My name is Jason, and I am fourteen years old. I have always been fourteen years old. I will always be fourteen years old. Or so it seems. That’s the way my parents will think of me. Even strangers will think of me as forever fourteen when they see the dates chiseled into the tombstone. My full name will be engraved there: William Jason Caldwell. And carved under my name will be the dates: the year of my birth and this year — the year they found my dead body out here among the longleaf pines.
Okay, so I’m not dead yet. Who knows, maybe I will live to see fifteen. It’s not looking good, though. Leah and I have been wandering around in this forest for hours now. Leah is a year older than me. I’m sorry I got her into this mess, and I don’t dare let on how scared I am. She’s sleeping right now or at least pretending to. I’m supposed to wake her in a couple of hours so that she can stand watch while I get some sleep. We don’t know where we are. Somewhere in a longleaf pine forest. We ran deeper and deeper into the forest until we could run no more and had to get some rest. I hope Carl Morris and his brothers are resting, too.
There are several things that can kill you in the longleaf pine forest: eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, timber rattlers, cottonmouths and the occasional alligator, just to name a few of the reptiles. Bobcats are known to be in these woods, and there are rumors of black bears. I’m not saying they would kill you, I’m just saying they could if they wanted to. Then there are the fire ants, mosquitoes and ticks. So even if we somehow escape from the big critters like Carl Morris and his brothers, the West Nile virus and Lyme disease are bound to get us. Fourteen forever. Forever fourteen.