Excerpt: Restless Shadows, Waiting Roads

Through all the years Caleb’s family lived in Chester, the forest beyond their backyard was forbidden.

Were it not, Caleb might have had no urge to explore there. At a somber eight years old, Caleb knew enough to be fascinated by things he couldn’t have. The pipe his father smoked on the back porch when the weather was pleasant. The movies his older sisters were only allowed to watch without him. The late hours of evening after his mother put him to bed, when he could still hear voices and laughter from downstairs.

More maddening than all those things was the wilderness of green and shadows that stretched beyond the sturdy backyard fence.

“Why can’t I play there?” he asked, no matter the weather. It could be sunny, sleeting, storming, snowing: his question was always the same, and his parents never varied in their answer.

“Because it’s not safe for little boys. It’s probably a nature preserve, and who knows what wild animals you might upset. You could get lost and never find your way home.”

“Joanna could take me,” Caleb tried to argue once. His oldest sister never got lost. If the forest wasn’t safe for a small boy, then surely a girl—practically a grown-up—could protect him.

“No,” his mother said.

“No,” his father agreed.

“Then you could take me.”

No matter how often he asked, they never changed their minds.

It wasn’t only the mystery of the forbidden that called to him. There was something special about this forest. There were secrets; he could feel them. He sometimes thought he could see them if he looked closely enough. The idea would inevitably hit him around dusk, while he stared over the high fence and wished his mom and dad would yield.

Caleb was an obedient boy, so it took him a long time to work up enough nerve to defy them. The Sunday before his ninth birthday was full of warm air and the smell of autumn. It was also the day he stopped asking his parents to take him into the forest. He started exploring the confines of his own backyard instead.

His family lived a far ways past the outskirts of town, and there were no neighbor houses at all. The sturdy fence rose, unassailable, along every side of the wide-sprawling lawn. The front gate was as solid as the rest, and his parents kept it securely locked. A dozen trees stood scattered in the yard, pine and oak. The oak trees had begun to litter noisy leaves all across the lawn, but it was the pines that proved the answer to Caleb’s dilemma.

One particular pine stood in the farthest corner of the yard, well behind the gray shed that had stood empty since his parents bought the house. The tree had a broad trunk, and lower branches sturdy enough to support the weight of a small boy. The fence about the yard was tall and strong, and Caleb’s parents trusted him to stay out of trouble, so he had only to wait for solitude. When he was alone, he climbed that tree with all the stubbornness of his almost-nine years. Clinging sap made his palms sticky, but he ignored the sensation. He ignored, too, the way uneven bark scratched at his skin and branches snagged his shirt.

Caleb stopped only when he could see over the top of the fence. He crowed aloud at what he found, and then quickly clapped one hand over his mouth for fear of being heard. A second pine, as tall and sturdy as his own, stood just within reach on the opposite side. Thick branches stretched not only upwards along the trunk, but downwards towards the earth, all the way to the patchy ground below.

Caleb didn’t climb over the fence that day, though he longed to. He climbed back down his own tree instead, remaining in the yard until his father called him inside for dinner.

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