Dan couldn’t believe that I had never been to The Fort and insisted that we take a trip to see it. It had been built by larpers, he said, and I didn’t expect anything more from his vague descriptions than a ramshackle old barn with the roof caved in and patches of moss forming on its rotten walls. Our adventuring party that day consisted of Dan (Level 14 Explorer), myself (Level 6 Watershed Steward), Andrea (Level 9 Architect’s Assistant), Nate (Unknown Character Class), Jesse (Level 8 Ski Resort Technician), and Cosmo (Level 2 Dog) for the mile and a half hike into the Springfield state forest. I only vaguely remembered Jesse—were I to guess, I would have said that his last name was Owens. Before we departed, Nate (who has traded his waistcoats and fedoras for long hair and large jackets) grabbed a hunk of hamburger meat from his freezer and struggled vehemently with a dull kitchen knife to chop off a hunk for the five of us so that we would have something to eat. Aside from bringing buns and a package of Kraft singles, we were laughably unprepared for cooking, and I was barely prepared for a hike; all I had was my fleece jacket, my knife, the flashlight from my car, and my trusty sneakers.
The sun had gone down before we even left Cricenti’s (now Hannaford’s, though the name sticks), and we made our way down the dark well-maintained trail that wound up a series of hills and into a small camping area. Luckily we encountered nothing more dangerous along the way than a Level 3 Mudhole. A blind trek through the woods followed, as each of the others navigated up the final hill by instinct. What I saw next was a solid wall of branches and sticks that kept going in both directions with a sturdy doorway in front of me. The larpers had surrounded the entire top of the hill with a wall about eight feet high and forty feet in diameter, and inside lay an inner sanctum with a fire pit and several rock thrones with carefully contoured backs and armrests. Outside was a jail, another smaller room that Nate had mostly dismantled for firewood, and a bathroom that was really just a pit with a long railing to lean against. I couldn’t stop laughing at the array of wooden shields spray-painted with different fantasy logos that hung along the walls—symbols for the imagined nationality of someone’s Level 24 Fighter or Level 18 Elf. The shields lent the fort a feeling of great care that we took advantage of by telling jokes:
“Do you think this place is filled with the blood of sacrificed virgins?”
“The only virgins who have been here are the ones who built the place.”
I couldn’t believe that there were larpers in Springfield serious enough to build such an elaborate fort, which aside from Dan and his crew now seemed to be frequented mostly by high school kids who came there to drink Bud Light. We used the fire pit to thaw the massive hunk of meat enough to chop it into pieces with an ax and grill hamburgers on a rusty shovel. Mine were crunchy from being burned (or from being dropped on the ground), but meals grilled in the woods still taste better. The whole experience made me want to disappear into the forest to see what kind of adventures I could find, or even just to spend time with nature, which I don’t do nearly enough of anymore. (Dan said that he and a friend used to spend days in the woods living by their wits. They caught rabbits for food by finding places where they crossed, then narrowing off their path and setting crude snares to strangle them.) I’d do more exploring if I knew where there were more forts to be found.