Open Topic

The Notebook.

I’ve been camping for the past week with a few of my friends. We’re in a nice, secluded campground on the side of a mountain, filled with forests and a few remote lakes. It’s quiet, peaceful and honestly one of my favorite places in the country. It’s not a well-known campground about 15 minutes outside of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, right in the heart of the Berkshires, so it’s still close to town and everything we need while still being remote and private. I’m including this so you know how normal this place is. It’s beautiful, families come out here often to camp. I’ve been coming here since I was 8 with my family, and we’ve never had anything bad happen here.

Until now, that is.

I’m a 44-year-old woman, and a few of my friends and I decided last weekend we wanted to go on a camping trip, since we’re all back from college for the summer, and we’ve missed each other. There are 6 of us overall—me (Hanna), Tyler, Jacob, Eileen, Ben, and Yona. The names aren’t real obviously, because I want to keep our anonymity. We’re not totally sure what to do about all this.

So, we’ve been here for 3 days. We got unpacked, set up our tents and campfire. We spent the next two days messing around and enjoying ourselves, swimming in the lakes, talking around the campfire, and hiking on the trails. We have 2 more days here, and today we decided we would go exploring off-trail to see what’s around. There’s not really a danger of getting lost or anything because there’s a big fence surrounding the campground and separates it from the national park. We figured we would take a map, keep track of where we were with Tyler’s fancy GPS he got for geocaching or whatever. Ben had a stomach ache from some expired granola bars and decided he was going to wait for us back at the campsite.

We packed up our backpacks with plenty of water, snacks and emergency supplies, tied our shoes, locked up our stuff, said bye to Ben and headed out from a smaller trail off the largest lake. For the first 2 hours, we didn’t find anything cool or interesting as we trekked deeper into the wilderness. We found some cool trees, a little den of some sort of small animal, a huge boulder we got a cool picture on top of, and a little cave near the boulder that wasn’t very interesting.

As we got deeper into the woods, Eileen got a little spooked after she thought she heard someone calling her name. we all thought she was being ridiculous as there are five of us out here, there’s bound to be echoes off the trees and shit. She eventually dropped it and laughed it off. Tyler wandered off when we stopped for a snack, and a few minutes later came running back and told us he saw someone running around the woods. We all thought he was messing with us and fucked with him for it. It was funny, and he brushed it off.

We heard a couple of distant bells, which was a little weird but we figured someone had a dog out here.

About 3pm, we finally found something interesting. We found these cool structures that were made out of sticks and stretched into circles, kind of like pictured below but much smaller, like 2-3 feet in diameter, on the ground and hanging from trees. We also found a few things like pictured below, like the sticks and branches had fallen in a circle pattern. Eileen, of course, was freaked out and wanted to go back, but Jacob and Tyler had found some wood and stone steps carved into the ground like they do for some hiking trails on a hill nearby. We also found some old wood railing, like what you find next to inclined trails. We figured it was part of an old hiking trail, and Eileen decided the weird stick things were from people who had found the old hiking trail. We agreed, even though we weren’t sure.

We kept going, and eventually found the best and worst part of this trek. We found an old abandoned shed (I apologize for not having a real picture of it, but we didn’t bring our phones (only our satellite phone, we’re not stupid and my little Polaroid didn’t have any more film.)

Shed.

It was about 10×15 feet, so pretty big for a shed but not big enough to be a house, miles from anything, and relatively well-maintained. It wasn’t like a super old and decrepit ruin, like we would expect to find. I guess it was part of the old abandoned trail. We were so excited we had found something cool, and immediately went around to see what was inside.

We found it was locked from the inside, and the windows were nailed shut. Yona found one of the three windows only had one nail, and it was sticking halfway out. So we pried the nail out, and Tyler climbed inside to let us in. He clambered around inside, then unlocked the door with a bit of effort. The door swung open and he beamed at us, proud of his work. We all clapped him on the back and came inside with him.

It smelled terrible in there. A mix of rust, dead leaves, and something sour. We looked around, and the boys turned their flashlights on since the windows didn’t provide a lot of light. Inside, there was a gross wooden chair, a pile of dusty and nasty looking blankets, a wooden table that was turned on its side, a few small bones (we thought from animals) and tons of leaves and dirt on the ground. There were hand prints and footprints everywhere (and probably a couple needles), so we definitely thought some hobo had been sleeping here. Tyler disagreed and thought some sort of cryptide had made a nest here. Eileen punched him and left the shed, and of course we ripped into him for being a dick. He said he was serious and said the bones and how it was locked are creepy as hell. He said all of the stick sculptures and shit were weird and not something a person would do. He wasn’t afraid at all and said since we’re on the grounds of a well-known and popular campground, and how it backs up into a national park, are all signs of something living here. He then changed his mind about it being a cryptid and decided it was probably some creep trying to be weird and scare anyone who would happen to stumble across.

We continued to explore, still calling Tyler an asshole and joking around and harassing him to lighten the mood. We sifted through the blankets and leaves, and found a few half-burned candles, a used-up emergency flare, and a few burnt matches.

Then, I found the notebook.

It was one of those little mini composition notebooks you can find in office supply aisles. It was dirty and scuffed and had frantic writing written inside. I called out to my friends, and we started going through it. It was freaky as hell and read like a diary from a horror movie or something. We all got super freaked out and Jacob threw it at me to take back to camp with us. We didn’t feel safe going through it there.

So, we all got the hell out of there. We trekked the 3+ hours back to our campsite, visited the bathrooms, and went back to hang out some more. It was about 7-8pm when we all settled back in camp for dinner. Ben had gone into town and gotten some food for us, so we quickly forgot about our adventure and enjoyed the rest of the night.

Which is where we are now. It’s about 10pm, we’re all sitting around the campfire. I brought my laptop to go through the pictures we had and thought I would try and transcribe the notebook so everyone could read it at once and then we could talk about it.

So, here goes. I’ve added some punctuation/fixed the grammar so it’s more comprehensible. To see an album of the notebook, click here.

Page 1

“My name is Cassie, I’m 14 and camping with my family at [campground]. There are 5 of us. Me, mom and dad, Levi (11) and Daisy (6). We have been here for 5 days, I think. I lost all of them yesterday. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know if anyone will find us. I don’t know where I am or where to go. I’m so scared. I don’t know what to do. If someone finds this, you have to know what happened. We got here 5 days ago. It was fun. We set up our tents, went swimming, hiked and had fun. It was supposed to be a fun summer trip. Just the family. We went exploring in the woods 2 days ago. Dad knows this campground really well and wanted to try some off trail hiking. We brought water. We brought food. It was fine. It was fun. We were out for a while. We found these weird stick spirals everywhere. Sticks around the trees.

Page 2

Then we found footprints. Then we heard sticks cracking out of site. Levi touched one of the spirals and got a rash a few minutes later. We saw an old cabin in the distance but decided not to check it out in case it was dangerous. We went back to camp. It got really, really dark out, and we couldn’t see the stars or the moon. Dad said it wasn’t supposed to storm. We went to bed. We heard footsteps outside, but mom and dad didn’t see anyone. Levi’s rash got worse and mom put ointment on it. The footsteps lasted all night. I thought I heard breathing, too. The rest of them couldn’t hear it. A few times, there were bells. Just short little rings. Like a dog bell or something. I went out to pee late that night. I saw a shape in the woods. I was so scared. It looked like a person in a hoodie. I told mom and dad; dad went out with a flashlight but didn’t see anything.

Page 3

They said we could leave in the morning. The night lasted so long, none of us slept. The sun finally came up and we got up to pack or stuff. There were footprints all over the camp in the gravel and dirt. There were more stick spirals. Daisy started to cry, and mom put her in the car. It was foggy out, like it usually is in the morning. The sky was overcast. We took a while to pack up. Levi noticed we couldn’t hear any birds or cicadas. Everything felt muffled. We packed up. Dad left to go down the road to check out. He was gone for hours. Mom started to get scared. We tried calling the office, but just got a busy signal. Daisy was crying. Levi and me went to the lake a few feet away. We sat there for a few minutes. We said how weird this was and we just wanted to go home. We wondered where dad was. It got cold, so we went back to the car to get jackets.

Page 4

Mom and Daisy were gone. Mom’s phone was in her seat, there was no service. Levi started to cry. We yelled and yelled for mom and dad and Daisy. There was no answer at all, no echoes, no birds or bugs. No wind. I think my ears were ringing. It sounded like bells again. I didn’t know if it was my head or just super faint. It was getting dimmer out. I looked at my phone to see what time it was and to [tried to] call my mom and dad. It was 8pm. We had been yelling for my mom and my sister for 4 hours. Or we had been at the lake a long time. I started to cry too. I was so scared, but I tried to keep myself together for my Levi. We sat in the car, ate some food and tried over and over again to call my mom, my dad and the office. We tried 911 too but there was always the stupid busy signal!!! I made us beds in the car with sleeping bags and told Levi we would try again tomorrow when the sun is up.

Page 5

Maybe there was a storm or something down the mountain. I heard the footsteps again that night. All around the car, pacing and pacing but when I looked there was nothing there. I cried as quiet as I could and prayed to God that someone would find us. Around 2am the wind started to blow again. It smelled really bad outside and the footsteps got louder. I gave Levi my headphones and made him play his music. There were sounds outside, like wailing, whistling. Like nothing I’ve ever heard before. It sounded like whales underwater, but slow and far away. I told myself it was coyotes or something. The sun finally came up, and when we got outside it was freezing but so humid. It smelled awful, like ozone and rust and sharp cheese. And dead leaves and dirt. The fog was still everywhere, we couldn’t see past the treeline only a few yards away.

Page 6

All the stuff I had put outside of the car for us to sleep was gone. There were footprints in the gravel and dirt again, outside the car, and spirals were marked in the dust on the side of the car and in the dirt on the ground. Not just sticks anymore. I told Levi we were leaving. We put our jackets on and put some stuff in our backpacks. We started to walk down the path to walk the 2 miles to the entrance and the office. We walked and walked. Levi was crying. I was too scared to cry. I kept seeing someone out of the corner of my eye. I didn’t tell Levi. We yelled for our mom and dad and Daisy. We yelled for help, that we were lost. No one heard us or said anything. It got foggier and foggier. We couldn’t see 10 feet in front of us. We kept our eyes on the road and down. I tried to play road trip games to keep Levi occupied.

Page 7

At some point, our phones stopped working. They just stayed at 2:17pm. They wouldn’t unlock, the battery charge wouldn’t change. We knew time had passed because we got thirsty and hungry and we walked and walked and walked. God. Fuck. I can’t do this. I’m crying and crying and crying, I can’t breathe!! Fuckfuckfuckfuck [frustrated scribbles] Damn it. We kept walking for so fucking long. I told Levi to stop and turn around because I had to pee. I went and took the couple steps back to him and he was GONE He wasn’t anywhere, his footprints stopped where he was standing I screamed and screamed for him, I looked everywhere but I couldn’t fucking find him!!

Page 8

I lost it and just ran down the road. I cried and cried and ran to where I thought would be people The road turned into woods again and the fog started to clear just a few steps past the trees. I tried to look around but it was just trees everywhere, as far as I could possibly see. I had just taken a few steps into the trees but it was just trees everywhere like I had been teleported I just started walking again. It started to get dark. I was walking for hours. My feet hurt and I know I had blisters. My back hurt and my face is raw. It got darker. The sky turned purple, like sunset behind the clouds. I heard the sticks snapping again. The air was still cold and unbearably humid. It was dusk. And fuck, I was right back to where we were 2 days ago. The stick spirals. The bent trees. I saw the cabin again.

Page 9

This time I went to it and hoped this was some sort of crazy realistic nightmare or a prank or just SOMETHING and this was familiar. The door was open and there was a table and chair inside. And leaves everywhere and dirt and stuff. I locked the door, sat down and got this notebook out of my backpack. I turned on my flashlight, there wasn’t enough light outside. I didn’t know what to do so I started writing. I had a few candles and a flare in my backpack so I lit the candles. It never got any darker outside but it’s dark in here. I can hear the footsteps again. I don’t even know if I’m scared anymore, I’m just tired and I want my mom. I want my dad. It’s not fair.

Page 10

FUCK THERE’S SOMETHING OUTSIDE

IT PUT ITS FINGERS UNDER THE DOOR

I CAN HEAR IT WALKING

I HEAR THE BELLS CHIMING THEY’RE CLOSER THIS TIME

MY NAME IS CASSANDRA RUPERT I AM 14 MY MOTHER IS ELAINE RUPERT MY FATHER IS KEVIN RUPERT MY BROTHER IS LEVI RUPERT MY SISTER IS DAISY RUPERT

Page 11

WE WENT CAMPING IN [CAMPGROUND] ON JUNE 27TH 2019 PLEASE FIND US

The notes end there. I mentioned we found the used up flare and candles in the shed. I think Cassie lit them.

We’re leaving in the morning. It’s almost 1am and everyone is terrified. Ben is going to stay up and keep watch to keep us comfortable. We’ll be handing all of this in to the Forest Service and the police in a few hours.

This is not what I had planned for a camping trip.

God, I hope this isn’t real.

Open Topic

Do You Believe In Paranormal??

My best friend believes in spiritual mumbo jumbo like tarot cards and psychic readings and cleansing the house with sage. Despite our vastly differently beliefs, when she asked if she could stay at my place for a week, I immediately said yes.

“Are you sure?” she asked. “It’s okay if you say no. I still have a spirit attached to me. I know that makes some people uncomfortable.”

She had mentioned the spirit before in late night snapchats while she was drunk on wine. I assumed she didn’t even believe the bullshit she was spouting. But apparently she was serious about the ghost. She said it followed her wherever she went. She said it was friendly, but it could be scary for someone who wasn’t used to the paranormal.

I didn’t want to be too nasty about something she believed in so deeply, so I told her not to worry about it. I could fend for myself. The spirit wasn’t going to bother me.

She arrived at my doorstep exactly one week ago with a bright blue suitcase. When she first stepped foot into the house, there was a drop in temperature. I remember it clearly because I told her: “You came at the perfect time. We were going through a heat wave but today is the coolest it’s been.”

Of course, I was wrong. I realized that when I let the dog outside to pee an hour later. It was burning hot outside. The house was the only place where the temperature had dropped — and I hadn’t touched the thermostat.

I didn’t think too much of it at the time. I showed my friend to her room, instructed her to keep the bathroom door closed so the dog wouldn’t nose around in the trash, and reminded her where I stored the silverware and dishes.

We spent the whole night talking, catching up about our careers and relationships. In the morning, I woke up earlier than her. I went to the cabinet to fetch the dog food, but the cabinet was already opened. Every cabinet was opened. So were the drawers.

“Is there a reason why you left everything open?” I texted her in case she was awake in her guest room. “You can help yourself to whatever you want but just try to keep things shut tight. I don’t want the dog getting into bleach or rat poison. He’ll eat anything he finds.”

About an hour after pressing send, I heard the sound of the shower running. I assumed she was awake. I assumed she was getting ready to start her day. I walked toward the bathroom with the intention of reminding her where we kept our towels, but the door was swung wide open.

My blood boiled, but I didn’t peek inside because our shower was made of glass and I didn’t want to catch her undressing. I just swung the door closed and said, “I really can’t have the dog walking into the bathroom. He’ll eat whatever he finds. It’s the one rule of this house. Please don’t leave the door open again or the cabinets or the drawers because he–”

The door creaked open. Not the bathroom door. The one to her guest room.

“Why are you yelling?” my friend asked. She rubbed at her eyes, half asleep.

“You didn’t turn the shower on?”

“No. I wasn’t planning on getting up until at least eight. I’m on vacation.”

“Do you sleepwalk or something?”

She shook her head, walked into the bathroom, and turned off the water. “It must be the spirit. I told you how much trouble it causes. It doesn’t mean any harm, though. I’ll talk to it. I’ll let it know the dog could get hurt if anything stays open.”

“Thanks?” I said, unsure whether my friend was screwing with me. Later in the day, I heard her speaking to the spirit, requesting it to behave. I think I even heard her bark.

The rest of the week, the cabinets and drawers and doors stayed closed. The dog stayed safe. But some other strange things happened.

I heard footsteps above me, like someone had been crawling on the ceiling. I smelt something smoky coming from my bedroom, like a lit cigar. I saw strange dots of light everywhere — on the walls, across the television, in my mirrors. And my dreams… they were the strangest I’d ever had. They were never violent, but they were weird, like I had been tripping on acid.

When my friend finally left, I watched her descend down the steps and into her Uber. It took me a second to notice her suitcase wasn’t bright blue anymore. It was a deep, dark red. Like the color of old blood.

I didn’t even ask her about it. I was just glad she was gone — along with whatever came with her.

Open Topic

Be Brave.

Be brave enough to be alone.

By alone, I mean only depending on yourself for your happiness and your comfort. I mean dreaming of a future where your goals rely on you, and only you, to achieve them.

By alone, I mean strolling down a beach with the sand between your feet and hugging yourself as the wind brushes your bare arms. I mean taking yourself on a date to your favourite café with a book, a coffee, and yourself for company and watching the sun rise and fall back down again, feeling nothing but comfort in that moment.

By alone, I mean listening to your own thoughts, being your best friend, and cherishing the solitude that you find yourself in. I mean being okay with not having a partner and still feeling loved. I mean being comfortable in the presence of those that do. I mean being happy when those you grew up with fold themselves in the arms of relationships, jobs, children, and new countries while you are still on a journey to find whom you truly are.

Be brave enough to love yourself.

By love, I mean wrapping strength around your wrists as you bunch your hands into tight fists for anyone who dares to treat you badly and letting your heart rest inside your chest rather than carrying it on your sleeve for people who will never see it for what it is worth.

I mean loving yourself enough to walk away, enough to say when you have endured too much, enough to smile at your reflection in the mirror when life feels grim, enough to put yourself first and not let anyone take you for granted.

By love, I mean hugging yourself when you feel empty, pouring all the tenderness that you give to others inside yourself, where it belongs. I mean giving and giving to your heart until you fill your empty bucket with enough love to last you a lifetime. I mean cherishing your soul, comforting yourself, and never letting yourself go astray again.

Be brave enough to be there for yourself.

By being there, I mean holding your own hand when things get too much and wiping your tears when you are settled in a tight corner of your room with no one but a human-sized shadow resting beside you.

I mean giving yourself the compulsory pep talks, having the heart-to-hearts, listening to your worries and concerns and holding your falling pieces together as closely as you can, because if you don’t then you will fall apart and there will be no one other than you to save you.

Be brave enough to say no.

By this, I mean say no when it causes you pain, say no when you do not want to give away parts of yourself anymore, say no when you do not want to be pushed around or forced to do things that do not fulfil you.

Say no when your heart rattles against your ribs because it has been drained of all the love and affection that it could give. Say no when deep down you know that they do not deserve the goodness that rests inside your chest, when you know that you must save yourself for those who will cherish you, for those who will accept wholeheartedly all that you have to give.

Be brave enough to become the right person for yourself.

Because if you are brave enough to do what is right for your heart, then I promise you, you will never feel lonely when you are alone.

Open Topic

Learn To Put Yourself First.

For 21 years and counting, I have been the considerate one. The one who has always put others before me. I do it so often that it has become my normal. I almost always second guess myself when I try to make a decision that is only beneficial to me. But is it all really worth it? Is it worth it to sacrifice your mental or physical health to live in a world of missed opportunity or loss?

The answer is no. The more you give, the more people will take. Know when to restrain your generosity and reserve it for those who deserve it. I know I have this motherly nature where taking care of others has become a source of happiness. Because everyone deserves to feel cared for and taken care of. But don’t sacrifice your own happiness for someone else’s. Don’t feel bad for pursuing your dreams or things that make you happy at the expense of those who don’t matter. At the end of the day, it is your life and you can choose who you want to make happy.

Surround yourself with the right people. Your relationships with people should not all be about them. Relationships should be reciprocal. Be aware of people who are only looking to get something out of you and those who have genuine intention. Those are genuine will not take advantage of you. They will give as much as they will take. They will value you and respect your decision to put yourself first. They will never make you feel bad for pursuing your needs and desires over their own. Instead, they will lift you up and will be the support and assurance you need to feel confident in yourself and your decisions.

Accept that you can’t please everyone. There is over 7 billion people in this world. I can tell you now that not all of them will love you or care about you. People have their own lives and opinions. You have the power over how others will affect you. You don’t have to stand for anyone’s bullshit. You can walk away. You can move forward. You can turn left or right. You don’t have to entertain people’s requests when they don’t matter. Once you realize this, you can welcome the feeling of freedom. You can live a life that is yours without always having to worry about the people outside yourself.

It’s time for you to stop feeling small. You don’t have to feel like you’re not important enough. Because you deserve to live a life that is full of happiness, promise, and opportunity.

Open Topic

Don’t Settle. Rise!

When someone thinks of something “settling,” one of the first things that comes to mind is a house. I remember growing up, every time I would hear startling creaks in the house, my parents would say, “It’s okay. It’s just the house settling.” It wasn’t until I was older and began watching HGTV (and after becoming a real estate agent for six months) that I learned exactly what it meant for a house to settle. Settling is sinking. The house itself is slowing sinking into the ground. The soil around the foundation has changed and can no longer safely accommodate the structure of the house.

Settling eventually causes foundation problems. The safety and reliability of the once strong and certain foundations begin to falter and slowly sink into the earth. There are ways to prevent this from happening, such as proper drainage systems and clear gutters. However, once the house is settled, it has just accepted where it is. It then refuses to rest on solid ground. It is comfortable. That is where it has been existing for years, and the ground just accepted it. But the truth is; settling is sinking, no matter how you look at it.

Now, let’s use this example as a reference for our lives as humans. It is very easy to settle, especially if the foundation around us is weakening. It just seems easier to stay where we are. We are tired. We are just comfortable. Regardless of how badly we want something better or the knowledge that there is a more solid ground elsewhere, we cannot convince ourselves to move. Why? We have been in this place for a long time and we seem to be doing okay. Right?

We settle into jobs, relationships, friendships and thoughts. We settle into our ways and our past. We get so comfortable with what is happening around us because that is what we have always done. That is how our life has been for one, five, ten years. We compromise happiness for comfortability. We compromise for that sure thing and for the normal. Here is a secret: nothing life-changing happens inside comfort.

To experience those life-changing moments, those new adventures, the pathways to happiness and to a new normal, we have to get outside of the comfort zone boxes we have put ourselves in. We have to climb, sometimes fight, our way out of the soggy soil and back onto solid ground. That is where your foundation is strengthened. That is where your willpower and courage is put to the test. How badly do you want those things that get you excited? How much do you want to change your life for the better? How hard do you want to work for those goals that can only come to fruition outside the settlement? Why do you think those people who settled here on this land build their settlements? Because it was familiar. They were called settlements because they chose to settle there, within the walls and land of a certain area. And what happened when someone chose to venture outside the confines of the settlement walls? People thought they were crazy! They said it was dangerous and uncertain. They were exactly right. Beyond the walls they built to keep life out was exactly where life happened. Every discovery and every new connection was made out there. Outside the box of reassurance, they found themselves. They had to take the chance and want something more than they wanted the comfort.

Here’s the deal: sometimes doing what is better for you means moving on from what you originally thought was best. Settling is sinking. You were born to rise. You were meant for so much more than you have accepted for yourself. By settling into that job that you stay at even though you have a passion for something else, you lose your passion for life. By settling into that miserable relationship you have been in for years because you feel obligated, you are missing the opportunity to meet someone that makes you genuinely happy. By settling into that unfair and disrespectful friendship just because you have known them since Kindergarten, you are settling for less than you deserve and passing up people who truly love and care about you. By settling into those thoughts you have always had, you will get the results you have always received.

Settling is a pattern. It is a series of choices that lead you right back to the same place you are now. To break patterns, what do you have to do? You have to steer away from the normal motions or behaviors. By doing so, you create an entirely new pattern that can be anything you want it to be. And if later on you don’t like that pattern? Well, you do the same thing. There are no rules. There are no set patterns. You can create a new pattern at any moment. Stop settling. Stop sinking into a life that you are not fully living. Rebuild your life. Reestablish your soil. Strengthen your foundation. Rise.