This happened to me when I was fifteen years old, the spring before I left home for good. I grew up in Maine. For those of you who think a trip to the Cascades is getting back to nature, Maine is the forest primeval.
There’s a reason Stephen King includes all those deep, dark, haunted forests in his books (the town which became his model for ‘Salem’s Lot lay about 20 miles from my front door, as the crow flies; the “Pet Semetary” was disturbingly close by).
Albion was the name of my home town, founded in 1754. It’s only claim to fame is as the birthplace of Elijah Lovejoy, the first recorded American martyr for the press. The inhabitants had long since forgotten the significance of the town’s namesake and had allowed the burg to fade into the kind of decaying, vapid decrepitude one expects from such tiny, isolated hamlets. It was part H.P. Lovecraft and part “‘Salem’s Lot,” without the literary references and artistic punch of either.
There were more cows than people in Albion, its economy based almost entirely on milk production. Those few who were not dairy farmers comprised the tiny merchant class, the even tinier landed gentry and the backwoods homesteaders.
Most people think New England has four seasons, but Maine actually has two: Winter and Several Weeks of Very Chilly Weather. There is also a subseason, known to most locals as “Mud.” Once, during the first week of Mud, some high school friends and I went off into the aforementioned forest primeval, engaged in our primary occupation: Avoiding School.
We left town by way of an old logging trail that ran behind the general store (“H.L. Keay & Son, since 1850: If we don’t have it, you don’t need it!”) and cut across thawing farmland and thickets until we reached the edge of Fowler’s Bog. This was a vast expanse of dense marshland which stretched from Albion to the Unity town line, eight miles away.
In the winter, when the bog was frozen, you could walk, ski or snowmobile across its surface safely, but for the rest of the year it was as treacherous a piece of ground as you could wish. We skirted the edge of the bog for several miles, admiring the first signs of spring (or Very Chilly Weather) in the forest around us.
Finally, we reached our destination, an old, tumbledown hunting cabin along the edge of the bog, its boards weathered and gray in stark contrast to the emerging greenery of the woods. We remained there for several hours as the sun made its way quickly across the sky, talking, joking and speculating on the quality of existence outside Albion and Maine.
Dark came early at that time of year, and before too long the shadows were lengthening rapidly as the sun began to slide down behind the trees. Now, we’d literally grown up in those woods and knew them very well: Fowler’s Bog and the surrounding forest held no secrets for us. More than once we’d navigated our way home well after dark without so much as a stubbed toe. But not this time.
Somehow, our little group became separated. Maybe the others left us behind intentionally, maybe we just weren’t paying attention for once, I don’t know. But it was nearly full dark when my friend Matt and I realized the others were not to be seen. We laughed about it, thinking they’d either gone ahead to lay in ambush and scare us as we made our way through the dark woods, or they’d taken a wrong turning somewhere up ahead and would no doubt catch us up later.
So we continued apace, talking and laughing, until Matt stopped and jerked his head up and asked “What the hell is that?!??”
I looked to where he pointed. I have seen bears, moose, wolves, coyotes, porcupines, foxes, deer, raccoons, coyotes and bobcats, all in their natural habitats. I have seen some weird things in those woods, things I cannot to this day adequately explain. This was one of them.
I can still recall the unfamiliar feeling of abject terror; it was the first and only time in my life I’ve ever been utterly helpless with fear. It was quite big. It was very, very black. And it made the most terrifying sound I have ever heard in my life as it made its way through the underbrush not twenty feet away from where we stood. We didn’t see it clearly, thanks to the darkness and intervening foliage.
It crossed our path and went down into the bog, still making that noise. Then we heard a muffled “splash;” later we agreed it must have plunged into the bog at a deep spot. I never told my parents, but Matt told his and, being members of the landed gentry, they called the local sheriff who took us out there a couple of days later. Matt’s parents came with us.
We found the place easily enough, and there was plenty of evidence of the thing’s passage: A swath of crushed forest underbrush crossed from the treeline down to the bog. Had we wished to, we could have easily followed it back into the forest. But the sheriff said it was a trail left by a couple of big bears and said we were lucky not to have been charged or even mauled.
Matt’s parents looked at the sheriff as though he’d just told them he was a space alien and would we mind joining him on Mars for tea? Matt’s father called the sheriff every conceivable kind of ass, pointing out what we all knew: No bear or anything else we’d ever seen made that trail. But the sheriff just stood there calmly and took the verbal abuse, and after Matt’s father had finished he quietly said the matter was closed and asked us not to make too much of it.
That was the very last time my friends and I ever went near Fowler’s Bog.
Submitted by JC