The ClearingA Modern-Day Allegory
There was a sort of divine Peace in those days; the days before the Outsiders came.
I had quit my practice and left the chaos of the city for a quiet, serene existence on a small bit of land in the forest. It was idyllic beyond words, this Life of mine. The weather was always perfect with just the right amount of those puffy cumulus clouds dotted across the deep blue sunlit sky. The Clearing I lived on was bordered on all sides by a small forest of tall trees. It was not an especially densely wooded area but the thick canopy above darkened the forest floor and its sundry small animal inhabitants quite well. There was a small creek running through the middle of my land which supplied me with ample water and the occasional fish. My house was a small, simple cabin that I had built with wood from the area. The back door opened into the forest, but the front was exposed to the ten acres of the Clearing and the trees that hugged it all round. The climate there and the size of my property were such that I could raise small animals and care for a moderately-sized garden. It was a small tract of land but it kept me busy. And except for the fact that I was alone, I could ask for nothing else.
What broke the serenity of this paradise, however, were the Outsiders, as I called them. They were not so easily noticed at first when there were only a few of them. (The forest and its darkness provided a marvelous camouflage for anyone or anything who desired not to be seen.) Thus it was not until sunset one extraördinarily cool early evening that I caught my first glimpse of an Outsider.
I was in the Clearing finishing some work on some tomato plants as the sun was setting beyond the western forest. The woods were silhouetted black against its bright orange-yellow light. A movement amongst the trees caught my eye. This "movement" was what appeared to me at first to be the white, condensing breath of some animal from behind a tree about a hundred metres away. Squinting, however, I realized that it was no animal or tree there in the blinding distance, but the silhouette of a human being! This sudden realization gave me a start and I took a reflex step backwards, tripping over my hoe and landing flat on my back. From my prostrate position I lifted my now throbbing head in time to see the silhouetted one running away, breath trailing behind him like steam from a train. Apparently he was on his way back to wherever he had come from.
I was rather amused at my reaction as I sat up. I had, after all, no reason to fear him. He had made no threatening gestures or given any indication that he meant me any harm. Nor had he any reason to be afraid of me. Why he ran, I could not begin to speculate. Perhaps, I thought, I can meet the Stranger another day and make his acquaintance. But it was late now, so I picked myself up, went back to my cabin, and made myself some tea.
Several days passed and I decided to take a day off from my normal chores and fish at the little creek. There was almost no chance of catching anything but it was a beautiful day as usual and a nice time to relax and enjoy the serenity of the surroundings. With my line in the water, I was otherwise busily engaged in soaking up the warmth of the sun when I heard from the darkness of the forest what I recognized as human voices. I sat up and looked in the direction of the sounds. I saw nothing but what I heard was muted talking—then a pause—and then a half-hearted,
I was rather taken aback at this sort of greeting.
"Come, whoever you are," I answered back sincerely, looking for the source of the voice, "I’d like to meet you."
A moment passed. There was more muffled talk.
"No!" was the belated reply, "we... we want you to... we want you to leave!" said the source of the strange voice, finding more conviction in his words as he spoke. "You are not welcome! Go!"
I stood up and started to walk in the direction of the voices, determined to make the strangers’ acquaintance, but I took no more than three steps and the forest was quickly filled with glimpses of movement amongst the trees and the sounds of many scurrying feet trampling the decaying floor, beating a hasty retreat! (But a retreat from what I did not know. From me?) The noise died away after a short moment and a chill enveloped me as I realized they had all been there the whole time, watching me. I suddenly felt as though my little pristine world of privacy had been violated and made somehow unclean by their apparent fear and cowardice.
Who were these peculiar people? Why did they want me to leave? I was aware of nothing that I had done to provoke such apparent fear. I was now confused and becoming very wary of their strange visits. I did not sleep well that night.
In the next month queer things began happening; things unexplained. One early morning I went out to feed the pigs as was my custom. I walked out the front door and around to the side of the cabin to the sty in which the five of them were kept. But, alas, the pigs were gone. I inspected the area only to find that the rope that had kept their gate securely fastened had been cut through. There were footprints all around—human footprints—but no sight of humans; and certainly no pigs.
Late one night, soon after this, I heard strange thumping noises from out in the Clearing. I jumped out of bed, threw on a robe, and raced to the front of the cabin. Peering out through the front window, I was just able to make out under the halfmoon light the figures of probably ten to fifteen people; undoubtedly Outsiders. They appeared to be frantically beating the ground. I opened the window and cried out, "Who’s there?!" Like cockroaches sensing danger, they all scampered about wildly, bumping into each other, eventually disappearing into the forest. The next morning I went out to discover half of my vegetable garden in utter ruin.
The worst and most heinous discovery, though, came one day when I returned home from an afternoon walk. As I approached my house I spied what seemed like three small ruddy sacks hanging from my front porch. The closer I got, however, the less they looked like sacks. The closer I got the more they looked like the carcasses of animals. They were, in fact, three of my goats, mutilated, their remains hanging from ropes tied around some support beams. In the dirt in front of my house were crudely scrawled the words,
"What are you so afraid of?!" I screamed out into the forest, "What have I done?! Show yourselves!" But it was to no avail; no one appeared. There was not a sound. I shouted once more with the same result, then sat down where I had stood and stared off into the distance, shaking my head in disbelief. I was confused and alone and seemingly at the mercy of some unexplained, unprovoked behavior of a strange people I had never met. I had no idea what to do.
But then, unexpectedly, almost an entire month went by without a single incident involving the Outsiders. My fears and paranoia began to ease. I went back to a regular schedule of taking care of the remaining animals and tending the newly repaired garden. I slept better and occasionally ventured out a little into the forest. Life was for the most part back to normal.
Then It happened.
One early evening, at twilight, I was outside in the middle of the Clearing enjoying the contour of the black forest surrounding me set against the indigo sky above. Except for the sound of the tiny creek there was a haunting silence at this time of the evening; there usually was. But the silence this night was broken suddenly by the sounds of footsteps; hundreds of them shuffling in the darkness of the forest all around me. I knew at once they were back. The Outsiders had been waiting in the forest for this moment, and now they were surrounding me, coming, at last, out of their woody hiding. I still could not see them because of their distance and the darkness, but the air was thick with their presence. Then, as suddenly as they began, the footsteps stopped. There again was the silence, broken now by the sound of my pounding heart. Now I was afraid—no, I was terrified—and helpless. I knew these people meant me harm and I did not know why.
A human-like voice from their midst shouted, "We told you to leave. You did not. Now you must be punished." The loudness of the voice told me they must have been right on the edge of the Clearing, about fifty metres away.
"Punished?" I questioned the darkness, "Punished for what? What am I guilty of?" I was breathing heavily now, my arms were tingly, and I feared losing consciousness.
"You will find that out soon enough. Right now you are to be our prisoner and you must stand trial."
"Stand trial?!" I asked (only to whom I did not know), "I beg you, tell me, what have I done?"
There was no answer, but the footsteps started again. I felt them come closer and closer as they left the forest and surrounded me on the Clearing. The fear of imminent danger and the terror of an unknown, unseen Enemy caused me to panic and I started running blindly towards the lights of the cabin. To both sides of me and behind I could hear the sound of running and panting; the Outsiders were gaining. I ran and ran as fast as my legs would carry me but still they were getting closer and closer. My cabin was just a little bit further but it seemed a hundred miles away. An Outsider must have dove at me at this time because I suddenly felt arms grabbing around my legs and the sound of wind being knocked out of someone as he fell behind me. I slipped free easily and maintained my balance but it cost me speed. Immediately there were a tangle of arms around me and I fell facedown to the ground at the porch of my house. They quickly turned me over and hit me hard in the stomach several times and I doubled up, gasping for breath.
This traumatic moment of capture was the only time I managed to catch a glimpse of the Outsiders. The small light in my window lit them just enough so that I could see that there were many of them and that they were dressed completely in black. Some, I believe, were women but most appeared to be men. Several of them were now picking up stones and hurling them through the windows of my cabin, laughing and cursing as they did. There was one Outsider who held a now-lit torch and began touching off areas around the cabin to the cheers of the mob.
They rolled me back over onto my stomach and pushed my face into the dirt. I was able to turn my head to one side, my heavy breathing kicking up the dust, only to see the face of an Outsider, inches from mine, looking directly into my eyes. "You’re going to die soon," he croaked. But what I will never forget in those few seconds of revelation were the eyes; the evil, yellow eyes of a predator, full of the mad irrational fear that had overtaken these creatures. Those I can never forget because they were one of the last things I would ever see. For as I was frozen in dread at the evil Sight, one of the Outsiders picked up a rock and struck me bluntly over the head....
Continue to Part Two