In more rural parts of New England, a strange legend began to develop around a stretch of woodlands as ‘Hunger Hill’. It is a place where nothing grows, a place that stays grey and solemn even on the brightest and warmest of days, filled with rotting, gnarled trees and long, pale grasses that seem to sway on a non-existent breeze. Many would argue that it is a place that exists in a darkness of its own.
It is a legend mostly known to paranormal enthusiasts and those interested in the many mysteries and hidden creatures surrounding New England. It is a story that is also known to the inhabitants of the small town that have long since lived under it, but one that they avoid talking of from fear.
People report bizarre phenomena when visiting the area. Cameras malfunction when trying to take pictures, often being damaged irreparably soon after.
If you travel deep enough into the woods, you will know when you get to Hunger Hill. There are no animals that live near the area. Animals such as dogs that find themselves in that area go into a state of hysteria. They tug at their leashes, trying desperately to lead their owners away. There have been some cases of dogs becoming so frenzied near the area that they have bolted into the trees, only to be found later, entangled in the branches by their leashes, having hanged themselves in their panic to flee.
It gets its unusual name from a torrid history, one as equally shrouded in shadows and darkness. In the land of phantoms, Hunger Hill was long since considered the threshold to the spirit world. It was a plain that seemed to writhe and seethe with such an unseen evil that the Native Tribes refused to settle anywhere near it. They said that it was not their land, but belonged to the ‘Pale Men’, spirits who inhabited it.
In the early seventeenth century, a Puritan family settled there, composed of a father, a wife, two daughters and three sons. They were good and god-fearing people who only wanted to build a better life for themselves in this new world. They refused to believe in any spirits or evil that dwelt within the area, believing that God would protect them from such heathen beliefs.
But as they soon learnt, God had abandoned those parts of his creation long ago.
After a bitter winter, the family were all found slaughtered within their house. They were described as if ‘being set upon by a wild beast of sorts’. Their bodies were covered in horrific wounds, and teeth marks much smaller than any bear or wolf, but as powerful to have bit down to the bone.
All were found brutally dealt with, except the family’s eldest son. His body was nowhere to be found on the property.
A warrant was immediately put out by the community for his arrest and hanging, blaming him for the brutal murder of his family. But the snow and winds prevented the men from embarking on a sufficient search party, as well as a deep superstition of the area and the ‘wood devils’ purported to be lurking within, white, almost humanoid creatures who screamed at night, their shrill, inhuman voices running through the town.
They never found any trace of him, so they presumed him to be dead, and life went on as normal in the village, although with an added new fear of the woods on the outskirts.
Although the story of the family soon faded into local legend, mothers used the story to ward their children away from those woods. Despite their good intentions, there was still the odd few who vanished while playing too deep there, never to be seen again.
But the ones who fell most afoul of the area aside from the few curious children foolish enough to wander were strangers, people new to the area and ignorant to the fear that surrounded Hunger Hill.
In 1928, a man by the name of Otto Barr came to the town. He was the son of two East-German born immigrants and a writer who wanted to compile a book on the mysteries of New England. He had heard of the mysterious story that surrounded the area and had become fascinated enough to travel there and research it.
Despite the concerns of the locals, he ventured up into the area alone.
When the evening he had left on turned to night, and night became day, then two nights, the police were contacted. They compiled an extensive search of the surrounding woodlands, but it seemed as if the unfortunate man’s body had vanished without a trace from the face of the Earth.
Only a few of his earthly possessions were found- tattered strips of cloth, later identified by his widow as being torn from the back of the jacket he had been wearing, his spectacles, found half-buried in the fallen leaves and a journal. He had been using it for research, but most of the pages had fallen out from by the time police had found it, two miles away from the area Otto had last been seen in. A last, frenzied entry had been scribbled in:
‘…I hear them scream at night, they scream so loudly that my ears might burst. I scream now too, in hopes that God might save me from this place, but nothing is as the same…I have past the same tree five times now, but I am still no closer to the village. It has been three days now. Food and water is rapidly becoming scarce…[the] hideous man-roots…I see their forms dance between the trees, pale shadows. In the day, they whisper to me, terrible things… God, why won’t they stop screaming…’
The police determined that the unfortunate man, unfamiliar to the area, had become lost and delirious, eventually succumbing to the elements before being picked off by the woodland predators. The investigation was eventually closed, due to lack of evidence and the fact that Barr was not a local, and therefore of less priority to look for, leaving no consolation to his grieving widow or family.
But the most famous incident came in 1983. In the years that have followed it has almost become as legendary as the family of settlers who perished there. It had become the stuff of hushed ghost stories in the drunken corners of taverns and in high school locker rooms across New England. The circumstances have been stretched and exaggerated to the point that it’s almost laughable, but the truth remains untouched.
Five college-age friends ventured into the forest on a hiking trip one summer. Being relative novices to the past-time, they managed to stray off the intended path and wander into those dead woodlands. In time, they had become hopelessly lost.
Far from any pay-phone or forest ranger’s office, they were forced to make camp for the night. It was at night that they heard the noises- horrible, high-pitched cries of something, that they tried to convince themselves was either a coyote. But coyote’s howls did not sound like the hideous sounds they heard that night in those woods. After all, coyotes certainly don’t sound like human screaming…
They tried again the next morning to re-join civilization, their nerves already frayed from the previous night. But as far as they seemed to wander, they always found themselves at the exact same spot they had wandered from.
Tempers were already beginning to fray. Their supplies were already dwindling. At night, the screaming would return, even louder than before, to the point they could barely sleep.
In their tiredness, the group began to hallucinate. Some swore that they saw dashes of white, pale people running between the trees, watching them in the daylight.
Most versions of the tale vary on what comes next. Either the hapless students were picked off by the creatures that they saw lurking in those woods, or one of their own was driven insane by the lack of food and the stretching loneliness of the place and had slaughtered their friends.
However, the one thing that was definite was that not one of the five returned from those woods.
A search of their woods found their supplies scattered around, as if they were running from something and had dropped them on the way, as well as the tattered remains of the makeshift tent they’d pitched. There seemed to be no signs of a struggle or anything violent, it was as if they had just vanished into the air.
It was agreed that they had succumbed to the elements because of their own lack of preparation and the case was quickly closed. The five were officially listed as missing people. Few wondered why the case had been so suddenly and mysteriously swept under the rug, out of media sight. But there were times where the townsfolk below would just look up at the darkened trees and wonder.
In 2005, when a nature photographer was trying to take some good shots of the woodlands of New England for an ecological magazine, not far from Hunger Hill. While fixing his tripod against the thick roots of a large, looming grey tree, his foot stumbled against something sharp in the soil. It caught his attention and looking closer, saw it was part of a human phalange.
Police were immediately called to the scene. On excavating the area, they made a startling discovery- entwined with the thick roots, deep within the Earth were over a dozen skeletons, their flesh long since picked clean off their bones. They were enchained together, each one clutching the other’s ankle as if they were being pulled down by something. Some had been buried so long that the roots of the tree were growing through their bones.
The five skeletons at the top of the ‘chain’ were later identified as the five who went missing twenty-two years earlier. How they came to be buried within the Earth and by whom is still a mystery.
No-one could explain either why all their mouths were twisted into silent screams as they clutched desperately upwards, as if trying to break through the soil.
The other skeletons found within the pit remained unidentified, but it was discovered they were in varying states of decomposition, suggesting they were down there for much longer than the missing five. Some were even dated back to the seventeenth century. The chain stretched twelve feet into the Earth, taking more than a week to be uncovered. Entangled with the adults were several smaller skeletons, ones that were obviously those of children.
Due to the bizarre circumstances, the authorities kept the discovery to avoid disturbing the local community. The missing persons’ case was quietly re-opened, where it remains until this day.
It has been said that everything will eventually return to the Earth, at a time where our skin withers from age and our bones are no longer warmed by the sun. Where at the dulling of our existence, we complete the great cycle, ensuring rebirth through our own demise. That is just the way things are, and have always been.
But perhaps we don’t wait for our bodies to be returned to the Earth.
Perhaps the Earth waits for us, in the hidden shadows cast by the light, ready to pull us back down into the soil, where all good souls eventually come to rest.
That the Earth hungers, as we do for the warmth of a presence within it's cold hearth of soil. That holds the same hunger that humans have for companionship. That it finds the few and unwary, watching them from afar, before pulling them down into the darkness, where their screams are suddenly silenced and they have no need for anything anymore.
You can find the place, if you look deeply enough- finding directions, going down false paths. But if you persist, you can find it, and the town that rests just below the gaping maw of trees. But don’t try to ask them about it- all you’ll receive are cold shoulders and blank stares.
If you’re feeling particularly curious, you can take a stroll through the woods. The routes some of the most scenic that the north-eastern part of the United States has to offer- tall trees, coastal plains, and even biking lanes. It feels virtually indistinguishable from any other tourist attraction. When the air gets colder and the sky surrounding gets darker, however, you may want to turn back.
Just make sure to keep to the right paths, and try not to stray out of the light. And above anything, try to leave the woods before night. Before you can hear any strange noises. You don’t know what’s out there.
And once they have you, they're not going to be able to let you go.