A few of you might recognize this story. I’ve posted it once before, but I’ve decided to do a full rewrite and round of polish. A Man of the Mountain is one of my favorite short stories I’ve worked on, and I’m excited to be back at it again. While this is a Nick Ventner tale, he’s not the primary focus. This story takes a darker look at legends and the lengths people are willing to go to maintain them. Enjoy!
Very work in progress logo, but that’s why I’m a writer and not a designer.
A Man of the Mountain
The snow had only just begun to fall when Jonas opened the tired wooden door of his cabin and stepped outside. The warmth at his back lasted only a moment, swallowed instantly by the chill mountain air. A pair of massive, fur-covered snowshoes jangled restlessly at his side. He looked out at the path and decided they could wait. The ground was white, but it was hard packed from the previous day’s dusting. The sky had taken on an orange tint as the sun sank low in its arc. It was only half-past three and it was clear the days were still growing shorter.
In the distance, dark clouds were building, but for the moment, the late afternoon was calm. Jonas knew that by nightfall the snow could be feet deep. While most would have been preparing, he heaved a sigh of relief. The worse the weather, the less chance he had of running into hikers on the upper trails. Tourists tended to turn back at the first sign of inclement weather, and those who didn’t regretted it.
The cabin that had been his home for the last five years was positioned five miles off the nearest hiking trail. The terrain leading to it was also largely considered impassable. Occasionally there were some overzealous youths who fancied themselves explorers, but Jonas tried to think about them as little as possible. They never made it very far, and the idea of death just sort of bummed him out.
He took one last look at the warmth of his cabin windows and promised to have a good drink by the fire upon his return. Wind blew through the trees with a hollow whine. Jonas popped in a pair of ear buds and put on a classic rock playlist. The foreboding noises of the forest were drowned out by a riff from Rush. It was a song about warring trees, and he couldn’t help but laugh as he began his walk into the forest.
The way to the main trail was treacherous, with steep ravines running off one side, and narrow rock faces on the other. The path Jonas had created was very thin and had to be traversed carefully. For someone who didn’t know their way, one step could be the difference between life and death. Over the years there had been a few people who fell on such passes, but Jonas was always sure-footed. Spending so much time on the mountain tended to do that.
As he walked, Jonas thought back to how blessed the last five years had felt. Back in the city, a time he didn’t like to think about, even something so simple as ordering a coffee had been a struggle. To Jonas, the navigation of small talk might as well have been like walking across an active minefield. Oftentimes by the time he had thought of something to say, it had been too long, and people were staring. So, for the most part he had lived reclusively, which, in a small town wasn’t exactly accepted.
While Jonas might have been slightly abnormal in his distaste for conversation, he was otherwise ordinary. In fact, he possessed a slightly above-average IQ, moderate good looks, and was tall enough that no one questioned him for long. Overall, he had rolled very lucky genetic dice, and was thankful for that.
Despite his retreat into the mountains, Jonas had still managed to keep himself clean-shaven, resisting the urge to grow his beard out to mythical proportions. People might mistake me for Bigfoot if I ever went into town. This thought made him chuckle. So far, there had been no need to leave his retreat on the mountain, and that was the way he liked it.
By the time he had reached the main hiking trails, the clear skies had turned slate grey. Heavy white flakes were falling intermittently, and he knew that soon it would be a full-on blizzard. He stopped and unshouldered his pack with a sigh. The blizzard would be good for deterring hikers, but it meant he wasn’t going to be leaving any tracks either. I guess they’ll just have to do with a few slashes and samples. Either way, better safe than sorry.
Jonas unclipped the snowshoes and examined them for abnormalities. They had been specially designed to leave authentic footprints and any variation might tip off an eager cryptozoologist to the fallacy. While they were covered in brown fur, the tread had been constructed from an artificial semi-soft plastic meant to resemble organic material. Jonas didn’t know much about what scientists would be looking for, but if someone was willing to pay the money for the shoes, they were likely worth it.
Satisfied that they were in working order, Jonas strapped them on and pulled the rest of his suit from the bag. To the untrained eye, it might have just appeared to be a bundle of matted fur, but to Jonas, it was his second life. With ease, he slipped into the suit, and pulled up a thick hood. It had been reinforced to make his head appear about twice its normal size and was great for keeping out the chill.
The finishing touch to the ensemble were gloves, augmented with razor-sharp metal claws. He swiped experimentally at a tree to his left, leaving four long gouges in the bark. The claws tore through the wood like it was nothing more than tissue paper. The wind picked up, rustling the fur on the suit and Jonas could not help but grin. It was going to be a hell of an evening.
He buried the pack shallow in the snow beneath the tree he had marked and set off. Even though there was likely no one on the mountain, Jonas put on a show. He lumbered through the forest like a true beast of legend. To him, there was nothing better than running through the abandoned woods, marking trees and making chilling cries at the night. He made his way further down the mountain, leaving large tracks as he went. Ordinarily he would have stayed at the higher elevations, but the weather provided a unique opportunity. If they were going to make the History Channel, they’d first have to be noticed.
Once he felt he was close enough, Jonas started the real show. For hours he ran through the growing storm, snapping small trees like twigs, slashing at bark, and occasionally ripping out a chunk of fur to leave on a branch. The samples had been custom-curated by his employer to be unidentifiable and were able to withstand the harsh conditions. The wind whipped, the snow fell in heavy flakes, and Jonas listened gleefully as his cries echoed off the empty forest surrounding him. He felt at home on the mountain more so than anywhere else he had ever been.
The evening was perfect until a beam of light erupted from the trees, freezing Jonas in place. He was behind a small thicket, but the light was unmistakably directly on him. Knowing already what the answer was, Jonas turned his head to look for the source. Not ten feet away was a frost-covered hiker in a bright orange coat visibly shivering.
Fuck, was all Jonas could think.
“Hello? Thank goodness I found you, I got lost and can’t find the main trail.” The hiker’s voice quavered.
How the hell didn’t I see him? What the fuck was I thinking coming down this low?
“Sir, I can see you there. Can you please help me? My cell is dead.” The tremor in his voice was more noticeable. It might have been the cold, or he might have been realizing the mistake he had made.
Should have just walked away. Jonas took a deep breath and stepped out from behind the trees. The white light nearly blinded him, and he lifted a massive fur-covered arm to shield his eyes. At a distance the suit might have seemed intimidating, but in the cold close-up of a flashlight, there was no way the hiker would believe it.
The hiker stared forward, silent, looking shocked and terrified.
Jonas let out what he intended to be a primal yowl, but it died in his throat along the way. All that practice for nothing. He stamped the large snow shoes, kicking up miniature flurries, adding to the storm.
This was enough for the hiker, who turned and started to run. The light of the flashlight was suddenly gone, leaving the forest in full dark once more. Jonas was mostly adjusted to it and watched as the cone of light began to bounce away. Maybe he’ll run off a cliff or freeze to death. It was no good, if the hiker did make it down the mountain, his business was finished. Jonas himself and took chase.
It had taken a while initially, but as the years passed, he had become quite adept at running in the snowshoes. In no time at all, he had caught up to the hiker who was stumbling and tripping his way through the snow. “I’m really sorry about this,” yelled Jonas, and brought one of his clawed hands down in a sweeping arc. It caught the hiker across the back, streaking hot blood across the snow in garish red stripes.
The hiker screamed and fell to his knees, clutching at where he had been struck. A pool of red began to form around him. The claws had cut deep.
“Oh god, I’m sorry.” Jonas always tried to make it quick but had missed his mark. Death was bad enough when the executioner was a professional. He took careful aim at the kneeling man and plunged his claws through the back of his neck, ending his life with a hollow gurgle. Time froze for a moment. It had gotten easier with time, but the end was never pleasant.
Pulling the claws out, Jonas sat back in the snow, panting and watching the steam rise into the air. Dizziness and nausea swept over him. Botched kills were never easy to look at. “That’s why there are signs, moron! Don’t stay in the park after dark!” The sound of his voice echoed back to him. Shouting the rules into the ether made him feel almost justified.
After a few minutes, he managed to stand. The storm had briefly abated, allowing pale moonlight to illuminate the scene. It was grizzly to be sure but looked genuine. Despite the ugly nature of it, Jonas had done his job, and done it well. He took of 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 this year.” He looked it over once and pressed send.