To hike through a forest during the day is to expand one’s world, plain and simple.
For many humans, daily consciousness consists of waking up, flipping the electronics on for a few minutes, flipping the electronics back off, going off to work, flipping off the bossdawg behind its back, going back home, flipping the electronics back on, then going to sleep (sometimes without flipping the electronics back off). This life is not necessarily a bad life, but it’s inarguably a closed life, a lifestyle which values routine and productivity and work ethic over experiencing the world one has no choice but to live out their entire life on. To break out of that neverending cycle for a few hours and venture out into the forest, to breathe in the delicious woodland air, to feel the hot, nasty sweat dripping down your face as you summit the horrifically steep mountain and a fresh beam of blissful sunlight puts you in your own little spotlight, to look out from the peak of that conquered mountain and see planet Earth with all its mysterious green forests and deep blue lakes stretching out for miles and miles before your eyes, to see the ants marching along the little black squiggles cutting through the vast patches of greenery with the knowledge that those dots are not insects – not the literal kind, at least – but human beings just like you who, rather than taking a few hours to go back from whence they came, decided to keep walking through the trenches and dig their ruts just a little bit deeper into the ground… to hike during the day is to open one’s mind, to connect back with mother nature even if only for a moment, to expand one’s world far beyond the confines of the maze they run through every day guided by the promise that, if they ever get to the end, there will probably be cheese waiting for them.
To hike through a forest during the night, however, is a different animal altogether.
During the day, no matter where one may be hiking, the forest is illuminated. One can look forward and see exactly where their trail is leading them, one can look backwards and see exactly where they followed their trail from. One can look up through the canopy and see the peak of the mountain they’re striving to climb, the sky and the clouds floating beneath it; one can see through the unblazed forest all around them and feel a distinct sense of location. One can feel like they certainly do exist beyond all reasonable doubt and not only that, but that they’re existing somewhere, somewhere that’s been existing long before they began to exist in the first place, somewhere that’ll continue on existing long after they cease to exist.
During the day, no matter where one may be hiking, the forest is blatantly alive. One can silence themselves and focus on their senses and know exactly what’s going on around them. One can watch with awe as a herd of deer prance and leap between the trees like stunt planes pulling knife flights between skyscrapers, one can giggle as they watch one chuttering squirrel chase after another by means of leaping suicidally from branch to branch eighty feet off the ground, one can see a mother bear and its three bubbly cublings and know to back the fuck up slowly and circumnavigate the entire acre of forest they happen to be walking through so they don’t get mauled. One can tune into the forest and they will know, beyond any reasonable doubt, that they are not alone as they walk amongst the ancient, swaying trees.
During the day, no matter where one may be hiking, the forest is just the forest. To look down is to see pressed dirt, decaying leaves, dark mud, perhaps even a li’l’ stream. To look up is to see branches – some sporting leaves, some sporting needles, some protected by bark, and some protected by nothing – and the atmosphere which supports them. To cross a stream is simply to cross over a stream, to climb a mountain is simply to climb up a mountain. One can hike through a forest during the day and know, beyond all reasonable doubt, that the forest will guide them along on their adventure.
During the night, the forest is an endless shadowy corridor lined with ominous wooden doors adorned with cracked glass knobs, and not a single one is closed. During the night, the forest pretends to be asleep even though it is, in fact, livelier than it was during the day, as are its more ferocious denizens who don’t bother coming out of their caves unless the moon is up. During the night, the forest is not just the forest. During the night, no matter where one may be hiking, the forest is an alternate plane of reality, a different dimension entirely; it’s similar to Albey’s open notebook except rather than bright white pages and bottomless black pen strokes, there are myriad dull white pinpricks dotting the canopy and bottomless blackness everywhere else. If one turns off their flashlight, one shall completely surrender themselves to the deep darkness and whatever may be lurking there silently, its eyes locked on the strange intruder in its home, its ears perked up and alert, its nose starved for the scents riding the air, its mouth dripping with hungry saliva.
Albey loves night-hiking more than anything else in the world, even more than he loves writing, and writing is number three on his top ten list of things to do with his free time. It’s pretty obvious what number one on that list is; as for the magickal number two, well, we’ll find out just as soon as Albey’s good ol’ hometown friends find out for themselves.
“How long’s it been since you’ve pulled a night-hike, Alb’?” asks Keaton’s voice, breaking Albey from the trance of his thoughts.
“What?” Albey blurts, his gaze lifting from the trail and settling on the silhouetted human form ahead of him.
“No I heard you,” he cuts right back in. “I had to let it process for a sec’, sorry. It’s been uh, it’s definitely been a couple years. I think the last time I went was with you guys the night before I shipped off to the Cee’Oh.”
Somebody chooses this moment to chain up a fat glob of snot and drag it out of their sinuses and into their mouth before splattering it all over an unsuspecting, defenseless couple of copulating toads who will never be the same again after tonight.
“Same,” Albey agrees in reference to the loogie. Then, “But yeah, didn’t do much night-hiking at school. Lots of daytime hikes, none at night though.”
“That’s bunk as a bomb shelter, man,” observes Harry. “Why not? Couldn’t convince the hippies to live up to their namesake?”
“Nah, nothing like that. The woods are just different out there, different set of rules.”
“Yeah?” Harry asks from the front of the line. “How so?”
“Well, I assume you know the cardinal rule for bear encounters around here?”
Harry does not, and he communicates this by keeping his mouth shut. Carl knows the cardinal rule very well, and is more than happy to fill Harry in. “You’ll love this, bro. If we were to encounter a bear tonight, the move is not to outrun the bear. Th–”
“Well that’s fucking dumb. You’d get yourself killed, no?” Without meaning to, he accentuates the word dumb by snapping a meaty twig clean in half with the step of his foot. “What’s the move then, Karl?”
“The move is to outrun the slowest guy in the group, homie.”
“So Albey, then.”
There is a moment of relative silence; the crickets are chirping, the bats are squeaking, the leaves and dirt are crunching together with every further step taken into this twilit wood, but the humans are all silent.
“I’m pretty sure you’re the slowest one here, Harry,” says Keaton, then all the humans are silent again.
Quietly, “I doubt that.”
Footsteps and few flashlights’ eggshell beams sweeping through the surroundings to check for reflective, watchful eyes.
Then, at normal volume, Harry continues with, “It doesn’t matter anyway, I have bear mace in my backpack. Also, these are my woods. Bogspekti Park is totally fenced in. I doubt there are even any deer back here.”
The canopy gets thicker the farther into Harry’s woods they go. The moonlight only grows dimmer, the darkness only grows louder.
“Well that kind’a sucks,” is Albey’s opinion, but as it turns out, nobody asked him. Nobody asks if Harry is okay when he randomly starts flagrantly cursing, either, but Albey can hear the worry in Carl’s voice when he starts yapping away like a puppy after Harry’s cursing abruptly comes to a stop by cue of a thud.
“I’m fine, guy. Jesus.” Three flashlights light Harry, he’s suddenly filthy. Knees covered in mud and dirt, one boot untied, a small red brook trickling from his left palm. “I just tripped, it’s fine.”
Harry continues walking. The wind blows and a single dead twig is relinquished from a dying tree. It falls lazily through the air, its crop of wilted leaves acting as a parachute of sorts, and lands without a perceptible noise in the exact spot where Harry was standing before he tripped.
“Woah, ‘man,” Albey jests, “that widowmaker almost splattered ya. Better be careful, dude. We’d hate to carry you out’a here.”
Harry stops walking mid-step, as if he was trying to decide if he should turn around and dignify that terrible joke, and then continues walking. Albey is the only one who doesn’t immediately follow his footsteps.
“Harry, hold up dude. It’s midnight, shouldn’t you at least tie your shoe?”
“We’re going to be there in like thirty seconds, and I’m probably go’n’a take my boots off anyway. Why bother?” echoes back to Albey’s ears, which catch about half the words. He checks his surroundings for eyes one more time, sees nothing, then does a little jog to catch up with the boys, his camera case bouncing and swinging totally out of control in his hand.
True to his word, thirty seconds later Harry lifts his leg, kicks his unlaced boot off in the general direction of the firepit, peels his slimy sock off, and sets one (lightly haired and mightily bare) foot into the soft, powdery dirt. He bends down and, as the other two members of Pact are walking around either side of him, removes his other boot and sock as well. By the time Albey finishes his jog, Carl and Keaton are holding their flashlights over the firepit while Harry works as if he was performing surgery. It is only when he catches his breath that Albey hears the scraping.
“So this is the spot, I take it?”
Silence – not a particularly rude silence, more the kind of silence one exudes when they’re off maneuvering through the private world in their head – and scraping. A quick, repetitive, hissful scraping.
“Yo, what is that noise?” Albey asks, perhaps a tad bit impatiently.
A pfft from either Carl or Keaton, Albey is unable to tell which.
“Uh… yo, what is that noise?” brings the scraping to a halt.
“It’s a firestarter, dude. I got it off of Amazon, if I scrape it right it’ll make sparks and get the fire going. Just got’a get the coating off.” The scraping continues. “Quinn, why don’t you and Albey set the chairs up? I only need one light for this.” The scraping pauses, “And Karl, put the cooler down, what are you doing?” and resumes again.
After a chorus of glass bottles clanking against one another, one of the two lights sweeps away from Harry to reveal four brown plastic outdoor chairs stacked up a couple yards away from the pit.
“You grab two, I’ll grab two. Cool?”
They make a compass around the firepit, the chairs acting as the cardinal directions even though they’re not following said directions. Harry is still struggling to get the fire going, so Albey and Quinn sit down due “south” and “west” and kill their flashlights.
“Yo Har’, can I grab a beer while we’re waiting?” Albey asks.
“You may not,” answers Harry. “Just wait a sec’ for me to get the fire going. We got’a do a toast, man. It’s your first night back, after all.”
This brings a happy grin to Albey’s face. “Fair enough, my ‘man. Fair enough.” He takes his phone back out of his pocket and turns on the flashlight, then drops the camera case on his lap. The buckles are unbuckled, the zipper is unzipped, the lid is hinged back, and Keaton is trying to lean over to the side far enough to sneak a peek at Albey’s camera, plus whatever else he may have packed in that black fabric case. Then, Albey flips the case closed and lets rip a long and narrow exhale through pursed lips.
“Guys, I hate to do it.”
“What?” Harry asks, still scraping his ferrocerium.
“I mean I really, really hate to do it.”
“Hate to do what, Albey?”
Keaton’s leaning back in his chair now. His legs are crossed at the ankles.
“Like, you’ve got’a understand, this is not normal f–”
“Sidney Blake, what the fuck are you trying to say?!” announces a momentary pause in the scraping.
Once Harry’s scraping resumes, “Well, Sir Harrington, since you asked, I need to run back to my car real quick. Forgot something in there.”
And the scraping comes once again to a pause. “You need to–… what could you have possibly forgotten, guy? You didn’t need to bring anything.” Resumption.
“A uh, a lens. A special lens, for my camera.”
The ferrocious scraping doesn’t even pause for that one. “Fine, whatever man. You know the way back, right? I need Kay and Kay to stay here with me, just in case I can’t get the fire started.”
“Kay and–…?” Albey shakes his head and stands up. “You know what, just tell me when I return. I think I can manage to get there and back alone.”
“Here, I’ll come along, Albey,” Keaton says, rising to the occasion. “You don’t really need us both to stay, do ya Harry? I’m just sittin’ here, anyway.”
“Nah, you right Keaton, go ahead. I’m sorry, it’s just bugging me that I can’t get this thing to work. I dropped like forty bucks on this piece of shit and all I’m getting out of it is a pair of dirty knees.”
“Feel ya, dawg,” Albey says to Harry. Then, to Keaton, “Le’go.”
They go. Not one half-minute after Keaton and Albey step over the border of stones which keeps the forest out of the camping spot, a spark leads to flames and gray smoke wafts up from the firepit in thick, fuggy plumes.
Hello Commons, this has been the third subchapter of the first chapter of Untitled Bigfoot Project, a novel about a writer who writes a novel about bigfoot.
Untitled Bigfoot Project is part of the Third Spiral, an anthology of sorts called The Here and Now which is comprised of stories told from the various planes of Existence.
Untitled Bigfoot Project is available to read for free in its entirety on my website. Click here to check it out.
I’ve written a few other books, too. Click here to see the list.
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Be well Commons~