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A blanket of dull mid-grey cloud filled the early morning sky. Snow was beginning to steadily fall again. At the moment it was only accompanied by a light breeze. Some six inches had come during the night adding to the four inches already there.
The large pine log cabin stood alone surrounded by a circle of fir trees broken by a rough driveway that led through dense, ridged forest back to the main road about two miles away.
The family had hired the place for a week's vacation over New Year.
It was 6.25am and Georgie was up. She'd had a good night's sleep and decided to get up early to take some photos while everything was still quiet.
Carrying her boots, camera strap around her neck, she'd tiptoed past the two bedrooms occupied by Uncle Alan and Aunt Jeanie and cousin Josh, made a flask of coffee, unlocked the front door onto the covered veranda and silently went outside. Sitting on an old wooden bench she put on her boots and walked down the three porch steps into the deepening snow.
She loved it here.
Uncle Alan ran a wilderness store near Lake Ontario and had developed many contacts over the years. One of them rented cabins to tourists and locals and had given the family a good holiday deal.
They'd been here three days and had explored the immediate surroundings so Georgie felt comfortable going out on her own into the thick forest.
She'd learnt a lot about the outdoors since arriving from England last September. Aunt Jeanie had taken her and 12yr old Josh away for a couple of weekends to visit some famous places, like Algonquin Provincial Park, the oldest in Canada. It has over 2,400 lakes and 1,200 kilometres of streams and rivers. They'd tried mountain-biking, canoeing, and even horse-riding, which was a complete blast for her.
She never had the chance to do anything like that back home in London.
Then there was the trip to Gaspersie National Park where she'd seen real wild caribou, gone whale-watching and tried scuba diving.
Uncle Alan had stayed back at the shop because it was a good time of year for the business and weekends were particularly busy. But he said he wanted to take her to see Hudson's Bay in the Spring. He was going to introduce her to some friends from the Cree First Nation tribe and show his niece the Bay, the second largest in the world, touching both the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans.
She was really looking forward to that trip and hoped to get loads of good pictures for her collection.
The rest of her time was spent working alongside her uncle selling outdoor goods, tents, clothing, canoes, axes, small cooking stoves, in fact everything necessary for a trip to the wild.
She slowly trekked about 20 yards through the trees and up a 10-foot slope.
At the top of the ridge she took in the fabulous view as the daylight became slightly brighter. She looked at the pristine scene in front of her; a clearing about the size of a football or rugby pitch sunk below the ridge line. Thousands of years ago it had probably been a shallow lake but now it was an open field with forest all around it, thick with trees and bushes.
The field was enveloped in a foot of snow like a pure white table cloth. Taking in the stunning vista she couldn't help but contrast it with her home territory of Walthamstow, East London.
This was so different from the scratchy patches of grass in the William Morris council estate where she'd been brought up by her mum.
She aimed the zoom lens of her Nikon and took half a dozen snaps of the untouched scene. They would go into her portfolio for college next October when her gap year was over. Just standing here in the virtually silent air reminded her of how glad she was that she'd got her head down, studied and passed her exams at Tom Hood High School in Leytonstone, so she could go to university.
Having pets from an early age stimulated her interest and satellite TV channels were full of animal programmes so it wasn't a surprise when she decided to take a Degree in zoology and animal biology. She was already thinking about taking biological anthropology in her second year.
The chance to visit Canada, the northern States of the USA and her relatives on a working holiday had been too good an opportunity to miss and somehow tied in with her interests.
The breeze blew stronger, continuing to bring in new snow, indicating there was more to come.
It was great, she thought, such a contrast to back home where it quickly turned to grey-black slush. That's if you were lucky to get any of the white stuff at all.
It was brilliant and she wished her mum was with her to experience it.
Her first Christmas away from home had been strange and she thanked Skype for allowing her and her mother a tearful but happy chat on the big day.
Peering across the open expanse of white she spied the large fallen tree. She carefully went down the ridge-side towards her target, the snow nearly reaching her knees. Fab!
As she trudged across the open, untouched meadow she noticed something moving in the distance. Pointing her camera she managed to take three rapid snaps of a white fox hopping towards the safety of the trees before it disappeared into the undergrowth. Nice one.
The depth of the snow meant it took quite some effort to get across to the fallen tree trunk.
She was panting by the time she got there and ached for a sit-down and some coffee, her cold breath mingling with rising steam from the small metal flask.
It was so peaceful as she sipped the welcome drink, checking out the beautiful surroundings, noticing the tracks she'd left as she forced her way to this spot.
Taking out her i-phone she scanned her messages, focusing on the final email from Troy, the American student she'd met when visiting Michigan.
19, tall, funny, a good listener and athlete, a year older than her, he'd just started at Michigan State University.
She, Aunt Jeanie and cousin Josh were on a canoeing afternoon when they'd bumped into Troy and his dad, who were doing the same. There was an instant spark and the two teenagers got on so well for the three days they shared together. Then it was time to go their separate ways, with promises to stay in touch.
They'd even kissed goodbye!
It had been an unexpected bonus for her to meet someone and a real shame it was so short. She didn't kid herself that anything would happen in the future - how could it? He would be at university with all his friends, she worked in her uncle's business miles and miles away and then she'd have to go back home to start her Degree. Still, it was a nice thought as she read over his message:
'Hi Georgie, just wanted to say I've never met anyone like you and wish we had more time. I'm serious about keeping in contact but I'll leave it up to you. Hope you have a good Christmas and vacation. I'll be thinking about you. Don't forget me.
The beeps of her phone echoed in the stillness, the only sound she could hear apart from the gusting wind driving in more snow. She took a mouthful of coffee, feeling pleased about meeting Troy but a little sad that it hadn't lasted longer.
It would have been good to chat it through with her mum or best friend Jan but she'd cope. She was a big girl now!
She tapped away, sending messages to friends in the silence.
Once she'd finished she chilled and swigged her coffee, taking in the serenity of the scene as she scanned the area looking for something to photograph.
The woods behind her were shadowy so she focused on the open field she'd crossed earlier.
As she composed herself to take a shot of a flock of birds flying high above the tree tops with the background of snow-capped mountains, she detected something moving out of the corner of her eye.
Just a slight movement but enough to catch her attention.
Almost instinctively she slowly turned her head to the tree line nearby, her camera at the ready.
Then she froze, eyes wide and mouth dropping open.
About 30 feet away was a tall dark shape partly hidden by a bush and a large tree it stood behind.
Hugely built, it appeared about eight feet tall, covered in a mass of matted black hair, broad head, face with deep-set eyes, flat nose, unmoving.
Cold grey air coming out of the large nostrils.
She couldn't believe what she saw. Her mind struggled at the sight but something inside was working and she cautiously, so cautiously, raised her camera into position.
Time seemed to stand still.
All she could hear was her own breathing then the sound of soft clicks as she managed to take three snaps in quick succession.
The tall, muscular figure looked directly at her before stepping backwards until it had faded into the shadows.
Leaves rustled, twigs cracked and she heard muffled steps as the visitor casually strode through the trees away from her.
She was almost too stunned to feel scared.
Letting out a big breath, she vacantly looked at her camera.
Had she really taken pictures?
A gust of cold wind shook her back to reality.
Everything was quiet again. No sound of footsteps or twigs breaking.
Her breathing gradually slowed, returning to normal and her heart stopped beating so fast.
She knew what to do.
Gathering herself, she scrutinised the forest before rising from the tree trunk and making her way to where the visitor had stood.
As she got to the tree it had hidden behind, a musty, acrid smell hit her nostrils. Ugh! Uncool.
Looking down she saw foot-prints, long and broad with clear heel and toe
impressions. Her eyes followed the tracks into the trees towards another slope until the darkness masked the marks from her sight.
Carefully she laid her thermos flask next to one of the imprints then took a photo to get a rough idea of the foot length.
She carefully moved along the route taken by the enormous visitor taking picture after picture, including distance shots which captured five separate prints. Breathing faster, excited and unthinking, she followed the tracks through the forest for about 30 yards.
The foot-steps went up the gentle ridge and she took more photos.
Reaching the top she came to another small clearing and felt the wind getting stronger. More snow came with it.
Standing there she watched for minutes as the imprints began to disappear.
She saw and heard nothing unusual.
Puffing her cheeks she let out a long, deep breath, opened her flask, filled the cup and thoughtfully sipped the last of her coffee.
She couldn't take in what she'd seen, couldn't believe it.
Taking a final glance around, she retraced her steps, gazing with fascination at the first of the massive tracks which were protected by tree branches of the forest.
An idea caught her and she made a quick search for a twig.
She placed it across the broadest parts of one of the impressions in order to help gauge the overall size of the visitor's foot, taking more snaps as she did so.
Good thinking, girl.
A smile appeared as she turned back towards the cabin and thrills ran through her. Oh, wow, she thought as she shook her head in disbelief.
Aunt Jeanie was cooking up pancakes and syrup.
Uncle Alan was making coffee and Josh laid the table for breakfast.
They all assumed she was sleeping late.
"I'll call her in a few minutes," said Jeanie, looking out the kitchen window at the heavily falling snow. The pretty sight made her smile. Windy, though. Nice to have a big wood fire burning strongly, warming up the cabin. Cosy.
Suddenly the front door burst open.
Uncle Alan turned in a moment. "Georgie! We thought you were....What's wrong? Are you okay?"
His niece stood in the open doorway, not moving. Hair blew across her face.
Her eyes were wide open, sparkling, her breath fast and shallow.
Aunt Jeanie took over. "Just close the door, babe, then tell us what's happened."
"You've got to see this..."
"See what, babe? Are you okay?"
"Sorry. Yeah, I'm fine. But you've got to see this."
"What, though?" asked Uncle Alan.
She took the camera strap from around her neck, flipped open the little screen and handed the Nikon to her aunt. Her uncle strode to his wife so he could see what the fuss was about. Josh had watched the scene silently, relieved his cousin was all right. His curiosity had certainly been stirred up and he hurried to his parents.
As she stood there regaining her composure from traipsing hard through nearly 18 inches of snow the family stared into the little camera screen, captivated at every click, at every photo. Not a word was spoken as they scanned through the incredible pictures. Georgie unloaded her equipment onto the large, soft sofa and turned back to her relatives.
Josh was almost open-mouthed as Aunt Jeanie replayed the series of photos.
Her face was expressionless, her eyes completely focused on the pictures. Uncle Alan stared silently, a look of disbelief on his features.
"I've read about it. I've watched programmes on it. They had photos of foot-prints but I've never seen anything as good as this..."
Aunt Jeanie muttered, "What about the very first one? Standing under the tree. I mean, how clear is that? It's amazing. Are you sure you're okay, sweetie?"
"I'm cool, actually. I was scared for a second then I went sort of numb and just starting clicking the camera.
After it had gone I checked out the area. I was ramped more than anything. It was a real buzz."
Uncle Alan said, "You did really well. I'm proud of you, how you kept your head together and didn't freak out."
His niece smiled, appreciating her uncle's words.
She hadn't thought about the experience in that way.
"I don't know what mum will say when I tell her. Maybe I shouldn't say anything to her cos she might worry."
Aunt Jeanie said, "We can talk about that, sweetheart, and decide when to let her know."
"Well," said Uncle Alan, "she's going to know at some point. These pictures are too good just to put in your album. I mean, they're evidence, good evidence.
Excellent evidence. They'd make great posters for the store, outstanding. Yeah, we also need to let people know, like those investigators you see on TV. We should contact one of the big organisations involved in this type of stuff."
Aunt Jeanie interrupted. "Whoa, mister. We can talk about that later. Let's get some breakfast into the girl. Get her some coffee. Josh, get the syrup for the pancakes and everybody take a big breath while we let it all sink in."
With that Jeanie handed back the camera and hugged her niece. "Well done, you."
Georgie hugged her tight and smiled. "Thanks. I'm starving. But I need to go back out there straight after breakfast."
An expression of slight concern spread across Jeanie's face. "Why, babe?"
"See the tree in the first photo? There's a branch sticking out and the head almost touches it. I want to measure how high the branch is then I can get an idea of how tall it was."
"Exactly. Good thinking, Brains," said her uncle, smiling. "I'll come with you."
Josh exclaimed, "Let me come, too!"
"We need to find a tape measure," said Georgie.
"No problem," said her uncle, "there's one in my tool-kit. It's in the car and I'll get it after breakfast. Now where are those pancakes?"
Josh looked at his cousin with something like hero-worship in his eyes.
You got Bigfoot...Sasquatch."
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