The sun has set, the moon is rising and the frogs have begun their starlight serenade. As the darkness rolls in, you move closer to the campfire, closer to that circle of light. You look over your shoulder, gazing into the woods that surround you. You jump when the fire pops and you laugh nervously at yourself for being so spooked. But, really, how can you not be spooked when it’s time for scary tales around the campfire?
We were up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan at Porcupine Mountain State Park. We were a young family, only four of my seven children had been born and the youngest of the group was two. We’d hiked to the log cabin, about two miles into the dense forest. It was a rustic cabin, no running water or electricity, the outhouse was several yards away in one direction and Greenstone Falls was several yards in the other direction, the sound of its rushing waters echoing in the small clearing.
The outside of the cabin was covered with moss, so it looked like it had sprouted up, rather than had been built. Inside, the room was arranged with two sets of bunk beds that were flush against the back wall, a small table and wooden chairs that could seat six, a kitchen area with all the implements needed for a rustic stay, a wood stove for heat and cooking, and a log book for visitors to share the stories of their stay. The four windows carved into the walls were outfitted with heavy wooden shutters so at night you could keep the things that roamed in the dark from wandering into the cabin.
When we reached our destination, the sun was beginning to set, so we quickly placed wood in the fire ring in front of the cabin and got ourselves situated inside the cabin before the black cloak of nightfall overcame us. We ate a simple dinner; hot dogs over a fire and s’mores, gooey and semi-charred, before we all got ready for bed.
The cabin was totally dark when the last lantern was finally extinguished. We lay in our bunks, exhausted from the day, but awake and aware of our surroundings. Then we heard the footsteps. Soft at first, they circled the cabin, pausing at each window. Was it an animal? Bears had only just come out of hibernation. Did we attract one with the smell of roasting marshmallows? Suddenly, the steps were above us on the cabin roof. It must be an animal, perhaps a raccoon, looking for a way in to steal our supplies. We listened carefully as the noise continued and we knew that in the morning we would see a variety of tracks in the sandy soil right outside the cabin.
The fire in the wood stove suddenly seemed to expand, glowing red in the corner. The plates and pans in the kitchen area rustled as if a gust of wind had slipped into the enclosed room. The squeal of a chair being moved away from the table echoed in the darkness and then everything was quiet.
Moments later we heard the door creak open. Scrambling for our flashlights, it took a moment to turn them on and point them across the room. But, to our relief and surprise, the door was still closed and barred from the inside. Noiselessly, we slipped from the bunks and crossed the room to test the door. It was still tight and secure.
We slipped back into our bunks and turned off the lanterns. A moment later we heard a soft chuckle that quietly echoed throughout the room. We pulled the blankets higher and prayed for the morning to come quickly.
Dawn arrived with gusto. A choir of birds surrounded the cabin and greeted the new day. Frankly, we were all surprised we had actually slept. But in the morning sun, the cabin was no longer a frightening place. It was actually cozy. Padding around in feet pajamas, the children shared their experiences of the night before. They all heard the strange noises, the laughter and the footsteps. But by the end of breakfast, we had consigned all the occurrences to the wind, the creatures of the woods and our own tired imaginations.
But there was something strange about the whole experience. On our morning trips to the outhouse, we saw that there were no tracks in the sandy soil surrounding our cabin. No sign that something had circled the cabin that night. I thought we would never discover the identity of our nocturnal visitor. That is, until I had a moment to glance into the pages of the log book. It held the notes of several decades of visitors and as I flipped through each entry, a chill ran down my spine. Written by visitor after visitor, the same message stood out. “Enjoyed our visit, even the antics of the ghost of Greenstone Falls. He definitely has an odd sense of humor. But, don’t worry, his nightly visits are harmless.”