Caught in Headlights  

Design by Alexa Druyanoff

Everything can be explained in New England. The howling outside your window is just the wind. The screaming from the forest is a fox. The slow creaking sounds in the attic are just part of an old colonial house’s charm, its wood swelling and contracting with the weather. You learn to stop looking twice, to ignore the shadows in strange corners that don’t look quite as they should.

One night, when you’re walking your dog, you point your phone’s flashlight into the woods. You see, glowing yellow in the darkness, two eyes staring back at you. But you know it’s just a deer, its eyes reflecting the light from your phone.

Since there’s nothing to fear, maybe you stand there for a little while longer, meeting its bright gaze. You look for the outline of its body, and in the darkness, you think you can make out the slow dip of its back, maybe even the shape of its ears. But it’s so dark, and the glow from your flashlight makes it hard to focus in the black forest. So you turn off the light and wait for your eyes to adjust.

But something seems wrong. You realize what you thought was one of the deer’s hind legs is just a tree behind it. Now you’re not sure where the forest starts and the deer ends. You try to count the limbs: first four, then five, and then you’re sure that there are eight. Again and again you try to make sense of it. The eyes gleam on, revealing nothing. And if some of what you thought were legs start to sway, you assume those must be branches, moving in the wind. And if they seem like they’re contorting now, dislocating, and the air is suddenly crackling with sharp snaps and cracks like bones breaking, there must be an explanation, some excuse—it’s just like the wind at your window, the creaking of the attic, the screaming in the night. The glowing eyes stay steadily locked on you, surrounded by all these writhing dark outlines you still can’t quite see. So, maybe, resisting the tug of your dog as he strains against his leash, trying to pull you away, you step closer.

And maybe it was just a deer after all. Or maybe you can finally see the outline of this creature, and it has more limbs than you could possibly count. And, too late, you’ll remember that your phone has been in your pocket for a while now, the flashlight turned off, and the eyes that stare at you unblinking shouldn’t glow at all anymore. And yet they’re brighter than before, shining like fire. When they start getting closer, maybe you’ll have time to run away.

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