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Cut to Shelburne, Ontario. It's as rural as it gets and when I grew up there (80/90s), it was essentially a Canadian Texas. I'm 14 at the time of this story.
After Catholic school, us kids would often get together to roam in packs throughout the woods. We'd drink whatever booze we could get, on one occasion scored some shitty weed which was a huge deal for us... you know, basically as free-spirited a rural, religious upbringing will allow, as far as we could distance ourselves from our sheltered little boxes, and escape into our own little world. All the kids in the town knew each other at the time.
This day, some day in late October in `92, it was just as any normal day would start out. It was pretty sunny and hot out, which was unusual because a) it's late October, and b) we're 2.5 hours North of Toronto so we're pretty far up. But there it was palpable heat and all. It was a day of boring (and probably very offensive/narrow) Catholic lectures, we were sick of this long day, and we just wanted the outdoors, which was basically like video games for us (which most of us didn't have at the time).
So we're well on our merry way, go hiking down onto Highway 10, and group of four, me and two other guys plus a girl. School ended at 4:00 p.m. for us and we met up a few hours after that, so it was already dusk-going-on-dark. We thought nothing of it as we hike all the time in the woods, although to be fair we had never much ventured outside our little town, let alone check out trails stemming from the major highway, but being 14 and sheltered we were desperate to be daring.
We found a trail and made our way down it. It got very steep and thickened with vine, and getting dark this was terribly difficult. Oh yeah, I didn't have the right battery for our flashlights, and my parents wouldn't let us even be out here, let alone be out here with their flares. One friend managed to sneak a tent from his dad's barn, and brought us firewood and matches as he snuck out. Seemed good enough to us.
After the steepness leveled out (the vine thickness only slightly so), it started on a long incline which brought us to this hill that overlooked cliff faces and huge mountains and valleys. It wasn't like the flat rows of cornfields you see in Sudbury. A real pretty sight. We settled on this one spot, setting up tent and campfire. My buddy (let's call him Greg) took out the beers, I took out the joint of (utterly piss-poor) weed, and the girl (let's call her Sally) began making out with her boyfriend (let's call him Kyle). It was the classic awkward-teenage-phase experience. The magical kind that made you feel self-conscious and weird at the time, but now make you all warm and fuzzily nostalgic, ya know? Well anyway, we were just sitting there and I suddenly needed to pee.
I headed down the hill-face, the part with no path, just wild bushy grass. I walked down for a good little while and found an empty clearing out of sight from the others to take a leak. As I was finishing up, a glint, just a real small speck of a shiny glint, popped up far off in the distance of the valley. If I had to take a shot in the dark, I'd say it was a good half a kilometer from us. It was unmistakably a flame, not like a huge fire, but a small contained one, like a candle but large enough to be seen far away, so maybe like some lamp. Anyways, I figured some other people were enjoying this little sanctuary just like us. The flame floated forward, jiggling up and down. I was really high and drunk at the time, so for some reason I kept on looking at it.
I was fixed for maybe 5 minutes when it stopped. It just stopped--not the flame, it was there still, but it had stopped moving forward, or up or down. Now I think whoever--whatever it was, they were turning to look at me maybe. But it was pitch dark and I was perhaps a quarter mile away. Okay, yeah, we were being really loud, laughing hysterically and yelling and chatting, just shooting the shit, so maybe this guy had good hearing and zeroed in on the location. Honestly, it's not a detail that I care about anymore, having thought this through so many times.
So I zip up and climb up the hill, leaving the lone candle-holding stranger be. I go up and hang around with my friends, and I told them what I saw, how odd it was to see someone out with us at this time. They wanted to invite this guy over at first. "We should holler at him!" they said, or something like that maybe. I told them, well, I'll show you where I saw them. So we climbed down the side of the hill I went and gazed across the valley.
Two flames. Floating in the darkness lower in the valley, bobbing up and down, towards our direction. And they're closer. Like less-than-200-yards-away closer.
You know that moment when something you have no reason to believe is sinister, just feels sinister? It`s ineffable, like some sort of foreshadowing on God's part, trying to pull you from harm's boundary. But at the time, being a teen, and with the group mentality, no one wanted to be afraid. Everyone wanted to own this land. "HEY!!" we shouted to them, in a really casual way like we were inviting them over, but deep down I had a no-good feeling about it. Maybe though, I thought, if we didn't act afraid, it wouldn't lure them in. Or maybe it's cool, they're just lost, they need shelter. Whatever was innocuous.
They made no verbal response to us, but a physical one--they stopped dead in their tracks. At this point they were close enough that you could hear the rustling beneath their feet, maybe, or maybe it was my nervous imagination (sometimes I wonder if my buddies were as scared as I was at that exact moment). But now they were dead silent, and still, in all regards.
We were still. They were still. "I don't like this," Sally said more covertly. We decided to walk up the hill. I wish we didn't. We get back to the top (just like a 10 second walk up), and there are two, then three, then four other flames lighting up in other parts of the valley. Parts not far from us at all. And they're all zeroing in on us.
A collective "oh shit" washed over us and we started packing up our stuff quickly. Four flames bobbing up and down slowly, from the bottom of the ravine up the steep side of the hill we were on. If we sat there for 10 more minutes they'd be breathing right down our neck. It felt like forever to pack up our things, and none of us bothered to look down the ravine during that time. We all packed silently, scared. Were our parents playing a prank on us for being out so late?
So, everyone had packed up. The others were already running back up the path we came from. Just as I was zipping up my bag, I turned around to look down just before running off. I wish I hadn't. I saw from all throughout the ravine, up to a good kilometer or two away, a FEW DOZEN or so candles walking towards our position. Bobbing up and down, the motion of a person walking with a candle in their hands. In a few minutes it went from being a few candles to being at least 20. Oh, fuck. We must've really tampered with something not accustomed to company.
But the worst part was when they were close enough. Remember how before I said one of the candle holders was a few hundred yards away? Well, now there were two that were VERY close. Like, approaching that spot where I was going to pee. And it was at this point that I realized that they weren't walking. They were RUNNING up that ravine, and I could hear how loud they were stomping, how the twigs were breaking underneath their feet, and most unsettling, how they were wheezing and panting. It was anything but natural-sounding; it didn't sound like what an out-of-breath human should sound like. It was a mix of a pant and sob, but strained, almost too high pitched to be a man. Kind of like the yelp of a dog of coyote, but it was too hoarse for that, and it sounded like the basis of actual words, not random cries.
Nonetheless, I screamed like a little girl and bolted off. My friends and I ran and didn't look back that night. Pure adrenaline took us safely out of that forest, we were more relieved than ever to be out of. We were fully expecting our parents to be behind this--we'd get home and the lights would be on, we thought, with our parents ready to tell us how they got us good for sneaking out, how we got so scared over a few candles, and how we shouldn't be out at that time anyways. The only thing is when I got home, the lights were off--my window was still open even, totally untouched. I crept in, peered down the halls--yep, parents still sound asleep. I checked with my friends the next morning, they all reported back the same.
One thing I never told my friends about was how I went back to the same spot some months later. I was the one who knew the way, as they just followed me that night, so they couldn't have gone themselves even if they wanted to (they didn't, anyways). So I went, months later, on one of the calmer days during the harsh winter. It must've been January 1993, many months after the first incident, and on this particular day, it was freezing.
I was going to tell them what I saw, honest. I was gonna tell the others that I went back. But when I got there I decided I wouldn't tell anyone. I wouldn't tell them I found that old trail. I wouldn't tell them I walked back up to the hill in broad daylight. And god forbid, not even the priest in my church's confession booth will ever hear this, but I swear to God, when I got there, there were HUNDREDS of candles, stacked, dug into the ground, melted, burnt out. In the middle of Canadian winter. I couldn't tell you how many charred candles there were. And there was burnt firewood. Lots of it, like very recently burnt.
Whatever was out there for us that night, it was waiting for us to come back. It waited through winter.