Theodore (Ted) Bedford started post-tax return season number (????-been so many he couldn’t remember) the same as he did all the others; with a getaway to his favorite hideaway, Lake Firefly, even though his “work” number was still lighting up as the inevitable foot draggers and procrastinators tried to get their returns submitted before the long, understaffed arm of the IRS rained hell on them. Or at least that was the theory, which was far from the truth.

“Sorry, the office is closed,” Ted said, regretless, as this season (25? 20, certainly) was very lucrative and gave him enough money to acquire a brand new, double suspension mountain bike weighing less than his beloved road bike that was only five years old and “built for speed” according to the salesperson.

“Can’t wait to race this! I’ll show those sandbaggers who’s fast!” He grinned like the Grinch as he fantasized about gorgeous women helping him into the champions’ jersey ala the Tour de France, even though that was all it was: a fantasy. The race series was small potatoes, which meant the only women helping him into his jersey he would have to provide.

“Bye, bye, tax season. Bye, bye, clients. Bye, bye, old lady that says…hush,” he said while loading his SUV as he tried to recall how the old children’s rhyme went and rhyming with season and clients.

He motored on, heading into the mountains to the north of the city toward his destination, admiring Mother Nature’s extremely adept artistic touches. From the greenest evergreens to the purple mountain majesty, she really knew how to rock the view.

With ten miles to go, he pulled into his traditional last stop, Clara’s Gas and Go, to pick up the last of his supplies before retreating to the woods. He pulled up to an open gas pump and got out of the SUV. He stretched and tried to coerce his office chair-compliant muscles back into well-sculpted mountain bike shape with little success. He walked over to the campfire wood pile and discovered it was suspiciously empty.

“That’s not good. She is never out and she always has the best. I better see if she has more around back or inside.”

Ted entered the store and immediately said, “Hey Clara, do you have any firewood…” The pierced and tattooed teenager that was most likely not named Clara set her cell phone down on the counter and replied, “Yo. My name is Shareena, not Clara,” as she pointed to her name badge prominently displayed on her left breast, “I think Clara’s dead or something. Don’t care, not my job.”

“Uh…what? Clara’s dead? Seriously?”

“Dunno. Some oil company bought her out, jacked up prices, and hired me at minimum wage. Yay,” she said sarcastically.

“How did I miss that?” Ted replied, remembering sweetheart Clara and how helpful she had been through the years. “Anyway, you are out of firewood. Do you have more somewhere or know where I can get some?”

“No. The oil company that bought this place also bought the mountain and the workers have got it all,” Shareena said, pointing out the door in the general direction of the surrounding hillside.

“What do you mean?”

The teen popped a bubble and snapped her gum rudely. “They found something up by Firefly Lake and have been doing that F-thing to make gas or whatever.”

“F-thing? Fracking?”

“Yeah, something like that. Fracking. Fucking. Whatever.”

“Oh my God! Fracking Firefly Lake? Are the trails still open?”

“Yeah, but camping’s a bitch and the roads are a mess with all the trucks and stuff. Hope that doesn’t spoil your day.”

Ted put his head down and looked at his shoes. He shook it side to side, contemplating the worst. “Fracking. One of the worst things for the environment. Didn’t we learn anything from the Great Oklahoma quake?”

“I dunno. Like I said, not my job.”

“You’re right. I’m sorry to waste your time like this. Give me $50 on pump four and I’ll be going.” He handed Shareena a $50, which she inspected as if Ted printed his own money and rang up the sale.

“Thanks,” she simply replied as she closed the register, picked up her phone, and returned to whatever she was doing when Ted opened the door.

Ted nodded his head and left the store. He looked at the mountain straight ahead and paused to admire the view. With deep concentration and focus, he thought he could make out the machines and workers belching pollution into the pure air of his favorite escape.

“This isn’t good,” he understated as he filled his gas tank and started the completion of the trip.

Upon arrival at his usual campsite 250 feet from the shore of the lake, Ted’s first adventure was to submerge his case of canned beer in the 35-degree water of the lake using a cable and carabiner system he devised a long time ago. As he pounded the rod into the ground to secure the cables to, he noticed the lake surface started to get choppy with each hammer blow. He paused to let them subside then looked toward the peak of the mountain and wondered if the damage had already started.

He then started scouting for firewood so as to have the means to stay warm, cook, and read by, as this trip was always as primitive as possible. With Clara’s being out of wood, Ted had a lot of collecting to do and, since Clara’s wood pile was usually as reliable as taxes, Ted was in unfamiliar territory. He knew he needed sticks to start and gathered a few bundles, but larger chunks were a mystery to him. As he traversed the trails he normally rode, he came up empty even for wood to split, and based on the four-wheeler and farm vehicle tracks, he had an idea where it all went.

He returned to his campsite and pondered what to do. He then noticed a sign at the far end of the lake. “It’s made of wood, isn’t it? That will get me started anyway.” Ted walked to the sign and waded in toward it. “Do not remove under penalty of death MDCCLXXXIII!” it read.

“Penalty of death? Let’s see, the rest is Roman numerals…17…83? What the fuck? Maybe some kids put it here because it doesn’t make any sense.” Ted ignored the warning and chopped down the sign. Again, with each stroke the lake waters turned choppier, stirring up the prehistoric mud and debris on the floor. When he was almost through, he gave it a kick with his cycle-strong legs and it fell right over onto the surface. He grabbed it and turned back toward the campsite when a rumble pierced the din.

“Hey man, shouldn’t destroy public property! Bad Karma!” angrily said the driver of the four-wheel side by side dressed in dirty, muddy jeans with boots and shirt to match.

“Yeah, man! Knock it off!” echoed the rider in a similarly angry mood.

Ted paused, trying to believe what his ears just heard, “You’re talking to me about damaging property? What are you doing up there?” he replied, equally angry and pointing to the mountaintop.

“That property is private now, not like down here. We do what the owners tell us to do,” said the driver.

Ted pointed his index finger straight at them and got as angry as he has ever been. “That does not give you the right to…”

Suddenly, the eyes of the two on the ATV grew as big as saucers! They looked at each other, then opened the accelerator all the way and tossed pebbles, dirt, and leaves high into the air as they left the scene faster than Superman when Lois was in trouble.

Ted watched them leave, bringing his heart rate and emotions into check.

But that only lasted a couple seconds as the lake behind him started heaving and the ground started shaking violently. “Shit! Earthquake! Those bastards have…” Ted was shaken to the ground by the movements. He felt water pelting and washing over him, which had never happened before. As he turned around to see if he would be safe as he rode out the quake, he discovered why the workers had beat feet so quickly.

Out of the Lake rose a grotesque amphibious beast eight feet tall in Ted’s estimation and of inconsequential weight as it waded over to him one giant leg at a time. It reached a large, scaly, webbed hand down to Ted, grabbed him by the throat, and dangled him in the air, his feet kicking back and forth as his brain’s flight mode kicked into gear albeit too late. The beast glared at Ted’s eyes and projected a snarl into them. He breathed a putrid, dead fish smell into his lungs twice, then snapped Ted’s neck and watched the sign of life leave him, as well as all his bodily fluids.

The beast picked up the removed sign with his free hand and crawled back into the lake, replacing the sign to its rightful position.