Zach tightened the straps of his backpack and turned to check on Ashley. He stood atop a nearby boulder to gain a better view, slowly sipping water from his canteen. She had fallen behind by a quarter mile or more, but was still making her way up the trail at a fairly steady pace.
They had come a long way on their journey, and had followed the clues precisely. They had followed the warm waters. They had followed the canyon. They knew exactly where a brown home once stood almost a century ago. They had done countless hours of research, and with great confidence had finally put boots on the ground.
The clues had led them to the confluence of Nez Perce Creek and the Firehole River in Yellowstone National Park. There were no firearms or metal detectors permitted here, which almost certainly added to both the danger and difficulty of their otherwise well-planned search. The early fall weather had been rather favorable to the young couple, and the sun had been shining almost uninterrupted throughout the late September day.
“Let’s go baby girl!” Zach shouted.
“We’re almost there.”
“I’m coming!” Ashley replied, adjusting her backpack.
“This pack is really digging into my hip.”
She stopped, taking the backpack off and placing it on the trail in front of her. She was already tired from the short hike, but was excited to be so close to the final location of the treasure.
“Just let me fix this damned thing and I’ll be right there.”
“Here, let me give you a hand with that,” Zach said, making his way back down the trail, “We should be getting pretty close.”
“I know, now we just have to find the Blaze.” Ashley said, removing a bag of trail-mix from her backpack.
The two surveyed the surrounding area for several minutes, taking in the absolute beauty of the vast, pristine alpine wilderness that currently engulfed them, while also simultaneously searching the landscape for anything that might lead them to the next clue in the search.
“Right there!” Zach proclaimed, kneeling down and gesturing toward a small patch of pine trees just off-trail between them and the ice cold creek below. “Do you see that large white rock over there? It’s kind of shaped like a pyramid.”
“Oh my God, I do, I see it!” Ashley replied, pointing her finger in the direction of the peculiar rock.
“It looks sort of out of place doesn’t it?”
“I think so Zach, I think you may have just found the Blaze!” she exclaimed. “Let’s go!”
The two quickly made their way across the geyser-sprinkled meadow, arriving at a small patch of trees tucked firmly into a sharp bend in the nearby creek. The patch was thick, but the couple never lost sight of the bright, jagged ‘iceberg of rock’ protruding steeply in dramatic contrast from the surrounding flat patch of dark-colored earth.
As they approached closer, the enormous piece of brilliant, ghostly-white granite finally revealed it’s full figure. The stone pierced the ground like an arrowhead shot toward the sky from the underworld below, with its point coming to rest well above the couple’s heads.
“This has to be it.” Zach said as the two began to circle the rocky monolith.
On the opposite side, the couple discovered a small, dark enclosure at the base of the rock, just large enough to fit an adult in the fetal position.
“Look!” Ashley shouted, pointing to a shiny metal object peering back from the shadowy crevice.
“What is that?”
“I don’t know,” Zach proclaimed, “But it’s definitely not the chest.”
He reached down and picked up the small, cylinder-shaped container, dusting away the freshly caked-on mountain soil.
“It just says FF in capital letters,” Zach said, confused, “I think this is an urn!”
“Oh my God, it must be his ashes!” she replied. “And the treasure is gone, it was supposed to be here, but someone else must have gotten to it first!”
The loud snap of a nearby branch brought the couple to an immediate silence, suspending their disappointment. They stood frozen as a slight breeze swirled amongst the branches and pine needles in the thicket around them.
“What was that?”
“Oh, no.” Zach said quietly as a sharp fear shot down his spine.
“There’s a bear, Ashley. A big one.” Zach was breathing heavily, but remained surprisingly calm and was speaking very softly. “We need to go now, but don’t run, and don’t turn your back.”
As he looked over, he realized it was too late. Ashley had already panicked, immediately turning away and running through the dense trees. The Grizzly had also taken instinctual action, and began to give rapid chase.
“Babe, don't!” Zach yelled. “Stop!”
But she couldn’t stop. There was nothing else. Something had taken over her body and running away was the only option now. There was no other choice.
As she escaped through the tree line, Ashley could hear her husband calling in the distance. It was only now, upon returning to the grassy clearing of the open meadow, that she finally got a brief glimpse of the massive, beastly predator charging directly her way.
She heard the powerful ‘thump’ of the bear’s oversized paws pounding against the earth behind her as the full grown female closed in. Ashley’s head bounced hard against the ground as she suddenly felt a tremendous weight come over her.
A hot, foul breath was the first thing to hit the back of Ashley’s neck. Next, there was a searing pain in her torso. The animal then violently struck her in the side of the head, slashing across her once beautiful face with dirty, knife-like claws.
Her helpless hands were freely dripping blood as she tried to defend.
Strike after strike, bright lights flashed in Ashley’s field of vision as each vicious hit landed. She knew she was being mauled, but could do very little to stop it.
Try to think, try to get up! Her mind was scrambled.
Another series of slashing strikes followed, each accompanied by an intense bright flash. Her hand slipped on a blood covered rock as she tried to get up. The attacking beast grabbed Ashley with both front claws, pulling her deep into the bear’s grip.
Her consciousness slowly began to fade, and her thoughts became cloudy.
Bad tunnel vision. Zach can’t help. It’s all happening too fast!
She struggled to register what was happening.
Huge strike to the head, another flash, searing pain. It hurts!
There’s too much blood! Strike, this isn’t good! Ears are ringing badly.
Strike, big flash! Damn, can’t think. Help! Getting dark fast. I’m in trouble.
Strike! Oh, No! Can’t breathe. So dark now. I can’t see.
Ashley exhaled. The wind blew lightly.
The Grizzly pointed her nose toward Zach.