Since man first walked the earth, people have seen the unexplainable;
Lights in the sky, ghosts from the past, monsters in the mist.
Do they exist or are they just our imagination?
Science has scoffed at these stories...until now.
My name is Dr. Derek Jenner and I dare to believe.
Together with my team I will find what is out there waiting.
The truth cannot hide from me.
I am...the Crypto Hunter.
- Intro to The Crypto Hunter, Tues night 9:00 PM on the Adventure Channel
Gil Harris loved camping. He couldn't remember a time when the prospect of being outdoors didn't cause a tingle of excitement deep within him. Something about being away from the normal hustle and bustle of society really called to him. He couldn’t imagine a better place to be right now, just a man in his mid-thirties experiencing the joy of waking up to the sounds of birds chirping and deer crashing through the underbrush. He took a deep breath. The air smelled clean. It smelled right.
Having spent his youth growing up in Detroit, one wouldn't have expected to find such a love of the outdoors. During the majority of the year, Gil had been a typical city boy enjoying the occasional after-school game of B-ball with his friends, watching TV, and causing the usual mischief of a kid his age. Gil's mother, however, had insisted on a different course of action during the summer. Every year she would sign him up with the Boy's Club of America or the Fresh Air Fund and make sure he spent a good chunk of the summer months where there were trees to climb, grass to run through, and campfires to tell ghost stories around. She had claimed it was to broaden Gil's horizons, show him that there was a world beyond the asphalt and scarred building facades of their neighborhood. However, Gil wasn't stupid. He knew it was mostly to make sure that he didn't fall in with a bad crowd.
While school was in he was kept fairly busy by his studies. His mother would accept no less. However, once school ended idle hands could easily become the devil's playthings. Gil had seen his fair share of friends get themselves into increasingly more serious levels of trouble from year to year. He'd come back at the end of each summer to find that some of his friends were in trouble with the law, some had become addicts, and occasionally one would just be gone...never to be spoken of again.
Some of the other kids from the inner cities were bitter about being sent to camp. They'd complain endlessly of being stuck out in the boonies and do their best to find a way to be kicked out of the program and sent home. Not Gil, though. From the moment he had stepped off a bus and gotten his first taste of nature he had been hooked. No matter how great the preceding winter had been, come June Gil would be itching again for the outdoors. It was a love that had never left him.
It didn't matter to Gil even when there weren't others to share his enthusiasm. By his junior year in college he had saved enough to purchase some decent gear of his own. That way, whenever there was a long weekend that didn't require him to go back home, he was ready. He'd pack up his gear, in the old clunker of a Manza he had bought for $400 from his uncle, and just pick a direction. Any would do as long as no skyscrapers marred the view ahead. The wilderness was like a sort of soul-mate to him. Girlfriends had come and gone, friends had moved away, jobs had changed, but the outdoors were the one constant in Gil’s life. It was, he thought, his rock for lack of a better term.
That thought caused him to chuckle, as it always did, as he walked upstream towards his little camp. He had spent the morning fishing in a little spot that he’d found during some cursory exploring. He had bagged a few keepers but in the end had set them all free. Gil wasn’t much of a cook and his wife, Maria, would have sooner filleted him than gut a bunch of fish.
He frowned ever so slightly as his thoughts went back to his family. He loved them with all his heart, make no mistake about it. His wife was a lawyer for a global energy syndicate. She was the smartest, prettiest, and funniest person he had ever met. Sure that last one typically only appeared after a good number of cocktails but it didn’t matter. For Gil it had been love at first sight. Then, after three years of trying to win her over, it had finally been love at about the thousandth sight for her. They had been married in the suburbs outside of Chicago and had honeymooned in Barbados. Gil had argued in favor of a campout at Yellowstone instead but had been overruled almost immediately.
If Gil had one regret about marrying Maria, and even he had to admit it was minor, it was that she did not share his love of the outdoors. During the course of their nine years of wedded bliss he had made absolutely no progress with regards to changing her mind. Her idea of roughing it was a weekend of being pampered at a spa. The squirrels and chipmunks around their suburban home were the extent of the wildlife she would tolerate. To her the woods were an insufferable hell of biting bugs, poisonous snakes, and all sorts of things that wouldn’t bat an eye at eating her alive.
So too, sadly, had it been with Carl. The birth of their lone child had been nearly mind-blowing for Gil. Not only was he now a father but his child was a boy...a boy to carry on in his father’s footsteps and share in his interests. That last part, sadly, had not come to pass. Carl was a great kid in almost all aspects. He got good grades, was popular, and was even polite...a rare things in kids these days. He was everything that any parent could hope for. However, he also shared his mother’s disdain towards Gil’s passion. Sure Gil could convince his son to come on the occasional weekend layover but the boy usually grew bored within an hour of setting up camp. To him Mother Nature had nothing to offer that could compete against his PSP.
Thus Gil was forced to compromise, usually in their favor. He’d get a weekend here or there and he’d always reserve at least three days out of his yearly vacation towards a getaway. However, these were typically lone outings. Family trips were almost always decided in Maria’s favor, especially since she was smart enough to usually plan them close to either a theme park or fairground. In doing so she knew that Carl was always sure to side with her. Gil had to admit it was hard to plan a good camping trip within walking distance of a killer roller coaster. Sure lots of those places had dedicated camp grounds. However, they were often so congested and filthy that he would have preferred a week sleeping in his mother-in-law’s backyard.
Gil was suddenly brought out of his reverie by the loud snap of a stick he had stepped on. It was silly but it seemed to have nearly the same report as a gun going off. No wonder, Gil realized a few moments later. All had gone quiet around him. Gone were the chirps and chatter of creatures scurrying through the underbrush. Gil stopped walking and looked around. He was suddenly glad he hadn’t kept any of the fish he had caught. Silence like this usually meant that a predator was near.
Gil was no fool. Loving the woods had meant learning about them too. He’d heard similar silences before. Still, he wasn’t particularly worried. A black bear would typically give a person a wide berth. As long as cubs weren’t involved, they were often happy to leave people alone. An angry cougar could be a potential problem. However, they were typically ambush predators and the stream upon which he walked had a nice wide bank. He was probably too far away from the brush and to close to the water to make a good target.
He decided to give it a few minutes. If thing didn’t go back to normal by then, he’d begin hooting and hollering. Most animals in these woods would think twice before charging a full grown man making a boatload of freaky noise. Worst case scenario; he had bear spray in his jacket pocket. An eyeful of that would send even the ballsiest blackie running for the hills.
A low grunt from across the streambed caught his attention. Gil turned and began scanning the area for signs of movement. The noise hadn’t been a familiar one but Gil wasn’t fool enough to think he had heard every sound in Mother Nature’s arsenal. The grunt came again, this time a few yards to the left of where it had originated. A wild boar perhaps? Gil didn’t think they were indigenous to these woods but that didn’t necessarily rule it out. More likely a feral pig. Either way, that could potentially be a worry. Pigs could be nasty fuckers when they wanted to be. Gil didn’t relish the thought of having to climb a tree all because he had stumbled across a nasty side of bacon with an attitude problem.
Whatever it was, it was moving. It was apparently aware that Gil had heard it because a few seconds later it ended all pretense of sneaking about quietly. Gil heard a series of leaves crunch underfoot and then the distinct noise of branches being snapped as something moved past them. Considering the sounds, something large was out there and it was no pig.
That probably meant a bear. In that case, best to end this game now and scare it off before it got bold. Gil bent down, taking care to keep his eyes on the area the noises were coming from. He picked up two flat rocks from the stream and stood up. At once he started banging them together. The loud noise reverberated off the trees. It would have been enough to rattle the resolve of most bruins he had come across in his adventures.
He stopped what he was doing and listened. There was silence for about two seconds and then a sound carried back to him. It was the same sound he had just made. Was it an echo? Suddenly it happened again. Impossible, thought Gil. Bears didn’t bang rocks together. It would have been quite the task given their lack of opposable thumbs.
Almost immediately all the tension went out of Gil. “Carl! That better not be you!” he yelled towards the bushes.
This year, for the first time ever, Gil had won the argument over the family vacation. He had offered his wife a compromise of two days in San Francisco in return for driving East through the Rockies and taking a week long camping trip deep in the backwoods of Colorado. Neither Maria nor Carl had been happy about it but even they had to admit that fair was fair. Both had promised to keep an open mind and to try to enjoy things. Gil, in return, had assured them that if the campout was a disaster then next year they could have their beaches and their amusement parks with nary a peep from him.
Unfortunately, three days in and it was looking like Gil might be forced to live up to his word. No matter what sights he showed them, his family had been unceasingly miserable. Truth be told, Gil was glad they had slept in today. His little fishing excursion was the first real enjoyment that Gil had so far gotten this trip.
However, if his son was now playing tricks, that gave Gil some hope. It meant the child had finally given up on grousing in front of his Game Boy and had decided to live a little. Sure, he’d read Carl the riot act when he saw him. The woods really weren’t a place to screw around in if you didn’t know what you were doing. Still, he was within spitting distance of their camp so the risks were low. He’d go easy on Carl so as to not spoil what little progress had been made.
“Last chance, Carl. Come on out!” Still no response. Either the child was being obnoxious, a not unheard of thing, or it wasn’t him. They were pretty far out but this was still a known camping area. It was very possible he had stumbled across another hiker who was now having a little fun at his expense.
He was thinking these thoughts when he noticed the normal sounds of the forest had finally returned. Whoever had been lurking there, having what they no doubt thought was a good joke, had moved away from the area. Gil sighed. Assholes; even in the big woods you couldn’t always escape them. Oh well, Gil wasn’t too upset. He had played his fair share of pranks on fellow outdoorsmen in the not so distant past of his youth. No harm done, he thought as he continued on his way.
Gil rounded a bend and he could see the site about a hundred yards away. Odd, he suddenly thought, where were the tents? He should’ve been able to see them this far out, especially the gaudy orange one he shared with his wife. It stuck out like a sore thumb in all but the deepest of woods. In the clearing where they had made camp, it was practically a beacon.
Oh shit! He was afraid this would happen. Bored and miserable, they had gone and packed everything back up in the SUV. He wouldn’t have put it past them. They were probably thinking that if they put up a united front he’d have to cave in and drive them back to civilization. Well they had another thing coming. As far as Gil Harris was concerned a deal was a deal. He had no tolerance for welchers, especially in his own family.
As Gil got closer he noticed that things weren’t as he had first assumed. The site wasn’t stripped clean after all. Maybe he had caught them in the act. No, there was no movement. If they had been scurrying like ants to pack things up, he’d have seen them by now.
It wasn’t until Gil reached the edge of the camp that a sinking feeling began to enter his gut. The bright orange tent was still there. It had just been pounded into the dirt, flattened actually, and was plainly missing a few large chunks. However, there was still enough color left for it to be unmistakable. A moment passed while this sank in and then Gil dropped his fishing gear and sprinted full speed into the camp.
“MARIA! CARL!” he began shouting as circled the center of the campsite. Here it became evident exactly how bad things were. The tents were destroyed and the sleeping bags torn apart. Debris was spread across the entire area. It looked like a tornado had hit. Hell, it looked like someone had dropped a bomb on the place.
Gil had never seen anything like it. He’d seen hungry bears attack campsites before. They’d make a hell of a mess but nothing like this. The thought of bears brought another uncomfortable feeling to the pit of his stomach. Not wanting to, he forced himself to look more closely at the surrounding area. It didn’t take him long. Gil was no tracker but the rust colored stains on the grass surrounding the area told him a grim story.
Gil refused to believe it. It had to be something else. The SUV! He was sure of it. He’d go there and find them waiting for him. Then they’d all have a good laugh and drive off together. He held onto that thought like a drowning man. It was the only thing that was keeping him on his feet. He continued shouting for his wife and son as he raced to where the SUV had been parked, about fifty yards hence at the edge of the trail they followed to this spot.
Gil ran through a copse of trees and tripped over something hard sticking out of the dirt. He pulled himself to his knees and saw it was the passenger side door of their Dodge Durango. Gil suddenly felt like he had stepped out of reality and into one of the horror movies that he and Carl would occasionally stay up late to watch. In the eerie silence of the forest it was almost unreal.
The silence! Gil hadn’t noticed it while he had been shouting Maria and Carl’s names, but now he did. The sounds of the woods had once again retreated into nothingness. For a few seconds all he could hear was the beating of his own heart. Then he heard another of those grunts from earlier.
Gil turned towards the sound. Less than twenty yards away, just outside of the tree line, stood a nightmare. It was nearly nine feet tall and at least twice as broad as Gil, all of it muscle...hairy muscle. It stared at Gil with red rimmed eyes. The eyes bespoke of intelligence tinged with madness. Brown fur covered the creature from head to toe with the exception of around its mouth. There the fur was stained that same rust color as the grass in the campsite. The creature opened its mouth wide and let loose a roar that sounded as if it had escaped from the gates of Hell itself. Gil’s bladder emptied as the beast charged him.
The next two minutes were both the longest and last of his life. Much of what came out of his throat, while he could still make noise, was little more than inarticulate screams. However, there was one thing that would have been obvious to any onlooker bold enough to have stayed and bared witness. During those few minutes, Gil Harris loved camping a whole lot less than he usually did.
By Rick Gualtieri
My heart is pounding! I LOVE camping, but I have to agree, at the end, I wouldn't have liked it quite as much.
Amazing prologue! Gil's character really pulled me in. He reminded me so much of my brother ;) Awesome job!
Great! Now I feel guilty for pummeling your brother with a giant gorilla. ;)
Post a Comment