The man lies on the bare earth. The man feels ill. The man loses track of time.
The man hears voices. The man stiffens. The man holds his breath.
The voices are on the path. They are the voices of adults. The adults are talking quietly. The adults are having a conversation.
The man can hear the voices. The man cannot make out the words
The man thinks there are two people. The man does not think there are more. The man thinks there is one man and one woman. A couple.
Feet pass. Through the leaves the man sees legs. The couple are walking quietly.
The couple do not see the man.
The man thinks, I am invisible. No-one knows I am here. No-one knows who I am.
The man listens. The voices fade. The man thinks the couple have reached the turn of the path. The man thinks they are going uphill.
The man sits up. The man crosses his legs. The man’s joints are sore. The man’s muscles are tight.
The man wonders how many other people will come. The man does not think he is safe.
The man hears a voice. The voice is just outside his head. The voice says, When the voices come.
There is a twinge of fear in the man’s belly. The man thinks he has heard that voice before. The man cannot remember when.
The man tries to think what it means. He does not understand.
The man hears the voice again. This time the voice says, When I’ve been bad.
The man’s chest is tight. His breathing is shallow. What the voice says is what a child might say.
The man has a picture in his mind of a small boy running to the woods. Is that what the voice is trying to tell him? Why a young boy runs?
The man hears a voice again. This voice comes from the other side of his head. This voice comes from lower down. This voice says, When I’m a man I will stay out in the woods all night and then I will die.
The man feels cold. The chill floods the man’s body. The man’s jaw locks.
The man cannot believe that when he was a small boy he wanted to die. But it seems that he did.
The man is dazed. The man has a picture in his mind of the place where he is. The man imagines as much as he sees.
The branches move. A face erupts. The face is a man’s. The face is unshaven.
Hello little boy, the face says.
The little boy jumps up. The little boy runs.
The little boy runs directly down the hill. The little boy turns his ankle. The little boy falls. The little boy cries out in pain.
Come back, little boy! the face calls. I won’t hurt you!
The little boy picks himself up. The little boy’s face is twisted in pain. The little boy hobbles off.
The face fades. The boy disappears.
The man is sitting on the bare earth. The man is partially concealed by the leaves.
This is my den, the man thinks. The man had forgotten that he had a den. This is the place in the woods that I used to come when I was lonely and afraid.
The skin across the man’s face is tight. The skin across the man’s face is a mask. The man is trying to think why a boy that age should have been so afraid.