6/11 Idaho Magazine Features - "The Demons of Boulder Lake" (non-fiction)

Daniel Claar - Idaho's Premier Backcountry Writer

Winner - Idaho Magazine Publisher's Choice Award 2010
"The Proper Filter"

Winner - Idaho Magazine Judge's Choice Award 2011
"Where the River Leads"

"Hot Spring Break "

"Stampede! "

"Seeing Things"
Winner - Idaho Magazine Second Place 2011

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Trick or Treater

          The SUV headlights cut across their front lawn causing elongating shadows to sprout from leafless trees and dead rosebushes that shudder and lurch like a wounded animal. Swinging into the driveway, Krista hears her boyfriend’s slurred swearing from the back of the rig. Brad had been so quiet the last couple miles she figured he had passed out on the drive home. Krista hears his muffled voice inside the dishwasher cardboard box serving as his robot costume, but the only words she actually understands are, “sons-a-bitches” and “jack o’ lanterns.”

          Krista parks the dark blue vehicle in front of their ranch style home nearly hidden by the abundance of front yard landscaping, tall decorative grasses and sunflowers now flaccid in the late October cold. She opens the back hatch still smiling about the storage area being the only place they could fit Brad once he donned his bulky outfit. Her own sleek black cat ensemble hadn’t been nearly so problematic, neither in transit, nor at the party. Brad, on the other hand, had managed to knock over an unattended beer and a glass of wine, which probably wouldn’t have been a big deal if it weren’t a combined holiday and house warming party for her best friend.

          “What are you shouting about, Mr. Roboto?”

          Brad spills out the back of the rig, nearly losing his footing in the loose gravel before standing to full height and pointing towards the three foot fence separating their front and backyards. In the dim glow emanating from their neighbor’s porch light, Krista sees the three jack o’ lanterns they had spent all of last night carving. The ten pound pumpkins have been toppled from their posts and lay broken on ground.

          “Those little bastards,” he slurs while waddling towards the downed gourds. “Should have known better.”

          “What little bastards?” Krista asks as they stand over their ruined decorations. Each Jack-o’-Lantern is directly below where it was originally placed having hit the ground with just enough force to split the thick walls revealing the pale orange innards. Held close to the earth by the heavy and chilled mountain air, is the earthy smell of pumpkin and the faint lingering odor of extinguished candle.

          “Those punk kids I’ve seen around here and down at the park. Who else would have done it?”

          “I don’t know,” Krista admits, “but I’ve never had any trouble with any of the children in Timberline and I’ve lived here all my life. In this town, everyone knows everyone and word would get out too quickly. Besides, most of them are just way too polite to pull something like this. “

          “Well, at least they didn’t smash them all over the house and sidewalk like they do where I’m from. I guess your bastards are civilized bastards.”

          “I guess so,” Krista admits shaking her head and wondering which of her neighbors would possibly do something so unnecessary and juvenile. No suspects came immediately to mind; as far as she knew they were on great terms with the entire street. Brad is right though; the vandals could have done a lot more damage.

          Shortly after stepping inside and helping Brad out of his robot costume, Krista opens their front door to check on the candy bowl. Knowing they were headed to the party, but not wanting to deny the usual trick-or-treaters, Brad had suggested they leave a small dish on the front porch with enough candy to handle the limited number of annual visitors along with a sign that read, “Please just take one. Happy Halloween!” Krista sees the bowl immediately but it isn’t on the cedar side table where they left it. Down the front steps and out in the front lawn, she sees the dish lying on the ground flipped over. Scattered around the bowl are shreds of Tootsie Roll wrappers.

          She pokes her head inside and calls Brad to the scene. Already a little incensed from the pumpkin mess and still buzzed from the night’s drinking, her boyfriend arrives in the doorway his face instantly turning red at the messy sight before throwing his hands in the air.

          “What the hell? There was enough candy in that dish for every kid in Timberline to have some. Little bastards. And they had the nerve to stand there in our front yard eating it. I swear to God… grrr, how many kids didn’t get any after the thieves took everything. Hell, it was probably some other child leaving here empty-handed that decided to knock over my Jack-o’-Lanterns.”

          Caught between chuckling at Brad’s over-zealous reaction to some pumpkins, a cheap bag of candy, and the genuine disappointment she feels for her small mountain town, Krista just stands there shaking her head. As Brad bends over to gather up the dish and torn wrappers, there is a nearby crash of something hollow and aluminum hitting concrete violating the calm, dark night. The young couple exchange an apprehensive look upon realizing the noise came from around the side of the house where their old shed sits. The small storage unit is even older than their house, having already weathered some forty Timberline winters and long since lost its only door. Brad’s eyebrows suddenly climb to the middle of his forehead as if comprehending something for the first time.

          “The little pigs are still here,” he whispers. “They saw our car pulling up and had no choice but to duck into the side yard and now they are trying to hide in the shed. That sounded like your empty gas can.”

          “Think so?” Krista whispers. “Well they have to know we heard that.”

          “They’re probably shitting bricks as we speak,” Brad says in an equally hushed tone. “This is going to be fun. Here, hand me your key chain so I can use the little flashlight.”

          Krista fumbles through her front pocket and hands over her car keys. Rubbing his fingertips together in anticipation, Krista’s boyfriend slinks into the dark shadows beneath the roof, and slips towards the side yard barely visible. Brad looks back for a split second, offering Krista a wolf-like grin before vanishing around the corner.

          Krista cups her mouth with both hands. “Don’t hurt anyone. Just scare them,” she says unsure if he can even hear her. Not wanting to witness what might be an ugly exchange between her hot-headed boyfriend and some dumb kids, she waits inside their doorway listening intently for the impending encounter.

          After a couple seconds of silence, the young lady hears Brad’s voice utter a quick, “Ah-ha!” followed by a hissing growl, another loud metallic crash and then a startled, high-pitched yelp sounding more like a terrified teenage girl. Krista darts around the corner to see Brad’s shadowy figure scrambling to pick himself off the ground just outside the shed door. So panicked is her boyfriend, he actually peels out upon reaching his feet and nearly falls again, just barely managing to catch himself with one hand before propelling towards Krista with his eyes bulging.

         “There’s a freakin’ bear in your shed,” he gasps as he grabs Krista by the elbow and starts dragging her towards the front door. “I saw its shadow when I flashed the light inside and the damn thing growled at me. A saw its eyes!”

          Krista manages to dislodge Brad’s firm grip. Some pressing notion of incredulous disbelief has her needing to see the wild animal for herself. Black bears aren’t uncommon in Timberline, but she had never had one in her yard before. Turning back just as Brad darts around the front of the house, Krista notices her boyfriend left her tiny flashlight in the shed where he no doubt dropped it upon being startled. The keychain scatters a dim glow out the door of the shed and inside the light, she notices the swelling shadow of what is indeed a shaggy beast getting larger as it approaches the doorway. Krista is just about to chase after her Brad, when the animal pokes its head out of the shed.

          Krista first gasps in surprise upon seeing the beast and then doubles over in laughter as the animal steps out of the doorway into plain sight. Brad must have just seen a quick optical illusion with the light and projected shadows, clearly never getting a good look at the animal itself or he wouldn’t have experienced such an alarmed reaction. At least she hoped so.

          “What are you doing? Get in here!”

          Brad’s terse voice sounds as if it is coming from well inside the house, causing Krista to laugh even harder, tears actually welling in the corners of her eyes as uncontrolled hysteria takes over. The big raccoon standing outside the shed sits back on its haunches and studies her with a guarded expression. The masked animal is missing all but the ragged base of one ear and she instantly takes note of the familiar white scar running in a diagonal line across its skull. For a second, the animal doesn’t seem to recognize her and then Krista remembers her own costume complete with pointy ears, and long tail. She removes her whiskered black mask and smiles down at her seasonal friend.

          Taking a moment to catch her breath between gales of laughter, Krista finally manages, “I see you met Hollyfield. He shows up every year around this time. Come say hello.”

          Upon hearing his name, Hollyfield raises one forearm and stretches out its long, dexterous fingers as if expecting another piece of candy or just offering to shake someone’s hand.

          “I don’t know,” Krista says to the old raccoon still chuckling. “He might need a few minutes before we can do a formal introduction.”

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