I love the woods. Rather, I love the woods in the day time. They're beautiful then, when you can appreciate the life in the green leaves and the musty smells of slow rot and decay, giving birth to new life in the form of fungi and nutrients for insects. The forest in daylight just thrills me. I love watching bugs walk around in the detritus on the wet floor, like shiny little organic robots, so keen to get somewhere without ever reaching their destination. I love walking through wet leaves and finding an old jaw bone from a raccoon or a fox. I love coming across rivers and skipping stones on them, catching frogs at their banks and searching for crayfish under rocks.
I don't like the woods so much at night. I don't remember when it started. It's like any other fear, I guess - irrational and easily explained away by science and psychology. It's not a fear of the dark, because I love cities at night, and even dark basements and attics; places that usually scare the bejesus out of other people who dislike the dark. It's just a phobia that I've always had.
I know it's a simple fear, and that a lot of people probably have it, but it feels so strangely special for me, if that makes any iota of sense.
I've always felt uncomfortable in the woods at night, as far as I can think back to when I spent nights in my uncle's lake-side condo, or when I visit my Grandma on my mom's side and have to sleep in her guest room. When I think about my fear of the woods, I just sort of pass it off and thank goodness I don't have to go there at that moment.
Anyone would tell you that my phobia is just a simple case of raw, ancestral, animal fear that I got from a traumatic experience, or maybe that I inherited it. I almost wonder if maybe it's both at once, but I think it stems mostly from an old, old nightmare I used to have.
Now that I think about it, it wasn't just a nightmare — it was something more profound, more uncomfortable, and even though I don't accept it, more real. I'm reminded of the story of my Boogeyman. Every kid has some silly stupid monster that scares them shitless at a young age. My friend growing up had a monster she called Creeper that would open her bedroom door and glare at her all night (hi Allison~), my little sister thought there was a ghost in the bathroom, and a lot of people I know were scared of something lurking in their hallway, or wanting to pull them down a shower drain or something. Every kid can give you a ghost story, and every adult still shivers looking back at them, even though we all know they were just our imaginations running away with us. This is mine. This is the story of Deer Guy.
Back when I was little, maybe seven or eight, my grandparents bought a big house out in a woodsy area in Michigan in the middle of nowhere. It was a beautiful place, with lush pines and rolling, mountainous hills and a shallow crick far in the back of their property.
Like all forested places in Michigan, it took on this foreboding feeling of stifling coldness that just crushed around you from all directions at night. It almost felt like pure hatred was seeping out of the trees like sap. To make that worse, the guest room I stayed in had a big window that took up almost the entire wall, looking out into the wide open yard outside in a way that no matter what time of the month, it always seemed like the moonlight illuminated it malignantly.
There was a thing that I thought lurked outside the window in the night, but of course it wasn't there and I never saw it. I couldn't have seen it. But I knew what it looked like. It was a tall, naked man with the head of a deer. Nothing spectacularly horrifying, no — but the thought of turning my back to the window as it stepped purposefully and fluidly, like a deer steps, across the glade and into the light of the moon to stop in front of the glass and stare at me with the cold black eyes of a stag made my blood freeze in my veins.
It still does.
So I watched the window at all hours of the night while I stayed with them. Never daring to turn away, afraid to blink, my mind either reeling over the night terror or trying to distract myself from it. Small children aren't incredibly articulate or creative, so when I started thinking of him as Deer Guy, I didn't really question how funny of a name it was for him. The simple title even added to his menace.
Eventually I would succumb to exhaustion as young children inevitably do, despite their reserves of rambunctious energy. I remember that as my eyelids grew too heavy to stay open anymore, I would always see movement far, far off in the dark. It wasn't clear, and it wasn't even enough to arouse my suspicion. In spite of my watchful fear, I never even gave it a thought. Except for one time when I saw two green flashes in the dark, like an animal's eyes in the light of the moon peering out from in-between the upward curving branches of a tree.
I felt this sort of, I guess I could say, presence of complete hate in the dark forest again, when my family decided to move out into the country to be closer to my mother's family. I had a room on the second story of the home, which should have eliminated my fear of the line of trees and the cornfield that bordered our yard, but it somehow made it worse. I had passing bedtime visions of Deer Guy silently departing from the black pines as he slowly, almost timidly approached the house to stare into my window at me. But I always thought, "No, that doesn't make sense! I'm on the second floor! He couldn't look through my window, he's not tall enough." But the fear of his shimmering green spark eyes staring through my window didn't lessen because of that. I could always imagine him growing in size to become a giant, or stretching his legs to get to my window. I gag a little when I think about that.
It seems so funny that I'm remembering all this now. It has to have been at least eight years since I last remembered him, and the fear that I feel about him is still as fresh and cold as ever. I'd laugh it off pretty easily, if it weren't for where I'm living now. I'm regretting that I recently bought a little modern cottage in the woods of the lower peninsula to work a job I wanted. It's hard to find anywhere in Michigan that isn't a forest or a swamp, but I sure tried. It didn't bother me until just today, when after moving all of my boxes into the house and unpacking some essentials, I realized that I put my computer in a room with a big window, facing the woods. I'm sitting, writing with my back turned to it, and this sense of dread: of being chased and hated and watched is just overcoming me. I'm writing this primarily to banish the old fears of childhood, and to put my stressed mind at ease. And if it gets a little notoriety on the internet, who am I to complain?
It's getting pretty late, and I have to get in to work first thing in the morning.
The moon is casting shadows on my wall.
One of them has antlers.