Cries in the Woods

Last spring, my sister and I drove to a dog park a bit further into the country. This “dog park” is better pictured as a pasture for horses: a wooden fence frames a massive field of rolling grass. The dogs did their dog-thing, and we headed to leave.

Before piling into the car, though, I begged my sister to let me take a photo.

Across the road from the parking lot, an old red bridge led into the woods. It fed whoever crossed it onto a walking path, one that dipped and turned before disappearing into the trees.

We didn’t think much of walking over. But as I took the photo, we heard… something.

It was an almost-scream? High-pitched and brief, but organic. From the fleshy throat of something living. We glanced at each other. At the direction it had come from—toward two trees to our left, where between them a tunnel of winding branches dipped into the shadows. We glanced at each other again, the silence settled. Pronounced. Evidence of how alone we were, two girls and two dogs, in a field facing a patch of dark woods.

And we booked it to the car.

Now, what we heard could’ve been an outburst from someone on the other side of the patch of woods, shrill enough to carry to us. It could’ve been a bird in the jaws of a cat. Hell, it could’ve been a horse in the distance—we’re in Kentucky, after all.

But the writer’s mind wanders… ancient farmers, disconnected from the world by far more than a 15-minute drive… As my sister and I veered onto the main road again, I thought of them. Of those little units of family, isolated. Living with the woods and themselves, nothing more. What would they have made of that strange scream? That disembodied cry followed by silence?

What would their eyes have seen in the shadows of the leaves?

For months, I’ve shelved a short story idea about an old farm woman who watches the woods, keeping her granddaughters indoors at night. I think this is the particular anxiety that I need to breathe into the lungs of those characters.

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