A man and his friends get lost in the woods that terrified and defeated him when he was a boy.
As a boy, Paul had been browbeaten into spending two weeks every summer with his father’s sister and her family in the country. He still thought of those weeks as little slices of pure hell.
Even worse than the summers was one particular October when he was fourteen. His maternal grandmother–Gramma–had just died. All Paul wanted was to clasp hands with his mother in the pit they shared. No one could understand that, just now, their only comfort was to follow Gramma as far as the living could into the grave.
Dad decided the best thing for Paul was fresh country air. Paul was exiled to Aunt Vinnie and Uncle Arvin’s farm, with cousin Russ to “pull him out of it.”
Aunt Vinnie sat Paul down to shell dried beans with her.
“People do pass, Paul,” she said. “It’s as natural as being born.”
“Yes, ma’am.” I’m not stupid. Just because I don’t pop the heads off live chickens doesn’t mean I never heard of Death before.
“Your granny isn’t entirely gone. Her soul is with the Lord, but part of her is still here, in your heart, ready to give you advice and help you when you’re in trouble….”
Paul said, “Yes, ma’am,” periodically and shelled beans.
He kept his sorrow to himself, and his relatives told people about the good that getting back to the land will do you.
Aunt Vinnie made bird feeders out of pine cones for her church’s Christmas Bazaar. She gave Paul and Russ a pillow case and a pruning hook apiece, and they hiked through the fields to Uncle Arvin’s twenty acres of woods.
Paul had wanted to blaze a trail, but Russ had laughed at him. “Even a city boy could find his way out of these woods,” he said. “A blind man could find his way.”
Russ shrugged. “He just could, that’s all.”
“You’re talking about a sense of direction. I don’t have one.”
Russ raised his pruning hook and snapped off a large cone. “Some other way, then. The woods don’t want to keep you. They’d just as soon send you home safe.”
“People get lost in the woods all the time.” Paul wielded his hook mercilessly, determined to harvest more than Russ. “People die, lost in the woods.”
“They weren’t listening. Something helps you out. Something shows you the way. You just got to have faith and listen.”
“Listen to WHAT?”
“I don’t know. God, I guess.”
It was not a good time to talk to Paul about God. Paul spat.
“What did you do?” Russ lowered his pruning hook. “Did you just spit?”
“What if I did?”
“Did you just spit on God?”
“What if I did?”
Both boys threw aside their tools and faced each other, bristling. The accumulated animosity of fourteen years radiated between them.
“Take it back!”
Paul spat again.
Ten minutes later, Russ thundered off with a black eye, leaving Paul on the ground with a bloody nose. Alone–finally really alone–Paul let his tears come, and he blubbered shamelessly. When he had finished, he cleaned himself up as well as he could with his handkerchief, then used one of the pillow cases.
Russ would be back soon, sticking out a paw for a “friends again” shake. Paul considered himself lucky not to have been caught in his grief. With a final sigh, he resumed his harvesting. Russ would come back any minute.
But he didn’t.