Elden had been walking through the dark woods for at least an hour. The dampness of the forest floor began to permeate the fabric of his sneakers. Wet, brown, dead leaves clung to all sides of his feet. The forest floor had become slippery and dangerous. He cursed every stick that scratched at his face, and prayed the light of the full moon would be enough to avoid a stab in the eye.
Elden stopped for a moment and checked the compass app on his cell phone. With the phone battery almost dead, he was careful to ration its features. The screen showed 280 degrees. He continued forging in that direction. Another fifty yards and the landscape begin to climb slightly. Most people would have considered the slope nominal, but to Eldon it was a undefeatable obstacle. His wet, leaf covered shoes slipped again and again. Leaf litter covered his knees each time he fell. The harder he fought against it, the more he slipped, slid, and fell.
Brute force was not working, and so he stopped to think. There in the quiet of the woods the voices of his parents rose up. He could hear them in his mind, still back at his house yelling at one another. Their fights never turned violent, they did not need to. One or both would always end up locked in some room crying. Ironically, they truly loved one another.
His parents were simply two people who lived to point out flaws in others. The more critical the comment, the more successful their day had been. In a perverse ego boost, they honestly believed breaking someone down was doing them a favor. Since they loved each other, they made of point of destroying each other daily. Then they would turn their vile to Elden.
Holidays and birthdays could often be the worst times of the year. These were the times people did take notice of others, and so his parents were extra critical within the family. Everyone had to appear perfect for their audience. Now thirteen, Elden’s body was gangly on a good day, and goofy on its worst. He had grown tired of the layers of criticism. So, he left on a quest for joy. Now here he stood, just a few hundred yards away from his destination.
Even by the light of the full moon, Elden could see the town lights glowing above. Reds, greens, and blues blinked against the night sky. He brushed the leave litter off his cold knees. Fighting against the slippery ground that had carried him thus far was not the answer. The answer was found in the branches that had scraped and poked at him up until now. Elden reach out to the first small stick attached to a bare sapling and pulled. He took a step up and leaned backwards, trusting the tree to hold him.
Again, and again he repeated his methodical motions until at last he crested the hill. Elden stopped and gasped. Before him lay Christmas Town. Lines of cars and groups of people wondered around. Everyone pointed at the lights and displays like children experiencing their first Christmas. Carolers and music wafted through the air. Elden checked his clothing and gave his jacket a couple of whacks to remove any forest debris.
Cars lined up bumper to bumper as far as Elden could see. The very roads appeared decorated by their tail lights. Every home was covered with Christmas lights, and some had displays or mangers. A few local residence handed out candy canes and hot chocolate. A group passed by Elden laughing and joking in a foreign tongue. Everyone was happy. “Merry Christmas” would come from different directions. Some Elden responded to, but others seem to disappear in the throng. Eldon walked down to the pond and stood to admire the decorated trees and animated Santa reflecting off the water when his phone rang.
“Elden, where have you gone young man? Don’t you know you don’t wander off?” Elden’s mother sounded peeved as always.
He no longer cared. The happiness, the joy, the love of this place seemed to block out every pain, every hurt, every bad memory he had left in the darkness. “Don’t worry mom, I just walked over to Christmas Town.”
“Christmas Town!” She shrieked through the phone. “What will people think. You, hardly a teenager, and walking three miles in the dark.”
Elden laughed. He had no reason to, but the entire conversation felt funny. In fact, everything just felt fun now. “Don’t worry, mom. It was only a mile or two, I cut through the woods. Besides, nobody is paying attention to me. We’re all too busy looking at the Christmas lights.”
“The woods!” Elden had to hold the phone away from his ear. “We’re coming to get you right now!”
They wouldn’t, they couldn’t. Thought Elden. He looked around in a panic, and then a smile came across his face. “Okay, mom. I understand. I think I should warn you. Cars are bumper to bumper. It would be better if you came for me later. I believe the lights go off in another hour and a half.”
“You wait until I pick you up young man! Your father and I are going to have a talk with you.” Then the line went dead.
Elden took a deep breath. What have I done? Before he could complete his thought, someone tapped him on the shoulder. A young man asked, “Do you mind taking our picture with the fountain behind us?”
“I’m happy to.” Elden took their phone camera and snapped the photo. The young couple was thrilled and walked away smiling. Elden stood for a moment. What was I supposed to do? There was something I was thinking about. Elden looked back and forth along the street. Oh, that’s right, I wanted to go see the old part of town. With a smile on his face he merged into the crowds of young and old, and headed deeper into the light.