Wednesday, September 23, 2009


This time of year, when I step out the door for a run at 5:30AM it is DARK. And even more so when it's overcast and there's no moon, like this morning.

I have been startled on runs before. A mailbox or a trash can slowly looming out of the murk can appear to be a dog, just standing there, watching me. Or a deer can crash through the woods and gallop, hooves clicking, across the road, giving me a little jolt. Often branches lie in the road pretending to be snakes.

But what happened this morning surpassed all that.

The trouble is, writing fantasy means I get to / have to think about things like Baba Yaga and her house on chicken feet, or what a spider might feel like skittering down my throat (another worry: gulping down a glass of water at night without first checking that a spider is not floating in it!), or whether a goat standing alone on a dark road, grinning, is frightening, or whether there's an old man with long fingernails under my bed. Crows with smoke leaking from their eye sockets. Something in the air too big to be a bird. Poetry scrawled in tiny letters inside a rat den. The smell of rotting fish inside a cave. You see, I can't turn it off.

This is what happened today on my run. It was so dark that all I could see was a dim belt of grey above me, where the trees open to the sky, and an equally dim belt of grey below my feet. Everything else was that black, black, almost vibrating darkness of zero light.

I ran up what seemed like the middle of the road, trying not to think about dogtoothed clowns and old women giggling insanely -- you know, normal running thoughts -- when I glimpsed something in the darkness in front of me. RIGHT in front of me.

In less than a second, the following thoughts flickered through my animal brain like lightening:

1) That's a dog or a deer. Scary, but no problem.
2) It's not moving like a dog or a deer. What is it?
3) It's my height and flailing its arms and legs.
4) It's coming right at me OH GOD WHAT IS IT?

You know the sound you make when you open a drawer -- to get a spoon, say, or your keys -- and there is a spider that you nearly grab? Sort of "Unnhhhh!"

I made that sound and leapt out of the way of what turned out to be ... another runner, who was just as scared as I was. However, what scared him was the near-collision, whereas I was worried about face-eating demons who would take me back to their master, the bloody-faced old lady who lives in a dead tree and sends her scaly children out each night to bring her their prey to toy with.

The phrase "a chill went down my back," is an understatement. I shivered from the back of my head, down both arms, and down to my calves, a breath of ice that I expect was every hair trying to raise itself up as if I were a startled cat. Fight or flight is a difficult decision when you're already running directly at the problem.

I wanted to explain the strangled groan I had emitted, so I remarked in a shaky voice, "You scared the crap out of me!"

The rest of my run, thank goodness, was uneventful.


Kenneth said...

You should start carrying a flashlight (there are small tactical LED ones that are light as air and bright as crap and double as blunt defensive instruments) or rig a strobe to your hydration harness. Or both.

missalister said...

So sorry, I’m generally a lurker, but I’m compelled to comment again today. You’d set the scene so well, I busted a gut. I run, too, and have grayscale freakish thoughts compared to your fantastic Technicolor ones. It’s my rabid fox (tree stump) compared to your smoking crows and bloody-faced hags and flying things too big to be birds. Now I’m compelled to go in search of a phantasmagorical imagination. I’m willing to take the risk.

Peter S said...

Just perfect. A comment using the words "tactical" and "hydration harness". Hello, Ken.

Also, every time I swim at night, when I dive into the deep end, I imagine a humongous deep sea grouper with a gaping toothless mouth reaching up to swallow me. I MUST immediately surface and open my eyes. Even though I know the pool is empty and the light is on. Thanks, imagination!

S R Wood said...

See, there wasn't any time to reach for a flashlight, or even to turn one on. All of a sudden I was under attack, with no time for anything but a panicked swerve.

Plus, the last time I ran with a flashlight somehow I got motion sickness.

To be honest, crashing into another running would have been less disruptive than that instant of outright panic.

S R Wood said...

Make that runnER, not running. Dang sunspots.

David said...

Don't go the strobe attachment to the hydration harness route. We have a guy in our neighborhood we call Mr Blinkers; he's got some contraption on his head that makes him appear like an oncoming 747 touching down just ahead of you. Plus, he has taken to prancing long in synch with the strobe. OK for him; for his dachsund,not so much.