📅 Published on May 17, 2022


Written by Xavier Poe Kane
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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Dallas skipped a stone as he sat on the bank of a tributary of the Elk River. His aluminum, two-man canoe gently bobbed in the lazy current. His gear already loaded, he waited for his partner. He yawned, stretched his lanky frame, and scratched an itch under his unkempt beard. He wore an old, beat-up set of MultiCams in a way that would have driven his sergeant first-class nuts were he here: blouse unzipped and hanging like a civilian jacket; pants unbloused and hanging over broken-in, coyote brown, suede-leather combat boots; and a rattlesnake skin cowboy hat tilted back on his head.

His steel blue eyes scanned the river and the trees on the opposite shore. Before Iraq, he never noticed the various shades of green sported by the aspens, oaks, walnuts, and other leafy trees of West Virginia. Soon the green would change to a blaze of yellows, oranges, and reds. He did not know—or care to know—about the history of tectonic plates thrusting up the earth’s rocky mantle to form the Appalachians or about how erosion wore the mountains down to almost a plain before geological forces once more propelled rock into the sky. Dallas did not care about the natural processes that took place over the span of hundreds of millions of years to form the forests, mountains, and ridges around him.

He skipped another flat stone across the serene tributary. Plop, plop, plop, plop, plop, plop, splash. He smiled, as seven skips was a personal record. His hand searched for another but stopped as the crunching of truck tires on gravel seized his attention, his head snapping toward the sound. A red, late model Dodge Ram came to a stop next to his newer, forest green Ford. Its diesel engine angrily knocked as the driver put the truck in park, the engine sputtering stubbornly to a stop as the driver’s door opened.

Dallas watched as black combat boots reached for the ground. Faded olive drab pants hung lazily about the driver’s feet. Dallas spat out his dip, his eyes narrowing as he appraised his partner for this weekend’s harvest. The other man, whose real name was Mark, was short, stocky, and old to Dallas’s early 30-something eyes. This was the man that, when Dallas was five, stepped in when his father abandoned him and his mother.

When the older man’s hair and beard turned silvery-white, he looked like Kenny Rogers. This earned him the nickname “Kenny” not only from Dallas but from Mark’s friends and family as well.

Kenny reached into the bed of his truck and pulled out an old, beat-up leather gun case. Unzipping it, he removed a lever-action rifle and slung the .30-30 over his right shoulder. He grabbed his backpack and made his way over to Dallas.

“Whaddaya know?” he asked in the Appalachian accent, echoing the region’s early Anglo-Scot colonists. After dropping his pack and laying the rifle across it, he extended his hand to Dallas.

Less than pleased, Dallas did not move. His cold eyes studied his temporary partner.

Kenny withdrew his offered hand.

Dallas pushed himself to his feet, proud that at 6’ 1” he stood at least a head taller. He did not wince at the momentary stab of pain as his right knee popped from an old injury. Getting up revealed the bottom half of a holster holding a .44 magnum revolver his father had given to Kenny. He took off his hat and ran his fingers through brown hair as wild and untamed as his beard.

“You’re late.” His voice was a clear and slow Midwest monotone. He turned and started pulling the canoe closer to shore so the old man could get in and they could begin the journey to the honey hole.

“There!” Kenny, in the front of the canoe, pointed excitedly at a break in the trees on the left bank. “Them trees!”

Dallas steered the canoe toward the break. The water turned from green to clear as they neared shore. Minnows scattered as the aluminum hull scratched and scraped across mud and river rock. Ten feet away, a six-foot water moccasin turned its head and considered the interlopers for a moment before languidly slipping into the water and disappearing.

Kenny secured the canoe to a tree as Dallas waded to the riverbank. The men pulled the canoe into the woods and hid it in the brush.

“My pa found this honey hole 20 years ago, pulled so much ‘seng outta the ground. Some of them had to be 25 or 35 years old if they were a day.” Kenny chatted as they made their way along a game trail. “Last year prices were about 1600 bucks a pound for dried. Didn’t clean out the honey hole though. He left some for later, let the seeds spread. Pa respected the land and the root, ya know.”

Dallas nodded and started up the path as the wind rustled the branches of the trees surrounding them. “We’d better hurry up and find good land to pitch camp.” His eyes scanned the position of the sun through the branches. “It’ll be dark soon.”

The fire crackled and sent sparks flying into the inky blue night sky. Dallas imagined them seeking to join the trillions of stars in the West Virginia sky. He watched as each one winked out in their doomed quest to become something great—something immortal. He loved the peace and silence.

“You know,” Kenny started, likely feeling the need to fill the silence, “I read somewhere some archeologist said the first sign of civilization is a healed bone.” He paused for a response. Not getting one, he carried on. “See, a broken bone means death for an animal. Even herd or pack animals leave the broken behind for predators. However, a healed bone means a group took the time to nurse and protect the broken rather than leave them to keep a wolf’s belly full so it would stop hunting for a day or two.”

Dallas neither moved nor spoke.

“Still holdin’ onto that grudge?” Kenny asked.

Dallas looked at him as he leaned back against a tree, his hat lowered over his eyes.

“C’mon, I said I was sorry. That’s why I brung you on this trip. To make amends.”

Dallas’s chest rhythmically rose and fell with each inhale and exhale. He made no other movement.

“Well, ain’t you gonna say sumthin’?”

Dallas’s chest rose higher than before and paused before he let out his breath. “You left me to die. To drown, asshole. Does that mean you’re uncivilized?” He didn’t give his former mentor a chance to answer. “One honey hole is only the beginning of repayin’ that debt.” He left his hat down, concealing a piercing and accusing gaze. “One honey hole,” he huffed. “Better be a big one. And then, it’d only be the start of fixin’ what you broke.”

“Listen, son—”

“I’m not your son.”

“You know what I mean.” Kenny studied his partner for a moment. “Look, you’re the best digger I ever trained. You’re my best friend’s son. I love you like you’re my own.”

“Yeah, you did, and I trusted you just like I did him.” Dallas shrugged. “But I guess that’s just what father figures do–abandon their sons.”

“I told you, I had to go get help–”

“Keep telling yourself that. We all know the only reason you’ve ever been around is for yourself. You got close to me so you could fuck Mom.”

Kenny’s face turned red. “Listen here, you little shit. You moved back home lookin’ for peace after all you saw o’er there. Some thought you’d just be another drifter. Others mocked you, called you Rambo behind your back and not in the good way.” He leaned over and angrily poked the fire with a stick. “If you haven’t noticed, I’m tryin’ to make it up to you.”

“We’ll see,” Dallas said, before rolling over and turning his back on Kenny.

“You’re jus’ gonna turn yer back on the man who almost killed you?”

Dallas rolled back over and lifted the brim of his hat just enough to appraise the old man. He smirked and chortled dismissively before rolling back over.

“What’s that s’posed to mean?”

“Let’s just say I know killers, old man. I see one every time I look in a mirror. If you’re too much of a coward to save my life, you ain’t going to have it in you to kill me.”

After a few moments, Dallas was softly snoring.

Dallas awoke to the sound of something rummaging through his pack. He slowly opened his eyes as a stench like a junkyard dog sprayed by a skunk assaulted his nostrils. Combat in Afghanistan taught him how horrible humans could smell, but no human could stink like this; it was wild and bestial. The remains of their fire had been snuffed out by a light rain, and the moonlight through the wood’s canopy afforded little help. He made out the hulking form of what he assumed was a bear, but he just closed his eyes; this was not the first time he’d feared for his life in the dark.

He heard Kenny stirring awake. Dallas once more opened his eyes. The shadow froze, the indistinct head shape turning towards Dallas’s partner.

“Dallas, that you buddy?” Kenny asked.

The shadow moaned. It was a harsh, grating, and long-drawn utterance that sounded peculiarly sinister. Then it crashed through the trees, fleeing the campsite. Its stench lingered as Dallas began to move.

“What in the actual fuck was that? Did you see it?” Kenny asked.

“I didn’t see nuthin’,” Dallas said as he looked around. “Stinky bastard. Probably some bear. Smells like he fell into a lagoon. Damn big black bear.”

Kenny shrugged. “Who knows? Sometimes things look bigger in the dark.”

The rest of the night passed without sleep for the two men. They heard little aside from the occasional rustle in the woods or snap of a twig, neither one of which helped calm the feeling of being watched as the sinister odor faded but refused to disappear. With the aid of morning’s light, they looked for tracks in the soft mud. What they found had been deformed by more rain that spat throughout the night.

“That bear walked on two legs!” Kenny exclaimed. “They almost look human, too.”

Dallas could only chuckle. “It wasn’t bigfoot, ya old coot.”

Kenny shrugged as he finished repacking his backpack. Dallas tried to ignore that it actually didn’t look like it had been a bear.

The trip to the honey hole was long on tired legs. The sound of movement just beyond sight as they made their way to Kenny’s secret crop did little to ease their jangled nerves. Nor did it help that they were surrounded on two sides by mountains. Eventually, Kenny led them up the mountain, just above some exposed rock. When they found the honey hole, it was better than Kenny had said. The bumper crop of old-growth ginseng lifted their spirits and energized them. Not only did the pair forget about the sensation of being stalked, but they even went nose blind to the foul stench.

“You gonna do any more harvestin’ this year?” Kenny asked as they began planting seeds from the mature plants they’d collected. “I get this sold and add it to what I’ve already banked and I got my year.”

“Maybe,” Dallas replied, having warmed again to his mentor. “But no offense, I’ll be doin’ it alone.”

“Still seeing Nikki?”

“No.” Dallas shook his head. “She couldn’t take my night terrors anymore. She left last week.” He took a deep breath. “Can we just focus on planting?”

The seeds would take decades to yield a day like today. While there was no guarantee they would reap the benefits of their labors, another ginseng hunter would.

The sun began setting, and they decided to camp in a glade not far from the honey hole. It was bordered on one side by a stream. On the other, the mountain sloped upward.  The unease surrounding the events of the night before began to set in. Both were exhausted and, after a meager meal, they decided to take turns staying awake. Dallas took the first watch. Shortly after Kenny started softly snoring, a low rustle on the slope grabbed Dallas’s attention.

A black mass was moving down the opposite slope. Branches crackled as the demon moved through the trees and brush. It stayed in the shadows, not venturing into the bubble of light given off by the campfire. Dallas considered taking a shot, but the beast seemed to know how to move and take cover in ways that prevented a clear shot. He counted a half dozen times that the creature seemed to sit and utter a peculiarly sinister-sounding grunt. A light breeze carried the foul stench, similar to a skunk.

Dallas shined his flashlight across a thicket. He could make out nothing but shadow and leaves until the beam moved across the animal’s eyes. The eyeshine was blood red and elicited a grating, harsh moan drawn out for as long as Dallas held the light. His heart stopped, and his breath caught in his throat. He had not felt fear like this since the first time his unit was attacked a lifetime ago.

His heart began beating again, and his breath returned as he jerked the light away. He gained control of himself and shined his light back where the monster had been seconds earlier. Nothing stared back at him. Next to him, Kenny began to stir.

“See somethin’, Dallas?”

“The bear came back. Was just in that thicket. I saw his eyeshine. It was red as blood.”

Kenny was silent for a long moment. “Strange. Bears’ eyes shine orange. Maybe it was … somethin’ else.”

“Yeah, yeah, old man.” Dallas peered into the darkness. “It’s gone now, and I’m tired. It’s your watch.”

No longer interested in debating, he found his bedroll and pretended to be asleep as Kenny tried to carry on a conversation. The older man chattered on about the legends of bigfoot for a few minutes more before giving up, and Dallas was able to finally drift asleep.

Dallas awoke to the scent and sizzle of bacon frying and the sound of eggs being scrambled. “Mornin’,” he said.

“Mornin’,” Kenny curtly replied, setting the bowl of eggs aside and taking the bacon off the cast iron pan he carried with him. “Breakfast is almost done.”

“Smells good.” Dallas watched as Kenny served breakfast and handed a plate to him before sitting and beginning to eat in silence. Dallas cleared his throat. “What, no stories about bigfoot?”

“You know, Dallas, at some point a man’s gotta decide. Does he accept the apology of someone who did him wrong? Or does he just move on and part ways?” Kenny sat his plate down. “Likewise, a man who’s made a mistake and tried to atone for it has to decide at what point he’s done enough to satisfy his conscience and walk away from a friend who won’t accept his apology. I made a mistake. I’ve tried to make up for it. Now you can either forgive me or not. There’s nothing else I can do.”

Dallas simmered with rage. “Seriously? You left me for dead and think a simple apology and showing me a honey hole makes up for it?” He shook his head. “We have a code in the military to never leave a man behind! I thought you held true to that. I was wrong, and it nearly cost me my life. I think you mean what you say when you’re trying, but I’m not ready to trust you yet.”

“Holding onto that kind of negativity will eat at a man,” Kenny said, as he shoveled the rest of his breakfast into his face. “Besides, I didn’t leave you when my piece of shit best friend left his wife and you behind.”

The two men finished their breakfast in silence.

Their path back to the canoe was not easily traced after the rain. After reorienting themselves, they were led along a crevice about eight feet deep. Both sides were of smooth rock about 30 feet high, but only one side had a ledge wide enough for one person—unladen with pack or rifle—to carefully make their way to the other side. Dallas went first, sedimentary rock periodically crumbling and tumbling into the shallow void. He trailed a rope tied on one end to their packs and rifles; he would drag them over when he was safely across.

Then it was Kenny’s turn. With his eyes closed and his back pressed against the stone wall, he began sidestepping the narrow pathway. Halfway across, the ledge under his left foot crumbled, causing him to lose his balance. He stumbled and slid into the gorge.

“Dallas!” he yelled, his fingers scrambling for purchase on the smooth rock. “Aw, fuck!” he cried as he landed, twisting his knee the wrong way. “Dallas, get me outta here!”

Dallas stepped to the edge of the crevice and peered down at the old man. He almost decided to abandon the packs and use the rope to pull his once friend to safety. Something inside the dark recesses of his heart made him reconsider.

“Save yourself. This haul will let me end the season early.” With those words, he disappeared from Kenny’s sight.

After retrieving their packs and rifles, Dallas only got about 50 yards away before sitting down. While the view of the Appalachians was amazing, Kenny’s cries for help ruined it. It was times like these that made him wish he smoked or had taken his buddy’s advice and tried medicinal weed—anything to take the edge off. He was waiting for Kenny to stop screaming at him. Dallas didn’t leave a man behind; it wasn’t in the creed. But teaching someone a lesson about why is different. Once Kenny resigned himself to his fate and got silent, just like Dallas had when he almost drowned, he’d deserve to be rescued.

He closed his eyes for a moment and then smelled the now-familiar stink of the creature that had been stalking them. He opened his eyes and scanned in front of him: nothing but a mountain view. He turned his head and looked behind a tree just as a rock the size of a basketball flew by him, landing with a dull, wet thud four feet away. He flinched and then turned to look back again.

He saw a tall, dark blur darting into the mountain underbrush. Dallas didn’t hesitate. He hurled himself from the ground and reached for his rifle. A stone the size of a softball splintered a branch to his left. His flight instinct kicked in and he left it, turning on his heel and taking off in a sprint.

The demon howled in rage behind him. A large stone hit the ground near his feet, followed by the sound of something giant smashing through the forest. He heard the beast catching up with him. The wind changed, overwhelming Dallas’s nostrils with the stench.

He saw a small cave formed by a landslide, and he slid in, squeezing himself into the space and trying not to make a sound. He heard the beast crash through the underbrush as it ran past his hiding spot. Dallas refused to breathe and remained still, waiting for the creature to leave the area. His eyes scanned the entrance, and he was about to move when the creature’s face appeared.

The demon’s face was a mixture of ape and man covered in dull black hair. White froth foamed at its mouth. It let out a crazed screech that reverberated in the small space. Its breath reeked of death. Its hairy hands sporting black fingernails reached for Dallas.

Dallas cursed himself for leaving his rifle where he dropped it. In desperation, he looked and felt around the cave for something to use as a weapon. He found a rock and began striking the creature’s hand. After the third or fourth hit, Dallas heard the satisfying sound of bone breaking.

The beast howled in pain and withdrew his arm. It screamed into the cave and then disappeared from the mouth, leaving Dallas alone.

Dallas awoke with a start. A gentle breeze brought cool, early evening air to him. Dirt and dried drool clung to his cheek. Other than a few bug bites, he was unharmed. Sniffing the air like a trapped animal, he could not smell the demon’s scent. Slowly, he clawed his way from the safety of the small cave. Standing upright to stretch, his back cracked loudly in the quiet.

It took him a moment to sense that it was a little too quiet. Other than the breeze rustling leaf and limb, there was no noise. His heart began to race as he took off toward their abandoned packs and his gun. He would return for Kenny, and they would escape together. Then they could get a hunting party together to track down the beast. They would be rich.

The shattering of his fibula and tibia brought Dallas back to reality, a jagged rock the size of a soccer ball smashing into his leg. Dropping to the ground, he began screaming. He knew this was the end. He was a broken animal with a predator nearby. The demon loomed over him, reaching down and grabbing Dallas’s arms to lift him into the air. The creature howled at him, foamy spittle splattering his face.

He felt his arms being pulled from their sockets, his body going numb as his mind tried to protect him from the pain. Images flashed before his eyes. His favorite teddy bear as a child. His first crush in second grade. Kenny teaching him to drive. His girlfriend breaking up with him before prom. Shitting his pants the first time a Taliban fighter took a shot at him.

The memories faded, and Dallas felt as if he were falling. He felt a warm liquid covering his face as he crossed the void between life and death. Intense pain shot from his leg as he felt his body hit something. He forced his eyes open. He couldn’t help but think how much the afterlife looked like Earth.


He heard a familiar voice and looked up, seeing Kenny running toward him. He tried to speak, to apologize for leaving Kenny behind to die.

“Don’t speak, son,” Kenny said.

Even through the pain, Dallas was amazed that Kenny had managed to find his gun, let alone get out of that crevice. The older man took his shirt off, revealing a faded volcano tattoo on his bicep. Dallas watched as Kenny pulled a knife and began cutting his shirt into strips, not understanding why the old man would do that to his own shirt.

Dallas rolled his head to the other side and saw the demon. Its glassy eyes stared back at him with enlarged pupils before turning a gray-blue color. Suddenly bloody viscera spilled from the chamber of its now exploded skull as Dallas’s vision began to darken.

Visions of being drug through the hilly woods of the Appalachians interrupted Dallas’s stupor. He was aware only vaguely of sunlight filtering through the leaves and branches of the trees. Trying to look around but not being able to move his head. Passing out again. Waking up to Kenny giving him a sip from his canteen.

Through the haze of these semi-lucid moments, Dallas heard Kenny arguing with himself.

“If he can’t forgive, then fuck him. Too much of his father in him.”

The pain and anger in Kenny’s voice stung as much as his words.

“She was too good for the deadbeat. The biggest problem in this world is no one helps each other.”

By the time Dallas felt himself swaying in the river waters, it was dark. The sound of a paddle struggling to move upstream blended with the chorus of the night.

“This is huge. A real-life ‘squatch and we–I have proof.”

Dallas could only moan softly as Kenny continued his diatribe.

“There wouldn’t have been any questionin’ yer part of the spoils before, son. But now, I just don’t know.”

Red and blue lights roused Dallas as he was lifted and placed onto a stretcher.

“Kenny,” he said, briefly regaining the ability to turn his head before a paramedic placed a cervical collar around his neck.

In the distance, his mentor was talking with a deputy.

“Kenny!” He reached for the old man.

“Sir,” the paramedic said as she placed a hand on his chest, “you need to be still.”

Her voice caught Kenny’s attention, who limped over.

“Hey, son,” he said, eyes boring into Dallas’s soul.

“I’m sorry I left you! I was just trying to prove a point.” A tear slid down his cheek. “I’m sorry for the shit I said. About you and Mom. About holding onto that grudge for so long.”

“It’s okay.” Kenny smiled and held up the bag of ginseng. “And once I lead a team back to the carcass, we’re gonna be rich! Imagine it! Real proof of Sasquatch!”

“Y-you’re still gonna cut me in?” Dallas blurted out, remembering what he’d heard. “After … after everything?”

Kenny patted him gently on the shoulder. “Not gonna lie, it’s tempting. Real tempting. But all I ever wanted was your forgiveness.” He winked. “Besides, the damn skeptics are gonna try to tear the story apart; we gotta hang together or our reputations will hang separately.”

Dallas relaxed into the stretcher, relieved that all debts were square. As he closed his eyes,  a mournful howl echoed through the mountains.

He must have imagined it.

Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Xavier Poe Kane
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Xavier Poe Kane

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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