For several months of the year I work as a volunteer fire lookout at a rather large national park. There are several towers, most abandoned now, but year after year I keep returning, and now I’m the only lookout left. It takes a special type of person to lock themselves away from civilisation for months at a time, the only contact with the outside world being an old-fashioned handheld radio and the occasional wayward hiker, but I enjoy the solitude. It gives me a lot of time to read and write, and to enjoy nature like I’m the only person left in the world.
Sometimes I get visits from lost hikers and I help guide them on their way. Nobody knows the park like I do. I’ve been doing this for close to twenty years now, and I used to think that they would have to pry that radio from my cold, dead hands. That time almost came sooner than I thought.
I’ve seen a lot of strange things during my time as a lookout. Lights in the distance that I can’t explain, footprints that don’t match any animal I’ve ever seen, not to mention some of the howls and growls you hear deep in the night when it’s nothing but you and nature as far as the eye can see. But perhaps the scariest thing of all happened during my watch last year. The only thing to ever make me reconsider my decision to go back.
It was the height of summer. The days were long and the nights atop the mountain short and extremely cold. From my tower I could see two others in the distance, forming a triangle. There were no longer in use, but the local government hired them out as cheap accommodation for daring hikers who wanted a new experience. I could see the flickering light of a fire in the tower to my right, but the other was dark.
I checked over all the data I had recorded for the day, got into my sleeping bag and went to sleep for the night. The next day passed uneventfully; I had an early breakfast, made my recordings, went for a walk and read on the balcony until the sun went down. The stars at night when there are no other lights around are unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. You realise how small and insignificant you are, looking up at the lights of suns billions of years old and billions of light years away. It helps put the modern rat-race in perspective and is one of the reasons I enjoy my job so much.
So on this particular night I put my book down and went inside to boil a pot of tea when I spotted something in the distance. Two lights, like a pair of eyes. They were too far away to actually be eyes, but they looked like eyes, nevertheless. Just floating there, watching me. They disappeared and then appeared again, like a blink, and then they were gone. It was silly, because it wasn’t like anything down there would be able to see me, but I sat beneath the window and hid myself just in case, heart beating in my chest. Sometimes superstition can get the better of you, and recently there had been rumours of a creature living in the woods. They called it “The Beast of Leda Point.” Like I said, I’ve worked here for twenty years and I’ve never seen any beast. But it’s good for tourism; we get a lot of hikers asking about it and coming out this way specifically to find it. I never outright tell them it doesn’t exist because that’s not what they want to hear, but I’ve never seen any evidence of such a beast. Just bears and occasionally the grizzly remains of hikers who ignored the warning signs posted all over the park as they traveled off the beaten track.
The next night I saw a light in the other tower while the one to my right was now dark. Must have been some new residents for the night. It was comforting, like, despite the fact I was in the middle of nowhere, all alone, there was still someone else out here with me. Sure, they were several miles away and in an emergency there was no possible way to reach them in time, but the thought that fellow human beings were there, like me, but most importantly not disturbing me, well it was like a warm blanket on a cold winter’s night. We could enjoy our solitude together, but also far apart. Just how I liked it.
I was getting ready to jump into my sleeping bag for the night when I heard the familiar crackle of the radio. It was a woman’s voice.
“Hello? Hello, is anyone out there? Please, if you can hear me, respond.”
I picked it up.
“Hello, ma’am. This is lookout tower five, how may I be of assistance?”
The radio frequencies for the towers around the park were posted on signs throughout the woods, just in case people got lost. No-one knew the place better than we did, after all, and now that my tower was the only one manned by staff, all calls eventually came through to me.
“Hello? Yes! Oh, thank god! I thought I was all alone out here. I’ve rented one of the towers for the night but I took a wrong turn somewhere and now I don’t know where I am!”
I received at least ten to twenty of these distress calls every year, of which at least a few were hikers who couldn’t find their way to the lookout towers. I stretched and moved over to the park map by the wall. The fire was flickering in tower three to my left, so she was likely looking for tower four, the dark one to my right.
“Can you tell me what you see around you? Any landmarks?”
The radio crackled.
“Um. I’m not sure. There are a lot of trees. I passed a small river about 10 minutes ago if that helps?”
The park is full of rivers. I needed something a little more concrete.
“Uhh… I think I see something up ahead… a cave? I think it’s a cave.”
There was a small cave system between towers five and three; she was a long way from tower four. There was no way I could direct her there before morning, so I decided to send her towards my tower. Not the peaceful night I wanted, but not like I was going to sit around and let a woman freeze to death in the woods over it.
“Okay, I want you to listen very carefully. You’re a long way from Tower Four. I’m going to put my lights on and I want you to head for the light. I’ll check in five or ten minutes to see that you’re heading in the right direction.”
“Okay. I’m… I really scared. I heard something in the trees before and I don’t know if it was a bear or what but I really don’t want to be out here anymore.”
That was what I was afraid of. Black bears were particularly numerous in that area, and it was a wonder she hadn’t stumbled upon one already. I lit up the fireplace and the lanterns on each of the corners outside and went back in to wait. It would take her perhaps an hour to reach the lookout tower. That was a long time out in the dark, all alone.
“Ma’am, are you there?”
“Yes, I’m here,” the radio crackled back.
“How are things going?”
“Okay, I think. I can see lights. I’m heading for them now.”
“Okay, that’s great. So, what brings you out this way, anyway?”
“Me? Oh, I’m a bit of a folklore buff, actually. I like nature trails and I heard the rumours about the ‘Beast of Leda Point’ so I thought I’d check it out for myself.”
There it was again. The Beast of Leda Point.
“I see. Did you have any luck locating it?”
“Not yet.” I could hear the smile in her voice. “But it’s out here, I’m sure of it! Did you know that the first sighting of it was only a few years ago? And I say ‘sighting’ because nobody can claim to have actually seen it. It only appears before those it plans to kill, or so they say. Did you also know that the first rumblings of the beast in these woods were started by someone who received a voice message from their friend as they in the midst of being attacked?”
I had heard that particular rumour, yes. No-one knew exactly when they began, but before long the park was full of hikers looking for this mysterious beast. She continued on, her voice rising as she got more and more excited.
“The only description he had to go off was what his friend left on his phone before he died. Tall, possibly over ten feet, with thick black hair. Now, you might just think that was a bear, right? But no, that wasn’t what stood out to this man who described it with his dying breaths. It was the creature’s eyes. They glowed yellow in the dark. Not like a cat. More like… a firefly, you might say. Rather poetic, don’t you think?”
I swallowed, remembering what I saw the night before. The way she described the creature was like a mother talking about a child. I never did understand those folklore hunters. But as long as she kept talking, I knew she was safe. I just needed to get her here and then I could redirect her in the morning and reclaim my peaceful solitude.
“But the best part was his final words, before he was torn to pieces. Do you know what he said? I heard the recording. You can find it on the internet if you look hard enough.”
I had zero interest in listening to a dying man’s last words hidden somewhere on the internet.
“What did he say?” I asked, trying to keep her talking.
“‘It sounds like me.’ What do you suppose that means?”
I had no idea.
“I couldn’t say.”
“Strange, isn’t it? How could a beast talk, let alone imitate a man’s voice? Aren’t beasts supposed to be stupid? They grunt and growl and we find their footprints in the mud and take blurry pictures of them with bad cameras. What if this one isn’t? Think of the possibilities!”
Urban legends weren’t really my cup of tea, but to each their own. We chatted for a while about this and that, whatever I could to keep checking in on her and to confirm she was okay. I looked at the clock. By all estimates she should have been nearing the tower at this point, all going well.
“Can you see anything to identify where you are? Can you see the lookout tower lights?”
“I can see the lights.” She sounded breathless. “I’ve been climbing uphill for a while now, but I should be there soon!”
I closed my eyes and sighed in relief.
“Okay. I’ll keep the radio nearby, but there’s a lock on the fence surrounding the tower. It’s to keep the bears out, but the key should be in it. I’ll brew some tea for your arrival and we’ll get you some help for the morning. You’re very lucky, you know. Several hikers have gone missing in those woods, and they don’t always turn up alive.”
“Oh, I know,” she replied. “Thank you for your help. I’ll see you soon.”
The radio went silent. I put the kettle on and set about making some tea. I waited, and close to half an hour passed before I picked the radio up again. There was no sign of the woman.
Nothing but crackle.
“Ma’am? Are you there?”
No answer. I moved to the window and looked outside, but when I did, my heart froze in my throat. It was those eyes, glowing in the distance. They were close to tower three. But not just one pair of eyes… this time there were two. They were faint, but I could see them, like stars twinkling in the distance. Then they disappeared. I ran for the radio and set the frequency for tower three.
“Hello? Hello?! Come in! Is anyone there?”
Again there was no answer.
There’s no phone reception that high in the mountains. That’s why we have to rely on the radios. I locked the door, for what little good it would do, and began pacing. I tried again, but still no answer. I couldn’t call HQ just because I saw a few lights in the distance. What were they going to do? The nearest help would take half an hour to arrive, and that wasn’t including the time they would spend laughing at me first.
I climbed into my sleeping bag and huddled with the radio. What could I do? I tried both frequencies but was met with nothing but silence. I placed it on the cabinet next to me and huddled. I stared at the wall for hours, hyper-conscious of every sound and movement around me. At some point I must have fallen asleep, because I was woken several hours later by the sound of the radio crackling. The lanterns around the cabin had burnt out; I was surrounded by darkness.
It was the woman’s voice. Then there was a cough, and the voice changed. This time the voice was deeper. A man’s voice.
“Thank you for the directions. I was actually looking for your tower, but it seems I got confused somewhere along the way. I am kinda new around here after all. No matter. I like you. Let’s chat again sometime.”
The radio went silent. I couldn’t move. I didn’t know what to say or what to think. I was sure I was dreaming. Just one big crazy nightmare. The following evening I received news from HQ that the hikers staying in tower three had been found dead. Two young men. They’d also received a missing person’s report of a young woman that had gone hiking in the mountains the day before. She got separated from her group and no-one had been able to find her.
I couldn’t tell them about what I saw. What I heard. No-one would believe me even if I did. But a chill ran through my body and I seriously considered HQ’s offer for an early end to the season. Nothing like a violent murder or two to put a damper on the mood. There were no suspects. The gate to the fence surrounding the tower was wide open when authorities finally arrived, the key nowhere to be found. Nothing was taken from the room, nor was there any sign of animal entry. The towers were built to prohibit this, especially from grizzlies, so the authorities were stumped.
I finished out the season. We’re starting to get close to the period where I need to let HQ if I’m coming back for the next season or not. I’ve been thinking more and more about what happened.
‘Let’s chat again sometime.’
I love my job, but the more I think about what happened, and the uncanny quietness of the months that followed the attack… I’m not so sure if I want to go back anymore.