He’d taken to the trees like his old man, though Carl Woodson and his wife died much too young. Mad Cow, Chicken Sick, Hog Cough: one of the many flus that flew hard and fast following the fall. Barry Carlson will say he doesn’t remember any of the day his parents passed, but he has yet to forget that cold, sleepless night spent in the tree house outside his bedroom window. Now, long from his ancestral home, Barry had strayed far from the stands in which he and his family walked.
Until his tenth year, the three of them ventured side by side, each of them a part of the landscape as the landscape was a part of them. His mother Mary taught him of the plants and animals, and of the webs that were so intimately woven between them all. His father saw what was hidden in each tree, the life that was given, and to what more they could give back. Barry listened, and he stored all these things in his heart.
Barry, on the other hand, told stories. He was gifted when it came to the word, and when he wasn’t listening, he was talking. His pappy had told him the old folks’ lore and he’d heard a lotta bit up the bend at Half-Truth. He had a penchant for telling his own tales to his mother and father when they could listen, or to the trees when they couldn’t.
Sunlit days then, as the three of them held picnic, waiting for travelers to make their way along the Sus’kenna Road. They would stop in to barter, to and fro the inn at Half-Truth, always looking forward to seeing the family. Carl Woodson kept with the pleasant trees, offering up cider, syrup and an assortment of carved wooden items from walking to eating, or eating while you walked. His wife Mary, showcased all manners of fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices, flowers and medicines. Barry liked to listen to the tales and talk of the town from Lou and Mr. Matt.
His father tended to his carvings and his trees and his mother tended to her gardens and her bees. Barry tended to the rock in the yard, staging elaborate battles with his much sought after collection of Yo Joes action figures. Though the set was meager, it varied greatly from change-bots to men with lasers coming out of their wrists to his prized Clark Kent in mid-change to Superman. It was the only one he had ever seen.
Darker days, now. He halted there at the top of the hill, struck still, and that was the beauty of it. Barry was transfixed as the memories came and enveloped him much like the arms of his parents, feeding the tree from beneath the dirt. They were buried there, he knew. Nothing to mark the spot save the lone stone, nondescript in its permanence. There were no carvings upon the face of it to identify their internment therein. This was where the simplicity stood out—you just had to know, the way Barry did. Once you knew, you could never forget.
Its proximity to a culvert that bordered the Sus’kenna Road lay just beyond the trees that lined the Woodson’s property. Pappy had planted the willow in the spring of his parents’ passing near the base of the rock, and the water fed it well. Shaded, the canopy drooping over the headstone lending cover from much of the harsher elements.None of this was lost on Barry: this rock was here in life as it was in death. Time stood still for him. Then, as now at this moment, Barry’s heart was fixated with the certainty that this would be his final resting place as well.
He shivered, as if a goose walked over his grave. Unless, of course, it was he himself treading past, present and future, all in the same cautious step.
It was still early evening, but the homestead could wait until the morrow. It was best to do what scavenging they could in the full light of day. Barry knew the outlying buildings were on the verge of collapse, yet was thankful the main home structure wasn’t the frightening shambles that he purported it to be. It bothered not that Ogethan continued down the hill as Barry paid his respects—until it was almost too late.
Even separated by the expanse of the drive, the house and then the pond opposite, Barry could still make out a little deer family at the wood’s edge. Bespeckled with white, a fawn was escorted by a majestic buck and regal doe. He felt and heard Ogethan’s deep intake of breath as the large man filled his lungs to capacity and his arm pulled back on the bowstring.
Barry barely had time to register that there was even a bow in the other man’s hands at all. He lifted his hand, slowly, so as not to startle his friend’s concentration.
Shoulders slumped, Ogethan slowly left his weight off the string. Grumpily, he loosed the arrow, and back into the quiver it went. Barry thought, not for the first time, that if there had been an arrow with a punching glove attached to the tip, Barry himself would be on the receiving end. The bigger of the two bared his teeth.
“I had a clear shot, and dinner on the table.”
“Our packs are full, buddy. Gramma Sal packed quite the spread for us.” Barry countered.
Ogethan muttered something unintelligible as they both turned to the house.
They studied it from the drive, looked at it with a sense of humble trepidation. It was getting onto dusk and the bats were beginning to fly recklessly from all about the house. Even from this far, the boys ducked so as not to be assaulted. Their vantage point offered them a glimpse of the front porch, banister spindles missing like broken teeth, porch swing idly swung like a tongue. Eyes at half mast: sleepy, yet watchful. An addition to the house reached out for them.
“You think it’s haunted, Bar'?”
Barry just shrugged.
“Wouldn’t doubt it.”