“Roots and All” by Brian Hodge
From A Book of Horrors edited by Stephen Jones
Cemetery Dance/PS Publishing, 2012
When cousins Gina and Dylan return to their Grandma Evvie’s house after her death, they are surrounded, nearly suffocated, by an overwhelming sense of memory and mystery. This little country house out in the middle of nowhere was the scene of many summer vacations, packed in tight with all of their siblings and cousins, rambling around the woods and listening to the old woman’s stories. It was also the last place they saw Shae, Dylan’s sister, who disappeared one night and was never seen again.
Their return is a bittersweet one; not only does it dredge up their feelings over Shae, but they’re also confronted with unwelcome changes in the surrounding area. What was once home to a community of hardworking farm families is now a haven for meth labs, stinking portable trailers tucked away in the nooks and crannies of the surrounding forest. It’s especially an offensive to Dylan, who’s seen the worst humanity has to offer on several overseas tours with the military, and in his current stint as a prison guard; this place was always something of a haven for him. But, as he’s about to find out, the land has a way of looking out for its own, and those stories his grandma told about the Woodwalker have more than a hint of truth to them.
Hodge’s story is a true page-turner. There’s an immediate sense of the place Hodge is writing about, and he perfectly captures the nearly idyllic childhood days Gina and Dylan spent at Grandma Evvie’s place. The Woodwalker feels like an authentic legend, a variation of the kinds of stories we all were told as children by well-meaning adults who looked to folklore to explain the mysteries of the world, instead of sending us off to “Google it.” It’s a sad, melancholy story with a truly heartbreaking discovery at its core, and thus far I’d call it the most effective story in this collection – a real standout in a book full of them.