A creepy forest with the text "The Nothing"
Mimadeo/Shutterstock.com (background); JETACOM AUTOFOCUS/Shutterstock.com (branch); Jean du Boisberranger/Getty Images (tree trunk)

The Nothing

Whatever you do, don’t look behind you.

By Kristin Lewis
From the October 2020 Issue

to identify the mood in a work of fiction and explore how the author creates that mood, then write a sequel staying true to the mood of the story 

Other Key Skills: author’s craft, imagery, dialogue, setting, plot, vocabulary, narrative writing

Mood is the feeling you get from reading a piece of writing. The mood of a story could be, for example, joyful, calm, or gloomy. Writers create mood through word choice, imagery, dialogue, setting, and plot.

It was one of those days when the sky is dark and bright at the same time, when the trucks careening down the highway behind my house don’t seem to make a sound, when it’s 85 degrees but people are wearing sweaters. I was walking into the forest—a chewed-up tangle of a place on the other side of the highway. The trees are scraggly there, the soil dusty. Even the birds are glum. About a mile in, though, the forest starts to change. It gets greener and denser and wilder. Most people don’t come here because from the road, it doesn’t look like much. But that’s the thing, isn’t it? People don’t take time to look at things deeply, to search out the hidden places, the places that might be just around the corner.

I was glad of that, though, because deep in the forest, I could be alone—and also not alone. There was a tree, a strange and beautiful tree, that had the circumference of a dinner table and foliage so thick I was always in its shade, no matter where the sun was in the sky. When I sat against the trunk, doing my homework or just closing my eyes and listening to the wind, it felt as though the tree wanted to tell me something.

And on that day, it did.

When I got to the tree and dropped my backpack on the ground, I noticed something different: a hole in the trunk, about eye level and the size of a basketball, cut cleanly and cruelly. I peered inside and saw only darkness—the kind that could stretch for one inch or 100 miles. It was cold inside the hole and smelled weird, like rotten eggs. Stepping back, I noticed it was as though the tree had a face and that face was caught in a scream.

Then I heard it.

A shriek.

I looked around, trying to find where the hideous sound was coming from. Then I heard a low, scratchy voice coming from the hole in the trunk.


“What?” I whispered, leaning in.

Something is coming. Something terrible.

“What?” I whispered again.

Cautiously, I placed my hand on the bark. It was suddenly burning hot. I jumped back.


I whirled around to see that nothing was there.

I mean nothing.

No trees.

No dirt.

No birds.

No sky.

It was an endless wall of blankness, as if a giant eraser had been taken to the world. And this nothingness was moving straight toward me.


The tree was screaming now, repeating run over and over. I took off, my legs pounding the dirt. Suddenly, I realized I’d left my backpack behind.


I looked back but—


The nothingness swallowed up the tree.

I ran out of the forest and under the highway and all the way home. When I opened my front door, I was breathless and dazed, as if I had just awoken from a dream.

“Hi, sweetie!” my mom called cheerfully from the dining room. When I didn’t reply, she popped her head through the doorway.

“Where have you been?”

“I was—there is—something horrible—”

“Sweetheart, it’s OK. I know.”

“You know?”

She walked over to me and gave me a quick squeeze.

“I know you forgot your backpack somewhere. It was sitting on the front porch when I got home. Some kind person must have dropped it off for you.”


“It’s right there, on the kitchen table.”

I turned, and there it was, not a speck of dirt on it. Without thinking, I walked over to it and opened the front pocket. Inside was a piece of bark.

And etched into the bark?

Two words.

Behind you.

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Activities (10)
Answer Key (1)
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Activities (10)
Answer Key (1)
Step-by-Step Lesson Plan

Close Reading, Critical Thinking, Skill Building

1. PREPARING TO READ (15 minutes)