One Life to Live, story by Lise Rowlandson at
Gerald Berliner

One Life to Live

One Life to Live

written by: Lise Rowlandson


The sound of fast-moving waters broke over the forest’s nightlife, as the waterfall’s cold spring thaw tumbled over the small escarpment. Northern chorus frogs, engaging in skulduggery, started to party as warmer weather signalled breeding season. Bears and moose were bedded down for the night, lulled to sleep by the haunting howls of distant timber wolves.

The village lights across the creek flickered through the white birches. Houses were huddled inside this massive northern expanse, closely knotted, alone and isolated, with only a railway line tethering them to far away cities.

A strange light appeared in the distance. A luminescent blue orb, bobbing in mid-air, quietly floated to the far side of the creek. It began to pulsate faster and faster, until a burst of light turned night into day and then, quickly back to night again.

The forest became deathly quiet.

They had arrived.


At twenty-two, Sylvio felt like an old man. After two years stationed in England, his plans were to return as a war hero. His plans had failed and now his thoughts were gloomy, his demeanour was sullen, and his heart was broken. He had always imagined that his bravery would have made a difference in the war, and with grandiose illusions, had signed up. He was going to cross the pond and end this war once and for all. His parents and fiancée, beside themselves with grief and worry, had vehemently objected to Sylvio joining the war effort. He was an only child and would never be called up for service, but he could volunteer, and volunteer he did. Even though he had an out, he wanted in and now, since his return, he wanted out of life altogether.

A faint orange light smouldered on the horizon as he stepped out into the early spring morning. Time alone fishing would hopefully help clear his cluttered brain and set his thoughts back on their feet. A fishing rod, jutting from his canvas backpack, wobbled in the cold morning air as he peddled his bike down the sandy path leading to the creek. He leaned the bike on a poplar tree at the trail’s end and set out on foot for the remainder of the way. Ten more minutes of hiking to the waterfall would land him at his favourite rock, jutting from the middle of the waters in a narrow section, where he could sit and cast for trout in any direction. There was no other place on earth that grounded him more than this spot. It had been his playground before the war and now that the war was over, Sylvio was trying to reconnect to his simple, uncomplicated northern life.

His cast landed perfectly in an eddy just below the waterfall; he hadn’t lost his touch. Though he wore his leather sheepskin RCAF bomber jacket, hot coffee from his thermos was welcome. He wrapped his frozen, stiff, scarred hands around the warm container and dangled his legs over the side of the boulder.

He should have instantly felt at home, but unease settled on him, and a sense of being watched gnawed at his core. From his vantage point, he could scan the whole area. Slowly moving his eyes across the tree line, his gaze settled on a faintly glowing ball suspended in mid-air just inside the dark thicket.

It must be the rising sun bouncing off of something in the bush. Oh shit, it’s floating along the treeline! What is that?

Sylvio was puzzled but kept his eyes laser-focused on it. He watched the blue luminescent orb push into the crusty trunk of a large white pine only to witness, seconds later, a shadow emerges. The silhouette stood motionless, then slowly materialized into a tall, large creature in front of Sylvio’s eyes.

His brain could not…would not, absorb what he was seeing. This had to be a hallucination.

Oh hell, I’m worse off than I thought. This must be shell shock my squadron leader talked to me about in the infirmary.

What was standing, not 30 yards from him, raised the hair on his neck and froze Sylvio in place.

Long black hair covered its entire body. A conical head was directly attached to a gigantic frame that stood on two feet. No less than seven feet tall, long hairy arms, reaching past its knees, hung from massive shoulders. The brow line jutted over deep-set black eyes, and a flat hooded nose and wide thin lips gave it an ape-like appearance. And yet…it looked human.

The moment it laid eyes on Sylvio, the beast grunted, then began swaying side to side, snorting and growling at him. Its stance became menacing.

Sylvio couldn’t move. Sylvio couldn’t speak.

The wild man’s barrel chest expanded. It opened its huge mouth and released the most primal, guttural roar, blasting out into the atmosphere like a bomb shelter siren. Every organ in Sylvio’s body vibrated. With eyes closed, and arms over his head, he assumed a fetal position, anticipating an attack, and began reciting the Lord’s Prayer.

This was no hallucination.

So this is how I die. Then so be it. It’s justice.

Like a bull moose crashing through the thicket, the beast vanished into the forest, and seconds later, all became still. Sylvio peeked out from under his arm. It was gone. He bounced up on his feet, quickly grabbed his gear, and ran the distance back to his bike. From the moment he started pedalling until the time he reached Joe’s log cabin, time stood still. The old native could see terror on his face when he opened the door. He waved him in, pulled up a chair at the kitchen table, and poured Sylvio a cup of strong coffee before returning to his wood stove, where bacon was spitting in a cast iron pan.

“You’re Captain Sylvio Nino, eh? You flew for the Royal Canadian Air Force; saw your picture in the paper.”

“Ya, that’s me.”

He was shaking so hard, it took both hands to drink his coffee.

“I don’t know how I got here. It’s all a blur, but I saw something today that I hope you can explain to me.”

“Were you up at the waterfall?” he asked suspiciously.

Sylvio realized that Joe already knew the answer to his question, so he began recounting his terrifying ordeal. When the veteran ended his harrowing tale, Joe softly uttered the word ‘Sabe’ with reverence and gravitas, slowly turned around to face Sylvio, and solemnly voiced the word ‘Sasquatch’.

The old man walked across the room, reached for a porcupine quill basket, and removed a small birch bark scroll. He carefully unrolled it and showed Sylvio the drawing.

“This was painted by my great-great-grandfather. Is this what you saw?”

“Frig! That’s exactly what I saw.”

The scroll’s depiction was rudimentary, but there was no denying it was the same creature.

“Sasquatch, whom my people call Sabe, is a powerful physical and spiritual being. You mentioned you saw an orb. It can travel through dimensions entering them in and out by manipulating Mother Earth’s energy. When my people see orbs, they know Sasquatch is near. You must respect him and keep your distance. Our people have lived among Sabe for centuries and have learned to exist alongside him. When Sabe makes his presence known, we do not make eye contact. If you smell something nasty, or you hear wood knocks or whooping, then Sabe is letting you know you must leave that area. Give him his space.” We say, “Do not hurt us, brother, we are just passing through and we mean you no harm.”

“You mean to say I shouldn’t go fishing at the waterfall again? I’ve fished there my whole life and I have never seen these creatures before.”

Sylvio’s brow puckered and knotted at the bridge of his nose. If there was one thing he had learned from the war it was to never back down.

“…and what about all the town folk who fish there? Have they not had encounters?”

It was a reasonable question and the answer that followed gobsmacked him.

“Have you seen anyone fishing there lately?”

He hadn’t and had been rather puzzled that no one was along the shores of the creek or at the waterfall fishing this morning.

“People are hesitant about sharing their encounters, but I hear rumours around town. They fear ridicule, so they remain silent. Thank you for trusting me with your story, Sylvio.”

“Well, I’m telling you right now, I’m NOT letting him have our fishing grounds. Ain’t gonna happen. So now, what’s the next move, Joe?”

The old man could see the veteran was undaunted and would stand his ground.

“I wouldn’t force Sabe’s hand, Sylvio. You will not win this fight. Challenging Sabe is a death wish, but if I cannot dissuade you, then you must make peace with him. There are no guarantees this will work. You have been warned. Understand?”

“What do you propose?”

Joe knew this young veteran had had his share of hell across the ocean. He could see it on his body and in his eyes. He respected Sylvio for his courage but questioned his judgment.

“Leave him a peace offering, like an apple, and speak into the woods telling him you mean him no harm. Above all, do not carry a gun with you. Sabe knows what they are and will see it as a threat. Then, I would not return there. I would fish a fair distance up from Spirit Falls.”

Joe laid hands on Sylvio’s head. “May the Creator protect you.”

“Miigwech, thank you, Joe.”

As soon as Sylvio stepped off the old man’s porch, he decided he would push back on this monster and hold his ground. He respected the native’s wisdom, but he had plans of his own.


A sloppy wet tongue slurped at his ear the next morning. Tank wanted out. The clattering of dishes and the thumping of an axe was Sylvio’s cue that a new day had begun. With Mom in the kitchen and Dad splitting wood, family life had caught its second breath now that the war was over.

Sylvio never heard his dad at the breakfast table that morning, so deep was he in thought.

I lived two years in freakin’ fear only to return to live in fear again? No way! I fought monsters over there and I’ll fight them here!

“Sylvio! Your head is in the clouds… I said… how was fishing yesterday?”

He stared blankly at his dad’s inquisitive look and lied.

“Lousy, I should have used dew worms instead of minnows.”

A young man, full of life and promise, had left for war, and what had returned, his parents did not recognize. The wedding was off and Sylvio had dropped his friends. Their son spent most of his days in his bedroom and a strong push to get him fishing again had finally succeeded. He had been ravaged overseas and Mr. and Mrs. Nino had reached out for help through the Canadian Ministry of Defense. A war pension had been guaranteed, but the Ninos knew money would not fix their son. A remnant of their child sat at their table and only Father Time, they hoped, could heal his flesh wounds and his crushed spirit.

With the sun high in the cloudless sky, Sylvio grabbed an apple, packed his binoculars, and whistled at Tank.

“Come on boy.”

He found himself alone again at the creek but Tank was good company. He was still shaken up from yesterday, but determined to set the apple on the rock.

Why am I so intent on doing this? I’m putting myself in harm’s way. What’s driving this? I’m so pissed off at this monster, I want to gouge his eyes out.

Since his return to Canada, Sylvio had been wrestling with anger. The Air Force chaplain said it was part of his grieving journey. As far as he was concerned, it was all malarky. He felt inert and stuck…certainly not on some journey.

Finally, close enough, Sylvio raised the binoculars to his eyes. He could see the boulder and the surrounding treeline.

All clear. Good to go.

A brisk walk had him at the rock in minutes. He stepped on the wet stones that led to the boulder, set the apple down, turned to the spot where he saw Sasquatch, and yelled:

“I mean you no harm, but I will fish where I please.”

It was a dare.

As he turned to leave, Tank’s hackles rose and his ears flattened on his head. The dog squeezed between his legs, whimpering. Suddenly, a loud crack echoed from the thicket. A putrid, noxious smell assaulted Sylvio’s nose, and he remembered what Joe had said.

“Let’s go, boy!”

He swiftly hopped on the rocks back to shore, not waiting to see what it was. Wet mossy stones threw him off and Sylvio lost his balance. A snapping crack on the back of his head was the last thing he heard before he blanked out.

Suspended in a state of semi-consciousness, Sylvio heard the roar of engines and he was spirited back to Europe.

“We can’t make the coast, we’re almost on empty. We may have to ditch in the channel! Get ready boys,” yelled Captain Sylvio Nino, “life jackets on, throw out everything we don’t need. Let’s lighten this baby.”

The seven-man crew on the Avro Lancaster airplane was returning from a successful dam-busting mission in Dresden, but tracer fire had hit three of the six fuel tanks and the plane was leaking precious petrol.

The crew on the Lancaster knew the drill and prepared for the ditch, but success was squarely on the Captain’s shoulders as there was no co-pilot to assist him.

Maintaining vertical speed was part of the pilot’s training and it took experience and guts to pull it off. The airspeed had to be above ‘stall speed’ but no faster than ‘exceed speed’, all the while keeping the nose up.

“I see the coast,” yelled the captain. “We may just make it to Bournemouth.”

The coast was not approaching fast enough and Captain Nino needed to decide in a flash: ditch in the English Channel or try for Bournemouth airfield on the shores of England? Parachuting out of the Lancaster was certain death as surviving the frigid January waters in the channel was unlikely unless an immediate rescue was at hand. This was doubtful in the darkness and ditching the plane in the English Channel was no better, so Captain Nino made the decision. He was going to try and shoot for the airstrip.

“Mayday, mayday…this is LAN 4629. We are out of fuel and preparing to land. Do you copy?”

“Copy LAN 4629…steady on set course.”

“Ten-four, Bournemouth…this will be close. A ditch near shore or wheels on the ground. Take your pick.”

The captain lowered the landing gear and a cheer erupted in the fuselage. Even though he only had two missions under his belt, the young crew had confidence in him.

Barely above stalling speed, the Lancaster sputtered and spit, bleeding out the last of its fuel as Captain Nino spotted the runway lights.

The final descent was steady and the runway was just within reach when all four engines coughed and choked, and the four propellers stopped. An eerie silence filled the fuselage. All you could hear was the wind whistling and the men praying.

“We have eyes on you LAN 4629…you are clear to land…ground crew on the ready. Godspeed.”

Captain Nino could see the ambulance’s flashing lights and the fire truck headlights on the tarmac as he struggled to steady the plane. It began to roll. He was coming in too fast and was certain he would overshoot the runway. He could not manage the shudder and was losing control of the Lancaster.

“God be with you,” he shouted to his crew. “Prepare for impact!”


Tank’s cold snout nudged his hand as he slowly regained consciousness. The image of an apple flashed before him and jarred him back to reality. He remembered where he was.

The veteran kept his eyes closed, as he was certain Sasquatch was nearby, and he prepared himself for the attack. Sylvio would be torn from limb to limb. He deserved it; it would be retribution for his mistake and absolution for his crew.


He cracked his eyes open and peered in both directions. He did not see hairy legs or feet but still sensed a presence was about.

Sylvio pushed his sore torso up and was astonished. He was not in the creek bed where he had slipped, but five feet in from the shoreline. He racked his brain, but could not remember dragging himself to dry land. How on earth did he get there?

His answer squirmed on a flat rock set beside him. A big juicy dew worm had been set in moss atop the rock. A glance at the boulder revealed a missing apple. Sasquatch had taken his gift and left Sylvio a deworm for his fishing. This was not how it was supposed to unfold.

He laboured to get back up on his feet. Blood was trickling down his neck and he feared he might have broken a few ribs.

He turned to face the treeline, searching for some clue that the beast was there. Though he detected nothing, his gut told him otherwise.

A raging, anguished scream flew out of Sylvio’s face. With his head raised to the heavens and both arms outstretched, he taunted Sasquatch.

“You freakin’ chicken shit. Why don’t you finish what you came for, eh? I’m right here…come and get me you ugly bastard!”


He dropped to his knees, violently shaking and sobbing.

“I’m sorry…I’m sorry. I tried….oh God… how I tried to land it.” His uncontrollable sobbing echoed through the black spruce and over the spilling waterfall. He feared there would never be any retribution, absolution, or forgiveness. He realized his punishment for those six young souls was going to be Life and no Sasquatch was going to end it for him. His plan had failed.

Despondent and crushed, he painstakingly trudged back alongside the creek, burdened by what he knew he would have to carry the rest of his life.

Say their names, Sylvio, say their names.

With all the strength his sore torso would allow, he yelled out, “Philip, Rusty, Jake, Lloyd, Roger, Joseph,”…then, he uttered them reverently like a prayer. “Philip, Rusty, Jake, Lloyd, Roger, Joseph.”

A loud WHOOP…WHOOP disrupted his private eulogy.

The call penetrated Sylvio’s center. He turned to look, and there, on his favourite fishing boulder, was Sasquatch standing tall with his mate and two juveniles.

Sasquatch had a family. Sylvio realized that, like him, this sentient being would need to do everything it could to protect its charges. He surmised it would probably be hunted down by locals in the coming months and Sasquatch would have a war of his own to fight. He understood this beast’s predicament. He had lived it.

Sylvio had known all along what the true monster was. It dwelt in him every day and every day he battled with it. How was it possible he was the only survivor? How? A miracle said his parents and fiancée: a punishment said Sylvio. He would carry the burden of survivor guilt with him all the days of his life. Pushing back on a real live monster would have changed nothing.

Living his life would be retribution enough. Living his life honourably would be his atonement. He needed to get it right, then, for his crew, as he only had one life to live.

He never did see Sasquatch again. Sylvio now fished miles up from the waterfall. At times, when alone and depressed, he would call out to the beast with a ‘whoop whoop’ of his own and a response would always follow.

Somehow, Sasquatch knew.


The End

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