I donít remember much about the thirteenth year of my life. I canít recall the guests at my birthday party, the names of my teachers, or even who went with me to the school dances. But thereís one thing about that year that I remember as vividly as if it happened yesterdayómy encounter with the Unknown.
At the time, Mom and I lived alone on an isolated farm. A large woods stretched across the edge of our farmís front yard. Through it snaked a single path about two to three miles long that led to the opposite edge of the woods, which ended at the rear of a small church and graveyard that faced a desolate county road. No other buildings populated the road, and outside regular church hours, few people or vehicles ever passed by.
The night I saw the Unknown, I had foolishly broken two of my motherís rules and therefore ended up in a situation I never should have been in the first place. Because there were no kids who lived near our place and thus little for me to do, Mom allowed me to walk through the woods and hang around the church yard and parking lot, where I read, wrote letters, drew chalk art, or shot baskets at the churchís basketball goal. But Mom was a little paranoid about kidnappers and serial killers and stuff. So she had two strict rules about my walks through the woods to the church: I was never to go there at night, and when I went during the day, I had to start home in time to be out of the woods and back in our front yard by dark.
Well, that night, I hung out all afternoon at the church, and like an idiot, I let the time get away from me. I donít even remember what I was doing anymore, but whatever it was, I know that staying out past dark to do it wasnít worth the experience I endured as a result. My earliest memory of that evening is simply noticing the full, gray-white circle of the moon and a few stars in the bluish-black sky, and thinking Iíd better hightail it home before Mother figured out I was out there alone after dark and grounded me until I was a hundred-and-five.
I turned toward the backyard of the church and studied what I could see of the route Iíd taken there, and would have to take to return home. At the end of the graveyard that stretched before me, which seemed a lot bigger right then than it probably really was, lay the edge of the path that led through the woods and ended at the front yard of my house. I had taken that path alone many times during the day, but never at night. At that moment, with no other signs of life around me but the occasional hoot of an owl, chirp of a cricket, or the periodic whistling of the chilling wind that prickled every hair on my body, I had never felt more alone in my life. Or more afraid.
I told myself I was being silly, that there was nothing to be afraid of, then took a deep breath and stepped from the parking lot to the graveyard. Since I had broken my curfew and was scared to boot, my initial instinct was to run. But this was also the first time Iíd been in a graveyard at night by myself, and somehow, I just couldnít bring myself to run through it. Instead, I trudged along and eyed the gravestones around me with uneasiness. They had taken on a strange, gray-white glow in the moonlight, like they werenít really gravestones at all, but instead the ashen faces of corpses, maybe even ghosts. With that thought, before my mindís eye sprang forth images from every scary movie Iíd ever seen about creatures emerging from graves and grabbing, clawing, tearingóeven eating the flesh of all nearby, unwary human beings. With every rustle of leaves or crackling of twigs, my hands grew clammier, my body trembled harder, and my heart thudded louder and faster, even though what I heard was nothing more than the sound of my own footsteps. At least not at first.
But as I continued along, I was certain I heard rustlings and cracklings in addition to my own. Between each noisy step I took, I detected faint, identical sounds from somewhere in the distance behind me, as if another being were taking steps too, following me. I stopped and whirled around. Between the far side of the graveyard and the edge of the church parking lot, black formations hovered between the trees and the building. Shadows. Nothing more. I stared into the darkness, held my breath, and listened, but heard only the increasingly faster pounding of my foolishly frightened heart.
I sighed in relief, turned, and started forward once more. Yet again, between the sounds of my footsteps, I was certain I heard others. I was about halfway across the graveyard by then, and I began to walk faster toward the mouth of the woods. Thatís when the sounds became more distinct and rapid, like footsteps that were moving faster to match my own. I turned back, and this time, I saw that one of the dark formations that I had thought was a shadow now stood apart from the others, as if it had moved forward and toward me. It remained motionless, a tall and large but shapeless mass of blackness in the moonlight, still looking like nothing more than a life-sized shadow. So I let myself believe it was just a shadow as I looked back at it over my shoulder and took another step forward. But then it seemed to move forward a little, as if it had taken a step, too. And as I watched and took step after step, it moved forward more and more, matching my steps and my speed, until I came to the sickening realization that it was no shadow at all, but some unidentified, living person or creature that was pursuing me.
WHO OR WHAT IS THE UNKNOWN, AND WILL THE NARRATOR ESCAPE IT? TO READ THE REST OF THIS STORY AND FIND OUT, PURCHASE A HARD, AUTOGRAPHED COPY OR ELECTRONIC COPY FROM THE AUTHOR ON AUTHORS DEN.