What BIGFOOT VALLEY is about
GENE MARTIN, whom you may remember from the exciting thriller, Wolf Seed, has suddenly become very wealthy. Does he buy a big mansion and expensive cars and give outlandish gifts to beautiful gold-digging women? No, he buys a horse and rides off into his own romantic daydream: adventure in the northwestern Rocky Mountains.
Because of his unorthodox outlook on life, people in general don’t see Martin as the brightest bulb in the fixture. But then comes the crunch and opinions may be forced to change. A young mother and her daughter are kidnapped by a mountain sasquatch (the legendary bigfoot) with gonads the size of Texas tomatoes and everything else to match; and now the flame of Martin’s heroic nature burns with increasing brightness as he tries to live up to his own image of the damsel-rescuing hero he’s always wanted to be.
BIGFOOT VALLEY, in spite of the bizarre nature of its subject matter, is a convincingly told story. It has plenty of exciting, realistic action and its memorable characters are unique, clever, and often funny.
This book will leave you wanting more of Gene Martin–and there is more coming.
The bigfoot creature has shown up in many stories, movies, TV series, and books–so one could wonder why anyone would want to read my own contribution, BIGFOOT VALLEY.
Just for a moment, let me replace my normal modesty hat with my brag hat, so I can say that I think I’ve written the biggest, boldest, bigfoot adventure-thriller of them all–you know, the quintessential, the be-all, end-all, don’t-ever-frighten-me-again-with-hairy-bogeymen stories, treatment of the subject. After reading BIGFOOT VALLEY, if you want more bigfoot adventure, all that’s left for you is to go out into the wilds yourself and arrange a meeting with one of those big-daddies.
But here’s a thought: You might want to read this story not because there are large hairy creatures in it, but because of the great human characterization, action, suspense, adventure, and humor that it contains.
Back to normal headgear.
According to a number of non-fiction writers who have done serious and painstaking investigation into the matter, we have, on the North American continent, a species of animal about which little is known.
Many people doubt the existence of the sasquatch, also known as bigfoot, the gigantic hairy man-apes of the western coastal and mountain regions. Some doubt, some believe; but these fascinating creatures, whether mythical or real, have had plenty of publicity over the years so that by now pretty well everyone is aware that there have been alleged sightings.
Some people quickly make up their minds that the concept is ridiculous. But why? In western North America are thousands of square miles of mountainous forested wilderness where even herds of elephants could hide out with some success. No elephants have ever been seen, but hundreds of bigfoot sightings have been reported and recorded, the locations speckling the western map from Alaska to Mexico.
And the reports always agree that the mysterious creature in question is huge and hairy but walks upright like a man rather than leaning to the front like a gorilla. There is also convincing agreement on details of anatomy, such as the slanting forehead, the flat nose, the bulging muscles, etc. Giant footprints–much more human looking than that of a gorilla (who doesn’t have feet, but rather an extra set of hands)–have been seen, with casts having been made of many of them for study, and these tracks are persuading in that they’re much the same wherever they’re found (although varying in size), even down to a peculiar separation in the ball of the foot.
There are a few rare and indistinct still photos of these creatures, but this lack of detail is well made up for in the full-color movie footage taken by researcher Robert Patterson. This is a close, clear, detailed shot of an approximately seven-foot-tall female sasquatch promenading along through the bush, looking to the side at the cameraman. You can tell she’s female by her titanic boobs.
For those interested in studying up on the matter, books on the subject are available in public libraries and the internet has information as well. The material that I used in my own research was mainly from the book, On the Track of the Sasquatch, by John Green, a newspaperman from British Columbia, Canada, who investigated the bigfoot phenomenon for many years. To him I’m grateful for the help that his compiled information has given me in the writing of this adventure-thriller.
I must point out that I refuse to write sasquatch and bigfoot with initial capital letters, even though everyone else has been doing so. If dog, horse, human being, and unicorn don’t deserve the upper case, then neither does bigfoot.
This story is strictly fiction. It gains some extra novelty by being a monster story and a western combined. Although I’ve not had the doubtful privilege of meeting a bigfoot, I did work on a ranch in the foothills and got to be a horse wrangler on a hunting expedition into the Rocky Mountains. I used those experiences to give this novel a good solid footing on which to weave the story.
For a sneak preview of this book read the sample pages below:
THIS IS A STORY from the life of Gene Martin, a sort of strange duck who, having found himself born into a halfway-house between heaven and hell–namely the planet Earth–decided to make the most of it by taking the route of romance and adventure.
* * *
A flaming sunset had come and gone and now murky dusk was settling over the dirt road that wound through rough, hilly terrain. It was a lonely place. No cars had passed Gene Martin, neither from the rear nor from the front, for over an hour. The bay horse he was riding had been plodding along sleepily, but then he abruptly took to lifting his head higher, cocking his ears forward, and letting out an occasional snort. Gene knew horses and he knew this one was scared. But scared of what? The most likely answer was that the mount sensed the proximity of a bear.
“Shit, Duke,” said Martin, “a bear’s nothing to be afraid of–if that’s what you smell.” Then he inwardly scolded himself for saying shit, for he was trying to get over a mild bent for vulgarity that cropped up in him from time to time. He would have spent more time scolding, but his mind turned toward remembering that it was late spring and he supposed this was the time bears have their young, and he had often heard that mother bears with cubs can be bad company. But he did his best to stay positive. “You can outrun a bear, Duke, if it should come to that. Now quit farting around.” So he had to scold himself again. The encouragement to the horse, not to mention to himself, didn’t stop Gene from peering around into the gloom to all sides. The horse did the same.
Duke was a handsome bay (reddish brown with a black mane and tail) gelding–a picture horse, a pleasure horse. He was decked out in a silver-mounted saddle outfit which didn’t look as though it belonged on a working ranch, and it didn’t. The showy outfit included a medallioned martingale-type chest harness circling the horse’s neck, a black and white striped corona saddle blanket, and long silver-mounted leather tapaderas covering the stirrups. And the silver-mounted bridle had a face piece of little chains and medallions and a bit with shafts made to look like western revolvers. Even in the gloom, this outfit showed up above everything else, but in sunlight it had been mind boggling.
The rider, whose age might have been guessed at somewhere in the early twenties, was at least as handsome as his horse. Gene Martin was tall, slim, well-muscled, with a face cast from a mold combining classic good looks with rugged manliness, and was framed by a luxuriant growth of dark hair. Like that of his horse, his own colorful get-up, including white hat, jeans, orange and white pearl-buttoned shirt, fancy boots, wide belt with a silver rodeo buckle, and a silk neckerchief in a glaring pattern that displayed every color of the rainbow, proclaimed the rider to be a first class dude.
Horse and man together were a sight that could make anyone to a double-take and then ask if an old-style Western movie was being shot.
* * *
Gene Martin was, at this moment, reveling in the fulfillment of a boyhood dream. From the time he was knee-high to a stunted squirrel he had known that someday he would ride through the west on horseback. He had grown to manhood, but his uncommonly romantic mind had clung to wild dreams of derring-do. In his imagination he saw himself helping damsels in distress, risking his life to rescue someone hanging on the side of a cliff, and even stopping the occasional range war. In short, he was a nut–at least in the judgement of normal, prosaic mankind.
In the past, lack of money had held back Gene from playing “drifting hero,” but just recently his financial situation had improved to the tune of half a million dollars. He still didn’t know where the cash had come from; it had arrived in a mysterious, incredible manner–by parcel post, in an old cardboard box wrapped in brown paper and held together with electrical tape. There was a hand-printed letter under the second layer of bundles, a letter that assured Gene the money was honest and that he could do with it whatever he pleased because he had earned it by the hard work he had done on his own farm. This didn’t make a flea’s fart worth of sense, but at that point Gene wasn’t in an argumentative mood. The note lacked a signature, but at least there was a PS: “When you’ve used this up, I’ll send you some more.”
Flabbergasted and shaky, Gene took the money to the nearest bank and deposited it, hockey tape and all, in the largest safety deposit box available. Then he went home to his North Dakota farm and thought about the whole matter for a few days before he returned to town and opened a bank account. Next he hired and accountant to help him with the matter of income tax on sudden mysterious windfalls. Not long after that, with his pocket full of traveler’s checks and his farm in the care of a responsible person, he set out to live the romantic life of his colorful daydreams.
Stories about the Northwest had always intrigued him in a special way, so he had left his native North Dakota and crossed the border into Canada. Not that he intended to stay there or anywhere else for any great length of time; he hoped to travel the entire world. But in his mind the real Northwest of legend was the Canadian Northwest. (He had read a lot of Robert Service and Jack London.) It was the land of prospectors, woodsmen, cattle ranches, and, if one went far enough north, even of dog sleds and Eskimos. It was a land of great ferocious beasts–the timber wolf, the mountain lion, and the grizzly bear.
Gene had made the trip north by car–for as long as he could stand it. Then he had sold the car and bought this horse and all the gear which included a sleeping bag and the few things he considered necessary for life on the trail, most of which he carried in a pair of silver spotted saddlebags. The sleeping bag was rolled up behind the cantle of the saddle.
He had bought the horse and equipment in Alberta, and now, fifty miles and two days later, he was still in that province but had progressed into the foothill country that borders the mighty Rocky Mountains of British Columbia, the province next to the Pacific Ocean.
Gene had been told about a ranch–the Bighorn Ranch–which was located here in the Alberta foothills. It seemed like a good place to spend a little time, for not only was it a real working cattle ranch, but because it had once been a guest ranch it still catered to the occasional summer customer. Apparently the cabins were there although seldom used. The fact that it was no longer a dude ranch was mainly what made it appeal to Gene. He could not think of himself as a dude, although he knew others did, and certainly not as a holidayer at a guest ranch. But he could think of himself as an adventurous traveler staying a month or so on a real ranch for the purpose of gaining western experience. He already was an expert horseman–had been riding since he was five–but outside of that he knew about the western life only from what he had read in books and seen in movies. He had, however, read many volumes on just that subject, and it had not all been romantic fiction about the old west. Because of his intense study of the subject he felt confident that he would know what to expect and at least would be capable of learning quickly should he be called upon to do some ranch work. He hoped he would be.
Life in the West was not the only subject Gene had studied in preparation for the kind of adventurer’s life he had always hoped to live someday. Among other things, he was an expert shot with a revolver, had a good start on judo and karate, and could swim with a skill and endurance that would have done credit to an Australian lifeguard.
* * *
The dirt road that Gene Martin was on continued to wind and undulate around low hills and was now bordered closely on either side by a tall growth of heavy evergreen forest. Dusk lay heavily across the trail. Gene had expected to get to the Bighorn Ranch before dark but now that was out of the question. According to his best calculations based on road directions he had been given, it would take another good hour before he got to the Bighorn.
Duke vibrated his nostrils again as his ears twisted forward. Whatever it is, thought Gene, it’s staying in front of me, or else there’s nothing and this horse is a nervous wreck. He doubted the latter, for Duke had been calm almost to the point of laziness before tonight.
Then the thought came to Gene that this situation was the perfect excuse for him to strap on his guns. He would have worn them all the time had it not been for the law against packing a handgun on one’s person. But of course there must be an exception to almost every rule, and when some killer beast is stalking you through a northwest forest….
He stopped the horse, dismounted, and untied one end of his rolled-up sleeping bag. He pulled out a gun rig, also rolled up, from inside of it. Like the rest of his outfit, the rig was the ultimate. The broad leather belt (exactly the same shade of dark brown as his boots, saddle, bridle, etc.) was silver buckled and spotted and its flanges supported two similarly decorated holsters which contained a matching pair of Colt forty-fives, nickel plated, engraved, and with mother-of-pearl grips. He strapped on the guns like a professional, and then the right-hand gun fairly jumped into his hand. He checked its load, spin-dropped it back into its holster, then did the same with its left-hand mate. He retied the loose end of the bedroll and mounted.
The guns made Gene feel ready to face anything. Duke seemed calmer now too and didn’t let out another snort until a good three quarters of an hour had passed and it was intensely dark.
Then he did more than snort. He stopped walking so suddenly that Gene lurched forward and hurt his lower abdomen on the saddle horn. After that came the snort, loud and long. Gene straightened up and strained his eyes into the blackness ahead.
Something was there all right … a dark shape, quite large, moving toward him. Shit! Gene’s right hand went for a gun, but just then Duke reared up on his hind legs and screamed a blood-curdling horse’s scream that did more to frighten Gene than the dark form he had seen. His hand missed the gun completely. The horse was straight up on his hind legs, almost falling over backward. Gene left the saddle and tumbled toward the dirt road. But he had his wits about him and made a perfect judo landing, striking the ground with the palm of his hand so that his bent elbow became a spring to cushion the fall. Then he was on his feet and heading for the bush beside the road. It took only a few flying steps to get there, and when he swung behind the first tree and faced toward his horse, a gun was in his hand with the hammer cocked.
At once he could make out that the horse and the thing were fighting, or, at any rate, the thing was attacking the horse. He still couldn’t make out what it was, only that the dim forms of both animals seemed to be of about equal size. He could tell which was which because the silver on the saddle showed up a little in the dark. But the two shapes were close together, and the horse continued to gasp, snort, and scream and so seemed to be on the loosing end of the tangle.
Gene risked a shot. The gun bucked in his hand as a length of orange flame stabbed out into the blackness. The two shapes separated; Gene fired again. He knew he had hit the thing both times, but he also knew that it was now coming toward him. He fired once more, then without waiting to see the result dropped his gun back into its holster and reached up, grasping for branches. His fingers found only empty air at first and then the rough bark of the tree trunk. He turned, ran deeper among the trees. A branch caught his arm and ripped his shirt. He grabbed that same branch and another that he found a little higher and hoisted himself up into the darkness. His boots also found places to rest so he continued to climb, blindly but effectively. Close behind him, but still on the ground, came the sound of a heavy weight smashing in among the trees. The foliage rustled in alarm and branches snapped loudly as the thing drew closer.
It was too dark for Gene to know how high he was in the tree, but he kept on struggling upward. The tree was not an evergreen; it was some other kind with thick, strong branches that probably spread out wide. When Gene got up to where the trunk forked out into smaller limbs he knew he had basically reached the top. He pulled his legs up as high as he could, looked down, and drew his right-hand gun. He had heard that grown bears cannot climb trees, but wasn’t at all sure he was dealing with a bear. The thing seemed too big for that.
Gene could see the large, dark shape directly below him now. The tree swayed slightly. Yep, the damn thing was starting to climb up–no mistake about that. Gene braced himself a little better, and, with his back wedged against the tree trunk, drew his second gun also. There were nine rounds left in the chambers of both guns together–nine big chunks of lead; and if these, along with the three he had already pumped into the critter, didn’t stop him then he must be something supernatural. Gene had just thought this and was thumbing back the hammers on both guns in preparation to fire, when he noticed that the thing was moving away from the tree. He was sure it had started to climb. It must have climbed a few feet, then changed its mind and went back down. Gene did not fire after the dark shape as it sifted away, almost silently now, into the night. He was only too glad to see it go.
At once he began to wonder what he should do. Did he dare climb down out of the tree and go look for his horse? He felt safer up here, and yet the beast might come back. Maybe this was his chance to sneak away.
It seemed that only a few seconds had passed when he heard his horse making horrible sounds again, and he knew the enemy was back there trying to finish the job it had started before chasing him up a tree.
For the first time since this thing had attacked, Gene was angry instead of scared. He climbed down the tree almost as fast as he had climbed up. When he got to the bottom he turned and without hesitating drew both guns and stumbled toward the sound of the death struggle. His faithful steed was being killed; he must certainly rescue him if he was going to be any kind of a hero. Then his toe hooked on something and he fell on his chest, accidentally discharging the left-hand gun as he did so. He was up again in a moment, and as he quickly covered the remaining few feet to the road he took notice that his horse was no longer making any sound.
Gene broke out into the open, saw a dark, motionless heap on the ground with the dull paleness of the silver-mounted saddle identifying it as his horse. The other dark shape was not there, but Gene knew it could be anywhere, maybe only a few feet away, crouching quietly and ready to spring.
Nevertheless, Gene went forward bravely and knelt beside his horse–or what had been his horse, for faithful Duke was dead. It took Gene only a few seconds of checking to ascertain that this was the case. At first a feeling of failure and sadness came over him, but that was quickly elbowed aside by returning fear–which was nothing more than an honest realization of the grave danger he was in.
Gene removed the saddlebags from the saddle and slung them over his shoulder. He stayed squatting quietly for a few seconds, looking around to all sides. He couldn’t see or hear anything of the enemy. He got up then, and, with both guns in hand, started off down the road toward the Bighorn Ranch.
He knew he didn’t have far to go. Around sunset he had expected to ride onto the place in about an hour. Three quarters of that hour, according to his luminous wristwatch, had already passed. This meant that fifteen minutes of fast walking, or a half hour at the most, should bring him to the ranch–if he got there at all.
When he had proceeded a short distance he ejected the four empty shells from his guns and replaced them with cartridges from the small supply at the back of his gunbelt. He did this without stopping or even slowing his stride much, and when he was finished he kept one revolver in his hand.
Only twenty minutes passed before he saw a yard light ahead. And then, strangely enough, that light went out. This was disappointing and a little spooky, but he carried on toward the place. A few minutes later he walked through a high-posted gate with a long sign across the top which he couldn’t make out in the dark but which he was fairly certain read: The Bighorn Ranch. The buildings were not much farther. Even though all was dark on this yard, he felt relief soaking through him.
* * *
And so Gene Martin had come rather well through a big test as the man of action he longed to be. Perhaps this was not too surprising, for, although this had been a pretty heavy test, it had not been, by any means, his first encounter with hardship or danger. There was more to his past than a farm boy’s daydreams and an inexplicable windfall turning him into a wealthy man. There was a period of his life, before the mysterious money came, that had been rough and raw.
When he was in his late teens, just after dropping out of high school, the burning dream of a life of adventure had been so strong within him that he had left home and spent two years hitchhiking about, usually penniless, through the northeastern states.
For the most part the whole thing had been an unhappy experience. There had been adventure all right, like sitting hungry and dejected in a Detroit bus depot wondering when the patrolling security guard would get around to throwing him out into the blizzard. Or like freezing in a boxcar while it rattled over hundreds of miles of railroad, taking him in exactly the opposite direction to what he had intended to go when he climbed in.
Gene had worked on construction, on farms, in warehouses, in mines, and on port city docks among tough, knife-packing stevedores. All the different kinds of work, and the often being without work and money, and in general the many hard knocks of a tramp’s life, and the meeting of so many different kinds of people in so many different kinds of situations, altogether had been a school–a hard school that had given him a great deal of valuable experience. When he returned to his home he was much more of a man than he had been when he had left … and yet he had not lost his romantic boyhood dreams.
Very glad to be home again, he had thrown himself into the work of the farm with a will, taking over the main responsibility of it from his aging father. Then his parents retired to the nearby city of Bismarck, leaving him alone on the farm with, among other things, two thousand and eighty acres of cultivated land, machinery, four riding horses, and a well-kept library of romantic novels.
One particular experience had befallen him at this time that still sent shivers up and down his spine when he thought about it too much. But it was an experience that in the end had strengthened his determination to be a man of action. The happening had also involved a trip to Canada and his meeting with an individual by the name of Dr. Paul Morgan who, for unlikely reasons, had turned out to be not quite human. (Reader: See WOLF SEED, Gene Martin thriller # 1.)
When that whole bizarre thing was over, the parcel wrapped in brown paper had arrived. He bought his parents and friends a lot of things, gave a bunch more to some of his favorite charities, and then, as already indicated, set forth on his great romantic dream.
* * *
As Gene walked onto the ranch yard the rising moon broke free of a bank of clouds on the horizon as though to compensate for the yard light that had gone out. Gene holstered his gun and carried on farther onto the yard.
The building to his right looked like some kind of a two-story shed or shop. Straight ahead of him and slightly downhill was a traditionally low, sprawling ranch house with no light in the windows. To his right, behind the shop he had just passed, the ground sloped downward for quite some distance toward what looked as though it might be a creek. There was a barn down there, and not far from the barn a little building, and from his present position he could see that it had a small lit-up window. The structure was not big enough to have more than one room. Gene decided it must be the bunkhouse, for he supposed all ranches had one. Its one dimly lit window was the only light he could see on the whole place, so he braced his way down the hill, wondering why the builders had chosen this lopsided piece of ground to locate their ranch headquarters.
He debated whether of not to remove his guns and hide them somewhere before he knocked on the door–decided not to. His shirt was ripped anyhow, and it would be interesting to see the looks on their faces when they opened the door and beheld him standing there–the Two-Gun Kid in person, just through with a big showdown. And did he have a story to tell them!
As he had expected, there was a creek at the bottom of the hill. He crossed over it on a wide bridge–wide enough to allow the passage of farm machinery–and walked up to the door of the little house. His knock was answered immediately by a cheerful, masculine, “Come in.” Gene opened the door and stepped inside.
A thin, medium-sized man, the only person in the room, turned from a wall mirror and showed a gaunt face half covered with shaving lather. “Well, hi there!” he said, exactly as one might greet a good neighbor who had dropped in unexpectedly.
“Hey,” said Gene. He had never seen the man before, so he thought the overly friendly greeting must have come as a result of shock. “I had a bit of trouble not far from here. Some kind of animal came out of the bush and killed my horse. I was on my way here to see if I could rent one of your cabins and live here for a while. Name’s Gene Martin.”
The other man continued to seem friendly as he stood there with his shaving brush halfway up to his face. His slim frame looked tough and wiry. Dark, thinning hair was combed back loosely. His eyes were exceptionally heavy lidded and therefore sleepy looking in spite of the fact that he was obviously startled by the sudden appearance of a strange gunman in his doorway. “Pleased to meet you,” he said. “I’m Bill Banner. What kind of animal was it?”
“I don’t know…. A bear, I guess. It was too dark to see.”
“And he killed your horse?”
“Yeah, he sure did.”
“You were riding?”
Bill Banner was silent for just a moment, his lather brush still up in the air. Then he asked another question. “Did the bear tear your shirt?”
“No,” said Gene as he removed the saddlebags from his shoulder. “I hooked it on a tree branch. Then I climbed the tree.”
Banner laughed and finally lowered the brush. “That’s a damn smart thing to do when a bear is after you. Did you get a shot at him? I see you’re packin’ plenty of artillery.”
“I got off three shots. Pretty sure I hit him every time too. But it didn’t seem to faze him a whole lot. It was awful dark though. I suppose my bullets didn’t hit any vital spot.”
Banner looked at him silently for a moment before saying, “Well, put down your saddlebags and have a chair…. We’ll have to go out there and have a look. Sure your horse is dead?”
“Yeah, he’s dead all right. He was a good horse too.” Gene sat down on a nearby wooden chair and dropped the bulging silver-spotted saddlebags between his feet.
Bill Banner had turned back to the mirror. He brushed on some more lather and started to shave. “The power went off tonight, just a few minutes ago,” he said, thus explaining why he was shaving by the dim light of an old fashioned coal-oil lamp he had perched up on an apple crate on top of the table. “It does that once in a while. I suppose some dead tree toppled onto the line again.”
“I saw the yard light go out as I was approaching your yard,” said Gene.
He looked about and was intrigued by the room’s completely western look. To start with, the building was made of logs. These had not been covered with any kind of inside boards or paneling but instead were stained dark brown and varnished. The major furnishings of the room were an antique four-poster bed, a rough wooden table, a genuine old pot-bellied wood heater, and several wooden chairs. Two walls were decorated with a great display of handsome riding gear, all polished and shiny as though never used. There were bridles, breast plates, braided whips, nickel-plated bits, colorful saddle blankets, spurs, lariats, and so on–just about everything one could name except a saddle. There was also hunting equipment–a lever-action rifle and two long knives in exceptionally large leather sheaths.
Gene Martin reveled in the atmosphere of the place. It was all part of what he had been looking forward to. He took time to study Bill Banner more closely and saw with satisfaction that he was dressed completely in western fashion. But his clothes were not of the kind that anyone would be likely to do any riding herd in. Pants and shirt both were of a fine dressy material, a matching blue-gray, and the uncovered bottom parts of his boots glistened with polish even in the dim light of the coal-oil lamp.
Gene asked Banner, “Are you the owner here?”
“No, I’m the manager. The owner lives in Calgary. And where are you from?”
“Oh, a Yank, eh? Well, welcome to Canada, and I hope you like it here. We’re always glad to have visitors from across the line.”
“I like it,” said Gene, “except for whatever it is you’ve got on the loose there in the bush.”
Banner laughed but said nothing more for some moments as he continued to shave. When he was finished he rinsed the remaining soap from his face and began to dry himself. “I’m getting ready to go to a dance,” he said then. “Al, my hired man, went over to the Jolly-O to pick up a girl. He should be back in a few minutes to pick me up, and then we’re going, the three of us. But tell you what–why don’t you hang up your guns, put on a different shirt and come along with us. I think I can find one that’ll fit you. If you came on the main road then we’ll probably be passing your horse and we can check it out and we can pick up your saddle. Or how far did you walk anyhow?”
“Not far. It took me about twenty minutes. And as far as I know it was the main road.”
“Well, then you’re probably in luck. I was a little worried about someone swiping your saddle, but there won’t be much traffic going to the dance on this last stretch of the road–except maybe someone from the Jolly-O. That’s our neighboring ranch, just a couple of miles from here. It’s a guest ranch.”
When Banner’s hired man drove onto the yard a few minutes later, Gene was washed up and wearing a dark red rodeo shirt with white piping and arrow pockets. It was his own shirt, a hard-to-crease thing that he had packed tightly rolled up in one of the saddlebags. He had one more in there, a bright green one. Gene had hung up his guns over a pair of spurs on the wall.
The motor of the vehicle outside shut off and in a moment Banner’s hired man came into the bunkhouse. Banner introduced him as Albrecht Bitzius–Al for short–originally from Switzerland, and briefly told the man Gene’s story, and also that Gene was from the United States.
Bitzius was obviously something out of the ordinary. He glowed with a fiery personality–seemed to be the kind of man who is afraid of nothing, stopped by nothing, defeated by no one, unless maybe by himself. He was a little below medium height, well put together and strong looking, and appeared to be in his early twenties. Like Banner, he was decked out in western finery, but all in browns and tans–polished boots, western dress pants, silver buckled belt, trim-fitting shirt, with his outfit topped off with a wide-brimmed brown felt cowboy hat. He wore it pushed back so that an unruly swatch of light brown hair was visible on a tall forehead. His face was roundish, his ears generous. His mouth was wide and seemed to have been trained into a perpetual grin so that he probably found it difficult to frown. But the grins and smiles had a faint threatening aspect to them, maybe only because of the large size of his teeth; and yet his eyes too, sparkling blue and clear, gave Gene the feeling that there could be danger here as well as strength. One thing was certain: mentally and physically, the man was very much alive. It didn’t surprise Gene that Al Bitzius showed great interest in Gene’s story of being attacked.
“Come on, let’s get out there and take a look,” said Bitzius impatiently. His words were shaded with only a slight foreign accent.
Banner extinguished the lamp and the three went outside to the vehicle which turned out to be an old half-ton truck. A feminine silhouette showed vaguely through the side window.
Gene said, “Maybe you don’t have room for me in there.”
Banner laughed. “Lotsa room, eh Al? Jody can sit on your lap.”
“You bet,” said Al.
Jody was nice. She was as cheerful and friendly as were Bitzius and Banner. Gene couldn’t see her clearly in the dim glow from the dashboard, but he could make out that she was pretty in spite of being overweight.
Banner, driving, and Gene, sitting at the passenger-side door, took turns telling Jody about Gene’s close scrape as they drove the short distance to where it had happened. Al didn’t say much; he was contentedly smothering under the soft load of femininity that all but covered him.
“Be careful,” Gene warned Banner, “he’s right in the middle of the road. You could run into him. I hope nobody’s gotten hurt that way already.”
No one spoke for a bit and then Al’s voice came out from under Jody: “You know … Gene, the dance hall we’re going to is kind of famous.”
Jody was laughing. “Oh, Al, shut up.”
“No, why?” said Al. “We wouldn’t want him to miss it.”
“Miss what?” asked Gene.
Al said, “The dance hall at Butler’s Bend is known far and wide–not for its bands or food or booze, but for its outdoor toilets.”
“Oh, yeah? I guess there aren’t many of those around anymore.”
Banner joined in. “Oh, but its not that they’re just outdoor toilets that gives them their fame. They’re very unique. They were built about thirty years ago.”
“Well, that is kind of old.”
Al said, “It’s not that they’re old. It’s the way they’re built. I guess the people that planned them didn’t feel like digging toilet holes. You see, there’s a fast creek running by not so far behind the hall, to one side of it actually. So these jokers built a platform above the creek, almost like a bridge, but with two holes in it. Then they set two outhouses on the holes, one for men and one for women, side by side. They’re like flushing toilets without handles. Automatic.”
“Do people still use them?” asked Gene.
“Oh, yeah–” began Al, but Jody cut him off.
“Not really. There are washrooms in the hall–have been for years.”
“Some still use ‘em,” insisted Al.
Banner said, “Someone was using one of them just … what was it?… a couple of years ago–Sam Fredricks. His pipe slipped out of his mouth and fell through the toilet hole into the creek. So he went down to look for it. And there he was, in the creek up to his knees, and he moved right under the ladies toilet, and didn’t know Beth Gramley was in there.” He laughed and seemed to be about to go on with the story, but was prevented by Jody’s laughing voice.
“You don’t have to say any more! I know what happened and Gene can be spared the details.”
Everyone was laughing now, including Gene, even though he was still sadly thinking about the death of his poor horse. After a bit they settled into silence except for Al’s heavy breathing. This may have indicated that he was being squashed, but more likely was due to pleasant feelings of excitement pressing down on him.
When they got the carcass in their headlights and pulled to a stop only a few yards away, the sight was worse than any of them had expected.
“There’s only half of him left!” said Al, coming out of his sweet stupor. What he said was an exaggeration, but not an overly large one. Gene was more surprised than the others for he knew the carcass had not been like that when he had left it; and, strangely enough, the idea of his horse being killed for food hadn’t even occurred to him.
“It’s horrible!” breathed Jody in a half whisper.
Gene said, “It wasn’t like that before. The thing has been back here.”
“Sure,” said Banner, “it just waited till you were gone before it came back for the meat.”
The three men climbed out but Jody stayed in the cab. Al Bitzius pulled out a rifle from behind the seat. “It could still be around,” he said.
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