It’s such a fine feeling — to find the first saffron milk cap. You pass a little glade between the firs and then, down the slope overgrown with ferns you descend to a small opening under large old pines. A spot of orange attracts your attention shining against the mesh of emerald grass. It is early October; it rained heavily in the morning, and shreds of fog drift through the forest.
You don’t believe your luck. You look closer — and there it is, quite large, with the cap already losing the brightness of the young specimen and turning dirty pink at the edge. Pine needles stick to it, and a bit of a cobweb. And then you look up and — all of a sudden — you see dozens and dozens of them here and there spreading about in the grass, small, large, and you instantly understand that you chanced on an entire bagful of these delicious fungi.
You start collecting them and midway through the opening you register, after a moment of uneasiness, an uncomfortable feeling. You try to locate and define it and then you understand that it feels like someone is watching you. You stand up and look around but you see no one. The forest is silent; only woodpecker’s short drum rolls echo from time to time in the distance. You look at the nearest pine trunks, thick, wet, and old, at the fern fronds sparkling with raindrops, at the tall grass stalks standing perfectly still at the edge of the opening guarding a fallen birch; you turn slowly and peer into darkness between the pines. There, in the deep shadow beneath the dense undergrowth you see the eyes — small, unblinking, cold — and a large black body looming behind.
You freeze. You don’t move for quite a while. You remember all the stories about bears you’ve ever heard or read especially when you were a child; you remember that in the late autumn they must be well nourished already and therefore relatively harmless. A random piece of advice — to pick up a long dead branch and to appear as tall as possible — floats up despondently in your mind. Moving your head very carefully you look around. You see such a branch on the ground well out of reach, about three or four steps away, all covered in dry leaves, a massive end sticking out of the grass. Feeling painful stiffness spreading about your shoulder blades and your neck you try to calculate your moves.
Then a sudden wave of relief washes over your body. You almost laugh at your groundless panic. It must be age, you think. You shake your head in mock disbelief. Certainly, there is nothing over there, you say to yourself looking again at the darkness beneath the brilliant green of the large hazel leaves — it’s just shadows and raindrops, and the fog, and the fading daylight — the ordinary bare works of the fall all too familiar but still efficient enough to scare you to death.
The terror recedes. You exhale, spread your shoulders, pick up your plastic bag half-full with your delicious trophies, and take a step towards the pines.
The darkness moves.