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Jury Selection

There is a woodlot in the center of Pap's field. He said that years back they used it for firewood, and that the cows took shade there on hot summer days, when there was still a herd.

"But don't go wandering!" he always told us, his voice thinned and sharpened by the emphysema. "The woods are a dangerous place for kids. Even such a small wood. Especially such a small wood."

We wondered what that meant.

But Gran always backed him up, so we knew he must be serious. It was often difficult to tell when he was joking. He'd lean over either way—suspenders momentarily going slack—and look us straight in the eye, like we were adults.


We started spending more time at Pap and Gran's the summer I turned 13 and Jenna was 9.

Dad hadn't ever been around much, but he'd packed a few more boxes into his jeep one windy March day and told us we'd see him soon. He'd nodded toward a chipmunk that was perched on the opening of the metal rain gutter. "Spring's here," he said, as though that sealed his promise.

We hadn't seen him since.

Mom took on longer hours at the Dollar General and started caring for a neighbor in the evenings. I was left in charge those nights. I didn't fight with Jenna, and I made sure she ate her supper and brushed her teeth before bed.

And once school let out we stayed at Pap and Gran's most days, and many nights too. Heat rose in the big wooden farmhouse, and it was hot upstairs in our bedrooms. I kept the two windows in mine wide open, but Jenna said the curtains moving on their own scared her. On nights when the heat got too bad she would sleep on the braided rug in my room, curled up beneath a sheet.


It was early on a July morning when Jenna turned to me and said: "Did you hear that music last night? Sounded like a band! I'd like to join band next year."

We had spent the night at the farmhouse, and now sat at the small kitchen table. Gran insisted we get up early when we stayed. Now she gave Jenna a slightly concerned look over the skillet of fried potatoes.

"I didn't hear any band, Sweetie. Must have been in your dreams. Did you hear music, Jamie?"

"No, I didn't hear anything, Jenna," I said. "Must have been a dream."

"It wasn't a dream!" She sounded surprisingly agitated. "I went to the window, it was louder outside."

"Ok," I said, choosing not to argue. "Maybe a party at one of the neighbor's?" It seemed unlikely though: Pap and Gran's fields ended at the foot of the mountain, and I was pretty sure both of the neighboring farms were Old Order Brethren.

But Gran said, "Yeah, that's probably it. Independence Day was only last week."


Mom was busy that week, and we stayed at Pap and Gran's the next few days. Jenna grew quiet after telling us about the music and spent hours out in the unplanted fields, looking for bits of milky quartz. Gran collected them in a terracotta pot outside the kitchen door, and Jenna would sometimes add her finds—though she'd always keep a couple of the prettiest pieces in her pockets.

On the third day I went to find her. Gran and I had spent the morning ironing Pap's button-down shirts and watching reruns of Columbo. We hadn't seen Jenna since dawn.

"You keep hearing that music, don't you?" I asked her.

"No," she said, but kept her eyes on the ground.

"Do you only hear it at night?" I took another step toward her.

She didn't reply but looked up at me. Then her gaze slid past me, to the woodlot.

"Want to check it out?" I asked. "It'd be nice to get out of this heat. Like the cows—remember?"
Jenna shook her head quickly, eyes widening.

"Those were just stories, Jenna," I said. "There's nothing to be afraid of!" I laughed, but suddenly felt a chill as I turned to face the trees. The trunks were tall and straight, the high branches dense with summer leaves. I couldn't see through to the other side.

When I turned back, I saw Jenna returning to the house, her figure dwarfed beside the few dried corn stalks that hung on from last year.


We had dinner on the back patio. It was already growing dark, and lightning bugs twinkled across the fields.

We sat in silence for a moment, listening to the sound of crickets and the last roosting birds. Then Jenna said, "Did you know Pap played fiddle? He's very good."

"He...he was very good at fiddle. Before his arthritis got too bad," Gran replied, slowly. "Did he tell you about his fiddling, Jenna? He did love it so."

Jenna looked slightly confused, but nodded. "Can I have another piece of pie, please?" she asked.


I woke sometime in the middle of the night. Jenna had slept on my bedroom floor again, but when I turned over, the sheet was flat against the rug. And then I heard it: a haunting sound somewhere between wind and a musical tune.

I went to the window. It was a clear night, and the full moon cast long shadows across the fields. Just at the edge of the woodlot I could see a small figure.

I ran to wake Gran. She didn't say anything but raced downstairs with surprising speed, and barely stopped to slip on her galoshes.

Outside, she grabbed the old terracotta pot and continued through the fields. I followed close behind, and saw her glance into the pot before turning it over—no pieces of quartz fell out. She then threw it aside without breaking stride.

But when we reached the woodlot there was no sign of Jenna, and Gran stopped, throwing her arm out to prevent me from going further. "We can't follow," she said, simply. "It's not safe."

"Gran, do you hear that? Like wind," I hesitated, "Or quiet music? But I can't quite hear the tune." The sound was a bit louder now.

Gran looked at me quickly. "You can hear it?" She paused for a moment, looking back at the trees. Only the closest trunks were visible, even at this close distance. "No," she finally said, "it's too dangerous, even for you."


It's been two years since Jenna went into the woodlot. Mom and I moved in with Gran shortly after she disappeared.

In the beginning Mom was frantic: tearing through boxes in the attic and cellar, asking Gran every question under the sun. But the stories about children being lost to the woodlot were all in Pap's family, and he'd never given many specifics. An aunt and uncle had been lost when they were younger than Jenna, and only his aunt returned—a year later.

Now Mom and Gran just sit on the back patio every night, usually in silence. Except when Gran reminds us several times a day that "She has another year. A whole year." Only children can pass through the barrier.

At first, I was determined to follow. I gathered stones and tallied the days until the next full moon directly on my wall. Gran stopped my first few attempts. We'd talk of Dad, or Pap; Mom, and Jenna. Then I started to hesitate all on my own.

I still keep my window open, if only a crack. I listen for the sound I heard that night, but I haven't heard it since. Even the memory fades.


Image of The other side


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