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The Barnstead Witch Project
by Parson L.
From: SHARON TREMBLAY
To: Parson L.
Sent: Thursday, August 19, 1999 9:13 PM
Subject: Blair Witch Project
Parson, Parson, Parson, you lost your chance. If only you had ventured forth in your own, somewhat boggy environment on a misty night you could have made this no-budget movie and been retired now. All you would have apparantly needed is a couple of Amber's and Jessica's friends using the F word repeatedly with pathos, a flashlight, and a 16 mm. camera, and oh, yes, some shaky hands. Now you could do that, couldn't you? There was no script here, there was no great thought here, and yet in a few scenes my heart was pounding and the hair on my neck standing up. I applaud these kids; they are sitting on a gold mine, and it was a totally unique film experience. Now everyone will copy their style, but they were first and do deserve credit. Paul and I both liked it, say no more. It suckered in two generations right there. We loved it that everyone exited the theater arguing over did it really happen or not. We do our movie homework bigtime, and we know that answer, but I can see how people will be confused.
Gotta go, Love, S.
From: Parson L.
Ahhhh, yes... I remember it like it was yesterday. I was young and brash and determined to create a film about these city kids who get lost in the deep woods and are pestered by things that go bump in the night. But...being poor and simple and too lazy to get real financial backing from my rich relatives (who were more intent on spending it racing cars in Europe anyway) I elected instead to "simply" lead a half dozen summer kids from Locke Lake Colony into the deep woods on a moonless, summer night and chronicle the enfolding events on a small, state of the art (for the time) tape recorder, thinking that if it were interesting enough, it might make a fun or scary party tape to entertain us all and maybe embarrass them with later. Ok, you might think I'm a bastard, but I was thinking that it was the only way to achieve "real" emotion. Sure, I was risking some bad Karma, but it's the price you have to be willing to pay if you truly want to be an "ARTISTE!".
So anyway, the stage was set by Gramp, who loved to entertain the local 13, 14, and 15 year olds with stories of hauntings. They'd listen to his stories and his warnings of certain "bad"... "dangerous" things in a certain grave yard near the Dow place on Peachem road. "Whatever you do," he'd say, "don't go there at night". Of course, they beat a path for said cemetery at the first opportunity, and, of course, my friend Joe and I, who had heard of their plans, were waiting in the woods at the very edge of the "haunted" grave yard, ready to scare their adolescent socks off., which we did with great timing and subtlety, and very little effort. They screamed out of there, every one of the dozen or so youths convinced that they had had an up close encounter with a nasty Wood Spirit...that they had been in the presence of pure evil.
It was a great moment for Joe and myself, but an empty victory nontheless, because we hadn't thought to record it in any way. We knew we'd have to set something up again and this time make some kind of lasting record of the event. Thus, was born the "Barnstead Witch Project".
Time passed and the legend of the "wood spirit" grew all about the neighborhood of Locke Lake...and grew darker and more malevolent with each retelling. Three days later it was time for the first step in our devious plot. Through a third party we spread the rumor that an "even" more deadly place existed further out in the woods, hidden on the shoulders of a high hill, known only to long dead Indians, early settlers, trappers, lost hunters, and Rich Locke, who had been shown the way by his grandfather while helping him tend his trapping lines.
I was asked many times by many people about this place over the next few days. My answer was always the same...a nonanswer. I'd get right in their faces, act agitated, and demand to know where they had heard that story!...but never denied it. Finally, I was approached by several of these teens as a group and really pressed about what I knew about this place. I gave them a disgusted look and said something like, "OK..I'll tell you about the crypt...It's no place for children," and walked out of the lodge.
They were hooked. Now it was just a matter of reeling them in. "THE CRYPT"... It didn't take long for that little moniker to rattle through the neighborhood, and a few days after that I allowed myself to be begged, cajoled, and hounded into agreeing to lead a "select" group to the infamous location. Only the strongest, bravest, most spiritually pure...only those who could face their worst fears without faltering or trembling, would be allowed to go. That thinned out the ranks to a half dozen, an equal number of boys and girls, and every one of them convinced that they would be encountering an adventure that would mark them forever.
Finally..the eve of the long dreaded, long awaited day approached. It was Friday. Our little band of ghost chasers had been told to assemble with overnight gear in front of the Locke Lake Lodge on Saturday afternoon, 4:30 P.M., ready to embark on the adventure. As it turned out, a crowd of almost three dozen youths would gather there to send them off.
On Friday morning, Joe and I had laid out a long labyrinthine trail through the woods, starting at the stream that flows under the Hollywood Beach Road, following it up along the steeply rising slope, towards the summit of Prospect Mountain. Our eventual destination was to be the old crypt that was dug into the brow of a flattened hillside located a few hundred feet from Prospect Mountain Road. At one time, someone had had the bright idea of leveling off the top of the small knoll and building a small family grave yard on top of it with the crypt dug in at the base of the flattened knob. It must have had a splendid view before it was overrun by the forest, which now surrounded and enclosed it with fully grown maples, oaks and various other hardwoods, while thick, leafy undergrowth ten feet tall or so flourished among the twenty or so marble and granite tombstones in the cemetery itself.
The plan was pretty straight forward. I'd lead the band on a round-a-about course up the long steep slope to ensure that all were lost, exhausted and disoriented by the time we reached the grave yard, from the backway, just before sunset. They'd think they were miles from civilization or even the nearest path or road for that matter. It was very unlikely that any cars would be going up the rough, rarely used road, so it was quite doubtful our little ruse would be discovered. We'd pitch our tents in the middle of the cemetery and hold a candle light sťance to call up the spirits just before turning in. We had created the story earlier in the week that Joe had to be in Boston on school business over the weekend and, therefore, could not join our expedition. Actually, he would be waiting in the crypt. We'd driven up the day before and dropped off a roughly banged together coffin...it would pass for the real thing in the fear addled, tricky half light provided by a flashlight, especially in the moonless, forest shrouded darkness. Into the makeshift coffin, we placed a full sized, plastic skeleton, the kind you sometimes see dangling from porches around Halloween. We topped it off with a long blond wig, which we spray painted silver, and his grandfather's heirloom top hat. We turned the skeleton's head at a 90 degree angle and attached a thin fish line string to it's chest.
At just the right moment, if the plan went right, I would be seized by a nasty spirit during the sťance, flop and convulse uncontrollably out of the grave yard, and end up in front of the freshly oiled steel doors enclosing the crypt. When the others were gathered around me, I would throw open the doors while talking in tongues and Joe, hidden from sight, would pull on the nearly invisible string, making it appear that the skeleton was sitting up and looking at us. Joe would then let out a low, hissing growl that would end in a high piercing scream. I., who had been recording the various conversations throughout the trip on my very portable and well hidden tape recorder, expected to finish the tape with the blood curdling screams of the terrified, ghost chasing pilgrims...
That was what was supposed to happen..anyways...until the spookers became the spooked and we care free jokers became the victims of a nasty force that we could not have possibly imagined in even our worst night mares...
Saturday afternoon, 4:57 PM... The shadows were already beginning to noticeably lengthen as we stepped off the Hollywood Beach road and began to carefully pick our way up the stream, fighting our way back and forth uphill, along the shoulder of the small mountain., over the rough ground, through the thick forest and dense underbrush...Very hard, sweaty, miserable going...one or two complaints from the group, which stopped immediately when I said, "Great, this is the last thing in the world I want to be doing too... Let's go back." Then sullen silence as we meandered back and forth, slowly wending our way closer and closer to the hidden mausoleum and the flat patch of forest shrouded, tomb stone covered ground where, if my calculations were correct, Joe would soon be taking up his position, ready to bring this little paraphsychic soap opera to it's heart stopping, spine chilling conclusion.
The time was almost upon us. We reached the dreaded destination just as the last light was filtering into the forest... impossible to tell green foliage from the dark death stones rising out of the leafy forest floor. We set up tents in the gathering darkness with the help of flash lights and a lantern... four small pup tents arranged in a tight circle, each door facing inward towards the others, only a few feet apart as to create an eight foot diameter circle in the center of our little encampment. This is where the sťance...spirit calling... adultascent scary ritual would be performed... in a sacred circle, face to face with backs to the forest, surrounded by silent stones. The sound of a nagging squirrel, high in the trees...something small and light footed scuttling across the leaves in the darkness...far, far off in the distance...the muffled, echoing rumble of thunder, as heat lightning dances across the lakes region.
"Turn out the lights now," I barked in a loud voice, loud enough to disturb the quiet rustling noises pressing in around us, loud enough for Joe to hear and prepare to perform on cue, loud enough to shrug off my own sense of mounting discomfort.
I lit a large white candle, planted it in the middle of our little circle and began a slow monotoned chant..."Rotting flesh and broken bones..restless spirits beneath these stones rise up now and heed this call, upon us let your presence fall"..(I was kinda proud of that little ditty. It'd come to me as I led the group up the flanks of the mountain) Over and over we repeated the chant...slowly increasing the speed...slowly increasing the loudness...
The moment was almost at hand. I could see the rolling white, shifty eyed terror in their young eyes, hear the laboring catch of shallow frightened breathing. They were ripe for the final scene, and ready for a final nasty emotional plucking. The tape was turning...this would be so good. I prepared to fall into my demonic stupor but was suddenly caught up short by the loud sound of banging from the edge of the over grown lot...from the direction of the crypt...a clanging, banging, stone smashed against metal sound...a desperate rock being pounded against metal door sound...then screaming..human screaming..real .in deep agony, terror shrieking, filling and emptying your lungs, this is the real thing type pain and confusion. Make it stop...please. Terror, that's always real and can't be faked. The jig was up and I knew this wasn't part of the show. It wasn't a game anymore. People were in danger of getting hurt, or maybe it was too late...Maybe Joe was already hurt... very hurt.
"It's Joe," I shouted to the others, "Don't panic...Stay here... I'm going to get him," and hurtled into the darkness towards the approaching sounds of agony. Then as violently as it had started...sudden and complete silence. Moments later, soft whimpering, quiet crying arose in the darkness from Joe... I found him outside the crypt, lying spread eagled on his back in front of the open rusted iron doors, looking up into the sky with unseeing eyes, babbling to himself incoherently.
Okay...so Joe's spread out on his back, I'm cut and scraped and bruised from doing the 50 yard dash through an unfamiliar patch of pucker brush at night, with nothing but a flashlight to help me see what's where. I'm being trailed by a half dozen screaming, terrorized little teeny boppers who want to know what's going on, want to go home, want their momma's... And then we're all just standing around Joe, shining our lights down on him. He starts to move...slowly opens one eye and then the other...sits up and then recoils back from us, really fast, like a guy who goes into his own darkened bathroom, slips into a warm bath tub, turns on the light and discovers a giant snapping turtle hovering between his knees watching him with a beady eyed stare. He scuttled back hard against the rusty old iron door, facing us all the while, his face pale...almost white...his eyes wild, looking back at us with an unknowing, animal stare.
And then almost as quickly, he was alright. He slumped down, relaxed and said, "It's over, let's get outta here." No one was arguing. We just high tailed it out of there. This time, it was just a few hundred yards, along a path out to the mountain road, everyone squeezing into or on to the back of the pick up, and a quick ride to each camper's door step. No injuries, no harm done, and if they were murderously pissed off at Joe and I now, by tomorrow, I knew I'd be able to cajole them into becoming partners in a larger conspiracy to haunt the rest of the kids. Joe and I'd return and pick up the debris, equipment and props we'd left behind in our panicked rush out of there. Except Joe wouldn't or couldn't tell me what happened, or what it was that spooked him and caused him to ruin our little prank, and the next day he absolutely refused to go back...no matter what.
I was left to return and pick up the skeleton, wig, top hat (had to get that) the tents and bed rolls, and (thank goodness) my tape recorder, which really wasn't mine, but borrowed from my other pal, Ed. I'd realized it was missing when I was driving myself home the night before. Just one more reason I "had" to go back to that place. I was glad for the clear sky and bright sun shiny day... I'm not sure I'd want to visit that cemetery again, even on an over cast day.
I had been carrying the recorder on a strap, semi hidden, looped around my belt. I'm assuming it was torn loose while I was running through the woods to get to Joe, cause I found it on the ground near where I had first found him sprawled out. The battery was pretty low, and the tape was played through. It must have just run all night long. Eddie and I listened to the tape at his house later in the afternoon. Joe wasn't there. He just didn't want to bother, he said. Joe never really seemed much interested in anything after that night, in fact. He didn't hang out with me much ever again. It's as if he'd suddenly lost the old puckish sense of humor that'd always led us from one form of mischief to another. He was always just a little fuzzy around the edges after that. Maybe he'd just had a sudden epiphany in that crypt and realized just how irresponsible and immature I really am.
I was afraid the tape recorder might have been ruined by the rough use... really worried when we rewound and played the tape. There was a lot of chanting, and heavy breathing, screaming, yelling, the sounds of loud thudding as I began running and banging through the under brush. In the background, starting about the time we started the chant, was this oscillating electric hiss, very faint, like the sound of a recycling old steam radiator, behind a closed door, in the next room... not too noticeable, but there nonetheless. It played right through the scene with Joe, and recorded the sounds of our fading foot steps. Then, just the sounds of the forest night...scratching, leaf crunching, close by and far away...it really was a quality machine...and through the whole recording was the sound of that undulating background hiss, subtly rising and falling like the sound of a wandering, endless, far off stream...until the tape ran out.
We tested the recorder with a fresh tape and found no distortion... Wheew! But Eddie was going to this high tech college in Boston, learning to be some kind of radio engineer. The hiss bothered him. He's one of these guys who just has to know why.. He asked me if he could take the tape to the lab there, where he claimed they had a lot of experts with a lot of strange machines that could separate the sounds, enhance them, filter out the back ground noise...etc. I think I might have said something smart like, "It'll probably say, 'Turn me on dead man...Paul is dead,' when they clean it up and play it backwards."
And that was it. Until about a month later when Ed called me from School, all excited, "Guess what?" he yelled, "They got something on the tape!"
"Really," I said, "What's on it?"
"Ready?" he said, really enjoying the moment. When they filtered it out, turned the volume way up, and slowed it way down, it sounded just like heart beats...lots of them, a couple of dozen, some fast... some slow... like old people and children just standing around... Oh, and there were some other distortions, but they were really weak... too faint for even these guys to play with... Well, just so you can pass it on to the teeny boppers...Let me know how they take it. Bye." Click.
So, Auntie, this is how we got to The Blair Witch Project. I've since found out that one of the other tech students there at the time is the father of one of the producers of that Blair Witch film. You just know he had to have heard, or maybe even worked on our tape... No doubt, he repeated the story as he understood it, and his son picked up something from it... If nothing else, that you don't go into some parts of the woods and do some things at certain times... Like on moonless August nights when the wind is still and the velvet soft rumble of summer thunder can barely be heard caressing the mountains, far..far away, just at the edge of hearing.
I've never gone back to that spot. Spooky places just don't seem to have the same allure for me as they did when I was a child, and yes, those places do make me a bit uneasy... Every time a leaf twists or falls for no good reason, every time a white pine creaks or bark snaps on a dead calm day, there's a millisecond when I have to wonder... have an old tree's roots pierced some ancient Yankee coffin and wrapped themselves around it's owner's dried up, long dead, sleeping heart?
Parson L. earned a B.A. in English in 1974. At the age of 23, he abandoned a Masters program in journalism to serve the grid. He currently lives in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire with his beautiful wife, Carol.
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