by Gus n' Lew

He was rounding the turn in the river and trying to keep from falling into the water as he inched his way along on the moss-covered rocks beneath his feet.  From the corner of his eye he caught the flash of something black slip behind a thick growth of alders about a hundred feet in front of him.  At the very same moment fear enveloped him and he began to tremble uncontrollably.  He became weak and a bit sick to his stomach.  He had no idea what was in the North Woods with him, but felt that something awful was about to happen.

Gusbur Glaspie logged this same stretch of woods about fifteen years back.  He was  familiar with the stream and had a good memory of the lay of the land.  After all, he had walked it many a time checking on his lumberjacks as they took the big burly logs to the stream near the spot where he was now frozen in fear.

Memories of quick glimpses of movement in this same area flashed through his mind, giving him the feeling of uneasiness he felt in the past.  All had gone unexplained.

He wondered what could be in this part of the woods, which only he had seen.  His heart began to return to normal, the pounding in his ears dropped to where he could hear the ripple of the water flowing over the worn granite in the stream. His pace quickened, caution was on his mind but curiosity was overpowering.

The spot where the Black Thing disappeared into the thick alders led quickly to a steep slope.  It would be impossible for man, or beast, to scale the slope without disturbing the forest blanket.  “The things waitin for me to come closer,” thought Gusbur.  He didn’t know what to do and the curiosity gave way to the sickening feeling again.  Never before had he felt this alone.  “But, I’m not alone.” he said to himself.  His mouth got dry and the harder his eyes strained to try and locate, and identify the black thing, the more his eyes watered.  He wasn’t crying, but tears were running down his cheeks.  He felt like shouting.  If he could just blat something out the Black Thing might give away its location, or it might just run away forever.  He wanted to shout his mother’s name.  Just thinking about her brought him a little comfort.

Seconds earlier he had heard the sound of the rushing stream and the slosh of his feet pushing water away as he waded.  Birds had been singing and he could the breeze blowing, but now there was no sound.  He heard nothing over the pounding of his heart.

Twilight was setting on the trees at top of the steep slope.  A great-horned owl gave a whooshing sound as it screamed in full flight over his head, feeling the ripple of air flow past like the roar of a voodoo jet.

Gusber managed to get his mouth open enough to begin shouting his mother’s name, but no sound came out, the tears began to dry and stick to his bearded face. “A grown man I am,” he said to himself as he reached into his pack-sack for his torch and a handful of dried beans.

His fingers, acting like eyes, searched the inside of the pack-sack for the matches and beans, but they could not be located.  Afraid to take his eyes away from where the Black Thing might be he let his fingers continue their frustrated search in the darkness of the pack.  He began feeling frustrated and grew angry.  Under his breath he started to curse.  His frustration and anger quickly turned to shame as he thought about his poor old mother watching and listening from above.  What would she think of him right now?  She’d raised him to be better than this.  She never showed fear for anything.  She was always kind, gentle, sweet, curious and understanding.  Gus never knew her to be weak.  His father on the other hand, well, that was a different story.  He was a drunk and afraid of his own shadow.  As weak a man as he’d ever seen, but not toward his mother who he abused repeatedly before the liquor bottle sucked away his cowardly one cold winter night.  “Thank God for that,” he thought.  “Snap out of it! Snap out of it!  Don’t be a God-damned cowards like your father,” he said to himself.

There was a rustling in the leaves and the whisper of a light breeze blowing through the pines on top of the hill which stirred his emotions to where the tears began to flow again. Darkness was coming and his sight was becoming distorted to where the tree in front of him was just a blur.  He thought to himself, “should I set up camp here for the night with this thing in the woods around me?” 

“Mother of Jesus, help me,” his voice screamed at the top of his lungs. “What have I done to deserve this?”

His face fell forward till his chin thumped against and settled on the top of his chest.  Several tears dropped from his cheeks and into the stream.  He remained motionless for an eternal second.  Instinctively his eyes opened and slowly his head rose.   There, not fifty feet in front of him, was the Black Thing standing in mid-stream.  “What in Jesus’ name is it,” he thought.  “Who are you?  What are you that torment’s me so?  What do you want?” he shouted.

The splash of the stream flowing past the Black Thing’s legs was all Gusbur could hear. Then off in the distance over a faint breeze flowing through the trees he could hear a voice calling his name.  Trying to keep his eyes fixed on the black form, he cocked his ear towards the top of the steep slope hoping to make out what the voice was calling, a call similar to the one his mother used to call the cow from the pasture at milking time.

The Black Thing continued its splash toward him.  Its pace quickened as on it charged.  The attack was deliberate, but if anyone had been watching from the sideline it would appear as though the Black Thing had focused its attention beyond Gusbur.  Could it be that it did not see him?  Impossible!  The earlier shouts and cries from Gusbur were enough to wake the Devil. 

The feminine call became lost in the blackness of the deep woods.  All Gus could hear now was the splashing and heavy breathing from the Black Thing as it closed the gap between them.

He sidestepped to the right, slipping on the stream worn rocks.  Defense-less he was at its mercy.

Beneath the stream’s surface he sank.  An immediate sense of relief enveloped him.  There was no gasping for air, no cold numbness from the frigid water, no terror from the thought of dying, no crying, no pleading, just a sense of relief.  He felt no pain, no suffering, but felt as though he was suspend in air, weightless, and careless.  Guspur let himself go without a thought of what might follow.  His life, if he still had it, was out of control, gone, forgotten.  “I’m on my way ta the afterlife,” he thought.  “This ain’t so bad, a Hell of a lot better than bein’ haunted by the Black Thing.”   

From the depths of the stream, Gusbur sensed a hand take his.  He felt himself rising from the depths; the light from the sky glowing through the tall pines greeted him as he took his first breath of air.  It seemed like he had been under water for an eternity, many scenes had flashed through his mind in a matter of seconds.  His Mother, her family, relatives and his friends were all featured in the kaleidoscope of events.

He found himself sitting on a stump near the edge of the stream; soaked and shaking he looked at the figure sitting beside him.  Was this the Black Thing, which had tormented him for so long, or was it an Angel of the Lord? 

Gus stuttered as he tried to speak to the figure near him.  His tongue was thick and it wouldn’t roll to form the correct pronunciation of words he wanted to say.  Giving up for the moment on speaking he turned his head to face the figure.  He had to raise his head slightly to make out its face.  “Oh no!  No!  No! No!  It can’t be you, it just can’t be.  I love you,” exclaimed Gusbur.  A stream of tears poured from his eyes, over his cheeks, past his lips, off his chin and onto his chest as his head dropped and his face turned away from the figure.

In every man’s life there are unusual events which happen for unknown reasons.  This is one of those encounters to be remembered forever.  As he turned his head toward the figure again a bright light flashes in the dark sky.  Through tear-filled eyes he tries to see the figure beside him.  The figure is gone from sight, but not from his memory.

Gusbur Glaspie won’t to tell anyone what he seen.  He no longer fears it, but wishes to encounter it again.  How strange that something, which caused him such fear, torment, anxiety and a want to escape from the North Woods, is now something he goes in search of.  He tramps the North Woods in search of the stump where he was sitting when the Black Thing departed.  His heart yearns for a once-again chance to speak to it.  To ask the question which has haunted him since their departure?  He needs to know if there is anything more important than the one’s you love, those who love you, or where we go when we leave this life.  He believes the Black Thing has the answer.  What is the answer?