One summer, after school lets out, you are finally big enough to be out under the hot sky alone, to cross street after street by yourself, heading for the woods at the edge. You heard the older kids talk about going there, in lowered voices. Sometimes they came back with faded plastic things, tarnished metal trinkets, stones with holes. Now it's your turn.
No one sees you duck under the low branches. Birds are a distant murmur as you wind away into the cooler shade. Eventually the path trails off into darker, deeper undergrowth, but by then there is no going back. A rocky hill rises to the left, then another and another. It is always just a bit further. The trees are becoming taller and keep reaching for something out of sight. Light here is blurred and glitters.
Every now and again there is an ancient human artifact, half-buried in moss—an iron tricycle, a louvered ice-cube tray stained purple, a pale mannequin's torso covered with loopy writing in a language you have not learned. The light is thickening like syrup as you swim deeper into green.
In the middle of a humming thicket is a huge antique car, perhaps a Packard or a Studebaker, gaudy with the peacock colors of oxidation, axle-deep in short grass starred with small flowers. With a stick, you scratch HI! on the curiously pristine hood, then your initials, then walk once around the car, counterclockwise. You clamber up the long, humped trunk, then bounce lightly onto the roof. The empty windows gape invitingly.
Once behind the wheel, sweaty and out of breath, you are at first not surprised when the radio begins to play softly out of tinny speakers. The commercial is for an unknown brand of soda, followed by a harp sonata; later, the weather prediction will consist only of the words Hurricane, and Fear. All the windows suddenly rise smoothly and silently out of their corroded sheaths. The car begins to move.
©2002 F.J. Bergmann
"The Woods" appeared in Lumina #4 Spring 2005.
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