Mournful Howl (an excerpt from “Siberian Waste”)


My grandfather knew I loved eye-witness accounts of the paranormal above all else and went out of his way to terrify me with his “true” stories. Eastern Oregon is brimming with dense, dark wilderness, making it a ripe environment for the supernatural. I was eleven, watching black and white reruns on Pop’s snowy television when he abruptly turned off the set.

I glared at my grandfather. “Come on, Pop! I was watching that.”

“Do you know how I broke my leg?” The twinkle in Pop’s eye let me know I was in for a tale.

“Mom said you slipped on some rocks in the canyon while tracking an elk.”

“That’s what she wants you to think. The truth…well, it’s too shocking for a boy your age to hear.”

The old man knew how to hook me. “Now you have to tell me!”

My grandfather leaned closer. “I didn’t slip on any rocks. And I wasn’t doing the tracking…I was the one being tracked.”

The hairs on my neck bristled. “What do you mean?”

“Well, do you recall the time we stumbled upon that big bull elk when we were out hiking? You about wet yourself when it came crashing through the trees.”

“Yeah, I remember. It was so huge. I mean, I see ‘em out behind the house all the time–and their heads are hanging on the walls and stuff–but being surprised by one was scary.”

“Imagine something five times bigger, and five times more frightening.”

I swallowed. “What? Tell me what happened.”

“Alright. I’d been hunting in that sweltering ravine all day but hadn’t lowered my sights on a damn thing. I was losing light fast so I decided to call it quits. While following a game trail back to my rig, I could hear my footsteps echoing. I thought it was just some queer trick of the canyon until I noticed the thumps had gone out of sync with my steps. That’s when I turned around and—“

“A giant elk attacked you?”

“No, something far worse. I spun on my heels and caught a huge blur ducking behind the treeline out of the corner of my eye. Even though I couldn’t see my stalker, I could hear the hot jets of its breath nearby. I knew I should run, but I couldn’t get my legs to budge.”

“No way!” I blurted

“There was a smell hanging in the air worse than ten dead skunks crammed in an outhouse. I spotted a mound of heaving, hairy muscles and my blood went cold. The thing was close. So close, I could have thrown a pine cone and hit it squarely.”

“What was it?” I asked, inching to the edge of my sea

“An unholy beast, blacker than a moonless night. I couldn’t tell what side of it I was looking at until it opened a pair of shining, yellow eyes.” Pop put his hands on my shoulders and stared at me. “Son, that glare cut through the dusk right into my soul.”

“Bigfoot!” I said with a gasp.

My grandfather’s face stayed stern as he nodded.

I lifted an eyebrow. “Nuh-uh.”

Pop leaned back in his easy chair. “You calling me a liar?”

My pulse was racing, but I pretended to be tough. “Come on, you’re just messing with me. It was probably just a black bear.”

“A black bear might not look like much, but one could rip you to shreds in a few seconds without a glimmer of regret. Even so, a bear attack would have seemed like a supreme act of sweetness compared to the world of pain I was about to enter.”

“Did you try to shoot it?”

“I did. I lifted my rifle and took a shot but I couldn’t keep my hands from shaking. All I did was enrage the beast and cause it to shriek. I say shriek, not roar, because no worldly animal makes a noise so utterly strange. It was the same kind of anguished howl I heard coming out of wounded soldiers back in the Battle of Inchon–”

My grandfather went quiet, all drama fading as he stared at the corner of the room. After a long moment, he snapped himself back into his story. “Where was I?”

I was rapt in my folding chair. “Bigfoot was attacking you!”

“Right. The monster leapt toward me off a fallen pine, breaking it in half with a thunderous snap. An arm wider than a barrel hoop hit my chest so hard I flew out of my boots. The last thing I remember was colliding with the canyon wall. I woke up with my leg smashed in five pieces and my pack missing. I might have ended up in the thing’s stomach if not for the jerky and dried fruit I was carrying in my rucksack.”

“Was that the only time you saw it?”

“Yes, but the big brute followed my scent all the way here. It’s hiding up in the hills surrounding the farm. It’s not just some animal; there’s intelligence in those fiery eyes.”

I started shivering. “It’s here?! But you said you haven’t seen it again.”

“I don’t need to see it,” said Pop with a shrug. “I can hear those mournful howls coming down the hills late at night, carrying over the property and into my little window. An untrained ear might think it’s wolves or coyotes, but I know better. After hearing that voice I’ll never forget it.”

I crossed my arms and leaned back, feeling a chill. “No way, Pop.”

“Before ol’ Pete Jacks drank himself to death, he boasted about shooting a sasquatch near Oxbow bridge with his thirty ought six. He carried around a vial full of black earth he claimed was soaked in the thing’s blood and we all thought he was crazy. Not me. Not anymore.”

“You think it’s the same one that attacked you?”

“Could be. Or maybe Pete killed somebody in the monster’s brood. Whatever the case, the thing’s gone blind with rage and it’s targeted me for revenge. It’s up there howling in the hills, waiting for the right time to come strew my slippery entrails from one end of the valley to the other.”

“Stop!” I begged.

“If you ever hear a noise like this, you best get home as soon as you can and hide under your bed.” My grandfather released a wail—resonating somewhere between a baying bloodhound and an alarmed cougar.

“Stop it!” I couldn’t hold back my tears. I tried to run out of the room but Pop grabbed me by the wrist.

“Alright, alright. Easy boy. I made that last part up to put a little thrill in you. Don’t get all bent out of shape. I’m sorry.” Pop dropped my wrist and my scrawny arm flopped to my side. “I didn’t mean to upset you. Forgive me?”

I wiped my tears and gave him a reluctant nod.

My grandfather smiled. “Good, were just having a little fun. Now, let’s go sneak a few cookies from the kitchen.”

“Wait,” I said.

“What is it?”

My eyes went wide again. “You said you made that last part up. Just the last part?”

“Let’s go get those cookies.”




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