Sometimes it’s fun to be scared. Scary movies are quite popular. Haunted houses can draw large crowds. It’s a rite of passage for many of us to sit around a campfire and tell ghost stories. Goosebumps seem like a primal reaction, and we often derive a quivering excitement from them.
It’s kind of cool to get your body to do something even when your head knows, logically, that it’s just a movie and you’re quite confident that someone is about to make you jump in this scene, and yet you still shriek when it happens. I look at that as the exact moment when my rational side surrenders in its wrestling match with my primal side, and I realize, without even a sliver of doubt, that I’m no longer driving this reactionary bus.
The Willies are fun until the moment after that moment. Full-on panic mode isn’t really that awesome. I have no idea why many of us, including me, insist on flirting with it, other than the fact that it is a huge relief when your rationality is restored and you can laugh at yourself again, albeit nervously.
The Willies are a creepy, crawly, jittery feeling, and all the more so because it seems that no one knows for sure exactly where the term comes from. I tend to trust etymology online, and that site says it came from “‘spell of nervousness,’ 1896, perhaps from the woollies, a dialectal term for ‘nervous uneasiness,’ probably in reference to the itchiness of wool garments.”
That explanation seems reasonable to me. But then, if you read this article, and this one, including the comments, you’ll discover that there are any number of plausible theories drifting around out there. I find that rather creepy. Where did you come from, Willie? Nobody knows.
Anyway, the thing that gave me the Willies on this day was an article entitled, “Family Discovers a Treehouse On Their Property But It Takes a Weird Turn”.
I read the headline, and I knew, I just knew, I shouldn’t read the article. I also knew that I would. And, oh joy, it comes with a creepy TikTok video that surely must be some sort of hoax. Surely. And yet…
But to make matters worse, the article introduces me to a mythical creature that I had never heard about before. It’s called the Hidebehind. According to folklore, it has been plaguing lumberjacks since at least the 19th century, which makes sense, as that was when lumberjacks still had plenty of densely-packed old growth forests to plunder.
Being a logger is a dangerous business. There are a lot of ways that you can die. A falling tree could crush you. You could bleed out from a nasty encounter with your own saw. You could get lost in the woods. A forest fire could overtake you. You could be attacked by a bear. Sometimes, lumberjacks would simply vanish, and no one would know what became of them. Under the circumstances, it’s no wonder this creature sprang from someone’s imagination and took hold in logging communities across America.
Have you ever been out in the woods, and you couldn’t shake the feeling that you were being watched? Then you turn around, and you see nothing. It gives me the shivers just thinking about it. That feeling in some long-ago lumberjack was probably the precise moment when the Hidebehind story was born.
According to Wikipedia, along with this article and this one, the Hidebehind is difficult to describe because you never actually get to see it. It must be skinny, because it can hide behind trees of almost any size, hence its name. If it finds you all alone in the forest, it slowly creeps up on you, from tree to tree, dancing ever closer, and then it pounces on you, eviscerates you with what one assumes are long claws, and it eats your entrails, either right on the spot or after it has dragged your body to its lair.
This would “explain” a lot of woodland disappearances. It would also cause loggers to be ever vigilant in a job that requires such a quality in order to survive. It would validate that creepy feeling that we all know so well, and it would be a fun way to scare greenhorns half to death.
But even better, it’s a valid excuse to drink to excess, because the one thing all these stories agree upon is that the Hidebehind does not like the smell or taste of alcohol. Getting drunk will save you from certain death, it seems. I’ll take a double.
I love knowing the origins of a story. I wish I knew the origins of the Willies. I know they exist because I’ve felt them. I suspect they’ve been around since long before Homo Sapiens walked the Earth, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they were best friends with the Hidebehind.
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2 thoughts on “I Just Gave Myself the Willies”
As a machinist, as a cyclist, as…several things, I can tell you this–if you feel like something ain’t right, something ain’t right. Supernatural explanations might not be needed–it’s your rational powers, that part of them that works too fast, going on sensory input too subtle, to consciously detect. E.g., a leopard in the bushes.
That’s my theory. A diachronic [over the decades] search back for references to hide-behinds etc. would be interesting but beyond my expertise. The same sort of entity was called a Behinder by Manly Wade Wellman and this usage seems to date from one of his stories, “The Desrick onYandro”, from the middle of last
century. I’ve never sensed one myself, but…
I totally agree. Trust your instincts. They’ve never steered me wrong, even when people have told me I was being too paranoid or too critical.