There is a certain park not but a few towns away from me. It’s quite famous, actually. Each year, the best show out in attire from another era for a day of debauchery.
When I was a kid (I know, here we go again – but seriously) we used to take field trips there each year. The school wasn’t too far from this park, and we would walk single file in a line for what felt like forever until we reached the location. I always had my own lunch, but snacks were brought for kids who didn’t have any.
For whatever reason, the school stopped these trips. Rumors surfaced that the teachers thought it was too strenuous and a liability, and it was they who had complained. Or, maybe a lone parent put an end to things. Their kid could have fallen on the playground and they thought it was everyone in the entire cosmos fault and undoubtedly, we all had to pay.
Either way, the trips ended. But I still went to the park from time to time; for family barbecues or small get-togethers of immediate family in the area that they had the nerve to label a family reunion.
There was this boy who I met at that school, who had transferred in late. We never talked, and weren’t even friends. Frankly, I wasn’t the nicest back then – often teasing him over his thick carribean-esqeue accent.
One day in high school, late into the semester – he shows up in my science class. This was strange to me, because I had left that former private school system entirely and decided to attend a public high for ninth through twelfth grade. I never even knew he lived in the same town as me.
Wanting to make amends, I reached out to him and we became friends. Soon after that, we started dating.
One chilly fall day, we went to this particular park. He knew I loved parks, forests, and other public places of the like and it had been our habit to go around to these places and just walk around. Sometimes we stayed for hours at a time, sometimes just a few minutes after getting bored. We were teenagers, maybe seventeen or eighteen years old at the time.
Upon arrival, we aimlessly walked through the parking lot before finding a bench in the distance. It overlooked the water, and would be perfect to take pictures in front of.
Another couple walked over when we did, and sat down first. Not really deterred, we went another way and walked past a shop closed up for the season. It contained rental equipment and those stupid duck boats that were self-paddling for those who wanted to ride on the gigantic lake.
Venturing a little further, we decided to walk on a trail. It was maybe three or four o’clock, with the sun setting around six or seven. Being teenagers and wishing to do what teenagers do, we stopped and started kissing. An elderly couple had passed us and laughed. Feeling self-conscious and not wanting to be interrupted, we decided to go deeper into the park and took a forest encompassed path.
It was still light out, and the sun could be seen faintly between the tree tops. We were alone, at last.
Some time later, I heard a whistle. This wasn’t a call from a bird, but rather somebody attempting to sound like a bird. A signal from somebody who did not want to alert their mark. I broke our embrace (of just kissing) and looked up. Around us, the area had now grown dark. We could not see within three feet of the trail we initially took.
And unfortunately, that is the direction the whistling came from.
I asked my boyfriend at the time if he had heard it, and he nodded. I asked him if we should try to go back that way, despite it all and he said no.
I was still pretty naïve back then, but luckily he wasn’t. He grabbed my hand and whispered that we could walk around the entire path and it should loop back to the start. I asked if he thought we would make it before it got completely dark, and he replied he wasn’t sure but to walk as if nothing happened.
So we walked, through the darkening forest path for what seemed like twenty minutes. Every now and then we would hear branches crack behind us somewhere off to the side. I tried to turn around and look the first time it happened and was stopped. He reminded me to pretend we had no clue someone, or a group of people – were following us.
Eventually in the distance, we spotted the lone street lamp on this path. Civilization was on the horizon! I was so excited, and we stopped under the light for a moment to catch our breath. It was so cold, and we only had on light fall jackets.
The rustling of bushes in the distance stopped as well at this time, but the mimicked bird calls prompted us to keep going.
Minutes later, we came across what seemed like a lone mansion in the woods, with a stone bridge nearby. We made jokes about whether or not a troll lived underneath it. He laughed and then suddenly said that we must be close, if buildings are starting to appear again.
Passing this landmark, we entered back into the darkness. It was nighttime now, the moon overhead illuminating the path. Finally, we had completed the full loop. The bench overlooking the lake was to our left, the parking lot and small fir trees dotted about straight ahead.
Making our way into the illuminating parking lot, I waited until he unlocked the doors to grab its handle and look back.
I scanned the area, not seeing anything at first until the glint of metal caught my eye.
Hiding behind the fir tree we had not passed but two minutes prior, was the silhouette of a man. He had a dark colored hoodie on with the hood up. I couldn’t make out his face. He wore regular denim blue jeans. In his hand was a knife, no larger than one you would use to chop vegetables in the kitchen.
I told my boyfriend at the time to look towards the tree. He looked, and then mentioned that they went back behind it to hide.
He then asked me with a laugh if he should drive the car over there. In a serious tone I replied no, as he had a record and I’m positive he wasn’t joking.
Aside from one other car, we were the only ones left at that particular entrance to the park.
He drove me home for the night, and we only ever spoke about the incident once more the week after. I told my mom about what happened, and she had just said to be careful. People were known to go missing after dark around those parts.
I believed it. Even to this day in different wooded-park areas, joggers go missing all the time. Or there is an attempted assault, a good Samaritan happening to walk by just as the crime is taking place. Either way after that experience, I learned my lesson. No more exploring remote, mile long trails near dark.
You never know who, or what could be hiding within them. Walking along with you, waiting for the right moment to pounce.
☆ In Asian Spaces