I knew the flashlight was going to go out. I knew it for a good twenty minutes, picking my way over the boulders and tree roots, trying desperately to get back to the trailhead before the dimming bulb flickered its last beam of sight. Why did I set out so late? Why did I stay so long? I knew better, and now there I was deep in the untamed woods of the escarpment, alone and suddenly cold—not afraid. No, I was not going to be afraid. I got myself into this mess, and I would get myself out. I just needed to think it through.
When the light dimmed for the last time the darkness swallowed me up. It was so complete, so solid, it took my breath away. A gulp. Two gulps. Three gulps to swallow the lump in my throat and start my breathing again. I did a test shuffle forward, scarcely taking my feet off the ground. I knew that one false move would snag my foot in a root and crumple me over to raw egg crack my head open on the rocks that jutted at intervals out of the ancient glacier-scraped ground. Arms extended straight out both sides, I felt for the foliage that should mark where the trail stopped and the forest began. One rough tree trunk felt just like the next and my feet couldn’t interpret the difference between forest floor and trail. Failing to read the Braille of the woods I realized I was well and truly stranded.
If I pushed forward I ran the risk of wandering off the edge of the escarpment, plummeting who knows how far to watermelon burst on the jagged rocks and pines below. Failing that, a crevasse hiding in the impenetrable dark would grab my feet, dry chicken bone snapping legs that wouldn’t walk again.
So there I stood. My stillness made the forest noises louder. Every rustle loomed threateningly out of the darkness, most certainly vicious sharp-toothed beasts closing in to tear me limb from limb. Squeaks and screeches and haunting calls of “who-hoo-oooo” spoke amongst themselves in the language of the night, exclusive food chain negotiations I had no desire to be party to.
Still I stood. My eyelids kept on blinking their moistening Morse code, not that I could any more distinguish their opening from closing. Waiting for my wretched pupils to widen enough to eke some sort of light from where none shone was getting me nowhere. A sudden crunch behind me sent my heart tap-dancing through my chest and I was forced to admit I might just be a little bit frightened.
I stood and tried to breathe. I stood and clutched at fleeing calmness. I stood and closed my eyes, entombed in obscurity, my one-time favourite place now the blackest darkest void. I stood and said goodbye. When my eyes again blinked open, gasping for light like a drowning man gasps for air, stripy lines of shadow faltered, sharpening and clearing. Far above my head a sliver of moon peeked out at me from behind the thick and heavy clouds. Before my ragged breaths were straightened, before my pounding heart was calmed, before my racing mind caught up, instinct moved my feet forward, forward, forward until I burst out of my inky almost tomb.