True Terror is When Your Imagination Turns Into Reality
"What's wrong honey;" my wife asked, "you don't look well. Are you okay?" I nodded to her in almost mechanical response, but I was far from okay. I slowly lowered the Sunday "Parade" magazine and turned to her while pointing at an article in the periodical and said "You aren't going to believe this, but….", and then I told her my story.
Twenty-seven years earlier in 1958 rural New Jersey, my sister and her friends were taking a hike deep into the woods near our home. As an eight year old I was not welcome among her group of borderline teens, so like any troublesome and irreverent little brother, I followed from a distance and endured the occasional scream for me to "Go home!"
Whether I took a wrong turn or they were purposely hiding from me I don't know, but I suddenly realized that I could no longer see the group, and I panicked. I ran to where I thought they had been, but I could not find them. I thought I heard a noise coming from the other side of a small hill, so I quickly ran around it hoping that I would see my sister and her friends. As I came around the hill I stopped dead in my tracks. There 20 feet in front of me was a creature that I had never seen before. It was shaped like a man, but it was not a man.
It was slender and tall, but I cannot say how tall. Everyone is tall to an eight year old. It wore no clothes, but was covered rather in dark hair and leaves. Of all its features it is the head that I remember most clearly. Its face was human-like, but it was framed with a border of leaves, much like the hair of a lion's mane. I remember that the leaves did not seem to be ornamental like a garland, but appeared to be part of the creature's anatomy. I cannot describe it better than that.
The stories of how people freeze when they are afraid or try to scream but cannot most definitely did not apply to me that day. I let out a piercing scream and then turned and ran without even the slightest hesitation. I don't know how much time passed, but it seemed like only seconds before my sister and her friends were at my side. In tears I told them what had happened, but they laughed at me in apparent disbelief.
It was nervous laughter, however. They could see the terror in my eyes and I think they knew I had seen something out of the ordinary. Without a word, the whole group seemed to sense that it was time to leave the woods and we started walking in the direction of home. Soon the walk picked up pace as no one wanted to fall behind. Ultimately the walk turned into a gallop and it was an all out race to get out of the woods.
Over the years I eventually buried that encounter deep in my memory. On the rare occasion when it resurfaced I would dismiss the episode as the product of a child's imagination. But when I opened that magazine, imagine my shock to see the very face I had seen so many years earlier staring right at me.
The picture was an artist's conception from eyewitnesses who had seen this creature in the New Jersey woods over a period of many years. It matched my memory perfectly in every detail and brought memories of that eerie experience flooding back to me. The impact of seeing that picture was overwhelming. Even though I was now an adult and 1500 miles away living in Miami, it made the hair on my neck stand up. I suppose it was my quiet gasp and sudden pale color that made my wife notice something was amiss.
She listened to my story with great interest and empathy, but it was clear that she had her doubts about my recollection of the facts. "After all" she said, "you were only eight years old." I couldn't disagree with her. I was only a child at the time and children often blend reality and imagination. In fact, for that very reason I too had doubted my own memories of what I had seen; until today. Today my imagination was staring back at me.
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