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Volume 26, Number 7 — July 2019

"The Haunted Tree'

This tree near our campsite was exceptionally tall and thick, and it stood like a titan among its neighboring oaks and cedars. And though it appeared healthy, with full, green, leaved branches, something about the tree felt ... unkind ... dark ... menacing, even. (Illsutration: Steven Shortridge|Bristol Herald Courier)
This tree near our campsite was exceptionally tall and thick, and it stood like a titan among its neighboring oaks and cedars. And though it appeared healthy, with full, green, leaved branches, something about the tree felt ... unkind ... dark ... menacing, even. (Illsutration: Steven Shortridge|Bristol Herald Courier)

Something was holding me fast by the tree. They yelled at me and I still couldn't move.


***Fourth in a seven-part series of (mildly) scary stories. Published Sept. 12 in the Bristol Herald Courier. Write your own scary stories and win by entering a writing contest. Click HERE for details.***

Written by Ginny Grant, a teacher's aide for the Washington County, Va., School System, these stories are meant to be shared around a campfire, at a sleepover or during a family gathering.

The summer I turned 10 years old, I got a dog for my birthday. He was a shepherd-collie mix. I named him Scooty (for reasons I won't reveal here).

That was also the first summer I went camping. I can remember riding to the campground in my father's Jeep. My older brother, Jay, "rode shotgun" beside my dad, and Scooty rode beside me on the back seat.

We stayed at a campground about a half-hour drive from our little hometown in Southwest Virginia.

Dad's father had taken him camping at the same place many times when he was a boy.

I remember well that first night by the campfire.

Dad told us that campfires were for stories, and, as I recall, he had plenty to tell.

There were stories of bears, snakes and, of course, the fishes that got away.

But of all the tales that my dad told that night, the one about the tree, for sure, was the story that stood out above all the others.

My dad's father had told him about the tree on his all-important first night of camping too.

The tree, a part of the campground, stood just about a quarter of a mile from our campsite.

It was exceptionally tall and thick, and it stood like a titan among its neighboring oaks and cedars. And though it appeared healthy, with full, green, leaved branches, something about the tree felt ... unkind ... dark ... menacing, even.

Folks in the area said that it was the spirit of the tree which made it so. In fact, folks in the area called this one particular tree "The Haunted Tree," and perhaps for good reason.

Just as the campground had its stories of bears, snakes and fish, so did "The Haunted Tree" have stories all to itself.
I can still feel the shiver that ran up my spine as I listened to my father tell us boys about the tree.

Back then, boys weren't supposed to be afraid ... of anything. Yet I remember, like it was yesterday, hugging Scooty to my chest with my hands pushed deep into his fur.

I hoped that my father and brother wouldn't see that I was afraid and hiding my fear behind my dog. But afraid or not, I listened to my dad tell what his father had told him many years before.

According to area folks, not only everyone, but everything, had been hanged in that tree from the beginning of time ... everyone and everything, that is, including bank robbers, horse thieves, bread snatchers and 'possums, goats and foxes.

Over the years, the tree had become what it had been appointed to be a bearer of death.

And so it was that the tree had come to take on a spirit of darkness from too many hangings, from too much death.
Yet, if hangings had become the lot of the tree, then there was one hanging in particular that was the heart of it all.
It was the hanging of a witch, or a so-called witch.

Some people said that she was a witch, others said that she wasn't ... but guilty or not, the woman was hanged.
And folks say that on the day she was hanged, the sky was clear and as blue as a robin's egg. But within seconds of the rope being pulled around her neck, the sky changed to black, the rain poured and the thunder bellowed.

There is a rumor, too, that has been passed on through the years, of the woman's body just disappearing. Of course, I don't know if it's true or if it's someone's playing with the story, but it is what people say happened.

People say, too, that on Halloween night a black cat sits on the hanging branch of the tree all through the night. They say that's the only night anyone will ever see the cat never before and never after. They say that the cat just sits on that one branch that one night glaring with glowing eyes at anyone who dares to venture near the tree.

Anyway, that's the story of the witch's hanging. I don't know how much of the story is true, but I do know this.
On the first night of my first camping trip, after we had zipped ourselves inside our tent and inside our sleeping bags ... it thundered all night long.

There was no rain, there was no lightning ... there was only thunder, and one scared 10-year-old boy burying his head into his shepherd-collie's ruff.

I know something else too, and that's what happened to my brother and me on the second night of that camping trip.
My father, my brother and I had gone fishing that morning. When we had gotten back to our campsite and had eaten our lunch of hot dogs and beans, Jay and I asked Dad if we could go hiking on one of the campground's many trails.
Dad okayed the hike but told us to keep our walk to a couple hours. He wanted us back in time to clean the fish we were to have for our supper that evening.

We told our father we would be back in time to clean the fish, and then Jay, Scooty and I set off on our hike.
When we had walked for about an hour, Jay told me we needed to head back to our camp.

I bucked, though, and told my brother that a mile more up the trail wouldn't hurt anything.

The thought of finding something like a deer skeleton pulled at us both, and Jay gave in to my choice of a mile more up the trail.

A mile more, however, turned into a couple miles more, and before we knew it, evening was setting in.

When we stopped to see that the afternoon light was fading, we turned back on the trail with a quickened pace to beat the dark back to our dad, who would have been getting a little worried by then.

Our quickened pace turned into a careful jog, and it looked as if we were going to get back to our campsite with no problems until we hit the place of the tree ... well, not the tree, but "The Haunted Tree."

Jay was in front of me, Scooty was behind and evening had darkened a shade or two when something caught the back of my shirt. I couldn't move, and I called Jay for help, telling him that something had hold of my shirt.

My brother turned to me. He looked at my back, yet he saw nothing, and no one, causing any kind of problem. I thrust a foot forward, but I couldn't budge ... something was holding me fast by the tree.

Jay urged me to stop playing, and he grabbed one of my arms to pull me along.

Still I didn't I couldn't move.

Jay shouted at me again and again to move.

I shouted at him again and again that I couldn't move.

All the time that my brother and I shouted at each other, Scooty jumped at my back, touching his forepaws against me as he leaped and barked.

I knew, without thinking, that whatever had hold of me wasn't going to give.

There was nothing that the three of us could do but shout and bark and pull and push and jump and ...

And then my dog shot up towards the tree with a yelp and a snap ... and then something broke. Something let go. I was free.

To this day, I still don't know what had hold of me. I felt something, and my dog must have sensed something, but my brother never saw anything. We have ideas from the stories of "The Haunted Tree," but they are only ideas.

Jay, Scooty and I made it safely back to our camp. Dad was a bit upset with us, but he soon let go of the upset when he saw that we were okay. Of course, we apologized, and we explained, too, that we just had lost track of time.

We didn't tell our dad about the mysterious incident by "The Haunted Tree," and to this day we still haven't.

We didn't tell him either about the scratch marks we later found on my back (though, oddly, there were no tears in my shirt).

Jay and I agreed that the scratch marks had been made accidentally by Scooty, though we both knew that the marks had not been made by a dog's paw.

At that time, and on that night, it was the best way we knew of getting what little sleep we did get by blaming it on the dog.

Of course, neither Jay nor I could get the tree off our minds that night, or the next night, or the night after that.
In fact, I still think of "The Haunted Tree" often now.

My father, my brother and I have gone camping at the campground many times since that first trip ... but Jay and I don't go near that tree at night.

And we never go hiking, regardless of when and where, without Scooty.

Thinking back to that night at the tree, I know there's no better gift I could have gotten for my 10th birthday than that shepherd-collie mix. I'll always be thankful.


NEXT: Ever been in a pumpkin patch on Halloween night? It's a sight to behold. Coming Sept.19.