The Forest Gloom
By: Brad Cole

It was a dark and dreary afternoon as I left the cabin with the dogs and headed for the trail. Rain from earlier in the day was still dripping off the branches of a thick and bushy forest, landing with an occasional wet thump on the top of my head. The air contained a heavy mist that easily changed into a light rain, causing the sky to hang like a translucent shower curtain across the moss coated winter woodland.

I had climbed a good five hundred feet, following the various switchbacks up a steep mountainside and brushing against the countless rain-soaked scrub hanging over the edges of the trail. Looking toward the west I could only sense the position of the sun laying deep beneath the different layers of mist and rain clouds. But stopping and reflecting on how recently I had learned to enjoy hiking in the mist, finding the air to have an invigorating or stimulating effect on the body's systems, like jumping into a cool shower. But after anticipating the arrival of night at around five-thirty in the afternoon, I decided to return before it draw near too quickly.

After giving out a loud whistle to the dogs that I intend to turn around, I looked at the trail behind and below me, seeing that as darkness descended on the land so did a heavy cloud of fog; that it had rolled in and was now engulfing the forest, turning many of the huge fir trees into thin gray silhouettes. The dogs Chumstix and Suka, who were ahead of me on the trail now hurried pass me to regain the lead in our return to the cabin. As we descended into the bank of fog, it gave an eerie feeling to walking the switchbacks back downhill.

Seeing the approach of night fall I quickened my pace to so that I would arrive home before absolute darkness held the land in its' firm grip.

Perhaps, the initial sight came out of an over anxious imagination due to having faced off with vindictive lawyers, or maybe it was from dealing with the despair of youth caged in such desperate isolation, or living alone in a wilderness cabin for too long a time: but suddenly I saw a face staring out at me from the fog. It was a cottony white face clinging to the fog like a water drop hanging on an Autumn leaf. Then another face appeared near the first one, but this was floating in the air with a stronger sense of presence and character, as though at any moment it may decide to speak. They had full human faces attached to bodies made of mist borrowed from the rolling rain. Stopping for a moment, I looked carefully at the strange figures, noticing that numerous other gray faces and cotton-like figures had lodged themselves amongst the wet trees now blanketed by fog. They all appeared to be looking at me, watching as I passed further down the dense bushy trail.

Moving more cautiously now, not knowing whether I beheld a crazed sight or a true vision, and the dogs far ahead of me still heading home, I noticed that as soon as one figure disappeared back into the surrounding fog, another one would appear elsewhere as though it had just arrived from a distant, mystic world. The fog seemed to control their every silent movement and nameless gesture, giving me an ever greater feeling of both fear and veneration. These spirits of dispossession created a whole scene of incredibly deep and vacant anonymity within the sleepy, twilight forest. It was like watching the ghosts of the dead return to a weird woodland to await the arrival of deceased loved ones. The forest was transformed into a thin, one dimensional terrain of timeless despair.

Or possibly, it was just me losing my mind.

It was soon afterward, as I was nearing the bottom of the mountain trail where it connected an abandoned road, that the clouds parted momentarily and the setting sun gave out its' last glorious gleam of light for the day. Like a flashing golden sword the beam of light carved a spirit of strength and joy out of the dark dreariness of the rain clouds, causing the fog to roll back into a gloomy but translucent cloud bank.

Once I took my eyes off the sudden appearance of the sun, the fog people were gone. Only a darkening forest baring a cloak of mist remained. It reminded me of times that I would swear that I had seen the face of a man in the surface of a boulder, or in the twisting knurls of an ancient tree.

But this time there were numerous people in different spots, coming and going, as though wrestling in and out of the fog.

As I walked down the abandoned road back to the cabin, a fear possessed my mind that it had just slipped away from reality, and may not be coming back for awhile. But walking a quarter mile to the front door of the cabin served to calm most of my uncertainties, so I was able to relax into a comfortable routine for the evening.

After setting the fire in the old wood cookstove and seeing the interior heat slowly rise from a chilly fifty-five degrees to nearly sixty, I sat down in the rocking chair with the plump body of Kitty curling in my lap.

Seeking some form of resolution, I carefully turned over the sequence of the past events in my mind, looking to see what had occurred and possibly try to understand why. But there was no cause and effect to uncover; what had happened must stand on its' own for me to remember the rest of my life. It must remain as a fear stirring forever inside of me, saying that in the arrival of each night my soul must begin anew a desperate search for a missing sun, for an eternal source, an eternal strength of light that will protect me from the gloom of the forest.