One of our oldest family traditions used to involve a National Lampoon's-like camping trip to Wellington Reservoir near Bailey, Colorado, each year with my aunts, uncles and six of our cousins. My sister and I looked forward to these outings with great anticipation every summer, always finding it difficult to sleep the night prior as our parents stayed up late packing the family car with sleeping bags, tents, fishing equipment, an inflatable boat, plenty of beer and filling up coolers with a weekend's worth of food my mother had prepared for all of us. After more than an hour's drive, we'd set up camp by the 167-acre lake which lied at the base of a mountain resembling Wyoming's Devil's Tower, nicknamed "The Castle". It was a dazzling place, especially during one's childhood as there were several rocky structures, waterfalls and enough natural architecture to make it the ultimate playground for the imaginative. For my sister and I, growing up in a stark apartment complex next to a busy highway with two working parents in the early 80's, it was incredibly fun.
One year, one of my younger cousins nearly drowned in the lake after losing one her flip-flops, diving off a rocky ledge to reclaim it. Afterwards, sent to her tent for her own safety, she escaped, racing past the campfire riding on the back of her family dog. She was then confined to her family car, which she quickly figured how to back out on her own. My sister also lost a wooden clog in a snakehole, and I remember having to do the big-brotherly thing of retrieving it for her. The trips were always crazy, but always memorable, and as beautiful as everything was, we were certainly reminded of how very dangerous exposure to nature was. From deep drop-offs in Wellington lake to unstable rock ledges, quicksand, the suction of nearby rivers and waterfalls, poisonous flora and fauna, fires, to intense sunburns, we stuck very close to one another as there wasn't a hospital for miles.
The element of danger associated with these trips was part of the excitement, though we knew people had drowned there, been attacked by bears, simply disappeared, and some had even been in the plane which crashed into the side of The Castle many years ago. The Castle was the topic of much urban legend, as it featured a barely-visible cave near it's peak which was supposed to house the ghosts of the plane crash. Sometimes, with the aid of binoculars, one could make out a mysterious white figure moving about the mouth of the cave, but just when you got the lenses in focus, it was gone. This particular apparition was supposed to be that of a man who had disappeared from his campsite long ago. In the nearby general store there was a picture of him which still hung underneath the words, "MISSING", even after all these years. Some people thought he had survived and was over one hundred years-old, with long white hair flowing in the wind, his long fingernails scratching at the rock walls of his cave, a bizarre hermit who had decided to leave civilization behind.
We'd listen as my father and uncles would sit together near our blazing campfire, talking about the Donner Party, serial killers and all manner of unspeakable and strange evils in the woods at night. It was terrifying to hear, but so seductive that I sat enraptured every time. Our campsite also resembled "Camp Crystal Lake" from the Friday The 13th horror films, and to add to the general fear was the recent kidnapping of a little girl who was found at the bottom of an outhouse in 1983. Having to use those outhouses at night was like running through a haunted house, unable to see anything in the darkness outside of your narrow flashlight beam while trying not to hyperventilate. I remember breathless evening excursions away from the safety of firelight, where the elder men in our family would point out to us the constellations, remarkably clear away from our native surburban streetlights and smog. I always had a nagging fear during these nighttime tours that gravity might collapse, plunging us into those dark, starry voids. Everything was so vast and consuming, especially to a child, and there was just something to the darkness of the wilderness itself.
I would lie wrapped up next to my sister in our sleeping bags, wondering at the rustling and twigs snapping outside of our tent. Every now and then you might hear someone walking, perhaps on their way to the outhouses, but you could never be sure as they passed, the gravel crunching underneath their feet amplified by the quiet of the surroundings. You could hear the waves from the lake lapping at the shoreline in the night, strange calls from unidentified animals that sounded more phantom than human, and when the moon was full, the tree branches swaying in the wind could create clawing hosts of the undead upon your tent wall. It was everything we couldn't see but could hear, everything happening just outside our field of vision, everything going on a little deeper into the woods... The fear of ending up on a "MISSING" notification, of being swallowed up by a still lake in the night, of general exposure to the great unknown and the heavy knowledge that there is no such thing as safety.
As I got older, I was often allowed to take our inflatable boat out into the lake myself. I would still have to remain within view of our campsite, and I did admit to a general anxiety concerning the things I might glimpse moving about beneath the dark waters, but for the most part there was really nothing to fear. All of this would change on one of the last excursions I can remember to this particular campsite.
Late one evening, after everyone had retired to their individual tents, I was lying in my sleeping bag as usual, surrendering to sleep. Nearby my aunt, by the shadow of the moon, saw and heard a figure approaching her tent. By the shadow cast on the wall, she couldn't distinguish at first whether or not it was me or her daughter, as both us us were the same size at the time and shared the same boyish haircuts. She noticed, however, her daughter sleeping nearby, so she assumed it was me. The figure came to her tent, trying the zipper, having difficulty opening it. She figured that perhaps I had come to say goodnight, but the figure suddenly gave up and walked away. She then noticed with some alarm that the person she at first thought was me was not headed back to my tent, but was on their way to the lake. She remained poised with concern, awaiting any more sounds that might reveal the person's intent.
Shortly after, I began to stir in my sleep. I felt trapped in a hypnogogic state and was unable to define where my body actually was. Half of me was in my sleeping bag, but the other half was walking with bare feet straight into the cold, black waters of the lake. I physically began attempting to stand with panic as I felt the waterline beginning to rise up over my waist, icy liquid fingers running up toward my neck, I stumbled about the tent in desperation, unable to grasp what was happening to me. Then, my body, or what I thought was my own body, met the steep drop-off point of the lake, and went over. I tumbled head-first into oblivion, small hands in front of me, clawing for something to hold onto and finding nothing, and with a final shock and despair I realized I could hold my breath no longer. I was upside down, barely able to make out my feet in the moonlight through the other side of the water. I was gasping for oxygen, convulsing and thrashing about like a caged animal, the futility occuring to me only after I had swallowed mouthful after mouthful of the earthy water. I screamed as I continued to sink, my cries muted, the lake swallowing me, with no clues to my disappearance save for the new waves lapping at the shoreline in the dark.
In the next moment I was immediately jostled back to reality with the savage cries of survival from a throat hoarse with fear. I didn't realize at first that these sounds were coming from me, as I continued racing about the tent, banging against up it's walls, clawing at the nylon, trying to find a way out of this horror. I still thought I was drowning until my father shook me awake. My screams had woken up the entire camp, lights blinking on far across the lake, shadows moving about, concerned campers jarred into alertness by the sounds of sheer terror. My family was mystified, I had never before behaved like this, and my aunt had no explanation for her nocturnal visitor. The next day, an unsettling aura had permeated our campsite, and I could not be persuaded anywhere near the water. From then on, I would suffer from thalassophobia, the excessive fear or dread of large bodies of water. We left, and where before I used to wave goodbye the "The Castle", to the lake, to the log-cabin general store out the back window, I buried my face in a blanket, not wanting to see the water shimmering in the sun, sparklingly deceptive.
A week later, back at our apartment complex, we were watching the local news when we were horrified to learn that the body of a young boy matching my description and age had been found at the lake near our campsite. He had apparently drowned while we were there.
I still have no explanation for what exactly occurred. Was it psychic transferrence? Did I agree to trade places with his consciousness in his last moments, making it easier for him to cross over? Did I simply have the lucid dream of all lucid dreams? Why did he look like me? And why was he trying to get into my aunt's tent? Did he think it was mine? What would I have seen if I helped him with the zipper? Who would I have been facing if I opened the tent?
In later years I was partially able to come to terms with my fear regarding darkness and water. I have more trust in nature because I have more trust in the Divine, and I believe I did in some way help to release the soul of the boy I'd only briefly met on another plane. But, what does an experience like this do to a child? How do they grow up, bearing questions which only generate more questions regarding a phenomena which doesn't seem to want to be proven, but to remain elusive and just out of reach as soon as you get your lenses in focus? Are they still out there somewhere, skirting the edges of rational thought, still asking? I still think of him, whenever I pass a campsite, a lake, or listen to the gurgling of a stream at night. It's still difficult to watch the opening sequence of "The Shining", as the Torrence family are driving up through the mountains to the haunted Overlook Hotel. In the first shot ( in what looks exactly like Colorado but is actually Montana ), the camera pans over a large, forbidding body of water, over a little island of trees and shrubbery, over heavily-forested mountain roads, gliding like a lost spirit toward rocky peaks resembling "The Castle", as a shrill cacophony of spirits wail like banshees over and past the family car.
Three of the same cousins who were camped with me on that strange night would in 2008 accompany me to Cheesman Park in Denver, Colorado, the site of a former cemetery and the inspiration behind Steven Spielberg's 1982 film "Poltergeist". One of them, Denise, whose mother at first thought was outside her tent that infamous night, had by then developed a knack for taking photographs of unexplained phenomena, as had I. Denise has also, like myself, grown up experiencing a lot of supernatural activity. I once lived in an old Victorian house near downtown Denver that was the site of a grisly hanging, but after my highly-charged experience at Wellington Reservoir we have both shared an interest in the unknown. For some strange reason, we appear to be magnets for this type of activity. She would also, in early 2012, fly out with me to the Biography Channel television studios in L.A. to appear in an interview regarding our odd experiences at Cheesman Park. This interview will be featured on an upcoming episode of BIO's "My Ghost Story" when the series returns in late September.
For now, a very good friend and author, Stephanie Waters, who has also been pursuing her own investigation into the great unknown, has just released her second book, "Haunted Colorado Springs And Pikes Peak". She was kind enough to thank us for our help with her research, give us a photo credit, and write about an investigation of our own as The SpiritChasers on pages 114-115. The book can be found on Amazon, The History Press, or you may ask for it at your local bookstore. She is currently arranging signings, as she did when releasing "Haunted Manitou Springs" last October, when we first met her at a Barnes & Noble book signing and shared some ghost stories of own. She also conducts ghost tours of Manitou Springs at: http://manitoughosttours.com
The SpiritChasers have also been featured on the SyFy Channel's website as part of their series of stories regarding real hauntings. Their new program, "Paranormal Witness", also has a Facebook page which features a photo collage of evidence we collected at Manitou Springs' "Cave Of The Winds", the legendary Ute Indian entrance to the Underworld.
Visit the following links for more paranormal entertainment:
SyFy Channel website featuring The SpiritChasers: http://paranormalwitness.tumblr.com/page/3
Paranormal Witness Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/SupernaturalSyfy
Our own Facebook page for The SpiritChasers can be found here:
Our main website is: www.thespiritchasers.com
Our main website is: www.thespiritchasers.com
Thank you for reading.
- Christopher Allen Brewer, August, 2012