Lonely North Woods

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: True Confessions  |  House: Booksie Classic

In the isolation of the wilderness camp, long-dead voices from the gloomy past echo hauntingly memories lost in the mists of time....

Submitted: September 18, 2018

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Submitted: September 18, 2018



Have you ever noticed how lonely it is in the far away wilderness of the boreal forest, the north woods?  I strongly suspect that the reason so few people live in the remote trackless expanse of that distant realm of the moose, the bear, the beaver, and the ever-shy whitetail buck deer is the eerie sense of stark utter loneliness that creeps among the shady alcoves of the ancient northern timber realms.  Why else would tribal elders and pioneering settlers alike recount ghastly lore of Sasquatch and the Wendigo in the ruddy flicker of campfires at night?  There’s a deep all-pervading silence in those haunting backwoods; a voice of the primeval forest that, if one listens long enough, begins to whisper of things dreadful and unknown - ominous manifestations of the unseen wilds that lurk grimly just beyond the reach of our five temporal senses.

Late in the darkness of the midnight hour at an isolated rustic camp in the immense solitude of the epoch-aged wilderness in northern Ontario, I walked alone toting my gunny sack from my rented cabin to the center of the camp where the rec-hall was situated.  The recreational hall was inside a rather large structure, sturdily built of great logs of stout pine.

Being so late at night, the rec-hall was shrouded in deep shadow.  A grassy path bordered by smooth round stones leads up to the front entrance.  Swinging open the door, I stepped inside the lodge and as I entered a motion-activated sensor caused a light to switch on automatically.  It was a single florescent bulb high overhead that, in a ghostly pale glow, illuminated the very center of the rec-hall while leaving all the corners obscured in crouching mortifying silhouettes that suspiciously appeared to grimace and mock and scorn.  

What I had actually entered was the front room, the main space of the rec-hall where campers gathered to share hot cocoa and tell tall tales of the one that got away.  There were a number of tables with folding chairs arranged around them.  Also, there was a big tournament-style pool table, an air hockey table, a pinball machine, and a dartboard that hung by itself on the west wall.  In a back corner of this spacious and lofty chamber was another table stacked high with paperback novels, well-worn from much reading.

The door through which I entered was on the south side of the log building.  In the center of the far wall was a narrow doorway which opened into a long dark hallway.  On either side of the eerie corridor were shower stalls and lavatories - some for females, some for males.  At the far end of the macabre hallway was a small room with a screen door that led out the back of the rec-hall.  In this little room was a coin-operated clothes washer and dryer.  Of course, in Canada, one doesn’t put quarters into coin-operated appliances, one puts in Loonies.  A loonie is a denomination of coin equivalent to a dollar.  The gold-colored metallic monetary piece is stamped with the image of a Loon swimming placidly upon the rippled surface of one of the infinity of enchanting lakes that, like mysterious scintillating precious gems, numerously bejewel the awe-inspiring Canadian backwoods.

Earlier that evening I had inserted some Loonies into the clothes dryer and pushed the metal slider tab so the coins would drop down inside and activate the machine to dry my laundry.  Late on that fateful night when I entered the front room of the rec-hall, I could hear the melancholy sound of the dryer oozing like a swamp miasma from far back in the creeping shadows at the end of the gloomy hallway.  I knew the clothes should be about ready, so I decided to sit on a lounge sofa near the dartboard to wait until I heard the dryer go off, thereby ensuring my load of clean laundry was completely dry.

The north woods wilderness camp at such a late hour is dead silent and still as the grave.  All the other campers were asleep, resting from the exhaustion of rising early in the morning to run up and down the Magnetawan river in their canoes and motorboats, some of them voyaging all the way out to explore the thirty thousand islands of the sweetwater sea known as Georgina Bay, a vast wavy realm of sapphire blue which is actually a northern reach of the second largest body of sweetwater on earth, the mighty Huron.

Even the tom-tom drums of the Magnetawan band at the pow-wow ground of the reservation across the river were somberly subdued in tomb-like quietude.  The rock and the water were watching, waiting.  Inuksuk, Muskellunge, driftwood - I was the only soul stirring in all that night-cloaked expanse of boreal wilderness, so you can imagine the shock that jolted my nerves when, very faint as if emanating from a far distance, I began to hear voices whispering.

I don’t know what happened, exactly.  I suppose the rhythmic tumble of the laundry and the monotonous hum of the dryer combined with the dreary sense of lonely isolation to hypnotize me into a trance - the heightened sensitivity of an altered state of consciousness more keenly alert to reality unseen.  I looked all around the murky room of the rec-hall to make sure I was really alone.  In the ominous hush of the dusky space, I saw no other than myself.  I looked out the windows in case a flashlight or lantern might be bouncing along indicating some insomniac camper moving about outside in the cool damp night, but the windows were pressed hard by the grim inky obscura of the moonless nocturne.

I would have decided that my imagination was causing me to suffer aural hallucinations, except that the whispering voices began to grow louder into a veritable raucous tumult.  After a few moments, the haunting voices seemed to be interspersed with bursts of cheerful laughter.  My vision was narrowing into a concentrated beam of psychological focus.  The experience was what I would describe as psychic or clairvoyant.  It was genuine paranormal phenomena.

I was bewitched in the midnight hour by ghosts from the past.  I don’t know how it was that this vexing realization emerged into my wandering mind, yet I knew the moment it happened because my flesh crawled and the blood chilled to ice in my veins.  Again, I gazed all around in a compelling emotion of mystified wonder spawned by the primal instinct of fear.  I understood with total clarity that I was actually hearing talking and laughter that had occurred in that very rec-hall during the many years that the old lodge had been in existence.  The yellow timbers of those sturdy pine walls had somehow recorded voices of the past.  Like a macabre stereo system, the gloaming recreational hall was replaying, reliving those long-gone moments of days and nights forever shrouded in the inscrutable mists of time.  The otherworldly encounter was morbidly unsettling, reaching out to me with spectral skeletal fingers that pierced my very soul with a ghoulish terror that made my heart stammer inside my ribcage.

The uncanny phantom spell rose to a gripping crescendo as the lyrics of an old hymn my maternal grandmother was wont to sing when I was child crept into the eldritch diorama.  I heard singing as of a chorus of the long dead.  The plaintive hymn wailing in my ears from those witchy walls is one often sung as a funeral dirge to bid a last sad farewell to the dearly departed.  A hundred years in the past, the old fellow (JBF Wright) credited with composing the hallowed lament is reputed to have testified that those heart-stirring lyrics appeared to him at midnight as though already written.  According to his own words, tears streamed from his eyes soaking his pillow with the outpouring of his grieving spirit in the forlorn darkness.

In that far away lonely wilderness camp in the sepulchral silence of the legendary witching hour, those ghostly voices from the distant past chanted ritualistically from the walls of the rec-hall until I heard my beloved grandmother singing to me as from beyond the grave those spine-chilling lyrics, “Precious memories, unseen angels, sent from somewhere days of old, now they gather, ever near me, and the sacred past unfold, precious memories, how they linger, how they ever flood my soul, in the stillness of the midnight, precious sacred scenes unfold.

© Copyright 2019 Sean Terrence Best. All rights reserved.

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