Terror in the North Woods
It was early in the twentieth century when the logging town on the Vermont-Canada border came into being. The people that organized it were rugged men, which they had to be to be loggers in the early days. It wasn’t until ten or fifteen years later that women eventually moved to the town. It was named the town of, Pawtuck. One of the women came up with the name and everyone thought that it was a fitting name. Pawtuck was in the middle of thousands and thousands of acres of beautiful forest land. The men liked it there because there was plenty of time to hunt and fish which they all loved.
By 1925 the town had grown to one hundred and ten people. It consisted of ninety-five men and only fifteen women. The women were all of the outdoorsy type and also loved to hunt and fish. In the eyes of the men, they were a great attraction to the town of Pawtuck. It took another ten years before a little school was built. Also, the town had added a church and a little café where the men used to go to play checkers and chat about how their day had been.
Horse and wagon were the transportation in Pawtuck, in the early days. Finally in the mid-30s men were buying trucks and tractors which made their work easier. They would float the logs downriver to a sawmill about a hundred miles downstream. Work was hard and it was also hard for the women. They all planted a garden which they attended to during the summer months. Many vegetables and fruits were canned and stored for the winter months. The dirt road from the nearest town which was over a hundred miles away was often impassable and in the winter it was totally closed. The people in Pawtuck were on their own during that time.
By the late 1930s, the town had grown to 185 people. The town itself consisted of the school, the church, a tiny general store, a doctor’s office, and a post office. Almost all of the families lived a little out of town, up to a mile away. Many men and women would be seen walking from their homes into town. They all made their own clothes. Children all walked to school. The school teacher was an elderly woman, but she did have an education in teaching. Books were scarce and she had to do with what she could come up with.
By 1940 there were twelve children in school. The teacher Mrs. James was stern and had no problem disciplining the children when they were bad. She would often tell the parents of the children when they did something that needed parents attention. Parents were tough on their children and a walk to the woodshed was often done. Most of the children learned quickly, but there were a couple in particular that really tested the teacher’s patience. It wouldn’t be said that they were really bad kids, but the mischief was in their blood.
All families had a dog and many of them were hunting dogs. The people of Pawtuck considered their dogs as part of the family. The dogs were welcome to the dinner table. Most of the time the dogs would snuggle into bed with the children at night.
Late spring through early autumn was the nicest time of the year. Everyone would get out and walk in the forest enjoying nature and picking berries was a time that even the children enjoyed. No one worked on Sunday. It was a day to go to church. The pastor was a young man that moved there from the city. Even as a young child he hated city life. After he finished the seminary he heard about a town far north that was looking for a pastor. That led him to Pawtuck. He was a friendly man and would go out of his way to help anyone. He would often be seen accompanying the doctor to assist in helping a sick child or an injured animal.
Some logging was done in the winter unless the snow got too deep. Then it was at a standstill until spring came and melted the snow. Often times because of the bitter cold and the deep snow in the winter families were basically snowbound in their homes. Wood burning stoves were the means of heating the small log homes. Homes were small and contained just the essentials that families needed to live a primitive life.
As tough as life was in Pawtuck, no one would want to live anywhere else. The whole community was close-knit and often helped each other out when needed. If one of the women was sick in the summer, the other women would attend to her garden until she got well. If one of the men was injured or sick the other men would pitch in and help the man out. No one in town had ill feeling toward anyone. It was life as it should be, tough, but pleasant.
People lived by the bible. Every home had one and it would often be read by the children, the wives, and the husbands. A couple of the husbands didn’t know how to read or write, but the wives often read to them. Only the ones that lived in town often made it to church during the winter months. The pastor sometimes felt as if he was preaching to himself. Mrs. Townsend who ran the little café in front of her home never missed church services. The pastor and she would often sit and talk after services and he often accompanied her back to the café where they would talk for hours over a cup or two of coffee.
The general store didn’t have much. It just kept the necessities, coffee, sugar, flour and a few other odds and ends that they would get from a truck that came into town three or four times during the late spring through early autumn months. He did bring cloth which the women often purchased to make clothes for her family.
It was in 1943 that things started to change in Pawtuck. There was a strange sound coming from the forest that often scared everyone. It was a strange howl, it was eerie, it was frightening. It seemed far off in the distance, but everyone wondered what it was. It wasn’t a wolf or any animal that the men were familiar with. It was a sound that was hard to describe. Several times the men got together and went looking for it, but they never discovered anything.
In the next few months, it seemed that the sound was getting closer to Pawtuck. The women and the children were particularly scared. They never walked anywhere alone. They had never seen anything, but the sound made them feel unsafe.
It was early in the summer of 1944 that the first close encounter happened. Joe Wiskowski was a large man in his mid-sixties who lived alone about a mile out of town. He was a rugged man and never appeared to be afraid of anything. He was lying in his bed one night when he heard footsteps outside of his cabin. He slowly got out of bed and peeked out of his window. He didn’t see anything but for some reason, a foul smell was overtaking him. It was strange, nothing like he had ever smelled before.
Joe laid back in bed but was awake for the rest of the night. Throughout the night he heard groans and the sound of footsteps outside his cabin. At times the foul smell would get stronger and he knew whatever it was getting closer to where he was. Joe kept a gun under his bed, he sat up in his bed holding the gun across his lap for the rest of the night.
Sunrise finally came and Joe saw the light shining through the window. Joe was scared, something that never happened to Joe. The thing that bothered him the most was the foul smell that he smelled that night. He cautiously walked to the door and opened it slowly. He stepped outside, looking around. He saw nothing, but he knew something was out there last night. He walked around his cabin and looked at the corner logs at the back of the cabin. There was a huge chunk of dark coarse hair that he now held in his hand. It was extremely coarse, nothing like he had ever seen from any animal. Joe took a little smell of the hair and jolted his head back. He smelled a strong tinge of that foul smell that he had smelled during the night.
Joe continued to walk around his cabin with the gun in his hand. Joe took a walk to the café like he did many mornings. He sat there and talked with a couple of men. He told them what happened around his cabin last night. At first, the men thought he was joking but soon realized that Joe was very serious. Joe was not the type of man to joke about something like that.
The men listened intently. One of them finally told them all that he heard some howling that night before and it seemed very close. However, he didn’t smell anything. They all agree that there was something out there in the forest. One man said, “Do you think it is just wolves?”
Joe said, “No way, whatever was outside of my cabin had an odor about it that was something I have never smelled before. All of us know how sulfur smells. This was even worse than that. It was all I could do to keep from throwing up.”
The men just sat there in silence for a few minutes. “My wife and kids are scared as all get out when they hear that howling,” another man replied.
Joe added, “Whatever it seems to be getting closer to our town and more frequent. I don’t know about you guys, but I am fearful that something is going to happen soon.”
They all nodded their heads. It was obvious to them all that there was trouble brewing in Pawtuck. The town had always been so peaceful and now it seemed that was coming to an end.
The summer continued on and nothing out of the ordinary seemed to happen. Sure everyone in town heard the howling, but it didn’t seem that close to town anymore so people were getting a little relief from the fear that had overtaken them.
The pastor got all of the men together one night. He wanted to have a talk with just the men. They all gathered in the church one evening. The pastor thanked all of them for coming. Pastor Wilkens was his name. He stood up in front of them and said, “I think you all know me very well and we have a lot of respect for each other. I am going to tell you something and many of you probably won’t believe me, but I assure you I am very serious.”
The men in attendance looked at each other and wondered what Pastor Wilkens was going to say. He looked at them and continued. “Ever since I was a little boy I would have dreams that were strange and I could see future things that would eventually happen. Let me give you some examples. When I was six years old I had a dream that my father went to the store to buy something. In my dream, he walked into a robbery and was shot and killed. I told my father about my dream and he laughed it off. He told me it was just a nightmare and not to worry about it. It was a little over three months later when my father went to the store and exactly what I had dreamed happened. It affected me so much.”
Bill Stevens in attendance at that meeting said, “That was probably just a coincidence, pastor.”
The pastor said, “I thought the same thing for a long time, Bill.” It was about two years later give or take a little that I woke up from a dream in a horrible sweat. Our neighbor and his wife fought almost constantly. Anyway, in my dream, the man came home drunk one night and started to beat his wife, something that he did on a regular basis. In my dream, the women pulled a gun that she had purchased only a couple of days before. Around guns all of her life, she wasn’t going to take it anymore. She shot the man right between the eyes. Naturally, he was killed instantly. As strange as it sounds, it was less than two months later when that dream come true.
Joe said, “How often do you have these nightmares, pastor? Do they always come true?”
The pastor nodded his head. Then he said that in my life I have had maybe eighteen or nineteen dreams like this and they all come true. Sometimes it would take a long time and other times it would only be a few days later.
It was hard for the men to believe what Pastor Wilkens was saying, but they all knew him well and knew in their hearts that he was telling the truth.
Pastor Wilkens continued, “Sometimes I get a dream that doesn’t go all the way and let me know everything that is going to happen. Last night I had a dream that one of you in this room is attacked by the creature that we hear howling in the forest and has come around your cabin, Joe.”
“Do you know who it is that is going to be attacked?” asked Joe.
The pastor looked at Joe and stared at him for the longest time before he said anything. “It is you, Joe. I don’t know exactly what will happen during the attack. Are you hurt, are you killed, what is the outcome. I just don’t know, Joe, but I am afraid your life is in danger.”
The pastor told the men that he didn’t want the wives and children to know what he had dreamed. Maybe this is a dream that will not happen. However, I am sorry to say that all of my dreams really do happen.
The men left the meeting that night in disbelief. They all said something to Joe before he left. He told everyone that he would be alright. He was an old man, but he was in great shape. Joe went home that night and just laid in bed for the longest time staring off into space. He was shaken, but he didn’t believe that his life was in danger.
Time continued going along in Pawtuck. The howling in the forest continued and at times it seemed like it was getting closer to town and at other times it seemed very far away. It had been a long time since the meeting with the pastor and it seemed like nothing was going to happen. Winter of 1945 came to Pawtuck. It was cold with some snow and Christmas was only a few weeks away.
It was mighty cold when Joe was walking along the dirt road. He was headed to the café, planning on getting a slice of pie and some coffee. He heard a rustling in the forest that seemed to be following him and it was making him increasingly nervous. He thought to himself, maybe I should have taken the truck instead of walking. It was dark, but he usually walked into town. He was known in town as the walking man. Joe hated to drive if the distance wasn’t very far.
Just about half a mile from town what appeared to be a large dog jumped out on the road in front of him. The darkness didn’t allow Joe to view it clearly but the barking and growling wouldn’t allow him to proceed. There was a terrible smell. He knew right away that this was what had been outside of his cabin many months before.
The beasts eyes were glowing like sparkling red-hot coals. He took a few steps backward just as the animal made a lunge for him and bit him with powerful jaws that broke the bones in his left forearm. Joe screamed in pain as the animal continued attacking him. He was bleeding severely and fell unconscious during the attack.
Six days later Joe woke up in Dr. Sinzo’s office, not knowing where he was, how he got there, or what happened to him. He laid in bed with the sense that something was different about him. When the doctor walked into the room, to his amazement, he said out loud what the doctor was going to tell him. He knew what his dosage of medications was and what the effects of his attack were going to have on his life.
Every morning the nurse, Victoria would come into check on Joe. One morning he asked how Chuck and Francine were doing. Victoria had never mentioned her family to Joe, but Joe had visions of her family as he laid in bed. He pictured Chuck making a long trip to sell water pump supplies and told her to congratulate him on his record sales month. Francine had made the honor roll and Joe knew every one of her grades. Victoria was amazed and slightly worried that Joe knew so much. She, Chuck and Francine didn’t live in Pawtuck. They lived in Boston and had never been to Pawtuck. Victoria had come there in the spring to help Dr. Sinzo. She didn’t plan on staying the winter but a heavy snowfall in November got her stranded there. Victoria was planning on going back to Boston as soon as possible.
Joe’s injuries healed and he was allowed to go back home. Physically he was weak and would walk with a limp for the rest of his life. Mentally he knew what was going to happen to him and other people before it ever happened.
It was only a short time later, about three months in time that Joe started to see changes in himself. The hair on his face was growing faster and before he knew it he was shaving several times a day. Getting out in the sunlight bothered his eyes more every day. He always felt so thirsty and was drinking water almost constantly.
Joe was becoming scared but did make a trip into town every now and then. Residents also were seeing a change in Joe. Joe didn’t seem like the happy go lucky man that he used to be. They realized that he went through a horrible experience, but something was different about him. Little did they realize the changes Joe was seeing in himself.
It was only a couple of months later that Joe no longer went into town. His physical appearance was changing at a rapid rate. His beard, hair on his body, plus his finger and toenails were growing at an alarming rate. Joe’s face was becoming more elongated, his ears were growing long and laying down to the side of his face. Joe couldn’t hide what was happening to him.
He stayed in his cabin all day. He wanted no one to see him like this. Not that anyone would have recognized him anyway. He was gripped with fear, just like the night he was attacked. Standing in his cabin, he looked in the mirror and he realized that what he was seeing was just like what attacked him that night.
Within two weeks Joe was walking on all fours, he was barking and growling. Joe was continuing to take on the appearance of a very large, powerful, and ugly dog. The body was now completely covered with hair. The gift of seeing the visions of what was going to happen in the future had disappeared. His mind was becoming more childlike. The fear that he was going insane was gripping him.
Joe’s friends came to see him on several occasions, but he was nowhere to be seen. He no longer lived in the cabin. The forest was now his home. He was now living the life of a wild animal, scrounging for food wherever he could find it. He would often sneak around residents homes at night and steal anything he could to eat. He was taking chickens from everyone, vegetables from their gardens were disappearing. The town was now living in more fear than they ever have.
Joe had the resemblance of a dog, but much larger, foul smelling, and always with the look of a killer instinct in his eyes. He eyes now looked just like the sparkling red hot coals that he had seen in the beast that attacked him months ago.
The past life of Joe no longer existed. He was now a wild creature living a life that was a bare existence. He now slept most of the day and prowled at night. Joe had been a kind man and now the town residents no longer had Joe in their lives. He was there, they just didn’t know yet the changes that had taken over his life. It wasn’t really a life any longer, now it was the life of the same beast that the pastor had dreamed about so long ago.
Pastor Wilkens was sitting in the church with a distant look in his eyes. The pastor was crying because he knew in his heart what had happened to Joe. His dreams of what he saw in the future were always dreams of heartbreak.
The town of Pawtuck was no longer the peaceful town that was founded many years ago. Now when the men went to work in the forest they always had their guns with them. The women also had guns handy if they were working in their gardens, visiting a neighbor, or going into town. Fear was in the minds of all. The children never walked to school alone. Usually, they walked in groups of at least three. Parents were so scared for the lives of their children.
It was in the spring of 1947 that Billy Johnston was driving his beat up old pickup past Joe’s old cabin which was becoming dilapidated. He was several yards past Joe’s house that dark night when something jumped out in front of his truck. He hit it head on and whatever it was flew quite a distance in front of him. Billy got out of his truck and walked up to it. The smell was terrible and a green slushy fluid was coming from its body. Billy was looking at an ugly beast. He knew that this is what was terrorizing the town of Pawtuck. He loaded it into his truck and drove into town where several men were at the café. They came out to take a look at it. The pastor knew right away that it was Joe.
Billy took it home and buried it in the woods behind his house. He got some of the green slushy fluid on his arm. It was not long before the townspeople no longer saw Billy again but they were frequently hearing more howling and smelling a strange odor at night. Billy was it, Billy! The pastor knew it was, he had a dream. A dream that he could not bear to wait and see how it played out. Two women walked into the church the next morning and found the pastor hanging from the rafters with a rope around his neck. He had committed suicide, he felt it was the only way out.
Howling in the forest around Pawtuck continued and strange things did happen for years to come.
© 2017 Larry W Fish