Nathan was always drawn to this area with its meadow, its woods, and its lake. In winter, when the snow covered the paths and all within lay dormant, he would find himself missing the mysterious energy of the nature preserve known as Asylum Lake. By the waters edge, staring west toward the setting sun, he remembered his first few visits to these woods.
The labyrinth of trails was a joy to discover, as were the many different facets of nature the preserve embodied. There was a vast meadow with rolling hills, high grasses, and bird houses for the many song birds. In another area was a prairie, which stretched on until it ended abruptly with the looming woods beyond it. Minus the lake, at the center of the preserve, he gravitated to the woods most. No matter what mood he was in, Nathan always walked in the woods at some point during his visits.
The woods held a mystery of their own. Beneath bramble and fallen trees were clues to the preserve's past. What was the past? Once, while meandering off a trail, he found an old rowboat that had rusted through near the water's edge. It was hidden, now, by high reeds and trees that had grown around and within it. On another excursion, he found the foundations of a building long disassembled. What had it been for? Probably the most peculiar thing he discovered was a small hillside surrounded by trees that was covered with old glass bottles. There were old medicine bottles, liquor bottles, soda bottles...as if this were an old dump site. These questions - or mysteries - made him return to walk in the woods week after week and year after year.
And walking in the woods, despite his discoveries, Nathan would always find himself standing here on this tiny waterfront on Asylum Lake. The spot was ideal at sunset, facing west, though he would visit any time of day. The colors in the sky reflected a perfect mirror image when the water was calm, as it did this evening. The lake had a calming effect on Nathan, but some nagging feeling remained in the back of his mind about the lake.
This place had an energy that he did not recognize and at times it was tangible. It was a puzzle, which he felt needed to be sorted out. Research returned nothing about the former incarnation of the preserve. There were no accounts of a mill or factory on the site and no one seemed to be able to recall anything but woods being there. His query was not satisfied at this dead ending.
So, without answers, he would return in hopes that the reality would make itself known. For four years he walked the paths and sat on the water's edge, but never had he seen or heard anything to shine light on the mystery.
Nathan sat quietly on a fallen tree in front of the lake as the sun sank on the horizon. Normally his instincts would tell him to leave when the sun fell out of sight behind the trees, so as to make it back to his car before full dark, but tonight a sense of gravity kept him in place. And as much as he felt weighted down, as sense of excited-nervousness moved up his spine. He was suddenly very aware of himself and the nature surrounding him. Something approached him.
The calm water, which scenically reflected the darkening sky, rippled a stone's throw out. His eyes fell upon the disturbed point of water. He would have thought it a fish or turtle had he been in any normal state of mind, but that energy in his spine told him otherwise. As he watched, the ripples grew closer to the shore and closer to where he sat.
Nathan's heart beat deafeningly within his chest. A pang of fear clenched his lungs and his breath too began to quicken. He stood, as if to run, but from what? The ripples stopped at the shore, but then the sand began to move. The indentations of two parallel lines were carved, coming closer; then ceased a foot in front of him.
Frozen with fear, he stared at the lines in the sand. The sun sank deeper as twilight encompassed the world and he caught a shimmer of light above the lines. It was no more than uncertain wisps of smoke. Time froze, but the sun continued its decent and the shimmer became more clear, to reveal the outline of a woman.
"Do not leave," said a voice softer than the wind. "Do not leave." Nathan didn’t answer, as he was scarcely sure he'd heard anything at all.
The parallel lines in the sand began to circle him, as did the apparition. He closed his eyes tightly and reopened them, as if to clear his vision, but the figure became slightly more solid than air.
"You often come here," whispered the voice. "You seek knowledge that others have well forgotten."
"Who...who are you?" he shook out, still considering his initial urge to run.
"Who am I? That no longer seems to matter, seeing as I am no more. But you," the voice breathed, "you are what matters."
"I'm nobody," he replied. Only a haze of light remained on the horizon and the woman was completely solid; seemingly illuminated from within. She had long hair and wore a patched up dress. There were also chains around her wrists and ankles.
"You breathe, therefore you are," she replied.
"What do you want with me?" he said quietly, as if afraid someone might hear him. "Are you a ghost?"
"Ghost? Such simplicity, that would be," the woman smiled. "I am much less than that."
"What's less than a ghost?" he asked in spite of himself.
"There is no word for it, for it cannot be defined. Words lose meaning when you no longer seem to matter." She tilted her head inquisitively. "But you…you are what matters."
"Why do you keep saying that? I'm not anybody important."
"Such a rise from the ‘nobody’ you just claimed to be," she said mockingly, yet not so. "You have come here, time and again. For what do you search?" He did not reply. "Is it truth? Solitude and solace? No, you have a wondering heart. Even as I am, that I can tell. You seek knowledge."
"Only a little," he replied. "I'm merely curious about the original use of this land. I've found remnants here, in the woods.” She said nothing. “What do you want with me?"
"Do you know why people are drawn to the lake?" she asked in reply. "Why they fear the woods when the sun draws low? There are things in the woods and the water. Creatures not only of the night but a place far darker." Nathan was aware that it was full dark now. "The lake is a flame to a moth, yet unlike the moth who perishes in the fire, the moth becomes the lake. Thus its energy does grow more potent."
Nathan was stuck. Frozen. "What is there to be afraid of in the woods at night?" he asked, attempting to sound casual.
"You spoke of ghosts; well these spirits are more than mere apparitions. They are energies. They can manipulate the woods, the animals, and air around them."
"Is that what you are? Energy?"
"Yes, but hardly so. I am the dimmest light...the softest voice, but with your help, with your...energy, I shall become more. Much more."
"How-how would I do that?" he asked, mustering the movement to take a step back.
"Oh, Nathan, you don't have to do anything else."
"What do you mean?"
"It is I who lure you here, day after day, year after year. You've shown exceptional interest, which makes you an interesting exception to the others who have come. With your energy, I will become more than this faint light and more potent. I shall be more the lake and more the woods. We shall be one."
"And what will all of this cost me?"
"Nothing you haven't already given up by remaining here," she replied.
"No, I can't," he choked. "I won't."
"It has already begun," she whispered.
Nathan backed further away, turned and ran. The paths were pitch-dark as he sped away from the apparition. This trail ran parallel to the lake, not taking him any further away, he realized, so he turned left to climb a large mound, moving away from the water.
Part way up the hill, a branch snapped from a tree above and landed with a loud thud just barely missing him. Fear engulfed him as he scrambled on. Reaching the top of the hill, he took another left, which led him to the edge of the meadow. The pale half moon shone a dim light over the landscape. Fearfull of more falling branches, he headed deeper into the high grasses.
To his right, reeds of grass pulled back as if by the wind but snapped back sharply against his legs. He shouted in pain and ran on against it. Adrenaline filled every cell of his body as he made it out the utility road that led to and from the lake. The backs of his legs were raw and bleeding.
The soft voice returned, echoing from every direction, "It has already begun, Nathan. Do not run. Stay and become the lake." She was crazy. Taking a left, he ran up the utility road, which would lead out of the preserve. The air rippled in front of him and the water vapor created a distorted mirror. He could see his dim reflection and put a hand up to it. The vapor had created a solid wall. Using his entire body, he pressed against it, trying to push past, but in never gave way.
Cursing to himself, he ran to his right and into the prairie. Usually, the path was mowed out, but the grasses here seemed to have overgrown their former configuration. In fact, right before his eyes the grasses grew a foot taller than him. Pushing the reeds aside, he carried on, but soon lost any sense of direction. He had to get out, but how?
He screamed aloud to that soft voice, but she did not respond. A wave of relief filled him as he emerged from the field, but that fire was immediately extinguished as he found himself back in the woods. He was no further away than before, but he still might find a way out. He'd been all through these woods and knew the paths well. He just had to find one and it would lead him away from here. Away from that voice.
He found his first landmark a few steps into the woods, as a glass bottle was crushed beneath his foot. The dump site He was at the top of the hill of glass and carefully made to walk down it, when a familiar surge of energy moved through his spine. "It has begun," he said to himself aloud, though he had made no conscious choice to say it. He traipsed down the hill and found a path just beyond it.
From his memory, he knew to go left to leave, so he headed that way. "You cannot hope to leave," the voice returned.
"Leave me alone!" he shouted. This time meaning to speak.
"You are becoming the woods...the lake...the air," the voice droned.
Running hard, the root of a tree sprung up, and tripped him, sending him rolling down a hill. In the darkness, he saw nothing but felt every stone and branch. Coming to a rest at the bottom, his head hit something metal and he clutched it in pain. "You've got to be kidding." he said. Pulling himself to standing, he realized he'd hit the rusted row boat, which meant he was next to the lake once more. Indeed, he could hear the water lapping against the high grasses and reeds that grew out of it.
In the dark, finding a path again would not be easy. He’d in fact lost all sense of direction again, so Nathan begrudgingly followed the shoreline. Stumbling more than walking, he found himself back at the same point he started: The small water's edge. As if he'd not left at all, the woman stood there. He loathed her.
"The pull is too strong now, it is nearly done," she said.
"To hell with you!" he yelled as he hurled a rock at her. The rock did not hit her, nor did it go through her. It was merely absorbed. Laughing at his grim situation, he sat in the sand. The figure came to him.
"Nathan, there is nothing to run from," she said cheerfully, mocking his mood no doubt. "Look at yourself. You've already begun to fade." Without thinking, he looked down at his body. It was becoming faint and less solid, though he still felt every bit himself. At least he thought he did, until he went to move again and found himself unable. Even his emotions were beginning to fade. He suddenly felt...nothing.
The woman knelt and picked him up without effort. "It is done. We are the lake, the woods, the air…we are one."
She turned toward the lake, the parallel lines drawn into the sand all the way to the water. Creating small ripples as she continued a stone throw out, both she and Nathan winked out of sight.
Copyright Jerry Givens 2015 | All rights reserved