The Shambling Mound
I use this story generally to illustrate how and that I don't blindly leap to the conclusion of the supernatural.
When I was still domiciled in Montclair (New Jersey), my friend Cooper and I were driving along with my college friend Micah.
Now it's well known I do love true ghost stories, as well as urban legends, from both the probable and the silly.
And almost all of New Jersey teems with urban legends, from the southern Pine Barrens' famous Jersey Devil, to the stranger "midget colonies" and/or "albino colonies" hidden away in the woods, et al.
So this one particular night Micah relates to us an urban legend about a property up in Kinnelon, the exact location of which I will not reveal here, but it's close to the Montville border.
The legend itself is goofy, regarding a bearded-lady, formerly of a travelling carnival, having retired financially well off, in a nice mansion (the 1920s or so), but the locals were freaked out and burned her alive in her mansion.
Anyway, so apparently the burned out mansion and/or area is supposedly haunted.
And there's a neighbour in the dead-end street area who calls the cops if there are any trespassers, even to setting up "trip" wires that make tree-hung pots and pans warn him that there are trespassers.
So the story continues that some friends of Micah had gone up there, evaded any trip wires and headed up the steep driveway towards the burned mansion.
Halfway up the steep driveway, apparently they were set upon by a large, black, Shambling Mound (as we called it, our being longtime D&D players).
This large black mound came at them down the driveway, chasing them off, though Micah did add the caveat that his friends were not entirely sober during their exploratory adventure...
From years of exploring, we knew the back roads that we knew our destination.
We parked about a mile away and hiked in as the community would obviously notice our car, particularly were we to park to hike up there, well after dark, as it was.
A bright, full moon shone our way during the cloudless night, which helped as the area wasn't exactly street-lit.
We came to the closed iron gate at the property.
The house across the street, who we presumed was the purported police-calling neighbour, was dimly lit, so apart from the full moon above, there was no real artificial light about.
The gate basically was to prevent cars driving up: on either side of the tall stone columns there was no barrier for people on foot.
Understandable, we were very quiet.
Being D&D players, self-trained to detect traps, we found no trip wires, so we were safely on the open, unbroken asphalt driveway, rising up one or two hundred feet.
As the entire area is within a series of northern New Jersey foothills, this driveway was a very steep climb.
My first thought with which a driveway generally would be how tough it would be to shovel its snow in the winter.
After our mile long hike to this property, our eyes were well adjusted to the bright white light of the full moon, illuminating the entire ground area not hidden by trees, so we were not even bothering with flashlights.
As with hiking up anyplace steep, one's eyes usually tend to stay on the road directly ahead, especially hiking at night with only moonlight lighting the way.
About halfway up, I glanced up to see how far we had to go to get to the top.
And then I saw it.
It was beyond utterly black.
There was nothing reflective about it.
It appeared to be solid, but as we were hiking up towards it, it gave the illusion of movement, but I could tell it wasn't moving forward Down The Driveway.
It seemed just to sit there, right at the tree line at the top of the driveway, where the driveway essentially ends at a T, a trail from the left and to the right going to the mansion.
So my mind began to race, logically, deducing What Can This Be I AM Seeing?
I kept my eyes on it as we kept moving forward, Coop and Micah still looking down at the driveway as they walked.
Finally I deduced precisely what I saw.
It was at this time that Cooper looked up... and saw the black outline as well.
Do you... see that...?" he began, quietly.
"Yep," I replied.
"I've been looking at it for a few moments: all it is is... the shadow created by the canopy of those two evergreen trees' lowest branches.
The moonlight cannot get through those branches, so all it is is the indentation below the trees' canopy."
Cooper looked at it and concurred, just as to our left, Micah looked up and saw it on his own.
Coop and I quickly explained to the frozen-in-his-tracks Micah what it was he was seeing, as clearly he was about to bolt upon seeing it.
We got up to the trees and sure enough, it was just negative space, the moonlight having created the illusion that Micah's then-near drunken friends had mistaken as being solid, when it was exactly the opposite.
As I say, I may strongly believe in the supernatural and paranormal, but I make sure I eliminate all possible explanations first....