It was a day like any other. I woke up before the sun even started to rise and listened to the sounds of the rustling leaves and the few animals which were awake in the forest surrounding my house. As I lay there I already planned my day. First I would go into the forest and to the lake where I would take as many pictures of the sunrise as I could. The moment the sun would have completely risen, I would go back to my house, finish my latest painting and head into town. There I would sell it to one of the shop owners before I would go back to my life on the edge of the forest. The day would be like any other day.
A few years ago I had inherited the house on the edge of the old and dark forest from my parents. Since I was the only child of two only children there had been nobody else who could have claimed the house as his or her own. Although most people I knew back then had advised me not to move into the house but to sell it instead, I had moved in as soon as I could. Nothing had held me in my old life and in contrast to most other women I wasn’t afraid of living on my own so close to the forest. I’d never been one of those scared women in all my life.
As a painter and photographer the house was ideal for me. It had a room which I used as an atelier and another one I used as a darkroom – I was one of those people who still liked the old, non-digital way of taking pictures. The quiet of the forest and the fact that my closest neighbour lived rather far away from me created the perfect atmosphere for creativity and inspiration. There was always something I could simply look at and feel inspired. There was always a quiet moment in which my imagination would run its own course and would create something new and exciting.
I loved living in that big house on the edge of the forest, despite its loneliness and the doubt and fears of everybody else.
I got up and prepared myself for my little journey to the lake – I put on clean clothes, drank some water and picked up the backpack I had already packed the night before. Without even bothering to eat breakfast or to take a shower, I headed out and into the forest. It would be a rather cold autumn day from what I could tell by the crisp wind blowing through my long brown hair. I pulled my scarf up to my nose and walked on. I walked and walked and walked through the thick, dark forest until I was very close to the lake which seemed to be the middle of my little world.
The sun was slowly beginning to rise.
On my walk I heard a few birds chirping and saw some of the forest animals looking at me from a safe distance. I took deep breaths of the fresh, cold air and enjoyed the early morning like I always did.
Until I suddenly heard something else.
The noise sounded like footsteps in the forest, twigs cracking underneath somebody else’s weight somewhere behind me. But when I turned around to see whether there was somebody else walking through my dark forest at such an early time of the day, I saw nothing. There was nobody else.
Taking another deep breath, I convinced myself that I had probably heard my own footsteps and the twigs cracking underneath my own feet and walked on.
With the sun rising in the east and all of my other thoughts gone, I started to take some beautiful pictures as soon as I reached the lake. Not only was the sunrise itself beautiful but the way it was reflected on the surface of the water fascinated me day after day. The way the rustling red and golden leaves of the autumnal trees shimmered in the morning light made me feel at peace with myself every morning. I simply loved being in the forest and being at the lake when the sun rose. The time seemed to stand still, even if it ran faster than I would have liked.
A few hours later I walked back to my house on the edge of the forest.
I ate breakfast and finished my latest oil painting in less than two hours, so I could reach the town and the shop in which I would sell the painting before most other people would wake up. Being a very introverted person I preferred not to meet anybody and kept to myself – especially since the town’s people seemed to think of me as a peculiar person.
I was just about to leave the house, when I heard the noise again.
It sounded like twigs cracking underneath somebody’s feet but this time it seemed to come from inside of my house. Irritated and somewhat uncomfortable I took my shoes off again, to be a little quieter, and went from one room to the next one to make sure nobody else was there. I searched downstairs and upstairs without finding anything or anybody out of place.
About to put my shoes back on, I heard the noise again.
The only place I had not yet looked at was the basement and so I decided – despite the fact that I thought it highly unlikely to find somebody down there – to take a look at the house’s basement as well. I got my flashlight from the kitchen, since the lights in the basement hadn’t worked for years, and went down the stairs. While most people would have been scared at that point, I grew angrier and angrier with each passing minute. Usually I would have been at least halfway into the town by then. But not that day. On that day I had to go down the stairs to my basement and look into every little corner of it to make sure nobody had entered my house.
And, of course, I didn’t find anybody as I did so.
Deciding that I had probably just imagined everything, I went upstairs again and put my shoes back on. I closed the door behind me and made sure to lock it twice, just in case. Although I wouldn’t reach the town as early as I would have liked, I still had some time until most people would go about their day. I still had some time until most people would walk through the town and past the little shop on the corner of the main street in which I always sold my paintings.
The closer I got to the town and its centre, the noisier the world seemed to become.
Each and every day I was reminded of why I enjoyed my own little world on the edge of the forest so much more than the life inside of the town. I hated the rush and the noise, even if the town was just then starting to wake up from its sleep. It had taken me about an hour to reach the town, about an hour in which I was left alone with my thoughts. Now that I walked towards the shop I had to look down so I wouldn’t have to interact with anybody. The other few people I walked past on my way didn’t seem to mind, though. They wanted to talk to me as much as I wanted to talk to them – not in the slightest. So, without talking to anybody, without even so much as greeting anybody I walked right to the shop, sold my painting to the owner – who was always at least somewhat polite towards me, in contrast to most other people – and quickly bought a few groceries in the supermarket down the road. I wanted to leave the town again as fast as I possibly could.
I missed and needed my own, quiet little world.
The moment I saw my house from afar I calmed down and felt more and more comfortable. At least until I reached the front door. Somehow remembering the noise I had heard in the forest as well as inside of my house that morning made me feel uneasy for a few short moments. It didn’t matter that the feeling was unfounded and ridiculous. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t seen anybody causing the noise either time around. I stopped right in front of the door, feeling uneasy, unable to put the key into the lock. For those few moments it was almost as if I had no control over my own body.
But the uneasy feeling left me as quickly as it had found me and I was finally able to step into my home.
Putting the groceries away and eating just a little snack – I wasn’t too hungry – I went straight upstairs into my atelier and began to paint a new painting. While I felt inspired by the nature or by some animals on most days, I simply let my hand do what it thought to be right that day. I didn’t think about what I was painting or why I did so. I only stood in my atelier and let my hand move the paintbrush and use the colours.
The result was more than surprising to me.
Not only was the painting a lot darker than I was used to, but I was also unable to tell what I had painted. The shapes my hand had created on the canvas resembled nothing I had ever seen. No matter how long I stared at the painting, I couldn’t figure it out. And it wasn’t even completely done yet. Because it confused me in such a way and because I couldn’t understand what I had done, I stopped halfway through painting all over the canvas. There was no way I would finish that dark painting. It somehow made me feel uncomfortable. The painting was not like any other painting I had ever painted and the whole experience was surreal.
Instead of thinking about it too much and instead of staring at it for much longer, I grabbed my backpack and left the house again.
Luckily, there was a full moon that night so I had an actual reason to leave the house. As much as I loved the way the sunrise looked on the lake, I loved the reflection of the moon and the stars even more – especially during a full moon.
Still feeling slightly uncomfortable and uneasy, I walked faster than I usually would have. The lake in the forest was my safe haven that night and I had to reach it. The forest was quiet and the animals kept to themselves. The air was still as crisp as it had been that morning. And yet, I didn’t calm down. It was getting to a point where I myself thought I was overreacting. There was nothing wrong and thus no reason to behave like a child. I tried to remind myself that I was a grown woman who had never truly been afraid in her life.
Until I heard the noise.
It was different than it had been that morning. There was no cracking of twigs. There were no footsteps. Instead I was sure I heard heavy breathing and sometimes a rather soft laugh behind me, somewhere in the forest. I turned around but saw nobody. I walked faster but the noise didn’t leave me alone.
At that point even I was starting to freak out and got scared.
Almost running I finally reached the lake, my safe haven. And then the noise was gone. I couldn’t hear heavy breathing or soft laughter anymore. There were only the sounds of the forest by night. I felt safer again. I stopped worrying and my fear started to shrink again. Nothing could and would happen to me here. The lake was where I was safe.
Taking the first two pictures of the moon and the lake, everything seemed to be fine, nothing was unusual. But just as I was about to lift my camera again and take my third picture, I noticed something on my right. There were a silhouette and a shadow between two trees only a few feet from where I was standing. I couldn’t see what it was and yet I picked up my backpack which stood in front of me. Although there was no reason for me to feel that way at my lake, at my safe haven of that night, I suddenly felt scared. It might have just been somebody from the town who had surprisingly enough decided to go into the forest that night. But it didn’t feel right. Yet, despite my fear I wanted to get closer to the silhouette for just the briefest of moments. It didn’t move in the slightest of ways. It only stood there, most likely watching me.
Just as I was about to make a step towards it, though, I heard the laughter again.
There were chills all over my body. A cold shiver ran down my spine. Without hesitation I bolted. I ran right in the direction I had come from, right towards my big house on the edge of the forest. I ran and ran and ran without once looking back until I reached my house covered in bruises and cuts. The bushes and trees of the forest had not been kind to me on my flight and yet it made me hopeful that the silhouette would have it as difficult as I had.
I entered the house and locked each and every door and window.
When at last I reached my atelier and closed the window up there, something drew me towards the painting. Although the lighting inside the room was the same as before, the painting looked somehow darker and crueller than I had thought possible. Its sight was confusing and scary and thus I panicked. I didn’t know what to do or what to think.
I wanted to go back downstairs and get my mind off of everything which had happened.
But when I reached the staircase I suddenly felt dizzy. I heard the heavy breathing again, but just when I turned around to look behind me, I tripped and fell down the stairs. Lying at the foot of my staircase, I could hear the soft laughter and the heavy breathing coming closer and closer to me as I lost my consciousness.
A lot later than usual I woke up the next morning with a massive headache and a weird feeling in my stomach.
Almost out of reflex I went to the bathroom and looked into the mirror. What I saw there made me scream. It wasn’t my own face looking back at me but that of somebody else. There was blood on the left side of my face and my hair was tangled. I was still wearing the dirty clothing from the night before, which was covered in mud and blood. My whole body was bloody and bruised and some of my clothing was ripped.
I panicked and ran out of the house.
I didn’t know why at first, but I ran towards the town and finally towards the shop on the corner of the main street. There was no way of denying that I needed help and the shop owner was at least polite to me. Since it seemed to be around midday already, there were many people walking through the streets and into the shop. All of them looked at me weirdly, no matter how often and how loudly I cried out for help.
Finally, I reached the shop. Inside I told the owner that I needed help, that something wasn’t right. I told him that I didn’t look like myself anymore, that somebody else must have taken hold of my body. Begging for help, I was confused and scared and felt lost.
And yet, the people around me only looked astonished. They didn’t seem to understand my problem, didn’t seem to see what was going on. Some said that I looked just like I always did. Others shook their heads and muttered behind my back. I was desperate, but I soon realised I would receive no help from those people.
I ran back home again.
Afraid of what I might find, I entered my big house through the door which I hadn’t bothered closing before. Everything was just like it had been when I had left. Nothing was unusual or out of place.
Walking into the bathroom to look into the mirror once again, I saw why the other people would not believe me. I saw my own face again, confused and scared, and even went as far as touching it to make sure it was truly my own. Aside from the blood and the bruises on the left side of my face everything seemed to be normal.
But just as I was starting to calm down again, I could hear the laughter from the night before.
I looked around, panicking, but couldn’t see anything. Out of instinct I looked back into the mirror and while I still saw my own face, I could also see my mouth opening. Just a second later I could hear the laughter coming from within my own body. I didn’t mean to laugh. I didn’t even think I was truly laughing myself. And yet, my mouth was open and my body laughed.
Before I could think about anything for any longer, I lost my consciousness again.