December 7, 2010

The Goat of the Woods

When Eva and her brothers took off for a walk in the woods, they were looking for a way to kill a boring afternoon. What they found, however, was something they couldn’t explain, something they would never forget, something that didn’t expect to be found.

Eva writes to tell me about growing up in rural Indiana with her two brothers. The boys were two and four years younger than Eva and when she was a teenager, she got stuck babysitting when her mother had to work. “I tried to get out of it everytime,” Eva tells me, “but now, of course, I really miss those days.”

When Eva was fourteen, she and her brothers spent the summer exploring the vast tracks of woods and fields that surrounded their small community. The boys built forts and played hide and seek, all the while being led by their older sister. “I was a real tomboy,” Eva recalls.

Although the trio ranged far and wide through the countryside, there was a particular stretch of woods that they had failed to explore. It was a small, dark valley that lead off from their main stomping grounds. In all their adventures that summer, they had passed it by without any reason they could articulate.

Near the end of that magical summer, the school year’s fast approach had the children feeling anxious. “We were off to hunt for bird’s nests or build a castle or something,” Eva remembers, “but then I stopped and I pointed to the little valley and I said, Follow me.” The brothers eyed their sister nervously, but they quickly regained their courage as she led the way into the growing mist.

“I don’t know why I decided to go that way on that day,” Eva says. “But I know that I should’ve turned back when we found the skull.” As the siblings walked the valley path, they were surprised to see the sun fade as the sky grew dark and overcast. The birds seemed to stay away, too, as there were no sounds to hear except their own footsteps. The trees before them were gnarled from age and stood forlornly in the mist. Then they saw the skull.

Sitting on a pile of small rocks was a bleached-white animal skull, its twisted horns curving skyward. “I knew there were some wild pigs around, so I thought it was just one of those,” recalls Eva. But still the trio pushed on, unhindered by the strange sign. “Now I know to pay attention to road signs,” Eva says.

The children walked and walked and the woods grew cold and pale. It seemed that the forest around them – the trees, the rocks, the very ground – had been so drained of life and energy that it was barely clinging to the real world. What would happen if it no longer could?

Eva began to fear that she had led her charges terribly astray. What would her mother say if something happened to the boys? With her mother’s answer echoing in her mind, Eva turned her brothers around and headed for more familiar territory.

As the siblings tried to retrace their steps, they all began to experience a sudden and inexplicable feeling. Although the eerie woods were reason enough to feel afraid, the sensation was strangely palpable, as if the valley’s enervating nature had suddenly noticed them. “It was like that feeling of being watched,” Eva recalls, “but the something doing the watching was right in front of you and you could smell its bad breath.”

The boys began to feel slightly sick and very afraid. Eva turned her head back and forth to the endless tracks of trees, trying to get a handle on the weird feeling and making sure they weren’t really being watched. As they passed between two ancient specimens, the air seemed to stand still for a moment and then suddenly rush forward. As Eva turned her head to look past the two trees, she saw something that was not there a moment before.

Standing just off to the left of Eva and her brothers was a group of people, half a dozen figures in a semi-circle around what appeared to be a large goat. “There was nothing there and then we walk past these trees and, Bam, there they are,” remembers Eva. The people wore long black robes with pointed peaks, their faces sunk deep in shadow. It seemed to Eva that the meager sunlight didn’t seem to touch them, as if it didn’t know they were there at all.

The robed figures didn’t move. They didn’t turn to face their unexpected witnesses rigid with fear. For a moment it seemed that this encounter would remain frozen in some lost corner of time. “And then, an even weirder thing happened,” Eva tells me. “The goat stood up.”

Rising up on its hind legs, the goat – if we can call it that – turned to face Eva and her brothers. As it did, Eva saw that its legs were not goat’s legs at all but human legs and that what she thought were hooves – what she knew were hooves – were not, they were human toes and human fingers. And as the goat walked toward her, she saw that its black hide was a long black robe like the others and that its face, partly concealed in the fabric’s shadow, was a human face. “Mostly human,” Eva recalls, “because it still had these giant horns sticking out of its head and it’s eyes were black and red like they were on fire.”

The goat-man stared the children down and advanced on their position. Eva instinctively grabbed her brothers and tried to get them moving, but before she could get all of them running in the same direction, the goat-man waved his arm in great arc before him and spoke: “You’re not supposed to be able to see us,” he said. And with that pronouncement the goat-man and his fellows simply disappeared.

“We ran all the way home,” Eva tells me. “We spent the rest of the summer around the house. We couldn’t wait for school to start.” Eva and her brothers never went back to the cold valley, of course, but they wondered what they had seen and what it had meant. Did some foul demon rise from the underworld to truck with mankind? Was the very nature of reality rent in the cold valley by some unspeakable crime buried in unholy history? Or did the Devil himself make the trip from  his hellish kingdom to spend the summer in Indiana? Eva is not one to speculate about infernal affairs, but she has her own take on the goat-man’s strange statement that long-ago, late-summer day: “I like to think he was apologizing for scaring us,” says Eva.

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  1. I can't help but think there was just a group of people practicing weird juju in the woods that the kids saw and let their imaginations get the best of them. On the other had, it IS Indiana, lol.

  2. Weird woods juju is enough to give me the heebie jeebies any day of the week.


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