DARK WEB: STEVEN HICKEY’S ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO CREEPYPASTA PART 18: SEARCH AND RESCUE WOODS
In my last Creepypasta feature, I wrote about the critically acclaimed Penpal, a novel born out of a series of connected posts over on Reddit’s r/nosleep board.
This week we look at a similar success story, a number of posts that was met with plenty of recognition from the notoriously discerning readers of one of the internet’s top breeding grounds for fantastic Creepypastas.
On 26 August 2015, user searchandrescuewoods posted a story to r/nosleep entitled ‘I’m a Search and Rescue Officer for the US Forest Service, I have some stories to tell’ (https://www.reddit.com/r/nosleep/comments/3iex1h/im_a_search_and_rescue_officer_for_the_us_forest/).
It comprised of a number of anecdotes from the narrator’s career as a Search and Rescue officer in an unnamed heavily wooded area of the United States. The narrator lists several cases — some heart-wrenching, some head-scratching, and some legitimately disturbing — before wrapping up. Among these stories are tales of children mysteriously snatched away then recovered dead in places in which they had no right to be and, bizarrely, stories of strange but dangerous staircases standing in the woods.
At first glance this seemed like a fairly scattergun approach to telling spooky stories, but then the following day a second batch of stories was posted to Reddit (https://www.reddit.com/r/nosleep/comments/3ijnt6/im_a_search_and_rescue_officer_for_the_us_forest/). These also seemed rather haphazard, but on closer inspection certain elements from the first story were expanded upon.
Then came a third entry (https://www.reddit.com/r/nosleep/comments/3iocju/im_a_search_and_rescue_officer_for_the_us_forest/); followed by a fourth (https://www.reddit.com/r/nosleep/comments/3jadum/im_a_search_and_rescue_officer_for_the_us_forest/); a fifth (https://www.reddit.com/r/nosleep/comments/3kd90k/im_a_search_and_rescue_officer_for_the_us_forest/); a sixth (https://www.reddit.com/r/nosleep/comments/3ppq81/im_a_search_and_rescue_officer_for_the_us_forest/); a seventh (https://www.reddit.com/r/nosleep/comments/3sktwj/im_a_search_and_rescue_officer_for_the_us_forest/) and a ‘final’ eighth post (https://www.reddit.com/r/nosleep/comments/3ydj67/im_a_search_and_rescue_officer_for_the_us_forest/).
Over the course of these posts a rich ‘mythology’ is laid out, from the aforementioned stairs to the ‘fuzzy’ man and faceless people. We are given no answers, no cast-iron solutions or detailed exposition, instead we receive details of a series of incidents that encourage us to think about the links and draw our own conclusions. That element of mystery really adds to the storytelling process, causing the reader to engage with the subject material on a personal level.
But it isn’t just the format that draws the reader in. Searchandrescuewoods is an accomplished writer. The stories and subject matter are written with authority and include enough subtle details to help convince the reader that they are really hearing from an experienced and qualified US Forest Service agent.
They are so convincing that plenty of readers have linked the stories with the work of David Paulides.
For those who don’t know, Paulides is a writer/investigative journalist who once served as a police officer in San Jose. He has carved out quite the niche by writing bookss on both Bigfoot and unexplained disappearances (especially those in the US’s national parks).
Paulides founded a research group, North American Bigfoot Search (http://www.nabigfootsearch.com/home.html), while his extensively researched books on the subject — Tribal Bigfoot (http://amzn.to/1qZI1er) and The Hoopa Project: Bigfoot Encounters in California (http://amzn.to/1qZIg95) — are widely regarded as THE authority on Sasquatch sightings in North America.
Paulides’ Missing 411 project, which has been the subject of several nonfiction books he has penned, focuses on unexplained disappearances and deaths and was allegedly instigated by a conversation with an off-duty park ranger who recognised Paulides’ considerable investigative talents and asked him to look at a number of baffling cases. Since then Paulides has discovered a huge number of utterly bewildering cases around the world that very much match the stories told by SARwoods.
In fact, the events in Paulides’ books and the Search and Rescue Woods series are so similar that he has been asked, multiple times, about stairs in the woods and other SARwoods stories at public speaking engagements.
It became such a problem that SARwoods has had to include a disclaimer at their Tumblr blog and recently commented:
‘It is with great regret that I think back to the initial impact that my stories had on Paulides’ work. I have, of course, apologized, but unfortunately I suspect that irreparable damage has been done as far as our potential friendship goes. I hope this isn’t the case. I also hope that in the future my fans will express my feelings on this to him. He is my greatest inspiration; without him these stories would not exist. ‘
I think it’s actually a testament to SARwoods’ writing talent that people read these stories and feel compelled to check them out with the real world’s most esteemed expert in the field. But this should come as no shock. SARwoods’ own blog reveals that the author has studied writing at length, a study that has yielded real dividends. The r/nosleep audience is clearly enamoured with the stories — it received a staggering level of support which saw the series scoop one of NoSleep’s coveted Best Monthly awards.
And perhaps most excitingly, SARwoods has suggested there is more to come, stating that work has started on a manuscript of a novel that will collect and expand on these stories. Like the legions of fans SARwoods has cultivated, I for one cannot wait to see what other macabre wonders this talented storyteller has in store for us.
It was my pleasure to converse with the very friendly, charming SARwoods while researching this piece, and the author was kind enough to answer some questions for UK Horror Scene.
UK Horror Scene: Hi, thanks so much for agreeing to speak with UK Horror Scene. I’ll ask the most obvious question first — what served as your inspiration for the story?
SearchAndRescueWoods: I’ve always really enjoyed the woods as a setting for both horror and fiction. I think that there is a very ancient kind of fear in us of the trees that can be incredibly powerful when used in the right way. As for the stairs, they were inspired by some of the themes and imagery in House of Leaves.
UKHS: Which writers, horror or otherwise, do you consider yourself a fan of?
SARwoods: I have too many favorite authors to count. I enjoy an incredibly broad range of material, and there’s very little I won’t try. In particular, I enjoy Ann Beattie, Stephen King, Chuck Palahniuk, Brett Easton Ellis, and J. D. Salinger.
UKHS: The stories use a very interesting structure — a series of anecdotes that when read together hint at several larger plot lines. Why did you choose this format for storytelling? And what challenges did the format give you?
SARwoods: I enjoy writing from the close first person because it is a very intimate form of storytelling. We get the impression that the narrator is speaking directly to us, and in horror this is critical in order to maintain tension. I think the casual tone also makes the story more approachable, and a bit easier to understand. When we aren’t caught up trying to understand the material itself, it frees us up to imagine more. The challenge, of course, is that you are working so closely with the character. In a horror setting especially, everything that happens to the narrator has a consequence, and this has to be dealt with in a realistic manner.
UKHS: How does it feel to know that people are still posting questions to the web wondering if the events of your Search and Rescue stories are real? Do you feel proud that your work was so well written that it’s often mistaken for fact?
SARwoods: It makes me incredibly proud and flattered that people are still mistaking my stories for fact. In fiction, belief is the highest form of flattery!
UKHS: The fans are very passionate about the story. I’ve seen plenty of very atmospheric creepy images of stairs in the woods over at your Tumblr page (searchandrescuewoods.tumblr.com) Are there any examples of fan art, such as films, images or readings, in particular that have impressed you?
SARwoods: I am amazed with and am incredibly grateful for every piece of fanart I receive. I have incredibly talented fans!
UKHS: At the end of the eighth and final Nosleep post you mention assembling and expanding on these tales in a book in the future. Is that something that you are still pursuing? If so, how is it coming along? I’m sure I’m not the only fan who wants to know when we might be able to buy a copy!
SARwoods: I will be releasing more details on that at a future date.
UKHS: Congratulations on the stories’ tremendous success over at Nosleep. What was it like to receive that level of positive feedback and recognition from the Reddit community?
SARwoods: It’s been incredible to see how much Reddit, and NoSleep, have embraced my work. I am the top rated story of all time on NoSleep, and hold numerous other positions, which is absolutely mind-blowing. I would never have imagined that there would be so much interest in my work!
UKHS: Finally what else can your fans look forward to from you in the days ahead?
SARwoods: My fans can continue to look forward to, and receive, more work from me. I am switching gears from learning mode to application, so I will be producing much more content in the coming months.
Ultimately, the reasons that SARwoods’ stories resonate are twofold.
First, they tap into the natural fear of nature in modern man. We’re a civilised bunch and we have shaped the world to our own will, but there are still those places in the world, older than our society, that maintain their original primal form. Places that are dangerous, without the artificial safety we have built into our own habitat.
In the depths of the woods it is easy to feel both alone and completely surrounded. It’s a place devoid of human contact, utterly isolated, yet still teeming with life. It’s just that this life is the savage, instinctive kind, the sort that thrives in the kill or be killed environment of the wild.
The question is, are you?
The second reason the tale hits the mark is it’s engaging and unique method of story-telling. It matters not a jot how strong a plot is, if the story is poorly told it will not find an audience. And it is here that the talented SARwoods is a resounding success.
Come back next week when I’ll look at another unique and original story-telling method for a Creepypasta guaranteed to chill.
Until then, stay safe… and avoid the stairs.