The beast prowled through the thick timber, raising its massive head to sniff at the air, plumes of mist shooting out of its snout. Its heart raced as it caught the scent of prey and gave a small involuntary growl of pleasure. It picked up the pace, eager to match wits with the intended target.
“Shouldn’t we put the fire out?”
Zach Ketchum glanced at his wife, huddled in the protective shelter of their large tent. “I’m spreading the coals out and since there’s no wind, the danger of starting a forest fire is minimal. Besides, don’t you know that fire keeps the fierce predators at bay?” Zach raised his hands in a cheesy imitation of claws, and raised his eyebrows in what he thought was a scary rendition of a terrifying monster.
Marissa snorted laughter and covered her mouth with her hands. She had to admit that her husband knew what he was doing in the woods. The idea of camping had been as foreign to her as the thought of living underwater. Her family was city-folk and had turned up their noses at the prospect of spending any length of time away from running water and electricity. For her family, the closest thing they got to spending time in the woods was taking walks through Central Park.
Zach, on the other hand, had practically grown up in the outdoors. His father had been a survival expert, and had passed on that knowledge to his only son. The pair spent more time in the wild than they had in civilization. Zach felt more alive when surrounded by trees and wild animals than he ever did in the city.
People had often wondered what sort of strange chemistry brought Zach and Marissa together. Their friends joked that they were a couple straight out of a country song. Since their first chance meeting on the subway, Marissa and Zach had been inseparable. It had come as a surprise to them as much as their friends, who marveled at their intense connection. Even though it seemed the pair had nothing in common, they felt their souls were joined, and neither could imagine life without the other.
Marissa wondered for the millionth time what she had been thinking letting Zach talk her into the week-long trip to his home town of Diablo, Washington. Almost as soon as they left New York, she had felt out of place and nervous about the week away from the hustle and bustle of the city life.
The feelings worsened when Zach announced they were now in the city limits of Diablo. She tried to put on a brave face but when she saw that this tiny mountain town didn’t even have a Wal-Mart, she regretted her decision to come. However, the look of utter peace and contentment on her new husband’s face made her feel guilty for being such a baby.
Zach had stopped at a few places in town to say hello, and to ask about conditions in the mountains.
“Fishin’ is good at that ol’ creek you and yer daddy used to visit,” Sheriff Ted Dalby said. He was a large man, made even more intimidating by the size of the gun and hunting knife at his waist.
Zach’s eyes lit up at the mention of fish. “You haven’t had fish until you’ve eaten fresh trout.” He gave Marissa a squeeze, well aware of her discomfort, and loving her more than he ever thought possible for her courage in braving the terrors of the forest.
“Tell him about the murders, boss!”
Sheriff Dalby hissed in annoyance. “Dang it, Scoot! You never could learn to keep yer trap shut!”
“Murders?” Marissa felt like she was going to faint. For some reason, hearing about murder in this tiny town was more terrifying than the crimes one heard about in the city. Her mind conjured up images of bodies, half-eaten and covered with moss and undergrowth just lying in the mountains, never to be found. It would be so easy to hide a body out here and no one would even know!
Zach put his arm around his wife, feeling a bit nervous himself. Diablo wasn’t the kind of town where murder was common-place.
“We’ve found a few bodies in the mountains. The folk were most likely attacked by a grizzly. So it ain’t murder.” Sheriff Dalby shouted back over his shoulder. His eyes sparkled with mirth when he turned back to Zack and Marissa. “Most folk around here joke about Sasquatch.” The Sheriff laughed and slapped his knee.
“It’s all right, missy. This ain’t the season for bears. We found them bodies in late fall, when the big brutes are fattin’ up for the winter. They tend to be more apt to attack then. And Sasquatch is only a legend people tell to city folk to scare ‘em.”
“Not that one we found last week….”
“Damn it, Scoot! I’m gonna sew yer mouth shut!” Sheriff Dalby growled. He turned back to the young couple, a huge smile on his face. “There ain’t nothin’ to worry about. You two best get going if yer gonna make it to the creek by nightfall.” He winked and sauntered out of the office.
Marissa was shaking from head to toe. She wanted to get on a plane for New York that very minute, but she knew Zach would never leave because of a few animal attacks. He was just as excited now as he had been while they were planning the trip.
This is going to be the longest week ever.
“What’s that?” Marissa sat up, ears straining to hear the noise that had woken her from sleep.
Zach mumbled at her to go back to bed, that she was probably hearing the crackle of the fire or the wind. When he caught the sound of the crackling of limbs, he was instantly awake, more excited than afraid.
“I bet it’s just a moose or something moving about in the trees. If we stay here, we’ll be fine.”
The crackling and snapping continued. Zach frowned. There was something about the sound that bothered him, but he couldn’t put his finger on it.
“It sounds like someone is out there breaking branches!” Marissa panted in fear. She pictured some wild mountain man, with a shabby beard down to his knees wielding a large carving knife, snapping twigs, hoping to get them to come out of the safety of the tent.
Marissa looked at the thin material of the tent and barked a laugh. It would take someone ten seconds to cut through this! She moved closer to Zach, head swiveling as the sounds of snapping and cracking moved about them in a slow circle.
“Someone’s playing,” Zach hissed. The noises were too regular and precise to be made by a large animal moving through the woods. No animal he had ever heard of would snap branches and twigs while circling prey. He threw off the sleeping bag and began pulling on his shoes.
“Are you insane?”
“It’s probably just Scoot playing a joke.”
“And what if it’s not? What if it’s a Sasquatch?” The idea seemed a lot less silly and ridiculous now.
Zach snorted. “Sasquatch isn’t real, honey. No one has ever found proof of their existence.” He continued to snicker as he unzipped the door.
“You can’t leave me here alone!”
“Then get your shoes on and come with me. Maybe we can give ol’ Scoot a taste of his own medicine.”
Marissa didn’t want to leave the tent but the thought of being left behind scared her more. She grabbed her shoes, trying to ignore the noise now coming from the back of the tent. It’s just that deputy, trying to scare us. The litany played over and over in her mind as she followed on Zach’s heels.
“SCOOT! We know you’re there!”
Marissa jumped and gave a squeal when Zach started shouting. The darkness was almost absolute. The only bit of light was coming from the fire, a pale orange beacon in the darkness. There was a half moon that also gave a little light, but Marissa was surprised at how little they could see of their surroundings.
“Maybe we should go to town?” Marissa saw the silvery sparkle of their SUV and wanted to lock herself inside. The hard metal skin of the car would protect them more than the tent.
The couple whirled at a low growl coming from behind and to the left. Zach cursed himself for leaving the flashlight behind. Marissa was pulling Zach toward their car, certain they would be safe there.
Zach let Marissa lead him toward the car, all the while staring hard at the darkness, trying to see what had made the sound. He had spent his life in the woods and had never heard anything like the noise that ghosted out of the dark.
To Zach, it sounded like an animal laughing.
Just before they reached their vehicle, Zach saw a darker shadow moving toward them with predatory precision. In an instant, Zach knew Scoot wasn’t playing some prank, and that it wasn’t some hungry grizzly. The shape was all wrong.
Quick as lightning, the shadow launched itself at the young couple. Zach tried to shove Marissa out of the way, but the beast was ready. He swiped at the girl, opening her throat with one swipe of its wicked knife.
Zach ran a few steps, mind completely numb with terror. He fumbled at the door of the SUV, bleating and sobbing. A low chuckle made him turn.
The beast looked like a cross between a man, ape, and wolf. It stood just a few inches taller than Zach, and its body was nothing but taut muscle, covered in a layer of thick hair. Zach stared at the knife in the thing’s hand.
That looks like Sheriff Dalby’s knife!
The brute winked at Zach. “Sasquatch isn’t real, honey.”
Zach screamed as he heard his own words in almost perfect parody coming from the beast’s mouth. The last thing he saw was the glint of moonlight on the knife coming as it slashed toward his throat.