My first twelve years of school had finally come to an end. Senior year, with its numerous college, federal financial aid, and scholarship forms was over, and there was a universal sigh of relief among my class as graduation neared. The time had finally come where I didn't need to give a shit about school anymore, and in response to this, my friend William and I began to make plans for a weekend long canoe trip up on the Allagash river in northern Maine. We were avid canoers and fly-fishermen, spending last summer fishing up in the mountainous Rangeley Lakes Region. William and I had been planning this trip for quite some time, and with the phenomenal weather forecast this weekend, we had a perfect window of opportunity.
Directly after school that Friday, I drove over to Will's house, having already packed up my things, and picked him up. He had overpacked, as usual, bringing two large backpacks. One of these was dedicated to food and socks, socks being especially important to William. He had once forgotten extra socks on a Boy Scout camping trip, and ended up wearing the same pair for three days. "You can never bring too many socks," he always told me, being one of the many mantras he had adopted throughout the years. Will was funny in that sense, and I admired him for it.
We left Bangor around three o'clock in the afternoon, and made our way up the long stretch of Interstate 95. In Maine, there's a point on this highway where all civilization seems to disappear in a flash. Between the cities of Bangor and Houlton (where we were headed), there's basically nothing but land owned by paper companies. Locals call this area of the state the "North Woods,"and that's exactly what it is. Miles of practically untouched wilderness, an idea that had always intrigued William and I. In these long stretches of forest, you could find numerous natural gems, hidden from the eyes of the world. I always thought that some of these places might be better off undiscovered, kept secret in the forest forever.
After exiting I-95, we navigated through Houlton and eastwards into the bumpy backroads of Aroostook County. It was around six o'clock at night now, and the sun was beginning to set in the pink sky. Will had since fallen asleep, his head jostling around as we drove through the poorly maintained dirt roads. Our campsite wasn't too far away, and we would spend the night here before making our way to the Allagash tomorrow morning.
We reached the campsite at seven o'clock exactly. It wasn't one of those big public campsites that you see full of tents and campers, but a simple, one acre lot containing a fire pit with brown, wooden benches, and an old lean-to in need of major repairs. Overall, the site was very remote, and the only things you could hear were the peeping frogs, and the sound of wind hitting the branches of trees. Will and I hopped out of the truck, set our things inside the lean-to, and hung our bear bag in a nearby tree. Clouds were coming into the sky, and the sun was now barely glowing through them.
"Dude, check this out," Will said, having strayed off to the perimeter of the campsite. He had been exploring with his flashlight as I got our fire started.
"What is it?" I asked.
"I think it's a trail or something," he replied, pointing to what appeared to be a narrow, seemingly forgotten stretch of trail that extended into the forest. An old sign with the paint chipping off of it was sitting in front of the trailhead. I crouched down to see if I could read the sign, and Will pointed the flashlight towards it. The lettering seemed to be in the same font as the words seen on Appalachian Trail signs. I could barely make out the words "Hayno Bog" as I slowly deciphered the carved letters.
Curious, Will and I made our way down the thin trail, pushing through the brush. The ground soon became saturated with water, and I could barely make out the extensive meadow of sedges through the trees and darkness. The evening wind seemed to be swaying them back and forth, a motion that I found almost hypnotic. "Look at that," I said to Will, noticing the sheer size of the bog. It seemed to extend far into the distance on all sides, creating a sort of aquatic prairie.
The trail ended at what appeared to be an old, rotting dock. It jutted out into a small pond, which paved through the center of the bog, getting narrower as it went deeper into the wetland. Will shined his flashlight around the area, trying to get some kind of perspective over the landscape.
"I don't think I've seen anything like this before," he told me,"It's huge."
"I know, "I replied, staring out into the distance. I felt oddly drawn to this area. Something about it had struck me. The way the sedges moved with the wind, and how the black, calm waters sat stagnant in the dark created an interesting feeling inside of me. I didn't know if it was curiosity, fear, or even a sense of inner peace, but it felt as if the landscape was drawing me into itself. I squinted my eyes, trying to take in every detail of my surroundings. As I turned my head, I noticed something odd in the distant sedges. Something was rustling around, and for a split second, I saw what appeared to be a black figure rise up from the grass. Immediately, I blinked, and the hazy figure disappeared. I attributed this only to the darkness playing tricks on me, not thinking much of it.
"Hey, Eric, are you alright?" Will asked, noticing that I was staring off into space.
"Yes, yes I'm fine," I replied, waking up from my daze, brushing off the illusion I had just seen.
"You wanna take the canoe out on this? The water's pretty calm, and I'd like to explore a little bit."
I hesitated at first, the image of the dark figure briefly resurfacing in my mind, but I again dismissed it. "Sure," I replied, a sense of excitement overtaking what had originally been more comparable to dread.
It was around eight o'clock at night when Will and I set off into the stagnant, black waters of the bog. We had attached the flashlight to the bow of the canoe with a lashing, and it illuminated a good chunk of the landscape as we began rowing. I was sitting on the stern end of the craft, steering, while William sat on the bow end, leading the way through the darkening landscape. For a wetland, it was oddly silent as we moved deeper into the open, narrowing pond. The peeping frogs we had heard before now remained quiet, and the slight wind silently brushed over the sedges. The only audible sounds were our paddles breaching the surface of the water. An odd, uneasy feeling began to surge through my body, sending a shiver through my spine, but at the same time, I couldn't help but admire my eerie surroundings. William seemed unaffected, occasionally running his hand through the water.
Not much longer after we set off, we approached what at first appeared to be a wall of sedges. After getting closer with the flashlight, we soon realized that the pond separated into two, narrow paths, one to the left, and one to the right. "Which one do you want to take?" I asked Will.
"Are you sure we should go on?" he replied, having taken on a more cautious approach to our excursion. "I mean, it's getting pretty dark, and we left everything alone in the campsite. I want to make sure the bear bag hasn't been raided by anything."
I took note of William's concerns, but conflicting feelings in my mind began to surface once more. An unexplainable urge to keep going took hold, and I responded to my friend in a calm and collected fashion. "The campsite's fine, Will. I made sure the bear bag was hung the right way, and everything else is still locked in the car. And I just put new batteries in the flashlight, so there's no need to worry about anything."
He nodded considering what I had to say. "Alright, let's take the left," he responded after a bit of hesitation. His originally explorative nature seemed to be faltering somewhat, but not to the point where I was concerned. As he began to paddle again, I looked back in the direction we came. A dense fog was swallowing the landscape, obscuring my vision. I said nothing to my friend, even sensing myself smile at the mist, not understanding why.
We continued paddling into the left passage, bumping into the wall of sedges as we entered. Our canoe had difficulty navigating through the constant twists and turns, the starboard and port ends constantly bumping into the grass and mud. William would constantly stop paddling and look around, my silence unnerving him even more. I hadn't spoken ever since we stopped to decide which way to go. The fog was beginning to overtake us, and Will had taken notice.
"Eric," he said, turning around towards me, "Eric, we need to turn around, okay? I can't see anything, and it's going to be difficult getting back. Come on, let's go back. You take the bow end and I'll take the stern."
I looked at him silently, the urge to move on now flaring in my body. It was as if the surreal bog landscape was getting to my head, to a point where my actions were becoming uncontrollable. Frustration took hold of my mind. "Will, we're fine, alright?" I said, trying to keep my agitation to a minimum. "Let's just keep going, okay?"
An angered look took over his face. "Are you fucking kidding me right now?! Eric, we can't see five feet in front of us, and we've been moving through this goddamn channel for over forty minutes now! We're going back, now!"
I stared at him, a crooked smile forming over my face. He didn't understand. "We're fine, Will," I said, almost casually.
"What the hell is wrong with you?!" he yelled, the echo resounding over the bog. "You've haven't said a word for the entire time we've been out here! And why are you smiling?!" He looked somewhat concerned about me, but my concern for him had been decreasing as we progressed through the bog. My only goal now was to press deeper into the foggy wetland. "Eric, let's go back, okay? We need to get some rest for tomorrow."
"No," I replied almost immediately, my calm detached tone still present. I continued to stare at him in his frustration. I felt myself superior to Will in some unexplainable way.
"For Christ's sake, Eric, we need to-"
"No!" I screamed in a voice very alien from my own. My casual tone had now turned into a deep, almost demonic roar. Will looked absolutely horrified. His body had completely frozen, his eyes and mouth wide open.
"Eric, what... what's going on?" he asked, his voice trembling. "What... what was that?"
Anger took over me like an ancient instinct, and I forcefully made my way to the front of the canoe, almost tipping it in the process. William grabbed on to the side of the canoe, leaning backwards as I got right into his face. "We will keeping going," I said to him in an agitated, raspy whisper, "and you will not get in my way. Got it?"
"What's happening to you?" William asked, almost in tears as fear took over. "We're canoeing the Allagash tomorrow, Eric. That's why we're here, remember?"
I instantly slapped William right across the face, his childish stalling getting in the way of my goals. I could feel the wind blowing faster through the ominous fog, the sedges silently bending back and forth. My rage was growing, and it was dismissing my past friendship with William. He didn't understand, yet, at the same time, I didn't understand either. The surreal movements of the bog made it seem as though it were one living, breathing organism. It was enticing me further into its own mind, through its own meandering, confusing channels of thought.
Angered, William lunged at me, violently rocking the canoe back and forth. He tried tackling me, but as a result, the craft tipped over upside down, forcing Will and I into the murky, dark waters. It was much deeper than I had originally thought, the turbid water going over my head. Everything seemed to happen in slow motion, the swamping of the canoe, my own body being submerged under water. I remained under there for what seemed like minutes, far longer than I could hold my breath. I opened my eyes, looking into the bog's pitch black inner body. The surface and the bottom were invisible, and it felt like I was being suspended in a state of nothingness.
Suddenly, the underwater ambience began to reassemble itself. Gradually, the sounds of moving water became almost silent whispers. They gradually grew louder and louder, and I began to understand their messages. "Let me in," they cried in chaotic intervals. "Embrace me. Let me in. Let me in." Distraught, uncanny wails soon arose from the depths. At first, they seemed inhuman, but as they got louder, they appeared to resemble the desperate cries of an infant and an adult female meshed together. These sounds pierced my mind, and I could feel my thoughts begin to tear apart, my mind beginning to split into a thousand pieces. I was oddly intrigued by this experience, rather than fearful. The subterranean landscape was showing me sights I had never seen before, its disturbed, surreal mind inserting itself into my own. Images began to flood my head, millions passing through by the minute Cold, dead hands sticking out of the meadow of sedges, a child's deceased body decaying at the bottom of the bog, a deer struggling to make its way out of a muddy demise, those were some of the images I witnessed. The landscape was revealing its twisted worship of death and decay to me, a new knowledge that I accepted without question. "We will become one," it whispered to me. "One in death."
A burning pain surged through my lungs, and I quickly made for the surface, emerging right next to the overturned canoe. The fog was now dense, and I could only see about five feet in front of me. To make matters worse, our flashlight had been swallowed by the bog, my only light being what little moonlight shone through the mist. I was still driven to keep moving through the bog, however. I needed to reach my unconscious destination.
Abruptly, I heard thrashing in the water, which was followed by the sounds of heavy breathing and bloodcurdling screams. They belonged to William, and I simply watched as he struggled to grab onto the surrounding sedges, completely disregarding the canoe.
"Stop it! Stop it, please!" he yelled. "What do you want from me?! What do you want from me!?" Will fearfully scurried onto the meadow of sedges, his body soaked and shaking, his head darting in all directions. He ran away into the fog, struggling to make it through the layers of mud. "What's going on!?" I heard him scream from a distance. And then he was gone, leaving me with the bog's silence. My sympathy for William had been declining ever since we set off into the bog, its influence growing stronger and stronger in my mind. I was driven to let the landscape lead me further within itself, and my friend was clearly resisting the drive's affect on his own thoughts.
I swam over to the canoe and tipped it back up. A single oar was floating under the craft, and I threw it in before struggling to get myself in. It took me awhile, but I eventually got into the back, and paddled myself onward through the foggy, narrow channel. Without any light, I had to use the sedges as a guide through the constant twists and turns. The bog was now much more than a natural landscape.
Eventually, the channel opened up. The sedges started to disappear behind the ominous fog, and I was soon surrounded by open water on all sides. This gave off the illusion of an ocean, and my new surroundings were incomprehensible to me. The sensations going through my body were completely alien, and I started to panic somewhat. I didn't know which way was left, right, forward, or backwards. It felt like the bog was stealing my spatial awareness, giving it the creative freedom to alter itself. The only thing I could do now was paddle on, and let the bog carry me through its mind. There was no going back.
In the distance, I made out what looked to be a small, worn down wooden dock jutting off a plain of sedges. The large pond seemed to end here. I attributed this to the bog's illusions at first, but on closer inspection, the landing was in fact real. I paddled up to it, noticing the decaying, brown wood. A worn out, metal spoke stuck out of the top, and a tattered strand of rope was tied to it. I tied the canoe to the dock, and stepped onto the decrepit structure. It was surprisingly sturdy, although it made a horrific creaking noise that echoed throughout the the wetland. I looked back towards the opaque, unending water, noticing how it remained calm, mirroring nothing but blackness. Suddenly, feelings of insecurity surged through my mind. I felt like I was being watched through the silence.
Fearful, I made for the sedges, sinking in the almost knee deep mud. The terrain was difficult to navigate through, and a crescendo of paranoia grew inside me. My original mesmerization with the landscape was now turning to dread as I became stuck in the muddy meadow. "Help," I yelled, "Help!" A harsh wind began to howl, and I could feel the sedges rub against my body. I darted my head around, trying to find some way out, but there was only fog. Something, however, caught my eye. To my left, the grass had been indented, making a gap in the meadow. There was something in the gap, and I stared at it for a moment. Strangely, my fear began to recede, and I made my way over to the indent, wrestling through the mud. The thing I had seen from a distance was now coming into view. What I saw initially shocked me, however, these feelings soon turned to a grotesque acceptance, even celebration. It was William, lying face up, the sedges gently caressing his dead, mutilated body. Massive cuts had been etched onto his arms and chest, and his throat had been slit on both sides, creating a triangular shape. Blood was streaming out of his wide open mouth, a look of absolute terror on his face. He would become one with the bog soon enough, in his death and decay. William would finally understand the logic that he denied in his fear, and his body would become part of the landscape's mesmerizing illusions.
I turned around and looked out across the vast pond I had paddled through. The fog had lifted moderately, and I could see where I'd entered through the channel. The shape of the bog's mind was revealing itself to me, and my drive was more powerful than ever. My body began to shake and tremble, and the sound of ominous whispers started to seize my being once more. "Come to me. Let me in. Come to me…"
Slowly, my head turned towards the left side of the pond. The whispers began to grow in volume, becoming more demanding by the minute. "Let me in. Let me in! Let me in!" The wind began blowing faster and faster, blustering the sedges completely sideways, the black water now forming violent waves. Frantic feminine cries echoed through what was left of the fog. The bog's mind was becoming more visible to me by the minute, its disturbed psyche again penetrating itself into my own. Complete chaos began to ensue, the winds becoming heavy gusts, and the cries and voices becoming deafening. Yet I still stood next to William's body, immersing myself in these elements.
In the midst of all of this, my eyes started to focus on something in the distant sedges. I could barely make out a familiar black, shadow-like figure slowly rise from the grass. It stood there in the chaos, staring straight at me. In the darkness, I saw its arm rise, and its hand begin to beckon. All sensation, feeling, and thought in my body came to a turbulent halt as I watched the shadow call to me. The time had finally come. Everything was coming into place.
I slowly stepped through the distraught, desperate screams of the bog's unconscious, moving towards the rippling water. My union with the bog's mind was imminent. I kept my eyes focused on the shadow, its being appearing and disappearing from my eyesight. I could feel the water embrace my ankles as I made my way into the muddy, sinister depths. I kept going deeper and deeper, letting the bog welcome my disassembled consciousness into the sentience of the landscape. I soon was up to my neck, and finally, my head went beneath the surface. The water began to drag me further under, its aquatic hands bringing my body down to the muddy, decaying bottom. My lungs were now on fire, and I knew that death was imminent. I felt my back hit the bottom, sinking into the layers of mud. My arms brushed against something, something eerily familiar. I observed my underwater surroundings, seconds from death....
The last thing I felt were the cold bodies against my own...