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Went Missing

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A man of little words - Editor

Went Missing

by Christian Riley

Sam Nolan took his breakfast of cold salmon and buttered toast every morning at the bottom of a two story house three miles north of Kenai Harbor. There were no windows in the basement of that house from which to study the blue sky, yet that proved to be a small blessing for the giant man; for all the years he came to work at this outpost, Sam found little favor for the endless daylight which accompanied it.

He stood six-four, with a strong back and plate-sized hands, and could work men half his age straight to their graves. His eyes knew the inside of every processing plant in town, and his arms knew the motions of any commercial fishing job Alaska had to offer. Sam Nolan never had trouble finding work in Kenai Harbor during those lively months of the year.

There were locals who lived near Sam, and they all knew him by sight, many by name, and a few a bit more than that. One man could rightfully claim that Sam Nolan was even his friend, if it were in his nature to do so. Yet if you asked any one of those locals if they thought Sam was a tough man, your answer would be a simple one.

But Sam didn't need anyone to tell him he was tough. He remembered that day he sent three men to the health clinic for talking the way they did to that young girl. "They bore an ill-favored manner on that woman, of which I took offense to," was his reply to the officer-in-question. Sam Nolan was a man of little words, but when he did speak, it seemed everyone heard what he was saying. He slept in his own bed on that night.

In a dark corner of that basement which Sam called his home for six months of the year was a small oak dresser containing three drawers. None of those drawers kept so much as a sock in them, as they were all evenly filled with books and magazines. And since there were only four things Sam ever did while in Kenai, if he wasn't working or sleeping, it was quite possible you'd find him there in that basement, reading one of those books or magazines.

But because his hobby of choice was a private one, no one ever did witness Sam as he sat there cross-legged on the floor wearing his glasses, flipping through pages. Yet sure enough, the sight would have certainly struck a few of those locals as being most queer; burly Sam Nolan with his scraggly hair and wild beard, and those gargantuan hands all towering peacefully over a delicate little book. All the same, if you asked any person who vaguely knew Sam whether or not he was a learned man, your answer would yet again be a simple one.

But Sam Nolan didn't need anyone to tell him he was smart, either. He knew how many books he read.

Readers often have a preference as to what they put in their hands. Some liked novels of various genres, others reached for non-fiction in all its forms, and still there were those who were very much like Sam, in that they simply read a little bit of everything.

But it was in April of 1989 that Sam took a keen interest in reading about the local myths and legends of the Pacific Northwest. While in Anchorage, Alaska during that time, he found at a used bookstore a host of literature which fit that particular field of study. He read through half of those books before he made it back to that basement in Kenai, one month later.

#

"People went missing," Henry Fall used to say, as they sat in the only bar Sam would ever visit, there in Kenai. The old man kept his long grey hair forever in a pony-tail, saddled on top with a ragged ball cap. There were grim vacancies in his toothy smile, but that never stopped Henry Fall from cackling the way he did, every hour of every night in that bar. This was the man who could've claimed Sam Nolan for his friend, for on those occasions when Sam acquainted that bar, it was Henry whom he sat with and talked about mostly nothing of any great importance to. And that by the way, was the fourth thing Sam ever did while in Kenai harbor.

"They went missing for many reasons," Henry would continue. The old man had a lengthy list as to why people went missing in Alaska. Everything from plane crash, to fratricide. And when he was sober enough to take a serious tone, his tales on that subject would snare Sam Nolan the same as one of those books in that basement did. But in the warm months of that year, 1989, as Sam and Henry were sitting in that bar talking about people going missing, the old man decided that his friend might value something a little bit more than just words.

And so one day, Henry Fall came to that bar carrying the leather binder he found as a kid while playing in his grandfather's house. His face wore the gravity of a man on his way to a job interview, and when Sam sat next to him later that evening, Henry gave his friend that binder along with all his seriousness. But he kept his words.

For one hour Sam Nolan sat and read through that binder, while Henry sat and drank his beer.

They were the field notes of a man named Dr. Lemuel Carver. Dated 1898-1901, they detailed Dr. Carver's anthropological research there in Alaska, but most particular were seven pages pertaining to his observations at the eastern end of the Kenai Peninsula, along the southern shores of Kings Bay. In those seven pages, Dr. Carver described the matted brown hair, the ambling bi-pedal gait, and the enormous size and girth of a certain ape-like creature as witnessed by he himself for the span of nine days. He described the plants, grasses, roots, and berries that this creature foraged from the valleys and ravines of that area. He concluded the beast to be omnivorous, as a bear, when he observed it gorge on spawning fish from a nearby tributary. And in particular, were Dr. Lemuel Carver's maps and illustrations of this area, and of the hidden cave in which the creature retreated to every day for hours on end. Finally, at the last of these pages was a single sentence identifying the grant of which Dr. Carver would most certainly acquire, in order to pursue further research of his remarkable discovery.

Sam Nolan read through those field notes as if they were the final chapter of all the books he had read that year. He read through them with the same look of astonishment which would fall upon the face of any man who uncovered this mystery. Yet despite the vast depth of all that was there in that binder, the scribble of Dr. Lemuel Carver's observations which Sam found to be most intriguing, the illustrations which captured the absolute weight of his attention, were the ones that didn't exist at all. It was the "incompleteness" of Dr. Carver's research on that creature at the shores of Kings Bay which bent the brows of Sam Nolan. And when he looked up at his friend Henry Fall, his eyes searching for the answers abandoned by that leather binder, old Henry simply returned his stare and mumbled, "People went missing."

The Kenaitze, a Native tribe of which Henry Fall belonged to, called the creature "Nant'ina".  Sam remembered this from one of the books he read that year, along with other names such as Skukum, Hairy Man, Sasquatch, and of course, Bigfoot. He recalled that there were hundreds of sightings stretched over hundreds of years from all around the world. Those that believed in the creature said it stood nine feet tall, weighed close to a thousand pounds, and left a foot-print several times the size of that of an average man. It was a shy animal that kept to itself and avoided contact with human beings, so they also said. As he lay in his bed on the night Henry gave him that binder, Sam remembered these things about the legend of Bigfoot.

But those weren't the only things which crossed the mind of Sam Nolan on that evening.

#

The following year Sam showed up in Kenai Harbor carrying quite a bit more than just books and magazines.

"You'll miss the last of the silver run," Henry Fall told him as they sat once again in that bar. This was just Henry making small talk, for he knew Sam was the kind of person who would think well and hard upon anything he chose to do.

"Could be risky," he observed, one month later. And this was Henry expressing in the only way he knew, his concern for the man which he considered to be his friend.

But Sam Nolan didn't need anyone reminding him to be cautious. Two years with a special unit in Vietnam made that point clear enough for him.

And so, in September of that year, as hundreds of men were hauling in all that salmon along the beaches of that harbor, Sam Nolan took all his strength, and all his wits, and crammed them into a backpack which held quite a bit more than books and magazines, then struck off for a particular place at the eastern end of the Kenai Peninsula.

#

One week later, Sam Nolan stood on the southern shore of Kings Bay in which he thought to be the spot where Dr. Lemuel Carver made his observations of that certain ape-like creature. Two days after, he found those huge foot-prints upon the sands of that shore, as well as what he believed was the hidden cave where Dr. Carver watched the beast retreat to for hours on end. And since Sam was a man of patience as great as that of his size, he also found a large stand of drift-wood on that beach in which he took refuge; where he sat and waited for hours on end, thinking about all those things one would ever find in the mind of Sam Nolan.

The following morning Sam woke to the sound of something heavy landing upon wet sand. His training with that special unit back in Vietnam kept his body motionless and his breath hidden, but his eyes and ears roamed the surrounding shore upon which he lay with the franticness one would expect in that situation.

Then he noticed a terrible smell, as brought from the drift of an early southern breeze. The odor had a pungent, animal quality about it, but a "thickness" which left Sam alarmed as to its proximity. Whatever owned that stench was very near.

Slowly turning his head, Sam peered up through a fissure of wood and spied the creature. He spied it as it stood there in the sand; a one-thousand pound hairy monstrosity looming over that pile of timber. And Sam Nolan spied that thing as it stared down directly at him, with its own eyes, which were fierce and wild, desperate and "thinking."

Then suddenly, as an average man would have laid there on the ground, frozen with terror upon site of that creature standing before him, Sam Nolan grabbed his rifle, stood up from his hide with an explosion of wood and sand, and gave a great roar that no living person could ever claim they've heard.

And where an average man might hesitate with shock upon witnessing the legendary Bigfoot tear off toward a thicket of trees, Sam Nolan took aim with his rifle and sent three heavy slugs into that beast.

But it kept on running.

It had a stride which was impossible to match, so Sam fell back and followed it slowly, taking note of all that blood on the ground, and on the leaves. He watched as the creature crashed through those woods in a howling fit, bounding up and over a small ridge, and ultimately down and into that hidden cave where Dr. Carver had once watched it go.

Sam had shot all sorts of creatures many different times, so when he approached the dark entrance of that cave, he knew best to wait outside for the hour that he did. But when that time passed, and he was sure that those wounds finished their work on that Bigfoot, Sam pulled out a flashlight and strode right into that hole as if he had been there a thousand times before.

It opened into a cavern of deceptive size, which grew wider and longer the further he went into it. He saw that the dirt upon the walls of that place was ripped and torn, whittled away by the hundred swipes of an enormous hand. Further into that darkness Sam discovered pockets into the ground, all disheveled with dry plant-matter, reeking with that same stench he met on the beach earlier. And when he approached what seemed to be the end of that cave, Sam stopped with surprise when his flashlight revealed the rutted out section of earth which appeared before him, and the fallen body of that creature he had shot as it laid there face down...

And all those other things.

Lanterns. Backpacks. Fishing poles. Tattered remnants of cloth covering shattered bones and hollowed-out skulls. There were things here that should not be. Things that someone, somewhere, must have thought went missing. Sam thought this too, just before he turned away from that sight in response to the low growl he then heard right behind him.

He was a big, strong man, not accustomed to looking up at things; not used to being grabbed in that way, nor jerked around like that; and not familiar with such horrible pain at the end of that snap.

#

Henry Fall took his breakfast each morning of whatever he could find, often on the couch of whomever felt sorry for him the night before. He was a broken man who despised those dark months of the year, for they left that harbor as desolate and lonely as the sum of his own life. And everyone in town knew Henry Fall, and that there was nothing tough about him, but that he was a man of many words and average intelligence, who knew a whole lot about nothing at all. And Henry Fall never bothered looking for a job during those lively months of the year, because there was only one thing that man ever did while in Kenai, Alaska.

But even then, there were times when Henry would sit in that bar as if he were the lord of Kenai; when his many words would end up capturing the ears of every fisherman, processor, and local who ventured into that place. Times when Henry Fall himself felt like that very big man he had once considered to be his friend.

"So whatever happened to this...Sam Nolan?" asked a wiry kid with twisted strawberry hair.

Thirty long seconds and a swift pull of whiskey later, Henry Fall looked up and replied, "Ol' Sam...he went missing."

©2011

 

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