Chapter One: The First Story
When they arrived at the cabin, they set their bags on the porch and opened the door. Inside, the last people who were there had left some firewood. Otherwise, everything was clean. The men claimed their bunks, lit a fire in the stove, and started preparing dinner. After dinner, there was card game, jokes, and beverages. It had been a long day for everyone, and the short trip to the cabin was enough to tire them out. They decided to call it a night.
The men piled the logs into the stove with the hopes that someone would get up and replenish the wood before the fire died. John turned off the lantern and everyone used flashlights to get into their beds. They all got into their sleeping bags, turned off their flashlights, and tried to go to sleep.
Soon, the stove was glowing red, and the cabin was so hot, someone had to open the door. The men all got up because there was no way they could sleep in the heat with their long johns and heavy-duty sleeping bags. They gathered on the porch near the doorway enjoying the outside temperature, well below freezing, tempered by the heat coming from the stove indoors. There was thought of leaving the cabin door open and returning to sleep, but a crunching through the snow drew their attention.
Not 10 feet away, three moose had gathered in the moonlight. They snuffled the snow and the trees looking for something to eat. The four men knew they would not be able to return to their beds without closing the door, and they knew it would be impossible to sleep while the stove continued to heat the cabin to temperatures previously only dreamed of in that neck of the woods.
They would need to stay up. Rather than post one man as sentry near the door, being amiable, they decided they would all stay up to keep each other company. It was a part of the weekend to connect to each other rather than to the electronic devices that ruled all too much of their interactions during their time in the city.
They stood huddled around the door feeling only slightly awkward. “You know what we used to do at camp?” asked George. “At night, before we went to bed, we would tell each other stories.”
“That sounds like a good idea,” said Gerald. “By the time we’re done, the heat will have abated.”
“So, who starts?” asked John.
“The one who suggested it,” said Lee and laughed as he pointed at George.
“I think our writer should start,” said George looking at Gerald.
“Wait, how did I get to be at the front of the line?” asked Gerald. “Shouldn’t it be our fearless leader?” He indicated John.
John’s mouth dropped open. He gestured with his hands toward his chest and looked around. “I think Lee would have the most interesting stories. I bet he could tell us something about his home country.”
Lee smirked. “That’s exactly why I shouldn’t go first. I’d be a tough act to follow. I also nominate Gerald to start us off.”
“Show of hands,” John said. The three of them raised their hands. “Looks like you win, Gerry. Let’s hear your story.”
“Alright, at least I’ll get it over with,” Gerald said. He looked out over the porch, past the dark figures of the trees and beyond to the mountains. The full moon lit the snow on the towering mountains giving them a glowing white appearance. Gerald breathed in the cold air and exhaled. This is the story he told:
It is said that on that mountain just below the tree line lives a creature no man has seen. We’ve only heard whispers of it from Native Alaskans, and campers, who found themselves on that mountain unknowing what awaited them, returned weeks after they had planned and missing days in their memories. The best account of the creature that lives there is from a 1932 biography of Amelia Ambergris.
Amelia Ambergris was an adventuress in every sense of the word. She wasn’t interested in being known for her exploits and only agreed to consult on a biography as she suffered through a life-ending disease that went undiagnosed even after she died. They just didn’t have the technology to see what was wrong, and it could’ve been anything, but in 1933, it was labeled cardiac failure though she was only 58 at the time.
One of her adventures took her to that very mountain we can see from here. It’s one of the reasons why I agreed to come on this trip, and while I know that the mountain is too far away to get from here, I still wanted to see it. After reading about Ms. Ambergris and the other legends of the mountain, I’m not really sure I want to venture out there.
Ms. Ambergris was based in Anchorage in her time in Alaska, and she had learned to speak a little of the native languages. She would collect stories and folklore about specific places and try to uncover the reason for languages that had similar stories about the same area. When she heard about this area, she decided to head out in the winter to find out what made the place so dangerous beyond the normal problems that people faced from the weather and the cold.
She took a sled of dogs and a team of natives and dressed as warmly as she could. With her rifle nearby, they mushed to the foot of the mountain. The Native Alaskans would go no further. They tried to dissuade her from ascending the mountain by point at the weather and the dark clouds above. They tried to dissuade her because of the lack of provisions available. Finally, they mutinied and left her there to her own devices. They were sort of civil about it, at least. They left all the supplies they wouldn’t need as they headed back to Anchorage, but they took her dogs.
Ms. Ambergris headed up the mountain, towing her sled behind her. She found a good clearing with a stream nearby and made camp. She dug out a snow cave and started a fire. As it got darker and colder, she thought she could hear things moving in the snow. Bear weren’t likely to be out that late in the season, and moose would’ve been large enough to see. There hadn’t been any new snowfall, and there was no wind to knock the snow off the trees. It could’ve been rabbits or foxes, but Ms. Ambergris didn’t think so.
Soon it was night, and she decided that she would go to sleep. She hunkered down in her snow cave and closed her eyes. She had her rifle with her just in case. She wasn’t sure how long she had slept, but the embers of her fire were glowing red. It wasn’t the cold that had awoken her, however. There was something rummaging through the supplies on her sled. She put a log on the embers and stepped out of her snow shelter. The fire had died down enough that she only had the faint moonlight to see by.
There was something shaking her sled, but she couldn’t see it clearly. It made snuffling sounds like a moose but was definitely bi-pedal. Ms. Ambergris knew that Alaska didn’t have any apes, and while this particular specimen didn’t seem large enough and it was winter, the only thing she could think of that was sort of bi-pedal was a bear. She raised her rifle to her shoulder and pointed it in the general direction of the sled. “Hey, whoever’s going through my sled! There’s plenty for everyone. Come out with your hands where I can see them, and we’ll share!” She shouted in case it was a human.
The movement of the sled stopped, and when she circled it, there wasn’t any animal around. She thought she would look for tracks in the morning when there was more light than she had with just the moon. She went back to the cave and slept through the rest of the night.
When she got up the next morning, she tended to her fire and put some water on to boil. Then she checked her supplies. The animal had left everything alone but her Bible, which it appeared to have been going through when she interrupted it. The pages were wrinkled, and there were some tear marks. The book was, however, intact.
She thought that maybe the animal was hungry. Since she had stashed all of her food, it couldn’t find anything to eat. Still, it was strange that it was interested in the Bible. She thought that maybe even animals needed the Good Word of God sometimes, like people needed bread. She finished checking her equipment and found a small tuft of white hair on one of the runners of the sled where it stuck out above the snow. She decided to take her Bible to the campfire while she examined the hair.
She set the Bible on a log next to her. The hair didn’t look like fur. It looked like hair from a human. That didn’t make any sense to Amelia, but she could find no other clues as to the identity or whereabouts of the creature. So, she sat near the fire and pondered the situation. As the day wore on, she decided to see what would happen if she left some food out for the animal. Oftentimes, animals would return to the place where they could find food, especially in the winter.
As night descended on the mountain, she placed out small bits of food. She knew that there was an inherent danger in doing so. While bears were in hibernation, it didn’t mean that they wouldn’t come out of their dens to find food. It was rare to see a bear during the winter, but it did happen. Other animals that could be dangerous and attracted to the food included wolves, wolverines, and, to a lesser extent, foxes. Still, she thought the risk would be worth it.
She put the food out, just at the edge of the firelight, and went to her snow cave to see what happened. She said that she dozed off and was awakened by the sound of ripping paper. When she opened her eyes, still clouded with sleep, she saw a group of bi-pedal creatures with white hair sticking up all over their bodies. They were about three feet tall and had gathered around her Bible. She heard one of them grumble and another page was torn from the Holy Book.
She raised her gun when she heard another noise coming from the area of her sled. She decided that she had to take action. She raised her rifle and fired at the group near the Bible. One of the creatures yelped. The rest turned to face her. She ejected her cartridge and put her finger on the trigger, but she was too slow, they creatures overwhelmed her, pummeling, kicking, and biting. She fell unconscious.
The next day, she awoke. Her fire was out, and she hurt all over. When she came to her sled, she found that the animals had rummaged through the sled and didn’t take or damage anything. The food she had left out on the edge of the firelight remained untouched. But she was wrong about the pages being torn out of the Bible. The creatures had torn out specific verses and, apparently, eaten them.
Ms. Ambergris realized that she would need medical attention. She packed up her supplies and headed down the hill with her sled behind her. She wasn’t sure she could make it to Anchorage, but the alternative was to give up. She kept putting one step in front of the other. At the bottom of the hill was one of the Native Alaskans that had brought her out there. He decided that he couldn’t leave her on the mountain by herself, but when he arrived, he couldn’t bring himself to go up the slope.
They went back to Anchorage and Ms. Ambergris checked into the hospital. A couple of days later, the Native Alaskan came to see how she was doing. She told him about the creatures and what had happened.
He said, “Those creatures are trolls, and you should never feed them.”
When Gerald finished his story, there was silence. A moose exhaled loudly from the copse of trees where it decided to bed down.
“And that’s why we don’t feed the trolls,” said George. “Right. Not bad.” He looked at the stove. It was still glowing red. “It looks like we’re going to be out here for a while. Who’s next?”
“I think I should choose,” said Gerald, “and I choose John.”
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