When I began discussing fear on the blog recently, I stated that I don’t scare easily. I do startle easily—this quiet lifestyle lends itself to startling hard at the slightest movement or sound. For this reason, while I enjoy horror films, I’m not very tolerant of ones that rely heavily (or solely) on “jump scenes” that startle the viewer with noises or sights that usually turn out to be innocuous.
I relate more to the kind of fear I feel when I realize that a situation or event is somehow not right. This is what appeals to me as a writer and reader. It’s the sort of fear I felt in this true experience I related last Halloween, and the time we heard screams coming from the beach. And, the night I heard The Noise in the forest . . . .
One night I walked the trail to the homestead after dark had fallen. I traveled with confidence, only slightly concerned that I might meet a moose on the trail unexpectedly.
As I approached the muskeg bog near our property line, I heard a deep, reverberating utterance, sort of like “HWUAGH!” echo through the forest. Instantly alert, and charged with adrenaline, I cast about desperately for the source of the sound.
Noises of a certain low frequency cannot be located by the human ear. This is why a subwoofer can be placed anywhere in a room—no one can tell which direction the bass notes are coming from, so its placement doesn’t detract from proper sonic “shaping” in a listening space. This noise definitely came from the lower register, and I could not find its source.
At best, I narrowed it down to two possibilities: the sound came either from very near me on the trail, or from somewhere on Lynn Canal below me. It could have been a moose or other large animal, or it could have been a mechanical noise, perhaps from the deck of a passing ferry or other large vessel. The sound suggested qualities of both types of sounds.
I could do little but hurry home through the dark, every nerve on edge, every hair standing.
Later, I figured it out. A large fallen tree in the swamp rested on another tree, and in high winds, they dragged against each other, making that deep, vibrating noise. No moose, bear, or monster; no ghost ship passing by. Just a couple of trees.
Ambiguity of sight and sound, when one’s senses cannot fully be trusted, seems more common in Southeast Alaska. It’s a key theme of my upcoming collection of stories, Shy Ghosts Dancing: Dark Tales from Southeast Alaska. It’s my attempt to present this ambiguity in an entertaining way.