Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Something in the Woods, Coconino National Forest, Flagstaff, Arizona

The eyes were black, it's teeth fanged, and a reptilian tale slowly swished the snowy ground. The deputy sheriff put his hand on his service automatic and approached cautiously.
          “Set me free.” The creature said in Rick’s mind, not making a sound as it looked at the deputy with dark eyes. Rick hesitated and waved at the couple on the road who had called 911, reporting a Sasquatch snared in a bear trap at the edge of Coconino National Park outside of Flagstaff, Arizona. A few weeks before an Arizona highway camera had caught furry objects on SR 260 near Heber, Arizona. Rick assumed local hunters or teenagers had set the bear trap just in case the things roamed in the Flagstaff direction.
          “Set me free and I am in your debt. Good fortune will follow.” The voice sounded again in Rick’s head, who then decided on a course of action.
          “Hold the trap steady and I’ll open it with both hands.” The deputy said to the trapped beast.
          “If trapped by man, then I must be freed by man. You must release me by yourself.” The creature replied.
          Rick stood and stamped his feet in the frigid January afternoon air, the western sun casting shadows on the patches of snow. They were standing on the edge of the vast ponderosa pine forest that stretches from Northern Arizona to the Apache Reservation in the southeastern corner of the state.
          The creature was cloaked in a large shaggy coat with a hood, giving the appearance of a furry being. Rick walked back to the couple who had discovered the trap and sounded the alarm. They stood wide-eyed by the deputy sheriff’s cruiser.
          “Why don’t you shoot it?” The willowy girl with a pony tail asked.
          “Can I help?” Her wispy haired boyfriend queried.
          Rick advised them the trap had caught an Iraq army veteran in a greatcoat who‘d drunk too much wine. He told them to stay by the car, and then he retrieved his nightstick. The deputy returned to the trapped beast and knelt in the snow, putting his foot on the trap, then inserting the club between the sharp teeth and leveraging it open.
          The creature stepped free and limped away as Rick watched, then paused and looked back at the deputy, “I won’t forget.” It said soundlessly, and then vanished in the dense pine woods.

It was a month later on a dark, bone-chilling February night when Rick pulled over a black Escalade with the license plate light out on Route 66. The driver lowered his window and then pointed a revolver at the deputy. Suddenly the window went up trapping the driver’s gun barrel. Rick pulled out his automatic and heard a metallic click as he watched the front passenger furiously working his gun. Then the rear door flew open and a shaved-head man with a tattoo on his neck jumped out and racked a shotgun. The man reached for the trigger with his right hand, but he slipped on the ice and stumbled backward. The shotgun discharged.
Four months later on a spring evening, Rick was gathered with his deputy friends at Buster’s Restaurant to celebrate his commendation medal for “Extreme Valor”. There was lively chatter as his friends relived Rick’s encounter with the deadly Mexican Cartel trio on Route 66 that frigid night.
At the end of the table was Joe Don, a new deputy recruit who Rick had mentored. He watched the gaiety with a sour face as Joe Don was innately dour and still bedeviled by intolerance.
“Ricardo was just lucky.” Joe Don said and the table quieted.
“Think about it.” Joe Don continued. “The driver’s window malfunctions. The passenger’s gun jams, and the Homey in the back slips on the ice blowing his head off. All Rick did was stand there.”
          The table murmured, and then Carol, a religious deputy, bowed her blonde head. “It was divine intervention.” She said, her hands clasped in prayer.
          Bobby, sitting across from Carol, nodded. “Rick must have been an angel.”
          Joe Don laughed and looked down the table at Rick, asking.” What’s the name of your guardian angel, Deputy Ricardo?”

          Rick cocked his head, gazing around the table at his friends. “I don’t have an angel.” He replied, and then added: “But I do have a demon.” And Rick recalled that afternoon in Coconino National Forest where he met something in the woods.