The little woods was only known by its name: Here's what you do. Go down Falls River road, cross the bridge, pass that little woods, turn left and then...or...We're easy to find. Jones Street ends at this little woods, turn right and up the hill to our street....Things like that.
The little woods was from old forest; a left-over remnant of residential construction, both mid and high end. It was made up mostly of hard woods, tall oaks and maples, some poplars. A few long-leaf pines grew later. Most trees were over a century in age. The leaf litter beneath was undisturbed, deep and rich. One surveyor had once noted that the little woods was pie-shaped; he hadn't recalled anyone ever going into it.
Frank Rowland had lived near the little woods for two years yet barely knew of its existence. Of course he noticed the tall trees when he drove past them using the service road to and from his garage. The leaves blew each autumn from the tallest trees onto the small enclosed lawn between his garage and house, and he was forced, with much irritation, to rake and bag them up.
Frank had retired after thirty-five years with the Pennsylvania State Police after successfully concluding his time as a Captain of Detectives. For eighteen of those years he had been married to Sandra, an attorney. They had divorced, in large part because of Frank's police work; a fact he legally contested, but secretly admitted to. The couple had always wanted a child (she desperately) but Sandra had never been able to conceive. Although she denied this as a reason for the separation, this other reason for the failure of their marriage had forever rolled around in Frank's mind. Now, separated from the woman that he still loved and living in a place far from his former police buddies, he was alone.
He had figured that to distance himself from Pennsylvania was the correct decision. He would move to some place warm. Florida was too far and a place where old people went to die. He did research and North Carolina kept popping up and when he visited and liked the Raleigh area, he did the real estate thing and bought a compact, single house on a quiet street. Within a short period after relocation, he had a part-time job in security with a small company (ex-cop, no problem). Money was not a particular problem for Frank, but he knew he would be bored and he proved himself to be right.
It was November. Frank sat in his family room and watched nothing special on TV. As usual he thought about some of the things he did in his past life that disappointed him (there was a lot to think about). At least his career as a police officer had been stellar: wounded twice while on duty--both life-threatening, and more awards than he could count ( bonus bucks also). He was "The cop you wanted your son/daughter to be". Then why am I now so god-damn miserable! Because he had come home at night, almost every night, to the sure knowledge that things were wrong, and though he had tried mightily to fix things, over time his life had just slipped, piece by soul wrenching piece, away. Still, he held on to his job, and in the end it was all he had--all he was.
Frank's family room, the largest room in his house, was poorly furnished; just thrown together. A sofa, chair, a cocktail and an end table were added to a pole lamp with a matching table lamp. That was it. Oh yeah, his large, flat-screen TV--let's not forget that. Pretty much like Frank's life; cheap motel.
Today was car day. If nothing else Frank was disciplined, habitual (another cop thing). Frank left his feeling-sorry-for-my-ass-sofa and headed for the garage. The eight year old Toyota Camry was soon pulled up onto ramps to change oil and filter. He set the parking brake, exited the car and walked out of the garage. The service road ran past him and three houses, to end seventy-five meters at a guard rail. The blacktop road turned right, ran another fifty meters to spill onto the main road. Behind the distant guard rail stood a cluster of thick trunks at the entrance to the little woods. These trunks, all oak, shot straight up to almost leafless crowns one-hundred feet overhead in the lightly clouded, late morning sky. Frank's eyesight, the best on the Pennsylvania force, focused on the tree-tops for a moment, noting the sparse leaves, and then his vision travelled quickly down the trunks and--something had changed--some thing had shifted at the base of the trunks. An object had caught Frank's attention and he left the car on ramps and walked down the service road.
The object moved as he approached, but stayed in his view. It appeared at first to be a child, maybe a kid from the neighborhood. Now closer he thought, if this is a child, it's like none I've ever seen. It was small, elf-like and genderless. He thought of a pixie, or a gnome (something he saw in a movie?) or was this imagined. He got closer to the woods edge and the creature who appeared to be unclothed, with chameleon-like multi-hued skin had slipped deeper into the gloom. It seemed to linger, then it turned and spent a long moment focused directly on him. In the hollow of the underbrush, he could make out glittering, jewel-like eyes set wide in a troll-face that held a sly smile (it wanted something) and then it was--gone--just vanished, blended with the little woods. Frank watched for a short while. There was no sound; no birds, or insects, no mice rustled in the packed leaves. He knew that just two-hundred-and-fifty-meters distant on the other side of the woods were houses. They should be visible, but he saw only trunks, and shadow. How odd. He walked back to his Toyota.
Frank called in sick for his three-day-a-week job, watched bad TV, and thought about what he had seen. At the end of his mental examination, and too, too many snacks, he had reached only one conclusion: Whatever this thing was--and that was yet to be determined--it had definitely summoned him. Why--or to where--he could only imagine. But in any event, Frank would find out. At no time in his life, or under any circumstances had Frank shown an inclination to shy from danger. He had the bullet scars to prove it.
"Jesus, Frank!" Sandra had said once after a 9mm slug had punched through his upper chest just missing the vital stuff. "You have to let some other cops run in front of the gunfire now and then!" One of the many reasons mentioned in the divorce papers.
So, on a cool autumn morning with a sparkling sun slanting down, and his blue-black SIG 926 nestled at his hip (another things ex-cops do) Frank, dressed in a light-weight beige jacket and khakis, walked to the edge of the little woods and stopped. As usual, there was no one around. Being a weekday, everyone was working. He slipped easily between two large trunks exactly where he had seen the phantom and moved forward into the gloom of the woods.
* * * * * * * *
Frank awoke from his nap. He felt refreshed, invigorated. How long had he slept?
"It's about time! You didn't even hear us come in!" He looked to his left. From his reclining position he could see two women standing in the adjoining kitchen. His wife Sandra stood with a younger version of herself (yes, of course, Emily their daughter, married to Ken). "Lunch will by coming up. Hope you're hungry."
Frank swung his head back. He reclined in a maroon chaise tailored in buttery leather, part of a larger sectional. His eyes fell on a decorative cherry wall unit centered with an obscenely large flat panel TV. Scattered on the ceiling was track lighting accenting the mushroom-colored walls and satin-oak hardwood floors. It was not new, but familiar; he had been a part of its planning.
He lifted himself from the chaise I'm wearing shorts! I never wear shorts! and walked toward the kitchen, a kitchen of stainless and granite (he had been part of this too!). Sandra slipped her arm around her husband's waist and tucked her face into his neck. "Don't go too far, big boy. We want to eat together. Ken will be here soon." Her embrace was loving and familiar; it was good. Frank looked at his daughter (his daughter!) who beamed at her parents.
Frank went out the back door to what had been a grass strip between the house and garage. Now it was a small, private garden of flowers and shrubs. Beautiful. It was a warm summer in North Carolina. He went into and through the garage but the old reliable Toyota was gone. In its place was a new model, a Toyota of course, and another new car, a Chevy!
He left the garage and walked toward the little woods. He reached the tall trees and stopped. Frank looked for movement of some kind; some animated figure retrieved from memory, something possibly slipping away between the trunks. Under the thick crowns, and the thinning undergrowth he could see only the colored siding of distant houses, hear the pitched voices of children. Nearby, squirrels darted away and hid from his eyes. Birds and insects flew or hummed about. Nothing was mysterious here; just a little woods.
Frank stood for a long moment and looked at this place and then started back toward the house. He picked up the pace; a smile deepened the lines around his eyes. He didn't want to be late for lunch with his family.
I have written fiction most of my life. I have a novel on Amazon (HEADSHOT) since 2011, doing okay.
Right now am writing literary short stuff, and turning to sci-fi. I have a large, new novel called CATHEDRAL already completed (Science Fiction) and will maybe put on blog when I introduce my website soon. I am retired so it keeps on coming. Mike R.