We used to go in the forest because it was creepy as shit at night. That’s really it. There are no streetlights, and the small, boring city I’m from doesn’t hit high enough of a population for there to be any light pollution.
That’s what the entrance looks like during the day, from the street (according to Google Maps Street View).
Here’s what it looks like at night:
One of the first encounters any of us had with this forest was right near the entrance. We never even made it into the trees.
My friend Mike and I were planning on going in, but we saw this… pillar of light. Not like Jesus was coming down from the heavens, but more like a half-tree-height, 1ft radius beam kinda floating in mid-air for several seconds. I say “several” because it could have been there for a lot longer. We have no idea, because we hauled ass back through the other half of the golf course and kept going until we reached the baseball fields.
At some point after that, we started calling it The Matrix Forest. Nobody is really sure why; it just kinda stuck.
Over the following years, it took on a life of its own. I’ll never forget the day Mike and I were hanging out with a couple of friends and two random girls we’d never met before, and while we were all thinking of something to do, one of the girls asked us if we’d ‘ever been to the Matrix Forest before.’ Mike looks at me, we smirk at each other, he looks back at them, and shouts, “We INVENTED the Matrix Forest!”
It honestly was just a creepy and slightly isolated wooded area. But not too isolated so that it feels like civilization is too far away for safety. For that, we went to White Rock, South Dakota.
Objectively, it was all superstitious bullshit. We’d hear a sound nearby, everyone would stop, panic, and shoutwhisper “WHAT WAS THAT” then we’d hear it again, and bolt out of the woods as fast as we could to get back to the car.
It was probably a fucking rabbit.
One time we were in a group of five or so, and one of the girls — who I liked — was scared and grabbed my hand, holding it for the next lifetime or so. So it’s not as if the forest had absolutely NO magical qualities.
Creepy stuff would happen, and even though we knew deep down that none of it was real, it’s still fun to scare the shit out of your friends. And yourself.
There was that one time.
– – – – – – –
It was actually one of the first expeditions Mike and I made into the forest. Although similar to the Pillar of Light incident, our excursion didn’t find us venturing very far in before the situation went south.
In hindsight, the light pillar could have been anything. Reflection of the moon on a piece of metal on the ground. A car headlight in the distance hitting a steel stop sign in just the right way to cast a projection a few hundred yards away. Or just some mist that caught some distant light.
The story I’m recounting now… I still cannot make sense of it, eleven years later.
We reached the entrance, hopped over the gate, and set forth through the first wooded area. The proving grounds. It wasn’t even close to the real part of the forest. Like, you can sign up for a tour of the White House, but it’s not like you’re going to see those underground War Room bunkers that you see in the movies.
The “proving grounds” were always enough to judge one’s character. If they couldn’t make it through here? They weren’t going to mentally survive the rest of it. Not like it was physically dangerous by ANY means. But some people are just afraid of the dark. (For good reason, evolutionarily speaking, but let’s not get into science talk right now.)
About halfway through this ‘entrance’ area past the gate, I finished my Mountain Dew, or Rockstar Energy, or whatever it is we drank in the mid-2000s before I discovered ethanol. Even as a youngun’ I never litter, so I set the can down in the middle of the path, intending that we would pick it back up on our way out. I just didn’t want to carry it the whole way through.
As I set the soda can down, Mike didn’t even make a smartass remark because he had just come to expect from me this sort of weird oscillation between Honored Boy Scout and Man-Who-Runs-From-Cops. We continued on.
Another reason I set it down was because what I was actually carrying was a weapon. We always carried weapons.
Sometimes our friends would choose nerf guns as some sort of imaginary sense of security, or to extend the pretendness of it all.
While I was indeed creeped out by superstitious envisions and implications of the paranormal just like anyone else wandering in a dark forest in the middle of the night, what I was more existentially afraid of was rabid raccoons, or a rabid deer, or a rabid dog, or really anything rabid I guess. Can hobos be rabid?
So I usually carried a stick. Literally just a big stick. Simplicity at its best. Step One: You swing it at someone. And if you ever encountered law enforcement (which we had a habit of doing every once in a while) you could just toss it on the ground and nobody would be any the wiser that you’re actually a giant weirdo who carries a stick around for a weapon.
My favorite ‘stick’ was an old axe handle I found, only it didn’t have the head, so it was just a really thick piece of wood. (And I ain’t just talkin’ about my dick.) Some chose knives, and there was a guy who brought a samurai sword one time because of course that nerd-inevitability was bound to happen sooner or later.
Surprisingly, despite the fact that this was all in North Dakota, nobody ever brought an actual gun. Which was probably for the best.
Once we got to a slight clearing past the proving grounds, we started to hear something behind us. Like… rumbling? Or scratching, or something?
No, it was a car. We weren’t sure why the hell a car would be driving through here at night. Even though it was technically what you could call a ‘road’ there was nothing relevant at the end except scariness. And an archery range. Maybe they were out for some moonlight bow practice. Bowing? Bowery?
We presumed it was law enforcement. It was never entirely known whether venturing into this forest was legal or not after the golf course that surrounded the area was closed for the day. And we never intended on finding out, or explaining that we aren’t doing drugs, and we just enjoy scaring the shit out of ourselves, no really we aren’t dealing drugs, fine you can search us, seriously we just like the forest because we’re weird kids who haven’t discovered substance abuse yet.
So the two of us dove into the ditch on the left side and hid among the tall weeds. Mike happened to get all those prickly, thorny weeds, which he cursed loudly like the comic relief in a movie. I hushed him.
The car approached, and wasn’t slowing down when it got near where we were, so we were pretty sure he/she/they hadn’t noticed us.
As the car drove past our hiding spot, we saw the unmistakable unlit blue and red protrusions on the roof of the car. It was indeed the fuzz.
Well FUCK. I really hated dealing with cops at this point in my life, because anytime I talked to them, I always seemed to be involved in something inexplicably crazy, where the truth seemed so ridiculous that they assumed we were lying. Like the time four of us picked out a red square dot thing on a map and drove there, and a cop didn’t believe that’s what we were doing in the middle of the countryside at 2:00 AM on a Thursday night. Or why we were also holding a stray cat. Or why I had an orange construction cone in my backseat. It’s just easier to avoid the cops altogether.
I don’t remember if we spoke our plan out loud, but we didn’t need to. As soon as the car had driven past us enough to be out of sight, and further into the woods, we noped the fuck out of there. Bolted through the weeds, over and around a hill, out onto the golf course, and started running back in the direction of the entrance, but now on the outside of the forest. A thick block of trees stood between us and the cops if/when they turned around and came back out.
Well they did. And since we were kinda near the entrance (but again, on the outside; like being around the corner of a building from its entrance), we just ducked down again and waited for the heat to die down or however it’s supposed to work in Grand Theft Auto.
We heard their car drive past the point we were on the opposite side of the trees, and slow down a bit.
They came to a stop vaguely near where I remembered setting the soda can down in the middle of the path. My hunch was that they stopped their car to get out and pick up the can to throw away later. Small-town police don’t exactly have a whole lot of crime mysteries to ride around and solve. It’s just speeding, DUIs, and broken taillights.
The car came to a stop, and then a couple seconds later, so did the engine. Kinda unnecessary to pick up a can, but I wasn’t really overthinking it too much at that point. Still just trying not to get questioned by the police for strange behavior and have my parents called.
I heard one of the car doors open; no way to tell if it was the driver or the passenger because we couldn’t see the vehicle at all. That was the whole point of being on the other side of the trees. As this was over a decade ago, and in the interest of full honesty, I cannot remember if I heard the car door shut after it opened. But I don’t think it did.
But I suppose that doesn’t really matter, materially, to the story. I definitely and distinctly remember hearing it open. It was a calm opening of a car door. Nonchalant.
…And then we didn’t hear anything else after that.
THAT I remember.
We looked at each other and shrugged, and started quietly making our way out of the area.
But one of us stopped the other and wanted to go back and check it out, for reasons unknown and stupid. I think I was the one who stopped us, but this was years ago and I’ve since made up for all the liquor I didn’t consume from not being cool in high school.
We crept back to that entrance area with the gate we hopped over earlier. A gate that would very much have to be manually opened up with your hands in order to get a car through. We went a little further in, and we still didn’t see anything.
Kept going, and nothing. We would have run into it by now. There was just nothing.
There was no cop car. There was no car at all. Or cops. Nada.
The whole entrance area we had been hiding near was devoid of any human presence other than us. I don’t remember if we saw the soda can or not, but it was kinda the furthest thing from my mind at the time.
There’s just no possible way the car could have driven off the path and through the woods. It’s full of logs and fallen trees. There were no garages. Nowhere else for it to go but the road we were watching.
The cop car was just gone.
We ABSOLUTELY heard the car stop, and a car door open. And then nothing after that, as if both the police and their vehicle vanished from existence.
We left, and we didn’t go back there for a while.