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Jul 11, 2017


"In debut author Viceconte's coming-of-age novel, a teenager's attempt at redemption leads him from suburbia to jail to a shaky future." - Kirkus Reviews

David Barnes returns home from boarding school, only to find that the life he left behind is completely different. Lost in a town he no longer knows, David falls into a downward spiral until awakened by a reality he never anticipated.

The first novel by Christopher F. Viceconte, The Woods is a contemporary coming-of-age story about struggling to find one’s place in the world

Jul 11, 2017

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The Woods - Christopher F. Viceconte




The first couple of times, he felt dizzy, but in the months preceding he had perfected his routine: enter at Forty-seventh Street, walk through the pedestrian tunnel and up to the platforms, with no stops along the way. He could catch the timetables in the tunnel and it was safer than going through the main concourse, especially with the holidays. No police, fewer travelers, and a straight shot to the tracks. There was inherent risk in walking across the weathered marble toward the platforms, but he was just a kid. He told himself that from the beginning; no matter what happened, he was just a kid. And he said it for weeks, until he wasn't dizzy. Now, he rarely felt nervous at all. His chest would swell with a stirring sense of unrest and his heart would hammer vigilance inside of his rib cage. He felt alive during these trips, a brief respite from the monotony he would return to in mere hours. There was a sense of clarity in the routine, and it was one of the few times throughout his week that he still felt remotely sane.

When the New Haven Line was built in the mid-nineteenth century, it linked New York City to central Connecticut and beyond, finding its terminus in Boston. The many rivers feeding into Long Island Sound along its northern shore, upon which the track would eventually be built, had until then caused the route to be deemed unsuitable. But bridge-building technology caught up with the steam engine, and in due time there was no need for Boston-bound travelers to hop a boat in Manhattan and sail north. The great minds of the New York and New Haven Railroad, a name that lasted a mere quarter of a century before taking on the modern moniker of the Metro-North, were exceptionally proud of themselves. Theirs was a feat of engineering; through sheer intellect and cold steel, mankind had triumphed over the accepted hindrance of nature. One can only speculate as to how they would have felt about the way David Barnes was utilizing their creation this Christmas Eve.

David reminded himself to look forward and breathe, falling into an active form of meditation as his vision blurred at the edges. Head up, headphones in, seemingly oblivious to the world around him—the art of hiding in plain sight. But again, it didn’t matter. He was just a kid. He breathed in deeply, nodding his head to the music as he neared the tracks. He began his descent to the platform, counting the cars and marking his entry.

One . . . two . . . three . . .

Four up, and then in. If the train was busy, he would head to the front and work his way back before they got to Fairfield. It was best to choose the emptiest car, but on nights like tonight, when the train was empty, David always chose the fourth. He glanced around the train and made his way to the back, from where he could get a view of the door. David settled into one of the rows, leaning back to stretch out and yawn. He placed his backpack on the seat next to him and pulled his phone out of his pocket, taking the opportunity to check his messages.

She still hasn’t responded.

It was best not to get distracted. Looking busy was fine, as no one riding the commuter rail into and out of Manhattan had the appearance of even slight tranquillity, but negative thoughts were against the rules. A positive mind-set was key to a successful run. Look at your phone; play a game; listen to music; read a book. Once you were in your seat, there was no point in thinking about anything else. But for the past week, David’s constant state of mild intoxication had been leaving him a little off his game, and he knew it. He was aggravated and tired. He couldn’t wait for this to be over.

A metallic jingle and the crackle of a radio ripped him from his thoughts. David glanced out of the window and felt his legs go numb. On the platform stood three officers. The largest, bearing multiple stripes on his shoulder, was speaking to the conductor. David looked at his phone: they were three minutes past departure time.

The officers didn’t have dogs, David noted, but the scene was unsettling. Uniformed police rarely left the main concourse. This was a red flag.

The bathroom.

David threw his backpack over his shoulder, slid out of his seat, and started down the aisle. He looked down at his phone, trying to seem unrushed and natural, unaware of the activity on the platform. Head up and headphones in, the world around him was of no consequence.

As he strolled past the open doors, two of the officers stepped out from behind the third and started toward his car. His heart quickened. He could feel his vision brighten and his ears pop. A burst of adrenaline ran through his chest.

In his moment of panic, David knocked into the side of a seat, throwing himself off balance. Stumbling into the opposite row, he felt the packed mass strapped around his abdomen shift slightly. The officers now stood in the doorway, staring at him like statues with cold, unmoving faces. David looked from one to the other, waiting for their first move. Each waited in silence, left hand at his belt, right hand resting on his hostler. Seconds spanned a lifetime, and finally the two looked at each other and nodded in confirmation.

The officer on the left took his radio from his belt and raised it to his mouth. It’s him.

David jolted upright and stumbled backward. He closed his eyes as he stepped back, hoping he would disappear. But as the footsteps of the officers sounded in front of him, he snapped to attention and the scene fell into place. He wheeled around and darted for the door to the next car. He would be able to slip into the bathroom right as he walked through the connecting door.

Don’t turn around.

But as David placed his hand on the door, the striped officer appeared in the next car. He was surrounded. He bounded two steps and reached for the latch. A hand from behind grabbed him by his backpack and began to pull. He leaned forward and kicked back. His heel found the officer’s knee and the man yelled. David slipped his arms out of the straps of his bag and ripped open the connecting door.


David ran out onto the walkway between the cars. The striped officer threw open the door in front of him and reached out, grabbing hold of David’s wrist. David jerked himself free and grabbed the safety rails, poising to vault over the side of the walkway and onto the track. The striped officer jumped forward and tackled him, slamming his body into the door of the car from which he had just come.

David’s head smacked into the metal doorframe and his vision flashed. The striped officer was wrestling to stay on top of him, kneeling with the entirety of his weight on David’s back. He felt a sharp pain and his face began to swell. He couldn’t breathe, suffocating under the weight of two bodies twice his size. He tried to yell, but couldn’t bring his voice to leave his mouth. Spit dripped from his lips as he struggled to draw breath. Black spots began to appear across his vision. David felt the cold gray metal as his eyes slip closed, and then nothing.


When he finally came to, David was on his knees, with the lesser officers holding him by his arms. He blinked as his vision straightened out, and registered an icy pinch around his wrists. The striped officer stood before him with a black duffel bag at his feet.

David shifted to maintain his balance. The two officers to his rear jerked him upright with a sharp tug, causing him to immediately feel the absence of the travel bag around his waist.

It’s gone.

It was all over. He was caught.

Can you hear me, kid?

He looked around. He was on the platform. The conductors looked on, making a poor effort to help several assisting officers hold back a gathering crowd.

Come on, kid. You okay?

David could sense the eyes on his back. He felt naked and bare under their glares. He stared at the floor, covered in muck and grime.

Don’t say anything. Don’t even look at them.

All right, the striped officer began. Let’s start simple. What’s your name?

David was smarter than that. He was smarter than all of them, and he was sure of it. This was nothing more than bad luck.

The officer on his left dug his fingers into David’s shoulder. Answer the question, kid.

David held his mouth closed as his muscles tensed, trying to stifle a pained groan.

The striped officer gave an exaggerated frown and shook his head. Well, this belongs to you, right? He reached into the black duffel bag and pulled out David’s canvas travel pack. And this, he continued, reaching inside of the pack and pulling out a sealed, plastic package. This is yours too, right?

David closed his eyes in horror. Onlookers gasped and began to murmur. The lessers shook him and pulled his shoulders back.

The striped officer put his spoils back into the duffel. So you’re David, right?

What little blood remained in his face drained instantly. The officers to his rear chuckled and tightened their grip. David felt like he was going to vomit.

Vitaly. I’m gonna kill you.

Still nothing? Come on, kid. Make this easy on yourself, the striped officer said, glancing at the other officers.

Guess he isn’t very talkative, said one of the lessers, giving David’s shoulder a sharp shake.

Well, maybe he’ll start to talk when we get to the Tombs, laughed the striped officer, abandoning any attempt to conceal his pleasure. Sixteen years old. You’re gonna be popular. Merry Christmas, kid.

David looked up and stared the striped officer in the eye, cocking his head to the side. The man took the bait and stepped in further. David held his gaze.

Something you wanna say now? the striped officer asked, leaning in with a puffed-out chest.

David whipped his head back and spat forward with a quick jerk, scoring his mark just below the striped officer’s eye. The man recoiled in horror, batting and wiping his face in panicked intervals, all the while letting out a broken string of profanity. The two lessers threw David to the ground. Again, he felt the darkness begin to creep in around him. A combination of muffled protest from onlookers, the blare of the striped officer in his ear, and a lack of air scrambled his thoughts as he struggled to understand how they knew.

. . . decide at any time to exercise these rights and not answer any questions or make any statements. Do you understand each of these rights I have explained to you? Having these rights in mind, is there anything you’d like to say?

Drawing all the breath he could muster, David raised his head and hissed the only words he had left. Fuck . . . you.



David. David? David Barnes!

He didn’t hear it the first time, or the third, but he heard everyone laughing, and that’s when he realized Mr. Grant had been calling on him.

Mr. Grant stared at him from the whiteboard. Can you name them?

Fairfield High School was far more animated than boarding school in New Hampshire had been, and that, in and of itself, was something that David enjoyed. Each morning more than three thousand adolescents swarmed the Student Center, an open, concrete chasm surrounded by red brick walls three stories high. From it spread four different wings, each corresponding to a core subject. At Brudenell Academy, the entire student body had consisted of barely four hundred boys, so twenty-plus students in a single class still seemed a crazed way to start one’s day.

There was something enthralling about the anonymity found in such a large group of students. David never understood how people managed to cultivate drama in Fairfield; it was too easy to disappear. And the transition to public school had been easy. Classes were easy, sports weren’t mandatory. After setting his teacher’s initial expectations fairly low, he was happily flying under the radar, unnoticed and unbothered. School was unengaging, and a painful obligation, unlike New Hampshire. But with enough time freed for daydreaming, he found it tolerable.

David blushed with embarrassment as scattered laughter broke throughout the classroom. Uh . . . I’m, he began, stumbling to find his words. I’m sorry. What?

Thank you so much for gracing us with your presence, Mr. Grant said with a slight bow. We were talking about the Iroquois. Can you name off the different tribes?

David paused for a moment.

Mohawk, Cayuga, Seneca, Oneida, Onondaga, and . . . God, what was it? . . .

Uh. David hesitated, feeling the heat on the back of his neck. I want to say the Tuscarora were one of them.

Mr. Grant narrowed his eyes. Okay. Any other takers? We’ve only been studying this for the past month, so—

A voice erupted from the back of the room. David. Don’t do this to yourself.

David turned in his seat and glared. Thomas had been David’s first friend. In their youth, Thomas had been visibly overweight, so much so that he had to walk sideways down the aisle of the school bus. His frizzy hair flopped down into knotted curls. On his best days, the grade-schooler had looked like a short, Caucasian Oprah, but he typically bore a stronger resemblance to Pigpen. They had been fast friends, and remained close when David left for boarding school in New Hampshire. Upon David’s return to Fairfield, he had found that Thomas had grown into himself and become quite the Casanova. He employed a quick wit to avoid confrontation, a phenomenal asset in the dangerous waters of modern high school, and was well liked by everyone. He was also now an incessant comedian.

Goddammit, Thomas, David snapped. Not today.

You have to stop thinking about him.


He doesn’t feel the same way that you do.

And, we’re moving on! Mr. Grant yelled, in an effort to quiet the contagious laughter growing in the corners of the classroom. The Iroquois. They were a confederation. Not one single tribe, but an assemblage. These were different people, from different places, with different backgrounds, who came together and banded up, because they shared a common problem. They were being removed from their homes, stripped of their belongings, and after living their lives as they pleased for as long as they could remember, they were being faced with the fact that they had no control over their futures. And this becomes important later on. We’re talking about the Mohawk, Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, and—he paused, looking at David—the Tuscarora. On that note, we’re going to wrap things up for the day. He walked back to the front and began shuffling through the papers on his desk.  Next week we’re gonna move straight into the Civil War, which means good things. Ken Burns, in particular. Remember that Monday we have your second paper due. These are heavily weighted; hence the whole no-homework-except-the-reading thing that we’re doing here. So please, at least half-ass it. He sat back in his chair and clapped his hands. Class dismi—

Mr. Grant had barely made it through his final farewell before the bulk of the class was up and out the door. David packed his bag, pausing a moment to check his phone.


You ready to cruise? Thomas asked, packing his own belongings.

Word. Is he meeting us there?

Yep, I talked to him earlier.

You’re sure he’s gonna be there?

Jesus, Thomas said. Calm down. He’ll be there. You riding with me?

David nodded, zipping up his backpack. Definitely.

All right. Let’s head out, Thomas said. I got stuck with a spot on the far end of the parking lot this morning.

The pair stood and sauntered toward the door. Just as David was reaching for the knob, a voice called from behind him.

Hey, David! Stay back for a minute.

Thomas looked at David. I’ll meet you at the car.

Mr. Grant was a cool teacher, or as close to one as you could get. He commanded a great deal of respect from students and faculty alike. He was relaxed, a quality out of place among his colleagues. David decided he was probably a serial killer. But in an age where half of high school students couldn’t concentrate because of their prescribed medication, and the other half couldn’t because they weren’t on any, he did a commendable job of fighting the uphill battle of engaging his students. Even David, in his relative indifference, appreciated the vigor, and at times excitement, of Mr. Grant’s class. The man had a knack for theatrics and seemed to know how to push the boundary of acceptable behavior just enough to keep the class awake, yet still keep his job.

David turned around and stepped back into the classroom. Mr. Grant sat at his desk, still shuffling through what seemed like an unending pile of loose papers.

Take a seat, he said, looking down. I wanted to talk to you for a minute about your work.

Yea, sure, David said with slight confusion. He walked back and sat in the front row.

Mr. Grant glanced at the stack in his hand with a look of amused disapproval, and threw it back on top of his desk. So, what’s going on?

What do you—

With you. Explain it to me, Mr. Grant said, staring David in the eye. There must be some logic to it. I’m interested to hear.

David shook his head. I don’t know what you mean.

It has to be an act, Mr. Grant said, standing up and walking around to the front of his desk. He crossed his arms, furrowing his brow. Otherwise I can’t understand it. He paused, looking to David for a response. Well . . . when and if you do show up, you don’t participate, smell like cigarettes, and last Thursday you literally slept through class. Mr. Grant shook his head. Which is absolutely ridiculous, because your work isn’t half bad. He took two strides back toward his desk and grabbed a paper from the mess. How long did it take you to write this?

David hesitated. A few days.

"This is .

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