Timothy Wilkie is a legend in the Hudson Valley for his stories, art, poetry and music. He has two grown sons and lives on the banks of the Hudson River in Kingston, New York.


by Timothy Wilkie


The atmosphere was thick in the diner as the multiple ceiling fans barely moved the hot humid air. It was like some primordial mixture of cheap grease, bad breath, and stale aftershave

My cameraman, Tony, sat across from me. We did the weird stories for our YouTube channel—whatever we thought could be edgy. We sought out everything from flying saucers to haunted houses; we were kind of like wanna-be Mulder and Scully, except we were both men. 

There just wasn’t enough of that stuff anymore that no one had already filmed, so we had to go farther and farther out of our comfort zones. In this case, we were chasing a story about a monster in the woods near this tiny, run-down town deep in Minnesota.

Suddenly this sad, ancient looking man walked in the diner with an old navy peacoat on. “It’s too hot for that,” Tony commented to me. He was right; it was in the middle of a humid July.

By looking at his legs below the old man’s coat, you could tell he was just a scarecrow with piss for blood. The waitress brought out a plain brown bag from the kitchen and handed it to him. He didn’t pay; her he just turned around and left.

The middle-aged waitress came to our table. She noticed us looking at the door where the old man had left. “There goes poor Murph. He sure walks a ridge of stones,” she said.

Being a reporter of sorts and a man of words, I thought I had heard everything, but never that saying before. “Pardon?”

“Oh, you know…he teeters on the edge. It’s just been since he got back from the Gulf War—he’s really gone downhill,” she said, oblivious to the idea that she probably shouldn’t gossip about her customers. “He’s homeless—lives out in the woods by the marsh. He does odd jobs. The owner has him clean up outside by the garbage bins and he pays him with food. It’s a wonder he survives out in those woods.”

Suddenly my ears perked up at the mention of the woods. “Why would that be?”

“The whole damn place is haunted. Nobody goes in there. People report seeing strange lights and things. Like Mrs. Blum; she was picking berries one day and got all turned around in there. When they found her three days later, she was babbling about how she had followed a deer and had been abducted by owls. They still got her up at the state hospital.”

“Is that right?” I asked. “So, do you think the woods are haunted?”

For some reason, she suddenly seemed shy. “I talk too much,” she said and left.

Tony looked at me. “Sounds like a story, uh?” I trusted Tony; he had been with me for years. He had a nose for odd news. Even more than me sometimes.

“That old man is an army vet,” I said, “some poor disfigured guy who came back from the war. Everyone loves a story about a vet. Some poor slob wounded in some heroic act or another. Maybe even a medal to show off for his injuries.”

In the old days when I was a reporter for CBS, that’s how we did it. We looked for human-nature stories. At least, back then before I started drinking too much and got fired.

“You shouldn’t be so mean about people,” Tony said as we got up to leave the diner. “You’re way too cynical. He’s probably a nice old man who’s just down on his luck.”

“In the morning, we’re going to find old Murph,” I mused, ignoring what Tony had said like I usually did. “We’re going into the woods to find him.”


The air was full of warm acid smoke like someone was burning garbage in a barrel when we stepped out of our rooms in the morning. It was just before dawn, and there was the movement of wind in the low weeds across the road. They swirled in a dance, the reeds sounding like whispers, and then calmed to a standstill as the wind changed to a slow breeze.

“Do you remember some of those stories we covered when we were doing Dark Mysteries for our podcast, before we moved to YouTube?” Tony asked as we pulled into the diner for breakfast.

“Yeah, I do,” I replied. Of course, back then I was smoking two packs of Winstons a day and drinking a fifth of Bourbon to help me sleep at night. I had come down hard with that first heart attack. Dropped over right in the middle of a story. “What about it?”

I stepped out of the van. There was somebody standing at the edge of the parking lot. I walked out to get a better look. But Tony slammed his door shut and I took my gaze away. When I looked back, whoever it had been was gone.

Tony came up behind me and asked. “What? You see something?”

“No, I guess not,” I replied after a slight pause.

The older server from the night before had been replaced by a teenage girl.

“Do you know Murph?” I asked her.

“Of course,” she replied. “Everybody does.”

“Where can we talk to him?”

“You can’t, only my mother and Mr. Bates, the owner can.”

“Why is that?” I asked.

“Because he’s crazy,” she giggled.

“Wait,” Tony asked. “Does your mother work here at night?”

“Yes,” she replied.

“We were talking to her last night about Murph,” I said.

She looked away and suddenly got all shy, just like her mom.

Finally she looked back at us. “It’s no big deal. Before he went into the Army, they were sweethearts. He went over-seas and came back all crazy and my mother married my father. Who, as a side note, took off shortly after I was born and was never seen in these parts again.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said.

“Don’t be; I don’t remember him at all.”

“What about the woods and the marsh? You never went in there you and your friends?” Tony asked.

“Are you kidding?” she said. “Nobody goes in there. They say that Murph’s got it all set up with booby traps and all. It would be your life to go in there. Ain’t nobody in this town stupid enough to go into the woods. Plus add to that the place is haunted as hell. Everyone says there’s a cemetery right in the middle of those woods, although I’ve never seen it.”

“Come on,” Tony said, smiling in a pathetic attempt at flirting. “How can we get Murph to give us the tour?”

“I really shouldn’t be talking about this. Maybe there’s a curse or something.”

“Just get us started,” Tony said. “What road should we take to find the portion of the woods that old Murph lives in?”

“Go to Forest Road until it dead ends,” she said. “I can’t tell you anything more.”


We found Forest Road. We drove down it, and I couldn’t stop feeling uneasy. The trees—Eastern White Pines and cedars—loomed over the road and blocked the sunlight. The result was a darkened, gloomy road that made me feel like we were headed to a cabin in the woods right out of some horror movie.

Finally we could tell the road was ending because it became narrower and the pavement ended. Suddenly there was a squeal of brakes and our van went sideways in the road.

“What the hell are you doing?” I screamed at Tony.

“Whaddya want me to do, hit him?” he screamed back at me.

Fate works in strange ways and our creepy story business was even stranger. Murph was standing right in front of us. Instead of finding him, he found us.

He went down and I jumped out of the van and rushed to his side. “You, okay?” I asked him, stepping through the muddy road. Then I became suspicious. “Hey man, we didn’t hit you.”

He looked up at me with wide eyes. Helping him up, I said, “Why don’t you come into our van and sit down? We’d like to talk to you.”

“I got mud on me,” he said.

“We don’t mind the mud. Hell, our van is already filthy. And by the way, we have Bourbon inside that we’d love to share.” I knew that would do it.

I helped him step up to my spot, the passenger seat. I climbed in the back.

“Where the hell have you guys been? Are we forever or not? You said we were forever before the shell hit.” Then he lifted up his shirt and his upper torso was all scar tissue. “Do you know what it’s like to smell yourself cooking and for instant think, oh boy, something sure smells good?”

He took a swig out of the bottle. I thought, Sheesh, this guy really is crazy. He thinks we’re his army unit.

The whiskey was going fast and I knew it was now or never.  “What’s up with the woods and the marsh Murph? People around the area are terrified to go in there."

His eyes widened. “They should be. They should keep their asses out of there. There’s shit that happens in there. Weird shit.”

“Show us,” I told him.

He got a weird look on his face. “I showed Mrs. Blum and she was never the same. They took her to the funny farm where life is beautiful all the time. Those men with them clean white coats strapped her down pretty tight. I’ll take you if you let me drink the rest of this here Bourbon, but don’t blame me if you don’t like what you see.”

We told him to drink it all if he wanted, and he proceeded to do just that. I was surprised that he got out of the van without wobbling. It was as though all the booze he drank didn’t affect him all that much.

As always, Tony took his Go-Pro camera and I carried water bottles. We followed Murph into the woods. As we walked, I had to push overgrown Viburnum bushes out of my way. The sky was completely hidden now, and when the trail took a turn, Murph followed it. Sometimes the sparse light beneath the pines it disappeared entirely. I had heard there were black bears in Minnesota, and despite my crusty, cynical ways, I realized I was capable of fear.

Surprisingly for a crippled old vet, Murph moved pretty fast. It was apparent that he felt at home in these dark woods. I calmed myself by thinking, If a bear hasn’t eaten him by now, maybe they’ll leave me alone, too.

Suddenly Tony stopped and when I stepped ankle-deep in the big muddy, I knew why. “Things aren’t looking good,” Tony said, “We got nothing but marsh ahead.”

But Murph just kept going and when I looked up, he rapidly gained ground ahead of us. 

“Keep going,” I said. “We can’t lose him. Besides, we need him for our guide to find our way out. Our breadcrumbs have been all eaten by birds.”

“We’re not lost,” Tony insisted. But he began walking again, trudging through the mud, careful not to drop his Go-Pro camera.

It was like all the daylight had gone to ground and an eerie kind of twilight was all that was left us. We were screwed with every inch that we went deeper into that quagmire and I knew it. I felt hostility here. A certain bitter taste was on my tongue. Where Mother Nature had turned the trees and ferns a vivid green, I imagined that hate and regret soured the soil.

We finally reached a sleepy knoll and got up out of the mud and into the sunlight. It was a shocking sight after the almost complete darkness of the woods. There were flowers and in the middle were graves that had crude stones, all warped and chipped. Wrapped around each one was a huge wreath of wild flowers that had no doubt been hand-selected and gathered from all over the marsh.

Curious, I approached the headstones. Crudely carved in bold letters were the names of men.

Private Joseph Powell, Private Richard Weaver, Private Jose Rodrigus, Private Charles Watts. Last was an open, empty grave and the stone read: Sergeant Thomas Murphy.

“What is this?” I asked him.

His eyes got all watery and he choked up with emotion. “I kept one thing personal from every one of my boys that I murdered and buried it here.”

“Then there aren’t really bodies here?” I asked.

“Wow! What do you mean by personal things?” Tony asked.

Murph suddenly got a look of madness in his eyes. It was the only way I could describe it. He got right up in my face He was so close his lips were almost touching mine.

“Ears,” he whispered to me. “I took an ear off each one of them and buried them up here so I could tell them how sorry I was over and over again.”

All of a sudden it hit me. I told Tony, “I got the story. It’ll be creepy. Get the camera ready.”

Aiming his camera, Tony focused first on the sad little stones and then widened his angle like I had told him. I stepped into the frame and immediately started speaking.

“If you come to Marshall County in Minnesota, you most certainly will hear the story of Sergeant Thomas Murphy and his squad. And if you ask, maybe Murph, the nickname given to the vet who lives in the marsh, will give you a tour. As you follow him the first thing you’ll notice is the horrible stench of rot and mold which will make your stomach turn. It is the stench of neglect and shame. Not only of our fallen soldiers but of the cemetery and the graves that were left here in the mud.”

I continued to speak to the camera. “The locals won’t come into this dark place because they say it’s haunted, leaving only Murph to tend his memories and to the lost soldiers buried in the mud…”

I looked over Tony’s shoulder and stopped speaking. Something was standing next to the makeshift graveyard, partly camouflaged by pines. No one but Murph was supposed to be out her. I had a premonition that something bad was about to happen.

For some reason as I stared, my mind was filled with visions of a pulsating center. I saw it in vivid detail: horned serpents slithering on scaled bellies and massive parasites with eight legs and many mouths clacking together…staring eyes and razor-sharp teeth. I envisioned sinuous, elongated arms longingly reaching out for me.

I heard someone yelling, pleading, and it brought me back to reality. The old man’s face rushed in front of me.

“Get out!” he cried. “Get away from it!”

At first, I thought he was just being protective of whoever was in the woods, but I suddenly realized it was me he was trying to protect. I stepped in the direction of the figure.

“No!” Murphy screamed. “Go back!”

“Who is that?” I asked him.

“It’s Joe! Private Joseph Powell!” Murphy said.

Tony was just staring, his mouth wide open and his eyes bulging out of the sockets. “What do we do?”

I saw Tony start to put down the camera, and I yelled at him to keep filming. I was sure that Joseph Powell was a real man, but I could say he was a ghost haunting the graveyard on the upcoming YouTube video.

Joseph Powell seemed to glide as he stepped out into the clearing. A mist surrounded him, making him appear to shimmer like a blacktop in the heat. He turned in our direction. Immediately I felt cold fear rush though me and I could hear my heart beat in my ears. More fear engulfed me as I wondered if I was having a second heart attack.

“He’s coming for me!” Murph screamed. “I murdered him! He wants his revenge from the grave!”

It was enough for Tony. He grabbed his Go-Pro and sprinted back the way we had come. I stood there stupidly, frozen in place, as the ghost-man continued to approach.

Suddenly I recovered. I sprinted after Tony. I made my way through the mud and entered the forest, headed for the road and the safety of our van. Viburnum and tree branches slapped my face, but I didn’t slow down. I tripped once, but found my balance and continued.

I was afraid that Tony would leave without me, but when I reached the road, he was still there. I got in the van and he drove away in silence.

I had spent my life telling stories and this was one that didn’t need to be told.  I turned to my friend and partner for many years and told him, “I think it’s time we retire.”

He just nodded his head and continued to drive.