Chapter One: The Honeymoon
Park Rangers Jim Walker and Carl Johnson walked around the disheveled, abandoned Lost Creek campsite. Walker kneeled in the snow to examine a trail of eighteen-inch footprints, alongside a ripped tent, a bunch of scattered gear, and several adult boot prints—one man—one woman.
Johnson observed. “Looks like a couple of campers got scared away by a bear.”
Walker replied. “Not a bear with these footprints.”
“What do you mean? Has this happened before, chief?”
Walker nodded. “Oh, yeah, for the last three years, several families, some with kids, have been chased off like this. It only happens during the winter season, and always here in the Lost Creek campground. You should check out the pile of abandoned equipment in our storage shed. Fortunately, so far, nobody’s been hurt.”
Johnson scratched his head. “So, if this wasn’t a bear...
* * *
The drive from Las Vegas to Crater Lake National Park so far had taken two hours longer than predicted by his AAA TripTik. Dave blamed most of the delay on the new Mrs. Sally Hunter, continually distracting him; complaining non-stop about his decision to camp out for their honeymoon. Thankful, Sally’s berating had stopped for a few minutes, as she snored away, head resting against her car door window.
After Dave crossed into Oregon, the temperature dropped, the rain turned into snow, and the dense snowflakes coming down had reduced his visibility to only a few feet beyond the car’s high beams. He wound his way through Klamath Falls following SR62 up the mountain toward the Park. As the road climbed in elevation, the deciduous trees changed to ponderosa pines, and soon after passing near a noisy waterfall, fueled by melting mountain snows, he arrived at the Crater Lake National Park entrance booth. Dave rolled down his fogged-up window to read a soggy piece of paper taped to the door; check-in at the Mazama Village Motor Inn.
He pulled into the almost deserted parking lot, climbed out, zipped up his parka against the cold, and broke trail through a blanket of virgin snow toward the lodge. Minutes later, camping permit in hand, he slipped back into his car and started the engine.
The ascending road to the campsite featured a series of switchbacks, one right after another.
Sally woke up. “Are you drunk? Stop weaving all over the road.”
Dave responded. “I’m not weaving; the road is weaving.”
The lights of the Rim Village Community House shone off to the right as Dave brought the car to a stop. “Crater Lake should be straight ahead.”
“It’s cloudy and dark; who knows what’s out there?”
“What does the park map say?”
She replied without looking. “Turn around and head back to Las Vegas.”
“Come on, Sally, where is your sense of adventure?”
“I married you, didn’t I?” She turned on the car’s overhead light and referred to the map. “Turn left.”
Dave made his way along the plowed West Rim highway until he spotted the snow-covered sign for the Lost Creek Campground. A single lane, bumpy road, brought them to an empty parking space. He turned off the engine.
“We are assigned to campsite number five.”
Sally peered out the window into the thick forest. “There are no other campers.”
He surveyed the quiet forest. “This is perfect.”
“If you want to be a hermit.”
Dave sighed. “I’ll get the tent from the trunk, set it up, and build you a fire.”
“Terrific. I’ll wait in the car until you’re finished, and then I’ll join you…maybe.”
Ten minutes later, Sally cautiously emerged from the car, and the mid-thirties, newlywed couple huddled together on a picnic bench, not speaking, trying to stay warm, next to a roaring fire. The two-person tent pitched a few feet away was barely visible on this late September evening due to an extended cloudbank drifting with the wind from Crater Lake only a mile away.
Sally, wearing a blue down jacket, a ski cap pulled down tight over her ears, blond hair cascading to her shoulders, held out her gloved hands toward the fire.
“I wanted to stay in a fancy hotel in Vegas, pamper myself with room service and spa treatments, but no, you said let’s go camping, it will be so romantic, all alone in the wilderness. Well, you got your wish; there isn’t another human being around for miles.”
Intense snow began to fall again, sizzling as it hit the flames.
“Wonderful, now we’re going to be buried alive, only to be found eons later, our bodies preserved in ice, like a wooly mammoth.”
“That could happen. The Park gets an average of 48 feet of snow, and it stays on the ground until June. But don’t worry, sweetheart; the heavy snows don’t start until November.”
Sally replied, “Oh, good; I feel so much better.”
Dave studied his bride. He had met her in Vegas at an all-night breakfast place next to the strip. A shared cup of coffee led to a few dates, some passionate nights, and a twenty-minute ceremony at The Graceland Wedding Chapel.
Had he rushed into this marriage? He thought he knew her. They had been the perfect match, a pair of blackjack dealers from the same casino, both loving the outdoors and spending all their time together hiking, hunting, boating, and golfing, but so far, on this trip, all she had done was complain.
“Darling, look at all the snow glistening in the pines and the bushes...beautiful...and just wait until tomorrow morning when you gaze upon the Wizard Island volcanic cone rising majestically out of the lake’s deep blue water. You can’t see that in Vegas.”
“You’ve never watched the Mirage Volcano Show.”
“I have. It’s not real, you know.”
“Who cares? I’m freezing my ass off, and I’m hungry.”
“I could roast us a couple of hot dogs.”
“I want a rib-eye steak and a lobster from a Gordon Ramsay restaurant.”
Dave shook his head, rose, and went into the nearby forest to find more firewood. His Boy Scout training had taught him to search for “squaw wood,” dead branches caught in the limbs of hardwood trees, which stayed much drier than those limbs lying on the ground. His foraging took him deep into the forest, although he never lost sight of their campfire. Once Dave had collected an armful of branches, he started back to camp, retracing his solitary boots prints in the snow. He loved hiking in the quiet woods and almost decided not to return to face more grumbling from his bride.
A loud rustling nearby caught his attention, accompanied by a pungent, overwhelming smell that almost made him gag. Must be a bear, he thought, although they should be hibernating. Once more, his experience told him not to run, and to make enough noise so the animal wouldn’t be startled if they crossed paths. Dave faced toward the sound and started slowly backing toward camp while shouting out his presence. The rustling got louder and closer. He dropped his armful of wood, except for a couple of inch-thick branches, which he continued to bang together and shout “bear!”
Sally, hearing her husband yelling, came to the edge of the forest, and shined a headlight-sized beam of light from her lantern into the wilderness. “Dave, what the heck is going on?”
“Stay near the fire. There is a bear headed your way.”
“Where’s your gun?”
“I didn’t think I’d need one this trip.”
“Come on, Dave! Handsome, shirtless men could be pampering me at Caesars Palace Qua Baths and Spa; instead, I’m going to die, freezing to death, eaten by a bear. Thanks for the perfect honeymoon, buddy.”
“Shut up, Sally.”
A few feet away from Dave, a gigantic shaggy creature reared up, half-man, half-beast, seven feet tall, arms raised above its head, as if ready to smash everything in its path or to grab its victim and crush it to death. The creature started toward him, issuing a combination roar and a growl loud enough to shake the ground. An image of the charging T-Rex in “Jurassic Park” popped into Dave’s head. He tripped over a tree root, stumbled backward, nearly losing his balance before he managed to turn and sprint toward camp.
“RUN!” He shouted at Sally, who dropped her lantern when the bright beam revealed a mythical creature, previously experienced only in blurry photos and video, lumbering toward the campsite in close pursuit of her husband. She let out a cry equal to a wounded banshee, turned, and ran down the trail toward their car. She fumbled in her jeans pocket for the keys, challenging to do at full gallop, until finally she caught hold of the fob, extracted it, and aimed the device at a silver Lexus UX-200, grinning at her from several yards away. She began furiously pushing the unlock button, cursing at the vehicle to open. Glancing over her shoulder, Dave and the creature were catching up way too fast.
Sally doubled her speed, reached the car, jerked open the driver-side door, leaped into the seat, promptly relocked the doors, and pushed the engine start button in one fluid motion.
Dave’s eyes flew open when he heard the car start. He screamed at his wife, “WAIT!”
He felt the thing right behind him, imagining as he ran, its breath on the back of his neck. If Dave wasn’t so terrified, he could almost appreciate the speed and dexterity of such a gigantic man-beast. He reached the car and tried to open the rear door...locked. He banged on the window. “For goodness’ sake, let me in!”
Sally shook her head. “Go to the other side.”
“Are you crazy?”
The creature stopped running when it reached the edge of the clearing. Breathing heavily, it cautiously looked around, but seeing nothing but wilderness, walked with purpose toward the panicked couple. Dave, meanwhile, still outside the car, had run to the passenger side, and was banging on the window. “Open the damn door.”
Sally glanced at the creature, now only a few feet away, and reluctantly pushed the unlock button for the passenger side. Dave piled into the front seat, slammed the door shut, and quickly locked it again. “Are you trying to become a widower on our honeymoon?”
“You made it didn’t you?”
“No thanks to you.”
The argument ended abruptly when the creature, arms extended, slammed into the car full force, rocking it violently side to side. Sally turned toward the beast whose distorted, angry features now filled her window, inches from her cute upturned nose, separated only by the thinnest layer of glass. It let out another ferocious roar, mouth gaping open, stained teeth dripping saliva, piercing red eyes boring a hole through her consciousness.
Sally screamed, simultaneously slamming the car shifter into reverse, flooring the gas pedal, tires revolving until they caught gravel under the snow, causing the Lexus to rotate, making a perfect doughnut pattern, and knocking the beast off its feet. Sally put the car into drive, floored it, and fishtailed her way out of the campgrounds. She blew through the stop sign on West Rim Drive and turned south toward the park exit.
“What was that thing?” She said, her breath coming in short gasps.
Dave wiped the sweat from his brow with a handful of tissues. “I’m embarrassed to say it out loud...but it resembled...a Wookiee.”
“Yeah, that’s it; Chewbacca attacked us for stealing the Millennium Falcon.”
“We should report this to the Ranger Station and then go back for our equipment.”
Sally glared at her husband. “Screw the gear; I am not stopping this car until we are out of this Park and the entire state of Oregon.”
Ignoring the 35 mph posted speed limit, she skillfully negotiated the snowy curves and narrow Park roadways, until she reached the state highway. “We are going back to Las Vegas.”
“But, we left our campfire burning unattended.”
“If you are worried about it, give them a call, but don’t you dare mention that creature.”
Dave looked back over his shoulder, sighed, and settled back into his leather seat. “No, you’re right. Nobody would believe us anyway.”
* * *
Ranger Johnson checked the fire to make sure it was out, broke down the tent, and picked up a dropped flashlight along with the other camping gear strewn about the site. After packing up the gathered stuff into their jeep, he made one final sweep of the area. “So, chief, if a bear didn’t scare the Hunters away, what did?”
“A few brave campers have come forth and shared similar tales of what attacked them...”
Ranger Walker grimaced. “We had an artist put together a composite sketch of their descriptions and showed the drawing to some animal experts.”
“Now, don’t laugh. The experts identified the creature as...Sasquatch.”
“Come on, chief, there is no such thing. Bigfoot is a myth.”
Ranger Walker glanced over his shoulder at the dark woods around them. “Is it?”
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