What Comes Back
The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window. I was twelve years old that year, in 1972, the year Nixon went to China and his buddies broke into the Watergate hotel. Billie Jean King beat Bobbie Riggs at tennis, and I dreamed that even an East Texas girl could grow up to be an astronaut.
“Look there!” My cousin, Ray Kinder, elbowed me in the ribs. Ray, a year older than me and a foot taller, swung our gig pole in the light’s direction, a hundred yards in front of us.
“Hush. I see it.” I swatted away the sharp, forked tines on the end of the pole as Ray turned back to me. We’d been out gigging frogs, an operation best done in darkness. A chorus of deep croaks and high trills sounded from the creek–the bullfrogs waiting for us to sneak up and blind them with our flashlights before we stabbed them. Moonlight filtered through the pines and colored everything around us in shades of blue and gray. In contrast, the single flame in the cabin window glowed golden orange.
Brush and tree limbs covered most of the view and concealed the weathered wood of its walls, but I’d visited that cabin in the daytime and knew the shape of the sagging porch. I’d never gotten closer than that stoop, though, and that was on a dare from Ray. Folks called it the Bonner place. The woman who’d lived there had gone missing years ago, and the rumor was her husband had killed her and buried her in the crawlspace under the house.
A shadow moved across the wall behind the candle. I grabbed Ray’s arm and pulled him from the path as I clicked off my light. A mosquito buzzed against my cheek, but I stood still, goosebumps raising the hairs on my arm despite the humid summer air. A snap sounded, as though something stepped on a branch, followed by the piercing cry of a small animal. There were predators in the forest — bobcats, foxes, coyotes. They had killed the last gray wolf some years before, but there were those who swore they still heard them howling. Old folks liked to tell tales of missing livestock and bloody footprints on the road bordering the forest. The stories were meant to scare children from wandering too far into the woodlands, and before that night I’d considered myself too grown-up to give them credit.