It was a chilly November evening. The wind was quiet but ever present. I was making my way home on the railroad tracks. Cursing and mentally hitting myself for not leaving sooner, I started the trek home, the sun dipping below the horizon. My dad was going to kill me when I got back.
He always wanted me home before dark. I’m not sure exactly why though. The tracks had become familiar to me over the year of walking them; it wasn’t like I would get lost. Maybe he was afraid I would get attacked by something or that I might find a white van strangely alluring. Arguing with the man was out of the question, so I did my best to stay on his good side.
Only one other time had I walked the four miles home in the dark. A similar situation that I was in now, crashing at a friend’s house and waking far too late. I couldn’t drive at this time, I was a bit too young and my dad wouldn’t pick me up (I assume to build responsibility skills or something of the like). However, I did pick up some tricks to ease my paranoia that night, music up and eyes down. I may like the thought of night, but when stuck in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night, I become a paranoid, shaking mess. Also, having a colorful imagination is a praised gift, and a wretched curse.
If you look around you, your imagination is allowed to dance around your surroundings, making dead trees and bushes vivid hallucinations. This is why my eyes were down. If you take in the noises, the smallest crunch of leaves or a snapping branch becomes a terrible beast that wishes only your suffering. To combat this, my music blared. The only way I got home that night was watching the dim moonlight bouncing off the rails beside me and drowning out any misconceptions about my surroundings.
Not feeling like being scolded for getting home late, I tried to race the sun as I got onto the tracks. The sun was defiant though, and fell only twenty minutes later, plunging me into darkness. A gut feeling of impending doom in the form of my dad set firmly in my stomach. Realizing this, I slowed my pace and began to tread steadily home. My previous experience kicked in. Not wanting to feel the effect of the shadows around me, I put my music in and locked my eyes to the rocky path between me. It’s really a strange feeling to walk at night with not a single light for hundreds of yards. Sure, the tracks were built along a road, but the road was a good couple hundred feet away. Homes dotted along the way on one side and cornfields on either side, separating me from the homes on my right. Being November, the fields had long been harvested, leaving only rugged, torn landscape. A minor tree line on either side poorly concealed the railroad and completed the pathway.
Time passed and my way only grew darker. What were once dead trees, empty cornfields, and distant houses became silhouetted with blackness, and the rails gave off a familiar glow from the moonlight. I could faintly see the tree line in which my home lay. I had a long way to go. Thoughts filled my head, not of terror or the fear of being jumped by someone, but of regular problems. Well, I can’t say regular, as everyone has something to preoccupy them. I had an excess amount time when I walked. Doing this gave me about an hour and a half each way to myself, the dull hum of music in my ears.
The lyrics and beats didn't really stick with me, but the white noise really does aid in my self-pity. I can only think of the wrong things. I’m not sure why, but every time I do get a chance like this, I only talk down to myself, crushing my dreams and aspirations. My greatest enemy is myself. It’s a mindset that I can’t seem to rid myself of. Maybe this is why I lose confidence in situations like this. The darkness. These thoughts brought me back to reality as I realized I was still in the shadows. Clouds had begun to slowly set in above me, making the path fade even further. The hue given from the rails dimming, making my path even more difficult to traverse, regardless of being a straight shot.
A feeling crept up on me. It was subtle at first, but was becoming ever present with each hallowed step I took. The tree line began to thicken, as I was near a mile from my home. I no longer felt as if I was safe. My strategy of avoiding my imagination waned and it began to take hold. Silhouetted tree limbs blurred with the rest of the surroundings. They looked as if they had fingers, waving slowly in the chilly night breeze; however, they lacked any and all color. The rocks seemed more flat to me, losing the distinguished texture each had before.
Once warmly lit homes in the near distance extinguished as the trees on my right blocked them out, that long-lost paranoia surfacing once more. I remembered I had a knife in my left pocket and withdrew it quickly, as if something would assault me at any given moment. It's a strange thing holding a weapon, whether it be a knife, a rock, or even a stick—he feeling it gives someone, that is. It gives one the sense of comfort as well as the thought that one could take on anything the world slung at them. It did little for me, however. I gripped it tightly in my right hand, holding it at a ready stance while continuing my trek.
I was well aware of what kind of things came out at night, having run into a few myself in the wee hours of summer evenings, and the daunting sight of seeing road—or rather rail—kill. It could be as harmless as a deer or a lizard or as aggressive as a coyote or a defesnive skunk. Possums usually didn’t care too much. They simply kept walking or tried their best to avoid any altercations. However, being me, and as terrified as I was, I wasn’t about to take any chances. One day you’ll run into something that isn’t afraid of the sound of your footsteps or smell, but rather defensive about it.
Almost. I was almost home. Another half mile and I was in the clear. I only had to go through an area with trees on my right and a cornfield on my left. Easy, I thought to myself, but something didn’t seem right. A feeling settling deep in my stomach that something was following me. I knew I had to keep walking. Well, that was my conscious mind anyway. My subconscious mind had other plans. I slowed my pace then stopped where I was. Something felt…off. I took my headphones out and tilted my head slightly to the left. I saw nothing in the field next to me. Looking forward, I saw nothing.
Only the still faded glimmer off the two rails, stretching to the horizon. My right, same story. The short trees still looking like ominous, black fingers brushing against the air. I turned my body, but only ever so slightly, to throw a glance over my shoulder. Behind me looked just like in front of me. Dark and empty. I began a faint stride forward, my gaze returning slowly to look straight ahead. Just my mind, I thought to myself. Just about there. Only a small walk and I’d be—A noise erupted from my right within the tree line. The sound of crumpling leaves and snapping branches pervaded the air.
I nearly fell flat on my face as I reacted. My knife swung blindly toward the direction of the sound. My headphones ripped from my ear and to my side in the flurry of flailing. Regaining my composure, I scanned the trees, knife in a set position. Eyes darting around, I couldn't see a thing. The pitch darkness still hindered my vision. I took out my phone with my free hand and touched the screen once. The screen lit up and I used it effectively as a flashlight. Searching the area, I couldn't find a single indication of where the sound came from. I was about to put it away when I saw a strange looking object. I crept down the side of the tracks to get a closer look. My foot freed a loose stone and it rolled toward the object.
When the stone got near, the object hopped out of the way and bounced off into the underbrush. My heart skipped a beat when it moved, lowering itself from my throat to my stomach. Just a damn rabbit. It angered and relieved me. I stood back up and made my way back to the tracks. I stopped briefly to look at my phone. No minutes. Putting the useless flashlight away, I reached for my headphones. Groping around in the darkness, I couldn't find them. I had lost them when getting down to the underbrush. Cursing myself, I started walking again. Casting a glance around me, then behind me, I found nothing. Still the foreboding shadows. I sighed as I brought my glance back in front of me. My feet locked, halting me instantly. There was something in the distance.
I felt heavy, weighted. All the breath in my lungs didn't want to leave, nor could I breathe it in. Out in front of me about a hundred feet was an object. More of a black form. I could see its head and part of a torso in the horizon. With the tracks going straight, nothing was hindering my vision of what was before me. It just stood there, unmoving. I didn’t know how to respond to this. I dropped my knife and stared at it. It didn’t make any advances on me. The deafening silence was consuming the area. I felt the sensation of being followed again, only much stronger. I turned to my left to look out across the cornfield. I could see two, maybe three black dots. Behind me I could hear rocks being kicked, as if someone were walking on them. I turned and saw another figure behind me, a bit further than the first. I backed away from this one. Fear began to well up in me. These things are not normal. They only seemed to slide closer, not moving their legs. I turned back forward. The one in front of me had gone, so I ran in that direction.
I didn't care about what it was I saw or that I had dropped some things back there; at that point I only want to get home. Running in the dark was difficult in the way that it’s hard to see what’s around you, but surprisingly easy to stay balanced. Adrenaline flowed in me. A flight response took a hold of me. Only a quarter mile to my house, wind rushing in my hair, and my eyes nervously observing the blurred area around me. I looked out to the field to see black figures and blobs moving about. To my right I could hear rustling leaves and something in the form of whispers. I dared not look behind me for fear of what I might see and of losing my balance. Almost there. I could see the light of my home getting closer and brighter. My home was just off the tracks. I got to the pathway I had made in the brush and weeds to my right and jumped the nearly ten-foot slope down to it. It was only at this point I fumbled and fell down. My momentum carried me out of the brush and up to the edge of the street on which my home lay.
It took me a moment to gather my bearings and stand once more. Wavering slightly as I stood, I hauled myself forward, not in a run, but a hindered walk. I stopped once my foot hit the beginning of the street. I felt that feeling again, only this time, it wasn't as threatening. I turned and looked up at the railroad tracks. Standing on the rail, about where the exit is, was the short shadowy figure. Sure, it unsettled me to see this strange manifestation, but somehow I knew it couldn't harm me.
The streetlight was flooding at my feet. It seemed to hold me, comforting me. The figure and I stared at one another for a minute or two before it turned and simply went down the other side of the tracks, towards the corn field on the left side, opposite the way I came. Returning to my home, my dad was asleep, thank God, so I made my way to my room. Shutting the door and turning off my light, I jumped in bed, not bothering to even change my dirty, sweaty clothes. All I was absorbed in was that I was home once again and I was safe. The horrible ordeal was over.
Naturally, my dad was coherent, even when sleeping, and knew that I came home late. It was about a week or so before I could leave my house again. I took the same path back to town to see my friend. It was a little unnerving due to the recent events, but one has to move on at some point. I was about a mile out from my home when I hit the tree line that opened up to the road, now on the left, and the fields on either side. The lack of music annoyed me, but I'll take the loss of headphones over the loss of my life, I thought in my crazed head.
Instead of listening to a dull white noise and tearing myself down more, I actually took in my surroundings. For the year or so that I have been making this trek, never once did I find this path more beautiful. I could finally appreciate the effects of fall on the environment. It was awe-inspiring. With fresh air in my lungs and the astounding sights around me, I felt like I could carry myself better. It felt good after so long of a down streak.
I was just about out of the heavy tree line when something caught me eye. In the morning sun, a small glint of something was sticking out of a nearby oak tree. Curious, I went over to it to investigate. When I got closer, I could see what it was. It didn't make me feel good. Stuck in the tree was my knife, my lost headphones draped over them. When I got up to it, I found out that the headphones were utterly busted, which didn't surprise me too much. I took them and shoved them in my pocket. Grabbing a firm hold of the handle, I yanked it free of the tree. Out of reaction, I felt the blade portion of the weapon, and felt something rather odd about it. I turned the knife to the sun so I could see what was on it. It was scratched, not in a damaged way, as in something was written on it, possibly by a rock. I took a deep breath as I read aloud to myself.
“You’re never alone."