It was not the kind of ghost story any of us were expecting.
We — my wife and I and four “grandkids” — were leisurely (is that possible with four grandkids?) sitting around a fire last weekend in our driveway, with a granddaughter begging us time and again to tell ghost stories. Because of S’mores and other distractions, the stories kept being put on hold, then we noticed something we had not noticed before. It was a brush fire that had reignited beside an empty home across the road.
The brush fire was started in the morning, but had stopped burning early in the afternoon. Around 9:30 or 10 p.m. though, we noticed that it was burning brightly again, and there was no one at the home.
We were curious, so we made our way across the road to make sure everything was OK and see if we could extinguish the flames. With no one home, it was strangely quiet. So we stood there for a while, admiring the flames and waiting to see if they would burn out. Then it happened. From somewhere in the canopy of trees above us there was some strange commotion, and about the same time there some kind of loud stomping noise that seemed to come from the edge of the woods that were way too close for comfort.
It happened so quick that it’s hard to remember the exact sequence of things, but what really caught everyone’s attention was the two almost simultaneous thumps. I know that’s what sent everyone scrambling because in the blink of an eye after we heard them, what had been six people standing in a semi-circle around a fire turned into five people huddled behind me — after one of them scrambled out of a small hole he fell into during the commotion. He’s the one who said he could not sleep more than an hour later because his legs were still shaking.
Now, I’m generally not one to be frightened by strange sounds. I’ve heard enough of them to know there’s usually some logical explanation. But this was loud, and it was close, and it was dark. What it sounded like to me was a deer that had raised up on its hind legs stomped its front two feet on the ground. In fact, for a couple seconds I was so sure that’s what it was that I expected a big, angry buck to break into the light and come snorting at us.
It should be clarified that all the kids were 11 or younger, and they were likely more scared than my wife and I. But I can tell you that after a few seconds passed, I looked down at the little weapon I had in my hand and noticed my palms were wet, and sweat had accumulated on my forever.
A couple seconds before, I had been standing there pointing my weapon — an 18-inch long piece of wire that’s actually used to lift the lid off the base of a portable fire pit — directly toward where the sound came from, with my troupe huddled behind me, wondering what in the world was about to happen.
We must have been a sight to behold.
Remember, this all happened in about five seconds, and when I realized that my weapon was of little use, I did the only thing I could think of. I yelled, really loud (probably loud enough to scare the other neighbors half to death), four or five times. It must have worked, because as we stood there for a few more seconds, we heard no other sounds.
We didn’t stick around much longer. When we got back to our place, most of the kids were ready to go inside, and no one was interested in telling ghost stories.
Before we originally headed across the road to check on the rekindled fire, my wife called the people who own the home to let them know their fire was burning again. A few minutes after we returned to our side of the road, the owner of the other home pulled into his driveway, and two of the boys and I mosied back across the road to tell him what happened.
I really didn’t have to say much, because the grandkids, speaking at the speed of light, regaled him with all the details of what we had witnessed. Or, actually, what we had only heard.
“Well,” he said with a sly grin, “maybe it was a Sasquatch?”
Jeff Gilliland is the editor of The Times-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 937-402-2522.