Into the Hollow
I felt quite secure about that and decided not to tell Dex. I hoped nothing bad would happen to our equipment but I wanted to prove to him that I was more than just a pretty face. I wanted to show that I could handle both sides of the operation.
I could tell he was a bit wary of me being the camera person, too. He kept sneaking glances at me as I filmed the tall, towering trees with their powdered sugar toppings, ready to give advice on the simplest things. Then it occurred to me that he actually was nervous. The way his eyes were darting about. The way he popped gum in his mouth, chewing fast. The way he scratched at his sideburns and chewed on his lip. These were all classic neurotic Dex maneuvers. I’d seen them from day one.
Then again, he had a lot to be neurotic about. The whole incident in the night, his mother. It would drift into my head from time to time and jar me with fright. I could only imagine it did the same to him but he was so damn good at hiding things. Of course, it didn’t help that it was all probably because I fucked with his meds to begin with. Though I liked to pretend it wasn’t that big of a deal at the time, I knew it was wrong. I knew it was very wrong. I had just spent months blaming Dex for everything, I didn’t feel the need to focus on anything I did. I was amazed and a little ashamed that he seemed to forgive me so easily after I broke his trust like that. I wished I had that ability.
We were extremely happy to finally reach the cabin and my boobs were grateful to not bounce over anymore massive bumps and potholes. Later Rigby would tell us it was a logging road, used to hell during the summer, then navigated only by snowmobiles in the winter. It was a long way to town from where we were and we weren’t even in the backcountry yet, where we’d be shooting. I remembered what I had told Ada about The Shining and hoped I hadn’t jinxed myself.
“Welcome to my humble abode,” Rigby said, walking toward us as we got out of the car, his arms outstretched and boots crunching on the snow.
It really was humble. His cabin was two stories with small windows. There was some frost on the sloping, shingled roof and a few patches of melting snow, giving it a quaint ski-chalet look. Beside it were several woodsheds, all of them half-full with stacks of wood. The landscaping was rough and consisted of dark rocky ground poking through a thin layer of hard snow, with a small gravel path leading from the cabin to the woodsheds and toward a small barn. I could see the shape of a horse in its stall, waiting in the darkness. Beyond that was a tiny hut labeled “office” and next to that a large paddock that disappeared down the hill, holding a few curious llamas.
Rigby caught my gaze. “Those are the llamas,” he said. “They are the star attractions here. Llama trekking is the biggest trend in eco-adventures. We started out with twenty of them, but now we just have eight. Times are tough. Good news for you both is that you get to take two llamas with you on your expedition.”
“Um,” I said. “What?”
I looked at Dex for an explanation. He raised his shoulders though I swore I saw a knowing smile teasing on his lips.
“Of course you’ll have the llamas to assist you,” Rigby boomed as if I was a total idiot. “You can’t go camping without the llamas. They carry everything for you and don’t damage the environment.”
I was hit with the sudden realization that I had no idea what this Sasquatch shoot entailed. “I thought we were staying in a cabin in the woods somewhere?”
He nodded vigorously. “You are, you are. But just because Christina says she was attacked by the cabin, it doesn’t mean that’s where you’ll find the beast. You’re going to have to go exploring. But it’s OK, I’ve drawn on a detailed map for you all the areas where I’ve spotted it.”
“About that,” Dex spoke up, fingers under his chin. “We’d like to interview you on camera and get some inside information on exactly what you’ve seen.”
He waved at us haphazardly. “Sure, sure, there’s plenty of time for that later. For now, I want to see what you guys have packed. We’re going to need to outfit it all for these guys. You get one llama each, you know, but we don’t like to load them with more than 50 pounds during the winter when they aren’t as in shape and the terrain is rough.”
My mind was going back to camping. I hadn’t agreed to that. It was still winter. In Canada. In the mountains. How would camping here, now, work? We’d freeze our asses off.
Rigby answered my next question. “Here, let’s go inside for some tea. Christina will put it on. Bring your stuff and we’ll go through it, taking only what you need for the next few days. I’ll be lending you some winter-ready camping equipment and it can weigh quite a bit.”
We followed him down the path toward the cabin. As we went up the short steps, Dex leaned over and murmured, “Feel like sharing a sleeping bag again?”
I looked him dead-on. “Yes, actually I will be sharing a damn sleeping bag with you. I’ll use your body as a blanket if I have to.”
He pursed his lips, looking impressed.
Inside, Christina was doing the brunt of the work. She ran around getting the tea ready and putting out store-bought shortbread cookies and was in and out with various packs, sleeping bags and tents from a storage closet. She didn’t complain once about the work but I could see the sheen of resentment on her forehead.
I decided to only take the jeans I was wearing, warm tights, pajamas, a few layer tops, two hoodies, my coat and a waterproof jacket. A bunch of thick socks, gloves, scarves and a knit hunting cap topped it off. I contemplated bringing my Kindle but knew there wouldn’t be a place to charge it, and when I thought about it, whenever Dex and I were together, no matter what we were doing, there was rarely any downtime between us. If we weren’t being harassed and terrorized, we were pretty good at entertaining each other.
And a warming part of me thought we could entertain each other a lot better now.
Anyway, aside from me feeling uneasy about camping in the cold, I was also unsure of our traveling companions: The llamas. I loved pretty much all animals but I had a bad experience with a camel when I was younger and llamas seemed to be nothing more than shorter, ornery cousins with a greater capacity for spitting.
Thankfully for Dex and I, we weren’t heading out alone, at least not to the hunting cabin. Rigby and Christina were going to come with us on horseback, accompanied by another guide, Mitch, whom Christina had declared a weirdo earlier on.
While we waited for Mitch to show up, we got the llamas packed up. They were much bigger than I had thought and actually a lot cuter too. My llama was the size of a hefty pony and had brown and white patches. His name was Tonto and he seemed to be a real sweetie, with a mouth that was held in a permanent smile and eyes that were framed by heavy lashes.
Dex, on the other hand, got a real bastard of a llama.
His name was Apricot, even though he was purely white in color, and within minutes Dex has christened him “Twatwaffle.” Seemed appropriate for an animal that was constantly trying to spit on him and butt heads.
“Tell me, why did I get the Twatwaffle here?” Dex asked as we pulled our llamas out of the pen and onto the logging road, his being stubborn and yanking the lead back.
Rigby looked hurt at the name-calling. “Apricot is a good guy. He’s been raised by hand since birth so he just thinks humans are llamas. Take it as a compliment.”
Dex and Twatwaffle gave each other the eye.
“Here Rigby,” Christina said, giving her father the reins to a brown horse named Bandy. She quickly mounted her giant coal-colored horse, Taffy, a draft horse mix judging by the faint feathering by its hocks. I felt really small and a bit silly standing by the horses with a curious llama at my side, loaded up with packs like a mule.
The sound of crunching tires and a roaring engine filled the trees around us and Rigby announced, “Ah, and here is Mitch. Late as always.”
A rugged-looking jeep with hefty wheels came climbing around the corner and came to an abrupt stop beside the Highlander. I watched the scene curiously, wondering about the “weirdo” and I soon saw why Christina called him that.
Mitch was a 6’2” behemoth of a man, and because he was dressed head to toe in camo gear, he had this look of just escaping from a military compound. It didn’t help that he was wild-eyed, with an ugly scar down the side of his face and that his head was shaved down to a sharp crew cut with an extreme widow’s peak. The more I looked at him as he came closer and his eyes fixed on my body like a falcon, the more I thought he wasn’t a “weirdo” and just a “scary ass motherfucker.”
“Where’s mine?” he commanded to Christina, not paying the rest of us any attention.
“She’s tied up,” she said, nodding to the gate where the third llama was waiting, packed and ready. Christina’s voice grew noticeably smaller when she talked to Mitch and I couldn’t blame her. I felt myself shrinking as he hulked past, his startling blue eyes flitting to mine now and again. He gave me a ghost of a smile. I didn’t know whether to take that as a friendly thing or to be creeped out.
Even Dex was watching him curiously, brow furrowed in thought.
“At least I didn’t get Jackass over there,” Mitch said, nodding at Twatwaffle and Dex while untying his llama and leading it over to us.
“Jackass is a good name too,” Dex conceded.
Rigby cleared his throat. “Perry and Dex, this is Mitch. He leads the hunting tours out here. He’ll be accompanying you on your expeditions.”
My eyes widened and flew to Dex. His expression was blank but I knew this was also news to him to.
Rigby caught our exchange. “Obviously I’m not going to let you take my precious llamas out into the wilderness by yourselves. You’ll need someone who knows the land. Mitch knows these mountains like the back of his hand.”
“Damn right,” Mitch agreed, giving us both a stony glance. “You’re in good hands with me. Either of you know how to shoot?”
I swallowed hard, feeling Dex’s eyes on me. “I do. But just a handgun.”
“Just a handgun?” Mitch repeated. “I’ll teach you more than that. It’s a great time to bag some bears. The more hunters, the merrier.”
“We’re really only interested in bagging Sasquatch,” Dex spoke up.
Mitch laughed. I never thought a laugh could be frightening. “Oh right. Fucking Bigfoot.”
“He’s a skeptic,” Rigby explained. “Now come on, we oughta head out before it gets too dark. That’s when the beasts show up and we don’t want to be unprepared.”
Rigby led the way with Mitch behind him, snorting his disbelief. I let out a deep breath, feeling strangely on edge about the next couple of days, and followed behind them. Dex struggled with Twatwaffle/Jackass/Apricot behind me while Christina brought up the rear, taking it extra slow with her horse so she wasn’t riding up the llama’s asses.
The walk to the cabin was long but peaceful. We started out along the road for a bit, heading down the mountain and then cutting across a high ridge. The path was fairly wide but the sharp drop to the one side made my insides curdle. The view was gorgeous, a fairy-tale image of splintered peaks and waves of undulating trees but my stomach wouldn’t let me enjoy it. Tonto was a big help though and when I was walking too slow, she’d take the outer side of me, shielding me from the drop.