What is Real?

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I know that even as I write this, there are those who will hear it as fiction and others who will believe either partially or wholly what I’m about to say. To those that don’t believe I don’t blame you. After all if I thought my story would convince you what I encountered was real I might have put my name on it. To those who do believe however, I need to ease my burden by sharing my experience with you. Just telling my story with the knowledge that somewhere, someone will believe me might give me a bit of peace.
My nightmares are so bad I feel like I might have PTSD. I feel like if I see a psychiatrist they will try and convince me that I didn’t see what I saw. Part of me wants to forget but, the other part feels like many existential questions have been raised that need answers. The one question that haunts my mind the most is: If something like this exists then what else is possible? I understand that the lines between dream and reality get blurred, distorted, even disappear sometimes but, the definitive moment in one’s dream is the moment we wake up. That moment never came to me that day.
I grew up in a small mountain town in between two larger urban communities. One hour north or south would get you to malls, fast food, movie theaters, etc. There was nothing like that in my neighborhood. We are tucked away in the mountains surrounded by evergreen forests and we all know each other. I loved it there. I used to walk for hours; sometimes along the main road and often on hiking trails that led to gorgeous overlooks that were especially breathtaking around sunset. Even after I graduated from high school and moved to the city for college I would visit my parents, who still live there, and walk all the old paths I used to walk in the past.
As I write this I almost forgot about my horrible experience. Reminiscing about the joy I had growing up there even up to the point my mind and soul had been shaken to their very core. As I look at my computer screen now, I’m filled with anxiety that this thing will come out from behind me and tear me to pieces. I walked about three miles that day just hours before sunset. I knew that it would be dark by the time I arrived home but, the half-moon would be more than enough light to guide me back.
I was used to walking around out there at night with a full or nearly full moon to light up the trails and the road home. Mountain lions and Black bears are native to the area but, extremely rare to encounter. I always hiked with a folding knife that had a six inch blade, which I know wasn’t much but it gave me piece of mind. As I approached the lookout I could see the pinks and oranges and purples of the sky around the setting sun. I was on a narrow utility road that was paved and jutted off the main road for almost a mile. Behind me were trees that inclined gradually up a mountain and in front of me a slight decline that met a flat plain about a half mile below me.
The decline would not be hard to traverse into plain below but, I was there for the view. The plain has tall yellow grass with fir trees scattered near the base of the decline. The plains turned into rolling hills with colorful rock formations sprouting up randomly before stopping at the desert horizon. The sun drops slowly behind the mountains in the distance turning the purple sky into a navy blue. I begin to count the stars as they seem just to appear in the sky out of nowhere. Alone with my thoughts I can’t help but feel happy and safe.
Even as comfortable as I was here the snapping of twigs and the crunching of leaves can be very startling. So, when I heard it my heart started pounding right away. In a second I caught my breath, calmed down, and looked in the direction of the sound. It was coming from below me and I heard it moving around for a few more seconds before I could pinpoint where the commotion was coming from. I was getting nervous because whatever it was it sounded big but, I really wanted to see it. I kept my eyes on the moving brush as I removed my knife from its holster when I started to see bits of grey fur poking out of the brush. I started to rule out bear or mountain lion and my curiosity skyrocketed. I tried to swallow but my mouth was dry and that’s when I noticed my heartbeat in my throat.
I heard what sounded like a snort from a large pig or wild boar come from the casual rustling. The sound was so loud it made me drop to a crouching position immediately. That sound; if I hear anything close to that sound in the present, I freeze with fear. Unable to move I can feel my eyes dart around in my head as I try to see what made that sound. Not this time though, this time I knew it had be something I was familiar with and as I tried to set aside my fear thinking that it would soon be unwarranted I watched and waited. I really wish I hadn’t.
The first thing I saw was two large, grey, triangle shaped ears. Then the head of a large dog emerging from a bush that I could tell was taller than I was. I saw the animal’s profile and to this day I don’t know if it didn’t see me or just didn’t care that I was there but, I wasn’t fully convinced that I saw what I was seeing. Slowly and cautiously I lowered my stomach to the ground so me and this thing would be just out of each other’s view all the while telling myself, “That’s a huge dog! Who just lets a dog like that roam around here?” It had to be a dog. It should have been a dog. We don’t have wolves up there and it was far too big to be a coyote.
Though most of its bottom half was covered by brush the color of its bottom half was consistent with its top half. One of its legs that I could see the clearest seemed to be very slender toward the foot and larger at the thigh with an inverted knee. It looked to be standing in a slightly hunched position but, the creature looked like it was more comfortable on four legs. Then I saw it do something so human- like that shatters my perception of reality every time I think about it. This wolf, this thing, very quickly raised its arm and brushed the leaves and twigs out of the fur on its head and face. In that moment I saw a man, a man covered in grey fur, tall, lean, muscular, and the head of a wolf. Its hand looked like a paw or maybe a large hand with stubby fingers I can’t be absolutely sure but, what I am positive that I saw, what I will never forget is a shoulder joint. The long ape- like forearm attached to the rest of the arm at the elbow and a very pronounced shoulder.
I pushed the side of my face to the ground to get completely out of the animal’s sight. I squeezed my eyes tight and waited to wake up because I seriously believed that I was dreaming. I could feel all the muscles in my body being pulled tight toward my spine and my heart was beating so loud in my ears I thought the beast would hear it for sure. Not since I was a child had I prayed to God but, at this moment I was hoping against hope he was listening, “God please protect me. Please get me home safely. Please help me.” I honestly thought I was going to die that night and I can’t stop thinking about it.
I waited for that thing to come up the incline and see me lying there and I contemplated playing dead. My heart was pounding and my body was trembling there was no way it was going to think I was dead. My only chance was to get a far enough head start and run for it. Run three miles in the dark on the main road with wilderness on both sides of me until I reach my house. I rose slowly to my feet and I remember thinking that I shouldn’t brush off the rocks that had gotten embedded in my skin because the creature might hear it. I backed slowly toward the utility road not taking my eyes off ridgeline expecting the beast to pop up at any moment. Trying to breathe quietly and refusing to blink as I backed away I started to realize the residual sunlight was fading fast and it was going to get very dark, very soon.
I walked backward for about two hundred yards before turning around and breaking into a full sprint. I know it was following me. I know it was watching me. I could feel my back burning as I anticipated its claws being raked down my back. The thought of it right behind me made me run faster and I swear I could feel its breath on the back of my neck. I started to get dizzy and light headed and I turned around ready to come face to face with this thing; but, I saw nothing but darkness and a brightly lit road. The night was in full swing and I was still two miles from home with a burning chest and weak limbs.
My stomach started heaving but only bile and mucus came out. I was exhausted but I kept moving; walking backwards, spitting, and heaving not taking my eyes off the road behind me. I was in so much pain at this point I almost wanted to die but, I refused to give up. I turned around and walked steadily toward the direction of town with my head swiveling from side to side and my eyes scanning the darkness. Every shadow, every twig snap fueled my looming fear as the closer I got to my house the further away I felt. When I arrived in town the streets were empty and the houses were dark except for a few window and porch lights.
With about a mile left to go I contemplated knocking on someone’s door and asking if I could use their phone to call my parents to pick me up. There’s no cell service there so that would be my only other option. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it; I was ashamed. Here I am: a 30 year- old man, 6’, 210 lbs., and I’m terrified of what? After all this time I began to wonder if I saw what I thought I saw. What would I tell whoever answered the door? What would I tell my parents?
Then I thought about that thing’s shoulder and the way it moved, with the muscle flexing underneath the fur. A chill ran down my spine and got me running again. Not long after I started running I started walking then, jogging and walking the rest of the way home. The last 100 yards were the longest. I saw the porch light on and I focused on it as the darkness swallowed the forest around me creating a tunnel effect. I felt like I was running in water; not moving as fast as I wanted but I finally made it.
My father let me inside and immediately asked if I was okay. Choking back tears I hugged him and told him I was fine. I didn’t see my mother before I went to my room but, I assume she was in the kitchen. That’s when I broke down. Sobbing uncontrollably, I questioned my sanity. Was there any way I could have mistaken what I saw? If it is real then what does this mean about life on earth and human beings? Has this thing always been here? No matter what I think the wall between what is real and what is imaginary has been broken.
Almost every night it seems I’m jolted out of sleep from a terrible nightmare. The events of that day keep playing over and over in my dream but they almost always end differently. Sometimes it sees me, chases me down, and eats me alive. Other times I get away but, it chases me torturing me as an unseen presence. I can’t even bring myself to go back to my childhood house during the daytime and it kills me. Why me? Why did I have to see this thing? I wish it had never happened but, I don’t want anyone trying to tell me it didn’t.
I’ve thought about hypnotherapy but, I would be afraid of the truth just rushing back and pushing me into a psychotic break. I worry about my family seeing something like this and it haunting them as it haunts me; or worse, they don’t survive the encounter. As I write this I can understand why it would be so hard to believe. To accept this reality requires a level of understanding that few of us can handle without losing the grip on our sanity. For those who don’t believe I hope you stay safe in your little bubble of reality because it is terrifying on the other side and there’s no going back.

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