You’re alone in a marsh on the eve of Halloween, and it’s almost dark.

You were driving in New Haven when you saw the flashes of light. You wrenched your wheel, found a place to park, dodged across the busy street.

That was an hour ago.

Phragmites australis—“common reed”—had drawn you here. A sea of feathery tufts, swelling and shimmering under ripened sun.

Then, in the distance, something more: a still shadow rising from the gossamer. A single tree, leafless but dense, its branches with branches and those branches with branches, arteries into veins and veins into capillaries. It was an earthen sphere echoing the sun, stretching its arms in a wide, full arc. A balled fist of gnarled lightning. A compelling tree, as in: the kind that compels you.

You longed to reach it, and as your eyes drifted downward, they spied a break in the growth, a mouth disappearing into the dense and towering stalks. It would be easy to get lost in there, you told yourself, then stepped inside.

Thorns tugged your jeans back the way you came. Unseen creatures skittered through the growth. Papery reeds sighed and whispered. The path turned hard, and the walls of reed now doubled your height, a sliver of sky between them. Below, your steps sank deeper into the mud, a bubbling churn filling each fresh print.

The frigid water—Hopefully nothing else.—was well into your boots when the long, dark path began to curve westward. The walls then wavered, and the path met its end, spilling you onto rubbery brown terrain not yet dominated by phragmites. Bushes sprayed with crimson leaves and bunches of sprigs as tough as chopsticks held their ground. Spindly green fingers offered tiny red berries. A different tree, dead, was cleaved in two, small restless birds leaping from limb to ashen limb.

Beyond them lay a new expanse: the West River. Golden light skimmed across it, welled in its grooves, eased your mood after an anxious trudge. You savored the view, then spotted it downriver: the tree you’d come for, on the opposite bank, across 40 yards of water. Out of reach.

But you could still get closer. Past cutting bramble and glassy pools, you slowly picked a path along the bank, your final step landing as the sun met the horizon. A sharp cry broke the silence, and a flock of birds rose just inches from the branches. For a moment they hovered there, beat their wings, pumped the tree like a heart, then winged away, leaving you with your siren, now black in the dying light. You knew then that you’d lingered too long, that you might not be able to find your way back.

You’re alone in a marsh on the eve of Halloween, and it’s almost dark, and yes, you’re afraid.

West River Memorial Park
Along Ella T. Grasso Blvd south of Legion Ave

Written and photographed by Dan Mims. This updated story was originally published on October 31, 2014.

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