A Hollywood adventure team finds more than enough to videotape. Much more. 2,543 words. Part One. Illustration by John Mann.
Almost anything can be science. Sports science. Christian Science. The sweet science. The science of dropping science. Mixology. Scientology. Parapsychology. Cryptozoology. All were seeking a higher truth — the perfect jump, the perfect drink, the perfect explanation for an elusive manimal that lives in the dark woods, according to eyewitness accounts, but has never been caught on video.
Before we could rejoin the group and start searching with our camcorders for a Sasquatch or El Chupacabra or whatever the fuck Tom thought he saw that night on the Lost Coast where we were now, Claire and I walked along the shore toward the cliffs, which rose straight up from the black mirrored surface of the lake. I led the way until we reached the rocks when she stepped in front of me and turned around so that we were face to face. We could barely see each other, or anything else, because the full moon had disappeared behind the ridge. It was the darkest place on the mountain, our forms swallowed by the shadowy rock face. I could feel her body moving closer and as we came together, our lips almost touched.
Then we heard the sound of a rappel followed by gear being unsnapped. The picture of Tom’s face filled the flood of moonlight against the rock, his long hair in a ponytail, the rope in a puddle of loops at his feet.
“Hi, Tom,” I said.
We slapped each other on the shoulder. Tom and I went way back. I was a friend who he knew he could trust with his life but who he didn’t know also wanted to sleep with his girl tonight. Now he’d teased my group of Hollywood types to the Left Coast in search of the beast he’d seen. Tom opened the clip and let the rope fall against the side of the cliff. He unhooked the harness and stepped out of it, dropping it on the rocks. “Beautiful night for a climb,” he said. “I love being up on the rocks during a full moon.”
Claire complained, “I hadn’t heard from you. Nobody had.”
“I hiked in through the mountains,” he said. “It’s amazing up there. The air is so clear you want to drink it. You feel like you could live forever. I saw a mother bear and her cubs, and normally you don’t want to run into a mother bear, but they went right on by like I wasn’t even there. I could have walked a hundred miles. I’d almost forgotten what I was doing out here until I heard your voices coming down the rock face.”
“I saw your latest acting gig,” I said. “Congrats.”
“We filmed the whole thing in 72 hours. People came and went. There were probably around 30 people who were shooting. And then we spent the next month editing the 72 hours down to 63 minutes. It blew a lot of peoples’ minds when we started screening it.”
“When I left home, there were 27 messages on the answering machine from the distribution company, the lawyers, the filmmakers.” said Claire.
“It’ll get worked out,” assured Tom. “Movies always get seen. People find them one way or another. The important thing is the moment. It’s good, but the moment was the moment, and now it’s gone. Time to move on to the next thing. I don’t want to spend my life staring at old one-sheets. Life is motion. Even the best ideas must be laid to rest.”
It was then, as he turned into the moonlight, that I realized Tom wasn’t wearing any clothes.
“I’m going for a swim,” he said. He walked to the edge of the lake then proceeded to wade into the icy water. His form disappeared by degrees under the surface until all that remained was the sound of the soft splashing of his strokes and in another moment there was silence.
It started to rain again, harder than before. Claire pulled at my arm. “I don’t want to be out in this,” she said.
I was feeling along the rocky face of the cliff for an opening. My hands traced the outline of a deep cleft, and I knelt down to explore the inner recesses. I returned to the mouth of the cave and led Claire inside. We crawled on hands and knees through the pitch black until we found a good place to rest, where the ground was dust, not hard stone, and the air was dry. The passage was narrow enough to make sitting up uncomfortable so we lay together with our bodies pressed close until we started to warm up.
“Will you stay here with me? I don’t want to be alone,” she said. “I know everybody’s out there. I don’t want to ruin it for you.”
I heard the sound of a flint. She was holding a lighter, and the small flame cast her face in the soft glow. “I forgot I had this,” she said. “In case I wanted to smoke.”
“I’ve got something for you to smoke,” I replied. I took the pot pipe out of my jacket and packed it with a really fine grade of cannabis. The flame dropped down into the pipe as I inhaled. The dead green herb glowed red. I turned the pipe around and she took a hit as the cave filled with warm delicious smoke.
“Tom’s not coming back,” she said.
I could feel her tense in the darkness. She turned toward me, propped on an elbow.
“He’ll be back,” I said. “He always comes back.”
“He’s not coming back. Not this time.”
“How do you know?
I felt her move astride me in the darkness. She was bent forward under the low ceiling of the cavern so that her hair bushed against my lips. Instinctually my hands moved to her hips where they encountered bare skin. She’d already taken off her clothes. Her lips touched mine, and I could taste the smoke. Then she dropped the tip of a breast in my mouth. By the time I’d worked my way out of my clothes and onto Claire, we had worked up quite a sweat with all the pawing and heavy petting. The movement of her hips gradually slowed until our bodies were like one long down-tempo groove. Even in the throes, there was a part of me that, deep down, couldn’t get over the fact that we weren’t getting any of this on video.
When I woke up, unsure how much later, Claire was gone.
I felt around in the dark but there wasn’t a trace of her, only a vague lingering scent like wild animal. I heard a commotion outside of the cave, frantic footfalls on the rocks. Voices at least. I crawled to the mouth of the cave where I saw flashlight beams streaking across the cliff face. Up above, a black cloud pierced the reddening moon. I searched the dark for any sign of her. The window was closing.
Timing was everything. Blood. That was whole reason we’d come out here. Without blood, without Claire, there was little chance we’d get a Hollywood deal, much less find what we were looking for.
Suddenly I was being helped to my feet. “Just let me get my clothes,” I said, turning toward the cave. “There’s no time,” a voice said. Somebody threw a belt at me and I quickly improvised a loin cloth. I had to admit, I looked like fucking Tarzan. I sucked in my gut for the camera, which I now saw hovering in the dark. I was surrounded, blinded by the glare of the flashlight beams. I gradually recognized the voices — first Lance and Bruce, then Ted, Scott and Tony.
“We’ve been searching all over for you,” Tony said to me.
“Because we were tracking it through the woods. Then we heard a voice,” said Lance.
“We saw it,” said Ted.
“Thing was big,” said Scott.
“Thing was fucking huge,” said Bruce.
“It was running through the woods, carrying something,” said Lance.
“We chased after it,” said Tony.
“Check this out,” said Lance.
All six flashlight beams moved to a spot on the ground at the mouth of the cave where an enormous footprint in the muck was clearly visible between the rocks. It pointed into the cave.
“They’re all over the place,” said Lance.
“Where’s everybody else?” I said.
“Following the tracks,” said Scott. “They go a couple different directions.”
“Where’s Claire?” asked Lance.
“Probably with Tom,” I said.
“Has anybody seen Tom?” said Ted.
Nobody had seen Tom.
We saw the beam from a flashlight bouncing toward us.
It was Art.
“We just saw it,” said Art. “Back in the woods. It looked like it was carrying something, slung over its shoulder. If I had to guess, it was a woman.”
Art rolled the playback on the camera. Despite the poor light, I recognized the face instantly.
“Claire,” I said.
Our eyes went back to the footprint at the mouth of the cave.
“Where was it headed?”
“Along the ridge. It was moving pretty fast through heavy brush. We could barely keep up with it.”
“Let’s go,” said Bruce, tossing me a camcorder, which I slung around my neck like an albatross. Or a noose.
We all ran off in different directions. As I climbed the cliff face, I could see their flashlight beams bouncing down the shoreline and cutting up into the woods. I figured I could save some time by going straight up. I had done some rock climbing years ago but never like this in the dark. I found Tom’s rope dangling along the cliff face and once I got used to the feel of the rock I moved up at a pretty good clip. There was something peaceful about it, as my hands explored the features and contours of the rock face. In the dark, there was no sense of how high I had climbed or how far I could fall.
Once I’d made it to the top of the ridge I heard what sounded like heavy footfalls landing on the damp ground and the loud crack of branches as an enormous form cleared a path through the brush. I cast off the rope and dove in after it, fending off tree limbs and tripping over stumps as I gave chase.
I had just come out of the woods when I heard the gun blast.
I stood on a small ridge overlooking a clearing where the moonlight illuminated a trio of hunters standing over a hulking brown form. Claire was nowhere to be seen. One crouched to the ground with a massive hunting knife and proceeded to cut out the beast’s heart. He took a bite then passed it around so everyone got a taste. When they saw me approaching, their eyes lit up, and I was greeted with a chorus of bloody smiles.
“The woman,” I pleaded. “What happened to the woman?”
“Not woman,” said the first man, who spoke with some exotic accent as he gripped the creature’s loins. My eyes adjusted to the glare of the moon, and I was able to make out that the creature being gripped was in fact a bear. The three hunters broke into raucous laughter.
Then a scream cut through the night like a chainsaw. I recognized the voice immediately: Claire’s. I dropped the camcorder I’d been carrying and grabbed one of the rifles, running with abandon toward the sound. I could hear the trio of hunters still laughing uproariously behind me.
I dove once more into the brush. I quickly emerged into another clearing where for the first time the light from the moon allowed me to see the creature clearly enough to gauge its general size and appearance — hairy, humanoid, around eight and a half feet tall—while leaving the face obscured in shadow. It was carrying Claire over its shoulder like a gunnysack. Her clothes were in tatters. I could make out an exposed breast, and a section of bare hock, more than I had seen in our blind tryst in the cavern.
A strained muted sound emerged from her. She had barely enough energy left to whimper. That scream would certainly have been her last.
It took me a moment to realize that I had the creature cornered against the cliff, which rose up several hundred feet before disappearing in the mist. I raised the barrel, bringing the butt of the rifle to my shoulder and touching my finger to the trigger. I had the beast in my sights, praying it would hold still so I wouldn’t hit Claire. I squeezed the trigger, and as the report shattered the air, the barrel went suddenly skyward as the gun was wrested from my hands. By the time I had regained my bearings, the creature had begun climbing the rock face, moving up the sheer surface at an astonishing rate. To stop me from shooting, it had dropped Claire.
I ran to her. From down on the damp earth we raised our heads and watched the creature ascend the high cliff until it vanished into the crown of mist. I took a deep breath and sighed.
The next time I looked up, I realized that we’d been joined by the trio of hunters, one of whom had picked up my camcorder and was crouched down getting the whole thing on video. He circled around us, shouting words of encouragement and directing us. It turned out his full-time job was making corporate training videos in Yokohama. We were all in showbiz.
In a matter of hours, the entire world had seen the footage. We did the news shows. We did the talk show circuit. We cut major studio deals. There were sequels, reboots and spin-offs. We were all shining stars. Our quest continued for the elusive beast, across California and the Northwest, atop lonely mountains, through dark rainforests, to far away islands and continents, with cameras and crews in tow, until we’d lined our pockets and milked the whole thing for all it was worth.
Claire never heard from Tom again after that night. We heard rumors from time to time. He was traveling the Congo with a troupe of African drummers, sitting at the top of a mountain in Tibet practicing the transcendent arts of the Buddhist monks, drifting across the South Pacific in a handmade raft, or living in an igloo on Baffin Island on a diet of Arctic Char and seal fat.
Claire and I stayed close for a while then gradually drifted apart. We saw each other rarely now that I led a life of constant travel. Her letter came in a bundle thrown from an old river boat passing in the opposite direction as I lay stretched out on a hammock, smoking my pipe, as the sun set over a field of plantains.
Her letter read, “Don’t stop. Don’t ever stop. Please don’t stop until you find the…”
I returned it to the envelope, then resumed cleaning my weapon, something I did obsessively now. Once finished, I put my eye to the scope and searched for the cryptic humanoid among the plantains. I’d traded in my camera for a .375 controlled-feed bolt action rifle. The next time I got a chance, I would not hesitate. My finger squeezing the trigger as I murmured, “Say whiskey.”