By Rosie Best-Cutrer
The thing first appeared to Miss Martha O’Brien while she was cleaning her bathroom. She was dusting the window ledge when, through the window, she saw something moving in the woods that ran along the edge of her backyard…something moving among the big old walnut trees. It was a vague misty grey shape about two-foot-high…one foot wide. The shape hovered there for several minutes and then turned and retreated back into the woods.
The rest of that day Martha kept thinking about it…whatever it was. She felt uneasy. She was a bit isolated where she lived; out on the highway just outside of town. Martha, a retired high school English teacher, had lived in her parent’s old stone farmhouse her whole life – 85 years – well, 85 years except for the four years she had gone away to college. She lived alone now; her parents having passed on years before.
As she lay in bed that night she heard a noise just outside the open window. “Ahhhhhsssssahhhhh.”
“What in the world?” She got out of bed, lifted the window shade. There at the edge of the woods glowing by the light of the full moon was that nebulous haze, it looked as though it was dancing. She called the sheriff.
She knew the officer who came to the door, Al Simpson. He had been one of her students at the high school.
“Why good evening, Al. I’d forgotten you worked for the sheriff’s department.”
“Good evenin’ Miss O’Brien. Are you all right?”
“Yes…I mean no. I think there’s someone or something, out in the woods behind the house.”
“Hmm….…I’ll have a look round.”
Martha waited on the back porch while Al walked down to the woods with his huge flashlight. “I don’t see anything out of the ordinary, Miss O’Brien. Could have been one of the town teenagers out on a lark. Whoever it was, they’re gone now, but don’t hesitate to call again.”
The next morning Martha was filling the backyard bird feeder when she heard the noise down in the woods. “Ahhhhhhsssssahhhh.” She turned and there was that eerie mist floating through the lower part of the trees. Panicked she ran into the house and called the sheriff’s office again. This time it was a young man who appeared at her door. Martha didn’t recognize this one.
“Hello. Thank you for coming so quickly…there’s something prowling around in those woods.”
“Can you describe it, Ma’am?”
“It isn’t very large, grayish in color. It moves so stealthily.”
“Hmmm. Well, it could be a possum.”
“A two-foot-tall possum?”
“You say you think you saw a two-foot-tall possum?”
“No. Of course not! I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have called.”
“No. That’s fine, Ma’am. However, I might suggest the next time maybe you should call animal control.”
“He thinks I’m a crazy old woman,” Martha thought as she walked back into the house.
That morning was the start of one those beautiful warm days in early fall. Martha opened all the windows to let the fresh air in. She then marched out of the house and into the backyard. She was going to figure out what that grey mist was all about. She was walking along the edge of the woods when she caught the scent of burning leaves.
“Oh, that’s what it was. One of my neighbors on the other side of the woods is burning leaves and the smoke somehow drifted into my yard. Of course! What a relief. Oh, I love the smell of those burning leaves. My father burning leaves here in the yard. Marjorie Driscoll and I spent hours playing here in this yard. Marjorie’s was such a good friend. Dead 10 years now. I miss her so much. There was a path in these woods that Marjorie and I would take down to the creek. I wonder if it’s still there?”
It didn’t take long for Martha to find the path and as she walked through the woods she gazed up into the brightly colored canopy of the forest. The trees glowed they were so bright; red, yellow, orange. Dappled light and drifting leaves made the place magical.
Martha followed the path until it came to an end at the creek. A huge cottonwood tree had fallen next to the creek; Martha sat down on its smooth white trunk. One of the trees stout branches curved up from the fallen giant and was positioned just right for Martha to lean into it for support.
“Whew! I’m tuckered out. Oh, my heart is beating so fast. Oh, but it is so beautiful here.”
Just then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw a movement through the trees.
“A deer.” She thought. “It must be a deer.” But it wasn’t a deer.
Martha turned her head and saw the mist coming towards her. “Ahhhhhhhsssssahhhh.”
Martha felt light-headed. Suddenly there was a sharp pain in her chest and arm. She tried to stand but didn’t have the strength. Trembling she closed her eyes and braced herself against, what she didn’t know. Slowly, gently, the mist surrounded Martha and then she felt herself being lifted up. “Ahhhhhhhsssssahhhh.”
At that moment she felt like a child; full of energy, joy; no aches no pains just pure joy.
The next morning Bill Sanders, delivering the mail, realized there was something amiss at the O’Brien house. Despite the 40 degrees temperature all the windows in Martha’s house were wide open.
It didn’t take long for the sheriff’s department to find Martha’s body in the woods; the fallen cottonwood tree cradling her in its arms, her head tilted upwards, smiling. It seemed as though she was looking at something wonderful…just out of sight.