This is a true story…and it happened to me.
The sweltering August of 1960, I was seven and about to go into my second grade. We lived atop Franklin Street hill back then, in Waterville, Maine—#40, last house on the left—a tidy Cape Cod painted orange with white trim. Directly across from us resided my absolute best friends, Sue, Sally, and Peggy McGowan. Their house, too, was a beautiful Cape, grey and white, and only older by a few years.
Our street, unfinished to this day, rose up from the hill and then just fell off into a wooded gully. Beyond were swaying trees, seemingly stretching for miles: pines, birches, oaks, elms and ash. Below, winding through the green and mysterious gully, was a stream that grew larger during early spring, when the snow melted.
I used to love playing down there, sending shoebox boats off to their doom. Once, we found an old Tarzan swing that snapped the first time we used it. The McGowans knew everything about the gully, its surrounding woods and endless fields behind my house. We’d often go out to the fields and pick every wild berry imaginable, collect bouquets of Black-eyes Susans, Devil’s Paintbrush and Butter Cups, or just explore.
One thing they never told me about happened one hot August day in 1960. That’s when I saw the Stick Boy.
I’d just eaten lunch and was looking for adventure. So, I ran across the street and up their driveway. Whenever I’d visit, I’d go around to the back and knock on the kitchen door. Mrs. McGowan answered and said the girls were taking a nap after lunch, and I could come back in an hour. I asked if it was okay if I played on their swing set for a little while, and she gave me permission.
Off I went to swing on what I considered an almost space-aged device: glitzy, with shiny metal, a great slide, balance rings, a teeter-totter, and three child-sized swings. But after picking up enough speed to actually fly, I got tired of doing it alone. My only option was to go back home. Then, I noticed four small folding chairs lined up against the edge of the woods, facing their house and upstairs bedroom window.
Now, let me explain a bit about the woods on that side of the street. From my bedroom window, I could clearly see the deep gully and stream, but all the girls could see from theirs was flat forest land, thinnest closer to the yard. The gully, for whatever reason, meandered further back.
A notion hit me. Maybe I could sit in one of those chairs and mentally will Sue, Sally and Peggy to cut their nap time short. Eh, worth a try.
I chose the middle chair and sat down, gazing up at their second floor window.
The day was dry and oppressive, the kind of summery day where everything’s still. A mosquito buzzed dangerously near me, and I slapped it away. Far off in the distance, a lawnmower roared, and dogs were barking. But mostly, it was quiet….
As I sat, thinking little boy thoughts, I heard a squirrel jumping from tree limb to tree limb. The sound came in stops and starts, and suddenly, a sense of displacement and unease, of genuine dread, overwhelmed me.
Turn! my mind shrieked. Look!
I turned and looked.
The woods were bright green, scarlet and brown. Yellow leaves lazily funneled down, catching sunlight, twirling, dancing.
Until I saw him…approximately fifteen feet away, a strange boy peeking at me from around an oak tree. Our eyes met and locked. Instantly, mental photographs stamped indelible images: sparse black hair, blood-encrusted lips, a penetrating, determined expression that twisted slowly into a smile of recognition.
And sticks, growing out of his wasted face; tiny gnarled branches, clicking, intertwining, undulating—like Medusa’s snakes.
In indeterminate seconds, I knew: that was no squirrel I’d heard. He’d been stealthily creeping forward toward me, through the rotten logs and dead leaves, from somewhere and nowhere and everywhere. If I hadn’t turned, if I hadn’t…
Survival instinct took hold, and I raced home, into the yard, our garage, our kitchen, bounding up to my room—safe from stick boys and whatever other nameless horrors prowled the storybook forest.
“Whoa, put on the brakes, mister! Is the house on fire?” laughed mom. She’d been stripping the beds and doing laundry, normal, everyday chores, unaware that outside—mere yards from the front door—devils roamed. “You’re whiter than these sheets!”
“Uh, I’m in a hurry. Peggy and me are tradin’ View-Master reels.”
“Take it easy and stop running. You’ll give yourself an asthma attack.”
“But I like to run. I feel free.”
“Well, you won’t feel so free at the doctor’s office! And remember our talk, Ronnie. Don’t give away your toys. The McGowans have plenty; their grandfather’s rich.”
“We’re tradin’ old stuff, Ma, nuthin’ new. Don’t worry.”
“Aren’t you hungry? How’s deviled ham, chips and a soda sound?”
“Good! I am hungry! Two big sandwiches, please!”
“Okay, help me carry the laundry downstairs, and I’ll fix you the best lunch ever.”
Later, I told the McGowans what I’d seen, how everything had gone muddy and sludgy. Being curious souls, they wanted to check out this phenomenon for themselves, and I half-heartedly went along, hedging my bets that there was safety in numbers.
Sally peered intently at the oak tree. “Hmm. You sure it weren’t some stupid kid dressed up early for Halloween and wearin’ a mask?”
“No, Sal,” I replied. “It weren’t no mask. This was real.”
“Spooky. A stick boy, huh?” She shaded her eyes. “With sticks growin’ outta his face? Wonder who—“
“Or what?” Sue completed Sally’s sentence, and shivers tickled my spine.
“A wood sprite, that’s what,” said Peggy, matter-of-factly. “I’ve seen pichers of them in books. He wanted to take you to a dark place, Rodney. You’re lucky you heard him first, or you’d be far, far away, right now.”
We all agreed. Yes, I was very lucky.
Hard to believe that was almost sixty years ago.
I’ve never forgotten what I saw, and whenever I go into the woods—which isn’t often—I feel something watching me. Though I’ve grown old, the image of a smiling boy with bloody lips flickers through my mind like a scrapbook memory.
Is he still out there?
And where did he want to take me?
Rod Labbe is a horror buff and freelance writer who was a correspondent for Fangoria for nearly 30 years and contributes regularly to Scary Monsters magazine.