I want to put it on record that I am not mad yet. Though I am old, I am not yet senile, and I have quite a good memory. So please don’t throw my record out or deem me insane.
I must have spent every childhood summer in Sinaia. The mountains surrounding the valley it’s situated in are tall, snow-tipped monsters. From there the mountains look comforting. On the occasional event that my father took me skiing we’d make the two-hour train ride to Sinaia. There was something about the bucegi that I just loved to stare at. Maybe it was the isolation, the idea that there was only really two ways into this valley and that was to follow it. One way towards Bucharest, home. The other towards the cities my parents called home, Brasov and Timișoara.
I felt I knew Sinaia like the back of my hand. It’s not a large town, made up of two large roads and an eventual mountain path. I always stayed with my grandparents, who lived a little up the mountain, their home carved into the side.
One thing that always stood out on the mountain, was Heroes’ Cross. It’s a large Christian cross standing at the tip of Caraiman. To get there you’d simply have to walk up the mountain. The best and easiest route was from the smaller town next to Sinaia: Bușteni.
I remember my family once took me up there, on a day trip. We brought a picnic basket and flowers. My great-grandfather served in World War One so it was sort of traditional. He didn’t have a proper grave so the cross served as an emblematic burial ground.
The walk began in the early morning, eight or nine. My mother suggested we take the bus to Bușteni but my father insisted we walk, as we could walk past the Peleș, which I suppose back then was quite impressive.
So we did. We made the journey on foot from my grandparents’ house, past the large, sprawling palace that once housed our king, and made our way along the forest path. I don’t remember whether it was cold, but I remember the dark. This was early summer, but there was this gloom the forest brought with it. I stepped on acorns, smelt the crisp air. I remember all that. But not whether it was cold or not.
I don’t suppose you’ve walked a long time through somewhere like the Carpathians, but it’s otherworldly. Quite an experience. Obviously, there are bears and wolves but none stray too far to the path. Of course, as a child you don’t really consider those things, especially when you’re raised in a place like Bucharest. All there is, is the forest. This thickness, this blanket of treetops above you, as though the world is superimposed by this mass collection of botany. Tastes. Scents. Otherness. I lost track of how long exactly it took to get there, but I remember telling my mother I was getting tired of walking.
I remember seeing Bușteni though, from one of the railings overlooking the town. I remember my hand being cold as I grabbed the metal and looked down over the large ledge. I remember thinking it was already over. But of course that was only the first part of the journey.
The next part was to get the cable cart up to Cabana Babele, then walk the hour or so it took to the cross. I was about thirteen at the time, so it wasn’t as though they were dragging a small child. This is the path a lot of hikers took, my father had apparently done it before when he was a child, but in hindsight, he was probably lying.
We arrived early enough to get the cable cart up and I remember staring out the windows, pressing my fingers against the glass. My mother seemed annoyed with me, but my father seemed happy to just let me play. When it stopped, my mother made me look over Bușteni, look down through to the valley. From here I could even see Sinaia. I remember looking hard to find my grandparents’ home. I couldn't. But the trees were perfectly separated in the middle. I was facinated by it.
“Now we follow the red crosses.” I remember my father saying, as we started along the trail.
Again, if you haven’t been on this trail, you might not know that it’s quite a narrow path. Even more narrow back then. My father leading us, my mother trailed behind me to make sure I didn’t slip. The weather was warming. I remember keeping my coat on, though I took off my hat. I’d never been that high up and the annoyance of having to walk for as long as I had been melted at the sight of everything around me. I could barely keep an eye on the narrow path as my gaze was transfixed on everything around me.
I obviously wasn’t paying attention to the red crosses, I just imagined my father knew where he was going.
It was only after the first hour that my mother started to worry. She stepped ahead of me and in hushed whispers told my father that she thought we were lost. Hearing that made me worried, but my fathers confidence gave me my own. We kept walking — my mother tutting the whole time.
I think my father felt silly when, about two hours from arriving at Cabana Bebele, he realized we’d taken a secondary trail. I think he knew that if we followed that route we’d end up at the cross eventually, I imagine that was his plan. His way of saving face.
It was at about this time that I saw the Thing. Two yellow eyes watching me from deep in the forest. I thought it might be a bear so I stuck close to my mother. I told her what I saw and I remember her saying “they don’t like people, it’ll leave us alone.”
I kept my eye on it, holding my mothers arm as she walked ahead of me. At the time I couldn’t get over how tall it seemed. I could see the ground and the height the eyes were at, and it seemed as though it were impossibly tall. As we walked I started to make out more and more of it. A leg, hairy but human. A hand against a tree, sharp. I don’t mean the nails, I mean the fingers. They were pointed. The nail must’ve taken up most of the finger itself. When it moved, it did so deliberately. There was nothing random in its actions. It would move slowly, using the trees for cover but still allowing me to see parts of it. It knew I could see it. It wanted me too. I must’ve stared at it for minutes and then watched it slowly and carefully descend further into the darkness.
I didn’t see it again until we started our trip back. The sun wasn’t setting or anything like that, but the mountains are giants, and once the sun gets over one side the other begins to be shrouded in darkness. I didn’t think I’d see it again, in fact I hoped I wouldn’t. But there was no one else at the cross which made me even more anxious. We’d left the flowers, had some of the picnic. I think my parents wanted to get away from the place too because there wasn’t much family fun. We just ate, quickly, packed our stuff and started the walk back.
My father made sure to follow the crosses this time. The path was still narrow but there weren’t as many trees surrounding us. I think that made the walk easier, less roots to trip over. We walked for about an hour, and then I noticed it. I’m sure it had been there a while, in the valley, looking up at us. The yellow of its eyes luring me in. My parents ignored it. Ignored it until it got closer and closer, our route becoming more entwined with the trees. It was slow, painfully slow but I think it knew no matter what I said to my parents they’d write it off as childishness. They’d done so the trip up.
I saw it fully only once, and that was enough.
My foot slipped on the narrowness and I tumbled, twisting and turning until I hit a tree stump. My parents were on the trail, shouting for me to get up, neither of them moving a muscle. I struggled hard to get to my feet, grabbing onto the closest thing I could, the tree itself. But I felt hard skin instead. My hand was on its. ‘Its’ is the only way I can describe it. The hand was giant, my own barely made up an eight of it. I looked up and saw the eyes peering down slowly, felt the darkness of its cold, tattered clothing against my skin. I could feel the thing’s hunger. It wanted to devour me.
I screamed and tried to run, but its other arm held the back of my coat. My father started to walk toward me, as though I was playing some game. The sun shone through part of a tree and the thing finally stopped.
I don’t know why it didn’t eat me there. I’m sure it could’ve.
Recently, I moved from Bucharest, to live with my son and his wife. They live in Moroeni, quite close to Sinaia and Bușteni. They live in a small house just by the forest.
I think years and years of sitting with my memories had made me numb to the idea of whatever it was. That otherness in the Carpathians. The change; the realization that made me come here started then. Every night I see eyes I see watching me through my bedroom window. Those same yellow eyes.
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