There was a time that I would venture far out into the woods; beyond the lush and fruitful trees, beyond the rivers, streams, and ponds, to the place where the warm sun would break through the canopy and cast golden streaks across the glistening pools of water. Where the humidity and claustrophobic nature of our home would fall away and you could feel the breeze, smell the wet scent of rotting logs, and hear the heartbeat of the woods; the endless sounds that came from the birds, insects and animals that inhabited it.
But I don’t venture anymore.
On a particularly humid day the heartbeat of the forest chooses not to hold back. It’s on these days I would leave my home and go to those deeper places in the woods. With the soft underbrush beneath my feet I could be one with nature, finding sustenance in the trees and living off the elements of the forest. When I was thirsty I would simply stop and drink water from a stream, it was the way I had always done it. Occasionally I would just stop and look up at the immeasurable height of the trees in awe. The forest is a spiritual place and has been that way for as long as I can remember.
When I was younger my grandfather would often tell us stories of the Spirits within the Woods; the Ghosts that walked between the trees and rivers, but in my youth I had ignored such stories and found my confidence in knowing that the woods were a place of worship, not of fear.
Eventually I had reached the point where the open canopy that welcomed the sun was just beyond the next stream, but on this day I decided that I would venture even further into the woods. The woods were my home, they would not betray me and with a excited determination I continued on, winding between the thick trees as the leaves sang their song of wind far above me. As I moved aimlessly through the massive trunks I felt completely connected to the earth, and as I broke through the treeline I found myself standing before a gorgeous stream. It looked shallow enough to cross but as I contemplated the exact path I would take, I suddenly realized how dark it had become. Glancing up towards the sky my heart sank as the forest began to dim in anticipation of night.
As the sun set the once vivid colours of the forest began to fade and as the sun cast it’s orange shadows through the trees I felt a sense of urgency course through me. My home was far behind me now after spending most of the daylight travelling in this direction and the realization that I may not make it back till morning washed over me like a cold pool of water. Quickly, I turned to the water and kneeled, cupping my hands to drink from the stream and satiate my thirst before returning home. The first drink of water was cool and refreshing, coating my dry throat. As I lowered my hands into the water for the second time something on the opposite shoreline caught my eye. As if reviewing what I had just seen I shot my glance up for a moment before returning my gaze back towards the water.
Sure enough, a white figure stood wading in the water on the far side of the river.
In the darkness I froze, one hand still in the stream I kept my gaze at the water before me. For a moment I had hoped that my peripheral vision had mislead me and I had instead seen a large rock or a dry log
but as I slowly raised my head again my eyes locked onto it. Silently and stricken with fear I studied the figure, it’s posture, the way it remained motionless, its slightly cocked head and as I traced the lines with my eyes I was certain it took the shape of a man. In the fading light the figure looked pale white and sickly, thin with what looked to be a flat beak protruding from its forehead and what was more; it stared right at me.
My heart beat loudly in my ears and I could feel my blood, hot and thick within my veins. Every muscle in my body tightened ready to sprint away. As if handling a predator I slowly and cautiously moved my head to survey the woods behind me, the path that I had taken still remained clear in the dim light but just as I considered running, the creature moved.
My head shot back towards it, and as it did, the creature stretched out a pale white hand in my direction. I stood up as if by reflex and watched the figure, with outstretched hand begin walking through the water. Slowly I stooped and grabbed a large rock and placed it quietly within my palm. With almost no resistance to the current the figure approached me and it was in that moment that I remembered my Grandfather and the Spirits within the Woods, benevolent and serene as if watchers of the wild however the Spirit in his stories did not take the form of the pale white creature before me.
Every bone in my body screamed for me to leave but my eyes were fixed on its dark hollow eyes and as it arrived at my side of the river it began making deep and guttural sounds as it stepped onto the muddy shore. With its limb still stretched out it continued towards me in the quickly fading orange light and for a moment I saw it all. It was almost a carbon copy of a man as if trying to mimic the form without understanding, its powder like flesh almost took on a cold ghost like nature and yet with each soft step I could hear the weight it put on the earth beneath its blackened amorphous feet.
My hand clenched the rock and as this creature moved even closer I saw a thin black rope hanging from its neck. On the end of it was what looked to be a weight as if the creature had escaped from something it was shackled to and as it approached me with outstretched claw I swung the rock with all my might into the creatures head.
To this day I have retold this story to my children and my children’s children; some think I made it up, others think the Spirit in the woods was trying to tell me something and that it meant no harm. Other parents use it as a cautionary tale to tell their children and other children of the village so that they don’t wander too far into the woods but none of that matters to me.
Do you know what the oddest thing about the Ghost in the Woods?
That it bleeds just like us.
I didn’t swing and pass through smoke like my grandfather used to say and it didn’t change shape into a silverback before my eyes. No, under its amorphous hooves were feet like ours, its hands just like ours – its eyes were even the same colour. Its beak fell off the moment it fell over and the chain that hung from its neck made a peculiar whistling sound when it fell. Cracking it open revealed a sea of small oddly shaped trinkets and a long strip of brown shiny paper that you can see through when held up to the sun.
In fact, other than its skin of white, it was the same as us.