Below is the latest chapter from A Man of the Mountain, the prequel to my first novel, Whiteout, which just released. It tells the story of a man who just wants to keep the Bigfoot legend alive and the monster hunters who want to stop him.
For those who want to read Whiteout, it’s out now on all platforms and currently holds a 4.5/5 on GoodReads with 22 reviews in so far! Order below and share my work if you like it! It’s also free for Kindle Unlimited members!
OK, end plug, here’s the story
Need to catch up on Man of the Mountain? Links to Chapter 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 , 9
11. The Light of the Morning
A light chill had crept into the air as Shirley and Nick arrived at the forestry center. Bright sunlight filtered through the trees, cutting radiant beams in the early-morning fog. Sets, cameras, and lights had all been broken down and strapped to a series of interns who looked more overburdened than yaks in the Himalayas. With their backs bent, they looked to be regretting their summer employment decisions. All told, there were about twenty people ready to head up the mountain. To both Nick and Shirley’s dismay, there was no sight of Mansen.
“That prick better show up,” stuttered Nick, halfway through a gulp from his ‘water’ bottle.
“Should you really be drinking right now?” Shirley’s eyes watered as she caught a brief whiff of whatever was inside the container.
“If the beast is what I think it is, I’m going to want to be good and buzzed when we find it.” He cocked an eye at Shirley, and then apologetically offered, “You want some?” He held the bottle out to her.
“No thanks, I don’t drink.”
Nick looked at her, very confused. “Ever?”
“Ever.” Shirley had spent years trying to avoid the specter of alcoholism that came with depression and had so far been very successful. She might have been the only dry member of the Local Eye staff.
“Suit yourself.” Nick shook the confusion off and fished around in his bag. Eventually, he pulled out a pistol that could only be described as dainty. “You ever use one of these?”
Shirley couldn’t help but laugh at him. “No.”
“Well, it’s quite—”
` Shirley lifted the corner of her jacket, unclipped the holster at her side and drew a significantly larger handgun. “If you pulled that on a bear, it might laugh you to death.”
Nick held the pistol limply, trying not to look too envious.
“This,” she pointed the pistol at the ground, looking down the iron sights, “would stop anything in its tracks.”
Nick reddened. “Bet it doesn’t have holy water in it,” he mumbled.
“Do bears care about holy water?”
“Ah piss off anyway,” he grumbled. “Where is Mansen?” He straightened, looking for a target of ridicule that wasn’t himself.
The cast and crew milled about, trying not to garner Nick’s attention. It seemed that word of what happened to the last production assistant that crossed him traveled fast.
Nick looked as though he might sprint and throttle one of them again, but luckily, Mansen appeared just in time.
He might as well have walked straight out of a camping store commercial. While the equipment was clearly brand new, it had been made up to look scuffed and worn. The signs were clear to Shirley, but on camera, they would be hardly noticeable. If there was one thing Mansen was good at, it was presentation.
He strode to the middle of the campground, motioning for a camera to follow him as he did. “Alright, thanks to everyone who stuck around. This is without a doubt going to be one of the most dangerous shoots we’ve ever been on.” He looked the camera dead in the lens cementing the fact. “There have been some accusations that we aren’t brave enough to go after the beast, or that our entire operation is a fraud.” He waved a hand flippantly in Nick’s direction. “Today we prove these rumors to be nothing but a pack of lies.”
As Mansen droned on, Nick turned to Shirley. “You have to admit, he’s good in front of a camera.”
Shirley shrugged. “I guess if we run into a TV exec up there pretending to be Bigfoot, we’ll be in good hands.”
An eternity later, Mansen’s speech ended, and it was time for the real work to commence. His booming bravado didn’t stop for a second. “Let’s get moving, we’ve got a lot of ground to cover today.” He sounded and looked like a 1900s explorer leading a group of adventurers into the bush. It was the all khaki everywhere that sold the image.
In the distance, storm clouds were building, and Shirley made a note to keep an eye on them. She was always prepared and had packed for the worst of weather, but the rest of the team looked like they could handle a flake or two at the most. Forecasts in Clearwater were notorious for changing at a moment’s notice. The weatherman always said it was due to the mountain range masking the patterns, but most of the town figured it was his drinking. At the forestry center, the temperature was already at zero. It would warm throughout the day, but come evening, they might be in trouble. “Those storm clouds could be an issue.” She pointed them out to Nick.
He looked up at them with a sense of unease. “Think we can handle them?”
“I think we can ride them out if we have to, but if we get caught in a storm, sitting in a tent is about all we’re going to accomplish until it passes.”
Nick tapped a flask at his side. “Good thing I brought this then.”
“Is there anything you solve without drinking?”
Nick scratched his chin, as if preparing to answer and then turned his attention to Mansen instead. He walked just close enough to be sure that one of the main sound technicians would capture him. “Better get moving if you want to beat that storm.” Immediately, two interns who had been shooting b-roll pointed their cameras skyward to capture the impending threat.
Mansen scowled. “What’s the matter? Afraid of a light dusting?”
Nick looked back at the clouds. Even he knew they were much darker than a light dusting, but if Mansen was going, he was going. “If our fearless leader thinks we can make it, then I’ve got all the faith in the world.” Nick cocked a ridiculous smile at the nearest camera and gave an enthusiastic thumbs up.
Mansen practically growled at the idea of sharing his camera time. “Let’s not lose this daylight,” he shouted. The crew chugged into motion like an old locomotive and started up the trail.
Shirley hustled to catch up to the front of the line, not wanting to miss any of the action, but Nick held her back. “Easy there,” he said, slowing her pace until they were being passed by even the slowest crew members. He waited until every one of them had filed onto the trail and then fell into step at the end of the line.
“I would have thought you’d be in a dick swinging contest to lead the group,” she mocked in genuine surprise.
Nick smiled. “Oh, I never travel at the front of the line. All that stuff in movies about stragglers getting picked off is just propaganda to inspire courage.” He whistled. “Yup, if there’s a beast up there, I want to make sure Mansen runs into it first. Besides, we’ll have a better chance of finding sign back here if we’re not being hassled by all of those god-damned interns.” He said the last line loudly and with venom. One of the young men carrying sound equipment just ahead of them flinched. Nick laughed, “Too easy.”
What was initially excited chatter from the crew about finally doing something real was quickly extinguished by the exhaustion that came from carrying an entire film set uphill. The lower trails of Clearwater Mountain were easy enough, but getting anywhere near the summit even with minimal gear was an exhausting task. Accomplished mountaineers would have laughed at the sweat and toil of the crew, but to them, it might as well have been Everest.
As the group crested a particularly steep set of switchbacks, Nick stopped off to the side of the trail, panting. He set his pack down. The line continued to move ahead, taking no notice.
“What’s a matter, tired?” Asked Shirley.
Nick bent down, ignoring her and examined something clinging to the bark of a tree. How he had seen it was a mystery. From a distance, it looked like any other moss or lichen, and for a moment Shirley thought he was simply stalling for a reason to catch his breath.
“That’s very interesting,” he murmured, reaching into his bag and pulling out a large leather-bound book.
“No wonder you’re exhausted. What on earth possessed you to bring that?”
“Possession had nothing to do with it.” He flipped through the pages. Eventually, he reached one with a sketch of a tall ape-like creature easily recognizable as sasquatch. He skimmed the lines with his finger, holding the moss next to the book for identification. “Are there any native tribes in the area?”
Shirley scuffed her shoes in the dirt. “Not anymore. Townsfolk drove them out years ago.”
“Drove them out?” asked Nick, pushing the small sample into a plastic-lined pocket of his backpack and snapping the book shut.
“Clearwater wasn’t exactly hospitable.”
“Oh good.” Nick shouldered his pack. “So, I suppose the hope of a cultural center would be folly.”
“We’ve got one about logging.”
“Wonderful, if we have to deal with a chainsaw-wielding spirt, we’ll be in luck.” Nick picked up the pace and hustled to catch the back of the line once more. It wasn’t hard at the languid pace they were making.
Shirley walked beside him. “What was that you found?”
“We are meant to believe it’s fur.” His voice grew distant.
“Meant to believe?”
“I haven’t ruled out the genuine article yet, but I see no reason that clump would have gotten stuck on that tree. It’s far too obvious. I think we were meant to find it.”
Shirley thought the sample would have been difficult to notice by anyone who hadn’t been paying the closest attention. “Why would anyone want to leave a fake sample?”
“Fame, glory, make the History Channel look like an idiot after the episode is released.” Nick sounded as if he were relishing the option. “Sounds like something I might do. If I had my analysis kit with me, we could find out for sure, but,” he motioned to the bag on his back with a slight groan, “as you said, too much weight.” Nick readjusted his pack and let out a long sigh. “I really thought we might find a sasquatch up here, but looks like it might just be another pretender.”
Shirley felt an all-too-familiar unhappiness rising inside her. “These attacks are very real,” she snapped, immediately regretting the tone. “Sorry.”
If Nick had taken offense, he didn’t show it. “I have no doubt about that, I’ve seen the photos.” Nick stopped to examine Shirley for a second. “Who did you know that was killed?” He crossed his arms.
“Mother, brother, father, sister, lover? Which was it?” Nick watched her expression closely with each suggestion.
At even the mention of it, Shirley felt a tingling begin at the back of her spine. Aw shit. Without warning, it felt like someone had gripped her chest in a vice. Pain lanced up her right arm. With numb fingers, she pulled out the small orange bottle she kept in her pocket and put one of the pills under her tongue. She could feel the forest closing in around her and struggled to stay on her feet. It’s not a heart attack. It’s not a heart attack. It’s not a heart attack. Slowly, she sunk to one knee, trying to keep her breathing in check.
Around her, the sounds of the forest disappeared, replaced with the frantic beating of her heart, and a thousand shouting voices telling her that she was about to die. Ever since the incident, Shirley had been unable to cope with even the mention of it. Her panic attacks had become less frequent, but that was mostly due to her avoidance of the subject. Most people in town knew what had happened, or thought she was a lunatic and never spoke to her.
Nick dropped the all-knowing act immediately and knelt next to her. “Are you alright?” Genuine concern had crept into his voice.
Shirley tried to speak but could only manage a stammer. Eventually she said, “She was very close to me. I don’t talk about it.” That was it. Even saying the words caused the crime scene images to play before her like an old film reel. The trees had been covered in her, and there had just been so much blood. STOP! she thought, loudly, and the memories began to quiet.
“I’m sorry.” The words came out like he had never said them before. “You should have told me this was personal. I just thought you were insane.”
Shirley laughed. “Well, you weren’t wrong.”
Nick helped pull her to her feet, and they rejoined the back of the line once more.
After a while, Shirley felt her heart rate slow, and was back in her daily rhythm. When she had caught her breath, she resumed the conversation. “What else could possibly be doing this?”
“A lot of things when you think about it. Victims have been decapitated, slashed, mauled, you name it. The only consistency is the brutality.” Nick winced, remembering the sensitivity of the situation, but did not apologize.
Shirley didn’t mind. She preferred brutal honesty to people walking on egg shells around her. “And the presence of four claws,” she reminded him. The thought brought a slight grimace to her face.
“Right, and the claw marks. It certainly does fit the bill of a territorial dispute, but without any knowledge from the people that were here first, we have no way of knowing. Sasquatch will stay in one region their entire life, which can be hundreds of years. That’s why there are so few of them left. Even when pioneers came with muskets, torches and colonization, the sasquatch stayed in the same spot, choosing to fight and die rather than leave.” There was a low melancholy respect for the beast in his words.
A light snow began to fall around them.
“Well this is sooner than expected,” said Nick, sticking his tongue out cheerily.
Shirley looked up at the clouds, dismayed. “That’s not good. If the storm is moving that quickly, it’s going to be a big one.”
“Something our pal up front should know about?”
Shirley groaned. “Probably.”
“Well then, let’s pay him a visit.”
Mansen was slick with sweat despite the cold and barking at anybody who bothered to distract him from the monumental task of putting one foot in front of the other. Cameramen buzzed around him like flies, no doubt shooting footage that would later be cut to preserve Mansen’s pristine reputation. Next to him was a young woman with a map, looking far less exhausted, and far more excited.
“How much farther?” he panted at her.
“We should be about halfway to the falls by now.”
The trails were still clear, but on the sides, they began to see piles of snow from the last storm. The farther up they got, the more snowpack there would be, and the harder the hike was going to get. Unfortunately, the trails also got steeper just before the falls.
“Halfway?” Mansen sounded defeated.
“Well, it’s about to get a lot harder if this storm keeps up,” said Nick jovially, jogging to the front of the line.
“Jesus Christ, why are you here?”
“I don’t know how many times I’ve had to tell you, Mansen, I might be better than you, but I am not the son of—”
“Shut it. I don’t have time for your childish games today.”
A cameraman moved up close beside them, wanting to capture the confrontation.
“Well, you see,” started Nick, and then Shirley cut in.
“At the rate this storm is moving, we’re going to be stuck in a full-on blizzard by nightfall.”
“Well it’s a good thing we brought all this gear then,” huffed Mansen.
Shirley scowled. “I don’t think you understand. Most people would turn back—”
Mansen let out a superior laugh, cold and high, echoing off the trees around them. “Clearly you’ve never operated on a schedule Ms. Codwell. I don’t suspect the tabloid enforces them.”
Shirley balled her fist up, ready to strike him. The cameraman zoomed to it.
“No, we are not turning around, we are nearly there. If it’s going to snow, then we’ll find the beast in a whiteout. We’ve done it before, and we’ll do it again. Now, kindly fuck off to somewhere that isn’t next to me.”
Shirley was ready to argue more, but Nick pulled her back. Together they waited for the line to pass and once more began to bring up the rear.
“So, we’ve got what we need to survive the storm?” asked Nick, looking for reassurance.
“Yes, but it won’t be comfortable. Do we have what we need to survive whatever is out there?”
Nick began counting his fingers and mumbling something about holy powder.
He looked up as if completely forgetting the question.
“Can we survive it?”
“Probably!” He exclaimed. “Better odds than I have most of the time anyway.” He rubbed his hands together excitedly. “Oh, this is going to be fun. I love camping.”
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