Was it providence that I chose to
walk home alone that night? My life
would be so different now if I hadn’t. I
could not, of course, have imagined what was going to happen. Nothing, in fact,
nothing at all in my experience or imagination could have prepared me for that
terrible unworldly thing. It was
farthest from my mind at the time. Even
so, there are more common dangers, even for a man, dangers that should have
made me take caution and have a friend drive me home. After all, I’m old enough to know better. Had I not frequently warned my own children of
walking alone after dark, of the unscrupulous people looking for easy targets
to rob or otherwise take advantage? Sure
I’m physically fit and perhaps a little overconfident but wisdom should have
made me think twice. What if a car
pulled up and several drunken and rowdy teens had gotten out with no other
purpose than to find a victim on which to take out some hostility or anger? Or more probable, what if a car in that low visibility
simply did not see me and due to some slight misalignment with the side of the
road hit me at full speed? My life over
in an instant for something so stupid. It
was such poor judgment on my part. Of
course, any of those seemingly terrible yet reasonable consequences would have
been preferable to what actually occurred in that chill and gloomy night.
But that particular evening I was
not thinking of the possible dangers, not the reasonable things to fear. Instead all I could think about was that
girl, that wonderful girl. I had gone to
a holiday party earlier that evening not really expecting anything and not even
that excited about going. Initially it was
just an opportunity to relieve a little boredom and fulfill an obligation to a
friend to at least show up. Instead, my
life had become completely derailed by her.
Before I saw her I was content to simply move among the circles of
people making small conversation while snacking on the periodic hors d’oeuvres
that circulated on silver trays around the room - grabbing them like plucking
musical notes from some shiny instrument.
I have but two rules I live by on those occasions: never turn down an
opportunity to meet somebody new and never fail to take advantage of free
food. Not particularly noble goals, but
they have served me well. But then I saw
her and it all became suddenly so trivial, so mundane and meaningless, a
vacuous nothing. In that moment she
became the only purpose in my life.
She sat on the sofa cross-legged
looking at something on her iPhone. She
was alone, a gothic beauty dressed in lace and leather, high heeled boots,
heavy black eye liner and shadow, long black hair, long red nails. Of course, I knew dressing so seductively did
not mean she was looking to be picked up by anybody. In my youth I could mistake clothing for more
than just fashion, but I wiser now. But
I had to know who this woman was because at my age, in my late 30s, I just
never meet women like this. Women my age
were always telling me “I used to dress like that in my teens and twenties but
I’ve outgrown it”. It seems such a
shame, how can one outgrow the macabre?
Who can leave the caress of the darkness once you really know it? It’s not because I’m still a child at heart,
I’ve known too much pain and hardship, lost loved ones, survived cancer. I know
the world can be harsh and judgmental.
We all have to play by certain rules at times and in the certain circles. I’m as skeptical and cautious as any father
of teens who has been recently divorced.
Yet still, my attraction to the darkness is no less compelling. I can at least admit that if I don’t always dress
as I’d like it isn’t due to some mature judgment as much as it is to a sickly
timidity for which I’m ashamed like some sell-out.
It took me what seemed hours to work
up the courage to talk to her. If she
had been staring around the room with some lack of confidence about her
situation, uncertain if she knew anyone at the party, I could have approached
her easily. At least in that situation I
would quickly know by some brief eye contact whether she even found me
attractive. I know when a woman is
attracted to a man by the way she looks at him.
I’ve also known that sudden look away and the biting of lip, that
terrible thing that means “no you are not at all for me”. But unfortunately as circumstance would have
it, I was never granted the opportunity to know one way or the other. She just kept looking at her phone, gliding
her finger over the screen, mesmerized by whatever she was doing. Completely content with herself and her
preoccupation. No matter what I did, I
knew I would be nothing but an intruder on her world. She hadn’t noticed me staring at her and I kept
wishing she would look up and at least make brief eye contact, but it was not
to be. What was so interesting on her
phone anyway? I hoped she was only
browsing the web or perhaps looking at YouTube videos but on some level, I knew
she was probably texting somebody. She
wasn’t wearing a wedding ring, that’s good.
A boyfriend? Or just a
girlfriend? Her mother? A new acquaintance?
As I stood there I thought to myself could I let my fears stifle me from
action? I knew I would never forgive
myself if I never talked to this girl. Who was this woman, whose smile makes
the fall leaves halt in their descent? Her hair black as a grave shroud around
her shoulders, while her eyes darted like bright points of light out of the darkness?
I could not miss the chance to at
least say hello and find out who she was.
Someone my age but still embracing what she loved most. Someone not afraid of what anybody thought
about it. I walked over to her as if
compelled by some force outside of myself.
I did not open with anything profound, no great whit, neither
Shakespeare nor Don Juan. Instead I said
simply “there must be something pretty exciting on that iPhone. You haven’t
taken your eyes off of it and your missing the party.” I’m just me, a normal guy with normal social
discomfort, not particularly suave or verbose.
Just perhaps a little uncharacteristic in my tastes.
Our conversation began like any
other. She said her name was Kara. She was friendly and she smiled. Although I never felt she was particularly attracted
to me, at the same time I never felt she was not - she seemed entertained by my
company and she was interested in conversation.
But the more she talked maintaining an almost inhuman confidence, the
more I became attracted to her. Her
laughter was like a long awaited rain finally quenching a dry thirsty
soil. I felt her eyes on my face as a
cool tonic, the healing balm for a tired and weary heart. As she cradled her
phone I glanced down at her long fingers and imagined her gentle touch, bringing
peace to my restless thoughts… All my plans fell away like scales and all my
doubts and worries departed. She smelled
of cherry blossoms, her skin was soft as wild flowers. I looked at her lips and imagined their taste
as the sweetest plum. All the glories of nature were slave to her presence. I
searched the depths of her almond eyes, such bottomless eyes… Her smile was
sunshine warming my shoulders, shoulders which have carried too many burdens. I felt myself falling and my tortured soul
became filled with the longing of her.
I found conversation so easy and
suddenly began sharing things with this complete stranger that I never would
have imagined sharing with somebody I didn’t even know. Her conversation moved me in a dance, a
waltz, and my burdens and sense of privacy fell away. Overcome with a strange feeling of intimacy
unlike any I had known and which seemed altogether unjustified under these
circumstances. I found I could truly be
my silliest self and I made her laugh so many times. I haven’t been so comfortable with somebody
in a very long time. Who was this woman
whose spirit is so free and so bright? She commands milky waters to part, the
clouds of shadow to remain no more. I
found only clarity. Do I dare try to
capture this moonbeam in my hands?
But then she said she had a
boyfriend and was deeply in love with him. It was the sound of glass
shattering. Did she see the
disappointment written all over my face?
Why did things like this happen to me?
The universe playing some cruel joke.
Dangling the apple and then taking it away. Why do I covet the things most precious that
are beyond my reach? No doubt, I’ve
never been very good at hiding my feelings, but I tried anyway and changed the
Eventually she looked at her watch
and said she had to go. “It was really nice
meeting you” she said and leaned forward and kissed my cheek. I smelled her sweet scent and the warmth of
her breath. It was almost as if she felt
perhaps sorry for me and was given me a small token knowing I would never
experience anything more. I was not
insulted, but I did feel rather humbled.
I know we talked for at least two
hours because after she left my watch told me so. But it had seemed all so brief an experience
I questioned its accuracy and so asked my friend for the time just to confirm
it. My conversation with her seemed a flash,
over in a moment, but had touched me so deeply the effects would be permanent. An eternity frozen in glass in a few short
After she left the party I couldn’t
find a reason to stay. The more I tried
to mingle and snack on hors d’oeuvres the more my frustration grew with my
circumstances. I felt stifled and wanted
nothing more than to either see her face again or to leave that wretched place. It was as if all the life had been sucked out
of the room. But in spite of her boyfriend,
she left behind her the nascent seeds of a green new hope. Even if I was only destined to be her friend,
at least, perhaps, I imagined it would be enough for me just to be able to have
her periodic company and experience that freedom of conversation again.
All I wanted to do now that she was
gone was to walk home in order to give myself time to center my mind on that
one woman: her bright wonderful eyes, her soft lips, the line of her
dress. She seemed full of mystery and
desire, even though my better judgment told me this was just my imagining. There are no real vampires, no sirens waiting
to take me in their dark embrace. But
still, I wanted to imagine. I wanted to
picture her beauty and feel her hair caress my face as her teeth bit down into
my neck. So silly to think such
things. Are such amusements, such
thoughts really deleterious as my friend suggested? Aren’t they harmless fantasies? Don’t all people have silly fantasies? And if I take some small pleasure in holding
on to them is it so bad? I wasn’t really
sure. Perhaps if there really were such
things. I’m always wishing the world was
filled with mystery and horror like an HP Lovecraft novel.
And so the realistic dangers of
walking home alone, at that late hour, by myself, along that lonely road, with
no moon and perhaps even a touch of fog...
I was so preoccupied with thoughts of her there was no fear and no
expectation of anything evil. Had I only
been more present to the moment. Did a
car pass? Did the wind blow? Did I even hear birds, insects, or the
distant coyotes howling, noises common in this area? I don’t even know. Yet I’m sure all of those things happened and
I was just so engulfed with the imagining of this wonderful woman I didn’t even
Perhaps on some level I had seen the
occasional car headlights. Perhaps in my
peripheral vision I had seen the trees moving in the breeze and felt the
occasional chill down my neck from the winter air. After all my jacket was pulled up tightly
around my ears, certainly I had felt the cold on some level. Yet I was so deep in thought my actions were
automatic and involuntary. I was on
autopilot - unaware on a conscious level of my surroundings.
Until, all of a sudden, everything
came to a stop and I was shaken immediately into the moment. No wind, no crickets, no cars. Nothing but a dead silence. Now, for the first time, I became aware of
walking by myself on that isolated road, as if startled to reality by a whistle
blow. I was completely vulnerable. Only then did I think how stupid I was to
have walked alone. But even then, only
the common dangers I’ve already mentioned crossed my mind: the drunk driver, the
thief, the car of angry teens. I
imagined even perhaps a wild man or serial killer coming out of the forest - hardly
realistic but at least possible. In
spite of my fears, nothing even remotely like what actually was to occur entered
I continued walking, nervously now
and terribly conscious of the dead silence and the pitch black. Had all of the sounds really stopped so
suddenly or had they come and gone periodically? Maybe I just happened to be experiencing a
particularly quiet moment? I didn’t know
for sure. I listened hard for anything,
but there was nothing. No leaves
rustling, no sound of wind, no chirping of frogs or Katydids. It was as if I had become deaf. I would have wondered if I had except that I could
still hear my own footfalls, a singular
sound. My eyes looked cautiously in
every direction now as I became more and more conscious that my own footfalls
were like pounding drums in this new alien world of silence. “Just act normal, don’t let your imagination
run away with you”, I thought to myself, trying to placate my nerves and bring
meager comfort in this unfamiliar world.
I found myself quieting my steps.
Somehow I did not want to draw any more attention to myself as something
that didn’t seem to belong. I waited for
any sound expecting that at any moment something
had to break the silence. It was
inevitable, wasn’t it? After what seemed
like five minutes, maybe more, I began to lose hope. The world had truly become dead with a silence
that was terrifying.
To my right the forest was black and
impenetrable, while to my left on the opposite side of the road, the trees were
thinning now as I approached an open field.
I thought for a moment that I should place some distance between myself
and that forest and cross the street to be closer to field, but just as I was
about to step off the sidewalk, I suddenly saw it.
My footsteps stopped. In the middle of the field was an object,
about the height and size of a cow seen end on.
It was so dark I could just barely make out its outline against the
lighter grass of the field. I thought
perhaps it must be a cow that was facing me head on or with its back to me
since it was not nearly long enough to be a cow broadside. I watched carefully but it was unmoving. I then thought it might just be some tall tree
stump or large shrub. Although I had
driven this road many times and never recalled seeing anything in the middle of
that field, it was doubtful I would have remembered it anyway.
One rarely picks up little details like that on a drive to work so far
in the peripheral vision. Plus, things
appear so differently at night. In the
light of a sunny day I may recognize and remember that particular object. I continued to watch but it seemed
benign. Regardless of what it was I
decided not to cross the road and approach any closer. Somehow the unknown is always more
frightening to me than what I can comprehend.
I started walking again but continued
to keep my eyes on it. Did I see it move? I came to a stop, I wasn’t sure. I listened hard, but again was only greeted
with deafening silence. There was no
rustling of bushes. If it was a cow it
could be asleep or just standing there content.
I stood motionless now, mostly curious and not really frightened, still
convinced I was seeing either a cow or a shrub.
But then it happened. There was an unmistakable and clear turning
of the head as I saw the thing in profile.
It had a long nose or perhaps a beak that stretched at least a foot or
more in length. It was significantly
wider at the base and came to a point. It
was curved downward, resting close to the face.
There was no hair but strange twigs or branches rising up out of the
head in all directions, as if the thing was a living tree. These I hadn’t really noticed when it was
unmoving because they simply blended into the background, but after it turned
it’s head it was unmistakable. I also
could see shoulders and long thin arms that stretched all the way to the
ground. The thing had a strange back
with at least two distinct humps. I
stood petrified. There could be no
mistake it was alive because the movement was so clearly deliberate. It was without any swinging back and forth so
it was not just some shrub I was seeing moved by the wind. I felt I was facing some horrific demon. I was so frightened I did not even gasp but
simply stood paralyzed as the thing slowly turned its head back again to look
directly at me. I realized then it had
been facing me all along as I had been walking along the road. It had been watching me.
The thing then moved forward
slowly. As it did so it vibrated
strangely, moving almost mechanically like some horrid stop-animation
creation. I had never seen anything move
like it did. It was repulsive. My mind was completely blank now. The thing stopped, made more jerky movements in
my direction, then stopped again. Slowly
it was moving toward the edge of the field and the road. I should have run, maybe this thing could not
run so fast as I. But I have never been
so terrified and I simply stood there frozen and barely breathing. In that
moment, I was abandoned to my death, somehow I knew this was my end. I was going to die and there was nothing I
could do about it and this horrid demon would take me to hell, all I could do
was experience every moment like a nightmare.
And then something even more
horrible happened. The thing slowly began
to grow in height undergoing some weird transformation. It was soon towering some twelve feet in the
air. I realized then the thing had been
crawling all along up to that point and now was standing up! I could see clearly that it had more or less
the shape of a man, and was actually thinner than it originally appeared as it
was crawling. Now it stood like a tree
with long spindly arms and hands with huge long claws. It’s head took up a third of its size, and
below the strange stick like branching hair that formed a wide circle, I could
distinctly see two large pointed ears. I
could not see its eyes in the pitch black and I was thankful for that.
The thing stood there looking at me for
several moments as if sizing me up. It
seemed like an eternity. And then it
turned away and began to move back toward the opposite end of the field, away
from me and the road. I was filled with
a sense of relief and yet I was still in shock, unmoving and unable to sigh. The thing continued to walk in its strange
jerky motion as it disappeared into the tree line on the other side of the
I stood there for perhaps ten
seconds or more, which was actually quite a very long time. Then, convinced it was well gone, I began to
run. I ran as fast as I could in the
direction of my home covering the two miles to my home without stopping. I did not stop until I got my familiar house
and to my front door. I fumbled
hurriedly for my keys, opened the door, crossed the threshold and closed and
locked the door behind me. I stood there
in my hall with my back against the door to catch my breath.
After a few minutes I began to
breathe easier. I calmed down. I went to the living room, turned on a light
and sat in my chair. I put my face in my
hands. What had I seen? How could this be real?
I shivered. My mind raced and soon my intellect once
again gathered itself together. Was
there some other explanation? Had my
fear caused my senses to fool me? I
recalled related events from my past. I
grasped for some familiar landmark in my experience to make sense of what had
And so I recalled at least three similar
events that played in my mind like short movies. I first remembered some years before while on
vacation in Yellowstone National Park. Not
unlike this evening I had been walking alone.
I was hiking through the woods and it was near dusk. At the time I was looking for wildlife, deer
or elk especially. Suddenly I spotted a thick
and odd branch in a tree to my right that had an unusual right-angle bend where
the branch suddenly thickened considerably.
As I stared at the branch I suddenly realized I wasn’t looking at a
branch at all, but a large golden eagle only ten feet away from me. I gasped, and the sound startled the bird. In
an instant it raised its wings and took flight, flying directly over my
head. It passed so close I could have
touched it. It was something I’ll never
And then there was that time in
college. It was the evening just prior
to Halloween and I was walking through the student lounge on the fourth floor
of our dorm. The college was in the
process of tearing out some adjacent rooms next to the lounge to put in a
student kitchen. The carpet had been
torn up, the drop ceiling, lights and sheet rock removed. There was no light in the lounge area, only a
faint orange light from the construction project across the street, but it there
was still sufficient light streaming from the hallway to make my way. I was mainly concerned about stepping on
exposed nails or tools as I walked across the exposed plywood of the
floor. I was staring down at my feet
when I heard a noised and looked out the lounge window. In the window was the silhouette of a strange
demon with a long pointed snout and horns on its head. I tried to make sense of what I was seeing
and decided it was some cardboard cutout that somebody had placed in the window
as a Halloween decoration. But then the thing
suddenly turned its head to face me and I knew it was alive. Just as tonight, on that night I become
paralyzed with fear. But then the thing
jumped down from the sill and as it approached I realized I was looking at a
rather ruffled raccoon that had wondered in the open window - probably climbing
up the ivy which covered our dorm. There
were no horns, only the expected ears. The
raccoon walked by me nonchalantly, and I could see it’s fur was abused by its
city life. It’s tail was not the
expected bushy one, but thin like that of a rat only with sorry patches of longer
hair here and there. It made its way
down the hall and out the open fire escape door. It was certainly an unusual event, one I
would tell my friends about, but it had made sense. It fit in with the world of reality I’d come
to know and expect.
And finally I recalled a third similar
memory. I was participating in a 100
mile winter swim down the Willamette River as a fundraiser for my team. It was November and there was snow on the
ground. My teammates and I wore wetsuits
to stay warm and worked in two-hour shifts.
Four of us would take the raft at a time, one person remaining in the
raft while the other three treaded water.
We rotated the person in the raft into the water every fifteen
minutes. After two hours a van would be
waiting near the shore and we would switch off with four new people. We continued like this until we had made the
entire 100 mile journey from Corvallis, Oregon to the north of Salem, Oregon in
a little over 24 hours. I had had the
first shift and was in the water at 2AM in the morning. The person in the raft had a flashlight he
swept around to keep track of us. I had just
done one rotation on the raft and now was back in the water and was glad for
it. On the raft my wetsuit had drained
of water and I had been freezing cold. I
was thinking I was getting frostbite because I lost all feeling in my toes when
my 15 minutes was over and I was thankfully able to get back into the water. The water seemed so much warmer by comparison
and I was now floating comfortably. I
had managed to drift quite a ways from the raft, perhaps 50 feet or more. In spite of this I wasn’t concerned because
the tremendous buoyancy my wet suit gave me allowed me to swim the distance
easily while resting as often as I wanted.
Suddenly I heard splashing behind me and turned to see the silhouette of
a head in the water moving by me. It
scared me to death. What crazed maniac
would be swimming in this frigid water at 2AM in the morning? I screamed like a girl and started swimming
frantically for the raft. My teammate in
the raft shined his flashlight in my direction.
As I climbed on the raft he helped me up.
“What’s the matter? What happened?” he exclaimed.
Then I realized what I had actually
seen and started laughing at myself. It
had no doubt been an otter, beaver or nutria swimming along and I probably
scared the poor animal more than it had scared me. I recalled now that its head was clearly in
the shape of such an animal and that the rest of its body was just under the
water as it was paddling along. It was
hardly large enough to be a man. After I
laughed and calmed down I found myself actually disappointed I had let my fear
get the best of me. I had passed up the opportunity to swim with a beautiful
animal at night. I explained to my teammate
what had happened and we both laughed. I
then quickly got back in the water as I became conscious of the fact that my
wet suit was again draining to let the frigid air back in.
So having had somewhat similar
experiences I knew how fear could make the mind see strange things. All I had to do now was to make sense of what
I had seen that night. It must have been
some kind of animal, but what? Could it
have been a deer with strange antlers? Did
it really have many branching things coming from its head. Could it have been just two antlers? Could my fear have made the normal branching
of a deer’s antlers trick my brain into thinking I was seeing more? No, I had no doubt that each and every one of
those “branches” or whatever they were, were directly connected to the thing’s
head. And they came out at such wild angles
in a large sphere almost three feet across, no antlers I have seen have ever
done that. And what of that odd
misshapen nose? Could it have been the
snout of an animal? But clearly the nose
was pointed downward while the face was looking forward, like the hideous nose
of some wicked demon. Nothing in my mind
or experience could explain it. It
couldn’t have been a deer because when it stood up it was clearly taller than
any deer I had ever seen and certainly around here there are no deer nearly so
big. Although I’ve seen a deer rear up
on its hind legs before, this thing walked at least twenty yards on two legs
back into the woods. A deer would not
have done that. Could it have been a
bear? A bear would be highly unusual
around here but still within the realm of possibility. But no bear I’ve ever seen was so gaunt with
such long arms and certainly never had anything sticking out of its head. Could it have had a branch stuck over it’s
head? Nothing I imagined it could have
been made sense, especially the way it moved.
It caused shivers down my spine every time I thought of it. No, I’d never seen any animal move like it
did with that strange jerky motion.
No matter how I tried, unlike my
previous ‘spooky’ encounters of the past, I just couldn’t seem to make any
scientific sense out of this one. Had I
seen something truly out-of-the-ordinary this time? But it had not attacked me and I was somehow
convinced that if it truly had been some “otherworldly being from an alternate
world”, I would not be alive now. People
are just not permitted to witness such things and survive to speak of
them. It simply had to be something
known, but what? I thought about it over
and over that night and had a restless sleep.
The next day I called my friend who
had hosted the party. I asked him if he
had ever seen any kind of strange bear or deer in the area. I described to him what I saw. He laughed and seemed half convinced I was
making the whole thing up as a sort of joke.
He was certain I had seen nothing unusual but yet couldn’t offer a
reasonable explanation for what I had seen.
His incredulity made me wonder if it
could have been a prank of some kind. It
happened at least two miles from my house and a mile or more from my friend’s
house where the party was. It was two
miles from the nearest housing development.
I don’t really know anybody else that lives closer, there are no other
homes along that road and no roads that branch off of it. For a friend or somebody that knows me to drive
that distance and hide their car, to dress in such an elaborate costume and
then stand in a field waiting, and then to wander into those woods? I couldn’t see anybody I knew going to such
lengths just for a prank. The worst
anybody had ever done to me was in our office when a coworker hid my phone. My friends were just not that imaginative.
But maybe the prank was not intended
for me, perhaps it was an elaborate prank devised by someone to scare whoever
came along and I just happened to be the hapless victim? I looked on google
maps but no roads or housing developments existed for miles behind those
woods. Could somebody have walked from
the housing developments along the road and then stood there waiting? A prank just didn’t seem reasonable unless
the person was truly invested in it.
It so consumed my thoughts as I
deliberated over it for the rest of the weekend that I had completely forgotten
about Kara. It was until I returned to
work that Monday, once again inundated by the mundane, that I thought of her
and her sparkling eyes while daydreaming.
I called my friend and asked if he knew her phone number which he dutifully
provided. I gave her a call but was met
with a recording “this number is no longer in service”. Damn, had I messed up the number? I tried again with a similar result. I called back my friend to see if I had
written it down correctly.
“Well, she mentioned something about
leaving the country with her boyfriend Chris, I think they are going to Europe
for his job, maybe they’ve already left,” he said.
“Are you serious?” I exclaimed.
I couldn’t believe it. I was not even going to get the option of
having her as a friend. I cannot tell
you how disappointed I was and I began to feel like the universe was conspiring
to keep me unhappy. I was filled with feeling
sorry for myself over the next week reg