Desolation at Sentinel Peak

📅 Published on April 11, 2022

“Desolation at Sentinel Peak”

Written by Kyle Harrison
Edited by Craig Groshek and Seth Paul
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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Our plane cropped over the horizon, the endless woods meandering and covering every inch of land for miles around the forested area, effectively isolating it from the rest of the earth by mountains on almost all sides.  Within the bowl-shaped valley of greenery, it was easy to spot where we were headed.  The blackened tower stood out like an altar of ash amid the lush firs.

As we got closer, a memory flashed in my head about the conversation I’d had with the Chief Forest Officer, Vince Westley, only the day before in Ontario.

The incident happened over the winter break.  A couple of blokes from Cali came in to do the watchman duty for some extra bucks.  “Probably needed the cash for the holidays, and heaven’s sake, you know, we’ve been so short-handed lately, Nate, it’s not like I had a choice.  I figured they’d basically be holed up in that tower for a couple of weeks with nothing to do but whack off and smoke weed or whatever.  They seemed harmless,” he told me.

“So then what happened?” I remember asking.

“Paul said it was arson.  He thought it was an accident.”

I guess that’s why they called me in, huh?  The expert.

I didn’t bother telling him it had been about four years since I had been involved in any official investigation like this.  Truth be told, I was little like those kids, eager for cash and down on my luck.  Since this seemed like an open and shut case, I thought I would be here for a day at the most.

Slowly we declined toward the south part of the lakeshore, the plane gliding gracefully across the top of the morning fog as I got a better look at the Firewatch station.

It surprised me to see how much it was still standing.

From this angle, at least half of the building looked like it was untouched, perhaps more.  Built of steel and stone and a mix of cement and wood, it should have collapsed if the fire was as intense as Vince claimed it to be, especially if it started from within.

As the seaplane came to a stop, I halted an officer coming to meet me.  His smile was friendly, but a few bruises and a cast on his knee told me the older man hadn’t had a very pleasant Christmas.

“You must be the inspector, Nathan, right?” He said as he leaned on his good leg.

“Just call me Nate.  Sorry it took a little longer than expected to get here.  Hard to find a pilot that wants to fly this time of year, I guess,” I told him as I gathered my things.  I hadn’t packed much, again expecting this to be a short trip since the station itself was not much larger than an average 2-bedroom cabin.  Not even a change of clothes.

He told me that the place seemed to have a bad mojo about it, and he hoped my stay wouldn’t be long.

We stood there for an awkward moment while he peered up toward the stairwell that led to the main lookout, perhaps speculating what had happened.  Then he clasped his hands together and helped with my backpack.

Well, the tower wasn’t going anywhere.  “Let me show you where you’ll be staying,” he said. The seaplane captain waved us off, and then we were alone.  As I watched its reflection disappear from the surface of the water, I realized just how alone out here we were.  The valley seemed endless.  The sky was so quiet.  And the tower suddenly seemed a bit more imposing as I stood there at its feet.

“Have you been up there since it happened?” I asked.

Immediately he got skittish and told me that he didn’t want to mess up the scene of the crime. Something about his reply left me wondering if he might be hiding something.

I nodded absently, wondering why I had even considered he might have any information to give me.  So I pulled my pack a little closer to me and followed him down a winding trail toward what looked like a small recreational vehicle.

He said it was the best they could do given the circumstances.

I wasn’t complaining; I could tell that Sentinel Peak was a pretty lonely place, other than this lookout.  Not much besides trees to look at, I thought.

There were two small beds, a few cabinets, a mini kitchen and toilet and maybe enough food for a few days.

“I don’t really think that I’m going to be here that long,” I told him as he offered me a cup of coffee.

Paul told me that this was better than outside.  “Bears in these parts get hungry this time of year since there’s not much else in the area to eat… they get a little desperate,” he commented.

We both pulled up a chair, and I got the feeling that if I was going to get this investigation done, it would require that I cooperated with him.

“So the bodies… will that attract bears too?” I asked.

“There weren’t any bodies, ‘’ he told me, and he guessed that whoever did it would be hightailing out of here after the deed was done.

“I thought they died in the incident?” I said, recalling what Vince had told me.

He said that if they did die, then the fire ate them up… then he changed it to say that maybe they went missing altogether.  Honestly, his flip-flopping was mighty suspicious if you ask me.

Something about what he was telling me didn’t add up, so I decided to change the subject.

“You mentioned earlier not many people come here, right?  So what’s the lookout tower for?”

“There’s a lumber company a few miles east of here in the valley…well, I guess there was one until a few years back.  Covid didn’t pass us by, and the company fell into bankruptcy,” he answered.

“So it’s just sitting out there untouched?  They leave all of their equipment behind?”

“That’s what seems to happen around here.  People come and try to make this area theirs… and Mother Nature fights back.  Pushes us back.  I have often felt we weren’t welcome here. There’s a force that doesn’t want us here.”  It was the first extremely serious thing he had said since I arrived.

I sat there for an awkward moment as he stared at me stone-faced and then laughed almost uncontrollably.  He didn’t seem happy to be here either.

I sighed and looked down at the coffee, realizing that I didn’t really feel comfortable being here longer than necessary.

“I think I’m going to go up to the lookout now, see what I can find out,” I said as I stood up and stretched.

He kept insisting that I wait, but I didn’t want to.  I needed answers, and this weirdo wasn’t giving them.

“Maybe warm that up in about an hour?  By then, I should have this wrapped up,” I said as I walked out of the small mobile home.

The air around me felt still, and I walked up the trail toward the tower, my imagination playing out what I might find.

As I took a first step onto the wooden stairwell, the entire lookout made a creaky noise, and I froze for a moment, wondering how secure this place was.  It didn’t look too unstable, but it didn’t make me feel safe when every step I made caused more noise to resound through the valley.

As I climbed above the tree line, it felt like I was going into the clouds, getting a chance to see the forest from a different view.  Here at this level, it was an ocean of firs and pines, easy to get lost in.  Or drown in the endless green.

The signs of the fire became evident when I made the next round of steps, some of them bent and warped by the flames.  Then it got worse at the next level, turning completely to black ash as I reached the top.

The door was barely on its hinges, the gentle breeze inviting me to go in and see what had occurred.  I took out my smartphone to get a good bit of light as I saw the sun was beginning to set over the forest and went in.

The smell of ash mixed with burnt flesh as my tiny light illuminated the destruction.  There really wasn’t a part of the small building that hadn’t been completely burnt up by the fire.  Books and furniture were blackened or completely disintegrated.  The metal chairs were melted and twisted, the computers broken and leaning toward the center of the room.

It seemed clear the fire had started there, near where a small coffee table had once sat.  In its place now, there was a deep scar that seemed to infect the very ground.  A dark black spot that spread out its tentacles in all directions.

Yet then, as I turned toward the other side of the firewatch, I realized that most of that side was untouched, as though the flames had mysteriously stopped when reaching a certain intensity. The couch was sitting there, looking toward the inferno as though entertained by the immolation, and beyond it the kitchen looked perfectly intact.

Why hadn’t the volunteers simply used this as their exit strategy?  I wondered as I stepped toward the tiny restroom and saw where one of them had spent their final few moments.  The corpse was darker than the starry sky that was meshing with the old building, his body collapsed and hugging the toilet as though he had been vomiting.

Yet the appearance of his body, frozen now by the after-effects of the inferno,  did not indicate that this man was hiding here and hoping to remain safe from the blaze.  Instead, it told me that whatever had happened was swift.  So unexpected that they didn’t even have time to protect their body as they had hurled into the port-a-John one last time.

How was that possible?  I’ve studied quick brush fires for most of my life in this job, and I had never seen one burn so powerfully and so quickly, yet I couldn’t seem to find any accelerant or a cause for the blaze itself.  It was as though it had simply appeared out of nowhere.   And there was no second corpse in sight.  Had the second man escaped and just decided to bolt?

The fire was to be considered intentional, according to the brief report that Paul had given me, and his number one suspect was this missing man, I was sure.  I need to find out more about them, I decided.  I checked the kitchen for any evidence of using the back entrance to get out and climb down.

I knew not to prejudge the entire situation, but something wasn’t adding up, and I felt like I was being lied to.  I could think of many reasons why that would be, most of them involving money.  I took pictures of the burnt office one more time and prepared to leave, resolving to get the truth from Paul that night.

Another thing that was off was the entire vibe of the firewatch.  I have always felt that when I visit the aftermath of an incident such as this, they are devoid of life.  Yet as I left the empty building, I had this eerie feeling someone was watching me.

There’s a force that doesn’t want us here Paul had said.

I had no idea if he was being serious or if it was another part of this strange case.

There were too many questions.

I stopped midway down the tower to take a smoke and look out at the tree line.  The sun was down now, and all I could make out were the dark outlines of the firs and cedars.  Forest stretches out like an ocean here, and you can watch the wind ripple across the tops of these trees like gentle waves.

But what I saw that night wasn’t the wind.  I was thinking about just forgetting this whole thing, signing the paper and calling it a night when I saw something move in the trees.  Then I realized it was actually a tree itself.  One of the dark cedars seemed to gently walk across the horizon as though it had legs.

I fumbled and tried to make sure I wasn’t seeing things.  It was so dark I thought my eyes had to be playing tricks, so I ran up toward the tower to use the spotlight and get a better look.  I angled the mighty metallic object, trying to get a good idea of where the strange tree had disappeared to, and then turned it on.

A long stream of light pierced the night.

What I saw I’m not sure I truly believe or understand.  The tree looked like it had a face.  Sharp bark contoured and opened into a hollow hole that formed a mouth with sharp edges of broken branches that were meant as teeth.  Its body was as wide as a house.  Its legs were taller than a giraffe.  They seemed to spread out and cover the ground, twisting and snagging the soil as it moved toward the firewatch.  I heard a low bellowing noise, like a grenade going off and then a sharp pitched shriek.  Immediately I shut the spotlight off, and I ran.

I pushed down the stairs and toward the trail, running for Paul’s trailer.

As I got inside and slammed the door, his face was a look of confusion and amusement.

“Don’t tell me you didn’t hear that?” I asked.

He switched off his tv and shrugged.  “Eventually, all the woods start sounding the same.  What did you see?” he asked.

I took a moment to recompose myself and stood up straight.

“It was nothing.  I’m just tired,” I told him.

“You look worse than that,” Paul muttered as he offered me some food and grabbed a book.  “I was beginning to wonder what was taking you so long up there.  It’s nearly morning,” he said.

I found myself looking like a drunk girl at a frat house party, peeking through the blinds to be sure he was right.

“It only felt like twenty minutes at the most,” I whispered.

Paul stood there for a moment, probably trying to decide if I had lost my mind, before turning to brew his coffee.

“So what was it like up there?” he asked, munching on his breakfast.

I sat down, still unsettled by all that I had seen and trying to make sense of it.

“Can you tell me more about the volunteers?” I asked.  I took out my recorder to be sure I didn’t miss any of the details.

He seemed surprised I was now taking things so seriously but went ahead and obliged the request, speaking directly into the microphone.

“Well, they seemed nice enough fellas.  I never really bothered to get to know them.  This time of year I’m farther south, where we expect to see campers coming in for holiday.  Like I said, no one ever really bothers with Sentinel Peak.  It’s almost forgotten entirely.”

“So…you weren’t here when the fire happened?” I guessed.

“I came to do a check on them.  Volunteers are supposed to check in with the ranger’s office on a semi-weekly basis, and they had missed a couple of times.  Rookie mistake, but I wanted to be sure.  When I got over the ridge, I saw the smoke rising, and I called it in..”

“Vince said you thought it was arson, though.  Why would you jump to that conclusion?” I asked.

“Well, I guess I should have brought it up earlier, but our park has been getting threats lately,” he admitted.

“Threats?  Like from tree huggers or something?” I asked.  Paul laughed but nodded as he sipped his coffee.

“Sentinel Peak is a relic, and they want it torn down.  Let the forest grow up and push us out. To be honest, before this incident, I was really considering that.  Let the ghosts have this place. Nature doesn’t want us here anyway,” he insisted.

I recalled the strange things I had seen only moments ago.  “When you say that, what do you mean?  Has this firewatch had issues in the past?” I asked.

“This isn’t the first time we’ve lost some volunteers.  Vince didn’t tell you that, did he?  It’s one of the main reasons we cannot keep good folk.  Everyone is scared they’ll wind up disappearing,” Paul joked.

“What do you mean?  Have there been other incidents?”

“Not like this.  But here and there, one of the volunteers will go missing from the firewatch. Their partner usually has to finish it all solo, although half of them pack up and leave.  I would, too, if I was doing this all alone and my only help vanishes.”

“When you say vanish, it makes it sound like they don’t just grab a flight and go home.  Are you saying these people are never seen again?  Why haven’t they been reported?” I asked.

Paul looked at me like I was joking, and he sighed before explaining, “People go missing in the woods all the time.  We don’t have the budget to search unless someone reports them.  These folk that disappear…I guess no one cared.”

I put down the recorder, recalling I had only seen one corpse in the firewatch.  “But something different happened this time,” I commented as I looked out the window toward the burnt building.

“Paul, I need you to identify the body I found.  Can you do that?  Did you get a good look at these kids?”

He seemed surprised but went along with it as he grabbed his coat, and we walked back toward the tower.

My hope was once we realized which body was in the tower, it could help us begin a search for the survivor.  To determine if this was really arson or something else entirely, I thought as I unlatched the door.

As we stepped in, I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me.  Paul held his mouth over his face as we closed the door back, and I took a second look at the devastation.

Everything had changed.  Unlike before, when I was looking at the front half of the building, now everything in the kitchen was torched and destroyed.

The living room and bathroom seemed unfazed, and the body I had encountered earlier was also missing.

Instead, as we walked to the desiccated kitchen, I saw a different corpse covered in ash, this one staring out the window, looking straight toward the trees that I had seen moving only a few hours ago.  They had been preparing to bite down on an apple when the fire engulfed them.

“I can’t tell which one this is…I’m sorry,” Paul admitted as he tried not to gag.  But my head was still spinning from the strange change in the room.  There was no way I had seen this same devastation earlier.  I pulled my phone out and looked at the photographs, confirming that I hadn’t simply been seeing things.

“This isn’t natural.  It wasn’t arson…it wasn’t an accident either.  In fact, I’m not sure what happened here,” I told him.  I let Paul look at the pictures I had taken to judge his reaction.  His face told me he was just as baffled as me and frightened too.

“I don’t think we should stay here,” he admitted.

“I disagree.  Something unnatural is going on here, and that’s exactly why we need to stay,” I said as I put my equipment down on the couch.

“If we stay, it could reveal what caused all of this,” I suggested.

He seemed uncomfortable but couldn’t give me an excuse to leave, so we both started gathering samples of the burnt materials from the kitchen to test.  It could reveal a lot about the fire, I told him as I checked the time.

Strange, I thought.  It felt as though no amount of time had passed since we arrived, yet I was exhausted.  Was something affecting us mentally here as well?

We kept gathering materials for another hour or so as I felt my energy drain more and more. Before I knew what was happening, I felt the need to collapse on the couch and rest.  Paul was complaining that he was feeling nauseous.

“I think it’s these burnt bodies.  I don’t see how you can stomach any of this,” he told me.

I ignored him and closed my eyes, trying to relax as I let my mind unwind.  Instead, it wasn’t long before it felt that I was unraveling.  Paul grabbed my shoulders and shook me awake, his eyes confused.

“Hey!  Why are you asleep?” he asked me as he pointed toward the window.  “Can’t you hear that?”

It was the booming noise again, the one that made my entire body tremble.  I stood up, my knees wobbling as I heard the ground around our tower start to crumble.

“What is that?” I asked.

“I can’t see anything.  It’s been going on for about ten minutes!  I think it’s going to tear us limb from limb!” Paul shouted.

I raced to the kitchen to get a better look, the glowing eyes of the strange monster in the trees making me want to run the other way.

Instead a swath of fire pushed itself into the tower, covering the counter next to me and making me leap back.  The entire counter was covered in flames.

Paul ran to grab an extinguisher and doused the small inferno as the monster bellowed, and the firewatch shook.

“We need to get out of here!” I said as I ran away from the kitchen.  He was standing there at the counter, trying to protect what little was left.

Instead, the flames covered his body the way ants attack an invasive predator.  It made it seem like the fire had a mind of its own.

Immediately I ran from the tower, not bothering to look back.  I could hear the gigantic noises from above, and I was sure that if I hesitated for even a moment, the entire firewatch would fall down on top of me.

I didn’t stop running until I made it to Paul’s trailer.  I found the radio and called Vince’s station.

“Mayday!  Mayday, this is Sentinel Peak requesting assistance!”

There was only static as I heard the creature moving about outside, trying to find me.  I could hear the crackling of fire.  Was it really going to burn down the whole forest just to exterminate me?

I hunched down and waited for the woods to become silent again.  Then I heard Vince on the radio.

“Sentinel Peak, do you copy?”

I grabbed the receiver and shouted, “There’s a fire!  Send help right away!  All rangers need evacuation immediately!”

The radio filled with static again and then died.

Then I heard a knock at the door.

Instinctively I grabbed the nearest object to use as a weapon, a letter opener and stood by the door to let the stranger in.

To my shock and confusion, it was Paul.

“You’re…alive.  How is that possible?  I saw you burning up!” I said.  He didn’t even show signs of scars on his body.

He looked just as confused as me.  “Who the fuck are you?” he spat back.

“Is this some kind of joke?  It’s Nathan.  I came here to inspect the fire.”  I kept my distance from him, wondering if he was even the same person I had met the day before.  Had the fire done something to him?  Recreated him somehow?

Paul mumbled something into his walkie-talkie and then answered, “What fire?”

We walked out of his trailer, and I looked up at Sentinel Peak.  It appeared untouched by any blaze at all.

“What in the world…” I said as I started to run toward the stairs.  There were no signs of ash or burns or anything that I had seen before.  I heard Paul shouting at me as I raced to the top.  I needed to see the inside of the firewatch.  I needed to understand what was happening.

As I stepped into the tower, I found myself looking at a brand new office.  Polished furniture.  A full pantry.  It looked like nothing had been used.

Paul stormed in behind me.  “Please explain to me what is going on here,” he demanded.

“There was a fire here.  You died…maybe I died too,” I whispered.  It was making me nauseous. I was seeing flashes of this other firewatch, where Paul was devoured by the inferno, and I was the one trapped in the bathroom.

“We were the ones who came here.  We’re trapped inside a nightmare of our design.  That creature…it’s made us a part of the forest.”

Paul was reaching for his gun, clearly disturbed by everything I said.  “You need to leave now,” he warned.

“Listen to me!  We have to stop it before it happens again!”

But instead of listening, he fired a shot straight toward me.  I ducked down, and the bullet hit the propane tank right behind me.

The explosion forced me toward Paul, a burst of fire consuming the front of the station.  The entire firewatch was covered in an inferno within mere moments.

I found myself trying to grab ahold of the splintering wood as the tower crumbled.  I was being swallowed up by the devastation.  Seeping into the very ground.

I lost consciousness at some point, hardly able to move from the blast.  The firewatch was gone, but something else now was rumbling toward me.

It was the giant.

I tried to move, to run, but instead, I realized my body was trapped by the rubble of the collapsed tower.

The monster was reaching down, its massive branches digging up the debris and picking me up like a rag doll.

Vines encircled my legs to prevent me from being able to escape as I was swung up toward the giant’s neck.  Its glowing eyes were looking into my soul, and it opened its sharp bark mouth to spread fire over my body.

My skin was burning.  My body felt paralyzed.  And I was becoming a part of this massive tree creature.

As it happened, I saw forests being scorched in front of my eyes.  I was taken on an astral journey through the body of this creature.  I saw its kind, helplessly watching as man came and tore down the forest.  Fighting back and taking all they could.

Sentinel Peak was one of the few places these creatures still called home.  And then the forest rangers built the station.  I saw how the tree had to watch on the sidelines as its own brothers and sisters were destroyed.  I felt its pain every time they attacked the forest.

It happened not once or even a dozen times.  But thousands of times.  And yet the creature could do nothing.

By some miracle, perhaps magic or sacred power of the land itself, the tree found the will to walk and to attack.

The firewatch needed to be taken down, for these people had no purpose here.  I recalled Paul’s words about how useless it was, and now I could see why.  These people were wasting resources that belonged to the forest.

This was a fight that humanity would lose.

I watched as the tree monster used its newfound strength to burn the tower down, the fragments of the earth sorting into different pieces.  Each part of the scattered memories were the earth itself.  Broken and disjointed more than any mere words could convey.  It was trying to put itself back together and frozen in time itself.  And we were causing it more and more suffering.

The giant said nothing, letting me experience all of these painful things as I was transported to the edge of the valley.  Watching as the destruction of the firewatch put itself back together again.

Then the tree was silent and frozen as if never a monster at all.  And I’m as human as I had always been.

I stood there for a moment, looking toward Sentinel Peak and trying to make sense of this strange otherworldly experience I’d had.  I had been given the gift of seeing the world through the eyes of nature.  Understanding its pain.

I saw Paul walking toward me, waving his arms and looking like a fool.

Another typical human destroying this blessed land.

“You must be the new recruit.  Come on up; the place is waiting for ya,” he said.

He guided me and told me all about the firewatch and its long history.  But I wasn’t listening.  I was looking at the place and how easy it would be to torch it.

I waited for him to leave and thanked him, checking my phone and deleting the old photos.  The past was removed.  Nature healed itself the way it always does.  And now I can play a part and make sure it’s completely cured.

I doused the firewatch in gasoline and then looked toward the forest horizon as I set a match and let the fire begin to burn.

I am part of the desolation now.  I am the ash that smolders and lingers and returns to the earth.

This place will be forgotten.  It will return to what it once was.

But we of the forest, we will continue to remain.  Forever a memory of the suffering we can endure.

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

Written by Kyle Harrison
Edited by Craig Groshek and Seth Paul
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Kyle Harrison

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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