A novel by R. Richard Anderson
Alfred knew he was in trouble, he had stayed to long at grandpa’s again. But on his mind were other things, he had to stop and help grandpa and grandma who lived on the farm next to them, bring in the firewood, bring in the water to boil overnight, then there were the shadows. As he walked down the lonely country road to go home, he was always leery of the shadows in Shay’s woods.
Yes it was spring, probably in March, the snow was slowly melting and the road was spongy with mud. But Shay’s woods he hated it. He watched as the trees seemed to lean toward him as he walked by. As he passed by the woods, the shadows from the setting sun bounced off the cedar rails, across the cedar trees and on the road, Alfred felt uncomfortable. It was a large bird flying through the trees not cawing or screeching, just flying, moving left, right, right, left, following Alfred as he walked slowly down the road.
His pace quickened a bit, as he felt he had to get away as soon as he could. There always seemed be a whirlwind of leaves, whether it was from the bird flying or the wind he couldn’t hear or couldn’t see, it always seemed to be something moving in Shay’s woods.
Finally Alfred arrived home. As he walked thru the gate and up the steps he knew he was very late. The early spring snow had been dusted from the front porch steps.
The firewood for overnight was stacked on the porch in the wood box. Pushing open the door he was greeted
by his dog Power, they called him. Why he never knew because he was an older dog, a little bit heavy, but at the same time pretended he was a playful pup.
Alfred entered the room and removed his coat, scarf and his muddy boots, and looked towards his mother, Sarah who was standing at the kitchen sink. His eyes glanced to the right and spotted his father, Don sitting at the table. His supper half eaten. To break the silence and nobody saying hello, Alfred held up a basket and said, “Look Dad, Nana sent down fresh biscuits and her strawberry jam. Mom can warm then up in the oven and we can have them for dessert.”
Alfreda’s father never acknowledged the biscuits, the jam or worst of all Alfred; not even a grunt, he just kept his head down eating from the plate. Alfred glanced back at his mother, he knew by the look on her face and by the cross frown on his father he was in trouble.
Alfred’s mother quietly turned from where she was standing at the kitchen sink, “ Alfred will you please eat your supper, it is getting cold.”
When Alfred pulled the chair out and sat down opposite his father, he turned and said, “Nana and Grandpa, they both say hi Dad and they are doing well. You know they appreciate me coming in to help.”
The first recognition for the evening was a grunt from his father, his head slowly raised from the plate, looking Alfred square in the face he said “Every day you go to Nan and Grandpa after school is alright, they need your help but you are staying later and later. Are you sure it is Nana and Grandpa , are you sure it is the chores that you are doing? Or tell me Alfred is it that sweet little blond girl Peggy Sue, who stays there until her parents come and pick her and her brother up from school? But it is late and you have to go past Shay’s woods.”
Stopping in mid flight with his fork from plate to mouth, Alfred looked at his dad, “What is the matter with coming by Shay’s woods?” he asked, “Oh sure it’s creepy, but it has been creepy ever since I walked by it. Alfred’s father spoke “You know the story. Shay is a bitter man and he had a curse put on the woods years ago. He had somebody special come in and they cursed the woods and his land, and anybody that goes by it or touched his property could end up under great harm. You know the rules, you know what it is. You are to be home early after helping Nana and Grandpa and for heaven sake stay away from Shay’s woods!”
“Alfred do you want to wash up and get your homework done and then maybe read a bit and go off to bed.” his mother said. Alfred remembered what he had been told by his grandparents about Mr. Shay’s woods. About how Mr. Shay had lost his wife early and everything seemed to be wrong in his life and he decided to turn bitter against everyone and bitter he turned. According to all the men who came to help with the harvesting of the hay and oats, they begrudged going to help Shay because he never returned the favour. But they had to help him because it was their job as neighbours in the country to do it. If anybody went near the property they would be slowly dragged into the woods and never seen again.
The next morning Alfred’s father drove him to Grandpa’s in the wagon, he said, “he had work to do but he had to have a chat with Grandpa.”
There he met Peggy Sue and her brother Gordon, and they left to go to school. As Peggy Sue and Gordon’s mother worked in the village and she took them to the school and let them off but she had to stay at work and they had to walk back to Grandpa and Grandma’s and would stay there until their Mom and Dad came and picked them up in the buggy.
The next day when Alfred , Peggy Sue and Gordon stayed at Grandpa’s and Alfred did the chores, Alfred knew he had stayed to long. Heaven’s he thought I am going to get it again.
This time as he walked home he was looking in the woods and he was thinking about the curse he heard about last night, it seemed the trees had taken on a more anonymous position as before. It seemed that the whole woods had moved closer to the road and it seemed that the large bird that flew around in the woods all the time had become faster and was flying what looked to be more meaner.
The leaves seemed to be restless for some reason although it was spring and the leaves were budding out on the branches. It was there that Alfred suddenly noticed from the corner of his eye, a large branch swaying and suddenly crashed to the ground.
Startled, Alfred started to walk a little faster. His feet moved along the dirt road that was drying from the spring mud, he noticed that the branches were moving with the wind, as if they were reaching out to touch him and pull him toward the property. He became more terrified, then he became a lot more terrified, the branches seemed to be swinging down at him, they seemed to be moving on the road, Alfred did not know if it was his eyes that were playing tricks on him.
After the crashing of the large branch the bird went into a frenzy, powerful wings moving rapidly swooping toward the end of the woods and then swooping back into the woods. Not screeching but more like a howl. Alfred then moved at a faster pace as he tried to get out of where the shadow of branches were moving on the road. It was then that he noticed that the leaves were turning in to a whirlwind. The whirl wind became more violent and the leaves picked up more and more and they headed toward the cedar rail fence. Normally the whirlwind would stop at the fence and fall but today as Alfred cleared the shadow of the woods and into the clearing on the road, the leaves cleared the fence, continued down thru the ditch, up on the road and rolled around Alfred covering him completely.
Alfred could take it no more, almost in tears and literately in fear of his life, his heart started to beat faster. He ran and he ran like the wind.
As he moved farther away from the woods and closer to his house he heard the footsteps and then the heavy panting. The panting became heavier, more laboured and deeper as he went. The footsteps heavier, drawing near.
Alfred could see the gate of the house, normally he would have to go around and open the gate, but tonight he cleared the gate. He ran up the path, stumbled up the stairs, and into the house, opening the door and slammed it shut. Leaning against it, and panted heavily.
Startled, his mother and said “Good heavens, Alfred ! What is going on?”
“Nothing Mom, Nothing!” Alfred replied. “ I just wanted to get home earlier.”
Alfred slowly made his way across to the table and put his books down, “Where is Dad?” he asked.
“Your Dad is still in the barn looking after the new calves. He wants you to fill the wood box.” his Mother said.
Alfred said , “Do I have to go out tonight. Can Dad not help me do it?”
“No Alfred” his mother said, “Go stack the wood and bring a few cuts in so we have it for the stove. And for heaven’s sake, let your dog in.”
Alfred said “dog?”
Alfred’s mother said “yes the dog has been scratching at the door since you shut it in his face.”
Alfred opened the door. The dog heavily panting entered thru the door and give him a sidewards glance and went over to his water dish, drinking three or four heavy mouthfuls of water and then the dog laid down.
“Has the dog been down in the barn with dad?” Alfred asked.
“No.” Mom replied, “The dog has been behind you ever since you left Shay’s woods on a dead run. What in the world happened?”
Alfred look at the dog and looked out at the woods, the branches were still swaying in the wind and Alfred could see the moon coming up and giving the woods a eerie look.
Alfred said, “I will wait until Dad comes, we can bring the wood in together. I want to talk to him.”
Alfred’s Mother said “Very well, but supper will be a few minutes.”
As Alfred looked out the window and opened the door, heading to the barn, he turned to his mother and said “When I get older, I am buying Shay’s farm and I am cutting the woods down, there will be no trees left, no birds, no leaves. Then looking back at the dog, I will also have a dog very well trained to walk beside me where I can see him!”
Edited ELJ Anderson