by Barry Pomeroy
When I was young, I only went into the dark woods with my brother. Blake didn’t take me often, but, when the sun was high and the day still early, we would undertake the long walk down through the first field past the alders and over the rock bridge. Afterwards, we would hop from hummock to rotten log in the swamp, weaving through weeds and marsh grass until, finally, we would stand on the edge of the dark woods. Perhaps the woods never scared Blake, but he always hesitated at their brink, looking deep into the shadows, and then advanced slowly. The sounds of our steps were lost in the moss and lichen of the dark spruce trees which hung over us, and we would hush our voices. “Over there is where the turnip twins were found, and carrot was buried up to his neck,” Blake told me, pointing to the spot with a shaking finger. “Peas were found scattered over there, and this is where Mr. Potato Head lost his body.”
I never questioned that Blake knew who had died in the woods, or how he knew exactly where the bodies had been found. Instead, I tried to see the humped forms that were corpses amongst the creeping plants and the fallen branches.
The passage through the dark woods was nearly a mile long but felt much longer, and we usually rested by the creek before going back. We needed all our energy, Blake claimed, to attempt the passage of the dark woods twice in one day. The trip was much more dangerous when the trees were alerted to our returning. They knew we’d be tired after trudging through the creek bed after the sudden glisten that was a frog, after the flash of silver fish and sparkle of mica on the sandy creek bottom. The dark woods would be aslant with the golden sun of evening, and would seem asleep. Nearby sparrows and finches would sound no longer, and, instead, quick shadows crept near the boles of trees. Strange brown-coloured birds carried their young in their beaks, and ate white grubs living in older trees. We searched the trunks for bears and the elusive moose, only to be scared by the sudden silent swoop of a great horned owl sweeping overhead on the way to some hidden errand. Only the largest frogs called here, and when we passed their eyes followed us uneasily. Once, we found a salamander; so bizarre were the yellow spots on its purple skin that we left it alone. Snakes slipped by, slick in the mud, and disappeared into holes.
Blake was calm about the return trip, but usually I was terrified—a feeling that was not helped by having to pee halfway through the woods. I would try to hold it, but more than once I arrived on the other side with a dark stain running down my leg. The last time we went through the woods was no different. We were both tired and dripping from the creek, Blake had been grumpy and quiet the entire day, and we’d lost the fish we’d managed to catch. I was carrying a willow stick so that I could beat the heads off of the cattails, but, as we entered the woods, I no longer swung it by my side. I held it like a lance, and Blake sneered at my fear. He walked as though the ground were not corrupt with burrowing insects, as though nothing lurked just out of sight beyond the trees. We were almost through the woods when we heard footsteps. We both stood and waited. We had never met a person here, and our tracks barely marked the trail, even if we’d been through the day before.
“It’s a hunter,” Blake said, but I could tell that he didn’t believe it himself. We stood in the gloom, the sun drooping lower, lower, and the footsteps faded, and then came again, closer and then farther away. I motioned that we should run. I had to pee, but Blake was curious about the approaching noise. He pushed me into a cedar bush—its lower branches chewed by rabbits—and stepped out of my sight in the direction of the noise. I waited until the sun tangled in the crowded trees, and it grew dark in my tiny bower under the cedar.
When I finally climbed out, it was late. I expected the angry cucumber that I had eaten the day before to come after me. I saw menacing broccoli in the distance, and, underfoot, spinach folded over my feet as I walked. Eggplant, purple with anger, joined by tumbling apples, crowded the gathering dusk. As I ran through the swamp, my willow stick forgotten and twigs lashing my face, asparagus attempted to spear through my shoes, and bean vines twisted from the trees. The second field went by as a blur and water cress watched me pass over the rock bridge. On my path through the alders, cabbage heads leered and smiled evilly. Even when I was flying over the fields nearest the house, crying, almost blind, blurred green beans lifted slender fingers and potatoes rolled across the ploughed trenches to trip me.
It was only when I got to the house and saw Blake’s muddied shoes and heard voices inside that I realized I’d been tricked. I entered ghastly pale, Blake said years later, and he laughed when he told the story. For all his bravado, however, Blake never entered the dark woods again after I told him about the vegetables. Instead, we went to the creek by way of the Goodine fields. When I grew older and suggested to Blake that we take a shortcut through the dark woods, he always invented some reason we needed to step through the manure minefield the Goodine cows had left behind.