A Walk in the Woods

Lost in the woods.

Lost in the woods.

(2015) Dramedy (Broad Green) Robert Redford, Nick Nolte, Emma Thompson, Mary Steenburgen, Kristen Schaal, Nick Offerman, R. Keith Harris, Randall Newsome, Linda Edwards, Susan McPhail, Andrew Vogel, Derek Krantz, Gaia Wise, Tucker Meek, Chandler Head, Sandra Ellis Lafferty, John Schmedes, Valentin Armendariz, Danny Vinson, Valerie Payton, Stephanie Astalos-Jones. Directed by Ken Kwapis

All of us have a connection to the natural world. Deep down, we pine for it; while most of us will profess to loving the civilized life of home and hearth, every so often we get a yen to go out into the woods and pitch a tent. It reminds us of our connection to this planet, that we are born of it and part of it and that it is conversely part of us. Nothing clears one’s head quite so much as a walk in the woods.

Bill Bryson (Redford) is a semi-retired travel writer who has written some fine books but is about as socially awkward as a 13 year old at a state dinner. He says the wrong things at funerals, cracks incomprehensible jokes that nobody gets and grumps to his saintly patient wife Catherine (Thompson) that talking to people is just something he doesn’t do.

After being upbraided by a smarmy talk show host (Newsome) about having written nothing about his own native country, he chances upon a leg of the Appalachian trail near his New Hampshire home and struck by inspiration. Bryson hits on the idea of walking the entire trail from Georgia to Maine. Catherine takes about as kindly to the idea as she would about having a hole drilled in her noggin. When she sees she can’t dissuade her husband out of the scheme, she insists that he take someone with him.

The trouble is, nobody he knows is willing to go with him. That is until he gets a call out of the blue from Stephen Katz (Nolte), an old friend he had a falling out with a decade or so ago. He’s not choice A for the trip but beggars can’t be choosers so Bill gets himself equipped at the local REI (with Offerman making a cameo as a clerk) and before long Katz and Bryson are putting on their hiking boots.

Katz is, contrary to his self-description, woefully out of shape and is huffing and puffing away like a walrus before he’s gone ten feet. Still, the two manage to make progress although not as much as they probably should. They have to put up with rain, snow, never-ending hills, burying their dookie in the woods, annoying know-it-all hikers (Schaal) and bears. But most of all, they’ll have to put up with each other – and themselves.

Kwapis has a history of creating films that are audience pleasers more so than critical darlings and judging from the scores below has done the same this time out. And what’s not to love? A strong, well-known cast in beautiful settings, that’s for sure. The Appalachian Trail passes through some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet and Kwapis takes full advantage of it.

Redford and Nolte have only been in the same film together once before, that being the 2012 drama The Company You Keep and then they only shared a couple of scenes together. It’s a shame they haven’t done more together because they have amazing chemistry together; they banter like an old married couple and play off of each other like the two old pros they are. Their relationship holds the film together.

Nolte, in particular, is noteworthy; gasping like an asthmatic bear and growling in that gravelly smoker’s voice of his. He’s essentially the comic relief, making of Katz a kind of charming womanizing rogue gone to seed, cheerfully evading his responsibilities. Redford by contrast does what Redford does best; being likable even when he’s supposed to be a curmudgeon.

Which brings up a point. Both of these distinguished actors are in their 70s – in fact, Redford is 79 – but the real Bill Bryson was in his mid-40s when he hiked the Trail and so much of the book’s focus had to be changed. The movie spends much more time dwelling on the decrepitude of the leads than the book did on the inexperience of its leads. Lovers of the book (and there are many) might not be too pleased with that. They’ll be pleased that much of Bryson’s comic tone was retained. I haven’t read the book probably in 15 years or so, but my guess is that it was extensively re-written for the screen, so be warned on that score.

Da Queen really loved this movie; the bonding with nature and the friendship between Redford and Nolte really spoke to her; she proclaimed it her favorite movie of the Summer (I didn’t have the heart to point out that it wasn’t released until September 2nd, after the official summer release season had ended) which considering how delighted she was with Jurassic World is quite an accomplishment. I’m a little less enthusiastic about the film but found it to be genuinely entertaining, sentimental and only occasionally descending into schmaltz and cinematically beautiful.

In short, this is solid entertainment which will likely appeal strongly to an older demographic but those who appreciate movies with a heart will also enjoy  it. I do like an occasional nature walk although my condition prevents long hikes like this one but still it inspired in me a desire to walk the Trail myself. It won’t happen, but it’s nice to imagine that it could. If these two can do it, so can I, right?

REASONS TO GO: Beautiful scenery. Wonderful chemistry between Redford and Nolte. Some genuine laughs.
REASONS TO STAY: Occasionally clunky. Too many codger jokes.
FAMILY VALUES: A few mild expletives and some sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Originally, this was meant to be the third team-up between Redford and Paul Newman when the film was optioned in 2007; however, Newman’s declining health and eventual passing prevented that from occurring. Newman would have been cast in the role that Nick Nolte eventually filled.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/14/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 45% positive reviews. Metacritic: 51/100.
NEXT: Sci-Fi Spectacle Begins!


New Releases for the Week of September 4, 2015

Best of EnemiesBEST OF ENEMIES

(Magnolia) William F. Buckley Jr. Gore Vidal, Kelsey Grammer (voice), John Lithgow (voice), Dick Cavett, Christopher Hitchens, Noam Chomsky. Directed by Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville

In 1968, the Vietnam War was raging and LBJ had announced that he would not run for President. The counterculture was beginning to make its presence felt and there was a great deal of anger directed towards the American government for the first time. Richard Nixon, who would eventually win the presidency, was running against Vice-President Hubert Humphrey with Alabama governor George Wallace running on an independent ticket, and the election was as vitriolic as it had ever been. Trying to make sense of everything, a series of televised debates was set up – not between the candidates, but between conservative commentator/essayist William F. Buckley Jr. and liberal author Gore Vidal. Both men were urbane, charming and literate and both absolutely loathed one  another with a passion. These debates would change the way television covers politics.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: R (for some sexual content/nudity and language)

Chloe and Theo

(ARC Entertainment) Dakota Johnson, Theo Ikummaq, Mira Sorvino, Andre De Shields. Elders of the Inuit Eskimos, disturbed by the effects of climate change on the polar ice cap, send Theo to New York City to speak to the United Nations. He meets and befriends a young homeless woman who becomes inspired by his gentle wisdom. With the help of a kind lawyer, they will get the opportunity to present their message to the world; change our destructive ways before we are destroyed by them.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks
Rating: PG-13  (for brief violence)

Mistress America

(Fox Searchlight) Greta Gerwig, Lola Kirke, Michael Chernus, Rebecca Henderson. A lonely college freshman in New York City is compelled by her mother to look up the daughter of the man mom is about to marry, a kind of soon-to-be stepsister. The two hit it off and the freshman begins to accept her proto-sister as a role model. However, as she is seduced by the energy and madcap schemes of her friend, things take an abrupt change. An early review for the film can be found here.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Downtown Disney, AMC West Oaks, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for language including some sexual references)


(Magnolia) Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, James Ransone, Clu Gulager. Christmas Eve in El Lay is like nowhere else, and even on Christmas Eve there can be prodigious drama. Sin-Dee, just released from jail after doing 28 days for soliciting and when the volatile working girl finds out that her pimp slash boyfriend has been cheating on her while she was cooling her heels, the proverbial ca-ca is going to hit the fan.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: R (for strong and disturbing sexual content, graphic nudity, language throughout and drug use)

The Transporter Refueled

(EuropaCorp) Ed Skrein, Ray Stevenson, Loan Chabanol, Gabriella Wright. The franchise is rebooted with Ed Skrein taking over for Jason Statham as Frank Martin, a dapper, fastidious sort who has a complicated set of rules for his vocation of transporting sensitive cargo for questionable people. A father-son bonding weekend is interrupted when he takes a job for a client, a quartet of lovely femme fatales who orchestrate a daring bank robbery. Unfortunately, they have stolen from the Russian mob and Frank is caught reluctantly but squarely in the middle.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release (opens Thursday)
Rating: PG-13 (for scenes of violence and action, sexual material, some language, a drug reference and thematic elements)

Un gallo con muchos huevos

(Pantelion)  Starring the voices of Bruno Bechir, Carlos Espejel, Angelica Vale, Omar Chaparro. Amongst Mexican children, Huevo Cartoon is king and the animated television series makes it to the big screen and for the first time, to El Norte. A small, timid young chicken must find his inner rooster if he and his friends are going to save his family and his home from an evil rancher.

See the trailer, interviews and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Downtown Disney, Regal The Loop
Rating: NR

A Walk in the Woods

(Broad Green) Robert Redford, Nick Nolte, Emma Thompson, Mary Steenburgen. A travel writer rather than retiring to his beautiful wife and large family, decides to push himself one last time and hike the length of the Appalachian Trail. He can only find one friend to accompany him however; the irascible and womanizing Katz, who is more interested in sneaking out of town to avoid paying a debt. The peace and tranquility that the writer longs for goes right out the window with that decision.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, promos and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (opened Wednesday)
Genre: Adventure
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for language and some sexual references)

A Walk in the Woods

          It had been several hours before anyone said anything, but quite naturally it was Thor who said it. “We are totally lost,” he announced as we stopped for a hydration break except that it sounded more like “Ve our toe-tally loast.” Thor was a Swede probably descended from Vikings or some such; he and his young wife Kamilla had been transferred to the United States only eight months earlier and their English was heavily accented.

            It had been a nature hike from a cabin that Ellison’s dad owned; deep in the woods on the shores of a beautiful lake. Ellison had raved about the place, showing everyone pictures until we got him to finally invite us there.

            We all worked at the company Ellison’s dad owned. Pfeister Rosehill, the ones with that guy from the talking car TV show in the commercials? You know the ones I’m talking about. Well, Ellison’s last name is Rosehill, and he’s so rich that when he shits the stock market dips slightly. There were eight of us, spending the weekend at the cabin.

            Ellison, of course; he is our mostly congenial host. He’s really not such a bad guy he’s just terminally socially inept. The guy was wearing Louis Vuitton shorts, for Chrissake. Still, he tried not to let the fact that he could buy and sell entire towns out of his monthly allowance get in the way of friendships with people who probably wouldn’t have given him the time of day if he didn’t have wads of cash. I actually kind of felt sorry for him; he really did try hard.

            He was the only one who didn’t have a real girlfriend along with him of the eight of us; Lisa was ostensibly his date but he had zero chance of scoring with her unless there was some sort of cash transaction involved (and I think Ellison was a little too naïve to even consider that kind of business deal). She was blonde and gorgeous, and her t-shirt was a little too tight for most of the other women’s comfort, but she seemed pleasant enough; at least she wasn’t complaining about being out in the woods.

            No, that was Crystal’s department. Crystal and Brett was another couple; Brett worked in International Acquisitions along with Thor; Crystal alone of the eight of us didn’t work at Pfeister Rosehill. She’d met Brett at a bar about three months ago and they’d been dating ever since. Personally, knowing Brett as I do, I figured it was more of a bedroom thing than a dating thing; I love Brett to death but he’s the kind of guy that is the poster boy for the general complaints about men that women have. The only thing Brett loved more than making money was…Brett.

            And why shouldn’t he? He was ruggedly handsome, a graduate of an Ivy League school who, like Ellison, came from money (although not quite as much) and his family and the Rosehills had known each other forever. Brett had been my roommate in college and it was through him that I’d gotten my job at Pfeister Rosehill as a data analyst in their Information Technology department and had moved up the ladder to a senior management position on the New Technologies team. I think Brett was a little bit jealous since he hadn’t yet moved into management, but he never said anything to me about it – Crystal was the one who mentioned it.

            I never liked Crystal from the get go. She was selfish, arrogant, not terribly bright and the only thing she really had going for her was that she was incredibly easy on the eyes. When I thought about it, she was the perfect match for Brett, but at least Brett was loyal to his friends. Crystal was just a plain bitch who loved nothing more than stirring up drama. By the time Thor made his pronouncement, I was already close to punching Crystal right in the face. I was that tired of her constant whining about the heat, the bugs, the branches, it’s too far, her feet hurt. God, it’s too bad there weren’t any ravines nearby.

            Thor and Kamilla were the only pair of us to be actually married. Thor was like a Viking; blonde, bearded, rugged and basically the size of a bear, but he was genuinely good-natured. I liked him a lot. Plainly he spent a lot of time outdoors in Sweden, kayaking, hiking, mountain biking, the sort of things Swedes do in their all-too-brief summers. Swedes treasure their warm weather more than gold, I believe.

            Kamilla was as beautiful as Thor was handsome. She, like Thor, Crystal and Lisa, was a blonde and had an athletic build. Like Thor, she was in her mid-30s and was the oldest among us. While Thor worked with Brett in International Acquisitions, Kamilla was an economic strategist who made more than any of us except for maybe Ellison – his trust fund was truly endless. It was really her that had been imported to the States and Thor had just tagged along for the ride. She had a first class brain and not a week went by when some Fortune 500 company wasn’t making her a serious offer, but she seemed happy enough where she was. To top it off, she had been on the Swedish Olympic team as a cross country skier in Nagano and had finished fourth; while she didn’t have a washboard stomach any longer, she was still gorgeous. She and Thor had three children who were currently visiting their grandparents in Sweden for the summer, so she and Thor were rekindling their romantic relationship. It was actually quite cute, according to Kristina.

            Kristina was my fiancée and the lone brunette among the women – actually, a redhead. She and Kamilla had bonded instantly; Kamilla’s warmth and giving nature made her popular with everybody, as Thor’s easygoing attitude did the same. Kristina worked in Human Resources at Pfeister Rosehill; she had been the one who handled my initial training class when I was hired. We hit it off right away and started dating about a month after I started working there. She moved in with me last winter, right after I asked her to marry me. We want a fall wedding in Ontario, where Kristina’s from. It’s beautiful there that time of year.

            So here’s what was going on. We had a long weekend – Memorial Day if you want to get technical – and we thought we’d go up to the lake cabin. Ellison’s dad, Barrington Rosehill (the Rosehills are apparently fond of pretentious first names) was in the United Kingdom on business; Ellison’s mom hates going to the cabin, so Ellison said it was okay.

            This isn’t a five star resort, he made sure to tell us, although I knew that compared to what most of us were used to (with the possible exception of Brett) it was the Taj Mahal; a lake that it essentially was the only cabin sitting on, a boathouse and dock, a wraparound porch and a gigantic greatroom with wall-to-floor glass windows. Normally when Ellison came up to the cabin with his dad, a flotilla of servants came along with him but Ellison told us that they were mostly with his dad or his mom, so we would have to cook our own meals and clean up after ourselves. Didn’t seem to be a problem.

            We’d arrived that morning in four vehicles; Brett’s Hummer, Ellison’s Lexus, Thor’s Ford F-150 and my Toyota. We’d brought some supplies with us, but Ellison’s dad provided most of the groceries and booze. I think he was just grateful that anyone was showing any kind of kindness to his son, who was a bit feckless. The girls had oohed and aahed over the view of the lake; the guys did the same over the pool table, the big screen TV and the refrigerator fully stocked with enough beer to fill up the lake. We knew where our priorities were.

            We were all planning on going water-skiing and sunbathing later the next day but we thought taking a hike through the woods surrounding the cabin would be fun, and Thor thought it would be important to get used to the area in case somebody got lost. Thor was nothing if not practical.

            So we set out on our little adventure right after lunch, taking bottled water, sunscreen but no compass; Ellison had told us the trail looped around and came right back to the cabin. He kept telling us that, even though hours had come and gone and we couldn’t even see or hear the lake anymore.

            So when Thor made his pronouncement, Ellison finally hung his head and admitted that he didn’t have a clue where we were. Thor nodded, even as Crystal exploded “Well that’s just great. What are we going to do now, Davey Crockett?” Thor, always the calm one responded “I’ve been keeping track of the direction we’ve been going by following the sun. I think I can navigate us back to the Lake, and then we just follow the shoreline back to the cabin.” Crystal looked at him and leveled him with the kind of spiteful gaze only a girl used to getting her own way at every turn and said in a withering voice “So why did you let us go so far off course if you’re such a boy scout?”

            I exchanged a look with Brett. We both knew the reason Thor hadn’t said anything and that was because he didn’t want to embarrass Ellison who had up to now been leading our little expedition. I rolled my eyes and Brett winked and said “Hon, Thor wanted to see how far we’d go before you stopped complaining; he just figured that if actually kept to that, we’d be beyond the point of no return.” Kamilla and Kristina stifled a giggle and Crystal leveled an icy venomous gaze at Brett. I knew my buddy would be paying for that later.

            So we took up our march once again, this time following Thor. Actually, the weather was perfect, in the low 70s with a bit of a breeze. It wasn’t yet summer-hot, even though it was warm enough so that most of us were wearing shorts. The woods were pleasant enough and though there were a few brambles, it was actually a nice relief to be somewhere that wasn’t concrete and high rises and subways.

            We had been walking only about 15 minutes since Thor had changed directions on us when he suddenly stopped. I was bringing up the rear, but I could hear Brett say “What the fuck…?” I was walking with Kristina and exchanged a look with her; we walked up to the front and saw what had stopped everyone in their tracks.

            We had come to a clearing, but it was like nothing I’d ever seen. We could clearly see the lake maybe a quarter of a mile on the other side of the clearing, but there were strange trees and plants here the likes of which I’d never seen they were an odd yellowish color and the plants were everywhere. There were wooden figures hanging from the trees, totem-like shapes but I really couldn’t tell if this was American Indian, druid, or some whacked out Satanist hippie ritual area. “Do you know what this is?” asked Kristina to Ellison and he just shook his head. “I’ve never been here before,” he finally said. It didn’t look like a natural clearing and yet it did, in a strange way; everything looked organic, yet there were clearly symbols marked on the rocks, the trees and the wooden totems, but it was as if they had kind of evolved rather than having been put there by human hands; natural formations as it were.

            Thor finally nodded. “It’s clear this is a sacred place. Let’s skirt around it and then walk to the lake.” Crystal, who’d been seething since Brett had called her out a few minutes before, was having none of that. “Are you crazy? Why walk out of our way when we can just walk straight across and be at the lake in ten minutes? I’m tired, and I want a beer. You guys can take the long way if you want.” With that, she took off marching straight through the center of the glade.

            Brett shot a look my way, shrugged, and followed behind her. Ellison and Lisa did the same. Thor was shaking his head. “It’s never a good idea to disturb a sacred place.” He turned around and went back the way we came. Kamilla smiled at us and said “You should do the same. Thor has a sense about such things.” She turned around and followed. I turned to Kristina and was about to tell her “Let’s go with Thor” when I noticed she was already trudging into the glade. I sighed and took a step to join her and stopped.

            It felt wrong, as if I wasn’t supposed to be there and I was being judged. Every fiber of my body was screaming at me to stop and I couldn’t move another foot forward into that glade. I called Kristina’s name, but she looked back at me, gave me an impatient gesture, and kept walking towards the lake.

            I noticed then several figures in the tall grass near the other end of the glade. They were five or six feet tall and looked like hay bales almost, except they were cylindrical and standing on their ends. I wondered  why they hadn’t been knocked over by one of the frequent windstorms in the area but as I stared at them I felt fear constrict me and I knew I couldn’t go another foot further. I turned and walked back after Thor and Kamilla, almost running to catch up.

            The other five reached the cabin an hour before Thor, Kamilla and I showed up. Kristina met me at the door with a beer and a kiss. “Why didn’t you follow us, silly? You need a shower…badly.” I pulled her aside, onto the porch. “Didn’t you feel anything…strange in that glade?” She looked at me with guileless eyes, deep blue and totally loving. Kristina didn’t have a mean bone in her body, but this moment she looked at me and said “Are you feeling okay? You’re talking crazy.”

            That afternoon we all changed into bathing suits and were taking turns water skiing. The girls were mostly sunning and I had to admit they all looked quite amazing in their bikinis. While I only had eyes for Kristina, that doesn’t mean I didn’t notice how beautiful the other ladies were though. We were laughing and joking around until something odd happened.

            Brett was driving the boat and Krystal was being towed behind him when we heard an audible thunk that came from the lake. We all stood up and saw that the boat was listing to starboard a bit. Crystal had fallen off her skis and was yelling at Brett…and then she started screaming.

            The water was turning bloody. It was as if the boat had run into something big and the propellers had chopped it into chum. Brett began yelling at Crystal to swim for the boat, the engine wouldn’t start. There was a rowboat in the boathouse and Thor and I took off at a dead run for it. It only took us a few moments to launch it and then we started rowing as if our lives depended on it. Crystal was screaming and flailing in the water and begging Brett to come get her and Brett was cursing and screaming and telling her to hold on.

            It only took us about five minutes to get out there but Crystal had sunk beneath the water and the boat was clearly sinking. Brett had already jumped out of the boat and was swimming towards where Crystal had been as quickly as he could, which was considerably quickly – he had been on the varsity swim team in college – but we still got there before he did. Thor dove into the water without hesitation. As Brett arrived I could tell he was exhausted and I pulled him into the boat. He protested and started yelling he had to go after her, but I said firmly “Thor will get her; it won’t help if he has to make two rescues.” With that, he sat down in the corner of the rowboat and began shivering even though the day was still warm.

            A moment later Thor emerged from the water with Crystal and he swam towards the boat. In a moment he had her there. I helped him lift her into the rowboat and I knew at once she wasn’t breathing. I began to resuscitate her, pushing down on her chest and breathing into her mouth for her. It was a scary few minutes but then she spat out water and began to cough. Thor by then had climbed back into the boat. Brett started to cry. He held her close to him, while Thor and I wordlessly began rowing back to shore.

            Lisa, Kamilla and Kristina helped bring Brett and Crystal back in the house, wrapping them with blankets that Kamilla had fetched from the linen closet when she saw what was happening. That was pretty much the end of water skiing for the day.

            That night, after the girls (but not Crystal who was refusing to come out of the bedroom) had cooked a marvelous dinner, the rest of us were sitting out on the porch, drinking beer and watching the sun go down. Normally we were a pretty lively bunch but the near miss with Crystal had caused a pretty low-key, reflective mood.

            It was Thor who was the first to ask Brett “What happened out on the lake Brett? It sounded like you hit something.” Brett, who had mostly been with Crystal all night, nodded.  “It felt that way to me, but I didn’t see anything. There was just a big bump and then the engine just stopped working. It’s strange though…it felt like something leaped up from the bottom to hit the boat on purpose. It must be my imagination though.” Thor looked troubled as he said “Must be.”

            The elephant in the room was clearly there and me being me I had to point it out. “There was so much blood in the water and none of it Crystal’s – she didn’t have a mark on her. What could be big enough to bleed that much in a lake as small as this one?” Ellison looked at me and shrugged. “I’ve never heard of any monsters in this lake,” he said, “but I think that there was something I remember about that clearing. I was looking it up online while the girls were making dinner.”

            That caught our attention. “What did you find out Ellison?” asked Kamilla gently. Ellison clearly felt awkward at being the center of attention, but he gamely spoke up.“Although there were a lot of Native American tribes throughout the region, none lived anywhere near the lake. The Oneida said this was a sacred place to the Creator and the Mohawks said this was a place of demons and refused to hunt here, even though game was plentiful.” Thor raised an eyebrow. “Game was plentiful? I didn’t see any signs of game and we were out there for hours.”

            Ellison shrugged. “I know that hunters from town come up here frequently. There used to be deer, foxes, bears and elk here, I’d see it every time we came out here as a kid. I haven’t seen an animal here in years though.” Thor looked disquieted. “I wonder…” he said and then closed his mouth and said no more.

            Shortly after that as the darkness set in, we began to drift our way back inside. I was one of the last to finish my beer, and as I rose up only Lisa and I were left. “Coming inside?” I asked her as I got up. She smiled at me. “Not quite yet. I think I’ll have a cigarette before I go in.” I shrugged and walked into the greatroom. Thor and Brett were already immersed in a high-octane pool tournament, but Ellison, Kamilla and Kristina were involved in an intense game of Scrabble which seemed more my speed. I sat down to join them and had just gotten set up with my tiles when there was a blood-curdling scream from outside.

            Thor and Brett were closer to the door and shot out of it like a cannon. I was right behind them and when I looked up and saw what was going on I hesitated for a moment. We all did.

            Lisa was knee deep in the lake, and struggling against something. She screamed again. “Something has me! Help me!” she screamed. That broke us out of our stupor and we all ran for the lake. She was screaming almost nonstop and begging us to help her. Thor and I were the first to her. It might have been strange, but I could smell the nicotine on her. It’s funny what you notice in stressful situations.

            Something indeed had a hold of her. We grabbed her and tried to pull her back out of the lake, but whatever held her had an iron grip on her; we couldn’t budge her any closer to shore and in fact she was slowly being dragged out into the depths of the lake. “Come on, for God’s sake…all of you help her!” shouted Thor. The women, Brett and Ellison all ran out into the water to help us. I had a flash of insight. “Lift her up out of the water,” I cried out, “Maybe we can get an idea what we’re dealing with.” Thor nodded and on a count of three we lifted the struggling woman up.

            Wrapped around her right leg looked to be a tendril of seaweed, but what was it doing in a freshwater lake? And it was struggling to get back down into the water; we wouldn’t be able to hold her up for long. “Take off her pants!” yelled Kristina. Realizing she was right, I unbuckled her belt, tore off the button and unzipped her jeans. As we pulled on the screaming girl towards the shore, she slowly began to slip out of her tight jeans. Then suddenly, with a final tug, she came out of them and the tentacle or whatever it was took the jeans into the water with it.

            We wasted no time carrying the sobbing Lisa back into the house, shutting the door behind us. There were welts on her leg where the plant thing had grabbed her, and a little bit of blood. Ellison ran to fetch the first aid kit. The commotion even brought Crystal out of her room, demanding an explanation. When she got one from Brett, she said “We need to get the fuck out of this hellhole.” For once, I didn’t disagree with her but Ellison said “It’s dangerous driving out of here at night; the driveway isn’t lit and it’s easy to drive off the road. We should wait until morning.”

            That seemed to make sense. Lisa was still hysterical, so Ellison gave her a valium that was in the medicine cabinet – apparently his mother needed it to sleep on the rare occasions when her husband insisted that she commune with nature in the cabin. Brett carried her to her bed and told Ellison to keep an eye on her, and then he shut the window to the room. He then came back out to the greatroom and said “We should make sure all the windows and doors are shut tight. Whatever grabbed her got her on the porch so it could come in here while we’re asleep. I would also suggest that we take turns keeping watch. Something very odd is happening and who knows what’s going to happen next.”

            It was decided that Brett would take the first watch, Thor the second and I would take the third. Ellison was to stay with Lisa and Kamilla, Crystal and Kristina would all sleep together in the master bedroom. The guys would sleep on the couch in the greatroom so that we could wake each other up when it came time for our watch. Kamilla put a pot of coffee on before she went to bed, which was right away since nobody really felt much like playing.

            The night passed uneventfully except for a lack of sleep but I watched the dawn break during my watch. Just as the dawn broke, there was a loud crash from outside. I had been sitting at the dining table drinking coffee and I jumped up and ran to the window overlooking the lake, just in time to see the dock collapse into it and slide away towards the center of the lake.

            The noise awoke everybody except Lisa but because they were closer, only Thor and Brett came to the windows right away. Thor was by my side to see the last of the dock sinking into the lake. “Whatever tried to take Lisa took the dock,” he intoned. I saw no reason to argue; he was in all likelihood correct. “Why would it do that?” he asked. A horrible suspicion overtook me. I swore and ran out the door towards the driveway where the cars were parked and stopped dead in my tracks.

            All four of the cars were totaled. Auto parts were strewn about as if a giant baby had tossed them all into the air to land wherever they might. It was immediately apparent we weren’t driving anywhere, and the only other option to escape would have been rowing across the lake to town where we might have gotten help. I picked up my cell phone out of my pocket and cursed again. No service.

            I ran back inside to see if the landlines were working knowing that they would not be. They were as I feared completely dead. By now Ellison and the women had all come down to the greatroom and I gave them the bad news. “The cars are totaled. The dock and the rowboat are gone. There are no phones, no way to call for help. The only way out of here is to walk.”

            Crystal began to sob and Thor spoke up in a strong, firm voice. “We can do this. We will keep to the paved road and stay out of the woods. It’s only a mile to the highway and we know there’s plenty of traffic there; if we hurry we can get there in just a few minutes. We can leave our clothes here and just take what we need, some food and water. Ellison, do you have an axe or a machete here?” There were no machetes, but Ellison thought there might be an axe in the tool shed. “It’s behind the house over by the driveway; I’ll go get it after I use the bathroom.” Typical Ellison; always the inappropriate response.

            While he went to do his business, Thor and Brett went out to the tool shed to find some weapons. The girls got dressed, except for Kamilla who already was; she put together some water bottles (two for each of us) and some granola bars and cheese sticks. I gathered together some a couple of butcher knives, then when Thor and Brett came back with a pair of axes and a gasoline can, I had Brett fill some of the empty beer bottles with gas and stuffed rags into them. We put them into Brett’s backpack, and Thor and I would carry the axes.

            About then Kristina mentioned “Where’s Ellison? He’s been in the bathroom an awfully long time.” Brett grinned and said “Stress gives him diarrhea” which got some nervous laughter, but a remark like that will get you volunteered and so Brett was sent up to knock on the door. I decided on a hunch to go with him.

            We went upstairs to the bathroom and Brett knocked, but there was no answer. Not a sound. “Ellison? Are you done in there?” Brett called out and knocked again. This time there was a strange muffled sound. I looked at Brett, he looked at me and we both took a step back and kicked the bathroom door. It took several kicks before we finally kicked it open.

            I’d never heard a man scream in fear before, but I heard it then and it was my friend Brett, the golden boy who feared nothing in life, but this was nothing that life had ever presented to anybody before.

            Ellison was clearly dead. Something was growing out of him, that same yellowish plant we’d seen in the clearing, with little clinging suckers and tendrils. It was coming out of his nose and mouth and through a hole in his stomach where the plant had burst out of. His pants were around his ankles and he was being pulled into the toilet by whatever was inside him. His eyes stared at us accusingly, and his arms flopped around as his body was twisted. Brett made a move as if to try and pull him away but I stopped him. “He’s dead, you can’t help him,” I whispered, “We’ve got to go. We’ve got to get out of here now, this stuff will be all over the house through the plumbing, the electrical outlets, the air conditioning ducts.” Brett was crying “We’ve got to…oh FUCK!” but he allowed me to pull him away. I slammed the door shut even though the lock was busted and I knew that whatever had a hold of Ellison could come under the door frame anyway. We were totally screwed if we didn’t get out right away.

            I dragged Brett down the stairs; Thor who’d heard the scream (as did everyone) met us halfway and helped me with Brett. “We’ve got to get the fuck out of here right now. Grab whatever we have and let’s go.” Crystal asked me “Where’s Ellison.” Brett couldn’t look at her. “Dead, and that’s what we’ll be if we don’t leave right the fuck now.” I was yelling, and that seemed to galvanize everyone into action. I grabbed my axe and Thor grabbed his; Brett was in no shape to do anything so I grabbed his backpack too and Kamilla and the girls got the food and water and we skedaddled.

            As we ran outside, I saw the same plants that had gotten Ellison were coming from the woods in a thick knot leading to the cabin. Wood and brick were being ripped off the side of the house by the plants which attacked the house like vultures on roadkill. I knew we had just gotten out in time; the plants would have gotten all of us, or brought the cabin down around us.

            We kept running until we were well away from the cabin. We could see the cabin disintegrating at the onslaught of the plants which were coming out of the woods from every direction towards it, and the same seaweed stuff was attacking it from the lake. “Jesus,” swore Thor under his breath. I turned to Brett who was sobbing. “Ellison saved all our lives. If we hadn’t found him, we’d still be in there” I told him. Brett nodded and even managed to crack a weak smile. “We need to keep on going,” Kristina said, “When that stuff is done with the house it might come looking for us.”

            Whatever those plants were, it was clear they were mobile and dangerous. “Keep your eyes out on the woods,” I shouted as we walked briskly down the driveway, “Yell if you see anything coming out of it, or see any of that plant.” Otherwise, we marched silently down the driveway, keeping nervous eyes on the woods on either side of us.

            After about fifteen minutes I sidled up to Thor. “Shouldn’t we have been to the highway by now? I don’t remember the driveway being this long,” I murmured. Thor stared stoically ahead, just nodding. There was a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. To the left of me, I saw Crystal stumble and take a tumble to the ground.

            It happened incredibly fast. Two vines shot out of the woods to our left and grabbed her arms. Two more shot out from the woods to our right and grabbed her legs. She screamed, wailing in a hopeless voice, a sound I’ll never forget as long as I live. The vines tightened and then she was drawn and quartered, each of her four parts disappearing separately into the woods. “RUN!” I screamed and we did, flying down the pavement as fast as we could. I heard Lisa screaming shrilly and I turned back. Another vine had her by the ankle. “Help me,” she cried. I started running towards her but she lost her balance and fell off the pavement. In moments she was on the dirt next to the pavement and the strange plants erupted out of it and as she screamed they began to pour inside her mouth, her nose, her eyes, her ears….and then they were poking out of her skin. She was dead in a matter of seconds.

            I reversed course even as Kristina screamed my name. I looked and she was running ahead but looking back at me. “DON’T LOOK BACK!” I yelled, “KEEP RUNNING.” We ran for a long time…I don’t know how long, minutes, hours. We finally stopped when we couldn’t run anymore and had to catch our breath.” Brett was sobbing again. “We’re all going to die, dude. The driveway is all wrong. We’re headed into the woods.” I knew he was right. Somehow the pavement had been changed to lead us away from the highway. How I couldn’t tell you, but as I looked ahead I saw that the pavement disappeared into the grass. I turned back and saw the same thing. We wouldn’t have pavement for very long.

            “Which way is the highway,” I said in a hollow voice. Thor squinted up at the sun for a moment then pointed vaguely off to the left. I nodded. “No point in staying on the road anymore.” Thor nodded and started off in that direction. “What’s the point,” Brett cried, tears streaming down his face, “We’re all going to die.” I looked at him. “Maybe, but I’m going to die fighting” I told him then Kristina and I walked off in the same direction Thor and Kamilla was going. After a few moments I turned around. Brett hadn’t moved. In a short time, I couldn’t see him anymore. I would never see him again.

            We kept on walking for hours. It would have been idyllic if the situation wasn’t so grim. The birds were singing, the sun was shining and the afternoon was warm and beautiful. I looked at Kristina and she flashed a hopeful smile. Since the attacks on the driveway, there hadn’t been any activity and we’d been walking in the woods for quite awhile. I looked at Thor and he looked back at me. He stopped and we all gathered together. “We should have reached the road hours ago,” I said. It wasn’t an accusation and to his credit Thor didn’t take it as one. “We’ve traveled miles,” he said, “We should have either made it to the highway or State Road 423 by now. It’s as if the roads have disappeared.” I nodded. I could see it in everybody else’s eyes. “The woods aren’t letting us go, are they” Kamilla said. I slowly shook my head. My eyes widened just then. Kamilla saw it and turned around.

            We were at the glade, the one that we had trespassed on. All those who had walked through it were gone. All save one, I thought. Kristina looked at me, her beautiful eyes sad and welling with tears. “I love you,” she whispered, and then she gasped. The plants began to erupt from the ground, surrounding her, inhabiting her. She never screamed, not once although the pain must have been excruciating. All at once I knew what those figures on the other side of the glade had been. In a matter of minutes Kristina was gone, and in her place was a vaguely cylindrical figure of vines, tendrils and foliage. There were even flowers budding.

            Kamilla and Thor were looking at each other and at once I knew what they were thinking. I began to cry. “No, no, no,” I wept, holding their hands tight, “You don’t have to do it. We never went into the glade. We never violated it. It might let us go.” Thor looked at me, a look of infinite compassion on his face, a look mirrored by Kamilla. “It might,” she said, “but what is there to live for now?” Gently they disengaged their hands and joined their hands together. They kissed once, deeply, and then each one stepped into the glade. In moments, there were two more figures next to the one that had been Kristina.

            I sat on the edge of the glade for awhile, weeping for the woman I loved, the life I’d known and a world that had changed inalterably in the course of a day. Slowly I got up and stared at the glade. The sun was getting lower and I didn’t want to be there when it got dark. Somehow I knew that I didn’t want to see what happened in the glade when the sun went down. I turned around and began walking. I didn’t know where I was going, or what I’d find when I got there, but it was nevertheless a lovely day for a walk in the woods.