Estimated reading time — 15 minutes
My son has reached the age at which he can enjoy my stories. By now, his friends have gathered that I am “the guy” who wrote those books and Creepypastas that they have read and listened to on YouTube. Sometimes, when they are over the house, we’ll sit out around a bonfire in the backyard and share stories. Each time we do, it never fails that someone asks “Yeah, but do you have any true stories?”
True? Are you insinuating that my stories aren’t true? Well, for the most part they are not. There are a few that are mostly true, or based on true events; but I recently remembered one that is entirely true, and it still gives me the shivers. Let me digress a bit and properly set the background.
There are three types of campers. The first are the “glampers,” who drive around in their two-hundred-thousand dollar motor homes with king sized beds, satellite TV and internet access, and more televisions than are in my entire house. Then are the “campers,” who rent lots at campgrounds or state parks and sleep on the ground in tents telling themselves that, unlike the glampers, they are really roughing it. And that leaves the stone agers. My friends and I fall in that last category.
Our idea of camping was to drive out to the wilderness, pull off the side of the road, stuff as much as we could into our backpacks, and take off on foot up into the mountains. Give me a sleeping bag, a gun, a bottle of cheap whiskey, and a can of beans and I’m set for the weekend. That is how my friends and I spent most of our summer weekends in our younger years.
Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, the nearest place that we could find actual wilderness included a four hour drive to the foothills of the Appalachians in the Allegheny National forest. We would hit I- 90 right after work on Friday and drive east along the great lakes until we reached the outskirts of the forest, then plunge south into its heart. Our destination was the little town of Red House near the Seneca Nation Indian Reservation. It was a long, boring drive – especially after a hard day’s work – but our excitement would begin to grow when we spotted the first familiar landmark. Driving along the Allegheny River highway, it was impossible to miss the Kinzua Dam. Built for flood control and used to generate hydroelectric power, the one-hundred-eighty foot high concrete structure was massive and visible from miles away. It was, and still is, the largest dam east of the Mississippi River.
Passing the dam, we would go over a long bridge that crossed the man-made Allegheny Reservoir that had come to be known as Lake Perfidy – an interesting and fitting name, as you will soon find out. Red House was not far beyond that. On this particular occasion, our party consisted of myself and two friends: Mike and Rob. We reached an abandoned gas station – our “base camp” – shortly after nine o’clock. As usual, we packed our things and begin climbing into the Appalachian foothills. We were in a hurry to get to one of our favorite spots as soon as possible. It was freezing cold, even though it was the middle of August, and we still needed to locate some dry wood for a campfire.
Finding cut logs and kindling was never a problem, as that part of the forest underwent a constant process of selective logging. Trees were thinned out rather than clear-cut, allowing the logging companies to get their take while leaving a sustainable forest to repair itself. There was always some waste left over, and as soon as we dropped our packs and sleeping rolls, we went off hunting for chunks of wood. Another advantage of having the logging companies working out there was the network of primitive logging roads that they left behind. Narrow, flat, and paved with pressed sawdust and wood chips, the roads made great trails to follow. Theoretically, we could have used them to drive further up the mountain but a ranger had long ago warned us that they were dangerous. They twisted and turned without warning, were sometimes blocked by fallen trees, and if the weather was wet they tended to slide out from beneath your vehicle, potentially leaving you hanging from a mountain ledge. In addition to that, he told us stories about the local drunks who would use the roads at night to get from the bars in town out to their homes in order to avoid using surface roads, where they might run into the sheriff. Two vehicles trying to negotiate the same road, in opposite directions, with (at least) one drunk operator was a recipe for disaster.
Friday night was uneventful. We gathered some wood, got a fire started and laid out our sleeping rolls. We sat around the fire for an hour or so passing around a bottle of Echo Springs and talking about our plans for Saturday and then, exhausted, hit the hay.
Okay, the one downside of sleeping under the stars is the potential to wake up half-submerged in a puddle of water. Sure enough, it had rained overnight. Not enough of a downpour to wake any of us up, but enough to thoroughly soak our campsite. The coals from the previous evening’s fire were still sizzling. My sleeping bag, and my clothes, were soaked. First order of business was to get a roaring fire going and try to dry out and warm up. That done, we decided to head back to the truck and make a run for the reservation. Surely, we thought, there must be some type of general store where we could buy some tarps so that we would be prepared in case more rain should come on Saturday.
Although we had camped near the reservation for years, we had never actually been to the reservation. Driving in, we were all a bit anxious. We did not know what to expect. We had heard that the natives didn’t hold any fond feelings for “the white man.” I suppose that we half expected to find teepees and wigwams but instead found trailer parks and bingo halls. It was a thoroughly depressing place. Squalid living conditions and poverty oozed from every pore of the place. Maybe the white man really did screw these people over. They could always leave, though, right? Make their way out in the real world? I suppose it’s not that simple and I will never truly be able to understand. In our modern age, a reservation is just a place where a tribe has sovereignty to run their own government and enforce their own laws, even if contained entirely within another state. Hence, the bingo halls and casinos, which would be taxable or outlawed in the surrounding area. Of course, the prospect of gambling was not helping out the Seneca people. Big spenders did not often flock to little towns in the middle of nowhere.
We weren’t having much luck finding anything other than what I just described when we stumbled across an old man sitting out in front of one of the bingo halls. Tanned, high-cheeked, and sharp featured, the man was obviously an Indian – an Iroquois, actually. He was also clearly drunk. If we couldn’t tell by looking at him (which we could) then it was readily apparent by smelling him from ten feet away. Of course, we had heard the old clichés about lazy Indians living off the government’s teat while they spent their days lying around drinking. That isn’t really the case, though. In fact, this guy was just an alcoholic, plain and simple. He could just as easily have been a white, black, or Asian man sitting in the doorway of an abandoned building in downtown Cleveland.
Mike rolled down his window and called out to the man. “Hey dude! Is there a hardware store or something around here?”
The old Indian looked up and tried to focus on our truck. “Huh? What are you looking for?”
“A place we can buy some supplies. We’re looking for some canvas tarps – you know, to keep the rain off.”
“Oh,” the Indian nodded, “Campers, eh? If I were you I would count my blessings and just go home.”
“Not an option, man.”
“Let me think, then.”
We parked and got out of the truck. You could almost see the gears grinding away in the guy’s head. “Nope,” he finally said, “Can’t help you. But you should really leave. Full moon tonight.”
“We’re not the superstitious type, man.”
“Not superstition,” the Indian said shaking his head vigorously. “Fact. It is very dangerous for you to be here. Onekahokwe comes, if not tonight then tomorrow for sure.”
“Onekahokwe.” He sounded it out as oh-NEEK-ah HOCK-way. “The water man.” It was obvious that he was itching to tell us the legend, and we had nothing else to do, so we sat down on the sidewalk next to him and he began speaking.
“In 1796, Pennsylvania gave Seneca Warchief Cornplanter fifteen-thousand acres of land in this valley as thanks for his support as protector of American families settling in the Allegheny River valley. In what would become the oldest treaty between the Indians and the whites, General George Washington granted the land to the Seneca tribe forever.
“The white man has a funny idea of forever, though. In 1965 they built the dam. It flooded the river valley, covering our ancestral land. Our homes, our farmland, the graves of our families. All of it, hundreds of feet below water. Our tribal leaders begged the government to stop the building of the dam, but in 1960 the president of the United States broke the longest standing treaty with Native Americans that ever existing. They claimed to have relocated our burial grounds further up the hillside but we do not believe them. Many of the graves remained, including that of Chief Cornplanter himself.
“The Seneca people still consider it a vile act of desecration. The whites simply referred to the man-made lake as the Allegheny Reservoir, but to the Seneca it has always been called Lake Perfidy – as a reminder of the treachery and deceit visited upon us by the U.S. government.”
Rob raised his eyebrows. “So where does aqua-man play into all of this?”
“Dude,” I interjected, “Have some respect. Can’t you see that he’s serious?”
The old Indian raised his hands, as if in surrender. “No, no. He is right to ask. That is the only way to understand.” He turned to face Rob. “The park rangers try to keep it secret, but divers inspecting the dam encountered a terrifying creature. It was ugly, fierce, and so threatening that they will only dive in cages now. We believe that was Onekahokwe. He protects our ancestors’ remains from being despoiled even more than they already have.”
“That’s just a rumor, though, right.” I didn’t know if Rob was making a statement or asking a question.
“No. It is the truth.”
I’ll admit that the hairs on the back of my neck were raised, but I still felt relieved. “Well, even if it was it won’t be a problem for us. We don’t plan on doing any swimming.”
“Does not matter.” The old Indian shook his head. “When there is a full moon, Onekahokwe walks on land. He comes for his sacrifice and to be worshipped. It would be best if you did not meet him.”
“Walks on land, eh?” Rob slapped his knees and stood up. “Well, I think we’re done here! Thanks for the story, man. I think we’ll take our chances, though.”
We all laughed nervously and then left the Indian to go back to the bottle that he had been hiding behind his back. We never did find any tarps, but (not surprisingly) the old man was able to direct us to a duty-free liquor store where we could replenish our supply of whiskey.
While we had no trouble believing the Indian’s story about how the government reneged on their land treaty, we drew the line at the story of the fish man. Our interest having been piqued, though, we took a ride up to the dam to see if the visitor center was open, figuring that we might be able to find some brochures or some other sources of information about Kinzua’s history. We lucked out and, despite the previous night’s rain, the gate to the causeway over the dam was open and we were able to walk out to the small blockhouse at the end of the spillway. There was a park ranger there and we started to shoot the shit with him, telling him about the old Indian and his story.
The officer assured us that the divers from the Army Corp of Engineers did not use cages and had never spotted any “fish creatures.” He said that they had run into some very large catfish and muskellunge. The muskie grew up to eight feet long had some pretty wicked teeth, but they stayed away from the divers and were not enough of a danger to warrant using a diving cage. He also told us that unfortunately, what the old Indian had said about the U.S. government screwing them over was entirely true, right down to the tidbit about there still being some graves that never got relocated. The ranger excused himself for a minute and returned holding a pair of binoculars. One by one, he directed our attention to areas where we could glimpse the remains of the town of Corydon breaking the water’s surface. A church steeple, the roofline of an old building and some brush – the latter which he said were the tops of trees. If you were to take a boat over to that area, you would be able to see the trees’ entire canopies below the surface. More evidence of prior human settlement appeared during periods of drought.
An entire submerged town, sort of like Atlantis. Creepy, but certainly nothing as hair-raising as fishmen.
Having spent the morning listening to the old legend about the valley that we had camped in numerous times before, we were happy to see that the overcast sky was clearing. Perhaps we didn’t need any tarps after all. We returned to camp and spent the afternoon and early evening hiking in the mountains, making a side trip to bring some more large logs back to camp, which we set around the fire to dry out so that we could use them later that night. After dinner, we washed up our kits in a small creek and set to drinking. Once thoroughly drunk, we pulled out our guns for some target practice. Alcohol and guns – a logical combination, right? Fortunately for us, there were never any problems.
After a while, we had settled down and were sitting around the fire waxing nostalgic about previous trips and making plans for future weekends, when we heard an engine revving up nearby. We were about one hundred yards into the woods off the nearest logging road, yet we could see headlights glimmering through the thick forest. Before we had time to realize what was going on, the headlights were speeding past us. The sound of the engine was louder and we could hear the vehicle’s tires skidding on the wet sawdust road. Within seconds, its taillights winked out as it turned a corner.
Eyes wide, Rob exclaimed “Must be one of the locals heading home from the bars.”
“Yeah but… Jesus! He was moving too fast even for dry roads.”
“I’m sure that he’s an old pro,” I said. “Anyway, no skin off our noses.” And so we went back to our business of drinking and bullshitting, growing tired and lying back on our (still squishy) sleeping bags. After what was probably half an hour, we heard the sound of twigs snapping nearby, as if something was walking toward us through the forest undergrowth. Adrenaline surging, we instantly snapped out of our stupor and sat up straight. Something was out there. Looking into the woods in the direction of the sounds, we could see a glowing pair of eyes. It had to be a bear!
There were plenty of black bears in the area, and we had run across more than a few in the time we spent in that forest. One bear in your camp is one bear too many. The bears in the area only ran between ninety and one-hundred fifty pounds, but I use the word “only” very loosely. They have those big, sharp, pointy teeth and claws, you know. The old myth is to hang your food up in a tree to keep the bears away. Well… Bears are very good climbers, and it just becomes a big bear-piñata, so that never really worked. We found that tightly sealed plastic bags work better – even for garbage. Nevertheless, the bears in the area are a bit too familiar with humans and get curious sometimes. Usually making a lot of noise was enough to scare them off, so we tried that this time but the bear answered back.
“Hey! Anybody out there?”
Wary of the late night visitor, Rob already had a hand on his gun. “Yeah. Who’s asking?”
A young guy, maybe early twenties, emerged from the woods. He must have noticed the gun because his hands were raised. “I don’t want any trouble guys. I saw your campfire when I passed by.”
Still on the defensive, Rob asked, “So what? Are you Smoky the Bear?”
“No, man. I was hoping that you could help me out.”
“With what?” As the guy stepped into the light from our campfire, we could see that he was pretty banged up – forehead and left arm bleeding – and that he was limping a little.
“I, uh…” he started sheepishly, “I had a little accident. I was going a bit too fast and flipped my truck up the way.”
“Oh, so that was you!” I said.
“Yeah. It’s slippery out tonight. So, do you guys think that you could help me flip it back on its tires? It’s kinda’ sideways right now. I could probably get it back straight up with some help.”
It sounded like the guy may have been through the same thing before – either himself or with a friend. We put our heads together and talked it over in low voices, then agreed. Rob and Mike would go with him and try to help him out. Being the paranoid city-folk that we were, we decided that I should hang back at the camp. There was always a slim chance that it was a setup. This guy draws us away, and his friends sneak in and take our stuff. It was an unlikely scenario, but we felt more comfortable that way.
Rob and Mike went off into the woods with the unfortunate driver, and I settled back down next to the fire. I laid back and started to relax. Knowing that I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep until they returned, I lay there and listened to the insects and frogs chirruping. It couldn’t have been more than ten minutes before I heard the snapping of twigs again – much too soon for my friends to be back, as I had calculated from the time it took the guy to get from his truck back to us. The thought of facing a bear on my own was a little daunting, but I had done it before. I stared deep into the woods and let my eyes adjust to the darkness.
Once again, it quickly became apparent that it was not a bear coming toward me. Not even a bunch of bears. I saw multiple sets of eyes reflecting the moonlight, and heard voices. The people were speaking in what I assumed to be the Iroquois tongue. There must have been about a dozen of them. In all of our years camping out in the woods in that valley, I had never seen any of the Indians out in the forest. Now, here was a whole band of them – and I was alone. My anxiety grew in proportion to the volume of their voices.
The Indians must have seen my campfire. They passed so close that they could not have possibly missed it, yet they continued on, passing me as if I were not even there, intent on getting to their destination. Curious – or perhaps just plain stupid – I decided to follow them and see where they were going. I don’t know if I was being as stealthy as my drink-addled brain thought or if they truly did not care that I was following. I got bold and closed the distance between them and myself. That’s when I noticed that two of the Indians were half-dragging, half-leading another man who appeared to be in a stupor. Seeing that concerned me, so I dropped back further into the woods.
They group arrived at a clearing at the top of a hill. I recognized it, as there was one very tall, dead, and completely stripped birch tree smack dab in the center. We had thought about cutting it down for firewood at one time, but it was just too darn big. The two Indians who were leading the impaired man approached the tree and lashed him to it with leather thongs. Then they all stepped back and began to chant. I must have gone on for a good half an hour but I remained there, transfixed by the sight and the sound of their invocation.
Then… I shit you not… this thing came out of the woods. I can only attempt to describe it because it was like nothing that I have ever seen. It was like nothing that should possibly have existed on earth.
The creature was undoubtedly Onekahokwe. The fish man. Although it was definitely part fish, I could not have attributed any features of “man” to it other than its un-fishlike appendages. Like a fish, the transition between its head and body was almost indistinguishable. The head/face portion was bulbous and spherical, probably three feet in diameter with a mouth that extended almost all of the way across it. It had two bulging, opaque eyes and a fin running down its spine – sort of like the dorsal fin on a marlin, only bigger. It was scaly, too, and it smelled funny. Not fishy, just… funny. Unlike a fish, though, this creature had long arms that hung from just below its head to the ground. It also had two stumpy legs. All of its limbs ended in flat, webbed, paddles that appeared to have a finger-like bone structure supporting them. Each “finger” or “toe” was tipped with a sharp barb. Based on the proportion of its height to the surrounding men, I would guess that it stood at least eight feet tall.
It was obvious that the Indians had expected the monster to appear, but they still seemed startled and afraid. They quickly scattered and fled into the woods, leaving behind the poor man that they had tied to the tree. He seemed to snap out of his trance at the sight of the fish man, and opened his mouth in a silent scream.
The last clear memory I have of Onekahokwe was when it looked directly at me. Our eyes met and it was as if it peered into my soul. I don’t think that it was at all concerned with my presence but I was not about to hang around to find out. I took off blindly into the woods, slamming my shoulders into trees in the darkness. I had the bruises to prove it the next morning, but at the time I did not care. From behind me came a combination of blood-curdling sounds. One was a human scream, letting me know that the man – a sacrifice, obviously – had found his voice. The other, much louder sound, was like nothing I had ever heard before. I had a feeling that if fish made sounds, it would sound very similar.
In my terror, I got lost in the dark and eventually had to work my way back to a logging road that I could follow back to our campsite. Apparently, I had beaten Rob and Mike back. They must have had quite a bit of trouble getting that guy’s truck set upright. At least I hoped that was why they hadn’t returned yet. I finished off the dregs of the bottle of Echo Springs and then dug into Rob’s backpack looking for more. I was happy to find that he had brought along a bottle of Jack Daniel’s – the good stuff – probably for an “end of summer” or “beginning of fall” celebration. We didn’t need many excuses for celebrations. I felt bad for opening it without the others there, but I needed another drink. That drink ended up being half the bottle.
I wondered what I would tell the guys. They would think that I was crazy or making the whole thing up. The decision had to wait until morning, though, as I had passed out before they returned. I was too hung over and befuddled to say anything the next morning, and I realized that the more time that passed, the more my credibility would suffer.
In the end, I never did end up telling Rob and Mike anything about what had happened. In fact, after a while I even began to doubt myself. Maybe it was all just a bad dream inspired by the old Indian’s story and fueled by the whiskey and too many baked beans. These days, I like to tell myself that it was. Nevertheless, that was my last trip to Kinzua.
CREDIT : Kenneth Kohl