My friend and I often went for long walks in the densely wooded area behind my home. In the summer, the sunlight was bent as it passed through tree limbs and leaves leaving only spotted patches of light on the otherwise shaded ground. In the winter, the grey dark skies left the woods so cold and quiet while the stark leafless branches could only dream about the time of spring blossoms.
As the two of us followed the grass covered paths that carved out a trail through the trees we talked and listened. We overheard the melodic tones the birds spoke to one another. The wind gave audible evidence of its presence as it passed through the treetops on its way to who knows where. I could only imagine where each breath of air was going and sometimes made a wish that perchance my companion and I would become invited cohorts in its journey.
There came a moment when my autonomy was suddenly and reluctantly thrust upon me and future walks would be solitary ones. One cool autumn evening just after the time of sunlight offered to the land each day became less I felt an inescapable urge to visit the woods. I had not walked in the nearby woods for some time but the yearning to follow the trail through the trees came upon me and would not leave my thoughts.
As I approached those familiar woods I was overcome by an all-encompassing sense of fear. The unfamiliar yet pervasive emotion was so powerful it caused my breathing to quicken, and my form to stand motionless before reaching the line of trees and the beginning of the path.
After a moment of thought and soul searching, I entered the woods and began to move slowly along the trail. The dry fallen leaves made a noise as my warily moving feet pushed them aside, and the trees stood like stoic statues. I suddenly detected a noise that sounded as if something was quickly moving through the fallen leaves, and it was moving toward me. I was convinced I heard a noise that sounded like that of a panting animal. There was the unmistakable sensation that someone or something was watching me. I turned, but did not run, and exited the woods returning to my home.
For the next several days, and in the evening when the Sun was dying in the western sky, I went for walks in the woods. But I walked no more than twenty or so paces each time. There were noises I had never heard before. A low pitched growl came from somewhere deep in the gathering of trees and a noxious odor saturated the still air.
I pondered over the experiences and developed what I considered to be a plausible explanation for the sounds heard in the woods. Possibly a stray dog had caused the noises. I gathered up an old metal bowl, placed some raw meat in it and carried the bowl and contents to the woods. I walked quickly into the wooded area, placed the bowl in a grassy clearing and returned to the house.
I slept very little that night and arose before dawn intending to examine the bowl and its contents. Leaving my upstairs bedroom I walked to the kitchen where I filled a glass with water but took only a small drink. I wondered what I would find in the woods, but my answer would come more quickly than I had anticipated. When I opened the rear door of the house, there on the ground was the old metal bowl. The meat was gone.
I left the bowl where I found it and returned to the relative safety of the house. Most of the day was spent attempting to keep my mind off the bowl and the creature in the woods but that was difficult. My thoughts always went back to the gathering of trees, the missing meat and the monster.
As I lie in bed that I night I wondered what I would do the next day, and the days following that one. Would I live in constant fear of something I had never seen? As the hands on the clock moved well past midnight I heard the first of the sounds from the floor below. The sounds were not those of a settling house or wind pushing the walls. The noises briefly stopped but then the sound of softly placed feet came from the stairs. I was certain the sounds gradually became louder as if something was climbing those stairs.
My eyes were fixated on the closed door, and the doorknob. I waited for a sign that the doorknob turned and wondered what the creature would look like. I was convinced the evil presence was in the house and moving toward my room. I lay motionless as I watched that doorknob, and the hours passed. The doorknob never indicated the slightest movement. I know I only began to take breaths when the first light of day slipped through the bedroom window.
That morning I went to the edge of the woods and in a low and unruffled voice I offered a treaty to the monster. I said “I agree to never again enter the woods where you live. In return for that promise I ask that you not walk inside the house I call my home”. There was no sign of acknowledgement or indication the compromise was accepted, but I was certain I would never again enter the woods and I somehow knew the monster would agree to the bargain. The sounds made by the creature would no longer find their way to my ears. I returned to the house, cleaned a small spot of mud from a stair step leading to the upstairs and wiped an unknown offensive smelling substance from the bedroom doorknob.
Many monsters are devilish creatures of ill temperament and evil intentions who relish the fear caused when their hideous appearance is made known. But some quench their appetite by ingesting the fear caused when proof of their existence is anticipated, yet never manifests itself.
I have no fear of the fiendish monster that obscures its presence in the shadowy tree filled area behind my home but I am afraid of the fear, in and of itself, which wells up inside me when I think of the solitary walks in those woods. It is therefore the maddening fear of being afraid that most haunts me. Let us fathom the true source of our fears lest we descend into a world of deepening madness from which there may be no escape.