In early fall, when the air is still, the warm sun reigns, but a subtle breeze might carry a biting chill. It was that chilly air through which I moved late one October afternoon. It was the sort of walk that had no destination, or rather the walk itself was the destination. The weather had put within me an inexplicable appreciation for life. On days like this I often fail to heed the common expectations of civilization. Fences are hurdles instead of boundaries. Time does not add up to minutes and hours, but just passes like water over rocks in a creek.
It’s during these times that my senses are most open to that language beneath words. I was busy noticing the tangle of vine and tree when I came upon a lightly used path, which I decided to follow. Stony, it was uncomfortable for strolling, and my face was racked by several dense spider webs along the way. Unfazed, I whacked the bush back and beat the path forward and stumbled into an open meadow. The grass was a myriad of greens and browns. I found myself in the presence of half a dozen butterflies basking in the warm sunshine. Without deciding, I sat on a rock to do the same. I closed my eyes, and my mind eased into my surroundings.
The ecstasy of life was at full force about me when my ears were tickled by a soft laughter near where I sat. My eyes sprang open and my neck nearly snapped when I turned to look for the source of the sound, but found only a squirrel, skinning an acorn for an afternoon snack. I chuckled at the mistake, then turned back to my reverie, fearing I’d imbibed a different sort of ecstasy. I was sitting near the entrance of the woods, facing the wall of trees and shrubs. My back was to the sun, which had begun to dip beneath the trees on the opposite side of the meadow. Before me was a bush whose yellowing leaves were falling. On that bush sat a bird, grey of feather, with black eyes, who noticed me staring at him. He turned his head this way and that to get a good bird view of me. I knew he saw me, and in fact he seemed to be as curious as I was about our interaction. Soon, one of his mates called, and he took off to his nest before night took us. Time was washing over me all this while, and without my notice, a dark chill had crept up my back. A cold wind slithered along the spine of my neck and around the base of my skull, and found my ears and I thought I heard a shrill voice, distant yet intimate,
“Heed the darkness..”
The shadow of the horizon had begun to swallow me, and the butterflies had long since receded.
The skin on the back of my neck felt clammy, and the hairs there stood at full attention. A cold shiver sent forth goosebumps on my skin, and slowly, I turned to look into the grey meadow behind me.
The earth was all stillness now, but no warmth. The only quiet movement was the untraceable flight of bats, who’ve risen for an early drink. I got up to head back home, and to disturb the silence which was yielding phantoms in my mind. Newly fallen leaves painted the ground to mask the way I came. I searched along the edge of the wood until I found the old path.
The dusk concealed grey stones on the dank ground, so the walking was slow. Still air amplified each movement, and in the shadow world before night, the woods were a Rorschach test. My mind projected the contents of my dreams upon the world; it drew within the shadows things unseen in the light of day. At last, an opening. I’d found the main path. Home and a warm fire were only a half-mile south at the foot of a wooded hill. .
Without warning, I’d been struck in the side of the face by something that felt like a string of yarn with wire barbs at the end. The attacker was light weight, but the weapon was sharp and the wielder swift. Warmth was trickling down my cheek. I felt the blood with my fingers. After a brief moment of shock, I looked around to catch the silent assailant, and just managed to see, black on grey, the silhouette of an owl plunge into the dark trees.