The large open clearing is comprised of numerous smooth stones. Each massive block positioned about in an unnatural circular arrangement around its perimeter. Time and the forces of nature did not wear away the land exposing these monoliths. These were entrenched here by someone or something before recorded history began. For what purpose was the question not yet known. Standing 12 feet tall and close to 4 foot wide, each towered over young Jake. More impressive than any sky rise or monument near home, Jake is awestruck yet again, for the second time in a day. Upon further investigating, Frank discovers that many of the large pines encompassing the area contain symbol style carvings of the ancient Penutian Indians that lived in the area. Frank had seen these writings many times before from the elders that often visited the town, and was friends with many of them, but these were unlike any he had ever seen. Something was off about them as if the written word could take on a sinister emotion. His curiosity shifts to uneasiness.
Jake catches a glimpse of something strange in the corner of his eye. Obfuscated by a fallen tree, a large bone protrudes from the ground. Jake bounds with the excitement of a child on Christmas, spying the first view of the presents under the tree through the haze of sleepy eyes.
“Cool!” Jake announces. His voice carries so all Washington can hear him from the mighty peak of the mountain.
Frank recoils from the loud shriek of his eight-year-old boys unbridled excitement echoing through the tranquil surroundings of this unspoiled landscape. Frank found his religion in these hills, the encompassment of wood and foliage his church. The sounds of repose his preacher. This intrusion on its sanctity although difficult to bare would have to be accepted if he ever wanted to find a place in his dear boys heart. He wanted that more than anything.
Jake grabs hold of the large bone and with all his might he begins to yank and pull. The moistened dirt begins to yield to the young boys stubborn attempts. Each burst of enthralled wonderment loosens the land’s thousand-year-old grip on the interred relic. With one last attempt, the bone frees itself. Jake stumbles backward, unready for the outcome that would inevitably follow. With too few to years on this earth, and without that foresight, he is caught off guard and for the second time in as many hours, Jake is on his b**t. Moist and embarrassed yet again, the excitement of the discovery trumps all other emotion.
For the first time since pulling up to his wife’s house, Frank sees a smile on his little boys face. It was in that instance he realized that he was a fool, and he had much to make up for.
“Are you alright Jake?” Frank inquires as he hurries himself to Jake’s location, generally interested in both his son’s discovery and well-being.
“Ya dad, I’m fine.” Jake struggles to holds the large bone in the air with one hand for his father to see, while he wipes his moistened bottom with the other.
“Look what I found!”
The large femur bone is roughly the size in length as Jake himself. Having been picked clean by beetles and polished by time and weather, the bone is as white and shiny as any found in the nicest natural history museums.
“Do you think it could be like from a person or something?” inquires Jake.
Examining the bone, Frank sets it upright next to his leg. The bone reaches well up into his hip area while resting the distal end on the forest floor.
“No son, it’s way too big to be human, probably just a Black Bear bone.”
Jake knew his father would know. No need to press the matter further. He would often challenge his mother, constantly questioning her intelligence compared to his. Often attempting to foster the acceptance of his place as the man in the family, even at the young age of eight. Definitely a gene handed down by his father.
“Put it back where you found it, son.”
Jake ignores his father’s request and pretends to be a ball player, setting the bone over his shoulder like a bat.
“Mantle steps up to the plate, the crowd goes wild.”
“Now son,” exclaims his father, reaching for the aged bone. Something didn’t sit well with him. His gut instinct is to leave immediately. The tiny hairs on the back of his head stand on end. His heightened sense of things, from years, sitting alone in the dank hideaways, perched amongst the royal pines, pressed upon him when danger was near. He rarely felt it, nor could he describe it, but he knew it when set upon him.
“Now son… leave it!”
The air turned acrid and stagnated. Cool crisp air lent itself to humidity and heat. Among the thick foliage and timber that made his sanctuary, a dense fog moved in with haste. As if sent to shroud them in a blanket of disorientation and confusion, it’s obfuscation was purposeful. Before Jake could drop his makeshift bat, it’s opaque veil encompasses them. The world fades away.
The euphony of forest noises that Frank would nap to sometimes in the late afternoons during an exhausting hunt ceases altogether. Birds stop chirping, bugs stop buzzing, even the melodic sound of water flowing disappears entirely. The silence was deafening. How odd that in such a tranquil place the absence of sound would be as loud as any freight train running through a library.
A loud wailing scream pierces the silence. A sound neither father nor son had ever heard before or would ever hope to hear again. Jake clings to his father’s side burying his face into his warm flannel jacket. It smells of pipe and pine sap. A momentary comfort washes over Jake as he wraps his arms around his father. He had missed him so much in the last few years, and despite his behavior the last couple days, he was glad to have his dad with him here today.
Without hesitation, Frank pulls his rifle from his shoulder, trying to locate the direction from where the threatening scream emanates. Jake’s knuckles turn white from the sheer force of his grip on his dad’s belt. He begins to tremble as his father readies himself for a shot. Aiming at something large, dark and hairy moving at great speed through the vegetation, Frank prepares. Trees buckle and snap under the weight and momentum of the creature heading towards them.
Jake points ahead to where the trees begin to sway.
“Dad, a bear!” He screams.
“It’s something bigger, much bigger! Stay behind me, stay close.”
He scoots Jake behind him while raising his rifle to aim at a thick curtain of timber ahead.
“I want to leave! Please? Dad.”
His pleading goes unanswered as his father makes his way cautiously into the thicket. Having been a hunter since around near the age that his son is now, Frank never missed the opportunity to make a kill, and never said no to the thrill of the hunt. He had the wits and realized he would never place himself or child in danger. He forged ahead.
“Hold on son, I just want to see. This could be a record… You and me on the hunt. One for the books.”
Frank clears a few feet of the heavy thicket where the trees thin out. Ahead of him stands a large Black Bear. Catching a scent of his hunter, it raises to its hind legs. At nearly seven feet tall and over four hundred pounds, it’s a force to reckoned with. An apex predator in every regard, it does not fear man. But Frank sought a reason to give it one. The beast lets out a ferocious growl. Jake feels the reverberation in his bones.
Yelling to Jake a few yards away, “It’s a Blackie. Come see. But stay behind me and keep quiet.”
“See I told you. Can we go now, please?” Jake petitioned.
Another roar from the bear as it c***s its head sideways and flashes its razor sharp teeth in contempt. Saliva and steam emanate from its jowls.
“Shoot it before it gets us!”
Jake’s father motions to him to keep quiet as not to aggravate the beast any further. Black bears needed no reason to attack. As he raises his rifle he notices the bear isn’t facing them, its attention drawn elsewhere, occupied with perhaps another prey. Something smaller, maybe, without a means or will to fight back. The immense bear stops and rises on its hind legs with all its might, and readies itself for an attack, exposing its ferocious teeth, and flashing its six-inch claws. From behind a giant sequoia a bigger predator emerges. The Blackie falls into the shadow of the new threat.
“Run back to the truck now!”
The bear and the creature lock into an epic battle of volition. Each trading attacks. The battle is drawn into the bracken, out of sight. Growls and screams echo through the tight canyons and off the exposed facade of the mountain. Trees buckle and snap under the weight of the two adversaries. Then silence. The bear’s lifeless body is tossed into the clearing with a crash. The dark shape in those encompassing trees turns to Frank. With rifle in hand and locked, he fires a round but misses as the bullet strikes a nearby tree. Jake still stands, awe-stuck a few yards from his father, the femur bone of the creatures ancestor laying at his feet.
Jake and his father turn and begin to run in the opposite direction as fast as they can making a best guess trying to remember where the truck was parked. Weaving between and among the trees the two attempt to outrun the creature. Jake throws himself under fallen trees and his father hurdles them. Behind them, the forceful thud of 2000 pounds footsteps impacts the soft pine covered earth. Frank glances backward in attempts to see the predator, but only signs of his presence are available as trees offer no hindrance and easily buckle under the immense magnitude and agility of the creature. Shadow seems to encapsulate the predator at all times. Where Frank enters sunlight from a break in the trees, it is swallowed up immediately after, camouflaging the creature. The forest itself is in league with its kindred spirit.
Nearly a hundred yards into the chase Jake can no longer hear the heavy breathing or footsteps of his dad behind him. He continues a few more feet before realizing his dad is gone and he is alone in the damp darkening wilderness.
“Dad!” Jake tries to bellow his call, but only a raspy appeal escapes his winded and traumatized condition. “Where are you?”
Emotions begin to well up and tears stream from his reddening eyes.
Through blurry vision, Jake sees his father emerge from the darkness, as his listless body is hoisted into the low-hanging boughs. From the shadowed blackness, his dad’s body is launched into the air towards Jake’s direction. Frank’s body slams into Jake, smacking him across the chest, sending him tumbling backward into the brush. They both come to rest lying on their stomachs facing each other, Jake hidden in the foliage. Frank motions with his last bit of energy for young Jake to stay still and quiet. He hopes for the first time today, his boy, the love of his life, his reason for a change, will heed his advice and stay hidden among the ferns and twin-berry bushes.
Jake attempts to reach for his fathers out extended arm. But immediately pulls it back out of view from the creature that now towers over him. Looking through the thick evergreen veil and eyes fogged with advancing sorrow, only the massive shape of the creature, back-lit against the streams of dusk’s sunlight is distinguishable. Jake feels its heavy breathing disturbing the air just above him. A vomit inducing stench permeates the air, masking even the sweet smell of blossoms from the bushes that give him refuge.
Jake whispers, “I love you Papa”, as he looks into his father’s glazed over eyes. His father is pulled from sight. Jake is alone in the eventide.
On nearby trees, Penutian Indian tribal signs are carved warning trespassers that the area is a sacred burial ground. But no Native hallows this earth. A scream bellows in the distance.