The following is the first chapter of a short story that precedes my first novel Whiteout. It’s a bit darker, but it still has its humor!
A Man of the Mountain
By Ashton Macaulay
The snow had only just begun to fall when Jonas opened the sturdy wooden door of his cabin and walked outside. The warmth on his back lasted only a moment, and was swallowed up by the chill in the air. Aside from the two snow shoes jangling at his side, and the wind through the pines, it was quiet. He looked to the horizon and saw a cluster of dark, grey clouds looming. By nightfall the snow would be feet deep, but it was no matter. The worse the weather, the less chance he had of running into anyone.
His cabin was positioned in a strategic location five miles off the nearest hiking trail, and high enough on the mountain that when people got near they weren’t keen on exploring. Occasionally there were accidents with overzealous youths attempting to imitate the great explorers of old, but he tried not to think of them. Jonas let out a contented sigh and watched as the misty plume of his breath drifted into the air. This, is heaven, he thought.
He took one last look at the warm windows of his cabin, and promised himself to have a good drink by the fire when he returned that evening. The trees rattled together in a strong breeze, and Jonas popped in a pair of earbuds. Music began to play, drowning out the foreboding noises of the forest, with the soothing tones of Rush.
He stepped away from the cabin, and padded softly through the growing snow. Light, white flecks drifted lazy arcs toward the ground. The way through the woods was treacherous, with steep ravines running off the edges of a very narrow trail that Jonas had cleared. For those who weren’t looking for it, the trail was invisible. Jonas picked his way deftly through the narrow path with ease.
As he walked, he thought about the past ten years and what a blessing they had been. Back in the city (a time he didn’t enjoy reminiscing about), even ordering a cup of coffee had been a struggle. Small talk was a minefield, and he often took so long to navigate it, that by the time he was out, the person he was talking to was staring at him as if he were crazy. While Jonas may have been a little abnormal in his distaste for conversation, he was otherwise ordinary. He possessed a slightly above average IQ, moderate good looks, and a height of six feet, slightly on the higher end of the genetic bell-curve. All factors that should have worked to his advantage socially.
Despite living far removed from society, he had still managed to keep himself clean-shaven, and resisted the urge to grow out his hair to mythical proportions. People might have mistaken me for Bigfoot, he thought, and laughed aloud to the frosted trees. It echoed for miles, but was drowned out as a guitar riff by Iron Maiden started up.
Jonas walked for about a mile and stopped to unshoulder his pack. The snow shoes landed with a heavy thud in a drift of fresh powder. He picked one of them up and examined the edges to make sure they were perfect. The shoes had been specially designed so that they would resemble large paw prints, and distributed his weight toward the back of each step. Any cryptozoologist worth their salt would be looking for the telltale signs of fraud, and he didn’t want to slip up with something so minor.
Satisfied that the shoes were in working order, he opened his bag and pulled out a massive pile of matted fur. He slipped into it, and pulled up a thick hood. Two small ears poked out of the sides, and flapped in the growing wind. Jonas strapped the shoes on, and took his earbuds out. In just the short amount of time since he had left, the storm had moved close, and thicker flakes flew past him. He looked up at the darkening sky and could not help but smile. This was his favorite part of the mountain. As a finishing touch, Jonas pulled on two gloves with metal claws coming out of them. He swiped at a tree to his left, and tore through the bark like tissue paper, leaving four long gouges.
He buried his pack shallow in the snow beneath the marked tree, and set off. Even though it was likely that no one would ever see him, Jonas put on a show, lumbering through the forest like a true beast of legend. To him, there was nothing better than running through the woods, slashing trees, and making chilling cries that echoed for miles. If he wanted to get picked up by the History Channel, he would have to be convincing.
As the evening wore on, he made his way toward some of the more popular hiking trails. The sun set, leaving him with only the moonlight for guidance. With the blizzard on the way, and dark upon him, he knew that the trails were likely to be deserted. The parking lots far below closed at dusk, and none of the tourists wanted their cars to get stuck. In short, the mountain was his for the evening.
Jonas rampaged for hours, slashing trees, leaving chunks of fur hanging on branches for hikers to find, and tearing through the snow like a wild animal. His howls filled the night, competing with even the storm growing around him. Snowflakes fell, muted blue in the night air, illuminated only by the little glow of moonlight that occasionally peaked through the clouds.
It was a perfect evening, until a beam of light erupted from the trees, and froze Jonas in place. His pulse quickened in an instant and he could feel his blood running hot beneath the outer chill. Standing not ten feet away was a hiker in a bright orange coat, holding an equally bright orange flashlight. The beam shook slightly as if its owner was shivering from the cold.
“Hello? Who’s there?” the hiker called, voice quavering.
Jonas did not respond, hoping that if he stood still, the hiker would just walk away. Please just walk away. The beam of light filtered through a small clump of trees that he hoped would act as concealment.
“I can see you there.” The hiker moved a few steps closer, trying to get a better look. “Can you please help me? I’ve gotten lost, and my cell is dead.”
Just when the night was going so well. Jonas took a deep breath, and stepped out from behind the trees. In the stark, white light, he probably cut somewhat less of an intimidating figure. The fur had begun to look like a hand-me-down onesie, and would need to be replaced soon.
The hiker stared at him, silent. His pupils widened, and his breathing quickened. Perhaps he had realized that what he was confronting was not another ordinary hiker, or sensed that by being what Jonas would call “nosy”, he had put himself in extreme danger.
You really should have just walked away. I really hate this part, thought Jonas. He let out a primal howl that came out more like a yelp as the cold air caught in the back of his throat. Still needs more work. Jonas stamped the large snow shoes, kicking up white powder.
The hiker turned with astonishing quickness, and began to run into the forest. Without the flashlight, Jonas was left in the dark, watching as the cone of the hiker’s flashlight began to bounce away. He gave him what he felt to be a fair head start, and then took chase. It had taken a while, but he had become quite adept at running in snow shoes. In no time at all, he was right behind the hiker.
Looking away as he did so, Jonas brought one of his hands down in a sweeping arc, catching the hiker across the back. Hot blood streaked the snow, and the hiker screamed. “Oh God, I’m sorry,” said Jonas, fumbling to a stop. He always tried to make it quick, and had missed the man’s head with his first swipe. There was no need to make death any worse than it already was. He took careful aim and plunged his claws through the back of the man’s jacket, ending his life with a gurgle.
Pulling the claws out, Jonas sat back in the snow, watching steam rise into the air. He had to look away for fear of being sick. “That’s why there are signs moron!” he yelled. “Don’t stay in the park after dark. God damnit.” He hung his head toward the snow, trying to remain calm. Stating the rules out loud made him feel justified.
Looking at the hiker in the moonlight, pride began to creep into his mind. The kill, while gruesome, looked genuine. He took off one of his gloves and pulled out a small cell phone. With frozen fingers, he typed “Bigfoot kills again. Third hiker found on the North side of the mountain.” He looked it over once and pressed send.