The Way of the Leaves
Spectral Press (2012)
I grew up with the woods as my backyard, and I can still remember those afternoons after school when I'd disappear for an hour, wandering paths and looking for cool little hideaways and such. When you're a little kid and the back door of your house faces out to a wall of trees, it can feel like there is a whole other world right at your fingertips waiting to be explored. These are the kinds of memories drudged up as I read David Tallerman's story, "The Way of the Leaves".
A young boy and his best friend, Charlotte, tear off into the woods in a small community in England. Through their wanderings, they happen upon a barrow behind thick brambles, and an opening to what's inside. Charlotte's curious nature takes over and she soldiers forth, while the young boy recounts his timidity and fear of going any further. When Charlotte comes out, she's found something, but loses it in the rush to get home before sunset. The boy promises to return to the barrow with her to look for it and explore further, but when they do sneak out, Charlotte disappears and the boy doesn't tell anyone when the grownups realize she's missing.
Charlotte is eventually found, but she's never quite the same, and even when the two friends grow up, the call of that barrow and what's buried inside is too strong for either of them to ignore.
Once again, I find myself utterly charmed and chilled at the same time by a Spectral Press chapbook. This time around, David Tallerman's wistful portrait of a boy's fears growing up into a man's heartbreak proved to be a memorable read. I can see why this story won the 2012 This Is Horror/Spectral Press competition. Despite certain facets of the story like Charlotte's broken home with a drunken father and long-gone mother, which felt like pieces of stories I've read before, it's all done with such sincerity that it only feels familiar because it feels true.
It's a brief, soul-stirring story that you should check out if you ever get the chance.