The Doll That Scared a Boy Silly

See the source image

It is not the usual thing for boys to be afraid of dolls. Nevertheless, I knew a boy, who grew up to be a star athlete and a model citizen, who had a dreadful experience with a certain doll. I must not reveal his name, lest he be embarrassed by this anecdote. For the sake of convenience, I’ll call him Ariobarzanes.

As he was a new boy in the neighborhood, my friends and I decided to introduce him to our local wilderness, preparing him with lurid tales of Hangman’s Tree, which stood at the very heart of it. To this day, we whispered to him, as we followed the trail beside the creek, some evil force continued to string up people from that tree. But it ought to be safe to go there in the daytime. Probably.

Meanwhile, my friend Ellen, a very good tree climber, went on ahead to set the stage.

We had poor Ario pretty well pumped up by the time we entered the clearing where the tree glowered down on all of Middlesex County. And there Bobby and I stopped short, pointing and crying out, “Oh, no, not again! Oh, no!”

A hapless little doll hung from the lowest branch, swaying dismally in the wind.

With a great cry, Ariobarzanes turned and ran all the way back home without stopping even once, showing great promise of the track star he would one day be. He didn’t even need to use the path: he made one of his own.

I admit that this was a naughty prank, but Ario soon laughed it off and he and I became great friends. Best freakin’ shortstop we ever had, too.

But now you see, I’m sure, that under the right circumstances, a boy can be scared by a doll.

Memory Lane: Hangman’s Tree

Follow me down Memory Lane, where they can’t find us.

I’m going to take you into Edgar Woods, the forest that grew right next to our neighborhood, right up against the playground. Woods and playground have been torn down, paved over, and made to be as if they never existed but in dreams. But in my memory they’re safe; the orcs can’t touch them there.

We turn off the main path to a crystal spring that bubbles up from clayey soil–cold water that everyone around here drinks, and I never heard of anyone getting sick from it. We are not very far into the woods; faintly, you  can still hear the clink of horseshoes from the playground.

The spring feeds a little brook, and we’ll follow it along its left bank, deeper into the woods. On the right bank the ground is wet and swampy, with lots of skunk cabbage. There are frogs in the water. Here we have another path which will take us to a blue house that stands all alone in the woods, but we’re not going there today.

By and by the brook peters out, but the path continues. Now we can’t hear anything but birds and squirrels. It would seem strange, today, to be at any place where you can’t hear cars and trucks. But not here, not now.

Unexpectedly, the path breaks into a clearing. And there stands Hangman’s Tree, probably the biggest, tallest tree in the county. The other trees, and the underbrush, keep a respectful distance from it. It’s big and black and very, very high. Kid legend has it that this used to be the hanging tree for several towns.

If you can climb any distance up this tree, the view will take your breath away. If the air were clear enough, you might see your way to Spain. Micro-trucks on the highway, micro-boats on the river, the mirror-sheen on the water where the river widens into the bay–it’s easy to lose track of the time when you’re way up there.

Leading out of the clearing, through a stand of sticker-bushes–the whole woods is full of wild blackberries, all you can eat for free–is Soldier’s Path, a mysterious cinder path that will eventually lead you to a sweet little village which has been torn down and paved over for another highway. Other paths will take you out to a bamboo field that marks the boundary of Edgar Woods.

Come up with me, up into Hangman’s Tree, and together we can look for Portugal. Don’t worry about falling. It’s my memory landscape and I will undertake to keep you safe.

I think I want to stay up here for a while.