A Ghost Story – Part 2

The landscape of the river changed one more time before I would reach my turnaround point. On my side of the river the path became wider and went along side a dense wood. Although not large in acreage it was quite full with old trees who’s bark was dappled with moss, and who’s branches joined up above to form a canopy which sunlight could barely penetrate.
I was approaching these woods now, and coming toward me along the path in the opposite direction was a lady walking her dog. The dog was off it’s lead and trotted a good twenty yards ahead of it’s owner with calm obedience. As it drew nearer to me, it’s bouncy gait started to waiver and it came more or less to a halt. I kept going, approaching it with a confident air (this, I have learned, is the best way to approach a strange dog. Show no fear.) As I came ever closer to the animal, I could see it had begun to shake slightly, and it lowered itself into a predatory crouch. I could also hear a slow rumbling sound coming from its throat and I realized it was growling. I started to get a little unnerved as it was staring right at me and I couldn’t fathom what I might have done to offend it so.
I stopped, to wait for the owner of the animal to come calm it down, and as she approached the dog began alternately looking at me, and back behind me, along the river path. I couldn’t take my eyes off this angry creature and eventually the owner caught up with it.
“Come on Max, what’s wrong with you?” she said. She grasped the dog by it’s collar and attached it’s lead. I could barely speak, as she forcibly dragged her dog past me along the path. It shied away from me, but indicated with the raised pitch of it’s growling that the fight part of its fight-or-flight instinct was still an option. I turned on the spot, careful not to move too quickly for fear of triggering a stronger reaction than just vocal, and as I looked back along the river path to follow the dogs progress, I saw the man again.
He was stood on my side of the river now, about thirty yards back from me. He was stood, staring, still as ever before. The dog and it’s owner approached this figure and as they closed in on it, the dog began to bark, furiously, at him. The tall man didn’t flinch, simply stood and regarded me with dark solemn eyes. The owner of the dog kept pulling it along, admonishing it in increasingly angry tones. Then, as soon as they had passed by the tall imposing figure a rather curious change came over the dog. It was as if a switch had been thrown – the dog instantly became docile and calm again, as it was before it came upon me.
My attention now though was on the man behind me. I realized that his eyes were dark and solemn and it was possible to see them for the first time as the sunlight was no longer behind him. I stood frozen to the spot, not sure what to do or say. I gathered my will and called “What do you want? Are you following me?”
Again, I received no response except the unwavering stare. Continuing to face him, I took a backward step, then another, preparing myself to turn and carry on walking. In all honesty, I had lost the appetite for my walk now, what with this unnerving figure and the surprising reaction of the dog. But there was something stopping me from wanting to just walk back past the figure and return home.
As I took my third stuttering step backwards, the figure before me moved. I couldn’t see his feet beneath the length of the coat or cloak he was wearing, and he seemed to glide across the ground. He stopped, abruptly, keeping the distance between us the same as it was when I first noticed him behind me. I took two more steps, and he repeated his movement.
“What do you want?!” I called, louder now, a little more afraid. And once again, there was no reply.
As I started to turn away from him, to walk forwards (and, I admit, with rather more speed than I had been walking before) I caught a glimpse of something in the wood. About twenty yards in, caught in a spear of sunlight that had managed to find its way through the thick canopy above, was a bag. But not just any bag. It was my bag. The bag I used to use when I went out walking, to carry a drink or my small camera, or some tissues. I hadn’t seen it for about two weeks. I remember, one day, I had gone to find it in preparation for a walk and it wasn’t in it’s usual place. I couldn’t for the life of me work out where it had gone, as I was the only person who would have had it, but it had just…vanished. And now, here it was, sat on the floor of the wood, in it’s own pool of sunshine.
I slowly walked forward, stepping over the edge of the path and into the wood itself, toward my bag.

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