Some places are best left alone.
Arlis Babcock was squirrel hunting on a chilly October morning in 1986, on a farm in southeastern Minnesota. Alone, he had been hunting unsuccessfully for about three hours when he decided to call it quits, having failed to see even one squirrel. This surprised him, for he had hunted in the woods every October for nearly ten years and always went home with at least four squirrels.
Walking with the barrel of his shotgun on his shoulder, Arlis, a forty-year-old foundry worker, began to cross a narrow creek with shallow water in it. He had crossed the creek an hour earlier, so he knew he was going in the right direction. He believed he knew the timber he was in better than the farmer who owned it.
With the creek about a hundred feet behind him, he, knowing the country road his car was parked on was about three hundred yards away, stopped to take a leak, hearing only the faint caw of a distant crow. Something about the woods didn't seem quite right to him.
He was urinating when his searching eyes stopped at a large tree that was standing about thirty feet from him, in the direction he was going before he came to a halt. He narrowed his eyes at it, baffled as to why he didn't recall seeing the tree before. Granted, he was surrounded by many trees, but the one he was looking at was the dead one in view. Arlis could tell the plant had been dead for at least five years, simply because it was naked of bark and had numerous circular holes in it, the word of hungry woodpeckers.
Arlis zipped and then picked up the shotgun, peering at the lifeless plant still, seeing now something dangling from the lowest branch. "Looks like a pair of shoes," he whispered, then began to approach the waiting tree, hearing for the first time since entering the woods the chattering of a squirrel. But he didn't care about such rodents now. No, all he wanted to do was get a closer at whatever it was hanging from the branch, which was about six feet above the ground.
"It's a pair of shoes," he said, having stopped about six feet from the dead tree. "A baby's shoes. Jesus!" He moved closer to the trunk of the deceased plant, looking up and seeing that the footwear was tied together, a separate string having been used to tie one end to the shoestrings and the other about the fairly fat branch. So old did the shoes look that Arlis believed he was viewing footwear at least a hundred years old.
Standing on a twig that had snapped under the weight of his right foot, Arlis reached up and touched the tiny shoes, as if he needed to make contact in order to assure him that his eyes had not played a trick. "How?" he muttered. "How in the hell did a pair of shoes end up hanging from a branch? Who put em there?" He was in dire need of answers.
Experiencing a dose of the creeps, he walked away, hearing nothing but his own movement, his hands tight about the shotgun. But he hadn't walked more than thirty feet when a gut feeling urged him to stop and look back. He did and immediately saw a young woman standing near the truck of the dead tree, directly under the shoes. She was naked and holding her arms in such a way as to suggest she was nursing a baby. Arlis couldn't believe his eyes.
With his nerves assuring him they were alive and well, Arlis began to approach the woman, baffled as to why she was naked on such a chilly morning. "Hello?" he fairly shouted. "Who are you?"
She failed to respond, her head slightly bowed, as if looking at the face of a baby Arlis could not see.
He stopped, the distance between him and the woman about fifteen feet, plenty close enough for him to see that she was attractive and slim, her ample breasts the firmest Arlis had ever seen. Her black hair was in a bun, and her brows were so large they appeared as one.
She had yet to make eye contact with Arlis, despite having been spoken to again. It was obvious to him now that she could see him nor hear him.
Pretty sure now that he was looking at a full-bodied apparition, Arlis moved a few steps closer to the woman, and it was at that instant he felt air so warm it startled him. He felt as if he had stepped out of a refrigerator and into a greenhouse on a hot July day. If he didn't believe something strange was going on before, he did now.
Sweating, he was about to move even closer to the female when his ears were struck with the sound of a galloping horse. A few rapid heartbeats later the animal appeared. On it was a young man, wearing only trousers with suspenders attached to them.
"This can't be happenin'," Arlis muttered, wide-eyed.
The horse came to a stop about six feet from the woman.
"Can you see me?" Arlis asked, speaking loudly to the male.
The rider failed to respond. Didn't even glance in the direction of Arlis.
The female, having glanced up at the hanging shoes, mounted the saddle-free horse, still appearing to be breastfeeding a baby.
"Hey!" Arlis fairly screamed.
The male heeled the horse, causing the natural-looking animal to walk away. A few seconds later it broke into a trot and was soon out of sight, making no sound this time.
"My God," Arlis whispered, then shuddered like never before.
Wanting to get out of the woods even faster now, Arlis turned and walked away. Ten or so steps later her re-entered the chilly October air. Convinced was he that he had stepped back into time, possibly the 1800s.
He reached his vehicle, aware that a pickup truck was approaching him. Ten or so seconds later the dusty machine stopped, the driver on Arlis's side of the road.
"Howya doin', son?" the elderly man asked.
Arlis was putting his gun into its cloth case. "Pretty good."
"Been huntin', eh?"
"No." He turned to the visitor. "Sir, I just came out of those"--he gestured---"woods. I saw something scary."
"Oh? Like what, son?"
"Well, you'll prob'ly think I'm crazy. . .but I saw a couple of ghosts."
"Ghosts, eh? Hum." He spat some tobacco juice. "Dang woods can play tricks on a man's mind, son. Yelp."
"It was no trick. I know what I saw."
He nodded, then said, "I 'spect I best get goin'. You be careful, son." He drove away.
Arlis seated himself behind the steering wheel of his '79 Oldsmobile, peered into the woods for a minute, and then drover away, the aftereffects of what he had experienced while in the timber keeping his nerves from relaxing.
Hr never returned to the woods. W.R.