He threw his head back and laughed. “The bears like to eat, too. You can’t leave any food in sight and preferable no odors either.”
I felt a chill go up my back. We really are going into the wilderness. I’ve never been one for roughing it, especially around beasts that could tear me apart. “Here, take half. I know you’re hungry.” He made fast work of it before I could finish my half.
Alex directed me down several dirt roads. I hope he remembers the way back because I’m lost. If he plans to do me harm, the bears will finish the job. I pushed the thought away.
He had been staring out his side window in silence since the last road change. Was he lost in thought? Or, had he gotten us lost? Was he was watching for something?
I know from previous wanderings off of the main paved road, GPS and cell service are non-existent this far in. What was I thinking? “How much farther?”
“STOP!” Before I had completely stopped, he had his seat belt off and the door open. The chime sounded and warning light flickered on the dash.
I took a deep breath and got out, standing by my open door. Alex was wild-eyed and pointing at a gap between some trees. He frantically motioned for me to hurry up. I had second thoughts, wanting to sit in the safety of a locked. Instead, I followed him through the gap.
We walked a few yards along the path until it opened into a sizable clearance. “Here,” he whispered as he patted a perfect looking tree. “This is one of the ‘Miracle Trees’. This space out here used to be filled with normal trees.” He motioned at the expanse with outstretched arms. “Where are they?”
I shrugged. He grabbed my shoulders and shook me. “The animals, insects, and disease ate away at the normal trees. What wasn’t eaten was chopped down for firewood. I remember it being filled with normal trees a few years ago. They weren’t human-sized saplings either.”
I tipped my head and looked at him sideways. “How can you tell? There are trees for miles. Everything looks alike. Maybe we made a wrong turn.”
“No!” He turned back to the tree he had patted earlier. “I put that mark on this monster with a laser.” He was point to a black mark about ten feet up. It went around much of this side of the tree.
“We were supposed to come back the next day and attempt to take it down. They fired me that next morning. We tried to cut it down with a laser. As you can see, it was an impossible task.”
I looked at the mark and then at the clearing. “So, is this where some of the forest burned? If so, it just hasn’t filled back in.”
Alex shook me again. “No, didn’t you listen to me? This was filled in with regular trees. These monstrosities have been spreading throughout the forest. We’d have to paddle a canoe into the nearest area of devastation.”
He grabbed my arm and yanked me several yards into the woods beyond the marked tree. “Look.” He pointed to some chewed saplings and several trees with the bark rubbed nearly completely off.
“Hey, you can’t be back there,” someone shouted from the clearing. “Come out of there right now.”
Alex tried to drag me deeper into the woods, but I tugged my arm away and shouted, “We’re coming out.”
As I took a step towards the clearing, I felt a forceful pull from behind and a hiss in my ear. “Don’t tell them why we are here. My dog jumped out of an open window and ran this direction. Got it?”
I nodded. Alex slapped my back and let me go.
When we reached the clearing, I could see two vehicles through the gap. There were four patrol in uniform standing in the clearing. They weren’t dressed in typical forestry uniforms. They looked more like military. They looked like the man who turned me away five years ago. He didn’t fall for my sandwich ruse to see Alex and the ‘Miracle Trees’.
“Need to see some identification and the reason you’re in this area,” said the taller, huskier one in the group.
Alex cleared his throat and said, “Please, we were out for a drive when my dog jumped out the window. Would you help us find Jack? He means the world to me.”
The man closest to the road snorted, “Did you take the time to roll the windows up only after the dog jumped out?”
I stood there, tongue tied with my heart racing and head pounding.
Alex replied, “It’s probably because I scared my friend talking about bears on our way up here. I had joked about not having food in the vehicle or we’d have a third passenger.” His voice drifted off a little as he finished. Did he realize he had messed up his own story?
“So, there wasn’t really a dog?” said the first man.
“Of course, there was.” Alex’s body stiffened as he responded. Then he put two fingers in his mouth and gave a sharp whistle. “Jack. Jack, come here boy.”
“You,” the first man pointed at me, “go with Officers Johansen and Lowry. Officer Olsen and I will talk to your friend here where we can watch for the dog to reappear.”
I swallowed hard and looked back at Alex before taking a step towards the road. Alex visibly upset, took off running towards the woods, before being tackled. Not wanting any more trouble for myself, I allowed the officers to escort me to the road.