The natural world that lives around us is one that we all exist within, yet the amount of which some are connected to it are far beyond others. Some of us walk paths made of pavement; and some of us choose ones of dirt and debris. When man evolved away from his home in the forest, he unknowingly opened the domain to the world of the unknown, the impossible, and the terrifying.
These days, most of us no longer dwell within the forest. However, the same majority of us find a brief return to the wild, in the form of camping or perhaps a backpacking trip, and may even regularly do so. The modern outdoor recreation community is a vibrant, welcoming one, and is by far one of the more upbeat groups on the internet. But, for those of us who live or spend a larger amount of time in the world of the wild know the dark, hidden away parts of the woods that exist within the scary stories told by experienced hikers and seasoned campers around the campfires – not the ones that may make you giggle, or the ones that seem to be fabricated on the spot, but the ones that shake you so deep that you feel rattled to the core as you desperately try to sleep in your tent that night, terrified of any shadow or twig snap you may hear.
This story was told to me at a small, backwoods public campsite in Kentucky, by a tall, handsome man by the trail name of Blackhorn. Blackhorn shared a laugh with us nearly the entire time I was in his presence at the campsite. He had a prowess for the backpacker’s classic card game, B.S., and gave genuine kind-hearted advice on anything he could. This made his story all the more shocking.
When I, Blackhorn and the few other hikers at the site gathered around the fire as the shadows grew longer, the tradition of the scary stories commenced. I retrieved my notebook that I use to mark down any truly horrifying stories, and sat back, not expecting much. I, unbeknownst to myself at the time, was wrong.
As another woman finished up her story of being chased around the trail by some sleezy guy, Blackhorn stretched his legs and yawned. He soon chipped in with his story, laying a log on the fire that sent a splash of sparks into the pure black night.
“Ok, so, this one happened a couple years ago… and… I honestly don’t think I’ve ever been the same since. I was hiking a relatively easy trail, maybe a 2-3 day length. The whole trail ran along the steep upper banks of a wide river, with the trails cut into the side of the incline and the campsites either cut the same or on a rare flat area. It was day three of my hike, the last leg for me. I hiked much faster than many of my group counterparts on the trail, and had spent one day day-hiking and relaxing at a particularly beautiful area in the park. One group of about three had camped with me and left earlier than I, meaning I would probably pass them again on the last bit of trail. They were nice, real nice people, and…” Blackhorn trailed off here, and his demeanor of a bright, fun-loving joker began to shatter. All of us noticed, but didn’t want to stop him. “Ach. Sorry, I just…” He continued, obviously a little upset. “When I started trekking again the next afternoon, I had a great day. I’ve been on plenty of trips, and I’m pretty good at navigation and pacing… I’d never gotten stuck out at night. It didn’t make any damn sense that I did that day, either, because everything was going to easy. On way bigger trails, I could knock out 20 or more miles a day, so the last 4 miles in six hours was a literal cakewalk. It’s like the trail just keep going and going, way longer than it should have. It wasn’t like I took a wrong trail either. It seemed like it just kept looping, the same landmarks kept passing by. It got dark fast. I had started panicking, I guess, because I found my self walking very, very fast. I started noticing this one tree that was on a small section overlooking the river,
and every time I passed it, a thought maybe I heard a small, faint splash. When I had passed it, and walked for a while, I heard a huge splash – like someone had driven a car right into the river. For some reason, this just made me snap. I ran, pack bouncing around, until I reached the tree again. But this time… Oh, god…” He choked up. We all knew that this story really meant something to Blackhorn. “…There were… packs. On the shore, the were all messed up and… the beach… scuffed… I recognized the bags. They were from… the people, the group I stayed with before.” He seemed like he was about to explode, and the memories tormented him. We reassured Blackhorn, told him he didn’t have to go on if he didn’t want, but he insisted he get it out. When he recooperated, he started talking again, quickly as if he wanted to get it over with. “I looked over into the river. That was my worst mistake. The thing was… roundish. It had long, protruding… things. It almost looked like one of things from Halo, yknow…” He laughed to himself in a sad, upset way. “And it had all of them just kinda attached to them. The things on its back were dragging these three…shapes in the water. I knew what they were… and it just took off up the river. I don’t know if I could have helped them, or if they were already dead. I don’t like to think about it. I just started walking again, crying a little. For some dumb reason… about half an hour later if slow walking, maybe only a mile, I reached the trail end. It was pitch black. I didn’t have a car there, and was shaking way too hard to try and set up a tent, not to mention exhausted. I just kind of balled up with my sleeping bag on a bench and blacked out.” He stopped there. I had a desire to know more, but Blackhorn didn’t seem interested in finishing. He said thanks to us for sitting with him, and said he’d head back to his tent.
When I awoke the next morning around five AM, I had found Blackhorn’s tent gone, nearly packed up and his campsite vacant. It seemed he packed it real early that day. I didn’t run into Blackhorn on the rest of the trail and haven’t since, but campers ahead of me said they had, and he seemed shaken and out of it.
The rest of my hike out was uneventful, without too many more stories. The trail was very nice, and I enjoyed myself for most of the hike – but you can bet your boots I sure as hell kept away from any water the rest of my trek.