His breath fogged the chilled glass door as he leaned against it to have a look outside. Raindrops spiraled down the pane in patterns, clearing it just enough to see his fading reflection. A face with hollowed eyes sockets caused by his furrowed brow stared back at him. He pressed his body closer to the glass and crossed his arms, his shoulder and temple pierced with coldness like a corpse. Every morning he’d awake to an empty house since his father left for work. It was warm and dark in the house, though as close as he was to the glass, he thought he may as well be outside. The backyard came into better view as he focused past his reflection. Always, during this time of the year, the trees begin to look like hands reaching towards every angle, almost skeleton-like as if they were waiting for him to come outside to grab him. The sky was gray and lifeless, too- it always looked that way early in the morning before anyone could be awake to notice, except him. A typical morning of winter, he thought. The days become shorter and the darkness swallows most of the daylight like a shroud… a typical morning for the man to appear.
His backpack lay beside him. He was running late. He should have left for school fifteen minutes ago. He tried to convince himself that he was postponing his departure because he didn’t want to walk outside in the cold, but surely it was for another reason. Tightening his favorite jacket around himself, (the bulky, olive-colored one with a hood that reached way passed his head) he flipped open his umbrella and started down the foggy street.
It was quiet.
The street he lived on was long and curved slightly as he continued further, which lead to the main road, but every morning the road seemed longer for him and more deserted. Cars, parked perfectly along the curb like caskets, were frosted and hollow inside. The trees that lined both sides of the street were just as gnarled as the ones in his backyard, except these branches were thicker and hung lower towards the sidewalk. He tilted his umbrella forward and sank into the hood of his jacket so he would not have to glance at the crippled fingers that dangled and swayed above him.
An icy breeze flushed his cheeks as he turned the thoroughfare to the main road. He could only pretend that there wasn’t the long, empty field across the way. His eyes cast downward at his own steps. Leaves crunched under him. He shielded his view of the field with his umbrella, believing that the man could not exist if he did not see him, but strangely that only made him feel as though the man was right on the other side of the umbrella walking next to him. However, a feeling- a fighting urge made him want to peek beside him. Perhaps it was his own suspicious desire to see if what he came to suspect was true. He never believed in the man before.
“He drags you in and takes you away,” his friends would say. “Only when it’s foggy you see him.”
“He just stands there with a hook in his hand, watching people walk by,” another would say. “He’s demented- just stares, even if there isn’t anything to see. You’re brave to walk alone on Lone Ridge Rd.”
Before, he chuckled at those who even mentioned the man; even joked about him himself, but ever since that tragic incident just on the other side of the field along Bluff Rd.-the one who’s dark and icy street swirled his mother’s car upside down into a ditch and took her life, he couldn’t help but to now question. Every morning was the same way. He’d pass the cluster of prickly, red weeds that grew sporadically down the road and the dusty remains of a woman’s shoe lodged beneath a water pipe. A murder of crows perched and watched silently atop the wires of a telephone poll. And that old, faded car tire which lay within a cluster of weeds filled him with a sudden urge to turn around and run, but there was no where else he could go by then. There was no other way to school.
His breath was ice now. He could see it.
He lifted his umbrella slightly- just enough to peer beneath his brow. A trail of water dribbled down the umbrella’s ribs onto the moistened dirt. He’s not there, he assured himself. He never was. A deafening silence surrounded him but the shuffles of his quickening steps. The fog, which parted as he walked, began sucking back into the field from once it came. His heart thudded in anticipation, but he forced himself to look- only if it was for a second. He quickly searched for that lonely tree far off in the distance, the one who’s branches looked like it was weeping over what seemed to be a man-made ditch.
That’s were his friends said he’d stand and watch.
Giant tumble weeds blocked his view, though he could see the tree between their branches. Further down the field the tree finally appeared, isolated and trapped in a sheet of fog. Where is he? the boy thought, struggling to keep his eyes fixed as to not show the man that he was looking. Then, a shadowy figure, tall and distorted came into view. It took many shapes as he walked, but soon realized that it was nothing more than a loose branch growing up from the tree’s trunk. He sank into himself and averted his eyes, believing that he had seen enough, but feared that if he looked once more the man would be there. After his mother’s death, he never had the courage to bring himself to look longer than he had when before it seemed as though the man did not exist. But now he couldn’t help but to assume that the man had stood there on that evening looking out towards Bluff Rd., witnessing his mother’s last breaths.
He could only hope that he didn’t drag her in.
At school his thoughts were disturbed. The image of that weeping tree alone within the middle of the field consumed his mind. For a brief moment he wished that the man would have been there to greet him, to meet eye to eye so that he could finally believe that the man was real to end his suffering.
“Have you seen him yet?” his friend asked him, nudging his shoulder.
“I haven’t- maybe it’s not foggy enough.”
How could he admit that in fact he feared him? An after-school project forced him to stay longer than expected, but he hurried through to finish as he seen the daylight was fading . By the time he began walking home the sky was dimming to a grayer and much more shadowy world. There was no need for his umbrella now, but he used it anyway to shield himself from the phantom-like figures that grew around him. When he finally reached Lone Ridge Rd., he knew that the walk would seem endless as the street lamp’s glow made the moistened road appear to be a sea of black sludge.
One lamp flickered overhead before dying out.
The field became a pit in the dusk- the endless swirls of branches and twigs shot up from the ground, forming shapes like despairing arms reaching the sky. Two young woman passed the boy along the sidewalk. They bundled themselves within their coats, laughing and joking about how cold it was, but the boy thought, why hadn’t they noticed the field? Why couldn’t they see what I see? A frosty breeze from within always swept his feet during this time in the evening- he could feel it in his shoes. The long, curved street to his house was just ahead. He could reach it in a few minutes if he had quickened his steps, but something else was more important. He had to see the man- a form of him, anything to make him believe.
It obsessed him.
The tree was in front of him now, looming in the darkness, its shape resembling a black crow in silhouette. Below it, the ditch was only a spot of darkness darker from the rest of the field. He was determined to look longer this time even though a feeling inside urged him not to. From beneath the hood of his jacket, he gazed over towards the field. Amongst the shadows, one in particular stood out from the rest. Below the only swaying vine of the tree, which reminded him of a hanged man, a figure stood and watched him. Nothing could be distinguished of the figure but its lengthy, unyielding stance, looking out toward the street. He could not see the man’s eyes, and he desperately hoped that the man couldn’t see his.
The handle of his umbrella slipped from his hand when an unexpected breeze parachuted it across the street into a small bush. His backpack slid down the side of his arm; his school papers scattering off into the breeze. He rushed over to retrieve them but stopped before they were swallowed into the field. As he glance up, the figure was gone- simply a shadow amongst the other shadows. He knew that the man was chasing him now; he could sense his presence thrusting through the dead weeds towards him.
A sinking feeling filled him and he ran home.
As he lay in bed that night, he wondered about death. The shadows that danced around his room from the headlights of passing cars sent him back to Lone Ridge Rd. The crippling weeds of the field were now in his room. Maybe the man with a hook in his hand was watching him sleep from beside the closet door. A tear fell down the side of his cheek onto his pillowcase. He tried to think of something more pleasant like his mother’s smiling face in order to fall asleep peacefully, but he knew inside that there was no escaping the man anymore. He might even be waiting in his dreams for all he knew. It was never like this before his mother’s death. She never believed in those tales. Neither did his father. The boy would feel a fool to admit to his father that he believed in something like that, but he thought, what if the man is real and took her away? What if he’s waiting for me?His fear began to take over now. He couldn’t help it. The man only lived in the field, but now it seemed he lived deep in his mind. Images of the man began to form as he lay watching the ceiling. He had seen him as a featureless shadow at first, but then he pictured a tall, solid man with scraggly gray hair and blackened eye sockets. When his eyes popped open just an hour before his alarm clock would go off, he decided it was time to meet him.
He staggered out of bed and slipped on his jacket and shoes. Leaving his umbrella aside, he left the front door and rushed down the street.
The fog was thicker than yesterday.
The trees around him were all too familiar, but he was determined not to notice them. When he reached Lone Ridge Rd. and passed the car tire in the dirt, he only had a few more steps until the weeping tree was in front of him. He stood and watched it for a moment until the fog shifted for a better view. And there, from within the ditch, the man finally appeared. A face with hollowed eyes sockets, caused by the man’s furrowed brow stared back at him. He was tall with wide-set shoulders and buckled knees and a mouth that gaped as if he was crying out. The man’s arms hung down by his side, but in one hand, an object too dark to see hung and draped to the dirt. Fright paralyzed the boy into place, so much that for a moment he thought he was dead. He could hear his heartbeat pump in his ears as blood slowly drained from his feet. For the first time they met, eye to eye, soul to soul- and for a single second he believed that he was looking at himself, alone, trapped, and lost in an endless field. Strangely, the man no longer seemed like a stranger to the boy, but of someone he knew for many years. He could come to peace knowing that he had finally seen the man, even if he knew that one day as he walked to school the man may drag him in.
Slowly, the man diminished with a trail of passing fog, but the boy remained in place; eyes drawn in, unblinking.
“He’s demented- just stands and watches, even if there isn’t anything to see.” That’s what they’d say about the man, but now the boy, along the street of Lone Ridge Rd. did the same.
THE MAN IN THE FIELD by REECE TAYLOR