I saw her as I was pulling out of the lodge. She was walking toward me on the side of the road, her steps delicate in the loose gravel. She was so close that she could have been a pedestrian. I held my breath and took my foot off the accelerator, hoping that I would not startle her. I coasted by.
I returned after putting my bags in the cabin. The West Virginia sky was a thick blanket of galaxy and star. I had been walking in the dark. I stopped and swept my flashlight across the broad hill, trying to differentiate tree branch from animal. She stood, at the top of the rise, the edge of the woods. She was staring at me, unsurprised, as if she had been watching me approach the whole way. I turned off the light.
We stood, staring at each other. My ears roared with cold. Eventually she turned and slowly headed into the forest, her white tail fading. I remembered taking a deep breath. I headed back inside.
Clouds stretched across the sky, veiling the moonlight. Friends and I had been talking about horror movies earlier in the afternoon.
Nothing stood at the edge of the wood this evening. I walked a little farther down the road, deeper into the dark, shined my flashlight again.
Two sets of eyes illuminated in the beam. One was closer to the edge of the woods, the other a little deeper in and higher up the hill. Both were a dim yellow and looked directly at me, unblinking.
The fear was sharp, primal. I felt it at the back of my skull. The conversation from earlier in the day paired with the eyes alarmed me. I shut the light off immediately. I turned and looked at the sky a little longer, but did not linger. I hurried back to the cabin.
Simply mountains, incrementally darker than the sky, sitting on the horizon; stars beckoning from unfathomable distances; the solitude bringing a deep calm.