I wanted to share something original; something that I’ve shared with close friends, but have never written down, until now. With that being said, this piece is written with dedication to my best friend, Hope, who fought valiantly against cancer, but succumbed to it in 2015. This is a story I shared with her, which helped strengthened her faith and belief in God. Inevitably, it was through this story that she gave her life to Christ a month before her death.
FAITH AND FIREFLIES
I worked for the Department of Natural Resources the Summer after my freshman year of college. My love for nature and the Summer sun found me garbed in hunter green, selling daily and annual passes to vacationers and residents, alike, looking to enjoy a picnic or weekend of camping at Proud Lake Recreation Area in Commerce, Michigan. I drove around in a hefty pickup truck, decked out with it’s own emergency light and room to haul out cut down tree limbs and rotted out stumps. The area I covered, stretched across a good portion of the park’s 4,700 acres, which included a boat launch, Heavner canoe and kayak rental, Huron River picnic area, campground and the Proud Lake beach, itself.
After my first month on the job, I was put in charge of the first aid department and medical supply ordering, on top of my other duties. I worked from 2 p.m. until 11 p.m., which merged the busiest time of the day, with a good chunk of ‘down time’ in the evening. When I wasn’t patrolling the park, I worked at our main office, filling medical supplies, writing reports or searching through the many volumes of documents written by previous officers. I had been told, from day one, that nothing really happened at the park, but the papers I poured over told a different story. I read about numerous break-ins and the final arson fire that destroyed the old Ford Mansion at Proud Lake’s sister park, Highland Recreation Area. There were accounts of fights on the beach, similar to the one I had witnessed on my first day, trespassing and a handful of assaults. Still, I was told that there wasn’t anything to worry about.
During my third month at Proud lake, and only weeks away from heading back to Central Michigan University for my sophomore year, I found myself patrolling the campground, on a day that we were light on staff. It was later in the afternoon, so most of the other college kids had already clocked out and headed home, leaving myself and three park rangers. I had some music on and was just turning into the back half of the campground, when I heard one of the ranger’s voices blast across the walkie, “Officer needs assistance at the beach.” I recognized the voice to be Barry’s and waited for one of the other officers to respond. A moment later, “Officer needs immediate assistance at the beach.”
I turned on my overhead emergency light, snatched up my walkie and radioed out, “Barry, I’m en route.” The tires of my truck squealed as I exited the campground and headed down North Wixom Road. Trees flashed by as I pushed past the speed limit, slowing only enough to turn down the drive to the beach.
I parked next to Barry’s truck and exited, my heart racing. I could see Barry standing next to a picnic table, his hand on the butt of his Tonfa baton. On the opposite side of the table was a man covered in blood. My mind kept going back to the reports I had read, the countless times I had been told that nothing happened out of the ordinary at the park and the uneasiness I often felt while closing up the bathrooms and showers on the beach.
Cautiously, I walked towards Barry, who showed signs of relief when I approached. Besides him and the bloodied man, there was no one else on the beach… And the bloodied man had a knife in his hand.
After a short time, Barry and I talked the man into setting his knife onto the picnic table and taking a seat on a nearby stump. Barry informed me that he had already called the police and that they would be arriving shortly. The bloodied man, as we found out, had been drinking throughout the day and had gotten into a knife fight with his best friend. He apologized for causing a problem and calmly stood to be handcuffed, but I still felt uneasy as I helped escort him to the police car when it arrived.
Barry thanked me, profusely, and expressed how nothing like that had ever happened to him during his five years at the park. I told him that everything was alright and that I needed to start my rounds, before it got to late.
My brain raced, creating scenarios filled with ‘what-ifs’; I couldn’t stop thinking about the days’ events and the events recorded in the documents back at the park office. The sun had already dipped below the horizon and I knew that closing up the beach would be hard to do with all of the shadows lurking about.
When I arrived, I parked my truck so the lights shown out across the beach. Normally, I wouldn’t leave it running, but the unease I felt, especially after what had just happened there, coursed through my veins. Leaves turned with the breeze, the coolness of the air chilling my arms. I turned on my Maglite and paused at the point where the asphalt succumbed to the sands of the beach; I was scared.
I crossed the beach, listening to the night: frogs croaking, crickets chirping, the water splashing against shore. But there was something else there; something burrowed all the way to my core.
The sliding metal doors to the showers closed noisily, clanging shut with an echoing reverberation. I stood there for a moment, listening to the sounds around me — silence. I could no longer hear the frogs or the crickets, the rustling of the leaves or the water upon the shore. It was all dead quiet… but I knew someone or something was there, watching me.
The bathrooms came next, followed by the area gate. Each lock gave a hollow clank, followed by silence. I stood on the opposite side of the beach as my truck, staring at the twin orbs that peered back at me; so far away. I was frozen in place; petrified by whatever it was that stalked me in the darkness. My Maglite was slick with sweat and it’s surface-area felt as cold as ice.
Then I began to pray. I kept my eyes locked on my truck and said, aloud, “Lord, please, help me get across this beach, I’m so scared.” I wanted to take a step forward, but my legs wouldn’t let me, so, I pleaded, “God, please, help me.”
Sound came slamming back around me; the leaves were churning, water sloshing in the beach sand and nature sang to me. I became aware of a warmth around me and the fireflies flitting about, casting their luminescence across the lake water and the sand. I felt a calmness flow through me and then… a lone firefly drew up to me, inches from my face. I acknowledged it and then began to follow it across the expanse of the beach, letting myself be guided by this small, glowing insect. I only stopped when the firefly reached my truck, paused and then flew off into the night. I climbed into my truck and headed back to the park office, noting that I was an hour late in punching out.
I didn’t return to that job the following Summer, opting to take a job at the mall instead, but I never felt that ominous presence on that beach after that night. I wasn’t sure if it was just my overactive imagination creating the fear I felt, or if something ‘dark’ lurked in the shadows of Proud Lake Recreation. But one thing is for sure… whatever it is that I felt there, vanished the night I saw the fireflies.
Submitted by Mark France to Weird Darkness and My Haunted Life Too
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