I cursed myself for making such a stupid mistake while scanning what seemed like endless treetops from my perch on the lone, bald hill. How could I think that heading down a side trail this late in the day would be a good idea? I knew better. I wasn’t some novice hiker, and yet I was lost with little more than the clothes on my back and a utility knife that I always carried with me on hikes. All out of water, no snacks and even my cellphone was useless up here.
I sighed as the sun quickly sank behind the forested hills to my left leaving the early autumn sky a pale lavender. There was a mist clinging to the trees that suggested it would start getting cold fast once the sun was gone. I would need to get myself down this hill and find or make shelter for the night or else risk hypothermia. I made my way down the slippery, rock strewn path and into a promising looking thicket of pines. It was close enough to the path I’d taken that I felt certain that I could find my way back in the morning or that help would be able to find me if it came to that.
I took a moment to look around, wiping sweat from my eyes, and settled on a group of three smaller pines that were only a little taller than I was and still looked flexible. I reached up to rip a smaller branch down and began shaving off sections with my knife that I then used to tie the tops of the three pines together to form an arch. I then went about gathering branches from the larger surrounding trees to flesh out the walls of my make-shift hut, leaving just one side open enough for me to duck through. I spread a few more pine boughs on the ground for added protection and got to work gathering dry, fallen branches and pinecones to make a fire with. Once that was done and I had the little fire crackling in front of me, I gathered a few more branches to feed the flames as the night wore on and settled back in the mouth of my hut to rest.
I was just starting to doze off when I heard the soft but distinct pat of footsteps coming quickly through the dark. I cursed and curled my hand around the handle of my knife, unable to see past the glow of my fire at first. When she stepped into the light, though, I felt a lazy smile curve over my lips. My god, she was beautiful. The fire turned her wild brown hair nearly auburn and reflected in those incredible green eyes. Her lush, petal pink lips were set in a firm frown and her slim, athletic body was held rigid with not fear, and this I could barely believe, but aggression. She was so gorgeous that I almost didn’t mind the rifle she was pointing right in my face.
“There’s no need to point that thing at me, I’m not interested in hurting a beautiful woman like you.” I tried to make my voice as lazy as possible even as my eyes drank in the details of her, lingering on a little scar at the left corner of her mouth. I wondered if it was from an old piercing or some childhood accident. Her clothes were dirty, she appeared to have been out here a while, but they weren’t torn or disheveled enough to make me think she’d been hurt.
“Yeah? Well,” she growled, her eyes flashing as she slowly made her way around the fire toward me, “maybe I’m interested in hurting you. Seems it’d be easier to just kill you and dump you off in the woods then risk you changing your mind in the night.”
I laughed, low and easy, holding both hands up so she didn’t feel threatened by my knife… as if she would while holding that rifle pointed at me. “Yeah, ok, but then you’d have my murder on your hands and you’d miss out on my body heat. I’m told I’m kind of a human space heater.”
She blinked, clearly caught off guard by my feigned ease despite the threat she still held, gripped tight in both hands, and pointed directly at my head. “You’re awfully sure of yourself.”
“Sugar,” I sighed, “if you’re going to kill me just to get a knife, a fire and a place to sleep, there’s not a whole lot I can do about it and getting riled up isn’t going to help me.”
“Sugar? Do not,” she snarled, stepping closer, “call me sugar. I’m not your sugar or your baby or whatever the hell else you think is going to be cute to call me.”
I spread my hands wide and shrugged apologetically. “Sorry but, seeing as how you haven’t introduced yourself; I don’t know your name. I guess I can call you miss if that’s better. You can call me Rick, though, and I don’t mind sharing my fire with you… even if you are still pointing that rifle of yours at me. Is it loaded?”
Her wickedly arched eyebrows pinched closer together over a pair of hilariously confused green eyes. “Did you fall and hit your head, Rick?” Her voice was a lot less threatening this time and I noticed it was kind of sweet as she taunted me.
“Nah, I just don’t think you’re actually going to kill me. C’mon,” I smiled and patted the spot next to me, scooting over a bit to make more room in the relatively narrow opening to the hut, “put that thing down and sit with me. It’s going to be a long night.”
She stood there staring at me for a moment and I couldn’t help but wonder if she really did think I’d hit my head. When she shifted the rifle up and, cautiously, walked closer, I knew I’d won. “Story. My name is Story and, yeah, I know it’s a weird name but it’s the one I’ve got.”
I nodded and forced myself to look at the fire instead of her, trying not to creep her out though I really wanted to stare my fill. “Nice to meet you, Story. Won’t you come share my fire?” I turned to give her what I thought was a charming smile and got a groan and eye roll from her for my effort.
“Oh, god, don’t make me regret not killing you.” Her eyes sparkled with laughter instead of malice, now, and her voice was pure honey.
I threw my head back and laughed, truly relaxing now. “Ok, ok! Don’t shoot, Annie Oakley! I’ll keep my amazing charm to myself over here.”
She snorted and turned her head to hide a smile. “Yeah, well, it really does look like it’s going to be a long night. You don’t happen to have any food or anything on you, do you? Never mind… I can see you don’t.” She sighed and propped the rifle against her shoulder. “You really didn’t come prepared, did you?”
I groaned and laid back, folding my arms behind my head. “I hadn’t intended on staying out over-night… it was supposed to be just a light walk.”
“You really screwed that up, huh?” She didn’t bother to hide her amusement now though she trained her gaze out past the fire.
“Yeah, well, what the hell are you doing out here? You don’t exactly look like you were hunting… rifle aside.” I let my gaze slide down her back and over her long, jean clad legs since she wasn’t watching me anymore.
Before she could answer, I heard a rumbling sound in the darkness beyond the fire. It reminded me of a dog building up to a proper growl only it didn’t sound canine. I saw Story’s back tense and she slowly lifted the rifle to brace against her shoulder. I curled my fingers around my knife handle, easing myself back into a sitting position so I could slowly get my legs back under myself.
“Don’t make any sudden movements, Rick.” Her voice was barely a whisper and I would have missed the words if that growling had gotten any louder just then but, instead, it stopped.
“Uh huh,” I squinted into the darkness, very slowly easing myself to my feet. Story shifted on her hip and drew one leg under herself while sighting through the scope of the rifle. What she was sighting, though, I still couldn’t tell. Every hair on my body was standing on edge and I realize that everything around us had gone silent. Suddenly, a very ape like roar split the night along with the crashing of small brush and snapping of twigs and branches. It was like the world exploded into a flurry of horrifying motion and I felt my gut twist.
A rock the size of my head crashed through my sad excuse for a shelter and caused the saplings to spring apart, one whipping across my back and leaving a stinging welt. Seconds later, the beast charged from the shadows, pounding it’s chest like a gorilla but this… this was no gorilla. The beast stood a good eight feet tall, thick with muscle and covered by thick, gnarly hair roughly the same color as a sloth. It stank like rotting produce and fresh turned manure; its breath smelled like a hot dumpster as it roared in my direction. Mean, amber eyes glared at me and I couldn’t help but notice the six-inch canine teeth that dripped with thick, ropey spit.
I’m sure a string of profanity poured from my mouth, but I honestly couldn’t pull together a cohesive thought until I heard the crack of a rifle to my right and the beast roared again, clapping one black clawed hand over a fresh bullet wound on its shoulder. It charged and I ducked, drawing my knife, and slashing out toward its leg. I felt my knife catch and tear, but the beast didn’t seem to care, and I panicked thinking I hadn’t gotten through that thick pelt. Another shot rang out and the beats roared. My wild gaze whipped around, looking for Story, and I was surprised to see her a good ten feet away with her back against a huge tree.
Just as I was twisting around to face the beast again, I hit the ground. It had grabbed my ankle and was dragging me around as though it was about to slam me into a tree. I knew I had to be screaming like some little wimp, but you try to act all big and manly while getting whipped around like a ragdoll. Somehow, I grabbed a fistful of wiry fur and brought the hand with the knife around to stab it roughly where a kidney would be causing yet another horrific roar to rip from the beasts dripping maw.
Somewhere in the distance I heard the crack of a rifle again, but I was too busy trying to yank my knife free and shake the beast off my leg to notice if she had hit her mark or exactly where she’d positioned herself now. For all I knew, the beast was dragging me back to its lair. With a grunt, I finally got my knife free and stabbed down randomly. I felt the beast drop my leg and I hit the forest floor with a bone shaking thud. I guess I was higher up than I’d realized.
Another gunshot rang through the air, and the beast hit the ground next to me, sending up a cloud of dirt and dead pine needles. She’d gotten a clean head shot that time… thank god. I pushed myself onto my hands and knees with a groan, everything hurt, and did a quick inspection of myself. All parts accounted for. Everything functioning, more or less, normally. I turned my gaze to the thing that had attacked us and almost passed out. I had just come face to face with the mythic Sasquatch. Just like that, my world went black. How I got out of that forest and what happened to the carcass of old bigfoot, I have no idea. I haven’t laid eyes on Story since, either.