The nighttime has always been where scary things happen and take over. Still, as much of a chicken as I can be, I love a good ghost story. I beg to hear the really good ones, the really true ones. I don’t know why I do this to myself, knowing how really scared I get all the time of things like the dark and dolls, but I want to hear the stories anyway.
A few weekends ago I went on a camping trip with about 10 other people, minus the boyfriend. He had to work, but I was game to spend a weekend in a tent by the beach, so I joined the caravan and headed to the coast.
I am truly struck by how gorgeous the Australian coastline is. The water is such a deep shade of blue, spiffed up with black craggy rocks along the shore, and cozied up against lush greens and forest. I love it here.
We arrived just after sunset. It was windy and a little chilly, but we were able to set up our tents alongside a hill, just off the shore. This time, we were well out of reach of the tide. Headlamps on, pegs in the ground, we set up camp, then hit the BBQ.
After a few mishaps with the coin-operated BBQ, we filled our bellies with cheeseburgers and chips and chocolate and beer. Then circled around a lantern for campfire chat without the campfire.
The circle joked, huddled against the wind, played a few games . . . and then the ghost stories started.
Now, anyone who knows me very well, knows what a chicken shit I can be. Any former roommates will also vouch for my unnerving freak-outs when I scream awake because there is a ghost hovering in my room, or a person in dark shrouds, or if one of the ghoulish rogues in my dreams become real. One of my worst fears is of dolls or puppets because these tend to come to life mostly in the night. Mostly.
Anyway, the point is, I freak myself out beyond reason. What I cannot explain is that I know I am like this, but I will still egg others on for a good ghost story. I want to hear every frightening detail.
I once lived in a 15th century castle in a village in England. I buried myself in ghost stories surrounding the place. I walked through the graveyard and snooped in the dungeon. I slept with the light on probably 60% of the time. (Scary things hate the light, you see).
Back to the campfire/lantern light circle, a few of us exchanged some stories, including myself. As it got later, I found myself getting a little creeped out, and began sneaking quick peaks over my shoulder into the dark night. The beach was gorgeous, but at night I couldn’t see it. The hills were picnic-at-the-park lovely, but at midnight the hills in the wind had become one undulating shadow.
As I stared at the little bugs crawling across the face of the lantern, I remembered a ghost story from my childhood involving lanterns and goblins hiding in the dark flickers of fire.
I put it out of my mind (almost) and tuned in to the conversations circling the lantern instead. I told my castle stories, including the story about the ghost of the shepherd that was seen every few years sitting at the edge of someone’s bed. Someone else told a scary story. Then another.
And then someone told a story that I will never be able to forget as long as I live.
The storyteller had a friend who once hiked and camped the Appalachian Trail on his own for a week. It was a simple trip, and he’d taken only his one-man tent, a sleeping bag, a few provisions, and a camera. It was a coming-of-age, man-in-the-wild experience, I guess.
The Appalachian Trail is said to be one of the most haunted hiking trails in the world. This I can believe. There were many wars that took place on that land, and between the Native Americans, the British, the French, the Americans, and the Africans, so much blood was shed. The stories go that slave cities stayed hidden in the forest, as hundreds of slaves took refuge in the mountains and lived amongst the trees. It was a place for souls that didn’t rest.
As the story continued, we were told that the hiker camped for six or seven days, cooking their own food, sleeping in their tent alone, hiking and taking photos during the day. The entire trip they were on their own and saw few other hikers.
At the end of the trip, he went to develop the film from his camera. (This was pre-digital camera era). This is where this story gets scary. Amongst the pictures of scenic mountain sides, of babbling brooks, of tall, tall trees was a photo of himself alone in his tent . . . . . . and sound asleep. . . . . . . . . . . .
Think about that!!! Just stop and think about that for one moment.
It is terrifying.
This was not an urban legend, but happened to someone the storyteller knew. It really happened, and there was absolutely no explanation.
With that story, it being near 2am or so in the morning, everyone began to move away from the lantern and towards their tents for the night.
Oh no, I thought. All day I had been super-excited and all gung-ho about camping. Now, as I walked in the dark towards my big four-man tent, I realized this was the first time I would be tent-camping by myself.
It’s okay, I told myself, you are a grown woman. There is nothing but a scenic beach and a protective hill. The picture taken of the hiker while they slept alone is a story that happened to someone else in some other place long ago. Things are fine. Your tent is next to six other tents. Some of the tents have strong guys in them who will surely come to the rescue when they hear you scream.
Okay. I crawled into my big dark tent all alone with my thoughts. I curled up in my bag and listened to my fellow camping buddies as they rummaged around and had a few whispered conversations. I felt my sleeping bag was too far away, so instead of positioning myself comfortably on the ground, I wriggled over to the side of my tent that was nearest the other tents so I could be as close to the other human beings as was possible. I tucked into a fetal position, cozied into the corner, and covered my head with the sleeping bag.
I thought about the picture taken of the hiker while they slept alone in their tent.
I thought about the freaky scene from Paranormal Activity where the girl gets dragged by the ankle off of her bed while she’s sleeping.
I thought about the picture taken of the hiker while they slept and the creepy, haunted woods.
I thought about the goblins, staring unblinking at the lantern. I remembered the shepherd that sat on my bed in the night. I thought about the darkness outside.
I thought about the picture. I thought about my camera in my bag by my feet.
Then I texted Chris. I got no reply.
An hour later, the muffled conversations from the others had long turned to snores. The wind beat at the sides of my tent.
It was four in the morning. 4:30. 5:00. Sometime after 5am, I think I finally slept. About 6am, the rising sun shone a warm glow on my tent.
7am. 8am. Everyone’s awake. Time to crawl out and make breakfast.
Blinking into the morning sun, I wandered to the breakfast food, achy and very tired.
The others seemed amused when I told them how I had slept tucked in the corner of my tent as close to real people as was possible. I told them I was up all night, not afraid, just thinking. That’s it. I was up all night because I was thinking.
What I didn’t tell them was that I had my cell phone in one hand, and a flashlight in the other, and ready to crash-land into any one of their tents as I quietly waited for my camera to flash.