It was a refreshingly crisp, calm autumn night. Very welcome, after the chaotic and unpleasant day I'd had.
The careful, maternal words I'd had with my daughter earlier had somehow become far more heated than I'd planned on. Perhaps it was because I was already feeling the stress of a difficult working day, or my blood sugar was low from the tiring and relentless hours on my sore feet. Perhaps it was just what happens between a mother and her teenager.
Whatever the cause, the calm conversation I'd set out to have, a teaching opportunity like one that Oprah would suggest, turned into an ugly, heated argument which I had not anticipated, or intended. The cross words had continued to escalate way further than I'd wanted. She's a good kid, just testing boundaries, in the way all teenagers do when they're rapidly becoming young adults (with all the confusion and angst that brings). The older boy she was hanging out with all day isn't that bad – and she wasn't that late home really. And of course I trust her – my emotions just got the better of me. Paranoid, meddling mum that I apparently am.
So, anyway, that was not a great end to the day, and I felt it necessitated this night walk (despite the soreness of my feet), in the small forest near our house, to get the fresh air into my lungs and clear my muddled mind. I'd walked here hundreds of times over the decades, and would never tire of its unwavering, omnipresent beauty. An oddly god-like phrase, “omnipresent beauty,” for a place that always felt spiritual to me. In these towering trees, these contorting vines, these damp mossy rocks, was contained an energy that my mind and body utilised to unwind and recharge. I could relax here and shed the worries of the day.
I could hear the willows and beech trees rustling gently with the soothing sound so particular to them, and the subtle breeze that was causing this motion was barely perceptible on my skin. The moon, I now noticed, was large, and a ghostly granite-grey. Breathtakingly beautiful. But in another moment, the elongated clouds that were covering most of the sky meandered slowly across the moon again, getting between the giant orb and my eyes, obscuring my view of it for a time.
I rapidly switched my focus then, as I suddenly heard something that startled me – my eyes darted to my right, trying desperately to see what it was that had caused this commotion. Why couldn't they focus quicker? These middle-aged eyes, not as quick or clear as they used to be, especially switching from the light of the moon to the dark. A terrifying sound, like a mythical beast possessed, darting this way and that to discombobulate its next target before it pounced and killed its prey. But the steps were almost hollow, like nothing I'd heard here in all these years.
I tried to stay calm, knowing that there's always a reasonable explanation for these things. That it was a person, out for a (very strange) run but it didn't seem right.
By now, my vision was accustomed to the dark that was penetrating everything surrounding me, allowing me to see the trees and the bushes again, and I closed my coat tighter around me as my eyes searched the area, hoping to see nothing unusual. Which is exactly what I saw. A relief! Closely followed by a swift, darting movement - 2 deer jumping across the path and off into the other side of the forest. My mind quickly replayed what I'd heard, with the visuals of the 2 deer overlaid, and of course it made perfect sense. No mystery, just nature and imagination.
Relaxing the grip I had on my coat, I continued, enjoying the novelty of rare sighting I'd just experienced, the slightly earthy smell of the ground around me as the damp of night-time set it, and the ever calming sound of the swaying of the trees.
There wasn't much light from the moon with the clouds covering it; occasionally there would be a thinner wisp over it which would give rise to a momentary and incremental increase in light, but it was the difference between pitch black, and very nearly pitch black. Strange how our eyes, once adjusted to the dark, can make out the colours of something, no matter how distorted that palette may be in the dark. I could see the greens and browns, the leaves, twigs and debris of the forest, and even in the darkness it was familiar.
At least, until the path got terrifyingly easier to see; not brighter exactly, but less dark somehow. The greens and browns now tinged crimson, the leaves a rusty colour, and the very air turning red. And the distortion of the colour was increasing as I stood there, observing with a quickening of the pulse and a fear that I had no real grounds for.
Until I looked up.
The clouds were slowly moving away from the moon, and with their removal, the light all around me was much greater, then brighter than even the daytime. The moon scorching, flame-red, not a soft red of anything you'd see in a natural sky, but a red so unnatural, it made my mouth dry and my limbs shake. I was filled with an innate dread, a terror that had no basis in knowledge but only in impulse. I knew, because there was nothing else it could be. The intensity of the red, the movement of the light, the power from it, it could be nothing but all-encompassing flames. The entire surface of the moon, engulfed and doomed.
I knew what the ramifications would surely be for our own home.
A sorrow, bone-deep inevitability, and most of all, the simple longing: how I wished I hadn't argued with my little girl.