Sunday, July 16, 2006

Another Spine-Shivering Tale

It’s time for another spine-shivering tale from the annals of Philippine Phil.

For the most part, Americans don’t believe in ghosts. No, we tend to be skeptical about these things. Until I had my own run-in with an unexplained shadowy visitor in Japan, I’d probably still feel the same way. It took only the one experience to turn me from skeptic to believer, but I had had inklings of the unexplained long before meeting the ghost of Fortunato. I believe there is something to all this apparition stuff, although I have no idea what its true nature actually is.

Filipinos believe in spirits implicitly. They have no doubt; they simply accept them as fact, and I can see why. They have so many stories about ghostly encounters its no wonder people here believe in them unquestioningly. Ghosts come up here in conversation all the time, and I think that’s what has brought on this particular story about an evil patch of woods out behind our home in Central Southern Michigan.

My first run-in with the “unexplained” took place in the early 70s. Back then, we lived on Beyer Road, a quiet lane of asphalt just a quarter mile west of the constant hum of I-75. Our home was close to the middle of the state on the eastern side of a block of land almost exactly a mile square. Church Street formed the western side of this square from Beyer Road, the eastern side. Church Street was one of the main drags leading to the center of our town, Birch Run. Back then; only a fraction of the perimeter of this square mile of land was developed with homes and businesses. For the most part it consisted of fields of corn, beans, sugar beets and wheat, along with several large swathes of woods, the whole thing laced with drainage culverts lined with trees and thick brush.

Forming the back property line of our family’s little half acre, was a small winding stream that bisected our square mile. This ancient creek, we called "the ditch," passed through one end of a fairly large patch of woods located directly behind us, not 200 yards from our back boundary. A field stood between us and the abovementioned rectangular section of woods. This field was never planted twice with the same crop, the farmer planting anything from corn, wheat, and beans in it. ..

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The first time I ever experienced “the feeling” was in this seemingly ordinary wood lot not 250 yards from the back of our house. I passed through this area -- grown thick with oak, maple and ash -- virtually everyday, walking home in the afternoons from my grandmother’s place in town. Her house was my base of operations for my paper route. It took about an hour to deliver papers after school, depending on the thickness of that day’s papers. So, after dropping off the last of my 80 to 90 newspapers, I made the two-plus-mile nightly trudge across Church Street, through the fields behind church row, over the railroad tracks and multitude of farmer’s culverts, before passing along the edges of several fields and through two wood lots back to my home.

I hoofed it through those parts almost every day for over four years. The only place I ever felt spooked was in a particular PART of a patch of woods within sight of the back windows of our two-story home. I first felt something wasn’t right with that place on a pitch-black Sunday morning. It was just past 4 a.m. and I needed to get to town to make my deliveries. Usually, on weekends, I spent Friday and Saturday nights at my grandma’s, but for some forgotten reason I didn’t that night.


From the warm bosom of our house I made my way through and over frozen snow more than a foot deep. It made for terrible footing; every step broke through the frozen top inch, while I struggled to pull my other foot out of the 9-inch deep hole it had formed. I struggled mightily with this broken-gaited walking, each exhalation of labored breath formed a cloud of thick white exhaust. I chugged toward the back of our property to the steep-banked ditch, the bottom of which was at its wintertime water level of about a foot.

My goal was to cross the 8-foot deep ditch into the farmer's field. It wasn’t quite cold enough for the slow moving ditch water to completely solidify, so I carefully struggled over its slick surface, trying to step mostly on a half-submerged fallen log. I slipped more than once, each time poking large cracking holes in the thin ice. Through each hole icy water welled up and darkened the covering layer of frozen snow. I felt a hint of dampness seep into my boots and I groaned; wet feet in the cold is not helpful.


After the perils of the ditch crossing, it was comparatively easy walking from there to the woods over the expanse of snow-crusted field. As I walked, I was glad for the still air; it was miserable enough without having an icy wind to contend with. I approached the tall leafless trees and inexplicably began to feel uneasy. Without moon and stars to see by I felt my way by memory along the edge of the field towards the spot where a huge rotten tree had flattened the ancient encircling barbed wire fence. I paused for a moment before attempting to cross into the blacker black of the winter-dormant copse of trees.

No matter the season, it always seemed like I was crossing into another world or dimension when I crossed into that section of woods. In the summer it felt hotter in there; in winter, it seemed more frigid. There were times when I walked around instead of crossing through that dark place of trees; but it cost me ten or fifteen more minutes, so usually I took the direct path through its oaks and maples. On that particular dark and frigid morning, I needed to get to town quickly. So, I took a deep breath and plunged into the blackness, my feet skittering, my mittened hands blindly reaching out to pluck at and hold away clinging dead blackberry canes, always thickly prevalent at the edge of fields and tree lots.

My efforts took me within the void of trees, their upright trunks and horizontal branches all but invisible in the engulfing blackness. I walked uncertainly towards what I knew to be the other side of the lot, a seemingly impossible distance of some 150 yards. I walked unsteadily, holding one hand out protectively in front of my face to keep from being poked and scratched by unseen branches. I can’t say it was dark in there since dark does not nearly describe how dark it truly was in those woods that morning. I might as well have had my eyes closed for all the good they were. Around me I heard the furtive commotion of creatures – it could have been fox, deer, squirrel, field mice, or owls – I had no way of knowing . I was familiar with these nighttime noises and usually it didn’t affect me, but that time it did.

From the moment I left the open field and crossed over the fallen log, I began to feel uneasiness turn into alarm, before unexpectedly crashing into full-blown panic; and I couldn’t figure out why. I was sure somebody or something was there with me, and it was NOT a friendly presence. My spine jangled with fear; I could feel the hair all over my body stand straight up from my skin. I stopped in my tracks and tried to calm down. I figured I must be doing this to myself, that all of this panic was self-induced, but was it? I had never felt anything like it before even in similar situations, so why now? I slowed down and continued to feel my way through the stand of dormant trees. It became easier to walk the further in I proceeded, the trees being larger and further apart, the undergrowth more sparse.

I gave up trying to reacquire normalcy; for some reason I knew I couldn’t do it. I continued to feel an icy presence about me, even INSIDE me, and it wasn’t being caused by the bitter cold either. It was something else, and I could not shake it. I gritted my teeth and continued to tramp determinedly through the snow, making my way through the thick stand, before gradually, as I almost reached the barbed wire hemming in the west side of the tree lot, I began to feel my normal calmness reassert itself. I shook my head, not believing how frightened I had just been. I was certain the whole thing was my own imagination working on my mind. I sought to put the whole embarrassing incident out of my mind.

Over the years, I passed through "the woods" countless times, and I’d like to say that I never experienced that sinister sensation again, but I can’t. From '71 to '75 I poked amongst its trees and found all sorts of intriguing evidence of man’s having lived and worked in its confines. I found buried trash pits with 80 and 100 year-old glass bottles along with lots of other items from America's past. I discovered running through a small meadow, long-unused irrigation furrows overgrown with grass. The meadow itself was an area unexplainably free of trees. I used to camp there, and never felt uneasy. It was always in that ONE place where I had entered the trees at the northeast corner near the giant windfall – THAT’S where the presence seemed to be centered.

A normal person would just avoid a place that caused such foreboding, but I was drawn to it. Besides, that area provided one of the most beautiful displays I’ve ever seen in the wild. Right in the middle of “the presence” spot was a depressed area where the winter snowmelt formed a shallow oval pool that would stay wet well into May. It was in that area, sprinkled with extra large oaks and maples, where the most delightful patch of bloodroot I have ever seen burst up through the leaf mold every Spring. Enhancing its appearance as a wild garden, large masses of mayapples and springbeauty added their sublime charm to the setting.

It was amazing...I’ve never seen more bloodroot in one place. Normally, in Michigan, bloodroot beds cover at most a few square feet, but in that damp open space beneath leafing maples and majestic oaks, the distinctive white flowers and orange-veined leaves covered an area as large as a small home. It was a veritable bloodroot field, and it called to me like a siren. Yet, every time I went to admire the unique loveliness of it, I FELT something unseen and unsettling. My spine tingled, and the hair on my arms and back of my neck stood up. Even during the most brilliantly lit summer's day, I was overcome with dread in that place. It was a frightening physiological and mental phenomenon that worsened the longer I lingered, and did not pass until I moved on.

Over the years, I simply came to accept that I was going to be negatively affected by that place. And then, one autumn evening, just before sundown, I passed through it yet again, perhaps for the three hundredth time, fighting off smothering panic and, as usual, never quite understanding why. I had felt “it” quite strongly that evening, and it caused me to pass through the dreaded area as quickly as I could. Heading for home, I traveled west-to-east so that as I came out of “the woods,” what little that was left of the day’s sun was blotted out by the thick stand of trees through which I’d just passed. Home was but a stroll away, along the edge of just 200 yards of a harvested cornfield, and then a short hop over the muddy stream.

Halfway to the end of the field of dead and windblown cornstalks, I shook off the last of the creepy sensation of “the woods” and halted. Something made me turn and look back at the straight line of trees marking the edge of the alarming rectangle of hardwoods. My eyes gazed from left to right, along the 100 yards of eastern tree line before coming to rest at the dreaded dark northern corner of the trees, which as a whole looked bleak and forlorn in the failing November light.

In the blackness from whence I had just come, I was shocked to see movement. I peered intently at “this something,” darkness moving within darkness. It passed from right to left, then stopped, then moved again to the right a bit. It wasn’t an animal – it didn’t move like one, and it certainly wasn’t human; no person could possibly move that smoothly and noiselessly in that nasty section of thick thorny blackberry vines.

I could feel that the moving black force had sensed that I was observing it, and in knowing, caused itself to fade from my view. The icy dreaded feeling was back in its usual spot under the back of my neck, in the general vicinity between my shoulder blades. I grinned and waved with bravado at the thing in the woods.

Before spinning on heel and heading for the warmth and light of family and hearth, I yelled defiantly: “See you tomorrow!” Then, turning away, I murmured, “…Whatever you are.”

20 Comments:

At 1:29 AM, Blogger Senor Enrique said...

I actually had goosebumps when I got to the end of your story, Phil. Wow!

BTW, a friend of mine grew up in the Richmond area of Staten Island in New York. According to him, during the early '60s when he was in grade school, the houses in his neighborhood were far apart with a lot of wooded areas in between. One afternoon, as he was walking on a wooded field on his way home from school, he suddenly froze on his track and then felt himself rising until he was about six feet off the ground. He then just remained suspended up in the air for a couple of minutes totally freaked-out and unable to yell and scream. He then descended just as slowly and once his feet touched the ground, he regained full control of his body and ran home as fast as he could.

What traumatized him even more was when his parents refused to believe him. He became deeply disturbed by it that he consequently spent the rest of his childhood and teenage years in state-run facilities for troubled kids. We met and became friends at work (he was attending college in the evenings at that time). When he told me about that paranormal experience of his, I immdiately told him that I believed him. To this, he broke down and cried.

Last we saw each other, he finally earned his degree in social work and married with one kid.

 
At 6:25 AM, Blogger Amadeo said...

Phil:

For you, it was from an unbeliever to a believer.

Now I have always been fearful of the unknown, even as a very small kid. And to this day, I am terrified by anything that's unknown, like the dark, deep water, etc.

However, somehow deep down I do not believe in apparitions or any physical appearances of "entities". Thus, I have nothing to show in terms of my own experiences. Making me conclude that if one does not believe enough, then it is not real for him/her.

But the mention of Fortunato made me snicker a bit. You see, my nickname, Tatoy, is derived from that name. And thus, people had always been asking me why the nickname does not jibe with my real first name. When I asked, one family relative informed me that I got it from another relative named Fortunato.

 
At 12:07 PM, Blogger PhilippinesPhil said...

Amadeo, your irrational fear of the unknown must mean you believe in something. Why be afraid of nothing?

For me, seeing was definitely believing. Still, it might not be a "ghost" per se, it might be a projection from the subconcious mind of my ex-wife. After all, both times Fortunato appeared was while my ex-wife was lying there asleep.

 
At 9:36 PM, Blogger Ed Abbey said...

In my opinion, you had a very healthy imagination as a child. As you can tell, I don't believe in ghosts though I have gotten goosebumps and chills in my spine but mostly they occur in the darkness of night where my mind is trying to tell me something is behind me. I tell my mind that it is just one too many movies watched. Good story though!

 
At 10:01 PM, Blogger PhilippinesPhil said...

I don't write fiction Ed... everything I wrote is what i saw and felt... strange but true. I've spent lots of time in dark woods and forests... I've never been spooked by anything except in that one place... and it was always in THAT one place. Its strange, when I saw Fortunato I wasn't that alarmed... he didn't seem threatening. The place behind our house was different... it FELT evil...

 
At 3:23 AM, Blogger Ed Abbey said...

I don't doubt that you saw and felt it but as someone who has taken psychology classes and doesn't believe in ghosts, I don't believe it. The mind is extremely powerful in imagery and only partially understood. Maybe it was your subconscious trying to speak?

 
At 5:06 AM, Blogger Amadeo said...

Phil:

Here's a little something I learned from reading. Fear is one of the passions, or sense appetite, that at the onset can be quite involuntary. One then has to control it conciously, or deflect it into something more positive.

But there is an aspect of fear, that I learned, that is quite physical. Expressed in some of our metaphors, like skin crawling, goosebumps, hair raising, etc.

Now some scientists I read think that the body itself through its organs, I suppose as a distinct or separate entity apart from us as persons of body/mind/soul, can feel and express fear, and tells the person so by skin crawling, etc.

Remember that expression: something tells me there is someting wrong or evil with this place. The body itself may be the likely "something".

And capable of other emotions, too. Like our expression that it is the heart that feels love. So love/attraction may be felt first by the heart organ.

 
At 12:32 PM, Blogger PhilippinesPhil said...

Mr Ed....I've been going to school literally since 1975 and have about a half dozen psychology classes under my belt too. All I believe in is what I've seen. As I said at the start of my tale, I have no idea the true nature of the phenomenon, but I don't doubt that the phonomena exists. How can I, since I've seen it at least twice? Believe me, I have no agenda when it comes to this stuff. Until it can all be explained away with something tangible and scientific, then all we have to counter the things that people like me have seen is surmise.

 
At 12:36 PM, Blogger PhilippinesPhil said...

Amadeo, whoa! That's way too deep for me my friend... Glad your on top of that though... just pulling your leg buddy!

I can assure you I know how the body reacts under stress; I've been there and done that more than once. Good observations though.

 
At 12:46 PM, Blogger PhilippinesPhil said...

Senor! I look forward to reading your story... I must confess that I don't feel particularly brave for having written mine... I simply recount things I've seen, heard and felt; its up to others to believe, discount or to be simply entertained. I've written other, more personal accounts of my life, such as my struggles with depression. I suppose I have no fear when it comes to exposing these parts of my life. I figure what's the worse that can happen? I'm retired; I've been through the "washing machine" of life, and its NOT done with me yet...! Currently, the "spin cycle" is doing its work on me! Let me know when you publish your "phenomena" story, please.

 
At 8:37 PM, Blogger watson said...

Isn't it something when you can actually share a story when there's a thread of ghost stories and the supernatural going on?

Here's one from a friend. She was an Engineer in our company who became wife to an Australian. Shortly after their marriage, they went to Pulilio Island (her hometown) in the Quezon province so her husband can get acquainted with the his new family. In one of their walks, he accidentally stepped on a mound of earth that looked like a huge anthill. Later that night, he was having high fever. They tried recalling what he ate and drank, but nothing they thought of looked out of way. And then they remembered he stepped on this mound. They called a faith healer in and had his pinkie fingers laid side by side. One was markedly longer than the other. He had stepped on the house of an earth dweller similar to a dwarf and it had angered this being. The faith healer asked them to bring food offering to the mound and ask for forgiveness. A couple of hours later, the fever subsided and his pinkie fingers were back to normal. His Australian husband became a believer. I don't know if he has plans of coming back to the province though. :-)

 
At 10:15 PM, Blogger PhilippinesPhil said...

Watson, I'm sorry buddy, but that story was a hoot man... wow... for real, you're not pulling my leg? So what is an earth dweller, like a leprechan? Magically delicious? Oh, and what's the significance of the extra long pinky? Really wacky stuff there... Kinda cool though. I really doubt that Ed is going to buy this one. Thanks for sharing.

Let me clear this up... Just coz I've seen a couple of way out things, doesn't mean I believe in "ghosts" per se. I have no idea what the nature of this stuff is. I just know I've seen and felt something...?

 
At 6:23 AM, Blogger Ed Abbey said...

As they say, I won't believe until I see it. I do enjoy reading good ghost stories though. I even held up my pinkies to see if one is longer than the other.

In my past, I've seen things that I can't explain, including lights in the night sky. I'm comfortable with not knowing everything.

 
At 11:41 AM, Blogger watson said...

Hello Phil. Outrageous eh? But I this story was related to me by the wife herself so it's accurate. When something's not right with you, chances are you're "minamaligno" or being harmed by a supernatural entity that you have angered. Usually its either the dwarves or the "nuno sa punso" which is similar to the dwarf but makes earth mounds like the termite mound. When your pinkies are not of the same length, then chances are you are indeed under a curse.

A witch doctor (I used the wrong term in my previous post - faith healer) will tell you what you what to do. Usually it's an offering to appease the angered being.

You are right. So many stories of these abound - especially in Baguio - that a large percentage of the population believes in it. But getting the story firsthand is really something else.

So many stories in folklore is also prevalent in Philippine myth. Sadly, I don't see the stories being passed down to the next generation anymore. They are more content with staring at the computer screen playing video games or staring at the phone screen. Lots of staring, huh?

 
At 1:19 PM, Blogger PhilippinesPhil said...

I'll go one further Ed... For me, seeing is NOT believing, it's merely seeing something that can't be explained... I refuse to attach an explanation to something strange based on a guess or tradition/superstition. I've been around almost 50 years and have only witnessed something creepy with my own eyes, twice. You have never seen anything like a ghost or an apparition in yours. This stuff is very rare indeed, and seem to be common only because there ARE so many stories out there.

 
At 1:56 PM, Blogger PhilippinesPhil said...

Wat, when it comes to these folklore stories, they STILL abound and ARE passed on. They have a life of their own.

You've heard of the "aswang" right? Is that spelled right? My wife tells a tale of terror about her "experience" with one:

She was 6, living in her fishing village on Samar. She awoke next to her 2 yr old niece sleeping on the floor with a row of others, Filipino style.

The first thing Amalia saw was her niece's eyes and mouth, the eyes were wide open and lifeless, the mouth also wide with a stifled scream that never escaped her lips.

Amalia screamed plenty though, when she saw the face of a hairy man, his face dripping blood and gore as he looked up at her, having been interrupted from eating at the crotch area of her dead niece. She remembers his eyes glinting animal-like in the dark. The tiny two-story block house erupted.

Interrupted from his evil work, the naked bloody man, covered with hair, sprang up with superhuman speed and ran up the stairs on "all fours" like an animal, into the overhead area. Amalia's father grabbed a cane and ran after the thing.

Even though he was directly behind the creature it managed to escape. Her dad claimed it seemed to change into something else and just disappeared.

Being an American, I asked stupid questions like: What did the police say? What did the autopsy show? What was this "thing" really?

Of course a poor Filipino family in a tiny village did not have access to any of that. They already "knew" what the beast was and there are no cops, investigations, or autopsies outside of the first world. They barely do them in Manila.

Do I believe my wife and her family actually went through this? Yep, based on speaking with them, there's no doubt in my mind they BELIEVE what they believe. Could this "thing" have been a sicko degenerate? Yep, but the locals of that village know for CERTAIN that it was an aswang.

As for me, I've never seen anything like it, so I choose to continue to be extremely skeptical. My wife has seen some pretty horrible things in her early life over here; makes me wonder how she's able to function.

 
At 9:56 PM, Blogger Ed Abbey said...

You left me hanging... was the niece really dead?

 
At 11:04 PM, Blogger PhilippinesPhil said...

Oh yes, very dead... I hope the shock killed her quickly, but I doubt it. I saw her burial site. Some crazy weird stuff happens over here... One of these days I'll write about some of my wife's other wild experiences.... how 'bout the girl who was pronounced dead and "woke up" as her body was being "prepared" by the undertaker..? My wife saw that as a 9 year old, peaking through a kitchen window...

 
At 11:16 PM, Blogger Ed Abbey said...

Now THAT is a very creepy story. That is the kind I strove to come up with when telling ghost stories around the campfire when in the scouts.

 
At 6:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

my goodness!that story about your wife's experience with an aswang is really creepy!!!i'd like to read more of her story,though.=) i miss hearing ghost stories,aswang stories.i've had an experience of my own when i was young with a common white lady,when i was only 8years old i guess.and i am very sure that i did not just imagine it because i didn't scare myself that time to make it appear!i just saw it,without thinking of anything scary.i was just calling my nanny,thinking she was there,without feeling any fear,then the white lady just appeared walking towards me to which made me run up the stairs so quickly i fell. =)

 

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