I am starting a new series based on my summers at my granddaddy’s hunting camp in Alaska in the 90s. I was a kid and I had some really creepy/weird experiences over the course of several summers. The stories are ranging from 80%-95% true, I’ll let you have fun guessing which ones are exaggerated. None are going to be 100% because I have to fill in a few of the blanks, I was an elementary-aged kid and I’m sure I don’t remember everything perfectly.
Although this is going to be a multiple-part series, each installment will stand alone, though you should be able to see where some tie in together. There are a couple stories where I think I know what actually happened, but I’m telling the stories based on what Kid Me thought happened at the time. There are also a few stories where I’m not sure…
I hope you enjoy Tales From Solitude. The first part, “Squirrel Holes”, will be going live on Nosleep tomorrow!
What can I say about Solitude, Alaska?
Summers there were all about ‘character building’, the kind of experience adults lament children don’t have today, complete with hard physical labor. When we weren’t doing chores we enjoyed (relatively) unsupervised exploration of the wilderness near Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. This was back in the 90s.
Solitude was named for a small a creek that ran behind the log cabins. Granddaddy prided Solitude on its “no frills” accommodations—much to our chagrin. I can’t explain exactly where it is without outing myself, but I used to spend my summers there as a kid with my younger brother Nick.
We hated it.
As an adult, I realize how much money these summers away saved our mom. She was single and struggling to raise two wild kids… and summer daycare was (and is) ridiculously expensive. Summers with granddaddy gave her a much-needed break and enabled us to spend time with our extended family– mostly granddaddy. The rest of the year he lived in a remote town and was rarely able to visit.
Every year I begged not to go. Once we were there we had a good time, but granddaddy was a lot less lenient than mom and he often reminded us of that with weird punishments and scare tactics. I’m prefacing my stories with this fact not because he was abusive, but because I realize a couple of these weird stories could be explained by my brother or granddaddy messing with me. I’ll let you be the judge.
Our mornings started with a huge breakfast in the lodge and two cups of black coffee (non-negotiable). After breakfast, we split firewood. After firewood was cut and stacked, granddaddy would have us pile into the back of a trailer hitched to a three-wheeler and drive us out towards the runway so we could hunt for squirrels.
Granddaddy hated squirrels, but he had a good reason. Aside from snow machines in the winter, the only way to reach Solitude was by bush plane. The family maintained a clearing where the planes could land—an effort that the parky squirrels constantly thwarted by digging holes on the runway. The holes were a huge hazard that were known to cause wrecks—if the landing gear caught in one of the holes, the plane would flip onto its nose. The results could be fatal.
The remains of an old red and white Cessna were a constant reminder of that fact– the wreckage was far too big to haul off the remote property, so the plane was moved off to the side of the runway where it was only partially obscured by trees. The plane had been there since my mom was a kid and had long been claimed by nature.
Although Nick and I complained incessantly about our other chores, we never complained about squirrel hunting. We each were equipped with child-size .22 rifles and driven around the field looking for squirrels to shoot and holes to fill with heavy stones we collected from the creek.
Before you ask, granddaddy was all about gun safety and had us memorize the rules of gun ownership by heart. On the drives, he’d ask us to recite the rules and give us a spanking if we even jokingly aimed the guns anywhere we shouldn’t. To this day I still remember the cardinal rule– rule #1: all guns are always loaded.
We were only trusted to shoot squirrels at first, but we got pretty good at it. It was quite an introduction to the messiness of death. When squirrels die, like most animals– they immediately shit themselves. After we did a few runs around the field, we’d head back to camp and skin the bodies… even grosser than the poop.
While granddaddy hated squirrels, I started to fear them.
At first, I was just grossed out. Squirrels are a lot less cute skinned and gutted… but granddaddy insisted we couldn’t be wasteful. This rule applied to any kill– from squirrels to bears, we had to use or give away any useable part. To do anything less was considered extremely disrespectful to the animal.
One afternoon, after we got back from a squirrel hunt, I reluctantly grabbed one of the dead squirrels. This parky squirrel had suffered a messy gut shot, it’s innards protruding. The stink was awful. Once I set it down on a stump and knelt down to skin it… it moved.
I let out a shriek and jumped away while my little brother turned around to see what I was screaming about. The squirrel wasn’t dead; it jumped up to its feet and stared at me with beady black eyes– then lunged for an attack.
I ran away while my brother jumped towards it and started stomping on it– in situations like that, younger or not, he was braver than I was. Nick stomped on the squirrel a few times, but even after he swore it was dead… I refused to go near it. He ended up skinning it for me.
After that, I was more eager to fill in those squirrel holes… even more so after the tundra skiing accident. Tundra skiing was a very short-lived activity my brother and I invented that same summer. One of us would stand behind the trailer and grab onto it. Taking turns, we’d let the 3-wheeler drag us along with the trailer while trying to stay upright– it was fun at first, “skiing” on the slippery soles of our rain boots. We did it for a few afternoons before an accident inevitably happened.
Granddaddy strongly believed in letting kids make mistakes, so when we started the game he went along with it. He drove pretty slow and kept an eye on us, so it could have been a lot worse. It was my turn, so I was being dragged along and having a grand time… until my foot caught in one of the squirrel holes.
I didn’t react fast enough, so I was still holding onto the trailer when I fell. Unfortunately, no one saw the barbed wire hidden in the mossy overgrowth, my left leg raked across it right before granddaddy realized I was down and braked. It happened so fast– I didn’t even scream, just let out a whimpering yelp.
My leg has a scar to this day because I refused to let granddaddy give me stitches (he was a trained paramedic). We were nowhere near a hospital; the cut was deep, but not life-threatening. I remember being hysterical, blood getting everywhere while my granddaddy used a pair of tweezers to pull moss and debris out of the open wound and did his best to sterilize it, despite the thrashing and screaming of his granddaughter. I was more scared than hurt, but in my defense… I was an elementary-school kid.
After that, I was embarrassed and distracted by my injury… so I didn’t tell granddaddy that I’d felt something in the hole. When my foot caught, I felt the sensation of thick, cold fingers curl tightly around my ankle– they didn’t let go, the force of being dragged behind the 3-wheeler pulled me free.
In that moment of fear, pain and adrenaline, that detail took a back seat. Even at that age, I tried to convince myself I’d imagined it… memory of the hand made sleep hard the rest of that summer.
Even today, I can’t help but wonder if that squirrel hole was ever filled in. All I know for sure is… there were more than squirrels hiding in those holes.