As soon as I stepped into the woods, I felt the same as these woods have always made me feel. I felt like I was in a different world, a different place maybe I had even stepped into a different time. This place crackles with magic and even as kids (maybe because we were kids) we could sense that instantly. Intuitively, we understood that in a woods as beautiful and as magical as this, danger must be close at hand. Beauty and magic nearly always comes with a price.
The problem with this woods and with many woods in Northern New York is that they are actually very tame locations. They are devoid of poisonous spiders, venomous snakes and aggressive predators. There were no dangers lurking behind the trees, under the rocks or in the stream.
But then we saw it. Or him, I suppose. There was a little man aiming a spear at us as he stood on a pile of rocks. We had no time to shield ourselves from this danger or even to be scared, because as soon as we spotted him, he had vanished. He had vanished so quickly that we hadn’t had a chance to get a proper look at him. Instantly, my eldest brother commanded us, “Bows and arrows at the ready, he may be back.” Eagerly, cautiously, we scanned the woods for signs of further danger.
“On the right, I see another one!” My younger brother called.
We spun, but saw nothing, not even a hastily retreating figure. After a few more sightings of these strange, slightly disfigured, spear-wielding fellows, we realized that no weapons were needed to scare them off. Merely meet their gaze with a steady eye and they were gone, almost instantly, although we caught a trace of their gait as they disappeared; a mix of scampering and shuffling with a bit of skipping thrown in for good measure.
My five brothers and I soon coined a name for these men with wild eyes and faces crumbling from age and extended exposure to the elements.
To this day I know almost nothing about Ancient Madmen. Why do live in the woods? Have they been banished from another world? Why do they threaten humans with spears? And what makes them so afraid of our gaze? I don’t have any answers. But as I finished my stroll through the woods today, I spied an Ancient Madman standing close to my bike, looking at it curiously.
At the first word he began to run back into the underbrush with his odd, frantic gait.
“You would want a mountain bike anyway…maybe go with a fat bike!” I shouted after him.
At that I swung onto my bike and headed home, body thrumming with adrenaline and bit of residual magic, courtesy of the glorious, wonderful woods.