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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic

13 year old Jeffrey is a high functioning autistic. His imagination is off the charts. When he and his best friend/cousin trek off in search of adventure in their tiny West Texas town, they get more than they expected and Jeffrey's life will never be the same.

Deputy Barry Adams, of the Holly County Sheriff's Department, scooped up a heap of dirt with his right hand and rubbed his thumb around in it in a clockwise motion. It was dry, warm, and smooth and was strangely soothing to his skin. He allowed the West Texas Summer breeze to gradually carry the dirt from his palm, as it swirled away into vanishing dust. 
“Ain't that somethin'….”, he thought, shaking his head and then spitting out some dark brown saliva from his chew. “How friggin' poetic….”
He scanned over the vast dirt field around him with eyes squinted beneath the brim of his black felt Stetson, taking in the salmon-hued sunset, as he searched for evidence of the missing boy. It had been three days, three excruciatingly long days since the two best friends, and first cousins, went walking side by side down the street ….in the direction of whatever new adventure that Saturday had in store for them. 
The mother of one of them, aunt of the other, watched through the kitchen window as she did the dishes from that morning's breakfast. She watched her son go …until he got to the end of the block and then rounded the corner, disappearing beyond the hedges that created a wall along the side of the yard at the corner house. 
  "There he goes!", she thought, "Off on another adventure! Better be back by lunch time or he'll do without!"
In the summer of 1989, when I, Jeffrey Allen Meeks, was 13, Mom and I lived in a small town in West Texas called 'Flow'. It was also where my cousin, Travis, of the same age, only a few months older, had lived with his Mom and older brother. Both our moms were single and raising us kids on their own, with the exception of my younger sister, who still lived with our dad down in Antelope Hills, about 30 miles south west.
Travis and I were virtually inseparable. Best of friends, as cousins often are. They say that your cousin is your first best friend in life. Well, for me and Travis, it was true. We would meet up nearly every day after school on the play ground and plan our adventure for that coming weekend. Wasn't much to do in a town with only a couple thousand residents, so we got really good at using our imaginations! After a while, we would come to discover that this particular little town ….which, incidentally, when its name is spelt backwards says the word 'Wolf' ….must play host to stranger things than even our more than fertile imaginations could dream up.
I was born with a high functioning type of Autism, which back in those days was called Asperger's. I always had a hard time. My dad used to tell mama that I would never amount to much with such an affliction, but she would just smile and say, "Are you kidding? With an imagination like that? C'mon! He'll likely become a writer or somethin'!" Anytime I was feeling down on myself, Mama was quick to remind me of famous people with Asperger's, like Dan Aykroyd or Daryl Hannah.
Back in those days, the Autistic Spectrum wasn't as well understood as it is nowadays. There simply wasn't all of the resources for alternative education and counseling for Autism like there is today. Friends weren't something that I ever had a lot of and most people, even adults, just felt awkward around me ….just thought I was a weird kid. But I always had Travis! He was always with me.
One day, on one of our treks to the edge of our little world, we discovered a long stretch of a densely wooded area …about half a mile or so in length and a couple hundered yards wide. We hesitated to enter the tree line for a day or two, but went back everyday nonetheless. Like I said, we had great imaginations and with such a thing comes even greater curiosity …some might call it ignorance or plain ol' stupidity, but we didn't care about that. We just knew that we needed an adventure in our young little lives and this dark place of mystery called to us like a Siren luring in her maritime victims at sea.
Now, when I say that this wooded area was dark, I mean it was like stepping into a cave in the middle of a summer day ….as Travis and I found out on that first day of bravery ….the day we finally got up the nerve to enter.
The trees formed a thick canopy high above our heads, so much so that if it were to rain, even heavily, we and everything else would remain dry. There were various walking trails winding likes snakes throughout the area. Many old tires lying around along with other junk. Several of the trails all lead to the same spot, a clearing which was about as big around as a typical neighborhood backyard. An old sofa, a table, other chairs and odd furniture were situated about the clearing.
There was also an old tree house built high upon a large oak …complete with walls and a small window cut out on each side and a doorway, which had a rope ladder hanging from it. Carved into the trunk of the tree was the word, SYRI. We had no idea what it meant, but must've been done by whoever built the tree house.
"Cool tree house!", I said.
Travis laughed. "This ain't no tree house Jeffrey. It's called a Deer Blind!"
"A Deer …what?"
"A Deer Blind …idiot! It's what hunters use to hide from the Deer so they can blast 'em!"
I shuttered on the inside at the thought of murdering a poor unsuspecting animal. That's where Travis and I always differed. His dad raised him on hunting and fishing, while Mama did most of the raising in my house. I was always reading a book or watching a movie or outside pretending to save the world like Batman or some other hero!
Travis began to make his ascent first. I followed closely behind him.
"Ouch! Hurry up man! You're stepping on my fingers!"
"Shut up idiot!", Travis said, "We don't know what's up there! What if there's like a rabid dog or somethin'?"
I think "idiot'  was Travis's word for … "Bestest Friend In The Whole Wide World", because he called me that a lot! But, then he was the one suggesting that a dog might be in a tree house for crying out loud!
"There ain't no dog! Just hurry Travis …damn!"
Travis reached the top of the ladder and, after a brief hesitation, pulled himself up onto the old wooden platform that made up the floor of the tree house. He turned and stuck his hand out.
"Here, Jeffrey, gimme your hand man, I'll help ya up!"
I glared at him with a look of mistrust.
  "C'mon Jeffrey! Look, I'm sorry I stepped on your precious little fingers dude. Gimme your hand."
I shook my head, let out a quick sigh, and grabbed his hand. Once I was safely resting up top, it occurred to me how high up we were. The bottom of the rope ladder hung about two feet above the ground and each rung was about a foot or so apart. I know I counted at least 19 rungs …which meant that we were a good 21 feet up! That's over two stories! 
We sat up there, in that old, but well made tree house, at what felt like a thousand miles above the Earth …laughing at childish jokes, arguing about which of our school teachers was the hottest, and engaging in a friendly competition of which of us could make the loudest fart sound with our arm pit. 
After a while, we grew bored. I looked down at my wrist, which had my Batman compass-watch combo wrapped around it.
"Holy crap Travis! It's already 11:30! I told Mama I'd be back home by lunch!"
"I'm starving anyway …let's go.", Travis said, nodding his head.
We scooted toward the edge of the platform. I went first, knowing full well that Travis was gonna be stepping on my fingers on our way back down the rope ladder …yet again, but I thought that might be better than having to wait behind him had he decided to be a slow poke!
As I peered over the edge, I couldn't believe what I saw. There was nothing …nothing at all! Nothing below us …but darkness! The rope ladder was there, but it just went down a short distance and faded into nothingness.
"What the shit!?", I said.
"What Jeffrey? What is it?"
"Nothing.", I answered.
"What do you mean? Then why did you say that?", Travis said with an annoyed look on his face.
"No! I mean …Nothing! There is nothing there! Where the hell did the ground go?"
As I said before, this place was really dark, even in the middle of the day. There were still tiny micro-rays of sun light poking through the thickness of leaves over head and at the level of the tree house, it was still at normal visibility, but down below …just pure black!
We sat there a while, contemplating what the hell was happening and what the hell we would do about it. Neither of us was about to descend a friggin' rope ladder into oblivion! 
"Mrs. Meeks…", Deputy Adams said, looking down at his feet and slowly shaking his head.
"Have you found my son yet officer?"
"I'm afraid not Ma'am…"
"Ma'am, please try to stay calm. We're doing everything humanly possible to locate your boy. 
But …..."
"BUT WHAT?", she snapped back. "MY SON IS AUTISTIC!"
The deputy hesitated, removing his hat with his left hand and placing his right hand on the back of his neck and squeezing it to relieve the tension.
"Well…", he said, "This ain't easy to say, but maybe you might wanna prepare yourself for the worst case scenario."
"Oh God….", she said.
"Now, now ma'am, I aint sayin' there's no hope left, but in most cases, after this long, the likelihood of finding him ….well …let's just say … unharmed …"
"Officer, are you telling me my boy is dead? Really? IS THAT WHAT YOU'RE TRYING TO SAY HERE?"
"Not at all Mrs. Meeks …not at all! I just want you to try and prepare yourself ….just in case. That's all."
"Well Jeffrey is NOT DEAD!, she insisted, "I'd feel it if he was! I know I would. I'm his mother."
Deputy Adams knew exactly what Mama was feeling, only worse, having lost his own 17 year old daughter in a car accident some five years earlier. He wasn't a very religious man ever since that fateful day, but somehow he couldn't help but pray, deep down, in his own way, that Mama wouldn't have to go through the same experience.
"Travis, wake up. Travis! Wake up dude! We been sittin' up here for nearly an hour. We have to try to get down."
Travis looked up at me with half awake eyes, nodded his head in agreement, and slowly stood up. I knew we had to try climbing down the rope ladder again and it scared me, because this time …we would be going into the unknown …into the dark.
I carefully made my way onto the ladder, as it swayed hard toward the trunk of the oak tree with the weight of my first foothold. I almost lost my grip, but managed to hold on! Lowering myself onto another rung of the ladder …and another …and another. All I could think about was the impending darkness getting closer and closer to the bottoms of my feet. Travis followed very closely above me, but he never stepped on my fingers this time, not even once. Finally, I looked down at my feet and they had disappeared, engulfed by the darkness!
Once we were fully submerged, it became increasingly difficult to hold on. Suddenly going blind, while trying to traverse a rope ladder, is quite disorienting! I couldn't help but notice that it was getting hotter too …much hotter in fact! So much so, that my palms were beginning to sweat and that made it even more difficult to maintain my grip! After a little while, I felt the ground beneath my feet.
"Yes!", I shouted, "Touchdown!"
I don't believe I had ever felt such a sensation of relief in my life! I still couldn't see, but I heard Travis say, "FINALLY!"
We stood in one spot for a few minutes. I don't know if our eyes were adjusting to the dark or if the dark was becoming lighter for some reason, but we were eventually able to see just well enough to walk around without running into anything. That's when it really got weird!
"Travis?", I said, "What's all over the ground? It feels and sounds weird when I step on it. I smell smoke too and I can't breathe very well."
"It's ash.", he said in a strangely calm voice, "The ground is covered in …ash."
He was right! It was ash! Tons of it! And even more unsettling was that the trees were all burnt …covered in black soot!
"Travis …what the hell is going on here? Why is everything all burned up? It wasn't like this earlier! I feel like I'm dreaming"
"Maybe you are …idiot!", he giggled under his breath.
Hours went by and we had been wandering around in the woods like worker ants searching for goods. Even in my twelve year old mind, logic dictated that all we needed to do was to turn in one direction and start walking in order to find our way out, but that didn't work. After all, we walked in the same direction for over an hour at one point and still …no tree line! Visibility was still very low. We couldn't see any sunlight. I couldn't even read my Batman compass-watch any longer to tell the time of day …or if it was even still daytime at all. 
Grackels began to fill the trees with a dense blackness. Their obnoxious caws penetrated my brain like a thousand scapels being inserted into my head all at once! I was going into, what those like me call, Sensory Overload and this made me feel that much more desperate. We had to get out ...we had to get out immediately!
I've always heard that black birds, especially crows, ravens, and grackles, usher the souls of the dead through the veil that separates the physical plain from the spirit world. It occurred to me that Travis and I might be witnessing something supernatural ...and that thought frightened the hell out of me! 
I, for one, was beginning to lose hope.
Then, hopelessness gave way to utter fear …as I realized that I was all alone. Travis must've gotten separated from me in all the confusion!
There was nothing but silence. In fact, it was an eerie silence that had not been there before. No grackels, no wind in the trees, nothing! I leaned up against one of the trees, not even caring if I got soot all over my back, and then I slid down it until I was sitting on the ground. My eyes were burning, my lungs felt clogged. I was so tired …and I couldn't think much more clearly than I could see!
I closed my eyes and I thought that maybe if I go to sleep, all of this would be gone when I awoke …like it was all just a bad dream. My mind began to wander. I could see my mom standing at the kitchen sink scrubbing away at the dishes from the evening's supper ….a supper which I had to miss. I wondered if I would ever get to have my mom's cooking again. Would I ever see her again in the flesh …or my dad and sister? Would I ever even see Travis again? What happened to him? 
Then, just as I was about to dose off …I felt something grab my shoulder and begin shaking it! Then I heard laughter!
"Jeffrey! Hey Jeffrey! C'mon idiot! Get up and follow me! I found the way out."
Travis had come outta nowhere! I opened my eyes and stood up. Travis was already heading off down a path through the trees, glancing back over his shoulder here and there to make sure I was following. The strange thing was that the path, but only between me and Travis, was completely clear of the ash that had been there before and it was slightly more lit up than anything else around us!
Within mere minutes, I could see the tree line again. Travis stopped at the edge of the woods and waited for me to catch up and then we stepped out into the open. There was still some daylight left, but it was dusk and I knew Mom must be worried sick! I looked at my watch and it had been six hours since we left the house that morning!
It didn't take us long to get back home! We were hungry and exhausted and we couldn't wait to get home to our family! Travis and I didn't speak on the way. Speaking for myself, I was still trying to make sense of everything that had just happened. Once we were in eyesight distance of the house, we could see that there were police cars and other unmarked vehicles all around it.
"Wo! What's going on? Are those cops at my house?"
Travis said nothing. In fact, he really hadn't spoken a word since we found our way out of the woods. We approached the house and I could see Mom standing in the front yard facing a police officer, her face buried in the palms of her hands. She was crying.
I ran up to her and shouted, "MAMA!"
She turned toward us and fell to her knees with her arms reaching out for me.
"JEFFREY! OH DEAR GOD …MY BABY BOY! WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?", tears streaming down her face.
"I'm sorry Mama …we got lost in the woods. I know we were supposed to be back by…."
She wrapped her arms around me so tightly, that I could barely take a breath, much less speak my next words! Then she let go and stood up, keeping her hands on my shoulders.
"Mama, why are there policemen here? We were only gone six hours. I know it was only supposed to be a few, but we got lost in those woods on the edge of town and…."
"Jeffrey, what on Earth are you talking about? What woods? There are no woods anywhere near Flow!" She looked over at the police officer, who was writing something in a tiny notebook with a bewildered look on his face.
"I'm sorry Deputy. My son has a very over-active imagination and he kinda lives in his own little world a lot of the time."
Looking back at me, she said, "Jeffrey, it has not been six hours …it's been THREE DAYS …THREE DAYS JEFFREY! What happened to you? Where the Hell were you for three damned days? And don't give me this nonsense about being lost in some God-forsaken woods that don't even exist!"
"But Mom, I swear it's true! Just ask Travis …he's…."
I turned around to see that Travis was nowhere to be found.
"I don't know where he went. He was right behind me! We were lost in the woods together!"
"Jeffrey, baby…."
She knelt down in front of me again and began to put her arms around me.
"Honey …I know you miss him …and he's always gonna be with you. But we've gone over this a million times. Travis is gone baby. Don't you remember? He went with his daddy on a hunting trip and a forest fire broke out. They were trapped. They just couldn't make it out. But Travis loved you …very much! He will always be with you …in spirit."
Deputy Adams looked up from his little notebook, "I remember that. I worked that case myself. Terrible thing. Terrible tragedy …just horrible!"
I threw my hands into the air and began to cry.
"No! You're lying! I've been with Travis all day! He's not dead …HE'S NOT!"
"Just let it go son.", Deputy Adams said, laying his hand on my shoulder, "How did you make it through three days without food or water and without getting sick? Where were you Jeffrey?"
I collapsed in frustration. They wouldn't listen. They didn't believe me. How could it have been three whole days?
I never understood what happened during those three days that seemed to me like only six hours, and I never saw my cousin, Travis, my best friend, ever again. But I know that he was really with me. He always was before that day …I hadn't imagined it. Travis somehow kept me safe and brought me home. 
I stayed home a lot after that, but a few months later, after it all had blown over …I decided to go back to where the woods were located. There was nothing but a dirt field …no trees at all, except for one. There was only one, very tall, dead, oak tree right out in the center of the field ….but no burn marks … and no tree house.
Carved into that tree's trunk were the words ……. SEE YA 'ROUND ….IDIOT.
And I smiled.….

Submitted: September 29, 2020

© Copyright 2020 Rob Douglas. All rights reserved.

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Add Your Comments:



Fantastic story. You did a great job of capturing ASD while keeping the story decidedly creepy. The words just seemed to flow.

Wed, September 30th, 2020 5:33pm


Thanks so much for the kind words!

Wed, September 30th, 2020 1:20pm

LE. Berry


Sun, October 4th, 2020 9:34pm


A compliment indeed! Thank you very much!

Sun, October 4th, 2020 5:33pm

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