The Hut in the Woods has it all. Strong characters, moving plot, surprise after surprise until the scary ending. Humor and terror together is rare, but VLZ brings to life characters unlike any before. Visit the Laden Family and discover what dark truths lie hidden within those woods surrounding laden lane. Beware. What you see IS what you get.
The Gray-Brown Squirrel
THE GRAY-BROWN SQUIRREL
At age five, life seems enormous and full of sounds and colors with endless possibilities. A forest is enormous, and colors are so much brighter than imaginable. A child’s imagination is endless. Their conscious minds are capable to conjure up anything they may have seen or heard at anytime and anywhere. A child’s brain is like a sponge, soaking in all knowledge without even knowing they are doing it. It’s like when you’re a baby, and just suddenly one day you talk and understand in the language you are born into.
Carly’s mind was exceptional in that sense, but hers was a mind of imagination, and she could see something out of nothing, sort of like when you look up to the sky at the clouds, you vision from the clouds what your mind’s eye sees, and it may be totally different from another person’s mind’s eye, but it’s coming from your imagination, that part of the brain some of us use very little of, or we block it out and lose that sight when we become older. Carly never blocked out her imagination.
Carly relished it and exercised it to where she could just about imagine anything out of nothing. Problem with that was Carly got to where she wasn’t sure if what she was seeing was real or just in her mind’s eye.
When Drew first thought of building the hut in the woods, his primary goal for doing so was for his children to have a sanctuary to run to. He also liked having a place of solitude for himself where he could go and think things through. There was so much wildlife in the woods: birds and squirrels and rabbits and raccoons and so many deer. Drew told Carly and Decker the only forest animal to stay clear of was the skunk. He explained that although a skunk is cute and furry and black with a white stripe, it has a unique way of warding off predators and sprays really smelly mist at them. Carly scrunched up her tiny nose and pinched her nose with her little six-year-old fingers to show her daddy she knew skunks were stinky because Mommy read her the book Stinky Skunk, and when Stinky got real scared, Stinky made a booboo, that’s what Mommy said.
Drew chuckled at his little precious, then he told Carly and Decker of the deer in the woods, how the doe is the fawn’s mommy and how the doe’s grace and continued alertness was for her fawn’s protection. Carly got all excited because she knew about the deer as well because mommy read her the story of Bambi.
Carly was Drew’s Bambi, so cute and delicate and absent of any evils.
“Her shore is a cutie pie, Drew,” everyone would tell Drew.
Whenever Babs would take Carly and Decker into town shopping, the folks there would always comment on Carly be-in’ such a cutie pie. No one seemed to acknowledge Decker in that way. It wasn’t that Decker was a homely child, just pale, sort a sickly pasty, and so darned awful skinny, and he had them droopy, sleepy eyes, like a Dachshund’s. It never bothered Decker none ’cause he didn’t much like people touch-in’ him anyway. He never much liked people touching Carly neither, but he knew that look on his mama’s face whenever someone did reach for Carly to pinch her little cheek or pat her on her little head, and Decker would get that look like he wanted to kick them in their shins, but he would look up at his mama, and she would give him those smiling warm eyes, expressing it was okay and to leave well enough alone.
Babs never possessed a driver’s license. She never cared to be behind the wheel of any vehicle. She said all the power behind such a large object scared her. So she depended on Drew to take her shop-in’ for groceries and to get the children’s school clothes and supplies. There was only one other person to ever give Babs a ride to town but never did. Sam Gooding.
Samuel Gooding was going to drive Babs to town that Thursday in the spring of ’74, when the air was fresh with them lilacs and honeysuckle bushes. Babs was busy with the routine of summer launderin’. Summer launderin’ was Babs’s favorite launderin’ time, she toll me, ’cause it meant hangin’ them sheets on the ^clothes line and get-in’ that fresh air from outside all over ’um. No way could you get that smell from no machine, not like that, not clean and natural. Ain’t no smell like that come out a no box I ever heard of?
Drew, he attached up a launderin’ line from one end a that house and string it out to a large pine jus’ ’cross the yard a-ways where that neat mow-in’ grass ‘a his meets with that forest floor. Drew calls that there the cross-in’.
Decker, he be in school, the second grade, Ms. Harley’s class, I believes that what Babs told me. Carly Ruth. That be what Babs call Miss Carly back then. Carly Ruth was but four years old and outside with her mama, jus’ sittin’ on that grass and playin’ some with them wood blocks her daddy done made her and Decker. Babs, she swear still to this day it weren’t but a minute, two minutes tops, she took her eyes off a Carly Ruth. Babs say when she finish hangin’ them last bedsheets, she turn to smile at her baby girl, only Carly Ruth gone. Babs say she kid herself at first, feelin’ sure Carly Ruth just playin’ peek-a-boo and hidin’ behind one a dim hangin’ sheets on that launderin’ line. Only Babs, she don’t see no sign of them two little feets a Carly Ruth’s anywhere.
So Babs say that be when she get to worry some and hurried on ’round that big old house to the front yards, callin’ for her baby girl, only Carly Ruth weren’t there neither. Babs gets to figurin’ Carly Ruth gone and somehow manage to climb them back porch steps and was up on that porch hidin’. Wert no way a four-year-old could a got insides the house, Babs told me. Carly Ruth was a wee bit small to reach doorknob, and besides, she wouldn’t know how to turn a doorknob even if she could a reach one.
Babs say she make a mad dash fur that house and was holler-in’, feelin’ panicky and frightened. There weren’t no sign of Carly Ruth nowhere. Babs say she come to realize even if Carly Ruth manage to get inside that house, she most likely would not shut no door, and both them doors be shut tight. And that be when a ton a bricks come a tumble-in’ down on Babs’s head.
Babs, say she ran outside like one a them gazelles you be see-in’ on that nature TV channel-in’ show, and she be scream-in’ for Carly Ruth to come on out to her immediate-like. But what good would that do, is what I thought when she toll me that part of the story. Cause I figure scream-in at a four-year-old will only frighten a child that small; more likely that child won’t come on out. Babs’s only alternative was to runs back inside that house and telephone Nights Construction.
Drew would know what to do. She couldn’t just’ run in dim woods ’cause every second count, and soon that ole darkness be blanket-in’ dim woods.
Babs say she run back to the house, and that be when she notice Sam Good-in’s truck in the parkin’ area. Sam was come-in’ by with three of them birdhouses Babs gone and order, and I guess Sam was gonna take Babs into town for a spell. Anyhow, Babs say she holler out to Sam to come quick, and Sam, he drop that birdhouse and hurry on up that grassy knoll ’cross that lawn to that backyard. Sam was tellin’ ’bout how he was hear-in’ the panic in Babs’s voice that day. Sam say Babs’s voice was scary white. Sam say that be how he remembers it be-in’, scary white.
Babs, she explain to Sam between gasp-in’ for breath and be-in’ all panicky how’s Carly Ruth gone up and vanish, and how she believe Carly Ruth gone into the woods. Sam, he toll me he look over at them woods and finds it was hard believe-in’ a small child could ’a even make it through that thicket. Sam say he be pretty shore the first sting from one a them briar bush needles would get any small child like Carly Ruth scream-in’ for her mammy. But I says, and I says it to Sam Good-in’s face ’cause I ain’t like Sixty Minutes goin’ ’round, talkin ’bout folks whenever she a mind to. I axe Sam who he be to say what a four year-ole baby might do or might not do. I weren’t be-in’ mean or nut-in’, jus’ statin’ my mine is all. Sam Good-in’, he knows how I be and take no offense ’bout it neither. Sam may be small, but he be good.
Anyhow, Sam, he begin tear-in’ through that thicket and cut-in’ himself on is hands and arms, callin’ fur Carly Ruth, but he do it in a calm, please-in’ voice, fear-in’ a baby child Carly Ruth’s age might stay herself hidden to some unrecognized-in’ stranger voice callin’ fur her. Sam say that while he be out in the woods, Babs, she gone and run into that house and call Drew ’bout Carly Ruth gone miss-in’.
Doris Flowers, she toll us one day long time after it all gone and transpire how Drew jump inside that truck ‘a his and tore out a that parkin’ lot just squeal-in’ them tires and burn-in’ rubber, and smoke just a pour-in’ out behinds that truck. Drew, he toll us he drive home that day like one a them race car drivers in that there Indy 500. It was a wonder Drew didn’t get himself kilt do-in’ that crazy drive-in’, but I guess I be do-in’ the same if it were my baby girl. Drew toll us his worse fear be Carly Ruth get too deep in the woods, and ’round dark, he fear they never finds her. There was them terrible dogs with that mean disease run-in’ loose like crazy killers at that time and could a kilt Carly Ruth and eat-in’ her all up ’fore anybody ever finds her.
Miss Millie down at the sheriff’s office, she done toll us ’bout that, how that call came into the sheriff’s office ’bout little Miss Carly gone miss-in’, likely scared the whole town half to death ’cause the whole town know ’bout Cole’s crazy dogs get-in’ that mad rabid disease.
I remember now. It was a week prior to Carly being lost that the news of Cole Bradshaw’s pit bulls had gone rabid and how the one gone in killed some livestock of Carlton Brewster’s. That gripped this entire community in fear, as I recall. I felt a might sorry for Cole in a way. Cole had to put those dogs of his down with his own shotgun. Well, one of them, I understand, because he had two more of those dogs, and one was miss-in’ if I recollect some. The one at home was infected like the first one. Cole had her put down. He said he couldn’t just out right and kill another one, so he called the city pound, and they come out and took care of the poor animal.
As far as we all knew, the town and me, I mean, we were so frightened about the last one that gone miss-in’. Everybody feared it might come round, rear-in’ its head in town and get at one of the little ones. Be-in’ we’re a town so small and the children here play outdoors mostly and have no fears like them children in the big cities do. Not one of us could even begin to imagine what a rabid dog could do to a four-year old. We knew that by now the dog had to be gone insane, starve-in’, and a little girl…well, she was fresh kill. A dog that crazy could easily tear limbs like twigs on a bush and peel away flesh like paper. It would have devoured Carly Ruth in no time. Oh, it gave us all such a fright. So much so that we all decided to go on out there to Laden Lane and help search for Carly Ruth. I swear, there were enough cars that day goin’ along Laden Lane, it was like a funeral session.
Babs told me about that day one day in private. She wanted to get my notion on the gray-brown squirrel story before telling any of the other townsfolk. I told her she should go on ahead and tell her story if she believe in it. So she did. Good heavens, it was the topic in three counties how Barbara Jean Leigh Laden had gone and lost her mind.
Babs said when she stepped back outside to call Sam that day that, that was when she caught sight of the small gray-brown squirrel. And following close behind the squirrel was a giggly little girl bound-in’ with joy and laughter only a child knows. Babs hollered Carly Ruth’s name so loud it carried on over and echoed through them woods all the way to Carlton Brewster’s farm. Babs ran to Carly Ruth with arms ready to scoop her baby up. Babs, she toll me her tears running down her cheeks that day were like two faucets turned on full. She said her sudden outburst frightened both that gray-brown squirrel and Carly Ruth, and that gray-brown squirrel hightailed it back into the woods, and Carly Ruth dropped on her bottom and started ‘a bawl-in the way babies bawl when they get-in’ a needle stuck in the top of that little pudgy part a their leg like they do babies ’cause they too small to be get-in’ a needle in their tiny little arm. Babs toll me that was the most pleasant sound, just to hear her baby’s voice. She scooped Carly Ruth up in her arms and held her tight and swore she’d never let Carly Ruth out of her sight ever again.
Then Babs told us the story of the gray-brown squirrel and about the strangest thing that had occurred, and that’s how the story of the gray-brown squirrel come to be. Babs said that while she stood calming herself and Carly Ruth, that gray-brown squirrel popped out from behind a bush and stood tall on its hind legs and was makin’ that sound squirrels sometimes make, like it were check-in to be sure Carly Ruth made it home safe and was givin’ Babs a talkin’ to, kinda like a scold-in Babs ’bout how she best be keepin’ her baby close by. That was how it seem to Babs, she toll us. Babs toll us she thanked that little squirrel because in her heart and mind, she knew the little squirrel got her baby home safe to her.
When Babs did finally tell that story, everyone a’ course just nod their head polite-like and sound out their fake OH’s and AH’s ‘long with them fake smiles plastered ’cross their face, and you just knew not one soul believe her story. Samuel Gooding believed her. He toll me so, one day at the flea market, and I guess that’s when I come to believe the story ’cause Sam seem sincere when he toll me about what happen that day. Drew, well, he believe it was all just a coincidence, and Carly Ruth and that gray-brown squirrel just happen to come out of them woods together by chance is what Drew told us. Drew said Carly Ruth simply followed the squirrel like any child would. Drew was taken aback some when he hear how Babs gone around tellin’ folks how that little squirrel actual knowingly led Carly Ruth out a them woods. That was too hard for Drew to swallow. Babs didn’t care none who believe her story. She saw what she saw, and no one would ever convince her otherwise ’bout that gray brown squirrel.
When Barbara Jean told the town about that squirrel, to be honest, we all thought she was overwrought some in her head. You know, ’cause she was scared about lose-in Carly Ruth. So we smiled and listened and let Babs go on with her story about the squirrel.