Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.
T. S. Eliot
I stumbled upon the area while photographing and cataloging wild mushrooms of Michigan for MSU, a job I believe is the best in the world, at least for me. I love the forests, the deeper and the least amount of people, the better. I must confess that I’ve ignored a lot of signs saying ‘Private property’ because I know the owners and they’re happy to have someone checking on their places ‘up north ’I’m. I’m also used to forcing my way through thickets of thorny wild raspberries, poison ivy vines, and swamps so were prepared with a machete and made my way through photographing and cataloging each bit of fungi. I’d never gotten lost and that day I carried a compass, cell phone, survival gear, and more than my share of hubris. For example, on the first day, I came to the area where Devil’s House should be, it didn’t show up on any map and I counted on GPS. Still nothing. I pulled into a gas station and realized I was in the general area of Devil’s House. I pulled into the only business I’d seen along this two-lane blacktop and asked a man sitting in a lawn chair, he looked to be about a hundred years old, if he could help me find it, he gave me a long look and said, “Danger Keep Out.”
I’d heard of ‘Devil’s House’ when I was a kid. My great-uncle Tracker, the only name I knew him by. I called him Uncle Tracker. Scout told Gramps that although he guarded the area, he never knew what he was guarding, so he figured it was for weapons storage. Someone picked him up every morning from a corner near his home. He still lived with your Great-Aunt Sadie back then and she claims to be part of Chippewa and told my grandfather, about it. I feigned sleep as ten-year-olds do and listened. He said it was during the Vietnam War, but he was stationed stateside, guarding a compound in the middle of nowhere Michigan. They used that old joke too often. I learned later that the locals call it “Devil’s House” a translation from the Chippewa and was warned to stay away from it and to, obey any sign that says, “Danger! Keep Out!
Uncle Tracker said a driver dressed in military garb arrived, confiscated my watch, knife, and walkie-talkie, then entered a windowless van. Curious as ever, I made a game of counting the minutes it to arrive at the site. I also took note of scents and sounds, but there were very few, except when we passed the town bakery. When the van finally stopped, I disembarked, the driver returned my items. The first thing I saw was a large sigh: Danger Keep Out.
My post was in front of a fenced-in metal building hut with no windows and one entry door. I walked the perimeter once an hour and recognized every type of flora, rock, and tree in that area. Especially an enormous sugar maple that had to be at least two-hundred years old. I was so bored that I named her “sugar’ and talked to her. I’d lean my back against her and eat my lunch. It was about ten yards from the fence, so I still saw it. One day a sergeant drove up and, not seeing me, started shouting my name. I raced to my post, and he gave me hell and even threatened a court martial! He was older, and pudgy and turned bright red, so I feared he might have a stroke. Then he grabbed my arm and pulled me to the familiar sigh and made me read it out loud. Danger Keep Out.
I found myself in familiar territory on my last assignment. It was near my great-grandparents, and grandparents’ farm and although they all had passed away, one of my cousins and his wife now lived there and I planned on visiting them at the end of my assignment. This was a four-day job in an area where black bears, coyotes, and a rare wild wolf pack. I was prepared with bear spray and expected would avoid me. There is only one venomous snake in Michigan, photographed and cataloged by a co-worker years earlier. They are shy and rarely seen as the flight is their method of survival. So, I wasn’t careful, but not particularly fearful, spending so much time among them as I would among many people I’m aware of.
Four days was the length of my paid assignment and I found the valued and very edible Morels. Luckily no one came back this far to harvest them. Always leave some behind so there will be more formed by the spore. It’s sad, but people, via ignorance or greed, will find them and take them all. I also discovered Turkey Tails that are lovely orange caused by a parasite that lives on them. There were many oysters and black trumpets. I was tempted to fry up some morels, but a harvesting or touching any of the fungi or flora is strictly forbidden.
On the third day, my luck began to run out. Clouds move in, providing a fine mist, and I donned my parka and continued. Then I stepped over a large rock and right into a tangle of ropey wild grapevines, slipped on the wet moss under them, and twisted my ankle. I hobbled to a nearby stream and soaked my foot in the extremely cold water that helped ease the pain and kept my ankle from swelling. I made the best of it, jotting down notes and listening to the symphony of peepers, warblers, wrens, and the squawk of a Blue Jay. A doe walked up to the opposite side of the stream and drank, and drank, not noticing me, then sauntered off. After a while, my leg felt better. I put my sock and shoe back on and as I climbed the bank, I noticed something white and rusty that didn’t look like a work of nature, so picked it up, planning on disposing of it properly. It was a sign that a large branch had knocked it over. I cleared the mud and leaves from it and read; Danger Keep Out
I propped the sign up as best I could and chuckled at the need for this sign in such an unpopulated area. I knew it was Federal land, but no public parking. I pulled my truck into a void in the foliage and parked I’d spent several days over the past months searching this remote place and hadn’t encountered one other living soul. I shrugged it off, thinking about how old the sign may be, from an old farm or summer home in the area. I notice rather new-looking signs that gave me a sense of unease saying: Danger Keep Out!
All the good luck I’d experienced over the past decade finally ran out. I tried to ignore my injury, but soon my calf was so swollen and sore, I could not continue. I had also lost my bearings, so checked my phone, no signal, the looked at my trusty compass and the needle just spun like the second hand of a watch. Fatigue and the leg pain set in more strongly, so I found a suitable campsite, pulled off my backpack, and popped up my small, one-person tent (unless the said person was less than 6’ 3’ like me. I was able to find enough dry wood under piles of leaves and large branches, to ward off carnivores and give a little heat, ate a few protein bars, and crashed. However, several hours later a sound woke me up and I crawled out of my sleeping bag and stepped out into a chilly but stary night. Then I heard the sound again, and this time the hair on the back of my neck stood up as I listened to the distinct sound of an infant’s cry. I pulled on my boots, thankful my ankle allowed it. Again, the cries of a very upset infant wailed somewhere, maybe from the north. What the hell was an infant doing here in nowhere Michigan. I pulled on my headlight and grabbed my machete by instinct and took a few steps, but even the most modern over-bright LED lights were able to cut through the dense foliage. I called out, asking who was out there – silence. A few seconds later the infant cried, almost hysterically now. I move forward and came upon another that t. Cutting my way through to the sound I stopped and heard not only the baby, but the voices of at least three children calling out, “Help us. Please come help us?” and wondered if they’d stumbled into the reason for the: Danger Keep Out!
I ran the few yards back to camp and gathered up my gear, leaving the tent and sleeping bag, and extinguished my campfire. I’d heard about people being lured by muggers and car thieves by sounds like this, but it sounded so real and urgent. The baby kept crying, actually screaming now. I ran top speed into. an electric chain-link fence and that threw me back a few feet. This was a much higher voltage than the 12-volt cattle fence. I sat up, a bit dazed and confused. I still heard the baby, and then more please from very young children, “Help! Help us, please! I stood up and looked more closely at the fence. It was at least ten feet tall and topped with razor wire and on hung the sound; Danger Keep Out
But the baby kept crying, just ahead of me, so I continued toward it, then stopped, unsure of what I saw. At least a dozen pairs of small, glowing red-orange eyes stared at me. I turned on my flashlight and pointed it at the beings. That’s all I can say about them. They were human-like but small. The tallest would reach my knees. They started laughing and spitting at me through the fence, making sure not to touch it. These were now children. They had unusually high foreheads, large bulbous noses, and slit of a mouth. One of them laughed, and I saw two rows of large, pointed teeth. Several made guttural growls opened their mouths and also mimicked a crying infant.
My heart nearly failed me as two large strong hands grabbed my arms from behind and my flashlight clattered to the ground and someone else yanked my rifle from me. Handcuffs secured my arms behind my back. I grew up in a very tough neighborhood and also served two tours in the middle east, but this whole experience was the most startling and terrifying experience I’ve ever endured. They marched me along the edge of the fence to a narrow gate and into a room so bright that it hurt my eyes. A large man stood in silhouette in front of them. He asked me to state my business, and I pointed to my pack, too stunned to speak. They checked my ID, then removed the flash drive from my camera and threw it back into my backpack, and also confiscated my field notebook. I started to complain, then realized that wouldn’t help, and I’d just better keep quiet. I finally was able to speak and told them about my purpose so far back in this forest. They said nothing but hustled me into a jeep, engine running, and drove me back to the motel I’d stayed at. Two huge guys opened my truck and lifted and threw me into it.
As i gobbled down my steak and eggs in the diner an elderly man asked me about the military escort and I asked him who he was and how he knew about what had happened so far back in the forest. He told me about the little creatures sometimes known as the Pugwudgies, but this is not their true name. They are small l humanoids that inhabit have inhabited that forest for hundreds or thousands of years. The government guards them against people but also protects us from them. They are carnivores that eat everything, including humans. They are tricksters and lure people to them, such as the fake baby cry, or a wounded dog, whatever they think a human or any mammal will respond to. They live in burrows underground, and rush out from every direction, circling their prey, and killing them with very sharp spears, some with the teeth of bears or wolves at the end. He told me he wasn’t afraid of talking about them, as they ‘are well known locally and he was too old to care what the government might do to him. We don’t talk about it, but I felt sorry for you, being so young and all. After a few of them ‘pugs’ we call them, kidnapped babies and children back in the late 1800’s the government and some of the ‘pug’s’ leaders made a treaty, and actually kept is all these years. Those in the fence that you saw went outside their ‘reservation’ I guess you’d call it, and are kept until one of their elders come to take them back. They live peacefully among themselves, but have such a blood lust for humans, they must be kept contained. Because they live underground the feds must have figured out what a hornet's nest trying to exterminate them, especially with the press lately and everyone has a camera phone. I’m so sorry you had to go through that, but please, in the future, turn back from any sign that says: Danger Keep Out!