The Path - A Short Story
The trees rustled outside as the wind began to howl. The dark, cold night awaited the boy, as he slipped on his rain jacket and rubber boots. It was Devon’s job to bring in the firewood, to heat the family’s cottage. Usually he kept up with his chores, but occasionally, he had to venture out at night to stock up the pile inside.
He stepped outside and stared down the winding path to the woodshed. He hated going along there at night. The cottage was so secluded, there was hardly a sound, except for the rustling leaves as he progressed on the long walk.
The only thing between him and the darkness was his trusty flashlight, the one his uncle had given him on their fishing trip three years ago. Now scraped and dinged, he kept it with him beside his bed, and took it with him whenever he ventured out after dark.
His family had moved to their cottage after selling their home in the city. His father lost his job a year ago. Something about the economy and company downsizing. He hadn’t really paid attention when his mother and father fought at night, but he knew it started around that time. Within six months the house was for sale, and they were moving to this small, lonely town — where he had spent most summers for as long as he could remember.
As the wind subsided for a moment, he heard the hoot of an owl in the distance. It seemed like they were the only living creatures out in the darkness.
Up ahead, the beam of his torch pierced the fog, and he could see the woodshed getting closer. Normally he would run down the path, grab a handful of firewood, and run back, getting just enough to keep the fire stoked. But this time he needed a whole wheelbarrow full. It had rained so much in the last week, that he had really gotten behind. The last thing he wanted was to cause another fight between his parents, because he had not done his chores.
Things were tense enough at home. Since moving to the cottage, his father had gotten a low paying job at the local mill yard and his mother cleaned houses in town for extra money.
His parents had promised Devon that things would be ok. That this was a temporary setback. He hoped so. He missed his friends and even missed his old school. His new school was much smaller, and all the kids seemed to know each other. He was an outsider, the big city kid, who “knew nothin’ about country life”.
He had only made one friend since moving here. Stuart Davidson had come up to him the first week of school, and offered to be his friend. Stuart was nice, but a little quiet and mostly kept to himself. Maybe that’s why he offered to be friends with the new kid — a chance to make a friend who didn’t already think he was a loser. Either way, it worked well for both of them.
Just two weekends ago, Stuart had slept over. The two watched scary movies all night, and ever since, Devon feared going to the woodshed alone. He could see the scary monsters from the movie, hiding in the darkness. Peeking out from behind the trees. This was the longest walk ever, he thought to himself. Devon began to pick up speed as his imagination got the best of him.
“Just grab the wood, and run. Just grab the wood, and run,” he repeated to himself, as his light darted around him in every direction. As long as he had his light, they couldn’t get him, he thought…
Finally reaching the old woodshed, Devon quickly found the wheelbarrow, and started loading it with hardwood he and his father had cut up in the summer. Since money was tight, they cut down several trees on their property so they could heat the cottage all winter long.
Careful to grab only the thick ones, he continued to fill the wheelbarrow. The big ones were best, he thought, because they would burn all night. That way it wouldn’t be cold in the morning when he woke up. Then maybe his parents wouldn’t fight before his father left for the mill.
His father used to be happy, he remembered. Before he lost his job, his father used to come home from work, smiling…even play catch or shoot some hoops with Devon before dinner. On weekends he would take Devon to a ball game, or to the museum and lots of other fun stuff. Devon used to love spending time with him. But he was different now.
Devon could tell that his father losing his job at the company really hurt him. For a few months afterwards, he was still himself, but then he slowly began to transform. No more ball games, or outings on the weekend. And whenever his mother asked how his job search was going, he would get very angry, and say that he was trying his best, but no one was hiring.
Devon and his father began coming to the cottage more and more on weekends, fixing up the place a little. He didn’t yet know that his family would be moving here to live. His father was a proud man, and Devon could see that the things he would fix at the cottage would make him smile — even if it was just briefly. Like a feeling of accomplishment, however small. He needed that feeling. And Devon would do his best to help him, so they could get one or two things done every weekend.
Devon placed the last chunk of wood in the wheelbarrow. He picked up his flashlight and waved it around him. I don’t see anything, but I ain’t taking any chances, he thought. Fixing the flashlight into the pile of wood, he pointed it forward, so he could see the path as he ran back to the house.
He picked up his end of the wheelbarrow and began to run down the path. The front wheel zigzagged on the moist ground as he pushed with all his strength. If he could keep it on the path, without an accident, he could make it back to the house fast enough that nothing could get him.
The light bounced, as the wheelbarrow careened down the path, the sounds of rustling all around him. He began to pick up the scent of smoke from the cottage. He was almost there. Almost safe from the darkness that surrounded him.
He could see it now. The back door of the cottage was just ahead, a dim light shining through the door window. Just a few steps now. Suddenly, the wheel struck a tree root. He lost control of the wheelbarrow and it crashed over on its side. Devon and the firewood tumbled to the ground.
As he lifted his head, and wiped the mud from his cheek, a dark shadow emerged, blocking the light. Devon’s heart sunk for a moment, as the menacing figure moved closer. The monsters were coming to get him! Then, from the darkness, a hand reached out, and as the shape took another step forward, he saw his father standing before him.
“Let me help you, son,” his father said, as he stepped closer still. “Ummm, thanks Dad,” Devon replied, his heart pounding in his chest. Grabbing Devon’s hand, his father pulled him up from the ground. He had made it back to the cottage safely. The monsters didn’t get him this time.
As Devon and his father picked up the firewood and carried it into the cottage, he suddenly felt safe again. The warmth of the fire was reassuring. “I appreciate you bringing in firewood tonight, son,” his father said. “I know we haven’t spent a lot of time together, since moving out here, but I want that to change. Things are going to start getting better.”
As his father stared into Devon’s eyes, he fought back tears. “I’m going to make it up to you and your mother. I promise.” Then Devon saw something he hadn’t seen in a long time. His father smiled.
“Put a couple of logs on the fire, while I get us some hot cocoa. I’d like to hear all about what you’ve been up to lately,” he continued.
As Devon stoked the roaring fire, and curled up in his favorite chair, his father returned with two steaming cups. As they talked more and more, Devon’s fear of the darkness began to fade. He knew his father would always be there to protect him, and that his father would never let him down.
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