The Box in the Woods Page 1

July 6, 1978

11:45 p.m.



Sabrina had never done anything illegal. She was Barlow Corners’ paragon of virtue. The valedictorian. The library volunteer who read to children. The person who hyperventilated for ten minutes when she accidentally skipped a class because she was too deep in her research at the school library. The one who every parent of a younger student pointed to and said, “Be like Sabrina when you get to high school.”

What would they say now if they saw her in Todd Cooper’s notorious brown Jeep as it bounced down the dirt road through the woods, juddering as the tires made contact with the many pits and bumps along the way? The green fuzzy dice hanging from the rearview mirror banged together from the impact, almost in time with the Led Zeppelin pulsing from the stereo. The headlights were the only thing that cut through the dark between the trees and the sky with its sliver of a moon. Sabrina didn’t particularly like or trust Todd, who was the captain of the football team and the son of the mayor. Todd was an asshole. But he came with the package tonight. He had the car.

Here she was, breaking camp curfew and going into the woods—both prohibited activities. But those infractions were nothing compared to what they were going to do once they reached their destination.

She pressed herself into her companion’s side. Eric Wilde was her new— Was he her boyfriend? They hadn’t gotten that far yet in the discussions. She had no doubt that he wanted that title, and she had just freed herself from her boyfriend of three years—no need to rush back in. It was time for the new Sabrina, the one who lived, who did things, who didn’t worry so much.

This good girl needed a break. The last few weeks had shown her that.

“You okay?” Eric said over the music.

“Yeah,” she replied. A bug flew in her mouth as she did so, and she picked it out.

Was she okay? Her worries were still there, nibbling at the edge of all her thoughts. She tried to shut them out. That’s what tonight was for. Breaking the spell of fear.


“Just cold,” she said.

That much was true. It was cool tonight, especially as the top was off the Jeep. She was only wearing shorts and a green Camp Wonder Falls T-shirt. Regular Sabrina would have been more prepared and brought a sweatshirt—new Sabrina was going to be cold. Eric wrapped his arm around her and drew her close. His blond curls tickled her nose as she leaned into his shoulder.

The Jeep pulled off the path and stopped off to the side, under the cover of a small group of trees. The music cut out, and the four passengers stepped out of the vehicle.

“This is it?” Sabrina asked.

“Not here,” said the girl in the passenger seat. “Close, though. We have to walk.”

The girl’s name was Diane McClure and she was a fellow recent graduate of Liberty High. Diane was a tall redhead, with freckles clustered all over her body. She and Sabrina had never been in the same orbit at school. Sabrina led the class in academics; Diane seemed to spend most of her time leaning against lockers and hanging out in the smoking lounge. She was the kind of person Sabrina’s parents told her to avoid. But she wasn’t a bad person. Sabrina had come to like her company. She was loyal, hardworking in her own way, and school wasn’t for everyone. Diane was Todd’s girlfriend, and probably Todd’s only redeeming feature.

Sabrina climbed out of the back of the Jeep, which took a little doing, as they had packed it with several bags of supplies, several of which hampered her exit.

“It’s this way,” Eric said, taking Sabrina’s hand in his. “Let me guide you, my dear. Never fear, never fear. Into the woods we go!”

Diane and Eric both had powerful flashlights, but their beams barely penetrated the dark between the trees. Sabrina had lived in Barlow Corners all her life and certainly had spent time in the woods, but never this deep in, and never at night. It was something you didn’t do. The woods were dark and deep, full of creatures.

“How far?” she asked, trying to make her voice light.

“We’re almost there. Trust me. I come out here every week. I know the way,” said Eric.

“I trust you,” she said.

“You sure you’re okay?” Eric asked.

“I’m sure. Why?”

“You’re kind of crushing my hand.”

“Oh!” She released her grip. “Sorry.”

“It’s okay. I have two. Actually, I have three, but that’s because the experiment went wrong. . . .”

She laughed. That’s what was great about Eric. He could make her worries vanish. Eric knew something about living, something she wanted to learn.

“I won’t tell anyone,” she said.

“Oh, good. I can’t let them shut down my lab, not when I’m so close. Soon my creation will come to life!”

He shouted that last word, causing something in the branches above to stir and fly off.

“Eric, you freak,” Diane said, laughing.

“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” he replied. “Aaaaaand . . . here we are!”

The flashlight beams struck a small clearing. There were a few cut logs on the ground, rough seating around a stone circle.

“Okay,” Eric said, setting down the bag he was carrying, “you guys do the setup. We’ll go get the milk. This way, my dear. Just over yonder a few paces.”

Eric took her hand once again to guide her through the dark. They reentered the woods on the other side of the clearing.

“So how do you pay for it?” Sabrina asked, picking her way along the tangle of roots beneath their feet. “What’s the system?”

“If you continue to come with me on my magical journey, you will learn all, little Bilbo.”

“Did you just call me Bilbo?”

“It’s from The Hobbit.”

“I know what it’s from, you moron,” she said, laughing.

“Never question the girl who works in the library,” Eric said, bowing low. “I beg forgiveness.”

Something crunched near them, and Sabrina let out an involuntary yip.

“It’s fine,” he said, shining the light around. “Lots of noises out here. They startle you at first.”

Suddenly, she didn’t want to be here. Her whole body flooded with anxiety. Eric seemed to sense this and stopped.

“It’s cool,” he said.

“There’s something out there.”

“There probably is. A raccoon. A possum. A skunk. But they don’t come near the clearing or the fire.”

“You’re sure?” she asked.

“I come out here every week. I always hear something. It’s the woods. Seriously, they don’t want to come near people. They stay away.”

“I know. I need to relax. I’m trying.”

“Here’s the thing . . . you’re trying to relax. You’re even pushing yourself to do that. You push yourself too hard.”

“I know. I know.”

The world slowly righted itself. Sabrina took a deep breath and straightened up.

“Keep going,” she said. “I’m fine.”

They continued on another fifty paces or so, until the flashlight revealed a small structure. It was a box in the woods, about eight feet long and four feet high.