OK, so my last entry described all the creepy goings-on in Missouri. The haunted places, the strange deaths, and the MoMo – Missouri’s answer to Bigfoot. Still with me?
Since I grew up in Arizona, you’re likely wondering why exactly was in Missouri? Well, my family owns a summer cabin there, just outside of the small town of Warrenton and not far from Washington and Union (reportedly one of the most haunted places in MO). The cabin itself is located in a private community, far off the main highway and at the end of a 2 mile winding gravel road through the deep woods. At times, this brief trip can be very disconcerting, no matter the time of day. In daylight, there are all sorts of shadows and uneasy moments of odd silence. At night, the mind plays tricks and you feel like there could be anything lurking in the darkness, quietly watching your every move.
When I was younger, I would be absolutely terrified when we arrived there at night, slowly meandering down the road, huddled in the backseat of the Country Squire, avoiding the car windows while convincing myself that something was out there. My parents always tried to schedule our arrival during the daylight, mostly because it was much easier to get the place up and running after sitting empty for months at a time, but honestly I think they were uneasy to arrive during the night as well. In times past, we would travel at least once every summer and spend a week or so there, but I have not stayed overnight in the past 18 years. My parents and other family have spent time there recently, without anything out-of-the-ordinary occurring, so perhaps my two experiences were just an aberration. But I will share with you what happened, and you can decide for yourself.
The cabin itself is a simple A-Frame structure with narrow metal cots and fold-out couches, with no A/C, television, or computer access. Not overly secure or complex, it sits in the dense forest on a sloping hill, with a clearing and pig farm nearby and other cabins at least a quarter-mile away. A rudimentary unpaved trail runs along one side that leads aimlessly down the hill into the woods. The large open deck is good for just hanging out, and the windows and doors are usually kept open to keep air flowing in the miserably humid weather. A basic landline telephone, a couple of old radios, and the dead-end road make for a pretty remote experience. We are pretty much alone out there, which makes for a nice safehouse for the impending zombiepocalypse.
As a kid, the idea of being out in the woods was an exciting adventure, because it was so different than my suburban home in Arizona. And normally, nothing much happened while we were there. During the day, we would lay out in the sun on the deck, read books, play games, and listen to the radio. But at night was when the forest really came alive, and so did my favorite activity. We would leave scraps of food out at night by the front door, and head upstairs to the loft window above the porch and watch animals come and check things out. That part was pretty cool for a kid from the suburbs, as we would see raccoons, fox, skunk, opossum. Mostly small animals, but once in a while we’d see coyote pups and bobcat cubs, and families of deer. The path to the front porch from the driveway sliced between dense shrubs; in the image above they had just been cut down, but at the time of this story they were about 8-10 feet tall and very thick. Once the sun went down, we would turn on the spotlight above the loft window, and it would light up the immediate open area for about 20 feet around the porch, right to the edge of the shrubs and surrounding forest. We would watch animals emerge from these shrubs to check out the food. Outside of the spotlight, it was pure darkness. In fact, without the usual lights of civilization, anything that fell outside of flashlight or headlamp range was a complete and total black void. So if you had to venture outside for any reason at night, say to retrieve an object out of the car, it could be a fairly unnerving experience.
In the photo you can see the loft window above the door. I usually sat by this window most nights in the dark, alternately watching for animals through the window and drawing in my sketchbook using a small flashlight. This window was great for watching animals, but not-so-great to sleep anywhere near, especially for a kid hooked on Bigfoot books. The cot where I slept was ten feet away and faced this window; all I had to do was turn my head slightly, and I was looking right out the impossibly black night. When all was quiet, I would imagine things in that window, staring right back at me. It made for some horribly sleepless nights. We will come back to that window later.
The first strange experience happened in July of 1990. Still young in many ways, I was also old enough not to let my imagination get the best of me during the night, as it did when I was younger. Without air conditioning, summer evenings in Missouri can be miserable, but the humidity on this particular evening was nearly intolerable. To help with the stifling heat, we would open the doors to the front porch and deck to let the hot air circulate, leaving the screen doors in place. We would also open the upper windows in the loft and in the kitchen in an attempt to cool off. The result was hearing the vivid night sounds of the crickets chirping and spooky whoosh of the wind sweeping through the trees while we played games at the simple metal card table in the kitchen.
Around 11pm that evening, my parents and I were sitting at that table, finishing up a game of Flinch. Being near a farm, the nauseating aroma of manure always wafted through the windows, but it was really strong this night. The radio was playing in the background, playing big band music with a steady stream of mild static. The continuous rhythm of the crickets and locusts nearly drowned out the music.
We were so involved in our game that we missed the point when the sounds of the night ceased. No chirping, no buzzing, no croaking, nothing. Even the wind had stopped.
Complete, total, unnerving silence.
We paused the game, and my father stood up and turned down the radio. There was no immediate sounds in the vicinity of the cabin, and it was eerie as hell. No matter the weather, no matter the temperature, the sounds of the forest were constant. This silence, this void of all forest sounds was a new experience for all of us. My father sat back down and we continued the game, trying to distract us from the unease. The next moment is one that still gives me goosebumps, even as I recall the experience type the words.
Suddenly, from out of the darkness near the front door of the cabin, came the most unearthly sound I ever heard.
It was a scream, but nothing like any sound I’d ever heard. Even to this day, it is difficult to describe. It was primal, angry, and inhuman. It was awful. Too loud to be a mountain lion, too powerful to be anything human. It was the kind of sound that immediately spikes your adrenaline, makes the hair on your neck stand straight up, and makes you paralyzed with sheer terror. And it was close.
The scream came from just beyond the front porch, but it seemed like it was nearly inside the cabin itself. We were all frozen. I remember looking right at my father and seeing all the color had drained from his face, his expression a mix of confusion and terror. I’ll never forget the look on his face. How long did it last? Five seconds, ten seconds, maybe? The moment seemed to go on forever, and I really think that I held my breath the entire time.
Whatever manner of creature that was producing the sound then quickly moved to the side of the house, loudly crashing through branches and bushes next to the cabin as it moved down the hill. The awful sound then trailed off, and it was finally quiet once again. We sat there, still unable to even speak, almost like we were breathlessly waiting for the next scream, but it never came. A moment or two passed, the sounds of the crickets returned, and finally, we were able to take action. We closed all the doors, turned on all the lights, and we ran upstairs to begin our sleepless night.
What was it? Did we really hear that? What could that have been?
I barely got any sleep, huddled with my folks through the humid night, holding my breath and listening intently at every unusual sound, real or imagined, and was convinced the creature was just sitting right outside the cabin, waiting for us to step outside. I was most upset that my parents seemed genuinely concerned about the events of the evening. They had spent 30 years at this cabin, encountered all sorts of weather and wildlife, and in all that time, nothing had really phased them. For them to be this shaken by this meant this was definitely threatening.
After what seemed like days, morning finally came, and we reluctantly went outside to investigate. Although we didn’t find any clean tracks (or giant footprints), we did find markings on the mud near the stone trail. Mostly, we saw many broken branches and loose leaves all the way down the trail on the side of the cabin. And these were large, thick branches with splintered ends, some broken off from trees above my head with what looked like great force.
That was enough for me. I was convinced.
My parents quickly began to explain that it was probably some small animal and that it wasn’t a big deal. I realized that they were just trying to convince me (and themselves) that the cabin was safe and nothing frightening was lurking out there, for the sake of sanity, and especially since we had a couple more nights to stay in the cabin on that trip. But I knew otherwise.
We had an encounter with something out-of-the-ordinary. Something that could not be explained. And, unfortunately, it was going to happen again.