He walked into the depths of the forest with a feeling of dread. He had a bad feeling about this. Suddenly, a branch snapped, and officer McCade turned his head towards a broad figure that stood hiding behind a tree.
From fear, officer McCade ordered the man to show himself with a deep and authoritative voice. But nothing could have prepared him for what happened next.
Matt Hughes had the world in the palm of his hands. He had a good job that paid well, lived in a nice house, and had great friends. 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. One moment, Matt was behind them, and the next, he was gone. Did he make a wrong turn?
His friends called him to check up on him but they got no response. This behavior was so unusual for Matt that his friends contacted the local police straight away. Now, things went from bad to worse.
A week into the investigation, it became obvious that things just didn’t add up. 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.
There were also no signs of a crash or tire tracks indicating he had gone off the road. It was as if he 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 driven away and left. 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!
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. The man looked disheveled and potentially dangerous. Did this man have anything to do with Matt’s disappearance?
Officer McCade called back up and immediately drove towards the woods. It was illegal to live in the protected woodland. If someone was living there, it had to be for one reason only; to avoid being seen, or to escape from the law. 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. 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.
The small hut contained everything one might need to survive. It looked like someone was living here for a long time. Suddenly, a branch snapped, and officer McCade turned his head towards a figure that stood hiding behind a big tree.
With a deep and authoritative voice, 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 long and disheveled. His hands were open, showing he had nothing in his hands.
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. The facade was well and truly over. Officer McCade asked him for his identification and he provided it without resistance.
Officer McCade couldn’t believe what was happening! 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. He had cost a lot of pain and suffering to his loved ones for the past 5 years. Why?
Matt started from the beginning. He explained that he suffered silently from mental distress for several years and wanted to get away from his life. He continued…
“My life seemed perfect to outsiders. Not even my family or closest friends knew the inner turmoil I faced every day with depression and paranoia that I found stemmed from my phone and social media. I felt a lot of societal pressure and it weighed heavy on me.
I found a way to survive in the woods and I wanted to live out there instead”. Officer McCade gave him the phone to call his family.
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.
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!