By Marian Exall
The beast crouched no more than fifteen feet away, yellow eyes, teeth bared in a snarl and dripping slime, its mangy grey coat showing every rib.
Claire froze but her mind was racing. Make a lot of noise? Avoid eye contact? Back away slowly? One by one, she discarded each piece of wilderness lore she remembered. She waited, trapped in a standoff with a creature unlike any she had encountered before. But then this was her first time hiking in the North Cascades. Hiking alone in the North Cascades.
Back at the Lodge that morning she had shrugged off her friends’ concerns, rejecting their plans to go shopping in the cute little Old West village down the valley and then do some wine-tasting. She knew they meant well when they invited her on this weekend jaunt to the mountains. She was new to Seattle, enticed there by a boyfriend who landed a job with Amazon. When he dumped her, she considered moving home to her parents in Florida, but decided to stay and make a go of it in the Pacific Northwest, show everyone—him—that she was capable of forging a successful life on her own. It was her pride, some might call it her stubbornness, that led her to set off on this solo hike. She told Annie and Tara that she needed to expend some energy, wear herself out, but she also needed a break from their sympathy which was beginning to cloy.
So here she stood with a steep fall of scree to her left, and, on the slope above and to her right, the beast. The trail was narrow and rocky; she had been concentrating on placing her feet, not looking up until she heard the noise: a wet, rasping growl that ended in a yip. Seconds passed that felt like minutes, like hours.
She felt as much as heard the shot as the bullet whined past. A scarlet bloom appeared beneath the beast’s ear. She watched, mesmerized, as the animal slowly crumpled forward, front legs, then rear, collapsing into a heap barely discernable from the stony grey ground. Only when Claire was certain it would not rise again did she turn to see who had fired.
About twenty yards down the trail behind her, a man stood, his hands hanging at his sides, one of them loosely grasping a pistol. He was tall and slim, dressed in khaki pants and a faded flannel shirt. He wore a baseball cap that shaded his face. As she watched, he turned his attention to the gun. When he was satisfied it was secure, he shrugged out of his backpack and placed the gun inside. He started towards her, calling out as he walked.
“You OK? Coyote, a sick one by the look of him, or he wouldn’t be out in daylight. Probably cut loose from the pack; starving as well as sick.”
The man was only feet away now, and Claire could see he was forty-ish, tanned with a couple of days’ beard. There was a goat stitched on the front of his cap.
“You OK?” he asked again.
Claire took a deep breath, the first in what felt like a while.
“Yes. It just took me by surprise. I wasn’t looking . . . Um, thank you. That was quite a shot.”
The man gave an “aw, shucks” kind of shrug, and smiled, showing white but slightly crooked teeth.
“You hiking over to Pine Lake?”
“Yes, I plan on getting lunch there, then coming back this afternoon.”
“Me too. Mind if I keep you company?”
Not at all! Claire thought. This mountain man was a bit unkempt, but he made a nice change from the metrosexual guys she met in Seattle. Out loud, she replied: “Sure, but what should we do about this?” She indicated the dead coyote, which now seemed small and unthreatening.
“They’ll take care of it,” the man gestured upwards to the birds already circling, black against the blue October sky. He stuck out a hand. “I’m Joe Priest, by the way.”
“Claire Delgado.” They shook. His hand was dry, rough and strong, as she had anticipated.
The trail climbed for another half-mile before the ridge, then descended in switchbacks into the welcome shade of the pine forest. As they walked single file on the narrow trail, they exchanged information. Claire explained that her barista job in Seattle was just a placeholder until she landed something in her field: PR and event planning. Joe pieced together a living as a seasonal firefighter and snow-plow operator for the County.
“I tend bar at the Lodge sometimes, too,” he added.
“Oh, that’s where I’m staying.” Claire realized as soon as she spoke that he’d probably guessed that already.
The trail met a graveled road leading to a couple of weathered houses with tumble-down outbuildings.
“Welcome to Pine Lake,” Joe gestured at the structures.
“But . . . where’s the café?” Claire was confused. On the little tourist map she had picked up at the Lodge, Pine Lake was clearly marked with a crossed knife and fork.
“Mac slaps sandwiches together for through-hikers in the summer, but he’s closed for the winter now. I guess you didn’t bring any food.”
“No, I thought . . .”
“Yeah, the lake is seasonal too: exists in the spring when the snow melts. It’s just a swamp by this time of year. Criminal how the Lodge hands out those chintzy little guides, making out we live in Shangri-la. This is wild country. In another month, you won’t be able to reach Pine Lake except on a snowmobile.”
“Oh. Is there anyone living here now?” Claire asked hesitantly.
Joe laughed. “Sure, Mac and his wife—they’re who I’m here to see— and a couple of old-timers still tough it out year ‘round. Come on, I’m sure Mac can find you something for lunch. You’ll need to start back pretty soon, if you want to reach the Lodge in time for Happy Hour.”
Joe led her to the front door of the larger house and entered without knocking. Inside, the room was dark. When Claire’s eyes adjusted, she saw a table with chairs and a couple of sagging sofas in which, slumped to match, were two shapeless figures with straggling grey hair and beards, both gripping coffee mugs. They mumbled “Hey” in response to Joe’s greeting.
“Is Mac around?”
Before he received a response, a door at the back of the room opened and another grey beard entered, this one looking a little sprier than the coffee drinkers on the sofa.
“Joe, thank God you’re here! She’s got herself in such a state, and you’re the only one can—” He spotted Claire and shut his mouth abruptly.
“Hi, Mac. This is Claire. We met on the trail. Do you think you could fix her a sandwich before she heads back over?”
“Yeah, yeah. Just give me a moment.” Mac gripped Joe’s arm. “Can you . . .?” He jerked his head towards the door he had come through.
Claire watched in dismay as Joe disappeared into the back room. She turned her brightest P.R. smile on the seated men. “Hi, guys! Is there any coffee left? My name’s Claire, by the way.”
The two looked at one another blankly, as if Claire was speaking a foreign language they hoped the other man might translate. Then the one Claire could only distinguish by his slightly shorter beard and hair said, “I’m Perry, and this is Pig—I mean Paul. Help yourself.” He indicated a drip coffee maker on a side table. Claire looked into the murky depths of the carafe, and decided she could wait for her caffeine fix.
Mac followed Joe in and shut the door behind him. The back room was as dim as the front of the house. Joe crossed to the bed against the side wall, and bent over the woman in it.
“Hey, Greta, got a hug for me?”
A wet facecloth was spread over the upper part of Greta’s face. She lifted it off to reveal two black eyes and a bloody graze running from her forehead down the bridge of her nose. She looked balefully at Joe without speaking.
“Whoa, darlin’! What happened to you?”
Greta opened her mouth but before she could speak, Mac jumped in.
“She fell, that’s all. Putting the chickens away. It gets dark so early now. She must’ve tripped.”
“No! I didn’t trip! I was pushed! And I know what by!” She lowered her voice to a wheedling tone. “Joe, you know, don’t you? It was the same as before. I felt its breath, the size of it behind me. Then, whoosh, down I go! I didn’t trip!” This last directed at her husband.
Joe held her hand and made soothing noises.
“Well, you need to see a doctor. Have Mac drive you down to the clinic.”
“And have them all make fun of me, like last time?” Greta gave a bark of bitter laughter. “I know what it was: Bigfoot! You believe me, don’t you, Joe?”
He didn’t reply directly, instead turning to Mac.
“Any news of Matthew?”
This time Greta interrupted.
“It wasn’t Matthew. You think I wouldn’t know my own son?”
“Matthew’s still in Western State, as far as we know. If they release him, it would only be to prison.” Mac’s face was glum. Their only child had been a problem for years before he was found in a derelict building in Bellingham, incoherent and wearing bloodstained clothing. The blood matched that of a murdered WWU student, and, although Matthew claimed no memory of it, no further search for a perpetrator was conducted. Matthew was found incompetent to stand trial, and sent to the state mental hospital to be housed along with the criminally insane.
“How ‘bout I stay over? I can bed down on the back porch and keep an eye open for, well, whatever’s prowling around out there.” Joe looked from Greta to Mac before he added, “I brought my gun.”
“Thanks, Joe. I’m so glad you’re here.” Greta grasped his hand in both of hers.
“No problem,” Joe smiled. “Now, Mac, go fix that girl something to eat before she tries to call for pizza delivery and finds out there’s no cell phone service out here. Oh, the horror!”
Four hours later, on the other side of the mountain, Harold Vandermolen stood behind the Lodge bar looking despondently out at empty tables and chairs. Only five patrons for Happy Hour: those three good-looking girls from Seattle, and the older couple. A dismal turnout for a Friday night. He mentally reviewed reservations for the rest of the weekend: two more couples arriving tomorrow for one night, then zilch. He decided to call Joe, the weekend bartender, and cancel his shift. He’d manage alone.
Only two more weeks until the annual November closure, unless he decided to close the Lodge earlier. He’d open again for the winter season in December, if there was enough snow. When he’d purchased the place six years ago, Christmas through February was the busiest time, but climate change and repeated low-snow years had whittled away at advance bookings. And with the threat of wildfires, the summer reservations were down too. He needed to do something to put the Lodge back on the map, something that didn’t cost any money . . .
As one of the girls—the dark-haired one with the great tan—stood up and started towards the bar, he made an effort to smooth the frown from his face and stand up straight. A miserable host made for miserable guests. And he could do with more guests like these girls. Besides being lookers, they dressed well and projected sophistication. If they spread the word to their Microsoft millionaire buddies, he might be able to pull through.
“Can we have another round? Charge it to room 10, Claire Delgado.”
“Sure. A Negroni, a Chardonnay and a vodka-tonic, right?” He busied himself with the bottles. “So, did you have a good day?”
“Yeah, I hiked over to Pine Lake. I met a guy who works here: Joe Priest? Is he on duty this weekend?” Claire asked with a sly smile.
“Um, I’m not sure.” So the ladies liked Joe, he thought. Maybe I need to find another way to economize. “I’ll bring these right over.”
Once he had dispensed the drinks at their table and made sure there was nothing else they required, he headed towards the couple on the other side of the room.
Tara leaned forward and whispered. “It’s so sad. We heard at the winery that only a month after he took over the Lodge, his wife left him!” She gazed at his retreating back. “You can see he’s still devastated.”
Annie frowned and cut her eyes towards Claire to remind Tara of their friend’s own recent abandonment.
“Oh, no! I didn’t mean—I just think it must be hard, running a business on your own . . .”
Claire shrugged and took a sip of her drink.
“Well, he’s gotta be fifty at least. And look at that paunch. If I was married to a sad sack like that I’d leave too.”
“Talking of sad sacks,” With a jerk of her head, Annie indicated the other people across the room.
Tara sniffed. “Well, everyone has a story. You don’t know what burdens those people are carrying.”
Annie suppressed the desire to roll her eyes. Tara thought the best of everyone, and look where it had gotten her: back living at home with her parents in Redmond. Annie was a few years older and lot more cynical. Being a realtor did that, she supposed. She ran a seasoned eye over the room. The Lodge had potential because of its location, but it needed sprucing up. That would take investment, and—looking over as Harold hovered over the other guests—new management. It needed something else, too, to distinguish it from other mountain inns: something unique. She pondered what that might be.
Claire wasn’t paying much attention to her friends. She was thinking about Joe Priest. She had been disappointed when he’d sent her back on her own, opting to stay over at Pine Lake. What was the big attraction about that place? It had given her weird vibes. She had hurried back to the Lodge, breaking into a run past the place where the dead coyote lay, as if it might come back to life and jump out at her. Four or five crows rose from the carcass to scream their displeasure at being disturbed, but when she slowed to look back, they had roosted on their prey again, and the trail was tranquil in the afternoon sunlight.
Now, after a long hot shower, and with alcohol blurring the edges of her unease, she looked forward to revisiting her adventure when—if—Joe bartended tomorrow. She also wanted to find out how he’d become such a great marksman, and what the goat insignia on his cap meant . . . and when his shift ended.
Harold’s offer to refresh the couple’s drinks was rebuffed, and he slouched back to his station behind the bar.
“What a dump!” The woman’s attempt at sotto voce followed him across the room. She was thin with sharp features that her expensively styled and highlighted hair failed to soften. She was dressed more for Palm Springs than the North Cascades. “Remind me never to let you book a romantic weekend away again.”
Her husband, plump, pink and perspiring, looked into the bottom of his glass, lost in thought. He was recalling his much-married buddy’s advice: Ray, you’ve got to make Daphne leave you! That way you get out of paying alimony. But you’ve got to be subtle about it. Lay a trail of kindness. A weekend at a second-rate mountain resort in shoulder season was part of the plan, but it was all taking too long. What if she never left? How long could he stand Daphne’s constant complaining?
“Daphne, love, I’m just popping outside for a smoke,” Ray shuffled to his feet.
His wife responded with a disgusted sound. She hated his smoking, which is why he had not told her he had quit successfully three months ago. The more minor things she had against him the better.
“Better take a jacket; it’s chilly out there,” Harold said as Ray passed on his way towards the door.
It was chilly. A flamboyant sunset played out over the western horizon: peach shading to pink and violet. But within a couple of steps into the trees that surrounded the parking lot, Ray found himself in darkness. He fished in his pocket for his phone, and selected a number stored anonymously in his Contacts as “dentist.”
“Bitsy? Hi . . . mmm, me too. Tell me about your day.” As he listened, Ray’s face relaxed into a smile that took ten years off his age.
By the time Ray returned to the bar, the sunset had faded and stars were appearing. Harold had at last remembered to turn on the background music and was handing out dog-eared dinner menus, lighting a candle at each table as he passed.
The nighttime sounds of the forest emerged as the Lodge became dark and silent. Small animals and large scurried or stalked through the trees. A bird swooped, its wing momentarily obliterating a distant constellation. Miles away in the valley, coyotes howled and yipped. A doe started, eyes sweeping around for danger, before she settled again.
The trees breathed in and out; the stars multiplied. To the night-adjusted eye, shadows separated and merged, the hunters and the hunted engaging in their nightly dance of life and death.
By Pamela Helberg
Joe pulled the creaky old rocking chair closer to Greta’s bedside and settled in, leaning forward to trace the bloody gash with his fingertip. “Now, tell me what happened, G, what actually happened.”
“I swear Joe, I could smell it—the stench, the rot, a beast . . . and not some kid in a costume or some stupid rabid coyote. This, this . . . thing . . . stood on two legs and was a good two feet taller than me, and at least a hundred pounds heavier.” Greta closed her eyes and sighed. “I saw it, Joe. I did.”
Greta looked defeated and small surrounded by a sea of blankets, her bandaged head nearly lost amongst an array of pillows. Joe fought to keep his voice even. He had known Greta and Mac since he was in kindergarten, when he and Matthew became best friends, inseparable all the way through high school until Matthew left for college.
Joe had chosen to stay in the valley, partly to keep an eye on his own parents who had long ago parted ways. His dad had been the town drunk, spending his days rooted to his barstool at Grumpy’s Goat Shack, the local dive bar, complaining to anyone with an ear about how Joe’s mom had left him and the kid to fend for themselves. He finally had one too many and died of complications from cirrhosis. Joe’s mother waited tables at various local establishments, most recently at the new brew pub which was situated at the far end of town with a lovely view of the river that bisected the community. The work varied with the seasons, so she worked long hours to make sure Joe had what he needed. There wasn’t enough for anything extra, and her absence left Joe on his own, to raise himself. He had worked odd jobs around town as soon as he was old enough to understand that if he wanted a bicycle he would have to figure out a way to earn his own money in order to buy it. He spent many nights with Matthew, Mac, and Greta who always had a place for him. And now, Greta and Mac needed him. More than ever.
“I dunno, G, kinda sounds like Matthew,” Joe said. “Are you certain he’s still locked up at Western State? I mean, with all of the funding cuts over there, maybe he got out early or escaped?”
Greta sighed again and turned her face to the wall. She had a difficult enough time believing that her only son was a psychopath who had to be locked up, she absolutely refused to believe he would have escaped only to show up like this and attack her, and she knew in her heart that her boy had not killed that university student. A mother knows these things.
Mac stood in the doorframe, out of Greta’s sight, and locked eyes with Joe. They both understood that Greta’s grief over Matthew’s arrest and subsequent schizophrenia diagnosis had deflated the once lively and vibrant woman. In the intervening years, Greta had morphed from an outgoing, friendly, and welcoming “come one, come all” sort to an empty and perpetually sad shell of her former self. She began to hear things and see things that no one else heard or saw. Her grief filled the room, the house, and was beginning to become a force all of its own.
Joe nodded at Mac but waited until he felt Greta’s hand go slack in his own before he got up to leave the room.
“I am so sorry, my friend,” he whispered and pulled Mac close in a bear hug.
“She’s getting worse, Joe,” Mac shook his head. “She has more bad days than good ones lately, and I’m afraid I’m losing her too. I don’t know how to thank you for hiking over today. Sorry we didn’t have much to feed your gal friend.”
Joe chuckled and told Mac about the rabid coyote and rescuing Claire. “Happy to do it, and had I not, I wouldn’t ever have met Claire Delgado, but I probably won’t ever see her again after introducing her to Pig and Perry. What are those lunkheads still hanging around for anyway? Thought they’d be long gone by this time of year. No way they’ll make it out if it snows.”
Before Mac could explain, Greta’s screams ricocheted through the cabin.
“Earth to Claire. Earth to Claire!” Tara snapped her fingers in her friend’s face. “Seriously, Claire! Where’d you go?”
“Oh, sorry,” Claire shook her head. She’d been staring at the bar and imagining Joe Priest was dispensing drinks instead of Harold. Joe Priest, shirtless bartender. Joe Priest, gunslinger and slayer of rabid coyotes. Joe Priest . . . she inhaled sharply. “Did I tell you I almost was attacked by a wild coyote on my hike today?” Claire’s eyes darted between Tara and Annie. “No lie. I was trying to decide if I should run or play dead and all of the sudden, out of nowhere . . . “ She recounted her earlier adventures on the mountain to her wide-eyed audience of two.
“It was so strange,” she mused. “There was no café and certainly no charm. There wasn’t even a lake. Talk about false advertising.” She cut a daggered side eye across the room to Harold. “I could have died out there. Lucky for me, Joe came to the rescue. He said he works here sometimes. I hope he has a shift before we have to go back to Seattle.”
“Well, I told you not to go alone,” Tara scolded. “You could have stayed with us and enjoyed some wine. We even found the local weed shop, Fresh Greens. Stocked up.” Tara flashed a fat spliff under the table. “Meet me out on the deck for a couple of hits? Then we can find someplace to eat in town.”
The young women pushed back their chairs and rose in unison. “This place could use a big screen tv or something,” Annie noted as Harold watched more than half of his potential dinner crowd ready to leave. “Sports. Everyone loves a community sports bar. Sportsball would help your cause,” she cocked her head toward Harold. “Ever think of that?”
“Cable sports packages are too expensive,” Harold muttered, as he wiped the already clean bar again, but the trio had already moved out of earshot. “My wife hated sports.”
The Lodge doors had barely closed behind them when Tara lighted up the joint and took a long hit. Out on the deck, frost was already accumulating, making walking treacherous. Stars winked brightly in the still night.
Claire took a deep pull on the joint and held the smoke in her lungs until she felt floaty. She exhaled deliberately and felt her mood lift. Now that she was a little high, she felt like telling her friends all about her afternoon—Joe Priest, Perry and Pig, Greta and Mac. She wanted to know what Tara and Annie thought about this odd cast of characters. She thought she heard something about a sasquatch. She wanted to know if sightings were common in this area.
“I’ve got it,” she said, turning purposefully to face her friends. “We’ve got to talk to Harold. I want to help him market the shit out of this place. Seriously, ladies. Tara, you could get out of your parents’ basement, and Annie, you could match us with some investors who could help us find some funds to buy this place or at least become partners with poor Harold. It’s a goldmine, but he is clueless.” Her words tumbled out before she could formulate a coherent plan, but she knew she was on to something.
Annie and Tara listened, skeptical at first but eventually warmed up to Claire’s proposal: buy into this second-rate but classic hotel, fix a few things, rebrand it, and market it as The Sasquatch Lodge.
“We could offer tours, host sasquatch experts and clubs, sell sasquatch swag,” Annie enthused. “Seems like a very retro-hipster sort of trend worth jumping on early. Put all those beard and faux logging outfits to the test. Nothing but red plaid flannel, suspenders, beards and denim as far as the eye can see!” Annie waved her hand across the sky in an arc. “Hipsters for days.”
“Anything would be better than the likes of these folks,” Claire waggled her thumb in the general direction of Daphne and Ray. “Even sasquatch has better demographics.”
“What do you think happened to them, to their marriage, that they ended up like this, just staring at their phones and not talking? What do you think?” Tara asked her friends. “Did something terrible happen to interrupt their lives?”
“I mean, they’re a lot like my folks,” she answered her own question. “They don’t know anything different, so it’s just simpler to stay together even though they’ve nothing to talk about.”
Tara had moved back in after flunking out her first semester of college and six years later, she was still there, in her old room. In her parents’ basement.
Claire rolled her eyes at Annie. If only Tara worried more about herself than she did about other people. “Can you focus for two seconds, Tara? Please. We need a plan. We need to come up with a strategy.”
“Well, can we at least go strategize someplace warm? It’s freezing out here,” Annie shivered and pulled her down jacket close around her, hugging herself. “Let’s try the brewery downtown.”
The young women linked arms and picked their way carefully across the frosty parking lot to Annie’s black Acura. As they drove away from the lodge and toward town, the temperature continued to drop as the moon rose over the valley, bathing the hillsides in its silvery glow. A slight breeze rustled in the treetops, and a shadowy figure lumbered down the trail away from Pine Lake toward town.
By Linda Lambert
Claire returned to their accommodations—two rooms joined by a shared bathroom, no sound coming from Tara and Annie’s side. How could they be sleeping? Something new is about to be born! She sat down at her computer, Google-prospecting for ideas, panning for information gold to resurrect the lodge.
Yikes! An FBI file, DNA samples, a Yeti scalp, 19” footprints, and this clincher: two days ago, a fish and game biologist/environmental consultant interviewed by NBC said “Yes! I do believe in Big Foot because I’ve had experiences, including two sightings.”
The first one he heard was strictly auditory; “it sounded like a howler monkey on steroids.”
“The second one my son and I both saw at Avalanche Lake. ‘Look, Dad,’ he said, the first to notice, ‘there they are. Two big ones.’ Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera with me.”
The guy was credible, he was believable. Lots of people had seen Big Foot—they’re just reluctant to talk about them, he’d said.
I have to tell someone about all this! thought Claire. Tara might not come up with a plan, but she was always sensitive to other people. Tara would listen to her and Claire needed someone to listen. She tiptoed through the bathroom into the adjoining bedroom. Annie was asleep, Tara was reading her Kindle, startled when Claire appeared.
“Tara, can you get up so we can talk? I’m excited.”
“What could be more exciting than the characters in Gone Girl?”
“A lodge telling people the truth and history about Sasquatches and making us money.”
Tara, thinking of the basement apartment she’d be returning to, shut down her Kindle, swung her legs out of bed and stepped into her felt slippers and followed Claire to her room.
“Got a drink for me?” she said.
“I’ll keep you awake with my words, but how ‘bout a Barefoot Wine Spritzer?” Claire asked, reaching for a can in the tiny fridge.
Tara settled herself on the couch, shaking off her slippers and tucking her legs beneath her. “Thanks,” she said, taking a sip.
P.R.-aware Claire was purposeful in her enticement of Tara’s interest. She saw Tara as an Everyman, uh, Everywoman, test of her idea. Plus, she might need her to help with the opening event she was thinking about. They’d worked together before on events.
“Tara, did you know that Sasquatches don’t like M&Ms or Skittles? There’s this forester, he’s seen Sasquatches twice. They spit out candy left for them, so now he has DNA samples, and they’re being tested.”
“Whaaat?! That’s crazy.”
“No, this guy has credentials. He’s worked in forests for over twenty years and he’s had two Sasquatch sightings. He bought an area in Montana called The Vortex. People visit, they feel a weird kind of energy. He walks the grounds, waiting for Sasquatches. It’s real.”
“I dunno, Claire. I don’t think I’m a believer, but go on.”
There was one thing she wouldn’t mention to Tara: that some bears, walking a certain way, put their hind foot over the imprint of their forefoot creating a huge footprint that looked almost human. No, that was too complicated and nobody would believe it anyway.
“Did you know that the FBI started a file on Big Foot in the 1950s? A Brit named Peter Byrnes sent 15 hairs attached to a piece of skin, imploring them to analyze it. You should see the lab report! Words like ‘morphological characteristics and medullary structure.’ Boy, the FBI was serious!”
“Was the hair from a Sasquatch?”
“No, the FBI said it was from the deer family, but Byrnes is 93 years old and he insists that Sasquatches are real. He has a picture of himself at a temple where ‘the famous Yeti scalp,’ as he refers to it, is kept.”
“That doesn’t make me want to drink from my Yeti mug.”
“How ‘bout this? The first sighting of Sasquatch footprints was in 1811. Another Brit, David Thompson an explorer.”
“I’ve never heard of him,” yawned Tara. “How do you know all this stuff?”
“Research, baby, tedious and tantalizing research.”
“So, have you heard about the film of a lumbering Sasquatch taken in Bluff Creek, California? People are still examining it. It kinda set off the Sasquatch craze. Honest to goodness footage … “
“Could you call that Big Footage?” interjected Tara.
“Ha, ha. Nice wordplay. You should meet one and make him your B.F., maybe even your B.F.F.”
“Ha ha, yourself,” Tara paused, “I remember my parents telling me there was a cameo on Big Foot on a show they used to watch, The Six Million Dollar Man.“
“See what I mean. There’s so much information and people are still fascinated. Listen, I can see it all now!”
“Guests will enter the lodge’s refurbished lobby, the walls lined with Big Foot statues, 6 to 15 feet tall, exhibits of big foot castings. There’ll be a huge diorama. Copies of the FBI report, even if it disproves the Bigfoot idea. We’ll have the Warning! Please Do Not Feed the Sasquatchsign from Columbia Falls, Montana. It will be educational and campy,” she said and then rushed on.
“We’ll have pictures of Brynes who, after he immigrated to the U.S. cheated the government out of $75 K, and some quotes from Boris Porshnev, the Soviet scientist who was sure that Sasquatches and their Siberian counterparts could be a remnant of Neanderthals.”
“Maybe he’s right,” said Tara, her face alight with interest.
“We’ll have books on display—The Son of Bigfoot, Suburban Sasquatch, Assault of the Sasquatch, all of them already in publication—and we’ll screen that splashy hit Big Foot: The Sighting.“
Now for the close. “If Annie can grab some money, would you like to be one of the employees.”
“Sure,” Tara said, her basement cubicle filling her vision. “But, I’m tired now. Let me know what Harold says.”
She padded into her room, politely ignoring Annie’s snores.
Claire had another component to her plan: to wow Joe Priest with her ideas. How could he not be!
* * *
Joe, wearing a fresh pair of jeans and a Black Watch plaid flannel shirt, kicked dirt off his boots, dirt acquired on his hike from Mac and Greta’s. He kept a set of clothes at their house for times when he needed to help them out. He doffed the cap with the goat insignia—given to him by a former girlfriend who loved his Capricorn sturdiness. Not that he was vain, but women liked his wild hair, uncontained by a cap. And, he hoped to see Claire Delgado during his evening shift.
All the lights were on as he approached the lodge, a homey, if weathered, two-story cedar structure with four pillars of stone providing fortress-like support. Joe noted the evergreens looming over the roof, unsure whether Harold would have them trimmed back before the inclement weather arrived. Harold, he thought, a kind man, a good man, beset by bad fortune. He deserves a better life.
Striding towards the bar, he looked around. “Hey, Chief, you’ve been busy! You dusted the bottles, shined up the brass, got the cobwebs off the moose head. Even the broken mirror’s gone—no more bad luck! What got into you?”
Harold grinned. “A local Boy Scout troop is coming for a weekend next month, and some guy named Sean wants to do a…I don’t know…a Write-In, whatever that is. Six rooms. But he’s kind of a cheapskate, asked me to chop off 20 percent and have longer happy hours. Think I should accommodate him?”
“Sure! And tell him he has to tip 20%!”
“One way or another, Joe, you’re gonna get a raise, I promise, and here’s the kicker: One of those three girls staying here, Annie, is a hot-shot real estate agent, and Claire, well, she’s runnin’ over with ideas for making this place go. You know what she said to me?! ‘I want to help you market the shit out of this place.’ She wants to call it The Sasquatch Lodge. Have tours, host experts, sell Sasquatch swag, advertise sightings.”
“Hmm. It’s a good gimmick, but I don’t believe in Sasquatches.”
“I’ve never seen one, but I’m not ruling them out either,” responded Harold.
“Sasquatches, Big Foot, Yeti, the Abominable Snowman, they’re all fictions,” continued Joe. “The Salish language has a word these overgrown, stinky ape-types, se’sxac, but you know how it translates? Wild men! So that’s what I think they are, wild men. Even the encyclopedia calls them ”legendary creatures.’”
Joe added, “Who knows if they’re real or something that looks real. But, Chief, I do want your business to take off. And I know it’s going to! I’ll get the bar ready for action now, as I always do, whether we have two customers or twenty.”
Harold’s brow remained unfurrowed. Whether Sasquatches were real or not, optimism surged through him: his business was going to take off.
* * *
When Joe worked at Jonny’s Second Chance Saloon, a popular cowboy bar in an unlikely neighborhood of Seattle, he and all the bartenders he knew always took a shot before work and sucked down energy drinks during breaks. They had to be prepared for crowds of demanding customers, the expected repartee with everyone, and the late-night over-imbibers who wanted “just one more” before Last Call, long after he’d turned off Willie Nelson.
He could have swilled down something at Mac and Greta’s—he was tempted because of Greta’s condition—but managed to shed a habit that could have become a bad one. Anyway, the lodge was low-stress. There were never twenty customers, except that time a National Parks tour bus broke down and forty tourists tramped in to drink multiple IPAs and use the bathrooms until a replacement bus arrived.
He always readied the lodge’s barroom in case the unexpected happened. He took the barstools off the table tops, placed them in symmetrical relationship to one another, and s inserted sprays of leafy branches into Mason jars as centerpieces. Music was important—usually a shuffle of Pandora stations, often Stevie Wonder Radio. He tuned into whatever he thought patrons wanted or requested. Pig and Paul insisted on Nirvana. He obliged, watching them become more animated, emerging from the depressed states of mind that seemed to mash them further into the slumped sofas at Mac and Greta’s.
He cut up limes and lemons, filled the ice bins, and refilled the kegs (a disaster if he had to swap one out when working alone) and the well drink bottles. Well drinks, that’s where they made their money. Bars purchased cheap bottles of booze for $7.00 and sell individual drinks at $5.00 a pop.
Rarely subject to bad moods, he nevertheless remembered Harold’s warning, “A miserable host made for miserable guests.” He concentrated on having a job, not on his substandard paycheck. Mostly, he was happy with his life, except for the lack of female contact. When Claire comes in, I’ll buy her a drink. Uh oh, better not. Favoritism would be apparent with the other two. Bartenders couldn’t afford to tick off anyone except for customers he had to throw out or trespass.
* * *
Outside the lodge, high banked clouds hurried toward the disappearing sun, the landscape darkening with the growling threat of a dirty downpour. So far, only a threat as the sun fought against its opposite.
* * *
While Daphne slept, having crawled into bed in angry mood as usual, Ray reclined in their room’s comfortable lounge chair; he was anything but comfortable. He didn’t know what he should say, who he should tell about the video he took. Just as his conversation with Bitsy concluded, he heard a high, discordant, unearthly series of sounds followed by the thud of footsteps and the brush of something heavy against the trees. With his phone still on Video Chat, he recorded a shadowy silhouette, its identity indistinct and blurred in the dimmed atmosphere.
By Victoria Doerper
Greta’s screams rent the air. “Good God!” shouted Mac. He slipped past Joe and reached Greta’s room first, caught his toe on the old rag rug and then tripped over a pillow that had fallen from the bed. He lunged forward. Greta screamed again.
“Oh honey, I’m so sorry. It’s just me,” crooned Mac. “Calm down. We’re with you now. Joe and me. You’re safe. Did you have a bad dream again?” He put his hand on Greta’s shoulder, stroking and soothing her as if she were a spooked horse.
Greta’s breath came in great gasps and she trembled under Mac’s hand. “C’mon now,” Mac whispered. “Tell us what’s scared you so much.” Greta’s breath slowed. She peered up at Mac.
“I heard a loud bang. Didn’t you hear it? And then a terrible snarling. No, it sounded more like screeching. And then a thump at the window. A huge shadow against the curtains. Then the glass rattled so hard I thought it was gonna break. That’s when I screamed.”
Joe reached over Mac’s shoulder and touched Greta’s arm. “How about I go outside and take a look around, G. See if I turn anything up. Might be a coyote. There are some big ones around here. Or could be a bear.”
“Be careful Joe.”
“It’s alright, G. I’ve got my gun. Don’t worry.”
Joe walked into the living room just as Perry was attempting to dislodge himself from the depths of the sofa cushion. Pig sat at the other end of the sofa, head lolled back, snoring.
“How’s she?” Perry asked. Pig’s head rolled forward onto his chest.
“Scared,” said Joe, “She heard a bang, thought something was trying to break in her window. Mac’s in there trying to calm her down. I told her I’d take a look around outside.”
“I’ll go with you,” Perry said. Joe watched with fascination as Perry swept a scattering of Cheez-Its from his lap, hitched up his threadbare jeans, rubbed his finger over a blob of purple jam on the front of his shirt, licked the jam off his finger, and, as a final touch to his afternoon toilette, brushed crumbs out of his straggly beard.
“I’ll let Paul sleep,” said Perry. “He was awake most of the night.”
“What do you and Paul do around here anyway?” asked Joe.
“Oh, odd jobs. And we stay around to keep Greta company when Mac’s gotta go take care of business in town.” Some company, thought Joe. Perry continued, “About that bang Greta says she heard. When I was out doing some repair work on that fallin’ down tool shed the other day I seen a fat old raccoon scoutin’ for scraps around the garbage cans back the house. Coulda been a raccoon made that bang. I didn’t hear nothin’ just now, but maybe Greta did.”
“Maybe,” Joe agreed. “Well, let’s get out and look around.”
Joe asked Perry to check the hen house and the outbuildings. Joe himself took a slow and methodical walk around the house. Aside from unkempt flowerbeds and a rusty trowel, pair of secateurs, and a broken-tined rake that looked as if it had been abandoned in a moment of frustration, he saw nothing unusual. He found the metal garbage cans a few yards from Greta’s bedroom window. One of the lids sat upside down against the wall. In the old days, Mac had been scrupulous about securing the garbage cans, but he’d probably been distracted for some time now with taking care of Greta. Joe picked up the lid and secured it to the can. That done, he studied the ground. Raccoon for sure, but no coyote tracks. Other than that, all he saw were plain old tracks from human shoes. No big deal.
He walked to the front of the house again and called out to Perry. No response. He shouted again. Nothing. Annoyed, he strolled off toward the outbuildings, but only because he had promised Greta he would. He’d take a quick look and head back to the house. The tool shed looked to be on the verge of collapse. If Perry had been doing repair work here, he wondered what the structure had looked like before he’d started. The hen house looked sturdy enough, and the hens healthy, so that was a good sign. He didn’t smell any lingering stench of Bigfoot like Greta had talked about. What did waft his way in that moment was the scent of soft vanilla from the nearby Ponderosa pines. When they were kids, he and Matt used to play tag under those trees. Matt, the brother he never had. How could he have survived those lonely times without Matt? He could feel a wave of nostalgia beginning to rise up in his chest and shook it off.
One more building to check. He pushed the door open with a creak and glanced inside. Over in the corner he could make out a dark heap of something. He felt the hair rise up on the back of his neck. “Perry?” he whispered. No response. Gun at his side, he slowly stepped into the room. “Perry?” As his eyes grew accustomed to the dim light, the dark heap resolved itself into a pile of balled-up blankets. He walked closer. Thin grey blankets that looked as if they’d come from some cheap motel or dormitory. There were a few cigarette butts scattered around. And a Snickers candy wrapper. Someone had been here recently. There was still the faint smell of cigarette smoke in the air. Could it have been Perry? And where the heck was Perry anyway?
Up on the slope behind the house, a mama coyote crouched. She’d seen one human, head bent down, slowly making his way up the slope a short while ago. But she didn’t move. She wanted a final look at the one who had killed her son, the one whose scent she had followed to this place. Oh, she had tried so hard to take care of her boy. She knew he was sick. So very sick. And desperate. But she had been powerless to help him. She knew he looked fierce and dangerous, but he was just ill and frightened. He would never have attacked a human. Not ever. She was sure of that. She knew it in her heart. A mother knows these things.
At breakfast, Claire could barely contain herself as she burbled out her research and her ideas about developing The Sasquatch Lodge. After all, Annie hadn’t heard her ideas yet, and Tara might want to hear them again. Claire pushed away her plate of scrambled eggs and bacon (“The Farmer Special”) to make way for a clipboard to which she had affixed pages and pages of notes. Claire was nothing if not organized. Tara sipped on a steaming cup of black tea (no, the lodge did not have any herb tea). Annie had ordered a Bloody Mary, and she alternated sips with bites of syrup-saturated Lumberjack French Toast.
Claire repeated her litany of fascinating Sasquatch information: DNA samples, weird vibes at The Vortex in Montana, FBI files, hair and skin samples, lab reports, Yeti scalp, sightings verified by blurry photos and sworn statements. “And then we find a way to display and merchandise them. People enter the world of Big Foot. The life-sized models and plaster casts of the footprints. Lab reports in glass display cases. We sell copies of books and have videos people can view on a big screen above the bar. And of course, we’ll host experts who offer tours that may result in a sighting.”
Annie sipped and chewed, uncharacteristically quiet. Tara filled the silence. “We love those ideas, don’t we Annie?” Two heads turned to Annie, expectant, waiting for her approval. After all, Annie was the one who would round up the cash.
“Annie?” asked Claire, “what do you think?”
“C’mon Annie,” Tara gabbled, “aren’t these just fantastic ideas?”
Claire decided to be more specific. Maybe she’d overwhelmed Annie with all of her information. “So, Annie, do you like the idea for the life-sized Big Foots? Or should we call them Sasquatches. That sounds better.”
“I like the sound of Sasquatches,” Tara chimed in. “I mean, Big Foots sounds kinda awkward and boring.”
“You didn’t think it sounded awkward and boring last night.”
“I know, but I was tired.”
“C’mon partners,” Annie finally responded. “Let’s not focus on those dioramas and the display cases yet. We’ve got to come up with something beyond history and woo-woo science. We’ve got to make this FUN!”
Claire looked crestfallen, and Annie quickly added, “But it’s such a great start, Claire! You’ve done so much great work here. Let’s just think how we can liven it up a little.”
“But Annie,” Claire retorted, a little hurt, “some of these were your ideas. The tours, the Sasquatch experts…”
“Oh, Claire, I know. I’ve just thought about it a little more now. We’ve got to expand our potential market. Some people just wanna have a little fun and they could care less about tours and sightings and Big Feet.” Annie looked thoughtful as she paused to take another sip of her Bloody Mary. “So, try this idea on for size. What if instead of sipping on this Bloody Mary here, I was sipping on something like a “Sasquatch Sunrise?” We’d could give out recipes for themed drinks, keep people thinking about us even after they’ve returned home to their normal, humdrum lives.”
“That sounds good,” said Claire.
Annie picked up her phone. “Let me google something here.” She tapped and scrolled. “Well, OK, there’s already a cocktail called “The Missing Link.” We’ll serve that, but we also create our own version.” She continued tapping. “OMG,” she exclaimed, “Claire, you didn’t tell us that there’s a whole bunch of stuff about Big Foot erotica!”
“Really?” Claire and Tara asked in unison.
“And get this,” Annie continued, “Just last year in Virginia, some Congressman was accused of being a devotee of Big Foot erotica! He even wrote a book about the mating habits of Big Foot!”
“Oh, come on, Annie! I don’t believe you,” Tara said.
“I’m not kidding,” said Annie, “and listen to this. He said he didn’t really believe in Big Foot but he didn’t want to alienate the Big Foot vote.”
Claire was not amused. “Annie, I don’t see how that helps us. Besides, that’s disgusting.”
“Sorry, Claire. You’re right. That’s so far beyond campy that it’s obscene. But wait, here’s a recent Disney movie about the Missing Link. That might be helpful. A feel-good movie and good family fun.”
Claire had put away her clipboard, but she had no appetite for the Farmer Special. She’d put her ideas out there, and they were good ideas. If Annie couldn’t get behind them, well, then, Claire would figure out how to make this work on her own. Or, maybe, with Joe Priest’s help.
“I’m going out for a walk,” Claire said. “I need some fresh air to clear my head. Maybe I’ll come up with something FUN for Sasquatch Lodge.” With that, she gathered up clipboard and purse, pushed her chair back, and walked out.
By Alicia Jamtaas
Joe lifted the pile of blankets, finding nothing more than the stench of tobacco and whiskey. No, there was one more thing, the faint scent of his father’s face soap. So this was where the old man had been bunking before he died. He threw down the blankets. “Damn! The man had money for booze but nothing for Mom.”
The voice from the door startled Joe enough to make him jump a little. Embarrassed, he swung around to see Perry in the doorway.
“Don’t be sneaking up on a man,” he said.
“Ain’t sneakin’.” Perry stroked his dirty beard and Joe was pretty sure he saw dust motes floating around the wiry hairs. “I know when and how to sneak, and this ain’t the time.”
“And where the hell have you been?” Joe realized he was taking his disappointment about his father out on Perry but he couldn’t stop himself. The man before him conjured too many bad memories of his dad.
“Jeezus, Joe, I went up the hill a ways to see if I could find any Big Foot tracks.” Perry’s grin irritated Joe even more. “Didn’t see nothing ‘cept a coyote about as big as this shack. She skedaddled when she caught sight of me.”
Don’t blame her, Joe thought. “Let’s get on back and ease Greta’s mind. We’ll tell her it was a raccoon and remind Mac to bungee the lids on the trash cans.”
After consoling Greta, or hoping he had, Joe headed for the Lodge to begin set-up for what he hoped was a big afternoon crowd. His mom always said “Hope springs eternal” and the notion had stuck. Still, he knew that if something didn’t happen soon, Harold’s establishment would sink into the annals of history. Joe just hoped it wasn’t the idea of Big Foot that would come to the rescue.
Perry and Paul, who had finally rousted himself off the couch, had followed Joe. Now they were ensconced at a corner table rubbing their eyes and debating whether to order a beer or not. Crazy old dudes, Joe thought, feeling grumpy.
On the other hand, two of his new favorite guests were at the table nearest the bar. Annie’s – is her name Annie?- plate was empty although still covered with a thick layer of syrup and Tara looked as if she may need a refill of tea. The plate of half-eaten scrambled and never-touched bacon indicated that Claire had been sitting with them earlier. Where did she go? Dang it!
“I have some ideas.” Claire swept into the room, bringing fresh morning air and the scent of lilacs.
Must be her perfume. Joe smiled to himself. Lilacs were his favorite.
She joined her friends, put her purse and clipboard on the table, and tucked her feet up on the chair. Joe noticed the paper on the clipboard was covered with arrows, and words, little pictures, and scratch-outs.
“We make a playground outside. A giant jungle-gym Big Foot. A slide held up by two Big Foot statues.”
“Sasquatch,” Tara corrected.
Claire glanced at her, “Whatever. A sandbox with Sasquatch footprints buried at the bottom so little kids can feel like archaeologists digging them up. That way entire families will want to come. Like that Great Wolf Lodge in Grand Mound.”
“This is sounding pretty pricey,” Annie said, holding up her empty Blood Mary glass and rattling the ice cubes at Joe.
He put down the bar towel and strode over to get the glass. “More tea, Tara?” he asked while taking the glass from Annie’s hands.
“Anything for you, Claire?”
Claire picked up a slice of cold, limp bacon. “Nope got everything I need.”
Her eyes sparkled with excitement and Joe longed to ask what the ladies were cooking up. But, like a good bartender, he collected Annie’s empty plate and went back behind the bar.
Perry leaned over to Paul and whispered, “Sounds like them gals is all het up about Sasquatch.”
“Ought we tell them?”
Perry was disappointed with Paul’s answer. For over ten years he had wanted to tell someone, anyone, his and Paul’s history. Because, no, they hadn’t always been the town loafers and, yes, they had once had more money than god herself. They’d had well-coiffed wives, big houses, and stables full of Percheron horses, Perry, and Lipizzan horses, Paul. One of them had owned a private jet, Perry couldn’t quite recall who and one a yacht bigger than a Motel 6.
They had flown or sailed far and wide to film, photograph, take molds of tracks, listen to stories and tramp through woods and over ice any time they heard about a sighting of Sasquatch, Big Foot, Yeti, whatever one wanted to call the creature. In their eagerness to be the ones who brought one in alive, they lost everything.
The friends went all over the world: Bluff Creek, Siberia, Happy Camp, Nepal, Columbia Falls. In fact, they were the two who collected the Sasquatch – they never called the creature Big Foot, too mundane – scalp. Not able to let it go, they’d removed a piece of hide from the carcass of a roadkill deer and claimed that was the real scalp. Meanwhile they lost everything: wives, houses, horses, planes, and yachts. Thank goodness neither of them had children. Far too busy for that complication.
Soon the two were hitchhiking far and wide. Few people picked up men in silk suits and Salvatore Ferragamo shoes so they traded them for jeans, flannel shirts, and hiking boots. They learned how to stow away on freighters, and when necessary, find jobs so they could eat, shower and buy new flannel shirts.
The final blow came when their fathers disowned them for frittering away their inheritances on a pipe dream. Paul and Perry gave up and settled for a big fat nothing-life in Washington State. That was ten years ago to the day. Just to remind them that the creature was still out there, waiting to be found, they’d kept their notebooks filled with the tales they’d been told by Eskimos, Inuits, Makahs, Athabascans and their grandmothers. Three-ring binders full of blurry pictures. Reel-to-reel film footage that was slowly cracking and fading, and the real scalp they’d collected, stored in an airtight bag inside a cedar chest that was locked in a safety box in a bank in Seattle. If only he could remember which one.
Perry’s tongue itched to tell the ladies at the table about his and Paul’s adventures. Thinking of all the lists he’d just made in his mind, he knew the lists in the notebooks were twice as extensive and more detailed. Fearing their research would die with them, he started to hatch a plan to get the information to those gals before it was too late. He scratched his chin. The only thing was, Paul couldn’t find out.
Joe wasn’t sure he liked the bits and pieces of conversation he was hearing from the ladies at table #1. Sasquatch, play ground, castings, books. Far too many people had ruined their lives in search of an animal/man that didn’t exist. He mixed two jiggers of vodka into Annie’s drink, almost feeling bad that he expected that to loosen her tongue a bit. He’d make up for it later with free coffee. After pouring tea for Tara he returned to the table. All three women fell silent.
“Here you go.” Joe carefully placed the drinks on the table while trying to steal a glance at the paper on the clipboard. “Claire, you sure you don’t want anything else? Maybe I could heat up the eggs and re-crisp that bacon.”
As he spoke, she slowly covered her scribbling with her purse. Interesting how hard they were trying to keep their plans secret even as they conversed in normal tones that echoed in the room.
“Nope,” Claire said. “I’m good.”
“Look, Harold hinted that you wanted to turn the Lodge into a tourist attraction. That may be a good thing or it might be the worst idea you ever had.”
He thought of Greta laid up in bed with a knot on her head. She believed in Sasquatch and she was going a little bit loony. Joe would never mention that’s what he thought to either Mac or Greta, he loved them too much, but that was exactly what he thought. Ever since he was a little boy, she had told him tales of the creature, and by the excitement and tone in her voice he knew, even at the age of ten, Greta truly believed the giant beings existed. And that what she believed was a lie.
By Susan Chase-Foster
Greta’s elder sister by two minutes, Dr. Erika Källenberg-Gustafsson, affectionately dubbed EKG by her surgical team at UBC before “disappearing” into the vast North Cascades was, above all, intuitive. She felt what others did not. Another surgeon had even referred to her as a “Medical Whisperer” because of her ability to correctly sense life threatening conditions requiring surgery in the absence of standard diagnostic information. Erika liked that.
She liked the sound of “Whisperer” almost as much as forest bathing, her eventually all-consuming passion for hiking through towering firs, cedars and birch trees by herself on her days off. And when she discovered that all creatures of the forest: mammals, birds, insects, trees, and so on, were intuitive, and many—raccoons, coyotes, sasquatches and, curiously, banana slugs—were actually communicating with each other in Lillooet, an indigenous language she’d been dabbling in for years, well, that was a game changer. Erika left her high-paying, prestigious position at the hospital and sold everything unrelated to the forest, including her West End condo and BMW. She purchased basic camping equipment: a tent, rain gear and a gun and so on, and deposited the rest of her money in high-yield stock options that fed directly into her already substantial savings account. Erika never looked back. She belonged under the canopy.
After young Hunter had been shot to death by a man on the trail to Greta and Mac’s place at Pine Lake, a man who, according to Hunter’s mama, Goldie, looked very much like Joe Priest, Erika felt the unbearable ache in Goldie’s heart. Goldie was devastated by her son’s death, and she was also outraged. Through the trees, or maybe through the intuitive power of her own mind, Erika heard Goldie’s mournful whimpers and yips, “Sqaycw skúza7! Son! Sqaycw skúza7! Son!” and she knew she needed to help her friend.
Erika yelped back, “Us Us Us,” to let Goldie know she was on her way. She zipped her fully-loaded Glock 43 pistol into her black leather doc bag, placed it in a willow basket under a pile of freshly picked chanterelles, then dressed for the long tramp in forest green leggings, a matching singlet and her camo jacket from the military surplus store in Vancouver. Erika pulled on her hiking boots, in which she preferred to trek over roots, rocks and scrabble, plopped her well-tarnished Tilley Wanderer hat on her head, whispered “Xweystúmilhkan“ to Thunder and the children, and climbed through the hollowed-out Douglas fir stump that concealed the entrance to their underground home. She would follow Goldie’s sorrowful sounds wherever they lead, even if it meant encountering some dreadful people from her past.
She tromped like Thunder, well maybe not as fast as he could, though in her sixties Erika was a tall, fit human woman, with a long stride. Plus, she was on a mission. Not one of many words, Thunder had taught her well to stay away from trails, to move as silently as possible through explosions of ferns, skunk cabbage, dense and dark clusters of trees and bush, to hide behind rocks, mounds of windthrow, natural berms and embankments. He taught Erika to avoid open areas, including fields, vegetable gardens, lakes, rivers and streams until moonlight. He advised her to be on the lookout for the family’s stick signs—branches tied into a cone shape, or stacked on top of each other like stone inuksuks—throughout the forest to indicate directions to water, berries, good hunting, how to return home in winter when everything is covered with snow or if she found herself in a whiteout, and especially to be cognizant of trap warnings and humans.
When Erika reached the edge of the forest bordering Greta and Mac’s house, Goldie’s sorrowful sounds stopped. Yes, I knew it was going to be here, Erika thought, setting her basket on a mossy nurse log under a canopy of pines and the white bones of denuded birch trees. As she bent over to loosen her hiking boots, keeping them on in case she needed to run away from or toward trouble, her Tilley popped off her head, releasing a cascade of silver hair over her face and down onto the yellow blanket of leaves covering the ground. She flipped back her mane, replaced her hat, and after removing the gun from her doc bag, stuffed it between her breasts. There, though not exactly comfortable, she’d be able to grab it fast, like a scalpel, and there was comfort in knowing that. Erika flopped down on the log, and stretched her long legs, which had lately given her a sense that she might be developing age-related arthritis. Her hand instinctively grabbed a stick from the ground and began to tap out the family’s traditional greeting on the log to let Goldie know she’d arrived, but the fear of blowing her cover stopped her. Erika would need to wait quietly for Goldie. From here she could watch Greta and Mac’s front door without being observed.
Exhausted from her long hike through the forest, but knowing that she was the only one who could safely move about this close in, Erika resisted the urge to tap or nap by softly chanting in Lillooet, the lingua franca she shared with her adopted forest family.
“Máolalus. Raccoon. Nk̓yap. Coyote. Sásq̓ats. Sasquatch. Xweystúmilhkan. I love you. Xweystúmilhkan sásq̓ats.”
Erika had just closed her eyes when she heard the door open and slam shut. She held her breath as three men started down the gravel road toward the trail to the lodge. One appeared to be in his forties, with a mop of curls framing his face and what appeared to be the lean body and tan of a longtime outdoor adventurer. He glanced briefly in Erika’s direction, but did not seem to see her. Behind him, two lumpy old guys lumbered, with pasty skin, and straggling grey hair and beards. Nobody said a word until one of the old guys shouted, “Jeezus, Greta’s a friggin’ mess!”
That vulgar voice, that acidic mixture of bullshit, outright lies and unfulfilled promises, turned Erika’s stomach. She had to deep breathe to keep from vomiting. It was Perry, her feckless former frigging husband. What the hell was he doing here?
* * *
While Daphne floated in a melatonin and cannabis-induced stupor that would last, thank God, way past dawn, Ray, from his cushy lounge chair across the room, watched her boney chest rise and fall, rise and fall, each with a snort, or gurgle or gasp. Like serial death rattles! Ray thought. Her face, under a rhinestone studded indigo silk sleep mask, looked skeletal, no, more like someone about to be executed. One could only hope! Ray despised Daphne’s curveless, self-inflicted emaciation, a standard of health she dumped on him daily until he was almost afraid to eat anything but kale salad with lemon juice and a twist of black pepper in her presence. Even for breakfast. She would love that. Then there was the high-end grease she smeared on her face each night “under the plastic surgeon’s orders,” she claimed, and the four designer physio-pillows she needed for her back that Ray had to carry all over the map. And then, once again, her snorts! Wouldn’t one pillow over her face take care of that?
For now, though, Ray had a more important distraction from his own sleep, which would come easy, right there in his chair, once he allowed himself to think about bountiful Bitsy, with her exquisite Venus of Willendorf voluptuosity. Someone to grab onto. Someone to sink into. Not some cranky pile of bones snoring on the edge of a bed in a North Cascades lodge. Ray inched his way out of the chair, tiptoed over to the tiny refrigerator, extracted an IPA, thought better of it and took out two more. He didn’t need a bottle opener; he carried one in his right pants pocket like a holy medal.
After the first bottle, Ray pulled out his phone. He plugged in earphones and closed his eyes so that he could concentrate on sound alone. He replayed the recording from earlier, once, twice, and again, paying attention to the shrill wails, the high pitched clicks and whistles, the thundering footfalls and the wide sweep of something alive, definitely huge, and possibly clumsy, against the pine branches. Then Ray opened his eyes and drank another bottle of beer as he watched the video. The light was not great and the figure, the very large figure, moved as fast as a bear he’d once seen while fishing on the Copper River in Alaska. It had to be a bear, but what kind bear moved like … like a giant of a man in a bear costume? And the face, though blurred, was snoutless, not at all like a bear face. Ray’s heart drummed so loud he could hear it through the earphones, but he watched the video again, just to be sure he’d seen what he thought he’d seen. He had.
Ray put on his heaviest coat, found a wool cap and pulled that over his head. It would be cold outdoors at night, up here in the North Cascades. He stuffed the last beer and his phone into his pocket and slipped out the door without waking Daphne from her coma. He would deal with her later.
Outside, even though it was now night, the sky had turned an eerie white, and the air was crazy cold. “It’s only October!” Ray shouted before realizing that the IPA was probably interfering with his executive functioning and he should stifle himself a click. Find a tree to hide under, Dummy! he advised himself, noticing a few snowflakes on his sleeve, and then on his face. That’s when Ray saw that he now stood next to the exact same pines he’d captured in the video. This was where the “whatever” had passed by. He climbed under the tree and opened his last beer. The snow was really coming down hard, and he was getting cold, but Ray was determined. He put his hand in his pocket and wrapped it around his phone. If the creature in his video returned, he would be ready. He would even wait through the night, no matter how long it took. He had nothing to lose.
Matthew Henderson waited for the buzzer to sound then followed his social worker into the elevator. It had been months, but finally, the courts and hospital staff had decided he could be moved from S-3 (the secure criminal section at Western State Hospital) to F-3 where he would have more freedom. Nothing had really changed. He was still stuck, no friends, no family, no advocates, well Lee Parsons, his social worker, was an advocate. What was even more isolating was that the courts had slapped a no contact order on him and his parents. He was not allowed to have contact with them.
Though the grounds of the state mental hospital were beautiful with a small museum housed in one of the original Army officer bungalows from 1855, the brick buildings scattered throughout the large campus were almost a century old. On the outside, the buildings could have been part of an ivy league college. Its insides were another matter. Each floor was painted in an institutional cream or soft green and constantly filled with noise from patients having psychotic breaks, staff chatting at the check-in counters, the call over the speaker for meals in the small room that served as dining area or pill time at the dispensary. Some people just walked the halls lost in their own worlds. The TV in the rec room added another layer of sound.
There was no way out from any of the floors without a key. You had to buzzed in after speaking over a monitor.
In the chaos, Matthew generally kept to himself. I don’t belong here.
Today he was returning from group session and getting settled in his new room. His doctor told him that he was doing well. The new medications were keeping him focused and he was remembering better. Sometimes, though, he didn’t want to.
“We’re here. F-3,” Parsons said. “Your things were moved while you were in group.” The elevator door opened and they stepped into a tight area blocked by a steel door. Parsons pressed a button next to the door and said his name. A buzzer went off and the door clicked open.
Matthew walked into his new room. His duffle and some of his belongs were stacked up on a metal framed bed. “Your roommate’s down in art class,” Parsons said. “He’ll be back up for lunch. In meantime, I can introduce you to the staff here. First, I need to check in with another of my clients.”
“I’m fine,” Matthew said. He liked the new room already, though it lacked any character. What he liked were the tall Big Leaf Maple and cedar trees just outside the window. Trees always gave him peace. And here, they reminded him of the place in the North Cascades where he grew up. The big Ponderosa pines behind his parents’ home. Those were the happiest times, exploring the forests behind their simple home. Hanging out with Joe. Matthew wondered if he would ever be able to do that again.
Mom, he thought. I’m sorry for all the hurt I’ve caused you and Dad. But I didn’t kill that girl. I know for sure. And I think now I can prove it, but who will believe me?
Matthew was sorry for many things. He never told the truth to his parents what happened to him after he started school at Western Washington University. He planned on studies in environmental science and was doing well, but then in his junior year, he began to have issues. He was experiencing unexplained highs and lows which he attributed to uneven hours at an off-campus job and late-night study sessions. To compensate, he had begun to self-medicate with mostly alcohol.
One night down in Everett, he ended up in jail. It wouldn’t be the only time. After a series of arrests, mostly unruliness and public misconduct, someone came to see him in jail from the mental health services. Knowing Matthew had never been a violent person, the visitor worked out with the courts to get him into the mental health court. He was given a place in a respite home, put on medication for bi-polar and eventually, went back to school part-time. To further his recovery, he went through the Friends program at NAMI and joined AA.
And I never told you, Mom, Dad. I was ashamed about the trouble I caused. Because he never told them about the prior mental evaluation, the additional finding that he was schizophrenic had come as a terrible shock to his parents and frankly, to him. Matthew accepted that he was bio-polar and needed to stay in recovery the rest of his life. He was taught how to recognize signs when he was stressed out and how to deal with it. He knew the medications he was supposed to take. He never heard voices in head. Except for that one time back in the forest around his parents’ home.
Out in the hallway couple of staff members rushed down the hall as a patient was having an issue. Matthew steeled himself against the commotion and walked to the window and his solitude of green. He closed his eyes, willing himself back to the place he loved the most, where he hoped he could find employment with the Forest Service or a state agency as an environmentalist. The green forests and the mountains always soothed him. Now for one night’s mistake, he was here. I never should have gone out with the jerk.
Tyson Boyd was new in the environmental program up at the college. He had transferred in from King County and spent a lot of his time bragging about all the exotic places he had traveled to on internships and family trips. Matthew just saw him as a blowhard, yet he did share the same affection for the North Cascades Matthew had. Had even hiked in all the places that Matthew knew growing up. Matthew grudgingly chatted with him in lab and out on field trips, but socially, he kept a distance from him. Tyson had another thing that Matthew didn’t like: his attitude toward women: Tyson saw them intellectually deficient and easy pickings.
Matthew never let on to anyone that he lived in a half-way house for those with mental health problems (his parents thought he shared an apartment with fellow students in his program) When he checked in at night, the social worker on night duty would be there to hand out the evenings’ pills. Matthew didn’t mind this. In a few weeks, he was due to get his own apartment run by the mental health agency where he would become an advocate for new people coming into the program. He had been clean and sober for over a year. (This was an important thing as alcohol could mess with his medications.)
Somehow, Tyson found out where Matthew worked and invited him to go with some others from their environmental program. It would be fun. When Tyson mentioned the names of some of the other students, Matthew decided that he could stick to root beer and join them as there were a couple of girls in the program he liked. When they got to the beer garden, he discovered that he was being used as a cover for a girl that Tyson apparently liked. That’s when everything went blank.
How the hell did I end up in the derelict house her blood on my clothes? Sometimes Matthew felt so close to the answer. I didn’t kill the girl.
Matthew stared at the trees moving gently in a breeze outside his window, asking them to help him. More importantly, he wished that his old boyhood chum would believe that he was innocent. Tell him I need him.
By Amory Peck
Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we’ll ever do. …Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we’ll ever do… Owning our story …Tara kept repeating her current mantra silently to herself as she pulled on her second Smartwool sock and reached for her Timberlands. Annie had already slipped quietly out of their room to meet up with Claire.
Breaking her chant, Tara said, “They are probably picking out napkins for the new and improved ‘Sasquatch Lodge’ or rewriting the Happy Hour menu.” She continued in a sputter, “They don’t talk about anything else but the damned lodge, and they sure don’t seem to want to talk with me. I could help, I have ideas. I’m as smart as they are. I’ve been to college … well, to a bit of college … well, okay, I flunked out the first semester, but I had my reasons.” Tara continued her soliloquy as she grabbed her jacket and scarf. “I’m out of here to find an attitude readjustment. Owning our story and loving ourselves …”
Tara’s current guru was Dr. Brené Brown. She’d first discovered Dr. Brown when she read Daring Greatly. She’d read the book’s review on Amazon: “vulnerability is both the core of difficult emotions like fear, grief, and disappointment and the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, empathy, innovation, and creativity.” Tara had immediately placed a one-click order, and the book appeared at once on her Kindle. Tara loved books like Gone Girl, with its beautiful, sinister, psychopath main character, but her true passion was for self-help books. Like the Millennial she was, Tara was committed to making herself the very best she could be. She was currently working her way through a List of the Twenty-Two Best Self-Help Books to Buy in 2019. Two of Brené Brown’s books were on that list! Sticking one of those, Rising Strong, in her backpack, Tara skipped down the stairs to the dining room.
Although the room appeared to be empty, Tara assumed she could still get some breakfast.
“Morning, there,” said Harold. “Your friends are already on their way. You sticking around here today?”
“Thought I might try some hiking. Wish I had a companion, though. Exploring’s more fun with a friend.”
“How about her?” said Harold, nodding towards a figure in a dark corner of the room. Daphne sat in the shadows, partially hidden by a coat rack. She did not look like a woman interested in hiking, or interested in anything at all. She sat still as still can be, clutching a coffee mug and staring in an unfocused way.
“Huh? Her?” Remembering more of Dr. Brown’s words, I believe you have to walk through vulnerability to get to courage, she replied, “Sure. Why not.”
Tara had been curious about Daphne. For such a well-coiffured, stylishly dressed woman, she appeared so very unhappy. Tara couldn’t resist the opportunity to find out about this mystery woman.
Claire and Annie thought that Tara was snoopy and a bit gossipy. Tara knew the truth, though. She knew that she was actually an empath who just “knew” about others. She could feel the emotions of those around. In fact, she often felt she was feeling those emotions herself. She intuitively – or, more accurately, empathically – understood where people were coming from. Most importantly she could not see someone in pain without wanting to help. She sensed Daphne’s stillness as an agony-filled cry for help. How could she turn away?
Daphne had been in the restaurant since early morning. For her, she was dressed casually—wool slacks, a cashmere sweater, with just a modest amount of gold jewelry bedecking her arms, ears, and neck. Her gaunt features seemed even more pinched than usual, and Tara could, from across the room, feel her deep sadness and frustration.
Daphne grew up in a very large and very poor family. Her mother and father escaped from the misery of poverty through their church. The small, non-denominational church believed that happiness came once The Saved arrived in heaven, and that our work on earth was to continually, constantly, fearfully keep oneself fit for heaven. There were many rules to follow: what to eat, drink, wear. How to fill your free time (with churchly things, of course). The harshest rules of all were around courtship, marriage, and sexual relations. Daphne heard over and over about the grave sin of divorce, a guarantee you’d be rejected at the pearly gates.
Daphne had thrown off the lifestyle of the Church of the Precious Lamb and Dove years before. If they were to see her now, her family wouldn’t recognize the obedient, law-fearing daughter they called Debbie Louise in the svelte, cosmopolitan world-weary Daphne as she had re-named herself.
Daphne hadn’t run away until she was fifteen, though, and the rules drummed into you as a child are hard to erase. She remained convinced that she should never, could never get a divorce. The problem was she was deeply unhappy in her marriage to Ray.
“Hi there, I’m Tara,” snapping Daphne from her funk.
“I beg your pardon. Are you talking to me?” Daphne slurred back.
Tara, in all her enthusiasm and sincerity, with what she hoped would bridge the gap between them chirped back, “My friends have already headed out for the day. I’m sure they have important things to do. I’m hungry, haven’t even had my morning cup of tea. I hate to eat alone, don’t you? Skooch over, I’ll grab one of these chairs and bring it over. Whatcha want to order?”
Dumbstruck by the sheer force of Tara, Daphne merely nodded and slid the menu across the table to her new tablemate. Several very quiet minutes went by until both mentioned they’d have just toast and tea. “Toast and tea for two, please,” Tara called to the curious Harold.
Surprisingly, the two women started to open up to one another. From the moment they discovered a shared love of orange marmalade, the conversation began to build. Encouraged by Tara’s insistent but cheerful questioning, Daphne shared as she hadn’t shared in years. She even confessed to Tara her as-yet-unsuccessful attempt to make Ray divorce her.
“I could never file for divorce,” Daphne explained. “That would be a sin. But, if Ray were to divorce me, well – that would be different. I try and try. I’ve lost all this weight, so I’m now just skin and bones. I try to be as unpleasant as possible. But, to this point, I just can’t drive that man to divorce me. I know he has a sweetie somewhere. Wish he’d just get on with it, and join up with her. We’d both be happier.”
Tea and toast with lots of orange marmalade finished, the two new friends decided they both needed to do something to make themselves feel better. What could be better on this mountain crisp day than a walk? Knowing the slight breakfast wouldn’t fuel them for very long, Tara made a suggestion, “Let’s hike over to Pine Lake. Claire did it the other day. She’s not in real good shape. If she could do it, so can we. The restaurant isn’t open right now, but the owner, Mac, was willing to put together a sandwich for her. Bet he would for us, too.”
After a bit of delay while Daphne tried to figure which pair of her definitely not hiking shoes might do, they headed off, Tara in boots from REI, Daphne in a pair of penny loafers.
It was a sunny, crisp day, perfect for time on the trail. Because they had heard the story of the sick coyote that had frightened Claire, they decided some noise was needed. They discovered both had been Girl Scouts, and the time passed by with energetic choruses of The Happy Wanderer and The Ash Grove. The sound of Daphne’s clear soprano and Tara’s competent alto harmonizing delighted them both. They reached Pine Lake more quickly than they had imagined.
Mac, a hospitable innkeeper even though there was no inn, was most willing to slap together a couple of sandwiches. He found an unopened bag of chips and served the food with a cold beer. The two new friends found it the best lunch ever. They were pretty proud of themselves for getting out from under their dark moods earlier, for doing some healthy walking, and for finding a new companion. “What shall we do next, do you suppose?” queried Daphne.
Suddenly they were startled by sounds of wailing and weeping seeping into the room. It seemed someone, some woman, was in terrible agony. Tara, the empath, was nearly beside herself as her spirit began to absorb the horrible emotion.
“Please don’t be distressed,” Mac implored. “That’s my wife, Greta. She’s not well. I know it sounds terrible, but there’s nothing you can do.”
“There must be! We can’t leave her in that terrible state. Not without trying to help,” they both spoke out. “What’s troubling her?”
“She’s not well, as I said. Much of it is because of our son. He’s in Western State Hospital, you see, accused of murdering a young woman. Greta knows our boy just couldn’t have done that terrible thing and she mourns for him.”
“May we speak with her?”
“Perhaps you could be a good distraction. Come with me, and thank you for caring,” said Mac as he escorted them to the bedroom.
The two women stood by Greta’s bedside, horrified by the pain and distress they could see. In a stumbling voice, the troubled woman shared with the two her deep, deep agony for her son, and her certainty he was innocent. “Could you help, do you suppose?” she entreated.
Tara and Daphne, without having a clue yet what they might do but determined to do something, promised the stricken woman they would, indeed, help. Another of Brené Brown’s quotes leapt into Tara’s mind. “DIG deep – get deliberate, inspired, and going.” That’s what they would do for soul-weary Greta, DIG.
As the two left Pine Lake, burdened by sadness and determined to find a way to bring some healing to Greta, Mother Coyote watched them walk by. Mother wasn’t skilled at interpreting human language, but she understood completely the agony the grieving mother was feeling. She and that poor soul shared a bond. The coyote also sensed the two other humans cared, and that emotion gave her hope.
“Hey, can a girl grab herself a snack? Or is it against health codes to have guests in the kitchen?” Annie was in full charm mode even though dawn had barely broken.
As a realtor, she could will herself to compliment even the most egregiously decorated home if it meant snagging the listing. The Lodge’s grimy kitchen was testing her skills. Clearly, it was never meant to be seen by guests.
Her trained eye scanned the room and told her that someone, long ago, had poured serious money into filling the small space with commercial-grade equipment. But all that once-gleaming stainless steel was now dulled by a film of grease and indifference. Random pots, cutlery and dishware littered the stained countertops. One of the stove knobs had gone missing and was replaced by a wad of duct tape. If this was the standard of cleanliness just prior to breakfast service, her presence in the kitchen couldn’t be the space’s worst health code violation.
Harold jumped at the sound of her voice – well, any voice – in the kitchen at this early hour. He quickly repositioned himself so his body blocked the view of what he was up to at the back counter. That fancy Seattle gal would be appalled if she saw him refilling the artisanal orange marmalade jars with the cheap stuff he bought by the case at Costco.
“Oh, good morning…” he searched his brain for her name. Cara? Terry? Amy? He was pretty sure it ended in a vowel, but most girls’ names do. A better host would be able to remember the names of his guests, especially when there were so few to keep track of, he chided himself.
“Sorry to startle you,” Annie said. She scanned Harold just as she had the kitchen equipment, double-checking her earlier opinion of him. If you replaced the rumpled sweatshirt with a crisp chef’s jacket, the ancient scuffed hiking boots with proper Dansko kitchen clogs, he might be fit to greet guests. Of course, the halo of epic bedhead would have to go, too, but that would just be a matter of a hot shower and some decent shampoo. All doable.
“Claire and I are making an early morning of it and we were hoping to grab a bite? I know it’s early. But, please?”
Charm. Charm. Charm.
“Sure. Yes. I could whip up a breakfast sandwich and some coffee for you, Claire and your other friend. Amy, is it?”
“No, it’s Annie, and that’s me. Tara is our other friend, but she’s not joining us just yet. Still sleeping. We didn’t want to disturb her.”
Actually, Annie didn’t want Tara disturbing her and Claire’s plans which is why she silently crept out their shared room. Tara was their friend and a dear person, but not exactly a go-getter and a little too sensitive for her own good. If this project was going to get off the ground, it needed energy, excitement, investment. It needed the relentless focus that had propelled Annie’s real estate earnings into the stratosphere. Those weren’t qualities Annie associated with Tara. Tara was more likely to slow them down worrying over some insignificant detail like displacing an anthill and chopping down a couple of trees if they needed to expand the parking area. They’d find a role for Tara, just something better suited to someone who was more of a worker bee than the visionary Annie believed herself to be. Maybe Claire could teach her the tricks of the trade of being a barista.
“Hey, could you make one of those coffees an extra hot oat milk macchiato?”
No way in hell, Harold thought. There were still some host instincts left in him, after all. He kept his true reply to himself and apologetically pointed to the old drip coffeemaker next to the sink. Later, he’d look up what that drink was and figure out a way to fake it with some Maxwell House and a carton of actual milk from a cow. Maybe fancy coffees in the morning could bring in the profit margin the well drinks brought at Happy Hour.
“No worries. Two coffees and two sandwiches. And make them to go, please.”
Annie winked at Harold and took a last sweeping look around. A good power washing and a couple of restaurant-grade espresso machines would turn that space into an actual, functional kitchen. If they kept the menu simple and carefully curated, maybe hired an up-and-coming chef, they could bring in the Bigfoot crowd and the foodies. After all, people flocked to Lummi Island for dinner from all over the country, not just Seattle. But Harold? Her original instincts about him were right. It was weird how he just stood there leaning against the counter instead of springing into action to get her order started.
She had to admit, Claire was really onto something with this idea of hers. Based on the precariously low number of fellow travelers this weekend, Annie was sure she could negotiate a lowball offer and put the majority of their investment into fixing up the space. The location alone was breathtaking, and that old real estate cliché was a cliché for a reason. It really was all about location, location, location.
Annie found Claire in the Lodge’s lobby, leaning up against the wall gazing out of the big double doors.
“The kitchen’s a wreck, but not beyond repair,” Annie reported.
“Hmm? What?” Claire slowly brought herself back to reality. She’d meant to start snapping cell phone pictures of the Lodge while Annie snagged their breakfast, but found herself distracted when she’d backed up against the wall to get a panorama shot and her face brushed up against Joe Priest.
Not the actual Joe Priest, of course, but a jacket and scarf that carried his smell was hanging from the coat rack that had been carved from a tree trunk. She rubbed her cheek against the fabric. Until she breathed it in, she wasn’t aware he even had a recognizable scent. But there it was, a mix of pine, wood smoke and a touch of IPA. It conjured an image of the two of them bringing in firewood, starting a fire, snuggling under a blanket together in front of the flames.
She wound Joe’s scarf around her neck, careful to tuck it under her jacket, close to her skin, then took the grease-stained napkin and paper cup from her friend.
“It snowed overnight and it’s pretty cold out there,” Claire explained. She wanted Annie to think she was interested in staying warm, not marking the scarf with her own scent. “We’ll have to see what shape the trail’s in. I know you want to have a look at the other properties, but we might not be able to make it all the way to Pine Lake.”
“All the better to have snowmobiles, ATVs and cross-country skis available to rent to our guests!” Annie laughed as they took their first slippery steps toward the trail. Their breath turned into wispy clouds in the cold, still air and snow crystals were starting to do their diamond glint as the sun made its upward climb.
“This place is so beautiful, so serene,” Claire sighed. She stopped and let her gaze rise up to the heights of the pines surrounding her. She circled in wonder, taking it all in: the clear skies, the sparkling snow coating the pine branches, the warm smell of Joe Priest. “It’s absolutely per…ahhh!”
Before she could finish her thought, Claire found herself pitched backward, arms windmilling for something, anything to break her fall. Her coffee cup few from her hand and sailed overhead raining its contents all over the pristine snow as she crashed to the ground.
Annie shuffled to her friend’s side as quickly as the slippery trail would allow.
“Are you okay? Did you hit your head?”
Claire laid flat on her back with her arms and legs splayed in perfect snow angel position. She scanned her body for pain and/or blood and finding none tentatively sat up, her heart pounding from the shock of the fall and the cold.
“No, I think I’m okay.” She paused and looked to the space where she’d been standing just a moment before. “My heel must have caught on a log or a root or something and tripped me up.”
Annie inched her way over to where her friend’s footprints abruptly stopped. Sure enough, a lumpy patch of brown was protruding through the snow.
“You’re right, Claire. There’s a log right in the middle of the trail.” She brushed off a section of snow to get a better handhold to toss it into the trees so they wouldn’t trip over it on the way back. She yanked at the log, but its surprising weight made her unable to budge it. She dusted off more snow then froze in horror.
“Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god.”
What she and Claire assumed was a log turned out to be a single brown hiking boot that gave way to a pair of jeans with someone’s leg and foot still inside them.
“Call 911,” she shouted to Claire.
“I said I’m fine. Besides, cell service here is…”
“Not for you!” Annie’s normally calm, cool and collected voice was climbing octaves with each exclamation. “For this…leg.
She frantically brushed away more snow and pine branches, uncovering a second leg, a torso, shoulders and the stocking capped head of the paunchy middle-aged guy they’d seen ignoring his wife at the Lodge the night before. At the sight of his blue-tinged face, she leap up and started darting around the trail waving her iPhone overhead trying to connect to a signal. The acrylic tips of her French manicure clattered like Morse code against her iPhone screen as she tried to reach someone, anyone, who could help.
Claire crouched next to Roy, and reached tentatively toward his wrist to check for a pulse but pulled her hand back with a shudder. She couldn’t do it. She couldn’t touch a potentially dead guy who was still clutching his cell phone.
“Does he have a pulse? Is he breathing, Claire?”
“I don’t know!”
“Put your phone under his nose, like a mirror. Like they do in the movies.” Annie was still doing her cell phone signal dance and tapping frantically.
“The screen shattered when I fell. I can’t tell!”
She glanced again at Roy’s phone and willed herself to try to grab it with two fingers but the phone wouldn’t budge from his hand. None of her nascent wilderness skills were useful in this kind of emergency. She ran through a mental list of possible actions. What did she know how to do? Play dead? That wasn’t going to help. Especially if he already was. Run away? She could run back to the Lodge for help, but that would leave Annie here by herself and that didn’t seem safe. Anyone or anything could be responsible for what happened to this guy. Anyone or anything could be watching her and Annie right now. Panic rose in her until all she could do was scream.
“Help! We need help!” she shouted over and over again. It drowned out a low rustling in the trees that was so close Claire would have fainted from fear if she had heard it. The snap of a twig under shuffling footfalls. The whoosh of a body brushing up against tree branches. The sounds of a slow retreat into the cover of the woods.
Deeper into the trees, the shrill screams, the tapping and the unmistakable smell of Hunter’s killer was drawing others out of the woods toward the trail, daylight be damned.
By Karin Jones
Erika gazed upon her sister’s house with both regret and contempt. She hoped Greta knew their indelible bond as twins was unbroken, that Erika had always been near her sister, even as she refused to engage with a world insensitive and ignorant to the languages of the forest. Erika had come often to see what she’d left behind outside the boundary of her sister’s realm. But within her now stirred a fury that the men surrounding Greta had become increasingly exasperated by the sorrow and fear that shrouded this once magical place. Erika could not realistically remove her sister from the world she’d elected, and which was now failing her. Erika had to protect her chosen family now, the ones who harmonized with the heartbeat of the wilderness, understood the rivers and streams to be the arterials of life, and trees the branching bronchioles which infused their world with oxygen.
And now Erika had a new problem: Perry. Goddamn Perry, who was supposed to have relinquished his dreams for the bottle and sloth. His obsession had been their undoing. But before she’d severed their marriage, Erika had intuited that Perry was close to his goal, and was suddenly galvanized to dedicate her life to thwarting him and his kind, those who only wanted to exploit what they deemed freakish and elusive for their own fame and enrichment. Seeing Perry with Hunter’s killer made the fur of her neck, despite its sparse and paltry distribution, stand at attention.
Erika was also struck with a new realization: it wasn’t just Goldie and her kind who would grieve. She felt the specter of death upon them all, more than Goldie’s loss, and possibly Greta’s. Erika sensed a misguided intruder about to abscond with all that mattered. She thought back to Thunder’s recent agitated returns to their underground home, which had introduced both a distance and a cleaving hunger between them. She was still learning the subtext of his lexigrams, even after over a decade together in the forest. Now there was a new restlessness to their lovemaking, as the children slept untroubled, that made Erika feel a reckoning was upon them. Just the night before, Thunder had looked into her eyes as he’d never done before, more intensely than the day they first laid eyes on each other, the glossy thick fur of his face unable to hide the anxiety of his animal soul. Ptinus-em-sút‘to worry by oneself’, was what they were now doing. To Erika, their circumstances were clear to her: Your family is in danger. You must protect them. Xweystúmihkan saśquats.
Erika knew she was the one who had to bridge their worlds, that Thunder would only risk his own safety, life even, if he were to get too close to the realm of human men. Their children could survive without their mother, but not their father. When Erika had left the human world to commune with the vastly richer life of the forest, she had relinquished her dominance over any realm and had accepted that survival depended upon the fitness of every creature to learn from its best teacher. That was Thunder.
When they had first discovered each other along the small creek which fed Pine Lake, Erika was struck with relief and awe. At last, she had found the object of her feckless husband’s fancy. She had also found her rightful mate. It was on the banks of that creek, with her on one side and Thunder on the other, where Erika instinctively lowered herself in his presence, knelt in the mud, bowed her head and stretched out her arms to indicate her supplication and receptiveness. When she looked up at his face, her Tilly Wanderer hat had tumbled from her head and her then-chestnut mane fell in a cascade across her shoulders. Without releasing her hold of his fascinated stare, in solid adjuration, she rose from the ground and slowly removed her clothes. They stood before each other, naked beasts in the wild, as a gentle spring breeze released its breath upon them.
Thunder’s nostrils flared. Their mutual arousal slowed time. The wings of birds beat thickly, as though the air had the density of water. The shrill cries of eagle hawks reverberated inside their bodies and the gentle burbling of the stream became a languid roar. Erika trembled, not with fear but with the certainty that she had arrived at the place she was supposed to be. With this creature. When her shudders turned to quaking, she dropped to her hands and knees and proffered her backside, ruddy and swollen, wet with her desire. Thunder crossed the shallow stream in two strides. Then he scooped Erika up in one swift movement, cradled her in his hirsute tree trunk arms and carried her to the soft grass of the bank. When he set her down, Erika moved to offer him her rump again, but Thunder gently, yet firmly, positioned her onto her back so he could look at her.
And look at her he did. He saw before him a being as formidable as any untamed and cunning animal that roamed the wild. Erika saw a majestic brute at the high tide of his life, over-spilling with vigor and virility. Each dove into the pool of the other, testing out the intersection of heretofore uncrossed channels. Thunder straddled Erika as he struggled to solve this mystery beneath him, even as his body told him exactly what he had to do. He gave in to the urgency of his unconscious evolution, parted her legs with his knees, and lowered himself into her. And with each movement of their combined breath, with frantic fur upon skin, a new ecstasy of the forest was born.
As Perry and Paul followed Joe back to the lodge, Perry debated how to break free from the dead weight of his brother’s life lethargy. Though they had both descended into poverty and obscurity together, Perry was ready to resurrect the trove of credible evidence that Sasquatch was real and living among them. But he no longer wanted to share that glory with his deadbeat brother. Now he saw an opportunity to acquire the wealth, and a restored reputation, that could be his from a transformed tourist site. In putative partnership with these tenacious women, he would bring respectability to himself again, his brother be damned.
But what he wanted more than adoration for his life’s work, was to win back the heart of his feral former wife, prove to her that his single-mindedness was not neglect, but his misguided attempt to stir within her the same level of fascination for him as he had always held for Erika. His heart ached with regret that his intent had backfired. But he knew she was still out there somewhere, looking for what he had sought. And now he had an opportunity to reel her back and confess his abiding love and, if he must, beg for her return.
The three men entered the lodge from the back door and strode into the kitchen. Harold was slicing a cucumber, long past its tumescent prime, in preparation for the lunch he was unsure anyone would be eating.
“Did you see the girls?” Harold asked Joe, concerned that their foray out of doors, without proper snow gear, would sour them to the charms winter brought this alpine locale and unplug their enthusiasm for the fix-it-up project as quickly as they’d turned it on.
“Yep.” said Joe. “Saw them along the east path just as we got here.” Even though Joe was holding a torch for the attentions of Claire, he was more concerned with Greta’s increasing decompensation. “Harold, I can’t stick around today. I’ve got to get into town and consult with someone who might be able to pay Greta a visit. She’s going through something tough. She may need to be medicated.”
“No kidding.” Harold said, putting down the knife and wiping his hands on his dingy apron. “How’s Mac? Do they need my help?”
“Mac’s holding it together, but he’s gettin’ rattled. Somethin’ weird is going on, man. Ever since I shot that damn loco coyote, feels like an avalanche is about to hit this whole drainage.”
Perry and Paul stood mute, hands in pockets. Only Perry’s eyes had a light on behind them. Paul looked around the kitchen, hoping to spy a box of crackers.
“I’ll leave these two to help you out if you need it. Guys…” Joe turned to the brothers who raised their four eyebrows in acknowledgement. “Help Harold out with whatever he needs, ok?” The men nodded a single synchronized assent. It was Perry who calculated how he might put Paul to work out of earshot until he could ingratiate himself with Harold, convince the grizzled inn owner that he alone be the consultant this operation needed in order to pass itself off as a genuine curator of the Sasquatch secrets.
But before any of the men could move upon the trajectory of their intents, screams pierced the air in all directions; first the voice of two, and then two more, non-verbal laments so full of fear and confusion one might assume someone had died or discovered the frozen body of an ambivalent spouse. And further up, beneath the forest canopy, another tandem scream snapped Erika from her memory revelry. Greta and Goldie, together in a mother’s lament set Erika’s heart racing and with it a feeling that the dominos had been triggered.
“Goddamn you, Thunder!” Erika shouted to the skies. “You were not supposed to leave them!” Erika stuffed the Glock back into her rucksack and wound her silver hair to the top of her steaming head. She pulled the Tilly tightly down below her forehead and, with tears of rage and conviction, strode into the light once more, to face what she only ever wanted to leave behind.
By Gregory Macdonald
“Help! We need help!”
As Claire and Annie clambered the back stairs of Harold’s Pine Lake Lodge, weak-kneed and frantic, their unintelligible screams coalesced into words.
Put your knife down. Harold did what he had long-ago learned to do after his chef’s knife had rolled off an onion and opened the flesh of his left forefinger, requiring a trip to the emergency room and nine stitches.
The day had begun early with a young, pretty woman – Claire, was that her name? Or was it Annie? – charming her way into his early morning thoughts and walking out of his kitchen a few minutes later with two breakfast sandwiches and takeout cups of filter-brewed Maxwell house coffee. Now at dinner time the drama had resumed as Claire and Annie stumbled back into his kitchen, and he knew he needed to be careful.
“There’s a dead man, a dead man out on the trail.”
Earlier, Joe Priest had left the brothers Perry and Paul in the kitchen to help Harold with whatever, but the two friends of Mac and Greta weren’t ready for anything like this and they just stood still and watched the two women in dismay.
“There’s a dead man.”
Annie leaned forward with her hands on her knees, panting like a runner who had just crossed a finish line.
And In the winter’s twilight not far away, a coyote stood on the stony banks of a river. As she looked upstream at the force and the splash of white water, she felt the river’s passion and opened her heart to the healing power of the forest. Her son was gone, lost to a man with a gun. Her son needed help, and although he looked dangerous as any coyote can, mama coyote knew he would never attack a human. A mother knows these things.
And a few miles away at Mac and Greta’s tired old cabin, Greta tried to let her grief wash over her and subside. She had lost her son Matthew, committed to a mental health hospital. Her son, her only son, a psychopath, locked up and a murder suspect. But Greta knew that her boy had not killed that girl, the university student at Western Washington University in Bellingham. A mother knows these things.
And earlier that day, as Annie and Claire left their friend Tara sleeping in their shared room to embark on a morning hike, Claire had waited in the lobby of the lodge while Annie tried to score some take-out breakfast. Claire lingered over the smell of Joe Priest’s back country jacket and well-worn woolen scarf, hanging where she had hung it the previous evening on the coat rack that had been carved from an old tree trunk. She pulled the scarf and wrapped it around her neck, pushing the ends under her arms and inside her jacket.
The night before, Claire had accepted bartender Joe’s offer of one more drink – a straight up vodka martini – as she bid her friends Tara and Annie adieu when they decided to call it a night and head off to their room.
“So, you and your friends are thinking of buying this place and turning it into the Sasquatch Lodge, or Bigfoot Lodge, or what?”
Declaring the bar closed, Joe had shaken up his own martini, joined Claire at her table, and started a conversation.
Claire, a few sips into her second drink – or was it her third? – launched into her spiel. Joe was attentive, nodding in the right places and laughing when appropriate as their evening progressed. When the cocktails were done, Claire stood and picked up the two glasses.
“Let me help you clean up.”
Their kisses began behind the bar as Joe washed the glassware and handed it to Claire to place on a drying rack. Joe dimmed the lights, and as they left the bar Claire took Joe’s jacket and scarf and hung them on a carved wooden coat rack at the entrance to the restaurant. Then Joe took Claire’s hand and led her down a hallway to his room – number 108, which happened to be next to Claire’s room, 106.
“Shhh, I don’t want to wake my roommates.”
The down comforter on Joe’s bed was so soft and so luxurious and so wonderful to get lost in. It was the perfect time and the perfect place with the perfect man, a stranger, a man who was lean and hard and smelled nothing like her. And Claire, although unprepared, allowed herself to be reckless and fully gratified.
When she left Joe in the middle of the night, Claire was able to sneak next door and into room 106 without waking her roommates. And as she lay in her bed she thought about the past few hours – the surprise of it all, the mutual seduction, the overwhelming power of the intimacy – and how peaceful she felt contemplating the possibility of motherhood. She had been careless, she knew that. She had always wanted to start a family, she knew that, too. What else did mothers know?
By Laura Rink
Matthew sprawled across his bed reading his dog-eared copy of The Two Towers, the second book in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. While his move to F-3 was a good thing, transitions were difficult for him until the unfamiliar became known, until new routines settled into his body, muscle memory taking some of the strain off his mind. Embodied cognition, his therapist called it, the body influencing the mind. In college, when he’d be in the grip of a dark mood, when he couldn’t go to class, couldn’t get out of bed, couldn’t read textbooks, Matthew could read his favorite books, books he had read many times before, books that soothed him and made the world appear a little less dark. Tolkien’s books were at the top of the list, especially The Two Towers where the Ents have an important role in the battle against Saruman.
Earlier, as clouds forecast rain outside the window, Matthew had explained the Ents to his roommate Mark, a man somewhat older than Matthew, who was in the hospital because of some kind of psychotic break due to environmental devastation. As far as Matthew could figure out, Mark had been obsessed with saving the planet since he was ten years old and attended the first Earth Day celebration in April 1970. Ten years later, Mark saw that celebrating Mother Earth was not saving her, and he turned to activism, and then to damaging property of fossil fuel corporations. Now he muttered at the newspaper articles about coal and oil companies— “Fiduciary responsibility, my ass!” And in the rec room, each news item about severe weather patterns brought a shouted “Who’s crazy now?” Mark spent most of his time in the art room doing pencil drawings of extinct wildlife and reimagined landscapes where the ice cap wasn’t melting, where the glaciers weren’t receding, where the Amazon rain forest wasn’t on fire.
“The Ents are shepherds of the forest, some of the oldest beings in Middle Earth,” Matthew had begun, ready to explain that whole fantasy world to Mark.
Mark cut him off. “What do they look like?”
“They resemble the trees they shepherd—beech or oak or chestnut—”
“So Ents are sentient trees?” Mark started pacing around the room.
“No, they are sentient beings that look out for the trees.”
“Do you know that trees communicate with each other?” Mark smiled wide at Matthew.
Matthew wasn’t sure what Mark was getting at and didn’t want to upset him, so he just nodded.
“Yes, they do. Though their roots! They share resources with each other, not only with their own kind, with other trees in their neighborhood!”
Mark spoke rapidly of Mother Trees sending nutrients to their own seedlings, sending more or less depending on a sapling’s needs. How trees emit a chemical smell when their forest is under attack. Science, Mark kept exclaiming, scientific studies back this up. We haven’t been paying attention! Well, Mark slowed himself, the indigenous people knew all this, we just Westernized it all away. Mark stared out the window.
“Hi trees,” he whispered. Then he waved a hand at Matthew. “I gotta go draw,” he said and left the room.
Matthew might not understand everything Mark was saying but he understood his passion—Matthew had been similarly obsessed by trees since childhood. He and Joe had roamed the forest around Matthew’s home, especially in the summer, for hours and hours. They played endless games of tag. They built forts at the base of towering Ponderosa pines, they snuck around tracking squirrels, raccoons, and coyotes, following their tracks from the creeks and streams that flowed down the mountain. But trees communicating? You needed an Ent for that, or his favorite Dr. Seuss character.
In second grade, for the Halloween carnival at school, Matthew had insisted on being the Lorax. His mom made him a bushy mustache out of an old yellowing feather duster, and bought him brown long johns, which Matthew covered with bits of glued on moss. Matthew made sure everyone knew who he was by repeatedly saying, in a voice he hoped was sharpish and bossy, “I speak for the trees!” Matthew tried to convince Joe to go as a Truffula Tree, but Joe threatened to go as a lumberjack instead. Joe immediately relented when Matthew started to cry, and, in the end, swiped his dad’s Goat Shack hat and declared he was a bartender, putting himself on the opposite side of the bar from his father.
An orderly knocked on the door and then opened it. Seth popped his head in, “Hey, Matthew, you got a visitor. She’s at the end of the hall.” Just as quick, Seth was gone, the door shut again. For a moment Matthew stared at the door.
Joe had visited a few times, at first. But it was a five-hour drive over the mountains and Joe had to borrow Mac’s truck, an unreliable vehicle at best. At those visits, Matthew wasn’t always coherent, his meds were off, he was under a lot of stress. I’m not like you, he kept saying, but I’m a person! I’m a person! He feared he had alienated his best friend.
She, Seth had said. But it couldn’t be his mother, the no-contact order would keep her away, even if she wanted to see him. Matthew wasn’t sure if she did. He’d said and done a lot of unkind things when he was off his meds and drinking. But now . . .
Matthew set the open book face down on his pillow, rolled off his bed, and looked out the window, at the maples half shed of their golden orange, yellow, and red leaves, at the cedars’ drooping russet undercoats shimmying in a burst of breeze.
At the end of the hall, below a big picture window that framed a giant cedar tree, seated in one of the two ragged overstuffed chairs, sat a woman probably in her early thirties, black hair pulled back into a pony tail, her narrow face pale, her body dwarfed by a wool coat, her hands holding tight to a green canvas purse. Matthew didn’t know this woman. She rose when he approached, and extended her hand.
“Matthew? I’m Jenna . . . Boyd.” Her voice was a whisper.
Matthew shook her hand briefly. “Yes, I’m Matthew. But I’m not sure who—”
“My brother is . . . Tyson . . . Boyd.”
Matthew slid into a chair, and said the first thing that popped into his mind. “I didn’t know Tyson had a sister. But then I didn’t really know him.”
Jenna sat back down. “I didn’t either, really know him. We’re ten years apart.”
Matthew thought he’d feel anger hearing that name. Tyson had got him to go out that night, Tyson had done . . . what? Tyson had told the cops that last he saw, Matthew and Shannon were walking down one of Bellingham’s brick building-lined alleys, leaving the group to go off on their own. Matthew didn’t remember that part. He remembered Tyson making moves on Shannon in the beer garden. He remembered Shannon’s face, a small smile, annoyed eyes, her head swiveling side to side. Tyson bringing him a beer that Matthew refused to drink, right? But all he felt right now was a numbness in his chest, a refusal to feel anything at all.
“Matthew?” Jenna leaned forward. “I don’t know much about you and my brother and what happened almost twenty years ago. And I’m not here to dredge that up or upset you. In fact, maybe I shouldn’t have come.”
“Something brought you here.” Matthew was curious. Over the years, he’d focused on getting mentally stable and then he’d try to sort out what really happened that night. But his dual diagnosis of bipolar and schizophrenia complicated his therapy and his medication regime. Sometimes medications that worked stop working, or unbearable side effects emerged, and a new medication had to be tried. Sometimes Matthew felt like an endless science experiment. In some small twisted way, he had gotten the help at Western State that, health insurance in America being the shitstorm it is, he might not have had the financial resources to pursue outside of the hospital. But always, he felt he would more stable if he could just get back to the eastern side of the Cascades, if he could just get back home.
Jenna cleared her throat.
Matthew looked up. “Sorry, I . . . start thinking . . . and then . . .”
“No, don’t you be sorry. I know brother maybe, might have, something to do with you being in here. I mean I don’t know. I just know you two were together that night.” Jenna thrust her hand into her purse. “But that’s not why I’m here. I’m not here to talk about that night.” She pulled out an envelope, her hand shaking. “My brother . . . Tyson . . . he killed himself last week.”
Matthew felt the numbness grow in his chest.
“I’m not looking for sympathy—we weren’t close, at all. He’d been out of the country for years. He was visiting our mother, and she invited me over for brunch. When I got there, he still hadn’t come out of the guest room. My mother hadn’t wanted to bother him. He had a temper, sometimes.”
A gust of wind blew hard against the building, the giant cedar outside the window swayed, and the lights along the hallway flickered. Jenna didn’t seem to notice but Matthew did. He stared up at the heavy boughs of the cedar.
“I don’t need to tell you the details. He was dead. And there was a stack of envelopes on the nightstand.” Jenna held out the envelope.
Matthew took it and looked down at boxy printing: Matthew Henderson, Western State Hospital. He turned it over—the flap was sealed.
“My mother wanted to destroy the letters. I gave her the one with her name on it, and took the rest. I’ve been delivering them. It’s the only thing that feels right to me.”
After Jenna left, Matthew sat there, staring at his own name on the envelope. Did he want to know what was in the envelope? Could he believe whatever it was that Tyson had to say to him, couldn’t say before now? It could be hurtful lies. It could free Matthew from his alleged connection to Shannon’s murder.
Matthew stood up and dragged the chair around, sat back and watched the cedar tree sway in the wind, watched the clouds, crowded low and dark with moisture. The cedar limbs rose and fell like a person marching in place. A peculiar and familiar sound came from the tree, and took Matthew back to his last hike around the forest before leaving for college. As he was coming down the slope toward his house, he thought he’d heard something odd. A stray breeze rubbing branches together in a way he’d never heard? Or an animal vocalization he didn’t recognize? Or perhaps only his parents’ voices wafting up the mountain. Or nothing at all—it was all in his head.
Greta heard a moaning sound, or was it a low snarl, or a muffled screech? She pulled herself out of bed, parted the linen curtains, and looked out the window. The wind thrashed through the forest, clanging the lids on the trash cans, flapping some shingles on the tool shed, and sending the hens clucking into their house.
A Ponderosa pine looming in the stormy darkness raised its branches. Greta blinked. Was that tree waving to her? Beckoning to her?
By Heather Lea
Harold, Perry and Paul could together carry the body.
“Let’s get ‘im ‘round back by the kitchen’s exit door,” Harold panted from exertion.
“This is so messed up!” Claire whispered. She and Annie were hot on the footsteps of the three men. “Why are they moving this guy? Shouldn’t they have left him as is and called the ranger station?”
“Yeah,” Annie agreed. “Hey,” she called softly ahead to the men, “why are we moving a dead body? This never turns out well in movies.”
Harold shushed the girls. Approaching the back of the Lodge, he used one arm to hold up his end of the body, and the other to pry open the wooden kitchen door he’d left ajar. It creaked on old, rusted hinges that needed oiling. Harold ducked his head inside scanning for guests who might be snooping around for snacks. No one was in there. It was the one time Harold was glad for the Lodge’s high vacancy rate.
“Coast is clear,” he said.
Thumping their way through the door, the three men worked to heave themselves and the body through the narrow passage. Claire chanced a look at the man’s face; she remembered seeing him and his cranky wife eating in the Lodge the day before.
“Let’s get ‘im over here, guys.” Harold headed to the walk-in freezer.
“Seriously? What the hell?” Annie whispered to Claire.
Harold, Paul and Perry lowered the dead man to the freezer’s floor among frozen juice containers and Costco-sized bags of veggies.
“Gonna keep ‘im frozen here ‘til I can figure out what to do,” Harold said, scratching his head. “Can’t have a body smellin’ up the place, can I?” He felt brave and manly with his quick decision-making. Harold wanted to take charge of this situation before Perry and Paul did; he knew only too well what could happen then. Anyway, it was his turn.
“Should we put him on a blanket or something?” Claire asked, feeling her hiking boots sticking to the freezer’s floor.
Annie burst out laughing then covered her mouth.
Perry said: “Don’t see much point in that.”
“Let’s get out of here.” Annie grabbed Claire’s arm and headed toward the swinging kitchen door that led out into the dining area.
“Wait,” Harold held up a commanding palm in front of Annie’s face, enjoying being repurposed as the man in charge of a secret mission. Harold was so bored as Lodge host. “Not one of us,” he pointed at the four faces,“says anything about this. If asked, I’ll take the blame for moving the body.” He thought he noted a look of admiration pass between Claire and Annie at his last words. Harold’s plan was to tell anyone he was forced to tell, that he moved the body to the freezer alone. This would make him appear strong, he postulated. Harold would tell them the bears were still out and he couldn’t take the chance to attract one, especially not to a dead body. Yes, that would also make him look smart.
Tara and Daphne were sitting in the lounge, two glasses of white wine in front of them. Tara was trying to come up with a plan to help Greta.
“That poor woman,” she said. “I want to go break her son—Matthew is it?—out of that place he’s in. Hugging him again would do her wonders.”
Daphne murmured an agreeable reply. She wasn’t big on emotions and physical contact, like hugs, but she was starting to melt over Tara’s endearing personality. She had to catch herself a few times from staring too long at the way the soft lounge light picked up red tones in Tara’s hair. Daphne wondered if Tara had once dyed her auburn tresses, or if she was just lucky to be born with those highlights. Wish I had such coloring, Daphne thought, subconsciously patting her chemical-laden locks. She had a fleeting thought about finding out where Ray was, but decided she didn’t care. The wine was getting to Daphne’s head in the way that she liked. She’d rather be here with Tara, just as Ray would probably rather be with his mistress.
A clambering through the swinging kitchen door stole her attention. Tara’s loud friends approached the table, breaking the mood entirely. Daphne was annoyed.
“Tara, we need to talk to you,” Annie said. She and Claire had their arms linked at the elbows.
“Yeah, not now, guys. I’m having a drink with my new friend here.” Tara gestured to Daphne.
Harold came out of the kitchen, followed by Perry and Paul. What slobs,Daphne scowled at the old brothers.
“Everything okay here, ladies?” Harold asked. Daphne thought he looked pointedly at Annie and Claire.
“Sure,” Annie shrugged. “We just haven’t seen Tara all day and would like to catch up.” Annie looked at Claire for back-up, but Claire was looking toward the bar, watching Joe make drinks.
“I know you’ll hate me after reading this,”Matthew read, “but I didn’t know what else to do that day.”
Tyson’s handwriting was in all caps, not very neat and ran outside the margins. Matthew lay back on the bed in his room and read.
“You probably wonder why I’ve sat here all this time, letting you take the blame. I know you don’t remember; I made sure of that. I didn’t feel bad about it then, but I do now. I can’t live with this anymore. I’m an asshole, which is why I was able to do what I did that night. But even assholes get scared. If I don’t kill myself, those goons will; especially now I’ve written the truth to everyone.”
Matthew was no longer numb. Not to anything. His entire being was on high alert. He felt the steel rods under the mattress push up into his back. He could smell the watered-down coffee from the communal room down the hall. Matthew gripped the folded pages he’d pulled out of the envelope, unable to read fast enough.
“I wanted to take her to the mountains, where your parents lived. You said they were away. I thought it would impress her. I wanted her, but she wanted you, I could tell. I needed you to get us to your parents’, but then I wasn’t sure how to get rid of you from that point on. I tried to get you to drink alcohol, so it would mess with your meds and maybe she’d see your bad side, but you kept refusing. We drove over the pass and parked at the lodge. You wanted to say hi to Joe, so we went in and she went to the bathroom. It was really late, after midnight now. Joe was going to hook us up with a room for the night, but I wanted to get to Pine Lake. I insisted and you were getting mad. You said: ‘If you’re going to make me take you guys up there tonight, I need a beer.’ Then you stormed off to find her. I saw my chance. I had a roofie I was saving in case I had her alone and she wasn’t interested. When Joe put your beer down and turned to polish some glasses, I dropped the pill in your beer.”
Matthew had a flash memory of Tyson handing him a beer when he and Shannon returned to the lounge. Rage boiled within him then, but he tamped it down to keep reading.
“We never got to your parent’s place. The roofie made you lethargic and you were behind her and me on the hike. She got scared and refused to go another step, sitting down on the trail. I thought she might perk up if you were with us, so I told her to stay there and I’d run back to find you. She didn’t want me to leave her alone. I told her to stop whining, I’d be back in 5 minutes. But you were farther back than I thought. You stumbled a lot and slowed us down. Waiting for you to catch up at one point close to where I left her, I heard a low growl. I grabbed my flashlight and shone it into the trees. Not ten feet away, I saw a dark… thing.I thought it was a bear because of its dark fur, but it stood on two legs and was crazy tall, like 7 or 8 feet. It was holding her. She had been scalped and was dead. I screamed and ran back to you. I tried to get you to run with me back to the lodge, but you were so disoriented, I gave up and left you behind.”
Matthew devoured the words in front of him. What killed Shannon?
“I wish I never saw those two goons, but I thought they might help, so I ran toward their headlamps coming up the trail. They looked like brothers. Both pale, with long Harley-Davidson-like beards. I told them what I’d seen, like an idiot, and they looked at each other. One of them said, ‘Take us back where you saw this thing.’ I told them I wasn’t going back, but they pointed to their riffles, suggesting we’d be safe. I took them back up the trail. We ran into you coming down. You could barely stand and were slurring. No one could understand you, lucky for me. One of the brothers stayed with you while me and the other one went up the trail. It was right out of a horror show. All that was left of her was her scalp, laying on the trail like a calling card. The guy I was with flipped his gun around and cocked it, aiming into the trees. I shone my flashlight. Whatever had killed her was long gone. The guy told me not to tell anyone what had happened, or what I thought I’d seen. He aimed his gun at my face, said if I told anyone, him and his brother would kill me. Then he fished a pair of gloves out of his back pocket and picked up her hair or scalp or whatever, and put it in his jacket pocket. I didn’t know why until now. He wanted to leave no trace of her, yeah but he also wanted me to know he was crazy. He wanted me to live in fear until they needed me.”
The paper Matthew held shook so hard, he had a hard time reading.
“The brothers and I concocted a story for the rangers that you and she were dating. You’d taken her up to Pine Lake to kill her because you’d found out she was sleeping with me. I told them I had gone looking for her with the help of Perry and Paul after finding them on the trail. They backed my story. It was all easy to believe; you knew the area, plus you were already diagnosed with being schizophrenic and bi-polar. Your biggest mistake was telling me that but I’m going to give you something you can use to get yourself out of all this trouble. You didn’t kill her because you were behind us on the trail. That’s my signed confession. I know sorry doesn’t cut it. I hope this letter helps get you out. You should also know your mom is being regularly fed a hallucinogenic drug. Perry and Paul are too worried she’ll find out the truth and that’ll lead to them covering everything up. Those greedy bastards want the sasquatch all to themselves, and they want to be the first to capture it, or there’s no money in it for them.”
Matthew threw the pages against the wall, flipped his bed upside down and screamed at the cedars outside. An orderly came in and shot him up with a tranquillizer called Rohypnol. In pill form, it’s also known as a roofie.