You don't know a city until you crawl inside it
Life & Times in
A village nestled in a river valley
and surrounded by the rolling
hills of Southeast Minnesota.
Satanists One late night under a hallowed
moon, I arrived at my apartment
building after visiting a friend. I
lived on the edge of town, next
to rolling hills of old oaks and spruce. It was the type of woods where kids ventured with six-packs of beer to find and sit at the mouth of eerie caves that ran like caverns underneath the hills, or where lovers could sit on the hilltop in the dark on a late fall night and see the entire city lit up as if the stars had fallen from the sky.
My landlord was standing outside talking to a tall gentleman; strange I thought for the midnight hour. Then I noticed that the vehicle parked next to him was an unmarked squad car. I walked over to see if there was trouble in the apartments, as there were occasionally a few wild parties. He said there wasn't, then was quiet for a few seconds as if deep in thought. Then the police detective spoke again. He explained to me that Satanists had gathered deep in the woods for a meeting. Satanists? I questioned. He told me they rarely do anything against the law, but because of the nature of their activities, the department kept an eye on them, and he added, the department will occasionally let them know by showing up at their gatherings. Like tonight, I asked. Yes, he replied.
We stood and stared at the dark shadows at the edge of the woods. And then, as if on cue, someone ran out from the thick pines and crossed the street. Not long after, he was followed by another man. The second man obviously the detective as his actions were more deliberate and somewhat cautious.
The officer looked surprised. I gave him a look that requested an explanation since chasing the Satanists was a little more than keeping an eye on them. He just shrugged his shoulders. I stood around a few more minutes, then headed to my apartment, claiming I was tired. But inside my head were visions of me in the woods with my camera.
I was too chicken to walk out there that night, but the next day after work, I grabbed my camera and headed down the road to the edge of the woods. I had not been back to the caves, and had no idea what Satanists would do during a meeting. I envisioned bonfires, chicken heads, and strange writings in the dark soil. I was a young budding journalist and I hoped I could track down evidence of the previous evening's festivities.
I headed into the woods. The pines were thick, so I stuck to an old deer trail for easy walking. Then I ran across a larger trail. There was no doubt it had been made by years of teenagers heading to the center of the woods to get the shit scared out of them, by each other. I made good time despite the steady rise in the topography. I circled the hilltop, then started back down the other side, heading deeper into the woods. That is when I noticed the first cave. It looked like a giant dark eye from a distance and appeared to be staring right at me. The eyelid was a giant rock, and upon a closer look, it was definitely a cave opening. There was evidence of a fire outside the cave entrance but probably from an entirely different year. I scanned the area looking for evidence that might have been left by the Satanists by walking in circles until I had covered a good seventy square feet. I hung my head a bit and felt like giving up. There were no chicken heads, no fire rings or no nothing. But, I had yet to go inside the cave.
I have heard that caves can be dangerous; you could fall down a hole, get stuck in a tight spot - not the sport for someone who's been known to suffer from claustrophobia. But I didn't walk all the way out there for nothing. I'd be careful. And without giving time to think any more about it, I slipped under the big rock and entered the first "room." It was a small room, but had side caverns which made it feel larger than it was. From inside, I couldn't see outside, only the bright light that shown on the sandy soil where I had ducked under to come in. I took a few pictures, and then peaked down the largest corridor. There were air ducts, so to speak, along the way that allowed light in here and there. Enough to make following it somewhat feasible. I went at a slow pace, again, avoiding something that would put me in peril, especially since I was out there alone, and absolutely no one knew I was there.
I observed writings on the cave walls early on, teenager stuff, like Joe loves Sally, and Amy + Bill = Love. I snapped a shot or two. The farther in I traveled, the more requirements there were to use my hands to grasp onto rocks or use the cave walls to maintain my balance. It was deeper in where I started to find more mysterious drawings. There were designs in the rock that I did not recognize. It is not what turned me around. I turned around because the route had just become too unsafe for a lone person to be traversing.
Heading out came easier than the walk in, since I knew what was ahead of me. Within minutes, I had made my way back to the small room at the entrance. I had my camera out again, and was taking pictures when I heard the rustling of leaves outside the cave. I leaned down to listened. Then realized I was hearing footsteps, and they were coming toward the entrance. My heart about popped out of my skin. I thought about two things in that short time span. A- It was the Satanists coming back to get something they had forgotten or to finish some unfinished business, or B-It was the detectives looking to gather up clues, only to catch some young fellow and mistake him for one of the Satanists. It was a no win situation.
I can tell you I gained a much better understanding of the fight or flight theory on that afternoon. I had no choice but to bum rush out from under that cave entrance, and when I did, I expected to be playing the five-knuckles up game or the dodge trees and run game. I charged out of there like a bull after a giant red muleta, and right into the face of - an elderly man with a poodle cradled in his arms?!
I couldn't believe what I was seeing, and by the way he grasped for his chest (whether he was trying to safe keep his dog or was having a heart attack), he was pretty darn surprised too. Well, I understand why. I doubt he expected anyone to come exploding out of that cave; probably thought it was the devil himself.
We both sat down on stumps to catch our breath. It turns out, this elderly gentleman walked the trails in the woods occasionally, carrying his dog so he wouldn't get full of cockleburs or whatever. And as we sat there, he told me how he had been coming back to these caves for many years, since he was a child I guess. He said his father had brought him to the caves long ago, and had told him a story about how the Jesse James gang had held up in those caves a night or two around the time of the Northfield Bank Robbery.
That's all he said that I remember, but when I think back, I wish I would have prodded him more when it came to his story. I sensed there was more that he was willing to expand on, but I was a young fellow yet, and American history would not become one of my favorite subjects until years later. To this day, I still feel that meeting the old fellow out there was like a passing of the torch, the passing of history, the passing of a story about a place that nobody else knew about. Maybe the good folks of Stone City know the stories and just choose not to talk about it. Maybe there is more to the story, a darker story where the negative energies of the gunslingers and the Satanists come together in a wisp of wood smoke around midnight on an evening colored by the hallowed moon.Back to Top
Excerpts from an old Stone City Diary
1 Sept - I arrived in town this morning with nothing more but a cardboard box containing one pot, one fork, spoon and knife, a plate, a glass, and two changes of clothes. And my sleeping bag. I had no place set aside to live, and was expected to start work this very a.m. And I did. Luckily, I had ran into an acquaintance in town and was able to sleep in an extra room at his mother's place in the city.
2 Sept - On my lunch hour, I found a room to rent in an old motel. It came with a really small stove and fridge. But as I signed the rental agreement, the landlord said to me, Oh yea, if anyone pounds at the door in the middle of the night, it might be the previous tenant. You see, he got himself into trouble and thrown in jail. Then his girlfriend took off, and no one paid the rent, so I put his stuff in storage. I don't think he'll try to break the door down. You planning on having a
phone? You could call me. Well, I went back to work, and by the time I got off, I had talked myself out of living there. I went straight back there and pounded on his door. I told him that was quite a pile of shit to throw at me after I had handed you the check and signed the agreement. I told him it wasn't fair to expect me to stay there now, and followed that up by asking for my check back - if he hadn't already cashed it. He was pretty understanding and gave me the check back. Luckily, I had run into another acquaintance that day and was able to find a room that night at his uncle's farm 30 miles down the road.
3 Sept - Found an efficiency apartment in a three-story building in the quiet part of town. I am on the bottom floor. There is a small kitchen, and a tiny room that fits little more than my sleeping bag, but the main room is large. I found a couch and a radio at a thrift store. And I also called to get my phone hooked up. Things are looking good.
12 Sept - It finally feels like home around here. But some strange things have occurred. Friday night I woke up around midnight to the sound of a woman screaming. I sat straight up in bed, and it took a few seconds to collect my wits. Then I heard more. . . moans and screams, coming from the apartment above me. I stood up and paced the large room a few times. It was driving me crazy because by this time, my loins had heated up as well, making things very uncomfortable for me. Finally it ended. I laid awake for some time that night. And then in the morning, as I lounged around the place writing poems and listening to morning radio, there was a knock at the door. I opened the door and there is this pretty, young American Indian woman standing there. She asked if she could use my phone because her and her boyfriend had just moved in, too, and she introduced herself and told me she lived in the apartment above me. My face lit on fire, and I had to quickly turn around so she wouldn't see the shades of red I had turned. I pointed to the phone as I headed to my mini-kitchen as if I had something important to do in there.
16 Sept - After work tonight, my new friend stopped over again to use the phone. She has used it a few times. Tonight she told me she thinks her boyfriend is jealous about her coming to my apartment to use the phone. I told her I was not worried, although I have not met him yet.
19 Sept - I had not seen my friend in a couple days, until this Saturday morning. After a knock at the door, I opened it to see her standing there. Behind her, the boyfriend. Couple things went through my mind quickly. He's here to have a few words with me, eh? He's taller, but his build is no bigger. After five seconds, I decide I could take him. She said, I brought someone over that wants to meet you. In my mind, I'm like, I can see that and I'm ready for the five-knuckle shuffle, and an image pops into my head of me dancing around with my dukes up. It makes me smile even now. It turns out, he just wanted to use my phone, too. But, there was somebody else there to see me, and from behind her boyfriend stepped out another young Indian woman, even prettier than the first. My friend said it was her younger sister up visiting from Nebraska. Shortly after, my friend and her boyfriend leave, and the younger woman asked to stay. It turns out she is 17. She sat on the couch and read my poetry, told me she didn't like her sister's boyfriend much and asked if I'd mind if she stopped by now and again.
26 Sept - I have been into taping things lately with this little tape recorder I bought. Earlier this evening and about an hour after dark, I laid on the couch and listened to the wind blow the crunchy fallen leaves around in the parking area out front. I had set the recorder on the sill by the open window. I listened for some time. Then I heard a car pull up. (I cannot see, but am imagining). A woman gets out, a higher class woman than might be expected in this neighborhood. She had high heels on and walked with a purposeful gait up to the building. I could also hear the swish, swish of her jacket. I pictured a woman wearing a long black leather jacket, black nylon socks, dark hair and really red lipstick. It was late, and otherwise, very quiet out in the street. Perhaps she had come to meet someone. Perhaps she was having an affair.
2 Oct - Another week has gone by. The younger Indian girl has stopped by every day. I don't mind. She is quiet, and helps around the place a little. I even helped her type a letter to her mother on the typewriter. She told me tonight that she would be leaving soon; headed back to Nebraska. I've only known her for two weeks, but I know I will miss her company, a lot. Tonight after work, we decided to walk down to the mini mall where her sister worked at an ice cream store. We had a cone, then hung around until her sister got off. Then we all walked back together. Autumn has really set in. The fallen leaves are underfoot with each step. The wind seems to blow all the time. Tonight as I sit alone in the dark of my room, I can feel the eeriness of the darker days, and I smell the slow death of the fauna outside. It creeps into my body like a fever and pulls my insides in different directions. There are parts of me that love this time of year, and parts of me that should fear it.
9 Oct - The young Indian girl is gone. I felt lonely tonight, so I grabbed my recorder and attended a local high school football game. I love the sound of the high school bands, and the echo of the announcers. I wanted to try and get some on tape. I stayed through half time. It was kind of cold and I had worn only a jean jacket. When I got home, I was excited to listen to the tape. After settling in, I laid on the couch and hit the on button. I listened to 20 minutes of me sniffling every three seconds until I couldn't stand myself any more. I turned it off. I would record over that tape some other time.
25 Oct - I parked out front, as I always do. A gentleman from the apartment across the street pulled up at the same time. I said hello. He made small talk by asking if I was going to be watching Game 7 of the World Series. I told him, well, I probably would, but I don't have a television. Then to my surprise, he says, you can come over to my place and watch it. I thought about it a second, then asked what room number. He gave it to me. I didn't know this guy from Adam, and I don't know Adam either. But what the hell. I grabbed a few beers from my fridge and tossed them in my pockets and over I went. His place was larger than mine. He had a second floor room, a small TV and only two chairs-one metal folding chair which he probably pulled from the closet just when I knocked. We watched the game. I drank my two beers, then thanked him and went on my way. And by the way, the home team won.
14 Nov - You won't believe this, but I moved out of my apartment. I read about a cheap room on the other side of town, closer to work. It won't hurt to spend less money, but now I have roommates.
20 Nov - I live on the edge of town. There is a large woods right across the street. Tonight when I went for a stroll, seven deer jumped out from a bundle of spruce trees and onto the sidewalk in front of me. I stopped and watched them for several minutes before their white tails went up and off they went back into the woods. I tried to connect their presence with a spiritual message, but couldn't remember what I was thinking when they first appeared. But it did make me feel good to have them so close.
22 Dec - We received the first heavy snowfall of the year. I and an acquaintance took the truck for a drive out on the country roads during the storm. There was six inches of snow on them already, and it was a pretty good time. Then we decided we had better turn around and head back. The snow was deceiving, and when I turned around, the front end of the truck sunk into the ditch. I wanted to back out, because I thought the snow in the ditch was deep, but even in four-wheel drive, it was stuck. I only had one option, straight ahead. I stomped her down full speed ahead. The old Chevy climbed out of that drift like a seasoned pro, and soon we were back on the road heading home. That's when I noticed a stream spilling onto the clean white snow behind us. I didn't have to put on the brakes, the truck stopped for me. I had torn off a transmission line. So it's 11 pm by this time. We walked through the deep snow to the nearest house. There was a hint of light from a back room, but otherwise dark. I knocked on the front door while the other fellow went to see if there was a car in the garage. No one answered. I headed back around to the driveway just as this other fellow walks out of the garage. In his hands was a huge set of moose horns. I asked what in the hell are you doing with them? I really like them, he said. My reply: Ya damn fool, even if I would let you steal them (which I wouldn't), how do you plan on making your get-away. We had no wheels. He put them back. That night, I found out that in a pinch, motor oil will work as transmission fluid (in an older vehicle). After six halts and 12 quarts of oil, we pulled up into the parking lot at my apartment.
28 Dec - Another late night heavy snowfall. At 10 p.m., I slipped on my winter gear, boots, and headed into the woods. I am not sure what got into me on this particular night. I may call it, a calling from Nature. Call it what you will, but off I went. The flakes were as big as chickadees and covered the branches of every tree. They filled the night sky so thick, that a completely black environment had changed to a bright white aura. The snow fell with an awesome sound and could even be heard as it landed. It was noisy, yet completely silent at the same time. The experience was really strange and new to me, and my curiosity and thirst for this strange world was incredible. I puffed through the thick snow in my leather boots like a mountain man hunting bear. I walked for five or six miles around those hills, in that deep snow, until I finally decided to call it a night. And that's when things changed. When I told myself that I was tired of it; it was like I had turned off a switch. Suddenly, things became dark to me. I stopped in my tracks. The awareness of the change felt overwhelming. I began to feel frightened, where once I felt love and warmth and equality. I heard a branch break and that brought strange images to my head. I kicked off at a good pace towards the road. It felt as if every ghostly being in the woods now trailed after me like zombies, and they slowly gained ground on my boot prints, closer and closer. I said a quick prayer to keep it behind me. I was confused at how Nature had changed everything on me. How it had decided to let me in, then just as suddenly, it had taken it away. I stumbled out into the road, sweaty and tired. I went to my apartment and dreamt strange dreams, dreams of which I may tell you on another day.
22 January - I took a walk downtown with my camera to stretch my legs. The buildings were tall, and with the cold and snow, appeared to be frozen into the ground. It was getting late. I had watched the sun go down some time ago. I cut across a dark street and headed in the direction of home. There was only one street of older business office buildings left before the downtown district was behind me. That's when I heard a scream. It came from the alley I had just passed. It sounded like a child's scream. I turned around and headed back to the alley. And no more had I, then a young fellow of about 13 ran out. He yelled, a man tried to stab me. I asked, who did. He said the man in the alley, adding, that the man had tried to corner him with a knife, but he ducked under his arms and ran. Then he asked, shouldn't we run-for-it? We were still by the alley. I told him I would rather keep the danger in front me, than put my back to it. If someone ran out of that alley with a knife, I didn't want to have my back to him. But I compromised, and we walked backwards for forty feet, until we turned and headed down the road. The boy stayed at my side. I asked where he was going at this time of night. He said he had left his apartment building and was headed to the bowling alley to meet his parents. It was quite a long walk for a young fellow, after dark, in the coldest month of winter. He led me there, and then I watched until he was safe inside. To this day, I am not sure what I would have done if some son-of-a-bitch would have come running out of that alley. I had hopes he was drunk.