Eliza Carlisle, student, sat next to the remains of the previous night’s campfire and listened to the sounds of nature around her; the chirping birds, the wind in the trees, the snoring of the boyfriend that was quickly earning the title of ‘ex’. She’d spent the morning finding the discarded beer cans that had been almost all he’d packed for their little excursion. The remaining jerky had been her breakfast and now she was debating going into town for lunch; well, she’d already decided to go for lunch, the real question was whether or not she was going to be back.
The birds went quiet and it took a minute for Eliza to realize that someone, or rather something, was standing at the edge of her campsite. It was big, at least eight feet tall, covered in hair and smoking a cigar.
“Ms. Carlisle?” the thing said, it’s voice like the tumbled rocks if they learned to talk in New Jersey. “Are you Eliza Carlisle?”
“Uh, yes, that’s me,” she answered, not sure what her reaction should be. “Can I help you?”
“I’m sorry to intrude on your vacation, Ms. Carlisle, but I’ve heard you could help me and this is really the only way I could reach you.”
Eliza looked at him, considering. “Yes, I can see how trying to reach me could be a problem. Would you care to sit down?”
The creature lumbered into the campsite and sat on a log opposite her. “Ms. Carlisle, I’ve come to hire you. I understand that my request may not be like your normal cases; there’s nothing missing, no intergalactic war is about to break out, nothing to do with a djinn gone rogue in a metroplex. But it’s personal, ya see, and you have come very highly recommended.”
She took a moment to process the impossible situation then realized it wasn’t; improbable, sure, but barring some form of hallucinagen being stashed in the beef jerky, she was really experienceing this. “I’m glad to know I come highly recommended. May I ask by whom?”
He ashed his cigar over the fire and shook his head. “He told me not to, said it was complicated and you’d not met him yet. Said he was sending me to ask you now cause you needed a rescue, in the existential sense.” He looked around at the camp and nodded. “I can see what he means.”
The thought that she might be going crazy slipped through her head again, nudging at the self-doubt all people felt at this age. She rolled it around, tasted it and spit it out; no doubt about it, she wasn’t crazy. “Well, then, how can I help you?”
“It’s my wife, see? We come from a close-knit community, kinda by necessity, right? Except, she’s a bit of an outsider, being half-yeti and all. Her mother was a free-spirit, traveled the world, had herself a bit of a romance in Tibet and my wife is the same. Said she wanted to settle down, raise up some little ones but something’s changed recently. I’m finding new books around the house, ones I know she can’t get ’round here. Now, it may be nothin’, just a bit of conversin’ with her folks over there but, well, I can’t help but be suspicious.”
“So you, what? Want me to find out if you’re wife’s cheating on you?”
“You cut right to the heart of it, you do,” the creature said, taking a puff on his cigar. “And you’re right, of course. I can get ya there, and I’m goin’ out as usual, she won’t recognize the smell of a human.”
“You don’t think I’ll get caught? Well, that’s a relief. I’d hate to have to fight off an angry half-yeti.”
“You’ll do fine, Ms. Carlisle. You got a camera on you?”
Eliza thought back to the whim she’d felt when she’d decided to pack the camera for a camping trip. ‘Maybe we’ll get a shot of bigfoot,’ she’d laughed when her boyfriend had objected. “It just so happens I do,” she said.
“Alright,” he stood up. “Any objection to starting now?”
She tried to think of one and couldn’t. “Are we going far?”
He smiled at her, a great baring of the teeth that reminded her of some of the dominance displays of the great apes. “Yeah,” he said, “but it won’t take long. Just follow me.”
She followed him into the trees and found herself surrounded, as though she were in central station designed by an architect who also happened to be an insane druid. People and creatures hustled around her and she did her best to keep up with the big guy she was supposed to be following. They went through a sort of turnstile and emerged in a different type of forest.
“We’re not far from my home,” he said. “I’ll show you where to set up and then you’ll just have to wait. If I’m wrong, you’ll be bored. If not, well, I hope I’m wrong. Don’t use a flash if you don’t have to.” He handed her a wooden chip, about the size and shape of a nickel. “When you get the pictures, this will get you back to where I met you. I’ll find a way to contact you in a few days.”
“Alright,” she said. “I hope you’re wrong, too, but we’d best get started before it gets dark.”