Sasquatch Camp


Excerpt from Six Coffins

    More attacks came two nights later, a pair of victims this time, about a mile up the valley from the Svenson farm. Tragic as the death of Anders Svenson had been, these were worse. They were children – brothers - fourteen and twelve years of age, caught unawares as they tended the family livestock. They were the eldest two of the Hines children, Joseph and William. With news of a killer beast at large, their younger siblings were consigned to the house after sunset, but there were still chores that needed to be done. Their father made them stay together, figuring there was safety in numbers. He was wrong. My father received word shortly after supper.
            I was with him when he went to the farm. He didn’t even ask me to stay behind. I was too invested by this point, and truth was, I think he felt better not leaving me alone. We’d ridden silently through the darkness, each alone with our thoughts. I’m no clairvoyant, but I read my father as well as anyone. He felt a responsibility that stemmed from his position. Two more people had died – children – and their blood was on his hands. There was nothing I could say to ease his guilt. What we saw when we arrived provided little in the way of consolation.
            The bodies were just as before: savagely injured across the throat, pale as if devoid of blood without a hint of it on the ground. Joseph was not much younger than I, and I knew him well enough to suffer at his loss. His eyes were still open, a window to his now departed soul, and I could not mistake the sheer terror that they reflected. I turned away.
            “Where were you?” my father asked the sobbing Mr. Hines, a large, gentle, Christian man, known well in the community for both his wisdom and his charity.
            “In the front barn, tending to the milk cow.” He pointed to a building not forty yards from where his sons lay.
            “You heard nothing?”
            “I heard nothing.” He sobbed louder at saying this, and I knew he felt as responsible as my father.
            My father began talking - to himself - but loud enough so I could hear. He was shining his lantern at the two boys, separated by mere feet from one another. 
            “If it attacked one, would not the other brother scream?”
            “Most likely,” I responded, not knowing if he were even seeking my input.
            “And yet he did not.”
            “If he ran away, he would be further from his brother.”
            “One would think.”
            “If he came to his brother’s aid, he would be situated differently. He would be facing a different direction. He would have scratches on him.” He looked up at me.” “He would be covered in blood.”
            “Yes sir.”
            I think it occurred to me first, but I dared not speak the words. My father was the Sheriff, the investigative expert of the family, and I silently prayed that he would arrive at a different conclusion. My prayers were in vain.
            I could see his face wither as it came to him, the realization that increased exponentially the danger of every person in the valley.
            “There were two of them.”
            “Yes, father.”
            He bent over and began to meticulously inspect the earth around the bodies. It had been a cold day, and the ground was firm. 
            “Rachael, look for tracks.”
            I did as he did, walking slowly back and forth, my lantern little more than a foot off the ground. I saw nothing out of the ordinary. There were several tracks, all old and frozen into the dirt, humans, mostly, the large, square soles of a man’s boot intermixed with the usual tracks of a farm yard: chickens, pigs, a wandering heifer. There was no sign of the predator – predators – that we sought.
            I wandered further from my father, further from the savaged bodies of two boys not much younger than I, and I fought the tears. I was afraid, and it shamed me. I had seen my father leave the house on many an occasion, aware that he might face a danger that most people in the town would shy from, and I’d always thought myself to be cut from the same cloth. I despised my weakness – my womanhood – and reserved my tears for when there was no witness. I did not want my father to see me in such a state. He would think better of bringing me on any further calls and leave me home like a defenseless child. I could not bear that.  I’d done too much to earn his trust, and it was he whom I did not want to leave alone. Truth was, if I lost him, I would have no one. I would be alone in the world, on the frontier, with no property, no position, no family. I would rather die at my father’s side than have to hear news of his passing from someone else. I wiped my eyes and continued my task.
            The darkness enveloped me as I walked further from the others. It would be logical for the attacking animals to retreat toward the foothills on the edge of the valley, but I saw nothing in the way of tracks. A sensation did come over me, however, a sensation that I owe to my feminine side, an intuition that something was not quite right. I froze, still bent over, and listened.
            I could hear Mr. Hines, still sobbing softly some thirty yards behind me, mourning the loss of his boys. I shared in his grief, but at the moment I had other thoughts on my mind. I had assumed that the beasts, if there were just two, had finished their job and disappeared into the darkness. It suddenly struck me that their hunting might have simply been interrupted and they were not done for the night. I heard nothing to confirm my suspicions, but I could feel it. Something was walking, slowly stalking, just outside the range of my lantern. I knew if I took a half-dozen more steps I would be the next victim.
            I was defenseless. My rifle was still tucked into the scabbard of my saddle, my gelding tied at the post outside the barn. I held my lantern up, better to pierce the darkness ahead of me. I raised my free hand to block the glare and allow my eyes to adjust. Slowly, two points of light came into focus about forty yards distant: eyes.
            I had seen the eyes of predators before, twinkling in the darkness, reflecting the beam from my lantern, but usually they were foxes, raccoons, or gangly coyotes. These were different: bigger, more substantial. A chill swept through my body. Every instinct told me to run, to make haste to my father’s side. I knew better, though. To turn and run would be the death of me. I held my ground, refusing to show fear or present myself as prey.
            “Father?” I said, softly, but loud enough to erase doubt that he would hear me.
            “Yes, Rachael?”
            “They’re over here.” I could hear the words spill from my mouth, oddly devoid of urgency. To an unknowing party, I might have been announcing the presence of a waylaid pair of eyeglasses or a litter of kittens. 
            Thankfully, my father had no trouble deciphering the meaning of my words. He burst into a run in my direction, his lantern held up, his revolver raised in his other hand.
            “There!” I yelled, pointing into the darkness. The eyes blinked then turned to retreat.
            His gun roared as he threw lead into the darkness, firing indiscriminately. There were no cries of pain, no indication that he’d hit the intended target. He grabbed me by the arm and we walked quickly backward to the barn and the now hysterical Mr. Hines.

An excerpt from Sasquatch Camp

          After the meal, Theresa’s father stood from the table. ”Danny? Why don’t you and I go out back and sit while the girls clean up?” It wasn’t a request. And it wasn’t a stereotypical comment about the subservient role of women in the kitchen. It was simply time for Ben Nighthawk to have a word with the young man who was going to date his daughter. 
            Danny was a little intimidated, but he knew what was at stake. Theresa was worth it, so he kept a brave face and walked out back with the man.
            They sat in a couple of lawn chairs next to a patio table, one of the type that has an umbrella sticking up through a hole in the middle. Theresa’s father reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a couple of cigars. At that moment, he reminded Danny a lot of Ron. “You smoke cigars, Danny?”
            “Every now and then.”
            He handed one to Danny. “Here. I hate to smoke alone.”
            Danny took the cigar, a long, fat Churchill, and put it in his mouth.
            “You’ve got to get it ready, first,” said Theresa’s father. “This isn’t one of those cheap, gas station cigars.” He took the cigar from Danny’s lips and reached into his pants pocket, pulling out a cigar cutter, a small contraption that had a very sharp looking downward steel blade that slid across an open hole where the cigar end was placed. It looked like a miniature guillotine. Ben Nighthawk took great pleasure in putting the tip of the cigar into the hole of the cutter, and after a slight pause for effect, snipping it off with a quick thrust of his thumb. Danny put his legs together and winced as he did this. Sometimes a cigar isn’t just a cigar.
            Ben handed the cigar back to Danny. He had a satisfied smile on his face. “Now it’s ready.”
            They lit the cigars and settled back in the chairs. Danny was afraid of what was coming next. For the moment, he enjoyed the flavor of the smoke against the inside of his mouth. He’d never smoked a serious cigar before. It was a different kind of experience. 
            “That was nice of you, to bring my wife flowers.”
            “It was my pleasure.”
            “She doesn’t say much, does she?”
            “My wife.”
            “That’s okay.”
            “She stutters.”
            “Oh.” It made sense. Danny was actually a little happy to hear it. He was sure it was a terrible affliction, and he wasn’t really happy that Theresa’s mom stuttered. He was just glad that her lack of conversation at dinner was not because she disliked him.
            Ben took a puff of his cigar and blew out a long column of smoke. “When we first met, I didn’t think she liked me.”
            “Why would I? She never said anything to me. But once I got to know her, I realized that she was the most wonderful woman in the world.” He turned and looked at Danny. “If I hadn’t taken my time and gotten to know her, I would have missed out on all this. I would have missed out on the love of my life.”
            Sometimes a cigar isn’t just a cigar, and sometimes a story isn’t just a story. It was obvious that Theresa had inherited at least one trait from her father, the ability to say two things at once, both important. 
            “Yes sir.”
            They sat in silence for a couple of minutes. Danny could hear the others in the kitchen, dishes rattling and pans clanging as they cleaned up from dinner. He could hear Theresa’s mother as she spoke to the kids. She stuttered, but not too badly. It was probably worse around strangers.
            Ben spoke again, as if he were just continuing the conversation, ignoring the two minute pause. “She doesn’t take any shit, you know.”
            “Your wife?”
            “My daughter.”
            “She shouldn’t have to.”
            They stopped talking again. Danny wondered whether conversations with Theresa’s father would always be like this. It was like a five course meal. You eat a little, then you stop and let it settle. You eat a little more of something different, and you let it settle. It’s all part of the same meal, but each course is distinct in time and content. Ben cleared his throat. The next course was about to begin.
            “Theresa says you had some excitement the other night.”
            “Yes, sir. It was interesting.”
            “You must be brave.”
            “No, sir.”
            He turned and looked at Danny. “Good answer.”
            “Truth told, I was really scared.”
            “They’ll do that to you.”
            Danny turned and looked at the man. He’d spoken as if he believed, that it was perfectly natural to acknowledge that a bigfoot was out there, roaming the countryside and throwing rocks at boats. 
            Ben could sense what Danny was thinking. “Oh, they’re out there. If you had any doubts, put them aside. They’re the real deal.”
            “Yes. My people have known about them for centuries. Called them Ge no’sgua.”
            “That’s cool. It kind of has a ring to it.”
            “A lot better than bigfoot.”
            “I agree. That just sounds silly.”
            The man sighed. “But, what can we do? Everybody calls them bigfoot, so we’ll just have to grit our teeth, no matter how stupid it sounds.” It was the first thing he said that indicated any solidarity with Danny.
            He continued. “Do you really want to find bigfoot?”
            Danny thought about it for a moment. It was a good question. It’s one thing to take some people out in the woods and run around like you’re trying to find something, but it’s another thing all together to actually want to find it, especially when it is eight feet tall and can kill you. He knew the answer, though. 
            Ben sat back in his chair. “Why did you bring flowers to my wife?”
            Danny thought it an odd question. “I thought she might like flowers.”
            “Every woman likes flowers. But there’s more. You’re just too shy to say it. You brought her flowers to show her respect.”
            “You’re right.”
            “You have to do the same thing to bigfoot.”
            “Bring him flowers?”
            “Yeah. Sort of.” He turned to look at Danny. “These things are smart. And they are incredibly strong. They can kill you or they can avoid you. Most of the time, they choose to avoid you. What you have to ask yourself is, why would a bigfoot choose not to avoid you?”
            Danny thought about it a moment. “Well, hopefully not to kill me. The one that threw a rock in the boat seemed pretty angry. But I guess you could try provoking them.”
            “That’s true. But between you and me, I wouldn’t want to meet one of those things when it’s angry.”
            “You have to give him something.” 
            “Flowers?” Danny was only joking.
            “Yes, if you find one that likes flowers. If not, find out what he does like.”
            “So I should leave gifts for him?”
            “Yes,” said Ben. He wasn’t kidding. He turned toward Danny, for emphasis. “Look, you’re not going to sneak up on bigfoot. You’re not going to fool him. If you want to see bigfoot, you have to develop a relationship with him.”
            Danny stared at him for a moment. “We’re not just talking about bigfoot, are we?”
            Ron sat back in his chair and smiled, “You’re a pretty smart boy, Danny.”
            The back door to the house opened and Theresa came bounding out. She walked over to her father and sat on his lap, her arm around his large shoulders. She sniffed at the air, a fake look of disgust on her face. “Cigars?” She sniffed again. “Daddy, I was going to kiss him tonight.”
            Ben Nighthawk started laughing, not loudly, but the quiet shaking laugh of a man who’s been caught being a little wicked. 
            She turned to Danny. “Did he cut the cigar for you, too?”

An excerpt from The Ghosts of Rapid Creek

    Both girls looked at Morganna as if she could provide some sort of direction. It wasn’t a burden that Morganna was especially eager to bear, but she seemed to be the only nominee. 
    After about thirty seconds of silence, Morganna finally accepted the mantle. “Whoever, or whatever, this is, we need to communicate with it.” 
    “Why?” asked Patty, clearly not in favor of the suggestion. 
    “Because it wants to communicate with us,” answered Morganna, “and especially you.” 
    “What if I don’t want to communicate back?” 
    “What if it’s Natalie?” 
    “Don’t even say that!” 
    “I’m sorry,” responded Morganna. “I’m sure it’s not, and I shouldn’t have said that. But Natalie is missing, and you start hearing things at the same time. It might not be a coincidence. Whoever’s trying to speak to you may know something about Natalie.” 
    “How do we communicate with this – whatever it is?” asked Layla. 
    Morganna stepped over to her dresser and pulled a box from inside a plastic shopping bag. “I stopped by the store after school and bought this.” 
    “What is it?” asked Patty. 
    “A Ouija board.” 
    “Are you kidding me?” Layla jumped up from the floor and backed away, as if Morganna had just pulled a poisonous snake out of the bag. “Don’t you ever watch horror movies? Those things are awful!” 
    “I agree,” added Patty. “It never ends well in the movies. There’s always a demon, and somebody gets possessed.” 
    “That’s because they’re movies. Things aren’t supposed to end well,” said Morganna. “They sell millions of these things every year. If they were as bad as the movies make them out to be, we’d be over-run with demons. Relax.” 
    “That’s what they always say in the movies,” responded Layla. “I vote no.” 
    “How else are we going to do this?” asked Morganna, getting a little irritated with her friends. “Sacrifice a goat?” 
    “Why do we have to do anything?” asked Layla.
    “Because something needs to be done. Something, a ghost or whatever, is jumping into our pictures and asking Patty for help. Natalie is missing, and we have no idea what she might be going through.” 
     turned to Patty. “You ran into a cemetery at night carrying nothing but a flashlight and a stick. Why did you do that?” 
    “Because I thought it might be Natalie and she needed help.” 
    “Were you scared?” 
    “There could have been some guy in there with a knife or a gun. Right?” 
    Patty had tried not to think of that. “Yes.” 
    “So you were brave enough to run into a dangerous situation like that, but you’re scared of a piece of cardboard with letters on it?” 
    It was not the answer Morganna was hoping for, but she put the ball in Patty’s court. “It’s your decision, Patty. Layla and I are split. You say ‘no,’ I take the board back to the store. You say ‘yes,’ and we give this a try.
\    Patty was afraid, but she tried to imagine how afraid Natalie might be at the moment. She thought of how afraid Tim must have been when she dragged him off to hide in a cemetery after midnight. She’d forced him to do it, because she knew it would be good for him, and the reality would not be as bad as the apprehension. 
    “Let’s do it.” 
    Morganna took the board from its box and laid it on the floor. 
    Patty had never really seen a Ouija board before, other than in movies. Morganna unfolded the board, and in one sense it looked like any game board, being about the same size and shape, a rectangle about a foot and a half by two feet. Running horizontally across the center portion of the board in two rows were the letters of the alphabet. Below that, again in a horizontal row were the numbers one through nine, with a zero at the end. In the upper left hand cornet of the board was the word “yes,” and in the upper right hand corner of the board was the word “no.” At the bottom center of the board was the word “goodbye.” 
    Patty looked the board over and asked the obvious question. “How does it work?” 
    “Well,” replied Morganna, who acted as if she were a long-time expert on Ouija boards, but in reality had spent an hour researching them on the computer before the others had arrived, “before I tell you how it works, it’s important for you to know what it is. A Ouija board is a mechanism for communicating with spirits. It’s not a game, it’s not a contest. It’s kind of like a telephone, with a way to initiate the call, a way to end the call, and rules of etiquette that govern how you act in between.” 
    Morganna pulled something else out of the box. She held it up so the other two could see it, “This is a planchette.” It was made of a thin, flat piece of wood and was shaped like a heart, about six inches from end to end and about four inches across at its widest. In the center of the heart shape was a clear, plastic, circular window, about an inch and a half in diameter. There were three short pegs on the bottom surface, one on each corner of the heart, that would act like the legs of a stool and keep the body of the planchette off of the board. 
    “This is what the spirit will use to communicate with us,” continued Morganna.. “We put it on the board, each of us with our fingers lightly resting on it, and the spirit will move it to either letters or words to answer our questions.” 
    “What if we don’t do it right?” asked Layla. 
    “Don’t worry. You guys just put your hands on the thing. I’ll do the rest.” Morganna, at first reluctant to be the point person on this whole “communicate with the dead” thing, was quickly growing into the role. In truth, she had no idea whether this would work, and while she was more than a little afraid, she was very eager to see what might happen. 
    Morganna set the planchette on the board, lit a couple of candles in her room to provide light and ambience, and turned the room light off. The flickering shadows added to the spookiness of the situation, but the candles provided enough light to see the board. 
    Morganna took a silver necklace from her neck and put it on the lower edge of the board so that it did not block any of the letters. “It keeps evil spirits away,” she explained. 
    All three girls kneeled next to the board and put their fingers lightly onto the planchette.
    “It’s important to not be too heavy,” said Morganna. “Just touch it very lightly, but keep your fingers on it.” 
    Morganna began. “Ouija, are you there?” 
    There was no immediate response, and the girls were unsure how long they were supposed to wait, or how many times they were supposed to try. 
    “Ouija, are you there?” Morganna was a little louder this time. 
    A couple more minutes passed. Layla and Patty were getting bored and more than a little skeptical. 
    “Ouija, are you there?” 
    A few more minutes passed. Finally, Layla broke the silence. “This is stupid.” 
    “Be patient,” scolded Morganna. 
    “How long is it supposed to take?” countered Layla. 
    “As long as it takes.” 
    They waited, and the minutes passed. Finally, Patty was the one who ran out of patience. 
    Hello!” she yelled. She should have known better. 
    The planchette quickly moved across the board, as if under its own power, and stopped abruptly. 
    Patty looked at Morganna. “Did you do that?” 
    Morganna, eyes wide, quickly shook her head in the negative. 
    Patty looked over to her left at Layla, and the terrified look on her face told Patty that she didn’t have any part in moving it. 
    Morganna leaned slowly forward to look through the window of the planchette. 
    The planchette then moved quickly in a small circle until it came to rest on the next letter over. 
    Hi. Whatever was trying to communicate with the girls had simply replied to Patty, and said “Hi.” 
    “Hello,” replied Morganna, with a reverent tone. “I apologize for our rudeness,” she continued, looking over at Patty with a scolding eye. “Are you of the sun, or of the moon?” 
    The planchette quickly traveled across the board and pointed directly at a picture of a very friendly looking sun positioned in the upper left hand corner. 
    “That means it’s a good spirit,” explained Morganna. 
    “Ask who it is,” interjected Layla. “See if it’s Abigail Church.” 
    “Do you have a name?” asked Morganna. 
    The planchette moved. “Yes.” 
    “Are you Abigail Church?” 
    “Are you Natalie Fox?” 
    “What?” asked Patty, predictably upset with Morganna. “What is wrong with you?” 
    “No,” came the answer from the board. 
    “Just ask its name,” said Layla, who was both scared and impatient. 
    “What is your name?” asked Morganna. 
    The planchette moved across the board, settling on two letters before it stopped: M-E. 
    “Be more specific,” Layla said quietly to Morganna. 
    “Yes, we know it’s you,” replied Morganna, “but what is your name?” 
    The planchette traveled in a small figure eight before settling on the same letters. 
    Morganna looked at the others and almost imperceptibly shook her head, indicating that she wasn’t going to press the issue. 
    “Are you a man or a woman?” 
    The planchette moved and settled on the letter “W.” It didn’t move further. 
    “She must be a woman,” said Morganna. “Sometimes they use abbreviations.” 
    “Ask her about Natalie.” Now it was Patty’s turn to be impatient. 
    “Are you aware of Natalie Fox?” 
    “Is she alive?” 
    There was a momentary pause without any movement of the planchette, and the girls suddenly feared what the answer might be. Finally, the planchette moved in a small figure eight and pointed back to the affirmative. 
    “Where is she?” 
    “Where is home?” 
    “Yes, but how do we find the home?” 
    That was the moment that Patty knew that they must be communicating with a real spirit. If Morganna was actually controlling the planchette, she would have spelled out “Morganna” instead of “Morgan.” 
    “What do you mean?” asked Morganna. 
    There was no answer. 
    “What do you mean?” repeated Morganna. 
    The planchette began quickly, almost violently, moving around the board, settling on letters and moving to the next almost faster than Morganna could keep track of, but the message ended up being clear and foreboding: “Burn the board.” 
    Then the planchette moved to the bottom of the board, pointing at “Goodbye.” 
    “Say goodbye!” Morganna directed the others, her voice suddenly laden with fear. 
    “Goodbye!” they all said, quickly and with the urgency that Morganna had initiated. 
    Morganna jumped up from the floor and quickly turned the light on. “We have to burn this board. Now.” 
    “Why?” asked Layla, suddenly afraid. 
    “Because she told us to, and there might be an evil spirit trying to come through.” 
    “Let’s go, then,” said Patty. 
    Morganna scooped up the board and the lighter that she had used to light the candles. She scanned the room quickly before pointing at the dresser. 
    “Nail polish remover!” 
    Layla ran over and grabbed the bottle of nail polish remover from the dresser. The girls ran quickly from Morganna’s room, all still in bare feet, down the stairs, past Morganna’s bemused parents and out the back door of the house to the back yard. 
    Once outside, Morganna kept running through the yard to the unplowed farmer’s field behind their property. She didn’t stop until she was about fifty yards into the field, far enough from the edge that smoldering ash wouldn’t ignite any of the early spring dead foliage in the hedgerow. She threw the board onto the ground. 
    “Give me the nail polish remover.” 
    Layla handed the bottle to her, and Morganna emptied the contents onto the board. She threw the planchette on as well, just in case. She then lit the fluid, and flames rose quickly, so quickly that all three could smell the singed hair from Morganna’s hand. 
    They could see no demons springing from the flames, nor were there any screams of agonizing spirits still trapped inside the board. There was just a warm, almost soothing flame as the three girls stood around it, as if they were having a camp fire. They stood silently until the flame had finally burned out and they were left in darkness. 
    Well,” said Layla, a hint of a laugh in her voice, “so much for communicating with the dead.”


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