Tied (All Torn Up #2) - Page 14
Each day I walk a little farther, always feeling triumphant as I walk past the spot by the park. I make it downtown, walking by stores and cafes, then turn and walk back to my apartment. I learned at Merryfield that I could move. Being locked in a small room for years, with no option to go anywhere else, created an invisible spatial barrier in my mind. It took months for me to get used to the idea of going to other rooms, of being able to go outside, walk around, and return to where I started. The expectation of a wall popping up and stopping me, trapping me, continues to linger.
I still expect him to sneak into my space, even though I watched him die. Death doesn’t erase fear or memories. The monsters that live inside us are much harder to get rid of.
I’m getting better at battling them, though.
One morning, I decide I’m going to be extra adventurous and take a taxi to a street near the part of the woods where the photos of the Christmas trees were taken. I’m going to hunt for a Forest Santa tree and see it with my very own eyes. It’s another huge step for me—doing something on my own without direction or permission.
I know that going into the woods to look for trees might sound crazy. And it probably is. But I don’t let that deter me. I feel like this is something I have to do. And I’m not going to tell anyone because I don’t want any negativity ruining my mood.
A few months ago Zac gave me his old iPad, making me promise I would only use it to read books, find out about potential jobs, or other safe activities. He made me promise I wouldn’t go looking at news sites, join social media sites, or search for information about my past. I agreed, feeling no desire to do any of those things anyway.
Yesterday, I kept my search simple, safe, and specific. I found the website of the tree photographer. Two emails later, he told me where he had found the trees, off an almost-hidden trail that branches off the main path people use to get to a small waterfall in that area. Of course, this doesn’t mean there will be any decorated trees in the same place this year but, after some mental coaching, I decide to trek up there and look anyway.
Dr. Reynolds keeps suggesting I take on some projects and goals, so why not this? At least I’ll have something exciting to tell her when we meet next month.
Getting a taxi is a lot easier than I thought it would be. Just a simple phone call from the landline and, within the hour, she’s pulling into the lot in front of the apartment. I make sure I have keys and my wallet, with a credit card and some cash, in my backpack—just as my mom insisted I should do every time I leave my apartment. I dash outside, practically run to the taxi, and climb into the back seat. The female driver asks me for directions with a rather bored attitude and, next thing I know, I’m off. Free. Doing what I want.
I watch the scenery pass by, trees and houses blending into a blur. I get more anxious with every passing mile, and the woods loom ahead. When we arrive at the destination, the girl driving the car asks me for an extra fifty dollars to wait for me while I walk around the woods, and I give it to her just to make sure she won’t leave me stranded here. Thankfully, my father sends me money every week, which I rarely spend.
Having donned boots, gloves, a scarf, and a hat, with my backpack over my shoulder, I start up the trail. Even though it’s the first week of December in New England, it hasn’t snowed yet, so I only have cold air to deal with. I’m well aware I should probably be scared to go walking around in the woods alone, but my desire to find a decorated tree far outweighs my fears. And what are the odds I would be abducted twice?
The research I did on the magical little iPad provided very few clues about Forest Santa. One short article I read on a local Wiki page, though I’m not entirely sure what a “Wiki” even is, stated that the trees have been found decorated as early as the beginning of December and as late as Valentine’s Day. I wonder if the mysterious Santa goes back to the trees and undecorates them. I decide that he must—otherwise decorated trees from the year before would still be around and, according to my research, they’re not.
As I walk away from the taxi, logic once again reminds me I should be terrified of being alone in the woods—where the bad man kept me—but I practice my breathing techniques to help me rationalize. It’s not the woods I should be afraid of, but a person. The woods never hurt me—a person hurt me. I imagine my prince protecting me, like a guardian angel and, with each step, my worry fades. As part of my initial therapy, Dr. Reynolds would take me outside, sometimes in the sun. This was new for me since I hadn’t been outside at all during my captivity—other than when the bad man moved me, with a cover over my head, to the hole—and I had no window to view the outside world. Other times Dr, Reynolds would take me outside in the dark. Then I slowly graduated to talking to people. Part of my rehabilitation was to not fear the world or hide from it now that I was living in it. Going outside was terrifying at first but, with help and practice, I overcame it and soon started to enjoy it.
I try to pay close attention to my surroundings as I walk, keeping an eye on my watch to make sure I don’t lose track of time and end up walking for hours in a daze. I space out a lot. Or maybe it’s daydreaming. I’m not really sure what the technical term is, but Dr. Reynolds says it’s because I was alone for so long and had no one to interact with other than Poppy and TV.
After I’ve walked for more than an hour, disappointment at seeing nothing but squirrels makes me turn back toward the road, where I hope my driver is still waiting for me. Something sparkly captures my attention out of the corner of my eye and there, about twenty feet to the right, is a small fir tree draped in gold garland, with colored balls hanging from the limbs, the tip of the tree topped with a glistening silver star. Various boxes wrapped in bright red paper with white bows are beneath it, and I wonder if they’re empty or if they hold real gifts. The mysterious boxes pull me like a magnet, but I resist the urge to go open one.
A smile touches my lips. I can’t believe I actually found one of the trees, and it’s just as beautiful and magical as the photographs. As I step off the path and walk slowly through the heavily wooded area to the tree, a man appears in the distance, on the other side of the Christmas tree. Startled, I hide behind the trunk of a large oak tree as he comes closer, singing an eerie version of “Jingle Bells,” his voice hoarse, strange—but oddly familiar, though I can’t quite place it.
“Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the fucking way. Oh what fun it is to ride in a one-horse fucking sleigh…”
Curious as to who is desecrating one of my favorite holiday songs, I peer from behind the tree to catch a glimpse of who I can only assume is the notorious Forest Santa. He’s too far away for me to see his face, but he’s wearing a big floppy red stocking hat with a tattered white pouf and a bell on the end. He’s in faded blue jeans and a gray flannel shirt but no jacket.
“Ho, ho, fuckity ho,” he mumbles then lights up a cigarette as he stands back and looks over his beautiful tree. Seemingly satisfied with his creation, he turns in the other direction and whistles.
I lean forward, my mouth falling open, when a small, white dog comes running from the forest and falls into step beside the man, tail wagging happily.
There’s no doubt in my mind it’s Poppy. I cling to the tree trunk and watch them walk away while my mind races wildly and my chest heaves in panicked breaths.
After a quick debate in my mind, I decide I can’t just let Poppy walk away and lose him again, so I follow the direction the man and my dog disappeared, hoping I can find him and not get myself lost. For the first time, I wish I had a cell phone to call for help if I needed to. Oh, well. I lived ten years without being able to call anyone for help. I’m sure I can get through a walk in the woods. But when I glance around, the man’s disappeared, and so has Poppy.
Suddenly, a body drops right in front of me. From the sky. I have no idea how, but he somehow came from above me and landed on his feet with a solid thud. It’s clear he didn’t fall, meaning he must have actually jumped from a tree.
I stumble backward, almost falling.
He’s not wearing a Santa hat. No. This man has a black bag over his head, tied with a frayed rope around his neck. Harsh, crooked holes are cut out over his nose and mouth. The forest falls deathly silent—the only sound is our breathing. Mine is ragged; his is steady and even.
We stare at each other, or at least I think we do. His eyes are shadowed beneath the dark material over his head, but I assume he’s staring back at me because I can feel it right down to my bones, and it freezes me with fear.
“I can smell your fear. It’s so perfect, so raw and innocent. The more scared you are, the more I like you.”
My voice is almost less than a whisper. “I wanted to see the tree. That’s all.” I’m back in the dark, dirty room with an even darker and dirtier man, bowing to his insane demands, trying to avoid further confrontation.
“Tell me what you were thinking right before I came in here. Tell me what you miss the most.”
His head tilts slowly to the side, his silence menacing as he studies me.
Sometimes, silence roars. I’ve heard it.
Newly acquired common sense tells me to run. But I ran in the past, and I was caught and punished. An innocent person who tried to help was hurt too. Because of me. Backing up slowly, I keep my eyes leveled on his masked face. “I’m going to leave now,” I say softly, continuing to back up. When he doesn’t move, I turn and walk back in the direction I came from, silently praying he lets me walk away. I take twenty steps, with my heart pounding, before I turn to check behind me.