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Did you ever have everything in your life going so well that you just knew something horrible was going to happen to you? Did you ever have the most precious thing you had in this cold, cruel, crazy world stolen from you and all your life hopes and dreams crushed and destroyed like a steel-heeled surplus Army boot snuffing out a discarded cigarette butt on the concrete sidewalk? I have. It all happened to me. You won't believe it, but...but...I'll try to tell my terrible, tortured, twisted tale.
My name is John. I'm originally from Texas and I work as a motel clerk in a small town in Nevada called Last Chance. Last Chance is so small you would think nothing ever happens here. But two years ago, we had an actual werewolf running around killing people. At one point, I got so weirded out that I even thought I might be the werewolf. To make a long story short, a truck that was bombing through town at twice the posted town speed limit hit and killed the werewolf as it was crossing the street. It turned out that the werewolf was really the idiot son of the motel owners I work for. According to legend, only a silver bullet can kill a werewolf and you may wonder how a truck can kill a werewolf. Let me assure you the truck that hit and wiped out the creature was a monster truck. After the werewolf incident, I figured I wouldn't have to fight any more monsters and l could live a safe, boring, normal life. I was wrong. I was dead wrong.
Last week I got a phone call that would change my life. I was working behind the front desk at the motel when the phone suddenly rang. The ringing woke me up and violently tore me out of a peaceful unconscious state. Suppressing an impulse to rip the phone out of the wall, I picked up the receiver.
“Hello,” said the beautiful, magical voice from the past on the phone. I froze. It sounded like Brenda, the long lost love of my life. Time stood still and my tired brain locked up. I had no idea what to say or do.
“Hello,” the voice said again.
“Yes...Brenda??” I finally managed.
“John is it really you?”
“Yeah, it's really me. How did you find me?“
“I was looking on social media and found you living in Nevada. Then I got your number online.“
“I can't believe my good luck.”
“Can we get together some time?”
My heart was pounding. Brenda was the long, lost love of my life. We were high school sweethearts and she left town suddenly and without explanation. I always dreamed of somehow finding her and reconnecting. Yet she found me. She was now working a part time job at a canoe rental shop on the Colorado river. With shaking hands, I told her I would come and visit her.
She asked if I had a reliable car for the trip. I lied and said, “yes.” As soon as I hung up the phone, I received a disturbing dark premonition that things in my life were going too well. I ignored the ominous thoughts and forced the negative emotions back down into my the dark recess of my subconscious.
The next day, I drove non-stop to the location of Brenda's canoe rental shop on the Colorado river in California. I noticed the closer I got to California, the better the scenery. The lifeless desert gradually turned into scenic rock terrain. The brown dirt gradually turned to wooded areas. It was as if my life was becoming better the closer I got to Brenda. Following the scribbled direction I wrote on the back of an old coke machine invoice, I found the canoe rental shop, The Big Country Canoe Company.
The Canoe shop was amazing. The small wooden paneled shop was stocked to the ceiling with everything you need for a camping trip. I immediately spotted Brenda, the love of my life, behind the counter in between insect repellent, propane tanks and beef jerky. An afternoon breeze from the open doorway blew her long golden brown, reddish hair around her shoulders like a night wind blows an Iowa wheat field on a moonlit Saturday night. Just seeing her behind the counter, I could tell our magic was still there.
It was slow and she had plenty of time to talk. She had rented canoes to two groups earlier in the day and was waiting for the last group. We were making plans for dinner that evening, when the last river group pulled into the parking lot. The motley crew had been drinking in their cars and was already drunk. The group was from New York and called themselves the Adirondack River Explorers. They consisted of three guys in their 50s and five guys in their 20s.
In an effort to get rid of them, Brenda quickly took their credit card information and dashed through the paper work.
“What are you guys doing this far west?” Brenda asked.
“We did all the New York rivers and we were looking for a true adventure in the deep wilderness,” said Dennis, the group leader.
“Listen I have to warn you,” Brenda said. “There's been some big foot footprint sightings downriver. I advise you to go upriver and stay out of black canyon.”
“You know Big Foot is real,” said Dennis. He turned and looked at his group with a smirk on his face.
“It is not,” yelled one of young guys.
“Please stay out of black Canyon,” Brenda tried one last time.
“If Big Foot shows up, we will offer him a beer,” said Jim, the other leader.
The drunken crew began to laugh and joke about Brenda's warning as they moved outside to load up the canoes. I helped them load the canoes and put them in the water. They had so much beer with them I wondered if the canoes would capsize.
I figured that was OK. Brenda had their credit card info and the canoe rental shop could charge these morons if they lost the canoes.
“I wished they took my warning seriously,” Brenda said as I moved back inside.
Brenda closed up shop and we grabbed dinner and drinks at the local family restaurant. When we got the food from the waitress, the food was cold, but I didn''t care. It was like we never parted. It seemed like old times for the two of us. Just when things seemed perfect, I suddenly got a disturbing premonition again that things were going too well in my life.
“Whats wrong,?” Brenda looked at me with a concerned look on her face.
I was about to attempt to explain when two State Troopers entered the restaurant and quickly walked over to our table.
“Hello, are you Brenda?“
“Sorry to interrupt your dinner. But word around town is that you were working at the canoe rental this afternoon."
“There's been a violent attack downriver on some local campers. Did anyone else travel downriver to Black Canyon this afternoon?"
“Yes. There was a large group from New York. I'm pretty sure they were heading downriver.”
“I think we should go out and check on them.”
“What happened to the local campers that were attacked?”
“One of the campers got away and was able to call police. The rest of the group were dismembered.”
Because she knew with the Colorado river and suspected where in black Canyon they would be, Brenda volunteered to show the troopers where to find the group. Because I am stupid, I volunteered to go along and try to help.
The four of us got in the police riverboat. With the powerful outboard motor, we rushed downriver. It was twilight when we finally reached a Black Canyon camp alongside the river. The rocky walls of the canyon towered upwards on both sides of the river. Trees and scrubby lined both sides of the river. The New York campers were drinking beer in a grassy area around a small campfire near the river. Two of the group were sober enough to notice our approach to their site.
“Anything wrong?” said Dennis, the group leader. I jumped out and pulled our boat to the shore.
“There might be,” said one of the cops. “We are recommending that you folks pack up and leave the site tonight. There is some kind of killer in the woods.”
We left one of the troopers to tie up the boat and walked 20 yards to the campfire. As we approached the fire, I had to duck from a flying empty beer can. Apparently the men had a habit of blindly tossing beer cans backwards over their heads when they emptied a bottle.
“Men,” said the trooper. “I think for your own safety you should pack up and leave your campsite. A similar downriver campsite was attacked and the people were horribly mangled. There's also been multiple big foot sitings in the area. It may be related.”
“What do you mean by mangled?” said Jim, one of the campers.
“We couldn't find all the body parts,”said the trooper. The campers became suddenly became quiet.
The trooper who was with the boat came up from the river to the fire. He moved behind the trooper who was talking to the group. The second trooper hands appeared to grow into massive claws. As the first trooper talked to the campers, he slashed him from behind. The trooper, his jugular ripped open, fell to the ground.
In desperation, I dove to the ground and grabbed the dead trooper's gun. Spinning around, I squeezed off a shot into the killer. The thing howled an unnatural sound and ran into the dark woods. The New Yorker campers also scattered and ran for their lives into the woods.
Brenda and I and the dead State Trooper were the only ones left at the campfire. The campers had finally discovered a true adventure in the deep wilderness.
We slowly walked to the water's edge and discovered the body of the state trooper that was watching the police boat.
“Another body,” Brenda said in disgust.
“That thing wasn't Big Foot,” I said.
“What do you mean?“
“Big Foot is a shy creature,”I said. “This monster is the shape shifter of native American legend. The Navajo called this creature a 'skin walker'. This is a dangerous creature that can assume any shape.”
“We can't just leave and let the shape shifter kill all those drunken campers,”she said. “Let's try to call the guys out of the woods.”
I knew we should just grab the boat and run, but we went back to the campfire and called to the guys hiding in the dark woods.
“I have the gun!” I called. “We all can leave in the police boat!”
Three men emerged from the woods. One I immediately recognized as the group leader.
“Well that's three,” I said. “Who else is left?”
“Well this is Jim and Ben,” said Dennis. “Somewhere in the woods is my other son, Mitch and my brother Glen, Dan, Matt Z, and Salvador. Maybe...“
The camper Ben moved beside Jim. The man looked down at his hands as they grew longer and turned into long claws. He jabbed at Jim's belly slicing his gut open. I instantly realized it was the shape shifter. Without hesitating, I leveled the gun at the thing and pulled the trigger. The shape shifting creature howled in pain and changed appearance again. The back curled into a hunched posture. Clothes gave way to an ugly, hairy beast. The unnatural face grew fangs. For several seconds, I was seeing the shape shifter's true appearance. The thing bounded back into the dark woods with surprising agility. Brenda screamed and ran in the opposite direction.
Jim crumbled to the ground. Dennis quickly jumped over and applied pressure in an attempt to attempt to stop the bleeding from the gaping wound.
”Somehow I knew I would be the one the thing would attack,” groaned Jim. “I'm accident prone on these trips.“
“You'll be OK,” said Dennis. “I can stop the bleeding. The monster had me completely fooled. That looked exactly like my son until it attacked.“
“The thing is bumping us off one by one,” I said in disgust. “My girlfriend got spooked and ran into the woods. We've got to get everyone out of the woods and get out of here before the shape shifter kills us all.”
“I have the gun!” I called out. “Let's all slowly come out of the woods.”
After ten minutes of calling, two young guys emerged out of the woods.
“That looks like Mitch and Salvador,”said Dennis.
“Were you two together in the woods all the time?”I asked.
“Yeah,” said one.
“No. Answer me again. Were you both together the entire time you were in the woods?” I said.
“Yeah,” said the man. “Nether of us could be the monster.”
“OK, ” I said. “You guys are safe. We have to get everyone out of the woods before the shape shifter finds them in the woods and kills them."
I called again. There was a rustling in the brush to our right and Brenda appeared in the moonlight.
“Brenda, is that you?” I asked. She didn't answer and started to walk towards us.
“Brenda! Say something!” Silently she kept walking towards us. I leveled the gun at her.
Stop...please,” I whimpered. Then Brenda started running towards us.
I heard the gun go off and realized my finger had pulled the trigger. To my horror, I saw Brenda, the love of my life, the best thing that ever happened to me, the only thing I ever wanted in this world, crumbling to the ground dead.
“That was the thing—not your girlfriend,” said Dennis. He slowly walked over to the body. My legs were suddenly wobbly, but I followed him. It was painful to look at the body, but I did.
“Ah, I think when a shape shifter dies, it changes back to it's original form,” I said. “But the thing still looks like Brenda.” A silent night breeze blew past my face. Somewhere in the distance, an coyote howled.
“Maybe...it's...,” Dennis said as he looked down at the body.
The dead body in the dirt looked exactly like beautiful, precious Brenda. Could a shape shifter monster copy a person so perfectly? I felt the gun fall from my limp hand to the ground. Sobbing, I suddenly fell to my knees.
“No,” I protested.
I knew Brenda was still alive and hiding in the woods somewhere. The body was the thing. It was the thing. It was the thing! It was the thing! It has to be. No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No!
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