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In the Valley of Shadows

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You might be surprised by what you find in the woods

There are more than ghost stories in October for Halloween. This tale will make you afraid to go into the woods for other reasons than Bigfoot.

It’s 1937, a time that movie makers and TV shows often depict through a yellow filter. Dad (Dennis) was a young man of 21 at the time, a few years from WWII. Working for the summer for the Forest Service, he could experience firsthand his true profession, forestry.

It was late August and he, along with his friend, Roger, and a more senior ranger, Carl, were taking supplies, news and mail up to the Blacktail lookout tower.

They arrived at the trailhead on a morning late after a sudden, severe thunderstorm had passed through the previous night.

They pulled a trailer with the mule that would carry the bulk of the supplies. All three shouldered packs after getting the mule out of the trailer and started up the trail. The watchman in the lookout tower was interested in world events, and the magazines relating the plans for a huge World’s Fair in New York in 1939, along with the newly resurgent Germany, would be appreciated reading along with several novels to while away the next month or so until the end of the fire season.

An hour into the hike brought the trio and the government mule to a trail fork. The one on the right was two miles and more severe. To the left, a little over a mile. My father and Roger started left, but Carl called out: “We’re taking the other one, fellers.”  Pointing out the shorter distance failed to persuade the older man to take that route. Carl started right; no further persuasion was entertained.

Shrugging, Dad and his friend followed.

It was pushing noon when the trio came within sight of the tower and even the two newbies could see something was very wrong. The legs and the basic platform were still there, but the rest showed blackened skeletal claws pointing up to a now sullen, yellow sky. Another storm was coming in.

Carl ordered them in no uncertain terms to stay put while he went to investigate.

As the younger men watched, Carl delicately climbed up the ladder to the ruined tower and disappeared behind the blackened remnant of a wall. A minute later, Carl appeared and yelled down for one of them to bring up a saddle blanket. Roger grabbed one and hurried to the tower. Meeting him half way down, he instructed Roger to return to the mule with my dad.

Ten minutes later, they watched as Carl carefully backed down the tower with a grisly burden wrapped in the blanket. Walking forward, they met Carl as he stepped onto the ground and laid the blanket and contents over the now skittish mule’s rump, securing it with a rope. “Let’s go,” was all he said as they headed to the trailhead.

The time spent at the tower was barely half an hour, but already the wind was picking up. It might not arrive full force for a couple of hours, but all three knew they needed to get back to the truck as quickly as possible; that’s why both the younger men were surprised when, again, Carl refused to take the shorter route down.

This time though, Dad and Roger stood their ground and started down the shorter route. Carl stood there looking at them holding the reins of the mule. After cussing several times he finally followed. As they descended Dad noticed Carl constantly looking off both sides of the trail as if he expected a mountain lion to suddenly leap out at them.

Nothing threatened them except distant rumbles of thunder as they reached the trailhead. Carl quickly led the mule into the trailer, removed the watchman’s body and as gently, but quickly as possible, put it in the back of the truck.

Only two-thirty in the afternoon, it was more twilight. Carl quickly climbed into the driver’s side, shooting another look at the trailhead now shrouded in gloom.

Roger climbed in just as Dad tossed his pack into the back and stepped on the running board. Seeing where Carl was looking drew his attention as well, He could hardly believe his eyes as a cold electric current went down his back, hackles rising.

They were no longer alone. There, 30 feet away stood eight forms, seven of them maybe a little under four feet tall, maybe the size of twelve-year-olds. But these were no children.

Old albino men was what came to Dad’s mind. They seemed to defy the gloom. He could see the shrouds which they were dressed in, for lack of a better description, appeared to be made of heavy spider webs. The only part of their body showing, their faces, were like shriveled, dried up apples with piercing dark seeds for eyes and narrow, lipless mouths. They just stood there, unmoving, watching.

The other form appeared to be some wolf or dog, but like no other canine they’d seen. In the shadows, no real detail could be seen, but the profile of the head was... well, something they were glad they couldn’t see.

This observation and thought happened in the snap of a finger as Carl swung the truck and trailer around, nearly throwing Dad to the ground before heaving himself into the cab and slamming the door.

Carl made record time getting to the main road to Sandpoint, throwing the two shaken younger men “I told you so,” glances during the white knuckled drive.

As they came to the bridge across the river, he admonished them to keep their lips buttoned. Who would believe them anyway?

This story was told to us 20 years ago. Dad presented no theory as to what he had seen back then, especially the canine shape, but one can’t but wonder. Carl had known something about the shorter trail. Lore of the woods passed down from the early settlers and before them, the Indians perhaps?

Were they unknown denizens of the woods, perhaps like Bigfoot, who some think has the ability to slip into and out of this dimension? Aliens? Observers from another time? Or something completely unimaginable that may still dwell somewhere in these forests, 70 years later in this Valley of Shadow?

“...and their waxwork faces with the look of things that could never have lived...” -C. Day Lewis

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Author info

Lawrence Fury Lawrence Fury is an inveterate letter-to-the-editor writer, and a conservative conscience for this area of North Idaho. He's also an expert on local ghost stories, and is compiling a group of them for future book publication. You can read more about him in a Love Notes feature for the River Journal

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