I've always been fond of nature. Ever since I was young, we were constantly moving from city to city, but in every location I would find the nearest nature trail or overgrown abandoned property and frequent that place as often as I could. At one point my house was only a few blocks from a very extensive mountain range in New Mexico. This made it all the more saddening when we moved to western Oklahoma, where almost all property is private, and national parks are few and far between. The closest hiking trail to my mother and father's house was Red Rock Canyon in Hinton, almost 20 miles away. A bit far when you don't have a driver's license and everyone's too busy to drive you there. Flash forward to a few years ago. I live on my own in Oklahoma City now and work as a forklift driver. The urge to engulf myself in wilderness persists, but I'm surrounded on all sides by asphalt and metro, save for a few city parks here and there. My only salvation lies in Lake Thunderbird. Anybody from Oklahoma could tell you that Lake Thunderbird is a large national park just south of Norman, with plenty of room for fishing, camping, hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. The lake even comes complete with it's own sketchy tackle shops and redneck land owners. However, Lake Thunderbird is about 50 miles from my apartment in the city, so the visits are rare. Sadly, my last visit will probably be my final trip down there. I had eaten a large meal to gather energy for  the hike. I parked my car in the usual spot, grabbed my walking stick, and left my phone in the console. I had done this almost every time I hiked to immerse myself and disconnect from technology. Only now do I realize how bad of an idea that was. I had taken the southernmost trail, a very long one that skirted the southern border of the park around to the eastern side. I had never actually used this trail, and was kind of in an exploring mood. The first part of the hike was extremely serene. A winding trail that led through thick brush and forest across multiple creeks, and past multiple herds of deer that seemed not to even fear my presence until I got within 20 yards. However, that serenity was short-lived, as I topped a hill and happened upon what most would call a grisly sight. A femur here, a rib there... For a small fraction of the trail, a mass of bones were scattered around. Given their size, anyone who hadn't hunted deer before may have mistaken some of the bones to be human. Seeing as how I had grown up in a family of hunters my whole life, this sight didn't so much frighten me as it caught me off guard. In fact, deer bones were practically common chew toys for dogs in our house. What I found unnerving, however, was the fact that the spinal chord and jaw bone of the animal had been lodged in two trees parallel to each other on the trail. I had seen something like this before. In New Mexico, coyotes were a growing threat to cattle owners, so hunters would hang the bodies of killed coyotes on fence posts at the edge of cattle ranches, kind of like a barbaric pest-deterrant. But that logic made no sense here. In my mind, I rationalized that some teenagers had probably found a long-deceased deer skeleton and decided to try and spook hikers. I kept going, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't bothered. For the next mile or so, the trail only seemed to get worse. Vegetation had overtaken the pathway and one bridge was in severe disrepair. I hadn't seen another hiker or rider in a few hours. Eventually I came upon a fork. The left trail, even in it's unkempt state was far less wild, but the idea of discovering new places excited me, and clouded my judgment. I went right, and I very quickly came upon a barbed wire fence that had been cut. I hadn't put two and two together at the moment, but I had just crossed out of the park. Almost immediately, the density of the forest tripled. The canopy seemed to swallow the area in darkness. One thing I noted was that insects in the area were particularly thick. I was constantly swatting at flies buzzing around me. After what had to be about 30-40 minutes of trekking, I started to hear a rythmatic sound in the distance. The metallic grinding of steel on dirt and rock, followed by the sound of dirt falling on dirt. No mistaking it. Someone was digging nearby. I don't know if it was that I had finally realized the oddity of the situation or I just didn't want to disturb whoever was digging, but I elected to avoid the direction of the sound. I went further into the brush to follow the trail from the side. There wasn't much of a trail to follow anymore, anyway. As I passed the direction of the sound at a great distance, I got just a glimpse of the digger. How far away I was, I couldn't see any details, but I could see they were wearing an old torn coat and a black flop hat with long black curly hair cascading from beneath. I remember remarking to myself how sinister the spectacle was, but told myself that he was probably just a camper snuffing out a fire and kept moving. Not but two or three minutes after I had passed, the digging sound stopped, which only served to feed my uneasiness. As much as I tried to keep a level head, I was already starting to panic. And just when I was ready to turn in the other direction, I found a large campsite that sent a shiver down my spine. There was one tent, big enough to act as a small house. All around the camp were several axes, hammers, knives, and even a few guns. Multiple sealed crates and barrels littered the center. Off into the trees were three pickups, with a thick layer of dead leaves, suggesting they had at least been sitting there since last fall (six months ago). On the left side of the tent hung 4 deer carcasses that had already been skinned, bled and de-horned, their antlers piled up on the side. If I'd had just a little bit longer to look I'm sure I would have found worse, but almost as soon as I paused to take the place in, I heard the rapid crunching of leaves and branches snapping to my left. As I reeled back in shock, I saw the same figure from before, but much closer and stepping quickly towards me. I could now see he was a gargantuan man, clean shaven, holding a shovel in his left hand and what looked to be a blood-covered axe in the other. His gait as he trampled bushes and small trees in my direction I could only describe as a "Jason Vorhees" walk. The bloood drained from my face and my stomach dropped to my feet as my legs seemed to start running without me telling them to. I slipped in a small mud puddle and briefly fell to the ground before bolting back the way I had came. But I had only ran about 6 seconds before a gunshot rang out and a bullet wizzed past my head, blowing out my left eardrum and shattering a nearby tree into splinters. I grabbed my ear in pain and ducked down, trying to take cover while sprinting. Another shot rang out, hitting the branches just above me. Three more shots would ring out as I put as much distance behind me as I could, but the shots hit futher and further away, as if he was hoping a stray bullet would catch me. When I passed the barbwire fence I looked back to see if he was following. No movement. No noise. But I wasn't taking chances. I ran to the ranger's station and made it drenched in sweat and hyperventilating. I told the rangers on duty what had happened. They gave me some water, told me to rest and called in a nurse to check on my ear while they called the police. After several long hours of answering questions and waiting for results, the police returned  and said the camp had been torn down and abandoned,with nothing left but tent stakes, rifle casings, various animal parts, and two of the three pickup trucks. I would later hear from the detective that those trucks had belonged to two locals who had gone missing long before. It's been three years since then. I no longer have  nightmares about the man, but the sound of a shovel still gives me chills. I've got a few guesses to what he was digging up or burying, and I can't help but wonder if something happened that day that I could have prevented. Then again, maybe I should just be grateful that I'm still alive.
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