If a boy cries alone in the wilderness, does he make a sound?
Journey of Miles—Part II
The years are not kind to Miles. As he gets older, the punishments worsen…
Bound with rope around his arms and hanging by a hook in an obscure place in the barn…
Hit in the stomach and kicked in the knees with boards, boots, whatever is handy…
Choked until he lost consciousness…
… But the worse was the slitting. The first time it happened, Miles was eight years old. He had cut his shoulder on a nail in the barn and ran to his mother for assistance. Julia patched him up nicely, attributing it to one of the many accidents her clumsy son had over the years that left him so bruised. She cautioned him many times about how, one day he would hurt himself more seriously if he wasn’t more careful.
Oliver, however, saw this as another opportunity to torment little Miles. Whenever the mood hit him, which was unfortunately quite often, Oliver used a stag-handled knife to slit Miles’ shoulders—both of them—on the top and the sides. Between the ropes and the cuts, Miles’ arms were always in pain. For this reason, Miles couldn’t stand to be hugged because the pain was too much and he wasn’t allowed to tell anyone. Even when the cuts and bruises healed, the reminder of the pain was there, and Miles jerked away anytime anyone tried to hug him.
Levi and Emily were oblivious to Miles’ torment. Being 12 years old by now, Levi had lots of friends and hardly ever stayed around the ranch. There was no need for him to be there. Five-year-old Emily was Daddy’s Little Girl—no harm ever came to her. Miles never resented her for having her father’s love—he just hated that he was being subjected to all of Oliver’s ire.
Levi and Miles visited their father, Maxwell every weekend, but Miles was still mum about what was happening. Natalie, Miles’ stepmother, was beautiful. She had glossy long red hair that captured the light and made her look like an angel, Miles thought. He often just stood and watched her from afar, admiring her beauty. By now, Miles is withdrawn and antisocial, unable to concentrate in school or forge relationships as he won’t let anyone get close to him. One day, the beautiful red-haired angel saw him watching her. She called him over to her, but he refused to approach her.
“Come on, Miles. I just want to talk to you, if that’s okay,” Natalie said sweetly. Nine-year-old Miles stepped out of his hiding place and walked to the red-haired angel. She reached out to touch his arms and he scrambled away from her violently. She snatched her hands back, horrified, then spoke in a soothing voice.
“I won’t touch you, Miles. Will you come and sit next to me?” Her voice was soft and comforting, so Miles slowly inched his way over to her and sat down. “They say that you are having problems in school, Miles. Do you want to tell me why?” Miles only shakes his head.
“Okay, do you not like school?” Miles shrugs.
“Is it too hard for you?” Miles shakes his head.
“Do you have any friends?” Miles shakes his head again.
“Would you like to be my friend?” Miles raises his head to the red-haired angel and nods.
“Good. So friends talk to each other, okay?” He nods again. “So from now on, I want you to say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ when I ask you a question, okay?” He nods again, and Natalie waves a finger at him.
“What do we say?” she prompts.
“Yes,” Miles answers.
“Very good.” She smiles. “May I touch your hand?” she asks. Miles shakes his head feverishly. “Miles?”
“No,” he says.
“Why not?” she asks.
“Because I don’t want you to.”
“Why?” she persists.
“Because… it hurts,” he whispers. She frowns.
“Why does it hurt to touch your hand?” She is examining his hands without touching them. He looks up at her with tears in his eyes.
“Please don’t tell my mom and dad,” he whimpers, unable to contain his grief.
“Tell them what?” she asks.
“Please don’t tell my mom and dad!” he begs more forcefully.
“Okay, I won’t tell them, but you have to tell me what you’re talking about,” Natalie persists.
“Promise!” Miles demands. Natalie’s eyes grow large and she has to force herself not to panic.
“I promise. I won’t say a word. It will be our secret,” she swears. Miles examines her for several moments, then slowly removes his T-shirt. Natalie gasps loudly at the technicolor bruising on Miles’ body, but more at the grotesque cuts in his upper arms and shoulders—some of them healed, some mostly healed, some very fresh.
“Oh my God, Miles! Who did this to you?” she screeches!
“I can’t tell—he’ll kill my family,” Miles says meekly.
“He won’t kill your family, Miles. He just said that to scare you. I won’t let him kill your family, now who did this?” Natalie demands.
“Yes he will! You can’t stop him! He’s evil and he’s mean and he’ll kill my family!” Miles wails.
“Okay, okay, okay,” Natalie reaches for him out of reflex but he scrambles away from her again. “Miles, this will be our little secret, okay?” Miles panics for a brief moment then nods. “Use your words, Miles.”
“Y… yes,” the terrified little boy says.
“Okay. Do you trust me?” she says softly. Miles nods then remembers his words.
“Yes,” he says just above a whisper.
“Do you believe that I won’t hurt you?” she says, still in her soft voice.
“Good, because I would never hurt you, okay?” Miles nods again. He can’t help it this time as he is attempting to fight back the tears now. “Please tell me who did this to you.” Miles looks at Natalie then at the floor.
“Oliver,” he whispers. Natalie’s hand flies to her mouth, but she is successful in not making a sound.
“How long?” she asks softly.
“A long time. I don’t know how long… Before I started school.” Natalie counts backwards and knowing that children become school-age at five years old and Miles is nearly 10, she deduces that this has to have been going on for at least four or five years.
“You poor boy,” she whispers.
“I’m a bad boy,” Miles says. “He says I make Mom unhappy because I look like my dad. He says I should call him Dad because my dad is not there. He does terrible things when my mom is not there.” Natalie thinks he is talking about the abuse and the cutting, but Miles is referring to the room with the chains and the horsewhips and the strange women all the time, nearly every day when his mother is at work.
“Miles, I think your hand hurts because your cuts are infected. We should really get you to a doctor…”
“No!” he yells. “You promised! You said you wouldn’t tell. If you tell, I’m never coming back again. I’m going away and I’m never coming back again!” Miles threatened. He is feverish about this and Natalie believes him.
“Okay, we will see what we can do, but Miles, this means I have to touch you… Do you trust me?” Natalie says holding out her hand to him. Her eyes are deep green and beautiful, and Miles sees his angel again. He slowly put his hand in hers.
Natalie convinces Miles to allow her to take pictures of the many cuts and bruises he has suffered at Oliver’s hand. She swears to let him keep the pictures so that just in case he ever decides to tell someone, he has proof. She takes gentle care of Miles’ wounds, careful only to touch him when and where it is necessary and even then only with first aid items. Miles whimpers and flinches the entire time. He trusts the beautiful angel, but his instincts still tell him that touch hurts. When she was finished, she put him to bed with some pain killers and an anti-inflammatory medication for the swelling and fever. She was right—it is infected.
This was one of the times that the boys spent the weekend with their father. So since Maxwell would be home for the evening, Natalie left for her night shift on the pediatric ward at the hospital. She wondered if Levi knew anything about what was going on with Miles or worse yet, was the same thing happening to him? What about little Emily? How did she ask without breaking Miles’ confidence? Julia and Maxwell were civil, friendly even, so Natalie had no problem talking to Julia—but how to approach the subject, she had no idea. A battle is taking place inside of her… one that she dare not share. That evening, Natalie took antibiotics from the medicine dispensers, not enough for anyone to notice…a pill here, a pill there, from different areas. As a nurse, it wasn’t unusual to see her in a part of the hospital where she wasn’t assigned, but she still had to be careful. She would give the medication to Miles with instructions to take it for the infection.
Miles has dared to share his secret with someone even though Oliver has threatened to kill him and his family if he reveals the truth. What do you think Natalie will do with this information?