The year I turned ten, not long after Momma died, Daddy made me and my sister Sissy hike through Thorny Locust Woods on Halloween night instead of taking us trick-or-treating. Daddy said no kids of his would ever beg anyone for anything. He said it was better to learn how to walk through a world filled with real monsters than to pretend to be monsters ourselves.
I remember the moon that night looked like the sickle that used to hang in the pole barn. Daddy always kept that blade honed and shiny so it would cut easily through the thick, wild grasses that grew in Springer’s Cemetery where Momma was buried.
“All the way?” I asked, staring at that sickle moon.
“All the way,” Daddy said. “You just stay on the deer path and you’ll be fine. Step one foot off the path, though, then you’ll find a whole world of trouble.”
“What kind of trouble, Daddy?” Sissy cheeped in her little songbird voice.
“Well, I heard Sally Kimball lost an eye in there when she went off the path looking for her dog,” Daddy said. “Those trees got thorns like needle-sharp claws that’ll leave scars if you’re not careful.”
Sissy looked at me, and I knew without her saying a word what she was thinking. Even being as young as we were, both of us had already learned everything we needed to know about scars. Daddy had taught us that lesson well.
“Did she find her doggie?” Sissy asked Daddy, even though she never took her eyes off mine.
“Stuck through with a thousand thorns. It was like the trees themselves had tried to grab it up. That’s enough questions. Go on now. Don’t take too long. I’ll be waiting on the other side.”
I looked up at the moon again. It looked sharp enough to slice the dark to ribbons, and some part of me wondered if there was a way I could reach up and pull it out of the sky and use it to protect me and Sissy.
“Momma told us never to go in there,” I said, more to the moon than to Daddy. “She said Jesus’s crown was made of thorns and that thorny locust trees were Devil-made.”
“Your momma ain’t here no more,” Daddy growled. “It’s just me now. You’re both gonna make it through or you’ll get the belt.”
I thought about the sting of the belt on my bare backside. Then I imagined a thousand thorns tearing through my skin. I took a deep breath and turned to Daddy, but before I could get a word out, I felt Sissy take hold of my hand and lead me onto the path. Even at seven years old, she already knew that there were worse monsters to face outside of the woods.