Legends, Folklore and Dark Pathways

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Walking alone along a darkened trail in the woods can bring the most vivid thoughts to the surface of your mind. Each twig that snaps, each leaf that rustles invokes horrors that only Poe or Lovecraft could have envisioned. Each echoing footfall sends chills down your spine at the thought of the unknown that lies just beyond sight in the deep stillness of the woods. True horror lies in that Stygian darkness, just out of sight.

Inspiration for horror need not come from beyond imagination or in creating new and previously unheard of creatures to stupefy the mind. Real horror has always been there, at the edge of consciousness, tantalizingly out of reach yet only the flick of a light-switch away. In the forgotten darkness of your psyche. Those seldom-trod pathways of the mind.

We’ve all heard ghost stories, urban legends, folklore or other campfire tales from friends and relatives since we were children. Ask yourself, “What am I truly afraid of?” The answer might be more frightening than you imagined. It might be a ghost story that you heard as a child and always haunted your dreams. It might be the tales you  heard from your grandmother of the strange creatures  that wander the woods at night, cautioning you to be inside before dark. It might even be the fear of being alone. Horror is as unique as you are, changing with each individual.

For me, the things that have always been the scariest, the most frightening, were the things that hit close to home. The things that I could relate to in my own life. I’ve read many tales that took place in far away places with horrific creatures from distant lands and, while scary, they always remained something that didn’t happen here. They were as far away as the places they were located in.

Horror takes on a new perspective when it is something you can relate to. Something that is infinitely closer to home. I grew up in the Ozarks, hunting, fishing and camping in some very remote locations. Tales and legends of the Ozarks have therefore always held a special place in my heart. Fortunately for me, there is a wealth of folklore to draw upon, legends and tales that date back to the days when the first European settlers moved into the Missouri Ozarks. Some even date back further than that. Native folklore that strikes a chord in your psyche.

I love my beloved Ozarks. From the rivers and lakes to the deep woods and valleys to the rolling hills and green fields. There is a mysticism to this place. A deep melancholy that resonates in my soul. This land has a memory and it never forgets. Each tale and legend lives and breathes within this land. Darkness lurks deep in those forests and valleys. You can look out into that vastness and find yourself getting lost in the mystique of this place.

I’ve stood on the deck of my uncle’s house, built on a cliff above the magnificent Niangua River Valley and looked into a mist so deep that it looked like I could have stepped off the deck and walked across the valley. All the while, listening to the sound of the water running in the river far below. How can you look upon a sight like that and not wonder what lies in that mist. What manner of creatures exist just beyond our comprehension? What might be moving towards me, cautious to stay just out of sight?

There is an ethereal beauty to this place. An otherworldly quality that hearkens back to a time when there were fewer people and even fewer roads. Only the land and all it’s mysteries that stretch off for as far as they eye and the imagination can reach. I would love to have seen this place before man forever changed the landscape. Walked along the pristine rivers and the primeval stillness of the old growth forests.

The legends here run deep, the folklore resonates throughout the people who have walked the paths less traveled. Within each and everyone of us who remember the old ways and the places still untouched by civilization. There are legends here that will make even the bravest blood run cold. I could tell you those legends, but that would be a much longer tale. No, those stories are best discovered by hearing them over a campfire, over a cup of hot chocolate or a good glass of whiskey. Or within the pages of a good book, under a blanket, when the snow is thick on the ground outside. They are as varied and complex as the Ozark Highlands, themselves.

It is the flavor of the Ozarks that I want to bring to my writing, in the patois of the Hill-folk, as my mother used to say. I want to share these legends and tales with you, through my books and stories. Take you to the places both serene and surreal. Awe inspiring and breath-taking to behold. Places that will make you smile or double check the door lock when you hear something creak outside.

After all, what frightens us and drives us are the things that we love to hear about. I mean, who doesn’t love a good ghost story or haunted tale? Writing is a journey. We each experience that journey in our own way. A perspective uniquely our own, different with each individual person. To that journey, I want to bring my own experiences on pathways that wind through the dark forests, deep valleys and remote locations throughout the Ozarks. I want to share those paths with you all.

Take my hand and let’s leave the path. Go with me on this journey through the legends and folklore of the Ozarks. Don’t be afraid. Well, maybe a little afraid. After all, legends are based on real events, somewhere back in history. Just because you don’t believe in ghosts doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It’s easy to believe that the legends aren’t true when you’re safe at home, behind a locked door. It’s something else entirely when you leave the path and walk into the darkness.

I plan to explore that darkness in my writing. There are ghost stories, strange hauntings, unknown creatures and secret folklore yet to tell. Horror stories still to come. Let my writing take you to those places, into the dark recesses of the Ozarks. Listen to the wind howling outside your door. Was that the wind? What else could it be, right? After all, monsters don’t exist. Or do they?

The end really is only the beginning.

DA

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