Have you ever thought you saw something, out of the corner of your eye or off in the distance, something you had no explanation for and it seems so small or unimportant you go on to dismiss it as unreal or the impossible? While in the back of your mind you aren’t so sure. You can’t get what you think you saw out of your mind and it drives you mad. You start to hope your eyes were just playing a tricks on you and when you look again….what if the impossible is still there, staring back at you. In our limited existence we perceive to we know what is and isn’t real. The reality is, we don’t know a damn thing. I was never a superstitious man; I lived in a small town in northern California. I kept to myself; I went to work at one of the many steel mills. Made good money and didn’t have much I really wanted in life. After my parents past away they left their house on the outskirts of town to me being as I was their only son. It was a medium sized two bedroom wood built house my father, a very proud man, built from the ground up. He built it with a good sized deck and a wine cellar he later turned into a woodshop. It was a big house for me, I wasn’t married nor do I have children of my own, but none of that really mattered to me. I am perfectly happy living on my own. I always enjoyed the peace and quiet of my home….or at least I use to.
Life was relatively normal until May 18, 1980; which if you know your history is when Mt. St. Helena famously erupted, one whole side of the mountain exploding causing 57 deaths and 1.1Billoin dollars in damages. The ash cloud from the eruptions rose over 12 miles into the air and covered a wide area and the effects could be seen in Organ, Nevada, Wyoming, Montana, and of course California. It covered everything its dirty grey soot and due to health concerns many business shut down for the duration of the clean-up. The police, firefighters, and medical responders worked around the clock as large piles of soot would cave in roofs on buildings. They encouraged people to stay inside and if you absolutely needed to go out, such as to shovel soot off your house, to wear a mask, safety glasses and to be out now long than forty-five minutes to an hour at a time. That was fine with me, as I said I kept to myself mostly and did not have need to leave the comfort of my home.
It looked eerie…the sun wasn’t even visible for almost two weeks, everything covered in a dull grey. I spent most of the time listening to the radio but because of the ash I had dust off the antenna on my house just so I could continue to stay up to date on the news. It had gotten tedious and annoying but with work closed and soot still falling I didn’t have much else to do. After the first few days I gave up trying to keep ash off the antenna and found myself staring out my window into the distance. Ash steadily and gently fell from the sky like grey snow. My mind wandered and I daydreamed for a long time perhaps I may have even nodded off from boredom. When my eyes opened again I saw…something. It was barely visible and didn’t seem important at that moment but there it was among the trees at the edge of the woods. It was pretty far off …. Yet it stood out. It looked like figure….not even a figure more of a silhouette in the distance. I strained my eyes trying to see better but it was too far away and fuzzy. I rubbed my eyes, yawned and brushed it off, figuring if it was actually something it was most likely just an animal. It was unlikely someone would just be standing out in the woods giving the condition out there, and crime was minimal where I lived so I wasn’t really worried. It was stupid. So for lack of better things to I swept up the ash that found itself inside and retired for the night, I had become suddenly very tried. I planned to wake up early the next day to brush all the soot of my roof and truck the next morning to prevent any damages, but even as tired as I was I found sleep very elusive that night. What sleep I got didn’t feel restful at all. I tossed and turned but it seemed no matter how hard I tried to shake it, that figure in the woods would creep back into my mind. Was it really their? If so why? Dreams I had I could faintly hear…whispering. It was low and I couldn’t make out the words but it was all I could hear.
Dull light shown thru my window signaling the morning and I decided I would try and sleep later. After an extra pot of coffee I threw on my coveralls, gloves, safety glasses from work and tied a bandana to cover my face and headed outside. Soot had completely covered my truck and it must have gotten into the engine or clogged the starter because it refused to start. I sighed knowing it would be a pain to fix but there was nothing that could be done with the stuff still falling. I was stranded at my own home, and it was miles to town but I wasn’t terribly worried. If I had to I could walk, I had done it many times before a child. Giving up on the truck I took a ladder, and shovel from the shed and went up to the roof. I brushed of the antenna yet again and began shoveling piles of ash from the roof. It was pretty heavy and I could see how if left unchecked it could do damage too house. Sweat formed on my face and it soon felt as if I had heavy clay plastered on my face. I took a break resisting the urge for a cigarette, figuring there was enough shit getting in my lungs, and sat on the roof. The light from the hidden sun was descending now as twilight approached, I lost track of how long I had been working out there .Then…. it caught my eye again thou…. the silhouette from the day before…but it was different…it was closer. I froze. How long had it been there? I could see it a little clearer now, and this time there was no denying it was real. It seemed to be in the shape of a man but a little taller maybe, and it was dark, black, standing out in the grey. I shook my head, but it didn’t go away, it stood there still. My mind simply could not processes what my eyes were seeing….and the worse part about it was the longer I looked…the more figures I saw. Soon I saw them everywhere, they were dotted among the trees…all of them looked alike, fuzzy, unclear man shaped…things. \
I quickly got off the roof nearly slipping headed inside; I quickly locked all the doors and windows…still thinking to myself. “It can’t be real, it just can’t.” I wanted so badly for it just to be my eyes playing a trick on me …but every time towards the forest…they stood there still, unmoving. I attempted to call the police but phone lines where knocked out by the ash. Still to this day I have no explanation for what I saw…or what I heard. What little sunlight there was fading and darkness came quickly the shadowy figures fading into the rest of the darkness. I shook my head again cursed at myself. My thoughts ran to my father when he was still alive, nothing scared him and he would flip in his grave if he could see how I was acting now. I grabbed a flashlight I had also taken from work and my wood chopping ax and stormed out the front door. I had to know, looking at it now I should have left but pride and maybe stupidity pushed me to find out who or what was out there, and why.
The beam from the flashlight didn’t penetrate the still falling ash very far. I walked towards the woods holding the ax tightly. My heart pounding in my chest so hard I could feel it in my ears. I walked a fair distance and saw…nothing, I walked a little farther and still nothing out there. I called out, not sure if I wanted to get a response or not but I was met with silence….I stood at the edge of those woods for almost thirty minutes, calling out a few more time. This was about where the figures stood…I had thought but there was nothing to suggest anything had been here. My grip on the ax lessened and I scanned once more before I turned back. I remember I felt slightly more at ease as I made my way back…but that was a brief moment and this is a night that still plagues my dreams to this day….I had made it about halfway back to the house when a stray flake of ask made it past my safety glasses and straight into my eye. It burned pretty bad and I cursed out loud dropping the ax and covering my face, tears streaming down my cheek turning the soot to clay, I rubbed vigorously my eyes trying to regain my composure.…then the silence was broken, suddenly I heard incoherent whispers, low at first but all around me. My head shot up and I flashed my light into the darkness, and even threw blurred vision I saw them….closer than ever, dozens of them just standing there, black shadows in a grey haze. The whispering increased in volume until it sounded as if it filled my skull, I screamed, and ran towards the light coming from my porch, leaving my ax behind. I didn’t care if I couldn’t see well, I just ran. The whispering got even louder filling my ears.
Once I made it inside I slammed and barricaded all the doors and windows with everything I could find. I thought about fleeing out the back and running to one of my neighbor’s houses as soon as I went for the window I saw more of them, they were everywhere, unmoving black man shaped figures surrounded my home. To this day I have never known the same, blinding terror. I threw open the cellar and locked myself inside. For the rest of the night I sat in the dark room with only the little light my dying flashlight provided. I could still hear the voices, muffled but still loud, I curled into a ball under the work table as the last bit of power from my flashlight died….
I don’t know when I fell asleep or for how long….I awoke to a pounding on the front door. Needless to say I just about shit myself at the sudden banging. Light filtered in thru the floorboards, bright sunlight. I heard a male voice call my name, and it sounded human enough. It took a few minutes to crawl out from under the table and make my way out of the cellar to peak out the window. It was my neighbor from down the road and his son. I pushed everything out of the way cracked open opened the door, the unfiltered sunlight was warm on my face and stung my eyes a little.
“Jesus Hank you look like hell! I heard you screaming last night are you ok???” He said looking with wide concerned eyes at me. It took me a minuet to reply, my throat felt extremely dry and I am sure I looked very ragged. “Yea. I just……I”, I started to speak but was cut off by an excited yell, his son.
“Dad come look!”
The three of us walked over and what I saw made me tremble all over again. Footprints, hundreds coming from many directions out of the woods….all towards my home ending abruptly. They looked human in shape yet, they were different. The shape was consistent with a normal foot but….with no toes, and slightly more curved, with no drag marks as you would normally see with someone who was walking thru the ash. We all stood there for what felt like a long time, the sun climbing higher into the now clear sky. My neighbor started to speak but his words were lost to me as my eyes followed one set of track. Somehow…I knew it was from the very first one I saw. The tracks lead closest to my home, moving around the side….stopped just in front of outside cellar door. A cold sweat came over me as I realize that during my panic last night. I never locked the outside cellar door….
Credit: Shawn M A Miranda