One day in rural Alabama, I was walking along the trail by the creek in the dark, alone, in the woods, using no flashlight, miles from our house. I like to interact with nature on its own terms. I saw mysterious lights in the distance down the trail and I sat down on a tiny wooden bridge arcing over a stream branching off the creek to wait and see what happened. I was concerned a coven of occult people such as I’d been hearing about being out there were doing a dark ritual, and I didn’t want them to see me. I was ready to run if I needed to, as they’d get to me soon if they continued along the trail very far.

It seemed they were walking at perfectly synced pace, holding candles at the exact same level, keeping a perfectly measured space between each person. No stumbles, no candles going out in the wind. As they got closer, I tried to make them out in the darkness, but no. No one was there. Only the lights.

I thought perhaps it was swamp gas, but it wasn’t the correct environment for that. I thought maybe fireflies bizarrely going down a trail in formation, but they weren’t greenish, and didn’t blink off and on.

I fought off existential terror, drawing on calm strength. I wasn’t sure what I would do when they got to me. But instead of turning away from the creek to follow the jag in the trail toward me, they continued along the water. And they didn’t dip down where the stream exited the creek, nor get tangled in the heavy undergrowth off the path.

They continued their journey along the creek, whatever they were. Once they were gone, I walked back home, excited to be unharmed, in awe at having encountered something unknown and impossible for anyone I’ve mentioned it to to label. I have to just embrace uncertain ambiguity and smile.