the figure from the woods does not look human when it moves. the inconsistent stutter of its long limbs, approaching me now, seems machine-like. like a robot processing a queue of hastily typed commands.
“hello,” i say, and maybe it’s the wrong thing to say. maybe anything is the wrong thing to say, but i’m out here alone and there’s no one to stop me from making bad decisions.
it does not stop, but i did not expect it to. i’ve been walking since noon, my eyes adjusting to the dark as it fell, but i can’t make out any of its features. i remember the flashlight on my cell phone, and try to sneak a hand into my coat pocket. i don’t think this is a time for sudden movements.
the forest around us is so quiet. i realise i haven’t heard a single sound since night fell. only now, the sound of my own voice, trembling and as unreassuring as its ever been. my fingers curl around my phone.
there’s a story my mother used to tell. i try not to remember it here, because fear doesn’t serve me. the thing she saw at the side of the road, the twist in her expression as she told me. i always thought it was an excuse to have me home for dinner.
i turn the flashlight on.
it’s a deep grey, smooth skin where its face should be. it’s not the way it looks in the movies, no impressions of eyes or a nose. the longer i look, the less there seems to be. the longer i look, the more obscured it is.
i don’t look away. i’m not a deer in headlights, more so aware of what happens in the five seconds it takes to turn heel. the light covers the span of most of its body, and it doesn’t move.
it sounds like wind at first, but i can’t feel any breeze.
can you kn….ow…. you’re a lesbia….n….. if you haven’t… been with a man…
the noise is like nails on a chalkboard. my grip on my phone falters for the moment it takes me to cringe, and when the light moves to the side, it moves again. i curse under my breath, readjusting as quickly as i can. i’m not dying to a condescending fuck in the middle of the woods.
“that’s really none of your business,” and honestly, i’m not sure where on this thing’s face i’m supposed to be looking, “but for the record, i have been.”
h…… oow…… can you be a lesbian….. if you’ve. … been with a maaaan…
i fix it with an expression my grandparents had always insisted i’d stolen from my mother. unimpressed and spiteful, capable of piercing an ego. i don’t know why i’d ever doubted her stories. she’d always been right about everything else.
“humourous but intelligent response,” i deadpan.
the trees erupt in applause.