Forbidden Climb is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters and incidents either are a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2020 by Gavin Baird
Cover Image Copyright © 2020 by Gavin Baird
Cover design by Gavin Baird
All Rights Reserved
No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of very brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
After a long shift, Ethan’s nose had become accustomed to the smell of ozone and burnt metal, so the brisk, evening air shocked his lungs like a splash of chilly water. Taking another deep breath, he strolled through the parking lot towards his truck.
It was Friday night going into a long weekend, so he didn’t need to return to the welding shop until Tuesday. While he didn’t have any specific plans for the weekend, he and his friends often planned things the day that they happened, and he was sure that would hold true tomorrow.
His drive home took him through the wide suburbs of Corvallis. Near the end of the trip, Ethan passed a vacant house. The house hadn’t been vacant for long, less than a month, in fact, but the evidence of vacancy was visible. Unlike the other houses on the street, it was completely dark; no lamps lit the windows, and no television screen danced in the living room. Ethan used to know the man that lived there. He wouldn’t have considered him a friend; they were just acquaintances.
Like Ethan, the man was in his early twenties, fit and healthy, and he enjoyed the outdoors: backpacking, hiking, mountain biking, and other outdoor sports. That love for nature got him killed.
That was the theory, anyway. In the past six months, scores of other outdoors men and women had disappeared without a trace, all of them going missing in the Siuslaw National Forest, among the lush slopes of the Oregon Coast Range, beneath the ancient and stoic Douglas Firs.
The Forest Service said that they were all killed by mountain lions, and that the bodies were unrecoverable, but something about that didn’t sit right with Ethan. Sure, once in a blue moon a cougar would be spotted in the McDonald Research forest, which was less than a mile away from Ethan’s home, but they never attacked anyone. Especially not in the numbers that the Forest Service reported in the last month alone.
The roaring road noise created by the tires on Ethan’s truck went quiet as he pulled into his driveway, and, turning the key, the engine shut off. The soles of his steel-toed boots scraped against the concrete path, then Ethan climbed the steps up to his porch.
Inside the house, he flicked on the porchlight so that his roommate, Alex, could find his way to the door when he came home from his night classes in a few hours.
Frowning, Ethan climbed the stairs to his room, pushed open the creaky door, and sat down on his bed. He stripped out of his dirty work clothes and put on a black cotton t shirt and a pair of basketball shorts, then he collapsed into his chair, reaching for his computer. The monitor flashed to life and Ethan typed in his password, ready to get lost in the expanse of the internet for the night. He browsed for a few hours and found himself gravitating towards forums and articles about cryptids and wilderness horror stories.
Long after the sun had set, the sound of the heavy front door opening echoed through the house. Alex’s footsteps padded through the downstairs hallway, and Ethan heard him flick on the kitchen light. Ethan found a good stopping point in the story he was reading and put his computer to sleep.
Downstairs, Alex had claimed the entire dining room table with a spread of papers and dull-looking documents.
“I see you have a little bit of homework tonight,” Ethan commented.
Letting out a dry laugh, Alex responded, “it’s not homework actually.”
“So, what is it?” Ethan asked, leaning towards the papers with renewed interest.
“I got these from a friend in the college of forestry. They collect extensive data on the populations of most animals that live in the forests around the state and, well, look here,” he pointed at a column labelled Puma Concolor. “The mountain lion population is certainly healthy, but,” he snatched another document, the paper crinkling in his grasp, “the population has already been slowly rising ever since 1994.”
“Well, the Forest Service is saying that this year’s spike in disappearances is caused by cougars, but their population is climbing at the same rate it has been for a decade. I guess it’s possible that there are other factors driving them to attack people, but I find that unlikely, given that they prefer to avoid humans. I think that the disappearances are being caused by something else.”
Primed by the horror stories he was just reading, Ethan’s imagination whipped up a few outlandish possibilities. Most were ridiculous, like aliens or bigfoot. But Alex wasn’t joking. In fact, based on the frown on his face, he was serious. Alex wasn’t one to draw outlandish conclusions or make unfounded claims. If he was bringing this to Ethan, he meant business.
So, Ethan took him seriously, and his train of thought moved away from cryptids to real possibilities. The Forest Service said that the disappearances were caused by cougars. Nothing obvious was causing the cougars to attack more people. Therefore, the Forest Service was lying.
The room fell silent and a sinister mood permeated the air. Ethan crossed his arms and looked down. He paused for a few tense moments then announced, “It’s a coverup, then.”
Ethan thought about his group of backpacking friends—which included Alex—and concluded that they would want to know about this. They all knew how to deal with a mountain lion, any capable outdoorsman does. That is why Ethan wasn’t worried at first when the disappearances started happening. They were easy to dismiss as inexperienced hikers who stumbled into a cougar and panicked. But now, he didn’t know what the threat even was.
“We need to talk to the guys about this,” he said, pacing around the cluttered table, “maybe they will have some ideas for what to do.”
“Well, Eric is already coming over tomorrow to hang out with me, let’s call Mike and Todd to see if they can too.”
Ethan nodded, “we need to organize another backpacking trip soon, anyway.”
Alex continued to study the documents, occasionally reaching for a new one every few moments, causing the whole table to rustle with the sound of moving paper. Ethan stayed for a while, but whatever Alex was looking for was above Ethan’s paygrade, so he went back upstairs to get ready for bed.
As he lay there, his initial fear and suspicion regarding the disappearances morphed into curiosity. Of course, the unknown danger scared him a bit, but it was different than worrying about cougars. He was used to planning to deal with animals, it was part of backpacking, but they were more annoying than anything. A coverup, however? That was exciting. Ethan drifted to sleep despite his overactive imagination.