Paths in the Dark

Posted: August 21, 2018 in horror, real life
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

This is some kind of white girl in a horror movie shit, I thought to myself as I crunched down the dark path through the woods, marching toward our cabin to fetch my daughter a blanket.

The waves of girlish screams of the Girl Scout bonfire faded behind me as the trees seemed to embrace me in solitude. The sounds of the camp dissipated at my back, and the swish of my jeans and crunch of my sneakers became the only sound in the darkness.

I pointed the penlight flashlight ahead of me, chasing its halo over the gravel. A vague anxiety scratched over the length of my skin, a physical echo of the bad idea I was currently consummating.

This is how dumb bitches like you die, the rational voice in my head echoed again, sending the anxious tickles on my hair follicles on harder edge.

Look, crazy, the other half of my brain chimed in, there is no random hobo living under the cabin. This camp is so high traffic and loud there is no way wildlife is hanging out here. Did you hear those girls screaming? You are fine. You watch too much fucking horror. Stop being crazy.

I breathed out deliberately, forcing the weight of my exhalation down to suppress my heart rate as it climbed foolishly in my chest. I reminded myself I was a horror writer. I evidenced to myself all the horrendous things I voluntarily watched. And read. And wrote. And told myself it was not foreshadowing of how I was going to die but rather healthy desensitization to not freak out in mundane situations like walking alone in the dark in the woods.

Yet my heart punched against my rib cage nonetheless.

Don’t be stupid, rational me began again. You can walk to a cabin in the dark at Girl Scout camp. You will be fine.

I continued scraping down the road, swinging the beam of my flashlight across the length of the road. I listened acutely to the how loud my denim pants had become in the void of the night. I articulated the twisted branches and fluttering leaves against the light of the moon. Suddenly, the brief hike seemed so long and wide.

Between the dark trees, I was finally able to make out the circle of lights from our cabins. I ambled down the small hill to make the turn and ascend into our campsite. Then I saw the large, shifting black shape.

That is not a bear, rational me said. You can’t see for shit far away. You’re just being crazy. Go get this damn blanket.

My muscles quivered half-tensed below my skin, but I pressed my own breath down on myself again and kept walking. What horror writer didn’t have an overactive imagination? Wasn’t I just thinking about all the ways I could die tonight? Wasn’t I just talking about all the horrible life decisions that should have killed me over dinner?

As I approached the farthest, lower edge of the cabin circle, the smell filled my nostrils. The odor was thick, wet, feral. It was not unlike the aroma of a cage at the zoo. Yet the pungency assaulted me in a wave. Then I heard the shape moving, foilage bending to its shape. From the symphony of bending branches, I could tell it was large. Its movements echoed around me, riding its smell into my twitching brain.

Then I saw the shape again, clear even in my hazed near-sightedness. It was a bear, low and wide. The culmination of the sight, sound, and smell lobbied a convincing case to my skeptical denial.

Fuck, it’s a bear, both sides of me decided in unison.

I stopped moving and froze in my last footsteps. I stiffened to silence my heavy steps and scratching jeans. I clicked off my flashlight as if the darkness could obscure me from the animal. My feet twitched forward toward the structure of the cabins then back toward the grouping of humans abandoned behind me.

It ran off, one side of me said. Go to the cabin and get the fucking blanket. You’ll be safe in the walls.

You don’t walk toward a bear, the other side countered. It was a fucking bear. Don’t be the dumb girl in the horror movie. Go back. Go back!

I hesitated and stuttered on the gravel another stupid minute before turning hard and walking fast back up the trail. I did not hear the trees creak behind me. I did not hear the audible angry breath of an animal at my neck. Yet my steps slammed quickened against the dirt, until I could hear the happy giggles of Girl Scouts in the swirling smoke of an fledgling campfire.

 

Christina Bergling

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