Forest Lights

An old man sat by a dim light in a decaying cabin. Two men sat across from him in the shadows. Outside the cabin, rain poured down in sheets. The awkward silence between the three was briefly interrupted by the drops from the ceiling hitting into a rusted bucket by the sole window in the room. The man in shadows closest to the door cleared his throat. "Do you plan on keeping him out here? We can provide protection for both of you. You know it's only a matter of time." The old man said nothing. The other man stood up and carried a crate over to the old man. He placed it down in front of the old man. "Please consider it. If not for yourself, for him. He's nearly an adult now. He should be free to choose for himself. We will be taking our leave now. This should be enough for the next two weeks." No one spoke after that. The two men left the old man with the crate. Once they were gone, the old man took a lantern with a dying light and stood near the window. A little further out in the surrounding woods on what was once a dirt driveway, a young man walked in silence with a lantern and an umbrella. The light in the lantern started to flicker out. He touched it with his fingers. With a loud pop, the lantern lit up again. There was no flame inside it, nor was it electronic. A wood bar was in the center glowing. The young man had performed this trick many times, but he still found it beautiful. He held the lantern up near his face to look at the lights closer. The lights were clusters of tiny, floating organisms around the surface of the wood. When he concentrated, he could make anything light up. Sometimes when he touched the air even when he wasn't concentrating, strange creatures would become visible, glowing far brighter than the creatures on his lantern. Certain places had more of these creatures than others. Near his home, when he walked around, there were sometimes hundreds of them. They were harmless creatures of varying sizes, and they were the only creatures he ever saw outside. The trees and grass grew well, but the landscape was devoid of anything else except him, the old man, and those light creatures. When he tried to touch them after they lit up, his hands went straight through them no matter what their size was. Much to his disappointment, he could never make them appear during the daytime at all. Because of this, he had gotten accustomed to being awake mostly at night and sleeping until evening. As he walked towards home, more creatures appeared. They floated around him in circles. He couldn't feel them physically, but he thought of this display as some sort of affectionate behavior. He smiled and waved the lantern around, exposing more light creatures. From ones that looked like bubbles to complex creatures, all swayed around him in a display that matched with the stars hidden away by the storm. The two men who had visited the old man noticed him as they were walking down the road. One of the men whistled to get his attention. The young man ran over to greet them. "Alex! Eric!" "Hello, Allen. What are you doing out here in the rain?" The man who went by Eric asked. "I love walking in the rain, especially at night. It's so beautiful and peaceful outside. And look how many friends I've found." Allen smiled. Several glowing creatures still floated around him. Eric gave him a half-hearted smile. "Yes, I see them." "You should go back to your father before it gets too late. You never know who else might be lurking in the dark." Alex warned. Allen never took to heart any of their warnings. In the time since he had come to this place, he had only ever seen a handful of people. "I'll be alright. Nobody ever comes out here besides you two and Mr. Informer." "Do you find it lonely out here? You know, where we live, there's a lot more people." Eric said. Allen could tell by his demeanor that he was unsettled by Allen's light friends. The creatures seemingly noticed his nervousness as well as they distinctly widened the distance between them. Allen uncovered more creatures before them. Each touch of contact came with a little pop noise. "I know, but...Dad doesn't want to leave this place. I can't just leave him all alone out here. He needs me." "Perhaps you can convince him to go with you." Eric suggested his usual advice. "No. He'll never leave this place." Alex put his hand on Allen's shoulder. "At some point, you need to think of yourself. What will you do when he's gone?" "That's a long way away." He knew his words were a lie. His father was already very old, old enough to be his grandfather. Even if he wasn't old, Allen always sensed their time was limited. Allen pushed thoughts of that to the back of his mind. "I have to get home now. You'll come again soon, won't you?" "Of course. We'll be back within two weeks. Travel safely, my friend." Eric said, moving along the path with Alex. "I will." Allen waved goodbye and went on his way. Allen walked up a winding path to the old cabin. The cabin was completely covered by the tall pines around them. He could see the old man in the window with the lantern that matched the design of his own. His friends followed him up to the cabin, but did not follow inside the building. He waved them goodnight. Once inside the house, he took off his raincoat and left the umbrella by the door. The lantern was hung in the center of the room. His father had already retired to his chair, book in hand. "Father, I'm home." Allen said. The old man looked up from the book he was reading and nodded. Allen noticed the crate on the ground and opened it. Inside were packages of food, water, and medicine. He took some food and then sat down near the old radio near the old man's chair. When he got close, the radio suddenly turned on. Music filled the dilapidated cabin. The radio signal was being sent out by the people in the City in the Forest. Occasionally, there were news updates. Most of the time, there was only music. Calm, instrumental pieces, and every now and then, some pieces with vocals. Allen had long ago moved his blankets near the radio so he could listen to it as he fell asleep. The melody of the acoustic guitar blended in with the rain and thunder. Tonight, sleep came easy for him. In his dreams, he was still walking in the rain with his friends. The creatures' forms changed to that of bright blue human silhouettes. Some girls, some boys, all running around him and laughing. He reached out to touch them and he became like them. The rain too bloomed into sparkling lights, hitting down in a rhythm perfectly in tune with the beats of the song playing on the radio. The dream took a shift when the song ended. In the earliest hours of the morning, there was only dead air. The lights of the people faded and flickered with the thunder and lightning outside. Lightning struck close to the house, illuminating the entire cabin. In his sleep, this bright light turned the pure light bodies of the people into inverted shadows with their bones showing in a hot white shade. With every rumbling and flash, this repeated. The people kept on laughing, their jaws moving. He looked down at his own body. Allen was no different. The sight of his bones through his skin made him want to escape himself. When he looked back up at his friends again when the lightning hit, they had eyes in their skulls. They stared blankly at him. He woke up in a sweat, his body glowing brightly. Allen focused on his breathing to calm himself. When his emotions became intense, regardless of the emotion itself, his body itself glowed. From the window, he saw the rain was still coming down and dawn had begun. The window had a red, foggy tint to it. Allen loved rain. This was not how he wanted to see rain. At this time of the day, it only terrified him. The window's color and wetness was familiar, but he could not place why. There were always memories at the back of his mind clawing at him to be freed. Whatever he had locked away was scratching fiercely at his entire being to be let out. He wished he could undo the lock to end his building anxiety. He could almost see what it was, much like an afterimage over the window. The memory remained just out of reach. Emotions from the dream were still effecting him, and because of the strange feelings caused by the appearance of the window, he wondered if he was truly awake or if he had merely woken up from one sequence into another part of the same dream. He had calmed enough to stop his body's strange reaction. He closed his eyes and listened to the rain as the day started to fill the room. The sound of his father making breakfast mixed in with the rain, and the thunder grew distant. The red light hitting his face from the window started to create shadow plays for him. Bodies and splotches of ink dripped in and out of view. A muffled voice echoed from somewhere far away, and then another. A conversation was being held around him but he couldn't speak nor find who was speaking. When he woke again in the evening, his father was sitting in his chair again reading the same book he was always reading, The Secret Garden. The rain had cleared up. Allen greeted his father. His father gave him a nod and returned to reading. After eating breakfast, he told his father he was going on a walk. His father said nothing, merely nodding. Allen went back down the winding path. It looked very different in the daylight. The parts of earth made of red clay shone clearly in the sunlight. The night's weather had turned the soil into mud, the red oozing through the grass and covering his shoes. Allen wished for the sunset to come sooner. During the sunlight hours, he felt the most alone. His father never left the cabin anymore. The woods were empty in the day. Only the warm breeze kept him company, signaling another storm would arrive in a few days. There were a few remnants of human presence in the woods. A rusty pick-up truck sat abandoned in a gravel path that led to an empty plot. Further down, three mailboxes attached to the same post still stood. Each box had a design on it, though he could barely see them anymore. The first one was painted to look like a chicken coop, the second was a barn, and the third was painted like a house. Allen had never seen the first two things in person, but when his father used to go on walks with him, he explained what they were. The post had fallen over a few times, and Allen had set it back up each time. Down near a dried up creek, a broken rope and a rotting tire hinted at things he could barely grasp. On his walk, he passed by a familiar building. It was one he dared not go in, and it's very presence terrified him. The back half of the building had already collapsed into what scared him more. Despite his fear, he climbed up the hill that crushed into the building and looked over the side. He could already see it long before he climbed the hill. Looking down into it was more disturbing. Stretching out to the horizon, there was nothing but a deep darkness. He never dared discover how large the great hole truly was. For what he could see, that was already too much for him to handle. He stared down into the abyss. The hole was too deep for him to see where it ended. He had dropped items over the side before but never heard them hit the bottom. When he was near this place at night, he never saw any of his friends. Nothing lit up for him here. There was only darkness. Slowly, he crawled back down the hill. He ran away from the building. Though it had stayed stably at its current size, he always worried that one day the hole would get bigger. When he was deep in the woods again and could no longer see the darkness, he stopped to catch his breath. The sun had nearly set, the woods around him dyed in dark reds and oranges. Something cracked behind him. Allen turned around, his fear still at the forefront of his mind. He didn't find the darkness at his back as he expected. For the first time, there was a stranger in the woods. A tall man wearing a black hat and a trench coat watched Allen near an old magnolia tree. Allen froze. The strange man approached him, his hands in his pocket. "Excuse me, boy. Do you happen to know where Dr. Robert Giovanni lives?" The stranger asked. "No, I don't. I'm sorry. Who are you?" Allen lied. Something didn't feel right. "Pardon me. I'm sure my sudden presence must have given you quite a scare. I am a former research assistant of Dr. Giovanni. I've been searching for him for years, worried he might have been lost to all the tragedy that has befallen our country." The stranger bowed in an overly polite fashion. Allen mimicked his formal mannerism. "I see. Well, I hope you find him. I need to go now." "Do you mind if I come with you? I've been traveling for a very long time and I have nowhere to stay." The stranger grabbed his wrist. "I'm sorry. I'm not allowed to bring people home...we don't have much." Allen tried to get free. The stranger only tightened his grip. "I won't take any of your food. I just need a place to stay for one night. Please, let me come with you!" The stranger pleaded. "I'm sorry, but you can't." Allen used all of his strength to try and break free. "Take me to the doctor, boy." The stranger pulled out a gun from his pocket and came at Allen. Allen didn't have enough strength to fight off the stranger. The stranger knocked him to the ground, pointing the gun at Allen's head. Allen's heart pounded in his ears. He closed his eyes, preparing himself for pain. Allen heard a sharp popping noise. The man moved away from him. "What the! Subject 13!" Memories of Allen's early childhood flooded his mind. The cold, white lab and frigid tables. Children lined up in rows. Defective children being sent to the back room never coming back. The day the lab was shut down and the man he called father sneaking away with him deep into the woods. His entire body shivered. More memories started to foam up to the surface, but he pushed them back down, already overwhelmed by what he had seen. Getting up, Allen noticed why the stranger recognized him. His friends had started to appear now that there was so little sunlight. They weren't as bright as during the night, only barely visible. Their appearance had caught the stranger off-guard. Allen noticed his own body too was glowing. Allen wasted no time in using their distraction to get away. He ran and hid in a small, isolated cave. When he was certain the stranger had lost him, he ran home. His father was sitting in his usual place, reading the same book he always read. "Father...someone found me." Allen caught his breath. "So...they've finally found us." His father stood up from his chair. He marked his place in the book and placed it on the arm of his chair. "Can't they leave us be?" Allen locked the door, knowing full well that gave them no real protection. His father stood by the window. "Of course not. To them, we're both dangerous. I'm the brilliant, escaped scientist, and you're the failed experiment. Your strange ability alone is reason enough to want you gone, but what you can do to their equipment makes you outright deadly." "What have I done? I don't even understand what my ability is for. How can I be deadly?" Allen could not move himself from the door. He pressed all of his weight on it, hoping somehow that would keep out everything bad. "The experiment didn't last long enough for me to understand what it is you're actually doing either. It's for the best if it remains that way." His father didn't look at him. He kept his gaze only at what was outside the window. "A long time ago, a certain group of people decided to make this place a walled garden." "A walled garden?" "It's not truly a garden at all...more of a single room cell for us to go mad in and slowly wither away in the comfort of our own beds. A beautiful garden requires love and care, as any human does. Our little plan was supposed to save everyone from themselves, the fates they could not escape in their miserable, unintelligent existence." He laughed at himself. Allen was disturbed by his father's behavior. His father had a wicked smile on his face. "We promised them a garden of perfection, and our walls for protection. The true garden is out there in the forest still waiting to be tended to. We achieved nothing." "I don't understand what you're talking about." Allen wanted to get closer to his father, but he could not bring himself to move from the door. "There's no time, boy, and it doesn't matter anymore. They've come to take you. Experiment 4, Specimen 13. You were to be destroyed that night when we were being evacuated. As you were the one who disrupted the waves creating the sink hole. In one night, an entire base disappeared and ours nearly fell in before we discovered how to counter what you had unconsciously done." As his father spoke, that day they escaped played before him. His father, who he used to call Doctor, carried him in his arms. Everyone else was running. The other children were being kept behind, lined up in a row once again. Several men in uniforms different from the scientists blocked his view of the children. There was so much panic no one noticed his father carrying him away. That was the first time he saw the deep darkness. It stretched out towards them, swallowing up the red earth, the pines, and everything else it could grasp hold of. A large machine was brought in. He couldn't see what it was for. By then, his father had already taken him too far into the forest. "What do you mean? Waves? Father..." Allen couldn't block out the images any longer. With that one, more flowed in. "You know very well I am not your father. You do not have one, any more than one can call a genetic donor their father. You were manufactured for our research on energy, just one more part of the 'grand future' we were all working towards. No one ever saw you as a human being." His father spoke to him coldly. Allen yelled at him. "Then why did you keep me all this time?!" "Pity...perhaps guilt. I've been asking myself that question all these years. It doesn't matter anymore. If they find you, you will either be destroyed or used further until there is nothing left of you." His father's face was obscured by the darkness outside. The sun was completely gone now. "You should go find those men from the City in the Forest." "What? But what about you? What if they find you..." Allen spoke softly, a tight pain in his chest. "Let them come. It's as it should be." Allen understood he wouldn't get a real explanation for what had happened from him. His father stared at him, narrowing his eyes. "You remember, I know, even though you pretend not to." Strange pictures kept flooding his mind. None of it was coherent enough for him to comprehend. "That doesn't matter now." "Go on, child." His father returned to his chair and picked up his book. He went back to reading in silence. Allen took a deep breath and ran out the front door. He didn't look back. Allen knew that would be the last time he ever saw his father. He traveled alone under a cloudless sky toward the city. No one followed him and no one came to meet him. For a stretch of the walk, he wandered through a clearing of tall grass and abandoned cars on filthy streets. The towering, green covered buildings guided him along to his new home. In the darkness, blending in with the stars, the city glittered with lights. Allen too left behind his own lights, a sea of glowing blue along an old, forgotten path.