Chapter 10: The Beast
Jim could hear the chopper blades buffeting the microphone on Kerri’s remote earpiece. She had adamantly refused to wear her HeadCam, maintaining she didn’t want to intrude on the privacy of the tribe.
The rhythmic pummeling drifted away and Jim was left with just the sound of Kerri’s heavy breathing and the muffled crunch of snow beneath her feet. The sounds hesitated for a moment, then Kerri’s voice came through.
"My name is Kerri."
“Ker? Who is it? Who do you see? Dammit, this is why you need to be wearing your HeadCam.”
Kerri didn’t answer though, just went on speaking to whomever was there with her.
“Kerri?” he asked again. Still no answer. “Dammit, Kerri!” And he ripped the head set from his ears. Turning to the startled looks from the tech crew Kerri had enlisted to fast track through the trail-cam footage, he grimaced. “She’s muted me.”
Sighing, he dropped the head loop to the desk and rubbed his fingers over his forehead. Honestly, what is she expecting to find on those cams? All we’re going to see is some old man stomping around in the dark, trying to scare off my contestants.
Sighing, he fitted the headset back on over his ears, hearing the sound of a woman’s voice, though clearly not Kerri’s. Frowning, he began to listen.
Jim blinked, startled by the unexpected outburst mere feet away from him. Straightening in his chair, he looked over.
It was Josh, and he was staring at his video feed, face deathly pale.
“What is it?”
But Josh just shook his head, mouth working like a grounded fish but not finding his words as he stared in rapt attention at his screen. Finally, he looked up, hand moving in rapid gestures for Jim to come and look.
Frowning, he slipped the headset off and crossed over to Josh’s desk. He was scrubbing backward on the playback, his whole screen taken up by the muted greens of their infrared cameras. As Jim leaned down to look, Josh hit play again.
“After what I showed Kerri, I wanted to start from the night of the first field check when Darren first went missing. Look.”
At first, Jim saw nothing he would call unusual. He could see the entrance of Darren’s shelter, a large portion of the snow-dusted clearing, and a head-on view of the edge of the forest. He watched as Darren stared out at the trees, flashlight in hand, and then walked out into the forest.
“Wait for it.”
Scanning the playback forward until he reached a certain count, he popped his fingertip down on the mouse, resuming normal speed. Eyes fixated, he scooted forward, pointing to an anticipatory spot on the distant tree line.
Eyes narrowing, Jim watched.
A movement among the trees caught his attention. A bear? No… But…
Jim felt his face go cold. “What the hell?”
“I don’t know, man. But it’s nothing I’ve ever seen before.”
“Can you clean it up any?”
Josh shook his head. “No need. Watch.”
A moment later, Darren returned, walking right by the creature through the blind spot Kerri had been so worried about. Pausing, he gave a defeated shake of the head and clicked off his flashlight, only then trudging around to the front of his shelter and slipping inside.
“Crow’s nest isn’t infrared,” Josh muttered. “The viewers never saw him come back that night. Now watch.”
Leaning in as close as he could, Jim watched as the creature followed Darren’s trail and emerged from the trees, sniffing deeply as it entered the camp. It hesitated there, hovering in the blind spot, the light from Darren’s fire illuminating enough of it for the camera to pick up its shape in near perfect resolution. A rush of ice passed straight down to Jim’s core.
The beast stood taller than a grizzly, but its face was that of a wolf, fanged and slavering. Sprouting from its head were giant caribou-esque antlers. Its hulking body was draped in layers of tattered animal skins, but below them, Jim could make out thickened, furred, bison-like legs. And from its back…
“…The hell… Are those wings?”
But Josh shook his head, not taking his eyes from the screen as eight spindly, arachnoid legs unfurled from beneath the skins on the creature’s back and began flitting over the data tower behind Darren’s shelter, like a spider feeling out an unusually large fly.
A deep snuffling bluster, worthy of a bull moose, blew from the creature’s muzzle, and it lashed out, bringing one gnarled hand down in a slashing motion over the equipment.
“That’s when the live feed went down,” Josh whispered, as if the creature in the video might hear him.
The wide antler rack rose as the creature straightened again, rubbing its fingers together as if it’d had to touch something nasty. Claws, the length of Jim’s hand, flashed in the light from the fire as it then turned its attention to Darren’s shelter.
A keening sound rose in the clearing, and the giant spidery legs began all moving in tandem, as if wrapping a bug in silk. The creature began to bend and crouch, rocking to an unheard rhythm as clawed hands reached toward the shelter in repetitive, beckoning motions.
The keening turned to a chant of guttural, hissing growls and then, Darren stepped out of his shelter, face empty and eyes dead.
Jim would have sworn there were no words being spoken, but Darren suddenly nodded, and the motion of the spidery legs increased, flitting around Darren’s body as the clawed hands moved in silent gestures around his face.
Darren’s eyes rolled back and his lids slid closed. He took a quick, sucking breath, then a deeper one. One more, and he let out a primal, animalistic scream, nearly a howl in the stillness of the night.
Silence filled the warehouse.
Jumping at a scuffed foot, Jim turned to find the entire tech team and viewers standing behind him.