Everyone knows that feeling of being caught at something. That horrible gut feeling that eats at your stomach and turns your legs to wobbly ice. The feeling where a whole quarter of bad grades and missing assignments is printed on one small, innocent piece of paper. The same kind of paper that my mother and father stared at disapprovingly for almost 15 minutes. A long and silent 15 minutes if I remember. I stood by the dinner table they sat at, fidgeting and trying to swallow the lump in my throat, and picking at the scab on my left arm.
I don’t know if I was relieved or terrified when my father finally took off his reading glasses and put down my report card. I felt an urge to grab it and hide it, even though my parents, my incredibly smart and studious parents, had no doubt remembered every last disappointing number on it. My father got up and poured some coffee, and my mother just silently passed the report card between her hands on the table. I just stood there until my father sat back down with his mug and motioned for me to do the same.
The next few minutes were some of the worst in my life. But of course they don’t hold a candle to what I experienced shortly after, when I took my parents advice to go on a walk. To clear my head in the woods, despite it being almost 10:00 at night.
I walked out the door and into the chilly night. It was supposed to be summer, but the ground was still wet from recent downpours, and even my thick sweatshirt offered little protection from the wind. My mind was heavy with guilt and shame. Feelings that I’m sure showed in my hunched shoulders and slow, dejected stride.
The thought that I had failed my first year of high school weighed on my thoughts. I couldn’t escape the feeling in my stomach. Nor could I swallow that persistent lump in my throat.
I neared the entrance to the woods, I could hear laughing of older kids around me. Kids who were celebrating the end of the school year. Kids who finished school strong that year, or who had parents that didn’t care about their grades. It only added to my misery as I walked absent-mindedly onto the forest trail.
It was stupid, really, how I got lost that night. My juvenile teen boy feelings surged at once and I ran much farther than I would have even in the light of day. The only thing that kept me from stopping was the light of nearby houses to my left. I figured if I got too lost, I could just yell for help in that direction. So I kept running until I tripped on a root and fell to the ground in an angry grunt. I sat up and threw some pebbles to the ground. When I looked to my feet I saw that they were entangled not in roots, but in wire. Black electrical cords that snaked from tree to tree, some times ending and being joined by a plug to another cord. I could only guess they led to the houses to my left.
I sat there for some time, staring at the cords. There were many more passed the ones I tripped on, and they were all parallel and converging towards the houses. I slowly came to realize that I had been sitting on the ground amongst the trees for a while. No one was around, and I heard no voices which was odd because the lights from the houses looked to be only about 20 yards away.
I stood and made you way towards the lights. As I got closer they looked less and less like lights from houses. They were a light blue, and filled the forest. My heart started to pound as I realized they were in fact in the middle of the forest, not at the edge of it as I had imagined. Meaning I was very, very lost. There were about 50 of the lights. Each about the size and shape of a phone, and nailed or stuck to trees. They created a circular pattern, all pointed towards one central object.
The silhouette of a person.
I don’t think there is a way to describe the jolt of fear and adrenaline that quickly overwhelmed my body. If I were to try to describe it, I would say it was like all the fluid in your body leaping up to your throat.
If it wasn’t so terrifying I would say the scene would have been mesmerizing. All those glowing objects surrounding a tall figure, who appeared to be standing in the pale blue light. The black cords snaked around the trees, plugged into the lights, which seemed to be trail cams, filming the man. It was so eerie and serene at the same time.
And that’s when I heard the music. It was a violin, that filled the woods with ambience I thought could only be achieved in a studio. The drums came in, creating a surprisingly upbeat song. The man began dancing, unaware of my presence. He started slow, like the music, by raising an arm and snapping. Then tapping his foot and bringing up another arm. The dance was so strange and so rehearsed that I almost forgot the fact that I was lost in the woods.
The man was dressed in a leather jacket, and seemed to be tall but well built. His arms were long and graceful but bulky and sturdy looking. These were all the facts I gathered before tripping again on one of the cords, and falling once more to the ground. The music stopped immediately. Whatever amount of fear I felt before rose to a new height as I quickly stood and glanced wide-eyed at the man. He, like the music, had completely frozen. One knee slightly bent, one heel off the ground, and both arms in the air doing an almost Egyptian pose.
His head swiveled silently to face me. Even though his back was towards me, his head had made it all the way around to look at me. It was like an owl.
At the distance I was I couldn’t make out his features, although I couldn’t have at any distance because he was wearing a circular mask. It was yellow and shiny, probably made of plastic. Shiny enough that, in the faint light of the trail cams, I could see the grotesque 2-D smile and squinting black holes for eyes.
That’s when I ran.
Some animal instinct kicked in and I was able to get my bearings in the darkness of the forest. Landmarks I didn’t even know I memorized led me back to the familiar parts of the woods.
I didn’t look back. I simply ran home faster than I thought I ever could. I slammed into the door very hard, I heard a distinct crack and a numbness crept over my arm that I knew I would feel as pain once the adrenaline wore off.
If I lived that long.
My parents’ car wasn’t in the driveway and the door was locked. They had probably gone out to look for me. My heart was like a jackhammer in my chest and it took all I had to keep from hyperventilating. I looked behind me and saw the man standing at the end of the driveway. He watched me in what I think was amusement as I searched frantically under the door mat for the spare keys.
Everything in my body told me not to turn my back on the man, but my hands were shaking so hard that I couldn’t find the keyhole without looking. I risked a quick glance at the doorknob and managed to put the key in its place and unlock the door. I quickly ran inside and shut it.
When I looked through the window, he was gone.
That was the first of many times I saw him.