Written by J. Marie Ravenshaw
I wrapped my fingers around the straps of my backpack as I looked out over the pristine waters of Lake Pokegama from the porch of our rented cabin. The sun was starting to set, the purple hues of dusk settling in. I wanted to get one more hike in for the day and felt the need to get out to the point to watch the sun set completely.
It was a short hike. In all actuality, I just needed to get away from my mother’s incessant bitching. It was a vacation after all, not a job; and mom was handing out the chores like a drill sergeant.
My mother’s shrill voice rang out from within the cabin, “Jules! Get in here and do the dishes! I will not stand for a mess on vacation!”
I rolled my eyes. “Ma I told you I was going for a quick walk before the sun set!” I sighed and mumbled, “Jesus Christ woman, give it a rest…seriously.”
Over to my right, I spotted an overgrown deer trail. Figuring it was as good a path as any, I cinched up my straps and walked down the porch stairs toward it. I love the woods; it’s a true escape when you’re alone. My senses immediately go into overdrive and I am acutely aware of my surroundings.
I stepped onto the path and paused, closing my eyes. I inhaled deeply, the smell of moss and conifer trees invaded my nostrils; a welcome reprieve from the smell of overcooked campfire potatoes. There was just enough wind to prevent the mosquitoes from landing and feasting on my blood. Wisps of my hair lightly brushed against my face. The mournful cry of the loon echoed across the lake. A small smile tugged at the corner of my lip as I took it all in.
I slowly opened my eyes and started my trek into the forest toward the point, eyes focused on the ground ahead of me. Pine needles covered the forest floor and some roots poked up through the soil. I carefully stepped over them, looking up every once in a while to make sure I was still on the deer trail.
My fingers brushed against some of the taller weeds as I walked. Rocks started to make an appearance on the path; this is how I knew I was getting closer to my destination, the point. Through the trees ahead I could glimpse the glimmering lake and the orange orb already half set. I picked up the pace knowing that it wouldn’t be long before all I could see was the purple dusk.
I finally reached my destination and smiled toward the sun casting its light in the rippling waves of the lake. In the midst of the orange kissed waves sat a loon, looking like a shadow. I shrugged off my pack and dropped it onto the ground behind me and sat down on the jutting stone shoreline, careful not to get too close to the edge.
I grabbed my pack and rifled through the front pocket, pulling out a neatly rolled joint, a lighter, and my camera. Setting the camera in my lap, I lit the joint, inhaling deeply. After a few healthy hits I snubbed it out and pulled the camera out of my lap.
I took a moment to savor the atmosphere, the calm tranquility of the nature surrounding me. The waves lapped at the shore, lulling me. I gazed out at the sun, the loon still sat there calmly as if it were soaking up the last warmth that the sun offered.
The breeze picked up slightly, my loose hairs brushing against my neck, sending chills up and down my spine. I uncapped the lens and snapped a few pictures. The sun was setting, a mere sliver of what it was since I arrived on the point. I inhaled deeply; it always smelled so…fresh out here. I sat for a few more minutes and watched the sun finally dip below the horizon. I packed up my bag and stood up hoisting it over my shoulders. I glanced once more toward the lake and smiled, then turned toward the woods.
I narrowed my eyes at the darkened wood that stood tall in front of me. A sense of foreboding seeped into my skin causing goose bumps to grace my uncovered flesh. I rubbed my arms, bit my lip, and started toward the woods.
I just walked through these woods, not even an hour ago. What changed? The answer, nothing. Remembering my father’s words before he died,Nothing changes in the dark, Jules…only your perception of things. There is absolutely nothing to be afraid of. I nodded my head as if he were talking to me now, and plunged into the darkness of the forest.
Again, I immersed myself in the sounds of the wood. At night, the sounds were different because you couldn’t see what caused the noise. A flap of a wing here, a scurrying noise there…my eyes darted from side to side trying to discern what was making the sounds. I tripped several times on the exposed roots, easily righting myself each time. Then, on the last trip, unable to right myself, I fell.
My toe caught on the root, twisting my ankle. I clattered down to the forest floor. Somehow my pack flew over my head and ended up about twenty feet ahead of me. I sighed and stood up, testing my ankle. It was a little sore, but I would make do and get back to the cabin no problem. I brushed the detritus from my jeans. As I was doing so, I saw a shadow flit past out of the corner of my eye. It wasn’t a small shadow either.
I quickly turned my head toward where I saw it and narrowed my eyes, trying to catch movement. After a minute of nothing, I shrugged, walked up to my pack, scooped it up, and settled it on my back. I tightened the straps and started walking again.
The mournful cry of the loon echoed throughout the woods, surrounding me. I startled, bringing my hand to my chest. My heart was thudding so hard, it’s as if it would break right through my chest wall. My breathing was shallow as if I’d just run a mile. I closed my eyes and slowly counted to ten; then exhaled a long drawn out breath. I felt pretty stupid for being so jumpy. But, you saw a shadow. It doesn’t help that you smoked a little weed…paranoid twit. In response I muttered, “So I did, doesn’t mean anything.”
A light shone through the trees ahead of me. It wasn’t very bright, but it drew my attention. Thinking it was the cabin I sped up a little as I walked toward it. The light grew as I got closer, forming tall beams that shone through the trees and lit the forest floor. It started moving, it was then I knew it wasn’t the cabin. I crouched down and watched it move away from me. In the midst of the light I glimpsed an outline of a person that had their back to me. The energy ‘felt’ masculine.
A shiver ran up my spine, my eyes widened at the sight. I blinked a few times; I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The light dissipated into nothingness. I slowly stood from my crouch, shook my head, and started walking toward the cabin. I bit my lip and stayed very alert. My eyes darted from the path to the trees ahead of me, back and forth.
I felt as if I were walking on a cloud, the atmosphere was somewhat surreal and surprisingly silent. As if all the wildlife fled the area. The trees were still as well. I stopped in my tracks, Something is about to happen… I closed my eyes and tried to focus. Nothing, no sound, no breeze…nothing. It was as if I had entered a vortex- as if I stood in the eye of a storm.
I felt like something had invaded my space. A putrid stench, like decaying dead meat, invaded my nostrils. I was afraid to open my eyes, afraid of what I would see. I clenched my fists and opened my eyes. There was nothing in front of me; just the darkened woods.
I shook my head and continued on with my eyes focused on the ground. I glanced up and screamed, falling backward. I scrambled to get to my feet; my fingers digging into the loam covered ground sending gads of it flying behind me.
I ran toward the cabin, I could see it just through the trees. I didn’t even look back; I did not need to see that thing again. I clambered up the porch stairs and wrenched open the door. Then ran inside and slammed the door behind me.
My mom peeked out from the kitchen and raised a brow, appraising me from head to toe. “God, it’s ‘bout time your home, Jules. You gonna dry the dishes for me?”
I leaned against the front door, trying to catch my breath.
“What’s wrong? You look like you’ve seen a ghost…” She walked toward me.
I stepped away from the door and dropped my pack to the floor. Evading her, I rolled my eyes at her observation, and thought to myself, No shit Sherlock. I know she had no clue, but I was more than a little unsettled by what I’d seen. There had to be an explanation for it. I walked into the kitchen, dried the dishes, and put them away.
I went to bed that night with the image of that face….that horribly grotesque face, burned into my memory.
The next morning -after a horrible night’s sleep- I ventured out into the woods. Mom was still sleeping when I left the house. I just had an unshakable feeling; I had to go out and investigate.
I took the deer path again. I felt drawn toward the other side of the point- the side that faced the uninhabited side of the lake. On one of my earlier hikes I remember seeing a sunken hole. But, paid it no mind; it was common to see sink holes in the wood. This one, however, stood out in my mind.
I walked directly toward it, as if I were being led by the hand. The sun was rising and was just above the horizon. I knew what I would find before I got there and resigned myself to it.
I arrived at the sink hole and gazed at it. The hole had decaying leaves from the surrounding trees resting within it. I looked up at the rickety dead trees swaying above me; they seemed to point down at the hole. I shrugged off my pack and dropped it onto the forest floor. I glanced around and found a broken branch, picked it up, and walked toward the hole. The closer I got, the more I could smell the rot.
Some scurrying below the leaves drew my attention. I leaned over the hole and brushed away the leaves revealing a rat. It squealed and dove into the leaves scurrying away from my invading branch.
I looked down toward where the rat had been and brushed away more of the deadfall. I looked away, tears coming to my eyes from the mere stench of what I was about to reveal. I looked back into the hole.
There was the face, staring at me with unseeing eyes. The skin was mottled and caked with dirt. It was a man, I could tell by his jawline. His nose was gone, eaten by the rat, I assumed. His mouth was gaping open in an expression of surprise and something was moving around in there. I turned away, I’d seen enough.
I hiked back to the cabin and told my mom about what I’d found. We drove into town to report it to the proper authorities. I watched the trees blur by my window as we drove.
Even though it was a horrible find, I felt at peace. His family would be notified, giving them the closure I’m sure they desperately needed. More importantly, he’d be able to rest. That is, if they find out the cause of death and the culprit.
After returning from town, I led the police to the body. I explained what I touched and what I did to uncover his face. Then I was led back to the cabin as they exhumed the body and the CSI’s did their job.
I found out later that he was a local, William Rosebear. He’d gotten himself into some gambling trouble and the police thought that they may have some leads. Mom and I left the cabin; we just couldn’t finish out our ‘vacation’ in an area that a dead body was found.
William Rosebear came to me in a dream that night. His face was serene. His hair billowed behind him in an unseen and unfelt breeze. He simply nodded and smiled toward me. Then he turned and walked into the light. I awoke with a tear trailing down my cheek. I wiped it away and smiled.