A sense of dread gripped him as he walked through the woods. In the back of his mind, he had a bad feeling about this. Throughout the forest, he could only hear his own footsteps as he walked in a deep, unsettling silence.
Officer McCade’s attention was drawn to a large man lurking behind a tree when a branch suddenly snapped.
Instantly, he felt his stomach drop to his knees. For a couple of seconds, he became paralyzed with fear and his mind went blank. Had he been followed by someone?
But then, officer McCade ordered the man to show himself with a deep and authoritative voice. However, nothing could have prepared him for what happened next.
Matt Hughes had the world in the palm of his hands, or at least that’s what it seemed like to anyone who saw him from the outside.
He had a good job that paid well and which made him feel fulfilled, lived in a nice house and had great friends. However, there was something missing.
One of Matt’s lifelong dreams since he was very young was to have his own family. He felt like it wouldn’t make much sense to achieve a perfect life if he couldn’t share it with someone.
The only thing he was missing was a partner which was why Matt loved to go out and socialize. And that was exactly what he was doing on the night of his disappearance.
It was a Friday night. Matt was driving to the bar after a long day’s work, following his friend’s car. They couldn’t wait to have a cold one and wind down after an exhausting week.
One moment, Matt was behind his friend’s car; but before his friend could realize, he was gone. Did he make a wrong turn?
His friends called him to check up on him but they got no response. No one answered his phone, and he didn’t reply to text messages on social media either.
This behavior was so unusual for Matt that his friends contacted the local police straight away. They could tell something was wrong. Now, things went from bad to worse.
A week into the investigation, it became obvious that things just didn’t add up. Something was off, but no one seemed to be able to figure out what.
The police theorized that Matt was driving under the influence and drove into a ditch somewhere but the friends he was following that day told police he was completely sober.
But that wasn’t all: there were also no signs of a crash or tire tracks indicating he had gone off the road.
The deeper the police investigated the issue, the more puzzling the case got. There seemed to be no evidence at all that could support any kind of explanation. It was as if Matt had vanished into thin air.
With the lack of evidence, the only other explanation the police could think of was that he might have simply just drove away in God knows what direction and left town, maybe forever.
But he was a 36 year old man with a job, a house and friends. There was no way he’d just leave his friends and family, and not say anything!
And that wasn’t all there was to it: Matt seemed genuinely happy with his life in that town. His friends and relatives had never heard him speak of being dissatisfied or wanting to move somewhere else.
There seemed to be no reason why he would choose to disappear from the face of the Earth all of a sudden.
After a few weeks with no new evidence, the case seemed at risk of going cold and being forgotten by the police forces.
The official version remained that Matt had just decided to move away without letting anyone know about his reasons. It wasn’t until five years later when the first potential trace of his whereabouts began to surface.
Matt’s family visited the general area where he went missing regularly over the years, checking every ditch and dirt road for any sign of him.
With the case turning cold, the police even began to employ advanced technology equipment such as ground-penetrating radar and metal detectors to search for any buried pieces of his car. Soon, they’d find a clue.
The first piece of hope that sprang into the missing case of Matt Hughes, came in the form of an anonymous voicemail that was left to deputy Tom McCade’s office.
It was an anonymous tip off, telling the officer to follow a hermit that was spotted in the woods during a hike just outside of town.
According to the person who left the message, the man looked disheveled and potentially dangerous.
It took the deputy a few minutes to make the connection; but then, he remembered that case from a few years back. Did that man have anything to do with Matt’s disappearance? There was only one way to find out.
Officer McCade called back up and immediately drove towards the woods. Aside from the possible connection to Matt’s case, this matter required his attention for another reason: it was illegal to live in the protected woodland.
That in itself would just be a minor offense, but it was probably the sign of something more important, McCade thought.
If someone was living there, it had to be for one reason only; to avoid being seen, or to escape from the law. Officer McCade had the feeling that something wasn’t right.
The only way into the depth of the woods, to the coordinates left on the voicemail was to trek through the forest on foot.
The officers made their way through the dense and versatile forest of bushes, trees and swamps to arrive at an open meadow.
There, nestled into the side of the open pasture was a small wooden hut, just big enough for one person to squeeze into. Surely, that was where the man they were looking for lived.
There was a door and the craftsmanship seemed to be of a high enough standard. McCade’s heart raced as he looked around for the man.
There didn’t seem to be anyone near, but McCade knew he couldn’t be too far. After hesitating for a couple of seconds, he looked around him one last time and ventured into the hut.
The small hut was far from derelict; in fact, it seemed to contain everything one might need to survive. It looked like someone was living here for a long time.
As the officer was inspecting the interior of the hut, one sudden sound made him jump back; clearly, he heard a branch snapping out nearby.
With his heart galloping inside his chest, officer McCade turned back and peeked through the hut’s door; he saw a figure that stood outside, hiding behind a big tree.
With a deep and authoritative voice, trying to hide his own fear, officer McCade ordered the man to show himself. But nothing could have prepared him for what happened next.
A man covered in dirt walked out from behind the tree. His hair was overgrown and disheveled. His hands were open, showing that he didn’t have any weapon on him.
Officer McCade’s jaw dropped when he realized who he was seeing. He was almost unrecognizable but he was sure it was him. “Matt?”, the officer asked.
The man’s shoulders shrunk. Anguish struck across his face at the sound of his own name, which he seemed like he thought he would never hear again.
The facade was well and truly over for him. He had been found. Officer McCade asked him for his identification and immediately, he provided it without a fight.
Officer McCade couldn’t believe what was happening! Just one day before, he could have never expected that he would solve the case that had remained a mystery for years in a matter of hours.
With a sigh he spoke, “Sir, I sure am glad to see you. But I’m going to have to bring you in for questioning”. What happened?
Matt followed McCade without resistance to the sheriff’s office. McCade sat him down and asked him everything he needed to know.
His decisions and actions had cost a lot of pain and suffering to his loved ones for the past 5 years and almost drove the police forces crazy. Why? What was the reason behind all of that?
Matt started from the beginning. Apparently, even though his life seemed almost perfect to anyone who knew him, that was far from the truth.
He explained that for many years, he suffered silently from severe mental illness. Every day, he fought the temptation to leave everything behind: he just wanted to get away from his life.
Matt’s voice cracked as he told the officer about how difficult it used to be to keep a happy front for his friends and family while hiding his real suffering from them.
The reason why he did that was simple; he just didn’t want to worry them or bring his own problems into their lives, so he struggled in silence.
“My life seemed perfect to outsiders,” Matt told the deputy, staring into the void as he recalled the events that led him to reject society.
“Not even my family or closest friends knew the inner turmoil I faced everyday with depression and paranoia that, as I found later on, stemmed around my phone and social media,” he also said.
“I felt a lot of societal pressure and it weighed heavy on me,” he also said. And that’s when he decided to give his life a drastic turn.
“I found a way to survive in the woods and I wanted to live out there instead,” he confessed. Now, the truth about Matt Hughes’ disappearance was finally out. But there was one thing left.
Officer McCade gave him the phone to call his family: those were the first people who needed to know about what had happened to Matt.
After an emotional call with his loved ones, Matt agreed to get the help he needed with his mental health and participate as a working member of society again, now with his loved ones’ support.
However, he didn’t go back to his old life. He made a career switch to teach survival classes, keeping his love for nature and the peace of mind the outdoors gave him, a constant in his new and improved life!
In order to protect the privacy of those depicted, some names, locations, and identifying characteristics have been changed and are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblances to actual events or places or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.