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    W_L
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

Promises to Keep - 1. Promises to Keep

When I was fifteen years old, I met a boy in the woods. It was a time before smartphones, before the internet, and maybe even before memory now. I may have forgotten and forgiven much in my life, but I will never forget that time I had with him. I was in the woods because I didn’t want to face the cold realities of life at home, school, or any connection with human life. My parents were in a loveless marriage, where endearments like “darling” and words like “love” were poison-tipped spears for public consumption. Behind it, they bickered and plotted against each other for position or fortune.

In school, kids called each other friends and formed groups, but betrayal was a frequent occurrence. I learned early on that sharing personal tastes with someone was dangerous even on something as small as my choice of a lunch box. As I grew older, I knew what I was to the world with words like “fairy” and “faggot” whispered like rumors about such desires. I wanted to love, but I knew such things were impossible.

I read books about people who lived in the woods from the ages before electricity or combustion engines. They were stories about friendship and comradery between men. I imagined the relationships shared by men like Lewis, Crockett, and Boone with comrades were far more intimate than the bravado emulated amongst my peers. People pretended to be cowboys and frontiersmen, but few actually wanted to live that life. The struggle for mutual survival and commitment to one another without doubt or fear were things I wanted in my life. To me, the wilderness was the closest place I could be free to be myself.

I wasn’t like other people, not in what I wanted and not in what I needed. In the natural world, I thought I could be myself, even if it meant being alone. I would not need to hear the muffled noises of arguments from people, who pretend for most of their lives. I could speak and write whatever I wanted without being judged for the subject. Above all, I could dream of building a cabin out there with a man someday, where we could be hidden from those who would judge us. The woods for me were where reality could end and hope for something more could thrive.

Under the pretense of toughening myself, my father accepted my interests in camping and the wilderness, so he bought my camping gear and supplies. He thought I would be like most other campers, just settling in the facsimile of the woods with running water and access to a pay phone, but he had no idea of my true intentions, at least not on my first journey. My dad dropped me off at the campgrounds, and I hiked for two days to escape the local summer campers. I went deep into the woods, across paths less taken and beyond the reach of roads. I knew there was a freshwater pond fifty-four miles northwest of my starting point, so I chose to head in that direction. Back then, there weren’t as many major interstate highways with gas stations and McDonalds every mile; people could lose themselves in the woods, so few ventured too deep. Freshwater ponds were not a luxury or a local hangout spot; instead, they were a goal for dedicated naturalists.

When I reached the pond, I set up my tent near an overhanging rock formation, which provided cover from the summer sun and rains. As I saw no one near me, I took off my shirt and allowed the fresh summer breeze to blow across my naked flesh, knowing the freedom of being uncovered in the open was a luxury I should savor. Next, I took off my shoes as I wanted to walk without any limitations around my new home for the summer. I strolled toward the pond, feeling the dirt on my toes, and swatting the occasional mosquito that came in for a taste of my exposed flesh.

Near the water’s edge, I jumped into the pond, enjoying the refreshing moisture on my skin. As I swam far enough from the shore, where the water became clear enough to see the bottom, I took my first drink. Unlike now, where natural water sources are suspect of contaminants from nearby human sources, back then, the greatest fear for people like me was bacteria and waste from near the shoreline. It may have taken more effort to get clean drinking water, but it was worth it for the taste.

I wasn’t completely alone as I soon discovered. Furry animals roamed near me, some I had never read about in my wilderness books or seen in nature magazines. They may have been adorable in their daily actions, but I knew they were struggling to stay alive. Many had to continuously roam the woods to stay one step ahead of predators or find habitats closer to food sources.

I followed a solitary hare with my gaze, whose brown furry coat with splotches of white caught my attention. I knew many hares were nocturnal creatures, so seeing him during the day was a wonder as it did not seem afraid of its natural predators. Also, I knew his species usually changed their fur color over time to match the season, white for winter and brown for summer, but seeing an incomplete transformation was eye-opening. This creature was living and thriving despite the rules of nature. The hare noticed me and stopped to assess me for a few moments, then darted away on its mission. I wished he could talk as I felt for the briefest moment like I had found a friend, who saw me as I saw him. We were oddities among our peers, but we still strived and survived.

As I retreated to the pond’s shoreline, I was greeted by another amazing sight. There was a line of young male deer, bucks I think they are called, who reminded me of several boys from sports teams at school. They shoved each other for spots to drink from the pond. Some of them locked their antlers and pushed against each other, which I knew meant they were attempting to prove their dominance. As I approached this herd, the biggest buck, with giant antlers, stared at me with an icy glare, stomped his hooves, and scraped the ground. I knew this meant he was marking his territory, so I stayed clear of them. Being asked to leave by a male deer made me lose the feeling of joy and freedom. I thought I wouldn’t be judged out here for who I was, but I guessed no matter where I went, there was no avoiding judgment. Tears clouded my vision as I contemplated, not for the first time either, was I just made wrong by God or something? Would I be rejected by everything in the world?

As the day was ending, I walked back to my campsite, feeling dejected and alone. A voice called out to me from behind.

“You seem disturbed by something.”

I turned to face a boy around my age with brown hair with streaks of white, which was odd by the standards of those days before the popularity of hair coloring. He was dressed differently than most boys. He was shirtless like me, but instead of wearing shorts or a bathing suit, he wore a deer-skinned loincloth. My mind whirled with a sexual daydream of this boy, but I quickly pushed it away.

I inhaled deeply before speaking. “I didn’t know there were other people here. Are you here alone? Or are you with friends camping?”

He appeared guarded and wrinkled his nose at my questions. “To answer your two questions. There aren’t many people like you around here. I live here alone most of the time as it is my nature.”

“You don’t go to school or have a family to go back to?” I asked incredulously at his response.

He hesitated slightly, then nodded. “Yes, to both questions. I learn through inference from those who have traveled here before, including a group of uniformed boys with schoolbooks from a distant place called England. My family is large and spread out; we rarely come together. Now you have asked me four questions, so it is only fair you answer four of my own. Why are you here? Did you come with others?”

I tried to answer his questions without revealing too many details as I wasn’t sure of what to make of his odd manners. “I am here camping, and I came alone.”

The boy shifted in his demeanor, relaxing slightly, then glanced at me. “I noticed you like observing and following, are you a hunter?”

I shook my head nervously, trying to avert my eyes from his body. “No, I am not. I was curious. The deer reminded me of boys from school. The hare looked unique, so I wanted to understand him more.”

The boy broke out in a smile and looked at me knowingly. “Are you attracted to me?”

I froze, fearing he realized my secret. My voice answered in a stutter. “No…it’s not what you think…boys can’t like boys…”

He frowned and placed a hand on my shoulder. “Attraction is only natural. I have mated with a few females, along with enjoying the pleasure of other males. One is for biological propagation and the other is for biological connection. Neither are exclusive to one another.”

From that revelation forward, we became friends and much more. I was a hormonal teenager with pent-up needs, so a daily encounter with a mostly naked boy sharing my sexual interest elicited strong responses that I did not know how to express, but he did. I became familiar with his body, then I dropped my guard and dressed down to my underwear, then we left clothing behind us altogether. As the social fears instilled in me departed, I became bolder with him. He was patient with me throughout my first experiences, treating me like a precious flower to be nurtured until I bloomed. From my discovery of the thrill in mutual touches to the exhilaration of our first kiss, we grew close. At some point, he showed me additional acts that could bring pleasure, which I had feared initially based on the taunting of boys being “a girl” for wanting it. Yet, he assured me and offered himself to me first, before I was willing to be taken by him. He was an experienced lover, so I took his lead on many things regarding my body. With all these things, I trusted him, more than any other person I had before or ever since.

Over the weeks, he taught me how to enjoy these wonderful woods. There were trees over a thousand years old, roots that ran for miles into the earth to underground rivers of water feeding the pond. His odd, mysterious nature stopped bothering me, and my mind began to ignore his eccentricities, like his flighty behavior or his habits of foraging off the land for food. I learned he didn’t have a camp like my own, so I invited him to stay with me. We slept together most nights, wrapped in each other’s limbs once we were done with our sexual explorations.

When I noticed he was eating the vegetation of a tree, I asked him why. He answered that he can digest it but warned me not to try as I would be poisoned. I trusted him far more than I trusted my books, so I allowed him to show me how to forage for food as well. I noticed he rarely ate meat, which he noted was also part of his nature. Though when we found the half-exposed carcass of a deer, he didn’t mind grabbing a morsel of the raw flesh for a taste. The dead deer and his ingesting of the meat were disgusting to see, but he taught me that no death should be wasted. Eating the flesh honored the creature far more than letting it rot. I did take some meat back to camp for cooking, which turned out to be good. He knew things about the wilderness none of my books taught me, from the cycles of the fruit-bearing plants to the subtle language of animal body movements. We never spoke about our lives, names, or families. We never talked about what life was like outside this idyllic place because there was no need. I could imagine countless scenarios where a boy with instincts and behavior such as his would be denied a place in society, so I did not want to question his origins.

When my camping trip was nearing its end, I made a promise to him, that I would see him again later that fall, and left my camping gear for him to use. However, when I returned in the fall of that year, I noticed my gear had never been touched. The only indication of the campsite being inhabited at all was the brown hare with white splotches sleeping near my campsite, on top of a sleeping bag.

My friend arrived that evening, and we began our adventures all over again.

During winter break in February, I gave him a small black and white photograph of myself taken during Christmas. A lot of guys did this for their girlfriends, and I had felt like that was what our relationship should be. I made another promise to him, that I would spend the rest of my life with him there if I could. It was a stupid promise born out of love. I had no idea if he would share my desire for commitment and loyalty, or if he would go back to being with women at some point as I supposed someone like him, with the dual inclination, could. He made a promise of his own to stay here and wait for me to return every time. It was as close to a covenant as two males could make to one another under the blue skies and over the rich earth.

We met up for the next three years until I was eighteen. During the intervening years, the campground had been bought by my father’s company and the government had released the conservation land, where the freshwater pond was located, for development. I argued with my dad that the area was better used for camping and hiking, but his counterargument was that few people were using it for camping, like myself throughout the years, and there were no profits from campers or nature. I feared for my friend as that place was his home, but I could not reveal that fact to my father, nor the reason I felt so strongly for his well-being.

Before the summer, my father had begun construction work near the pond. I heard of it a week later, when my father dropped off my camp equipment his workers found by the pond. I asked if they found anyone near my campsite, but no one was there.

I drove up there myself, hoping to find my friend and maybe run off together to another place, another wild area untouched by human hands. However, things had changed since I last visited. My father had built a dirt road that linked the main interstate with the freshwater pond, to make it easier for his construction crews to move heavy machinery. To my horror, the reason they were able to do it so quickly was with the use of controlled fires across the area.

After I parked my car, I walked around the charred area. The trees and creatures I knew so well from years of exploring with my friend had all been removed by force, with people picking up dead trees and charred creatures alike. I saw the carcass of the proud buck, the one that had mocked me during my first summer, being shoved into the back of a pickup truck, with similar sights for other members of his herd.

Then I moved to where my campsite would have been laid. The rock overhang had disappeared, probably removed by the machinery. One of the workers grasped the lifeless body of a brown hare with white splotches, who was clinging to a black and white photograph I had given my lover.

All the facts began to sync into my mind, why he was always out in the woods, why he foraged for food, and why a certain hare always seemed to be present at the start of my camping trips but did not appear later. I was angry at my father for pursuing human profits above all else, angry at my lover for waiting on me to return at the cost of his own life, and angry at myself for not asking the question. I didn’t care what he was or what allowed him to be with me. I was a freak, so what if he was one, too? I loved him, and that was all that mattered.

The realization and horror of what all this meant shook me to my core. Despite how impossible it might be, as I never believed in magic, there was no other explanation left. I took the hare and photo from the worker and found a spot near our campsite. I used my hands to dig a grave and buried the burnt body and my photograph, together.

Today, the freshwater pond is a luxury condominium complex. A proud example of human greed and excess. I have grown older, far older than I want to admit, with that loss. I bought a unit in the building and spent most of my days watching its inhabitant pass me by. I know my friend will never return; I know what his true nature is, but all I can do now is keep my promise to him as he did for me.

Thank everyone for reading. I usually do not write in the shifter genre, but I thought I'd offer my own two cents with a different interpretation based on the themes of nature and human interactions.
My inspiration for this story came from a Robert Frost poem, which I will share with you all as well.

 

Quote
 

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
 
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
 
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
 
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

 
 
Copyright © 2022 W_L; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

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