Exercising the craft—June 10, 2013

By Ekta R. Garg

Prompt: You’ve always been close to your favorite uncle, the ‘mad scientist,’ even though no one in the family has heard from him in a couple of years now. You’re thrilled to get a note in the mail from him one day, even if it is short and rather cryptic, asking you to come to his remote country home and lend a hand. You arrive, and as you are walking up the long, wooded pathway towards the house, you swear you see large shapes among the trees that don’t look like any human or animal you’ve ever seen before…

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I drove along the narrow single-line highway, and out of habit I checked all my mirrors.  My uncle always told me I should watch for people following me.  I don’t know who I could have possibly led to his house.  Most of my friends through the years never seemed that interested in my uncle anyway.  They acted politely enough around him, but more than once after he left my friends would look at me and say, “Dude, no offense, but, like, your uncle is freaky.  Totally weird.”

I knew it, and that’s exactly why I loved him.  He seemed so much cooler than my vanilla family, better than my father, the accountant, and my mother, the stay-at-home mom who helped with the PTA and our church activities.  My sister managed to keep me entertained sometimes, but for the most part she definitely came off as vanilla with just a few swirls of chocolate.

I always thought of myself as coffee almond fudge ice cream.

My uncle and I would hang out and he taught me so much about life and science, but then about three years ago he said he needed some time away to focus on a new experiment.  He told me he loved me and that when the right time came he would ask me to come help him, but until then he would probably stay out of sight for a while.  At fifteen I really couldn’t show him that I cared that much, but the truth is I missed him tons.

Mix enough vanilla with coffee almond fudge, and the coffee almond fudge starts to turn kind of vanilla too.

But then two weeks ago my uncle sent me a letter—like, who does that these days?—and he said I should come to his house today.  He said he wanted to show me something.  So I came to this desolate spot on the road.

The first few times my uncle brought me to his house so many years ago I couldn’t ever figure out just where that turnoff came.  It felt like we just drove along the road and then all of a sudden he would just turn into the woods.  I always thought he had gotten it wrong, that at some point he would have to put the car in reverse and come back to the road.  But he never made a mistake.  After riding with him several times to this spot, I started looking for and recognizing the little things that signaled the dirt road that led to his home.  Once I started paying attention to them, they would jump out at me like red flags.  How could I have missed them before, I wondered?

Today I saw those familiar markers again—the extra-large bough of flowers; the fat pine tree that seemed a hundred years old, older and bigger than any of its mates there; the double dip the road made in that one particular spot—and I let them take me to the dirt road that wound its way through more trees.  Even if someone managed to find the dirt road, they’d follow it for a few minutes and then probably turn around.  They wouldn’t think to keep going, to be persistent and continue with the hope that they would reap some reward for their efforts.  After a while they’d probably think the dirt road a leftover from a past explorer.

I followed the dirt road for almost a mile, and even though I knew I would find his home at the end I still couldn’t stop that momentary pang that I’d made a mistake.  Did I really take the right turn?  Maybe I’ve been away for too long, and I forgot how to get here.  But I followed all the signs from the road.  Maybe I’ll drive for another five minutes, and if I don’t get there I’ll call and say that…

Just then I saw something blur through the trees.  It looked large and wide.  Before it blurred back into the distance, I saw a pair of eyes.  Huge eyes.  They looked right at me, thoughtfully, and then they disappeared.

Even all the times I came here with my uncle when I didn’t know where to turn off the road, I never considered the idea of wildlife.  Sounds dumb, right?  But my uncle made me feel so safe that I never thought about animals in the woods that could—well, eat me.  The fact that he lived here in the woods kind of sealed the deal for me.  If my uncle had no issues making his home in the woods, then I didn’t need to worry about visiting once in a while.

Something else blurred in my peripheral vision, and my flesh crawled.  I got the distinct feeling in my gut, and knew that I was right, that this blur was in addition to the first Thing I saw.  In other words, there was more than one of these things.

As it always does, the house just popped out of nowhere and I saw my uncle standing in the dirt driveway as if he somehow knew I would arrive then.  He waved and smiled, and his smile reassured me that the blurs wouldn’t bother me.  At least not for the next few minutes.

“I’m so glad you’re here!” he called out as I got out of the car.  “How are you, my dear boy?”

“Fine, Uncle Maurice,” I said, trying to smile in a casual way.  “It’s great to be back.  So what’s new these days?”

“Did you see them?”

“See what?”

“Oh, come on, Max, you must have spotted at least one or two while you drove toward the house.”

I got a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach, but I tried to ignore it and kept up that casual tone.

“What are you talking about, Uncle Maurice?”

“The Wild Things.”

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