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Backpacker Magazine – October 2005

Terror in the Trees

Ghost stories always seem scarier beside a flickering campfire. So, dim your headlamp and scoot up closer: our writer-at-large explores the ghoulish beginnings of these age-old tales and shares a few of his all-time favorite blood-curdlers. We dare you to read on.

by: Steve Friedman

(Illustration by Jackie McCaffrey)
(Illustration by Jackie McCaffrey)

TELL A SCARY STORY
Learn how to tell your own tale of terror with our how-to guide, right here.
We were college students, my girlfriend and I, and we had driven here, to the redwood forest, from San Francisco. I had promised to take her backpacking. She had grown up surfing in southern California, had never spent a night in anything but a feather bed. Being a college student in the mid-’70s, in northern California, my approach to backpacking was “the Earth will take care of us.” Which means I drank water out of streams, ate nothing but bags of granola and cheese and avocado sandwiches, and planned itineraries by asking locals where to camp. I didn’t have a watch, or compass, or a map, because to me, camping was all about not being enslaved by the accouterments of society. It was all about freedom.

To Melissa, though, my brand of exploration meant hunger and crabbiness and “I thought you knew what you were doing when I agreed to come up here with you.”

I told her there was nothing to fret about. I told her that after we ate, our senses would be sharpened, that we’d be fine. What I didn’t tell her was that I had no idea whether we’d find a diner, or gas station, before we ran out of fuel.

And that’s when we saw Ernie’s, just off Route One. A single gas pump on a patch of gravel, and behind it, the diner, a little wooden shack that pulsed cheerfulness through its plate-glass window. It was clean inside, and smelled of pancakes and comfort. The waitress wore a blue polyester uniform with a nametag that said “Kath.” She was a redhead, slim, about 30, and she told us we could sit wherever we wanted. We were the only customers, except for a table of five guys. They all had robes and long beards, but this was northern California in the mid-’70s, so it didn’t seem odd. What did seem odd, what I didn’t notice until I was halfway through our pancakes, is that except for the occasional clattering of dishes from the kitchen and scrape of silverware, the restaurant was silent. The guys in robes hadn’t said a word since we’d walked in. They just stared at the center of their table. When Kath cleared our empty plates, I asked if she knew any places nearby where we might camp for the night.

She did. She told us to continue five miles up the road, then to make a left on a dirt road, and take it another two miles, then when we saw a black boulder on the right, to pull off next to it and take a footpath about a quarter-mile. There was a nice spot next to a creek, a pretty little grove near some of the giant trees. We would be happy there, the waitress promised. She leaned closer and smiled and whispered something. To avoid staring down the front of her blue uniform—Kath had quite a body—I tried to look elsewhere.
That’s when I noticed the fresh scars on her wrists.

“What?” I said.

“It’s a secret place,” Kath said. “I think you’ll like it.”



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Reader Rating: -

READERS COMMENTS

Star Star Star Star Star
The John
Jun 21, 2014

I liked it. It was a little confusing at times but I liked it.

Star Star Star
Tukan
Oct 31, 2013

Here are some really really scary stories, I have read recently

http://www.amazon.com/After-Dark-Ghost-Stories-India-ebook/dp/B00DYA0H7E/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1383238448&sr=8-1&keywords=after+dark+ghost+stories+from+india

Star
noala
Oct 21, 2013

Star Star Star Star Star
jayasurya
Oct 21, 2013

hai! good

Star Star Star
Katie
Jan 17, 2013

No offence, but that wasn't very scary (it wasn't scary for me).

confuzled :/
Oct 31, 2012

??????what?????

confuzled :/
Oct 31, 2012

??????what?????

rebecca
Aug 21, 2011

I'm very happy about this, for me you pulled me in with earnies, kept me interested with the other directions and came back in with the kicker at the end.....i honestly can't decide if its true or not....well done

calboy147
Oct 31, 2010

Wow, I found it to be a quite amusing tale till i read the majority of these posts. Now i think i must have fallen asleep and dreamed it all up.
I certainly don't remember reading anything about his girlfriend screaming.. I guess i better go back and read it again. My macular degeneration must have gotten worse.

NevikS
Oct 29, 2010

I thought it was pretty goo - tied several stories together nicely.

The Smokey Joe story is told at every session at Camp Orr - a Boy Scout camp on the Buffalo River near Jasper Arkansas. There was just a snippet told here. The whole story is a 45 minute long tale about the derranged camp counselor presumably hiding in Compton Hollow. We were there a couple of years ago, and prior to starting the story, they warned the audience and allowed anyone about the disturbing nature of the story and allowed anyone to leave that wanted to. This really helped set the mood.

I wonder if the other stories are original by the author, or if they are also snippets of stories he has heard at some time?

emo person
Oct 27, 2010

its so bad that i stopped readin after the 1st page.

claudia
Sep 03, 2010

whhat the hell!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

claudia
Sep 03, 2010

i think he fell asleep writing it what a shame oh well at least he finished it.......heheheheheh

hi
May 01, 2010

hi

such a retarded storie
Feb 16, 2010

what the hell is this about?How do you not hear your girlfrend screaming? What a dumb as. This story is#&(@$&(^%*$

PS.I wrote the storie below to=)

such a retarded storie
Feb 16, 2010

what the hell is this about?How do you not hear your girlfrend screaming? What a dumb as. This story is#&(@$&(^%*$

PS.I wrote the storie below to=)

Anonymous
Feb 16, 2010

The most retarded scarie storie i have ever read! I laughed the whole way. My dog could tell a better storie than this! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sarah
Nov 20, 2009

I liked it. Scared the hell out of my 6th grade class.

Me
Nov 19, 2008

I thought it was pretty good. For those of you who think you're missing something make sure you go through all the pages they're listed on the bottom. I can imagine sitting around a campfire with friends and looking into their fire-flickering eyes, seeing them hope but not know that it isn't true. haha

Steve
Nov 19, 2008

This was so stupid

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