Unexplained mysteries in What The Woods Keep
Over a course of 48 hours in freezing February 1959 a group of nine Russian students met their end while out skiing near the Ural Mountains. Named after the group’s leader, Igor Dyatlov, what happened to the group became known as the Dyatlov Pass Incident. Decades on, the Incident continues to fascinate, but the truth remains shrouded in secrecy. When the rescue team discovered what was left of the Dyatlov camp, they couldn’t make sense of it: it appeared as if the skiers were awakened by something and, in mortal panic, cut and tore their way out of their tents. Then they dashed half-undressed for the nearby forest, never to return. Theories put forward to explain the events leading up to the skiers’ demise included hypothermia, an avalanche, animal attacks and some kind of military experiment that could’ve affected the area, causing hallucinations and fright. But no theory could stand up to scrutiny, with the authorities eventually blaming the deaths on the “compelling natural force” and closing the area to public for several years. Questions like why one of the skiers was missing eyes and tongue and another had traces of radiation on his body remain unanswered to this day.
I wouldn’t call myself an unexplained mystery buff but even my sceptical mind quivers a little when I give in and imagine what could’ve happened to Dyatlov’s group. To reconcile my scepticism with my deep-seated instinct to obsess over the unexplained, I wrote Hayden, the protagonist of my debut novel What The Woods Keep. Hayden has her own unsolvedmystery to obsess about – her mom’s decade-old disappearance into the woods near Hayden’s hometown of Promise, Colorado. Writing Hayden was such a strange experience: I wanted to really get it right, that fine line between realising perhaps there’s more to the story and refusing to accept that the “compelling nature force” cannot always be explained with science. An early reviewer called Hayden a “walking contradiction”, because her mind is a constant battlefield between logic and superstition. And this is exactly what I intended for her to be. After all, she’s someone who used to keep a journal of unexplained phenomena andwho applied scientific principles to dispute them!
And, of course, Hayden is aware of the Dyalov Pass and, of course, she has a huge problem with the idea of compelling nature force as the incident’s explanation. It’s too abstract to her. That is, until she returns to the town where her mom disappeared. It is there that this abstract force takes on a very specific form. Hayden’s mind is spinning as she becomes convinced that Promise has a mind of its own and the nearby woods are full of deadly secrets.
While the Dyatlov Pass Incident will likely remain a mystery, Hayden comes close to learning the truth behind her Mom’s disappearance. A bit too close. While the main unexplained mystery at the core of What The Woods Keep is fictional, Hayden’s struggle is very much real. Anyone who hasexperienced something odd and unsettling will likely relate to it. And hopefully, everyone else will too.