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As a super quick background, I'm a reporter for a small newspaper in a sleepy town in Western Mass. I've seen some strange things, which I wanted to share. My other story about Western Mass can be viewed here (part one).
As most weird and scary stories start off, this takes place in the woods.
If you're not familiar with Western Mass, it's quite different than the "rest" of Massachusetts near Boston and along the coast. When I say "different," I mean, "the complete opposite." Most of the area I live in is made up of small towns, winding roads and woods. Lots and lots of woods.
In our town, we have a few popular wooded areas, but none quite as notorious as the Northern Woods. From afar they don't seem much different than other woods. There are a lot of trees, some hiking trails and the constant threat of getting lost overnight. That's not too different than most town's wooded areas, especially the farther away you get from the city.
The thing about the Northern Woods is, there are a few really odd stories that come out of there.
Some of these experienced include people claiming to hear classical music playing all around them, even when they're miles out from civilization. Every story is the same, in that the music begins quietly at first when they're far out into the woods, and slowly builds until it's all around them and impossible to ignore. And just like that, it will disappear.
Another local legend revolves around different people going out for hikes in drastically different zones of the wood and coming back talking of finding trees holding spotless portraits of people they didn't recognize. Each story tells of the same sight; a grouping of large pictures painted of unknown people from a previous century, all in a golden trim frames. I've never personally encountered either of these, but wanted to mention them nonetheless.
There is one old story about the Northern Woods I do know to be true, though I wish it wasn't.
Years ago, a young girl and her family went out into the woods for a day hike. Let's call her Sally, for the sake of the story and privacy. Sally and her family were locals, from a few towns over, and loved to hike around the trails in the area. The trails in the Northern Woods were a place her parent's hadn't yet explored, so they took their young daughters for a walk one day in the summer.
As children are wont to due, apparently nine-year old Sally wandered off while her parents were tending to her younger sister during their picnic lunch. Although they had only been busy for a few moments, by the time they realized she was missing, Sally was long gone. After an hour or so of searching, they contacted the authorities. A large-scale manhunt ensued, bringing in many members of the town to look for Sally, but to no avail. After two weeks or so, most of the people searching gave up hope, and the family took it as a sign to begin mourning their daughter.
That didn't mean the townspeople forgot, however. One year later, on her birthday, which as it so happened was around the time of her disappearance, a few of the more spiritual townsfolk got together and brought a handful of dolls to the woods for Sally's spirit. They left them by the area she went missing as a token of their love, and in hopes that if she was still lost in the woods she'd have some company now. Rumor has it they also partook in some kind of ritual, though no one I knew in the town would elaborate on that part.
A few days later, when one of those locals was hiking through the woods near where they left the dolls, they were surprised to find them all gone. Assuming it was local kids taking them as a joke, the woman came back in a rage and made a bit of a scene to the families of a few local teenagers. Only, none of them seemed to have the dolls, or even knew they existed, and one even was quoted as saying that would be a mean trick, even for them (and this was the kind of kid who spray painted genitalia on every open surface he could find).
Flash forward a couple of years, and stories start to circulate from people who walk deep into the North Woods. Stories tricked back of people going on hikes they thought they knew, only to somehow end up turned around on the basic trails they traveled hundreds of times. After some annoyed discombobulation, they would come across a clearing they hadn't seen before. In the clearing would be none other than Sally's dolls. As the stories were told, the dolls were all line around around a small table, each having their own rock to sit on. The elements hadn't been kind to the dolls, however, and they were rotten and tattered with age. They would always be aligned so that they all appeared to be staring and waiting for the newcomer, and a solitary spot was open at the rock table. As all urban legends go, it got darker, claiming that if you did sit in the rock and wait, Sally would show up and you would become a part of her tea party forever. One thing all these stories had in common was that the people who saw the table immediately left, and many got lost on their way home.
When I first heard these stories, I thought they were a load of trash, just typical small-town folklore trying to make a sad story scary. That was until another young child, this time a boy, went missing while I was living there.
The story sounded similar, a family goes out for a hike, parents stop paying attention to one child for a while, and they disappear. Only this time it was a little boy, and the townsfolk weren't going to let another kid go missing. Considering how the last search failed, the town went absolutely frantic. All-hands-on deck was called, and we ever shut down the paper (well, our whole seven person editorial team) to devote all of our time to help.
It was during these searches that I first began to suspect there was a grain of truth to this story.
As it turned out, Ben, as we'll call the little boy in this case, was found two days later. Other than having a few cuts and scrapes and having quite the appetite, he was fine. Only, the stories he told of what he saw in the woods seemed very odd.
Ben, an eight-year old boy who knew nothing of local folklore, said he left his parents because he saw a little girl. She asked him to play, and being bored of the picnic and his whining little brother, he left with her. He said she asked him to sit down at her tea party, which he did, only when he sat down she disappeared. When he got bored and tried to leave she reappeared, and told him she didn't want him to leave, then disappeared again. Every time he got up to walk away, she kept reappearing and bringing him back to the table again.
Ben's story concluded that eventually he cried and left from the table, running forever across the entire field (he really accentuated this, which was strange because although there are some clearings in the woods, I wouldn't call any of them a "field," even from an 8 year old). When he looked for the girl again, she had disappeared, taking her dolls with her. A few minutes later one of the local searchers found him, and he was brought home.
Now there are two really odd things about this story. Number one is that he claims to have seen Sally, and had no idea her story existed. Number two was the timeline of his story. Even though he's young and was likely traumatized, he should have remember two nights passing, but his story only seems to span two hours or so. And when he was found he should have been more hungry and dehydrated, but he was in near perfect health, as if he had just wandered off the trail an hour or so before.
The family didn't think too much of this, and instead thought it a miracle. I, on the other hand, was curious as hell. So naturally I began to walk with Rocco (my dog, in case you haven't read part one), in the Northern Woods as much as I could.
I pretty much explored every trail I could with Rocco over the next few weeks, and even though the area of the Northern Woods is pretty huge, I honestly began to feel like I knew the area quite well. There were some really easy walking trails, some more difficult; a hill to climb (they called it a mountain but please) with a great view, a few gorgeous open clearings and even a small pond that teenagers would escape to when playing hooky on beautiful spring days.
All in all, it was a pretty beautiful area, and I felt Rocco and I had the place pretty much nailed down. That was until one morning when Rocco and I were walking down one of the main paths, right at the beginning of the trailhead.
I noticed what appeared to be a different path, jutting off from the main one, one I had never noticed before. I began walking toward it and heard Rocco cry and back away. I called him forward, and he reluctantly followed me through the brush and down this strange new trail.
We only had to walk a few minutes until we quite suddenly came to a clearing that seemed to come out of nowhere, and was one I had never seen before. I stopped just at the edge and had an odd feeling. Then I listened - no birds chirping, no bugs, and no sounds of animals sneaking through the underbrush. The spot was just about dead silent.
Just as I was about to make a note to Rocco about the silence, I heard a little cry from him. I looked over and saw him looking intently across the clearing. Therein between a few trees and open in the sunlight was a small table surrounded by six or so rocks. Each rock had an old, decrepit doll on it, save for one. And each of the dolls were positioned as if looking at me and Rocco, waiting for us to join them.
Normally I like to think of myself as a pretty brave fellow, but this was a bit much. There was something about the placement of the dolls, and the fact I swear I didn't see them when I first walked up to the clearing, that utterly freaked me out.
I've seen enough horror movies to know the overly curious guy who plays with the ghost dolls tends to end up dead, so I turned on my heels and started to walk away. I didn't even have to call Rocco; the moment he sensed I wanted to leave the poor little guy was halfway back up on the trail. I swear though, that on our way back, I could hear the faintest sound in the background... of a young girl crying. Even through my adrenaline-surged fear, it did break my heart a bit. It didn't feel menacing, didn't sound like a trap, it just sounded like a sad little girl. The one time I tried to stop and listen I got a quick bark and cry from Rocco, and resumed my journey home.
By the time we got back to the main trail, I noticed something odd; it was dusk. We had begun our walk at about 7:30 am, and it had only taken us 15 minutes or so to find the new trail, then 20 minutes max to walk down that, then some time to explore the clearing. Yet somehow almost 12 hours seemed to have passed. I checked my watch, and it read the time I was expecting, about 8:45. Besides the fact I was annoyed I had literally wasted an entire day in but a matter of minutes, this definitely added to the curiosity of the situation.
This was strange. This was very very strange, but considering the weird tea party from hell I had just found, it definitely took second place in the weird race of the day.
That entire night I couldn't get that quiet sad cry out of my head. I also couldn't shake the feeling of loneliness the clearing had; it didn't even have a single bird to break the silence. I knew eventually I was going to have to go back there. Only next time I would need to be prepared.
Fast forward a couple of completely normal weeks and I felt I was ready to try this again. I had made my preparations, and felt like enough time had passed that when I saw this thing again I wouldn't crap my pants. I packed up the car, grabbed Rocco's leash and off we went.
This time in our journey, the "hidden trail" wasn't so easy to find. I know exactly where it was last time, yet during this visit, it was inexplicably gone. Although I couldn't explain it at the time, I figured I must have made some miscalculation, and Rocco needed a walk anyway, so we just traveled our usual trails. I know most people would say finding that was a once in a lifetime thing it was paranormal, but I really did feel like I was meant to find it again. I felt like, whoever was there wanted me there. I just had this gut feeling I'd get there.
I also realize most people who had experienced this and had a sensation that the creepy place wanted you to return would probably do their very best to never return, but hey, I'm a curious writer; guilty as charged.
About an hour in a half into our walk, and far from the original entry point, I spotted it. There, behind a fallen tree on the opposite end of the woods was this same exact "hidden" trailhead I found before. I began to walk down the trail and Rocco was having none of it. He whined and cried and even sat his doggie ass on the ground and wouldn't move. After a few minutes of calling, pulling on his leash and an extensive amount of dog treats, he followed me, reluctantly, down the path again.
It was at this moment I had really begun to wish I had brought a friend. I mean, I had Rocco, but he wasn't a very large dog, and if I ever wanted to tell this story he wouldn't be able to give his firsthand account, unless I called the dog whisperer that is. But this thought was fleeting, because just as I realized how big a mistake it was to go at this alone, I heard Rocco's cry and felt him hide behind my legs.
There was the small clearing in the woods. What was strange is that it genuinely appeared to come out of nowhere. One second I was walking down this path, surrounded by trees. Then I looked down to see what Rocco was up to, look up, and bam, I'm at the edge of this clearing. And there, right in the center, was a small table, surrounded by 6 or so rocks, miles from where I had originally found it. On all but one were seated dolls, their clothes torn and dirty from years in the wilderness, and their hair matted and their eyes blank.
This time I walked towards the little table. I noticed the silence again, and could hear my heart beating in my chest. I began to realize that my plan was half-assed at best. I also realized that most normal people would not do what I was about to do.
I sat down at the table.
Nothing happened. None of the dolls came to life and strung me up between a few trees by my entrails, and no little ghost girl came out. I waited a few moments, and even called out Sally's name. Still nothing. I looked closer at the dolls, and realized just how old and dirty they were. They looked like they had been out here for ages. I began to think that maybe I really did just get lost this time, and I was where I originally thought I was. The whole thing, I decided, was just a really odd happenstance of getting lost in the woods. What must have happened was some kids took these dolls when the volunteers left them, and set up a tea party for the missing girl Sally. My original loss of time could have been due to dehydration, or I could have even passed out or something.
I laughed to myself, calming down and feeling pretty dumb that I actually believed that, I don't know, a ghost girl would show up or these dolls would either kill me or want to talk politics or something. I got up, and as I did, I took out what I had come prepared with: a brand new Raggedy Ann doll I had purchased at the toy store a few towns over.
As I turned to leave, I placed her onto the extra rock, now empty since I've left it. She looked so out of place next to these aging dolls, her clothes still clean and the dyes in her fabric still vibrant. I'm not entirely sure what was going through my head when I decided to do this, but the thought of this little girl's ghost out here alone stuck with old toys was absolutely depressing. I'm not sure I even believe in the paranormal, but on the 1/1,000,000,000 chance she was real, the kid deserved something nice.
I started to walk away, back towards Rocco who was waiting patiently for me at the edge of the clearing (when he saw me walking towards the creepy table he was hiding from, he was about 10,000 x nope away from taking one more step) and smiled at him. I kept walking towards him but the strangest thing happened: it almost appear that, with each step I took, the clearing became farther away. I started to walk faster, and yet still, the clearing seemed to be farther. One step forward, two steps back, if you will.
So I began to run, and eventually panic, and I'll admit I may have lost my cool a bit. I ran as fast as I could and may have made a few prayers to a God I haven't prayed to since I was 12 or so. Yet with each step forward, the clearing seemed to get farther away. Just when I thought I would never make it out, and the edge of the clearing was almost a distant speck across miles of open field, I stopped and looked up. Right in front of me was Rocco, and we were at the edge of the clearing. He looked at me, then behind me, and cocked his head like dogs do to try and say either "what's that?" I looked behind me, and the table was gone.
I'll admit, that was a little spooky, and I definitely walked faster than was comfortable on my way out. I also swear I heard a young girl's laugh, but that could have been my imagination. Then I heard, from what sounded like the wind, a whisper of "come back." I felt a cold breeze on the back of my neck, completely out of place on this 90 degree day, and it felt like small fingers trying to grab me. That definitely wasn't my imagination. I hightailed it outta there.
I got back to my car and it was much later than expected again, and I was kicking myself for not taking another human to witness this. I definitely wasn't dehydrated, and definitely didn't pass out this time, though I almost felt like it after that crazy run out of the clearing.
That night I slept with most of the lights on, and Rocco never left my side. I made plans with a friend of mine from college to meet up for breakfast, promising to tell him an interesting story.
The next morning I woke up, got ready and walked out of my house. I almost didn't see the message at the end of my driveway as I walked to my car, but when I did my blood ran cold. There, scratched in the dirt as if with a stick, written in the half-backwards handwriting of a child was a message:
"Thank you sir for the dolly and for coming to my tea party. Next time we will play longer."
Needless to say, I haven't gone back into the Northern Woods again.