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Well, once again, you guys have blown me away with your staggering amount of responses to my stories! There's no way I can respond to each of you individually, so I'm just going to address some common things again, and then move on to the stories. I'm going to write as many as I can think of, in addition to my friend's stories, and I will probably not update again until I get a chance to answer some questions that I myself have for my superiors.

Alright, so the common questions I found you all had:

- I am not comfortable talking about where exactly I work, unfortunately. In all reality, some of the things I've mentioned here could get me in a lot of troubles or fired, so it's best if I just don't discuss too much. I will say that I'm in the United States, and in an area that is comprised of a great deal of wilderness. We're talking hundreds of miles of thick forest, with a mountain range and a few lakes.

- -There is still a great amount of interest in the stairs, and luckily for you guys my friend has a story that I think you'll all be very interested in. I'll go into that more at the end of this update. As for whether or not I have ever thought of asking my superiors about them, I have, but again, I don't want to risk my job. However, one of my former superiors no longer works as an SAR officer, and it's possible that he may be willing to talk to me about it. I'll be speaking to him later in the week, and I will let you all know what comes of that.

- As far as advice on becoming an SAR officer goes, I think the best advice I can give is to contact your local Forest Service office and see if they offer and training courses, or what the qualifications are. I've been doing this for years, and I started out as a volunteer helping on SAR operations. It's a great job, despite the occasional tragic situations, and I wouldn't want to do anything else.

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Alright, let's move on to the stories:

- The first happened on a case that I went out on right after I got out of training, and was still pretty new to everything. Before I took this job, I was a volunteer, so I had a basic idea of what to expect, but on those calls you're mostly dealing with finding lost people after vets have found signs of them. As an SAR officer, you go out for all kinds of cases, from animal bites to heart attacks. This case got called in early in the morning, from a young couple who were up on one of the trails that goes by the lake. The husband was completely hysterical, and we couldn't really figure out what was going on. We could hear the woman screaming in the background, and he was begging us to come up there right away. When we get there, we see him holding his wife, and shes got something in her arms. She's screaming these awful, almost animal-like screams, and he's sobbing. He sees us and he screams at us to help them, to please get an ambulance up there. Now obviously we can't just drive an ambulance up the walking path, so we ask him if his wife needs help, or if she can walk on her own. He's still hysterical, but he manages to tell us that it's not his wife that needs help. I go over while one of the vets tries to calm him down, and I ask the wife what's going on. She's rocking, holding something, and just shrieking, over and over. I crouch down and see that whatever she's holding, it's covering her with blood. That's when I notice the sling on her front and my heart sinks. I ask her to tell me what's going on, and I sort of pry her arms gently open so I can see what she's holding. It's her baby, obviously dead. His head is caved in on one side, and he's covered in scratches. Now, I've seen dead bodies before, but something about this whole situation hits me hard. I have to take a second to compose myself, and I get up and go get one of the other vets, who's standing by. I tell him that it's a dead kid, and he sort of pats my shoulder and tells me he'll deal with it. It took us over an hour to get this woman to let us see her kid. Every time we try to take him from her, she flips out and tells us we can't have him, that he'll be okay if we just leave her alone and let her help him. But eventually, one of the vets manages to calm her down, and she gives us the body. We took it back to the med area, but when the EMTs showed up, they told us that there was never any hope of saving the kid. He'd died instantly from the trauma to his head. I was good buddies with one of the nurses who met them at the hospital, and she told me later what had happened. Turns out the couple had been walking with the baby in the sling, and they stopped because the kid was fussing. The dad takes the kid and is holding him, looking out over this little gully by the path. The mom comes to stand next to him, but she ends up stepping on a loose patch of soil, and she trips. She falls into the dad, who drops the kid, who ends up falling about twenty feet down this little gully onto the rocks at the bottom. The dad climbed down and recovered the kid, but he'd fallen right on his head, and was dead by the time he got there. The baby was only about fifteen months old. It was a total freak accident, a series of events that coalesced into the worst possible outcome. Probably one of the more awful calls I've been on.

- I haven't seen a lot of animal bites in my time as an SAR officer, mostly because there aren't that many animals that come around the area. While there are bears in the area, they tend to stay pretty far away from people, and sightings are highly unusual. Most of the animals you'll see are small ones, like coyotes, raccoons, or skunks. What we do see frequently, though, are moose. And let me tell you, moose are nasty fuckers. They'll chase after anything for any reason, and god help you if you get in between a female and its baby. One of the more amusing calls was of a guy who'd gotten chased down by an absolutely massive male moose, and was stuck up a tree. Took us almost an hour to get him down, and when he was finally on solid ground again, he looks at me and says: 'God damn. Them fuckers is big up close.' I guess that's not really a scary story, but we still laugh about that one.

- I honestly don't know how I'd forgotten this story, but it is, by far, the scariest thing that's happened to me. I guess maybe I've tried so long to forget about it that it just didn't come to mind right away. As someone who spends literally all of their time in the woods, you don't ever want to let yourself get scared of being alone, or out in the middle of nowhere. That's why when you have experiences like this, you tend to just forget about them and move on. This is, to date, the only thing that's ever made me really seriously consider if this job is the right one for me. I don't really like talking about it much, but I'll do the best I can to remember it all. As I recall, this took place right at the end of spring. It was a typical lost-child call: a four-year-old girl had wandered away from her family's campsite, and had been missing for about two hours. Her parents were completely despondent, and told us what most parents do; my kid would never wander away, she's so good about staying close, she's never done anything like this before. We assure the parents that we'll do everything we can to find her, and we spread out in a standard search formation. I was partnered with one of my good buddies, and we were sort of casually holding conversation while we hiked. I know it sounds callous, but you do sort of become desensitized when you've done this long enough. It becomes the norm, and I think to a certain extent you have to learn to desensitize yourself in order to work this job. We search for a good two hours, going well beyond where we think she'd be, and we come out of a small valley when something makes us both stop in unison. We freeze and look at each other, and there's almost a sensation like a plane depressurizing. My ears pop, and I have this odd sensation of having dropped about ten feet. I start to ask my buddy if he felt that, but before I can, we hear the loudest sound I've ever heard in my life. It's almost like a freight train passing directly by us, but it's coming from every direction at once, including above and below us. He screams something to me, but I can't hear him over this deafening roar. Understandably freaked out, we look all around us, trying to find the source of the sound, but neither of us sees anything. Of course, my first thought is a landslide, but we're not near any cliffs, and even if we were, it would have hit us by now. The sound goes on and on, and we're trying to yell to each other, but even standing close together we can't hear anything but this sound. Then, as suddenly as it starts, it stops, like someone threw a switch and cut it off. We stand there for a second, perfectly still, and slowly the normal sounds of the woods come back. He asks me what the fuck just happened, but I just kind of shrug, and we stand there looking at each other for a minute. I get on the radio and ask if anyone else just heard the end of the fucking world, but no one else hears it, even though we're all within shouting distance of each other. My buddy and I just sort of shrug it off and keep going. About an hour later, we all check up on the radios, and no one's found the little girl. Most of the time, we won't search when it gets dark, but because we don't have any kind of lead on her, a few of us decide to keep going, including me and my buddy. We keep close together, and we're calling out for her every couple of minutes. At this point, I'm hoping beyond hope that we find her, because while I may not like kids, the idea of them being out all alone in the dark is awful. The woods can be intimidating to kids in the daylight; at night, well, it's a whole different beast. But we're not seeing any signs of her, or getting any responses, and around midnight, we decide to turn around and head back to the rendezvous point. We're about halfway back when my buddy stops and shines his light to the right of us, into a really thick deadfall, or group of dead trees. I ask him if he's heard a response, but he just tells me to be quiet a second and listen. I do, and in the distance, I can hear what sounds like a kid crying. We both call the girl's name and listen for any kind of response, but it's just this really faint crying. We head in the direction of this deadfall and go around it, calling her name over and over. As we get closer to the crying, I start getting this weird feeling in my gut, and I tell my buddy that something isn't right. He tells me he feels the same way, but we can't figure out what it is. We stop where we are, and call the girl's name again. And at the same time, we both figure it out. The crying is on a loop. It's the same little hitching sob, then wail, then quiet hiccup, repeated over and over. It's exactly the same every time, and without saying another word, we both take off running. It's the only time I've ever lost my composure like that, but something about it was so incredibly wrong, and neither of us wanted to stay out there anymore. When we got back to the rendezvous, we asked if anyone else had heard anything strange, but no one else knew what we were talking about. I know it sounds sort of anti-climactic, but that call fucked me up for a long time. As for the little girl, we never found a trace of her. We keep an eye out for her, and all the other people who we've never found, but frankly I doubt we'll ever find anything.
---
Of the missing persons calls I've gone out on, only a handful have ever resulted in a complete disappearance, meaning no trace of the person and no body ever found. But sometimes, finding a body just leads to more questions than answers. Here are some of the bodies we've found that have become infamous in our team:

- A teenage boy who's remains were recovered almost a year after he vanished. We found the top of his skull, two finger bones, and his camera almost forty miles from where he was last seen. The camera, sadly, was destroyed.

- The pelvis of an older man who had vanished a month earlier. That was all we found.

- The lower jaw and right foot of a two-year-old boy on the highest peak of a ridge in the southern part of the park.

- The body of a ten-year-old girl with Down's Syndrome, almost twenty miles from where she'd vanished. She had died of exposure three weeks after going missing, and all of her clothes were intact except for her shoes and jacket. There were berries and cooked meat in her stomach when they did the autopsy. The coroner said it appeared as if someone had been taking care of her. There were no suspects ever identified.

- The frozen body of a one-year-old baby, found a week after vanishing in the hollow trunk of a tree ten miles from the area he was seen last. There was fresh milk found in his stomach, but his tongue was gone.

- A single vertebra and right kneecap of a three-year-old girl, found in the snow almost twenty miles from the campground her family had been at the previous summer.

----

Now on to a couple of the stories my friend told me. I mentioned that you were all interested in the stairs, and you're in luck: he's had a closer encounter with them. Though he doesn't have any explanation for them, he does have a bit more experience with them than I do.

- My buddy has been an SAR officer for about seven years, he started when he was a junior in college, and he had a very similar experience when he first encountered the stairs. His trainer told him almost the same thing mine did, which was to never go near, touch, or ascend them. For the first year, he did just that, but apparently his curiosity got the better of him, and on one call he broke away from the line and went to go check a set of them out. He said they were about ten miles from the path where a teenage girl had vanished, and the dogs were following a scent. He was on his own, lagging behind the main group, when he saw a set of stairs off to his left. They looked like they were from a new house, because the carpeting was pristine and white. He said that as he got closer, he didn't feel any different, or hear any weird noises. He was expecting something to happen, like bleeding from his ears or collapsing, but he got right up next to them and didn't feel anything. The only thing, he said, that was odd was that there was absolutely no debris on the steps. No dirt, leaves, dust, anything. And there didn't appear to be any signs of animal or insect activity in the immediate area, which he found strange. It was less like things were avoiding them, and more like they just happened to be in a relatively barren part of the forest. He touched the stairs, and didn't feel anything except that sort of sticky feeling you get from new carpet. Making sure his radio was on, he slowly climbed the stairs; he said it was terrifying, because the way they'd been stigmatized, he wasn't really sure what was going to happen to him. He joked that half of him expected to be teleported to some other dimension and the other half was watching for a UFO to come swooping down. But he got to the top with little event, and he stood there looking around. But, he said, the longer he stood on the top step, the more he felt like he was doing something very, very wrong. He described it as the feeling you'd get if you were in a part of a government building you have no business being in. As if someone was going to come and arrest you, or shoot you in the back of the head, at any second. He tried to brush it off, but the feeling got stronger and stronger, and that's when he realized that he couldn't hear anything anymore. The sounds of the forest were gone, and he couldn't hear his own breathing. It was like some kind of weird, awful tinnitus, but more oppressive. He climbed back down and rejoined the search, and didn't mention what he'd done.

But, he said, the weirdest part came after. His trainer was waiting back at the welcome center after the search ended for the day, and he cornered my buddy before he could leave. He said his trainer had this look of intense anger, and he asked what was wrong. 'You went up them, didn't you.' My buddy said it wasn't phrased as a question. He asked how his trainer knew. The trainer just shook his head. 'Because we didn't find her. The dogs lost her scent.' My buddy asked what that had to do with anything. The trainer asked how long he'd been on the stairs, and my buddy said no more than a minute. The trainer gave him this really awful, almost dead-eyed look, and told him that if he ever went up another set of stairs again, he'd be fired. Immediately. The trainer walked away, and I guess he's never answered any of the questions my buddy has asked him about it since.

---

My buddy has been involved in a lot of missing persons cases where there's never been a trace of them found. I mentioned David Paulides, and my buddy said he can confirm that those stories are, for the most part, accurate. He said that most of the time, if the person isn't found right away, they're either never found, or they're found weeks, months, or years later, in places they can't possibly have gotten to. One story he told me really stood out that involved a five-year-old boy with a severe mental disability.

- The little boy vanished from a picnic area in the late fall. In addition to the mental disability, he was also physically handicapped, and his parents explained over and over that he simply could not have vanished. It was impossible. Someone had to have taken him. My buddy said they searched for this kid for weeks, going miles out of the accepted range, but it was like he'd never been there. The dogs couldn't pick up his scent anywhere, not even in the picnic area where he'd apparently vanished from. Suspicion fell on the parents, but it was pretty clear that they were devastated, and hadn't done anything sinister to their kid. The search was concluded about a month later, and my buddy said everyone had pretty much forgotten it by later in the winter. He was out on a training op in the snow, on one of the higher peaks, when he came across something in the snow. He said he saw it from far away at first, and when he got closer, he realized it was a shirt, frozen and sticking part way out of the powder. He recognized it as belonging to the kid, because it had a distinctive pattern. About twenty yards away, he found the kid's body, laying partially buried in the snow. My buddy said there was no way the kid had been dead for any more than a few days, even though he'd been missing for almost three months. The kid was curled around something, and when my buddy brushed off the snow to see what it was, he said he almost couldn't believe what he was seeing. It was a big chunk of ice, that had been carved crudely to look sort of like a person. The kid was holding it so tight that it had frostbitten his chest and hands, which my buddy could tell even with the decay that had taken place. He radioed the rest of the crew, and they took the body off the mountain. Now, he recapped all of this for me, and to put it simply, there was no way this kid could have both survived for almost three months on his own, or have gotten to this peak. There was no physical way this child could have walked almost fifty miles and ended up on the top of a god damn mountain. To top it off, there was nothing in the kid's stomach or colon. Nothing, not even water. It was like, my buddy said, the kid had been taken off the face of the earth, put in suspended animation, and dropped on this mountain months later, only to die of exposure. He's never really gotten over that one.

---

The last story I'll share from him was one that took place relatively recently, only a few months ago.

- They were out doing a recon for mountain lions, because there had been several reports of sightings in the last couple of days. One of our jobs is to scout out the areas where these animals are seen to ensure that if they are in the area, we can warn people and close off those trails. He was out on his own in a very heavily forested part of the park toward dusk when he heard what sounded like a woman screaming in the distance. Now, as most of you know, when a mountain lion screams, it sounds almost exactly like a woman being brutally murdered. It's unsettling, but far from abnormal. My buddy radioed back and let ops know that he'd heard one, and that he was going to keep going to see if he could figure out where its territory started. He heard the mountain lion scream a couple more times, always from the same spot, and determined the approximate area of the mountain lion's territory. He was about to head back when he heard another scream, this time within only a few yards of him. Of course, he freaks out and starts heading back at a much faster pace, because the last thing he wants is to run into a god damn mountain lion and get mauled to death. As he got back on the path and started heading back, the screaming followed him, and he broke into a jog. When he was about a mile from ops, the screaming stopped, and he turned around to see if it was following him. It was almost night by this point, but he said in the distance, just before the path rounded a corner, he could see what looked like a male figure. He called out to them, warning them that the paths were closed, and that he needed to come back to the welcome center. The figure just stood there, and my buddy started to walk over. When he was about ten yards away, the figure took, as he described, 'and impossibly long step' toward him and let out the same scream my buddy had been hearing. My buddy didn't even say anything, he just turned and sprinted back to ops, never looking behind him. By the time he got back, the screaming had moved back into the woods. He didn't mention it to anyone else, just said that there was a mountain lion in the area and that they would need to close those paths until the animal could be located and moved.

--

I'm going to end this entry here, since it's turned into a huge wall of text. I'm going to be heading out on a yearly training op tomorrow morning, so I'll be gone until early next week. I'll be meeting with a lot of former trainers and buddies who work in other areas of the park, and I'll be asking around about any stories they'd like to share. I'm so glad you guys have been interested in my stories, and once I'm back from this op, I'll continue to share them!

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