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I’m not telling this story just to scare you, even though scaring people can be fun, and I’m not telling it just to brag, even though bragging is fun. I’m telling it because it still makes sense to me, I still feel good about the way I was making decisions that night, what I did, and when, and why... and it doesn’t make sense to most of my friends, so if it makes sense to you, I want to hear from you. I am Tamias of Cortes Island, and this is my ghost story.
It was late January of 2017. A few days before, we had a full moon, with snow on the ground, so it was light outside all night. The night I heard the ghost, the moon was past full, so it hadn’t risen yet. The snow had melted, the yard was very dark.
A new neighbour had just moved into the studio just down the hill from my cabin. I remember going to say hello to them, and staying to talk longer than I’d expected. The walk back up to my cabin was so dark that it was tricky to find my way, even though the route was so familiar.
I started cooking myself supper, and then my friend Fern called, and we had a long conversation. Then I had supper, and I was really tired, because I was up much later than I was used to, and I’d also made a trip to town that day. All I had left to do was put the leftovers in the fridge, and then I could crash in bed.
My fridge was outdoors, about ten metres away from my cabin. That was okay. I was used to the dark.
That night was really, really dark. As I turned back toward the cabin, I heard a voice, “Grawk, get!” down by the studio.
I called back, “Are you okay? Can I help you?”
There was no answer.
Nothing in our conversation had led me to expect my neighbour to scream incoherently in the middle of the night, so I assumed they were hurt. I listened for a minute.
Were they trying to say, “Fuck, help?” It sure sounded like someone who needed help. It sounded more or less like my neighbour’s voice, or rather, how I thought they might sound if they were screaming in pain, and it was coming from right near their front door.
I walked around my cabin and down toward the studio, but I stopped when I saw that all the lights at the studio were off. It was really dark. I felt my way back to the cabin for a flashlight. I didn’t turn it on, though, because the flashlight I happened to grab didn’t really work, it tended to flicker on and off, which could be quite annoying. So, I held the flashlight in my hand, and pretended that it would work if I needed it to. (There was a good 60% chance that it would.)
As I was walking back down to the studio, I heard the sound again.
Was that “Stuck, help?” It wasn’t by the front door, it was over by the outhouse. I distinctly remember thinking up the possibility that someone had fallen down into the outhouse, and hoping that that was not the case. If there was someone stuck in there, of course I’d choose to rescue them, I told myself, and I walked very hesitantly toward the outhouse. I was no longer sure that the voice was my neighbour’s.
The same two syllables, exactly. If they were words, I was pretty sure the second word was “Help,” and anyway, anyone talking in that tone of voice could probably use some help. Now the voice was behind the outhouse, in the woods on the other side of the fence. I was quite relieved to not have to look down into the outhouse, but I was also less and less sure that this being was my neighbour, or that it was even human. It had gotten through the fence awfully quickly, and I hadn’t heard the gate creak. I hadn’t heard any rustling in the bushes. I hadn’t even heard any footsteps. The night was very, very quiet, as well as very, very dark. If it was a stranger, I wasn’t quite comfortable going to meet them by myself, but I was not at all willing to go home and leave them out there in the dark. A call for help is sacred, I needed to go check it out. I went looking for my other two close neighbours, but there was no one at the house, or at the other cabin. I knocked at the studio door, and there was no answer.
I heard it again, and now it sounded like it was on the western driveway, not on the east side of the yard where the studio was. I went out through the western gate. The western driveway had tall hemlock trees growing densely on both sides, so it was even darker than the yard, really actually pitch black. If I hadn’t been familiar with that driveway, I couldn’t have walked it with my flashlight turned off, but I didn’t want to turn my flashlight on, because then in might flicker, or not even work, so I walked the driveway by feel, looking and listening, seeing nothing but darkness, hearing nothing but my own footsteps, my own breathing and my own heartbeat, all of which sounded unusually loud.
“Grack, rack!” Now it sounded like they were on the road. Well, the road was a better place for me to go than the woods. I remember deciding that it wouldn’t be safe for me to go off-trail into the woods, because if my flashlight didn’t work, I could get truly lost. Walking the familiar driveway felt reasonable, and being on the road seemed safe enough. I walked to the end of the driveway, and found that I could see the road as a less-dark patch of darkness.
“Raak, get!” It was still exactly the same sound. Now it was on the road, off to the left. Between screams, this mysterious being was making no sound at all, and now I could look down the road toward it and see that there was no light over there. If it was human, it wasn’t using a light. The silence between calls was getting a bit spooky, because I couldn’t tell where the thing was until it screamed again. Since I’d first heard it, it had gone through a fence and then more than a hundred metres through pitch-dark pathless forest, quite quickly, in total silence. I was well on my way to deciding it was a ghost.
“Grak, gek!” Now it was much farther down the road. It was moving a lot faster than me, at least as fast as I could run, almost as fast as I would go on a bike. But a human on a bike would have needed a light, for sure, and it wasn’t a human running because I would have heard their footsteps.
It carried on down the road. I kept walking toward it. Now I really wanted to know what kind of being it was. I was thinking of it as some kind of insane person, but probably human, but maybe not. Many seconds passed between calls, and I spent most of those seconds thinking that maybe whatever it was was crouching in the ditch quite close to me, ready to grab my ankle.
Then it would call again, even farther down the road, and I’d think, “Phew, it’s way over there, and I can go over and get a look at it, or hae a conversation with it, and find out what kind of being it is, and whether it needs my help.”
I followed it like that for about a kilometre, and then I was at that intersection where you can turn left and go up toward the stores, or turn right and go down to the government dock. I paused at the intersection, because I hadn’t heard the voice for a minute, and I didn’t know whether it’d gone left or right. I remember standing at the intersection wondering what to do next, and I remember calling out into the dark, “I heard someone screaming. Is there anyone here?”
My own voice sounded loud, and it sounded scared, but clear. There was no answer. I’d mostly decided the thing was a ghost, because it sounded human, and no human could move that fast, that quietly, when it was that dark. But, I still had the sense that I’d heard a call for help, so I should go check in with it, and if it was human, and it had gone up toward Mansons, then it could find other humans there, and ask for whatever it needed. And if it had gone down toward the dock, there might be no one else there. So, if this probably-human being does want my help, then if it turned right, it can find other people, but if it turned left, then it might still need me. So, I turned right and started walking down toward the dock.
It was really dark, it was really quiet, and I didn’t hear the voice again the whole way down the hill. So, all the way from that intersection to the parking lot by the government dock, part of my mind was convinced that the ghost was crouched in the ditch or even lying in the middle of the road, right in front of me, about to grab my ankle. Another part of my mind found that scenario unlikely. The latter part kept me walking, at an ordinary, get-stuff-done kind of pace. My vision couldn’t provide any evidence one way or the other. The only thing I could see was a strip of sky that showed the path of the road through the otherwise pitch-black forest.
I got to the parking lot, and there was a light there, the one streetlight where the dock meets the parking lot. The parking lot was empty.
My imagination vividly formed a scenario where the insane human I was following had run down the road, along the dock and straight off the end into the water. I did not go and look in the water. I did stand in the parking lot and call out, “Is there anyone else down here? I heard someone screaming. Did anyone else hear that? Does somebody need some help?”
I called in the loudest voice that felt comfortable right then, which was not very loud, but certainly anyone on the dock could have heard me.
There was no answer. I waited and listened. There was no answer.
I turned and went back up the road, to the intersection, and then along the other road, all the way home, with my flashlight still turned off so I wouldn’t have to think too hard about whether it worked or not. I remember holding it in my hand as if it meant something at the time.
Now that I’d lost track of the mysterious being, I was even more convinced that it was really crouching in the ditch, or lying in the road, already reaching out to grab my ankle. I expected it to have a grip on my ankle before I saw it, because the moon still hadn’t risen, and the night was really, really dark. I could still see the strip of sky that was guiding me along the road, and the vague outlines of the closer trees on either side of that strip of sky, but I couldn’t see the road, or the ditch, or the possible mystery being crouching in the ditch. Well, my imagination was seeing that rather vividly, but my eyes could only just differentiate the sky from the darker darkness that wasn’t sky.
The ghost didn’t grab my ankle. Every step of the way, the whole way home, I felt a bit surprised that it didn’t, but still sure that it would on the next step. Every step of the way, I was listening. There was no sight or sound or sign of the person, being, voice, ghost, whatever it was.
I questioned both my memory and my senses. It occurred to me that the voice could have been a hallucination. I decided it wasn’t, because my thinking had felt clear the whole time. Despite the strange situation, and the late night, I was making decisions in a way that made sense to me. I wasn’t going off the road into the woods, because then I would have been in real danger. I’d followed the voice as long as I thought I had a reasonable chance of finding it, and then, when I got to the parking lot, I didn’t have enough information to make it worthwhile to look any farther, so I walked home. That all made perfect sense, so I was pretty sure I was not in the kind of altered state where I might hallucinate. Therefore, the voice was a real voice. I was also pretty sure it was a ghost, but it was a real ghost that had a real voice that made sound.
I walked past the west driveway and took the east driveway, because it was much easier to navigate in the dark, it was shorter, wider and better lit. The east driveway aslo led to the east gate, and the studio, and I wanted to go by the studio to check whether my neighbour was home.
So, I came up the east driveway and got to the east gate, beside the studio. Now, I hadn’t gone out the east gate, following the voice, I’d gone out the west gate. Coming home, I got to the east gate, and I noticed that it was latched the way I latched it, which required a bit more manual dexterity than the obvious, intuitive way that I would expect a stranger --- or a newcomer --- to latch that gate.
Until then, I’d assumed that the mysterious being had gone out that gate, in between the first few times I’d heard it. But, either it had relatched the gate my way in the dark, which would be quite the ninja trick, or it hadn’t opened the gate, it had just gotten through the fence somehow. That’s how I knew for sure it was a ghost.
I relatched the gate the way I latch it, and I went to the studio. The lights were still off. I knocked on the door. There was no answer. I knocked harder, and called my neighbour by name, and said, “Please wake up. I actually need to talk to a human now.” There was still now answer, except a sound that might’ve been a snore.
I walked the familiar trail back up to my cabin, through pitch blackness. I went indoors and turned on a light, and started to calm down, and realized that calming down was going to be a slow process. I was much too wound up to go to sleep, even though I was thoroughly exhausted. I called Fern back, because I expected that talking to a real, live, ordinary human would calm be down enough to sleep. So, I told this whole story to Fern over the phone, and then I went to bed and went to sleep.
I woke late the next morning, and one of the first things I did was go and check in with my neighbour. They were awake. They were fine. They had no memory of anything unusual having happened the night before. I proposed the theory that they might have been sleepwalking, screaming and running down the road, and they said, no, they don’t sleepwalk, they knew that about themself.
They found the whole story a bit spooky, but they were sure that they had not heard the voice, they had had nothing to do with it, they’d slept through the whole thing.
Well, it was kind of nice to know my new neighbour wasn’t in the habit of screaming and running around in the middle of the night. I really wanted to know who or what that voice was, so I was a bit disappointed to get no more information from my neighbour.
I went back to my cabin, crawled back into bed, and fell asleep, though I’d only been up for a couple of hours. I guess I was really sleep-deprived.
I woke up, and it was getting dark. That was not okay. I didn’t want it to get dark yet. I felt rested, so I knew I was in for at least a few hours of being awake in the dark ... and I was not looking forward to those hours. I thought again about whether the voice had been a hallucination, and I was still reasonably sure it was not a hallucination, but it seemed plausible that it was a ghost ... If I heard it again, I was going to go check it out, that was for sure. I found my headlamp, made sure that it was functional and fully charged, and hung it beside the door. If I heard that voice again, I was going to grab that headlamp, and put it on, and go out, and find that being, and get a look at it, and find out what kind of being it was.
I was feeling scared of the dark.
Now, my protocol when I was concerned about my mental state was to call my friend Michael. I couldn’t entirely dismiss the possibility that I’d been hallucinating, so I called Michael.
Michael: “Hey, how’s it going?”
Tamias: “I fell scared of the dark.”
Michael: “That’s not normal for you.”
Tamias: “No, it’s not. It’s because ...”
... and I told Michael the whole story, in detail.
Michael didn’t particularly believe in ghosts. He thought it was plausible that it was a human I’d followed down the road, and if so, they were probably on some intense drugs. He also came up with the theory that it might have been some non-human animal, a cougar, perhaps, or a wolf? He ran a search on his computer for wildlife sounds while talking about this with me on the phone, and got some wierd and ghostly sounds, but nothing like what I had heard. The voice I’d followed was noticeably deeper than mine. I can make my voice that deep if I try, but not at that volume. I could best describe it as a sound I’d expect a grown man to make, if he’d just hit his thumb with a hammer and he was in so much pain that he couldn’t manage any words. The sounds Michael’s computer was playing were all much higher pitched, or very diffferent. Michael commented that they were also “Oddly rhythmic for a human who’s upset.”
Well... what I’d heard had been oddly repetitive for a human who was upset. It had been really surprisingly repetitive.
I didn’t hear it again that night. I was kind of hoping to. I wanted to get a look at the thing. I didn’t want to step out the door, it was really dark, and I was feeling scared of the dark, but I wanted to find out what that being was.
I didn’t hear it. The headlamp just hung there. Eventually, I guess, I went to bed and fell asleep, and the next morning, I called my friend Laurel. Laurel hunts and birdwatches and generally has a sense of what wildlife on the island is up to.
I called Laurel, and I said, “I have a question. Is it possible that a cougar would have a voice deeper than mine?”
Laurel answered, “Oh, yeah. That just means the cougar’s bigger than you.”
I described what I’d heard, and Laurel said, “Yup. That’s a kitty. The males have deeper voices. Sounds like it was probably a 200 pound tomcat.”
The headlamp hung by my door for many weeks, but I didn’t hear the ghost again, and anyway, my plan for next round had changed. I wasn’t about to go looking for it.
Tamias's Ghost Story by Tamias Nettle is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0