I walked—or at least I dreamed I walked east. I knew I was going east because, although the forest canopy was thick above me, I could tell the sun had moved pretty far to the west. My dim shadow led me eastward toward the valley and a clear way home. I started walking into banks of mist or fog. The dreaminess of it all increased when I entered each of these. I didn’t know where I was, but I focused on my footsteps—which I could still see—and any landmarks I had noticed before the world became translucent gray. These landmarks could be a large rock outcropping or an oddly configured tree a few hundred yards ahead. When I started to enter the mist, I focused on an object that I knew was eastward and tried to follow a line to it. These goals would sometimes disappear for a while and then reappear as a dark gray outline up ahead.
In some ways, it seemed entering these misty banks was akin to going out of consciousness for a spell. Walking in a gray dream. When I emerged on the other side, I was more awake but still unsure whether I was really out on the mountain range or simply dreaming it in my bed at home.
Wherever I was and whatever state I was in, each step away from the black hollow was welcomed. The memory of the woman or demon that had emerged from the dead tree haunted me. Her words that we would meet again troubled me deeply. I never wanted to confront that thing again…unless, she had answers. She had hinted at that. Would I dare I face her again in exchange for information?
I walked and wondered and worried. I walked into the fogs and eventually came out of them.
Then I entered a particularly thick patch of mist. It was much colder than the previous ones. There were soft droplets falling from high above as well. It all felt much the same as the magical experience I had in the coastal redwood forest some months earlier. The chill and the happy memories seemed to change whatever state I was in. I shook my self and felt I was awake. Really awake—for certain.
My footsteps began making sounds. I began brushing against or reaching to brace against tree trunks or boulders and actually felt them.
The misty bank I was in began to brighten up ahead. My pace quickened, and the unevenness of the ground I was on was apparent.
Then I emerged from the fog, and I was on a ridge overlooking the vast valley below me. I could tell from familiar landmarks—water towers and large buildings and such—that I was several miles north of the view I had so often observed from my home.
Nearly half the valley below was in shadow—the half closest to me and the mountain. The distance was still illuminated by the sun behind me, but I knew how fast the shadow would creep across that valley. The sun sets rapidly behind the mountain at dusk. A chill ran through me, and I was fully awake. I would need to make my way south along the ridge until I found the familiar landscape above my home. Then I could make my way down and hope to see my place. If I missed my house, I could end up far below and would need to follow a real road and walk the steep mile up the long lane to the house.
I started picking my way south as fast as I could go. The actual ridgeline is very rocky and is impossible to walk in a straight line. I had to zig and zag and climb and descend. The shadow was moving east faster and faster. Looking to my right, the sun was a white disk amongst the trees of the forest to the west.
Lights were flickering on in the valley below—or least their presence was made clear by the increasing darkness.
Still, I made my way on and on.
It was now night. There were some stars and the lights down in the valley to my left. To my right the vast forest was now a solid black wall.
Then up ahead I saw an opening. Between me and the valley there had been the steep slope of the mountainside covered with trees all along. Suddenly I found myself upon a table-like rock platform. It was the cliff top above my house! Before me to the east a nearly 180 degree twinkling panorama of the darkened valley opened up. I looked down and could barely make out the steep 200 yard tumble of boulders below. Climbing down it would be impossibly dangerous. I would need to pick my way down around the edge of the cliff. Once I got below the ridge, I would enter the sloping forest, and the lights of the valley could not guide me.
I made my way to the far edge of the rocky sprawl and began my descent into the darkness.
As I started down, I felt a sharp pain in my left heel along the Achilles tendon.
I kept limping down the steep slope. There was barely enough light to see the outline of tree trunks 5 or 10 feet ahead of me. I found myself reaching for trees within reach to brace myself to keep upright as possible. I stepped very gingerly knowing I could misstep into a hole or a sharply angled rock and twist an ankle or worse.
I knew this slope was no straight steady decline. There were rises and falls. Pitches and slants. I could not determine if I was still heading due east or if my descent had altered, and I might overshoot the house.
Down, down in the dark. My Achilles became a burning ache. If I missed my house or lane, I could end up at the bottom of the mountain—I would run into a road, eventually. But the pain was severe enough walking down. If I had to ascend a mile or more back up…well, that would be brutal.
I saw the shadow of a low boulder some paces ahead. It was chest high. It was flat on top. I decided to rest a bit. I placed two hands atop it and raised myself. Then I turned my torso and was sitting atop the stone. I decided to stand to see if getting higher offered any better perspective. I turned my head right and left, and all I could see was the dim near blackness of the surrounding forest. I turned again and raised my view a bit. There WAS a slight break in the trees. I could see some distant lights on the far eastern horizon. They were so far away I could not tell what or where they were. For all I knew I could be looking northeast or southeast or…
Then just above the horizon I saw a faint light. It was a star. I watched it rise slowly and become brighter the higher it rose above the earth’s far edge. It seemed to rise faster much as the sun when it breaks the horizon in the dawn. It grew brighter and brighter.
It was the Evening Star! Venus!
Blake’s words came to me:
“Thou fair-hair’d angel of the evening,
Now, whilst the sun rests on the mountains, light
Thy bright torch of love; thy radiant crown
Put on, and smile upon our evening bed!”
How does the rest of it go? *
* William Blake’s “To the Evening Star”:
Thou fair-hair’d angel of the evening,
Now, whilst the sun rests on the mountains, light
Thy bright torch of love; thy radiant crown
Put on, and smile upon our evening bed!
Smile on our loves, and while thou drawest the
Blue curtains of the sky, scatter thy silver dew
On every flower that shuts its sweet eyes
In timely sleep. Let thy west wind sleep on
The lake; speak silence with thy glimmering eyes,
And wash the dusk with silver. Soon, full soon,
Dost thou withdraw; then the wolf rages wide,
And the lion glares thr’ the dun forest:
The fleeces of our flocks are cover’d with
Thy sacred dew: protect them with thine influence!
Soon it was bright enough I could make out some things on the forest floor where the planet’s reflected light could find its way through the canopy. She could not light my way, but now there were occasional pockets of light here and there ahead of me. I could pick my way down from one little illuminated pool to another.
I breathed a sigh of relief and slipped off the boulder. There was a little spot of lighted earth ahead and to my left. Once there, I moved to the next. Then the next.
I still had no real idea where I was on the downward slope. My house could be to the left or the right or straight ahead. Could I have already passed it? Was I below my home wherever it was?
Then I saw dun glow far below. I picked my way toward it. In a while it took shape. A conical shape. Closer. Closer…
It was the Beech! The Evening Star’s cold white light poured over her dry tan winter gown.
She had a good amount of open sky above her where I had cleared the ominous dead and smothering trees that had surrounded and rose above her.
As I got closer, Venus cast a pool of light about her as well. She was surrounded by a carpet brown sere leaves.
I stepped in that circle and slowly made my way to her. My limp was pronounced now. My relief at being close to home was offset by the sharp burning in my heel.
I got to her and bent under her low canopy. I reached and put my hand to her smooth silver skin.
She was again warm to my touch.
She did not speak. I turned my head down and toward the left where I could see the faint outline of my house.
I limped down toward it, and when I was 40 or 50 feet away the motion detector security lights popped on, and I was bathed in electric light.
I looked down toward my feet. There was a black blot on my left foot and calf. I was wearing low shoes, and I discovered I was wearing no socks. I recalled slipping into that crevasse between two stones near the huge dead stump in the black hollow. There must have been mud or whatever was covering my foot at the bottom of that space.
The black stuff was a bit glossy in the light. Almost like wet tar. For some reason I did not want to touch it.
(Careful! Wash now! Carefully!) I heard the Beech’s voice full of urgency.
The black smear on my shoes and pants took on a dreadful air to my eye. I used the toe of my right shoe to pry the left one off. Then I bent and untied the right shoe and removed it. I somehow knew I would never put them on again. I retrieved a stick from the ground nearby. I slipped its point into the left shoe, lifted it and carried it to the lidded trashcan. I dropped the shoe and the stick into the rubbish. Then I undid my trousers and dropped them in as well. The left cuff was tainted with the black mess. I returned, limping across the drive, to my right shoe. It was now no good to me so I picked it up by its laces and carried to the trashcan.
I breathed a sigh of relief until I looked down and saw the black stain on my heel. It started just above the shoe level and rose up along my Achilles several inches. It spread around either side a couple inches.
It burned, but I dared not touch it.
I limped up the steps and into the dark house. I walked right to the shower. It has one of those flexible metal hose “hand shower” attachments. I pried the lid off the drain and exposed the black hole that takes wastewater deep into the earth. I turned the water on as hot as I could stand it. I aimed the spray at the end of the hose and rinsed my heel over the dark round void. At first nothing came off, but eventually the black stuff slowly eroded from my skin and went down the drain.
When I came out of the shower, I looked down. Where the black stuff had been my skin was bright red.
I was exhausted. How I had gotten to the Black Hollow I did not know. I never would have hiked there dressed and shod as I had been. I did know how I got back. That had been a long struggle.
I lay on the bed and pulled the bedclothes over me.
My foot ached and throbbed and burned.
(You will need to go west again to get healed. I am sorry I could not help you. For a while I was in a fog here unable to see or speak.)
Then I was asleep.
I had horrid dreams of flesh rotting and falling from my foot.