My complete stories | my book ORPHANS
Out the Beast
Jock Dartmouth stood one hill away from the cabin when the supply plane buzzed overhead. The three people with him flattened against the hillside as the Cessna swooped to within fifty feet of their heads, but Jock stood his ground. He glared at the others, crouching in the snow like Blitzkrieg victims, and shouted a curse at the fliers.
You idiots! Put your damned bottle away and drop the bundles!
As if in answer, the plane let fall a two-foot cube covered with black plastic. A pebble against the gray North Idaho sky, it tumbled to the ground some two hundred feet ahead of the group and rolled to the bottom of the draw between them and their objective. The plane continued toward the cabin and another bundle appeared at the cargo door.
Don't hit the place, Jock muttered.
He worried needlessly. The second bundle caught on a wing strut and didn't drop until it was a good two hundred feet past the cabin. The third was just going out the door when the plane passed from sight over the next hill.
Jock stamped his snowshoe down hard. Were the flyboys too looped to make a second run and drop the supplies closer? Probably. It was Jock's own fault for paying them with Johnnie Walker Red instead of the folding green. He dismissed his mistake with a snort and started down the draw to the first bundle.
The two other men in the group called out in a ragged chorus. Hey, wait! Let's rest!
Jock halted and sighed. Eyeing his charges, he spit out his chew and dug into his parka for a fresh plug. Some expedition this was turning out to beguiding a college professor, his student-age wife, and a football player through the Kaniksu National Forest in search of Bigfoot as if they were on some grade school field trip. But what the hell, winter land surveying jobs were as scarce as access roads, and this one would pay his bills until spring. Most of them.
The woman was and wasn't what he'd expected. Her name was Cathay. He imagined that the extra 'a' was supposed to make it sound exotic. Jock figured most women were too exotic for the woods. But she had her surprises: she didn't complain or slow down. And she was attractive. My God, yes. She was far too young and beautiful to be with the old fart she called her husband.
The old fart was Dr. Richard Sheehy, (Ph.D., WSU, '64), academic asshole and writer of popular books about Bigfoot even though he'd never seen one. He was also the money behind the expedition, and the dufus who had decided that mid-February was a great time to tromp through snow-covered hills in the Idaho panhandle.
Sheehy treated his wife like an acquaintance when he paid any attention to her at all. Some couple. This little trek was doubtless his idea of excitement. Not much happening around Pullman, Washington in the dead of winter. But Dartmouth wondered why she was here. Cathay Sheehy seemed far too dreamy and distant to enjoy a rugged weekend in the hills.
Hugo's presence was easier to fathom. He was a nose tackle who looked like he could demolish an Oldsmobile with his hands. He was awkward in the snow and completely out of his element. Jock guessed that the kid wanted better grades from Sheehy. And the professor? Maybe he just wanted a pet goon along.
An interesting if annoying assortment. Jock decided to have some sport with them.
There's the cabin, he said in the most ominous tone he could muster. Won't do to stay here long. You wanted to go to Bigfoot country. You're there now. Old Sasquatch doesn't care if you have sore legs or whatever. He'll just lope in, all fourteen foot of him, and smash you into the snow!
Jock's speech had the desired effect on Hugo, whose head and neck resembled the nose cone of a rocket. The kid put himself across as 100% macho stud, but Jock suspected it was mostly a cover for insecurity. Hugo braced himself against attack.
Let him tryI'll mop up the hill with him! The kid's eyes betrayed the one emotion that he never felt on the playing field: fear. He didn't care much for the idea of facing a beast bigger than he was. He'd played the beast often enough himself to know what his chances would be.
Calm down, Hugo, Sheehy said. You'd believe Missoula was over the next hill if he told you. He glared at Jock. I don't know who you think you're scaring with your fourteen foot monster. I've written books on the Sasquatch, you know.
Can we just go and get there? Cathay said, exasperated.
They got going again, if slowly. Jock smiled. Oh yes, Dr. Sheehy. I know all about your books. Tell you what. I'll head for the bar in Clark Fork and you can go find Bigfoot all by yourself.
Sheehy huffed like he'd been punched in the stomach. You do that, Mr. Dartmouth, and what I've already paid you is all you'll ever get! I'll sue you for breach of contract!
Having fired their big guns, the two halted again and tried to glare each other into submission. Neither wanted to call the other's bluff; Jock still needed the pay and Sheehy had come too far to back down now.
Mrs. Sheehy ended the impasse again, this time with a mischievous smile. Let's get to the cabin before the beastie eats us!
Jock laughed but couldn't help rising to her bait as they moved down into the draw. I'm not telling fairy tales, Miz. I didn't write any books about Sasquatch. I saw him with my own eyes!
The professor shook his head but said nothing. Fourteen feet tall, honestly!
Hugo asserted his macho by grunt-dragging the first supply bundle up the final incline to the cabin. When they arrived, he was sweating and sucking wind like an old man. Sheehy wasn't doing much better, though all he had packed up the slope was his own gut.
Inside the cabin, Jock went to his short wave and tried to raise his friends in the Cessna. No luck. Drunken bums, he told the radio. Hugo, you and I have to go get those two other bundles. I don't see anyone else here who can help, so we'd best get started before it's dark.
Let me catch my breath! Hugo protested. But when he had, he stalled shamelessly. Sheehy looked grateful that his presence wasn't required. The supervisor in him returned. Go on, Hugo! Are you afraid of Bigfoot?
Hugo stomped out the door. Not in public, he wasn't.
There's an ax next to the stove, Jock told the professor before he closed the door. Woodpile's down the path next to the outhouse. We'll need a fire as soon as the sun goes down.
The door closed behind him, and Sheehy sighed. Cathay put a sympathetic hand on his shoulder.
Here we are, alone in a cabin in the middle of nowhere. Kind of romantic.
Sheehy didn't even acknowledge her as he relaced his boots. Cathay withdrew her hand and began peeling the black plastic off the first bundle of supplies. She smiled to herself when she found one of the romance novels she'd packed. Sheehy left the cabin, ax in hand and lost in thought.
Outside, the sun hovered just above the horizon and the view was breathtaking. Scotchman Peak dominated the snow-covered hills to the south. To the west, Lightning Creek meandered its way toward the sun, Clark Fork, and the Coeur d'Alene River. But darkness was already settling into the draw where the second bundle lay.
Hugo shivered and peered into the deepening shadows apprehensively. Could we really meet a Bigfoot out here, Mr. Dartmouth?
That's why we're here, isn't it? And forget that 'mister' crap. I'm Jock.
I've got a friend who saw Bigfoot, uh, Jock. But he says it wasn't any fourteen feet high. Said he stood about nine feet tall. Like a huge gorilla. Mean, though.
Jock shrugged. He got the mean part right. But the one I saw was fourteen foot. No doubt about it. Big sonofabitch!
Around here? You saw one here?
Yup. Right here at the cabin, two years ago. I built this place the summer before that and I guess Sasquatch didn't like it. We came to an understanding, though. Hey, let's get going!
They began down the slope. What happened? Hugo asked.
Bastard was out there knocking down my woodshed and I was inside yelling at him. Never touched the cabin, though. I didn't rebuild the woodshed and he didn't come back. 'Course, I don't get up here much. Most folks around here try to steer clear of Sasquatch. This is his land.
You talk like he's a friend.
Jock patted the 30.06 he was carrying. He's a killer, Hugo. I don't intend to shake his hand with this. I should've shot him two years ago. This old gun of mine has downed many a black bear.
They froze at the sound of a gunshot. It had come from the direction of the cabin. Jock ran back as quickly as his snowshoes could carry him, Hugo leaping awkwardly behind him.
The hairs on the back of Jock's neck stood on end as he neared the cabin. Sheehy was shouting. So was his wife. Who had the gun? The professor? Was he crazy enough to shoot at whatever moved? A second shot rang out. Jock halted. Hugo stumbled into him from behind and they both went down in the snow.
Sorry... Hugo began.
Shhh! Jock put his hand over Hugo's mouth. Something was thrashing through the trees toward them. Something big. He struggled to bring his rifle to a firing position. Hugo lay on top of it. Damn! The rising moon silhouetted a shape. It moved swiftly and heavily across the snow. Tree branches snapped like match sticks as it crashed past them and down the hill. Jock listened to the sounds recede.
Hugo patted the knife he kept under his parka and thought to himself that Bigfoot didn't have that great an edge. Fourteen feet high? No way. The moonlight had given him a decent look at the beast. He guessed it to be nine feet at the most, just like his friend had said. And Hugo held the knife advantage.
But Bigfoot would have sharp teeth and big hands. Suddenly Hugo wasn't sure how a hairy confrontation might go. He was glad that he didn't have to find out. At least not for now.
Stop shooting! You'll kill him! Mrs. Sheehy screamed.
I'm not going to kill anything! the professor shouted back.
Jock got his rifle out from under Hugo and fired it into the air. Put the damned gun away! He's gone. You hear me? I shoot back! He got up and walked in slowly. Hugo followed.
Dartmouth! Sheehy called out. Did you see it? The professor stood near the woodpile holding a pistol with both hands the way TV cops do. Did you?
Jock stomped up to Sheehy and grabbed the gun from his hand. You jackass! This isn't deer season! He started toward the cabin angrily. Are you waiting out here for it to come back?
The others followed him inside quickly.
It's a dart pistol, Sheehy told Jock impatiently. Tranquilizer. I couldn't have killed the thing if I wanted to. It surprised me. I didn't have time to aim. Did you see it?
I saw enough, said Jock, cooling down now that he was inside. He practically mowed us down, getting away from you.
Cathay shifted from blind anger to sarcasm. That's a smart way to meet your subject, Richard. Shoot off a gun in his face.
Sheehy rolled his eyes. You know that I don't want to kill it. I'd rather capture one alive. Or talk it into following me home. But if it comes to push or shove, I'll do whatever I have to do.
Hugo laughed. You're going to talk to a gorilla?
I am right now, Sheehy thought. But he said, Bigfoot's known for stealing shiny objects like keys and change. He's no gorilla. Just a little kid, curious and moody.
Little kid? said Jock, astounded. Come on, he's a killer. Did you get a good look? You aren't going to get any fourteen foot monster to follow you home, or wrestle him to the ground. He'll have your head for a trophy on the wall of his cave.
Aw, he wasn't that big, Hugo said. Nine feet at the most.
Sheehy grunted. Try six. Your eyes were playing tricks on both of you. He was so close he could have touched me. Six feet, tops.
You're out of your mind! roared Jock. He was fourteen foot if he was an inch.
Nine foot, Hugo insisted.
Feet, said Cathay.
Nine feet. I think that each of you saw what he wanted to see. But none of you saw reality.
Sheehy looked at his wife in surprise. And I suppose you did?
She shook her head. I didn't see anything at all. Whatever you shot at was gone by the time I came out the door.
So what makes you an authority on what we saw? Jock asked her.
Romance novels, her husband answered for her. Television. She thinks Bigfoot is something out of Beauty and the Beast.
For the first time, Cathay lost her cool. Is it any worse than your macho fantasies? The three of you make him out to be some ravaging monster, but you can't even agree on his size!
I know what I saw, Jock muttered.
Sheehy pulled more sleep darts from his pack and began checking them. We'll all see tomorrow, and we won't have to argue about it.
The rest of the evening was quiet and uneventful, each of them nursing a private image of Bigfoot. Jock wished he could nurse a bottle of Johnnie Walker. It was cold! The men carried out an involved but successful raid on the woodpile. Bigfoot didn't come back, and they built a fire that lulled everyone to sleep.
Breakfast was chocolate bars and water, since the cookable supplies seemed to be in one of the bundles not yet retrieved. The meal was consumed in relative silence. Nobody wanted to argue this early in the morning. And without coffee, coherent thought became a challenge.
Cathay had it somewhat together. She explained to Hugo that Bigfoot was the white man's name for Sasquatch. Indian words had so much poetry to them, words such as Susquehanah and Sasquatch and Idaho, which originally referred to the line of shadow that creeps up a cliff at sunset and down again at sunrise.
Jock shook off sleep and was outside first thing, groggy and annoyed that new snow had obliterated any footprints Sasquatch might have left. The truth would have to wait until they met the beast, an event that didn't seem so far-fetched this morning. Fear had begun to work on the men. Bigfoot was at hand today. Who would win?
Outside, Dr. Sheehy toyed with a 35mm camera and the tranquilizer pistol. I should be able to find his trail through the woods, if he broke as many branches as you say, Mr. Dartmouth. Or at least find some tracks in the old snow under the trees.
Jock was vaguely impressed that Sheehy would know something like that. But he would be more impressed when he found the whiskey that was in one of the two remaining bundles. What about the supplies?
Sheehy nodded. You've got the woodsmanship, Mr. Dartmouth. You find the bundles this morning and we'll all drag them back to the cabin this afternoon.
What's wrong with right now? Jock wanted to know.
The longer I wait, the farther away Bigfoot can go. I need to start now, and I need Hugo with me. He's supposed to be learning something.
I'm going with Dr. Sheehy, Hugo chipped in. Tracking Bigfoot, however dangerous, sounded a lot better than dragging two more bundles over the hills.
Cathay preferred the comfort of the cabin and the warmth of the wood stove to watching last night's fantasies being acted out. She resented the idea of doing the women's work, but resigned herself to it when she realized that no one else was going to tidy up the place. Left to their own devices, the men would live like slobs.
Jock decided that his whiskey was in the bundle dropped farthest away. That would adhere to Murphy's Law. If he couldn't drag the bundle back by himself, he could at least get started on the bottle.
He crossed the next hill on a beeline for the spot his instincts told him the bundle had fallen. Any Idaho woodsman worth his gum boots could keep his bearings by the lay of the land and the spread of the trees. But the bundle wasn't at the bottom of the draw where it should have been. He expanded his area of search methodically. After half an hour the package had still not turned up.
What did turn up were fresh Bigfoot tracks. Jock eyed them, noting that their size confirmed his fourteen-foot estimation, and re-checked his 30.06. Chamber loaded, safety off. Okay, you SOB, try and get me! But deep inside he felt like Hugo: his bravado was a thin veneer that could be peeled away like tinfoil.
Without warning, the lost bundle arced through the air above his head and crunched into a tree behind him. The forest shook with a tremendous roar and Jock whirled to confront his hairy adversary. Sasquatch roared again, revealing filmy incisors the size of Jock's hand. The surveyor dropped to one knee to steady himself and shot the beast in the chest.
Jock had worried that his 30.06 might not pack enough power to stop an angry Bigfoot. He was right. Before he could get off another shot, the beast rose to its full fourteen feet and cut short his scream with one swipe of its huge claw.
Dr. Sheehy dropped his camera in the snow as Jock's rifle shot echoed across the hills. He found something!
Jock's clipped scream followed a heartbeat later. Hugo gulped. Or something found him. Let's go back to the cabin! I need a weapon! He started up the hill in the direction of warmth and the firewood ax.
Hugo! Come back here! Sheehy waved his sleep dart pistol. If Dartmouth didn't kill it, I'll put it to sleep with this! We don't even know what he found.
Are you kidding? Hugo called back. I heard that scream. He didn't kill anything! I'm going for the ax!
What scream? What are you talking about?
But Hugo was already out of earshot, or pretending to be. He pounded up the slope with giant strides envious of the creature he held in his mind. Bigfoot might be mean, but Hugo was mean too. If he had to fight, he would defeat the beast even if it killed him. Hugo the Hero could allow nothing less.
Sheehy worked his way around the hill toward his best guess at Jock's position. He gripped his camera in one hand and kept the other in his pocket, on the dart gun. He wondered if he should look for a club-sized fallen branch. If all else failed, that could serve as the ultimate translator. Perhaps he was overestimating Bigfoot's intelligence.
He found the supply bundle and Jock Dartmouth's body in the snow where they both had fallen. There was very little blood. Sheehy could see where Jock fumbled his shot into the trees, and how the Sasquatch cracked him on the skull with the handiest loose branch. The creature had apparently lost its fear of gunfire.
Jock's pockets had been carefully rifled, the shiny objects removed.
You fool, Sheehy told the corpse. Bigfoot's a savage, but he's still smarter than you.
The supplies had also been selectively pilfered, matching beautifully with the classic Sasquatch evidence Sheehy loved to cite in his books. Man-sized but inhuman footprints were everywhere. At least Dartmouth had seen before he died that his towering monster was really no bigger than Hugo.
A sudden chill ran up Sheehy's spine. He felt another presence, and turned to find the Missing Link standing a scant twenty feet away.
My God, he breathed.
The creature had the curious eyes of a child. It stood erect with hunched shoulders and arms that were ape-like but only slightly longer than a man's. Soft fur swirled down from the blunt point of its forehead, obscuring most facial details. The beast regarded him for a moment, hefting a rock in its left hand. Sheehy swallowed. Bigfoot looked suspiciously at the professor's pocket that held the dart gun. Suddenly there was nothing of the curious child in its eyes.
I mean you no harm, Sheehy called, fumbling the gun out of his parka.
Bigfoot grunted angrily and charged him, waving the rock wildly above its head. The college professor was no match for a humanoid raised in the wild. He marveled at Bigfoot's left-handedness, shot the tranquilizer dart into the ground next to his foot, and fell roughly when the beast's rock connected with his skull. The creature bent over Sheehy's still form and emptied his pockets of keys and coins.
Back at the cabin, Cathay turned another page in her novel and spoke to Hugo as if he were a recalcitrant boy. Sit down. They'll be back any minute with some story about how the beast got away. And put down the ax! You're going to hurt yourself with it.
From the cabin, Cathay had heard no gunshot at all.
Hugo was having none of her soothing suggestions. He paced the floor, stroking the cold steel of the ax blade and wishing he'd brought his rifle. I'll protect you, Mrs. Sheehy, he told her solemnly. Bigfoot may get me in the end, but I'll stop him.
She rose up and curtsied. Why, Hugo. You wear chivalry well.
Hugo grinned boyishly and put another log on the fire. He unwrapped a chocolate bar and dug in. Cathay returned to her book.
Jock and Sheehy had not returned an hour later. Cathay blinked at the changing afternoon light. What's keeping those two? I'd like to eat something besides Hershey bars! Don't they know they could freeze out there?
I don't think they care anymore, Hugo said fearfully. Bigfoot got them.
Cathay pulled on her parka and slipped her novel into a pocket. You're all wrong about him, Hugo. Try the chivalry again.
Hugo stared at her blankly.
Come on, we're going after them. I haven't been out yet today, anyway.
Hugo looked doubtful. This could be dangerous.
So bring the ax. You'll have to make love to it to get any closer.
They followed Jock's snowshoe prints over the next hill. Cathay drew deep breaths of cold mountain air and gazed serenely at the snow-covered panorama. She was drawn by the mystical beauty of it all. You could almost see an ornate castle carved into the face of a distant peak...
Hugo spotted the bodies first. His eyes were drawn by the great mass of blood that stained the snow. Moving closer, he felt sickness rise in his gut. It was Jock and the professor, and were they a mess! Their skulls had been crushed by huge, powerful hands. Their innards were scattered everywhere, along with items from the supply bundle.
Oh God don't look, Mrs. Sheehy! Hugo tried to shield her eyes from the sickening remains of Jock and her husband. She pushed him away.
They're dead, aren't they, she said, looking at the bodies. It wasn't a question. I'll...be all right. I expected Richard to do this to himself sooner or later. Looks like they both had heart attacks. At least there's no blood. I can't stand blood.
Hugo was about to ask her what in hell she thought she was seeing when a fearful growl sounded in front of them. He looked up and saw Bigfoot beating his chest angrily. The damned thing was nothing but an oversized circus gorilla!
I knew it, Hugo muttered. He clutched the ax with both hands and stepped forward.
Stand back, he told Cathay. He's big, but I'll plant this blade in his forehead! The gorilla roared and charged. Hugo rushed into the most important tackle of his life. There would be no second down.
Bigfoot saw the ax blade coming at him, but was too stupid or too slow to realize what it meant. The steel sank deeply into his skull exactly where Hugo had aimed. But the big ape's momentum could not be halted so easily. The beast's rock-crusher hand had already crushed Hugo's skull by the time the brain controlling it ceased functioning. The nine-foot body fell over Hugo and they lay in a heap, both bloody losers in this final scrimmage.
Cathay cried out when Hugo clutched his chest and fell to the ground, but she felt insulated from his death. The tableau had a definite sheen of unreality. It was a page torn from her novel. Three men lay on the ground, dead as stones but peaceful and unmarked as babes in the cradle.
And before her stood a creature that held her fragile libido in his strong hands.
Naked and hairy, he transfixed her. Sunlight filtered through the trees and his soft fur, revealing the tantalizing outlines of a heroic chest, finely muscled arms, and lower, the powerful essence of his masculinity. His eyes burned with heat greater than the sun.
What are you? she asked softly, vulnerably.
He approached her with the grace befitting a mythical creature of the wood. I am your fondest wish. Your deepest desire.
Will you take me away?
Far away, my love. I will care for you always.
She swooned and he caught her in his arms. Lifting her, he stepped across three simple tombstones and the soft earth marking three freshly filled graves. With powerful strides, he started over the hill into the deep forest.
The Cessna's prop wash dusted the snowy tops of Douglas firs like the tail of a huge bird brushing tall grasses after swooping down to seize its prey. I don't understand why we can't raise them on the short-wave, said the copilot.
I don't either, Frank. I just hope this flyby gets them out of the cabin where we can see that they're okay. Otherwise, it's send in a rescue team.
Omigod, gimme that whiskey, gasped Frank. Below, Jock Dartmouth's mountain top was in sight. The cabin that once sat peacefully in the trees had been smashed flat with terrific force. Frank surveyed the rubble and moaned.
I warned Jock about Sasquatch. I told him that bastard was the size of a hill and roared through the woods like a freight train! But would he listen? He figured he knew it all already!
There's what's left of them. Frank's partner indicated a bloody smear on the next hillside. With the binoculars, Frank saw the gargantuan outlines of Bigfoot's paws, and other reddish items that he didn't try to identify.
Nothing to do but turn back and report it to Rescue. They won't find anything, though. They never do. They don't believe in Bigfoot!
Frank sighed and took another pull on the whiskey as the bloody hillside and smashed cabin fell behind them. I warned Jock. I told him that Sasquatch was a small mountain.
In the distance behind them, a small mountain rumbled.
copyright (c) 1994 by Steve Schlich
ABOUT THE STORY introduction from the 1994 book ORPHANS
Bringing Out the Beast has an odd preamble completely unrelated to its content. I wrote it during June 1980, at the time when SkyLab was about to drop out of orbit and crash to Earth. I wrote the first draft in a frenzy, convinced that SkyLab would fall on my head and kill me before I could finish. Instead, Skylab crash landed in Australia, killing no one, and I lived to rewrite this story many times.
The original title was A Beast For All Seasons. I later tried `Foot Fetish and even plotted it as a novel called Beastie before settling on the current title.
In its various forms, Bringing Out the Beast has earned numerous rejections. The main complaint was multiple viewpoints. But without them, there's no story. You be the judge.