The Stranger in the Woods
Someone, or something was out there watching, but what did he want?
For a family of eight, moving from the suburbs of Chicago to Northern Minnesota was like finding a whole new world. The lush green forests and beautiful blue lakes were like paradise, and I spent every minute I could in the woods, always with my best friend Chena. She was a beautiful Malamute Husky and one quarter Timberwolf, who loved being out there as much as I did. We spent countless hours exploring the area around our new house near the Canadian border, with Chena always in the lead, investigating every tree, bush, and new smell she came across. We were on a portage trail a couple miles from the house the first time I became aware that we weren't alone in those woods.
Now, I knew there were bears, wolves, deer, moose and many other animals to be aware of, but the likelihood of coming across one of them while walking in the woods is actually quite small. They hear you coming, and are gone long before you get close. Except for rare circumstances, they stay as far from humans as possible. Being on a well used portage, which is just a trail from the road to a lake off in the woods, the chances of any large animals being near were quite remote. We had walked the mile or so to the lake, and were on the way back when I heard some twigs snap off to my right. Chena was a ways ahead of me as usual, and I stopped and looked in the direction of the noise. It sounded to be about a hundred feet away, but there was a lot of brush around and I didn't see anything, so after watching for a minute I started walking again. Just a few minutes later, I heard it again, same as before. A hundred feet off the trail and too much brush to see anything. Rabbits and squirrels can make enough noise to sound like something much bigger, so after a couple minutes of watching and seeing nothing, I wrote it off as one of those two and continued my walk. The third time I heard it, I knew something was out there, pacing me and staying just out of eyesight. I fought the fear now rising in me and called for Chena, but she had gotten to the road already, a quarter mile farther down the trail. I knelt down low and watched for any movement, hiding, but prepared like a sprinter in the blocks should anything come my way. But as before, when I stopped, it stopped. I stared intently into the brush, realizing that whatever was out there was staring right back at me! About two tension filled minutes later, my dog came running down the trail towards me. I quickly jumped up and ran towards her, now concerned that she would become aware of what was out there and go after it. I caught her and spun her around, and we ran out to the road together, and I didn't look back. By the time I made it back to the house, I had managed to convince myself it was probably nothing more than a small animal and a large imagination, and in time it slipped from memory.
Summer ended, winter came and went, and when the next spring arrived I was back in the woods. I had gotten a new .410 shotgun for Christmas, and now spent a lot of time small game hunting. The area was full of rabbits, squirrels, and partridge, so with my trusty companion Chena, I was out every day! One weekend I had a friend from school staying over, so we were up early and out the door, off to explore the miles of woods around the house. We had the guns, and headed towards a Cedar swamp I had discovered about a mile or so behind the house. The canopy above is extremely dense, allowing little sunlight in, which in turn prevents the usual undergrowth of thick brush from growing. The ground is covered with a thick layer of moss up to a foot thick, and the entire area seems dark and foreboding, even in the middle of a perfectly clear day. It was towards the back that we came across a huge opening at the base of a particularly large tree, easily wide enough for it to be a bear or wolf den. We got close enough to look in and see it was quite deep, resembling the entrance to a cave or tunnel perhaps. Realizing there could be anything in there looking at us, and we wouldn't be able to see it, discretion dictated a quick and cautious retreat from the area!
As we moved past the den, we soon exited the Cedar swamp. We found ourselves climbing the backside of a big ridge, and as we crested the top of it there was an abrupt drop-off, straight down over a hundred feet to a small, secluded lake below. We eventually found a way down to the bottom, and followed the shoreline to where it connected to a second, slightly smaller lake. Continuing along the base of the ridge, we soon came across the opening to a large cave. It narrowed towards the back, but continued deeper than either one of us was willing to go. Chena had now joined us, and stared into the back of the cave. The hair went up on her back, and she began growling, which told us there was something in there, so we beat a hasty retreat, pulling her out of there with us! We quickly backtracked, not stopping until we were back on top of the ridge. While discussing the walk back home, we thought about the Cedar swamp, and it dawned on us the cave and the den could quite possibly be connected. Anything could be living in there, and we still had to pass the other entrance! Suddenly we heard the sound of rocks falling down the side of the ridge - something was climbing up it towards us now! Close to panic, we both fired a round from our shotgun in that direction, and took off running. As we approached the edge of the Cedar swamp we paused, to scope out a path as far from the den as possible. Then we heard the sound of something moving through the brush behind us, and as we started running again Chena seemed to take the lead now, and we followed behind her! We got through the swamp and soon were in sight of the road. Feeling we were safe now, we stopped and watched behind us. From somewhere not far off came the sound of a log or a branch being struck against a tree, and we didn't stop running this time until we were back at the house!
From the few people we told about the incident, the consensus opinion was that our imagination got away from us, and quite frankly we even considered that to be a possibility. Nothing else really made sense. Still, I couldn't shake that feeling of being watched every time I went in the woods after that.
About a month later, my brother was out hunting with our dog. He had left in the morning, and sometime around noon he burst through the front door crying, exhausted, and obviously terrified, trying through the fear to explain what had just happened. He told me he had gone down an old logging road which ended in a large Cedar swamp. He had gone in a short distance when he noticed everything had gone completely silent. Suddenly the loudest and most terrifying scream he ever heard came rushing through the trees! Chena bolted forward, despite him yelling at her to come. He ran all the way home, yelling for her the entire way. He was terrified something terrible had happened to her! I grabbed a gun, my deer rifle this time, and headed out the door, leaving him to find anyone who could meet me there and help. Since there's only a few families that lived around there, I wasn't too optimistic though. I got to the road and followed it back to the swamp, and immediately was aware of the eerie silence. I stood on the edge of the swamp and called for Chena for several minutes, with no response. Then, way back by a cluster of trees I saw movement, and started forward, thinking it was her. I saw it again, and stopped dead in my tracks! The figure stood upright like a man, and was covered in black from head to toe. It used the trees to hide behind, and I struggled to get a good look at what it was. Then he stepped between two trees, and in that instant what little courage I still had disappeared - he walked on two legs, and was clearly much larger than I was! Seeing someone like that, in a swamp, in the middle of the woods was enough to tell me I needed help, so I hightailed it for the house. By the time I got there, my brother had called my parents, who were in town working at the time, and they had gotten a hold of a neighbor who was on his way over. When he got there, I told him what I saw, and he told us to stay there while he checked it out.
Several hours had passed with no word, when my parents finally came home. Apparently, our neighbor had seen something as well and called the sheriff, who was now investigating. Later that night we received a call, a rather unsettling one at that. They had found the body of a huge Canadian Lynx, which they suspected of having rabies. The body had been sent to the vet in town for an autopsy. More disturbing yet, it appeared to have a broken neck! No one seemed to have an explanation for that. As for our dog, she remained missing and we feared the worst. The next morning brought a welcome relief; Chena was home! We had no idea where she had been or what happened, we were just happy she was back, safe and sound! We later found out the Lynx they found was indeed rabid, and had in fact died from a broken neck. What had killed a full grown, rabid animal of that size, in that manner, however remained unexplained!
The rest of that summer saw several more people encountering the mysterious man in the woods, all being no more than a fleeting glimpse, and virtually identically descriptive: very tall, at least seven feet, covered in black from head to toe, apparently just watching them until noticed, and seemingly able to vanish into the woods. The only discrepancy now was, some described him as fully clothed, others said it was covered in hair! Needless to say, everyone was on edge that summer. We all took to chaining our dogs up, rather than letting them roam free, simply too unsure of who, or what, was out there watching from the woods.
As fall set in, the Forest Service brought more disturbing news to our besieged little enclave. A pack of Timberwolves had moved down from the north, led by an unusually large alpha male. The previous winter had been particularly harsh, decimating the number of Whitetail deer in the area, which is the wolves primary food source. There had been a number of reports involving dogs being killed and eaten while chained up right outside a families home. They were attributing these attacks to this particular pack, and they had just been seen in our area! That night when I chained Chena up to the back porch outside, I stayed by the window where I could see her, just to be safe. She had been outside about half an hour when she did something she had never done before - started barking! She had her own language of howls and yowls, but never barked once. I ran out the door and down the steps to her, and as she briefly turned to look at me, I heard something I'll never forget! It was a low, guttural growl and the unmistakable sound of bare feet slapping the ground, running down the dirt path directly at me! In panic, I immediately turned and ran, so afraid that I ran around the side of the house to the front, rather than right back up the steps I had just come down! I burst through the front door, screaming that Chena was being attacked, and my older brother jumped up and went for his gun as I did the same. We then rushed out the back, guns ready, to find Chena still barking furiously at something back in the woods. With everything that happened that year, we opted not to go looking for whatever it was, and wait till morning. We brought Chena inside, and I doubt any of us slept much that night.
The next morning shock hit us, as we went outside to find that less than fifty feet from the end of Chena's chain lay the lifeless body of a huge male Timberwolf! It lay in such a way as to suggest, a broken neck! The rest of the pack wasn't seen in the area again, and no one around us lost a dog. It's been over a year now, and the stranger in the forest hasn't been seen since that happened. I've been back out hunting again, but I steer clear of the Cedar swamp, and that old logging road. To this day I still wonder, when I heard those footsteps coming at me, if I had just looked back while I ran, what would I have seen?