Loud crashes to the South startle me out of my mourning. At first, the sound seems to come from high on the hill, bringing images of a large man barreling down the mountain. The sounds are frantic, like one running from a crime. My mind fills with the memories of movie monsters who hide deep in the woods, waiting for stranded travelers.
I see him lurking in the woods, waiting, like any good predator for a fledgling to be separated from the herd, waiting for someone to be alone and vulnerable, waiting for the prize of their patience.
I try to remember how far we walked. How far am I from camp? Too close, I thought, but now everything seems so far away, too far to outrun that sound.
I travel from vision to vision, hoping to land on a reasonable explanation for what might be moving so violently through the woods. My mind repeatedly returns to thoughts of escape, but my body betrays me again. I am frozen. I can’t even try to move. If I do, he’ll find me. I’m terrified of making any sound. Besides, what if I tried to move and couldn’t?
New panic swells in me, carrying me into a new current of terror. The pounding in my ears increases, drumming faster and faster until it becomes a near hum in my mind.
I try to will myself into invisibility as my childhood overcomes me. I remember hiding from my brother like this, afraid the deafening pound of my heart would expose me. I pant heavily. It’s too loud. He’s bound to hear it. My breath is so loud. My heart is so loud. Everything is so loud. I am bound to be heard. The thoughts become dizzying as my brain cries out for the oxygen it needs.
I don’t comply. I sit frozen, unable to do anything but wait, and hope what I hear moving won’t where I am. I pray for protection and ask Spirit to prevent it from sensing my presence here. Sweat pours from my face, stinging my eyes. I feel it gather into drops that fall to the ground. More noise, but I do not move. Like a rabbit, frozen, I sit in my circle. My legs are numb. My body tremors slightly as another crash tells me that whatever is coming down the mountain is now in the clearing on the other side of the river. I somehow manage to become more still. Everything stops; my breathing, the movement of time, maybe even my heart. My mind screams for me to run. My mind begs my body to thaw, and I suddenly realize I have created an environment that will be impossible to escape if I am found. There is only one way through the thicket from the river, and it passes only feet from where I crouch.
It sounds like someone is bringing down the forest. People must hear that. Do they know, or do they think it’s a quester wandering the woods at night? We can’t leave our circles. Someone must be hearing that. The breaking of branches and crushing sound of sticks suddenly stops. I reach to expand my hearing. Where did it go?
Then, I hear it again, the hard thud of boots on heavy grass. Who could possibly be big enough for me to hear walking on grass? The sound is weighted, like workboots. Movie images come to mind again of a giant man with a chainsaw. Fresh fear erases my thoughts. I forget the people. I forget to run. I forget to wonder who might be there. I know, and I am inevitably alone against it.
Dusk has settled upon the forest and my mind. Total darkness will soon follow. I know I should trust the safety of my circle, but I don’t. My fear overcomes my faith in the sage, and I imagine Bear or Moose or Man coming through the brush and finding me in this vulnerable place with only a circle of sage as protection. I completely forget the presence of the Great Spirit in my life, and I instinctively return to the isolated place of an abused child with no one around who will choose to protect her.
Pain fills my chest. Tears run in long streams down my cheeks, mingling with the sweat as the thudding starts and stops randomly across the river. I try to convince myself this is where the beast will stop. Maybe it came to the river to a drink. Perhaps I am downwind, and it will not sense me. I remain still. The opportunity to flee is well past me. I can feel nothing below my knees, and I am sure if I tried to use my legs, I would only alert them to my presence. I can’t outrun it.
There are no other sounds in the forest around me. Everything has stopped, just as I have, waiting for whatever walks on the other side of the forest to pass. For a moment, I cannot hear anything besides my own breathing, and then there is a splash in the water, followed by the many splashes of something crossing. There is only a brush between us now. I stifle a cry and stare at the gap in the trees. I could see no other place to access the river when I settled into my circle. This is where the beast must cross. I try again to calm my beating heart. I feel sure it must be audible in the silence all around me, but I cannot release the fear of what will soon step through that gap and onto the grass just before me.