When I lived in the Chicago suburb of Park Ridge in the mid-to-late 90s, I would often take a short drive to the neighboring suburb, Des Plaines, to a forest preserve area called Belleau Lake Woods which is mostly known for its stocked trout fishing on the teardrop shaped man-made lake, which is located between the 294 Expressway and Busse Highway and surrounded on the Busse Hwy. side by a small but very thick woods. The lake is ringed by a gravel path that is popular with joggers and walkers, and of course lots of people fishing.
The one time I went was in the early summer or late spring, I remember it being a gorgeous day, sunny, clear blue sky, I think it was late morning because I remember I stopped for breakfast at a nearby McDonald’s on the way there. When I got to the tiny parking lot off Busse Hwy, I noticed that there were no other cars, so I thought to myself “Great, I have the whole path to myself for once” as I did some stretching before jogging.
I did see a couple of guys fishing on the opposite side of the lake from where the gravel path started, as I began my jog, listening to my Walkman. The lake is about a mile long, and so it’s a nice length jog, but when I was nearly to the far end of the lake, near the expressway side, I really had to pee, and the outhouse was back by the parking lot, so I found a dirt path into the woods along the path, and made sure I was far enough in so cars from the expressway couldn’t see me or any passers-by who might job or walk by. I think I may have gone too far into the woods, because the warm sunshine was replaced by green as far as I could see from the tightly packed trees and shrubs and weeds. Also, there was after a few seconds, as I looked for the “right” tree, a feeling of being watched from further down the dried mud trail in the woods, where the trail took a sharp turn to the right behind a couple of huge pine trees. I turned off my Walkman, and took the head phones off, and, yes, I lamely called out towards the distance “Hello?”
I finished up my thing at the tree and walked path to the path and looked up, and about 20 feet down was a black shape, my first reaction was it was someone in a really dark hoodie but as I looked again, it was all black, no features, about 6 or 7 feet tall, and looking like one of those old-fashioned white sheet ghosts, but this thing was so black it stood out sharply against the greenery around it. It didn’t move and for a second I closed my eyes, hoping my eyes were playing tricks on me, and when I opened them, it was now a few feet closer, and swaying slowly left to right, all the time totally soundless.
I took off running through the shrubs and woods, off the mud path, back towards the gravel path around the lake, as fast as I could go, scratching my arms and hands, along the way, pushing branches out of my way, not daring to look behind me. I continued to run outside the woods, on the white gravel, until I got to the opposite side of the lake, and then stopped to catch my breath.
I looked up towards the opening in the woods across the lake where I’d come out of half-expecting the thing to be standing there, but it wasn’t. I looked for a little bit more, waiting for something to come out or any movement, but nothing. I jogged briskly back to the parking lot, and sat in my car for a few minutes, replaying what had just happened in my head. I know I didn’t imagine it, it was there, whatever it was.
I did return to Belleau Lake on a couple more occasions to jog around the lake, but never did go back into the woods again after that. All these years later, I can still see that thing swaying black as coal, silently, on that forest path, and it still makes my palms sweat thinking about it.