It was easy coordinating the lies that allowed us to be where we were not allowed to be. The long dead woods behind the girls’ school spread out over the acres like an army of skeletons arranged in tidy rows, configurements of dead limbs clacking in the wind. No moon. The games we played were half Blind Man’s Bluff, half Lord of the Flies. Lots of blind groping, followed by punishment. It’s exciting, all the difference pain can make. A few of us got separated then I got separated more, pushing and falling through a tangle of grasping brush to find myself alone in a wide clearing. It wasn’t where I’d meant to be. In the dark, I couldn’t see where the trees ended and where the clearing began. But I could feel it. I knew where the boundaries lay.
For a long time I heard nothing else but the dry creaking of the dead forest. Then I thought maybe I could see the shapes of trees and then I knew I could see them and see something else as well, something orange and made of light. Far off, I could hear my friends shouting. I stood back watching in the clearing, and in time a piece of light broke away from the glowing orange, bobbed through the dark, came toward me. When it reached the clearing, I saw the glow was Thomas. He was holding a branch aloft like a lacrosse stick on fire. I watched Thomas dart around, using his branch to set more branches glowing. There was orange behind me now, too. I could hear my friends shouting closer.
Thomas saw me and stared, then found another branch and lit it and trotted it over into my hand. I took his burning branch. Then he ran away. All around me now was crackling and sparks and the howl of my friends throughout the skeleton wood. We’d planned for one thing and done something else. There was no going back. I used the branch to light my way.