by L.V. Gaudet
It is an ordinary forest, as far as spooky looking woods go, filled mostly with craggy twisted oak trees,
their gnarled branches reaching like skeletal fingers and deeply wrinkled cracked-bark covered trunks.
The trees cluster together, their branches twisted and tangled together, daring any to enter their midst.
The land here lies low and wet in the spring,
leaving the stand of trees a small island of stick-like saplings and sparse tall yellow grass invaded by wild roses with their sharp thorns standing in a shallow bath of melt water
throughout the springtime months.
They are far from a silent woods. A small stretch of thick growth surrounded by fields of crops interspersed with some areas abandoned to grass, weeds, and stray crop seeds.
Against one side of this stretch of trees, amidst the farm fields, is also nestled a small happy community.
The woods team with life, red and grey squirrels, rabbits, mice and voles, and a range of birds.
With the damp ground, the woods are a haven for frogs and toads, and of course, the ever present blood-sucking mosquitoes.
It is a typical small town community lying nestled against the miniature forest. It grew from centuries old land of grasslands mixed with forests.
The old forests and grasslands were slowly chopped down, turned over,
and settled as the world slowly populated with mankind; the landscape of humanity changing from hunter-gatherers to farms, towns, and villages.
Eventually towns and communities grew together to become cities, family homesteads populated into small farming communities,
and untouched land became rare pockets of unsullied old growth forests scattered about in tiny fragments bordering farm fields and stretches of small community homes.
Some of these tiny pockets of untouched woods still hold secrets. Some of these secrets are perhaps best left that way.
The woods sit silent and brooding, an ugly tangle of dead looking leafless skeletal branches that look like they belong in a darker and more sinister world, the world of the dead.
The clouds hang heavy, dark, and grey on this day; a suffocating thick blanket hanging low in the sky to cast a pall over this small piece of the world.
The snow lies heavy and wet, crystalline flakes shrinking and melding into a dirty slush as the temperatures slowly warm.
In time, the snow will vanish and be replaced once again by the murky stagnant melt waters that will take a few months to dry up.
Most of the rodents, birds, and other small woodland creatures are conspicuously absent on this day, having chosen to hunker down and wait out this gloomy day.
Nevertheless, a few squirrels and birds still flit about the skeletal trees, a small rabbit nervously twitching its nose as it sits motionlessly waiting.
Two children playing in their back yard off the woods dare each other to go exploring into the spooky trees.
“I bet you can’t go to the fallen tree,” said the older and taller of the two boys.
The younger boy blanched, his stomach turning sickly, but stared stone faced at the fallen rotting tree laying nestled within the narrow strip of woods beyond their yard.
You can see the tree only because there are no leaves on any of the branches.
“I am not going to let you know how scared I am,” he thinks. He can already smell the mossy rot of the long dead tree, although he has never been near enough to it to catch its odor.
It smells in his vivid young imagination like death and decay and something even darker.
He watches a small red squirrel flit around the trees, untouched by the dark brooding sullenness and the spooks, ghosts,
and monsters his mind screams must surely lurk hidden inside these scary woods. He swallowed.
“Can too,” he said, his voice cracking with fear. “I bet you can’t go stand on that ole’ stump,” he countered.
The old stump is a rotting remnant of an even older fallen tree that has long ago vanished into the mud and scraggly growth of the woods.
The stump remains, standing defiant and threatening beyond the fallen tree now laying discarded and tangled in the woods,
sharp splinters and points of shattered wood sticking up as though waiting to impale any foolish boy who tries to climb it and falls.
Its wood is soft and crumbly now with rot, the sharp jagged edges unlikely to be capable of impaling anything for years. Kevin humphed at his younger brother.
He is just as scared, but certainly is not going to let his little brother know that. He nervously hiked up his pants, which did not need it, and stepped forward on a mission.
He marched purposely into the woods, careful to keep his back to the younger boy so he will not see the paleness of his waxy fear-filled face.
With a scuff and a shrug, Jesse reluctantly followed his older brother.
A little red squirrel scampered up to the high branches as they passed, pausing to chitter down angrily at the boys.
They reach the first point, the fallen tree Kevin had dared his younger brother to venture to. It is no victory for either boy.
On a forced march of pride, determined not to reveal his fear of some silly trees, Kevin continues on.
He crawls over the fallen tree, its rotting length sagging with a soggy cracking beneath his weight. His forward march slows more the closer he comes to the wicked looking ancient broken stump.
He stops; staring at the stump like it is some otherworldly thing. He dares not touch it, yet also dares not, lest Jesse think him weak or afraid.
Unable to let his older brother face the woods alone, Jesse follows.
As he draws near the old stump where his brother has stopped to stare motionlessly at it, he notices something unusual looking at the base of the stump.
“What’s that?” Jesse asked nervously. Kevin pries his eyes from the stump to look lower. He kneels down, reaching for what lies there. “Don’t touch it.”
“It’s nothing.” Kevin picks it up, turning it over in his hand.
Jesse turns at the sound of a cracking branch.
The boys are never seen again.