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The dark divide, p.2
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       The Dark Divide, p.2

           Michael Carter
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  On the morning of Tuesday, 5 July, 1993, I was on duty in the Ranger house, collating some statistics about Northern Spotted Owl numbers, when I heard the familiar (during the summer months, at least) grind of car tyres on gravel roll up the tracks and pull over on the driveway. It was a well-used brown Buick and inside was an accountant and his family from Portland, out on their summer vacation.

  “Headed anywhere particular?” I asked, when I went outside to meet them. They had all gotten out of the car now; husband, wife, and three kids.

  “Somewhere quiet and beautiful.” replied the father.

  “Well, there’s plenty to fit that description up here.” I said, tipping my hat in welcome. “I’m Mikey Patterson, ranger for these parts, and the local legal-eagles say I’ve got to give you all the brochures and make sure you’re all happy and safe while you’re up here. How long will you staying?

  “Two weeks. My brother was up here last year. Said it was fabulous.”

  “Well, he’s not wrong there. Now could I have your names to put on the visitor forms?”

  “ Sure, I’m Joe Nesbitt, this is my wife Rachel, and our three little brats, Keely, Steve and Conor.” He indicated them each in turn, and they gave wry smiles. By saying their names out loud, like a magic spell, it brought the kids to life and they went scooting off on little exploratory adventures around the car park, leaving us grown-ups to ourselves.

  “I hope they don’t get eaten?” said Rachel, and we all smiled like old friends.

  “ So, are you wanting me to direct you to a nice site, or do you just want to go exploring yourselves?” Joe thought about it for a moment, scratching his cheek while he did so.

  “ Do you know anywhere really spectacular?”, he finally asked.

  “ And not too far from here.” added his wife, glancing around to see where the kids were.

  “ Well,” I said, “all the country round here is pretty hot stuff. I’m sure if you go wandering yourselves you”ll find something to really suit you.”

  I asked them to step inside to fill out the forms and to drench them with the documentation that the law said I had to give them. This was so the local authority had no responsibility if a visitor was eaten by a bear or fell off a cliff edge.

  “There’s about two dozen leaflets in all. You don’t really need to read all of them but just give them a glance. It’s all common sense really.”

  “ What are they about exactly?” asked Rachel, flicking through the pamphlets.

  “ Mainly rules and regs. Washington State has a vast array of flora and fauna and much of it is under strict protection. The law should just tell you what to steer clear of, which flowers not to pick, berries not to eat, and that kind of thing. There’s a couple in there about places of interest, too. You know, beauty spots, stuff like that. Such as the Chuwaggua Force waterfalls about 20 kays east of here. Oh, and there’s Hippy Creek, too, where you can sometimes spot the grizzlies salmon fishing.” Keely, who had left her two brothers outside, sounded excited at the mention of the bears.

  “Can we go see the bears, mom? Huh, dad, can we?” They could hardly refuse such an excited little face.

  “ Sure we can,hun.” Rachel said, playing with Keely’s ponytails, “if we can find the place, that is.”

  “It’s all on the leaflets, map, tracks, everything you need.”

  “Coool.” screeched Keely, sounding like an excited owl, and ran out to tell the boys, “We’re going to see the bears! We”re going to see the bears fishing!”

  “Well, that sure made her day.” laughed Joe, looking up from the forms he was filling out.

  “I can’t actually guarantee you’ll see the bears, but the chances are good. I cocked my head on an angle, weighing up the facts, “They’re usually out and about, especially if it’s really hot like it’s been lately. They like to cool off, and catch lunch in the process. You’ll probably see them at some point if you’re here two weeks. Anyway, if you are unlucky, you can check out one of the official watching sites on your way back home. They’re about another 40 kay down Interstate 241, heavily signed, you can’t miss it. The bears are out there every day in the summer. Its a sanctuary, see. They’re pretty tame, and sometimes come pretty close to the fences. I’m pretty sure that you’ll see one up at the Creek, though, but if you don’t, and the little one gets upset, then you know where to go.”

  “Thanks.” said Joe, smiling, as he handed me the completed documents. I checked them over, signed them, and filed them in the current visitors tray.

  “OK, then folks, you’re free to go. No doubt, I’ll see you again on my rounds.”

  “Rounds?” enquired Rachel.

  “Sure, I have to keep my rounds up. I just wander the area on an evening when my relief takes over here. Check everyone’s okay, and all the forests are holding up well.”

  Joe grimaced, “But how will you find us, when you don’t know where we’re going?”

  I smiled at him, the pride probably shining through,

  “Mr Nesbitt, I’ve been in this job for 12 years now. I’ll find you.”

  At that they left, bidding me goodbye, and I watched with a wave until the Buick had disappeared up the trail. There were no other visitors passing either in or out that day, and so after finishing the Spotted Owl reports, and re-building a new yard fence (dry rot had almost polished off the old one), I had time to begin on my rounds a little earlier than usual. Jack, my night relief at the visitor centre, arrived in his perky little jeep at around 6 PM, and after a quick bite to eat and a chat, I took charge of the jeep and headed off into the wilds. My round was over just over 7 km², and most of this is done on foot. I use jacks jeep to get me out to a central spot, a place called Eagle Tor, so named because of a small edifice of granite rock, much eroded now, which stands in a small clearing just off the road-side. Our records show that eagles used to build their eyries in the rock walls above, but have now retreated to wilder areas. However, I am now not sure that this is the correct origin of the name; could ‘Eagle’ be a miscommunication of ‘Ee-gor’, those mysterious sounds in the language of the Almasti?


  From Eagle Tor I continued on foot, traversing the little tracks between the trees which I have made myself in my 12 years of wandering. If any new ranger were to take over in this area, it would take them many years to get to know all the twists and trails, and just exactly which of my self-made tracks goes where. Someday, a younger man will have years of fun deciphering my unmapped Eden, but hopefully, pending bad luck, I should stay here for another 12 years, at least. Knowing what I now know, I would find it difficult to retire.

  People often ask how it is that I can find where they have pitched camp when I didn’t even know where they were headed, much like the Nesbitts had. Well, all of us Rangers keep the secret mainly to ourselves, telling the families who question us that we find them through some emphatic link with the birds and beasts of the forests, but most understand that its an atmospheric but appealing little white lie. We find our campers through a combination of following the tracks of their cars (as our roads are very quiet, tracks often remain in place until natural causes or new tracks can erode them), knowing where the popular camping spots are, and assistance from field-working Rangers or visitors who may have seen them pass by. It is not as glamorous or mystical as our united lie suggests, but we still have great fun in spreading it.

  On that particular night I headed off to the west first, on part of a trail that led round the side of Dark Mountain, to check on a family who had flown in from Minnesota a couple of weeks earlier. They were in fine shape, teaching the kids how to fish, and had seen no sign of any newcomers. Onwards I went, trekking a few kilometers to a small summer cottage hidden up to the windows with the forest, which an old retired couple hire out out every season. There I received no news on the Nesbitt’s, but did stay for a while. The old lady, Jessica, offered me a chilled beer if I would listen to a sample from her husband’s new chi
ldren’s book. Thus I continued on my rounds, checking in with each visitor, about nine different parties in all, and, as I suspected, two of them reported that they had seen and talked with the Nesbitts who seemed to be heading, as I figured they would, for Hippy Creek.

  I am unsure of how Hippy Creek got its name, but I know from looking at the records that it had the same title in the late 18th century, and therefore had no relation to the cultural change in society that took place in the 1960s in Britain. It most probably originates from the Sioux Native Americans who once, when this land was completely wild and free, shared Washington state with the beavers and the grizzlies. Many parts in this area, and indeed, much of the Northwest, take their place names either from the Indians or else from other settlers who roamed here after the civil war.

  However it got its name, Hippy Creek is an area of particular beauty, and it is a popular spot for visitors. The Chuwaggua River brings fast-moving waters from the west and is surrounded on both sides by heavy brush, pine on the north side, and on the south, after a small grassy knoll where the visitors pitch themselves, is the beginning of the Patooka conifer reserve.

  By the time I reached the Creek it was almost dark, around 10 PM. Approaching from the west, my first sign that the Nesbitts were pitched there was the smell of their stove, piping out a hot, inviting odour of stewed beef. They were so busy with their preparations for their first night that they didn’t see me approaching, and Rachel gave quite a jump when she finally heard my footfalls behind her.

  “Sorry,” I grinned, “did I scare you?” She put her hand to her chest, in that weird gesture that people do to seemingly feel their heart pounding.

  “I thought maybe you were a grizzly, come for the beef.”

  “Oh no, you wouldn’t have heard a grizzly.” I said, still grinning.

  “So you did manage to find us, anyway.” said Joe, standing shirtless in the cold night air.

  “He followed the smell.” shouted one of the kids. They were all sat on cushions on the grass sipping away at their soup. Joe laughed,

  “ So that’s how you do it! But what about visitors who don’t cook beef stew by the light of the stars, huh? Now there’s a question!” I walked around the three tents they had erected, pleased that everything was correct and safe. I talked while I walked,

  “Well, I’m a ranger, aren’t I. The forest tells me things, it talks to me.” I paused in my inspections and looked down at Steve, who was staring up at me wide-eyed as if I was magic. I continued my great white lie, lowering my voice for effect, “And I talk to the forest. We’re pretty good friends, really.”

  “ Nothing to do with good old lady luck, then?” asked Rachel, obviously taking my story at face value. We laughed it off, but the young ones stayed with their soup and their talking forest. Kids need a little bit of magic in their lives.

  Somehow the Nesbitts, or to be more precise, Rachel, coaxed me into sampling of the soup, which, although it didn’t yield all that its odour promised, still tasted pretty good. After I’d commended them for both their culinary skills, and their expertise in setting up the tents correctly, with stones around the stove and merits of that ilk, the conversation turned to why they had chosen this spot instead of any other.

  “The bears pretty much won us all over.” answered Joe, now sitting round the small fire, like the rest of us, ”and they have running water, ensuite,” he pointed to the trees, “connected communal bathroom, cabaret if the bears arrive. Room service is a bit lousy, though.”

  “Well, this is the great outdoors. No maitre d’ out here.” Keely, crumpled the wrapper of the candy bar she’d been eating, and when her mouth was empty she picked up on the mention of the bears.

  “The bears are here already, daddy, remember.” I looked at Joe,

  “What, you’ve seen them already?”

  “ Oh no, take no notice of Little Miss Tell-Tale, she’s got a vivid imagination, you know.” Whatever her father said, Keely seemed adamant,

  “But daddy I did see it out there. I did.” She looked up to me then and in a solemn voice added, “I think it was poorly. Or maybe dead.”

  “What’s all this?” I asked, curiosity sparkled. Joe was grinning, shaking his head,

  “Oh, while we were putting up the tents and unpacking all our kit, Keely went off down the stream for a little exploring. The two boys helped us with the tents, so she was on her own.” He took a sip of his coffee, and Rachel took over the story.

  “When she came back she said that she’d seen a bear lying in-”

  “I did see one. Maybe it was asleep.” interrupted Keely.

  “Lying in the grass, beside the water.”

  “Did you go and check?” I asked, keenly.

  “She said she saw the fairy-folk, too.”, answered Conor, laughing with his brother. I turned to Keely who was already looking at me, perhaps waiting for me to add some credence or respect to her story.

  “Well, Keely,“ I said, in an unmocking voice, “bears maybe, but I’m afraid we don’t get a great deal of fairy folk round here.” I turned back to Joe and Rachel,

  “Still, I’d better check it out. That’s what I get paid for. Where is it exactly?” Keely stood up, then, and, feeling important, proudly pointed in the direction she had gone.

  “It’s just next to the stream. You can’t miss it.” she said, her eyes gleaming with pride in the moonlight.

  “Would you like me to come with you?”, asked Joe, standing up, and reaching for his shirt.

  “It’s okay Mr Nesbitt. This is my job. You enjoy your supper. I’ll come back and tell you if I find anything, and if not I’ll see you all tomorrow night.” We exchanged goodbyes, and I headed off, turning back only once to thank Rachel for the soup.

  Despite the Nesbitts reluctance to believe their daughters story, I was still compelled to check it out for myself. It wasn’t impossible that there was a dead or injured bear somewhere up the creek. There had been injured animals in the past, and there would be in the future. Usually, though, their bodies were found by the road after being hit by a car; sometimes the driver reported it, sometimes they didn’t. Raccoons, badgers and bears often died of old age or natural causes, although with the latter, if they knew that death was approaching they would usually slink off into the undergrowth somewhere to die quietly, allowing their remains to feed the forest; meat for the other natural denizens, tufts of fur for nests and hides, and bodily nutrients like carbon and the rich oxides to fertilise the earth and keep the ground fresh. And whatever remains, the maggots and the mayflies take. Thus, if there is a natural death deep in the forest, the chances are it will never be noticed.

  That’s why I found Keely’s story of a dead bear out in the open to be intriguing. If she was telling the truth, the only explanation that I could think of was that it must have been in a fight with another of its kind (it never occurred to me until later that there isn’t a great deal of rivalry between the bears at this time of the year; mating is all over and territories have been set out months earlier) or perhaps it had been wantonly shot by a wandering hunter. While I walked slowly downstream, checking the brush as I went for any sign of a body, I cast my mind back over the last couple of days to see if I could dig any report out of my memory which could have stemmed from gunshots. I couldn’t.

  So it was that I came upon the body in complete mystery as to its origins. It was more or less where Keely had said it was, although I was quite surprised that she’d wandered so far from the camp. I approached the mass warily, for I didn’t have any sure indication that it was dead. It could have been merely injured, and there is little that is more dangerous than an injured grizzly bear. I had no torch on me tonight either. I had left it at the Visitor Center as the skies were clear and I’d figured on not needing it. The moon was out, however, shining in an almost full orb, casting clean, white but insubstantial light on the land. When I was close enough to the mound to make out the shape of the back, I felt the first sliver of hope that perhaps th
is was what the scientific world had yearned for so long; the carcass of a mystical Almasti. I wasn’t certain, yet, that this is what it was, but it was definitely too long and too thin to be a bear, even a particularly dishevelled one. I thought momentarily that it could have been a human corpse, but as I approached it, step by cautious step, the almost overwhelming smell of the Almasti, which although I had only encountered before on one occasion, was totally unmistakable and my nostrils filled with hope and ambition.

  Although in my heart I wanted to rush over there and see the creature full in the face, I knew that first of all I had to be sure that it was dead. I observed it for almost twenty minutes, at first being silent and watching the thing for any signs of movement. When there were none, I began to snap a few branches from the nearby trees, make heavy rustles in the undergrowth, in an effort to make myself audible. If the thing was capable of hearing my efforts, it would, if it had been able, have looked towards the noise, alerting me as to its physical state. When, after another ten minutes there was no sign of movement at all, I stepped slowly towards it, my ranger-issue stun pistol at the ready.

  It was easy to mistake for a bear, especially by someone not used to the shape and stature of Washington grizzlies, but I, an informed man, knew different. This was an Almasti, the creature which I had strived after for twelve long years, and in my imagination since I could read. It was dead, for I could see no sign whatsoever of chest movement, thus it was taking in no air. It was more or less as I had imagined it to be, and yet there were still startling differences to my visions. It was lying face down, and I could not turn it over on my own, much though I tried. It’s mangled purpley brown hair was matted and stained with what I believe was, as crazy as this may sound, the juice of squashed blackberries. One arm was crushed under its weight and the other lay beside its body, reaching down almost to the knee joint. It seemed at first to be decapitated, no head was visible, but through closer investigation I discovered that the head, thickset and deep in the shoulders, was underneath the rest of its torso. The legs were curiously stumpy, and the feet just like those of humans, but covered in coarse hair and elongated.

  I stood back for a moment in complete awe, and to take in the full implications of my find. What was my next step? What should I do now? If I reported the incident, the corpse would be taken away and studied. This would prove its existence, and I would be assured fame and fortune, both as the person who discovered it, and as an authority on the subject. I could have auctioned photographs of the carcass to the highest bidder, made a fortune wiith my lucky find. There was a downside to these options, however, and a painfully obvious one. If the Almasti was certified as an existing creature, then there would be visitors, hunters, and media by the truckload, causing untold potential damage not only to the beast itself, but also to the countryside in which it lives, and the other animals would share the grief. My responsibility would be to inform the world of the Almastis’ presence, a news item which would become the most important scientific discovery since the dinosaurs.

  So, what was it to be; fame, fortune, respect, and worldwide knowledge with all the ensuing chaos and destruction which would follow; or personal and unique satisfaction which would allow the creatures to live on, unchecked and unhindered by the arrogance of man. I was considering this when I heard the sound, a heavy, loud and horrendous wailing noise, more startling than a choir of hungry bears. I looked around, to the bushes from where the sound had come. They were moving, brustling. There was something in the bushes. I drew my pistol, and nocked the safety off, backing away from the dead creature. The sound erupted once more, deep and menacing. Only this time it was not so much a sound, as a language, a voice!

  “ lar-gor.” I backed off even faster, my eyes set on the origin of the sound. I just managed to reach the welcome shadows, when the owner of the voice lurched out from the forest. An Almasti, alive and amazing!

  Despite having just partly examined one of its species, I still found myself notably shocked by the sheer physical presence of a living specimen. It was, at its closest, only twenty feet from me, and with help from the moonlight I got a good view of its long arms, swinging beside its torso much like a gorilla. Its head was indeed as I had discovered on the dead beast; thickset deep in the neck, bulky shoulders towering up over it and obscuring it from behind. It saw me, too, and it stared at me, like a cat, with green gleaming eyes, cheekbones raised, and lips big and pursed. I could see veins throbbing in its cheekbones and down onto his shoulders. After an eternity of ten or twenty seconds it turned away from me and headed, as if without a care, to its dead kin, and raised it up over its shoulder. What I had not been able to even turn over, this magnificently huge creature had effortlessly hoisted up onto its shoulders, and after another sharp, short glance in my direction and a repeat of the “Ee-gor lar-gor” motif, and carried it off back to the pine brush from where it had came. I could see then that the dead one was slightly smaller, and as it was lifted up, I got a glance of its cold pale face, grotesque but not unkind. I guessed that it was a female, and the one that had carried it off was a male specimen, but if the two were mates or in any way connected apart from the species, I had no way of knowing. And then they disappeared, the living and the dead, both gone, my soul-churning choice made up for me by the creatures themselves.

  I rested by an old, withered pine, and mulled over the events, giving them peaceful, quiet reflection to fully sink in. The living Almasti had stolen my find from me, cheated me of the fame and fortune that could have followed. The living had arrived, to carry off the dead.

  At last I began to return slowly, thoughtfully, back down to where the Nesbitts had pitched camp, almost two hours since I had departed from their company. As I approached the smoking remnants of their barbecue fire, I pondered on what I would do next. I saw little point in reporting the incident. If the Almasti take such pains to keep their secrets, then what gives me, or any man, the rights to reveal them. Let them live on, in peace. There is indeed a vast dark divide that seperates our species, and not only one created by the Pacific forest. The greed and want and selfishness of humanity has no place among the Almasti, and thus the Almasti have no place among us. Let the dark divide between our worlds be.

  Rachel and the children had retired to bed when I reached the camp, but Joe Nesbitt was still sitting by the firelight, sipping the last of the tea.

  “I was waiting up to see if you’d come back.” he said tiredly, as I sat down opposite him, “You’ve been quite a while, did you find anything?” I took a mouthful of the tea he offered me, and swivelled it around in my mouth, finally slipping it down my parched dry throat.

  “Yeah. A dead bear.” I answered, “just like your daughter said. I dragged it into the forest to rot.”

  I knew my conscience wouldn’t have allowed any other answer.


  [Again, I used the Voice Recognition Software Dragon to convert this from my Amiga, and some phrases were particularly funny and/or baffling. Checking through the text I discovered a reference to the Bigfeet doing some knitting, which confused me very much. And also the following sentence; “records tell that Eagles used to build their eateries in the rock walls above”. Ho hum.]

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