This story was told to me by a friend who had just spent several weeks visiting with her sister, Penny, in Georgia. I’ll tell it to you the same way she told it to me.
It was getting late, but we had promised each other that we were going to exercise every day. This day had been filled with taking care of kids, cleaning house, and baking. And, unfortunately, we had been taste-testing our baking, so we needed some exercise more than ever.
The kids were all in bed and Penny’s husband was home, so we left the house at about eight-thirty and headed to the park about fifteen minutes from Penny’s home. The park has a two-mile walk around a lake. Part of the path is next to open fields and the other part is forested, with small bridges and piers allowing closer access to the water.
For some reason, we decided to start our walk in the direction of the open fields. We chatted and laughed together as we walked, reminiscing about the day’s events, the cute things the kids had said, the great recipes we’d made, and the plans for the next day. We hadn’t realized until we started to enter the forested area, that we really should have gone the other way around the lake. As the sun was going down, the trees cast dark shadows onto the path and suddenly we both felt a little uncomfortable.
The frogs, that had been croaking companionably earlier, now seemed to have a more urgent tone to their song. We hurried our steps, realizing, as we looked around, that we were the only ones on the path. The wind whistled through the trees and we felt like we were being pushed, hurried on, by unseen hands.
We increased our pace. The laughter and silliness were gone. We both felt that the atmosphere had changed. This was no longer a welcoming place. Something wanted us gone. We peered into the shadows, braced to run at a moment’s notice. The buzz of the cicadas joined in with the frogs and it felt like they were all urging us to hurry. The friendly forest became ominous. The waters of the lake darkened and slapped against the bank, quickening our pace even more.
Then we both felt it. Something was behind us. But neither of us dared to turn. Suddenly the noise around us stopped. The silence was deafening. No, the silence was terrifying. We glanced at each other and, in an unspoken agreement, started to run.
The pounding of our own feet against the pavement and our heartbeats in our ears drowned out any other sounds around us. But we didn’t stop to listen. We didn’t stop to turn and look. We didn’t stop.
We made it to the end of the path a few minutes later, panting and panicked. We hurried to the lighted parking lot and quickly locked ourselves into the safety of the minivan.
I don’t know what was there in the park with us that night. I don’t know why we felt the frogs and other creatures were trying to warn us. All I know is that I will never take a summer walk in that park at night again.
Then my friend suggested something that made me shiver. “Sometimes I think that the forests allow us to visit them by day. But at night, they belong to another world. A world where humans are not welcomed.”