By: Warren J. Morgan
Less than a week ago I was living my routine life, happy and content. My life has always been bland, not bad mind you, I’ve just never been a thrill-seeker. As a kid I never rode my bike too fast and I always wore a helmet. On any given day my friends could be found speeding down the backroads snaking through the beautiful Appalachian Mountains. They’d ride as fast as they could down the large hill that passed our farm house. Their eyes wide, they’d slam on the brakes right before the large turn at the bottom of the hill. I on the other hand, never sped down the hill, I drifted down it with my feet firmly on the pedals, always applying a copious amount of brakes. For my cautiousness I endured much ridicule but I didn’t really care. There was no way would you find me lying broken over the cliff at the end of Dead man’s turn. I’m much the same as an adult, I never speed in my car and always wear my seatbelt. Some people would call me boring, I’ve always thought of myself as sensible.
My dad’s another story altogether. He’s an adrenaline junkie. I remember many times watching him ride wheelies on his motorcycle in front of our house. He’d speed up the road on the back wheel, hooting and hollering for the whole mountain to hear. I’d run in the house to tell mom about him speeding out the road and she’d usually just reply, “That fool will kill himself one day.”
Like most boys I was fascinated by my dad but there were many difference between us. I was a quiet, timid child and he was a cross between Daniel Boone and Evel Knievel. On any given day he could be found hanging off the roof of the barn or wrestling a bull into a section of the farm. He was bigger than life itself to me and I was sure he never felt fear of anything.
I didn’t get to see him as much after I left home for college and after college I busied myself with finding a job and discovering what life had in store for me, as someone once said life gets in the way. I returned home as much as I could but not nearly as often as I would have liked. Thankfully, we did manage to keep up a long held tradition of camping. A few times a year dad and I would meet somewhere in rural West Virginia and camp for a couple nights in the woods. We spent our days either fishing or hunting and our nights talking by the fire under the dark cloak of night that coats the undeveloped world.
My father and I had spent many days camping over the course of my life. I have so many wonderful memories of spending days in the woods with my dad. We’d camped in brisk autumns, bitter winters, damp springs and sweltering summers. He’d taught me about the plants and the animals of the forest. I’ve always believed that my dad would’ve been a mountain man if he’d been born in years past. His joy of the outdoors was passed on to me and together we spent much of our time sharing in the splendor of the natural world.
Since college, dad and I have been camping in a little area known as Pleasant Creek. I stumbled upon this gem while exploring the countryside around the college. It’s a wildlife management area which straddles the line between Taylor and Barbour counties in the north central part of West Virginia. It’s a beautiful, very rural area of the state and Pleasant Creek makes up a small portion of Tygart Lake State Park. Dad and I spent many days hunting squirrel and deer in the woods surrounding Tygart Lake and angling for bass in the lake itself.
In early October, dad and I decided that we would, once again, spend a couple of night camping at Pleasant Creek. We figured that we could bow hunt for deer in the morning and chase some squirrels in the midday. The weekend we selected turned out to be a beautiful one. It had been a unseasonably warm fall so I decided that I’d be hammock camping while dad opted for his pup tent. We met late one Friday evening, after work, and in no time we had camp set up and a small fire going.
We spent the evening eating campfire chili and talking about work and our wives. It was a beautiful, starry evening. The absences of artificial light allowed us to gaze at the milky way in all of its splendor. We leaned back in our camp chairs and talked of the past and the future late into the night. After midnight we decided that we should retire to bed to get some sleep so that we would be prepared to hunt early the next morning. With the decision made I climbed into my hammock and watched as my dad ducked into his tent. Within minutes I heard the not so soft snoring coming from his direction and soon I too had slipped into sleep.
I woke with a start! I’ve always been a light sleeper and I woke feeling like my sleep filled ears had heard something in the night. I raised my wrist and my Apple Watch lit to reveal that it was a little after three in the morning. I relaxed back into the warmth of my sleeping bag and listened for a few brief moments before sleep began to wrap me in its arms again. Just as I was drifting away I heard something again. It was very faint and coming from deep in the woods which enclosed the campsite. I perked up and listened intently. It sounded like someone singing though I couldn’t make out what was being sung or how many voices were in chorus. I’ve been in the woods long enough to know that sounds can play tricks on you, especially in the dark. I thought maybe it was a distant radio from a car or a boat but I hadn’t heard an engine and my father and I were the only people camping in the area. Eventually the singing faded and I followed, once again embraced by sleep.
Before dawn broke I heard my father stirring by the campfire. He’d awoken early and began to get the fire stoked. I pulled myself from the warmth of my sleeping bag and as the cool air hit my bare legs, gooseflesh spread across my body. In no time I was up, dressed and starting breakfast. Bacon, eggs and hash browns were on the menu for the morning and as I began to heat some oil in the cast iron I asked dad if he’d heard anything strange last night. He said that he hadn’t heard anything at all and absent the one time he got up to use the bathroom he had slept wonderfully. I wasn’t surprised by this revelation because, having camped many a night with him, I knew he could sleep through the apocalypse. I told him that I believed I’d heard someone in the woods singing early in the morning and, as expected, he gave me a wry grin. He proceeded to tell me, in no uncertain terms, that he thought my imagination was running away with me. I could tell that he was remembering me as a young boy, pleading with him to share his bed, because I did not like the darkness of the room in which I slept. He added that he’d listen tonight to see if he heard anything and if I heard something that I should wake him up and we’d go see what it was. This sounded like a horrible idea to me but I simply replied, “okay.”
We had a great day in the woods though we did not have any luck with the hunt. The air was crisp all day but the deer and the squirrel were not moving. The day ended with us back at camping preparing to settle in for another beautiful night. Steak and potatoes were on the menu tonight and after a hearty meal and more hours lost in conversation, we decided to turn in for the night. It would be our last night at camp as we were both heading to our respective homes in the morning. As I slumped into the hammock, and dad stepped into his tent, I couldn’t help but hope that I didn’t hear the singer this night.
Luck, it seems, was not on my side. The singing woke me again at just after three in the morning. Unlike the previous night I was keenly aware at what had awaken me this time. I could hear the singing more clearly now. It sounded as if it were much closer than the previous night. Like it was perhaps at the edge of the campground. Even though it sounded closer than before I still could not make out what words were being sung but it was definitely a solitary voice in the dark of the night. I held my breath and willed my heart not to beat as I tried to make out the words but all I could hear was a soft singing whisper drifting through the night. I briefly thought of waking my father but suspected that he’d either laugh because he didn’t hear the voice or worse he would hear it and I’d be chasing him through the woods looking for the singer. Neither of the scenarios appealed to me so I thought it best to pull my sleeping bag up and try to get back to sleep, which I eventually did.
I woke in the morning with the sun peeking over the tops of the trees. I extracted myself from the hammock and started readying the fire for breakfast. It was then that it occurred to me I hadn’t heard dad stirring this morning. He was always up in the morning before I was. I walked over to his tent and listened close. No snoring. This was even more odd than me being awake before him. My dad is a legendary snorer. Ballads have been written about the great horn of the mountain but from his tent I heard only silence. Trepidation began to creep up my spine as I gently tapped on the tent. “Dad, are you awake,” I said sheepishly. Suddenly, I heard stirring from the tent and a reply, almost a hiss, came from inside. “Yes, I’m awake, be out in a second,” came dad’s voice from inside.
Relieved I went back to the fire and started breakfast. It wasn’t long before dad had pulled a chair up to the fire and taken a seat. While I cooked, I asked him how his night had been and he told me that he’d not slept as well last night. “It felt cold and damp in the tent last night,” he said. I had found the weather and temperature last night to be quite pleasant but I did admit that he looked like he’d had a rough night. We ate quickly and quietly and in short order we had packed up camp. After a brief goodbye we both headed out from camp and as I turned north on the main road I saw the tailgate of dad’s pickup truck heading south.
I arrived home, summarized the trip for my wife and stowed my gear. After unpacking I sent a text to my mom to see if dad had made it home. He had made it and was now busying himself with his neglected farm work. I spent the day with my wife, shopping for groceries and preparing for the work week ahead. As night came and darkness fell I readied myself for bed and found myself thinking of the voice in the dark. I drifted to sleep in bed surrounded by my dogs and my loving wife but the comfort at being home was short lived. Just after three in the morning I awoke to the unmistakable sound of singing outside the bedroom window. Neither my wife nor our dogs were stirring but I could hear the soft singing just outside the house. The words still escaped me but the voice sounded masculine. Like a soft tenor in a solitary choir. I laid in bed, utterly terrified that the voice had followed me home or perhaps worse that I was sliding into the madness of my imagination. When dawn broke the singing was gone and to my despair my wife revealed that she’d heard nothing in the night.
Through sleep deprived eyes I spent the day staring at my computer screen at work. The voice of the singer in my mind, the sickness of its presence heavy on my heart. I dreaded the thought of going home and going to bed. I dreaded the thought of the damned thing singing to me again in the night. I dreaded the possibility that I had gone mad. Despite my protestations night came. I lay in bed, eyes open, counting the marks on the ceiling. One am, two am, three am. Nothing! Perhaps it had been my overactive imagination after all. Filled with relief, I allowed my eyes to close and fell deeply into a restful sleep. I didn’t move a muscle until around four thirty in the morning when I awoke to what I thought was my dog shuffling at the foot of the bed. “What’s wrong buddy?” I said, as I leaned forward to pet his head. That’s when I saw it. Standing at the foot of the bed. It looked like a shadow at first but soon my eyes adjusted and I could see the whiteness of his eyes and of the teeth in the crooked smile. “Dad?” I said as I blinked wildly. “What’s going on?” I questioned as I tried to focus my eyes on him. It was my dad but something was off. The skin around his face looked loose, like a deflated balloon lying on the ground. His smile seemed a little too large for his face and his eyes were wide like a ill proportioned jack-o-lantern. His silence was deafening and I felt like the fear tearing at my heart would subside if only he would speak. I couldn’t have been more wrong. As his mouth opened I began to hear singing come from this thing wearing the face of my father and I finally knew the words that had pierced these nights. “In the dark wood of the creek you should not go, lest ye seek the wendigo.”