The Men in the Woods

Daniel Wallace is the author of six novels. In 2019, he won the Harper Lee Award and is currently directing the Creative Writing Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Image of The Current - The Current
Originally published in Alabama Noir

The men who live in the woods behind my house had been getting out of hand for some time. They were all in their mid-fifties, golfers formerly, and meat eaters -- jolly men in general -- but since their wives had sent them away to live in the woods they had become grumpy and discontent. At night they would bellow and howl. They want their televisions and ice-makers and chairs beside the vents. They live like animals now in badly made straw huts and eat anything that wanders too close to their turf. We know what's happening to our dogs and cats, but there's nothing we can do: some of these men are very powerful; all of them belong to the country club.

Last night from a window I saw them leaving the woods and marching, single file, toward my home. They knocked at the door.

"What is it?" I said, staring at their wretchedness through the peep-hole. "What do you want?"

"Your telephone," they said. "We'd like to use your telephone."

"That's out of the question," I said. "You can't come in. My wife -- "

"Your wife?" he said.

"She won't allow it."

"His wife won't allow it!" said one of them. "His wife says no," said another.

"She must be wonderful," the first one said. "Really, I bet she is."

"She is," I said. "My wife is wonderful."

"We knew your father," one of the men said. "You're not your father."

Then they went away, grumbling, back into the woods.

Later that night, in bed, I told my wife what had happened.

"They came here?" she said. I nodded. She was appalled. "I want you to go down there and tell them not to do that. Tell them never to come here again."

"Now?" I said. "It's like midnight."

"Now," she said. "For me." She kissed me on the cheek.

I walked down the little trail which led to the woods behind our house. I saw a light, followed it. The men were cooking squirrel around a fire. They were drinking coffee from old tin cups. They bellowed and wailed. But they seemed to be having a pretty good time.

"Hey fellas," I said, and all the bellowing stopped, and they looked up at me and smiled. "Please don't come around our house anymore. Okay?"

They looked at each other, then into the fire.

"Okay," they said, shrugging their shoulders. "Fine."

It didn't seem to mean that much to them. All they had wanted was the phone.

When I turned to go I could see my house on the hill above me, and watched as one light after another was killed and it was all darkness. It seemed I could even hear the doors shut and lock, as my wife prepared for sleep. My house seemed to disappear into the black sky. I paused.

"Going away so soon?" one of the men said. The fire was bright, warm. "Yeah," said another. "And just when we were getting to know you."

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