Hidden Beast

Photo by Ahmed Adly on Pexels.com

The snow beneath Allen’s snowshoes crunched loudly with each step. Icy coolness passed through his nostrils and created crystals on his beard and eyelashes; it brought with it a hint of pine scent. On the other side of his goggles, the sun glared down between the mountains causing the snow to break apart on the trees; the clumps tumbled to the ground every so often. Besides the crunching and occasional thumping of the falling snow, they were the only sounds Allen heard. He was all alone in the wilderness, and that was the way he liked it.
Allen enjoyed visiting the Breckenridge wilderness, more so than going to the local bar, where he usually wasted his weekends with his friends. He couldn’t stand being home with his family, and he felt shame and anger. He stomped in his snowshoes and cursed. Allen remembered last night storming out of the house after having another argument with Lillian; while the baby wailed in the background and his twin daughters ran around the house. He ended up sleeping in Gary’s house again. He stopped to regain his breath; his mouth felt dry. Allen yanked off his backpack from his back and pulled out his water bottle. He wished it was a Jack Daniels.
Tipping his head back to take a swig, Allen noticed something dash in his peripheral vision. Slowly, he brought the bottle down and glanced over. Nothing moved; everything was still. He shrugged it off and started on the familiar path. He was close to the peak of his loop and would be returning to his work truck. He planned on spending the rest of his day at his current construction site. Maybe Beth will be there. She mentioned coming over to survey the property with her clients. I hope she wears those tight jeans again. Allen’s cheeks felt warm as he realized he shouldn’t be thinking about another woman that way. He sighed. He longed for those days before Lillian was pregnant with the twins. Those days were filled with laughter, fun, and lovemaking. They didn’t worry about the world – no medical bills to pay, no parent/teacher meetings, no medicine for the baby to get.
Allen squeezed his eyes shut when he opened them; he saw it. He gripped his poles tighter and stared at the mass next to the fallen aspen tree a few feet away. It was covered in snow, with thick black fur poking through the snowy clumps and was bent over. Its body heaved, and it had its back to Allen. Is that a bear? It should be in hibernation. The creature stopped heaving and turned slowly to look at Allen. Allen stumbled back from the image of the creature’s face. Its face was covered in blood, its teeth were abnormally long, his snout was broad and pig-like, and his eyes were glowing dark orbs.
On his back, Allen sat up and ripped his goggles away. The beast was gone. Allen scanned about him, leary that it might be lurking inches from him. It began to snow lightly, causing the spot where the creature was to blur. Allen gradually stood up and placed his goggles back on. His heartbeat slowed down, and his throat felt dry again. I should stop drinking. It couldn’t have been anything. I’ve walked this path many times during this season and have never come across an animal. Despite being covered in heavy layers, Allen shivered. He took a deep breath and continued towards the bend, and stopped.
He looked over to where the beast had been. It was eating something…. Allen made his way to the spot and searched for the carcass. He kicked the snow but couldn’t find it. He turned back, and something caught his eye. One of the branches from the fallen aspen tree had a dark substance. Allen crept over. It was viscous and reddish in tint. Allen stiffened. He stumbled back to the path, the snowfall becoming heavy. He glanced back from where he came from and forward; both ways were the same distance. Allen trudged quickly back the way he came, peering around every few steps. A mile passed in silence, and Allen relaxed. Nothing came for him, and his surroundings appeared the same. When I get back home, I’m going to throw away all of the alcohol I have. He chuckled.
Another mile or so passed, Allen lightened his pace and frowned. I should have been back by now. The snow fell heavily and covered his last footprints. He studied the area and realized it wasn’t familiar. Allen swallowed thickly. How did I get turned around? I’ve done this many times before! He turned in a circle rapidly, bringing his fists to his head, the poles sticking out in front of him. The sound nearly stopped his heart. Allen stood frozen; he gently positioned his bars to strike; then turned. A vast shadow loomed between the trunks of the pine trees to his right. He squinted. That can’t be that thing… it looks different. It’s gotta be a deer. Allen took a few steps back as it emerged onto the path. The beast was low to the ground; its snout almost touching the earth as it took menacing steps towards Allen. Its face was still covered in blood; its eyes gleamed. Allen yelped and tried to take off with his snowshoes; instead, he stumbled face down. Scrambling onto his back, Allen peered towards the creature. It kept the same pace until it reached a few feet from Allen; It stood on its hind feet, taller than a Grizzly bear. Allen was yanking at his snowshoes; he whimpered as the creature reached and took hold of Allen’s face between its clawed paws.

“Do we have an ID?” Deputy Abernathy said as he adjusted his belt underneath his protruding stomach.
The deputies stood in front of the frozen body, lying twisted on his back.
“Allen Poste. Lives on Sumac Lane outside of town.” Deputy Somerland said, blinking rapidly, his small frame hidden in a large jacket.
“So, what do we have here?”
The deputies crouched over Allen.
“There are no wounds, no broken bones; it looks like he froze to death.” Deputy Somerland said.
“Nothing? You’re telling me he died of hypothermia six feet from his car?” Deputy Abernathy said.
“Yes, sir. Well, the M.E. will tell us more.”
“When was he reported missing again?”
“Yesterday, but his wife claims that he’s been missing for five days.”
“Why didn’t she report it sooner?” Deputy Abernathy said, shoving a piece of gum in his mouth.
“She claims that she was used to him being away and sleeping at friends’ houses.” Deputy Somerland said, he wiped his dry eyes.
Deputy Abernathy shook his head and stared at Allen’s face.
“We checked his car and found a small bottle of Jack Daniels.” Deputy Somerland said as he peered back at Deputy Abernathy.
“When you look at his face, it looks like he was frightened to death.” Deputy Abernathy said.
They studied Allen’s face. Allen’s eyes stared at the sky, and his mouth was frozen in a wide ‘o’ shape as if he was screaming.


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