The wind rushed through the trees, the leaves twisting and contorting into grotesque and horrible creatures. The branches leant over the down trodden pathway, looming out of the darkness as the first flakes of winter snow slid to the ground, silent and waiting. The black seemed to press in from all sides, the shadows unforgiving and restless; the night sky a cloth covering littered with holes and the crunch, crunch, crunch of walking feet the only sound in an otherwise deadly night.
He stumbled, tripping on a dead tree root, and swore as pain flared through his foot. It must have been midnight. The sky was too dark for it to be anything else. The small branches that littered the path cracked under his feet as the first droplets of rain began to cascade down around him.
The cold was unbearable. It was like ice in his blood, in his bones, sucking him into the surroundings until there was nothing left. He shivered, fear gripping at his heart. He wanted so badly to turn back. But he couldn't. He knew that much.
It had all started because his mum left. She had been the one that kept his father under control. The one that stopped him drinking and the one that stopped him lashing out. It had always been him that had had to bear the brunt of his father's anger. He would have the bruises and cuts. He would have to go to the hospital with a broken arm and lie, saying he fell down the stairs. When his mum left, it only became worse. There was no one to get in between them. No one to take the punches for him. No one to turn to. And no one to save him.
His father would be at home now, sleeping off another drunken fest. It had been like any other normal evening. His father had gone out at five and come back at ten, beaten him, and gone to bed. It was then that he had made his decision. He would get out. Get away. He would escape.
So now he was walking through the woods, desperately thinking of ways to get himself out of this. What if he went back? Maybe his father would see what he had done and would be sorry? Or maybe his father would punish him like he had punished his mum and that would be it. No second chances.
The shadows seemed to have lengthened, becoming longer, and reaching out to grab him. The wind snatched at his hair. The leaves flew around him as a sharp gust of wind cut through the trees, howling. The lower branches lashed at his face and the dust stung his eyes.
He could imagine ghosts, everywhere, in the dark, waiting for him. Waiting for him to make a wrong move, waiting for him to step off the path. And then they would get him. They would descend and it would all be over. He thought again of turning back, but whatever was out here in the black was always better than what waited for him at home.
He wasn't sure why he called it home anymore. Home was a place you felt warm. A place you felt safe. A place where you were loved and fed, given presents and allowed friends round. He had had none of these things. Home for him wasn't there. He felt safer out here. He tried to convince himself he could find food and a place to sleep, but the cold biting into his bones told another story.
The noises in the night had increased. The pitch was different and the way it was carried whispered danger. If there had been any birds they would have taken flight, but they were all scared off long ago. One noise rose above another. An unearthly shriek, converted by howls as bats chattered madly in the darkness.
The crunching of feet that had been there all the time suddenly became more urgent. He realised that he wasn't making the noise. He didn't where hobnailed boots. He didn't walk with a limp making each other step sound heavier than the last. He didn't have a dry racking cough that was brought on by years of misuse to the body it carried. He didn't snarl in that exact way that sent shivers marching down his spine. But he knew who did. He listened to it enough on the mornings crouched in his bedroom closet, praying that he wouldn't be found. He had experienced it enough when he was found and the pain that followed. He could tell what sort of beating he could expect just by the way his father breathed and the way he carried his body.
He started to run.
The breathing that followed him became heavier and he thought if he could just keep running and wait for a mistake from the monster behind him then he would get away. But even in his drunken state, his father was not stupid. He was pulled roughly to the ground. Everything went dark.
It was all over now. He didn't have worry about the pain or the mistreatment. He had found home. A nice warm, safe pace where he was loved. He was allowed friends and he received presents. His mum had found him. Or maybe he had stumbled upon her. It was a little difficult to remember. But he was with her. They were together and they were happy. There was no more of his father. They had well and truly gone where they knew his father didn't have the strength to follow.
On that night when he had been caught, he had been expecting a beating. Instead he was dragged down to the basement. He had never been allowed down here before. So he had never seen the sight that befell him now. Chains lined the walls. Weapons hung from the ceiling. Animal carcases rotted in the corners of the room, sending waves of odour washing over him that made him retch. In pride of place were two long wooden boxes.
"You ran away from me for the last time."
He felt the fear surround him, pulling at his heart and wrenching his guts from his stomach. He was frozen though. Rooted to the spot with his fear. It was paralysing him, stopping him escaping, drowning any hopes of a last minute reprieve.
He was tugged toward the smaller of the two boxes. He found himself noting the details. The sleek oak cover, perfectly smooth and shiny with the patterns of the tree it was carved from laid out on the wood like a memory. He was shoved inside and the lid closed.
So he had escaped, if you could call it that. The other coffin had contained his mother and she had been waiting for him. With tears in her eyes but a smile on her face. They were together. And this time it was forever.
He had died after just two days. He was ten years old.