“If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans.” – Professor Stephen Hawking
Mount Shasta, Cascade Mountains, California.
MOUNT SHASTA’S SNOWY 14,179 feet high peak loomed skyward from the horizon, some one hundred or so miles distant. A sign on the side of the interstate confirmed they’d just entered the Cascade Range, Siskiyou County, California. The information post also confirmed that Mount Shasta was still a potentially active volcano and was the second highest peak in the Cascades, the fifth highest in California.
“Wow, cool, isn’t that something eh?” the brunette in the passenger seat said, turning to her girlfriend, Jessica.
“Yeah looks great Madison, a cold spooky looking mountain,” Jessica said, placing a length of strawberry blonde hair behind her ear. “The view sure beats sitting in that real estate office back in Fairbanks though; and I’ve only been there five minutes,” she added.
“Well, you can see where all the stories come from!” Tom, her part-time, on-off British partner said, looking up from the rucksack he was checking in the back of the Chevrolet Suburban.
“Dude, don’t tell me you believe all that crap?!” Conner said, turning his head away from the road for a second in order to project his voice over the sound of Lana Del Ray’s National Anthem, pumping from the Chevrolet’s stereo.
“You’re always so skeptical about everything,” said Madison, Conner’s current girlfriend, who was seated in the passenger seat next to him.
Conner shrugged. “Whatever guys, you can save your bullshit scary stories for later when we’re around the campfire!”
“Don’t worry, I intend to,” Tom said, his English accent dampened after three years at M.I.T, where he’d been studying physics and astronomy.
The four of them had been travelling along Interstate 5 after stopping in the town of Redding about an hour earlier, for a coffee and burger break. Outside the window on their left, the pine-covered mountains of the Shasta Trinity National Forest – California’s largest national forest – rose up from the valley floor.
“How much longer is it, Conner?” Tom asked, as he finished checking though the contents of his backpack.
“The campsite’s off the A10, about half an hour passed the town of Shasta. It’s probably going to be closed, but that’s what makes this trip more fun, we’ll be pretty much alone,” Connor shouted back.
“What do you mean closed?” Jess asked, from the rear.
Tom laughed. “Well, not really closed, just not fully open. It’s only a campsite, it’s just that legit visiting times usually finish September fifteenth I think.”
Jessica rolled her eyes. “Well it’s the sixteenth today, idiots!”
“Exactly, we’ll be fine, just means fewer people, much more romantic,” Tom replied.
“Well I hope we can get in,” Jessica said.
Connor continued along the interstate which, despite the many hours of driving, didn’t seem to be taking them any closer to Mount Shasta. Beautiful vistas of the park’s pine forests stretched out on either side of the highway, which compensated any traveler’s journey through the mountain range. After a short while, an interstate sign confirmed they were now on the Cascade Wonderland Highway, which twisted and turned northwards as it tracked the Sacramento River which meandered along below on their right side.
The time was approaching five p.m. and after another forty-five minutes of driving they reached the town of Mt. Shasta, just as the mid-September sun started to dip low on the horizon, its last rays illuminating the snow-flanked sides of the mountain in a golden hue.
“It does look stunning,” Jessica said, before sipping some bottled water.
“And a little eerie,” Madison replied, surveying the high peak through a small set of high-powered binoculars.
“Shouldn’t be long now, we’ll be through town in no time and turning off onto the A10. Then it’s only about a forty minute drive to the camp site. Hopefully we can get the tents up just before dark,” Conner said, as he negotiated a sharp right-hand bend.
“Cool, we’d better, I don’t want to be putting up tents in the pitch dark,” Madison said.
“No way, screw that!” Jessica added.
“We’ll get them up, stop worrying,” Tom said, as he checked out the half-empty streets of the town. “Did you guys know that the total population of this place is only about three thousand?”
“Well I’m not surprised. The volcano looks beautiful, but what would you do here? Be as boring as hell after a while,” Madison said, pushing her shoulder-length dark hair behind her ear.
Conner turned off the main street, following a signpost to the A10 mountain road. As he slowed down to take the bend, they passed a gun store. Displayed outside were various stuffed animals; bear, elk and deer and one odd-looking creature which was standing bipedal, around eight feet tall. “Lol, what the hell is that,” Jessica said, pointing at the menagerie of animals outside the store.
Tom craned his neck to look out towards where Jessica was pointing, and then laughed. “That’s supposed to be a yeti, you know Bigfoot. They’ve been spotted around here apparently.”
“You’re kidding right!” Jessica said.
“Oh jeez, of course he is. That’s not a real Bigfoot. There’s no such thing, just made up stories by assholes trying to make some bucks with nothing better do to!” Conner said.
Tom shrugged. “Who knows? People swear they have seen the creatures, but Conner’s right. No real evidence has ever been presented to confirm their existence, and most of the stories are hoaxes, no doubt.”
“OK guys, can you shut up, you’re beginning to freak me out,” Madison said, turning around.
Conner maneuvered the Chevrolet around a deep pothole that had formed in the road, continued to the junction and turned right onto the A10 mountain road. Either side of the narrow road the pine forest grew denser and stretched out like a carpet of green which surrounding the steep snow-white sides of Mount Shasta, just a few miles distant.
Madison slid the window down, letting the cool September air rush into the truck. “Wow, can you smell that,” she said, referring to the refreshing fragrance of pine.
“Yeah, smells like my mum’s bathroom freshener back home in the U.K.,” Tom said, smirking.
After thirty minutes of driving along the mountain road, a yellow, and barely visible sign post, confirmed that it was only 2.5 miles to the Pine Crags Wilderness Campsite.
“We’re almost there guys,” Conner shouted.
They continued on for another fifteen minutes until finally, on the left, the road branched off. Another sign, pushed over to an angle of forty-five degrees, as if hit by something, confirmed that they’d reached the camp site.
Conner pulled into the large empty parking area and killed the engine.
“Look at that guys, this is what we came for,” Conner said, looking out at their surroundings. Just beyond the hard natural earth parking lot was small lake, and beyond, pine-covered mountain peaks as far as the eye could see, all set against the backdrop of the vast volcano, which rose skyward half a mile or so away from their position.
“Wow, amazing! Well let’s go find a suitable spot and get our tents up before darkness falls,” Madison said, opening the truck door.
“Good idea,” Tom said, “You ready babe, let’s go,” he said to Jessica.
The four of them grabbed their backpacks from the back of the truck and headed off in the direction of a small hut, near to the edge of the lake. The hut appeared empty. There was a Season Closed sign across the Perspex screen where the campsite warden would usually sit. The hut itself was locked.
“Ah well, at least the stay won’t cost us anything,” Tom said, peering into the hut.
“If the showers don’t work, we can always bath ‘Au natural’ in the lake,” Conner added.
“You got to be kidding! It’ll be bloody freezing in there,” Jessica replied, rolling her eyes.
“Come on, looks like a good spot over there,” Tom said, pointed passed the hut towards a clearing in the forest, around fifty feet away, just shy of the lake.
The four of them headed over towards the spot. As they got closer, a rancid smell became noticeable, overpowering the fragrant scent of pine.
“Jeez, it stinks,” Jessica said, screwing up her nose.
“It sure isn’t very pleasant,” Tom said, trekking behind Conner to the clearing.
“Ewe, we can’t sleep here, it bloody stinks like something just died,” Madison said.
The four of them headed over to a large tree bordering the clearing. As they rounded it, a buzzing sound, increasing in volume, became evident.
“Ah shit! What the hell is that?” Jessica said, stopping in her tracks, snapping a hard twig underfoot as she did, the loud crack startling everyone.
On the ground, obviously dead by the way its neck was twisted at an unnatural angle, and partially covered in dry leaves, was a large bloodied stag, the source of the stench.
“Stay there guys,” Tom said, to Jessica and Madison as he and Conner walked over to the dead animal.
The source of the buzzing was the hundreds of flies feasting off, and laying eggs on the exposed flesh of the stag, where its hind legs and abdomen had been ripped open by a wild animal, exposing what was left of its torn and shredded innards.
“Christ, a black bear you think?” Tom suggested glancing up at Conner.
“Got to be, or a coyote maybe?”
Tom shrugged. “I’ve never seen a coyote taking down something this big before.”
“Come on, let’s get back to the girls, best not scare them,” Conner added.
They walked back over to where the girls were waiting.
“We’ll find another place to set up camp. It’s just a stag, been dead for twelve hours or so. Some coyotes must have brought it down. Don’t worry, once we have the camp fire going, they won’t come anywhere near us,” Tom said, trying to reassure the girls.
“We can go over there,” Conner said, pointing to another clearing, about seventy feet further along the lake edge.
As they walked alongside the lake, a distant cry from an animal or bird, made its presence known from deep within the forest.
TOM HAMMERED THE final tent peg into the ground, securing the second of the two Ozark Trail two-man tents that he and Conner had just finished erecting in the pine forest clearing. “Nice one mate, just in time. Sun is just about to disappear,” Conner said.
“Well done guys. At least that icky smell has gone,” Madison said.
“Come on; let’s get the fire going quick. I’ll go search for some tinder,” Jessica said, rubbing her hands together as she headed towards the trees that bordered the clearing, Madison following her.
“Help me get some stones for the fire,” Conner said to Tom.
Tom was looking up towards the volcano and its snow covered sides, which were reflecting enough of the light that was left to illuminate the surrounding forest in an ethereal glow.
“Yep, sure,” Tom said, peeling his eyes away from the surreal view.
The pair of them headed to the lake edge and found enough small boulders to arrange around a depression they’d found near the tents, to make a perfect fire.
Forty feet away, Jessica and Madison were in the forest gathering large twigs. They had a good armful each, but the fading light was making it difficult to see. “Come on, let’s get back, I think we’ve enough here,” Jess said.
Madison nodded. As they turned to walk back, they heard a distant crack, like a large tree branch, or piece of wood snapping from deep in the forest.
“What the hell was that?” Madison whispered.
“God knows. Probably just an animal,” Jessica said. “Come on, let’s get back and get the fire started,” she added, as they both turned and headed back to the lake edge.
“Here you go guys,” the girls said, dumping the tinder they’d collected on the floor by the ring of boulders.
“Nice one,” Tom said, grabbing the twigs and sticks and arranging them inside the stone ring. A few minutes later he’d managed to set the smaller twigs alight and the tinder was now burning nicely. The flickering flames warmed and bathed the four of them, and the small clearing, in an orange glow.
Tom opened two tins of baked beans and stirred them in a pan which was resting on a couple of flat stones. They quickly started to heat up.
“So, come on Mr. Englishman, tell us some stories about this place,” Madison said, as she lit a Marlborough and took a long drag on it.
“Yeah, go for it,” Jess said, as she shifted on the blanket that her and Madison were sitting on.
Conner rolled his eyes. “Hold on, I’m going to get us a couple of beers,” he said, as he got up and headed over to the truck.
Tom finished stirring the beans and moved the pan out of the heat slightly. “Well, as you know Mount Shasta is an active volcano, part of the so-called Pacific Rim of Fire. If that wasn’t enough, there’s plenty of weird stories connected with this place,” he said, glancing up at the mountain.
“Well, go on, tell us some!” Madison said, leaning into towards the fire.
Tom gave the beans another stir. “Well, legends and mysteries abound this place. There are records of some hikers and campers feeling an ethereal aura when trekking near or around the mountain, and native people have always held the mountain as a sacred area.
“Well, all we’ve experienced so far is a nasty smell,” Madison interrupted.
Jess giggled. “Tell me about it!”
Tom continued. “UFO proponents are said to believe a secret alien base is located deep within the mountain.”
“That’s just silly!” Madison said.
Conner returned with four cans of Budweiser. “Actually, there’s some support for that theory,” he said, sitting down next to Madison and handing them all a can. “A chap called Kenneth Arnold was flying his light aircraft near Mount Rainier, along the crest of the Cascade Range back in, I think 1947, when he spotted nine high-speed objects, which he described as, flying like a saucer would. His report made international headlines at the time.”
Tom opened his beer and took a gulp, before turning to his friend. “That’s correct; I didn’t expect you to have known that. There are also some, admittedly strange sects who believe the mountain is even an entry point into a fifth dimension. Many strange pulsating lights have been reported over the past five decades by some very credible witnesses.”
Jessica suddenly shivered. “Now you’re freaking me out,” she said, opening her beer.
Tom shifted the pan over the flames to give the beans one last blast of heat, before serving them. “In 1931, a forest fire swept across Mount Shasta, but was apparently stopped from advancing by a mysterious fog that appeared from nowhere. Interestingly the weird fog created a fire-line demarcation of charred forest, which was curved in direct correlation with the Central Time Zone line.”
“Hmm, that’s a bit freaky,” Madison said, looking at Jess.
“But, the most worrying fact for us tonight guys is that we might be sharing the forest with…Bigfoot. Many sightings have been reported on Mt. Shasta. It’s believed by many to be the hiding place home of the mythical creatures.”
“Now you’re freaking me out too Tom. Don’t be an asshole!” Jessica said.
“Now that’s BS,” Conner said. “If that was the case they’d have a real stuffed Bigfoot, Sasquatch or whatever you want to call it back down at the gun store, not a silly fake one.”
Tom shrugged. “I’m just reciting the stories,” he said, grabbing the pan from the fire and serving up four plates of hot beans for everyone. “Tuck in guys.”
The four of them ate in silence, apart from the odd crack and pop springing from the fire in front of them as the tinder burned.
“What’s the time now guys?” Madison asked, finishing a last spoonful of beans.
Tom checked his watch. “Coming up to ten,” he said.
“Blimey, that late already?! What time are we setting off hiking tomorrow?” Jess asked.
“Let’s try and get going around seven. It’s going to be a long day,” Tom said, finishing his beer.
“Well I’m not going to get much sleep after those spooky stories you told,” Jess said, glaring at Tom.
“Well you asked to hear them! Besides, they’re only stories,” he said.
“Chill out honey. When Tom pulls you in that tent and uses his British charm on you, you’ll be asleep in no time!”
“Funny,” Tom said, picking up a small twig and throwing it across the fire at Madison.
“Stop scratching my ankle with your toes please,” Jessica said, prodding Tom in the stomach.
“Hey, it was an accident babe,” Tom replied, shifting in the twin person sleeping bag.
“I can’t sleep,” Jess whispered.
Tom cuddled up and kissed Jessica on the lips. He pulled away “Hmm maybe you need a bit more action to help you sleep?” he said.
“Hmm, the only action I need is for my eyelids to close,” she whispered. “What time is it anyway?”
Tom checked his watch. “One forty,” he said.
Suddenly, from somewhere outside the tent, a low-pitched growl was audible for a brief moment, followed by a couple of thuds, and the sound of a dry twig snapping.
“What the fuck was that?” Jessica whispered, her green eyes wide open with fear.
There was another flurry of heavy footfall, followed by a loud hollow, thud…thud…thud, as if someone or, something was whacking the trunk of a large tree with a baseball bat.
“Shhh,” Tom whispered, raising his finger to his lips.
Jess stared at him, her eyes fearful.
Suddenly there was a loud pounding on the ground right outside, followed by an eerie low Neanderthal-sounding growl.
“Is it a bear?” Jess whispered, petrified.
Tom edged slowly to the end of the tent, and very quietly, started to unzip the entrance, bottom to top.
The clearing and pine forest beyond was bathed in light from a three-quarter moon, giving quite good visibility. Everything appeared normal at first, until his eyes focused on a large, dark, mass which he’d first thought was part of a huge tree at the edge of the clearing. Were the shadows from the tree branches playing tricks?
Then he saw something, a pair of eyes, white and green, eight feet or so off the ground. Tom felt his knees shake as he tried to fathom out what the object was that he was looking at. What the hell? He said to himself as he traced the outline of a large, hairy animal, which was standing upright on two legs in the shadows of the tree. Could a bear do that?
He quickly zipped the tent flap back up and quietly moved back over to Jessica. “I think it’s a bear, we…we need to stay calm, don’t move,” he whispered nervously, while reaching into the side pocket of his backpack for his hunting knife.
Suddenly, there was another growl, this time much louder, and coming from just outside the tent. The growl was followed by the sound of material ripping, tent material. And then a blood curdling scream pierced the night air.
“Fuck, that’s Madison!” Jessica screamed.
“Jesus,” Tom replied, gripping the knife tighter in his right hand. “We need to leave the tent. When we do, I want you to run. Run for the car and don’t look back! Here’s the keys, get in, lock the doors and wait for me,” he whispered.
Madison screamed again, but this time the scream was different, more muffled, and weaker.
Tom unzipped the tent flap and he and Jessica crawled out, a stench of rotting flesh greeted them as they inhaled the cool night air.
The scene in front of them defied all rationality. A huge, muscular creature, covered in matted brown hair, large ovoid head, was standing upright, its arm held out, and its hand gripping Madison around her neck. Madison’s legs were dangling beneath her, frantically kicking the air.
“Run for the car,” Tom shouted to Jess, as he crouched, frozen to the ground at the site in front of him. His brain was telling him it had to be a bear, but his eyes were looking at something different.
Jessica scrambled off in the direction of the car, her hands across her mouth, as she tried to stifle her cries.
The creature cocked its head over to one side, and stared directly at Tom, its green eyes appearing luminous under the bright moon. A sickening crack followed, as it snapped Madison’s neck with one quick jerk of its huge hairy hand.
Then, from the side of the tent, Connor appeared. He was holding something, a thick piece of tree branch, which he used to whack the creature across its neck.
No way, Tom thought, as he instinctively ran over to help his friend. He plunged the hunting knife he was holding into the creatures flank, but its hair was so thick he had no idea if the blade had gone in.
The creature twisted its upper body towards Tom and let out an ear piercing guttural scream that made Tom’s neck hair prick up in sheer terror.
The creature then yanked the knife out, grabbed Connor, and proceeded to batter his head hard against the ground. Connor didn’t stand a chance. The creature was mercilessly smashing his head and torso against the ground like he was a rag doll.
“Run…fucking run mate,” gurgled Connor, from his bloodied mouth.
The creature then twisted its upper body towards Tom and let out another ear piercing scream that sent an icy shiver racing up Tom’s spine.
Tom glanced towards the truck, which was in darkness. There was no sign of Jessica. He hoped she’d managed to get inside. He was about to run in the direction of the parked vehicle, but feared he wouldn’t make it and so he turned and sprinted as fast as he could towards the river bank, leaping into the fast flowing river as he reached the edge, without looking back.
He winced in pain as the freezing water enveloped him, the fast-moving river carrying him downstream.
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