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“Andrew!”  Andrew’s dad yelled from the other room.  Andrew hated his dad who was tied, with his great aunt Rhonda, for the most annoying person on the planet. The worst part was, he was stuck with his dad.  He had nobody else to turn to because his mom had died in a car accident a couple years back.  “I just got a call from the New Jersey nursing home!”  he continued,  “Your grandma.  She ‘aint doin’ so good.  So, I booked you on a train to visit her.  This Friday, eleven a.m., you’ll leave school early. Be ready!”  Andrew was fine with going to his grandma’s; it was better than being stuck at home with his dad all weekend.  His grandma was also a good person to talk to.  She gave good advice.  Little did he know, this wouldn’t be the regular visit Andrew was expecting.

Andrew sat in class, slumped in his chair, watching a second turn into a minute and a minute turn into ten minutes on the wall clock.  The period felt a lot longer than just forty minutes but watching the clock tick by was much more entertaining than listening to Ms. Conan lecture about graphs or polynomial whatevers.  “Mr. Pollock!”  Andrew heard his name and popped up in his seat.  He had almost dozed off.

“Yes Ms. Conan?”

“What’s the square root of 169 divided by 8?”  Andrew had no idea and he really wasn’t in the mood to do math at the moment.  He was looking forward to fifteen minutes from now when he could leave school early and get away from his life.

“Uh.  I dunno, six?”  Ms. Conan rolled her eyes. She knew he wasn’t trying but she didn’t want to bother so she called on someone else.

Finally, Andrew heard the most exciting sound of his life, the bell ringing.  He jumped out of his chair and raced to the front door.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, not so fast Mr. Pollock,” Ms. Conan said.  Andrew sighed and slowly turned around, his face stretched into a fake smile.

“Yes Ms. Conan?”

“Andrew.  As you may have noticed, your grade has not been very good in math class.  I understand your family issues at home but I’m afraid if you keep this up, I’ll have to speak to your father.”  That was the last thing Andrew wanted.  His dad would freak out if he had to meet with Ms. Conan.  One, he hated teachers, and two, it was too much work.  His dad would rather be sitting on the couch at home smoking a cigarette and guzzling beer.

“Okay Ms. Conan, I will definitely try harder in class.  I’ve just been really stressed out lately about my mom, plus now my grandma’s in the hospital.  Sometimes it just feels like my whole life is one big mess.”  The only excuse to get a teacher to let him leave.

“I’m so sorry to hear that Andrew.  I shouldn’t have pushed you, your life is hard enough already.”

“Thank you, Ms. Conan.”  Andrew started out of the classroom.

“Oh, and by the way Andrew, if you ever need anyone to talk to, I’m always here.” Andrew just smiled and walked out.  Like he was ever going to take the time to talk to his math teacher about problems that didn’t even exist.

Andrew stood in line at Penn Station, his ticket in one hand his phone in the other and his navy backpack hanging on his right shoulder.  He was packed into the line behind an overweight man who smelled of garlic and a woman who towered over him and smelled like baby wipes.  The smells didn’t mix well and he felt like a mouse at a concert with billions of people.  He craned his neck backwards to get a glimpse of the TV with the departure times.  Fairlawn, New Jersey, he read, DELAYED.  He sighed in his head, only to realize seconds later he had actually done it out loud.  He rolled his eyes.  This is not going to be a good day, he thought.  He stood there waiting for the line to start moving,  It took forever.  He felt like he was back in Ms. Conan’s classroom watching the clock, waiting for that bell to ring.  Seconds later he heard an announcement, “ATTENTION PASSENGERS WAITING TO BOARD TRAIN 881 TO FAIRLAWN, THERE WILL BE A FIFTEEN MINUTE DELAY DUE TO A SUDDEN SNOWSTORM.  THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATIENCE.”  Everyone groaned.  This wasn’t the day Andrew was expecting.

Andrew sat on the train half an hour later with both his earbuds in and his music at the highest volume.  He had the window seat and he stared out through the trees at the little glimpse of a river, the sunlight bouncing off it, making it shimmer.  The man sitting next to him was eating a big Indian dish that smelled like a mix of peppers, curry, and beans so Andrew was covering his nose with his hoodie.  Finally, he drifted away, the booming hip hop still filling his ears.

Andrew awoke to a sudden shake of the train.  His stomach did flips. This is not a dream, he thought.  The train started swaying from side to side.  Andrew felt seasick.  Suddenly his ears picked up the sound of a crackle above him.  The speaker on the train came on and a deep voice with a frightened sound spoke, “ATTENTION EVERYONE!  ATTENTION!  OUR LEFT WHEEL HAS SKIDDED OVER A BLOCK OF ICE!  WE HAVE LOST CONTROL OF THE VEHICLE--” the speaker lost connection.  

Andrew thoughts jumped to his mom.  The last words she spoke to him, “Bye sweetie.  Be good while I’m in Florida.  Don’t drive your dad crazy.”  She gave him a kiss on the forehead. He didn’t even bother to hug her, he knew she would come back.  It was the biggest regret of his life.  She stood up, hugged his dad, walked outside, climbed into her car, and never came back.  Tears welled up in Andrew’s eyes.

The man next to him looked at him.  “Hold on tight, okay?”  Andrew nodded.  The train bumped and swayed.  It felt like a mix of the Titanic and a rollercoaster, and not a fun one.  Andrew jolted forward and suddenly the train started to speed up.  In thirty seconds the train was moving as fast as a cheetah at full speed.  Andrew’s felt his heart pounding in his chest.  He felt his lunch rising up in his stomach and resting when it reached his throat.  He heard something crash through a window and shatter.  He heard a piercing scream.  A baby crying.  Suddenly there was a huge gust of wind and everything went black.

When Andrew woke up it felt like ten jackhammers were pounding at his head.  The world was spinning like a globe and his stomach was doing flip after flip.  He leaned over and puked next to a tree.  The sun was going down and when Andrew looked around he realized he was nowhere he knew.  Is this a dream? He thought.  He was in a forest.  Now, there were not forests in New York City where he lived, so he had no idea where he was.  The last thing he remembered was falling asleep on the train.  He looked around for food, and all he saw was a bag of half empty Lays Barbecue chips he had brought with him on the train.  That was all he had to survive, a depressing bag of chips.  He staggered over to a tree and sat down, leaning against it.  He took a minute to take in his surroundings:  The bed of leaves covering the grass, the fall trees half covered in a beautiful symphony of reds and oranges, the sky swooping over everything like a forcefield.  It didn’t feel real; it was like he was in a painting, a gigantic mural.  But there was stuff missing too.  There was not a person in sight and the only sounds were birds chirping and a river flowing in the distance.  Only when he heard the river did he realized how thirsty he was.  He followed the sound until he came upon a blue glistening stream cutting a line between two trees.  He scooped up some water in his hand and slurped it into his mouth.  So satisfying.  He scooped up more and more, slurp after slurp until he felt sick again.  Moments later there was more puke.  Andrew needed a way to get out of there.  He felt around his pocket for his phone but realized it must have fallen out.  He found where he had been before from his first puke and searched through the layers of leaves for his phone.  Nothing.  After about an hour he just gave up.  It was dark by now.  He realized he needed a shelter if there was rain.  He gathered some twigs and sticks and put them together to form himself a little teepee.  It wasn’t much and it wasn’t even big enough for him, but it worked.  Kind of.  He got as much of his body as he could into the tent.  He was curled up, laying on some leaves, with his feet sticking out.  It took him awhile to get to sleep because of how uncomfortable it was, but finally he did.

He awoke to some birds chirping.  It was light out already, he guessed around 8 o’clock.  He was starving.  He had half a barbecue chip but that didn’t do any good.  He traveled back to the stream for some more water, he drank just enough so that he didn’t puke but he was still starving.  He started to walk around, leaving a trail of sticks behind him.  Suddenly, he heard some rustling close by.  Frightened, but curious he walked toward the sound slowly, trying to make as little noise as possible on his way.  He came upon a chicken.  They stared at each other for a few seconds.  Andrew was scared out of his mind.  The only time he had ever listened in school was a unit about chickens.  They had actually brought a real live chicken into the classroom.  When Andrew went up to pet it, it started clucking at him and flapping its feathers in his face.  He ran out of the classroom.  As terrified as he was of the chicken in front of him now, he saw that it was sitting over its eggs.  Any kind of egg was food, even raw.  Andrew slowly approached the chicken, being careful not to make any sudden movements.  He started to slip his hand under the chicken when suddenly it let out a big yell.  Andrew jumped back startled.  He tripped over a tree stump, slammed into a pile of leaves on his back.  The chicken jumped on top of him and gave three hard pecks at his face.  He didn’t even know chickens could do that.  Once the chicken got off him he grabbed an egg before it could sit on them again and ran away as fast as he could.  He followed his trail of sticks until he got back to the stream.  He grabbed the last stick in the trail and gave two light taps to the egg with it.  He created a crack in the egg and broke the rest open with his hands.  He leaned his egg back, held his nose and gulped the egg down.  It tasted like wet mold.  It was thick and soupy, but it was food.  Finally, he was satisfied with the amount of food he had eaten.  Now that he had gotten some food and a bit of sleep, it was time to get out of there.  Andrew walked down to the river.  He figured he would walk down the river because it was a less strenuous trip.

    He walked for hours, the scenery not changing a bit.  Finally, he heard something pounding, like an axe chopping wood.  As tired as his legs were, he sped up, overjoyed.  He jogged for about a half mile and the pounding became louder and louder.  Finally after about a mile he reached what looked like a driveway.  He turned his head toward the pounding and saw a man who wore a ratty camouflage jacket with ripped jeans and swung at a tree with an axe.

    “Yo!”  Andrew yelled.  The man swirled around.  He wore a navy baseball cap and had a slight beard.  He had a confused look on his face.

        “What you doin’ here little boy?  Nobody ever shows up ‘round thus side of town.”  Andrew was a little freaked out by this guy.  He was blind in one eye, had a low, raspy voice and was kind of old.

“I got lost in the woods, sir.  Then, I followed a river, and it led me here.”  He looked Andrew up and down.  He took a toothpick out the back pocket of his ragged, baggy jeans and stuck it in his mouth, but still let it stick out halfway.  “Do you have any food?  Or a map?  Where am I?”

He groaned.  Andrew could tell the man was not excited to see him, but luckily it seemed like he had some good in him because he replied, “Come with me.” He led Andrew on a five minute stroll past the vacant driveway and down a rocky, gravel pathway through the forest.  They arrived at a small shack.  It was made of wood, but some of the boards were uneven and one of the walls was missing.  The man pushed through a swinging door with no knob.  When Andrew stepped inside he looked around.  There was not much to look at, just a low, twin bed with plaid sheets and a small rickety table with none other than, a map.  There was a cabinet next to it that had a raw chicken, a can of soup and a handmade clay bowl.  The guy popped open the soup and poured a little into the bowl.  He grabbed a spoon that Andrew hadn’t even noticed off the shelf and handed it to Andrew, who gobbled up the soup in five seconds.  The man slid the map off the table and caught it before it fell to the ground.  He handed it to Andrew.  “We’re right outside of the town of Union, New Jersey.  About a day’s travel by foot to the city.  That’s where I’m guessin’ you live.”

“Yessir,” Andrew replied.  “Thank you so much.”

“Well,” he said. “I don’t get many people ‘round here.  It was nice to help a young one like you.  I wish you luck kid.”  His mouth curled up the tiniest bit into what was almost a smile.

“Thank you again sir.”

He nodded and drew a line on the map, “just follow that path,” his finger traced the red line he drew leading north, the direction of the city.  He handed Andrew the map and the pen.

Andrew smiled at him, “Bye sir.”

He started out of the shack when the man stopped him, “I never got your name son.”

“Andrew,” he told him.

“Ah, well I’m Mark, Andrew.”  Andrew grinned this time as he started out of the shack, for good.  As he walked he stuffed his hands in his pocket and felt a piece of paper.  It was the math homework Ms. Conan had given him recently.  Normally he would never think of doing it, but he took out the pen Mark had given him, sat down next to a tree, and worked.  

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