What do you get when when you gather three extremely introverted individuals? Your answer may be different, but for us it was “The Wanderers”. The three Wanderers consisted of myself, Danni and Raymond. Each of us were quite different people from diverse backgrounds but shared a binding commonality based on our preference for solitude. Each of us were so antisocial that it took us five years to become what most would now call friends. We would see each other at weddings. At funerals. And occasionally at holidays where at any given time at least two of us would choose to be present. At each event we would find ourselves against the back walls, avoiding unnecessary human contact and calculating the proper length of attendance before returning to our homes.
We were not related by blood, but each of us were connected through family. Danni had been a friend of my younger cousin since grade school and was practically adopted by my aunts. After a fairly complex and chaotic childhood she had eventually become quite an interesting young woman whose only permanent scars were those of the “goth” aesthetic and a penchant for the macabre.
Raymond was older than even I, and spent his days amidst the hoard of books that filled his tiny cabin. Most people only ever saw the top half of Raymond’s face, as the remainder was constantly masked by a tome of classic literature. All three of us had attended my nephews birthday party at a trampoline park that summer. The sight of Raymond, hundreds of pages deep into Finnegan’s Wake while framed by flying toddlers had caused me to break my typical silent reverie and joke with Danni. The recognition and amusement in her eyes drew me to her as we both smirked knowingly at his choice of escape.
After that party the three of us become deep, though infrequent friends. The Wanderers as group with a purpose, was baptized a year later at the tea room down the street from my house. After a long conversation about how we could share time together without the need for constant communication or obtrusiveness we discovered that each of us enjoyed the outdoors especially.
Our little group, The Wanderers, Would do just that. Beginning that weekend and several times throughout each year we would wander through the woods. Not together mind you. But also not alone. We would drive to a pre-selected destination. Each of us would pick a different direction on the compass and well. . . walk. We were planners, and put quite a lot of preparation into these anticipated events. We constantly developed sets of rules, plans and safeguards for our trips, preparing for all sorts of contingencies. We were never forced to resort to to those emergency plans. On each of our excursions, we were able to spend our typical two hours walking away from each other and then properly converge at our meeting point two hours after that.That was unless one of us made a discovery. This was the true passion and point of The Wanderers. To find something in the wild that was worth calling the others to witness, with our GPS systems. One year, Raymond had come across a small family of black bears in the Pine Barrens. The three of us spent that afternoon eating lunch in the sunlight while watching the mother tug and pull her newborns around the wilderness. Another time I had found a small cave system that, while unimpressive at first glance, had become quite an attraction for the others once we realized it’s hidden depth. Most trips though were spent alone, without distraction, and wholly on self reflection for each of us.
This weekend we discovered more than a simple distraction or attraction. This weekend we discovered something with implications and I cannot even comprehend, never mind explain.
We were about an hour into our solitary hikes through the lush embrace of the Allegheny National Forest when I felt my phone begin it’s repetitive alert. Even with the volume off it felt like an intrusion into the quiet beauty surrounding me and I pulled it from my pocket with great urgency to take Danni’s call.
“I’ve found something. Something incredible.” There were long pregnant pauses between her words and I was intrigued. While dark mascara and an interest in the occult would typically infer a tendency toward drama, Danni was not a dramatic person. And she sounded quite overcome with awe.
Raymond was with her as I arrived. I scowled as I pushed tiny spiked branches from my face and glared at the way that Raymond’s hand sat upon the small of her back. I felt my face flush and once more calculated their age difference in my mind.
The leaves crunching beneath my boots quickly resulted both in my discovery, and next the bloom of excitement spreading across Danin’s face. I returned the look, smiling with all the charm I could muster. My smile and mood grew while Raymond’s arm fell to his side as Danni rushed from him and towards me.
“I don’t know how to start. It’s. . . I’ve never seen anything like it. Experienced anything like that. You just have to see it.”. She pulled me into position and and spread her arms, palms up, towards our surroundings.
Before us, to the right, was a path that lead through a thick section of overgrowth. This was certainly not an official trail, but the head of a natural path encompassed completely by twisted arches of flora. Though it was currently daylight, you could see that three feet down the path, it was as dark as night. All illumination was blotted by the growth arching over the top and along the sides of the thin tract. I did not see the dark fissure between several rock formations some fifty feet away and to the left, until it was pointed out..
“You see the fissure?” She pointed at it and Raymond and myself nodded in agreement, smiling at her frantically happy face. “Watch it.”
She ran. Full speed, she tore to the right into the tunneled walkway until the sight of her melted into the shadows. It was at that exact moment that we saw her emerge from the fissure far in the distance and raise her hands into the air in triumph, doubling over and laughing.
“Wha?” Raymond jerked his head to study my face and we stared into each other’s eyes. “That’s too…” He started.
“Too far. Way too far, how….?” I was at a loss.
Danni trotted back to our position, beaming at us but saying nothing.
Raymond was apparently equally struck by an inability to speak. The two of us simply continued scanning the scene before us looking for some explanation. Danni had traversed fifty feet in a split second. Becoming invisible here, and then immediately visible there, in no time at all.”So who’s next?” She smiled.
Before I could think about replying and locking in the opportunity to share something interesting with her, Raymond spoke up.
“Not all who wander are lost.” He exclaimed as he headed steadily toward the opening. He took his time, and his attempt to soak in the experience was palpable. His nostrils flared and his fingers dragged upon the foliage as he walked down the small path. And then incredibly, he appeared from the crack in the distance, just as Danni had before him.
“It does work for you too!” She squealed. I realized that perhaps she had thought that this experience was unique to her, and was happier to know that it was shared. I regretted my hesitation to be second in line. But that same hesitation returned once again as Raymond returned. My stomach became queasy and I could feel the anxiety as it escalated in my body like an agile mountain climber. I did not volunteer to partake in this experiment. Raymond and Danni must have understood my trepidation. And politely, they made no attempt at persuasion.
“Incredible. Absolutely incredible”. Raymond huffed as he jogged back towards us. “This. It means something. This is huge. Important”.
We stayed for hours, discussing the phenomenon. Each of us trying to be scientific and detached in our verbal examination of what we had experienced. Neither of them went again until we had talked through our theories, explanations, possible causes, and the potential impact upon society of deciphering the cause.
As the sun began to approach the treeline in the west, we had come to agreement. Clearly this needed to be exposed, shared and studied. Each of us triple checked that we had exact and matching GPS coordinates for the spot. Tomorrow we would call the University and get in touch with several people from specific related departments. In addition we decided that we absolutely needed to record some kind of proof before leaving, just on the off-chance that this phenomenon was transitory and would not manifest the next day. After some deliberation it was decided that Danni would make one more run at it, this time with active video recording on her phone before beginning. Raymond would remain with me and film the trip from this perspective using his.
I still don’t have an explanation as to why this time was different from the first two. I don’t have an explanation for much of what we encountered in those woods. I only have the ability to recount what happened. As we had seen before, Danni fell from view upon the path and immediately reappeared from the fissure in the distance. This time though, something had changed. A lot had changed actually.
Danni fell flat onto the ground as she re-appeared. As Raymond and myself sprinted to her, we noticed that her clothing looked worn, dirty and was torn in several places. That her hair was longer than it had been just seconds before, in addition to being extremely tangled. And as I was assisting her back to a standing position I saw that Dannie seemed to be missing her little finger. It was neither raw nor bloody.. It was fully healed. A smooth twisted knuckle evidenced the healing power of time.
She remembered nothing. She assured us that just as before, she had walked into the enclosure and immediately appeared at the exit. The pale thinness of her skin and the ravage of time and dated injury to her body and clothing spoke a different truth. As did the dirty tattered bandanna tied to the remaining belt loop on the back of her jeans.
I think that we were equally hesitant to open that makeshift pouch. We put it off for as long as possible, instead engaging in an hour of questioning and examination regarding her health and mental well being. Aside from her physical transformation, Danni was still Danni. Quick and responsive.
Once we were satisfied that she was whole and healthy, and that she truly remembered nothing, we searched her. Her phone was gone, as were several items that she had had in her possession at the start of the split second journey. The bandanna was the only new item we had found in her possession. We sat around a mossy stone and untied it together. We found what each of us had feared, and I believe, expected.
Inside the crumpled nest of brittle fabric we found a small desiccated finger. Upon it and clinging to the sides of the bandanna were thin translucent tendrils, similar to what you may find in your fridge inside long forgotten Tupperware. We stared in shock and nervous wonder.
We walked and then drove home in silence. Each of us engaged in a private mental exploration of the impact of our discovery, fear of its implications, and a litany of questions. Some which have been answered since that day. And many others that may never be lit upon by the fragile minds of man.
At this moment, I have a long drive ahead of me. It is a trip of the utmost importance and I must begin immediately. I have no choice but to stop writing and update this record once I return. Be safe everyone. The world has just become quite a bit more interesting. It may have also become quite a bit more dangerous.