by Chase Burke

But What Was In The Woods

I knew we were lost and watched in the woods. Standing next to my brother I wrestled the feeling of eyes on our backs. I didn’t know if it was better for us to be alone in the woods, or watched. The day was darkening, my vision disappearing. We had been hiking in the wild for too long. My brother, sixteen and bearded in patches, inspected our last pistachio. I was ten. I wanted to hold his hand, touch something I knew. We were off the path, outside of all signal, walking away from the sun. We had gone to the woods on a Saturday morning and it wasn’t until the slow fall of night that I feared we would be gone. My brother, who tried so hard in everything he did, was trying to bridge the widening gulf between us. We passed years the same but there was something about his approaching adulthood that pulled him faster, an undertow of aging. I knew the known path was somewhere behind us, but then there are so many possible somewheres when you’re lost in the woods. Saw palms and pine trees surrounded us. Cicadas called in the ending evening. My brother was taking stock of our food and I could not help thinking that we’d wandered into a place that had only newly known the uncautious steps of people. I worried we were somewhere else. My brother handed me the last pistachio and dropped the bag on the ground. No one, he said, will know. I wished he hadn’t said that because I could think only of the present and the ongoing finality of being lost. My brother pointed away from the setting sun behind us, away from where we thought the path had been. If we keep walking, he said, we’ll find out where we are. I thought, then, of a circular forest, of winding woods. I thought of walking on a wheel for years until my brother and I each passed into adulthood and our aging evened out. I thought of how we would see the backs of our older selves walking ahead of us, and how I knew I would call out, even if we were too far behind to be heard. How I would call out to say, Wait, I can see you there in front of us. Wait, so we can follow you out.

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