Dear Mom and Dad,
Last week I had one of the strangest nights I’ve ever had. It all began when I went for a walk the night before my birthday. I had been released from rehearsal early and no one was home. So I thought why not get some exercise? It was around nine o’clock in the evening when I had this strange urge to forgo my usual walk around campus and to walk down a dirt path leading away from Cabin 5 and towards the hills overlooking Sweet Briar College. It was a moonless night and the stars were obscured by a thin white veil of clouds. The air was thick and warm, like soup. I followed this path into the woods that are northwest of campus. Once inside the tree line all light is shut out and the only way I know I’m not going to walk into a tree is because I can hear my footsteps crunching on the gravel road. It’s only this sound that can be heard on this very black night and I don’t mind telling you Mom, I was scared, but for some reason I was compelled to keep moving forward.
Eventually a clearing opened in the darkness and I could see the silhouette of three deer. They were pretty big and only about five yards away from me. As I approached they stood motionless. So much so I questioned whether or not they were real or just misplaced lawn ornaments. When I reached them I paused for a moment. They just looked at me for a moment or two more then haltingly cleared the pathway. I looked into the eyes of one of them and saw what looked like concern and the hint of an unspoken warning. She looked so human. As I turned my eyes towards the expanding clearing and saw the outline of three buildings slumped against the hill I heard the deer bolt from where they stood sentry and flew past me their ashen tails flailing wildly in their wake before disappearing down the path. Before I knew it I ran after them. I don’t know why. I only remember feeling this intense feeling of loneliness. The buildings covered their escape and I found myself out of breath and bent over the closest one.
As I regained my wind I could see that the three buildings were barns, old but covered in fresh paint. As I glanced around the three towering boxes I found myself drawn to the window of the nearest one and I peered inside. A single naked bulb hung from the ceiling of the barn and cast a pale amber light that seemed to create more shadows than illumination. Slowly I could make out figures and shapes in the space within. I saw the disembodied head of a baby lying next to the beheaded body of a puppy - both bloodless and frozen. Against the far wall I saw a fixed giant hand scratching the wall on which it was mounted - its fingernails torn from the exertion. I saw other things, too. Things I can’t repeat to you, Mom. But when I’d had enough I turned towards the top of the hill. It seemed to call to me and it pulled me away from the window and past the clearing and over the crest the three barns slept against.
It was then that I saw where the only natural light I would see that night. There, in a pasture that undulated up before me, were fireflies- thousands of them, Dad. Floating beacons at first faint, then distinct, then almost blinding, they enveloped me. I was adrift in a twinkling ocean of their living light. The sight reminded me of the night Dad and I flew into O’Hare International for the first time. One particularly large orb buzzed pass my face and dared me to follow it. And so I did. In a moment I was bounding upslope unconsciously laughing as my fairy seemed to twinkle in response. When we reached the tallest crest at the far end of the pasture my firefly twitted past my nose and as I turned around I saw that the rest of them had stayed below. Their blinking having been random before - now seemed synchronized and I swear they were saying something in their flashes. It was in this moment of speculation that I heard someone scream from somewhere further up hill. I turn and strain to see in the blackness but all I can see is the bone white pathway snake its way skyward. I turn back to the ocean and see they have gone silent. Once again I am in near darkness - the only light coming from the distant college as reflected by the petrified clouds. Another scream further away this time. But this time there is a trace of it I recognize and I find myself once again treading gravel uphill. It isn’t long before I find a short fence, beyond it another pasture and the source of the screaming.
Suddenly from the darkness I felt something large trotting towards me. I heard it thump and only could see it when it was at arms length. But I couldn’t believe it, for from the black came a beautiful white horse. Its shimmering coat seemed to emit more light than the fireflies. It stood silently in front of me and as I held its gaze others joined it. So that before long a phalanx of horses were peering at me blankly with large black eyes. Compelled as I was - I continued to walk past them. I knew I was near the top. I wanted to be at the top. The white one nodded and sorted in approval when I reached the edge of the pasture. It then brayed once again loudly and thundered with it’s fellows into the darkness. I then entered the tree line that surrounded the top.
The path’s incline became much more steep and rockier. The air was thick and black like oil. The trees tore at my clothes with bony fingers. My steps echoed and pounded my head like church bells. It seemed I walked for a mile. Suddenly the path opened and I was in a small clearing. And I knew exactly where I was. I didn’t think this was here. I didn’t think it would be so hard to find. I was on Monument Hill, which rises above the College and from whose summit one can look down on the College buildings with an unobstructed view. It is here where Daisy, who died tragically in 1884 at the age of 16, is buried. It is here where most of her family, including Indiana Fletcher Williams who founded this all-girl College and dedicated it to the memory of her only daughter, are buried. It is here where a seven foot angel stands on a twelve foot pedestal and whose outstretched hand points angrily at heaven. As odd as it seems to me now I stood at the foot of that angel with less fear than fascination. I read the epitaphs of all the family members. And when I reached Daisy’s gravestone I was overwhelmed with emotion and collapsed. In an instant the stillness broke and a howling wind whipped through the grave site. That’s when I heard the scream I had heard before. Low like a whistle at first then as the wind picked up it turned into a full voiced scream. I looked up and realized it was coming from the angel and that it was the same screaming I’d heard when I was with the fireflies. In the distance thunder drummed towards the hill and I felt something dark within me yank. I wanted to get away. I wanted home. The continued screaming pierced through me like a lance. And so I ran, stumbling and falling, ripping and crawling down the hill. Past the pasture of horses. Past the field of fireflies. Past the three tomb-like barns. Past the woods at the foot of the hill. Until I found myself standing over my bed covered in sweat and heaving as if I’d made it home in one breath.
The next morning I awoke as if I’d been sleeping for a hundred years. My head throbbed and my mouth was dry, my tongue cracked. It was June 8th the morning of my birthday. The night before seemed like a distant dream or like one that had been told to me but lived by someone else. Either way I was eager to forget it. So I went upstairs to the common room to make some breakfast. When there hanging quietly on the wall was a portrait of Daisy Williams.And the lamp-light o'er her streaming throws her shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted — nevermore.
Your true and obedient son,
PS. The next day I took pictures of where I went. I enclose them here. Feel free to peruse them, though you’ll find little from that night reflected within them.