T is for Titillating Tales of Terror (or Real-Life Scary Stories my Family Tells, in honour of Halloween)
A certain sparkly vampire family made its fictional home in a temperate rainforest town, 250 miles north of the socked-in coastal village that my own family calls home.
There is a marked spookiness that descends on all coastlines along with the dark. The only horror movie I could tolerate watching as a kid was called "Lady in White", which was about a grief-stricken ghostly mother who jumped from a cliff into the ocean every night she re-realized her daughter had been killed. (Goosebumps are popping up all over my skin as I write this...do you know who hates thinking about scary things? ME!!!) While that story was set on the other side of the country, it laid beautiful ground in my childhood imagination for strange things to happen on the coastal cliffs of my adolescence and adulthood.
When I was in my early twenties, my brother (born with considerable more nerve than I) reported spooky happenings to which he and his friends had been witness. They would purposefully go to get themselves scared at a nearby state park, complete with misty, dramatically descending cliffs, a non-working lighthouse, and a tree (known as the Octopus Tree) that was rumoured to have housed the bodies of recently departed First Nations people for the first night after their death.
The strangest part of this already strange and beautiful place were the deer (at least in his experience), because the deer there did not act like ordinary deer. The park and its surrounding area is not well lit and prone to fog, so trips there at night were always made with caution to not hit any wildlife.
But, five or six times, the cars in which my brother and his friends travelled were not so much dangerous as endangered. When they came upon the deer that roamed the misty forest by the cliffs, the encounters were anything but normal. Instead of freezing up or running away out of fright, as deer tend to do, the deer would get aggressive. The drivers would have to move their cars away from the deer, getting out of the deer's way (!) instead of the other way round. It was, as he says, "like the deer were trying to defend something."
One night, this Warrior Deer behaviour reached its pinnacle when, with about ten people spread between two cars, one lone deer came out onto the road. As the headlights of the car flashed into the face of the animal, it stared into eyes of the driver of the first car for a few seconds before running into it, throwing its body against the front of the car as if to say "Get out, you don't belong here!"
It was with these strange encounters in mind that I went at sunset with my newly engaged fiancé to this same state park to take pictures. Matt hadn't heard any of the stories or local legends, but they weighed on my mind as we passed through the open gate of the park. I thought for the briefest of moments about telling Matt what I had heard. But something held me back; I thought that talking about the stories might make both of our imaginations run rampant.
The sunset was beautiful. To watch and photograph it, we descended from a spot in the park affectionately nicknamed "Suicide Point" by my siblings and I (!) and carefully traversed a narrow wedge of land to a cliff that juts out to the sea. Once the sun set, I started feeling anxious about getting back...and again, opted not to tell Matt, as he was still taking pictures of the last crimson and orange streaks on the horizon.
By the time we came back to Suicide Point and clambered through the brush to the official path, it was dusk. As we approached the Octopus Tree, my skin began to crawl: not because of its appearance, but because I thought I heard groans coming from the woods around it.
But I am the scarediest of scaredy cats, so did I say anything? No sirree, I did not. Because as long as I didn't say anything or draw attention to the groans, I could keep on believing it was all in my head.
Two or three moans and groans later, Matt's ears picked up the sound. He looked at me and grinned. "Sasquatch?" he asked, jokingly. I gritted my teeth in a nervous smile in response and pushed out something like a laugh.
"What's the matter?" he asked.
"I'll tell you later," I replied.
Even at this point, with Matt hearing groans near a tree that probably didn't but maybe did house the corpses of the dearly departed of our Aboriginal brothers and sisters, I was trying to talk myself down. Maybe there were people in the woods being goofy and playing tricks on us? Maybe there was a family nearby and the kids were hiding and groaning, trying scare us? This was nicer to believe, so I just walked a little faster, holding Matt's hand and trying not to squeeze it as hard as my fear compelled me. Someone else was here. Someone was being silly. It was all in my head.
The path away from the Octopus tree descends gradually into a large parking lot for tourists wanting to see the lighthouse and the tree and the beautiful views.
But there were no cars there. Not a soul. And at this point Matt, naive as he was to the legends and mysteries of the place, started getting nervous too. He had heard the moans and groans. If no one else was here, who was making them?
The gates to the park close at sunset, or so a sign affixed to them says. We drove out as quickly as we could to avoid being locked in. As we passed safely through the still-open gate, I began to tell Matt what I had heard about this place. He tried to make light of it, and I tried to relax as we got back out onto the main road.
But, as we turned onto it, a deer emerged from the woods and came onto the road.
And stared at us.
And didn't move.
And I can't tell you how long we stared at it or it stared at us, but the standoff ended when the deer ran at our car!
And then Matt and I collectively freaked out, he in his calm, cool way and me in my frantic, noisy screeching way. Somehow we got around the deer, somehow we made it back onto the highway, and somehow we drove as quickly as the dark would allow back towards town and home.
If you can believe it, we have never gone there at night again. Because maybe the tree is just a tree and maybe the cliffs are just cliffs and maybe the deer are just deer but...
Well, who really knows?