November 6, 2010

The Walker in the Fog

Michael was already regretting his decision to walk home after work: the night was cold, the fog was thick, and Michael was just beginning to realize that he wasn’t the only one out for a stroll that night.

Michael’s route home that cold, September night skirted the edge of a minor Civil War battlefield. Although the skirmish between the Union and Confederate soldiers had been a bloody, hard-fought affair, the battlefield displayed, in the present day, a peaceful calm. When he was a boy, Michael had heard stories of the battlefield, about the brave men who fought and fell generations ago, about the dead and dying who littered the field for days, and about the odd shadows and lights that tour guides and tourists would occasionally witness.

But as Michael walked along the old road that night, thoughts of the battle field were far from his mind. Instead his thoughts were turned to the coming weekend and the football game he had planned with his friends and the date he had on Saturday. Absorbed in his thoughts and plans, Michael didn’t notice the dark shadow in the fog before him.

“I heard it before I saw it,” Michael tells me. “Tap, tap, tap.” The sound was somewhere in front of him but slowly getting closer. “I figured it was an animal, like a dog or something, or maybe some late night walker like me.” Then Michael saw a figure emerge from the blank, grey slate of thick fog.

“It was just a shadow at first,” Michael recalls, “then I saw him walking towards me.” The figure in the fog was tall, maybe eight feet, and wore clothing that seemed to spread out like wings behind it. Michael watched as it got closer, growing darker and blacker, rather than more distinct.

Michael slowed his pace as his eyes struggled to focus on the figure.  As it approached him, the figure continued to make a strange tapping sound on the old road. “I wasn’t sure what freaked me out more,” Michael says, “the scary shadow coming at me or the weird sound it was making.”

Michael continued through the fog, determined not to let the strange traveller unnerve him. “I squared my shoulders, started walking faster, and kept right on going.” The walking figure advanced, becoming more distinct as the fog rolled away in great drifts. As it did, Michael saw the source of the strange sound: the figure carried a cane and tapped it on the road as it walked. Fixated on the cane and its rhythmic spell, Michael only looked up as he came side by side with the figure.

“I looked up, I looked at its face,” Michael recalls, “and I couldn’t believe it.” The figure was dressed in a dusty, black suit with a long, flowing cape trailing behind. On its head it inexplicably wore an old-fashioned top hat, giving it the illusion of added height.

But the stranger’s clothes were not the reason Michael told me his chilling tale. Rather, the face of the walker froze Michael’s blood cold: sharp fangs protruding from a drooling, blood-stained mouth, a hairy snout like a wolf’s rather than a nose, and yellow bestial eyes glaring back at Michael. “It was like some sort of kid’s Halloween mask,” Michael says, “but it was real, it was alive.”

As Michael and the monster passed each other on that dark, lonely road, it seemed to Michael that the creature slightly nodded. Deeply shocked and terrified, Michael broke into a frenzied run, but not before turning his head to make sure that the monster had not done the same. But the figure was gone and only a wall of fog greeted Michael’s gaze. Close by, however, Michael could hear the tap, tap, tap of the creature’s cane and, as he was running home, thought he could hear a strange high laughter echoing through the fog.

Michael kept his tale to himself for several years until a chance encounter with a book of local tales convinced Michael to speak out. Although the area where Michael had encountered the beast was known for its Civil War history, it seems that the Native Americans had long ago encountered a creature out of their own legends in the area. This creature, known as the Walker, haunted places where great numbers of men were left to suffer and die. The old legends said the Walker was not a ghost of men, yet it fed upon them and their fear; that it looked like a great black wolf, or it swooped out of the sky on monstrous bird wings; that when it claimed a hunting ground, it could sometimes be seen patrolling its territory, measuring the ground and marking the border. Although no authority can say for sure, legends tell us that the Civil War battlefield was also the site of a mass slaughter of Native families nearly 300 years previously. If these stories are true, the Walker may have a grand feast on its table and a territory to jealously guard. Michael tells me he sometimes wonders what would have happened that night if he had stepped off the road and onto the battlefield where the Walker took his ghastly meals.

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