More than one child finds a world in the hedge. First Benjamin did, and now, another kid gets their turn to decide.
I call this sequel of sorts:
Beyond The Path
“I really would not do that,” he said, and the girl spun on her expensive shoes. She gave the boy with the odd clothes and the curving nose a hard glare.
“Why, are there monsters?” the girl asked. She held up her pocket knife, and grinned. “Because I’m ready for those.”
The boy shifted back and forth. Fidgeted and then scratched at his forehead until red marks showed on his malnourished skin. Finally, he spoke. “You’ll just leave me here. Do you want to leave me here?”
The girl, Sally, crossed her arms and stuck out her tongue. “You could come with me. Or, you know, leave this stupid little place. Don’t you have to go to school?”
“Eventually none of us will go to school. School is finite. And then you’ll see what is beyond. Why I sit here and stay. You should sit here and stay.”
“No… I think I’m going to explore,” the girl walked toward the other path, the curving away part of the hedge hallway. As she got closer, a breeze licked at the back of her head and made gooseflesh spring up in rows.
She looked back, and the boy had not moved.
“Are you human?” Sally said.
“Human?” the boy asked back, cocking his head. “I don’t think you want to be human. Humans suffer. I think you’d rather be here with me.”
“I’m going now,” Sally said, “Bye.”
She waved her hand and took another step. The wind blustered around her shoulders. This time she spun with her teeth on edge, and she marched up to the boy and leaned over to stare straight into his face.
“Stop that,” she said, her voice hard. She didn’t move to hit him, but she considered it heavily.
“I do not think you’ll like it in there.”
“Are you me?” Sally snapped, “Because I do not think you’re me. I don’t think you could ever be me.”
“No… but you could be me. I am not anyone. I avoided being anyone. Safe. Warm. Not like anyone you know, is that?”
The boy stood up and his bones, his exposed ribs, became obvious. “Do you know anyone really free?”
Sally, temper flared, shoved him in the chest and the boy stumbled back onto the ground, landing without even a small sound. The wind picked up, colder than it ever could be outside of winter, and Sally stepped back in alarm.
“Let me go, okay?” she said.
“It’s not like I have any control of you,” the boy said, his voice flat. He winced and rose back up to sit in his crossed-leg way. “I can only control myself.”
“Good. Bye then.”
She walked toward the corner and turned with a full shift of her body.
“I don’t think you’ll like what you’ll find.”
“I don’t like what’s here,” Sally shot back. She waltzed forward until she was out of sight.
The boy sighed. And placed his hand on his chin. For a moment, his eyes glowed with a gentle internal light. His skin aged and curled: like he was a paper doll left in the void for too long. A flake lifted off his hand and fluttered. Underneath was a thick, knotted surface—wood with active veins flowing across its surface.
“Perhaps I should offer them something. Something like cotton candy or soda pop. I guess immortality is not enough.”
He splayed out his hand, and wind curled around him, circling and ruffling his clothes. A lone leaf drifted in a perfect spiral, like a toy plane, before it waltzed off toward the other path. Where Sally went.
The boy leaned forward, his skin glossy and glowing. He closed his eyes and the peeling layers stuck back to him and made him appear as normal as he had before.
“Why do they like to explore so much?” the boy mused. “With all their curiosity, why are they so predictable? I never got other kids. I never got the world.”
He leaned back, keeping his eyes on the leaf, tracing it with his flowing lazy iris. It turned the corner as if blown on by some bored god and disappeared the same way Sally had gone.
“Why does danger have to exist?” he said.
A roar sounded, far away, followed by a continuous din full of clicking and wet thrashing. The noise echoed down the path and the light, the sun, dimmed. Another moment, and shooting out of the corner came the leaf, now shredded and floating in several pieces. Each part drifted down and settled, weighed with some thick liquid.
“Why do monsters have to be everywhere?” he added, “Why can’t they be contained?”
He shook his head, not coming up with a satisfying answer. Then, the boy stood and parted back his hair with his hands. A thump came from behind him as something hit the ground. The boy did not look back. He turned the corner and disappeared into someplace unseen. Leaving not a single shred of evidence to his existence.
The hedge’s plants swayed, waiting. They stretched out to reconnect before pulling back in further anticipation. Like they had something they expected to happen. Ten minutes went before it gave up and sealed itself, blocking off the world of the hedge from the rest of everything in reality.