A Day In the Aokigahara Forest

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 Note: I want to mention that this post deals with the topic of suicide. Mental illness is a disease that comes with an unfair stigma unlike any other disease. Those that suffer, do so silently and often the way out is of their own accord. Please, if you feel this way talk, reach out and ask for help. It always gets better. Always.

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Over the years I have visited many spooky places across the country and all but a couple have left something to be desired. I am a big optimist and fall for folklore and urban legends because I want to believe. I love the stories of the lone tragic dead bride who is cursed to wander the halls of a Holiday Inn for all eternity. So many places jump on the ghost story wagon and when you’re a gullible tourist, like myself, you should walk away disappointed when you don’t get the willies even though almost all the stories are greatly exaggerated.

There is a place, however, which exceeds any folklore or spooky yarn. It is so dark and disturbing, Hollywood and authors alike have tried to capture the essence of this destination but have not even touched what I experienced. Even the Japanese people themselves do not talk about it and if you, as an outsider, bring this into conversation you will be met with judging eyes and uncomfortable body language. This is the place people enter and they do not plan to come out. It is said to be cursed and full of vengeful spirits that float on the periphery of the eye to lure visitors to their doom. It’s name is the Aokigahara Forest but is also called the Sea of Trees, Sea of Forest, Japan’s Demon Forest but is most commonly referred to as the Japanese Suicide Forest.

I spent an entire day inside this forest and even though I successfully found my way out, it has not left me. I do not believe it ever will.

The dark history of this forest goes back to almost twelve hundred years to a period of famine in Japan. To reduce the number of mouths to feed, families would abandon their elderly in the forest knowing they would have no way of finding their way out and would eventually die of starvation or exposure. In the sixties, a the book Kuroi Kaiju (Black Sea of Trees) became a very popular story which ends with the two lovers in the story committing suicide inside the forest. This is speculated to be the reason many people sought the forest to be a final destination and the book, itself, has been found many times inside the forest.

The Japanese government would post the numbers of deaths inside the Aokigahara Forest but after the financial crisis of 2008, there was a dramatic spike that only increased over the following years. After 2013, it was decided the stats were not to be published for fear it would only draw more attention to this macabre destination. As of this year the average is thought to be as many as two per day.

The Aokigaraha Forest is located at the base of Mt. Fuji and has the most insane topography because the floor is formed from lava flows from the volcano. The trees are lush and grow in twisted, odd formations and thick moss covers almost everything. It is so dense that in the middle of the afternoon it can feel like the middle of the night so shadows will not cast. And the sound! I have never to an outside location where your ears feel almost compressed and it feels absolutely deafening. Your breath sounds like waves of noise and you have to stop to get your heartbeat under control just to listen for anything in the woods. I can understand the what those who come here might feel. The forest surrounds you and every sense you have is taken over.

As you will see in the video below, I get turned around a few times. It is about fourteen miles of forest and most of it is almost impossible to get to. If you leave the path it can be extremely dangerous because of the lava flow rock floor, caves and deep pockets are everywhere. You could be walking through and drop into a cavern, never to be heard from again. Also, hundreds of years of fallen foliage makes traversing the area a knee-deep slog what could hide almost anything underneath. I left the trail only a few times but just feet away, I lost my orientation and came close to my way losing the trail. The forest and trees have a way of wanting to keep you.

I did my best to keep track of where I was through simple land navigation tricks like measuring my stride and footsteps to figure out how far in I was and how long it would take to get back. The trail map, however, was definitely not calibrated to exact distance so a few hours in, it was clear I really turned around. To add a little stress to the situation, I had a bus home scheduled for 7pm. By the end of the day it was a race to not only get out of the forest but get out as close to where I started from. Not easy when all the signs are in Japanese characters.

There were times when I could not tell if my mind, ears or eyes were playing tricks on me. I saw absolutely no one the entire time I was in the forest. There were no hikers, workers or even the tourists with a curiosity like myself. I moved with a quickness to see as much of the forest as possible in the six hours I was in but occasionally I stopped dead in my tracks because I heard people having conversations off the trail. Knowing the dangers of leaving the trail I would quickly look in the direction I thought the voices were coming from and there was nothing. This seemed to happen more frequently the longer I was in the forest.

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They say, if you follow ropes in the Aokigahara, it will lead to something. It does. I made the decision not to publish completely what I found to show respect for whoever was there, the Japanese culture and the topic of suicide. I did not find a body but I did see an abandoned tent, blankets, empty pill cases and looped rope tied high in a tree. It was the most sinking feeling of utter hopelessness I have ever felt. And I don’t think that feeling will leave me for a long time. That’s all I have to say about that.

Eventually I made it out of the forest, though it was a little stressful finding the right stop that still had an active bus associated with it. When I realized the one I waited for was not an active stop, I had to go back into the forest to make it a stop that had a bus. That’s when my mind was the most paranoid and I really felt hundreds of eyes on me as I moved with a quickness to escape the dark. I can still distinctly remember hearing people out there but I know there were none.

Well, spoiler alert, I survived. I found my way out and made it home but even as I write this, I know that forest came with me. I think about it all the time and the feelings that permitted the trees, the ground and the silent air. Even I write this, I can hear that split second chattering out beyond the trails. There is something there. That I know.

I kept this video pretty raw because any music or editing would detract from what was happening. I am a bit annoyed by the GoPro Hero 5 I was using because apparently there is an audio port I couldn’t see so there is a lot of accidental finger rubbing over the microphone. To be honest, that camera is a pretty big disappointment for the cost.

I hope you get at least 1% of what I experienced from this video. It’s shaky and raw but hopefully it can bring you a little closer to the Sea of Trees: The Aokigahara Forest. With much respect to the culture of the Japanese people, thank you.

 

 

Electricity and Crystal Pepsi Both Suck

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It is 2016 and I am still doing this dance. That slow waltz, yapping about horror films, weird travels, crappy food and silly observations of life. I have had huge aspirations here with not-so-hot results. I know, the Halloween Show fizzled and Christmas was just a disaster. I even tried to do a thirteen day give-away and truth be told, only half the winners have gotten their winnings still and its halfway through January. They will but I managed to drag this gift thing out long enough that I should just put “Happy St. Patrick’s Day” on the box.

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So what’s up? Everything going well? Did you see that Dustin Diamond (Screech) had to report to jail for stabbing some guy in a bar? It seems that dude had some pent-up aggression from being portrayed as a goof for ten years. What were we talking about again?

So, things have been changing for the better over here in VeggieMacabre land. Work damn near killed me but dawn has broken. My career can be described like…imagine you are a professional juggler. You can juggle anything; bowling balls, tennis rackets, chainsaws, knives…anything! Now, imagine you are performing and you are mid-juggle and ask an audience member to toss something into the items you are currently juggling. One person tosses in a soda fountain drink. That is how these past few months have been. Expected to do the impossible because people are fucking dicks.

By the way, I am not a professional juggler. I can’t even juggle tissues.

So, I am here to say, I miss this place. I love writing about the dumb things in life and reviewing things no one cares about. It’s a strange hobby but it allows one to live in the moment and share it with someone in Romania. I get a lot of inspiration and if I am being honest, even imitation of other sites and blogs. I guess that is the greatest form of flattery.

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So I am going to tell you a little story of my dumb childhood. That is, after all, the foundation of VeggieMacabre. It’s about Crystal Pepsi, Faces of Death and electrocution.

Back in middle school, I hung around the pretty much everyone but I felt more comfortable with the nerds than the athletic types. My friends Ben and Brendan where the two I spent the most time with and during the weekends we would always be at one of our houses. Those days were filled with comic book shops, Street Fighter 2, Blockbuster and any stupid adolescent food a kid could ingest. It was a great time to be thirteen.

This particular long weekend we lucked out and had a snow day. It was a typical snow day in Georgia which meant enough snow to cancel school in the morning but gone by 2:00 in the afternoon. No matter because the three of us were content to indulge in the finer things in a young dork’s life. Like reading Lobo comics, doing a blind fold taste test of Crystal Pepsi vs regular Pepsi and rent movies with suggested parental consent.

That day I found out three things about myself:

  1. Yes, you can actually be disturbed enough from a film that it ruins a weekend
  2. Crystal Pepsi is not good
  3. Electricity is pretty damn scary

We were at Ben’s house for that snowy Friday. He was my British buddy whose Mom was sweet as could be and his father was the size of dumpster and could possibly punch through a fridge. He was a professional rugby play in his youth back in England and you could tell from the fact he only had ONE EAR!. He had only one fucking ear because it was ripped off in a game against Norway back in the late seventies, before protective headwear was made mandatory. Watching him wear glasses was something of great mystery.

That aside, Ben’s father was a jovial man who joked with us kids and no longer a rough and tough rugby player, he was a rough and sweet CPA for some firm in Atlanta. He used to have weird nicknames for us that didn’t really have any meaning rather it just rhymed. For example, my name was “Willy-McBilly” and Brendan was “Brendan My Friendan”. Silly, I know, but at thirteen you just thought it was a normal part of being a kid when interacting with parents.

The three of us always hung out in Ben’s semi-finished basement. It had everything we needed like a TV, a Super Nintendo, a crappy couch and a poker table behind it. Ben’s dad was finishing it bit by bit, doing all the drywall, pluming and electric work himself and it didn’t matter if we were down there, fully engrossed in Diehard, Ben’s dad would be drilling away.

The movie of choice for that day was somewhat taboo back then and was the talk of every recess since I could remember. Every kid with a jerk older brother had been told about this and whether they had seen it for themselves or just by word of mouth, they captured the attention of an entire lunch table. You know the movie. Faces of Death Vol. 1-3.

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Faces of Death was a macabre documentary of people being filmed in there last few minutes of life. A morbid fascination to horror loving creeps like us, it was narrated by a coroner named Francis B Gröss, who showed us everything from real autopsies to a parachutist landing in an alligator farm to a real electrocution/execution. It was graphic, grainy and completely disgusting. It made us feel as if there was a dark film covering our skin and the paranoid reflections in our own mortality encompassed our thoughts for possibly the first time in our life. It would be an exaggeration to say this was as far away from a feel-good film as you could get. A better example would be to say White is to Black as Care Bears: The Great Happy Snuggle Nubbles is to Faces of Death.

To be honest, I don’t think we even made it through volume one before we had to turn it off and focus on something that didn’t involve awful people hammering open live monkey heads. It was time to find something more productive. A taste test.

Now I don’t recall how long Crystal Pepsi aka Pepsi Clear had been on the market when we decided to do this blind taste test but I do know I was no stranger to the product. In fact, I remember being very disappointed my first time trying the “uncola”. It had an after taste that seemed almost soapy. Besides Van Halen, I really didn’t care for the drink and didn’t understand why drinking clear soda was such a big buzz. Obviously I was oblivious during the eighties and early nineties because these campaigns with silly color changes were everything to people. (Google “purple ketchup”)

Trying to focus our attention away from the awful deaths of 1978, we laid out the little plastic cups across the poker table and used a rolled up t-shirt for the blind fold. Each of us would take a turn guessing what was regular and what was clear.

Meanwhile, while we were hard at work doing a fake marketing test for our own amusement, Ben’s dad was hard at work installing a light switch on the wall approximately ten feet away. A tough guy, knowing how electricity works was mere elementary science and turning off the breaker would be for amateurs or ninnies. He had been finishing out this basement for the better part of the fall and winter so by this time, little things like safety were just annoyances.

It was finally my time to test my senses and see if these taste buds could tell the difference between Crystal Pepsi and boring ol’ regular. With sight removed I raised the first cup to my lips and took a sip. Undeniably , it was Crystal Pepsi. At this point it dawned on me we were really bored and needed to go outside or do something more productive. But, like a good sport, I still had three more tastes to complete. (We did two of each to make sure we just weren’t lucky guessers)

As I took the second sip I smelled something strange, like a battery operated toy that was red-hot from running too long. The hairs on my arm raised and it felt like I could have touched someone and possibly blown a finger off from the charge in my body. I lifted the blindfold and saw both Ben and Brendan looking   passed me and I turned around to see Ben’s dad rigid and holding a screwdriver inserted in the switch on the wall.

Almost the instant I looked over at Ben’s dad, he made what I can only describe as a muffled Grandpa Simpson scream and he broke the circuit with a loud *POP*, the electricity went out and he collapsed to the floor.

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Holy shit! Right after watching Faces of Death, we saw Ben’s father get electrocuted in real life! We were frozen in shock and looked at him for a second before realizing we needed to do something. But before we could even get to our feet we saw Ben’s dad sit straight up and exclaim, “Bloody dickens! I just shocked me fuckin’ self!”

He looked over at us and to see if we had seen his brush with death and he could tell from the horror on our faces, we saw it all. Never breaking a moment from character, he laughed loudly and fell back on the carpeted floor. It was almost a gesture to reassure us that he was okay and a little sorry for scarring us for life.

After a brief moment of levity, we helped him up and Ben ran up to inform his mom that her husband shocked himself and smelled up the basement. She, obviously, went screaming down the stairs and made a huge scene (rightfully so). I had never heard such a wonderful array of British loving profanity.

Ben’s mom carted him off to the emergency room to get looked over. At 49, you don’t take a shock like that and not at least make sure it didn’t toast your heart. Electricity is a funny thing; a lightning strike could just knock you out while a getting toast out of your toaster with a fork could kill you before you hit the floor. Since that innocent, I don’t mess with it. I don’t even trust myself jumping a car and a few years ago I installed a ceiling fan and texted a friend goodbye before I started.

So, that was my dumb story. I will always link to Crystal Pepsi, Faces of Death and electrocution and with the reintroduction of Crystal Pepsi this June. I hope that doesn’t prelude to more electricity incidences.

I am back! Currently I am snowed in so this whole weekend I will be posting videos of me slowly going insane.

 

 

 

Halloween Pumpkin Salsa and Death Sauce!

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Spoiler Alert! We killed DJ D.

Tonight, as we near Halloween, I want to post a few more videos before the grand finale. This post has the normal ruckus-crew testing Pumpkin Salsa and Blair’s “After Death Sauce” which is hot enough to have you speaking in tongues.

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Dave and Brian test the pumpkin salsa with positive results but the real show comes soon after when Dave and I delve into Hell with the Death sauce. I consider myself a little more experienced with garnishes that can actually kill an 80-year-old but Dave hasn’t built that tolerance quite yet.

Will DJ D survive? Wait…I already spoiled it. Fuck! Oh well,

You can get Blair’s After Death Sauce by clicking on the underlined link!

Watch this little video and if you want to see Dave lose his shit right away, jump to about 3/4 of the video. It’s worth the build up, I promise.

A Visit To Capt. Tony’s Saloon

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Let’s see, a haunted saloon that has been a mortuary, an execution spot, holy water bottles lodged in the walls to keep the evil spirits out, there are dead bodies underneath, a real human skeleton excavated from the site and hung behind the bar, an actual hanging tree with a grave right next to it AND it’s all located in a tropical paradise? Yup, I’m in!

Welcome to Capt. Tony’s Saloon! This little spot is said to be the most ghostly active place in all of Key West and that is saying a lot considering the history of this key. I mean, there is a cursed doll who is reported to have chased a young girl around her room and distorts its face. Yeah.

We aren’t chatting about ol’ Robert the Doll right now. I have quite a bit to say about him later but for now, lets focus on a saloon that has been the last stop for many poor souls and some are said to still be restless. Of course, if you believe in that sort of thing.

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The site the bar sits was the execution spot for those who didn’t were sentenced to death and that included sixteen men and one woman who stabbed her husband and children and chopped them up. She’s said to still haunt the bar and is known as the “Lady In Blue” because that was the color of her dress she wore on her execution day and also the color she turned when she died. HA!

By the mid 1800’s, the saloon was used as an ice house and since recently deceased people smell bad in the 90 degree tropical heat, it doubled as a morgue. After that it turned into a cigar-rolling/gambling facility, then a telegraph station, then an openly gay burlesque and finally, Anthony Tarracino moved from New Jersey, renamed himself Captain Tony and bought the place that we now know and love as Capt. Tony’s Saloon.

Many famous people have frequented the bar especially Ernest Hemingway, Al Pacino, Robert Redford and of course, Jimmy Buffett whose music sounds like parrots burning to me. But that’s just my opinion.

Watch this video and take a tour with me as this super great guy named Doug shows us around the creepier parts of Tony’s Saloon. Also, if you find yourself there, don’t get the Pirate Punch. It’s pre-made horse piss.

Sorry about the background noise. Life shooting in a bar full of drunks and a crappy musician.

The Noun Game….FROM HELL! Part 1

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When I was a kid my family used to play games to pass the time during long car trips. Anything to keep Mom from playing the Les Miserables cassette for the fifteenth time. One of those games was “The Noun Game” and how you play is someone choses a person, place or thing that is relevant to the surroundings. The other players have twenty questions and only three guesses before the person with the secret noun wins that round. It passed the time, at least until All Things Considered came on the radio.

I was up late last night doing hours of video editing for this Hell Show and for some reason I started thinking about that game and what would the Noun Game be like if I had to go into the deepest caverns of my fears. I am not talking about Jason from Friday the 13th or even Linda Blair but far far more disturbing. The kind of uneasy scare that seems to put a gloom over the day and causes one to watch the Boomerang channel for a solid eight hours to wash the “ick” off your mind.

Here in my NOUN GAME FROM HELL!

Person: Shaye St. John

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Traveling down the wormhole of YouTube, you are bound to run into many odd things but nothing compares to Eric Fournier’s creation of a tragic shell of a model/starlet who was hit by a train and then subjected to psychological experiments by the CIA. To call these series of videos weird who be an understatement like dropping a chainsaw on your lap and calling it a boo boo. This taps into some of my more primal fears: mannequins.

I know that the creator died a few years ago but I don’t want to research much more into that. When one searches too much into something it takes the sting out of it. I like to think of it as the movie Tourist Trap but for real. The bizarre nature of these videos and settings are played out as if I am actually watching my nightmares on the computer. Art can be scary and this is fucking scary art.

Places: Monster Plantation at Six Flags, Georgia

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Nothing creeps me out more than when something is meant to be cute and charming but comes off as disturbing and grotesque. Like sweet creatures who lure you in and win you over with kindness then tear you limb from limb. The dark ride, Monster Plantation (now Monster Mansion) was one of those rides that had me wide-eyed as a kid and invaded my nightmares.

Just like many dark ride, you tour the animatronic maze in a boat with herky-jerky monsters who sing songs and talk indirectly to you. It is lighthearted but that was the scariest part for me. There was something unsettling in nature like these things could come off track and tear off someones head. I have irrational fears so if you want to stop reading now, I wouldn’t blame you. But do me a favor and at least watch this awesome video someone made from years ago. Am I crazy?

Thing: “It’s A Good Life” from The Twilight Zone: The Movie

The one thing about being a child in the early to mid-eighties is when it came to sic-fi and horror, that shit was real. I mean, not real in life but someone actually made the things that had us turn our head away in horror from the screen. It was a tangible effect that came from the mind of an artist and used to cause years of sleepless nights. I won’t say that today’s standards are less scary but I will say back then, the heart was in it.

Joe Dante directed this chapter of The Twilight Zone Movie and his adaptation made the skin crawl. The story is of an innocent teacher who by accident, becomes gets entangled with one brat of a kid. To make matters worse, he has telekinetic powers and can wish for anything we wants. When she drives him home she finds that his entire family is held hostage to his will and now she is too.

What tips the scale and qualifies for this noun game is close to the end when the Uncle Walt, played brilliantly by Kevin McCarthy, is asked to do a trick and what follows is a series of horrific monsters that are dreamed up by this sadistic little asshole. And what really shines it on is the Merry Melodies theme playing in the background! I mean, talk about mixing childhood love with doom!

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The monsters kept evolving into some of the most hideous and insane animatronics imaginable. I have to say, whoever was on that set back then probably didn’t want to be the one to shut down at night.

So that is Part 1 of THE NOUN GAME FROM HELL. Part 2 is coming soon to a computer, tablet or phone near you but until then, what are some of your scariest nouns? I want to hear them. They have to be the ones that disturb you the most! Those are the rules.