It’s been a while since I posted, but I’ve been recovering from a concussion! Long story short, I hit my head trying to get my cats out of the building during a small fire, but back on track now!
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From behind her battered, coffee-stained desk, Shirley more closely resembled a librarian than a journalist. Stacks of books littered her desk, their titles ranging from “My Encounter with the Wild Man of the Forest” to “Big Head, Big Hands, Bigfoot.” Between these stacks of ‘literature’ were equally tall piles of hand-scrawled notes. It was a stark comparison to the other offices at the Local Eye, most of which were filled with photos of local ‘celebrities’ caught in risqué positions and forged headlines about the second coming.
While her editors had encouraged her to chase more ‘inspiring stories’ like water stains shaped like Elvis at local dive bars, Shirley wasn’t interested. While the first story about ‘The Beast of the Mountain’ had been a gimmick, it quickly developed into more. Not two weeks later, Shirley had covered her office walls with questionable trail reports, statements from half-drunk park rangers, and blurry amateur photographs taken by passing hikers. To complete the full caricature of conspiracy, she had even connected it all with lines of red string.
She peered over the steam of her morning coffee at the most recent headline she had crafted. It was a deep dive into yet another ‘bear attack’ that had left a hiker dead. She felt a wave of anger at the indifference of the local authorities. Sure, the first few attacks could have been accidents, rogue bears were uncommon, but they did happen. It was after the third attack that Shirley had started to grow suspicious.
Her interviews revealed nothing. No one had spotted a bear, or even any evidence of migration on the mountain. Still, after each attack, the statement from local authorities remained the same. In the past five years, nearly ten hikers had died on the mountain. Just thinking about it brought on a wave of anxiety and Shirley pulled a plastic orange bottle from her drawer. The stash was supposed to be for emergencies only, but recently it felt like every day at the Local Eye qualified.
She leaned back in her chair and stared at a stain on the ceiling. Sometimes, on her darker days, she imagined that it was the brains of the copywriter who had come before her. Suicides were more common than resignations at the tabloid, but that was mostly because no one left. As the pill went to work, she thought back to the end of her article, and the call to action she had made. Would anyone actually come to help? There were plenty of people who fancied themselves monster hunters, but who knew if any of them would actually come.
The clang of the old rotary phone in the next room jolted Shirley back to reality, any brief sense of calm shattered. Phone calls were rare and exciting at the Local Eye. Most often they were death threats, but one in ten was a solid lead. Shirley leapt up, determined to be the first one to it. She burst through the door of her office into the hallway, but another employee was already answering.
“George.” She muttered his name like a curse.
George was portly, balding, and picking up the receiver with an excitement he usually reserved for tin foil hats. The phone was nearly to his ear when Shirley snatched it from his hand. Before he could protest, she answered, putting on her best impersonation of journalistic integrity. The miracle weight loss headline framed in the hallway made it difficult. “Local Eye News, this is Shirley.”
“You the one that wrote the article about Bigfoot?” It was a man’s voice, slow and dull.
Even so, questions about her work were rare. “Yes, I am. Do you have a question about the article?”
“They oughta lock you up for spewing that crazy bullshit.” There was a wheezing laugh and the receiver went dead.
Shirley put the receiver back in the cradle, using every ounce of restraint not to smash it into a thousand pieces.
“Glad you took it instead of me.” George smiled, taking a sip from a knockoff X-Files mug that read: ‘Watch the skies…’
The town might have thought Shirley crazy, but at least she wasn’t the one voluntarily covering abductions, sightings and casual alien encounters. Sure, the stories had gotten George tenure and an office chair that actually rolled, but she had her dignity. “You know how it is, George, can’t let them get to you.” Her tone was far calmer than she felt.
Just as she felt she was going to leave the conversation with the moral high ground, the phone rang again. Her blood boiled, making response fast and angry. Shirley snatched up the receiver and shouted: “What?!”
“I’m sorry, I was under the impression you were looking for help, but if you’d rather just scream at us…”
“Wait!” gasped Shirley with a little too much desperation.
George watched the conversation intently.
“There’s no need to shout. We’re on a tight schedule and we need to speak with Shirley Codwell.”
Shirley wiped her brow and tried to find calm. “This is she. How can I help?”
“Ah, miss Codwell, good to meet you.” There was a pause followed by the shuffling of papers. Then, with a deep sigh, the man continued. “Now as I understand it, you’re the one who needs our help.” The man’s voice was full of the special brand of condescension held for tabloid writers. Shirley recognized it well. “As fortune would have it, one of our specials ran short and we’ve got a few weeks of filler time before Rick heads into the Amazon.”
Shirley barely heard the man’s words. It’s really happening. After all the shit articles and side-stories, I’m actually going to make a difference. She thought of the headlines that would come after the famous Rick Mansen killed the beast of the mountain and the town was safe again. She might even be able to show her face in town without getting disgusted looks.
“Miss Codwell?” asked the man on the phone.
“Yes?” Shirley was in a daze.
“Does that timetable work for you?”
She hadn’t heard a word of the timetable. “Absolutely. Thank you so much for fitting us into your busy schedule.”
“Of course. We’ll be in Clearwater with a film crew by Tuesday. You will receive a list of necessary items for the cast and crew. If one item on the list is missing, the crew turns around, got it?”
Shirley had to bite back her sarcastic instinct. “Of course, whatever they need.”
“Splendid, have a nice day.” Before she could clarify anything, the line clicked and was replaced by a dial tone.
Blood was still pumping hot through Shirley’s veins as she set the phone down. Tuesday was almost a week away, but one look at the ‘filing system’ spread across her office floor let her know it would be a series of long nights.
“Who was it?” asked George. He did little to hide his hunger for gossip.
Shirley tried to remain nonchalant. “Just the History Channel. They want to do a special on the beast of the mountain.” With that she turned away and walked back into her office to begin the mammoth task of reorganizing her research into a digestible format. There’s not enough coffee in the world to accomplish this…
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