Things in the Dark
Growing up outside New Martinsville gave the kids in my neighborhood the chance to play outside in nature. We had the woods, hollows and a nearby creek. By todays standard those places may not be as exciting as laser tag or video games, but for kids growing up in the sixties these places were great.
During the summer months, we sometimes decided it would be a good night to spend along the creek fishing. The truth is the fishing part was just a reason to spend the night in the outdoors. We could build a fire, roast marshmallows and tell each other how good a time we were having, even with the bugs.
After convincing our parents we wanted to fish out, which did not take much, we set about gathering the things we would need to spend the night in the wilds of Wetzel County. Fishing poles, bait, marshmallows in the event we felt malnourished and our old sleeping bags. If the fish were biting we would not need the bags to sleep in. In that case, they would make good pillows to sit on instead of the rocks and sand.
Finally, we would have to search the creek banks for fire wood. Now, this was a major component of a good night on the creek. Just like today everybody knows that a good fire keeps things that hide in the darkness away from the fire. Finding fire wood along the creek was a hit and miss proposition. If the creek had flooded in recent months, the banks could be covered in fire wood. But, if it had been awhile since the water brought fresh wood from upstream, finding wood in the nearby trees and weeds was difficult. And even worse, finding good dry firewood anytime was always a challenge.
After a day of preparing for our night time adventure, we staged our fishing equipment, sleeping bags and firewood. Our favorite place to camp out was on a straight stretch of the creek behind our homes. Next up was to get the fire started. Now, most every kid had their idea how to start the fire. Most of the time none of them included good kindling. We often used old newspapers and dry weeds. The trouble with those things they tended to burn fast and not get the damp wood burning very well. Never the less, we managed to get the fire started most of the time.
Next up was to find sticks to hold our fishing poles and then even longer sticks for roasting marshmallows. A real good stick for marshmallow roasting would have a fork on the end so two could be held above the fire at the same time. The best stick to fill these two needs was from a water maple tree. Branches from these trees were strong and would not burn too quickly above the fire.
After the fire was burning, we settled in for a night of fishing as the sun set behind the distant hills. Not long after, darkness set into our night time fishing camp. The only thing we could see was the area around us illuminated by the fire. With the darkness came the sounds of insects. And from across the creek came the deep melodious sound of a bullfrog calling in the night. “BUROOM, BUROOM”, sounded the unseen creature. The darkness brought with it sounds not heard in the daylight. It also brought sounds that were unfamiliar in both darkness and daylight. Sounds made by things hidden in the darkness.
By ten o’clock cool air rising from the water’s surface trapped a smoke layer above our camp. It sometimes created a reflection of an eerie glow from our flickering fire light.
Suddenly from out of the darkness, winged creatures swoop out of the smoky ceiling down towards our fire. What were these attacking creatures? After a few minutes, we knew bats were coming in to catch the insects attracted by our fire’s light. Sometimes, they came so close you could hear the sounds of their wings flapping in the night air.
By midnight the dry fire wood was burned. That meant weeds and green wood was added to the last of the fire. Shortly thereafter, the fire was billowing heavy dense smoke. The kind that does its darndest to get into your eyes. Seeing our fishing poles was difficult as tears ran from our eyes. It was then, that the creature first appeared above us. It had a wing span of six feet and glowing eyes. Now, I will have to say the first time I saw it, I was convinced it was a true monster come to gather us kids into the night. But after a few moments, the creature returned again and again. Finally, we figured out it was not a giant flying monster, but it was the light from the fire casting a shadow of a big moth on the smoke layer above our heads. We kids figured we were goners, at least for a moment.
By two o’clock the sounds of the night creatures had faded. On occasion the sounds of a great horned owl could be heard echoing off the hill sides. “Hoo…Hoo…” It called in the darkness. And one of the kids would say, “You know what he is asking, who is going to die this night.” We knew that was not true. We had heard him many times before asking the same question and no one had died.
By three o’clock, the fire was fading and the fish had stopped biting. From in the darkness, the sounds of something in the weeds rustled along the bank. Was there a creature of the night coming after us? Or even worse, coming after the left over marshmallows? It was about this time we retreated into our sleeping bags for the night. We knew back then, even as today, if you are in your sleeping bag the rules of the night say you cannot be attacked by shadowy monsters in the smoke or ravenous yellow eyed bullfrogs. Sometime after we got into our sleeping bags, the tiredness of the night transported us into dream land, where we remembered our warm beds back home.
Night passed and daylight began to return. We awoke and felt the pain of sleeping on the rocks all night. The fire had burned down to a point, where just a wisp of blue smoke was drifting up into the sky of a new day. And in the light I soon forgot about the shadow creature that appeared in the smoke from our fire.
Earlier this fall Mary and I visited Point Pleasant. From November 1966 to December of 1967 there were reports of a strange creature in the Point Pleasant area that became known as Mothman. In December of 67 the Silver Bridge collapsed killing 46 people. Since then the two events have been forever locked together. And maybe that shadowy outline was not an insect shadow cast from our fire into the smoky haze. Perhaps, it really was the legendary Mothman of West Virginia folklore that passed over Fishing Creek that summer night long ago. We’ll never know as we look back Through the Lens.