This space is much too small to do justice to all the haunted places in Maryland. But ghostly writings for October are what I’d planned, and camping in the Pocomoke State Forest in Snow Hill, with its spooky reputation, seemed like a reasonable sampling.
And inviting along Phil Banks, my Eastern-Shore-born-and-raised manfriend (because after a certain age, “boyfriend” is a stupid word), seemed like a golden plan.
I did some pre-camping research on the forest environs’ scariness, and promptly left it on the printer. Realizing this while setting up camp in the Fox Den loop of the state park, I rack my aging memory cells. What eerie legends had I read about just the other morning?
A now-relocated Nazarene church deep in the forest housing a bible so heavy even crowbars couldn’t remove it from the pulpit. Countless wandering spirits, especially slaves who suffered the “Hangin’ Hole,” I’m ashamed to even write. Wails of a drowned love-child, the mother stabbed to death by her six-fingered sea captain husband. Lynchings and associated lynchees who just can’t lie down and rest in peace. A werewolf. Something about a little girl and red shoes. Egg People (what?).
“I dunno any of those stories,” says Phil. “I always steered clear of all that stuff.”
Well, that’s just great. And beyond ironic.
This man knows absolutely everything and everyone on the Eastern Shore. He knows intimate back stories of all the major families, including the Perdues. We can’t turn a corner without him telling me an insider tidbit about that corner, or someone recognizing him, saying, “Oh, hey, Phil, how’s it goin’?” or “I knew your dad back in grade school.”
But ghost stories, I discover ever-so-slightly too late, are not part of his vast knowledge base.
Well, there’s nothing for it but to make dinner over the campfire and do other campy things. The tall, tall pine trees make it way darker than my light-polluted suburban neighborhood will ever be.
Thunderous insects occasionally kamikaze into us. A katydid lands on the edge of our citronella candle and commits a slow, deliberate-looking suicide into the La Brea wax pit. Daddy longlegs have apparently replaced the mountain lion as king of the forest. They’re everywhere.
The next morning, we and the Daddies laze around the campsite for awhile. I’m a Girl Scout camper—First Class, thank you very much—from waaay back, so we eat well. Phil is no slouch camper, either. Back in the day, everyone (naturally) from the two area high schools attended his massive post-football-game bonfire parties.
Later, we bike on a few trails. I amaze both of us by not crashing even once. We canoe a couple miles up the Pocomoke River. Hulking bald cypress trees crouch on arthritic-looking knees by the water’s edge—creepy even in daylight.
Darkness falls again. Last night, there was one other occupied campsite in the Fox Den loop. Tonight, it's just us. At first, that seems splendid—no crying kids or frat boys dampening our woodsy mojo. I hum happy songs, build a fire, make dinner. Phil goes to shower off the humidity so a fresh layer can stick to him.
Alone in the thickening dusk, I start rethinking my position on forest solitude. How did the settlers not freak out every single night way back when? Thankfully, Phil soon returns. Our foil dinners, buried in the coals, turn out perfectly. The cacophonous bugs rejoin us, plus one gigantic, very insistent bee, until Phil towel-snaps it to the Western Shore. My hero.
“Don’t you want to shower, too?” he asks for the fifth time. I do. I know I stink. But I'm stalling. What about that wall of black between the bathhouse and me? Don’t go, beg my fear-stiffened neck hairs.
I make Phil go with me. And not just to the bathhouse, but in it. Yes, the ladies’ side. I'm in the shower when I realize I’ve forgotten my towel. Phil laughs at my distress but indulges my insistence that, for the whole three minutes he’s gone to fetch it, we stay in cell phone contact—mine on speaker since I am, after all, in the shower. Walking back, I grip his shirt like a 6-year-old.
Next day, it all seems so dumb, being scared like that. Nothing even happened.
But that forest is haunted.
I know that as surely as I know I’d have been fine going to the bathhouse alone if there’d been just one photon of light along the path. But other than what shone from our geeky but undeniably useful headlamps, there wasn’t. Somebody, something—the red-shoed girl, the werewolf, the myriad restive, unknown souls—took it all.
Have any Maryland-based ghost stories to tell? Spook the pants off of me at firstname.lastname@example.org.