Legend of the Burning Mountain Man
“Not again!” Avrey screamed out in anguish as he tore at the flesh on his chest. Drew backed up against the overhang of the cliff wall at the sudden outburst of his friend that seemed to come out of nowhere.
They had just been walking along the trail up the mountain. Chatting as if everything were hunky-dory up until five minutes ago. Then Avery had fallen silent.
That had been the first strange thing that had happened because Avery was almost never silent. He had talked incessantly for the past three days. Drew had actually been relieved that his new friend had shut up long enough for him to enjoy the natural beauty that surrounded them.
Drew listened to the birds singing in the trees. He took a deep breath and let the smell of the forest fill his lungs. He had paused to let the breeze wash over him and cool away the sweat that had built up over the past hour since they had left the bubbling stream below.
But then the forest had gone completely silent. That was the second strange thing that had happened. He looked around to see what had happened to the birds. That was when he had noticed the fog moving down the mountain toward them through the trees.
Drew felt a twinge of nervousness. This wasn’t normal for this time of year. He had been up here several times over the past few years and had never seen anything like this.
“Hey, Avery! Do you see that? I think we’d better get out of here.” Drew mumbled quietly under his breath.
Avery didn’t answer him, but Drew didn’t take his eyes off the fog to look for the friend he had met at the base of the mountain when starting his trek.
At the time, having someone to keep him company had seemed like a great idea. Drew enjoyed having someone to chat with as they hiked over the trails. But now, he was glad that he wasn’t alone up here.
“C’mon, let’s get a move on it! We’ll get higher up the mountain and above this fog before dark.” Drew said as he picked up his pace.
Avery didn’t reply, even though Drew could hear him shuffling along the trail behind him. Drew threw a quick look over his shoulder to glance at his hiking partner.
His head was down as if Avery were staring intently at the ground. He was about twenty feet behind Drew although walking at the same pace.
Drew looked forward to watch the winding trail in front of him but then turned back again immediately for another glance at Avery. It seemed as if something about his face were glowing.
Looking back again, Drew couldn’t see the glow directly. Although he caught it again in his peripheral vision as he turned back to watch the trail in front of him.
“You okay, buddy?” Drew hollered out.
Avery still didn’t reply.
“Yo, Avery! Is everything alright?” Drew hollered back over his shoulder.
This time he paused his brisk walk to turn and face Avery. The fog was almost upon them. Running wouldn’t get them high enough up the trail before it covered them. And Drew was breathing raggedly. He wanted to stop to catch his breath.
Avery though didn’t stop walking, he just continued right on past Drew up the mountain through the forest.
Drew drew a deep breath and then started walking after his new friend. The trail twisted and turned up ahead, and ad they came around the bend, Drew realized they were headed directly into the fog.
“Hey, it’s getting dark. Maybe we should find a place to make camp. We need time to make a fire and set up while we can still see.”
The tall, lanky figure of his hiking buddy kept right on moving into the fog. Drew paused and watched him disappear into the mist. A strange sense of foreboding hit him.
Scenes from a hundred different horror movies flashed through his mind. Then he shook it off. That was silly. This wasn’t a movie. He pressed forward into the deep, grey mist that had suddenly flooded the forest.
All he had to do was find a nice place to set up camp and wait it out. Tomorrow the sun was come out blazing and burn the mist away so they could continue their climb up the Arntonas Peak.
“Yo, Avery! We need to set up camp, champ!” he shouted into the fog.
His silent friend was nowhere in sight. The fog had gotten thicker and he couldn’t see very far in front of him up the trail.
He kept glancing off the sides of the beaten path to see if Avery had possibly moved off to set up a camp. Drew began to worry that might happen, and he would walk right past his friend and not even notice where he had gone.
Then he would be alone on the mountain. Not that he hadn’t camped up here alone before. But Avery had been carrying a good portion of their supplies. He had noticed Drew getting tired and offered to carry some of his stuff.
Drew had been grateful even though he didn’t like admitting that he needed the help. However, he had recently been sick and was still recuperating. So, he had accepted the offer. It had been a relief to take some of the weight he had been carrying off his shoulders.
But now he began to regret it. What if he and Avery got separated here in the fog. He would be alone on the mountain, and the pack Avery was carrying had his tent and other necessary supplies in it.
He took a deep breath and picked up his pace in an attempt to catch up with Avery before darkness fell in the thickening fog.
Drew came around another bend and saw a shadowy figure standing in a clearing just off the trail underneath an overhang. He breathed a sigh of relief at the familiar frame before him.
“Wow! Glad I found you. I didn’t think you were going to stop for the night. I guess you were just looking for the right spot. This looks like a good one.”
He stood there panting and attempting to catch his breath. Avery still had his back to him, but shoved everything off his back and onto the ground.
“Give me a minute to breathe again, and I’ll start gathering wood for a fire.” Drew rasped.
Avery still didn’t reply. Drew didn’t take his eyes off the man. Something was off, but he didn’t yet know what.
“You feeling okay there, dude?” Drew asked.
A light yellow glow burst out around Avery and reflected off the fog around him almost as if he had tried using his lighter. But it didn’t dim out or fade away. In fact, it got a little stronger.
“Avery,” Drew said hoarsely. “What’s going on? Is everything alright?”
His instincts screamed for him to run as fast as he could back down the mountain, but he didn’t want to leave new friend up there alone in the fog without knowing what was going on.
He stepped forward and put a hand on Avery’s shoulder. The tall, burly man shrugged it off and took a step forward. Avery was panting heavily as if he had been running for miles. And the glow still reflected off the fog around him.
Drew stepped around him and gasped at the sight of Avery’s body. His eyes were closed, but still glowed yellow through his eyelids. And there was soft glow emanating from the center of his chest as well.
He didn’t know what to say and stood there for a moment, nervously trying to make up his mind about what to do. Drew had always been rather indecisive and making split second decisions wasn’t easy for him.
Leaving was probably his safest option, but he worried about what he would tell people when they asked why he didn’t stay to help a dead man up on the mountain. Not there was much he could probably do anyway. But still…
“What’s going on, Avery? Are you feeling okay?”
Drew started to reach out his hand towards Avery’s shoulder to get his attention, but paused nervously without actually touching him. After a brief hesitation, he went ahead and placed his hand on Avery’s shoulder.
Avery’s eyes flew open and squinted slightly as if irritated.
“Leave me alone,” he growled. “I’m not feeling well. Something isn’t right.”
“I can see that,” Drew said with a nervous laugh. “It looks like there’s a bomb in your chest that exploding in slow motion.”
Avery looked blankly down at his chest as if he wasn’t aware that it was glowing yet. He unbuttoned his shirt and tossed it off to the side. He placed his hands on his chest and pressed against it as if trying to contain whatever was inside.
“Argh! Not again!” Avrey screamed out in anguish.
Drew backed up against the overhang of the cliff wall at the sudden outburst of his friend that seemed to come out of nowhere.
Avery pressed his fingers into his chest and tore at the flesh. The skin covering his ribs peeled away as if it were melting silicone.
“What do you mean, ‘Not again’? Drew shouted. “Does this happen often.”
Avery continued pulling at the skin that peeled away from his body all the way up to his face exposing the inside of his body. Drew could see the yellow glow inside Avery’s chest cavity, his throat, open mouth, and eye sockets.
He stood there against the cliff wall. Flabbergasted at the sight taking place before him. To shocked to move.
“What are you doing?” Avery roared at him. “Haven’t you realized I’m dangerous yet. Or do you want to die? Get off the mountain before it’s too late!”
Drew stumbled forward, past the burning man in front of him. He started to run, but tripped over the backpack that Avery had dropped earlier. He scrambled forward and picked himself up.
“Tell my wife, I’m sorry. I really thought I could control it.” Avery shouted after him. “And tell my kids I love them.”
Drew turned around to glance over his shoulder as he ran down the path. He could still see Avery’s glowing figure between the shadowy trunks of the trees around them.
He kept running until it got to dark to see. He had to slow down in the dark as he continued moving by the light of his cell phone. Drew kept going until his cell phone battery died.
Fortunately, he was out of the fog by then and a full moon was out that night. So, he was able to keep moving through the night until he came to a cabin. He managed to get the door open.
Once inside, he pushed furniture up against the door and windows. He managed to sleep for a few hours. As soon as the sun was up, Drew was moving down the trail again. Going down was faster and easier than the climb. He made it back by the end of the day.
He told the forest ranger what had happened. The police were called in. Nobody believed is story of course. They wanted him to take them back up to where he had last seen Avery, but Drew refused to go.
They never did find anything up the there and Drew never went back to look for his friend. Nobody knew anything about Avery or who is his wife and kids might be. Not that Drew tried very hard to find him.
Drew never could get the image of Avery pulling the skin from his chest right off up over his face. What was he?
At times he dreamed of Avery. Sometimes he was an alien from outer space. Other times he was a cyborg whose internal battery had malfunctioned. Other times he was possessed by fiery demons in the fog.
Drew saw a psychiatrist a few times, but it didn’t do much good. He could tell that the man didn’t believe him. The shrink often asked him what kind of drugs he was using before climbing the mountain or what type of mushrooms he had eaten.
For a while, he actually thought he was going crazy. But every once in while he would hear stories of hikers who claimed to see a burning man walking up and down the trails. Others disappeared completely and were never heard from again.
And Drew would wonder, if maybe, just maybe what he had seen on the mountain that day hadn’t been a figment of his imagination and had actually happened.
Maybe someday, he would get the courage to climb back up there and find a glowing Avery living in a cave or swimming in a mountain pool trying to find a way back down to his wife and kids.