Walking in the woods, Betty stared as the darkness seemed to assume a shape.
She hadn’t meant to be out after dark but this was a public park and the fall foliage was gorgeous. She had taken the longest trail out from the visitors’ center, forgotten about the time, and had turned around too late.
She was stopped on the trail, but she didn’t stop here because the darkness seemed to assume a shape; she stopped because she had come to a fork in the path and she was unsure which direction to take. She was alone. The feeling came suddenly upon her as though the darkness really had assumed a shape.
She couldn’t say what shape it assumed, but it was huge, and it moved.
She shook it off and took the path on the left. She came to a meadow that she recognized in the darkness, and sighed. She would be back to her car in minutes.
Betty was a dental technician and lived in an apartment on a hill. Her boyfriend, Bill, had his own place at the bottom of the hill; he was a garage mechanic.
Betty wasn’t religious, but the experience occupied all her thoughts. She began to think there could be forces she didn’t understand, forces that perhaps had difficulty communicating with us directly.
A week later, she convinced Bill to go back there with her. They left the visitors’ center at the same time of day, took the same trail out, and turned around at the same spot. They were alone together on the trail. Bill had brought a powerful flashlight, the kind with four D cells in it. When they got to the fork in the road, yes, the darkness seemed to assume a shape. It seemed to move.
This time Betty spoke. She asked, “Are we alone here?”
From the darkness, a low voice said, “That depends on what you mean.”
Betty looked at Bill, and Bill said, “That wasn’t me.”
Betty told Bill, pointing into the darkness, “Shine the flashlight over there.”
Bill pointed the flashlight and turned its switch, but it didn’t work.
Betty asked, “Who are you?”
The low voice said, “I can answer questions, but not that one.”
Bill asked, “What questions can you answer?”
The low voice said, “You’d need to ask. Maybe you already know that the square root of minus one is i.”
Bill said, “This is a hoax, isn’t it?”
The low voice said, “No, but I suppose I cannot prove that.”
The feeling that the world is more mutable and more weird than she had thought continued to haunt Betty. She was only a small creature in a big universe. Bill was somewhat larger physically, but mentally, spiritually, he was smaller. Her job as a dental technician, her boyfriend, her family, her town, they all seemed less important. Her university education, her art classes, her violin lessons, these had opened the world for her, but, beginning with that moment on the trail, the world that she had known seemed small.