We do not venture out when the leaves fall.
There is something about the way the air turns cold and still. There is a reason why even some of the most vicious animals go into hiding at the first signs of summer dying. There is a reason we stock up our harvest and hoard firewood.
The leaves are turning color. They are falling.
They are hunting.
Once they fall from the tree they become vicious. Waiting. They will swallow us whole.
I’ve seen them out my window, springing up around a hapless squirrel, spinning in a small storm of leaves. They rustle in a wind that is not there, swirling faster and faster until the squirrel cannot be spotted any longer. It takes a long time for them to disperse, as if a strong wind suddenly halted and left them to fall.
The squirrel was gone.
They gather at our doorstep, they collect in heaps on our yards. They hunt in groups, hungry and merciless and barely clinging to the last, terrible parts of their lives.
We hurry inside when they begin to fall and bolt the doors against their phantom winds. Some try setting them on fire, but they have a way of carrying those flames to our homes. Still, if we must go outside, we set out with a torch in one hand and a bucket of water in the other.
And then we run.
I did it once. There was no torch, no bucket, but I was young and my parents weren’t watching and I saw a hedgehog scurrying through the grass. Leaves were already picking up in its wake, and I didn’t stay behind my window glass to watch. I flew out, slamming the door before anyone could stop me.
The still air bit my nose and cheeks, warning me to go back. The leaves were rising in front of the hedgehog now, cutting it off. I stepped on one as I ran. Some part of me that my mother raised right turned my head to shout an apology. I don’t think it did much. Leaves were rising behind me.
The hedgehog curled itself into a prickly ball, its last desperate attempt to survive. I was almost there. A leaf flew right past my face, and I smacked it away. Then apologized. Again.
Stooping low, I scooped up the ball of bristles. The feeling of a thousand needles barely piercing my skin was fuzzy and distant. The leaves had sprung up all around us, and they were closing in.
I gasped for air, the cold rushing down my throat and settling in my lungs like panic. I knew the longer I waited, the less chance I had, so I charged the thinnest spot in the wall of leaves and shut my eyes.
They were a million small blades slicing my skin. They were a thousand hands pulling me back. They were a hundred whispers of a dying wind. I held the hedgehog close to my chest and covered it with my hands, shaking off the pull of a thousand tiny deaths.
I squinted my eyes open and there were my parents, standing at the door and shouting for me to run, run, run! The cold air stirred and a slight breeze pulled out of its slumber just enough to rise and push the leaves back, if only for a moment.
I had just enough breath to whisper thank you to the struggling wind, then I was bursting into my home with the door slamming shut behind me. It took a few weeks for my cuts to heal, a few months for the first winter snow to come and finish off the leaves.
I named the hedgehog Hubert and he lives with me now. When the first leaf falls from its tree, we go to the kitchen and I make hot chocolate while he sniffs at the cookie jar. My family gathers around the kitchen table, pulling out mugs to drink from and plates for cookies and we all sit down and hope for winter’s snows to come early this year.
We do not venture out when the leaves fall. They are dying, but they do so slowly, and they wish to take us all with them before winter comes like a reaper of the dead.
The air has gone cold and still.
We bolt our doors and hope for snow.