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Lost Boys

I miss the old days. Back then, the lost and abandoned used to crowd my woods, eager to join my crew, where hardly a care in the world could bother them. If they had nowhere else to go, they usually found their way to me. That’s just how it was. And that’s how I liked it. 

Never cared much for parents myself, and neither did my boys. Mothers especially, but there was always something else that nicked me about fathers. I never knew mine, and I don’t wanna. But some of the boys used to say they had some fond memories of theirs. Can’t really say if I believe them or not. There was always too many opposite voices on the subject. One would talk of how his pop took him fishing, another would say that his dad chucked a bottle at his head. But either way, it never really mattered to me. Afterall, they were here with me, not back with those boring grownups. 

At least, that’s how it used to be, before I was abandoned. Again. 

I guess it was a gradual thing, but at the moment it sure does feel like they up and left me all at once, all alone to die here of boredom. It’s a big forest, heck it’s a big island, but it’s never quite felt like home since they all took off and headed back to…whatever they thought they were returning to. Here and there I’d have one tell me he was going back, and I’d try to put a bold face on it, even though it felt like he was wrenching my gut in two. But I never let ‘em see it. Never. 

And I suppose that’s how they all went, mellow and somber, like they’d caught the same sickness every grownup back home seemed to have. So I let ‘em go, every one. What could I do? Force is for adults, and if I used it, freedom itself would die alongside their dimming eyes. At least I thought their eyes were dimming. I guess they could have just changed to a new light, perhaps something I couldn’t see, but was keenly aware of despite all that. 

I miss ‘em. 

I miss ‘em so much, I finally decided to make the journey, at least one more time, just to see how they were getting along. They weren’t hard to find. I stopped at each of their windows, just to take a peek at them while they slept. 

What I found made me so sad, I about choked at each of their feet as I watched ‘em snore. They were grown, of course, but they all had a darkness around them, like a cloud that covered them wherever they went. I even followed them in the morning, just to understand, I guess, why they left. 

The cloud followed, no matter what. It didn’t matter where they went, it chased and fumed in every place, just about choking their very spirit. I guess they were still young, by grownup standards. But to me they were just a bunch of sellouts. Too old to play, yet it seemed too young to understand where they were going. 

Most of ‘em still lived with their parents. I watched ‘em come home and bicker, usually with their mothers. They usually couldn’t argue with their dads, because most of ‘em didn’t have any. I listened to their chatter, and it looks like most of the dads left ‘em when they were young. Like, really young. If there was a dad, he was usually stiff and cold, like a walking dead man who forgot he’s supposed to stay put where he fell. They never talked to my boys like I would have. 

I watched ‘em go off to these places they called their “work” or their “jobs”. It was usually some kind of food chore, or building job, but not the kind we did in the woods. Back then as a crew, we’d construct fortresses of wonder out of whatever we could find, and no foe could bring ‘em down. Sure, we ate, and someone had to get that food, but it was never a chore or job. We all did it with the same joy as we had when we built that hideout to keep us safe. There was no work, only necessity turned into play. Our work we made into purpose. We had no cloud around us to poison our souls. I just couldn’t understand why my boys would keep this up, when they for sure weren’t happy doing it. 

They used to have dreams, wishes, and every hope under the stars. Now this cloud seems to be stealing their wonder. 

I watched ‘em to see how they played. They had to play, right? Sometime, they had to put everything else aside and let themselves believe again, right? 

They just sat. Something I never did see before seemed to be stealing their attention, and they didn’t look like they wanted to play outside ever again. Instead of roaming the outdoors to explore the unknown, they sat and listened to these panels of light which told them strange things about the way they should think. About the ways of the world, the grownup world, which both loved and hated everything in its very existence. About the way they should treat girls, how they should behave to become men, not boys. 

I hated those lights. They were shaped like people, but they weren’t actually there. I guessed they might be real people somewhere, somehow able to speak their mind wherever they wanted, or wherever my boys wanted to hear them. It wasn’t like they didn’t want to listen to those voices. Nothing was stopping them from putting them away. But they kept listening, and I felt the cloud around them grow darker and more heavy. 

Sometimes they wrote things on those lights with little buttons, maybe talking to someone I couldn’t see. I only guess that because when they did, the cloud got darker just like how it did when they listened to those voices. 

It was all they did. When they weren’t at their work, or bickering with their parents, they listened to those voices, day in, and day out, sometimes at night too. It all seemed sad enough, until one of them had his cloud grow so dark, I could barely see through it on to his face. Even though they couldn’t see me, I always felt like I had to try and get them to remember. Maybe I’m just too small to be of any notice to them anymore, but it was all I could do. I stepped through that fog and spoke to him, but he couldn’t hear. So I just put my hand on his shoulder, that big ugly not-quite-grownup shoulder, and tried to let him feel me, his captain, his friend. 

But I could never have guessed what would come of it all, though. Never in my wildest nightmares. 

The cloud was dark, but his face was darker still. He had spent the whole last night listening to the voices, and now that dawn was come, he began to stir and gather some things. Strange, black things that looked crooked, and full of the very same cloud that fumed around him. It was as if the very things were baked in with the stuff. I thought I saw a strange vest, some small boxes, and what I could only have described as a small cannon that he held in both arms. 

I confess, my mind was instantly bitter. Not only had he become a grownup, he had become a pirate too! I was angry enough in that brief moment as he stowed his cloudy tools in a bag that he slung over his back. But like I said, I could never have dreamed of what he had planned for that day. 

I followed him out of the house and down the path toward where he usually got on the metal cart that took him to work. But instead of getting on the usual cart, he took a different one going in the opposite direction. I floated after him, his cloud billowing out of the cart’s windows, polluting the very air I breathed and nearly choking me. I’ve never choked before. 

He got out of the cart at a different stop, all the way across town, and started down a foreign path. After a little while, I recognized the path as it led toward a building I had seen from far overhead many times over my hundreds of visits. It was a place where children played in the yard, laughing and squealing like my crew used to in those eternal woods oh so long ago. Woods that he once played in, along with the rest of my merry band! 

Of course! I thought. This is exactly what he needs! To be around the fountain of youth again, to see and remember what boyhood was like, back when the world was simple and not a care came to his mind, except what our next shared joy might be. 

I followed him with a new skip in my flight as I watched him arrive at the front gate. The little children were all inside, apparently set back to their learning and thinking, which I had long ago heard of and made peace with. To be forced to learn about the world and think of new and exciting ideas? This was one piece of life under a parent’s rule which I could easily understand and support. 

Maybe he would join them and be reminded of all the wonders of this giant world, which far exceeds in every way the scope of our fair island we called home. He would reclaim his spark, reforge his spirit, and maybe, just maybe, rekindle the boy within. 

He emptied his pack and donned his gear. Something felt wrong. 

Vest on, cannon in hand, boxes shoved into the cannon’s side. Every hope I had of his reclaiming his stolen youth vanished in a moment, as he pushed open the door and walked inside the schoolhouse. 

Even then, I could barely allow myself to imagine what I feared. I followed him in and watched him stalk the hall, his cloud now such a powerful force of nature that it covered the ceiling above and drifted in through the top of the open doorways he passed, like dark tendrils of some foul beast the pirates summoned to swallow us whole. I hoped against every living hope that I was wrong about the things he carried. 

And suddenly there was a boy, just the right age I would have rescued from abandonment, standing right in the middle of the hall. In fact, he looked to me just the same age my not-quite-grownup was when I found him, all alone and weeping. I looked into the boy’s eyes and I saw that same light, that which I thought I would never see again. 

Looking back, I found no such light in my friend’s eyes as he stared at the boy. Instead, I saw a look I was all too familiar with. We used to see it in the eyes of the pirates. 

The cannon raised, and I cried out with a silent scream that I knew would not be heard, for my friend I knew had long ago ceased to believe. 

In a moment’s breath, the light was gone, and the cloud grew evermore, as my friend-turned-pirate stepped over the boy and stalked down the hall. He could hear a dozen more in a room altogether, jabbering and clamoring as if they would be learning forever, without a single care to dim their collective light. 

But even though the grownups teaching them heard the cannon’s roar, there was nothing they could do. The cloud seeped in through the cracks in their door, and the pirate blew it open like a paper wall in a rainstorm. 

All was changed in the blink of an eye, and although I couldn’t bear to see anymore, I stayed and watched my lost boy spread his darkened spirit to all whom he could find. 

Impervious to all, I didn’t even blink when a hundred carts full of angry grownups arrived to stop the newborn pirate in his tracks. Lights flashed, more cannons roared, and youth was spoiled for dozens upon dozens of those who should have seen the sun and the trees, and all the good things of this world or even my wood. 

Finally cornered, the wretched pirate fell to one angry cannon, only for a dozen more to join in the hopes that he would never get up. 

I felt no skip in my flight as I drifted up above it all, and watched the grownups weep and wail, watched the light flash on and the horns blare, as it seemed half the city arrived to take notice of my former friend’s misdeed. 

Then a bitter fear crept into my heart. 

I soared all about the city, from one end to the next, seeking out all I could find of my lost boy’s age, and anyone else who held that miserable plume. So, so many, too many for me to count, many of them once a part of my crew, now drowned in that cloud of darkness that ate away at their spirit, their very soul. 

To this day, I still can’t quite understand what to make of it, what it all means. Why would they all go back to that, and leave behind my wood where we had such fun together, every day of our lives? 

I went back multiple times to see the rest of my lost boys, to see how any of ‘em were faring. One I found with a cannon hole in his head, the cannon still warm in his hand where he lay on his bed. Another I heard, from his mother’s sobs, had let himself sink in the raging town river, with a load of rock in his pockets. Still more I found with the poison rotting their spirit as they fell further into other forms of darkness that I neither understood nor wanted to ever know in any way. Every time I came back, I felt the cloud grow in each of them, and I grew to hate parents all the more. 

Their mothers were no help. All they did was whine, beg, scream, and sob. At least, that’s what my lost boys said. In truth, I couldn’t tell you what they meant by it. The mothers, I noticed, never let that cloud reach them, no matter how dreadful it became. 

But the fathers were another story. I felt I could never hate anything more than I hated their fathers. Whenever they spoke to my boys, the plume grew and grew, drowning out whatever the lads wished they could say. They were bitter, cold, and I felt they could never say anything that would dispel the darkness, and they certainly didn’t try. 

Until one day I saw one come inside my lost boy’s room, ignore his angry shouts that sent the cloud billowing, and hug him. It didn’t look like a grownup’s foolish display of power like I had seen so many times before. This was something completely new. My lost boy yelled, nearly screamed, but the father just wrapped his arms around him, and held fast. 

And now I am faced with such a problem as no one in all my wood ever did imagine. Because I saw that night a father tame the swirling cloud that poisoned his son and send it melting away into the distant dark corners from which it came. All that was left, in the end, was a tear and the mumbled defeat of my lost boy’s anger. 

None of my lost boys whose lives I had seen fall apart under that cloud had ever had a father like this. Gone were the endless voices my lost boy used to listen to throughout the night. In their place was the voice of his dad, this one man who had already figured out so much of life and was now ready to share all he knew with his beloved son. 

It made me, yes me, long for my own father, though I know he is long gone now. But that is the curse of eternal youth. I made my choice so long ago, and now I am the wandering spirit that ferries the lost boys of this world away to a place where they can be truly free to live out their gift of youth unto the end of their wildest wonder. 

Or maybe I wouldn’t have to. For so long I have spent my anger in the hatred of all parents, of any who would try and tame me. That is why I ran away and never came back. So that any who were lost might find their way to me, and I could care for them unto eternity. 

And here I am, at the end of it all, now at last compelled by what I have seen to leave behind my everlasting wood and seek out the treasure that lies in that wild world I have for so long feared. It is time for me to reclaim my original purpose, to take on the responsibility I mistook for slavery, so that others might be lost boys no longer. 

For if all the world were filled with fathers like the one I saw embrace my lost boy, then there might never again be a need for a god of youth to whisk them away, nor an eternal wood to keep them young forever unto the end of time. 

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