So to complete the set of creepy sights I ran into during Autumn 2019:

Late one night, I was walking to my car from a house at the bottom of a hill. This was a dark hill with large trees bending over, and it was night. I was not certain where along the road I had put the car, and in the patchwork of shadow and dim light I couldn't exactly make sense of what my eyes were seeing.

Suddenly I thought I saw someone walking up ahead. And I could not see who they were, for they seemed to be naught but a shadow.

I could not tell if they were coming towards me or away. And as I kept walking, I got even more confused, because it seemed like this shadowy figure was copying my movements.

Dread rose within me, and for a moment I doubted whether I ought to keep trying to reach the car, or back away slowly and hope my mysterious companion had not noticed me.

But I kept moving forward. And eventually I realized --

The figure was my shadow, projected onto a road sign from light that had been in a house window behind me. Those signs are made to reflect light much better than anything else around, so it stands to reason that I would register that light long before my eyes could pick out anything else.

It reminded me of the phenomenon called the "Grey Man of Ben MacDhui" where people hiking the Cairngorms think there's some kind of weird giant far ahead of them in the fog, failing to realize that the setting sun behind them is casting their own shadow onto the clouds ahead. More generally it's known as a "Brocken Spectre", because the Brocken in the Harz Mountains often has the kind of fog that will turn your shadow into a proper ghostly figure. But oh, even when you KNOW what it is, it's still creepy. The fog can drift enough to make the Specter look like it's waving, and when you get a good halo around it from ice crystals in the fog, why then it's positively eerie.

I guess I came as close as I could to seeing one of my own, that night on the hill.

Brock"en spec"ter or spec"tre (?) . [Trans. of G. Brockengespenst.]

A mountain specter (which see), esp. that observed on the Brocken, in the Harz Mountains.


© Webster 1913

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