By Noreene Storrie -
The darkness sneaked up on me. I’d tested dusk with my walk on Lilly’s steep C-curve driveway through woods with sparse greenery. At its end, I could reverse directions and claim her offered flashlight. Evening’s diminished light passed the test, and I continued on, confident I’d be home before it was too dark to see. On the dirt road to my driveway, midway home, I knew I was the dumbest person in the world. I needed Lilly’s flashlight.
The approaching night had erased the egg-yolk yellow of the dandelions and stolen the green of the forsythia bushes. It made the road appear flawless, rubbing out the change in hue of dents, rocks, and sticks, wind thrown onto the road. With the last of dusk’s light, I should walk faster. But I froze. Fear held me in place like a child put to bed alone in a dark room. Ahead, the daylight familiar, now, was vague, unknown, alarming. I needed that flashlight.
The dirt road and the stone driveway traveled through woods, dark even in the day. Animals populated these woods—bears, coyotes, foxes, bobcats and, we of the country neighborhood feared, a nasty mountain lion. For many of the animals, imminent darkness signaled last dinner course. My erect posture and human smell should keep me safe, except with the few for whom my slim body suggested an amuse-bouche, a palette cleaner.
Lilly, my neighbor’s new second wife, and I spent a pleasant evening getting to know each other while our guys were on an outing together. The point arrived when, like ET, the space creature, I had to go home. Lilly accepted that and offered the flashlight. Her foresight impressed, but I didn’t want to be beholding with its need to return tomorrow and gush gratitude. No, my sense was our relationship required brewing time.
A glance out the windows of her entrance door showed the grass was green and the impatient flowers pink and red. Objects still held color.
“I’m good. Fast walker. I’ll be home before dark,” I said and turned the doorknob.
Down the hill from Lilly’s house, I walked the asphalt paved main road, stepping as quick as was safe. My ears alert for approaching cars. One came, and I stepped onto the grass beyond the road’s shoulder. When I turned onto the little traveled dirt road, I could move to the road’s middle, with its smoother surface. Night was descending faster than I predicted. A third of the way, on this road, I stopped. Dimming light turned the familiar into the unknown, and I recognized my casual walk home held danger. With its horrifying possibilities, fear intimidated rational thinking.
I resisted. A rescue was possible. For my husband and son would return from their outing in our truck. The question was when. Ten minutes more, and darkness could hide me. As a member of the cell-phone impaired, I’d left my phone on the bedroom shelf. My guys wouldn’t be looking for me. I’d need to see the black truck, act like a crazy woman, wave my arms, and shout to be heard above the truck engine’s rumble.
To wait for them, I’d head to the road’s shoulder and lean against a split-rail fence post. Easy in concept, but at this time of evening, it required a trek through grass covered clumpy ground, wet with dew. Evening chill already caused my hands to hide within the long sleeves of my jersey hoodie. As I stood in place, the dew’s accumulation on blades of grass created its unique smell and brought forth the joy of chasing fireflies in my childhood backyard with dew wet feet.
Another option was an alien transponder to beam me home. Possible as a resident swears, a UFO landed two miles away near the covered bridge. No transponders were scheduled for that night.
My preferred option required I shake off fear’s grasp and trudge forward. My senses were on high alert, with my heart pumping harder. This state agitated, but it also imposed prudence, a virtue, considering the condition of the road. I’d step with more caution. To aid in shape-shifting fright into hypervigilance, I told myself fear was just imagination wandering on the dark side.
One foot moved, then the other. I picked up speed. The race with night was in its final sprint. My eyes strained to see danger spots, dips in the hard dirt, rocks heaved by frost onto the road’s surface.
The pasture became woods with a wire fence to keep in the sheep and cows on their way to graze. Lean trees stood like black hooded zombies, and decaying logs amidst boulders created hiding spots for werewolves. Fear still dominated my imagination.
Ten steps and water trickled through metal. I’d arrived where the road covered a culvert. After a heavy rain, it carried run-off from our pond. The road often eroded, and to counter, there were side drainage ditches.
Twenty more steps and I’d make the turn onto my driveway.
“Oh. No.” I screamed. My right ankle bent sideways while my knees and hands hit the dirt. I’d found a pothole.
To stand, my hands pushed deeper into the pebble covered ground. My ankle pain shot upward and out, overwhelming that from my scraped hands and knees. Only one foot was cooperating and pushed into the dirt for me to rise. My right foot refused.
My throbbing ankle demanded I sit off the road and wait for my guys. But the wet ditches offered no waiting room. Somehow, I had to go on.
I pressed around my ankle to soothe it and coax it to get me home. I stroked the tendons and ligaments. My envy of the way men dressed surfaced, for their roomier clothes meant they could jam jumbo handkerchiefs into their back pockets. If I had one of those, I could create a brace, but my pockets held crumbled tissues.
As I stepped, my weight shifted onto the left side, away from the injury. The toes of the hurt foot set down gingerly, followed by a full heavy step of the left. I climbed the first of the two rises on the black driveway, and noticed the rhythm and sounds as I stepped, “Tap. Thump. Ouch.”
At the top, I halted to permit the flaring nerves of my foot to settle. Ahead loomed a descent, then a steeper climb. My knees, scraped from the fall, must bend for the downhill.
Night was here. With its full onset, it offered a gift. The black sky opened spots for stars to shine like LED lights above the driveway, and I thanked nature for these her flashlights. The North Star at the end of the Big Dipper shone brightly, and I requested it join me on my journey. I knew the way; I wanted a companion. My ankle burned. Gutting it out was moving me towards home, but any pain I could suppress would clobber me later. Although I wasn’t okay, I was okay enough. My tension notched down.
A rustle in the woods. Feet. Growls. Squawks.
Running creatures. Two: prey and predator. Coming towards me. From the woods to my right. Can’t run with this ankle. I must stand rigid and hope to be unnoticed. The flashlight sure would help.
The yelper became clear when it ran onto the driveway. Like the road runner from the old cartoon, its small head led its body, held in a straight line to the tip of its tail feathers. Its feet imitated a child pedaling fast on a bicycle. The bird’s hooked beak and the long neck, in the dim light, hinted at a different color. Had to be a turkey. Probably it was a member of the flock from the swale down the hill. As it traveled by me, it yelped, I assumed, to forewarn its relatives, or maybe it wanted me to keep out of its way.
Behind the bird came the predator, its body natural in a straight line. Its ears slung back, and its nose leading. Its paws moved with an innate runner’s grace. The sleek being made no vocal sound.
“Please let it be a fox or a bobcat. Not a mountain lion who would consider me tasty.”
When it arrived inches away, starlight revealed a fox. Its red coat muted to gray. Visible was the white of its underside and the tip of its tail.
It was beautiful. And focused. I didn’t think it saw me. Its position low to the ground, showed it was ready to spring.
A hideous death scene was in the making. Without my interception, the hungry fox would jump on the turkey, pin it to the ground, and bite into its neck. Again, if I had the flashlight…
Could I shoo away the fox? My height should intimidate, and my human smell should frighten. Not enough. Action. Somehow, I had to save the turkey and not punish the fox for wanting a turkey dinner.
Without thinking about it, I sang. “I know an old lady who swallowed a fly,” a camp song. My voice came out tiny, but the fox stopped. My song grew in volume. It became loud, like a kid yelling across the field for sibs to come home.
“I know an old lady who swallowed a fly
I don’t know why she swallowed the fly…."
The turkey completed the scurry across the road into the left woods. The fox sat. I could see the white of its chin tilt. Was it listening? The audience deserved a better voice with a verse featuring a fox. Instead, I sang the same lines over and over.
Here I stood on a black stone driveway, amidst dark woods, unable to put full pressure on my right foot. My hoodie felt thin against the evening chill. And I was singing to a fox. If I put a hat out, would it drop in a coin?
On my fourth repetition, the fox rose, finished with my performance. No applause was coming as it strolled into the same woods as the turkey. I sent my wish that it dine on mice.
I re-located my friend, the North Star. My right foot toe tapped, followed by a heavy step, up the next hill. An “ouch” still followed.
And my fear. It was asleep, lulled by my song.
When I emerged from the woods, the world brightened, for a rising crescent moon and my home’s lights joined the stars. The porch lights beckoned from their positions next to the two doors, front and back, but really guests and friends.
Our house stretches along a ledge overlooking the rich farmland of a New England valley and runs parallel with an old range of mountains. Its length makes it appear grand. Days when I walk a lot from end to end, my leg muscles ache. Tonight, the house welcomes me like a bungalow. It is a sanctuary. Inside, I’ll find comfort.
Once home, my refusal of the flashlight would lose its importance and become a lost detail. So I wished. Avoiding an explanation wasn’t possible, for the injury was coloring my ankle purple and required wrapping. I’d limp for days. If I fudged my story, inferring my return home was in the light, and told the tale of the fox and the turkey, my husband might not ask why I’d walked home in the dark. And my son? He might miss adults could be just as dumb as kids.
With the surname Storrie, the Scottish version, Noreene Storrie taps her storytelling heritage. Her favorite tales from her twenty-plus year career in marketing communications describe creating 150-line ads for a life insurance company without using the words dead or death and interviewing people to sleep in public for an art/science traveling exhibition on sleep and dreams. Raised in the land of nice, the Midwest, Ohio, she moved to Boston, one January day with her baby blue suitcase. As is the way in Boston, she added two graduate degrees to her resume. Today, in the wee hours, she stares out a New York City window, across rooftops, into the treetops of Central Park, and before the chorus of drivers show impatience by honking, puts words to the page. Noreene is working on her third novel. Has written two songs with memorable tunes, and has notebooks full of poems.