Excerpt: Shadow Tales
Snow is thick on the ground, a great white blanket making everything look the same. It crunches underfoot, makes it hard to walk. But it should make tracking things easier, as they’ll leave traces in the snow.
And that’s why Joel is in this forest in Maine: to track an animal no one has ever truly seen. He’s searching for a yeti with a team from the college he teaches at. He’s thrilled there was a sighting in his state. For once, he hasn’t had to travel far from home.
It’s early December, though, and it’s been snowing on and off all week. Joel has gone for a piss behind a tree, being quick about it because of the cold. He’s zipping up when he spots something on the ground. It looks like a footprint, human like, but bigger, like a large ape.
Joel pulls out his camera and a marker to measure it. They’ll get plenty of false leads. For example, a fox’s print in the snow, when warmed by sunlight, will expand to look like that of some strange creature. The sun often warps the tracks of known animals to make them look like something else, so Joel isn’t about to cry success quite yet.
He takes a picture, with the marker down for size, and then leaves a bright pink piece of tape on a nearby tree to mark the location. He also takes out a can of spray paint, equally pink, and sprays a dot on the snow by the fox’s print.
Finished, he puts all his things away and heads back in the direction of his team. When he reaches where they should be, however, he doesn’t see them. They must have spotted something. Joel is good at tracking, though, so he starts looking for signs showing what direction they’ve gone.
But someone must be against Joel because it starts snowing. Joel curses as any fresh marks start to disappear. He adjusts his backpack, looks around, and starts walking. He’ll freeze his ass off if he just stands in one place. His plan is to walk a little farther into the forest, and if he doesn’t find his team, he’ll head back to where they left the cars.
He’s walking when he hears a noise. At first he thinks it could be his team, but then he hears another sound: an animal roar kind of like a bear, but not quite. Joel thinks about calling out, but then wants to kick himself. If it is an animal, it won’t exactly be able to answer. Joel isn’t one of those people who think yetis can talk. He doesn’t think of it as a werewolf or vampire, something mythical. He thinks of it as a very rare, extremely intelligent animal.
Joel heads in the direction of the sound—because he’s here to find a yeti, after all—but when he passes through a row of trees, he can’t see any animals. He does, however, see some broken branches low to the ground, so he heads that way. The wind is picking up, and the snow is coming down heavier. Joel pulls his scarf tighter around his head, further warding against the sting of cold snow and wind hitting his face. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to see, even with the ski goggles he’s wearing.
He isn’t ready to give up, so he keeps walking, following any signs of life he can find. Finally, he sees something in the distance. It looks like a cabin, and given how bad the snow is getting, Joel wonders if his team may have taken shelter in the cabin, so he heads toward it.
The cabin is large and in great condition. It’s clear someone is living there, so Joel knocks on the front door. It takes a little while before he hears someone coming to the door, and when it opens, Joel finds himself face to chest with a tall man. Joel is tall, lanky even, but this man is taller, and broad as well, like some kind of huge lumberjack.
“Hello?” The man sounds surprised. He has a long mane of chestnut-brown hair and bright blue eyes. He has a full beard that puts Joel’s goatee to shame.
“Hi, I’m looking for a group of people who may have passed this way. I’m Joel Wilde. I’m doing a study in the area,” Joel explains, just as a huge gust of wind almost knocks him off his feet.
“‘You’re the only person I’ve seen. I didn’t think anyone would be out in this weather, to be honest. I think maybe you should come in and call your friends,” the man replies.
“Do you mind?” Joel asks, not wanting to admit that he hadn’t thought of calling his team.
“Not at all. You’re shivering.” The man steps back to let Joel inside.
Joel shuts the door behind him, glad to be in the welcoming heat of the cabin for a while. He can see a roaring fire, and its heat fills the room.
“My name’s Tommy Claire, by the way, and I live here. You said you were studying something. Can I ask what?” Tommy asks.
“Well, you’re going to laugh, and I’m used to it, but I’m here to look for yetis.” Joel is used to being mocked. Some people don’t like that he’s allowed to teach in a real college, given his views on yetis, but he’s far from the only believer.