You tap your phone screen to double-check the directions to the Green Gopher Pub, and note the time and date; 12:15pm, Wednesday November 2nd 2016.
Fortunately for you, the bar is in the direction of your lodgings. It’s also right on the corner of North and Main, the two largest streets in town, and it’s only two turns from the bus stop. If nothing else, you’re learning this small town is easy to navigate.
You set off walking toward the bar. That’s where all the great adventures start, you think to yourself stepping over a pot-hole in the sidewalk. There’s minimal traffic, and not much in the way of noise. You can hear birds, mostly crows, cawing, and of course the gentle rise and fade of car engines going past. The loudest thing however, are the gusts when the wind when it decides to pick up, or perhaps the rattling-scuttling sound of leaves swept across the pavement. The wind and leaves seem to play together, dancing across the road, all while singing the song of autumn. You forget for a moment the stories that brought you here in the first place, the mountain that not 15 miles away looms over your future.
As you step along, you note that everything in the town feels…old. The roads and sidewalks are cracked and riddled with potholes. The buildings are of worn brick with italianate brickwork, amongst which there differs the gothic style churches, reminiscent of so many other such Main Streets throughout the state. Even the people you notice, seem to err on the older side. There’s a sense of history in every little thing, as if each piece of this place was holding onto some distant memory, waiting for someone to notice it and ask so as to tell us its story.
You recall your itinerary for the trip: arriving on Wednesday the 2nd, and departing before dawn on Saturday the 12th. Not counting today, nor the twelfth as it is truly only a travel day, you have nine full days to explore the triangle. You have a reservation at the Pleasant Inn for tonight and can check-in anytime this afternoon or evening.
You’re eager to get out into the wilderness, but you’ve only just begun your journey. As you turn onto North Street, you realize you were prudent in selecting the bar; this way, someone will see you, hopefully multiple people, and if anything should happen perhaps at least someone will be able to give your description.
Before you know it, you’re pulling open the thick heavy wooden door of The Green Gopher pub. Jutting out above you and over the sidewalk is an almost cartoonish depiction of such a creature, wood-carved and painted, complete with a green Scottish tam o’ shanter cap. Inside is a dimly lit, dark wood, classic “olde-timey” feeling pub, complete with a small one-step stage, bar seating in the windows, and the smell of old tobacco and strong whiskey.
The servers and tenders at the bar are dressed in sleek black slacks and button down shirts. One such uniformed young man greets you and says you can sit anywhere you like. You expected it might be busier for lunch, but it is a bar on a Wednesday, so who can tell. There are a few tables with small parties, and two men at the bar. They are dressed in black and red gingham coats, and heavy looking pants and boots; local hunters might know a thing or two about the woods.
You sit next to them at the bar and offer a quiet hello. In front of them are some mostly empty baskets with a few french fries, a neat pile of bones, and some drippings of sauce remaining. That same young man who greeted you asks from across the bar if you’d like anything. You inquire as to what the two gentlemen next to you had, and he points to a spot on the blackboard behind him as he answers, “Wednesday wings and beer for $10.”
The man nearest you adds on, “And throw us in two more Josiah.”
“You guys didn’t get anything today, shouldn’t you wait to be celebrating?”
“We will though, pre-celebration ya know!” The other closed, the three of them sharing a brief laugh before seeming to all look at you.
“They’re getting the maple barbeque and drinking Switchback, same for you?” Josiah asks, and you agree, not really knowing what you’ve ordered. A look at the large blackboard menu covering the back wall reveals that you’ve selected one of the five flavors for wings, and that Switchback is a unfiltered ale made in Burlington, VT. The blackboard has the beer listing as well, noting where each is made right below it.
You stare at the board for a while until Josiah brings the three of you beers, and almost as if taking the words from your mouth, the nearest man lifts up his glass, turns to you and asks “You hunt?”
You remember going with dad one time as a kid, or maybe it was fishing? Either way, you certainly wouldn’t call yourself a hunter, and shake your head no.
“Ah well, cheers just to us then!” He said, clinking his glass against his friends’. You don’t know much about hunting, especially here, but it feels early and so you ask, “What are you hunting for?”
“Bear.” The other man said, but he didn’t say it like bear-rhymes-with-hair, he said it like bar-rhymes-with-car, laughing again. They were giving you some good hearted “the business”, and you were clearly not in your element. With nothing to lose however, you asked further, “Do you ever go hunting up around Glastenbury Mountain?”
The two men stopped their chuffing and looked at each other then back at you before the other said “No.” sharply.
“What Pete means is he doesn’t anymore. What are you writing some sort of ghost story?”
“No, just here for an adventure, maybe trying to see a ghost, or…something.”
“Everyone always wants to until they do.” Pete muttered, barely audible.
“Tom.” The first man says, extending his hand to you. “Tom Floyd, and this is my hunting partner Peter Thurston.” You shake their hands and Pete asks the question you’ve been waiting for since you arrived.
“You arn’t from around here huh?” He seemed to lay on the Vermonter accent a little heavier. You answered no, but that you had done some research and preparation. You know about the disappearances and strange sightings. You want a little taste of that adrenaline mysterious.
“Now now.” Tom interjected, “You sure you’re up for it? It’s dense up there. I’ve got turned around once or twice, and well, Pete…”
“C’mon man!” Pete punched his companion's upper arm.
“Alright, well anyway, plenty of folk have their own stories. You’ll have one too if you go up there.”
“Oh I’m going.” You say, confidently, not about to be backed down by…experienced local hunters. Maybe they have a point. You ask if they have any suggestions or tips, and the floodgates open. Josiah sets three plates of wings down in front of you and rolls his eyes as the gentlemen begin their tales, ones he has probably heard countless times. The Switchback was good, and the smell of the wing sauce lures you in just in time for you to enjoy dinner and a show.
Back and forth they share stories about previous hunting trips, though always in other parts of the state. Stories where things went wrong, like not screwing on the end-cap of a flashlight and the batteries falling out, leaving them to hike out by using a lighter every now and again to see. Or forgetting to pack a lighter so they had to use a firestriker, and how it’s good to have multiple sources of firestarting. Or coming back to camp to find that a tree had collapsed onto Pete’s tent; had he been sleeping, he would have surely been killed. You get the sense that it didn’t seem to phase him compared to whatever had happened on Glastenbury.
They also share with you some times that things went right. Tom had taken an extra half hour hike to put some meat up in a bag away from their site, because they had seen bear tracks that afternoon. The next morning, the tree had been knocked over and the meat taken. He thought that whatever bear was hungry enough to go to that trouble would have gone through them had the meat been in their camp.
They go on and on about deer, grouse, duck, turkey, and bear; hunting, trekking in the woods, cooking outside, and camping. It sounds almost like some fantasy of life once-lived, respecting and working alongside the land to survive. For the second time today, you have to remind yourself to be cautiously optimistic, and that you came here because bad things happen. You wonder what happened to Pete, but the look on his face when Tom started to mention it meant that he was dead serious about not discussing it.
Tom requests his bill, with Pete and yourself following suit. “Well, if you’re serious about going up to Glastenbury, I could take you up there.”
“Now wait just a second,” Pete started before being interrupted.
“Don’t you have to work tomorrow and Friday anyway? And you don’t want to go up there. C’mon Pete we didn’t see hardly any sign south today, I want to at least check it out up there, it’s been a couple years, and no one else hunts up there.”
“Yeah well, I retired from one boss, only to find another in my wife. You’re sure as shit I’m not going up there, I don’t care if the bears are painting targets on themselves and running into bullets. You be damn safe though, and you know you’ve got to call Molly or me when you get there and when you’re out.”
“Well you know I’m calling Molly. If she doesn’t hear from me I’m sure you’ll be the first person she goes hollering to.” Tom looks at you, “If you’d like to tag along, I’ll be headed out dark and early. Just meet me here under the land beaver around four.”
“Land beaver?” You ask. Pete chuckles to himself.
“Yeah, you know, a land beaver? Woodchuck? Groundhog? The gopher carving outside.”
“Yeah no one around here actually calls them gophers, it’s part of the joke.”
You feel like you’ve been let into the circle, accepted a little by the charms of this small town. Your afternoon has been fruitful in learning some do’s and do-not’s of the woods, and you’ve been offered a ride up to Glastenbury tomorrow morning by Tom Floyd. Unsure if you’ll take it, you pay your tab, say farewell, and make your way down the street to the Pleasant Inn.
It’s ten-of-five when you arrive, and check-in is seamless. You take your small bags down the hall and deposit them quickly before laying on the bed and staring at the ceiling. You wonder what happened to Pete. You wonder if you should go with Tom. You wonder if you’re prepared for this. You check through your gear bag again, everything is still there. You’re as ready as you’re going to be. You just have to decide when to set your alarm, and what you’re doing in the morning.
[On the Spindle site, where this is a voting story, readers have the following options for voting on where the story goes next. The winning option is in bold.]
You could set your alarm nice and early, planning to meet up and travel with Tom Floyd.
If you were distrusting, you could rent your own car, and tail Tom up in the morning.
Or you could just wake up as you please, rent a car, and travel on your own.