It was a beautiful summer day and I was lost once again in the great northern woods. I had ridden through a glorious cornfield at the edge of St. Agatha, but somehow landed in a deep, dark forest with no sign of civilization in sight.
Getting lost on my dirt bike doesn’t bother me much — it’s half the fun, really. But this time there was something different about it. This time, there was a sense of dread beating from my heart and filling my head with clawing, baseless panic. My thoughts became muddled and frantic. A pervasive air of gloom seemed to cloud the day, though the sky was clear and the sun bright.
Through my head pulsed the same warning over and over: Something is wrong! Something is wrong! Something is wrong!
It was an unfamiliar kind of dread. It felt, I would tell my wife later, like some primitive sensory organ deep within my brain had suddenly blinked to life for the sole purpose of issuing this one urgent alarm.
After 15 or 20 minutes of riding in frantic circles on the fading trails, I came across an older fellow sitting on his four-wheeler and having a smoke. I skidded to a stop and dispensed with greetings and the usual courtesies.
“Where the hell am I?” I asked him.
The old dude squinted at me through an eyeful of cigarette smoke. With the butt hanging from a corner of his mouth, I couldn’t tell if he was grinning or grimacing.
“Madawaska,” he said. “Right about in the middle of it.”
Of course. Madawaska. In retrospect, I should have known that the very instant that strange sense of doom started creeping across my nerves. This wasn’t the first time I’d experienced an inexplicable case of the heebie-jeebies in Madawaska. It wasn’t the second or third time, either. To the best of my recollection, every trip I’ve ever made to that gritty town on the Canadian border has been marked by a weird tingle of terror.
“My friend,” I said to the hard-smoking fellow with the four-wheeler, “I’d be grateful if you could tell me the quickest way back to St. Agatha.”
I’m just going to go ahead and say it. I’m pretty sure that Madawaska – or at least a chunk of it – is haunted.
I know what you’re thinking, bros. It’s January, Halloween has passed and ain’t nobody got time for ghost stories in the thick of winter.
I bring it up only because the town of St. Agatha has been in the news lately, and the very mention of St. Agatha makes me think of its bigger neighbor to the north and all the ghosts that dwell there.
Ghosts that exist to haunt me alone, it would appear.
It happened for the first time in 2010. I was riding my motorcycle through the woods of St. Agatha with a song on my lips and pure joy in my heart. From the top of a tall hill I could see the black slash of Route 1 and the St. John River beyond it. I twisted my throttle with gusto, eager to make my first trip ever into the town of Madawaska and whatever grand adventures awaited there.
The gloom enfolded me as I was halfway down the other side of that hill. Impossible to explain, really. One moment I was happy and carefree and the next, I was full of gloom and trepidation. The closer I got to the town, the deeper that feeling grew and the louder that alarm wailed in my head: Something is wrong! Something is wrong! Something is wrong!
I’m not talking about a subtle shift in mood here. Whenever I go to that part of Madawaska, that hard hitting wave of fear and foreboding comes over me like a terrible flu. My heart beats so hard, I fancy I can hear it over the low growl of the engine. I can feel myself sweating in places that don’t normally sweat. Above all is another voice that rises with alarm in my head and the only thing that voice has to say is “Go back! Go back! Go back!”
And so I go back, wheeling the Suzuki around and slinking back to St. Agatha like a dog who has been beaten by an unseen hand. I leave the woods of Madawaska in my dust and by the time I’m in St. Agatha again, the song has returned to my lips and the joy to my heart.
Later, back in the safety and comfort of the cornfields, I’ll make jokes about it. Maybe there’s a Stephen King Wendigo out there, I’ll crack, who doesn’t like Suzukis. Or maybe that whole patch of woods has grown up around an ancient burial site and the occupants of those graves are still angry and restless.
I’ll tell you honestly, though – while I’m out there, with that cold fist of senseless fear clutching at my heart, I don’t think I’d be able to summons good humor if it meant my life.
I don’t know what to make of it. Madawaska itself is a fine little town. I had a heck of a good time and made some nice friends at the vape store there on Route 1. I enjoyed visiting the Four Corners Park and there were some other cool points of interests a little farther down the road.
The drive-in theater, though? Not for me, Bubba. My wife and I headed there once and it’s a spiffy little theater, all right. Off the main drag, it is, and tucked into the trees at the edge of the woods. Got within sight of the place and my mood took a sudden nosedive as that now-familiar feeling of dread settled back into my bones.
Why go to the drive-in, I suggested all at once, executing a perfect J-turn and heading back home at double the speed limit, when you can stay home and watch Netflix?
After my last trip to The County this summer, I did some deep web research into the town of Madawaska. I was sure that if I checked an online forum or two, I’d find at least a few people reporting fleeting feelings of terror while hiking, biking or fishing in that stretch of woods between Route 1 and St. Agatha.
Know what I found instead? Bupkis, that’s what. Not a thing. Even the paranormal websites made no mention of wendigos or devils or Blair Witch-style hauntings in the vast woods of Madawaska.
Whatever ghouls walk those woods apparently walk for me alone.