I found myself walking down an unfamiliar side street yesterday. It’s strange, but in a city as small as Providence there are always unfamiliar side streets; narrow alleys and hidden grottoes full of old shops and weathered old homes that you may only find once and never see again.
I was walking aimlessly – the day was dour grey but warming, and the huge piles of snow that covered the city were slowly melting, feeding streams of sickly meltwater into shimmering rivers that ran sluggish and dirty though the streets. I saw a figure standing at the end of a narrow street, just a smear of grey against a slightly darker grey, and I felt an unnatural chill that had nothing to do with the early March weather. I could feel it looking at me and, as I walked in it’s direction, it turned and moved away from me, slowly, as if taunting me to follow. Was I in my right mind when I decided to follow? Certainly not, but it has been so long since I have felt in my right mind, I’m starting to think that was the dream and this is my true reality.
I followed the figure as it wound slowly through the streets, shuffling along through slushy sidewalks and muddy puddles. I never got closer than fifty feet or so, out of a feeling of fear or loathing I don’t know, but I followed it for over an hour, walking a labyrinth of darkened streets and alleys. I remember crossing Waterman, but it wasn’t at an intersection I recognized; the houses seemed older, different somehow, though it may have been a trick of the diffuse afternoon light.
We ended up in a wooded area near River Road – I could see the iron-grey shimmer of the water through the trees. The thing moved off of Angell and into the treeline – the trees seemed thicker, the area more densely wooded than I remembered, but I followed along behind, curiosity and fear mingling as my feet crunched through the melting snow. There were no sounds inside the treeline – not only the lack of animal sounds one would expect in Winter, but the common city sounds like traffic seemed to disappear as well.
As I moved in further into the trees – further by far than I would have expected to be able to go given the location, I began to hear that whispering, coming from every direction, or maybe no direction – the woods were disorienting. I should have been mere feet from Angell street and River Road, but it seemed like I was somewhere else entirely. I continued to watch the grey figure walking through the trees and it seemed to come to a stop. I stopped as well, watching and listening, waiting for something to happen. After standing there for a few minutes, the snow melting into my sneakers and the remaining chill of winter biting into my skin,I began to walk forward, almost unconsciously, towards the grey figure. As I got closer I could see how it moved, how it seemed to writhe unnaturally as the figure stood still, how the shadows seemed to flow around it, darker than the surrounding shadows.
Then it was gone.
Whatever is was, whatever I had followed, it just disappeared into the shadows, leaving behind nothing but a circle of melted snow. I looked – why I looked I have no idea, my curiosity was more powerful than my good sense I am sure – but when I came to the place the thing had been, the wet ground was covered with fat, squirming grey worms, writhing like the figure had before it disappeared. There was a smell that met my nostrils too, like a thousand years of rotting garbage and rancid meat.
I was dizzy and confused when I realized that I could hear the sounds of the city again. I looked around, disoriented, and saw Angell street not far away, saw the river glittering where it should have been. I walked back on main roads, not really knowing what route I had taken to get there but knowing how to get back home. The smell stayed with me far longer than it should have, and the sight of those fat grey worms remain with me as well, writhing behind my eyelids. I still don’t know what it all means.
The snow continues to melt, uncovering more and more of the sins of the past.