Into the Woods

Greg awoke to an upside down world of shadows.

His heart must have somehow moved to his head because that’s where he felt its pulse. He squeezed his eyes shut and grimaced at the pain gripping his temples and forehead. It was hard to think, but a tiny voice at the back of his mind warned him that something was very wrong. A sudden jolt of clarity helped him realize that he was hanging upside down from the ceiling with his hands tied behind his back. He peered through the darkness, trying to get a feel for where he was, trying to remember how he’d gotten there and what he had been doing before.

The memories returned slowly. He’d been driving home after work in the pouring rain. The main street he usually took was closed for repaving, so he’d taken one of the back roads. As he’d bounced along the poorly paved street and rolled his eyes at the irony of the situation, an animal of some kind had skittered across his headlights. He’d swerved and hit a tree, and now he was here. The rain rapped against the ceiling and beat the windows, like a crowd of unwanted guests. He couldn’t see much of the outside but, if it was this dark, he had to be in the woods somewhere. A hunting cabin maybe? He wriggled and twisted about, hoping to free himself.

The wailing of the rain died down for a moment and he was able to hear the sound of harsh breathing.

A shiver ran down the length of his spine, a cold finger tormenting him with visions of serial killers. He tried to push his fear aside and find his voice.

“H-Hello? Who’s there?” He waited for a fraction of a second before continuing. “I don’t know what kind of game you’re playing but my wife is waiting for me at home, and if I don’t show up tonight—”

Smacking lips made him falter.

“I-If I don’t show up tonight, she’s going to call the police. She knows my usual route. She’ll tell them where to look for me.”

A flash of lightning illuminated the room. The walls were covered in spider webs, intertwined, overlapping, reaching across the ceiling and dangling in corners. Spiders of all shapes, colors, and sizes dotted the misty white webs, thousands of eyes staring at the man hanging from the ceiling. A human-like figure stood by the door, machete in hand.

“Don’t forget, my lovelies,” the raspy voice of an older woman said. “I get the head.”

Greg screamed and thrashed about as the spiders and their deranged keeper advanced.

 

Officer Beau hated the rain. Rain made mud. Rain made his knee ache. Rain caused car accidents. Rain made his roof leak. Rain made everyone either paranoid or strangely romantic. Rain made it hard to do anything outside, even the simplest of tasks. He scowled at the wiper blades as they swooshed back and forth. Rain also made it harder to see. Beau was fifty-eight years old, two years away from retirement. Why couldn’t he be assigned the easy calls, the ones that could be resolved in town?

“You need to get out more,” his superiors said. “You don’t want to spend your last two years cooped up in the precinct!”

Oh, yes, he did. He loved the precinct. Not that anyone would listen.

“There’s been an accident reported on the old highway. Why don’t you check it out, Beau? It’s been quiet all day.”

Officer Beau liked the quiet. After thirty years on the force, he’d seen enough and heard enough to appreciate a quiet day. The other old-timers at the precinct didn’t seem to understand that. So here he was, driving out to the old highway to look at a crash in the middle of a storm. Who still drove on the old highway anyway? The new highway was nicer, with more than two lanes and going through an actual city instead of the wilderness.

Officer Beau grumbled to himself as his cruiser meandered down the pot-hole littered street, eyes narrowed as he searched for signs of a crash. Finally, he happened upon black streaks against the road and the mud tracks of a car going off the embankment. He stopped, put the car in park, and fumbled with his umbrella before climbing out. Still grumbling, he flicked on the flashlight and began his trek through the mud. His boots made eerie sucking sounds as he walked. The beam of his flashlight caught the raindrops while they fell and illuminated the wall of trees he was headed toward. Soon enough he found the car, a bright red lemon with its front crushed against a particularly large pine.

The driver’s side door had been wrenched open somehow. There was no one in the car. Officer Beau reached for the radio attached to his belt when a skittering sound drew his eyes to the trees. It had been soft, like the flapping of wings or spider legs dancing across a bed of leaves, but he’d still managed to hear it over the storm. A set of footprints and drag marks could be seen in the mud, heading deeper into the forest. Officer Beau snagged his radio and called it in.

“Don’t move,” his commanding officer said. “I’m sending backup.”

Don’t have to tell me twice, Beau thought, already making his way back to the cruiser.

An ear-splitting howl had the officer spinning around with a curse. What was going on in those woods? It sounded like someone was being tortured. The instinct to protect, that damn instinct that had prompted him to join the force so many years ago, palpitated within him. Beau shook his head and backed away, firmly shoving that instinct aside. He didn’t know what was out there. It would be stupid to go traipsing through the woods and into a dangerous situation without backup.

But as the scream sounded again, the old officer found himself racing forward. The footprints and drag marks in the mud led the way through the twisting trees, even after the terrible screech had been abruptly cut off. Huffing and puffing, Officer Beau found himself at the front door of an old hunting cabin.

He tossed his umbrella aside and pulled out his gun before shouting, “Hartford Police! I’m coming in!” Getting a strange surge of adrenaline, he threw his shoulder against the door. The lock burst and the door swung open to reveal a scene out of someone’s worst nightmare.

A person was tied up, hanging upside down from the ceiling, covered in spiders. A thin elderly woman sat on the floor a little ways away, slurping something out of a giant bowl. When the door opened, the woman dropped the bowl and uttered an animalistic growl. The ‘bowl’ rolled toward Officer Beau, leaving a trail of some dark, thick substance. It came to a stop at the officer’s feet. It was a head, probably belonging to the poor man hanging from the ceiling, being slowly devoured by spiders. Beau gagged and might’ve looked away if he wasn’t frozen with horror. His mind told him to run, to shoot the woman, to do something.

But he was still standing there when the machete came flying toward him and sank into his chest.

Stormy weather

Today’s the third day in a row that the skies have been overcast here in Phoenix, Arizona. It’s been raining on and off, and will continue to rain on and off throughout the weekend. Or so the weather forecast people say. I don’t know what it is about this weather but it makes it very hard to work. My desk is situated in a corner; there is a large window beside me and behind me. I have a clear picture of the cold, wet, gloomy world outside. It almost seems to muffle sounds, this invasion of storm clouds. The naked tree branches against the background of misty grey seem to make the sky bigger (if that’s possible). I find my mind wandering to my manuscripts, my works-in-progress, the stories floating around in my head that I haven’t written down yet. It’s almost as if a spell has been cast, a spell to heighten imagination and dim focus.

Don’t get me wrong. I love this weather. I’ll take cold and cloudy over clear skies and overpowering sun any day. But this isn’t working weather. It’s curl-up-on-the-couch-and-read-a-book weather, or have-a-movie-marathon-and-eat-ice-cream kind of weather, or write-while-listening-to-epic-movie-scores weather.

My dad grew up on a farm. His father woke him up before the sun rose to do work in the fields. On cloudy, rainy days, however, my dad was allowed to sleep in and have a lazy day indoors. That’s why he claims days like today make him feel lethargic. I don’t really have an excuse.

Still, I don’t think anyone can deny that there’s something special about rain.

I’ve had some pretty cool moments while it was raining. I used to play in the rain with my little brother. Many an adventure was had while lightning streaked across the sky. It rained for 12 hours while my family took a road trip to Sacramento. My brother and uncle took turns driving through the night and into the next day. I can still remember waking up in the back of the truck, shifting into a more comfortable position, seeing my big brother at the wheel with nothing but gray mist and water to be seen through the windshield. The cars speeding beside us made me nervous but I trusted my brother.

It was summer when I first moved to Phoenix. I was living with my grandparents until I could find my own place. I didn’t know it at the time, but Phoenix is known for their summer dust storms. The natives call them Haboobs. A strong wind will pick up a wall of dust that moves across the entire city, covering everything in a fine layer of dirt. Then some rain will come to turn the dirt into mud. My uncle, living in a rental house next door at the time, came over to take pictures of the dust storm. We sat in my grandparents’ garage, talking life and photography while we waited for lightning to illuminate the dreary sky. My future was still so uncertain but, for that hour and a half, it didn’t seem as scary.

During a thunderstorm, my landlord’s dog got loose and was going crazy outside. I snatched her and brought her into my little apartment to keep her safe until my landlord came home. She lay huddled beside me on the couch, trembling and whining every time the thunder rolled, while I watched a movie on my laptop. I was nineteen and experiencing my first big storm alone. That dog, although annoying, was a welcomed companion that night.

Another storm took out the power while I was working at Chipotle. Food safety protocol forced us to throw away all the food on the burrito line when it got cold. We waited for the power to come back on and then proceeded to cook more food. We were closed for almost three hours before the line was re-stocked again. I can still picture the unfortunate coworker, who had been assigned the job of turning people away, standing just outside the door in her windbreaker, kindly explaining over and over again why we were closed. In the months to come, one of us would look at the other after a particularly difficult shift and say something like, “Today was bad, but remember that one time when the power went out?”

While we were dating, my now husband parked his truck at a stop sign and tugged me outside to kiss me in the rain just because I mentioned I’d always wanted to be kissed in the rain. Also while we were dating, my now husband locked his keys in his truck for the first time during a storm. He spent almost an hour trying to break into his own car before he finally gave up. I let him stay at my apartment until the storm blew over and then drove him to his house for the spare key. We weren’t even talking about marriage yet but he gave me that spare key once the ordeal was over. As if he knew that it would be safe with me.

The first time my husband and I spent the night at the lake together, the weatherman said it would rain. We managed to get the tent up just before it started pouring. Then the wind picked up. It was kind of hard to be romantic newly weds when the cold, wet material of the tent was mere inches away from our faces. It rained so much that it soaked through our tent and our sleeping bags. We were forced to take everything down and drive back home at two in the morning. We were soaked, covered in mud, and exhausted by the time we got home.

It rained Christmas Eve of last year, the first holiday my husband and I hosted his family in our new house.

And it’s raining now.

I guess I feel the same way about rain as Lorelai Gilmore feels about snow. In one of the earlier seasons, it’s the middle of the night but Lorelai can’t sleep. She goes down stairs to throw the windows open and look out. When I was watching the episode, I was confused. Nothing’s happening, I thought. What is she waiting for? And then it started to snow. That look on her face…that look of hope and wonder and enchantment, must be the same one I’ve got on my face right now as I watch the rain fall through the window.

Maybe something wonderful will happen. Maybe something unfortunate will happen, something that I’ll be able to laugh and blog about later. Or maybe the rain will just fall and nothing will happen. Either way, I’ll be watching.