The children found themselves in the Haunted Wood. No one knows how they got there. They just were (some say all children go to the Haunted Wood at some time).

The Wood was a very frightening place. The trees were tall and thick and overgrown with vines, so much so that sunlight could barely filter down at all, leaving the wood shadowy and gloomy. And at night! At night, the Wood was pitch black. No reflections were visible. No outlines of figures or faces or fingers could be seen. Nothing. Just darkness.

The children always had plenty to eat and it was always warm. But the terror was endless. The fear of the dark and of becoming separated from one another and of losing their way in the Wood was bad enough. But then they had to contend with the MOLECHS.

The MOLECHS were big, hairy monsters who constantly attacked the children. They were multi-colored with fiery eyes and hot, putrid breath. Their mouths were small but had sharp teeth that looked like saw blades, and their hands and feet had claws which not only scratched but stung like wasps. The MOLECHS could not move very fast but they were relentless. These hideous monsters would appear out of the shadows and from behind bushes at any time. They would shriek and howl and chase the children, biting and clawing and stinging them.

Even when they had escaped the MOLECHS, the children knew it was temporary. They lived in unending fear of the next assault. Their wounds, which hardly ever had time to heal, gave them continued pain. But the bites and infections did not disturb them as much as the anxiety of waiting and wandering and wondering. At night you could hear the crying and sobbing. "I'm so afraid. I'm so afraid."

The children had tried to escape the Haunted Wood but there was a tall, tall wall all the way around the Wood. None of the children could even begin to scale it. When the MOLECHS attacked, the children would run in all directions. It was hard to find your way because the vines grew back so fast that trails could not be made and everything always looked different. Then they would come to the wall. All they could do was turn and keep running and running and running.

One day the children discovered a door. It was not an unusual door, except that it was unusual in a wood. The door was like ones they had seen at school. It had a push bar and a kick plate and painted in the middle of the door was a sign that said: "NOT AN EXIT!"

Some of the children screamed, "Here is a way out of the Haunted Wood!" But the older children said, "No, It says, 'Not An Exit!'" For days, as the children searched for a way out and as they ran from the MOLECHS, they argued about the door. "Maybe we ought to try it." "No, it's not an exit!"

The MOLECHS were especially fierce one day and left some of the children exhausted and bleeding, crumpled together behind a giant bush. Sabrina stood up and exclaimed, "I can't take it any more." She was sobbing and limping, her clothes and hair were dirty and full of twigs and leaves. "I'm going to try the door. I'm going to get out of here." She ran across the Haunted Wood. The other children followed calling to her, "Wait! It's not an exit."

When the children got to the door, Sabrina had pushed it open. "Please, Sabrina, stay here." "I'm scared." "Don't go in." Sabrina started through the door. It opened into a dimly lit hallway. The children could see a pleasant man at the end of the hall. His name was Mr. O'Cyrus. He was beckoning to Sabrina and called her by name. She turned to the children and said, "See. It's all right!" Then Mr. O'Cyrus jumped up and grabbed Sabrina roughly. The children could see his pleasant face fall to the floor. Only a skeleton was behind it. He was chained to the wall with a big chain. Sabrina screamed, "Let me go! Let me go!" But he shoved her into a thick garment bag and zipped it up and flung her out into a dark abyss.

Mr. O'Cyrus started up the hallway to the door but the chains held him back. The children screamed, slammed the door, and ran into the wood.

Sabrina wanted to go back to them. She wanted to see them and talk to them. But she couldn't see and she couldn't hear and she couldn't talk and she couldn't move and she couldn't breathe. She was in that bag in the abyss, and she wouldn't ever go back.

The children kept running and hiding from the MOLECHS. They kept searching through the ever-changing Wood. Occasionally, they would think about Sabrina. One morning a child ran into the group and shouted, "Bobby's gone to the door." All the children ran. "Stop! Stop! It's not an exit. It's a trick. Don't go through the door!" Bobby had his hand on the door. They jumped on him and wrestled him to the ground.

Bobby cried, "I just can't stand it any more. I want to get out." The children said, "But it's a trick. It's not out. The door is not an exit."

They took Bobby back into the Wood. Some of the stronger boys broke branches and barricaded the door. But it didn't do any good. The next morning the barricade was gone. They covered the door again — this time with more branches. The next morning the barricade was gone. There stood the door with its bright sign "Not An Exit."

That night as the children hid from the MOLECHS in the darkness, they discussed the door. "We can't cover it up. We'll just have to keep reminding everyone that it's a trick. It's not an exit."

As the days passed into weeks, the children continued to be afraid. The MOLECHS kept up their terrorizing. Sometimes a child would want out of the Haunted Wood so badly, he would run for the door. "It's a trick," the children would yell. "It's not an exit." And so they held on to one another and cried and hurt and ran and hid.

Then one night the children grew and grew. They didn't know they were growing. It was mysterious like other things in the Haunted Wood. But in the morning, when they stood up, the tall, tall wall around the Wood was no bigger than a ledge. They could easily climb up on it.

All of a sudden they heard the shrieks of the MOLECHS. "Everyone over the wall," they shouted. "WAIT! LOOK!" The MOLECHS were now little fuzzy creatures like yelping puppies. The children rolled them over with their toes. Then they stamped their feet and the MOLECHS ran for their lives back into the Wood.

The children jumped over the wall into the bright sunshine. They looked back at the door. It was so tiny and obscure. How could they have ever thought it was an exit? Poor Sabrina!

Maybe they ought to leave a note for other children (some say all children come to the Haunted Wood at some time). So they wrote this note and left it in the Wood:

"Dear children,

We know you are scared by the dark and by the MOLECHS and you think you will never get out of the Haunted Wood. But some day you will. WE did. Until then don't ever go through the door — no matter how bad you feel or how scared or tired or hurt you are. It's not an escape. It's a trick. It's not an exit."




Testing the Door

Research by the Journal of the American Medical Association has shown that among adolescents, 10.2 percent of girls and 7.5 percent of boys reported having considered suicide without actually attempting it over the past year, while 5.1 percent of girls and 2.1 percent of boys reported suicide attempts.

    About the Author

  • David E. Hankins