Search and Rescue Woods by searchandrescuewoods: Part 1
I wasn't sure where else to post these stories, so I figured I'd share them here. I've been an SAR officer for a few years now, and along the way I've seen some things that I think you guys will be interested in.
•I have a pretty good track record for finding missing people. Most of the time they just wander off the path, or slip down a small cliff, and they can't find their way back. The majority of them have heard the old 'stay where you are' thing, and they don't wander far. But I've had two cases where that didn't happen. Both bother me a lot, and I use them as motivation to search even harder on the missing persons cases I get called on. The first was a little boy who was out berry-picking with his parents. He and his sister were together, and both of them went missing around the same time. Their parents lost sight of them for a few seconds, and in that time both the kids apparently wandered off. When their parents couldn't find them, they called us, and we came out to search the area. We found the daughter pretty quickly, and when we asked where her brother was, she told us that he'd been taken away by 'the bear man.' She said he gave her berries and told her to stay quiet, that he wanted to play with her brother for a while. The last she saw of her brother, he was riding on the shoulders of 'the bear man' and seemed calm. Of course, our first thought was abduction, but we never found a trace of another human being in that area. The little girl was also insistent that he wasn't a normal man, but that he was tall and covered in hair, 'like a bear', and that he had a 'weird face.' We searched that area for weeks, it was one of the longest calls I've ever been on, but we never found a single trace of that kid. The other was a young woman who was out hiking with her mom and grandpa. According to the mother, her daughter had climbed up a tree to get a better view of the forest, and she'd never come back down. They waited at the base of the tree for hours, calling her name, before they called for help. Again, we searched everywhere, and we never found a trace of her. I have no idea where she could possibly have gone, because neither her mother or grandpa saw her come down.
•A few times, I've been out on my own searching with a canine, and they've tried to lead me straight up cliffs. Not hills, not even rock faces. Straight, sheer cliffs with no possible handholds. It's always baffling, and in those cases we usually find the person on the other side of the cliff, or miles away from where the canine has led us. I'm sure there's an explanation, but it's sort of strange.
•One particularly sad case involved the recovery of a body. A nine-year-old girl fell down an embankment and got impaled on a dead tree at the base. It was a complete freak accident, but I'll never forget the sound her mother made when we told her what had happened. She saw the body bag being loaded into the ambulance, and she let out the most haunting, heart-broken wail I've ever heard. It was like her whole life was crashing down around her, and a part of her had died with her daughter. I heard from another SAR officer that she killed herself a few weeks after it happened. She couldn't live with the loss of her daughter.
•I was teamed up with another SAR officer because we'd received reports of bears in the area. We were looking for a guy who hadn't come home from a climbing trip when he was supposed to, and we ended up having to do some serious climbing to get to where we figured he'd be. We found him trapped in a small crevasse with a broken leg. It was not pleasant. He'd been there for almost two days, and his leg was very obviously infected. We were able to get him into a chopper, and I heard from one of the EMTs that the guy was absolutely inconsolable. He kept talking about how he'd been doing fine, and when he'd gotten to the top, a man had been there. He said the guy had no climbing equipment, and he was wearing a parka and ski pants. He walked up to the guy, and when the guy turned around, he said he had no face. It was just blank. He freaked out, and ended up trying to get off the mountain too fast, which is why he'd fallen. He said he could hear the guy all night, climbing down the mountain and letting out these horrible muffled screams. That story bothered the hell out of me. I'm glad I wasn't there to hear it.
•One of the scariest things I've ever had happen to me involved the search for a young woman who'd gotten separated from her hiking group. We were out until late at night, because the dogs had picked up her scent. When we found her, she was curled up under a large rotted log. She was missing her shoes and pack, and she was clearly in shock. She didn't have any injuries, and we were able to get her to walk with us back to base ops. Along the way, she kept looking behind us and asking us why 'that big man with black eyes' was following us. We couldn't see anyone, so we just wrote it off as some weird symptom of shock. But the closer we got to base, the more agitated this woman got. She kept asking me to tell him to stop 'making faces' at her. At one point she stopped and turned around and started yelling into the forest, saying that she wanted him to leave her alone. She wasn't going to go with him, she said, and she wouldn't give us to him. We finally got her to keep moving, but we started hearing these weird noises coming from all around us. It was almost like coughing, but more rhythmic and deeper. It was almost insect-like, I don't really know how else to describe it. When we were within site of base ops, the woman turns to me, and her eyes are about as wide as I can imagine a human could open them. She touches my shoulder and says 'He says to tell you to speed up. He doesn't like looking at the scar on your neck.' I have a very small scar on the base of my neck, but it's mostly hidden under my collar, and I have no idea how this woman saw it. Right after she says it, I hear that weird coughing right in my ear, and I just about jumped out of my skin. I hustled her to ops, trying not to show how freaked out I was, but I have to say I was really happy when we left the area that night.
•This is the last one I'll tell, and it's probably the weirdest story I have. Now, I don't know if this is true in every SAR unit, but in mine, it's sort of an unspoken, regular thing we run into. You can try asking about it with other SAR officers, but even if they know what you're talking about, they probably won't say anything about it. We've been told not to talk about it by our superiors, and at this point we've all gotten so used to it that it doesn't even seem weird anymore. On just about every case where we're really far into the wilderness, I'm talking 30 or 40 miles, at some point we'll find a staircase in the middle of the woods. It's almost like if you took the stairs in your house, cut them out, and put them in the forest. I asked about it the first time I saw some, and the other officer just told me not to worry about it, that it was normal. Everyone I asked said the same thing. I wanted to go check them out, but I was told, very emphatically, that I should never go near any of them. I just sort of ignore them now when I run into them because it happens so frequently.
I have a lot more stories, and I suppose if anyone's interested, I'll tell some of them tomorrow. If anyone has any theories about the stairs, or if you've seen them too, let me know.
So I logged back on tonight and was blown away by the staggering amount of interest this seems to have generated. First off, I'll address a few things that you guys have brought up:
•There's been an overwhelming amount of people mentioning the similarity between some of my stories and those of David Paulides. I assure you I'm not trying to rip him off in any way, I've got nothing but respect for the guy. He's actually what inspired me to write this, because I can verify a lot of the things he talks about. We do have a lot of these strange missing persons cases, and most of the time they aren't solved. Either that, or we find them in places they have no business being. I personally haven't been on many calls like that, but I'll share a few that I've seen, and a story my friend told me that relates to this.
•There was a lot of feedback about the stairs, so I'll touch on that briefly here, and I'll also include a story. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, styles, and conditions. Some are pretty dilapidated, just ruins, but others are brand new. I saw one set that looked like they came from a lighthouse: they were metal and spiral, almost old-fashioned. The stairs don't go up infinitely, or farther than I can see, but some sets are taller than others. Like I said before, just imagine the stairs in your house, as if someone cut-and-pasted them in the middle of nowhere. I don't have any pictures, it's never really occurred to me to try again after the first time, and I don't really feel like risking my job over it. I'll try again in the future, but I can't really promise anything.
•A few people expressed confusion about the guy who ran into the man with no face. Just to clarify, when the climber ascended and reached the top of this peak, he saw another man in a parka and ski pants. This was the man with no face. Sorry about the confusing wording of that story, I'll try to avoid that in the future.
Alright, on to the new stories:
•As far as missing persons go, I'd say about half the calls I get are related to that. The others are rescue calls; people who fall down cliffs and hurt themselves, get injured by fire (you wouldn't believe how often this happens, mostly drunk kids), get bitten or stung by animals or insects. We're a tight team, and we have veterans who are excellent at finding signs of lost people. That's what makes these cases where we never find any trace of them so frustrating. One in particular was upsetting for all of us, because we did find a trace of them, but it just led to more questions than answers. An older man had been hiking alone on a well-established trail, but his wife called to say that he hadn't come home when he should have. Apparently he had a history of seizures, and she was worried that he hadn't taken his medication and had suffered one out on the trail. Before you ask, I have no idea why he thought it was okay to go out alone, or why she didn't go with him. I don't ask about that kind of thing because past a certain point, it really doesn't matter. Someone is missing, and it's my job to find them. We went out in a standard search formation, and it wasn't long before one of our vets found signs that the guy had gone off the trail. We grouped up and followed him, spreading out in a fan to make sure we were covering as much ground as possible. Suddenly, a call comes over the radio telling us to all head back to the vets location, and we come right away, because this usually means the missing person is injured, and we need a full team to help get them out safely. We meet back up, and the vet is just standing at the base of a tree with his hands on the sides of his head. I ask my buddy what's going on, and he points up into the branches of this tree. I almost couldn't believe what I was seeing, but there's a walking stick dangling from a branch at least thirty feet off the ground. The little strap thing on the handle has been looped around the branch, and it's just hanging there. There's no way the guy could have tossed it up that far, and we don't see any other signs that he's still in the area. We call up into the tree, but it's obvious no one's in it. We're all just sort of left scratching our heads. We keep searching for the guy, but we never find him. We even bring our canines out, but they lose his scent long before this tree. Eventually, the search is called off, because there are other calls we have to attend to, and past a certain point there's not much we can do. The guy's wife called us every day for months, asking if we'd found her husband, and it was heartbreaking to hear her get more and more hopeless each time. I'm not sure why this call in particular was so upsetting, but I think it was just the sheer improbability of it. That and the questions that were raised. How the hell had this guy's cane ended up there? Did someone kill him and toss that up there as some weird trophy? We did our best to find him, but it was almost like a taunt. We still talk about that one from time to time.
•Missing kids are the most heart-breaking. Doesn't matter what circumstances they go missing under, it's never easy, and we always, always dread the ones we find deceased. It's not common, but it does happen. David Paulides talks a lot about kids SAR teams find in places they shouldn't be, or couldn't be. I can honestly say I've heard about this kind of thing happening more than I've seen it, but I'll share one of the ones that I think about a lot that I witnessed personally. A mother and her three kids were out for a picnic in an area of the park that has a small lake. One is six, one is five, and the other is about three. She's watching them all really closely, and according to her, she never lets them out of her sight at any time. She never saw anyone else in the area either, which is important. She packs their stuff up and they start to head back to the parking area. Now, this lake is only about two miles into the woods, and it's on a very clearly established trail. It's almost impossible to get lost getting from the parking area to it, unless you're deliberately going off the path like an imbecile. Her kids are walking in front of her, when she hears what sounds like someone coming up the path behind her. She turns around, and in the four or so seconds she's not looking, her five-year-old son vanishes. She figures he's stepped off the trail to pee or something, and she asks her other two where he went. They both tell her that 'a big man with a scary face' came out of the woods next to them, took the kid's hand, and led him into the trees. The two remaining kids don't seem upset, in fact she says later that it seems like they've been drugged. They're sort of spacey and fuzzy. So of course, she freaks out, starts looking frantically in the area for her kid. She's screaming his name, and she says at one point she thinks she heard him answer her. Now obviously she can't go blindly running into the woods, she's got the other two kids, so she calls the police and they send us out immediately. We respond, and we start the search for him.Over the course of this search, which spans miles, we never find a single trace of the kid. Canines can't pick up any scent, we don't find any clothing or broken bushes or literally anything that would signify a child being there. Of course there's suspicion about the mother for a while, but it's pretty clear that she's completely destroyed by the whole thing. We looked for this kid for weeks, with a lot of volunteer help. But eventually, the search peters out, and we have to move on. The volunteers keep searching, though, and one day we get a call on the radio letting us know that a body has been found and needs to be recovered. They tell us the location, and none of us can believe it. We figure it has to be a different kid. But we go out there, about 15 miles from the site where he vanished, and sure enough, we find the body of the kid we've been looking for. I have been trying to figure out how this kid got where he did ever since we found him, and I've never come up with an answer. A volunteer just happened to be in the area, because he figured he might as well look in places no one else would think to on the off chance the body had been dumped. He comes to the base of a tall, rocky slope, and half-way up, he sees something. He looks through his binoculars and sure enough, it's the body of a little boy, stuffed in a little opening in the rock. He recognizes the color of the kid's shirt, so he knows right away that it's the missing boy. That's when he calls it in, and we're dispatched. It took us almost an hour to get his body down, and none of us could believe what we were seeing. Not only was this kid 15 miles from where he'd started, there was no possible way he could have gotten up there on his own. This slope is treacherous, and it's hard even for us with our climbing gear. A five-year-old boy had no way of getting up there, of that I'm certain. Not only that, but the kid doesn't have a scratch on him. His shoes are gone, but his feet aren't damaged or dirty. So it wasn't as if an animal dragged him up there. And from what we can tell, he hasn't been dead that long. He'd been out there over a month by that point, and it looked like he'd only been dead for, at most, a day or two. The whole thing was unbelievably strange, and was one of the most disconcerting calls I've ever been on. We found out later that the coroner determined the kid had died from exposure. He'd frozen to death, probably late at night two days before we found him. There were no suspects, and no answers. To date, it's one of the weirdest things I've ever seen.
•One of my first jobs as a trainee was a search op for a four-year-old kid that had gotten separated from his mom. This was one of those cases where we knew we were gonna find him because the dogs were on a strong scent trail, and we saw clear signs that he was in the area. We ended up finding him in a berry patch about half a mile from where he'd been last seen. Kid wasn't even aware that he'd wandered that far. One of the vets brought him back, which I was glad for because I'm really not good with kids, and I find it hard to talk to them and keep them company. As my trainer and I are headed back, she decides to take me on a detour to show me one of the hot spots where we tend to find missing people. It's a natural dip in the land near a popular trail, and people will usually move downhill because it's easier. We hike out there, it's a few miles away, and we get there in about an hour or so. As we're walking around the area and she's pointing out places she's found people in the past, I see something in the distance. Now, this area we're in is about eight miles from the main parking area, though there's back roads you can take to get closer if you don't want to hike that far. But we're on state-protected land, which means there can't be any kind of commercial or residential development out here. The most you'll ever see is a fire tower or makeshift shelter that homeless people think they can get away with building. But I can see from here that whatever this thing is has straight edges, and if there's one thing you learn quickly, it's that nature rarely makes straight lines. I point it out, but she doesn't say anything. She just hangs back and lets me wander over and check it out. I get within about twenty feet of it, and all the hair on the back of my neck stands up. It's a staircase. In the middle of the fucking woods. In the proper context, it would literally be the most benign thing ever. It's just a normal staircase, with beige carpet, and about ten steps tall. But instead of being in a house, where it obviously should be, it's out here in the middle of the woods. The sides aren't carpeted, obviously, and I can see the wood it's made of. It's almost like a video game glitch, where the house has failed to load completely and the stairs are the only thing visible. I stand there, and it's like my brain is working overtime to try and make sense of what I'm seeing. My trainer comes and stands next to me, and she just stands there casually, looking at it as if it's the least interesting thing in the world. I ask her what the fuck this thing is doing here, and she just chuckles. 'Get used to it, rookie. You're gonna see a lot of them.' I start to move closer, but she grabs my arm. Hard. 'I wouldn't do that.' She says. Her voice is casual, but her grip is tight, and I just stand there looking at her. 'You're gonna see them all the time, but don't go near them. Don't touch them, don't go up them. Just ignore them.' I start to ask her about it, but something in the way she's looking at me tells me that it's best if I don't. We end up moving on, and the subject doesn't come up again for the rest of my training. She was right, though. I'd say about every fifth call I go on, I end up running across a set of stairs. Sometimes they're relatively close to the path, maybe within two or three miles. Sometimes they're twenty, thirty miles out, literally in the middle of nowhere, and I only find them during the broadest searches or training weekends. They're usually in good condition, but sometimes it looks like they've been out there for miles. All different kinds, all different sizes. The biggest I ever saw looked like they came out of a turn-of-the-century mansion, and were at least ten feet wide, with steps leading up at least fifteen or twenty feet. I've tried talking about it with people, but they just give me the same response my trainer did. 'It's normal. Don't worry about it, they're not a big deal, but don't go close to them or up them.' When trainees ask me about it now, I give them the same response. I don't really know what else to tell them. I'm really hoping someday I get a better answer, but it hasn't happened yet.
•This is another one that was less spooky and more sad. A young man went missing late in winter, when realistically no one should be going that far out onto the trails. We close a lot of them, but some remain open year round, unless there's a shit-load of snow. We did an op for him, but we had about six feet of snow on the ground (it was an unusually heavy snow year), and we knew it wasn't likely that we'd find him until spring when the thaw came. Sure enough, when the first big thaw came, a hiker reported a body a little ways off the main trail. We found him at the base of a tree, in a pile of melted snow. I knew right away what had happened, and it scared the living shit out of me. Most of you who ski or snowboard, or spend any amount of time on a mountain, will probably have guessed too. When snow falls, it doesn't collect as thick in the areas beneath the branches. It happens most with fir trees, because they have a sort of closed umbrella shape. So what you end up with is a space around the base of a tree that's filled with a mixture of loose, powdery snow, air, and branches. They're called tree wells, and they're not immediately obvious if you don't know what you're looking for. We put up signs in the welcome center, big ones, letting people know how dangerous they are, but every year that we get an unusual amount of snow, at least one person doesn't read them, or doesn't take the warning seriously, and we find out about it in spring. My best guess is that this young man was hiking and got tired, or maybe a cramp from walking in the deep snow. He went to go sit at the base of the tree, not knowing that there was a tree well, and fell in. He got stuck with his feet up, and the surrounding snow caved in around him. Unable to free himself, he suffocated. It's called snow immersion suffocation, and it doesn't usually happen except in really deep snow. But if you get stuck in a weird position, like this guy did, even six feet of snow can be lethal. What scared me the most was imagining how he must have struggled. Upside down, in the freezing cold, he didn't die quickly. The snow would have formed a dense, heavy pile on top of him, and it would have been literally impossible to get out. As it got harder to breathe, he would have known what was happening. I can't even imagine what he was thinking in his last moments.
•A lot of my less outdoorsy friends want to know if I've ever seen the Goatman while I've been out on calls. Unfortunately, or I guess fortunately, I've never had anything quite like that happen. I guess the closest was the whole 'black-eyed man' thing, but I didn't see anything. However, there was one call where I had something kind of similar happen, but I'm not sure I'm willing to chalk it up to the Goatman. We'd gotten a report that an older woman had fainted along one of the trails, and needed assistance getting back down to the main area. We hike up to where she's at, and her husband is just beside himself. He runs, well, I guess more jogs, to us, and tells us that he was a little ways off the trail looking at something when his wife starts screaming behind him. He runs back to her and she's passed out on the trail. We get her on a backboard, and as we're getting her down to the welcome center, she comes to and starts screaming again. I calm her down and ask her what happened. I can't remember verbatim what she said, but essentially, what happened was this: She'd been waiting for her husband when she started hearing this really strange sound. She said it sounded sort of like a cat, but it was off somehow, and she couldn't quite figure out why. She went a little ahead to try and hear it better, and it sounded like it was coming closer. She said the closer it got, the more uneasy she was, until she finally figured out what was wrong. I do remember this next part, because it was so weird that I don't think I could forget it if I tried. "It wasn't a cat. It was a man, saying the word 'meow' over and over. Just 'meow, meow, meow'. But it wasn't a man, it couldn't have been, because I've never heard a man make his voice buzz like that. I thought my hearing aid was going out, but it wasn't, I adjusted it and it still sounded all buzzy. It was awful. He was coming closer, but I couldn't see him. And the closer he got the more scared I was, and the last thing I remember was a shape coming out of the trees. I guess that's when I fainted." Now, obviously I'm a little perplexed as to why a guy would be out in the fucking woods chanting 'meow, meow' at people. So once we get down the mountain, I tell my superior that I'm gonna go search the area to see if I can find anything. He gives me the go ahead, and I grab a radio and hike back to where she fainted. I don't see anyone, so I keep going about a mile more, and I when I head back I go off the trail, to see if I can figure out where she saw him coming from. It's almost sunset by this point, and I don't have any desire to be out at night alone, so I just sort of write it off and make a mental note to check it out again tomorrow. But as I'm headed back, I start to hear something in the distance. I stop, and I call out for anyone in the immediate area to identify themselves. The sound didn't come closer or get louder, but it sounded exactly like a man saying 'meow, meow' in this really odd monotone. As comical as it makes it sound, it was almost like that guy on South Park with the electrolarynx, Ned. I go off the trail in the direction I think it's coming from, but I never seem to get closer. It's almost like it's coming from all directions. Eventually, it just sort of fades out, and I ended up going back to the welcome center. I didn't get any further reports like that, and even though I went back to that area, I never heard that exact sound again. I suppose it could have been some stupid kid out there fucking with people, but even I have to admit it was weird.
So this kind of turned into a massive wall of text, and for that I apologize. I wanted to get to the stories my friend told me, and he does have some good ones, so I'll post those tomorrow evening. I also have a few more of my own I think you guys will like. I'm sorry to keep you all in suspense again, hopefully the stories here make up for it and help you get through the next 24 hours until I can post again!
EDIT: Since it seems like all of you would like to hear more, tomorrow I'll write up as many stories as I can and do a massive post. I'll include my friend's stories, and I'll see if I can't get ahold of a few more people who might have interesting things to talk about. I just wasn't sure how people felt about big huge walls of text, but if you're all okay with it, I'll post lots of stories!
Well, once again, you guys have blown me away with your staggering amount of responses to my stories! There's no way I can respond to each of you individually, so I'm just going to address some common things again, and then move on to the stories. I'm going to write as many as I can think of, in addition to my friend's stories, and I will probably not update again until I get a chance to answer some questions that I myself have for my superiors.
Alright, so the common questions I found you all had:
•I am not comfortable talking about where exactly I work, unfortunately. In all reality some of the things I've mentioned here could get me in a lot of trouble or fired, so it's best if I just don't discuss too much. I will say that I'm in the United States, and in an area that is comprised of a great deal of wilderness. We're talking hundreds of miles of thick forest, with a mountain range and a few lakes.
•There is still a great amount of interest in the stairs, and luckily for you guys my friend has a story that I think you'll all be very interested in. I'll go into that more at the end of this update. As for whether or not I have ever thought of asking my superiors about them, I have, but again, I don't want to risk my job. However, one of my former superiors no longer works as an SAR officer, and it's possible that he may be willing to talk to me about it. I'll be speaking to him later in the week, and I will let you all know what comes of that.
•As far as advice on becoming an SAR officer goes, I think the best advice I can give is to contact your local Forest Service office and see if they offer and training courses, or what the qualifications are. I've been doing this for years, and I started out as a volunteer helping on SAR operations. It's a great job, despite the occasional tragic situations, and I wouldn't want to do anything else.
Alright, let's move on to the stories:
•The first happened on a case that I went out on right after I got out of training, and was still pretty new to everything. Before I took this job, I was a volunteer, so I had a basic idea of what to expect, but on those calls you're mostly dealing with finding lost people after vets have found signs of them. As an SAR officer, you go out for all kinds of cases, from animal bites to heart attacks. This case got called in early in the morning, from a young couple who were up on one of the trails that goes by the lake. The husband was completely hysterical, and we couldn't really figure out what was going on. We could hear the woman screaming in the background, and he was begging us to come up there right away. When we get there, we see him holding his wife, and shes got something in her arms. She's screaming these awful, almost animal-like screams, and he's sobbing. He sees us and he screams at us to help them, to please get an ambulance up there. Now obviously we can't just drive an ambulance up the walking path, so we ask him if his wife needs help, or if she can walk on her own. He's still hysterical, but he manages to tell us that it's not his wife that needs help. I go over while one of the vets tries to calm him down, and I ask the wife what's going on. She's rocking, holding something, and just shrieking, over and over. I crouch down and see that whatever she's holding, it's covering her with blood. That's when I notice the sling on her front and my heart sinks. I ask her to tell me what's going on, and I sort of pry her arms gently open so I can see what she's holding. It's her baby, obviously dead. His head is caved in on one side, and he's covered in scratches. Now, I've seen dead bodies before, but something about this whole situation hits me hard. I have to take a second to compose myself, and I get up and go get one of the other vets, who's standing by. I tell him that it's a dead kid, and he sort of pats my shoulder and tells me he'll deal with it. It took us over an hour to get this woman to let us see her kid. Every time we try to take him from her, she flips out and tells us we can't have him, that he'll be okay if we just leave her alone and let her help him. But eventually, one of the vets manages to calm her down, and she gives us the body. We took it back to the med area, but when the EMTs showed up, they told us that there was never any hope of saving the kid. He'd died instantly from the trauma to his head. I was good buddies with one of the nurses who met them at the hospital, and she told me later what had happened. Turns out the couple had been walking with the baby in the sling, and they stopped because the kid was fussing. The dad takes the kid and is holding him, looking out over this little gully by the path. The mom comes to stand next to him, but she ends up stepping on a loose patch of soil, and she trips. She falls into the dad, who drops the kid, who ends up falling about twenty feet down this little gully onto the rocks at the bottom. The dad climbed down and recovered the kid, but he'd fallen right on his head, and was dead by the time he got there. The baby was only about fifteen months old. It was a total freak accident, a series of events that coalesced into the worst possible outcome. Probably one of the more awful calls I've been on.
•I haven't seen a lot of animal bites in my time as an SAR officer, mostly because there aren't that many animals that come around the area. While there are bears in the area, they tend to stay pretty far away from people, and sightings are highly unusual. Most of the animals you'll see are small ones, like coyotes, raccoons, or skunks. What we do see frequently, though, are moose. And let me tell you, moose are nasty fuckers. They'll chase after anything for any reason, and god help you if you get in between a female and its baby. One of the more amusing calls was of a guy who'd gotten chased down by an absolutely massive male moose, and was stuck up a tree. Took us almost an hour to get him down, and when he was finally on solid ground again, he looks at me and says: 'God damn. Them fuckers is big up close.' I guess that's not really a scary story, but we still laugh about that one.
•I honestly don't know how I'd forgotten this story, but it is, by far, the scariest thing that's happened to me. I guess maybe I've tried so long to forget about it that it just didn't come to mind right away. As someone who spends literally all of their time in the woods, you don't ever want to let yourself get scared of being alone, or out in the middle of nowhere. That's why when you have experiences like this, you tend to just forget about them and move on. This is, to date, the only thing that's ever made me really seriously consider if this job is the right one for me. I don't really like talking about it much, but I'll do the best I can to remember it all. As I recall, this took place right at the end of spring. It was a typical lost-child call: a four-year-old girl had wandered away from her family's campsite, and had been missing for about two hours. Her parents were completely despondent, and told us what most parents do; my kid would never wander away, she's so good about staying close, she's never done anything like this before. We assure the parents that we'll do everything we can to find her, and we spread out in a standard search formation. I was partnered with one of my good buddies, and we were sort of casually holding conversation while we hiked. I know it sounds callous, but you do sort of become desensitized when you've done this long enough. It becomes the norm, and I think to a certain extent you have to learn to desensitize yourself in order to work this job. We search for a good two hours, going well beyond where we think she'd be, and we come out of a small valley when something makes us both stop in unison. We freeze and look at each other, and there's almost a sensation like a plane depressurizing. My ears pop, and I have this odd sensation of having dropped about ten feet. I start to ask my buddy if he felt that, but before I can, we hear the loudest sound I've ever heard in my life. It's almost like a freight train passing directly by us, but it's coming from every direction at once, including above and below us. He screams something to me, but I can't hear him over this deafening roar. Understandably freaked out, we look all around us, trying to find the source of the sound, but neither of us sees anything. Of course, my first thought is a landslide, but we're not near any cliffs, and even if we were, it would have hit us by now. The sound goes on and on, and we're trying to yell to each other, but even standing close together we can't hear anything but this sound. Then, as suddenly as it starts, it stops, like someone threw a switch and cut it off. We stand there for a second, perfectly still, and slowly the normal sounds of the woods come back. He asks me what the fuck just happened, but I just kind of shrug, and we stand there looking at each other for a minute. I get on the radio and ask if anyone else just heard the end of the fucking world, but no one else hears it, even though we're all within shouting distance of each other. My buddy and I just sort of shrug it off and keep going. About an hour later, we all check up on the radios, and no one's found the little girl. Most of the time, we won't search when it gets dark, but because we don't have any kind of lead on her, a few of us decide to keep going, including me and my buddy. We keep close together, and we're calling out for her every couple of minutes. At this point, I'm hoping beyond hope that we find her, because while I may not like kids, the idea of them being out all alone in the dark is awful. The woods can be intimidating to kids in the daylight; at night, well, it's a whole different beast. But we're not seeing any signs of her, or getting any responses, and around midnight, we decide to turn around and head back to the rendezvous point. We're about halfway back when my buddy stops and shines his light to the right of us, into a really thick deadfall, or group of dead trees. I ask him if he's heard a response, but he just tells me to be quiet a second and listen. I do, and in the distance, I can hear what sounds like a kid crying. We both call the girl's name and listen for any kind of response, but it's just this really faint crying. We head in the direction of this deadfall and go around it, calling her name over and over. As we get closer to the crying, I start getting this weird feeling in my gut, and I tell my buddy that something isn't right. He tells me he feels the same way, but we can't figure out what it is. We stop where we are, and call the girl's name again. And at the same time, we both figure it out. The crying is on a loop. It's the same little hitching sob, then wail, then quiet hiccup, repeated over and over. It's exactly the same every time, and without saying another word, we both take off running. It's the only time I've ever lost my composure like that, but something about it was so incredibly wrong, and neither of us wanted to stay out there anymore. When we got back to the rendezvous, we asked if anyone else had heard anything strange, but no one else knew what we were talking about. I know it sounds sort of anti-climactic, but that call fucked me up for a long time. As for the little girl, we never found a trace of her. We keep an eye out for her, and all the other people who we've never found, but frankly I doubt we'll ever find anything.
Of the missing persons calls I've gone out on, only a handful have ever resulted in a complete disappearance, meaning no trace of the person and no body ever found. But sometimes, finding a body just leads to more questions than answers. Here are some of the bodies we've found that have become infamous in our team:
•A teenage boy who's remains were recovered almost a year after he vanished. We found the top of his skull, two finger bones, and his camera almost forty miles from where he was last seen. The camera, sadly, was destroyed.
•The pelvis of an older man who had vanished a month earlier. That was all we found.
•The lower jaw and right foot of a two-year-old boy on the highest peak of a ridge in the southern part of the park.
•The body of a ten-year-old girl with Down's Syndrome, almost twenty miles from where she'd vanished. She had died of exposure three weeks after going missing, and all of her clothes were intact except for her shoes and jacket. There were berries and cooked meat in her stomach when they did the autopsy. The coroner said it appeared as if someone had been taking care of her. There were no suspects ever identified.
•The frozen body of a one-year-old baby, found a week after vanishing in the hollow trunk of a tree ten miles from the area he was seen last. There was fresh milk found in his stomach, but his tongue was gone.
•A single vertebra and right kneecap of a three-year-old girl, found in the snow almost twenty miles from the campground her family had been at the previous summer.
Now on to a couple of the stories my friend told me. I mentioned that you were all interested in the stairs, and you're in luck: he's had a closer encounter with them. Though he doesn't have any explanation for them, he does have a bit more experience with them than I do. •My buddy has been an SAR officer for about seven years, he started when he was a junior in college, and he had a very similar experience when he first encountered the stairs. His trainer told him almost the same thing mine did, which was to never go near, touch, or ascend them. For the first year, he did just that, but apparently his curiosity got the better of him, and on one call he broke away from the line and went to go check a set of them out. He said they were about ten miles from the path where a teenage girl had vanished, and the dogs were following a scent. He was on his own, lagging behind the main group, when he saw a set of stairs off to his left. They looked like they were from a new house, because the carpeting was pristine and white. He said that as he got closer, he didn't feel any different, or hear any weird noises. He was expecting something to happen, like bleeding from his ears or collapsing, but he got right up next to them and didn't feel anything. The only thing, he said, that was odd was that there was absolutely no debris on the steps. No dirt, leaves, dust, anything. And there didn't appear to be any signs of animal or insect activity in the immediate area, which he found strange. It was less like things were avoiding them, and more like they just happened to be in a relatively barren part of the forest. He touched the stairs, and didn't feel anything except that sort of sticky feeling you get from new carpet. Making sure his radio was on, he slowly climbed the stairs; he said it was terrifying, because the way they'd been stigmatized, he wasn't really sure what was going to happen to him. He joked that half of him expected to be teleported to some other dimension and the other half was watching for a UFO to come swooping down. But he got to the top with little event, and he stood there looking around. But, he said, the longer he stood on the top step, the more he felt like he was doing something very, very wrong. He described it as the feeling you'd get if you were in a part of a government building you have no business being in. As if someone was going to come and arrest you, or shoot you in the back of the head, at any second. He tried to brush it off, but the feeling got stronger and stronger, and that's when he realized that he couldn't hear anything anymore. The sounds of the forest were gone, and he couldn't hear his own breathing. It was like some kind of weird, awful tinnitus, but more oppressive. He climbed back down and rejoined the search, and didn't mention what he'd done.
But, he said, the weirdest part came after. His trainer was waiting back at the welcome center after the search ended for the day, and he cornered my buddy before he could leave. He said his trainer had this look of intense anger, and he asked what was wrong. 'You went up them, didn't you.' My buddy said it wasn't phrased as a question. He asked how his trainer knew. The trainer just shook his head. 'Because we didn't find her. The dogs lost her scent.' My buddy asked what that had to do with anything. The trainer asked how long he'd been on the stairs, and my buddy said no more than a minute. The trainer gave him this really awful, almost dead-eyed look, and told him that if he ever went up another set of stairs again, he'd be fired. Immediately. The trainer walked away, and I guess he's never answered any of the questions my buddy has asked him about it since.
My buddy has been involved in a lot of missing persons cases where there's never been a trace of them found. I mentioned David Paulides, and my buddy said he can confirm that those stories are, for the most part, accurate. He said that most of the time, if the person isn't found right away, they're either never found, or they're found weeks, months, or years later, in places they can't possibly have gotten to. One story he told me really stood out that involved a five-year-old boy with a severe mental disability. •The little boy vanished from a picnic area in the late fall. In addition to the mental disability, he was also physically handicapped, and his parents explained over and over that he simply could not have vanished. It was impossible. Someone had to have taken him. My buddy said they searched for this kid for weeks, going miles out of the accepted range, but it was like he'd never been there. The dogs couldn't pick up his scent anywhere, not even in the picnic area where he'd apparently vanished from. Suspicion fell on the parents, but it was pretty clear that they were devastated, and hadn't done anything sinister to their kid. The search was concluded about a month later, and my buddy said everyone had pretty much forgotten it by later in the winter. He was out on a training op in the snow, on one of the higher peaks, when he came across something in the snow. He said he saw it from far away at first, and when he got closer, he realized it was a shirt, frozen and sticking part way out of the powder. He recognized it as belonging to the kid, because it had a distinctive pattern. About twenty yards away, he found the kid's body, laying partially buried in the snow. My buddy said there was no way the kid had been dead for any more than a few days, even though he'd been missing for almost three months. The kid was curled around something, and when my buddy brushed off the snow to see what it was, he said he almost couldn't believe what he was seeing. It was a big chunk of ice, that had been carved crudely to look sort of like a person. The kid was holding it so tight that it had frostbitten his chest and hands, which my buddy could tell even with the decay that had taken place. He radioed the rest of the crew, and they took the body off the mountain. Now, he recapped all of this for me, and to put it simply, there was no way this kid could have both survived for almost three months on his own, or have gotten to this peak. There was no physical way this child could have walked almost fifty miles and ended up on the top of a god damn mountain. To top it off, there was nothing in the kid's stomach or colon. Nothing, not even water. It was like, my buddy said, the kid had been taken off the face of the earth, put in suspended animation, and dropped on this mountain months later, only to die of exposure. He's never really gotten over that one.
The last story I'll share from him was one that took place relatively recently, only a few months ago. •They were out doing a recon for mountain lions, because there had been several reports of sightings in the last couple of days. One of our jobs is to scout out the areas where these animals are seen to ensure that if they are in the area, we can warn people and close off those trails. He was out on his own in a very heavily forested part of the park toward dusk when he heard what sounded like a woman screaming in the distance. Now, as most of you know, when a mountain lion screams, it sounds almost exactly like a woman being brutally murdered. It's unsettling, but far from abnormal. My buddy radioed back and let ops know that he'd heard one, and that he was going to keep going to see if he could figure out where its territory started. He heard the mountain lion scream a couple more times, always from the same spot, and determined the approximate area of the mountain lion's territory. He was about to head back when he heard another scream, this time within only a few yards of him. Of course, he freaks out and starts heading back at a much faster pace, because the last thing he wants is to run into a god damn mountain lion and get mauled to death. As he got back on the path and started heading back, the screaming followed him, and he broke into a jog. When he was about a mile from ops, the screaming stopped, and he turned around to see if it was following him. It was almost night by this point, but he said in the distance, just before the path rounded a corner, he could see what looked like a male figure. He called out to them, warning them that the paths were closed, and that he needed to come back to the welcome center. The figure just stood there, and my buddy started to walk over. When he was about ten yards away, the figure took, as he described, 'and impossibly long step' toward him and let out the same scream my buddy had been hearing. My buddy didn't even say anything, he just turned and sprinted back to ops, never looking behind him. By the time he got back, the screaming had moved back into the woods. He didn't mention it to anyone else, just said that there was a mountain lion in the area and that they would need to close those paths until the animal could be located and moved.
I'm going to end this entry here, since it's turned into a huge wall of text. I'm going to be heading out on a yearly training op tomorrow morning, so I'll be gone until early next week. I'll be meeting with a lot of former trainers and buddies who work in other areas of the park, and I'll be asking around about any stories they'd like to share. I'm so glad you guys have been interested in my stories, and once I'm back from this op, I'll continue to share them!
Hey guys! I'm back from my training op, and I have a lot of really interesting stories to share with you. I've got enough that I'm going to break them up into two parts, this being the first. I'd love to put them all in one entry, but I just haven't had a chance to write them all down yet. I didn't have anything too crazy happen while I was out there, but we did have one incident with a rookie that I found relevant. Since I'm sure you guys have been waiting for these, I'll just get right into the stories. I'll assign each batch of stories to the person who told them to me.
K.D: K. D is a vet who's been an SAR officer for about fifteen years. She specializes in high elevation mountain rescues, and is widely considered one of the best in her field. She was one of the more enthusiastic storytellers, and since we were together a fair amount during exercises, she ended up telling me about four that really stuck with me.
•The first she told me in response to my asking about her most traumatic calls. She shook her head and told me that really bad calls happen more frequently on the mountain, since the potential for nasty accidents is higher. About five years ago, one of the parks she worked at had a string of disappearances. It was a bad year, she said, one of the worst on record as far as weather went. They were getting about a foot of new snow every couple of days, and there were a few avalanches that killed some climbers. They'd warned people about staying on the mapped areas, but of course there's always those who don't listen. In one particularly nasty case, an entire family got wiped out because the father decided he knew better than the officials, and he took them out into an area that wasn't safe. They were snowshoeing, and as best K.D could figure, they'd walked onto a shelf of snow that looked solid, but actually wasn't. It gave way, and this family went ass over teakettle almost three hundred feet down a slope. They landed on the rocks at the bottom, and the parents died instantly. One of the kids did as well, but the other two survived. One had a broken leg and fractured ribs, the other was almost unharmed save for some bruising and a sprained ankle. The uninjured child left his sibling behind and set out to find help. K.D said the kid didn't make it more than half a mile before a storm overtook him. Kid stopped to try and get warm, or maybe just to rest, and ended up freezing to death. They ended up finding the family with the help of some witnesses who saw them heading out into the wilderness, and she was the one to find the kid who'd frozen to death looking for help. She said it had started to snow, just enough to obscure long-distance vision, but not enough to make searching impossible. She saw a figure sitting in the snow up ahead, and she got to it as quickly as possible. She described, in detail, how as she got closer, she realized first that it was a child, second that they were deceased, and third that they had frozen in one of the most pitiful positions she's ever found a corpse in. The kid was sitting upright, with his knees tucked up against his chest. His arms were curled around them, and his head was tucked up in his coat. When she moved the coat to look at his face, she saw that he'd died crying. His face was twisted, and the tears were frozen on his cheeks. She said it was painfully obvious that the kid was terrified when he succumbed to hypothermia, and as a mother, it broke her heart. She told me, repeatedly, that she hopes the father is burning in hell as we speak.
•The other traumatic story she told me that stood out, in my mind, was one that happened when she was a rookie. Her team got a report of an experienced climber who hadn't come home the previous day. His wife was convinced that something bad had happened, because he'd never failed to come home on time. They went out looking for him, and had to climb what sounded like some very technically challenging parts of the mountain. They got to a relatively flat area, and K.D started seeing blood in the snow. She followed the trail, and as she went, she started seeing little bits of tissue. She wasn't sure exactly what body part it had come from, but the farther she followed it, the more there was. She follows this blood-and-tissue trail to a sheltered area under a cliff face, and she finds the climber. She said there was so much blood, more than she'd ever seen before. He was lying face down, one arm stretched in front of him, as if he'd died crawling. She looks closer, and sees that he's been partially disemboweled, which is where the tissue she'd seen had come from. The guy has an ice pick tucked into a hip holster, and it's covered in blood. Of course, they'll never be sure exactly what happened, but she said as best she can figure, this is what went down: The guy had been attempting to climb up to the next area, and had been using his ice ax to ascend. He'd probably hit a loose patch, and had fallen. On the way down, or possibly when he landed, he'd gotten impaled by the ax, and it had disemboweled him. He'd drug himself along, tearing pieces of himself out as he went, and had died under the cliff face. She isn't terribly bothered by gore, but I guess a few of the guys who came to help her remove the body threw up when they turned him over and a good portion of his intestines spilled out.
•I mentioned to her that I was interested in hearing about any experiences she had with people completely disappearing. Her eyes light up, and she leans in close to me. 'Wanna hear a real doozy?' She asks. She tells me about how, when she first started, there was a case that got a lot of attention in the media. A family had been out berry picking in an area of the forest very close to the entrance of the park. They had two little boys, both under the age of five, and at some point during the day, one of them vanishes. There's an absolutely massive search, and they find absolutely nothing. It's another of those cases where it's like the kid was never there in the first place. The dogs just sit down and don't pick up on anything, no trace of the kid is found. The search goes on for about two months, but is eventually called off. Fast forward to six months later. The family comes back to place flowers at a memorial that's been set up there for the kid. They bring their other son. While they're placing the flowers, they lose sight of the kid for about three seconds, and in that span of time he vanishes into thin air. Now obviously, the parents are beyond devastated. It's awful enough to lose one child, but to lose two is beyond imagining. The search is huge, one of the largest in state history. There are about three hundred volunteers combing every inch of this park, looking for the kid. But again, there's no trace of him. The search goes on for about a week, with people looking miles from the part of the park he vanished from. And then, almost two weeks later, a volunteer almost fifteen miles from the designated search area radios in that he's found the kid. They assumed that the kid was dead, but the volunteer says he's not only alive, he's in good shape. K.D and her team go out to recover the kid, and when they get there, she can't believe that this is the kid that's been missing. His clothes are clean, there's no dirt on him anywhere, and he doesn't appear traumatized. The volunteer says he found the kid sitting on a log, playing with a little twig bundle that's bound together with some old rope. K.D asks him where he's been, who he was with for those two weeks, and the kid tells her that he's been with 'the fuzzy man'. Now K.D firmly believes in Bigfoot, so she gets all excited and asks what he means by fuzzy. Was he hairy? But the kid says no, he wasn't hairy. He was a 'fuzzy man', and he describes a man that's blurry, 'like when you close your eyes but not all the way closed.' He says the man came out of the trees and took the kid with him deep into the woods. The kid says he slept in a hollow tree, and the fuzzy man gave him berries to eat. K.D asks if the man was mean, if he scared the kid, and the kid says 'no, he wasn't scary. but i didn't like how he didn't have eyes.' K.D says they get the kid back to headquarters, and a cop takes him into town to talk to him more about what happened. She's friends with the cop that talked to him, and she said the kid described being kept in this tree by the fuzzy man, and given berries whenever he was hungry. He was allowed to wander around a very specific clearing, but when he tried to go further, the fuzzy man would 'get mad and yell real loud even though he didn't have a mouth'. When the kid got scared at night, the fuzzy man 'made it go brighter' and gave him the twig bundle. He said the fuzzy man was going to keep him, but he had to let him go because the kid wasn't 'the right kind.' He either can't or won't elaborate more on that. The cops are just sort of left scratching their heads, and the search for his brother is renewed with no results. The kid has no idea where his brother might be, and they never find him.
•The last story that K.D told me was of something that happened to her when she got separated from her training group when she was a rookie. They were learning the basics of high elevation belaying on a well-mapped side of the mountain, and she had to use the bathroom. She went off about fifty yards from the group during a meal break, and did her business. I'll tell the rest exactly as she told it to me' 'So I go to take a piss, and once I'm done, I start going back to the group. But I've only gotten about five feet when I realize that I have no idea where I am. And this wasn't a 'oh, I got turned around' lost. I mean I had literally no fucking clue where I was. If you'd asked me, I don't even think I'd have been able to tell you what state we were in. It was sort of how I imagine people with amnesia feel, you know? You're completely lost, and you have no idea what to do. So I stood there for a while, just trying to figure out where the fuck I was and what I was supposed to do. But the longer I stand there, the more confused and turned around I get, so I started walking. As I recall, I just picked a random direction and went for it. And as I'm walking, it's just getting worse and worse to the point where I have no concept of why I'm on the mountain in the first place. I'm just trudging through the snow, and then I start hearing this voice. It's kind of inside my head, almost. Like if a frog could talk, all low and croaky. And it's telling me over and over 'it's okay, it's okay, you just need to find something to eat. Find something to eat and you'll be okay, just keep walking and find something to eat. Eat. Eat.' So I start looking around for anything that I can eat, and I swear to god I've never felt that hungry in my whole life. It was bottomless, and I think I'd have eaten just about anything you put in front of me right then. I had no concept of time, so I had no idea how long I'd been out when I hear an actual voice coming toward me. I go toward it and see one of the other SARs, and he looks fucking terrified. He's running toward me, asking if I'm okay and what the hell I'm doing out here. And the scary thing was, as he's running toward me, I kind of see myself reaching into my belt for my hunting knife. I'm not even really thinking about what I'm doing, but what I am thinking is that I have to eat. If I don't eat, I'll never be okay again, so I just have to eat. He sees me doing that and he backs off right away. He yells at me to put my knife away, that he's not gonna hurt me, and that kind of snaps me back. All of a sudden, I know exactly where I am, and I put the knife away. I run to him and ask him how long I've been gone, thinking he'll tell me I've been gone for half an hour or so. But he tells me I've been gone for two fucking days. I've gone over two peaks and ended up almost on the other side of the mountain, and if I'd kept going, I would have ended up wandering into about three hundred miles of wilderness. They'd never have found me. He can't believe I'm not dead, and of course I don't know what the fuck to think. To me, no time has passed at all. I don't say anything, I just go back with him to a rendezvous point and I'm taken back to HQ to be airlifted to the hospital. When I get there, they do all kinds of tests, and try to figure out what happened. As best they can guess, I had some kind of weird fugue state, which is kind of like amnesia, or a weird seizure that knocked my brain out of whack. But the truth is that we really don't know. It's never happened again, but I'll tell you, ever since then I never go out there alone. People rag on me for making them come with me when I have to leave the group, but I just tell 'em that listening to me piss in the snow is better than losing me for two fucking days on a freezing mountain.'
EW: The next person I talked to was E.W, a former trainer who now works as an EMT. He still comes to ops like this to help out, but doesn't work full-time for us anymore. He specialized in finding lost kids, he just seemed to have a sixth sense when it came to knowing where they'd gone. He's a legend among the more senior vets, but he gets embarrassed if you compliment him on his work. He sat down with me at dinner one evening, and we ended up swapping stories. Most of them were just casual, but when we got on the subject of our weirder calls, I mentioned that I'd had a buddy who'd gone up a set of stairs. He got kind of quiet and asked me if I'd heard of a little boy who'd disappeared from his park a few years back. I hadn't, so he told me this story. •They were out looking for this eleven-year-old boy, Joey, who'd gone missing near a river. Of course, the first thought was that he'd fallen in and drowned, but when they brought dogs out, they led SAR officers away from the river and up into a very densely forested area. When we do searches for people, we search in a grid pattern, and we search every 'box' of the grid incredibly thoroughly. What E.W's team noticed right away was that a very strange pattern was emerging. Dogs in alternating boxes were picking up Joey's scent, but losing it when they overlapped with another box. If you think of a checkerboard, Joey's scent was being picked up in random black squares, but never in red. This, of course, didn't make any sense, because how could the kid bounce from area to area without leaving a scent in each place he passed? E.W and his partner pass into a new box of the grid, and E.W notices a set of stairs about fifty yards away. He tells his partner that they need to go check near it, but his partner flat-out refuses. He tells E.W that he's made it a point never to go near any stairs he sees, and that while it may be routine, he's not to pretend that it's normal. He tells E.W that he'll wait in sight while E.W checks. E.W says he was irritated, but he felt for the guy, and didn't push him on the subject. 'I walked over to the stairs. They were small, kind of like stairs into a basement. I don't really feel strongly one way or the other about them, the stairs I mean, so I wasn't scared or anything. I guess I'm like everyone else, and I just prefer not to think about them too much. 'Anyway, I went over and I could see that there was something lying on the bottom step, sort of curled up. My hear sinks, because of course you always hope for the best. And we were confident that we'd find this kid alive, because he'd only been missing for a few hours. But I knew right away that it was him, and that he was dead. He was curled up in a little ball on the step, holding his stomach. It looked like he'd been in horrible pain when he died, but I didn't see any blood, except some on his lips and chin. I radioed in that I'd found him, and we got his body back to command. That poor family, they were devastated. The parents couldn't understand how he'd be dead, 'cause he'd only been gone for such a short amount of time. And on top of that we didn't have any obvious cause of death, which just made it worse. I figured he'd probably eaten something poisonous, since he was holding his stomach when I found him, but I didn't want to guess. It's hard enough to hear that your kid is dead, let alone have some stupid SAR guy guessing about what happened. They took him away, and I went home and tried not to think about it. I hate finding dead kids, man. I loved this job but it's one of the reasons I left. I've got two daughters, and the thought of losing them that way just...' He choked up a little here. I'm not great with emotional stuff like that, and it's always sort of awkward to see a grown man cry, so I didn't really know what to do. He pulled himself together eventually, though, and he kept going. 'We don't always hear back from the coroners about cause of death. It's not really our job to know, I guess, and sometimes if they think it's foul play they won't tell us because of legal bullshit. But I've got a friend who works for the sheriff's department, and he'll usually pass along any interesting info if I ask. In this case, though, I actually got a call from him about a week later. He asks if I remember the kid, and of course I do, and he says some seriously weird shit is going on. He tells me, 'E.W, man, you're gonna think I'm crazy, but the coroner has no idea what happened to this kid. He's never seen anything like it.' My friend goes on to tell me that when the coroner opened the kid up, he couldn't even believe what he was seeing. The kid's organs were like swiss cheese. Quarter-sized holes were punched clean through just about every single organ this kid had, aside from his heart and lungs. But his colon, his stomach, his kidneys and even one of his testicles, were full of these clean holes. My friend said the coroner described it as if someone had taken a hole-punch and punched holes out of everything, they were so neat. But the kid didn't have a scratch on him, no entry or exit wounds. The closest anyone there had ever seen like it was a guy who'd filled himself full of buckshot a year or so back while cleaning his rifle. No one had a clue what could possibly have caused it. My friend asked me if I'd ever heard of anything like it, or if we'd had similar cases in the past. But I'd never even heard of something like that, and I told him I wasn't going to be of any help to him. As far as I know, the coroner determined the cause of death as something like 'massive internal bleeding', but no one knows what really happened. I've never been able to forget that kid. I have nightmares about it sometimes. I don't let my kids go into the woods alone, and when we go together I never let them out of my sight. I used to love it out here. But that case, and a couple others, just sort of ruined it for me.' Dinner was over, so we started to clean up and go back to our cabins. Before we went our separate ways, he put his hand on my shoulder and looked at me really close. He tells me that there's bad things out here. Things that don't care if we have families or lives, or that we can think and feel. He tells me to be careful, and he walks away. I didn't a chance to talk with him again, but that story stuck with me.
PB: By pure coincidence, I got to talk to another vet, P.B who's been in the SAR field for years. We were partnered on a grid sweep during a training exercise, and we were chatting casually about how we liked the job, what kinds of things we'd seen, and the like. At one point, we passed an old set of stairs, though these were probably from an old fire lookout, given the area that we were in. I sort of casually mentioned that I was curious about the stairs, and that I wished I knew more about them. He got kind of quiet and looked like he wanted to tell me something, but wasn't sure if he should. Finally, he told me to turn my radio off. Obviously this is something we are never, ever supposed to do, but I did it, and he did the same. •About seven years ago, he tells me, he was out on a call with a rookie. They were in an area of the park that's had a lot of strange reports and events. Disappearances, stories about lights in the forest, odd noises, things like that. The rookie was totally spooked, kept going on and on about 'things out in the woods'. According to P.B: 'The guy wouldn't stop talking about 'the Goatman'. Just on and on, 'Goatman' this and 'Goatman' that. Finally, I told him that there was plenty else to be afraid of out here that was very real, and that he'd better get over this thing with the Goatman. The rookie wanted to know what kinds of things I was talking about, and I just told him to shut up and walk. We crested a little ridge and there was a staircase about ten yards ahead. The rookie stops dead in his tracks and just stands there looking at them. I tell him, 'See? That's something you should be afraid of.' The rookie asks me what the hell these are doing out here, and for some reason, I just open up and tell him the truth. Or what I've been told is the truth. I could have gotten in a lot of trouble for doing what I did, and I could get in a lot of trouble for repeating it to you. But you're a nice kid, and I want you to stop looking into this. Quit while you're ahead. So I'll tell you what I know, under the condition that you never breathe a word of this to the supes.' I told him I wouldn't say a word, and he double-checks that our radios are off. 'When I first started out, we were a little less tight-lipped about them, and other things that happen out here. We warned people before they were even hired that there was weird shit going on. I guess the Forest Service was tired of having such a massive turnover rate, and they wanted people to know what they were getting into. So they started having people sign these agreements that they wouldn't go to the media about what they were going to see. The FS didn't want to scare people away, so the last thing they needed were spooked rookies running off to the media with stories of ghosts and haunted stairs. But eventually, they found that the agreements weren't necessary. People not only didn't want to talk about what they saw, they wouldn't. A few times, media tried to talk to people when kids or hikers would disappear, and no one would say a word. I can't really explain it. I guess we just... don't really want to admit anything is wrong. This is our job, to be out in the woods every single day. We don't need to be spooked, and the best way to avoid that is to pretend like everything's okay. So I'll tell you everything I can think of, and after that, I'm done talking about it for good. And I expect you not to bring it up around me, ever. 'The stairs have been out here as long as the parks have existed. We have records going back decades describing them. Sometimes people go up them, and nothing happens. Other times... Look, I really don't like talking about this, but sometimes, really bad shit happens. I saw one guy get his hand sliced clean off when he got to the top step. He reached out to touch a tree branch, and it happened so fast. One second his hand was there, and the next it was gone. Completely clean wound. We didn't find his hand, and the guy almost died. Another time, a woman touched one of the stairs, and a blood vessel in her brain exploded. Literally exploded, like a water balloon. She sort of stumbled down and came over to me, and all she got out was 'I think something is wrong with me.' She dropped like a sack of flour, dead before she hit the ground. I'll never forget the way the blood leaked into the inside of her eye. Before she died, I watched it turn red. I watched it happen and there wasn't a single thing I could do to help. 'We warn people not to go anywhere near them but there's always at least one idiot who does. And even if nothing happens to them, something bad always happens. Kids go missing as we're on their trail. Someone dies the next day, cut in half in a completely safe part of the park. I don't know why, but something bad always happens. I don't know exactly why they're out here, but it doesn't matter. They're here, and if we were smart, we'd tell our new officers exactly what they're capable of.' We were both quiet for a little while. I was afraid to talk because I wasn't sure if he was done. He looked like he wanted to say something else. Finally he spoke up again. 'Have you ever noticed how you can't find the same ones twice?' I nodded, expecting him to continue. But he just stayed quiet, walking alongside me, and eventually he started a story about the biggest deer he'd ever seen in the park. I didn't bring up the subject again, and I didn't press him for any more stories. He dropped out of the op the next day. Apparently he left before the sun came up; he said he was sick. None of us have heard from him since he left.
I'm going to stop here for the time being. I'll try and post the next part in the coming days, but what with it being the end of summer, things are pretty busy here. Thanks for the continued interest, guys, you've really awakened this curiosity in me that I didn't know I had!
I apologize for the short update, guys. Things have gotten a little crazy around here, and I'm not sure how often I'll be able to update going forward. I really appreciate all the support you guys have given me, and while I only have a couple of stories to share with you, I'll be interested to see what you all think!
•A firefighter who was helping us at the training op told me about a call he'd gone on, supposedly to help rescue a kid from an absolutely massive tree. He said they didn't give him details, just that they needed him to come out and help because they lacked the proper equipment. He'd been called out specifically because this thing was so huge that the SARs didn't feel safe trying to climb it. He'd been a tree-trimmer before joining the VFD, so it was easy enough for him to grab his old equipment and come help out. He was led out about two miles, and the team stopped at one of the biggest trees in the area and pointed up. He laughed and asked the op captain how the kid had gotten up there, made some joke about the old 'cat in a tree' thing, but the captain just shook his head and told him to get up there and get the kid down. He said he knew something was up, but he didn't push it. He said that as he climbed this tree, he started wondering if they were playing a prank on him. 'There was no way this kid should have been able to climb this fuckin' thing. It was massive at the base, but about halfway up it started tapering, and I almost had to turn back a few times because I really didn't think it was gonna hold me.' But he said he kept going, and when he was just about at the top, he saw a flash of blue in the branches. 'I saw the kid's shirt sort of caught in a branch, and I called out to him and told him to come near me if he could, but he didn't say anything. I kept moving, calling the kid's name and telling him not to be scared, that I was there to help him. By the time I got to him, I knew he wasn't gonna answer me. I found him, or what was left of him, cradled in the fork of a branch, and the fact that he was up there was sheer luck. If he'd fallen any other way, he'd have come crashing down. It wouldn't have mattered though, because this kid was dead long before he ended up in that tree. I don't know who put him there, or how, or why, but it was fucking sick. Kid's intestines had popped out of his mouth, and were hanging in the branches. It was like some sick fucking Christmas tree, the way they were draped all over everything. I got a better look and saw they'd even popped out of his ass; his guts were hanging out the bottom of his pants. His eyes were gone, I assume shoved out from whatever force caused him to fucking pop like a stress ball. You ever seen a body that's been floating in water for a long time, how their tongues kind of swell up and stick out? His was like that. I remember because there were flies crawling all over it. I think I must have gone into shock, because... man I just pushed that kid down with a stick I broke off a branch. Just kind of poked him until he fell. I don't know why I did that... I almost lost my job because of that. But man the thought of hauling that kid down over my shoulder the whole way, gathering his guts up and coiling them around me like rope so they wouldn't get snagged... I couldn't do it. I've seen a lot of dead kids. More than I'd ever admit. I've seen a kid who hid in a full bathtub during a house fire; boiled him alive, turned him into literal soup. But this... I don't know what did this, but the thought of touching that kid's body made me feel like I was gonna lose my mind. I heard him hit the ground and I figured everyone would freak out, but they knew he was dead when they sent me up there. They didn't say anything, but they didn't shout or freak out or anything. I got to the bottom and I started to get up in the captain's face, asking him who he thought he was sending me up there when they knew damn well the kid was dead. But he just told me it was none of my concern, and thanked me for getting the evidence down. I remember he said that, I remember it specifically because it was so weird to hear it phrased that way. 'The evidence'. Like he wasn't even a person. Like he'd never been a little kid who got lost and had something fucking unspeakable happen to him. The captain had a crew lead me back out of the woods, but he and two others stayed behind, and I thought that was weird. Why wouldn't they have me help get the kid out? I tried asking but the guys leading me out just told me they couldn't discuss an open case.' I asked him what he thought had happened to the kid, and he got really pensive and thought about it for a bit. 'I would have said a crush injury, based on how his guts came out like that, but with those injuries you see massive contusions under the skin, obvious trauma. This wasn't like that. It was almost like that kid got caught in a big vacuum and had his guts sucked out. But even then, there was no trauma. None at all. It bothers me, man. It bothers the hell out of me.'
•One of the vets at the training op reads NoSleep, and he recognized my stories. He knows me pretty well, and we've swapped stories before. He asked if he could share something he's noticed about the stairs, and some thoughts he had. 'I'm really glad you decided to share these. I think it's important that people be aware of what's out there, especially since the Forest Service is doing such a good job at covering it all up.' I asked him what he meant. 'What do you mean, what do I mean? The lack of any kind of media attention? No coverage of missing kids, or bodies found miles from where they got lost in the first place? David Paulides hit this right on the head, the FS is doing everything they can to keep people coming here, even if it isn't safe. I mean, to be fair, it's not like these things happen every day. But the numbers add up, and it's worth looking into. Especially the stairs. I was surprised you didn't mention the flipped ones.' I didn't know what he was talking about, I couldn't remember him ever talking about something like that. He seemed somewhat incredulous. 'Dude, I can't believe you've been on this long without seeing them. No one told you about them?' I shrugged and asked him to elaborate. 'Well there's the normal stairs, the ones that pop up when we're out a ways. I know you know about them. But sometimes I've run across ones that are flipped upside down. I guess it would be like if you had a doll house, and the stairs were a separate piece. Now take that, flip it upside down so the top step is stuck in the dirt, and put it out in the woods. They're like that. I don't see them as often but they're odd, to say the least. Makes me think of footage taken after a tornado, when houses are all blown apart and random things are left standing, like chimneys and garden walls. Those ones freak me out more that the normal ones because I can't really write those off as easily.' I don't scare very easily, like most of us who work out here, but that idea stuck with me, and it bothers me. I'm going to try and find more out about them. He also mentioned how many people were bothered by the guy with no face. He got really excited and told me he'd seen something similar. 'I was out on a training exercise a few years ago. I was camped out in my tent and I heard someone walking around outside of camp. We're told not to wander far, which you know, so I wondered if maybe it was a rookie who'd gotten up to pee and couldn't find his way back. Remember that guy in our group a few years back who almost fell of the damn mountain? Well I'm paranoid about that happening again, so I got up to see what was going on. I went to the edge of camp and I called to whoever it was and told them that camp was this way. But they kept going back out into the woods, so I went after them. I know it was stupid but I was half-asleep and I just really didn't want to deal with some idiot getting hurt. I followed this thing on a dead-straight course for about a mile, and then it stopped on the edge of a little river. I could see the outline of it because the water was reflecting the moon, and it looked just like an ordinary guy. He had a pack on, and it looked like he was facing me. I asked if he was okay, if he needed help, and he cocked his head like he didn't understand me. I always have my pocket knife on me, and it's got a little thumblight attached to it, so I turned that on and lit up his chest, so I wouldn't blind him. He was breathing slow and deep, so I wondered if he was sleepwalking. I went closer and asked him again if he was okay. I moved the light up, and something didn't seem right, so I stopped. He kept breathing in this real slow, deep breaths, and I sort of figured out gradually that that's what was bothering me. It was like he was pretending to breathe, but not actually doing it. His breaths were too even and deep, and all his movements were exaggerated, like his shoulders going up and his chest moving. I told him to identify himself, and he made this muffled noise. I moved the light up and I shit you not, this guy had no face. Just smooth skin. I freaked out, and I sort of fumbled my light, but I saw him move toward me but he didn't actually move. I don't know how to explain it, but one second he was at the edge of the river and the next he was five feet from me. I never looked away or blinked, it was like he moved so fast my brain couldn't keep up. I tripped and fell on my ass and I could see this line open up on his throat. It stretched up to his ears, and his head tilted back and he smiled at me with his throat. There wasn't any blood, just this gaping dark hole, and I swear he smiled at me with this gash in his throat. I got up and I ran as fast as I could back to camp. I couldn't hear him following me, but I felt like he was always right behind me, even though when I looked back I couldn't see him. I calmed down when I got back to camp; the fire was still going and I guess that pack mentality of being with other people made me stop and breathe a little. I waited by the fire to see if he'd follow me there, but I didn't hear anything else for a few hours, so I went back to bed. I know it sounds weird, but the whole thing was just so surreal that it was almost like I immediately wrote it off as my imagination.'
•We were telling ghost stories one night before bed just to scare each other and poke fun at whoever got creeped out. Most of the time it's the rookies, but one woman told a story that actually managed to get under my skin a little bit, and I know the same was true for others. She said it was true, but then again, every ghost story told around a campfire is true. Somehow, though, I don't think she was making it up. It had that ring of truth that only really traumatizing events have. She said that when she was a kid, she and her friend used to go out in the woods behind her house a lot. She lived in northern Maine, where there's a lot of dense, unpopulated national forest. She said the woods up there aren't like they are here. They're so thick in places that the trees block out the sun almost completely. She and her friend grew up there, so they weren't scared of being out there alone, but they did always maintain a sense of caution in certain areas. She said it was never really talked about, but they always knew not to go more than a mile or two beyond their homes. The adults never said why, but it was an unspoken rule that no one ventured out that far. She and her friend made up stories about bears as big as houses that lived out there, and they used to scare each other by hiding and making growling noises while the other searched for them. She said one summer, there was a series of awful storms that blew down a lot of trees, and set one part of the forest a few miles behind her house on fire. Fire crews got it under control, but she said some of them came back 'not quite the same.' 'It was like they'd been to war. You could tell who'd really gotten scared because they had the same look on their faces, I think it's called shell-shock. My friend and I said they were like walking dead people. They didn't smile or say anything if you went up to them, and most of them left town as soon as everything was over. I asked my parents about it, but they said they didn't know what I was talking about. Once everyone was told the woods were safe again, my friend and I decided to try and hike out to where the fire had been. We didn't tell out parents where we were going, and it was pretty exciting to think that we were disobeying them like that. We hiked out about two miles or so, and we started seeing burnt trees and stuff. I remember my friend got really upset because we found the skeleton of a deer curled up under a tree, and I practically had to drag her away. She wanted to bury it, but I didn't want her touching it because its antlers were weird. I can't remember why, I just remember thinking that there was something wrong with them and I didn't want either of us going near it. The farther we went, the more burnt everything got. Eventually, there were no standing trees, and it was like being on another planet. Almost nothing green, just brown and black everywhere. We were standing there looking at it all, and we both heard someone shouting in the distance. I panicked because I thought it was my dad, and that he was going to tell me I was grounded. My friend broke off and went to hide behind a big rock, because she said she didn't want to be caught out here. Her parents had forbidden her to come out in the woods at all, and she'd lied and told them we were going to a movie. I followed her, and we kept listening. I could hear this voice getting closer, and I realized they were calling for help. I thought maybe it was some hiker who'd gotten lost and needed directions back to town. That used to happen all the time, so I was used to helping people out. I heard him following my voice, so I kept calling out until I saw him running in the distance. He got closer and I could see that his face was all red. I told my friend to give me her pack, because she had a first aid kit. She made this noise like she was grossed out, and she asked if I saw his face. I told her to shut up, and I jogged up to meet him. I stopped about halfway and when he stopped in front of me I could see that his nose and lips and part of his forehead were all gone. It was like they'd been sliced clean off. He was bleeding bad, and I saw that the knees of his pants were red too. I took a step back but I was too scared to move much, and he grabbed my shoulders. It felt like I got a shock, and he jerked back. He started babbling, and I couldn't tell what he was saying, except that he kept asking how long he'd been gone. He asked me where 'his unit' was, but I just shook my head. He looked me over and he saw my Walkman and he screamed. He just kept babbling and touching his face, and I realized he wasn't wearing the right clothing. He had some kind of weird grey cloth jacket and almost formal pants on, and the jacket had these weird buttons and red borders on it. I kept shaking my head and I told him I couldn't understand what he was saying. I went to open the first aid kit but he just screamed again and said the only thing I could really understand: 'Don't touch me! You'll make me go back there!' After that, he ran off, and I could hear him screaming the whole time. When I couldn't hear him anymore, I turned around, and my friend was crying. I just turned around and started walking back toward town. She asked me over and over what had happened and who that was, but I didn't say anything. When we got home, I told her I didn't want to play in the woods with her anymore. We're still friends, but we don't talk about that guy. Not ever.'
I'll update as soon as I'm able, guys. I appreciate the continued support!
It's been way too long since I posted an update, and I'm sorry about that. There's also been some confusion about the new formatting requirements on the board, which I've cleared up. So these next few stories are going to be posted a little differently! They'll be in chronological order, and I'll do my best to tie them into each other as much as I can so it doesn't skip around too much.
When I started out as a rookie, no one had told me a lot about the job in terms of weird things that could happen. I'm assuming this was largely to prevent me from freaking out and abandoning the park. But a few months into my service, when I was still a rookie, a friend and I were drunk at a party, and he opened up a bit: "Yeah, it can get a little crazy out there, I guess. I think the worst are the ones where people die when they just shouldn't, you know? Or when we find 'em dead like ten minutes after someone says they saw them last. 'They were fine when I passed them on the switchback, I swear!' That sort of shit. Like, take this guy who I found one spring out on a really popular trail. Someone comes into the VC freaking about about some guy who's lying in the middle of the path in this giant pool of blood. So we run out there, and we find this guy dead as a doornail. Which he absolutely should be, because the back of his head is like mashed potatoes. The skull is decimated, brains are leaking out like custard filling, and they guy's old so you figure yeah, he probably fell and hit his head. Old people fall all the time, it's no big deal. Except that this area where he fell doesn't HAVE any big rocks. There's not even any stumps or big branches. And on top of that, there's no blood trail, so he clearly died where he dropped. Now that's when you'd turn to murder, but there were people just out of line of sight with the guy. If someone came up behind him and murdered him, there's no way someone wouldn't have heard. And again, even if someone had, there'd be a blood trail, spatter all over the place. But everyone on the scene said it looked exactly like he'd fallen and smashed his head on a rock. So what the fuck did he hit his head on? And then there was this lady I found in a different park about five years ago, back when I was upstate. We found her in the middle of a stand of big junipers, curled around the trunk, like she was huggin' it. We pick her up to move her, and a fucking waterfall comes out of her mouth, splashes all over my shoes. Her clothes are dry, and her hair is dry, but the amount of water in her lungs and stomach was phenomenal. Unreal, man. Coroners report? Says the cause of death was drowning. Her lungs were completely full of water. This, even though we're in the middle of the high desert, and there isn't a body of water for miles. No puddles, no nothing. No signs of anyone else being out there. I mean yeah, it's possible they were murdered. But why go out of the way to do it like that? Why not just stab 'em and be done with it? I dunno, it just sits weird with me."
Now of course, that freaked me out a little. But we were wasted, and I guess I sort of wrote it off as a fluke. I also assumed there was exaggeration there, since, you know, we were wasted.
Now, I don't like talking about this next case very much. It was an awful one that I've done my best to forget about, but of course that's easier said than done. This happened about six months after the conversation with my friend at the bar, and up until that point I hadn't had a lot of really weird shit go down. A few things here and there, and of course the stairs, but it's amazingly easy to get used to stuff like that when it's treated as if it's normal. This case was a little different.
A guy with Down's Syndrome in his 20s went missing after his family lost sight of him on a major path. That was odd in and of itself, because this guy never left his mom's side. She was absolutely convinced he'd been kidnapped, and unfortunately a Ranger who isn't with the park anymore insinuated that no one was going to kidnap someone... well, with that kind of disability. Not very tactful, to say the least. We wasted a lot of time trying to calm her down enough to get information about him, and then we put out an official missing persons call. Because of the urgency of the situation, him being mostly unable to function alone, we had local police come in and help us. We didn't find him the first night, which was heartbreaking. None of us wanted to think of him being alone out there. We assumed he'd just kept wandering, and was staying ahead of us. We brought out helis the next day, and they spotted him in a little canyon. I helped bring him back up, but he was in bad shape, and I think we all knew he wasn't gonna make it. He'd fallen and broken his spine, and couldn't feel his lower half. He'd also broken both his legs, one at the femur, and he'd lost a lot of blood. He was confused and scared while he was alone, so he'd probably exacerbated the injuries by dragging himself a little ways. I know it sounds awful, but while I was riding in the copter with him, I asked him why he'd wandered off. I just wanted something to tell his mother, to let her know it wasn't her fault, because he was fading fast and I didn't think she'd get to ask him herself. He was crying, and he said something about how 'the little sad boy' had wanted him to come play. He said the little boy wanted to 'trade' so he could 'go home'. Then he closed his eyes, and when he woke up again, he was in the canyon. I'm not sure that's exactly what he said, but it was what I thought the gist of it was. He kept crying, asking where his mommy was, and I held his hand and tried my best to keep him calm. 'It was cold out there.' He kept saying that. 'It was cold out there. My legs was frozen. It was cold out there. It's cold in me.' He was getting even weaker, so he eventually stopped talking, and he closed his eyes for a while. Then, when we were about five minutes from the hospital, he looked right at me, with these big tears running down his face, and he said 'Mama won't see me no more. Love mama, wish she was here.' And he closed his eyes and he just... never woke up. It was horrible, and I don't like talking about it. That case was one of the first ones that really rattled me badly.
Because of how badly it affected me, I reached out to a senior Ranger, and who ended up helping me through it. As time went on, and we got to know each other better, he ended up sharing one of his own stories with me. It was disturbing, but it helped to know that I wasn't the only one affected by the things going on out there. "I think this must have happened before you got here, because I think if it had happened while you were here you'd have remembered it. I know it didn't end up in the news, for some reason, but I think most people who've been here long enough know about it. The park sold off a portion of land to a logging company, and it was a really controversial thing. But it wasn't that large or old of a plot, and it was right after the recession, so we needed cash bad. Anyway, they were felling this plot of land, and we get a call that we need to get our supervisors out right away. I don't know why, but they ended up sending me and a few other guys along with the heads, I guess for power in numbers, to see what was up. We got there, and all these guys are crowded around a tree that they've just cut down. They're all pissed off and freaking out and the foreman comes over and says he wants to know what we think we're up to. "What the hell y'all think this is, some kinda sick joke? You've got a lot of fuckin' nerve pulling this shit, we bought this land fair and square!" Well we don't know what the hell he's talking about, so he brings us over to this felled tree and points at it and tells us that when they cut it down, it was just like this, and they'll be damned if they put it there. The inside of the tree was all rotted out and hollow in one spot, and when they'd cut it down it had exposed that chamber, and inside it is a hand. Like a perfectly severed hand. And looks like it's actually fused with the inside of the tree. Well now we think THEY'RE pulling a joke, so we tell them that we don't like being fucked with, and we start to leave, but they tell us they've already called the cops, and that they'll go right to the media if we don't stick around. Well that gets the heads' attention, so they stick around and talk to the police about it. Everyone is denying that they put the hand in there, and besides, how would anyone have even done it? It's clearly a real hand, but it's not mummified or skeletal. It's brand new, probably not even a day old. And it is definitely fused with the wood, you can see that it's coming right out of it. The loggers, they insist that they didn't put it there. Somehow, this fresh human hand ended up fused to the inside of this living tree. The cops have them cut up that section of tree into a movable chunk. Then they take the hand away, and the area is closed off. There was a pretty big investigation, but I know they didn't find get any answers. Now it's become this legend, and as far as I know we haven't sold any more property for logging."
As you all know, I went to a training seminar recently, and heard some amazing and horrible things there. One of the guys I talked to while I was there told me a story when we were all around the campfire one night. We were both pretty drunk, you'll see a pattern here, and we were swapping stories. He told me this one: "Me and another guy were out on a field search because some campers reported screaming noises at night. So we head out there to look for whatever fucking mountain lion has wandered into the area, and I'm pissed. We've had three of them show up in the camping areas that year alone and I'm getting tired as hell of constantly having to deal with them. Plus, I just don't like them anyway. They're a pain in the ass and they're loud and they scare the shit out of me. Fuckin' cats. Pieces of shit. I'm groanin' about it to the guy I'm with and he thinks it's a real fuckin' riot. So we're seeing all these broken branches and what look like dens and we're pretty sure we know where this thing is. I call in and they tell me to confirm if possible, which you know just means they want to you to step in a big pile of shit and use that as proof. I'm not seeing any, though, so I basically just tell 'em to shove it, I'm done. We know that damn thing's out here somewhere, even if I'm not stepping in its shit or inside its mouth or whatever. Guy I'm with wanders off to take a piss or whatever, and I stay behind watching this little burrow under a tree to see if maybe a fox or somethin' is living under it, 'cause I love foxes, man. They're cute as hell. But anyway, I'm watching this tree and I start hearing branches crackling and it's coming from the direction my partner went opposite of. Now I've got my pistol, but you and I both know that's not gonna do shit against a cat. I cock it and holler for my partner to get his dumb ass back, but he's too far and he can't hear me. I stand up and get my sights on where the thing is approaching, and I shit you not, man, I just about peed myself. This guy is coming toward me, and he's back-flipping through the fucking woods. Like, instead of walking, he's doing these crazy fucking back-flips, and I swear to God he cleared every fucking log and bush in his path, it was like he knew right where he was going. I yell at the guy to stop right where he is, that I'm pointing a gun right at him, but he keeps coming, and I just kinda lost it. I shot at the ground in front of him, and it was a dumb fuckin' thing to do, but man I didn't want this guy anywhere near me. When I fired, he was about fifty yards from me, and as soon as the gun goes off, he whirls around and goes off, back-flipping back into the woods. My partner hears my gun go off and runs back and asks what's up, and I tell him there's some fucking weirdo out here hopped up on God knows what, and we need to get the hell out of Dodge. I let the cops know what happened, and I didn't get in any trouble for firing, but man, I don't know what that motherfucker was on but I've never seen anything like that before. Shit was absolutely butt-fuck crazy."
I think we can agree that there's stuff going on out here in the woods, and while I'm not going to spout off about what it could be, or offer any theories, what I want people to take away from all of this is that it is so damn important to be safe when you're out there. I know a lot of you think you're invincible, but the fact is that you CAN die out there, or be hurt, or go missing. It's easier than you'd ever imagine.
I apologize for this relatively short update, guys, I will do my absolute best to continue this series as soon as possible. Thanks for all your continuing support, it means the world to me!
One of the topics that I get asked about a lot, here and in real life, involve things like The Rake, the Wendigo, and other related legends. I can't honestly say that I know a lot about any of them, but based on some light reading I did I can say that I've heard stories that seem to be loosely related to them. You've heard the old adage that legends like that come from somewhere, and I'm sure that's true, but as you all know I do try to take things with a grain of salt. You have to, out here. It's sort of like working in a hospital, I'd imagine. You could spend all day thinking about how many people have died there, and how there are probably ghosts, or whatever you want to call them, all over the place, but it doesn't do you any good. It just makes it harder to do your job. I think a lot of us feel that way, and that's why we try to just go about our work like everything is fine. Once you get paranoid, there's not really any going back, and a lot of cadets quit because of it. My park especially seems to have a high turn-over rate because the cadets graduate and get so freaked out about everything, and they can't seem to let it go. You have to learn to internalize things and shut off.
I've talked to K.D a bit about her experience, because I wanted to know what she thought about the Wendigo. She didn't really have anything in particular to say about it, aside from that she didn't want to think about it that much, but she told me a friend of hers had had something similar happen. I contacted this person, H, over Skype, and they agreed to talk to me a bit. They're aware of my work here, and they're fine with me posting the story exactly as they wrote it:
"I grew up in Central Oregon, and there's a reservation called Warm Springs about two or so hours from where I lived. I only mention that because a lot of people in my area have friends there, and a lot of the land in that area belongs to that tribe. When I was a kid, we used to go camping up there. Not on the res, of course, but in that area, and I met a lot of kids who grew up there. I got to know one kid really well, his name was Nolan, and we ended up hanging out a lot when our families were in the area. Our folks got to know each other so we'd all get in touch and camp out around the same time. We'd camp for about two weeks, so we were out there for a long time. [I asked him if he camped in an RV.] Yeah, my dad had one, so I guess it wasn't really camping but we'd take our tents and stuff and set them up out away from camp most nights. I didn't like sleeping in there because I like being outside. [We talked for a bit about camping]
So anyway, sorry, one year Nolan and I were out there, I think we must have been like twelve or so. We wanted to go out and camp near the river because we wanted to try night fishing, I think we must have been about a third of a mile from the main camp. Far enough away that we couldn't hear or see anyone else, I remember that. We were messing around most of the day, I don't really remember much about it, but we ended up building a fire at some point and I was really impressed because he had this flint or something that he used to start it. I'd never seen anyone do that before so I thought it was pretty cool. I got him to teach me how to do it and we lit some stuff on fire, which looking back was really stupid because it was the middle of fucking summer, and if I remember right the fire warning was either at yellow or orange. But thankfully we didn't start anything major, and when it got dark we sat around and talked about whatever it is twelve year olds talk about, I don't really remember. What I do remember is that at some point, he looked over my shoulder at the river and asked me if I could see something.
The way our camp was set up, we were about ten feet from the river, and we were at the widest point, so it was probably about twenty feet to the other bank. It gets hot up there in the summer but the water's still cold, which is important.
I look over my shoulder and I could see something wading into the river on the other side. From where we were it looked like a deer but we couldn't really tell because of the fire. I got up to look closer and I saw a pair of antlers, so I figured it was a buck. But I thought it was weird that it was wading into the water, and it was definitely heading for us, and I asked Nolan what he thought we should do. He's looking at the fire with this weird expression and he tells me to sit down and shut up, so I do, because I'd never seen him act that way before. He's whispering at me to ignore it, and to just keep talking like we were but I couldn't think of anything to say. He was saying something about an episode of some show, but I could hear the deer coming through the water, so I wasn't really paying any attention, and I kept trying to see over his shoulder, but every time I did he'd sort of hit me on the arm and make me look at him. I wasn't really scared, I remember, I was just sort of confused. But then I hear the deer come out of the water, and I could kind of make out what it looked like, and I realized it wasn't a deer because whatever it was was walking on two legs. I started to get up, I was super freaked out, but Nolan just yanked me back down and talked louder about this television show, and I could tell he was just as scared as I was, probably even more. He leaned in and poked the fire with a stick, and he whispered that whatever I do, I can't speak to it. I could see it come closer, and it stood right behind Nolan's back. I was about ready to pee my pants, and I think I'd probably have run if I'd been alone, but I didn't want to leave Nolan, so I kept sitting really still and sneaking glances at it. It wasn't that tall, but the way it carried itself was just wrong, like its center of balance was screwed up. I can't really describe it, but it was kind of like it kept shifting too far forward. It just stood there behind Nolan for a long time, and eventually Nolan ran out of things to say and we just kind of sat there for a second. The fire was making noise, but I thought I could hear this thing talking in a really low voice. I couldn't hear what it was saying, and I leaned forward a tiny little bit, and I actually DID pee my pants when it leaned forward too. I couldn't see its face, but I saw its eyes.
They were cloudy and milky, and if you want to know what they looked like, find that scene from Lord of the Rings where Frodo falls in that lake and all the dead people are floating toward him. That's what its eyes looked like. So all I saw were these two white eyes floating above Nolan's head, and the really vague shape of the antlers coming out of its head. I don't know what my face looked like but at exactly the same time Nolan and I fucking booked it out of there, and we ran non-stop until we got back to the main camp. My pants were soaked with pee, so I took them off as we were running and threw them in the bushes. We both stopped once we were in front of my dad's RV and we couldn't see anything chasing us, so we stood there and caught our breath. I asked him what that thing was but he said he didn't know. He said his grandpa had only warned him that if anything ever came up to him when he was out in the desert, he was never, ever supposed to talk to it or listen to anything it had to say. I wanted to know if he'd heard it talking too, and he said that the only thing he'd been able to understand was 'help you'. I think we ended up sleeping in the RV with my parents, and the next night we went back out and didn't see anything.
That does remind me, in a lot of ways, of the Wendigo legend. There's a phrase used to describe it that I think fits perfectly, which is that the Wendigo is 'the spirit of the lonely places.' I know sometimes when I'm out in the wilds, where I know there's no one around me for miles and miles, I get this weird kind of craving that I can't really explain. I don't know if it happens to anyone else, but it's this desire to consume. It's not like I crave anything in particular, but more of this weird, distracting hunger that comes from every part of my gut.
I also wanted to find out more about the faceless man, if I was able, and found a few similar things. I asked around my circle of friends, and one of them said when he was out doing repairs at a park in his area, he saw something kind of like that.
We were having dinner in town, five of us including myself. This guy, he was re-painting an information booth and heard a man ask him for directions to the nearest campsite. He didn't turn around because he was up on a ladder, but he informed the man that there weren't any campsites nearby, but that if he headed down the road about four miles, he'd find one at another park. He asked if he could be of any other help, but the man said no, and thanked him. My friend said he kept painting, but he was listening, and never heard the man leave.
"The second he came up and talked to me, the hairs on my neck stood up, but I wasn't sure why. I just had this really uneasy feeling about the whole thing, and I wanted to finish painting and get out of there. I figured maybe part of it was that I couldn't turn around to look at him, but something just felt off. There was also this weird smell floating around even before the guy talked to me, kind of like old period blood. I had looked around to see what was causing it but I didn't find anything. So I waited for the guy to walk away, but I didn't hear him leave, which made me think he was just standing there and watching me, so I asked again if I could do anything for him, and he didn't answer. I knew he was there though, because I hadn't heard him leave, so I did this awkward turn on the ladder to look down and see what he was doing. Now I admit it could have just been my brain fucking up, but I swear to you, Russ, for a split second when I turned around, that fucker didn't have a face. Like he had no face. It was almost concave, and totally smooth, and I just about had a fucking heart attack because I couldn't even wrap my brain around what I was seeing. I think I started to say something but there was this kind of 'pop' inside my head and suddenly he was just a normal looking guy. I must have looked weird because he asked me if I was okay, and I was just like 'yeah, I'm fine.' He asks about the campsite again and I point to where he has to go, and he's like 'I'm not from around here, can you help me get there?' Now this is when I know something is really up because there's no way this guy got out here and didn't know where he was. And for that matter, there's no car around, so how'd he get here in the first place? I said I was sorry but that I couldn't take him anywhere in a company vehicle, and he's like 'please? I really don't know where I am, can you come with me and help me get there?' So now I'm seriously weirded out, and I start wondering if this is some kind of ambush or whatever. I told him I could call him a taxi to come out and take him where he wants to go, and I pull out my phone and he just goes 'no' and walks away really quickly. But he doesn't walk out of the park, he walks back into the fucking trees and I got right in my fucking truck and start to get out of there, fuck the paint or whatever. I looked in my mirror to see where he was as I was leaving and he was standing right at the tree line again, I don't know how he got there so fast, but this time I know that fucker didn't have a face. He was just watching me leave, and right before I turned the corner he took a big step back into the trees and kind of dissolved, I guess. Maybe it was just dark so he blended in, but it felt more like he just melted away."
Interestingly, right after this guy finished his story, someone else, piped up with another one, but with a slightly different twist.
"You know actually, I had something sort of weird like that happen a while back. I was out doing some trail scouting, and I was out in the middle of nowhere figuring out where we were gonna have this trail run through. I hadn't seen anyone else for probably a good two hours, so I wasn't really paying attention to where I was going, I was just looking at the ground for the most part. Then out of nowhere, I crested this little hill and almost ran into this guy. He was older, probably in his sixties, and I started to apologize to him for running into him. And then I noticed his face, and I probably looked like a complete douchebag because I stopped and just stared at him. It took me a second to figure out what was wrong, but this guy's face was huge. I know that sounds weird, but that's the only way I can describe it. His head wasn't big or anything, it was normal, but the amount of space his face took up was just way too much. Like if you took someone's face and enlarged it all by about two times. He doesn't say anything, he just kind of looks at me, and I backed up and was kind of stuttering and saying I was sorry, and I went around him and fucking got out of there and did what I needed to do. The whole time, I kept looking behind me because I was so freaked out that he'd pop up behind me or something. I know it sounds ridiculous but I swear to you it was one of the creepiest things I've ever seen."
I switched the topic to the stairs a little later, and there was a definite shift in enthusiasm. No one spoke up at first; there is a real stigma around discussing them, even when we're away from work. But I broke the ice with a story of my own, and the guy who told the story about the faceless man told this one, albeit very quietly.
"Couple years ago, I was camping with my girlfriend, and were out about two miles from the road at this site I know. We went to bed that night, but we couldn't sleep because-"
Someone interjected a funny comment, and we were dangerously close to going off on another subject, but I got us back on track.
"-yeah, really funny, you fucker. No, it was because we kept hearing that grinding noise. My brother used to grind his teeth in his sleep, and it kind of reminds me of that. My girlfriend was freaking out but I just kept telling her to ignore it because I've heard it before and you just have to ignore it. It goes away eventually, you guys know what I mean."
We all knew what he meant.
"So eventually I got her to go to sleep, but I woke up probably two hours later because something was just off. I rolled over and she wasn't there, and I kind of freaked out, because..."
He thought for a second and then he took a very long drink.
"Anyway, I ran out of the tent calling her name, but I didn't have to go far. She was standing at the edge of the camp looking at something in the trees and I could see she was really pale. The fire was low but bright enough to see her. Anyway, so I ran up to see what was going on and she was dead asleep, but her eyes were open. She had this real spaced-out look, y'know. So I put my arm around her to lead her back, but she wouldn't move. She just said really quietly something like 'I have to go now, Eddie. I have to go, it's here.' I was like 'you're just sleepwalking, come back to bed' but she wouldn't budge. She just kept standing there and saying that she had to go. And I looked where she was looking, and there was a fucking staircase right there about fifteen yards away. Grey one, concrete. And she started to walk toward it but I yanked her back and that woke her up. She looked at me like I was fucking out of my mind, and she asked what the fuck she was doing out of the tent. I didn't tell her anything, I just told her she was sleepwalking. The grinding was gone, so she just went back to the tent with me and fell asleep again. I don't know... I don't like thinking about it, y'know?"
We all knew.
"You guys remember that kid with... I can't remember what it was, some kind of brain fuck-up, not Down's but something like it." Someone else brought up. "Well I got to read the report he gave when they found him a week after he went missing and it was fucked up beyond belief. I mean you have to take it with a grain of salt because who knows what that kid actually thinks is real, but some of this stuff, I don't think he could have made up."
"Well first of all, he talked about the stairs. He said he'd been watching his dad build a fire and the stairs 'came up to him', and he had to go up them or something bad would happen. The cops couldn't really understand what he was talking about after that, because he just kept saying 'like the campfire' over and over. And he kept mentioning sounds, but he couldn't say what sounds, just that it was loud and he covered his ears so he couldn't hear them. But the thing I remember most is that they asked him where exactly he'd gone, and he just said he was right there. He kept pointing at himself, and they said they thought that meant that he thought he'd never left. He said he wasn't scared because the stairs were there and he said they talked to him, but not like people talk. Like I said, it was really convoluted and hard to understand, and I have a feeling the cops didn't take most of it down. They ended up just saying that the kid had some kind of amnesia or fugue, and that they didn't think foul play was involved. Doesn't really explain why he came back a week later perfectly fine without a speck of dirt on him and well fed, but hey, what the cops say goes."
There's still a lot of questions I want to answer. I'll continue to ask around and find out whatever I can. The next update should be soon, thanks for being so patient. You can also find me on Tumblr, at searchandrescuewoods.tumblr.com
This will be my final update for now.
Things have deteriorated here to a degree that I didn't foresee. I didn't know how much writing about the things that are happening out here would affect every single part of my life, and maybe that was stupid of me. Maybe I should have considered it more seriously, but honestly I just thought I was writing about things that a few people would want to hear. I didn't think it would get this much attention.
People ask me about the stairs now. It doesn't happen every day, but when it does happen I never really know what to say. My bosses know someone is talking about them, and I'm sure that if they know, the higher-ups know. And I can tell you that they aren't happy about it. I've been formally told that I am not to speak a word about them to anyone anymore, which is part of the reason this has to be my final update. I can't risk my job for this; as much as it's been wonderful to get a lot of these things off my mind, I still do love my work, and I need to be out here. If anything, my being aware of what's really going on is enough reason to stick it out. I may not be able to tell people that they're out there, but if I see them, I can direct traffic away to somewhere safer.
Because of the amount of attention the stories have gotten, I've heard a lot of stories being swapped back and forth. I've heard so many I can't even remember most of them. The ones I do remember are the ones that I wish I could forget.
One story that's made the rounds here was about a young woman who disappeared upstate. Initially, everyone assumed she was a runaway. She didn't come from a great home life, and so it really wasn't any kind of surprise that she'd choose to cut and run. But people started coming forward saying that they'd seen her around the park shortly before she vanished, so some of the Rangers in the area were sent out to make sure she hadn't hung herself or something on any of the back trails. It took them a while, but they did find her. Well, not all of her. Just half of her tongue and a quarter of the lower jaw. Very clean cuts, from what I heard. They've never found the rest of her.
So many stories about children. So many of them going missing and turning up in caves, wedged in between impossibly tight spaces. So many of them found on mountain peaks, or at the bottoms of sheer gullies. Missing shoes, missing socks, or found with both in perfect condition despite them being miles and miles away from where they vanished.
So many stories of black-eyed people, wandering around the woods and calling out in the night, mimicking the sound of running water or a bobcat screaming. One man in particular goes to every news station he thinks will listen to him and tells the same story. He was deer hunting, had camped out in a very remote area, and woke up because something was scraping against his tent. He thought it was a raccoon or a fox until the thing pressed its face against the door of the tent, at which point he could very clearly make out a human nose and mouth. He kicked at it, but it leaped back and was gone by the time he opened the tent flap, gun at his side. He fired two warning shots, and when the sound had faded, he heard a snap behind him. A man was standing at the edge of the campsite. This man was not wearing any clothing, but he also didn't possess any kind of human flesh. As this hunter described it, the man was made of some kind of amalgamation of raw meat and hair. As if someone had scooped up roadkill and molded it into the vague shape of a man. The face was lumpy and only a rough approximation of a human face. The thing opened its lopsided mouth, and from it came the sound of the gun the hunter had fired. It did this twice before mimicking the sound of the tent zipper and fleeing into the night.
A young couple, out for a hike in the rocky areas of my park, reported to me yesterday that they had seen something strange out on a peak I'm very familiar with. They were taking turns looking through a pair of binoculars when the man noticed a hiker climbing up a very steep part of the cliff face. He watched the man scale the slope, and it didn't occur to him until the incident was over that this person had no climbing gear. When the climber reached the top of the peak, which was about five miles away, they turned and faced the young man. He said whoever, or whatever, this person was, was looking right at them. The climber waved in an exaggerated manner before snapping in half at the waist, sideways, and leaping off the peak. The young man didn't see where the climber landed. I sent them on their way with assurances that I'd check it out. I lied. I won't be turning in a report, because there are ten others exactly like it. The climber is well known in that area. I don't question it anymore.
There are so many things I won't ever be able to understand about my job, and it would take me years to relate all of the things I've heard in the last few months. When I feel like my job isn't in jeopardy, I will come back. It may be in a different format, but I will come back. Thank you all for sticking by my side, and enjoying the things I've talked about.
If you go out into the woods, I encourage you to be safe. Bring water, food, survival equipment. Let people know where you're going and when you'll be back. Don't go on uncharted paths unless you know exactly what you're doing.
And above all:
Don't touch them. Don't look at them. Don't go up them.