The Voice in the Wilderness

Guest Blogging today is John Malcolm.  John lives with his family (2 boys, 1 girl, wife is deceased since 2009) in OklahomaJohn is a website designer and part-time systems analyst for a large telecommunications company.  His hobbies are hunting, fishing, writing and enjoying activities with his family.

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My story takes place in the rugged, mountainous region of north-central Arkansas.  We lived about 50 miles south of the Missouri state line.  There was a lot to do there if you enjoyed the rugged mountain country as my dad and I did.  We often went hunting in this area during hunting season.  We would be gone for days at end.  But, if you weren't familiar with this wilderness area of Arkansas, it isn't the place for you to be without someone to guide you.  Some people have gotten lost here, never to return.  Others were found deceased due to exposure or starvation.  So, never venture in this area of the country without a guide who is intimately familiar with it.  I lived here until I was 18.  For many years, my friend Dexter and I would go scouting around this area.  We knew northern Arkansas like the back of our hands.  It was a great way to spend a weekend camping and just enjoying life.  We frequently would go fishing and eat what we caught.  The first time I ever camped overnight was with my father. I was 12 years old.  He warned me not to be fearful of the sights and sounds that I would encounter on this camping trip. I was puzzled by this.  I soon found out what he was talking about.

That first camping trip included my father, me, my previously mentioned friend Dexter and a co-worker from my father's company.  We all greatly anticipated this trip.  My mother was not as enthusiastic.  She thought Dexter and I were too young.  My father wouldn't hear of it.  He always went on these trips armed with a rifle and sidearm just in case a wild animal got too close to us.  So, on an early Saturday morning, we all went off in my father's 4-wheel drive Jeep Wrangler.  We got to the region where even the Jeep couldn't go.  Father parked the Jeep, we gathered up our supplies and headed north into the wilderness of Arkansas.  Dexter and I were so excited we could barely contain ourselves!  There were sights of the wonderment of nature that occupied our time.  The region started becoming more mountainous and rugged.  We lost our excitement about two hours after we headed out.  We were beaten.  We settled in across from a creek flowing down from this huge mountain.  The sight of all this was simply amazing.  Even now, I get the tingles just remembering my first experience of this area.  Dad and his coworker brought tents they both carried.  They were enough for two people to sleep comfortably.  We all went fishing in the deep, wide creek.  Dad said he had caught many Spotted Bass and Flathead Catfish in this creek.  They sure weren't biting much on this particular day.  We did finally manage to catch 3 Bass and 1 large Flathead Catfish.  That catfish was hell to clean.  But, it was fried fish for dinner in the huge skillet my father had brought.

After dinner, we sat around and talked the talk of life in Arkansas.  Dexter and I shared what we wanted to do when we grew up.  At 12 years old, I still wanted to be a cowboy.  Dexter was more practical.  He wanted to be a lawyer (instead, he found himself on the other side of the law).  After a few stories, we all were tired and sleepy.  I slept with my dad in his tent, Dexter slept with my dad's co-worker.  He was a small, friendly guy.  He just talked too much for my liking.  So, about 10 PM, we all went to sleep.  We were going to go as far as we could up the north slope of this particular mountain.  I was looking forward to it.  I guess I had been sleeping about 2 hours when I heard "The Voice" for the first time.  I thought my father had said something to me.  He was snoring away.  I just blamed it on a dream or the wind outside.  As I was about to lay back down, I heard it again.  "Hello."  This time, I knew it was not my father.  I got out of my sleeping bag and stepped out of the tent.  The wind was blowing pretty good.  It could have been the wind whispering through the trees and my overactive imagination.  But, I heard The Voice again.  "Hello," once again rang through the wilderness of that area where we were camped.  This time, my father's coworker also heard it as he got out of his tent.  We both looked at each other in amazement.  I said, "Hello" back to whatever it was out there in the pitch darkness of the night.  There was nothing said for about two minutes.  Then, I got a reply, "Who are you?"  This could not be explained away as wind whispering through the trees.  We got a sentient answer.  The Voice was not particularly loud.  In fact, it was just enough to where you could hear without actually straining to hear.  This woke my dad and Dexter by this time.  My father did not seem surprised.  In fact, he was the only one not surprised.

My father said to answer the question of "Who are you" to the voice.  I was fearful now.  Dad told me to go ahead, he was there beside me.  I said, "My name is Johnny.  What is your name?"  I got no answer for several minutes.  We were about to settle back in for the night when the reply came.  "I have always been here.  Always," came the reply.  I was literally shaking.  My father decided to take matters into his own hands now.  "We mean you no harm.  We are simply passing through, " said my father.  Again, silence for several minutes.  "Fare thee well," came the ghostly reply from The Voice.  "We won't be hearing anything else for the rest of the night or probably for the rest of our trip here.  I've heard this many times during my life here.  No harm will come to anyone. So, don't be afraid.  I have no idea what that is.  Nor does anyone else who has heard it.  Stories of it go back at least a couple of centuries, said my eerily emotionless father.  My father was right, we didn't hear anything else from the voice in the wilderness for the rest of that night and the rest of our trip.  I was ready to go home after that.  But, we stayed for another two nights with nothing unusual taking place.

My father told me the next morning he had heard this same voice ever since he and his father had hunted up in this area of Arkansas.  My grandfather never discussed it with me.  But, he did sing a song quite a bit that now makes sense.  The song?  Fare Thee Well was the song he has sung almost every time I ever saw grandpa.  "Fare Thee Well" is an old English folk ballad that has its origins back in the early 18th Century.  It is what a lover says as he or she bids farewell before setting off on a journey.  My dad said the entity that we heard that night might have been the spirit of a long-dead lover who never came back from his (it was definitely a male voice) journey. I heard The Voice several more times, on camping trips up there, before going away to college in Oklahoma.  It was never threatening or alarming after that first night to me.   I haven't been back there since I was 21, some 22 years ago now.  But, each time we spent the night, it never failed we would hear the mournful "Hello" from The Voice in the wilderness of north-central Arkansas.

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