Growing up in rural areas is nothing like growing up in a city.
I can’t say what it is. Maybe it is the remoteness of small villages, perhaps the low population or the closeness to nature. There is something that makes strange things more likely to happen.
By now I am living in an urban area, near the center of a big city. Things are different here. There are always other people around, and the buzzing noise of the city is a constant companion.
Not so in rural areas. The nights there are dominated by only one thing, silence. The only things you hear are the occasional rustling of a tree in the wind or the sounds of small animals. More often though, there is no sound at all. No cars, no people, not a thing.
The same is true for light. In a city, there are various light sources. There are street lights, cars, billboards and even neon lights. Wherever you are, you’ll seldom end up in pure darkness.
In the village I grew up in, nights are genuinely dark. There is no light around. The only thing illuminated at night is the small village church. If it were one of those rare starless nights, you’d be in almost pure darkness.
As a kid, I was never bothered by it. When night fell, I was either inside or already in bed. The few times I was out late, I was with family or other adults around.
When I got older though, that changed. I’d often hang out with friends long past midnight. It was during this time that I learned just how creepy going home at night can be.
I had to walk along a dark, empty road in complete darkness. Often no one was awake anymore. Only dark, old buildings surrounded me. There was no light and the only sound was my own reverberating steps. It was eerie.
Every sound I heard would make me twitch and wonder what it was. Often it was the wind or a cat. There were a few times though when I didn’t know what it was. Breaking twigs or shuffling steps nearby almost always send me home racing.
What was even worse though, was seeing something strange. I once saw a shade standing in a neighbor’s garden, not moving at all. On another night I was sure I saw a figure watching me from atop a tree not too far away. I always ignored those things. I told myself, it was my imagination, fueled by alcohol and too many horror movies.
There was one time though when I didn’t ignore it.
The lower part of my village is older than the rest. It is nothing but a handful of buildings nested into a small forest.
I knew that it used to be a beautiful area, but even when I was a kid, not all the buildings were inhabited anymore. By the time I was a teenager it was only a single old lady that still lived in the area.
The only reason that ever brought me there was the trail that led past those houses. It was a shortcut to a neighboring village, where my best friend at the time lived.
At daytime, it was no big deal to go there, especially since I had a moped by then. At night, it was a whole other story.
As so often, I stayed at my friend’s way too long. We had few beers with friends and long past midnight I made my way home. Being tired already, I told myself I’d take the shortcut. I’d save more than a quarter of an hour that way!
As I approached the lower area of the village, I saw lights ahead. I wondered why the old lady would be awake at a time like this. Then the thought that her house might be on fire came to my mind.
As I got closer though, those fears changed to confusion. The lights weren’t coming from her building. It was a building on the other side of the small trail.
For a moment I wondered if someone had moved back in. Or someone had bought one of the buildings to renovate it?
When I saw the building saw, none of this made any sense. It was one of the more run-down buildings and almost in a ruined state. Only a few lonely places on the wall were still covered by plaster. The front door was rotten, hanging open and barely clinging to the frame.
The windows too were empty, bare of any curtains and even glass for that matter.
As I stood on the trail, everything else around me was nothing but dark forms. The only thing I could make out in the darkness was the building ablaze in front of me.
No that wasn’t right, I thought, it was only the upper floor that was alight. Inside I could see shadows dancing on the walls inside.
Could it be some local kids? There was a group a few years younger than me, who were often up to some sort of shenanigans.
If it was them though, where were their bikes? If they’d come all the way down here, I doubt they had walked.
What made the whole thing even stranger was the absence of any sounds. I was listening to music, but as I took my headphones off, I realized that the night was tranquil. The only thing I could hear was the low humming of my moped below.
I watched the weird shadows and shades that were still moving around. I was almost in a trance when they stopped all of a sudden. When they had all vanished, I felt fear rising inside of me. What the hell was even going on here?
Soon I saw someone or something move by one of the empty windows. Then I saw a face looking down at me from one of its upper corners.
The face was weird, unsettling. The moment I saw it, I knew something was wrong. It was a young man’s face. It had all the parts a face had: two eyes, a nose, a mouth, ears, and so on. They were all unremarkable. It was as if the man’s face was empty. There was no change in his expression as he watched me. It showed no emotions. His eyes were a little too wide, his mouth hung open a bit, but other than that it was completely neutral.
I felt my skin crawl. Then I wondered how tall the man must be if his face was that high up. And how did I not see his body?
For a moment, in my confusion, I rose an awkward hand and waved to the man. It was nonsensical, but I hoped, that whoever it was, would return the greeting. To show it was a normal person, like me. Nothing at all happened. The face stayed the way it was. The lights behind it remained the same as.
Then a second face appeared at the next window. Then two more popped up, at other, similarly strange places as the first one. Soon it was almost a dozen of them. They all stared at me. None of them said a word.
Within a second of seeing them all, I started the moped and drove home as fast as I could in a state of utter fear. It was not the absence of sound, neither was it the weird blazing lights, nor the odd position of these faces.
It was the fact that every single one of them was exactly the same.