These Woods Are Haunted

Warning: Old Man Complaint Ahead

I understand that TV has changed. When I was young, MTV (Music Television) played music videos and TLC (The Learning Channel) showed surgery. Even later in my life, the programming on The History Channel was largely about, you know, history, or at the very least Adolf Hitler.

Based on the information scoured from a remote control peruse during my last trip home, these things are no longer true. TLC and The History Channel is rife with reality TV mostly hitting niche audience markets that somehow become crack cocaine to the larger viewing audience. Had someone told me a decade ago that I would be thoroughly involved in a show about trash pickers or about the daily happenings of a family that owns a Las Vegas pawn shop, I’d have thought you looney. But, alas, here we are.

In the land of target audiences, The Discovery Channel has cast a net so wide as to capture every audience that exists, has ever existed, or will ever exist on earth or any planet discovered or undiscovered in our universe or any universe. Just by going to Discovery Plus, one can find a number of shows about morbidly obese people trying to lose weight, a variety of different societal groups looking for love – immediately, those who want to be married and engaged, thousands of ghost hunters, and a huge group of people looking for Bigfoot and his cryptid buddies.

These Woods are Haunted is a show that falls into these last categories. It hits the obvious market of nature loving ghost and cryptid enthusiasts. Despite its goofy premise, the show is well done. There is no narrator and each episode involves the people to whom the experience happened telling their woeful tale interlaced between a (sometimes very creepy) dramatization in which someone who looks sort of like them but it far better looking gets chased through the woods by a just out of focus monster.

It. Is. Brilliant.

There is a certain tables-turned joy at watching Bigfoot hunters get hunted by Bigfoot, but to be honest the unlucky (and often shell-shocked) victims are tortured by a variety of monsters and ghouls, including ghosts from various American-soil wars, demons, werewolves, devil monkeys, swamp apes, and things Native American folklorists have been warning us about for eons. Oh, and inhabiting North American forests are some mean giant things called Dog Men that are ten feet tall and which, it has been postulated, wiped out the Roanoke colony.

Despite this variety of supernatural or cryptid aggressors, the victims all seem to say the same three things.

I will never disbelieve someone else’s story ever again.

I wish this had never happened to me

I am not going back there

If any of these stories are true then America’s woods are scary as hell. And this isn’t counting the survivalists running around out there painted from head to toe in camouflage painting, armed with claymores and an AR-17, and a shirt that reads: Unmasked, Unvaccinated, Unafraid. But still. Freaky.

So it’s with a particular jolt of irony that this show came back to my while walking through the woods near my home. I live in Prague 6 near a forest through which I walk at least three times a week. The forest is denser than you’d think could exist in a city. Once in it, I don’t see people for a little while until I reach one of the main paths in the park. It’s there, yesterday, that I remember that these woods are no neophytes to havoc. Battles have been fought here (White Mountain) and exotic animals were shipped here from all over the world. If there are woods in Europe which could be haunted, it could be these woods.

It’s then that I begin hearing – really hearing – the woods. A far-off drill bemoans some neighbor’s miserable day. A couple of birds tweet aggressive epithets are each other. A tiny rustle off the path makes me leap and let out a regrettable screech. I am staring at the corner of the path with wide-eyed horror.

The mouse glares at me from under his leaf.

I plan my story, saying aloud:

I will never disbelieve someone else’s story ever again

I wish this had never happened to me

I am not going back there

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