealed the deal; he would wait out the storm and leave the second the sun came out.

He knew sleep wouldn’t come but at least he could close his eyes and try to take himself back to a happier and safer place.



Chapter End Notes:
Just so you know, there will be no update tomorrow, but I will try to get an update out to you on Tuesday. Now that school is starting up again I'll probably go back to only updating twice a week or something like that. Thanks!