I grew up in a small mountain town in Alberta, Canada. It was a quiet place for so many months out of the year. There weren't a whole lot of people living there, but with the amount of tourists that would come by to see the mountain ranges, it felt like a metropolis. I worked at a small souvenir shop my grandfather owned when I was sixteen. I was fortunate enough to have this opportunity as there wasn't a whole lot in regards to employment for youth there.
My grandfather was a smart man. While he did drop out of school in the fourth grade, he knew how to do many things. For one, he ran his own business. On top of that, he would trap animals, selling the more valuable pelts and using the lesser ones in crafts which he'd display for sale at the shop. He was also a great storyteller; a trait he says he gained from his own grandfather.
Most of the stories were of encounters with great moose that towered above him, or the time he fell and broke his leg while trapping, forcing him to crawl back to town. One story in particular that peaked my interest was about a boy who encountered a beast in the forest. The beast chased the boy back into town where it was then driven away by the boy's father who trapped it inside a cave by piling rocks at the entrance. The idea of a beast lurking in the forest frightened me, but also fascinated me. I would share the story with other youth who would stop by the shop, although none ever shared quite the same reaction I would every time I heard the tale.
It was late February when the shop really picked up in its volume of customers. The weather wasn't the worst, and the mountains still had a fair amount of snow blanketing them. My grandfather was extremely busy and had me on for more hours than usual during this time. Every day after he closed at around five, we'd go to his place where my grandmother would have our dinner on the table and hurry to eat it before we'd set out to check a few of his traps.
Although it was a means of making money, my grandfather found solace in trapping. Especially after repeated hectic work days. He enjoyed having me along as well, calling me his "prodigy" from time to time. The path we'd take was rather short and looped around the forest behind his house. With it being so dark, he would have preferred to not take me deeper into the trees. Usually we ended up with anywhere from nine to ten rabbits, which he'd then tie together by their back paws and throw over his shoulder.
One day in particular went by slower than any of the others. We had only a handful of patrons by the early afternoon, which was unusual. My grandfather decided to call it a day early and close up shop. As he locked up, he asked if I had wanted to go deeper into the woods and check some of his bigger traps. Ecstatic, I agreed and rushed to bundle up in my snow gear.
We walked the usual path first, finding some rabbits before heading further in. The trail that we walked was narrow. Towering pine trees and the occasional birch let in only a sliver of sunlight as their branches grew across the path; in our way and above us. My grandfather was busy cracking branches to make it easier for me to follow behind, a gesture I'd come to appreciate later on.
Soon, we came across the first in a dozen of traps. In the trap was a red fox. My grandfather pulled the device open and slung the carcass over his shoulder, as he'd done with the rabbits.
"I figure I can carry one more, and then I'll get you to grab a few. I din't think it'd be this bountiful. We may even have to return with the snowmobile," said my grandfather, walking along slowly.
We continued on for some time, finding some empty traps, and others bearing an animal. By the time we were half way done, I had two foxes over my shoulder; an imitation of my grandfather. Shortly afterwards, we arrived to the last set of traps. They were lined along the side of the trail in places it was evident animals have traveled through. To my grandfathers dismay, each trap was empty, but the snow was still stained with blood. We turned and made our way back out the trail, the sun now setting above us.
A few weeks had passed, and my grandfather ended up falling ill. He was forced to close the shop for a period of time while he recovered. This had also rendered him unable to check his traps. Me being inspired by my grandfather, had decided to go out on my own to check them in a vain attempt to impress him.
I went early in the morning, as to not get lost in the dark. I equipped myself with a cheap folding knife and pellet gun. I wandered that trail for hours until every trap was checked, and I had returned to my grandfather with seven rabbits, and no foxes. Although he was proud, he scolded me for going on my own without notifying him. He sat me down and put a hand on my shoulder. He cleared his throat and began telling me the story of the boy and the beast, reminding me of the dangers of the forest.
More time had passed and my grandfather's health had worsened. What seemed to be just any illness was soon determined to be cancer in the fourth stage. He passed in the first week of April, leaving me feeling isolated and alone. I struggled with the passing for some time, distancing myself from anything and everything that I could. For what reason, I don't know.
I grieved as anyone would and eventually began accepting that he was gone. It was here that I had the idea to take over his traps and sell the furs for myself. A young and foolish me went into the forest with my usual equipment, though this time I dragged a small sleigh behind me.
I spent nearly all day searching for traps, opening them, removing the carcasses and securing them atop the sleigh. This cycle continued on late into the day. Soon enough, gone were the rays of sunshine that broke through the trees. Instead, they were replaced with an ineffectual moonlight. I continued on, however, trying my best to ignore the darkness.
I was determined to succeed in the memory of my grandfather, but the darkness triggered thoughts of the beast which chased the boy in the story that I loved. I felt an unease over me as I found the last remaining traps. All were full except for one. I inspected the area around it and noticed paw prints going deeper into the trees.
In a regretful and idiotic decision, I picked up the trap and crawled on my stomach under low hanging branches, tailing the animal that passed through. I entered into a clearing. There were no trees and the snow was illuminated better than back on the path. It was here that I discovered numerous piles of small bones and pools of blood intertwined with the snow.
I felt a vigorous wave of unrest come over me. Was this a feeding ground for a wolf? I knew that there were wolves in the area. Or was it for a bear? I hoped that it was neither and turned to head back to the trail before I was interrupted by the snapping of twigs and crunching of snow.
My unrest was now full blown anxiety as I ran to the fox's path. I was stopped instantaneously as the maimed carcass of a fox landed in front of me. I felt nothing now but pure terror as I leaped over the cadaver to flee to safety; the culprit roaring behind me. I pushed my body through the small trail to get back to the path, exhausting myself with vigorous strides.
As I emerged through the thicket of trees, the heavy breaths of some animal grew louder and louder, coinciding with the thunderous crunching and cracking of branches behind me. I sprinted through the path. A task which would've been impossible if it were not for my grandfather clearing it of sticks.
I continued down the snowy passage, gasping for air as I did so. I dared not look behind me for I feared the terror that hunted me. I kept my head straight and just kept running. I could feel a sharp sensation in my chest. I needed to catch my breath, but I also had to get out of the forest.
I closed my eyes and attempted to muster any strength I could have had left, but I fell, at the edge of the trees. I peered behind me to see a sight which would go on to haunt my dreams. Bolting towards me was a horrid beast. It ran on all fours, strikingly similar to a wolf or a coyote, but it was much larger; around the size of a grizzly bear, but leaner.
It had an elongated snout which bared sharp teeth that were arranged in neat rows. Its yellow eyes glared as they stared into mine. The fur covering its body was long, fabricating a shaggy appearance as the moonlight reflected off its deep blackness.
It continued making its way to me, determined to kill. I removed the small pellet gun from my jacket and pulled the trigger. With enough luck, the pellet pierced the thing's eye, sending it into a rage. It howled loud in pain, similar to how an owl would screech, while it flailed wildly and hit the snowy ground with two heavy fists. It continued a slow rampage towards me as I tried to get up to run away.
I was unable to stand and the creature now towered above me. It placed one of its large paws on my chest. It growled mightily as foam dripped onto my clothing from its savage mouth. The beast reared its head back to go in for a bite, when all of a sudden, it roared again in pain, turning and retreating back into the woods. I stood, and ran to the warden who stood behind me, pointing his rifle down the dark path.
"You alright, kid?" He asked. "I got a call that someone heard a bear around."
I nodded and put my head down as he walked me to his truck. I stared into the trees the entire ride home, watching for the beast that made them its home.
Many years had passed since that encounter in the forest and I find myself dwelling on it quite a bit. It comes back in my dreams. The vivid image of that thing on that path in the forest where I had been with my grandfather. It is because of this that I have moved deep into the city, never once returning to that mountain town again.
Although if I am brutally honest, the idea of going back there for some sort of closure crosses my mind; increasingly so after my mother informed me that it was discovered that there is a cave in the forest where my grandfather used to trap. Tucked away beside a clearing. Behind some trees. With a large pile of rocks strewn to the side.