“Out of the Dark Forest”
(based on true events)
I’m still alive, I think, unless I’m a ghost. I was hitching from Leipzig to Paris. He was a Frenchman, a somewhat dirty and unshaven driver, small and shabby.
He agreed to give me a ride; a ride with him the rest of the way to Paris where I needed to pick up my paintings from an exhibition I had there. It was October.
He spoke broken English. I spoke no French. I really didn’t have a clue who he was.
* * *
The day was sunny and blue.
It was a warm and comfortable French day; a great day to hitchhike. It was around 4:30 pm when I met him at a gas station somewhere in France. I hopped into his little old car, happy to have scored a ride.
We drove off to Paris on the main highway. After some small talk, mainly about me and where I’m from, he reached over my lap and opened the glove compartment. He pulled out what looked like a bunch of passports.
They were, indeed, passports. He handed me all 4. The first pretty girl was his girlfriend who died falling off the back of his motorcycle, he said. The second, his girlfriend who died in a car crash, he told me. The third girlfriend died from a brain tumor, and so on…
He said, “I’m such an unlucky man.” I agreed he was. The uneasiness started then and only grew as the miles rolled on. He was in possession of 4 young women’s passports.
Soon after showing me the passports, the man said he wanted to take a shortcut to Paris. It wasn’t really a question to me. Excellent, thought I, get me outta here ASAP.
I assumed we would cut through some charming Normandy villages on secondary roads. Instead, we turned off onto an implausible dirt road off the main highway.
No, I thought. Not good. But I kept silent.
Why we keep quiet is a mystery, perhaps because of our manners.
At first the road was out in the open, through a field. We rolled over the typical vivid green French hillsides until we finally reached the heavy woods.
There was an inescapable perception that the road narrowed. It grew instantly darker as we entered the forest on the dirt road and drove on. The interior of the forest reminded me of spooky Hollywood woods; Wizard of Oz spooky.
The woods looked like the perfect place to hide something. I still found the woods to be beautiful. In the face of my situation, I thought how humans don’t deserve such beauty. Strange.
It was at this point my French driver shouted:
“I dont wan zu speeekk Ingliss hanymower!”
This was also not a request.
Then silence… uncomfortable silence in the darkening forest.
I started to feel a small trickle of adrenaline in my body, my fight or flight soup warming up, coming online.
Communication had now officially ended. I pondered this because I knew I would surely have questions as we would get deeper and deeper into the woods. I knew that I wouldn’t ask them, though.
It was now 5:00 pm and the sun was fading fast. The woods grew darker. Monsieur X also seemed tense, and I could tell he was in deep thought.
I noticed his lips moving almost imperceptibly. He was rigid. I myself had moved my hand to the door handle. A movement I’m sure could not have been missed by my French driver.
The car was slowing down.
I did not say a word. Was I going to die now? Did he have a gun? Was this really happening?
All these questions ran through my head…
* * *
This was not my life’s plan.
Maybe I gave off some kind of male pheromones perceptible to men facing off. Fear and crazy and ancient all rolled into some strange perfume, tension, male sweat and body language. I possessed my own rage issues and I was willing to fight.
There would be no begging or cries for mercy.
I had my own secret storeroom of crazy as well. I was a big and strong at that time, made road tough through my travels. There is no substitute for a nothing-to-lose stare.
That is all I gave him.
Something very primitive transpired between us then, I think. It’s a sort of inner calculus as to whether one can overcome, stop or kill the other guy or not; and all its peripheral considerations, not the least of which were blood and dying.
I don’t think these calculations are the same when the victim is small, scared, begging and weak. I think between those two people it becomes just bloodlust, power, panic, and doom, ancient reptilian human feelings. Raptor cold. Being overcome. Ghastly, really.
5:12 pm, the car was now moving really, really slow.
I entered a very strange and new place in myself. I was transformed, with very little preparation, into a killer myself. Maybe my chauffeur could read my mind, or my body language, or smell my intent. Or see my hand on the door handle. It was the moment of truth.
Rmmmmm, we suddenly started to speed up.
* * *
Odd how these memories have come back to me as I write. Some I’m not certain of, like: Did he say he had to hit one girlfriend with a shovel because she attacked him and would leave him alone? Did he really explain the two backpacks on the backseat? Did I not hear that on purpose? Did I see more passports in his glove box than the 4 he pulled out? Why didn’t I say “stop the car!” after the passport show?
The road began to widen and we emerged out of the dark forest into the setting sun, red and orange in the sky. I could hear and then see the highway now.
I saw tiny houses across from the highway. I had no idea where exactly I was. The Frenchman asked if I wanted to spend the night at his home, we could eat dinner. (A quick film of his filthy torture chamber basement ran through my head.)
I politely said no, my first words spoken since the order not to speak English was given. I sincerely think that had I broken that command and blabbered something, my story might have had a different ending. It could have been as simple as that.
It all came down to silence. I can be silent. Sometimes one needs to be, to contemplate the next move. Maybe one of the women in the passports may not have been able to spring over her nature, and started to talk or beg under fear. That would have fed the killer’s sickness, his evil.
Alas, who really knows?
I got out at the side of the highway, and with darkness settling in, I watched him drive away.
I never went to the police because:
1. I didn’t speak French and
2. I thought maybe my imagination was just too active.
“Jesus, what was that!” I yelled loudly to the night. It was fully dark now.
I was now exhausted and I fell asleep on the side of the highway. It started to rain. I did accidentally sleep on an ant hill and was covered in ants the next morning. I was worried what today would bring.
Am I still alive? Am I a ghost now? What happened back there?
* * *
Jump ahead 20 years and I’m teaching a student Business English in a café back in Leipzig. For whatever reason, we discuss the topic of hitchhiking and I tell him my story. He promptly whips out his smartphone and Googles French serial killers. Then he shows me pictures.
There he was.
I was shown a photo of serial killer Patrice Alègre. It was him back then, me and him on that strange ride. I had never forgotten his face.
At that time, 1990, there was a reported serial killer leaving bodies of girls on the French road sides and highways. I had heard that. My French girlfriend told me to be careful hitchhiking.
I have often wondered if the murdered women, and other men, may have been buried in those woods we passed slowly through. I now wish I had gone to the police, and have subsequently tried. He’s in jail, they are not interested.
Maybe I could have helped stop more murders back then. That’s heavy; heavy on my soul. And since then I have felt a dark light in my body. Maybe the souls of the girls escaped with me, desperate to get out of the forest.
This story has also been published on the author’s website.