The Laughing

I must have been twelve
the first time I heard it
deep in the woods
-the laughing.

Sometimes it was a woman’s laughter
sometimes it was a man’s
sometimes an old voice
and sometimes young

but there was something about
the laughing
unlike anything you’ve
heard before.

Deep in your bones
you knew that it was not
like you or me
or the forest or the
cars on the street
grown or made by man
or in any way
natural.

Nobody knew what it really was
why it was there or
how it came to be.

Nobody talked about it
but everybody knew.

When you heard it from your room
late at night you knew
that harrowing echo
wasn’t a teenager by the bonfire
a drunk in an alley
a coyote or another night
animal
this was different
there was something about
the laughing
that made you want to
crawl deep inside your bed
and stay there.

When it came
even the animals appeared
from the trees out
onto the streets
startled
eyes wide in terror.

You would wonder what it might
look like
but you never wanted to find out

of course,
unless you were a kid
on a dare.

Steven was sixteen
when he went into the forest night
through the trail then off into the woods
after it
following it
looking for it
because we had dared him
egged him on

we did not fear much
then

but that had changed

because we all heard
what it sounded like
when he had found it
or it him.

Even after the search party we never
told what really happened
that night.

We never caved
in fear that they would send us out next.

Even to this day
we don’t even mention it to each other
anymore
like we had forgotten
but none of us had.

Some nights still
the room drops in temperature
the blood stops running in my veins and
I become gripped by an old fear
when I hear it
because it knows
that I know that

thirty years later
what was out there
in the barren darkened wilderness
really wasn’t
young Steven…

laughing.

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