Shannon woke up early to prepare her husband’s breakfast before he left on his hunting expedition into the Big Cypress Preserve near the Florida Everglades. Two scrambled eggs with hash browns, lightly toasted bread with butter and a tall orange juice – his favorites. She was glad something went well this morning. Shannon had struggled for a considerable length of time in the cramped bathroom of their camper putting on her makeup and combing her long, platinum blonde hair.
“There. Just the way you like it,” she remarked to her spouse after serving his breakfast.
“That hit the spot,” Todd said after eating. “I best get on my way to Gary’s tent so we can get an early start. He’s always up before me. Goes back to our basic training days at Camp Lejeune.”
She kissed her husband goodbye as he departed out their camper’s door. Gary had already been up, waiting for Todd, sitting on a folding chair next to his tent.
Shannon waved to the two hunters as they both strolled down a scarcely discernible trail in the dim predawn hour. Gary led the way with his compass. Each hunter carried a shotgun slung over their shoulders along with a light knapsack, ammunition, and a water bottle. Both men were looking forward to the prospect of landing a whitetail deer or a wild turkey. She followed them until they were out of sight behind the timberline and heavy underbrush. She climbed back up the two steps into their camper and washed the breakfast dishes and made up their tiny bed. The air conditioning unit was small but adequate – an unmitigated blessing in this sultry weather. Gary and his wife, Tracy, languished in the tent they both shared. Neither dreamed it could get so hot during the fall months in southern Florida.
She called Tracy’s cell phone to determine how prepared she was for the day, “Ready for our photo excursion? Yeah… Right… Okay… About 10 more minutes? Sure… Come over whenever. Just let yourself in. I’m all ready to go.” Both Tracy and Shannon worked for Sky Blue Airlines in Cherry Hill, New Jersey as ticket agents and were in their late twenties.
Tracy opened Shannon’s trailer door shortly thereafter bringing her Cannon 35mm camera, binoculars, and her backpack. “It was hot as hell last night. Gary tossed and turned. The mosquitoes didn’t help either. Gosh, this air conditioner sure feels wonderful.”
The website for the Preserve was very useful for Shannon and Tracey. Their map showed the campground as being within hiking distance to the hunting range. While the men are away, they will take their binoculars, cameras, and birdwatcher’s book Shannon requested from the Audubon Society and head out on their own. They just hoped the photography was as great as they said it would be.
“While our husbands are out hunting deer with their shotguns, we’ll be out hunting birds with our cameras. We’ll show them. I’ll wager we’ll do much better than the guys. And I am definitely not helping Todd clean any damn deer either,” Shannon exclaimed. “They left us both alone on the first day of our vacation…Bastards.”
“Forget it,” Tracey said. “Let’s just enjoy the day.”
Shannon, tall with an athletic build, grabbed her 35mm Nikon camera with its telephoto lens along with her handbag and water bottle. Then it was off on their own into the wilderness as they embarked on boardwalks elevated above the marshland and swamps. The walkway meandered through the vast and desolate Preserve where in some locations the lush forest overhung the boardwalk and virtually obliterated the sunlight. They merely had to travel a short distance into the woodlands to capture unbelievable photographs: alligators, herons, egrets, and many other wild birds and parrots. Tracy, short in stature and petite, worked out with Shannon at the gym. They both kept themselves in excellent shape - a plus under these circumstances.
Where a break existed in the walkway over a large dry land area, the two young women exited the boardwalk and entered into a nature trail that a Park Ranger said was not on the map. He maintained the trail zigged and zagged through a densely forested location full of brilliantly colored tropical birds then looped back into the starting point at the boardwalk. They eagerly began their trek into the dense woodlands and after only 15 minutes on the footpath they observed a white Ibis perched on a cypress tree branch. The bird was resting motionless and seemingly posed as it spread his wings out completely.
Shannon whispered to Tracy with her hand cupped over her mouth, “What an incredible shot. Our coworkers at Sky Blue will be amazed at these photographs.” She attempted a shot, but the snap of her shutter frightened the bird. Now it’s in another cypress tree nearby and is almost out of sight.
“Tracy, look over there. I’ll point the bird out for you. You know, while Todd was sleeping last night, I read in the Audubon Society book that these birds were almost wiped out. They were hunted for their feathers and just about sent into extinction along with the alligators.”
They left the trail and pushed through the dense foliage in quest of a suitable vantage point for another photograph. The novice photographers camouflaged themselves for closer shots with military style clothing over their frames. A baseball cap partially covered Shannon’s brightly colored hair, an absolute giveaway in these woodlands. Tracy, a brunette, wore her sunglasses on the top of her head.
“Damn, it took off again. This time I can’t see it anymore. It must have flown near those pines,” Tracey remarked.
They discerned a gap in the dense vegetation and pushed further into the thick forest in pursuit of the Ibis.
“Oh well, it’s gone now. We should be happy with the photographs we have already. We’re too eager to show the guys up. Better make it back to the trail,” Shannon said.
They both trudged through the heavy underbrush. Gradually it became apparent to the two women the trail was becoming broken up in a few spots and the canopy of pines became so thick it blocked out much of the light making for a very dim forest. They couldn’t find the yellow flowered bushes they used for a marker either.
“It can’t be. Are we on the right trail? I don’t recognize any of this,” Shannon said.
Tracy shrugged her shoulders, “This doesn’t look familiar to me also.”
“Nah! I know my way,” Shannon said. “This has to be the path. We’ll make it back okay and surprise our husbands when they look at these photos, we both took of all the other birds.”
Then suddenly, from out of nowhere, an excited Tracy burst out, “What the hell was that! Sounded like a rock flying through the trees and thrown in our direction. I hope we haven’t wondered too close to the hunting range. Is that Gary?”
Another stone crashed through the woodlands and splashed into the marsh nearby.
Shannon’s voice trembled, “Where the hell did that rock come from? Is that Todd hiding in the bushes playing a joke on us? Well, that’s not funny, mister. You scared the life out of the both of us. Todd, is that you? Where are you? Todd… Todd!”
The only sound was the wind rustling through the trees and the intermittent chirping of birds.
“Todd? Gary? Is that you?” both cried out repeatedly.
Then Shannon hushed Tracy, “Quiet. Standstill. That sound. That commotion in the bushes. So damn dark in here. For God’s sake what is it?”
On the nature trail in front of them. The shadows were hiding it. She pointed to an enormous brown figure that emerged from the cypress dome about 100 yards away. “Tracy is that a huge bear standing up right?”
“Tracy?” Shannon glimpsed to her left. Tracy was nowhere to be found. Startled and appalled at her friend’s departure, the abandoned woman froze, paralyzed by an overpowering sense of fear as the binoculars and camera fell from her loosened grip and landed on the trail beneath her feet.
Now the creature began moving towards her into the scant sunlight by the Yucca trees. Its features fell into view: gigantic – eight maybe nine feet tall, muscular with dark brown hair. The beast’s weight and forceful movements broke through the tree branches and snapped the forest beneath its feet sending screeching birds into the air. Soon it was almost halfway, walking upright on its hind legs, moving more like a man, not like a bear.
Shannon’s heart was racing. She was sweating, dripping wet. “Tracy, where are you?” she whispered.
50 yards away…
Shannon began to feel ill, nauseous. She tried to breathe slowly, in and out … in and out. Now the creature’s pace quickened. Closer it moved, fiercely charging forward, smashing through timbers and heavy underbrush. Grunting and growling his face became clearer – furled eyebrows, clenched teeth, and a face contorted with rage.My God… it’s apelike, Shannon thought. “Todd! Todd! Help! By the trail. Todd over here!” But her lips did not move. Her voice was silent, mute. Then the blonde’s legs began to tremble and soon weaken. She felt like she was spinning, whirling as the forest dimmed. Her surroundings became obscure. Shannon felt herself collapsing, helpless onto the pathway. Everything was now black, but she still visualized in her mind those angry eyes – those angry, angry eyes. Shannon faintly heard his footsteps and heard his harsh breathing. Then… nothing.
She woke up for a second or two, long enough to realize she was being carried like a limp rag doll, swaying back and forth over the shoulder of this beast who was very hairy, profusely sweating, and possessed a ghastly stench about him. He grunted and growled and crashed through the tree limbs and branches. Then darkness overcame her once more.
The black veil gradually receded. Shannon woke up and discovered herself lying face down in what appeared to be wet gravel. Slowly she visualized her surroundings. By the amount and angle of sunlight, she had the vague sensation of the passage of time. Water was running, burbling through what sounded like a nearby stream and birds were chirping. After a few moments Shannon thought she possessed enough energy to move. She spit small grains of sand from her mouth and had scarcely sufficient strength to raise her head off the gravel to peer around. Shannon located herself on a sandbar near the embankment of an irrigation canal. It was next to a dirt access road for ATVs – the same canal and road that passed by their campground further downstream. And the ranger’s tower, almost indiscernible above the treetops, was one half a mile east of the campsite. She felt some consolation – the base camp was not too far away at least. But the serenity was shattered by what sounded like two apes chattering and quarreling loudly. She turned her head, stretched out and peeked over the embankment…
At first their immense stature and power immobilized her. She recognized the larger of the two beasts. He was the same one she had seen in the forest earlier. A great muscular brute, at least nine feet tall, with masculine features, shrouded in long brown hair except for its apelike face. He stood next to a shorter, thinner, and less powerful female, evident not only by her diminutive size but also her sagging breasts and broad hips.
Shannon’s mind flashed back to the images of yesterday – the old Native American woman at the Miccosukee Indian Reservation. We saw her on the way to our swamp buggy and airboat rides. She warned us both of several sightings in the area. There were large, hairy, apelike creatures in the Preserve where we were heading. Many campsites had been ransacked with food and belongings taken. She further revealed the Native Americans of the Big Cypress Swamp had a unique name for them. Because of their foul, overpowering odor, the Miccosukee and Seminole Indians called them “skunk apes”. Just stupid folklore we thought. Foolish rubbish. Bigfoot? Sasquatch? Now the blonde airline ticket agent was staring not only at one, but two of these giant, apelike creatures.
Shannon judged from her expressions and gestures the female creature was not happy with what her mate had brought back, as if the blonde’s very presence infuriated her. She constantly yelled and howled at him, raised her voice above his, and flailed her arms about. Then the female reached down and picked up from her mate what appeared to be a crumpled magazine that rested between his feet. She rolled it up and repeatedly slapped him with it while she continually pointed at Shannon. Whop! Whop! Whop! To the head, face and shoulders. The male only squatted there and occasionally raised his arms up in defense, chattering back in rebuttal.
The badgering continued for several more minutes until the female skunk ape felt her mate had enough. She stopped thrashing and sauntered back to a large bed made from leaves and Spanish moss. It rested in the Sawgrass next to the tree line where she eventually settled down. Her attention soon focused on a few nearby cans, bottles, periodicals, and scattered clothing they had plundered from nearby campsites. The male creature continued to squat – content just to watch over his captive and helpless bounty.
Now Shannon noticed something unusual. There were subtle movements in the obscurity beyond the branches of the tree line. The sounds of rustling and crunching leaves proceeded two pairs of sinister eyes that came into view and intensely peered at her. Gradually their faces, then their entire bodies emerged into the light. Shannon’s jaw dropped as she looked at two more of these apelike creatures, each about 5 feet tall. Slowly they shuffled towards her in a cautious and timid manner. By their height, build and mannerism, she surmised they were juveniles, one female and one male. The female had on a tattered white “Miami Beach” tank top draped over one shoulder and to Shannon’s bewilderment, the male counterpart awkwardly wore a set of headphones that partially covered his right ear, but not his left. The adolescent male seemed more inquisitive than the female and steadily approached. The female lagged and fell behind.
Shannon did not fear these two creatures as she did their older and much larger parents. The male moved closer and reached out with his hand to stroke her arm while the female was content to sniff her blouse. Unexpectedly a loud growl from the mother sent the two juvenile skunk apes back into the bushes and from the sounds of their crashing footsteps, deeply into the woods.
Twilight approached. A sense of urgency overpowered the fear that paralyzed Shannon speechless on the trail earlier. The blonde ticket agent conceptualized a plan: The female creature just can’t sit there the entire day until darkness arrived. She was furious at Shannon and what’s keeping the male from becoming more aggressive and attacking? Perhaps she could distract them long enough to gain a few strides on the two, make a frantic dash across the shallow irrigation canal and up the embankment to the footpath. Maybe she could run quickly enough and far enough through the forest for Todd and Gary to hear her screams. A shotgun blast into the air should frighten these beasts away. It’s her only chance. No telling where Tracy ran off to. Hopefully she’ll be able to locate their husbands or a park ranger. The male was the one she should focus on. He was closer. The female was picking wild berries and appeared to have lost interest. Shannon only needed a couple of steps on him.
The camouflaged adventurer searched the surroundings for an object to catch the attention of the male skunk ape. She so wished her coworker was here. Shannon thought she will look for something within easy grasp that will distract him, but nothing seemed available. Then a thought became apparent. A keepsake. The wedding gift from Todd’s mother - the compact mirror. Maybe her mother-in-law’s karma will have a magical effect on the brute. She hoped he becomes enchanted enough with its shiny diamonds and his own mirror image for her to pick up a few strides on him. She reached into her front pocket, opened the compact, tossed it at his feet, and waited.
It took about five minutes for the monstrous animal’s curiosity to build sufficiently to the point where he stood up and cautiously poked his way to the compact mirror. When he bent over with his arm stretched out to retrieve it, a tremendous shrieking sound emanated from the background, as an immense brown blur hurled itself air borne towards them.
In one enormous flying leap, the female skunk ape landed on her mate’s back and knocked him down. She screeched, cackled at him, and swung her arms about terrifying both the male skunk ape and Shannon. The female creature slapped her mate again and again with the rolled-up magazine in her fist. The male got up and babbled loudly back at her, shielding himself from some of her blows. Fearlessly she struck her much more powerful mate, yelling at him constantly. But it did not take long for the male skunk ape to tire, wither, and lose interest in the battle altogether. Not wishing to accept any further scorn, he pushed the thrashing female away and walked face down in submission back to their nest, sitting down holding his head.
Then the female creature turned and resumed her vicious rampage as she stepped in Shannon’s direction. Panting, the blonde ticket agent stumbled in retreat. Her color ashen, as beads of sweat rose across her forehead and perspiration soaked through her blouse. Soon the beast overtook her. She was in her face. The creature shoved Shannon backwards into the canal. Next the skunk ape pushed her up the embankment, chattered loudly, and pointed towards the pathway. Finally, with one massive shove, Shannon was flat on her back, defenseless on the trail, with the angry beast’s enormous body towering over her. Shannon sensed her impending doom and covered her eyes with both hands. Mentally she prepared herself to see the face of God.
But during the following moment, the fierce yelling and babbling ceased. She only heard the wind streaming through the trees, birds chirping, and the great beast breathing deeply and slowly through her nostrils. While both hands still covered her face, Shannon curiously peered through her partially open fingers and looked at the beast scowling down at her, both fists resting on her hips. Just when she thought a search party will never be able to recover any remnants of her body, the skunk ape hurled the magazine down at her landing on Shannon’s chest. Then the creature snorted one last time, turned around and stormed back, crashing through the forest. Back to her bed made of leaves and moss. Back to her mate.
As Shannon sat up and started her run for freedom, the magazine slipped off her chest and down to the ground beside her. Before she scampered away, Shannon paused for one last second and looked down at the front page. She was astonished. It was a crumpled photograph of Marilyn Monroe on the cover of Life Magazine lying in tall grass.
Shannon thought: What the hell? I can’t believe it. All this because of a photo on the cover of Life? Damn jealous female.
Her gazelle like speed soon carried her down the pathway towards the campsite. She promised herself if she ever made back to the camp alive, she would never try to upstage her husband again for abandoning them earlier this morning. As she approached, she saw a frazzled Tracy talking to the two hunters, frequently pointing back towards the forest. She just can’t wait to tell the three of them her story.