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In Shadows
My gothic blog of poetry, short stories and ramblings
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Night Walk
Sunday, November 27, 2011

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 subject.

     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 moments. 

     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 notice.

     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 my imagination.

     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 field.

     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 happened.

     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 forget. 

     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

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