Hope Estheim was a quiet boy. He only had two friends at school, and they weren't even close enough to invite him to their birthdays. The parties didn't matter; he wouldn't have gone anyway. He'd much rather spend any free moment curled up in his mother's lap flipping through picture books.
His father wished that Hope would take an interest in the real world; he'd have to eventually. However, his mother humored the boy and allowed him to continue even when he'd outgrown the breadth of her thighs. Childhood was a gift and Nora would not take her time with her son for granted.
Bartholomew Estheim worked more hours than anyone on their city block. Hope's father left before sunrise and arrived after sunset most days. The shift came suddenly. For reasons that the boy would not understand for years, his father had become obsessed with earning money. Past midnight, when Hope read by flashlight, he'd hear concerned whispers about unpaid bills. These conversations never reached the light of daytime.
Hope kept growing but his mother still made space for him. When he no longer fit on her lap, they'd sit together on the couch. There were mornings when she wouldn't even get out of bed and would call her son to climb underneath the covers with her. She'd close her eyes and nap while he'd take a turn reading the story aloud. He'd loudly snap the book closed and claim she was even more of a baby than he was.
She'd laugh and tell him that 'moms are tough,' and she'd swear to pay attention to any future story he'd tell her.
Hope's parents thought that a family vacation would be fun. Nora had insinuated to her husband that Hope wasn't doing all that well. Something in his temperament was changing. She assumed it had to do with her husband's long work hours, but she didn't exactly say it in so many words. She said that maybe they should all spend some time together.
Bartholomew's favorite childhood memories were of camping with his father. They had gone fishing at a lake, and then camped in tents right past the shore. He knew that his wife was not up for something so outdoorsy. This trip would include all three family members, so a location that could please all of them would be ideal. He booked a cabin near that same lake of his childhood. The cabin was part of a larger campground that had popped up within the last decade or two.
Bartholomew had loved the lake for its peaceful allure. The other campers had something else in mind. A TV show, known for chasing cryptids, had aired a program about a suspected sasquatch in the area. Bartholomew didn't believe in any of that. Perhaps that had to do with his boring day job that he never came home from. His imagination was limited if existent at all. He doubted that sasquatches existed, much less that they lived in his own country.
Hope thought differently. He'd spent an afternoon investigating the venue once he'd first been informed of the trip. He'd immediately hopped on his computer and searched. The first images found were of the campground. Most were of smiling families sitting around campfires they'd built in front of their rented cabins. Other images were of the lodge where guests could book cheaper rooms. There were even grand displays of continental breakfasts. Bodhum. Basically, a resort town. Similar to any other place out there that his mother had reserved a room at, and that his father had paid for but never used. His father never came on the trips. Why should Hope expect him to join them on this one? A few more images in, and there were happy children running off a dock and leaping into the water. He wasn't much of a swimmer. Really, his father had gotten this trip entirely wrong. None of these things appealed to the boy.
Finally, he gave up on the campground's website. He researched the region where they were headed. This is when he spotted information that interested him. Scrolling down the search results, he reached an article about a sasquatch colony. Apparently, several campers and local townspeople had seen a few wandering the Gapra Whitewoods that bordered the lake. They didn't even seem like the creatures he'd heard about during the rare times his mother let him watch tv. These creatures came in beautiful colors. A few years back there had been sightings of very small ones, the article suggested they were children. Why was it that those shows about cryptid hunters never discussed children? They only met adult creatures. Surely monsters had kids. Otherwise, they'd all die out. Except for vampires. Hope assumed that vampires were probably all adults.
The child sasquatch sightings involved two pink ones and one tannish one. Furry animals shouldn't come in pink. Hope couldn't think of a single mammal that had pink fur. Reptiles, sure. Birds, plenty. Fish, in abundance. But mammals, those only came in shades of greys, browns and reds. Pink was a shade of red wasn't it? Maybe the person who saw it was mistaken. Maybe the sasquatch was a muted red, like a strawberry blonde.
Hope could feel his belief in the concept dying. He never really believed in sasquatches in the first place. But there had been a brief moment of excitement. Like this trip would be the first one to offer something different. Even if his dad didn't go, there could still be an adventure ahead.
Bartholomew didn't come.
That was to be expected. No matter how he had gone on and on about how beautiful and amazing Bodhum was, he ended up bailing on them after all. Hope didn't know why he got excited. Even the cabin they were staying at was not so great. When he and his mother had pulled up to the lodge, it was clear no one had updated the website. The place was completely rundown. A spider scuttled across the check-in counter in the midst of the woman typing away at her computer. She was unfazed, and handed over the key without even checking ID. The Estheims were the only ones who were booked for that week. At all.
Because of this, they'd gotten an upgrade. Instead of the cabin nearest to the Lodge, they'd been given the largest house on the furthest bank of the lake. It was meant for family get-togethers. It had several bedrooms and a lofted area that was accessed through a ladder. That space had a large mattress directly on the floor instead of a bed. Hope chose this as his location to stay. His mother questioned the decision, given that there were three bedrooms.
His answer was simple. Only the master bedroom had a view of the lake. The others looked into the woods. The loft however, ran the length of all the bedrooms. It was the space of half the house. Its open side overlooked a drop off to the living room. And the other side? Well, it had a round window that looked directly into the watery waves. If they were to stay at a lake, he wanted to at least see it.
The first day of their stay was uneventful. Nora had bought groceries while Hope slept in. Even if she hadn't gone shopping, there was no way he would've eaten whatever continental whats-it was offered. He suspected it would be disgusting and probably included rat entrails. Since he'd slept until noon, there hadn't been much to do the rest of the day. He lazed around and read a book in his loft. A gentle rain had begun dripping down his window; any plans Nora might've had about chucking him outside were completely gone. She was a stickler for safety. Her boy was not to be in the water even with no chance of lightning in sight.
Eventually night came, dinner was eaten, and they both left for their separate sleeping quarters. The rain had stopped and the world outside should've been quiet. He'd heard a few howls the night before. Wolves or coyotes, or maybe a local's dog. He didn't know what it was, but the sound was natural.
Tonight, he heard something different. A grunting. Or a chuffing. The sound was coming from right near the cabin. It was immediately followed by the ruckus of a trashcan getting knocked over and a very large animal stomping away. Hope vaguely remembered instructions about making sure not to keep their trash outside on days other than Wednesday. That was when the groundskeeper came by and collected it. He wondered if this was a regular occurrence. He tried to ignore it, hoping that the possible bear might leave.
The grunting returned. Louder this time. And…there was more of it. Whatever the animal was, it was communicating with another. And…it almost sounded like voices. Did animals have voices? His friend's pet bird did. But did a bear have a voice? He could never even tell dogs apart. There was a yippy kind of noise from small dogs, and a loud, deeper noise from big dogs. But that was it. Otherwise all dogs sounded the same.
These bears were talking to each other. They each had their own way of grumbling something. One of them even sounded a little coarser. Coarse, but higher. Like a strict woman. It reminded him of his teacher. Feeling emboldened, and curious if these were thieves and not just bears, Hope climbed down from his loft. If he padded his way through the kitchen, then he could see out the window which overlooked the trash pails. Once he'd gotten there, his fear returned. Irrationally, he worried that they might attack him for figuring out he'd noticed. The robbers would jump through the locked window and that would be the end. Game over for Hope. The boy couldn't even get camping right.
His mother's snores drifting through the hallway reminded him that he wasn't completely alone. He peeked up over the counter. And he locked eyes.
With a girl.
She was female. She had remarkably blue eyes. She was pink.
And she was covered in fur.
The fur was soaking wet from the rain.
Lightning struck so closely that there was no pause before the thunder.
She stepped back, opening her blue eyes wider, realizing she'd been caught. Someone near her grunted. The girl didn't even break eye contact with Hope when she struck out her fist and punched someone who was just out of range of the windowpane.
Hope scrambled up the ladder to the loft and threw the comforters over his head. He must have been having a nightmare from the storm. The sounds of nature were spookier than any of the nightly motorway rumbles from the busy street near his house. Surely, he'd been sleep walking and there wasn't actually anything to fear. Surprisingly, he fell asleep almost immediately. He barely heard the distant sounds of three creatures shuffling their way back into the woods.
The next morning, Nora found the upturned trashcan and remembered the venue's advice on leaving their refuse out. She didn't make that mistake again for the rest of the week. Hope, terrified for a reason he refused to disclose, spent the rest of his vacation at his mother's side, participating in anything she'd asked. There were lazy afternoons of swimming, early morning breakfasts, and evenings roasting marshmallows outside.
Nora had been prepared for the worst when her husband hadn't come, but the trip had turned out just fine.
Two years had passed by the time Nora suggested she and Hope go on another camping trip. This time it would be just the two of them, Bartholomew wasn't invited. Hope understood, in his own way, that this special place suggested by his dad, was now only meant for him and his mother. They couldn't stop talking about all of the amazing things they'd do when they visited Bodhum this time.
Hope was older now, and much more self-assured. When they arrived at the same cabin, their cabin, he darted straight from the car and into the woods. The two of them were going to toast marshmallows on the first night, and that meant they'd need firewood.
His mother called after him, but he was gone in a flash. Other campers must have taken all of the fallen wood nearest the lake. He had to venture deeper if he wanted to find anything worthwhile.
After sprinting over tree roots and dodging branches for a couple of minutes, he realized that he was lost. However, he wasn't going to give up so soon and shout for his mother. He'd find the wood first, and only then, prize in tow, would he call for help if he hadn't found his way back.
A twig snapped somewhere to his left.
"It's nothing," he told himself, "probably a bird hopping around."
"It's still nothing. Stop being a baby," he said while taking a cautious footstep backwards.
It wasn't as cautious as he thought, because he tripped. The breaking and crunching became deafeningly loud as whatever was making it approached him. He closed his eyes, not wanting to see whatever planned on eating him. He expected fangs on his throat to be the last sensation he ever felt.
A silky fur brushed his arm, and then someone took their hand in his.
"Mom?" he asked.
He was pulled fully upright by the time he opened his eyes.
The same fuzzy girl he'd convinced himself he'd never seen before was standing in front of him. Her glare made it clear that she wasn't his mother, not by a long shot.
Lightning flashed out of sight, but the thunder rumbled throughout the forest.
"Lightning. Again?" he asked, questioning the weather's timing.
The girl cocked her head. Then she smiled and nodded. Hope realized that she thought she was asking her name. Technically, he gave her one.