October. It's that time of year, where the night presides earlier and earlier and bonfires become essential whether you are camping, hiking the trails or simply wanting to visit with friends outdoors. With everyone crammed close to the burning logs, hot drinks and wide-eyed, it's the time of year for ghost stories. To not have a good ghost story ready in these situations is like forgetting to bring the graham crackers and wanting to make s'mores.
My ghost story I am sharing with you is just one of many that I have. As a full time paranormal investigator and ghost tour owner, I am constantly in haunted locations. Old asylums, vacant prisons and spooky old mansions are a common venue for my tours but sometimes it is the simple outdoors after sunset that can get to you the most. For this tale, we head to a solo weekend camping trip. I was prepared to defend myself against the living. I certainly was not ready for the dead to appear instead.
It had been years since I last backpacked alone and for some reason I was excited to try it out again. No company to try to entertain- just some much needed space. As I hiked into the woods, I couldn't shake how incredibly silent it was. I could hear my own breathing and every now and then, I would look over my shoulder quickly in response to random noises. I am sure it didn't help that I had seen the movie "The Blair Witch Project" just one week prior. Perfect timing, I thought sarcastically.
The first night I managed to set up a simple camp, make dinner and eventually go to my little pop up tent to read a good book until I got tired enough to sleep. I tossed and turned though, listening to the silent night until late morning when I finally rested my eyes. And then I heard it. I remember at one point staring at the top of my tent not sure if I was awake or not and suddenly hearing it again. I heard the loud crunch of footsteps outside my tent. They were fast going as they came but with the footsteps came something of a grumble. I couldn't be actually sure, and I couldn't distinguish any actual words, but in my mind's eye I was sure I heard something grumbling to themselves in a deep and agitated voice. I was too terrified to look out but felt a little bit secure as my hand closed on the canister of pepper spray I had packed- just in case. After a few minutes of silence, I looked out and saw nothing. I spent the rest of the day wandering around, making lunch, reading more of the book I had packed and attempting to start another fire before dusk set.
That night was a long one. I never even got out of my sleeping bag. Not inexperienced with some of the sounds of night and their magnification in the silence, I tried to convince myself it was my ears playing tricks on me again. And although I managed to stay in my sleeping bag that night, I didn't fall asleep again until early morning.
The next day I woke up even later and more tired than before. I made a half-hearted attempt at making some oatmeal and sat with my breakfast plate on my knees. I got my pack ready and headed out soon after washing my plate. About two and a half miles later, I dropped my pack and sat watching the sun begin to sink in the sky. I knew I had one last night of camping and I knew I could do this.
I managed to collect a fair amount of firewood and by the time nightfall came, I had a small fire going with a good collection of wood piled up near me. Under the reassuring light of my campfire, I started to become more at ease with the deafening silence of nature. I took a long stick and poked the fire and accidently tossed a small pile of twigs out of the fire circle and into some leaves. I got up to get the leaves put out and when I turned around to go back to my seat. I saw him.
The light was low with my little fire, but I could clearly see a man reaching down with a scorched hand for my firewood. He wore a red plaid shirt with large black burns and a red ashy beard that smoldered at his rugged face. He quickly looked up and his vacant white eyes connected with mine. He gritted his teeth and scrunched his nose towards me before quickly leaving the ring of firelight. I stood still in pure shock. He had vanished into thin air. I ran back inside my tent and sat clutching my little can of pepper spray not really sure what to do next. Break down camp and wander in the dark? No way. Sit here in the dark till morning light arrived? Well, it was a long night indeed, because that's what I chose to do.
I hurriedly tore down my camp and packed up quietly. I found my trail and headed back to civilization. I was starving since I had not eaten breakfast so I decided to stop at the one and only restaurant on the two-lane road headed home. As I drank my coffee and ate my greasy hash browns, I overheard two patrons talking about the house fire. Apparently, an entire family had died two nights prior. Their tiny wood frame house had caught fire and no one had been able to escape. I couldn't ignore the sensation that was gripping me. I knew I had to ask them some questions so I walked over innocently and made my lame eavesdropping excuse. The older man told me what I already knew. The family's home was not far from the trail I had been on and was only a few miles from my campsite. As I walked out of the restaurant, I knew with certainty that a ghost had visited me that night prior. Perhaps he was trying to warn me of something or maybe he was just curious as to what I was doing in the woods. I will never know the reason why he stopped by my camp that night but I do know this. It would be a long time before I would go camping alone again.