Monday, March 03, 2008

The Shadow Knows.

Anonymous left this comment on the previous post:

Speaking of finding a ghost...

Last night my son and some buddies were out in the woods hunting each other in teams with Airsoft rifles. They're teenage boys. They think shooting each other is great fun. They'd been playing for about seven hours and it had grown quite dark. They were using moonlight and stealth to sneak up on each other, and then turning on flashlights at the last moment to spotlight their target and shoot.

Imagine three paths in the woods coming together in the shape of an arrow. My son and his buddy had just come up the shaft of the arrow and were standing at its point. They looked down the two paths to either side of them that formed the arrow head. Two very dark shapes were moving up the paths, one from each side. My son said the movement looked human and he estimated the dark shadows were between 5 and 6 feet tall. Too tall to be an animal, though predators like bobcats, coyotes, and mountain lions are still common in this area.

Since they were both moving at roughly the same speed, the boys assumed they were members of the opposing team coming at them. The boys stood hip to hip, each with a weapon trained on one of the two shapes of approaching darkness. They clicked on their flashlights right before firing, expecting to see other players. There was nothing. The flashlights illuminated nothing but empty paths. They clicked off the flashlights and the dense black human-like shadows were moving toward them still. They ran.

The other players had been nowhere near that section of the woods. The boys came home sure the woods are haunted.

Possible explanations?

Ah, the shooting-each-other game was common in the UK wherever there were a group of teenage boys and some woodland. That was before everyone became ultra-paranoid about the public having any form of weaponry. The guns are still legal but using them is more difficult now. Any teenager found with a weapon in public is immediately assumed to be a reincarnated Kray twin. To think, every one of us carried penknives and never so much as showed them to anyone, yet now no child can learn the responsibility of carrying and handling something sharp. No wonder they're rebelling.

The weapon of choice here was an air rifle with either .22 or .177 lead pellets. The .22 were safer, they were less likely to penetrate but they’d leave a big red mark. The only thing to watch for was the eyes: these guns could easily take out an eye. They were, and are, powerful enough for rabbit hunting. I still have mine, but it’s probably rusted up by now. I never progressed to live-round guns because I couldn’t see any reason to, although I’ve had a go at paintball-shooting a few times. A good way to release excess aggression, and if it could be made to catch on, a much more civilized way to conduct a war.

Anyway, the shadows.

If this was one person seeing one shadow, once, I’d say it was most likely the effects of light and shade in the woods at night. The fine-detail ‘cone’ cells of the eye, the ones that see colour and enable us to read print, don’t work in poor light. The much more light-sensitive ‘rod’ cells work in very low light, but see only in black and white and give a grainy image. In dim lighting, it’s common for shadows to appear as solid shapes.

However, this is two boys seeing two shadows while looking in different directions. I assume they each saw both of the shadows? That rules out imagery formed inside the eye since both seeing the same thing at the same time indicates that there were real shadows on the paths. The shadows disappeared when illuminated and reappeared when the lights went off.

Okay. They’re in the woods. These paths are, I’d guess, all surrounded by trees on both sides. You mention there was moonlight, but was there cloud?

A cloud advancing over the moon would produce a dark patch on the ground which would, in the scenario you describe, appear as an advancing shadow. It would appear on both paths simultaneously and would seem to be localized on those paths because the advancing cloud-shadow would not be as noticeable among the trees. How fast it moved would depend on wind speed.

That darkness would dissipate when they turned on the lights and immediately return, still advancing at the same rate, when they turned off the lights.

That’s a possible explanation, off the top of my head. It’s not, by any means, a definite explanation because there are a few flaws in it.

One, there is no reason for the shadow to appear human-sized or shaped. How much detail are we talking about? A vague human-sized blob, or discernible arms and legs?

Two, and this is the big one, if it was a cloud moving over the moon, there should have been a third shadow on the centre path. It would have been the same as the shadow on the two outer paths and would have moved at the same rate. The only way a cloud could do this without affecting the centre path is if the moon is directly above and in line with that centre path. Its illumination over the edge of the cloud might be enough to obliterate the shadow effect. That’s a long shot.

Three, they had been out for seven hours. Their eyes were well adjusted to the dark. Shadows can still fool adjusted eyes, but not so easily.

I can’t reach a conclusion on this amount of information but I’d be very interested to hear if they experience anything like this again. Also, if there have been any hunting accidents in those woods, or any reason for a potential ghost or two to want to join in the game. That’s if they can be persuaded to go back.

Could there be ghosts, even if nobody ever died in the woods? Yes, it’s possible. Some ghosts don’t haunt where they died, they return to favourite places. Pubs and bars in the UK are frequently haunted by people who didn’t die there but who spent many a night boozing there. If these are ghosts, they might be people who once played that same game, who died elsewhere and for unconnected reasons, but who now return to their favourite spot to play on.

There’s not enough to say ‘no, it was just a shadow and not a ghost’ but there’s no compelling reason at this stage to say ‘likely ghost’.

Can they replicate the time and place of the sighting, and if there are a few clouds about, can they get the shadows when a cloud crosses the moon? The other thing to do is to take a camera and take a few photos around the woods. You will get orbs because stomping around in the woods stirs up insects, spores and dust. Ignore orbs—they are bunk—you’re looking for human-sized shapes. Try using a tripod and no flash, if you can get a windless, moonlit night.

I see no reason to be scared here. If these turn out to be cloud-shadows, or some other natural explanation, there’s nothing to be frightened of at all. If they are ghosts, I suspect they wanted to join in. They don’t have ghost guns so they can’t shoot anyone and a flashlight makes them vanish.

Let the games continue, and don’t worry if there sometimes seems to be a third team.


Anonymous said...

Clouds across the moon. I was finding that explanation very comforting until you mentioned that there would have been a shadow coming up the center path as well. There wasn't.

But thanks for the possible explanation.

Anonymous said...

Airsoft guns shoot plastic pellets. It hurts a bit when they hit, but they rarely bruise like paintball shots do. The boys wear goggles and other safety equipment (at least they promise to).

Romulus Crowe said...

Airsoft guns are now available in the UK but don't seem very popular. I think the ones we have here are very underpowered compared to the traditional airguns.

Safety goggles are a must, if you can get the kids to believe they are standard-issue and not just safety gear.

I haven't thought of any alternative explanation for the shadows. I'd need to visit the site (which isn't likely in the near future - I'm a long way off!) but it would be worth looking into the path of the moon over the site. If it does coincide with the centre path, that would explain why there was no obvious shadow there.

Even if the shapes were ghosts, they didn't do anything menacing so there's no need to be alarmed. Try talking to them.

ThatGreenyFlower said...

Wow! I should take up shooting things, I think...might get a little more zip in my evenings.

Southern Writer said...

I don't understand why there would necessarily be a shadow on the third part of the path. And now that I'm trying to explain what I mean, I'm having trouble visualizing the path, anyway. Described as an arrow, the two shorter paths would have to be to the right and left of the arrow shaft. Only if the arrow head were inverted, so that the two paths formed a fork in the path, would the boys be able to see the forms coming toward them. Otherwise, if the forms were on the two parts of the arrow head, the boys would have to be back to back to see both simultaneously, wouldn't they?

If it's been described incorrectly, and what we're really talking about is a Y-shaped path, with the boys on the shaft, and the forms moving toward them from the V part of the path, AND if the forms were actually shadows caused by clouds over the moon, while the shadow forms move toward them, the forms have not yet reached the shaft part of the path, so there wouldn't be a shadow on that part of the path yet. Is any of this making sense? Do I need to post an illustration of what I mean, or do you get it?

Romulus Crowe said...

Greeny - these days I use bows, and throwing knives, and inanimate targets. Nothing dies and I get to vent some frustration. The politician photos on the targets might count as voodoo. I hope so.

SW - I had visualised an arrow-shape with the cloud-shadow coming up the paths towards the point. The shadow would be visible on the paths but the trees between, being higher, wold still be illuminated. I'll try to draw a diagram - it's easier to explain what I mean that way.

Southern Writer said...

No need. I can visualize that. I had the light coming from the other direction. But visualizing it this way, I still say the boys would have to be back to back, and in such case, neither would be able to see down both paths simultaneously, unless the paths were very close together. Didn't someone say something about some video? I hope your reader understands that I'm not disputing the experience, only that we have to look at every possibility.

Romulus Crowe said...

I see what you mean - they might not have noticed a shadow on the centre path if their attention was on the outer paths.

A lot depends on the angle of the paths, I suppose, as well as on the position of the moon.

We'll never know unless it can be repeated, and I doubt those who experienced it would be too keen.

I wonder if it's possible to set-up something similar in a local woodland? I'll get my maps out.

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