Into the Hollow
I had just emerged and was washing my hands in a clump of snow when I heard the men emerge from around the cabin.
“Perry, you’re awake,” Rigby said as he and Dex came into view, Mitch behind them. Naturally he was holding a shotgun in his demented arms. “Thought we might not see you today.”
I avoided Dex’s eyes, knowing they were swimming with delight, and put on my best face. “I feel great. How about we get started?”
“You don’t want breakfast?” Dex asked.
I kept smiling. Me hungover? Me positively mortified at my behavior last night? Get out of town. “I’m good.”
Rigby nodded. “Then let’s take a little walk, what do you think? I’d like to leave you with some idea of what to look for.”
Dex folded his arms and looked at him sternly. “And fill us in on the rest of your story.”
“Stories,” Rigby corrected. “All true.”
I didn’t need to know that Dex was imploring me with his eyes to get the camera, so I quickly jumped back inside the cabin and got the equipment ready. Christina watched on with amusement as I clearly didn’t know what I was doing, my hands cold and fumbling. She told me she wasn’t coming with us though, and was going to stay behind at the cabin. It struck me as a little dangerous considering what had happened to her, but I guess going off with us as Rigby filled the lens with more horror stories wasn’t the best either.
When I came back to the men, Mitch looked pumped and impatient, like he was jacked up on coke and ready to kill something. Even though that kind of attitude was probably preferable when you’re seeking out a mythical beast like Sasquatch, it didn’t make me feel any better.
We set out walking down a shale-strewn slope but my boots started sliding on the fresh snow. Before I fell to the jagged ground, Dex was at my side, grasping my arm and keeping me steady. I shot him a look of gratitude and was surprised to see a grave, strangely solemn, glint in his eyes. He kept his hand around my elbow, even though I was watching the terrain more carefully now. Still, I didn’t feel like shrugging him off.
After we navigated the hill, we leveled out and came toward a rather ominous sight: A forest of soaring fir trees, their tops hunched over like they were huddling from the cold. In between the trees was a dark hollow, a path that led into the belly of the beast. It seemed like a rough and fathomless passage and a chilling breeze swept out from it, tossing back my hair and stinging my eyes.
“Are we going in there?” I asked quietly, knowing we were and not caring that it was a stupid question.
Rigby marched on, following behind Mitch, and raised his hand in the air dismissively.
“It was in the hollow that I first saw the footprint,” he said.
I exchanged a look with Dex whose grip was tightening on my elbow.
“You scared?” I teased him in a whisper.
He rolled his eyes and let go of my arm, brushing past me to catch up with the others. I went after him, adjusting the camera in my hand, not too happy about being the last one.
Now that we were at a lower elevation than the cabin, the amount of snow was reduced to a thin trace and inside the hollow of trees the ground was frozen but bare. It crunched loudly under my feet and echoed despite the faint whistling from the wind that seemed to be born from blackness. With the overhanging trees blocking out all light from the sky, it felt like we were entering the dark Mines of Moria and looking ahead at the three men I was with, I knew none of them would make a good Gandalf substitute.
We walked cautiously through the forest for what seemed like forever, though was probably only a few minutes, until Rigby brought us to a stop. I looked around and saw nothing but the black shapes of trees – no way out and no way in. The light here was a dusky grey and I could barely make out the color of my red scarf.
Rigby kneeled down and swiped his gloved hands along the ground at the edge of the rugged trail.
“Here is where I took the cast of the footprint,” he said and took his hands away. I squinted hard at the shape on the ground. It was just a few indents in hardened earth, marked by what looked to be remnants of dried plaster.
I felt a hard jab in my side and looked up to see Dex wielding his elbow like a weapon, motioning to my camera.
“All right, all right,” I muttered and quickly turned it on. I fiddled with the settings to try and make the most of the low light until Dex’s hand took over the buttons and in a few seconds, my screen glowed brighter.
I mumbled a defensive “thank you” and he stepped out to join Rigby at his side.
With the camera now recording their grainy images, Rigby told Dex the rest of his encounters with the Beast. After the incident outside the cabin, he had scoured the area looking for something that would explain what he saw. He too thought perhaps a black bear had been nosing around, but it didn’t explain the tracks he saw, nor the shape and length of the claws. They were like fingers, he insisted, nothing that would ever be found on a bear.
It wasn’t till the next spring, when he took out an American couple on a hunting trip, that something strange began happening. The couple had reported a feeling of being watched and hearing something walking behind them. When they had turned around, however, they never saw anything. Rigby said he stayed up late, waiting to see if he’d witness something similar. He never did until the last night, when he heard a low, gurgled breathing, like something was looking down his neck. He turned and saw nothing but a pair of red eyes in the distance. He grabbed his gun and followed it but didn’t want to leave the camp out of his sight. It was then that he decided llamas would be a good animal to bring along on the trips – they made excellent watchdogs.
The next day they went back to the cabin, the couple spooked out and eager to go home. It was then that they walked through this very hollow and Rigby spotted the footprints. At the time there were a few of them, just across the path, like the creature crossed from woods to woods. They all took photos and the next day Rigby made his way back to take a cast of it. Unfortunately heavy rains fell in the night and only the one print remained.
“What did the American couple think?” Dex asked him.
Rigby smiled. “Well, actually they were excited. They right away thought it was Sasquatch or Bigfoot. It didn’t mean they wanted to stay and find out, but a few days later I got an email from them. The woman – Jill – had done some research on her own and found out that similar prints had been reported in the area with a connection to a red-eyed animal in the woods.”
Chills slivered down my spine and I tried to keep the camera from shaking. It was getting colder in the woods and I was getting more spooked.
“Apparently,” Rigby continued, “the local tribes here, the natives, believe in a creature called the Stiyaha. I contacted Ted Peppers, a native in Snow Crest who sells me great vegetables in the summer for my trips, and had a little talk with him. He said that a lot of natives in the Kootenays believe in two types of “monsters” in the area. One of them is a giant, hairy being that takes people and animals away. The other type is smaller and leads people astray. He personally believed they were probably one and the same. Then of course he went on to say he didn’t believe in the nonsense anyway. Still, maybe he was onto something. The male kind of acts as a queen bee and stays deep in caves in the mountains, hibernating. Like a queen bee, he’s much larger than the rest, in this case, the lady beasts, who are smaller. And like most ladies, more vicious.”
I rolled my eyes while Dex nodded at Rigby in agreement.
“The females go out and find the prey and drag it back to the male, sometimes the prey is still alive or sometimes its dead.”
“Like carrion,” Dex commented.
“Right. Vultures in a way. Anyway, I poked around some more and I like to think that theory is true.”
And at that he crossed his arms and hocked a disgusting loogy on the ground.
“So you think it’s more than one beast?” I asked.
He shrugged. “It could be. I’ll still call it the Beast until I have proof that there is more than one out there. But one is enough for me.”
Dex looked down the dark path. “Should we continue down that way?”
Rigby shook his head. “I just wanted to show you this. Mitch will be taking you down here tomorrow and out to the other side. I’ve made a map and marked the spots where the Americans and I experienced a feeling of being watched, or where we camped. I also added some other areas where I’ve found strange hair caught on tree branches and crunched up animal bones. Mitch here will tell you it’s all the work of a bear but I figured it couldn’t hurt to include it.”
I nodded, relieved that we wouldn’t be going down the path just now but terrified that we’d have to be doing it tomorrow. And with Mitch, who was still eyeing me from time to time like he was the vulture and I was dead meat.
By the time we made it back to the cabin, my nose was cold as ice and my feet were frozen. I decided the next time I went on a hike, I’d wear all my socks at once.
Christina was all packed and ready to go and had the fire roaring to pleasurable levels. Rigby went straight to the bedroom and quickly emerged with a long box in his hands.
I raised my brows, not knowing what he was going to show us, until he told me I’d want to film this. I turned the camera on and he placed the box on the table for Dex and I to see.
When he pulled back the lid, I expected it to glow like the briefcase in Pulp Fiction. Instead it was the plaster cast of the Beast’s footprint.
It was like nothing I’d seen before and definitely not what I had built-up in my mind. For one thing, it was a weird shape. About a foot and a half long with three toe indents that were slightly bird like, complete with a touch of claw marks. The heel was very narrow and deep, like it pressed down hard, while the middle part of the foot was barely perceptible.
“Wow,” I said in an exhale. “What the hell is this?”
Rigby raised his head, a twinkle in his eyes. “Not what you thought you’d see, is it?”
“I was expecting, you know, Bigfoot,” Dex said, looking over my shoulder.
“You’re expecting the hoax,” Rigby explained. “Hoaxes come from somewhere, that’s what I say.”
He had a point there, which actually made the whole thing more believable. Of course, my mind was cycling through a list of things that could have made the print. It really could have been anything. Perhaps the toe area was caused by an eagle or a bear that was running and the rest was something else. It was found in a forest – albeit a creepy one – and I could imagine there was more than one animal walking around out there. To me, the print didn’t say “weird beast creature” but a mix of a forest’s inhabitants, much like the look of a freshly-cemented sidewalk on a busy street.
After I got enough footage of the print and Rigby prattled on about his theory and the unusualness of the shape, he snapped the case shut and gave us a wink. “So I saved the best for last.”
I couldn’t help but smile at his enthusiasm. No matter what lurked out in the woods, hoax or not, Rigby believed it fully and it was his belief that would fuel the episode. Even if nothing else were to happen to us during the trip, even if we never saw any other signs and it turned out to be nothing more than a scary hunting expedition with Mitch, it would still be entertaining.