Forgotten By Anthony Izzo
The day had started off full of promise, just Ray and his son hiking in the mountains. Seeing the West, the Big Sky country. They had started off at eleven this morning, stopped to eat turkey subs near a clear blue stream, the sun pleasantly warming their faces. They had headed further into the hills and it wasn't until around three o'clock that Ray realized they were lost. He hadn't told Pete, who at fifteen, was up for anything and would've accused his old man of being a worry wart.
Now it was four o'clock and being fall it meant dark would be coming soon. The shadows had started to lengthen and Ray felt a tiny bit of panic start to well up inside him. Being lost in the mountains with very little survival gear didn't appeal to him.
They had been heading downhill, Pete up ahead of Ray. The air had grown chilly. They were on a narrow trail flanked by scrub pines, the smell of the trees thick in the air. “Hold up Pete.”
Pete, tall and lanky and looking nothing like the little boy Ray rembered, turned. He gave Ray a goofy grin. “We're lost, aren't we?”
“How'd you know?”
“We've just sort of been wandering,” he said, and adjusted his back pack.
“I think the stream is back that way. Where we had lunch,” Ray said, unsure.
“I don't think so, Dad.”
Ray took a compass from his pocket, fiddled with it. He couldn't figure the damned thing out and put it away after a moment. He didn't want to admit to himself that he had no damned business going this deep into the wilderness without help. They had spent the first few nights of their trip in a little tourist town called Forgotten. It was named after an abandoned mining town a few miles from the tourist place. They had been staying at a place called the Three Pines Lodge and had set out on a hike. He hadn't told the clerk at Three Pines about their trip, for he'd expected to be back that same day.
Seeing a log, he sat down. His head swam. It wasn't just him up here. He had Pete to worry about. “Hold up.”
“I'm not going anywhere.”
It seemed as if the shadows had crept out of the woods. As they had descended the trail, Ray had heard birds chirping on a regular basis, but now he heard none. “Dammit. Maybe we should backtrack.”
“How about we find a spot to set up camp? We hunker down for tonight and find our way down in the daylight.”
“Hold on. I'm an idiot,” Ray said, reaching into his pocket and taking out his cell phone. He had the phone number for the Lodge in his contacts. They'd planned this vacation for months, and he'd had to make several calls to the Lodge. “Help is on the way.”
He brought up the Lodge on the contacts menu and hit Call. Prayed for a signal up in the mountains. The phone rang three times and a female voice answered. “Three Pines Lodge. Lisa speaking.”
Lisa. Good. That was the clerk they'd seen before leaving. She would remember them. “Lisa. My name is Ray Hansen. I'm staying in room three-fifteen. Look, my son and I are lost up in the mountains and I was hoping you could call for help.”
“Let me look you up in the computer,” she said.
“I don't see why that matters,” Ray said.
“I'll determine that, sir,” she said, voice growing cold.
He could hear her fingers tapping a keyboard. “Sir, I'm afraid I don't show you in our system.”
“How can I not be in our system? You rented me a room. I talked to you this morning.”
“I'm afraid I don't remember.”
Ray felt his face start to flush with anger. “Is this a joke?”
“Sir, I wonder if you're the one joking. You're wasting my time.”
“Look, can you please call the local authorities. It's getting dark up here.”
“You shouldn't have gone up there.”
Lisa repeated, “You shouldn't have gone up there. You belong to the mountain now.”
The connection ended and he tried to dial again but the phone rang for nearly a minute with no answer. He felt like throwing the cell phone against a tree. He didn't let his anger take over and shoved it in his pocket instead.
“What happened?” Pete said.
“She acted like she didn't know me.”
“You dialed the right number?”
“No Pete, I called the damned Dairy Queen in town. What do you think?”
Pete's eyebrows knitted together in a frown. “Don't have to get pissy about it.”
“I'm sorry. Of course I dialed the right number.”
“So now what?” Pete asked.
“We'll find a spot and camp for the night.”
They hiked down the mountain until it had grown almost too dark to see. It had been blind luck that they'd found a small shelf ledge with an overhanging rock. They would be able to use it for shelter. They set their packs underneath and sat down. Ray had a few granola bars and bottled water in his pack and they downed the granola bars and half the water.
They were both wearing long sleeves, but Ray's was thin flannel and he was already shivering. One thing he did have was flint, and they were able to gather enough kindling and wood. After setting up a fire teepee, Ray got the flint to spark and got a fire going. Thank goodness for small favors. “Not exactly the Hilton, but it'll do for the night.”
“We'll survive. It's been a great trip.”
“You mean that?” Ray asked.
“I mean it. It's been cool.”
Ray had suggested the trip after Ann Marie had decided she wanted to start bar-hopping at forty-three. She'd been hanging out with a crew of single people, all of them under thirty. Several of them male. Most nights she wasn't home anymore and he wondered what had become of the woman who used to spend her nights knitting and watching Seinfeld re-runs with him. Pete needed a mom. Ray needed a wife. Right now, Ann Marie was being neither. “I'm glad. I'm having a good time, too. Even if we're lost.”
Pete waved it off. “We'll be fine.”
The fire began to crackle and he felt a pleasant warmth on his face. Maybe things would be okay, after all.
The fire had died down to embers and Ray had curled himself into a ball, a stone digging into his side. He was using his pack as a pillow and a huge crick had formed in his neck. Ray checked his watch. Two ten a.m. He glanced at Jake, who was snoring, and he envied his son's ability to sleep.
“Best build up the fire,” Ray said to himself.
He crawled out from under the rock shelf, stood up, and stretched. His back gave a crack and he rolled his neck, attempting to get out the mess of knots that had formed in the muscle. Sticking to the edges of their campsite, he gathered up wood. He was about to go back and place it on the fire when he heard branches snapping in the darkness.
He shrugged it off as a deer and continued gathering wood. As he approached the dying fire, he heard the rustling noises coming closer. Critch-Crunch. It sounded like someone on two legs. Not an animal. Icicles seemed to form on his spine. He wanted to curl back up under the rock shelf and wait for the unseen thing in the woods to go away.
Instead of curling up, he nudged Pete, who woke up. In a whisper, he said: “There's something in the woods.”
“What is it?”
“I don't know. Sounds like a person.”
“Who the hell would be up here?” Pete said.
Ray glanced at the fire and wished for the first time that the fire had gone out and had not attracted the unseen person in the woods. Branches snapped and leaves crackled. A sour, pungent smell filled the air, and Ray worried that it was a grizzly bear. They wouldn't stand a chance if a bear wanted to take them.
Ray spied a large stick on the ground near the fire. Ten feet away. Four inches in diameter, it appeared solid, and although it wouldn't be a perfect weapon, it was better than nothing. Still crouched, he moved out of the rock shelf and reached for the stick.
Pete cried out from behind him and he saw something massive and dark tear from the woods and snatch up Pete. It had to be eight fucking feet tall. Moved like a panther. Pete's cries echoed from the darkness. Ray scrambled to his feet and blindly ran after Pete, stumbling into the woods.
He got about twenty yards and realized Pete's abductor had disappeared. But how was that possible? He had given chase right away and didn't think it possible for the kidnapper to disappear that fast. Glancing around, all he saw was the shadows.
He strained to listen and heard branches crunching somewhere in the distance. It was vaguely to his right and he took off in that direction. Had to find Pete, no matter what.
Soon he had traveled a few hundred yards and it didn't take long before he was lost. Turning, he tried to locate the glow of the fire, but saw nothing. He stopped and listened, but heard nothing. Taking a chance, he called Pete's name, but no answer came.
He moved where he thought their campsite would be located and as he slipped between two tall trees, the ground gave out, as did his footing. Pitching forward, he lost his balance and was aware of skidding down a hill. Ray clawed the dirt on the way down, but he couldn't grab hold and his slide down the steep hill continued. He rolled twice before landing at the bottom, a stinking puddle soaking his shirt.
Getting to his feet, he felt like he'd taken a beating. His back ached and he'd scraped his elbows and knees. His shirt had ripped at the elbow, and his jeans had torn at the knees. He looked up at the hill and determined it too steep to climb. He had to get help. Someone to help locate Pete.
What the Hell had taken him? It was big. He saw that much. But it had moved too quickly for him to get a good look. He didn't even know what he'd tell the cops.
He picked a direction and started walking. Part of him wanted to scream. The other part wanted to cry, as he'd utterly failed Pete.
Five minutes after he started walking, a high-pitched wail echoed through the night.
The wailing noise came from the top of the hill, where Ray had tumbled. Pete had to be up there. He began to scramble up the hill, legs aching. He peered upward and was aware of someone standing at the top of the hill, and it had to be seven feet tall. He flattened himself against the ground and crawled behind a medium-sized boulder.
The breeze blew, bringing with it the scent of something rotten and dead. He glanced up again and saw the figure move away. His heart felt as if it might explode in his chest, and then Doctor Matthews would be right, the prick. He'd been telling Ray to lose weight for years.
It took him fifteen minutes, but he climbed to the top of the hill. When he reached the top, his fingers were bleeding from clawing roots and rocks. His legs burned from lactic acid buildup in the muscles, as if he'd just done a thousand squats. He looked around but so no sign of the abductor. The smell still hung in the air, gagging him.
He looked down and saw evidence of the abductor. A three-toed footprint nearly eighteen inches long. It appeared there were claws jutting from the toes.
A series of the strange footprints continued across the ground and then disappeared. He followed them and discovered the just stopped. Gone. Like Pete.