The Tempter Comes

8) The Encounter in the Woods



8         The Encounter in the Woods


When the foolish get lucky

that does not make them brave



After Mrs. Donnelee’s usual hearty lunch after church, Thomas and Toni walked to the eastern edge of town. He kept thinking about what Toni had said about prayer and felt greatly relieved about tonight. At least now he had a weapon of sorts. Maybe they would come back but, if nothing else, now he had a way to tick them off.

Last night he read several chapters in his Bible and prayed himself to sleep and the only time that he woke up was when it was time for breakfast.

However, before they were completely out of his mind Toni said, “You know, there is one thing about you and the angst-feeders that has puzzled me.”

Thomas felt a bit sick inside hearing them verbalized again but he figured that he better go along and get it over with. Besides, maybe Toni was going to propose another method of beating them. “Well… what is it?

“In all of the talk around town and the lore that has been passed down, rarely has anyone even seen one of them. And yet you’ve seen them twice. That’s very unusual. You’re good at puzzles. What’s the answer to this one?”

“Well, it’s not like I have any supernatural powers. Maybe I’m just sensitive to them,” Thomas replied wishing that was end of it.

“How can you be sensitive to something that silently stares at you? They make no noise. They probably don’t breathe. How can you hear nothing?”

This struck a chord in Thomas. “Maybe that’s it.”


Thomas continued. “Let’s say that you are alone. You are reading a book while in a comfortable chair in the middle of the room. There is no radio or TV playing. It is dark out and the curtains are drawn. Everyone else is asleep in their beds and you have stolen a moment by yourself. All is quiet and peaceful. In fact, it is very quiet.

 “Then you get an unsettled feeling. You do not move your head but your eyes look up from the book. They aren’t focused on anything but you are concentrating on detecting anything unusual. Nothing seems out of place but that edgy feeling is still there.

 “Slowly you lift your head and look around. In succession you check doorways, windows, corners, the edges of furniture—nothing. You turn around and give a startled jump. ‘How long have you been standing there?’ you say with a relieved nervousness. ‘Only about a minute,’ the person replies. ‘You scared the death out of me,’ you continue. ‘I couldn’t sleep so I thought I’d see why the light was on. I didn’t mean to scare you. In fact, I crept as quietly as I could down the stairs. I didn’t think that I made any sound at all.’”

                “How did you know that someone was there? The floor made no creaks. They didn’t make any noise. No bones quietly cracked. They were just standing there.”

                Toni thought for a moment and then looked up and shrugged her shoulders.

                “Maybe it was because there is always an ambient noise surrounding us no matter how subtle. The refrigerator may be humming gently. Leaves may be sliding across each other on the trees and bushes outside. These are all very low-level but they are always there nevertheless. We are never totally in silence. You probably are never bothered by any of this instead preferring to save your attention for more directed and out-of-place noises such as conversations or cars crashing. But your mind is aware of these background noises and if one of those sounds is disturbed, your subconscious processes the information. Is it worth telling you to investigate the alternation or to ignore it?

“In this case, your mind knew that nothing would normally muffle the hum of the refrigerator unless someone or something silently moved in between it and you. This caused your unsettled feeling. This was your mind telling you that something is there that was not there a minute ago. This is your being told, ‘Look up; you may be in trouble.’

“The answer to your question as to why I woke up suddenly and saw them is not that… the thing made any noise but that it subtly muffled some of that background noise in my room. That’s why I felt uneasy and woke up.”

Toni questioned, “But you would have to have some really good hearing to detect that. I mean, your room doesn’t have anything that makes noise so whatever sound there is in there is even more subdued than usual.”

Thomas thought for a bit. “I’ve always had pretty good hearing.”

“Pretty good? You’ve got hearing like a dog!”

“OK, enough with comparing me to animal parts. Let’s change the subject.”

Toni agreed, “Fine with me. It’s not like I exactly enjoy talking about them especially knowing that they are in my house. Maybe I’ll sleep with the light on too tonight.”

“No, just pray.” Thomas smiled at her.

Toni responded back knowingly.

They had reached the edge of the woods. Though it had seemed like a casual, random walk, Toni was really leading the way to a particular place. Without hesitation Toni headed right for one spot bordered by two large trees. Thomas could see the vague remains of a path, but he would never have noticed unless someone brought him right to it.

“Do you know where you are going?” he asked.

“Oh, don’t you worry. I’ve got this fly in a jar.”

“OK.” Thomas knew that it was better to just follow and not ask too many questions.

“You know, Toni, I’ve been wondering about something ever since you mentioned about Carl wanting to catch animals to, you know, do things to them. So whatever did happen to Muffin or Cupcake or whatever pastry you named your cat after? I notice that she hasn’t been around. Did he…get a hold of her and… do something?”

“No, she died a months ago of very natural causes.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. What happened? Did she get sick? I didn’t think that she was that old.”

“She got out and was hit by a car,” answered Toni seriously.

“That’s natural causes?”

“Well, she was outside when it happened. That seems natural to me. If she got hit by a car while inside the house, well, that would have been unnatural.”

 “Oh, I see.” There was a pause. “It probably was deliberate,” Thomas continued.


“She had to get away from Carl somehow. She probably knew what he was planning and her future didn’t look too rosy. I bet that was the only way out that she could think of. She couldn’t hang herself because all of that hair on her paws would get in the way of tying the knot. She couldn’t open those stupid childproof and, consequently, pet-proof bottles of pills. If she leaped off of a cliff and plummeted 1,000 feet she would just land on her feet and then sit down and lick herself. The only sure bet was greeting a rapidly moving tire. It’s quick, settled and, since the crows would eat her before anyone found her, tidy. That way the family would just think that she eventually turned up on the doorway of some rich, childless person’s house and was lapping up teriyaki salmon on a silk pillow. You’re happy in your fantasy and she is out of her impending misery. She was, indeed, a very thoughtful cat.”

Toni looked incredulously at him. “You are such a strange child. Have you ever thought of seeing a psychiatrist?”

Thomas smiled, “The voices sometimes ask me the same thing.”

Toni put her hand up to forehead and sighed with forced exaggeration.

Thomas continued, “So all seriousness aside, do you think that Carl would ever have done anything to the cat or did he like her too much?”

Toni answered, “Carl thought that the cat was worthless. No, I take that back. There was one thing that he admired—that was the way she was able to curl up with her head nearly up her butt. He rather envied that, quite strangely. But otherwise, he thought that she did nothing but sleep all day and contributed nothing to the household.”

“Well, there is a good reason why you never see cat action figures in the toy section,” Thomas added.

“I don’t think that’s true,” Toni replied in a huff.

“That there aren’t any cat action figures?” Thomas asked.

Noooo,” Toni drew out that word, “that she didn’t contribute to the family. I found it very relaxing when I was petting her in my lap and she was purring.”

“Now there’s a tough job description.”

“She was also funny and cute, I happened to like her a lot. I’d get another one but I’m afraid to with Carl around.”

The woods were thick with underbrush (obviously they did not have an overabundance of deer) but they had a good wide clear path to carry them. Thomas asked several times where they were going but each time Toni would just smile and say, “You’ll see.” That worked, because it made him even more curious.

In previous summers the three of them (this included Carl in his more gregarious days) had done much exploring in all of these woods although the last few years Carl showed no interest. However, oftentimes Sarah and sometimes Russell joined them in these adventures. Thomas was sure that they had been down this path before so he could not figure out what was so special that they had not seen before. Maybe they had not gone down far enough before or maybe they had to swerve from this path to find this surprise. He was growing more curious the more he wondered about it. Was it a waterfall, an ancient ruin, an old graveyard?

They had been walking for around a half an hour. Toni abruptly stopped and said in a load whisper, “Wait, what was that?” Neither moved for a few seconds. “Did you hear a noise?”

“A noise?” whispered Thomas incredulously. “We’re in the woods. It could have been anything. It might have been a squirrel or a rabbit or maybe even a duck.” He smiled a bit hoping to defuse things. He thought that Toni’s jitteriness was not warranted.

She still did not move; her ears were like radar listening for any incoming sounds. Finally she relaxed and said, “A duck? We’re in the middle of the woods. Ducks don’t take nature hikes.”

Thomas laughed. He pictured a row of ducks wearing Boy Scout uniforms and carrying backpacks and using hiking sticks. “Let’s keep going.”

They walked further on continuing their chatting. Toni was talking about how her mother had been planning dinners for a month that she thought Thomas would particularly enjoy. “Nothing’s too good for the prince” would punctuate the conversation several times.

Nothing unusual happened for several minutes. But then Thomas heard a snap off to their left. He did not want to rattle Toni so he nonchalantly glanced over his shoulder. The underbrush prevented him from seeing very far and it seemed to be rather thick in this section. He did not see anything and thought that maybe she had spooked him more than he first thought. He had been jittery lately and so anything could possibly twitch his nerves.

She did not say anything about it this time so Thomas surmised that it was probably nothing. They continued to walk but he kept his ears tuned to the left. Was it his imagination or did he keep hearing faint noises. At times it was like a shuffling of leaves but then again sometimes like the crushing of small dried twigs. Whatever it was it was singular and it was keeping up with them. All this time Toni was talking about the dinner that mother was preparing for tonight. Thomas felt the back of his shirt and under his arms getting damper. He kept stealing glances all around but nothing unusual could be seen. Involuntarily he quickened the pace. Toni seemed oblivious to all of this. He sped up even more but the faster that they went the louder the noises became.

“Can we slow down some?” asked Toni. She was starting to get out of breath.

“No,” said Thomas deliberately.

“No? Why not?”

“Don’t panic or anything but you were right before. Someone or something is following us. It’s on our left. The faster we go the faster it goes. You probably didn’t hear it because you were talking. Maybe we should turn back.”

Toni stopped and yelled out, “Carl, is that you?”

Thomas almost jumped out of his skin. He whispered, “What are you doing? Are you crazy?”

Toni shouted again, “We’re on to you, Carl. You can come out now.”

Thomas was waving his hands at Toni to get her to talk lower.

There was no response, just the occasional rustle.

“Carl, we know that it’s you,” Toni repeated. “You got us good. Ha, ha, ha. Now you can come join us.”

Still no response.

They were both scanning the woods carefully. Toni was thinking that it was Carl; Thomas was thinking wolves.

Suddenly about twenty feet behind them a large, dark object fell out of an overhanging tree branch. It hit the ground with a thud. Thomas and Toni jumped almost up into the trees themselves. They stood there and stared at it.

“Wow, that is one big tree branch,” Thomas said. “If we were only a couple of second slower that would have hit us on our heads and caused a whole lot of grief.”

Thomas stopped talking and breathing. They both stared more intensely at the branch. It was beginning to twist, a little at first with small jerky movements but then more and more like a magician trying to get out of a straitjacket. They were both frozen in bewilderment. The branch was changing. The bark was becoming slick and shiny.

Finally Toni shrieked, “It’s a snake!”

And it was quite a snake. It was at least ten feet long and fat and black and it started slithering straight at them picking up speed each second.

“Quick!” shouted Thomas and they both ran for all they were worth with the snake staying right at their heels. They did not even notice anymore that the sounds in the woods kept pace with them.

Thomas shouted, “Follow me, now!” He made a sudden right turn into the woods. Snakes are not like deer or rabbits; they cannot make sudden turns. So this tactic put a good distance between them and the snake but once it got back onto their trail it made up the distance quickly.

“Another right!” yelled Thomas and once again they gained some ground. But they could not keep this up for long. Eventually they would either tire or one of them would trip and then the snake would be around them in a blink.

“We can’t keep running in circles.” Toni was already gasping heavily. It would only be a matter of time. They were both watching the ground as they tried to angle back to the path, which was flatter and had fewer roots to twist ankles or catch feet.

So neither of them noticed when they barreled right into someone standing on the edge of the path. The impact caused Toni to fall to her knees. She was shaking and sobbing. She was waiting for the fangs to sink deeply into her back and the muscular coils to wrap around her body. Thomas tightly gripped the man’s shirt to keep from sinking onto the ground. He looked up at the large man and then quickly back at the snake. Oddly, it had stopped. Then it reared up and hissed angrily. The man did nothing. Toni was about to collapse into jelly. Thomas was paralyzed; his jaw hung open. The man’s face was rigidly glaring at the breast, but he had no weapons. For what seemed to be forever nothing changed. The snake menaced, Toni sobbed, Thomas quivered, and the man stood with narrowed eyes. And then the snake turned and disappeared into the brush.

The man gently grabbed Toni by the shoulders and lifted her up. She looked up at him with a tear stained face. Thomas also looked up at him; his mouth still had not shut.

“My name is Jocum. Are you two all right? That was quite a scare you got there, but everything is OK now.” He had one hand on each of their shoulders. His voice, though deep, was calm and reassuring considering what had just happened.

He shouted past Thomas and Toni, “Seth, you can show yourself now.”

Out of the bushes to the left came another large man. Thomas and Toni stared at him in wonder. These two guys could be brothers; they were both so similar. They were around 6’ 6” and well muscled. “No wonder why the snake took off,” Thomas thought.

Jocum said, “So what are you doing out here, Seth?”

“I saw these two going into the woods and I had a feeling that there might have been some trouble brewing. So I thought that I should follow them and make sure that nothing bad happened.” He looked down at the teens. “Yes, that noise that you heard following you was me. Sorry if I scared you; I had no intention of doing so. I didn’t want to barge in on your company, but I couldn’t do anything about all of those pesky leaves and twigs on the ground.”

Jocum was looking at him intently and then turned to the teens. “Maybe we should head back to your house. You need to lie down and gather your senses again. Right now I think that they’re running every which way.” With a gentle push he turned them back towards the path. “Are you able to walk? We can carry you if you can’t.”

Thomas looked at Toni and then answered in barely a whisper, “No, we can make it.”

As all four of them headed back it was quite a while before anyone spoke. It was Thomas. “I didn’t know that you had snakes that lived in trees around here.” Jocum looked at Seth who then looked off in the other direction.

Jocum responded, “It probably escaped from a zoo. I don’t think that you’ll have to worry about anything like that again. Just don’t go out into the woods again unless you have plenty of companions.”

“Oh, you don’t have to tell us,” Thomas added quickly.

When they got back to the house Seth said, “You two go inside and rest up. We’re going to leave you now.”

Jocum reached around to a small leather waist pack that no one had noticed before. “Wait a second. Let me give you something first.” He zipped it open and pulled out a brown bag. He opened it up and pulled out some cookies. “Here, these are honey wafers. They’re quite good and they’ll give you back some energy. Here’s a couple for each of you. Go ahead, take them, they’re not going to poison you.”

They gingerly took the wafers and then he opened the door, rubbed them both on the shoulders and gently pushed them inside.

“I’ll see you both again sometime,” Jocum yelled into the house.

After the door shut they both took a deep breath. Toni looked at Thomas, “We don’t have a zoo here.”

Copyright Bob La Forge 2011        email: