A Walter Ulric Story
By Ian Wilson (Rated G)
“Dagnabbit!” exclaimed Uncle Jimmy. “We’ve passed that darn truck six times now!”
“Something about this ain’t right,” I stated, looking over the snow-covered vehicle, sitting abandoned in the Appalachian wilderness.
“You bet your britches, Walter,” said Uncle Jimmy. “I know these woods like the back of my hand; I’ve never been lost in my life!”
“Well, what about that time–?”
“I was drunk that time.”
I nodded, leaning my rifle against a tree. Lighting a cigarillo, I watched the smoke curling through the bitter cold February air. It had been a long day of hunting with no game in sight and we were both tired and crabby. The only thing on my mind at that point was the beef stew waiting for us at home.
A chill ran from my scalp to the base of my spine; somewhere in the distance, what sounded like crazy laughter echoed through the trees.
“What was that?” asked Uncle Jimmy.
“I don’t know, but I think we ought to move.”
Uncle Jimmy grunted in agreement, propping his rifle on his shoulder. Down the old logging road we hiked, hoping it might take us back to where we’d parked the truck. After a while of walking, I don’t know how long, a figure approached us walking down the muddy road. As we came closer I realized it was a woman. She was gorgeous; her eyes as blue as a cloudless sky, long hair cascading down from her head like a golden waterfall. A heavy wool sweater hung from her slender shoulders. A denim skirt hugged her waist and ended just below the knees. I would’ve thought this suspicious under different circumstances, but she enchanted me as soon as I looked into her clear blue eyes.
“Afternoon, ma’am,” said Uncle Jimmy.
“Good afternoon gentlemen,” answered the girl. “This is marvelous weather, don’t you think?”
“Good day for hogging,” I replied. “Not a good day to be a girl walking alone in the woods.”
“I can take care of myself,” she answered. “You gentlemen, on the other hand, appear to be lost.”
“That’s about the size of it,” I replied.
“I know the way out! Follow me.”
Without a second thought, we followed this woman through the wintery woods toward who knows where. I had a nagging feeling that something wasn’t quite right, but I shrugged it off; figured I’d grown too suspicious.
“I’m Randi, by the way,” said the girl, looking over her shoulder.
“I’m Walter,” I replied. “This is my uncle, Jimmy.”
“Good to meet you,” said Randi with a smile that warmed the frozen wilderness.
Through the brambles and snowy leaf litter we walked, away from the logging road, and deeper into the forest. Pretty soon we came upon an old cottage that seemed abandoned in the forest.
“Come in,” said Randil. “Get warmed up and something to eat.”
“That’s awfully generous of you,” said Uncle Jimmy, “but we wouldn’t want to impose.”
“It ain’t no trouble,” Randi replied. “I’ll just whip up some tea and biscuits.”
“Come, Uncle Jim,” I said. “It’s been a long day, we’re both cold and tired. Just for a few minutes.”
“Well, alright,” assented Uncle Jimmy, grudgingly.
The cottage was very rustic, as one might expect. Wood furniture all around, with various woodland nicknacks on the walls.
“Sit down by the fire and warm yourselves.”
We did as we were told, warming our cold hands and feet by the light of the fireplace.
“Walter,” Uncle Jimmy said in a quiet voice, “don’t you think there’s something… weird about all this?”
“How do you mean?” I inquired.
“An attractive woman walking around in the woods alone in the middle of hogging season. None of that strikes you as weird?”
“It’s a free country,” I shrugged.
“What is wrong with you, son?” said Uncle Jimmy. “The Walter I know wouldn’t have set foot in this cottage without dousing the place with holy water!”
Randi sauntered in with a tray of tea and biscuits, and sat down next to me.
“Tell me a bit about yourselves,” she said.
“Well, there ain’t much to tell,” said Uncle Jimmy. “I’m a farmer, and Walter here is a–”
“Paranormal private detective,” I said, beaming with pride.
“Oh? How interesting! Tell me more about it.”
Randi leaned toward me, her blue eyes sparkling with sapphires. Uncle Jimmy glared at me.
“Well, I’m here to keep the darkness at bay. I hunt vampires, ghouls, dark fairies; whatever goes bump in the night.”
Most folks think I’m nuts when I tell them this stuff, unless they’ve seen something they can’t explain. She seemed absolutely enchanted. I elaborated further, talking about some of my more exciting cases as she paid rapt attention. All the while Uncle Jimmy kept glaring at me over his teacup.
“Walter,” he said, clearing his throat in such a way as to let me know he was annoyed about something. “I think it’s time we started for home.”
“Oh, don’t go just yet,” said Randi. “It’s so cold, and you gentlemen have such a long trip back to town.”
“Yup, and the sooner we leave the better,” said Uncle Jimmy, rising from his seat. “I don’t fancy going home in the dark. Come on, Walt.”
Reluctantly, I stood up and started for the door.
“Thanks for the tea and biscuits,” I said. “Much obliged.”
“At least let me fix you a little something for the road,” said Randi as she followed us to the door of the cabin.
“Oh, I think you’ve done enough,” my uncle replied.
“Please stay a little longer Walter,” Randi pleaded, holding my sleeve. I was about to pull away from her, until I looked into those deep blue eyes. I could not resist her.
“You go on ahead, Uncle Jimmy,” I said. “Tell Ma I’ll be late.”
“Walter, what is wrong with you?” Uncle Jimmy growled.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Look at what’s going on! Look at what she’s doing to you!”
“Whatever do you mean?” asked Randi, looking at me with her pleading blue eyes.
“She’s a- a witch or something!”
“Because I gave you shelter and hot tea?” asked Randi, placing her hands on her hips.
“You gotta admit, Uncle Jim, that’s kinda out there even for you,” I remarked.
“Think, Walter! Nothing about this day has been normal! We’ve never been lost in the woods in our lives, yet here we are!”
“Everyone makes mistakes sometimes,” said Randi.
“Don’t listen to her!” urged Uncle Jimmy. “Put your jacket on.”
“Just do it!”
I shoved my right arm into the sleeve of my denim jacket, and was about to do the left, but Uncle Jim stopped me.
“No, not that way; backwards.”
The man had clearly spent far too much time in the woods. Either that, or there was something peculiar in that tea. Just to humor him, I turned the jacket around and put it on.
I looked back at Randi, and saw her for what she was: a Skogsra, a malevolent maiden of the forest. Her blue eyes had turned into empty, black holes. An animal-like tail curled out from under her skirts. I backed away, reaching for my rifle. She snarled like an angry cat.
We backed out of the door, our weapons trained on the forest witch. Once out the door, we ran back to the road. Everything seemed clear to us; the veil, or whatever you want to call it that kept us wandering around in circles had lifted and we found our way back to the truck.
“How did you figure out what she was?” I inquired.
“Well, I just knew in my gut something weren’t right, the way she came onto you.”
“Well, that’s nice,” I scoffed. “Could’ve just been attracted to me, y’know.”
“Well, I remembered reading in one of your magic books about–”
“It was last spring, when we had that spell of bad weather and couldn’t plow. Well, I got bored, and decided to crack open one of your magic books and see what all was lurking out there that maybe I ought to know about. I read about Skogsra, and how she causes folk to get lost in the woods, and figured out that’s probably what happened. If I was wrong, worse case scenario, I’d look like some kinda idiot, which ain’t a new experience.”
I smiled at my uncle.
“That was some good detective work.”
Uncle Jimmy shrugged.
“That’s what families are for.”