I was frozen, totally unable to move. I wanted to. My mind was shouting in my head, begging me to move, but while it was staring into my eyes, I couldn't. Then it took a step toward me.
My uncle has a cabin in northern California, up in the Cascades about ten miles south of Mount Shasta. It's up a dirt road, TV Road or Microwave Road, or something like that. It's in the middle of nowhere, or, really, in the middle of a forest.
I used to go up there when I was a kid and well into my teen years. I loved it. I have many fond memories of that forest. I used to laugh at the people who went on vacations to fancy resorts. How is it a vacation with all those other people surrounding you? Up in the woods, you can really get away from the crowds and all the hassles of civilization.
A couple of years ago, my Grandma called me and asked if I'd like to go up to the cabin for a week. Apparently, my uncle needed to go into the hospital for an operation—nothing big, no need to worry. He wanted someone to go out to the cabin and look after it, along with his dog.
Well, I was in college, and it was summer break, so yeah. I jumped at the idea. I asked Grandma if I could bring a friend with me, and she hemmed and hawed a bit until I told her it was another girl from my class. She was fine with that. I think she was worried I'd be bringing a boy up for a "fun" weekend. She's a bit old-fashioned like that.
Carol and I flew into Sacramento in the morning, and Grandma picked us up. Now my Grandma may be a bit old-fashioned about some things, but she does love to drive fast. We were up at the cabin in time for lunch, and that counts stopping at Trader Joe's in Redding for supplies.
The cabin was pretty much as I remembered it: a two-story, blue, wooden building in a clearing just off the "road." It had a wraparound porch and an old metal garage off to one side. Carol, who'd never been out of a big city in her life, seemed a bit nonplussed, but she'd been like that ever since we turned up the dirt road.
"Come on," I said. "It's great inside."
I was about to drag her inside when Grandma harrumphed at us. A bit shamefaced, Carol and I grabbed the supplies. Carol was still looking at the cabin a bit skeptically, but her face brightened when we got inside.
My uncle has always said it's not what's on the outside that matters. When it came to his cabin, he practiced what he preached. Once you got inside you realized what he meant. The living room has all-leather furniture and polished wood. The kitchen is really modern. The TVs take up half the wall in most rooms. Carol brightened up a lot once she saw the inside. I guess she'd been thinking we'd be roughing it.
Barney was happy to see us too. He's my uncle's dog. He's an old black Labrador. I have no idea how old. He doesn't move that fast anymore, but his tail still wagged at full speed when we untied him from the back porch and let him inside. My uncle says he has to stay off the furniture, but my uncle wasn't there, was he?
"Your uncle's redecorating the bedrooms," Grandma said, giving the dog on the sofa an evil look. "You two will have to sleep in his room. It's the only one that's livable right now."
I remembered my uncle's room. It was the one at the south end of the cabin, facing the woods at their thickest. I grabbed Carol's hand and pulled her upstairs.
"Ta-da," I said, swinging the door open.
The room was much as I remembered it. It was all wood paneling, a deer's head mounted over the dresser, and a huge iron bedstead with a big, soft, fluffy mattress.
Then I looked up at the windows. They'd been changed, the old wooden frames replaced by new aluminum ones. The windows also seemed to have been repositioned slightly. Where the big old window looking south had been, there was now a smaller one. The one on the west wall had been enlarged, better for evening sun, I guessed.
I walked over to the south window. The closer I got, the slower I walked. Something in my mind was telling me that I didn't like that window. I couldn't remember exactly why, but that window had some sort of bad memory attached to it. I pushed that away. I was an adult, a college post-grad. I had no time for childish fears.
I reached the window and looked through. There was the forest, as I remembered it. The sun was nearly vertical, casting shadows on the forest floor. There was nothing among the trees. I looked carefully. Now, why'd I do that? Why would there be something among the trees?
Carol came up beside me. "You okay?"
That snapped me out of it. "Yeah, fine. Thought ... something. Doesn't matter. Cool room, eh?"
She smiled. "Yeah, but very ... masculine."
I grinned too. "We'll just have to put up with that."
We went back downstairs. Grandma had lunch ready for us. Barney, I noticed, had been evicted from the sofa and was now on his mat.
We sat at the table and dug in. There's something about the country's fresh air that just makes you want to eat, diet or no diet.
"What do you think of the house, dear?" Grandma asked Carol.
Carol swallowed and replied. "It's great. Not at all what I expected from the outside. What's the deal with the window in Tatiana's uncle's room, though? She seemed a bit freaked by it."
Grandma thought for a few seconds and then grinned. "Ah, that will be Tatiana's hairy man."
"Huh?" was the best response I could come up with.
Grandma put on her storytelling face. "Don't you remember, dear? When we used to come up here with your mother, you'd go into your uncle's room and look out the old south-facing window. You'd come and tell us you could see some big hairy man out in the woods and drag your mother and me up to see. We never could see anything, and I never understood why you just didn't take us out to the back porch. You always were a bit odd as a child, saying you saw things that no one else could. Like the little gray men at the bottom of the field that one day at Black Butte. A vivid imagination, I think, and one that you seem to have grown out of."
I blushed a bit at that, but it did bring back memories. I used to go into my uncle's room when I was younger and look at the forest. It was so close and so thick. Sometimes, I'd see something out there. Among the trees would be a figure, tall, taller than my father, and covered in dark reddish-brown fur. I never knew what to make of it. My uncle is a teaser. He loves to wind people up. I thought he might have set up something in the woods to scare me. Mostly it didn't.
It always bothered me, though, that whenever I managed to get my mom and my Grandma upstairs to look, it was gone. I would look out with them and could never see it. It was like it was only there when I was looking alone. And, no, it was not my imagination. It was real, I swear.
Later in the afternoon, Grandma got in her car and disappeared down the track in a cloud of dust and stones. She'd left us the number of the nearest neighbor. He lived about 300 yards down the road, but the forest was so thick you'd never know it.
We fed Barney, watched some TV, and then headed upstairs to bed for the night. My uncle's bed is so huge that there was plenty of room for both of us.
As we settled in, Carol asked, "Did you really see a Bigfoot out there?"
"I don't know what it was," I replied, lying on my back. I explained how I thought it might have been something my uncle dreamed up.
"There's more, though, isn't there?" Carol pushed. She knew me so well.
I rolled over and looked straight at her. "Yes. There was one afternoon, late in the day. I'd pulled Mom and Grandma up here again, and we'd seen nothing. They left, laughing at me. I was about fourteen at the time and not happy at being laughed at. I stayed here, my eyes just above the window ledge, watching the forest.
"I don't know how long I stayed like that, the whole thing is a bit hazy, but I saw it come back. It poked its head around one of the big trees out there. I was angry. I stayed crouching there, staring at it, loathing it. God, I hated it. Why wouldn't it come out when other people were in the room?"
I trailed off, and Carol prompted me again. "Is that all?"
I was struggling with my memories. Some things seemed clear, but a lot didn't make sense.
"I don't know," I said. "Honestly, the whole thing gets real vague and weird about then."
"Tell me," she said quietly. "Tell me whatever you remember."
I rolled on my back again, trying to clear the fuzz from my mind. "It saw me. It must have. It faced the window, looked up at me. I saw its face ... almost human ... eyes, bright, staring. I was so angry. I just stared back.
"Then, it moved. It moved away from the trees. It headed for the back porch. It wasn't moving fast, just loping, almost casually, and never breaking with my gaze. I broke. I ran. I ran so fast to find my family, to warn them ..."
"And?" Carol asked, engrossed.
I concentrated, but nothing came. "That's the weird part. I can't remember. I remember running out the bedroom door, down the hall, but then ... nothing. The next thing I can remember is that we had a barbecue that night. No Bigfoot, no scary hairy man, no mention of it."
Carol pulled her side of the blanket up tighter. "Jeez, weird."
I shook my head, trying to clear the fluff out of my brain. "Yeah" was the best I could offer.
"And that thing was just out there?" she asked. In the glow of the nightlight, I could see her hand waving in the direction of the south window.
"Yes, but that was years ago. My uncle's been up here for years and never said anything about any Bigfoot. Maybe I dreamed it." Thinking that way made me feel better, safer, more secure.
"Mmm," said Carol. "I'm going to find it hard to sleep tonight."
"I'm not," I said, scrunching down under the covers. It was true. Whatever memories I had were already fading again, replaced by the comfort of the soft bed and a good friend. I drifted off almost immediately.
I can't say much happened the next day. I know I slept in late and did, well, pretty much nothing. Barney really took almost no looking after. He was so grateful to be allowed on the sofa that he'd just stay there and pretend to sleep. Maybe he was like a child; if I don't look at you, you won't look at me—and kick me off the sofa.
I was restless that night. Carol had already gone up to the room, but I couldn't settle. I'd had a shower but was still in no mood to head to bed. Instead, I grabbed a soda and walked outside.
It was a beautiful night. The sky was clear, and the half-moon and stars bathed the clearing around the cabin in soft light. I inhaled deeply, letting the cool crisp night air fill my lungs. It seemed to relax me.
I walked off the porch, leaned my back against the rail. The tension, the restlessness seemed to fade away, and I was about to head back to our room.
Then I heard a noise. There was a rustling among the trees. Idly I looked at the tree line, about 8 feet from the cabin. I couldn't see anything moving.
Then the rustling came again, followed by heavy thuds. The thuds seemed to be getting louder, faster, approaching, like the footsteps of something unusually heavy. I froze, unsure what to do. It sounded like an elephant running through the forest. My heart thumped almost as loudly as the footfalls. My palms suddenly felt damp. The tension that had vanished only a moment before returned in full force. What was coming?
Then it came out of the woods. It was the same shape I remembered from my youth: tall, man-shaped, covered in dark fur. My thoughts were muddled, confused. It's a person. My uncle's back playing tricks. It's not a person. It's too big. It came out of the forest. Something is wrong. It's not right. I remember … I froze, not wanting to draw attention to myself.
It didn't help. The thing looked my way. Its eyes locked with mine, somehow, even in the semi-darkness of the evening. I froze. I couldn't move. I felt paralyzed. I felt my own will had vanished, replaced by an overwhelming command to stay still, stay there. I felt like a gazelle in a TV documentary, being stared down by a lion.
There was more, though. Thoughts, memories flooded through my head. Everything that had happened to me in the past, all the strange things, they made sense. I didn't like it, however. I felt that my role in those events had not been voluntary or happy.
It took a step toward me. I felt my fear rise even higher. My heart was beating faster than I could ever remember. I could feel the adrenaline flooding my blood, but still, I couldn't move. My mind was screaming for me to run. Run now! Not again. Getaway! But I couldn't. I was rooted to the spot. Just a few feet from the door, and safety, I couldn't move.
I heard the window above me open and Carol's voice. "Tatiana? You out there?"
The thing looked up. As soon as its eyes left mine, I felt my control return. My muscles, primed and charged, powered me onto the porch and through the back door. I slammed it behind me, throwing the bolt. I refused to look out and see if it was still there. It scared me too much, and I had no desire to meet its gaze again.
I grabbed my phone, rang the neighbor, begged, pleaded for him to come and take us away. I screamed at Carol to grab our stuff. We were leaving.
He arrived a few minutes later. He said he couldn't see anything outside the cabin, but I was in no mood for discussion. We left. I was shaking so bad I couldn't even put the seatbelt on. Carol had to do that for me. I did remember to call Barney, though. I wasn't leaving him alone with ... whatever it was.
Grandma arrived the next morning. She took one look at me and said she'd take Carol, me, and Barney back to Sacramento. On the trip back, in the light of day, she asked me about the experience. I told her everything I remembered. To her credit, she listened, and she didn't judge. There was no comment about an overactive imagination this time.
She asked me what I remembered when I looked into the thing's eyes. That's when I hit the wall. I remember remembering, but I don't remember what those memories were. It is so frustrating. It's like I have the answer to everything that happened to me, but I can't remember it. I just remember that I once knew it.
These days I don't take vacations in the woods. These days I like resorts. I want to be surrounded by lots of people.