Childhood Memories of Summer time Occult Mysteries
This is the story of the strangest and scariest thing to ever happen to me during a Summer day camp in Northern New Jersey in the mid 90s when I was a child...
The camp was in Alpine, New Jersey, right by the edge of the Palisades Cliffs that fall sharply down to the Hudson River and look out to New York. My favorite activity at camp was hiking. Often we got to hike out of the main camp and go down the Palisades cliffs to the river. For a ten year old boy with a penchant for adventure this was fantastic. Also adding to the excitement was the CASTLE we got to hike past...
It wasn't actually a castle, but it was shaped like one and was by the very edge of the cliff! The 'castle' was in fact a stone structure built in the 20s by the New Jersey State Federation of Women's club to celebrate their role in helping protect the Palisades.
So on that warm summer's day when our teenage counselors told us kids that we'd be hiking to the Castle we were ecstatic. How strange it is now to think that our jubilant moods would quickly sour and turn instead into abject fear...
The hike began with us kids scurrying around our tired teenage counselors who did their best to contain their annoyance. We marched off into the forest and then we saw it. The first strange sign.
Lying on the ground were the scattered remains of a deer. It was mostly just bones but it still had a few bloody tufts of hair attached. The counselors laughed it off, but we kids were leery...We had spent several summers in these woods and had never come across a carcass like this...Especially odd was how close it was to the highway. It felt almost like it had been intentionally dragged there so as to be seen...As if it was, perhaps...a warning...
Despite this ominous sight we trekked on and arrived at the Castle. Quickly we noticed that something was...off. We kids stared about trying to figure out what was wrong when it dawned on us: Most of the trees around the castle were dead.
It was the middle of summer and yet the trees were all dead, as if it were Autumn. The trees were bare, sparse, skeletal. The few trees that still had leaves had yellowed, crumbling ones. What was going on? I tried to tell one of the counselors but they thought I was being silly. Trust me when I tell you it is hard to sound serious when your voice hasn’t dropped yet and you’re trying to discuss possible supernatural interference regarding trees...
It was then that I noticed one of our counselors was sitting down on the very edge of the cliff with his feet dangling off into the emptiness below. He looked extremely upset and had to be moved away from the cliff by one of the other teenagers. Again they tried to laugh it off, but it was odd. Why had he suddenly been stricken by such a deep sadness? It seemed inexplicable to us kids...Though perhaps if we were a few years older and were teenagers ourselves such sudden mood swings may have been more relatable...however at the time we took it as another sign of the strangeness that was creeping in around us from all sides.
The hike continued. We climbed down the steep stone stairs in the cliff side. Halfway down we came across a large boulder on which someone had scrawled the following warning: “Beware the trees. Beware the living forest.”
We kids were getting really unnerved now. Nonetheless we marched on, propelled by the counselors who seemed impervious to the mounting strangeness...
We reached the bottom and walked the Hudson River path. The counselors brought us to a tiny pebble filled beach. They all huddled around each other talking, leaving us kids to our own devices. We walked the beach, staring at the dirty water of the Hudson. Then one of the girls yelled out ‘Hey Look!’
Her eyes were wide and she pointed a trembling finger down to where the land jutted out into the Hudson several yards away. The land there was covered in tall weeds blowing around in the breeze. It was then when the rest of us saw it:
Sitting amongst the waving weeds was a dark thing staring right at us. The thing was covered in grimy black cloth that looked burnt... The thing did not move. It just sat there, as still as a stone, hunched in the weeds by the edge of the land, staring at us.
If it had a face we could not see it for it was hidden within the folds of its dark hood. But we all felt it looking at us. As I watched the thing I felt two dark and angry eyes watching me back with a vicious and intense precision. All of us kids felt it’s dark stare. “What is it?” someone cried.
“I don’t know!” another yelled, “but it’s watching me!”
“It’s watching me too!”
“What do you see?”
“Eyes! Red eyes! It’s staring at me with red eyes!”
“There! it moved! It moved it’s arm!”
“No it didn’t!”
“It did! Just now! It did!”
“No! I’ve been staring at it this whole time! It didn’t move!”
“But I just saw it move!”
“How can we be seeing it move if it isn’t moving?”
“Is it a ghost? What is it?”
Some of us began to cry and shake. The fear was dreadful and palpable, as if we were suffocating under the heavy cloak of the thing itself. I forced myself away from staring at it and went to get one of the counselors. Surely they could determine what it was and get us away.I ran to one of the counselors and told him to come quick because some thing was staring at us. He chuckled and followed me, rolling his eyes.
“What is it? What ‘thing’ is staring at you?” He asked in a tired voice.
We pointed towards the hooded figure. The counselor squinted towards it, scrunched his face up, and then said “It’s just a potted plant full of dirty flowers and rags.”
We were stunned. The counselor saw something entirely different than what we were seeing! Where we all saw a dark hooded thing, he saw...a potted plant?
Our mutual terror now rose sharply. Those who were crying cried harder. We had to get away. The counselors were shocked at us. They thought we were acting crazy....But they relented to our wails and marched us back up the cliff steps.
We scrambled upwards, all the while looking back over our shoulders, expecting the hooded thing to be following us...Some of us started to see blurry humanoid shapes following us around us in the woods....We seemed surrounded by ghosts and we all genuinely thought that we would be hurt. One of the girls started screaming ‘It’s gonna kill me! It’s gonna kill me!’
So with terror gripping our rapidly beating hearts we rushed up the cliff, out of the woods and back to the summer camp.
The camp was bright, sunny, and full of other happy kids running around. Whatever evil lay outside the camp had remained there...Yet it still felt to us like a wolf prowling close at our door.
The counselors didn’t want to deal with our apparent ‘mass tantrum’ so they hurried us off to our next scheduled event: Swimming.
We shuffled like zombies into the changing rooms and then into the pool. The girl who had been screaming before still believed that the thing was going to show up in her room that night and kill her. We sat half submerged on the pool steps in the shallow end and tried to calm her down and figure out what we had seen. After a while the general consensus was that the thing wasn’t a ghost or even a human...
We believed that it was probably a stolen store mannequin that had been draped in black cloth for some sort of ritual. The ritual had been evil, maybe satanic. We kids were just unfortunate to have come across it afterwards and we fell prey to the residual evil it was exuding. How else could we explain how we felt it was staring at us and how we saw it moving when it never really moved? The Summer sun shone down on us and we all fell silent, sitting scared in the small pool...
Over a decade has passed since this strange day and I now can’t even remember any of the names of the other kids who saw the thing with me...But I can remember what we saw and the fear we felt.
Looking back on this now I see it as a near perfect dissection of the differences between the mind of a child and the mind of a teenager. We kids saw the thing as some mystical evil influencing everything around us. The teenagers saw a potted plant. Who was right? And does it even matter? For regardless of what we saw, or didn’t see, it was what we felt that was truly terrifiying...For indeed what is more scary than the fear of the unknown in the mind of a child?