Into the Woods



The crisp, autumn air clings to skin and runs through hair. The breeze digs past clothing in a mixture of warm and cold sensations. Tingles run up and down skin, causing the hairs to stand on end.


There is no sense that someone is creeping along or that are eyes leering from dark, shadowy places.


The musky scent of fallen leaves mingles with the crisp, cool-warm air. It no longer smells of the hot, dry sunshine and blossoming flowers or ice cream cones melting in children’s hands.

It does not yet freeze nostrils together in an icy tangle of frozen hairs. It is not softly floating snowflakes falling from the sky in a pleasant array that feels like standing in a shaken snow globe.


Rather, it is a normal, autumn day.


At least, that’s how it began.


The bell rang the end of the day at the French high school in a small, rural town in Northern Ontario. Sitting nearby, across an expanse of thick forestry, is the English high school.


They are not in competition with one another but are close enough to cover a small mass of space in their trivial town and flood the streets with flocks of adolescents.


Kids are now spreading about the community and making their way to work, home or extra-curricular activities.


However, one student in particular was not quite headed toward the safety and warmth of her home.


Mathematics can be a difficult subject and she was no exception to that rule. A constant struggle in the subject meant she usually stayed after the final bell for private tutoring from her teacher.


He was an exceptional instructor and would repeat the entire day’s lesson, start to finish, usually taking an extra hour of his time to help her.


When finally, free of mathematics — at least temporarily — she made her way to the back of the building. It wasn’t abnormal for her to take this specific route.


The back door led to the forest between the two schools, which was the most direct and efficient route to take.


The autumn air swept by her as she stepped outside and began her trek home. The sun was still shining between the leaves and the weather didn’t quite call for a jacket. She could smell the autumn air as she walked, crunching the fallen leaves under her feet.


The trail was a short path of dense wooding and sat on a hill. At the bottom of the slant was Samantha, whose name is changed for protection of privacy.


Working her way upward she began to hear voices. Low and behold, near the top of the hill was a group of guys. Five young men with backpacks straddled over their shoulders.

The French high school was a very small place with a limited number of students. The beauty, and problem, of such smaller populations is you know everyone and they all know you.


However, these were not boys she recognized. They were very much strangers and she assumed they were from the English school.


At first, Samantha was unnerved by their actions. They were looking at her, then talking to each other, then once again looking over at her before speaking to each other once more.

As a constant target for bullying and teasing by peers she assumed they were simply making fun of her like everyone else did.


But as she came ever closer to the group, she realized some of the boys were edging another one to do something. She couldn’t tell what they were saying to one another, but there was something happening.


She paused internally as they started catcalling her. It was a brand-new experience for Samantha. The boys were trying, in vain, to get her attention.


“Hey, hey,” they called. “What you doing?”


Instead of responding, Samantha clutched her backpack more tightly as she looked away. She continued to steadily approach, the only thing running through her mind, “I gotta get through them.”


Fear gripped her as the boys blocked her path and surrounded her. They began talking to her all at once but the words were incoherent. Traveling alone, surrounded by strangers, fear began take hold.


In an attempt to free herself, Samantha tried to push past one of the boys but he wouldn’t let her through the barricade they had created.


Making a second attempt to get by the human blockade one of the boys grabbed her wrist. Samantha’s mind turned blank in that moment. In a breath, a moment of panic, and a good deal of martial arts training, she flipped the aggressor onto the boy that was beside him.


The two boys landed on the ground in a thud. The group of five looked at her with shock and surprise. One took off running before the others also fled the scene.


“What’s wrong with you?” The boy who had grabbed her asked before he too ran.


Samantha stood on the path for a moment and looked around. The autumn air hadn’t changed, it was still warm-cool with sunlight breaching the overbrush and leaves.


She was thinking to herself, “What did I do? What did they do?”


It wasn’t a long stretch of time before she continued along the path, making her way home. The event passed through her mind periodically but she didn’t linger on it during her trek.

When she got home, Samantha told her mother about what had happened. Naturally, her mother wanted to file a police report and get to the bottom of it.


“I don’t know them at all,” Samantha protested. “I wasn’t paying attention to their faces —because I was avoiding their faces — it wouldn’t get anywhere.”


Under the assumption that the situation was left to fade into the background, or so she believed, she carried on with her life.


The next day at school the hallways and classes were flooded with gossip. Classmates who never spoke to Samantha bombarded her with questions. Teachers inquired about the situation as well. She seemed to be the only person who didn’t consider the incident a big deal, especially considering the fact that she was fine.


The story ended up being shared, gossiped about and blown out of proportion over the next few years of high school. These fractionated tales needed to be quelled before they ran too far out of proportion of the actual event. Samantha realized this after an incident while working at the local McDonald’s.


She noticed someone being picked on by another kid while they were all inside the restaurant.


Having been bullied herself she had a natural dislike for the behaviour. As such, Samantha approached the bully and told him to stop.


He, and the others around them, looked at her and realized who she was.


“Oh sorry,” the bully apologized. “We don’t want to mess with you. We heard you broke that guy’s arm.”


Upon hearing this, Samantha had two primary thoughts.


One: “I don’t think so.”


And two: “I didn’t feel it.”


That was when she began to address the gossip and eventually it faded away.

While what happened wasn’t a big deal in her mind, because it was something she walked away from unharmed, others were astonished by the story.


However, the more people that have asked her about what happened the more she has considered just how much worse the situation could have been.


“I could have been raped,” She says calmly, without emotion.


She brings up the question, ‘how do you know if it was a rape scenario?’


“It was a feeling,” She explains. “Intense fear, they were leering, laughing, snickering. That’s just how it played around in my mind. Maybe they just wanted to intimidate someone. In my mind, that was not what was about to happen.”


Years after the fact she discovered her mother had filed a complaint with the city. That complaint lead to the path being cleared out and widened for the safety of other users, especially the high school students. It had initially been kept a secret from her since her mother had acted quickly after the incident.


Samantha believes it was completed about a year to two afterward despite only discovering the secret a few years ago.


Even while discussing it in the present day she still feels that it wasn’t a big deal.

“I don’t have any particular sentiment about it.”


Though, if she could speak to them, she would want to know what they were thinking and what their actual intent was.


She would want to know how they felt when out of nowhere she defended herself from them and she would want to know if they ever tried again on anyone else.


“Not that I’d expect a real answer,” Samantha chuckles.


She does realize, however, that it could have been an entirely different outcome. She says that if a knife had been in play — or another type of weapon — the outcome would have been drastically different and it would not have been in her favour.






However, that being said, she is glad that they had opted to intimidate and circle her rather than someone who was frail or inexperienced in defensive techniques.


“I’m glad it happened to me rather than someone who has never been taught how to fight,” Samantha says confidently.


If the situation had taken a bad turn for her, she says that recovery would depend on the severity.


Though, she says if she had been beaten up, raped or the like then she would have definitely contacted the police.


Mentally, on the other hand, she says she can’t really say.


“You don’t know until things happen to you,” Samantha says. “I think I’m a strong individual and would have gotten over it as well as one can.”


During a dangerous situation, the human brain has a reaction and a recovery. She says her mind went blank and had an adrenaline rush that gave her a substantial bout of strength but accounts her martial arts training, experience and familial upbringing as the key elements that assisted her.


She says that as much as she was teased and picked on throughout school, she was still a very proud person.


“I was taught to have a lot of self-confidence,” she says of her parents’ guidance.


Combined with the confidence she got through martial arts training she says the mental and physical training has helped ward off evil.


“Sounds cheesy,” she laughs heartily.


Her martial arts instructor was ecstatic to know that someone who was in martial arts was able to protect themselves. She also says he had peace of mind in knowing she was alright.

“They were very vigilant for me,” she explains, before chuckling. “Gotta keep an ear out for the guys who attacked a girl.”


She further says the martial arts members and instructors were very protective of her. They also provided her with some extra classes pertaining to further tips in case it ever happened again.


The reaction from her father was a little different from her mothers with a slight commentary to the sound of “glad we put her in karate.”


Samantha believes if more women learned to defend themselves then most men would probably think twice before attacking someone, particularly someone they think is vulnerable.

Furthermore, women themselves would be a little less worried about being attacked because they know the basis of defence. Samantha says that knowing how to protect yourself gives you confidence.


She has no doubt that she would again defend herself if she was attacked. However, injuring the aggressor would be more of a concern at this point due to her advance in skill.


“I’ve continued with martial arts so long I’d be more afraid of hurting them,” she says. “But the fear factor would still be there. You never know if they’re holding something. I would defend myself to my greatest abilities.”

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