“Dagger Woods is a small rural community located amid softwood forest and marshland slightly less than 10 kilometers east of the university town of Antigonish, Nova Scotia. Anyone driving Highway 104 to or from the eastern part of the province will be familiar with the turnoff.
“Tales of a malevolent being haunting the woods began to spread shortly after the area was first settled in the late 1700’s. Locally referred to as the Hidey-Hinder, and also known as the Dagger Woods Howler, legend connects the thing to a crime of passion in which a husband killed his wife with a pearl handled dagger before fleeing into the depths of Dagger Woods, never to be seen or heard from again. Some believe the Howler is him, doomed to relive his dark deed in perpetuity. Still others believe his evil woke something in those woods that took him, and now either cannot or will not rest.
“Whichever it is, those alive today who have encountered the thing describe the experience the same way – at first a horrendous, inhuman scream is heard in the distance, followed at intervals by more of the same, each time closer and more deafening. No one can describe it because nerve either runs out before the Howler is near enough at hand to see, or the witness disappears without a trace.” ~ Dark Sentiments Season 2 – Day 3: Dagger Woods
Yesterday we spoke of spirits. You will recall that I left you with thoughts of one in particular, the propensities of which I promised to employ in your further education. Well now, Goode Reader, draw closer to the fire for here we are again, and if I’m nothing else, I am a Man of my Word.
It has been my good fortune of late to have attracted the attention of a Gentleman by the name of Dan O’Brien, entirely by way of my piece on Dagger Woods, a portion of which is quoted above. Dan, if I may be so bold as to call him that in such a public venue, has a singular interest in Dagger Woods lore, and for the moment I will leave the exact nature of that interest undefined beyond that it has led the two of us down a path of mutual enlightenment.
And so it came to pass that he recently released to me the gleanings of some assistance he has enjoyed courtesy of the History Department and Library at St. Francis Xavier University, located in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, and it was from the tale of young Saundra Girard that some clues to the Howler’s hunting habits, and their reliance on the baser human emotions, may be found.
Saundra had a liking for her Mother’s blueberry muffins, and with that in mind, she set off one day to harvest the makings that would slake her craving.
For the fattest August berries
Waited deep within the wood.
Where once a fire had scorched it down,
A grove of Pines now stood.
Few would go where Saundra went because of the stories that held the woods to be haunted by something that could only be heard, but never seen. Of something that hunted wanderers and used fear as its weapon. Of people who went into those woods and never came back.
Saundra was a country girl, at home in the forests, and endowed with no small amount of savvy from her Father. She knew that to lose your head in the wilderness was a ticket to disaster, but when she found her berry picking being subject to ever more insistent interruption by a persistent stalker, she remembered the stories too.
“You’ll hear it, sneaking and creeping up on you, just behind your left ear, but try as you might, you can’t see it. Turn as fast as you like, and the Hidey Hinder is that much faster. It’s worse than trying to catch a mosquito while blindfolded. The Hidey Hinder keeps in your shadow, hiding just behind you, and the only way you can save yourself is to catch a single glimpse of him. That’s the hard part. he always moves just that much too fast to be caught.
“Some say it’s just a fooler, a minor level trickster who is looking for a giggle on you. Others say that it will chase you until you panic and run, and that the bones of those who died of exposure and lie lost in the woods are usually scarred by the long-fanged hunger marks of the Hidey Hinder.” ~ The Hidey Hinder of Dagger Woods
At first she thought it was her older brother Jeremy trying to scare her, or some forest dwelling animal, but these theories were soon abandoned.
“She turned, half-expecting to see a deer, a rabbit, or a worse a bear. Bears were hungry this time of year, looking for berries to fatten themselves up for hibernation. The cubs would be mostly grown, not needing their momma’s protection, so the odds were any bears would be more than happy to leave her alone.
“She saw nothing.
“And then she heard it again, softly to her left, a dead leaf crushed beneath an unseen pressure — a heavy footstep sounding very close indeed.
“She held still, not wanting to disturb whatever it was that had made the noise. She edged her glance backwards, slowly pivoting her head in tiny careful increments — nothing.
“And then she heard it, even closer, just behind her left ear, a soft damp giggle.” ~ The Hidey Hinder of Dagger Woods
Still leaning more toward the traditionally corporeal forms of mischief, she called out to her brother, warning him that he should know she could hear him. But then …
“She felt its hot breath upon her neck. She shivered, as if she were cold. She remembered a time when she and Jeremy had found a dead dog beside the roadway. the dog had been covered in maggots that had made a soft sound like crackling cellophane. The stink was terrible.
“This thing’s breath was worse.” ~ The Hidey Hinder of Dagger Woods
But Saundra was her Father’s Daughter!
“Now she was remembering her father’s voice. She remembered a story he’d told about the Hidey Hinder, how it would creep up and follow hikers through the woods, scaring them into hurting themselves, or panicking and becoming lost. Her father had said that the only way to scare a Hidey Hinder off your trail was to catch a look at it; it couldn’t stand the sight of its own reflection in another’s eyes.” ~ The Hidey Hinder of Dagger Woods
And in that moment, her enemy played its hand.
“Saundra felt something move closer to her. She heard a soft, rancid giggle, like someone snickering through a mouthful of bad butter.” ~ The Hidey Hinder of Dagger Woods
At that, she launched herself into a series of gyrations calculated to bring the thing to heel, but that ultimately left her dizzy on the ground, none the wiser.
“She forced herself to be still. She waited for the world to stop spinning before her eyes. She forced her breath to slow down, and then that thing behind her stuck its slimy tongue against her ear.” ~ The Hidey Hinder of Dagger Woods
That did it. Saundra ran with every fragment of vigour her youthful frame could dredge up, realizing as she went that the thing wasn’t trying to catch her so much as driving her to catch herself in a tangle of panic fueled misadventure. Running for all she was worth, she ultimately reached a stream that lay across her path …
“She ran for it and fell to her knees, scraping one against a stone. She looked down into the water and saw the reflection of the Hidey Hinder, and that was all it took. There was a puff of foul-smelling smoke and that was the end of the Hidey Hinder. She was safe.” ~ The Hidey Hinder of Dagger Woods
Saundra wasted no time finding hearth and home.
“‘So what’d it look like?’ they asked, after she’d told them what had happened. ‘What did the Hidey Hinder look like?’
“She wouldn’t say, or perhaps she couldn’t.
“It was a long time before she found the nerve to ever go back into the woods, and when she did, she always carried a pocket mirror, just in case that old Hidey hinder came sneaking up behind her.” ~ The Hidey Hinder of Dagger Woods
August Blueberries are a powerful draw.