SHORT STORY
Stopping by Woods
by Lise Quintana
Writer of the Month

Whose woods these are I think I know

His house is in the village though 

The No Trespassing sign is faded and warped, the grains of the plywood visible through the paint, the knot in the lower right corner staring at us as we walk past. That sign marks the edge of our property, on one side of the ditch that’s county land. My brother is telling Tyrone about a guy that keeps a wild pig tied up behind his house but that it’s just there for when the cops come. He says that the cops can’t shoot it like they could a dog because it’s livestock and they’d have to pay for destroying livestock. But how do you even tie up a wild pig? And how do you feed it if you can’t get close to it? But I don’t ever ask my brother anything.

Tyrone walks next to my brother. He’s telling my brother about this place that belongs to this rich guy that only comes up here in the fall to hunt and that the guy shot a deer but it got away. He says he found the deer dead near the pond. When we get to the fallen madrone, we turn and head off to the right.

Tyrone’s going on and on about how this guy lives over the hill in this mansion that’s got a separate little house for all his cars and forty-seven bedrooms, but his house doesn’t have a kitchen because he always eats in restaurants. I think that’s crap because rich people’s houses have more stuff in them not less but the boys are walking in front of me not even looking at me which is Martin’s way of saying that I’m not welcome. Martin would walk with his back to the whole world if he could.

Tyrone acts like he wants Martin to be friends with him. Martin’s not really friends with anybody. There are boys he hangs out with at school, but they’re not his friends.  Mom hopes that when he goes to the high school next year, things will be different. She says he’ll have a fresh start but how can he when all the other eighth graders will be going to the same high school? It’s not like Martin is going to be any different.

He will not see me stopping here

To watch his woods fill up with snow

It’s getting dark so I can just see my breath but no one else’s. Martin brought a flashlight. I have no idea where it came from, but it’s as big as my arm I swear. Martin twists the end around and the light gets soft bright soft. The brighter the light, the more it lights up the tiny drifts of snow under logs and big rocks.

It’s supposed to snow tonight, but Martin doesn’t have a jacket on. He probably lost it again. Why doesn’t Martin have even a single goosebump? I’m freezing and I have on two shirts and a sweatshirt. I want to go home. But it’s too dark to see my way back and I’m not going to ask Martin to give me the flashlight.

Tyrone won’t stop talking. Martin doesn’t talk much, and you don’t just keep talking when he’s quiet. I don’t. But we’re walking along the edge of the pond for a while and here’s the dead deer. It’s not very big. Not like a baby but there aren’t any antlers and it’s pretty skinny. Whoever shot this was stupid because you should shoot the big, fat deer with a lot of meat. But I guess they were stupid if they shot it and couldn’t find it. Like, stupid twice.

The body is really round and the legs stick out like when you blow up a rubber glove. There’s snow around it. I would feel sorry if the deer was pretty, but close up the hair looks rough and fake and the rib bones show through the skin. It’s ugly and gross and not really sad. I wonder if the meat’s frozen and then I don’t care because I can see flies and maggots all over by the deer’s shoulder where it’s bloody and the hair’s all matted and thick and red and I think about the cat.

Martin told me he’d bashed in a cat’s head with a cinder block on the way home from school one time and I said no he didn’t and on the way to school the next day, he dragged me a block out of the way to see the dead cat. It was in the gutter in front of the white house next to the park, mostly hidden by leaves. Martin took a stick and moved the leaves away from the head and I could see the head all crushed on one side with one of the ears torn off and the skull showing white in places and one eye out of the socket, but the fur was all matted with dirt and blood and there were so many ants all over the eye and crawling in the mouth. I threw up and Martin jerked my arm hard and hauled me toward the school. We were late and had to go to the office to get a note and when Mrs. Fitzsimmon the office lady asked Martin why we were late, he didn’t even lie. He told her that we saw a dead cat and I started throwing up. My face was still wet with tears and snot and she handed me the whole box of tissues and asked me if I needed her to call my mom. I looked at Martin and he had his lips pressed together tight and I shook my head no. She handed Martin his pass first, and he ran off to his classroom without saying anything. Mrs. Fitzsimmon asked me if I needed to stay there for a while, but I shook my head again and took my pass. By that time I was just pissed off that she didn’t even get mad at Martin for killing that cat.

My little horse must think it queer

To stop without a farmhouse near

Martin and Tyrone poke the deer with sticks, but there’s nothing interesting about it. Tyrone wants to dig out the bullet, but he doesn’t want to have to put his hand on the bloody meat part and Martin calls him a faggot. I laugh, and Martin turns around and looks at me, then back at Tyrone, then back at me again.

“Kiss her,” Martin says, aiming his flashlight at Tyrone who looks over at me and shakes his head.

“No way.”

Martin throws a rock at him that hits him on the cheek and leaves a smear of dirt. Now I know why he didn’t chase me away when I followed and I feel stupid and scared.

“Kiss her, faggot.”

“What did you call me?” Tyrone steps closer to my brother and my brother smacks him hard in the face with the skinny end of the flashlight. Even in the half-dark, I can see the blood pour from Tyrone’s nose into his mouth and down his chin. It’s going to get on his jacket and his mom will probably be real mad. The light shows Martin’s face as he stares at Tyrone, his lips pressed together tight.

“Go on, pussy boy. Kiss her.”

“Don’t be an asshole.”

Tyrone rubs at his face, smearing the spit and blood all over his cheeks and chin. Martin swings at him again but Tyrone sees it this time and tries to duck and Martin catches him on the shoulder. Tyrone falls on the deer, makes a whiny noise and tries to get up but falls on the ground. Martin laughs, kicks Tyrone in the ribs and back, then raises the flashlight again and Tyrone puts his hand over his head and we can hear him full on crying.  He finally gets up and tries to brush all the sticks and stuff off him and Martin points at me but doesn’t say anything. Tyrone takes a step toward me, but I move away. His hair is matted in the back and there’s a big, wet leaf stuck to the back of his jacket and bloody snot all over one side of his face.

Martin moves behind me and twists my arm behind my back, marching me toward Tyrone who’s not even trying to hide how hard he’s crying, whimpering a little as I get closer. Is kissing me so horrible that he has to cry? I’m crying too, but because my shoulder feels like it’s about to pop out of the socket so I walk faster and lean forward a little. My face bumps into Tyrone’s and I make a kissing sound just before we touch hoping that Martin will let go and start laughing. Instead he grabs the back of my head and grinds it into Tyrone’s face. Martin’s breath is harsh in my ear with the effort of holding my arm up and forcing my head down but it also sounds like he’s maybe laughing. I press my lips shut and try not to think about how slimy Tyrone’s face is, how cold and hard and slick. How his teeth grind against his lips as Martin moves my head around. Martin slams my face into Tyrone’s head and everything lights up for a second. He lets go and I stagger for balance breathing hard but I don’t fall.

“You like that, pussy boy?”

Between the woods and frozen lake

The darkest evening of the year

Tyrone looks around himself, and even I know he’s looking for a rock or stick of his own and Martin hits him again with the skinny end of the flashlight. This one catches him on the shoulder again, and there’s a low thunk sound and Tyrone yells and when Martin makes to hit him again, he shuts up. Now he’s just sort of blubbering from between his closed lips and I don’t know whether I feel sorrier that he’s hurt or that he thought Martin would want to be his friend.

There’s no moon out and the pond looks like hole right through the earth showing the sky and stars on the other side. If we pushed the dead deer into the pond, it would fly away.

I’m moving backward, one foot at a time. If I put the foot behind me and rub it around a little to clear away any dead sticks before I put the foot down, Martin won’t hear me until I’m far enough away to have a head start. He’s not that good a runner but his throwing arm’s pretty good so I want to get far away. Martin’s standing over Tyrone, swinging the flashlight like a baseball bat and laughing while Tyrone cringes. I look behind me and there’s a big fir tree. But Martin swings the light in my direction. I freeze.

“Get your ass over here.”

I walk back, going slow so I don’t make any noise even thought it doesn’t matter now. I stop before I’m in arm’s reach of him.

“Give me your jacket.” Martin kicks Tyrone a little, and Tyrone takes off his leather jacket with his right hand, whimpering and hissing hard and not moving his left arm at all. He hands it to Martin, who puts it on.

“Let’s go home, okay?” Tyrone whines and I’m mad because I know that whining just makes Martin want to hurt you more. But I can’t say that to Tyrone who’s too stupid to know anything, like that Martin is nobody’s friend, and that we’re not all going to be okay. “I won’t tell no one. You can have the jacket.” Tyrone’s trying to smile.

“Give me your belt,” Martin says. Tyrone may as well not be speaking English, because Martin doesn’t hear him anymore. Martin’s listening to something inside his own head.

Tyrone takes off the belt one-handed and hands it to Martin, who takes it but doesn’t put it on. I feel light like if I bend my knees and jump I could fly. Inside me are a million fireflies buzzing and flashing and I can barely catch my breath.

He gives his harness bells a shake

To ask if there’s been some mistake

Tyrone starts walking away from the pond. He moves slow because he’s hurt but also maybe because he doesn’t want Martin to think he’s afraid of him. Martin comes up behind him his feet crunching the dead leaves and sticks and not quiet at all and pushes Tyrone in his hurt shoulder. Tyrone hisses loud.

“Where you going?” Martin says.

“I’m just going home is all. It’s late.”

“It’s prolly not that late.”

It was before supper when we left, and yesterday we ate supper right around the time it got dark. Mom and Martin had a screaming fight when she got home from work. She always wants us inside by dark but she hadn’t even come out of her bedroom when Martin told her he was going to Tyrone’s house to find out about some homework. She didn’t come out to see me leave and now I’m wishing she did because she might not look for Martin because he’s a big kid but she would look for me.

She worries about us a lot. She doesn’t talk to Martin like she talks to me, and she tells me things, like I have to tell her when Martin gets in trouble so she can help him. I don’t know why she wants to help him when he screams at her all the time. She says that she knows he doesn’t mean it, that it’s just that he misses Daddy. I have to promise her to look out for Martin because sometimes he does things without thinking. I feel grown up that she trusts me to look after my big brother but now I wish she was here because I’m only a fifth grader.

“You’re not going anywhere.” Martin pushes Tyrone down in the dirt again, and this time Tyrone just sits there, not trying to get up.

The only other sound’s the sweep

Of easy wind and downy flake

Tyrone is sitting on the ground, the dead deer between him and the lake. I can see Martin measuring the distance with his eyes. I haven’t moved, standing next to the deer as though it might offer me some kind of protection, if only by giving Martin a distraction if he were to look in my direction. Which he doesn’t. Martin is winding Tyrone’s belt around his hands, first around one, then around the other. He can get it around each hand three times and there’s a little left over. He winds it around his right hand so that the buckle swings at the end of the left over bit, and I see him wind up and swing it down on Tyrone’s back.

Boys sound just like girls when they scream.

I should look away, but I know that if I close my eyes, Martin will be looking at me when I open them, and my vulnerability will make him want to do something. If I stand staring, he’ll still want to do something, just not to me. Except that he still doesn’t look in my direction.

He hits Tyrone again, the buckle making a sick crunchy noise when it hits Tyrone’s head. I can’t see the color of the blood in the mostly-dark against his dark brown hair, but I can see the shininess of the liquid. I’m worried because his shoulders aren’t shaking anymore: he’s not even crying. At least he’s still sitting up. I can hear Martin’s low chuckling as he winds up to hit Tyrone again.

These woods are lovely, dark and deep

But I have promises to keep

Martin hasn’t looked at me in a couple of minutes, and my mind snaps awake. Now. Nownownownownow. Without formulating any more of a plan than that just in case Martin can hear my thoughts, I turn and run. The ground is pretty clear of anything that might make noise for the first few yards, and after that, I hope I’m too far away for him to hear. Or maybe he’s just too busy.

I run until there are lots of trees and lots of dark between me and Martin. But I ran away from the ditch and the way home, and now I’m lost and I have to pee. I don’t dare, though, because I can hear him yelling my name. He’s a long way off, but I feel like he can hear my breathing, so I hold completely still. I’m in a stand of fir trees, and I risk taking off my navy blue sweatshirt and turn it inside out so that he can’t see the white lettering on it that says “University Athletics.”

I press myself against a tree trunk, breathing my breath right into the tree, imagining that I can bring the tree to life with my breath, and that because it is my creation, it will defend me when Martin comes near. With its skeletal branches, it will reach down and wrap him in twigs so that he can’t swing that belt. It will hold him with his feet just off the ground, his legs swinging and kicking but unable to touch the earth. Because Martin’s scared of heights, but nobody knows that but me.

I look into the distance. Our house should be visible by now – the lights on in the kitchen where Mom should be making our dinner. This property is next to ours, with the fire road and the county ditch between them. I should be able to make out our house through the trees. Why can’t I see it? I turn my head as far as I can in both directions, keeping my body pointed toward where I think Martin is, but there are no lights anywhere. This property doesn’t have a house on it or anything. It’s all just woods, and it got sold to someone who was going to put a house here, but hasn’t yet. Mom says it’s another one of those rich guys who’s buying up a lot of land around here and are the reason Daddy had to leave to find work in Chicago. I’m sure that makes some kind of sense, but I don’t get it.

I haven’t heard Martin’s voice in a long time, and my chest hurts with how scared I am. I want to run back past the lake and past the ditch and to my house and tell Mom that Martin’s done it again, but if I can’t hear him, it might mean that he’s right next to me, somewhere he can see me.

I force myself to breathe through my nose so it’s quieter, and I can smell the blood and spit Tyrone smeared on my face. No, not Tyrone: Martin – it was just Tyrone’s blood and spit. Squatting down, I lean my back against the tree and wrap my arms around myself, trying to warm up so that my teeth don’t start to chatter. I really, really have to pee now. Like, if I had to run, I don’t think I could, I have to pee so bad. I hunker down in the leaves and try not to think about it, but it’s making my hands hurt.

What if I make it back to my house before Martin? What then? I’ll tell Mom, and she’ll make me bring her to where we saw the dead deer, and then we’ll both get in trouble because we’re not supposed to cross the ditch. I can’t even tell her that Martin made me, because it’s not true.

But I won’t make it back before him. Somewhere between here and my house, Martin is sitting in the dark, waiting for me.

And miles to go before I sleep

Miles to go before I sleep

 

**lines of poetry from "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost**


Lise Quintana is the EIC of Zoetic Press. Her work can be found at Drunk Monkeys, Red Fez, Role Reboot, Extract(s), and other fine journals. In addition to writing, Lise is the developer of the Lithomobilus ereader, which can be found at www.lithomobilus.com