I wrote this short story for the email newsletter a month or so ago, and I liked it so much I decided to clean it up a tiny bit, change one or two things that slipped past my and share it here. I actually wrote the first draft in my iPhone in the note-taking app that came with it, which has turned into a great tool. I like to always carry a notebook, but it’s not always possible. The phone’s a great way to put stuff down, even if I never use it, probably moreso than the notebook. I’m glad when stuff that comes out of the phone writing ends up being something useable, like this story.
So here you go, please enjoy “The Woods”.
Tones, everywhere, a cacophony of howls and tones ringing in the air above and around. At least that’s what it sounded like, like heavy tones from an organ, though through the wind and the crackling of trees around it was impossible to tell for sure. The woman thought it was the sounds of cars on the highway, and that they were close to help.
He knew better though, he knew what it was. It was judgment, and as he pleaded with her to not follow the tones, he knew that it was the judgment the old men had talked about in hushed tones around drinks at the end of a meal, when young men like him had stood guard at the doors and windows, looking hard.
That was not hard. This was hard, his feet hurting in their shoes as he trudged through the cold. It was hard too, to scream the woman’s name after as she ran wildly though the snowy cold woods after their car skidded off the road earlier, into the woods and who knew how long they’d been knocked out, silent in the dark and the cold.
At this point they were so long lost it didn’t even matter of they could get back to the car, the car where the gun was, the gun wrapped up in an old shirt in a shoebox under her seat. All he wanted was to find the road, to get out of the woods.
There it was again, a clear tone now. Even she heard it, the depth, the melody, the absolute silence in the air following it. He knew what it was, and the man fell to his knees in the cold, tears on his cheeks.
“What the fuck’s the matter with you?!?!” she screamed in his face, as she stood over him now. Her hair was blowing wildly, her face was red from the frozen air, her coat and pants and boots, none of them functional and all of them fashionable, were spattered and soaked with snow. “Get up!!”
The branches crackled.
She spun around, screaming. Steps in the cold brittle snow when she stopped, and she waved her glowing cellphone up, yelling. “Hey! Hey over here! We’re over here help!!”
He laughed inside, wanting to tell her not to bother. He knew what it was, what was coming…deep down he knew ever since he’d been allowed to the table, allowed to participate, allowed to cross that line for the first time. The gun in the old shirt in the box under the seat of the car was just the latest time, and it was probably, he thought, the one that had done it. At that point, he knew that when he’d taken the woman to the restaurant and walked into the back dining hall to greet the manager and get the box, with the message in the card telling him a name and he recognized it, he was lost. That poor boy. If only he hadn’t told his father what he’d seen… He didn’t even hear the woman get picked up, straight up out of the snow from next to him, but barely felt the rush of breeze from it, the absence of space once filled. He continued to look straight ahead, kneeling in the snow, and knew what it was.
The breaths were hot, warming up the air above his head, and the hand long, thin, reaching down to brush against his shoulder. He could feel how wrong the hand was, the strength despite the lack of pressure on the fabric of his coat, as if the hand itself emanated something, pulsed like the tone that seemed, all of a sudden, to have stopped. The tone was gone, but the man heard the breaths now, deliberate, and he knew that they were of the same. He knew that the tone was the coming, and the breath was the last caress, the warmth trickling through the air around the man and the source of the hand right behind and above him, giving the pain from the cold some relief.
The man looked up, and in the empty eyes and skull maw that was slowly opening, the other hand, three-fingered and impossibly large, came down softly like a wave of killing ocean, a sleep that the man knew would end the crossing of li…
In the dark, the bent-back animal legs stalked, through the snow, the impossibly-large hands sweeping the branches away, the wood quiet now, the wind quiet, the tone dead. The antlers brushed the tops of the trees, and the skull maw, extended forward and open, clack-clack-clack of bone joint rattling, dripping black and brown and red.