There is something sinister about a lone man in a wood don’t you think? No companion, no dog, no jogging outfit -just a man alone, walking perhaps. In a wood.
I mean, a woman would obviously be nuts to go walking alone in a dark wooded area, but only for her lack of fear. Who knows what danger lurks around the nearest tree? I’m not justifying the fear, simply pointing out that it is logical (or at least human) even if irrational, to think it. And it’s likewise irrational not to.
But a man alone in a wood is most certainly a psycho killer. He is on his way back from dumping the body and now you are a witness and now he is going to kill you. Nobody else is within sight or earshot. The path is bringing you closer to him. There is no way you can escape without highlighting your fear. You know your fear is irrational. You know it is nuts to run away. You are forced to pass him on the narrow path, placing yourself within easy reach of his murderous hands. Will you be the fool or the victim?
A short while ago I was that man -the psycho killer in the wood I mean. I confess I didn’t murder anyone, but I might as well have had.
I don’t normally go walking in woods, despite living near a rather large one. I should do regularly I know and I plan to do so from now on. …No really.
This morning I felt quite chesty and blocked up. What better cure than a brisk and healthy ramble through the oxygen-giving trees? So I drove to the place, parked and began my stroll. Within seconds I was accosted by an obnoxious, pernicious, toxic odour that permeated the land, almost melting the trees with its intensity. Have you ever stood at a muddy riverbank as it meets the sea at low-tide? That is a bad smell.
This odour was like a low-tide mud that had been ploughed through, eaten and digested by beasts of hell before being expelled through the maggot-ridden sphincter of Beelzebub. Not the kind of environment in which to clear ones lungs.
I had a choice: Turn back immediately or carry on, hoping it would clear up the further in I went. I carried on.
[…Incidentally, this reminds me of a particular bugbear of mine. The above choice is indeed one choice, consisting of two options -not two choices.]
So on I went, past the swings and the ducks and the tarred pathway. Past the picnic area and the bins and the mowed lawns.
Leaving civilisation behind I trekked over foot-worn, bumpy terrain and made it to the river before I allowed myself breathe deep. The smell was certainly less pungent here, but I wasn’t sure if it was now present at all or if I was perhaps inhaling the memory of the stench -a phantom pungency. Like the victim of a trauma I knew I could keep the memory of this assault with me forever or actively work to brush it aside.
I plunged deeper into the wood, determined to shake the smell and not be a victim.
A golden labrador came bounding toward me, followed by a big haired woman. The dog seemed friendly and looked like he wanted to leap into my arms for a warm embrace. As he drew near I realised he was sopping wet and I didn’t want to get too close, but at the same time I didn’t like to be too stand-offish in this lonely area of the wood. I knew I was obviously a psycho killer you see.
So the big ole dog made it within reach of yours truly with his big ole tongue lolling across his face. I stretched out my arm to give him a rub (which I would have preferred not to do), but also to be able to stop him from jumping up and ruining my clothes. As I did, he leapt away from me, almost sideways and carried on bounding and enjoying his canter, his head flopping from side to side. At once I warmed to the animal more than before. He didn’t need me or anyone else to enjoy himself and his oneness with nature. He was a fellow traveller, expunger of the smell, a decided non-victim.
I raised my head to share the moment with his owner, but she refused to meet my eyes. Her brisk speed held and her head turned away as we passed each other without a word. I think I made some kind of half-acknowledging hmph, but we both knew I was being shunned.
It’s hard to argue with passive-agressiveness or even to put a finger on what precisely is wrong with it, but coming across someone in a lonely place and refusing to even acknowledge their existence seems to me a downright rude thing to do -even if I was a psycho killer, goddammit!
Further on, the path narrowed and started to turn back toward the direction I had come. Here at the bend, I met two ladies coming the other way. “Hello,” I smiled and they returned the greeting. They were quite prepared to leave it at that, but I felt the need to show my credentials. “There’s a terrible smell, isn’t there?” I said. Really what I meant (and I am sure was understood) was “I am not a psycho killer you see!”
“Not at all,” says one of the ladies in a thick country accent, “that’s the time a year tis -Slurry!” She laughed and waved away my concern. I knew what she was saying and I took it in the spirit it was meant. She might as well have said “don’t be a namby-pamby city-boy victim all your life.” I smiled and carried on.
Having circled the more civilised areas of the wood, I was on a final long, straight stretch that would lead me back to the car park when a lone man appeared before me. He was still some way off so I had time to assess him for psychokillerness. Quickly and without thought I downgraded his threat-level to amber and immediately wondered why. What was it about this man that was non-threatening? Why did I not suspect him of being a psycho killer? He was a little older than me, perhaps as strong. He had a big stick. No dog. On paper, he should have been a psycho killer, but I didn’t for one moment think he might be. I envied him. I wanted to be him. The presence of this man would never threaten a woman. Why?
I can’t say I have an answer even now. Maybe it was his light-coloured trousers and clean jacket. Maybe it was something in his slumped shoulders or the way he seemed to lean on the stick rather than carry it. Is it possible I was as much a non-psychokiller in the woods as this man? Had I imagined the whole thing? Am I the only one who thinks of psychokillers in the woods?
I had waited until we drew closer before looking properly at his face. There are few things worse than being caught looking into someone’s eyes from far off when you still have much ground to cover. It’s hard to look away, then suddenly turn back after that -and if you keep looking you are as good as admitting a sexual interest. The trick is not to look until you’re at least close enough to speak and be heard.
Casually, I turned my gaze towards him. He was already looking at me.
“Terrible smell isn’t it?” he cried.
“Not at all,” I admonished, “that’s only the slurry!”