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2. The News
Jonas returned, limbs frozen, mind awash with images of the hiker bloodied in the snow. He felt a strange mix of pride and darkness at the memory. The guilt and shame he had felt before were no longer present. The hiker had died, but that was just business. Any darkness he felt was washed away by the site of an unmarked brown paper package on his doorstep.
It had become routine, but Jonas was always excited by contact from his employers. He stepped out of his snowshoes, picked up the package, and went inside. The wood in the fireplace had burned down to embers, but the cabin’s warmth was still a stark relief to the cold outside. He took a moment to feel the heat prickle through his leaden hands. The drink he had promised himself called, but there was more work to be done first.
Jonas took off his boots and put the package down by his chair, trying not to drip any blood on the carpet. He then moved to the back of the cabin where there was a large furnace disguised as a hot water heater. The site of it filled him with calm. He stripped off his clothes and placed them into a plastic garbage bag. The furnace was a clean slate, erasing everything but the legend that would be left by his deeds. The fires within were the closest thing he knew to a benevolent god.
Concealed on the right side of the furnace was a small toggle. Jonas flipped it and listened to the sound of the flames igniting below. He removed the cover of the hot water heater and pulled open a hatch, revealing a black chute with a deep orange glow beneath it. He took the plastic garbage bag and savored the sound as it slid down the chute to the chasm below.
For a moment he just stood there, naked, listening to the muted bangs of the expanding steel in the cold winter air. It was all so familiar, and with routine, there was comfort. Slowly, he breathed in and out, trying to hold each lungful as long as possible. The thought of the clothes burning brought fresh invigoration to his limbs and he walked to the kitchen for the drink he had promised himself.
Sitting in the back of a dusty cabinet in his small kitchen was an unmarked bottle of brown liquid. Jonas rinsed out a tumbler that had been sitting next to the sink and filled it. Through the tiny window he could see the storm resuming outside with heavier flakes than before. That’s going to be a bitch to shovel in the morning. He sipped the drink and felt a tentative mental ease flow from it. He walked over to a moth-eaten easy chair set next to the fire and in front of a small television. Getting reception without a paper trail had been tricky, but it had been his one condition for employment.
Jonas turned on the TV. As always, it was tuned to the History Channel, the only reliable source for news on the strange and mythological, at least when it wasn’t running re-runs about pawn shop owners. Jonas followed the cryptozoology programs religiously. They had been his inspiration for years. He took another drink. Sweet fire ran down the back of his throat, and the cabin took on a muted coziness. The gale and storm outside were no longer ominous. He was in a safe place, watching his favorite program, doing the work of legends.
A familiar theme song started up and Jonas turned his attention to the TV. “Tonight, on Mansen’s Mysteries, the thrilling conclusion to our three-part hunt of Mexico’s legendary Chupacabra.” The title screen faded away to reveal a handsome man in a khaki suit, standing in the desert. “It’s been fourteen days in this oppressive heat, and we’ve finally caught up to what might be our greatest adversary yet.”
Mansen was one of Jonas’s heroes. He always seemed so poised and collected. Even in the scorching heat of the Mexican desert, his brow barely beaded with sweat, and his demeanor was relaxed. Jonas could not help but feel jealousy for the Chupacabra. It was a much easier myth to maintain, assuming of course that it was a myth. While most bigfoot sightings in the area could be attributed to Jonas, he had no idea what other myths his employers were funding. Either way, the chupacabra had a simpler legend involving much less bloodshed. Sure, some pets would get eaten, but all the people who had encountered it ended up alive.
Bigfoot had gained some notoriety through the show Squatch Hunters, but it had long-since been cancelled. The production had been just that, a production, adding little substance to the myth, and when the ratings died, people forgot. Their ‘evidence’ was mostly just samples of dog hair and grainy footage that was easily refuted. The thought of it made Jonas drain his glass.
He turned back to the TV and saw Rick Mansen comforting a dazed child. Chupacabras were said to drain their victims of blood, so it checked out. If only I could get coverage like that…
“Thanks to our excellent team, this young man is going to go home safe today.” Rick patted the child’s head, causing him to wobble and nearly fall over. A hand reached from offscreen to steady the child.
Jonas reached to his side and slid the box out in front of him. He took out a knife and sliced through the packing tape. Inside was the usual: New boots, gloves, suit, as well as other provisions for the week. How they knew when he was going to need it, Jonas would never understand, but he was thankful for their speed. As he pulled out the items he found a small note rolled up. It simply read: ‘Keep up the good work.’ Beneath it was a copy of The Local Eye, a tabloid from Clearwater and the only source willing to report on the attacks for what they were.
The headline alone made Jonas’s heart soar. ‘Mysterious Creature Kills Again’. He read on to find the reporter critical of the statement from local authorities claiming they had simply been bear attacks. ‘All signs indicate that there has been no movement in the local bear populations, and no significant events to disturb hibernation patterns. Once again, we must urge hikers to use caution when out late into the day and in the evening.’
The paper went on to speculate about the actual origins of the attacks, citing several out-of-focus images of sasquatch. Jonas couldn’t help but laugh. The images were obvious forgery and had nothing to do with him, but all coverage was good coverage. He read on and felt a light flutter as he came to the final line. ‘We are making an open plea to the monster hunting community (we know you’re out there). Please, come and investigate before we lose more innocent lives.’
The call to action was so exciting that Jonas nearly jumped out of his chair. Below the article was a picture of the hiker he had ran into a week earlier. That was a good death. Over the years, he had researched exactly where to strike during a confrontation. While none of it could be said to be painless, he at least made it quick. While the grislier deaths made for better headlines, Jonas saw no need for extra suffering at an occasion that was already unpleasant.
Jonas read over the article again and spotted the author’s name, Shirley Codwell. She had been a godsend over the years, doing her research and providing actual coverage where others would not. Jonas admired her deeply and hoped one day even to see her in person. Heart swelling with pride, Jonas cut the article out and grabbed a thumb tack from a cup on the coffee table.
Looking up at the walls of his cabin, it was getting difficult to find space. Throughout his tenure on the mountain, there had been quite a few articles, and he had saved every one of them. They were all tacked to the wall behind the television, making the glowing screen feel almost like an altar. In some senses, it was. Finally, he found a spot, stood up and pinned the article up.
“Thank you, Shirley,” murmured Jonas to the empty cabin. He admired the wall for a minute more and then had to stifle a yawn. Reluctantly, he turned off the TV, threw the dirty tumbler in the sink, and doused the lamp. The furnace clicked off on its automatic timer and he made his way to the creaky bed that lie next to it. The intoxicating thought of real monster hunters coming to Clearwater put him at ease. He slept deeply, dreams of legends filling his head.
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