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The Glen by C. K. Walker

Glen
I climb out of my car and survey the intimate piece of wooded glen before me. It’s quiet here, and cold. I have come to this secret, isolated place every day for the past week. It used to be Our Spot, but now, it is only Aiden’s.

I sit on the grass and I stare at his tree and I feel the chilled, thin air whip the hot tears from my cheeks. I shake my head to try and clear it as the familiar questions bleed into my mouth, begging to be asked. How could he have done this? What drove him to it? Why didn’t I see the signs? Is it my fault? I bury my head in my hands, partly for warmth, partly in despair. We were happy once, we were in love. This was Our Spot. And now when I look at Aiden’s tree, all I see is death. And so I’ll sit and contemplate our short time together and try to reconcile it all as I have done every day since it happened.

3 months ago

I don’t remember a time that I didn’t love him. We went to preschool together and I watched him from afar. Our parents weren’t friends or neighbors, we just happened to live in the same school district. I spent a decade loving him in silence. In high school, he joined a band and was well-liked. He was cool without even trying, one of those types. I was the shadow in the hallway, the unregistered blip on the lunchroom radar. I was something to step around, just a dismissive object out of the corner of their eyes. But, I had my own friends and they were as diffident as I was.

The first words I ever said to him were: “Thanks, you don’t have to do that if you don’t want to, even though you offered to.”

Stupid words. Asinine words. The words of a child. I had dragged my friends to a party and Aiden was there. We had never drank alcohol before but wanted to be accepted as one of their own, so we sipped on their wine coolers. Except Annie. Annie didn’t sip, Annie got drunk. We tried to hold her up as best we could and Aiden saw our struggle. He wasn’t drinking. He was so responsible, so mature. He offered to drive us home. I didn’t have my car. We said yes.

I watch the wind dance between the branches of Aiden’s tree. The long, spindly boughs are barren and with nothing to catch the gales, they move only slightly, as if slow dancing with a lover. It doesn’t remind me of us. Your tree is strong, but then, it had to be, didn’t it? I wonder how long it takes a man to die, hanging from a tree. I pull my jacket around me tighter as if it were a safety blanket, but it can’t protect me from the questions. Where were the red flags? What does it say about me that I missed them? That I missed all of them?

2 months ago

Aiden called me and invited me to a horror movie. How did he even get my number? I suppose the way cool people get things that they have a mild interest in – passively and with minimal effort. We sat in the back of the theater. I tried to get my courage up to touch him, but I was failing. And then, at the first jump scare, I grabbed his arm, involuntarily. His hand immediately closed over mine and he held me there, smiling and stroking my fingers. Afterward we sat in his car and talked for hours. He was nothing like I’d thought. He was humble and creative and deep. And he showed me a smile I’d never seen on him before. I called it My Smile, because it was only ever for me.

I wanted to hide that we were dating from the school but Aiden didn’t care, he wanted the world to know. After two weeks I met his parents and he met mine. He drove me to Our Spot after a party and kissed me for the first time. His lips tasted like cool mint. Our Spot…it had been my favorite place to go, in real life and in my dreams. It had been beautiful and warm, the magic of our young love reflected in a twinkling canopy of stars and shimmering, red autumn leaves.

But now it was just a grotesque pile of dirt and dead grass upon the skin of Mother Earth. The trees, once whimsical and droll, now looked like sharp, unwelcome daggers jutting intrusively out of the tender, hallowed ground. It looked like it hurt. If I could, I would tear the trees from her body and fill in the holes with soothing, white snow. Oh Aiden, I need to know why you did it! Why did it have to end? What drove you to such extremes?

Did he do it because of me? Or had it been buried deep within him all along?

I stare at Aiden’s tree, willing it to give me the answers I crave, but the tree is silent and lovely, masquerading as an innocent, peaceful life. But I know it’s not. It has played its part.

I loved you, Aiden. I told you so under this tree, and you told me, too. We were stronger than the demons, together, I know we were. How could someone like you, so loving, so creative, so beautiful wind up here – hanging from an ugly Sugar Maple, your body as empty as it’s crisp, black branches? I had been so blind. To him and to what was slowly happening around me.

1 month ago

I can’t put a finger on exactly when it started or why. It’s like trying to remember the precise moment you fell asleep upon waking the next day. The details are hazy and blurred, it seemed to happen over time and yet all at once. He still winks at me, he hugs me. We go places together and we kiss. But the smile he reserved only for me seems to have disappeared from his stock of facial expressions. I don’t realize then that I’ll never get to My Smile again.

After a week, I begin to wonder if he is falling out of love with me. So I offer him the only thing a girl like me has to offer someone like that. My innocence. Aiden smiles gently and asks if that’s what I really want. I tell him yes. I know that the night will be painful and beautiful and that I will blossom into something different and lovelier by the morning. He considers for awhile and then strokes my hair and tells me he wants nothing more. He promises not to hurt me. He promises not to touch me if I don’t feel right about it when the time comes. He keeps his promise. We choose a night after a party to drive to Our Spot. I am happy again, for a short time.

The light in the sky is growing dimmer, now. Colors begin to bleed into the horizon and I know I must go soon. The wind has left Our Spot and the air, though thin and cold, is somehow stagnant. Had Aiden’s last breath of air been like this: stale and decaying? Or had it smelled beautiful as Our Spot once had, like fresh pine and starlight? I would find no honest answers here. Only lies or silence.

7 days ago

I find it cruel, whether intentional or careless, that Aiden bought the rope while I was with him. I met him at the Home Depot where he worked and he said he had to buy something after he got off the clock. He said it like it meant nothing at all. It was a long, white rope, just an innocuous weaving of fibers, selected unceremoniously from a red bucket of ropes. How could such a plain, ordinary thing take away something so precious to me? How could it dare? It was nothing, just a bland, boring and common coil of rope- limp and lifeless. It had millions of brothers and sisters in the world just like it. It just doesn’t seem fair, like it assumed too much of itself, to take something so important away. I wonder where the rope is now.

We went to the party, my last party with the man I loved. Unlike Aiden’s sudden, yet somehow gradual change I can pinpoint the exact moment I knew something was wrong that night. Aiden stood across the room from me, whispering with strangers and staring. It was an odd gaze. He didn’t try to hide his stare yet somehow still seemed ashamed of it. I began to feel sick then. It was my first and only red flag. I finally had a sign that something terrible was going to happen. But it was too late then.

I remember more than I wish to. Aiden noticed my state and helped me stumble to a bedroom. Four men followed him in. Aiden was true to his word, and never touched me. Perhaps there is comfort in that. A different man tied me with the familiar, course rope. It hurt my wrists. Funny thing that it is that pain I concentrated on more than any other.

The man I loved stood in the corner and watched it all. He smiled and laughed with them as the men did the disgusting things they did. Through the mist, I could see them and I tried to remember every detail but halfway through it all my brain shut off as if there were a sudden power outage in my body. And the things they did in the dark…

When I awoke I was laying on the floor in a darkened room. The rope, like the very core of myself, had turned from snow white to a hot, unfamiliar red.

I didn’t get to take Aiden to the Home Depot but that’s okay, I bought the things I needed with his store discount anyway. Then, I convinced him to get in my car. Then I convinced him to drink a Mountain Dew. Then I drove him to Our Spot and penetrated him four times with four ordinary, common nails I had chosen at random from an ordinary, common black bucket. I found out that day that I enjoy poetic justice. Once he was stuck to the tree I sat down in front of it and watching him writhe for awhile. I thought he would be dead by the next day. But he wasn’t.

I get up now and walk across the glen. Our Spot has changed as I have changed. Where I had once been clean and white and pure, I was now dirty and red and noisy. The glen had once been lively and busy with red-orange leaves dripping with so many promises. But now it was white and quiet and dead. The glen and I had stolen from each other, swapped our souls in the dead of night.

I step up to Aiden’s tree. His wounds are no longer bleeding which disappoints me because I am still bleeding. It has been five days. Pieces of his feet are missing and chunks of flesh from his face and thighs, just as chunks of me are missing inside. We are inside-out mirrors of each other and this calms me.

Aiden hasn’t moved since I’ve been here. It seems that the elements and dehydration have finally killed him. I give a satisfied smile. I call it Aiden’s Smile. I pull off an orange glove and place my hand against the thin, waxy skin of his face. He opens his eyes just a fraction and parts his cracked lips to speak. He makes no sound as there is only ash in his throat where his promises were cremated. I frown and sigh in disappointment as I prepare to make the drive home. I had hoped this would be the last I’d see of Aiden’s Spot. I guess I’ll come back tomorrow.

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