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My friends call me Ray, but I’m changing the names of everyone else involved. We lived in Texas until last year when we moved to Alaska. There isn’t much I can say about my job without giving away the company, but – needless to say – my time is spent outdoors. Two years ago, my wife (Hailey) was involved in a car accident, and we fell on some fairly hard times. We also have two kids, so when it seemed like we were being offered an opportunity to get back on track – I could hardly say no. While we didn’t expect to love it out here, we thought it would be bearable long enough to pay off some debts… but no amount of research could have prepared us for this place…
It took over a year for my wife to physically recover, but she still suffers from PTSD. Working from home and not traveling on interstates fit into our new lifestyle nicely, though there are plenty of downsides. The fact that an ocean now separates us from the rest of our family is what bothers me the most. The kids didn’t want to leave their friends, but luckily they haven’t hit their teen years yet, or the resistance would have been much worse; Jason is only ten and Jenny is seven. Surprisingly, they’ve adjusted better than we could have dreamed.
The strange day and night cycles aren’t split into six month cycles like we had always heard; there’s a couple of occasions where it’s one or the other, but it’s mostly just long summer days and winter nights. The kids were happy to discover what a novelty it all was to everyone back home; during the first two weeks, they practically lived on FaceTime. It made us feel like everything would be ok – which was a big deal considering how poorly Hailey and I were coping.
The overall stress was unbelievable; moving to a new city is a major undertaking, but this was a different league entirely. We failed to appreciate the fact that Alaska is very cold; obviously, we knew it was something to prepare for in terms of buying the necessary supplies, but those who have never experienced a true winter simply can’t grasp how drastically it changes your daily life. We couldn’t afford four entirely new wardrobes on top of new tires and the countless other items we didn’t consider. Thankfully, our families were able to help; I don’t know what we would have done without them.
Our house is far nicer than what we had in Texas which was another plus for the kids if not slightly ironic. Normally, it’s more expensive to live in the city than in the country, but that’s not true here. We got a great deal on our house thanks to my company, but everything else is nearly double the price. We almost sold our vehicles rather than pay to have them brought over, but thank goodness we didn’t. Had we understood my drastically higher salary was to cover basic living expenses – I’m not sure we would have moved.
Our only neighbor (Odette) lives across the road; she and her husband bought their home over forty years ago, but sadly, he passed away last spring. She doesn’t get out often, but she’s very kind. The day we moved in, she came over with a delicious casserole; there’s nothing like a free meal after a long, hard day – especially when that day involved your first glimpse at the grocery store’s outrageous pricing.
Odette accepted our invitation to stay for dinner; she may be in her late sixties, but she can keep up with the best of us. She has a thousand stories, and the kids would have listened all night if we let them. Once they were finally in bed, the rest of us had coffee in the den… That’s when Odette’s stories started to get a little weird.
The light-hearted tone in her voice suddenly turned very grave, and her gaze dropped to the floor. “When you bought this house, did Allan tell you about any of the local legends we have around here?” Her words ran together as she blurted them out.
“Uh… nope; none that I can remember.” I was certain because there had been almost no contact with the actual owner; I looked to Hailey for confirmation, and she was also shaking her head. The drastic change in our neighbor’s demeanor made us feel like she was about to deliver terrible news – like one of the previous owners slaughtered his family or a serial killer was loose in the area – something dangerous.
“I had a feeling…” she sipped her coffee and took a deep breath before continuing. “Did you know Alaska has its very own Bermuda Triangle?”
We most certainly had not – but she told us all about it. Something like five out of every thousand people go missing around here, and most of them happen in that area. I was surprised but not necessarily frightened. A vast amount of the state is uninhabited; it wasn’t a stretch to assume people might go out, lose their way, and succumb to wildlife or the elements.
It was like Odette could hear the thought forming; that’s when she explained the Kushtaka legends. Apparently, Kushtaka are Otter-men. I remember hearing a few Bigfoot stories in the past, but nothing we dreamed could be real. Even as we listened to her describe the eight-foot-tall shapeshifters, I couldn’t create a serious mental image of a giant, man-like otter walking around on two legs – at least, not in a malicious way.
Our neighbor went on to describe how they would sometimes take the appearance of a loved one to lure their victims into the woods. There’s no shortage of people willing to give firsthand accounts of their own experience, though witness testimony doesn’t mean much to me. It seemed like the Kushkata were Alaska’s version of cow-tipping; just because something is impossible doesn’t stop everyone and their brother from saying it happened.
Even though these creatures usually lure victims to their doom – Odette claimed they sometimes appear in human form to approach those who are lost or injured. They pretend to offer the victim aid, but in reality, they intend to lead them deeper into the forest where they will turn the human into one of their own. I’m still unclear as to what that process entails, but I admittedly didn’t try very hard to learn. Even now it’s difficult for me to wrap my head around this.
When I asked Odette why she was telling us these things, she said it was because several years ago, her son (Cam) hired a Kentucky boy to work on his crew. From day one, they warned Kyle of the various dangers, but he thought they were “hazing the newbie”. When his aggravation began affecting his job performance, Odette invited the whole crew to a barbecue in hopes the boy would take her words more seriously… Unfortunately, he chose not to attend.
Then, at roughly 3:00pm the following Tuesday, Kyle signaled a bathroom break to his supervisor and stepped away; he was never seen again. No one expected him to actually vanish in the middle of a shift, but concerns grew rapidly when twenty minutes passed without his return. Initially, they hoped he was only trying to scare them for revenge; Cam and three others searched for him while the rest continued working. Formal searches were conducted over the following weeks, but there was simply no trace.
There’s nothing Odette could have done, but she clearly feels a deep remorse for his loss. Our hearts ached for the poor woman; Hailey and I found ourselves “believing” in the Kushtaka purely to ease her mind, but after she left, we began discussing it between ourselves. As someone who wasn’t raised with Otter-man lore, it was extremely difficult to take seriously, so what did we do? We turned to YouTube, and we discovered Alaska is known for many creepy cryptids, and Kushtaka stories are definitely among them.
The History channel has a great show called Missing in Alaska, and episode ten has what we were looking for. It told of a writer who came down to research the legend for a book, but he vanished, too! That’s insane! I won’t go through the whole video, but while it was enjoyable – it didn’t convince us Otter-men existed. We believed the locals truly believed in them, and that was good enough – we decided to humor the legend as a show of respect. Honestly, it encourages safer practices in the wilderness, and that can only be a good thing.
Overall, our strategy worked well, though I was admittedly nervous starting the new job when I learned some of our work would take us through the Triangle. My coworkers’ stories didn’t help, but after the first month passed without incident – things got easier. The days began to bleed together as life moved on in a beautifully mundane blur, and eventually, I forgot about the legends completely… until late February.
The job should have been simple; clear some land, do some digging, and get home before something gets frostbite. It was the same routine as any other day except for one thing – Jason’s birthday. He was disappointed I had to work and didn’t want to open his presents without me. We FaceTimed long enough for him to rip some paper, but the signal dropped. Luckily, Hailey had the foresight to give him the iPad first, and I felt less guilty about his decision to wait for the rest.
I worked like a machine; I didn’t even stop for lunch. My mind was laser focused on getting the job done and making it home. That evening, in the gray light of dusk, we packed up and made the short hike back to our trucks. It had been a long day, and no one lingered to chat. I was 5-10 minutes down the road when I realized my phone was back at the site. I had propped it up in a tree when talking to Jason and forgot to grab it when my hands were free again. If it had been anything else, I would have left it for the next day, but not my phone.
No thoughts of danger entered my mind; why would it? I was just going back to a place I knew well, and it would only take a moment to walk in, get my phone, and be back on the road. I drove as close to the site as safely possible and found myself running the rest of the way; I don’t understand why I felt so rushed. There was no doubt Jason had been fully engrossed in his new tablet all day – his other presents weren’t going anywhere – yet there I was – running through the wilderness like a total fool.
It was almost completely dark when I reached my phone. I hadn’t thought to grab a light so I’m not sure what I would have done if it had gotten dark first. As I stood there trying to turn on the phone’s flashlight, I heard what sounded like a fox crying out. A friend had recently found one trapped in an old hunter’s snare, and I couldn’t stand the thought of leaving if the same thing happened again.
I rushed off with my light pointed at the ground ahead. It made me nervous to leave the trail, but the cries sounded close by. I continued straight for twenty yards without seeing any sign of the fox. No matter how far I walked, it always seemed like it would be past the next shrub, but it never appeared. I must have walked 50-60 yards when the noise was immediately cut off – like someone pressed stop – and it suddenly began to snow. The weather out here is completely unpredictable, but that instance was strange even by Alaskan standards.
The howling wind was the only sound in the forest, and I had to move quickly. It doesn’t take long for flurries to become full-on snowstorms, and I didn’t want to think about what that could mean for me. I turned back the way I came as the snowfall increased, and the light began reflecting back into my eyes. The temperature was dropping rapidly, and my truck was the only shelter for miles. I opened the phone’s compass to ensure I maintained a straight line, but no matter which direction I pointed – it wouldn’t spin.
Hoping to use GPS, I hunched down against a tree and turned off the light while trying to open Google Maps, but there was no signal – not even to send a text. To make matters worse, I only had 48% battery remaining, and I was now surrounded by solid, white walls of snow. It’s a miracle I didn’t lay down to die on the spot; if I weren’t a father, things might have gone differently… I don’t know. Forcing myself to leave the tree’s illusion of safety was extremely difficult; I was practically crawling when I continued my desperate search for the path.
The wind tore into me from the right; my beanie doubled as a face-mask, and thankfully, I developed a habit of putting my gloves in a coat pocket, or they’d be in the truck with my boots and earmuffs. The body loses the most heat through its ears and feet. The added layer of my coat’s thick hood helped protect my head, but I feared the worst for my numb toes. No expense is spared when it comes to the boots we wear out here. They’re knee-high, insulated, and clunky as hell – perfect for the job, but awful for the roads. Like most of the guys – I change into something lighter at the end of the day, and that’s why I was out there in a pair of regular Red Wings.
Even though my feet were too cold to feel it, I knew each step forward was filling my boots with more snow as their rims dipped beneath the surface. If nothing else, the sheer weight increase was enough to be sure. My mind was overrun with daydreams of a life on disability after losing my feet; I would become an alcoholic, Hailey would leave me, the kids would hate me, and I would move in with my parents. It was as clear as the air was white as I realized my hands were also going numb from clawing myself forward against the worst gusts of wind. I would have cried, but I’m fairly certain my tear ducts were frozen shut. My… ‘snow-balls’… were lodged somewhere between my lungs, but I’m trying to keep this PG.
I was on the verge of digging a hole behind the next tree I stumbled into when I froze in place at the sound of a familiar voice calling my name. It was faint over the storm – I thought I imagined it, but then I heard it again, slightly louder. It was my boss, Brian. I screamed so loud, my raw throat felt like it was cracking open, but I wasn’t going to waste my chance at survival.
My heart swelled with overwhelming relief when he answered my cries, and I pulled myself upright while impatiently waiting for rescue. The wind calmed slightly, allowing me to hear his footsteps; the sound was both beautiful and terrifying. He was approaching from my left – that meant I had been going the wrong way. My sense of relief was tainted with horror as my brain entertained several what if’s in the short seconds it took for Brian to come into view. A fierce gust of wind stopped him roughly thirty feet away, and he shouted, “follow me” before turning to lead us back.
The thought of reaching my truck – mostly the heater – pushed away the flood of worst-case-scenarios; there would be plenty of nightmares and therapy bills for those later. Staying low, I hurried forward to close the gap between myself and Brian, but he was picking up speed as well. That was fine with me, the faster we got out the better, but I was so focused on trying to catch up that I failed to notice we still hadn’t reached the path. Even worse, I was moving at a dangerous speed with only a dim light pointed ahead of my feet. Any misstep could have easily twisted my ankle or worse.
Eventually, common sense took control over mindless panic. “Brian, wait!” I shouted as loudly as my raw throat would allow, but he didn’t seem to hear me. I tried again and again as we continued to speed through denser foliage. My feet were getting tangled in vines, thorny branches were tearing my coat, and I knew something was wrong… I should have known much sooner. Finally, I stopped dead in my tracks, turned around, and resumed moving as fast as I dared – fully aware I would not survive a fall.
My encounter with the… figure I called Brian played through my mind in a split-screen fashion alongside Odette’s warnings of Kushtaka taking on the appearance of friends to lure victims deeper into the forest. The only thing capable of pulling me from those thoughts was the horrifying sound of Brian’s voice calling out. “What are you doing? That’s the wrong way!”
I know it’s always a mistake to look back, but that’s exactly what I did. On the first glance I only saw an enormous, black shape dart past a tree and vanish from sight. My heart skipped at least three beats before I could force myself to move; the shape I saw was a minimum eight feet high, and there was a dark undertone in the voice that yelled, “come back, we’re trying to help you!”
It sounded so close when it spoke that I stumbled and couldn’t help casting a quick glance to my right. I didn’t think it was possible to feel more frightened than I already was, but the image of a giant, hairy, disfigured face was seared into my mind as I struggled to regain my footing. It was poking its enormous head from behind a tree; I can still see it clearly now, and there is little to no hope of forgetting in the future.
I’m not sure how long I ran, but it felt like an eternity. All I can say for certain is that I kept putting one foot in front of the other, and, eventually, I heard several voices calling my name from multiple directions in the distance. To say I was skeptical would be a vast understatement, but I didn’t know what to do. Every move felt fatal. What if they’re Kushtaka – or one of the several other cryptids I’ve heard about? What if they’re real people, but I run away? What if the first monster catches up while I’m standing here?
Hoping it was reasonable to assume monsters wouldn’t have flashlights – I decided to shout a tentative cry for help and run towards the first light I saw. Unfortunately, that cry turned into the high-pitched squeal of a teenage girl when a branch snapped directly behind me – in complete darkness. I surged forward – not sure if the snag at the bottom of my coat was real or imagined – and a dozen shouts rang out in reply. In seconds, spotlights were pointed in my direction, and the sound of weapons being prepared to fire was sweet, sweet music to my ears. I screamed, “it’s behind me” several times before collapsing, but I didn’t need to say more; everyone understood my meaning perfectly.
I was later told the Kushtaka probably left when it heard all the other people. As I thought, Hailey called Brian when I didn’t come home, and he took care of the rest. They all raced back to search for me; apparently there’s no point in wasting time with police in those weather conditions, and I’m grateful they didn’t. There’s no doubt I was close to the end.
After I collapsed, they zipped me into a sleeping bag Tommy had the foresight to bring from his truck, and basically carried me out of there like it was a body bag. I wasn’t too far off in the direction I was traveling, but I wouldn’t have found the trail. Even without the possible Kushtaka encounter or psychotic break – whichever you choose to believe – there’s no doubt I would have died out there if they hadn’t found me.
I had to spend a little time in the hospital because of the frostbite. It’s a very difficult healing process, but, miraculously, I’ve gotten to keep all my fingers and toes! I’m mostly ok now – but my sense of touch isn’t quite what it used to be in the worst places. There’s absolutely no circumstance that will ever get me to step foot into the wilderness alone again. In our original budget, we planned to live here for 4-5 years, but that increased with the unexpected living costs. I’m not sure if I can last that long…
Hailey and I have decided to call our families tomorrow in order to discuss possible options. If we could find jobs beforehand and arrange a place to stay while we look for a new house – it may be possible to leave sooner. We don’t plan to tell them about the Triangle – they would be deeply concerned for our mental health. We’re extremely unhappy, and I regularly work near dangerous wildlife; those are facts. I’m sure there are more, but those are enough.
I’m ashamed of how stupid it was to put myself in that situation at all, and it must be obvious to others. I can guarantee every person in our tiny town heard what happened that same day, but not one has questioned me about it. I don’t think I could say all of this if they did – not face-to-face – and I’m sure they know that, too, but writing it out like this… I don’t know, I kinda do feel a little better.
Well, that’s really all I have to say besides – thanks for doing what you do. Even if you don’t use this for your channel, I just appreciate that you took the time to read it. If I wasn’t trying to move away from this frozen wasteland, I would definitely be supporting you with more than likes and shares. Keep up the great work, and best wishes to you and your family!