Visions of the Night
|When Chip Morton takes a vacation alone, hiking in the mountains of northern Idaho, he finds more than hiking trails and pine trees!|
Chip Morton seriously hated it when that little voice of warning that he occasionally heard was right on the mark. What was even worse was when friends agreed with the voice, making them right, too. Lee and the admiral would be getting a great deal of mileage out of this, Chip thought . . . if I live long enough for them to do so.
And it all came about as a whim. Chip had always wanted to see the grand forests of the northwest United States. Of all the places he had been and all the wonders he had seen, he had never been to the mountains of northern Idaho, or the wilds of eastern Washington state. Chip had compromised on this one, deciding to hike the area around Lewiston, Idaho, near the Washington border. It was loaded with national parks, medium range mountains and if the brochures were correct, spectacular landscapes. Flight to Spokane and then a shuttle to Lewiston where it would be a short drive to Moscow, which was west of the Bitterroot Mountain range. The submariner was pumped up, even to the point of hoping for a bit of snow before leaving the area to come home.
Chip had invited Lee Crane to come with him, but his friend had to back out when he had strained the ligaments in his knee in a diving mishap the week before their last mission had ended. Nothing serious, but it certainly precluded a hike up 2,500 foot mountains.
"Iím really sorry about ruining your plans, Chip," Lee had said after Docís directives had sidelined him. He had met Chip in the wardroom where they both had a cup of coffee during one of the brief down times during the mission. His knee was wrapped, he had a slight limp, but there was no other outward sign of his injury. Chip could tell that Docís restrictions grated on Lee by the set of his mouth.
"Ruining what plans? Iím still going," Chip replied.
"Oh? Whoíd you get to go with you?" the skipper asked. He sounded a bit depressed. Chip figured Lee wanted to get away as much as he did.
"You arenít going alone are you?" Lee had asked, and then added somewhat sardonically, "The survivalists by themselves would be tough to run into, much less grizzly bears and mountain lions."
"Come on, Lee," Chip said in exasperation, ignoring the tiny niggling of unease that tickled the back of his consciousness. "I am a big boy. I am also using the same trail that the college kids take and I researched the area."
"Iím sure thatís summer hikes and they at least go in pairs," Lee protested.
At least he hadnít mentioned that I also wasnít a college kid, Chip thought in irritation. "Lee, itíll be fine. Itís only for a couple of days and I need the time away from everything thatís been going on lately."
"Youíre crazy, Chip. You could get away a lot more safely in a beach house."
Chip could tell that his friend was really worried, although Lee tried to keep the conversation light. He decided to do the same. "I promise, Mommy, Iíll call when I get back to Moscow."
Lee cringed. "Even that sounds ominous."
"Idaho, Lee. Moscow, Idaho. University town."
"Be careful, Chip. And take plenty of pictures. I want to see them at our Christmas party," Lee added, seemingly resigned. There was something else in his voice.
"Jealous?" Chip laughed.
"Intensely," Crane had answered.
And so on the last day of an absolutely glorious mountain hiking trip, Chip slipped on an icy patch on the rocks where the path narrowed. He didnít just fall down; he fell off the side of the blasted mountain. Later he realized that the only thing that had saved him was the heavy down-filled coat he was wearing, the pack he was carrying and the fact that he had made it more than halfway down that particular mountain slope before falling. Ironically, Chip also realized that he was only four hours from the trailhead and civilization.
He hurt everywhere and was coldóvery, very cold. I must have passed out for a while, he thought, noting that the sun wasnít straight overhead anymore. Looking around, Chip saw that trees surrounded him, pine mostly, although there were also a few bare aspens. He was lying awkwardly against one of the largest pines. The rough bark dug into his side. He took a deep breath and then tried to shift away from it. And then almost passed out again. There was an echoing cry of agony reverberating from the rocks above and he realized it was his voice.
Chip forced himself to calm down and then he assessed the situation. Deep breathópain. He had bruised or broken a couple of ribs. His left leg was giving agony messages and he didnít need to feel it to know that it was broken. Through the waving branches, he saw clouds racing across the late afternoon sky. Great! Storm coming in. Trying to ignore the pain, Morton pulled himself into a better position, sitting up. He gulped several shallow breaths of the rapidly cooling air to try and bring the waves of nausea under control. Then he slowly reached down using one arm against his chest to protect the damaged ribs. Lesser pain reached up through that arm. Nothing broken, but bruised badly, he figured. He felt the leg as gently as he could. Simple fracture, no bones breaking the skin, thank goodness, but the area was swollen and very tender to the touch.
During his examination, the pack shifted and caused more pain. He shrugged it off and then dug inside for the small first aid kit. Finding the aspirin, he chewed up a couple of them, not even bothering to take out the water bottle. That need would come later. Right now he had to try to temper the pain. Morton sat quietly, trying to take stock, hoping to figure a way out of this situation. He had noticed today that there was almost no one on the trail. It was the middle of the week, mid-term exams were in full swing at the local university and it was not the season for more than the most avid hikers to be out. No help there. But the admiral had insisted on Chip taking a small short wave he had been tinkering with, so he dug inside for it. It had been in a side pocket, not secured, simply because he didnít think it needed to be. Didnít think there would be this kind of an emergency.
It wasnít there. Morton looked around the area, trying to spot something out of place. With growing anxiety, he realized he was the one who was out of place. Looking back up the slope, he also noted that no one would be able to see him from the trail, the air or anywhere but damn-near right on top of him. Pain shot up through his leg, not letting him forget that he wouldnít be walking out of here. Chip realized that he needed something to bind his leg and ribs, secure them from further injury. He knew he couldnít just sit here hoping for a miracle; he would at least have to try and crawl to an area more accessible to help.
Pressure bandages, wraps, gauze, and various antiseptics. The wrap, if long enough, might serve to keep the ribs from moving around. Slowly, deliberately, Chip pulled off the parka, shivering at the cold air that suddenly had much more effect on him. He gritted his teeth and tried to curb the reactions of his body. Shivering just increased the pain. Now was when he missed the over-solicitous nature of Seaviewís CMO. He deliberately and slowly wrapped the stretchy material around his chest. It was awkward, but he still managed to get it onónot too tight, but enough to help. Finally, he attached the clips and rested a minute. He couldnít believe that in this biting wind, he had been sweating. Now that he was inactive, though, he began to shiver, which increased his discomfort even more. Chip managed to get the parka back on and feel a measure of increased relief.
Even as he listened for the sound of voices on the trail above, Morton pondered his options. If he could use a limb as a crutch, he might pick a way parallel to the mountain path until he found help. There was nothing within sight, though. He also needed a way to splint his leg. Gritting his teeth, Chip pulled the breakaway poles out of rolled up tent and put them together. Two of the four were bent, but he only needed two, so he laid the two straight ones next to his leg. Although he worked slowly and methodically, binding the splint to his broken lower leg, he felt the waves of pain threatening unconsciousness. Concentration became difficult and Chip found himself fumbling and losing the ends of the tape. He shook his head and muttered an expletive. Carefully, he tried again. There was only so much tape, and Chip noted, only so much light left.
Finally, he finished the job. Wiping the sweat from his eyes, Chip looked toward the sky and was appalled at just how dark it had gotten. Again his eyes searched the small area for the transmitter, but it still eluded him. With finality and chagrin, Chip realized that heíd be spending the night right here. Before it got too dark to see anything, he undid the straps holding the sleeping bag on his pack. He fumbled with the cover, biting his lip when his impatience caused more pain. Finally he was able to extricate the sleeping bag and roll it out to its full length on the ground. So far, so good, he thought as the darkness became complete. Morton lay down on his good side next to the down filled bag and slowly unzipped the entire length. Then he rolled inside, gritting his teeth at the pain that radiated from his leg. He lay inside quietly for a while, trying to breathe evenly and attempting to placate his protesting body.
Chip didnít try to zip up the sleeping bag. That would be later. Now he was thirsty and he drew the pack closer to find the bottle of water he had left for the final leg of his hike. He groaned at his unintentional pun, then froze. He blocked everything out but the slight crunching noise he heard. Someone, or something was approaching. Not a wolf or mountain cat. They would be quieter, he was sure. He decided to take a chance. "Hello," he called out. "Whoís out there?"
The noise stopped. If it were a wild animal, then perhaps his voice would scare it away. The soft sound resumed. "Whoís there?"
Morton wasnít sure what to do next. He concluded there was little he could do. There was the flashlight, though and he dug for it, trying to remember just how he had packed everything in the pack. Then he caught a whiff of something musty, or musky. It was strong and he coughed slightly, again bringing his painful situation to the forefront of his awareness. Before he was able to do anything, something monstrous loomed above him, shutting out the light of the first few stars that he had been able to see. A soft growl, strong arms and Chip was lifted effortlessly, sleeping bag and all from the ground.
The pain exploded from the rough handling his body was exposed to and finally, mercifully, consciousness fled.
Chip woke in darkness and wondered if he was blind again, like that time he had played astronaut. Soon, though, he saw faint edges of dim light and realized that he must be in a dark room. Or cave, from the roughness beneath one hand. He heard a soft snoring, a whuffing type of sound and smelled the same musky scent of before, and decided it was his captor.
He took stock as best he could in the near total darkness of the cave, and noticed that he was zipped into his sleeping back with only one arm and his head exposed. His backpack was partially placed under his head. The cold penetrated his exposed arm, making his fingers half-numb and he drew his arm inside the bag. There was nothing he could do until he could see, but sleep. However, sleep wouldnít come. Pain and uncertainty precluded any rest right now.
Chip lay still trying to remember what he had seen and heard before he had passed out. Whatever was sleeping nearby was huge. Even in the near darkness he had seen the stars blotted out by someone or something that couldnít have been less than six and a half feet tall and very muscular. It had seemed to take very little effort at all to pick him up. Then there was the musky smell.
So who was he in the clutches of? Some half-witted or deranged hermit? Or one of those survivalists Lee had been teasing him about? Chip sighed. Again it all came back to the fact that there was absolutely nothing he could do, especially now and certainly not in his condition. Chip tried again to relax and apparently succeeded to some degree because he awoke to the sight of a large man-beast shuffling around a dimly lit cave.
Almost as soon as he had awakened, it studied him and grunted. Then it turned away and picked up something Chip couldnít see. When it turned back, it was holding Chipís canteen. It held it out to him and he took it gingerly. The face was almost as hairy as the rest of its body and somewhat apelike, but with enough human characteristics to show a small range of emotion. As Morton pulled the cap offóhe was very thirstyóhe thought he saw friendliness on the dark nut-colored face. It nodded and turned back to the entrance, suddenly tense.
Chip listened, but heard nothing. Then he suddenly realized what he was face to face with. It was a Bigfootóa real Bigfoot! The creature finally moved back to him. It still seemed tense, but there didnít appear to be any anxiety directed toward him. Bigfoot sightings had seemed vague and tenuous and were usually dismissed because of a lack of irrefutable evidence. But here was one and it had abducted him, so to speak. What did it want with him if they were so shy and elusive to have only accidental and minimal contact? How much could it understand? It did, after all, know what his canteen was for. Chip took another drink and realized that the creature had filled canteen sometime while he had been unconscious or asleep. It was then Chip became aware of a soft trickle of water somewhere nearby. Wherever the Bigfoot had taken him, it was well supplied.
It held something in the hand thrust toward him and Chip studied it as closely as he could in the dim light. The small things appeared to be seeds or nuts of some kind. Perhaps pine nuts or something similar. It was offering him something to eat. Still he hesitated. The large beefy hand was thrust closer and it grunted softly to him. Like the offer of the canteen, Chip saw nothing but kindness in its actions. Reaching out, he took a small handful, tasted one and found, to his surprise, that they were dried berries; blackberries most likely. He ate more, holding them in his mouth to soften them, and then motioned to the creature to have some, too. It shook its head, and then pantomimed something. Chip didnít have a clue what else the Bigfoot was telling him. Perhaps it had already eaten. Maybe it was genuinely concerned with his welfare. Chip took the rest of the berries and chewed them slowly, noticing that there were pine nuts in the mixture as well. He finished his breakfast with more water and then he studied his captor in the increasing light.
Even as he was studying the large creature, trying to figure out what in the world something as elusive as this would want with him, the Bigfoot began to pantomime and gesture. Chip had learned sign language but he was at a loss to understand what in the world the creature was trying to say to him. It motioned to itself and then pointed to something outside the cave. Then it pointed to him and then itself and made a variety of signs. The Bigfoot stopped and waited, presumably for a reaction. All he could do was shrug.
Chip tried some American sign language, but it shook its head and growled ominously. It paced, apparently frustrated, a few times in the small confines of the cave. "Iím sorry," he said. "I wish I could understand you."
It stopped and gazed at him intently as though willing him to understand then growled again in irritation, and walked out of the cave. Almost immediately it was back. Squatting in front him, the Bigfoot made a motion with its fingers that seemed unmistakable to him. Speaking, talking. "You want to say something to me. To tell me something. Right?" Chip made the same sign and then pointed from it to him. It nodded and made more signs. Forgotten, for the most part, was the pain of his injuries. It was pointing to itself, motioning to something beside it. It furrowed its brow and stroked the air. Still Chip was puzzled.
The Bigfootís sudden loud growl was loud enough to cause a pattering of gravel from the ceiling of the cave. Chip jerked back, afraid of what retaliation a creature this huge might choose to affect on him. There was no retaliation; instead, it stood and began pacing again, then it left the cave. It didnít come back right away and Chip began to wonder if it was so disgusted that it was going to abandon him because of his failure to understand what it wanted.
That it was intelligent, he didnít doubt. That it wanted to communicate with him was also not in doubt. But what did it want? And how the hell would they be able to talk to each other? Chip had a notebook in his pack that heíd been writing his impressions of his trip. But if they couldnít talk to each other, they certainly couldnít write to each other. He could draw things, though. What was it someone had once said? A picture paints a thousand words? Chip dragged the pack over and unzipped one of the pockets. It wasnít hard to find the notebook. A bit more rummaging and he found a pen.
Looking up, he was startled to see the Bigfoot gazing at him, the dark eyes intent on what he was doing. He hadnít even heard it return. It was uncanny, almost spooky.
In one hand was a pointed stick. It looked at his pencil, then at the stick in its hand and gave a quick bark. Of laughter, Chip hoped. He pantomimed drawing on his notebook. The Bigfoot moved to the side enough to allow him more light. Then it began drawing a picture in the dirt. It drew two pictures. It pointed to the larger one and then to itself. Chip pointed to the smaller one and then to himself. The creature nodded and gave that whuffing bark that Chip now figured was laughter or at least approval. It drew a picture like the one that represented itself, only a bit bigger.
With widened eyes, Chip realized what it was conveying. "There are two of you?" he asked. Before he could draw or gesture his statement, it nodded. Chip started to ask about the other Bigfoot when he realized just what had happened. "You understand what Iím saying?" he asked. "But how? I mean you have no contact with people."
It motioned for him to stop talking and continued to draw. Chip watched intently. The drawings became more and more intricate and occasionally he interrupted it to ask questions, trying to keep them at the yes or no variety. It finally dawned on him what she was trying to convey. He repeated what he was thinking to see if he was right. She patted him on the shoulder and gave the whuffing bark of laughter. There were two of them and this one was the female.
She made more drawings, pantomimed and gestured. Again, he checked for verification. It seemed that the male, her mate, had been captured recently by a group of men not too far away and the female was desperate. She had to be, Chip thought, to kidnap someone in his condition because her continued communication indicated that she wanted help to free her mate.
She made more gestures; more drawings. After more questions and some drawings of his own, Chip knew the male had not been captured by any government entity. It was some private group, ranchers or some other kind of civilian outfit. He wondered, though, as he hadnít heard anything about the capture of a Bigfoot. Of course for the past couple of days, he had been incommunicado. When she had finished, Chip asked the obvious question, "Why me?" He also pointed out his injuries. "And how are you able to understand me? Obviously you couldnít sneak into school." At that last she looked confused. She rubbed out the previous drawings and made new ones, this time punctuated by more pantomiming.
Chip was startled when she explained that she had met other humans some years before; humans who had lived deep in the woods in the mountains. He got the impression that these had been young; probably children and she had learned a lot of English from them. She said that they had not told anyone about her for a long time. Suddenly the Bigfoot stopped drawing, stopped pantomiming and stared at the floor of the cave. Chip waited, but she was totally still. There was only the trickle of water at the back of the cave, the soft sighing of her breath.
Something had happened. Chip could guess. "They finally told someone," he said softly.
She nodded and sighed deeply as she began to draw again. Adult humans had come and she had had to leaveóto go even further into the mountains. They were both silent for a several minutes. It astonished Chip that she would contact any human, especially him in his injured condition.
Then she gestured and pantomimed something that astonished him even more. She and her mate had some kind of extrasensory awareness. A sort of people radar. She could sense not only the proximity of humans, which most likely had prevented more sightings, but a little of their predisposition. She had sensed in Chip something that superceded his military training and indicated that he would be sympathetic to her plight. She had realized that it would take a human to deal with the humans who had captured her mate. After several days of watching the backcountry, she had chosen him.
She sat back on her haunches and studied him as he assimilated the information and pondered. The transmitter! If he only had the transmitter he could contact the admiral. He pantomimed what he needed and she grunted, drawing her lips back in what appeared to be a grimace. He wondered if he had said something wrong.