It wasnít so long ago that we terrorized the people of Marysville- or, at least, those foolish enough to venture out after midnight, far into the sparsely inhabited forest lands of Washington State. They were looking for a thrill, and we, a group of teenagers eager to take advantage of the old legend of the Firetrail ghost, were more than happy to give it to them.
Firetrail road was cut out of virgin wilderness in the early 1920ís. Its main function was for fire fighting. Should lightening spark an inferno along one of the forestís upper ridges, firefighters would have access into the nether reaches of the land. Undisturbed, until then, only the wildlife knew what preternatural secrets the forest held.
Gradually, as the years passed, the trail became a dirt road, and people began settling around the heron-haunted lakes that dotted the lush green terrain. Eventually the Firetrail became a pot-holed concrete ribbon that wound up and down hills and hollows, until it ended abrubtly at a battered green sign peppered with shotgun pellets; 56th Avenue, it read.
Beyond that lay what we would claim as our domain; four miles of rugged dirt road that drove tunnel-like into thick timber land, and emerged on the Tulalip Indian reservation. Traversing the road at night was an exercise in steely determination. In addition to the bucket-size potholes and washboard surface, almost any night that one dared drive this portion of Firetrail, strange lights would appear in the roadway at the crest of a certain hilltop. Usually it would appear, a glowing ball hovering over the gravel road, for twenty to thirty seconds, and always its supernatural illumination would snuff out before a car could reach it.
Many would not use the road after night fall, preferring to use the paved detour, which circled around through more populated areas, but taking the driver twice the time. Others loved the excitement, and would drive out along the branch-sheltered road, turn off their headlights, park, and watch for the ghost of Firetrail to appear.
Two explanations for this seemingly supernatural occurrence circulated. First, was the legend of the old Tulalip Indian Chief who had been killed upon that very spot. He appeared late at night with a lantern to search for his murderers. The second tale was more modern, but no less appealing. One night a young man driving the Firetrail, had been driving far too fast for the twisting road. He went off the road and plunged into the swamp, which the Firetrail hooked around a mere mile from the paved reservation road. The young man had drowned, trapped in his car and now his spirit left his watery grave and roamed the road where he had died, desperately trying to warn others of the impending danger of the treacherous roadway.
Whatever doomed soul it was or wasnít, the phenomenon was real. My friends and I had seen the flowing ball hovering at the horizon of the hill many timesÖand those wanting to live on the edge, and experience a little danger would seek out the ghost- hoping for a little thrill that would jolt them from their humdrum lives.
One Fourth of July my friends and I decided to give it to them.
The boom and sparkle of the fireworks had faded and a pall hung over the beach along the Puget Sound seashore. Now only the occasional crackle of a string of firecrackers punctuated the night air. We sat around Damonís kitchen table, deciding what course of action we were going to take for the rest of the evening. I was the one who threw out the idea of impersonating the ghost of Firetrail, and my friends received it with the kind of ease that suggested that it was an eminently logical and reasonable suggestion.
We drove to my house and secured the necessary items: one lantern, one graduation robe, an ace bandage, a pitchfork, and various machetes and knives- the latter for no special reason, other than we like weapons. We were prepared, we thought, and we hiked through narrow back trails in pitch blackness, so that we could reach the haunted hill unseen.
Alders and firs grew thick on the hill, and from our vantage point we could, by the light of the moon, make out only our immediate area. Everything else was a dark void that our eyes could not penetrate. We found that we could hide on either side of the road. To the north we could crouch amidst the thick shrubbery, and to the South lay a steep decline that grew heavy with small firs. If we needed to, we could lie here beneath the level of the road, shrouded by a mass of young conifers.
I pulled on my dark crimson graduation robe, and carefully wrapped a bandage around my head so that only my eyes peered from beneath the mask. Scott and his brother Brian, watched the road while the Japanese exchange student that was staying with his family crouched in the bushes. He seemed to be enjoying his little foray with us, but his English was rather fragmented and it was difficult to tell whether he thought we were insane or if he figured that this was a traditional way that Americans celebrated their Independence Day.
In the shelter of the trees I lit the kerosene lantern and waited. About ten minutes later the headlights of our first victim came bouncing their way from the East. I went out and stood in the center of the road, the lantern in my left hand and the pitchfork in my right.