So here’s my scary story.
I used to live in the town of Goodlettsville, a bedroom community just north of Nashville. It was a pretty typical stretch of suburbia but I was impressed with the local park, which had been carved out of an abandoned plantation and army camp, and the ruins of an exploratory fort. Both still exist after extensive reconstruction, and in addition to public use the space operates as something of a continuous museum, complete with tours and educational events. I fell into the habit of going on runs on the extensive creekside trail that encircled the area.
My favorite time to run was in the evenings come fall and winter, when it would get dark and cold and most people had gone home. A few groundspeople and a patrolman stayed until closing (10:00 PM) but the park sprawled, and sections of the trail branched off into unlit brush. Go deep enough past most of the lights, and you would smell deer musk, and hear distant coyote cries.
One night in late October I didn’t reach the park until a little after nine, so when I ran I did so at a faster clip than usual to make sure I could get back to my car before they locked the gates. A mist from the burbling creek added a chill to the already frosty, and through the trees I could make out bright and garish Halloween decorations. I could hear bats chirping around the special rookeries set up for them by the local Lions Club. It was a great night for a run, and I felt energized.
I had intended to keep it short, and turn back at the halfway point before I reached the unlit stretch the dipped into the woods. But I’d had a long day and wanted to wind down, so I kept running, onto the section of the trail without electric lights.
Sometimes I ran with music, other times I didn’t. It was windy that night though, and I enjoyed the sound of it through the trees. And while I ran I could hear the branches creaking as they swayed and knocked against one another. A storm was coming but it was not yet here.
As I ran I could hear the branches crashing even harder against each other, and after a beat I thought I heard something heavy hit the ground. Assuming a bough had broken, I ignored it, but then there came another heavy thud. And then a few beats later, another heavy sound of impact. And grunting, like a buck would grunt, except…heavier, somehow.
And for whatever reason, I got scared. I generally like the nighttime, and while I’d rather not be in the dark it usually doesn’t bother me. But I started increasing my speed, and my heartrate started going up. I turned down a fork I knew would take me back to the main section of the park, and I ran at top speed. I had no reason to think it but for whatever reason I knew that something. Was. Following. Me.
I let myself slow down once I got within sight of my car, and further away I could see a parked cruiser, near the entrance gate. I was panting when I got to my car, and I let myself calm down before I hopped in for home. I turned to the trees, chuckling softly at how silly I’d been.
The half-leafless trees were perfectly silhouetted by the glowing, cloudy night. I could them swaying against one another, and could hear the scraping of gnarled branches. And I blinked, because where there had been darkness in a distant section of the trees, there was now open space, as though something massive had moved on.