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4. The Falls
The sound of gnashing metal blades filled Jonas’s cabin as he ground his afternoon cup of coffee. It had been a long, but uneventful week. Each night, the snows had been heavier than the last, leaving him to shovel the roof every morning to ensure it didn’t collapse. It was hard work, but the weather had kept hikers away, leaving Jonas completely alone on the mountain just the way he liked it.
Though his excursions were difficult in the more extreme weather, the solitude had allowed him to travel farther down the mountain. On the nights he was able to get out, he had gone down the more frequented hiking trails, leaving samples and marks anywhere he could. Most of it would likely be blown away by the storms, but even for the slightest chance, the effort was worth it.
He also knew that the heavy snows wouldn’t last much longer. Winter was in its final push before spring, and not long after that would be summer. As the days grew longer, hikers grew more adventurous, meaning he would have to be extra careful. There were always more ‘accidents’ during the summer. He shook off the thought and poured the coffee into a plain brown mug that read Protect Our National Parks.
Outside, the shadows were beginning to grow long. The mountain was currently in between two stormfronts, leaving clear skies for the rest of the day and into the evening. With the weather breaking, even briefly, Jonas knew he would have to head out soon. His body ached from the shoveling, but there was no getting around it, he had to use the opportunities he was afforded.
Before setting out, he flicked on the TV hoping for some good news. It had been a week since Shirley’s initial report, but so far nothing had come of it. It was a fool’s dream anyway. It didn’t take long for Jonas to realize there was nothing of merit on, just some show about trucks in the frigid north. He quickly turned it off, finished his coffee and prepared to go out.
A nagging feeling hung at the back of his brain as was often the case in the late afternoon. He put in his headphones trying to deafen it. The feeling persisted through some of the loudest music he had and grew into a sinking disappointment. He had tried not to get his hopes up, but the article in the Local Eye had so much potential. Rick Mansen still hadn’t announced where he was going next, but Jonas now believed it was anywhere but Clearwater. The thought of it made him want to stay in the cabin and drown his sorrows, but the weather was clear, and he had a job to do.
As he passed the kitchen to deposit his coffee mug, he spied the cabinet that concealed his drink. Reluctantly he passed it, knowing that the mountain was dangerous enough without it. As he gathered his things, a far more sorrowful and dark feeling gathered at the edge of his mind. This one was familiar and easy to identify. It had persisted throughout the years, and as soon as he felt it, Jonas knew there was only one solution.
He put on his snowshoes and opened the cabin door into the blinding afternoon light. White mounds of snow came up to his hips on either side. Ahead, he could barely make out the trail. Above, the sky had just begun to tint with orange as the sun made its way toward the horizon. If I hurry, I can make it before sunset. With renewed resolve, Jonas set out towards one of his favorite places on the mountain.
Clearwater Mountain was covered on its peak by a large glacier that during the summer would melt, giving way to a series of massive waterfalls just below the summit. While spectacular, their winter form was far more impressive. As the mountain grew cold, the falls would freeze, turning sparkling blue, sending jagged spikes of ice tumbling down to a great snowy field below.
The spot held a special significance for Jonas, and on days when he thought he might give up, he went there. To get to the top of the falls was no easy feat for everyday hikers, but with even a little climbing experience, it was not a problem. To the right side of the base was a rock chute, narrow, and easily scalable with the right equipment and skill.
At the edge of the main trails, Jonas donned his gear. Climbing would be more difficult in the suit, but he couldn’t risk being seen, however unlikely. From the main trail, it took him an hour to reach the field below the falls. He looked up at the deepening red in the sky and hurried across the field toward the base. As he went, he grunted and practiced his howl. It echoed off the falls and reverberated a hundred times back across the field.
Still a little shrill but getting better. He reached the bottom of the chute and looked up. A series of handholds were still in place from the last climbing season and looked stable. There was a stash of rope in a crevice nearby, but Jonas had always preferred to go without it. Taking away the lifeline made him careful and reminded him just how close the other side could be. Hand-over-hand, he began to climb. He had made the ascent dozens of times, and before long was clambering over the top onto the hard-packed ice. His arms burned a little, but he was otherwise unscathed, and just in time to see the sunset.
Further down the mountain there was a viewing platform with coin operated binoculars for those who didn’t want to make the climb. Jonas had purposefully scuffed all the lenses long ago to ensure no one would ever get a clear look at him. There had been a few grainy photographs taken by amateurs, but no one wanted to believe, making them easily dismissed.
Silhouetted atop the falls, Jonas stepped to the edge and let out his mightiest roar, beating his chest with his hands as he did so. It would have been an intimidating image, but as he suspected, the viewing platform was empty. On the horizon, churning clouds signaled the beginning of yet another storm. The sun cast them in sharp relief, painting the image of what was to come. The world descended into a hazy twilight as the last light went out of the day.
A bitter wind blew across the top of the falls, sending tiny motes of crystalline ice skittering across. Even through the suit, Jonas could feel the chill. He walked to the edge of the falls and sat down. Thousands upon thousands of frosted white pine trees stared back at him, keeping sentinel on the slopes below. He thought of the hiker from the week before and his stomach did a slight turn. It seemed he had come to the falls for more than one reason. The view was beautiful, but also held history for him.
He stood and walked away from the ledge but did not immediately return to the chute to climb down. Instead, he followed the curvature of the ice towards the steep ascent to the summit beyond. He didn’t need to go far. Still standing, same as the day he had placed them were three large stones, heaped into a pile. To the passerby, the site wouldn’t appear intentional, but Jonas could always find it.
During his first year on the mountain, he had never strayed close enough to hikers for ‘accidents’ to happen, but eventually, overconfidence had got the best of him. The famous Clearwater falls were pictured on promotional material at every rest stop for miles, and he had wanted to get a look for himself. It was late into the summer, and most of the crowds had left the mountain, but one climber had decided to make a final summit bid before fall.
Jonas had only just reached the top of the chute when he came across her. The sight must have been comical at first; a man clearly masquerading as a furry mess climbing out of a crag. What little humor there was passed quickly. The joy of climbing the falls turned to ash and settled in his throat. The climber had seen him, and there was no room for negotiation on what had to happen next. His employers had made sure of that. For the first time, he felt the weight of the blades concealed in his gloves.
In that moment, Jonas learned what it was like to become a killer. There was no choice in the matter, only bitter certainty. He wanted to turn around, to run, but knew it would be no use. Leaving a loose end behind would make him a liability. Not only would it end his tenure on the mountain, but he suspected much worse. Suddenly, it became his life or that of the climber, and the solution was simple.
She hesitated, frozen in the twilight. For a minute, neither of them moved, and then, throwing caution to the wind, she ran directly at him. The only route down was through the chute, and Jonas was standing right at the top of it. He panicked and swung hard right as she passed him. There was a horrifying tugging sensation as the claws found their mark, and then just as quickly, they were free.
Three red streaks splattered the grey rock. The hiker continued to run, stumbling and grabbing at her chest. Jonas reached out to stop her, but she went right over the edge of the falls, plummeting to the field below. For a moment, he could do nothing but stand there, watching gravity do its work. Seconds passed like hours, and eventually he heard a sound he would never forget as she struck the rocks below.
I need to move, was all he could think. Most of the tourists were gone, but if anyone had been on the viewing platform, the climber’s dive would have been hard to miss. He climbed down the chute, nearly falling as he struggled to grip with numb hands. All he could think of was the look of surprise on her face before she had turned to flee. He continued to move, knowing that every second he wasted could mean his freedom or his life. There was nothing that could fix what was done, and it was time to live by his actions.
Jonas had stayed in the cabin for days, waiting for the banging of local authorities on his cabin door, questioning everything, but time passed, and no one came. Eventually he received a small package with a note and a rolled-up newspaper. While it could not lift his spirits completely, the tabloid headline featuring ‘Bigfoot Strikes on Clearwater Mountain’ roused something inside him. In that moment, he knew that while it was painful, he was alive, maybe even more alive than he had ever been.
The night after receiving the headline, Jonas had gone back to the top of the chute and erected his memorial. Ever since the accident, most people had avoided the summit, and when they went, someone would run stories about the other deaths, and he could avoid it.
Looking down at the stones now, he could not believe how much had changed. Years had passed, more had died, but the legend had grown. “Fuck it,” he said to the wind. Even if monster hunters didn’t come this time, they might the next. He was not going to give up on the only thing that gave him purpose so easily. Bending down, he let his gloved hand run over the stones, feeling their weight, and then turned around.
As he descended, he left several samples of fur, wedging them in the crags as he went. Most of the time climbers were too busy to notice them, but it never hurt to try. When he reached the bottom, it was nearly full dark, and a pale moon had risen into the sky, causing the frosted layer on the field below to twinkle like an ocean of stars. Jonas looked over it, admiring the beauty, and then his heart skipped a beat. At the edge of the clearing was a blinking red dot.
Jonas’s reaction was immediate. You imbeciles and your fucking cameras. He hoped that whoever it was, was smart enough to run. If they didn’t have close-up footage, they might live to tell the tale. He roared ferociously and charged. His heart raced in his chest as he ran. The light was not moving. Huge plumes of snow kicked up in the field behind him. Fucker isn’t even recording from a good angle.
As he got closer, he noticed something odd. There was no hiker. A wave of relief, followed by a greater wave of excitement hit him. The blinking light was attached to a tree. He approached and saw a small yellow pyramid with a microphone mounted in the middle. Jonas pried it from the bark with ease and couldn’t help but grin like an idiot when he saw the label.
Painted in bold black letters was: Property of the History Channel, do not remove.
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