(Note: If there is a scene that is at the heart of what I was trying to get at in Gordath Wood, it is this one. Gordath Wood is about getting lost between worlds. Maps don’t work. The Wood itself misleads travelers. A map only shows the trails, but it doesn’t show what is at the heart of the forest, the portal that is malevolent, perhaps sentient, and always waiting. Joe knows he needs a map to find Lynn but the map he ends up with is far different from the one he buys here in the store. )
Joe parked the Impala off the street in front of the tired brick buildings that lined downtown and headed for the map place he’d looked up that morning. The old pamphlet map of the North Salem trail system crinkled in the back pocket of his jeans. He had removed it from the bulletin board in the tack room, a dusty, forgotten piece of paper, one of those hand-inked maps more decorative than informative, with an elaborate North arrow and elegantly scripted names. But it had the main entrances of all the bridle paths, and he had to take it on faith that the trails were more or less accurate.
The bell jangled when he opened the door and the clerk, the only person in the place, looked up from his newspaper. His eyes were bland behind his glasses, giving him the look of a blond owl.
“Can I help you?” he asked, his tone implying he doubted it.
“Howdy. Do you carry maps of Connecticut and New York?” Joe said. He knew after his short experience in New England the impression he was making. The boots and drawl that made thirteen-year-old girls giggle tended to bring out hostility in men.
“Yeah,” the clerk said, making no move to fetch the map.
“Can I take a look?” Joe asked patiently, knowing the clerk was hearing Kin ah? The clerk got up without any sense of urgency and rifled through the shelves, finally pulling out a folded map emblazoned with the USGS logo. He held it out. Joe paid for the map and then hesitated, canting his head toward a table. “Can I just borrow that for minute?” he asked. Now that the transaction was finished and he no longer had to interact with a customer, the clerk nodded and went back to his paper. Joe moved a few maps out of his way and rolled out the survey, pulling the trail map for comparison. He found his spot easily enough, and even accounting for the artistic turn of the cartographer, he could see where the trails went and where they came out. He was able to match up the streets, taking note of where bridle paths crisscrossed roads.
Joe could see nothing unusual in the USGS map, only the spider web of border lines that radiated from the area, delineating state, county, and town lines. He felt the eyes of the clerk on him and he hastily folded up the map and tucked the trail guide into his pocket again. Giving the clerk a tilt of an imaginary hat, he sauntered out into the crisp afternoon.
Joe hurried back to his car, half-wishing he knew how to ride a horse so he could search the trails. Abel Felz, his father, didn’t believe in horses. He had his pickup and his tractors, and he saw horses as a frivolous expense, not a necessity.
Then again, riding the trails was probably not the answer anyway. The woods had been thoroughly searched by fire and police investigators, and volunteers who had ridden out that first day. Both New York and Connecticut state police continued flying over in helicopters. Nothing had turned up yet. His crazy idea to match the maps would probably be as fruitful.
He figured that even if he did find something, it would only make the police more suspicious of him than they already were.