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Footsteps

This is long, so I apologize for that. I've never had to tell this story with enough detail to actually explain it all the way, but it is true and it happened when I was about six years old.

In a quiet room, if you press your ear against a pillow, you can hear your heartbeat. As a kid, the muffled, rhythmic beats sounded like soft footsteps on a carpeted floor, so as a kid, almost every night—just as I was about to drift off to sleep—I would hear these footsteps and I would be ripped back to consciousness, terrified.

For my entire childhood I lived with my mother in a fairly nice neighborhood that was in a transitional phase—people of lower economic means were gradually moving in, and my mother and I were two of these people. We lived in the kind of house you see being transported in two pieces on the interstate, but my mom took good care of it. There were a lot of woods surrounding the neighborhood that I would play in and explore during the day, but at night—as things often do to a kid—they took on a more sinister feeling. This, coupled with the fact that, due to the nature of our house, there was a fairly large crawlspace underneath, filled my mind with imaginary monsters and inescapable scenarios which would consume my thoughts when I was awoken by the footsteps.

I told my mom about the footsteps and she said that I was just imagining things; I persisted enough that she blasted my ears with water from a turkey baster once just to placate me, since I thought that would help. Of course it didn't. Despite all the creepiness and footsteps, the only weird thing that ever happened was that, every now and then, I would wake up on the bottom bunk despite having gone to sleep on the top, but this wasn't really weird since I'd sometimes get up to piss or get something to drink and could remember just going back to sleep on the bottom bunk (I'm an only child so it didn't matter). This would happen once or twice a week, but waking up on the bottom bunk wasn't too terrifying. But one night I didn't wake up on the bottom bunk.

I had heard the footsteps, but was too far gone to be woken up by them, and when I was awoken it wasn't from the sound of footsteps or a nightmare, but because I was cold. Really cold. When I opened my eyes I saw stars. I was in the woods. I sat up immediately and tried to figure out what was going on. I thought I was dreaming, but that didn't seem right, though neither did me being in the woods. There was a deflated pool float right in front of me—one of those ones shaped like a shark. This only added to the surreal feeling, but after a while it seemed like I just wasn't going to wake up because I wasn't asleep. I stood up to orient myself, but I didn't recognize these woods. I played in the woods by my house all the time, so I knew them really well, but if these weren't the same woods then how could I get out? I took a step and felt a shooting pain in my foot, which knocked me back to where I had just been laying. I had stepped on a thorn. By the light of the moon I could see that they were everywhere. I looked at my other foot, but it was fine, and as a matter of fact, so was the rest of me. I didn't have another scratch on me and I wasn't even that dirty. I cried for a little bit and then stood back up.

I didn't know which way to go, so I just picked a direction. I resisted the urge to call out since I wasn't sure I wanted to be found by who or what might be out there.

I walked for what seemed like hours.

I tried to walk in a straight line, and tried to course-correct when I had to take detours, but I was a kid and I was afraid. There weren't any howls or screams, and only once did I hear any noise that scared me. It sounded like a crying baby. I think now that it was just a cat, but I panicked. I ran veering in different directions to avoid big thicks of bushes and collapsed trees. And I was paying close attention to where I stepped because by that point my feet were in pretty bad shape. I paid too much attention to where I was stepping and not enough to where those steps were leading because not long after hearing the cry I saw something that filled me with a kind of despair I haven't experienced since. It was the pool float.

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