Into the Woods

Fall had arrived in full force as the trees huddled on the edge of the vast pasture that stretched up the terraced hill. A strong wind galloped atop the tall grass waving at the young boy and his friends as they stepped into the field. The wind buffeted them, penetrating the thin coats that clung loosely to their small frames. The bruised sky above them rumbled along, the clouds like slow-moving trains pulling slowly out of the station all at once.

The boy with the copper hair turned to his friends and motioned for them to follow him. The wind muffled his words and tussled his hair, but he yelled to be heard and pushed the hair out of his eyes. Eight legs beat a path to the edge of the woods defying the wind with each step. Their progress halted as the four boys peered into the dense forest before them.

The muted light provided by the cloudy day gave the forest an ominous feel. Trees, once bright and lively in the spring, sat dull and dark with spotty, brown leaves covering their gnarled branches. One tree hunched over the path with its bony fingers lifted in warning. The view gave the boys pause. Shadows lurked on the path and suddenly the feeling that they were not alone slithered down their spines. The copper-haired boy looked back at his friends for reassurance. One boy pulled his knit cap lower on his head. Another clutched his jacket closed. A third swallowed hard. Courage eluded them.

Fearing that he’d appear less than brave, the copper-haired boy stepped onto the path leading into the forest. His red hair provided the only color in the dark, musty passage. Ten steps later, he looked back to confirm that his friends had followed. They had. Clumped together in fear, they beat a path through the woods down to the creek that gurgled around the ancient trees. The wind rattled the trees above them surging in a chatter that was at times deafening. Stray, mostly small limbs, fell upon them as they walked quickly along the path.

As they approached the creek, excitement rose in their throats. The gurgling water fell silent in the boastful wind, but the young boy remembered what it had sounded like in the summer. Long, hot days spent jumping in and out of the water had yielded so much fun. The change of season had turned the water colder, but it still felt refreshing to his hands as he scavenged among the rocks in the creek searching for crayfish.

One boy dropped the bucket they had brought onto the bank of the creek and hopped onto a rock in the middle of the lazy stream. He braced himself against another rock and dug his hands into the cool water. When he found nothing after a moment of searching, he pulled his hand back and shook the numbing cold from his fingers. The boys moved up and down the stream kicking rocks over in the water and splashing around until their shoes were soaked and the knees of their pants bore a waterline. The lower hems of their coats dripped, but none of them seemed to mind. Their singular focus on the hapless crayfish clutched their imagination.

The wind still roared above them as the trees fretted and grazed bony fingers against the heavy clouds. The bucket remained empty as the boy’s enthusiasm for the hunt slowly gave way to cold feet and hands chapped by the gusty wind. The copper-haired boy looked down the winding stream and sighed. Not today. He spoke and his friends looked up. They all stood and hunched over in disappointment as they trudged through the water and up the hill from which they had descended only an hour earlier. None of them said a word as they beat a hasty retreat to the field at the edge of the woods.

The light brightened as they emerged from the path into the woods. The fussy grass mimed an “I told you so” when they paused for a moment at the mouth of the dark path. Disappointment dampened the moment more than the cloudy day. Spring and summer had yielded a hopefulness that the fall had gladly taken away. In unison the boys heaved a deep breath and pushed forward, all silent save for the cajoling wind.

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