With Halloween so close, I thought it would be a shame not to tell stories for the campfire. With the full moon this week, I thought what better than to tell the tales witnessed by it as it shines upon the evils of the night.
The October moon rose, full and bright, above the lofty heights of the fur trees and shone its cold light across the forested landscape. Mitch Higgins was sitting around the fire, admiring the Alaskan night. The most recent addition to the musher’s camped at the mountaintop in Dyea; Mitch was grateful that the rain, which had persisted for days, seemed to have finally blown over. A small wood cabin sat behind him with its rear wall nestled against the fence where his dogs were housed.
Most of the other mushers had taken their dogs and left, going to race or moving their animals to another training camp. Only Lauren had left her animals on the mountaintop. Usually, Mitch enjoyed the company of his fellow mushers, but Lauren was sick and resting in town that meant her dogs were left for Mitch to take care of. He had fed both sets of animals and was just enjoying the October moon. The bears had bedded down for their long winter nap, and the mountain, while lonesome at times, was also very peaceful.
When he was younger, Mitch would have never considered staying alone on a mountaintop, but with his dogs, he was not truly alone. The twenty-four animals that he raced with were his family now, and Ted was down at the bottom of the mountain at base camp, just a radio away. Occasional glimpses of the Northern Lights kept drawing his eyes skyward. One of the logs in the fire popped, drawing him away from the sights of nature around him, then he heard something else. A noise from further down the mountain. It was a strange sound like something moving through the woods, not the thrashing of a bear, but not the movement of a human either.
When the wind shifted, it carried an unfamiliar scent up the mountain. Across from him, Mitch could see Lauren’s dogs perk up and start sniffing about. A look over his shoulders revealed his dogs doing the same. A moment later, the animals were growling. Mitch looked around; the dogs were acting like a bear was near but that couldn’t be. Could it?
Running from his chair to the small cabin that held enough room for only a bed, Mitch grabbed the yellow spray can by the door. If it was a bear, Mitch was ready. The bear spray would keep the animal away, and if not, he still had the pistol on his hip. It was late October, and Mitch’s mind drifted back to the old ghost stories that the other mushers had told him. The Dyea Slide Cemetery wasn’t far away. In April, 1898, an unknown number of people were buried, lost forever, by a landslide. The others had told him about spirits roaming through the woods, searching for their lost bodies.
“Keep it together, Mitch,” he whispered to himself.
Keeping a watch on the dogs, Mitch noticed they were all focused on the same area. Something was at the far end of the kennels, and the dogs were not happy about it. The young musher lit his lantern, pulled the pin from the bear spray, and stepped out to meet whatever had the dogs on edge. The light from the lantern provided a good halo of illumination, and the bear spray offered a range of thirty feet; these things allowed Mitch to feel somewhat secure.
The gravel road up the mountain into the woodland provided a barrier between the camp and the forest, only an exceptionally large fur tree stood close to the camp. Mitch crept closer towards the tree, when he heard a deep growl raising from behind it, louder than the ones offered by the sled dogs. It was a sound that Mitch had never heard a bear make before. Careful to keep his distance, the young man tried to give a wide berth to the tree so that he could see what lurked behind the evergreen. Claws raked down the bark, digging deep furrows into the flesh of the tree and disappeared as the light hit them. Mitch had not gotten a good look, but he got the impression that the fur was gray and the paw did not look like a bear’s.
The paw reappeared and dug into the tree. Mitch could see five fingers that looked very human like, then a fur-covered face with a long snout, sharp teeth, and amber eyes lunged forward. Screaming, Mitch pressed down the lever and shot a concentrated stream of pepper and irritant at the beast. The young musher ran backwards, holding down the lever, as he tried to reach the pen. Both sets of dogs were going crazy. When his back touched the fence, Mitch dropped the bear spray and opened the gate. Huddling with his dogs, the man listened as whatever he had seen tore down the mountain away from him; angry snarls rising up in the night air.
Ted, Mitch thought as the realization that the man would be unprepared for that monster. There was no way the musher was willing to step outside of the pen where his animals had formed a protective circle around him. No longer growling, the animals stared in the direction where the thing was running away. He did not want to admit it, but the face he had seen looked like the werewolves from the movies he watched as a kid. Pushing those thoughts aside, Mitch wracked his brain to think of how to contact Ted without leaving the safety of his dogs. The realization that his cabin had a window against the dog pen dawned on him and he had a plan. Forcing up the window, Mitch leaned in and grabbed the handset. The radio crackled to life in his hand…