There wasn’t another house, shop, farm, or any indication of civilization for miles. Oliver knew this from the sleepless nights he’d spent up in the library. He didn’t dare ask his father why the house was so isolated because he knew that the answer was always something along the lines of “we have everything we need” and “it is safer here than anywhere else.” He noticed that every time his father talked of the outside world, his mother cast her eyes upon the floor, the corners of her mouth slipping downward ever so slightly. Once he reached the age of 16, he had decided to stop asking his father questions because Oliver knew he would not tell him the truth. His father was harsh and cruel, for even the air seemed to become colder every time he set foot in the room.
The house Oliver lived in consisted of many rooms of varying sizes. Some of these rooms were filled to the brim with books, like the library. Other rooms had walls covered in paintings with unfamiliar faces and strange places. The rooms Oliver had found the most comfort in were the ones where you could look straight ahead but never see the other side. In these rooms, he felt untethered from the cold stone walls just behind the door. These rooms were usually filled with dense mossy forests and flowing streams, vines growing up the walls begging to touch the sky. He would spend his free time climbing thick tree limbs and running free until he had forgotten from which way he had come. He hadn’t been in all of them yet, and he had planned to explore the rest of the uncharted fortress with his brother, Emery.
It was late into the night, and Oliver’s thoughts were keeping him wide awake. He decided that he would go to the library, sit on the worn emerald armchair by the window, reading long-forgotten novels, and watching the stars. He threw his covers off and put his feet down on the cold tile. Upon standing, an almost violent shiver coursed through his body, taunting him by waking him up even more. He wondered if all houses had cold tile floors and lifeless guest rooms full of nothing but dust and untouched furniture. Oliver continued down the hallway, careful not to make a sound as he approached his parent’s door at the end of the hall. The staircase to the library was just beyond their door. As he drew near the end of the hall, he noticed a faint glow coming from the small crack under his parent’s door. With each step closer, he could hear his mother’s soft voice cut by the cruel comments coming from his father. Oliver didn’t know much about marriage or love, but he did know that his parents did not like each other. He doubted that women chose to marry men who wouldn’t even look at them, let alone treat them with any respect.
Oliver was now walking past their door when he heard his brother’s name. It hung in the air like a wrong key pressed on a piano. Hidden by the shadows of the hallway, he stood listening even though his father had reminded him on numerous occasions that it was rude to eavesdrop. By now, his heart rate had picked up, and he wiped both his hands off on the side of his pajamas.
“He’s not going to end up like Emery!” His mother sternly said. He had rarely ever heard her speak with such a sharp tone, yet he could tell that she didn’t believe what she was saying either.
About three years ago, Oliver noticed that Emery never wanted to play with him anymore. Emery could barely get out of bed some mornings. At first, Oliver’s father dismissed Emery’s behavior, but after a month or so, his father was ashamed that his eldest son was so lazy that he couldn’t get out of bed to eat dinner with the rest of the household. Oliver’s mother wouldn’t let him see his brother. She said he was “contagious” and too weak to play. From the small glances he caught through the door, he could see Emery and how frail he looked. He had lost weight to the point where his cheeks were hollowed out. But then there was the rare occasion where he did come out of his room, and he would act almost normal while he ate dinner. He would laugh at the jokes Oliver whispered to him, and the boys would kick each other under the table until their mother noticed and told them to stop. Things were temporarily back to normal until their mother would tell Oliver that Emery was “sick” again and needed to be left alone.
Shortly after Emery was bedridden, Oliver was always in his room and didn’t want to wander the halls without his brother. Oliver was slowly following his brother’s footsteps, unknowingly. He wouldn’t even let his mother in because he knew she was going to try to convince him to get up. Oliver would rarely leave his room during the day unless it were for food or something else he needed. This continued until one day when he looked out his bedroom window and saw his brother being pushed into the back of a large car by strange yet clean men dressed in white coats. Oliver sprinted down the stairs to help his brother, only to be stopped by his mother. She was quietly weeping when she said that Emery was even sicker than before and that he would not be coming back. He didn’t want to believe her, but then again, he cared for his mother and trusted her. He couldn’t look at her after the words had left her mouth. Instead, he sprinted down the hallway while tears of frustration were threatening to pour out.
The first room he reached was the one with tall black pines with branches stretched out like arms reaching out for one another, showing no mercy for the sunlight coming through the glass ceiling. With his eyes now dry and his body tired from running, he sat at the edge of the once glistening and translucent lake he knew, now cloudy and stained by the lack of light. The overwhelming smell of the pines brought a brief wave of nausea over him as it did to him and his brother when they were younger. He picked up a smooth stone beside him and skipped it over the inky water, watching it silently slip under as the ripples disappeared. He wished he was that stone, sinking into the peaceful dark water.
While surrounded by the calmness of the forest, Oliver couldn’t help but become trapped in his mind by the continuous thoughts that consumed him. His father was right; Oliver was sick like Emery was, and he feared being taken away more than anything. He did not want to leave the quietness of the library, the cold tile on his bare feet, the glorious rooms in which he could get lost. He needed to escape before the men could catch up to him like they did Emery.
Oliver’s days were now spent in his room planning how to get away. He found himself looking out the window quite frequently, hoping that Emery would be walking through the gates, smiling and ready to run through the halls. Instead, he saw a large tree he hadn’t noticed before. Its branches were thick, and they hung just above the fence. He kept thinking about how it would be to climb that tree.
On one of his routine late-night walks, he overheard his parents talking about him. Ever since the first night he had overheard them talking, he knew his day was coming.
Crouched in the corner of the library, he would walk down the stairs every half hour or so until his parents had turned out the light.
The light had finally gone out, and he could hear his father’s quiet snores from behind the door. It was at this moment; he realized that this was his only chance to slip away unscathed. He didn’t know where he was headed or what lied ahead, but he ran.