I’m here again with another strange tale. Maryland is full of strange stories, myths, and legends, but one of the most culturally important facts of my state is: you can’t throw a rock without hitting something that is haunted. I grew up on the Eastern Shore in Caroline county, which meant I spent a lot of time running around in the woods and on, in, or near the Choptank River. Looking back on it, that river was filthy and dangerous and the fact that I nor any of my friends got ill or drowned is a miracle inofitself. Regardless, I remember the first time I went to my best friend’s grandma’s and was blown away by her beautiful home right on the river. It was gorgeous and the property, nestled against the woods and just outside of town, was near enough to Denton that we could always find some trouble to get into. Unfortunately for us, trouble was a lot closer than we had anticipated.
One night in the early fall, I decided to spend the night with a new friend who would eventually become like a sister to me. To protect her, let’s call her Victoria. She hates that name, so naturally I had to use it. Victoria lived with her grandmother and it wasn’t until after graduation that we had become close. The minute I stepped on the property for the first time, I was blown away by it. And it’s beauty distracted me initially from the sense of being watched that seemed to intensify the closer night came. The afternoon wore on like any other. We watched movies, talked about colleges, and stuffed our faces with snacks. But as night began to fall, Victoria looked at me and said “Hey, did you know the woods behind our house is haunted?”
“Really?” I asked, looking out the kitchen window. At this time I was already intrigued by the woods, but the aspect of the possible paranormal activity just made me more excited and nervous. I’ve had strange encounters in the woods before, even had a possible run in with the goatman once, so at the time I had a strangely apprehensive love of the woods.
“Yeah, they say you can hear drums being played and that sometimes you’ll see Indians running around.” She said. “Want to go for a walk in there?” I looked up at the sky and noticed that it was just about fully dark out. So, hopped up on pixie sticks, soda, and a stupid false bravado, I cheekily laughed and asked her where they kept the flashlights.
Once we managed to find a working flashlight, we set out on our adventure. Off in the distance we could hear the marching band practicing across the river at the highschool. With a smile, I mentioned that the band could be the source of the drums, or it could be cars going over the bridge a mile down river. Victoria shrugged and looked at me strangely as we entered the woods. Confused, I wrote it off and followed her in.
The difference between the tail end of sunset in the yard and the nearly impenetrable darkness under the trees was unlike anything I had ever seen. Worried, I kept close to my friend as we walked deeper in. As we walked I found out things about her she hadn’t told anyone else, most of which is private, but as we spoke, I notice movement in the dark. Every time I looked, whatever it was was gone. At this point I was nervous but excited. I pointed it out to Victoria, who said she was seeing it too.
We pressed farther in when I began to hear something. It was a strange thud-like sound that boomed in the distance. I listened, trying to hear the rest of the band but other than the distant booming noise, the woods were eerily quiet. I looked at Victoria who kept looking around even more nervously than before. Finally I asked her, “What’s wrong?”
She looked at me for a moment in surprise, like she had forgotten I was with her. Before she could open her mouth to speak, everything went silent. The deafening quiet was like a blanket on the world. We both turned our heads simultaneously to look down the path we had been walking on. There, standing in the middle of the path ahead of us, was … Nothing. We could clearly see that something was supposed to be there, but the only way I had ever been able to describe what we saw was a 7′ tall void. No dark shadows, no physical form, just nothing.
From that nothing came the very real sense that I was not welcome there. I could feel this thing getting angrier by the second so finally, I leaned over to Victoria and asked her, “You see that too right?”
“Yeah.” She said, her voice barely a whisper. “We need to leave.”
To our credit, we didn’t run. She and I simply turned around and began to walk back the way we came. After we walked for about 10 minutes or so, we were 20 meters from the head of the trail and could see the light of the yard lamps when Victoria stopped suddenly. I turned to look at her. She was hunched over, her whole body shaking as she mumbled under her breath. I didn’t look back up the path to see if the thing had followed us. I focused only on my friend.
“What’s wrong?” I asked again, putting my arms around her shoulders to try and pull her forward. If you’ve ever dunked your arm into an icy pool in the middle of winter, you have some idea of what the air felt like at the back of Victoria’s neck. She panicked and thrashed a bit as I yanked my arm back.
“Don’t, don’t, he doesn’t want me to leave again.” She said, shivering and crying. Determined, I reached over her again and tried to pull her. Victoria was a tiny thing, barely a buck twenty and I, being much taller and stronger, could have easily moved her on any given day. Except this day. Victoria did not budge. She didn’t stumble or even lean forward. I may as well have been trying to move the oak tree next to us. She cried out again and I removed my arm. “He’s angry.” She said before she started mumbling to herself again. I stood there, unable to help as my friend tried to free herself. Feeling at a loss, I simply stood next to her, pressing my arm against hers and trying to give her what ever support I could. When I did that, I could feel a looming pressure at my back, that cold and icy feeling slithering down my spine like cold acid. But I refused to move.
After what seemed like an eternity, Victoria stumbled forward, almost as if she had been pushed. I jumped into action, grabbing her arm and steadying her as we ran the remaining distance to the head of the trail. Once out under the stars, we relaxed a bit and slowed to a fast walk as we made our way back to her yard and the safety of home. Victoria was so out of breathe and exhausted, she looked as though she had run a marathon. Whatever it was had sapped her of her strength.
Curious, I glanced back at the woods. And to this day, part of me wishes I hadn’t. Behind us, about 10 paces back, hovered a tall column of smoke. In it we’re tendrils of red that danced like fire. I could barely make out a face in the smoke that glared at me and shook me to my core. I stared for a moment, unsure if the thing was going to attack or not. I managed to turn and began to bustle my friend back into her yard even more quickly. I tried to take her into the house but she refused and instead ran to her car. Once we were both inside, she grabbed her rosary that her grandfather had given her and began to pray. I looked back beyond the yard, but the spirit was gone, thankfully. After she had calmed down, Victoria explained that her grandfather had been a priest and an exorcist. When she was little, she’d had issues with the spirits in the woods. In order to protect her, her grandfather blessed their property and told her to stay out of the woods. And until now, she had.
Fast forward about ten years and I found myself sitting in a car outside those same woods. I had told some of my friends about the encounter and they were eager to have an experience of their own. I was reluctant to go back in there. I hadn’t been back in these particular woods since the incident, despite spending a lot of time on the property and growing close to the family, and I wasn’t eager at all to return. When we parked, I got out of the car and froze. That same feeling of ‘you’re not welcome’ hit me like a wave and I stared at the head of the trail Victoria and I had taken. It was black, pitch black and off in the distance I could hear the thud-like booming sound of what I can only assume were drums. I got back into the car, made a fool of myself in a panic, and happily watched the treeline fade away in our tail lights while my friends grumbled in the front seat, having been denied their adventure. I didn’t care. I had gotten the distinct feeling that this time, the spirit in the woods would not be as merciful…
I don’t mind the forest. I love the trees and the sounds and smells and the over all energy. But I also know where I’m not welcome and I will never go back into those woods. Aside from the danger of sink holes, mud traps and dangerous undertows in the river, there are lingering forces that we can not begin to comprehend that lurk just beyond our senses. Sometimes they’re happy for the company you bring, and sometimes they’d rather you leave and never come back.