October 30, 2014

Shadow of the Hunter

Walking the forests of Western Pennsylvania might provide you with a glimpse of a long-tailed weasel or a plump groundhog. You might spot a coyote or a black bear if you’re lucky (or unlucky). Of course, you are likely to see some white-tailed deer as their numbers continue to skyrocket.

What you wouldn’t expect to see in those serene surroundings is the face of a monster. And you wouldn’t expect to find that the prey the monster is stalking could be you.

That’s exactly what happened to Matt, a retired engineer living in Pennsylvania. Matt’s property borders a large stretch of old growth forest, the perfect place to take Sunny, Matt’s Irish Setter, for a romp or a stroll.
That’s where Matt was one early Fall morning in 2008, Sunny by his side, when he encountered something that shouldn't exist.

“I take a walk in there at least once a day,” Matt told me, “when my knee isn’t acting up.” There was a trail that the pair followed, but Sunny often led Matt through the undergrowth chasing after the occasional squirrel.

“Sunny was an old dog,” Matt explains, “but he was a hunting dog, and his instincts were still sharp.” On that particular day, Sunny was full of energy and investigated every sound or hint of movement in the darkling woods.

Matt and Sunny were about halfway along their circuit when a sudden rustling caught their attention. A few yards into the undergrowth, something sent dry leaves flying through the air before it darted out and across the trail.

“It was just a rabbit,” Matt tells me, “but it got Sunny so worked up that he just took off like a bolt.”

Sunny barked excitedly as he shot through groundcover. The rabbit flitted from bush to bush, looking for a suitable hiding spot. Every time, however, Sunny followed and the chase resumed.

Matt wasn’t doing a great job at keeping up with Sunny, but he could hear his dog bounding over the dried leaves. Sunny was going far into the woods now, farther than he ever had before.

“Sunny was leading me down to a hollow,” Matt tells me. “I hadn’t been that way before and I was starting to worry about getting out.”

Mist still clung to the ground at the hollow’s bottom, and Matt could see Sunny as the dog’s silhouette sliced through the fog.

“I stopped to catch my breath when I heard a rustling almost right in front of me,” Matt explains. Suddenly, the rabbit shot out of the mist and toward Matt.

“Sunny must have lost the trail and passed the rabbit,” Matt tells me. “So, it was me that chased it out of its last hiding spot.”

At the time, Matt didn’t have the time to react, only watch as the rabbit darted toward him. It seemed to hesitate as it realized Matt was there and it subtly changed course, swinging to the left of Matt.

As it did, the rabbit suddenly and inexplicably disappeared. “That’s the only way to describe it,” Matt tells me. “It was just gone.”

What happened was hard to explain because it happened so fast. One moment the rabbit was flashing over the leaves; the next it was gone, snatched out of the air by a hidden and patient hunter. “What grabbed it was black and hairy and about Sunny’s size,” Matt explains.

Like a trap going off, the predator exploded from the undergrowth, its long hairy legs closing in on its helpless prey and pinning it to the ground before either Matt or the rabbit could register what was happening. Matt watched as oversized fangs sank deep into the rabbit’s side and he was watched in turn by eight glassy black eyes.

“It was a spider,” Matt tells me. “A spider as big as a dog.”

After the rabbit stopped moving from shock or from poison, the giant spider slowly backed away into the shadows, seemingly keeping its eyes on Matt the whole time. “I think it backed up into a hole under a tree or something,” Matt explains. “I think that was where it was waiting.”

Matt didn’t move as he wondered whether or not the scene he had just witnessed was real. Could something like that – something so monstrous – really live here, survive here without anyone’s knowledge? Suddenly, the fog parted and Sunny came bounding up to Matt. “I almost had a heart attack there and then,” Matt said. ‘I don’t think Sunny had any idea what had happened.”

Sunny followed Matt back to the trail and back to their home. Matt was quite shaken by the mysterious encounter and has refused to return to the forest. Sunny, however, whines whenever their walks take them to the sidewalk around the neighborhood and not the path to the forest.

“I wonder if dogs don’t pick up their scent for some reason,” Matt tells me, referring to the strange spider he encountered in the woods. “Could be why they stayed hidden all this time. Or it could be that I imagined the whole thing.”

But what if Matt’s not wrong, what if spiders of monstrous size stalk the peaceful forests of Pennsylvania? We could easily dismiss such reports if they came from any other forest, but this particular stretch of wilderness is known to produce horrors exactly as Matt describes.

Unbeknownst to Matt, the forest bordered by his property is known locally as Broome’s Quarter and, the legend goes, it is haunted, not by one monster, but by thirteen. All thirteen are said to be the monstrous children of a long-dead witch named Mother Meade. Do her children still live there? Are the trees and shadows of western Pennsylvania stalked by a monster lying in wait for its prey?

Only more accounts of these incredible creatures will help answer that question.

Read more about Mother Meade and her children here.


  1. I really like that story, but where exactly is Broome's Quarter? Call me gullible and naive, but I sure would like to discover a real monster someday, and a giant spider would be a fantastic find.


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