There’s only one real rule at the farm: stay out of the forest. Sure, Ma and Pa get mad when we curse or forgot to wash up before dinner, but anger over those things quickly fades. Some other things, like going in the cellar and spying on the present truck, can make them get really angry, but the only way to make them scream is by going into the forest.
I remember one time Benny ran a few yards into the forest to get a ball. Ma hit him so hard he couldn’t walk for a week. ‘Course, I don’t blame her. Everyone knows people who go into the forest don’t come back.
The forest pretty much surrounds the farm. On the north side of the house, there’s a rickety gate guarding a dirt road through the forest, but we aren’t supposed to go there either. I don’t know where that road leads, but I know it must lead somewhere other than the forest, ‘cause the present truck comes to the farm using that road.
Ma and Pa tell us to stay in the house when the present truck comes. We aren’t even supposed to look out the windows. One time, Benny watched the present truck pull up and Ma locked him in the shed for three days as punishment. Still, everyone knows about the present truck from the stories the older kids tell us.
The present truck brings us everything we can’t make ourselves. Books, pans, tools, that kind of thing. Ma and Pa keep everything the present truck brings us in the cellar. Us kids aren’t allowed down there. Going into the cellar is up there with spying on the present truck on the punishment scale. Of course, it’s nothing when compared to going into the forest.
One night, me and Benny were in our room when we saw a bright light outside our window. Benny peaked his head out and gasped. “It’s the present truck!” he said.
“Come on Benny,” I said. “You know what Ma and Pa’ll do if they catch us spying on the present truck. Besides, we’re supposed to be asleep.”
“That’s why this is such a good opportunity, Bill! The truck never comes at night. Ma and Pa think we’re asleep, so we can spy on the present truck without getting in trouble.”
I peered out the window and, for the first time in my life, got a good look at the present truck. I’d never seen anything quite like it. It was like a small box on wheels, covered in rust and windows. There were two glowing eyes beneath the windows that shone yellow light on the house. Attached to its rear was this big silver box.
“What do you think it is, Bill?” Benny asked.
“I heard it’s a demon. The older kids say that if you stare into the lights of its eyes it steals your soul,” I said.
Pa walked out of the house and a man popped out from inside the present truck. “It isn’t a demon, Bill,” Benny said. “It’s just a small house?”
“Then how does it move?” I asked.
Pa and the truck man started grabbing boxes from inside of the silver box and moving them to the cellar. The truck man tripped while carrying one of the boxes, spilling these small silver rectangles all over the ground. He quickly shoved them back in the box and carried it down the stairs into the cellar. Pa shook hands with the man. The man drove off and Pa came back into the house. Benny and I jumped back into our beds and pretended we were asleep. We didn’t want Ma and Pa to catch us spying on the present truck.
Aside from Ma and Pa, there are twelve of us at the farm. The oldest, Danny, is sixteen. He and the other old kids help Pa do a lot of the farm work. Us younger kids spend most of our time in the house, learning about shapes and numbers and stuff from Ma. Me and Benny are special ‘cause we’re both nine. Danny says we were born at the same time, and that Ma got really sick when she was pregnant with us. I think that’s why she isn’t very fond of Benny.
The night after the present truck came, we got up at seven to get our schooling from Ma. She tried to teach some multiplication tables to Benny, but he didn’t get it, so she made him go outside so he wouldn’t interfere with the rest of the class. At lunch, I went out to see how he was doing.
He was sitting in the yard, throwing a ball in the air and catching it. I plopped down next to him and asked him what he was doing. “Just playing catch,” he said.
“It’s pretty hard to play catch alone,” I said.
He looked left and right, making sure that nobody was watching us, then reached into his pocket and pulled out a silver rectangle. “What is it?” I asked.
“I don’t know, I found it on the ground,” he said. “I think it’s one of the things that man dropped last night.”
“You mean, one of the things from the present truck? We should tell Ma and Pa about it.”
“They’ll just get mad at us for spying on the Truck. Besides, aren’t you a little curious about what it is?”
Benny started picking at the rectangle, unwrapping its metal foil and revealing the smooth brown object residing within. Benny stared at the object for a few seconds, sniffed it, and took a bite. His eyes lit up. “It’s sweet!” he shouted.
He handed it to me. “Come on, take a bite,” he whispered.
“But Ma and Pa’ll get mad,” I muttered.
“They don’t need to know.”
I slowly bit into the rectangle. It was incredibly sweet, with a hint of bitterness that made my tongue water. Benny and I gobbled the rectangle up. Benny crumpled up the foil wrapping and buried it in the yard so we wouldn’t get caught. I went back to class and Ma yelled at me for staying outside for so long.
A few hours later, Ma let Benny come back inside for dinner. Before we could eat, Pa came storming up from the cellar, fuming. “What’s wrong, Pa?” Danny asked.
“Shut up,” Pa shouted.
He looked around the room, looking each of his children in the eye. “Which one of you brats went down into the cellar?” he asked.
Nobody spoke up. Benny looked at his feet. Pa slammed his fist down on the table. “I said, which one of you brats went down into the cellar?” he yelled.
Pa sighed. “Going into the cellar, that’s one thing,” he said. “But lying about it? I thought I raised you kids better than that. Out there, beyond the forest, people spend all of their time lying to one another. I decided to raise you kids out here because I was so sick of all the lies.”
“What did they take?” Ma asked.
“It doesn’t matter. The point is, they went down into my cellar, stole my food, and then had the gall to lie to me about it.”
“Yeah, but if we know what they took, maybe we can figure out who took it.”
Pa sighed. “The truck came last night to deliver some provisions,” he said. “Among those provisions were twenty bars of chocolate. The dark kind that I like. I was down doing inventory before dinner and there were only nineteen bars in the box.”
Ma shot a glare at me and curled her lips. “When Bill came back from lunch today, he had some chocolate on his lips,” she said. “At the time, I thought he’d just ate some mud again, but now I know that he was eating chocolate.”
Pa walked behind me and placed his hand on my shoulder. He tightened his grip and I started crying. “Bill, did you sneak into the cellar?” he asked.
I blubbered out some gibberish and Pa tightened his grip. “Now, Bill, I need to hear you say it,” he said. “Did you go into the cellar then lie to me about it?”
“It was me!” Benny shouted. “I found the chocolate on the ground and made Bill eat it. I’m really sorry-”
Pa smacked Benny in the face, knocking him out of his chair. Pa dragged Benny outside by the ear and locked him in the shed. A few minutes later, he returned and sat down at the table. “What’s for dinner?” he asked.
Since Benny confessed, Ma and Pa were nice and only made him spend one night in the shed. The next day, they decided to punish us by putting us on Isaac duty for a week. That morning, Benny walked into the house, with one eye black and bruised and the other bloodshot from crying. He grabbed some cleaning supplies and the two of us went up to the attic.
Isaac was up there, like he always is, sitting in his chair, staring at the walls. A bit of drool was dripping from his lip and onto his shirt. He didn’t try to wipe it off his chin. He never does. He never does anything, come to think of it.
Isaac is fifteen years old. He’s the second oldest of us, behind Danny. He’s a living example of why you never go into the forest. Unlike the other big kids, Issac doesn’t help out with farm work at all. He just sits up in his attic, staring at the walls.
Me and Benny get put on Isaac duty a lot, mostly because Benny keeps getting us in trouble. It’s always really annoying. First we have to wipe off his drool, then we have to feed him, then we have to undress him and give him a sponge bath before redressing him again, then finally we have to change his bandages. For some reason, Ma always makes us read Isaac a story before we leave. I don’t know why, he never reacts to anything we say anyway.
The worst part about Isaac duty is the smell. Isaac forgot how to go to the bathroom after he went into the forest, so he pretty much just goes wherever and then expects us to clean it up. Everyone hates doing Isaac duty, for obvious reasons. Sometimes, I think Ma makes up reasons to punish us just so she can have someone else take care of Isaac.
I was six when Isaac went into the forest. Back then, he could talk and walk and go to the bathroom and everything. He was always a bit mischievous, even more than Benny. One night, we all showed up at dinner but Isaac wasn’t there. Ma checked his room and found a note he wrote saying that he was running away.
Pa freaked out and he and Danny ran into the woods after Isaac. A few hours later, they came back, Danny dragging Isaac over his shoulder. Pa told us that a monster had attacked Isaac and that we should all be thankful that he was still alive.
I still remember how Isaac looked when Pa and Danny brought him back. The right side of his face was covered in blood and his eyes were closed. He looked like he was dead. Danny cried as he dragged Isaac’s unconscious body back home. Pa’s hands were covered in bruises and blood. I guess he got attacked by the monster, too.
I don’t really feel that bad for Isaac. Ma and Pa had told him time and time again the only real rule: don’t go into the forest. After all, everyone knows people who go into the forest don’t come back.